Government gagging clauses attempt to silence critics

“I don’t believe it” was the catchphrase of Victor Meldrew (pictured right) in the BBCtv sit-com One foot in the grave. It signaled his frustration with elements of life today. However, although feeling equally exasperated as actor Richard Wilson’s character, I really DO believe it.

It is another example of overreach, so typical of UK Conservative governments. But believing it is a long way from accepting it.

It is clearly not acceptable that some 22 charities and companies, that are paid government cash, to have had to sign so-called “gagging clauses”. These are said to prevent them from criticizing the government’s Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), its political bosses, and the new Universal Credit (UC) benefit.

The much-criticised UC is being rolled out across the country to replace six means-tested benefits and tax credits paid to working-age claimants. These are: income-based Employment and Support Allowance, Income Support, income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance, Housing Benefit, Working Tax Credit and Child Tax Credit. These are typically paid to people with disabilities and others who are often seen as vulnerable.

News of the gagging clauses were revealed by investigative journalists at The Times national newspaper, in a report last week. Since then, the remainder of the Press has followed suit.

The gagging clauses amount to a disgraceful and repugnant act of censorship that has no place is a democratic society. And the Press’s calls for the clauses to be removed have now led to a similar demand from the main opposition, the Labour party.

Gagging: Call for Commons statement

Shadow work and pensions secretary Margaret Greenwood.

Labour’s shadow works and pensions secretary Margaret Greenwood has critcised the clauses – and called for them to be removed.

In a letter to the Conservative government work and pension secretary Esther McVey,Ms Greenwood has requested (really, demanded) a statement be made to the House of Commons. A statement that, she says, should explain the reasons for the gagging clauses, as well as announce their immediate removal.

She wrote: “I am asking that you come to the House of Commons to explain the original rationale behind these gagging clauses and to publicly announce that they will be removed by the Government.” The full text of Ms Greenwood’s letter can be read here.

I delayed writing about this, in the hope that the government would make a statement and remove the gagging clauses. But now, it’s halfway through the following week and there has been no response to this demand.

Earlier, the DWP had denied that the organisations were banned from criticising UC and said the clauses protected commercially sensitive information.

At that time, a spokeswoman said: “As with all arrangements like this, they include a reference which enables both parties to understand how to interact with each other and protect their best interests.”

 Yeah, right. That response to media  enquiries fails to address the facts, and ignores the issues involved. As if we accept that. Certainly, the Press and Labour’s Ms Greenwood don’t – and nor should they.

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50shadesofsun.com is the personal site of Ian Franks, a digital journalist and former writer and editor for various health information sites. He enjoyed a successful career as a journalist, from reporter to editor in the print media. He gained a Journalist of the Year award in his native UK. Ian received a diagnosis of MS in 2002 and now lives in the south of Spain. He uses a wheelchair and advocates on mobility and accessibility issues.

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Note: Health-related information available on 50shadesofsun website is for your general knowledge only. It is not a substitute for medical advice or treatment for specific medical conditions. I am not a doctor, so cannot and do not give you medical advice. You should seek prompt medical care for any specific health issues. Also, consult a doctor before starting a new diet or exercise programme. Any opinions expressed are purely my own unless otherwise stated.

Disability benefits: Questions remain over timing and complexity

Why, oh why, oh why? This was the title of a hit song (well in the UK anyway) performed by Gilbert O’Sullivan in 1973, but now represents three questions to which we need answers. And by that, I am talking about meaningful answers from a government department responsible for benefits for the sick and disabled.

The UK government´s Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has much to explain.

benefits

Photo: The Independent

In January, the DWP admitted defeat in its attempts to change the law to make it harder for claimants who experience psychological distress.

But, that was so long ago, so…

Why?

Why has the DWP taken five months to publish its updated guidance for benefits assessors in relation to PersonaI Independence Payment (PIP) and the Planning and following journeys activity.

And, what changes has this updated guidance brought forward? Well, in truth, not a lot.

Benefits and Work’s newsletter explains: “A new paragraph has been added to the guidance for descriptors c), d) and f). 

“These were the descriptors which had the words ‘For reasons other than psychological distress’ unlawfully added to them in March 2017 and which have had to be changed back to their original wording. There have been several other small changes.”

Such minimal changes should not have taken five months to produce the revised guidance. It is ridiculous.

Oh, why?

At the same time, changes have been made to the guidance given to PIP decision makers. Thes address the issue of safety and supervision when planning and carrying out a journey.

But, why have decision makers have been told that claimants who need time to recover after a seizure may not score any points for this in relation to daily living?

This time, the new guidance was prompted by the DWP losing a separate court case. The court ruled that the DWP was wrong to insist that a claimant could only score points for being unsafe if harm was likely to occur on more than 50% of the occasions on which they attempted an activity.

Benefits and Work said: “Instead, the court decided that the decision maker should look at whether there is a real possibility that harm might occur and also at how great the harm might be. The greater the potential harm, the less likely it needs to be that it would happen on any specific occasion.”

Although decision makers have been told that claimants may not score any points for the need for recovery time in relation to daily living, they may score points because they may not be safe outdoors whilst recovering. 

Oh why?

Just why can a claimant, who now qualifies for PIP, not have the original decision to decline the benefit reversed?

This is an example of just such a case, that was given in a lengthy DWP memo for decision makers. This covers changes to guidance on the mobility component, and gives some details of the exercise which has begun looking again at over 1.6 million PIP claims.

The memo explains that, depending on when they were made, some claims will need three different decisions making on them:

  • The first decision will be for the period before the DWP lost a case known as MH, which dealt with the mobility component and psychological distress.
  • The second decision will be from the date when MH applied, 28.11.16.
  • The third decision will be from the date when a decision known as RJ, which deals with safety and supervision, also applied, 09.03.17

Confused? It is complex and may result in more mistakes.

But, what of the example I mentioned? It reads:

“A claim to PIP was made on 4.1.17 (January 4). The DM decided on 1.3.17 (March 1) that the claimant is not entitled to PIP. The claimant applies for MR (mandatory reconsideration) in the light of RJ. The DM looks at the case again and decides that RJ applies. However, the original decision to disallow the claim cannot be superseded on the grounds of error of law because it predates the decision in RJ. Therefore, the DM should give a decision refusing to revise for official error and the claimant should be advised to make a new claim.”

The DWP message is that some claimants who did not get an award but are now eligible will have to make a fresh claim.

Of course, we know that not everyone affected will bother to make a new claim – and others may not realise that they have to claim again to get the PIP to which they are entitled.

When the DWP said it would review 1.6m PIP applications, it didn’t say that it would make life even more difficult for claimants.

Why, oh why, oh why cannot life be made easier?

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Affiliate disclaimer: This affiliate disclosure details the affiliate relationships of MS, Health & Disability at 50shadesofsun.com with other companies and products. Read more.

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50shadesofsun.com is the personal website of Ian Franks, a freelance medical writer and editor for various health information sites. He enjoyed a successful career as a journalist, from reporter to editor in the print media. He gained a Journalist of the Year award in his native UK. Ian received a diagnosis of MS in 2002 and now lives in the south of Spain. He uses a wheelchair and advocates on mobility and accessibility issues.

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Note: Health-related information available on 50shadesofsun website is for your general knowledge only. It is not a substitute for medical advice or treatment for specific medical conditions. I am not a doctor, so cannot and do not give you medical advice. You should seek prompt medical care for any specific health issues. Also, consult a doctor before starting a new diet or exercise programme. Any opinions expressed are purely my own unless otherwise stated.

Nothing new promised by latest work and pensions secretary

The cabinet table seat of the work and pensions secretary must be fitted with an eject mechanism. Yet again, it has a new incumbent.

Indeed, in the 20 months since the sudden resignation of Iain Duncan Smith, the role has changed hands four times. And throughout that time, benefits for disabled people, including those with MS, have been under attack.

secretary

Esther McVey, new work and pensions secretary.

UK prime minister Theresa May on Monday appointed Esther McVey as the latest to run the Department for Work and Pensions. For her, it means a return to the department where she was minister for disabled people from 2012 to 2013.

So, what can we expect from the new head of the government department responsible for disability benefits? Sorry, but I can only see more of the same.

Just look back at what she did while she was in that more junior ministerial role. Freelance journalist and blogger Paul Lewis (@paullewismoney) tweeted: “As Minister for Disabled People she (Esther McVey) said 300,000 people would lose their benefits under her changes and she cut the walking test to get PIP from less than 50m to less than 20m.”

Secretary dedicated to cutting benefits

Wonderful! The new secretary of state is another Conservative politician dedicated to cutting benefits paid to disabled people. We need another change – this time a change for the better.

There have been many, many reactions to news of Ms McVey’s appointment and I see little point in repeating them all here. Instead, if you are interested in more information and comment, I would recommend taking a look at Vox Political Online.

This is an excellent blog written by left-wing journalist Mike Siver. His contribution to this story is “Esther McVey is now Secretary of State for Work and Pensions. Expect many, many deaths”.

The headline may seem to be incendiary but is, nevertheless, a timely warning. After all, less than two months ago I brought you news that spending cuts had already led to 120,000 deaths. Needless deaths.

Bearing that in mind, Sivier’s headline looks quite reasonable.

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Affiliate disclaimer: This affiliate disclosure details the affiliate relationships of MS, Health & Disability at 50shadesofsun.com with other companies and products. Read more.

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50shadesofsun.com is the personal website of Ian Franks, a freelance medical writer and editor for various health information sites. He enjoyed a successful career as a journalist, from reporter to editor in the print media. He gained a Journalist of the Year award in his native UK. Ian received a diagnosis of MS in 2002 and now lives in the south of Spain. He uses a wheelchair and advocates on mobility and accessibility issues.

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Note: Health-related information available on 50shadesofsun website is intended for your general knowledge only and is not a substitute for medical advice or treatment for specific medical conditions. I am not a doctor and cannot and do not give you medical advice. You should seek prompt medical care for any specific health issues and consult a doctor before starting a new diet or exercise programme. Any opinions expressed are purely my own unless otherwise stated.

Benefit assessment contractors hiding in plain sight

Assessments of people’s applications for disability benefits in the UK, are carried out by contractors for the government. That is, of course, well known.

It is equally common knowledge that those contractors are Atos, Capita, and Maximus. Between them, they have made hundreds of millions of pounds from their contracts with the government’s Department for Work and Pensions (DWP). Quite a lucrative business, eh?

I’d say it is akin to a licence to print money at the expense, and terror, of those applying for either employment and support allowance (ESA) or personal independence payment (PIP).

Assessments, especially outcomes of face-to-face interviews with claimants, have been widely criticised – not least by tribunals that hear appeals against them.

Atos has tried to hide its involvement in PIP assessments by rebranding itself as Independent Assessment Services. It announced the change last summer. Call it what you will, though, it is still Atos Healthcare and its abysmal record – but in disguise.

But what, you may ask, is the Health Assessment Advisory Service of the grandly-named Centre for Health and Disability Assessments? Sounds as though it could be part of the government.

Assessments for benefits

The CHSA website says:

The Government provides certain benefits for people who are out of work due to long-term illness or as a result of a disability or health condition. The Government has decided that the best way to assess eligibility is through an independent health assessment under the Health Assessment Advisory Service.

Centre for Health and Disability Assessments provides the service on behalf of the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP). The contract between DWP and Centre for Health and Disability Assessments started 1 March 2015.

Healthcare Professionals from Centre for Health and Disability Assessments conduct one-to-one assessments with individuals seeking disability benefits and delivers a report to DWP. DWP then uses this information to determine a person’s benefit entitlement.

assessmentAll the way through, the website fails to mention the real identity of who or what is behind the CHDA. Then, at the very bottom, under the name of the Centre for Health and Disability Assessments, in small print it reveals ‘Operated by MAXIMUS’.

Surprise, surprise! Enough said, I think.

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Affiliate disclaimer: This affiliate disclosure details the affiliate relationships of MS, Health & Disability at 50shadesofsun.com with other companies and products. Read more.

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50shadesofsun.com is the personal website of Ian Franks, a freelance medical writer and editor for various health information sites. He enjoyed a successful career as a journalist, from reporter to editor in the print media. He gained a Journalist of the Year award in his native UK. Ian received a diagnosis of MS in 2002 and now lives in the south of Spain. He uses a wheelchair and advocates on mobility and accessibility issues.

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Note: Health-related information available on 50shadesofsun website is intended for your general knowledge only and is not a substitute for medical advice or treatment for specific medical conditions. I am not a doctor and cannot and do not give you medical advice. You should seek prompt medical care for any specific health issues and consult a doctor before starting a new diet or exercise programme. Any opinions expressed are purely my own unless otherwise stated.

Disability benefits stopped because government doesn’t understand variable conditions

It’s true. People with variable diseases, such as multiple sclerosis, have known this for some time. It has now been proved. The government does NOT understand variable conditions.

The UK’s Department of Work and Pensions’ (DWP) decision to deny the payment of disability benefits to the family of a seven-year old girl has underlined that lack of understanding.

variable

Hollie Stonehouse, aged seven, looks happy and healthy, but she has a form of severe childhood arthritis (Pic: The Gazette).

Hollie Stonehouse has Juvenile Idiopathic Arthritis (JIA), a severe childhood condition, for which she needs chemotherapy treatment.

According to Teesside’s Gazette Live, based in Middlesbrough:

In November last year, Hollie’s JIA appeared to be in remission and in March this year all disability benefits, including carer’s allowance paid to Hollie’s mum, Andrea Keenan, were stopped.

But Andrea, 48, said that Hollie’s arthritis came back “with a vengeance” just before Christmas.

Variable conditions come and go

She said: “In November, she appeared to be doing well so the doctors tried to wean her off her medication as it looked as though she was going into remission.

“But a week before Christmas, Hollie’s arthritis had come back, not only to all the joints in her body – knees, ankles, toes, fingers – it had sadly spread to her neck.”

The DWP has made its usual comment that you and I know far too well. It says that its decisions are based on information it receives – and that Hollie’s family can appeal.

But that’s a disgrace, the family members shouldn’t have to appeal. And they wouldn’t need to if the benefits had not been stopped. This is yet another example of the insanity that is the UK disability benefits system.

Why the DWP doesn’t understand disease with variable conditions is beyond me. Good and bad days should be taken into account. If someone is regarded as being affected by a disability on some days but not others, the fact remains that they have a disability.

To say that anyone is perfectly healthy when unable to move one day, but not on another, is plainly ridiculous.

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Affiliate disclaimer: This affiliate disclosure details the affiliate relationships of MS, Health & Disability at 50shadesofsun.com with other companies and products. Read more.

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50shadesofsun.com is the personal website of Ian Franks, a freelance medical writer and editor for various health information sites. He enjoyed a successful career as a journalist, from reporter to editor in the print media. He gained a Journalist of the Year award in his native UK. Ian received a diagnosis of MS in 2002 and now lives in the south of Spain. He uses a wheelchair and advocates on mobility and accessibility issues.

Healthcare benefits under attack again

Cold-hearted policies and actions of government toward its own people is no surprise to my regular readers. And neither will there be any shock at my continued opposition to such disgusting activities.

benefits

The Capitol, Washington DC, home of the Senate and House of Representatives.

Unfortunately, this is not limited to one country. The current Conservative-led government in the UK has a despicable record in relation to vulnerable people. Now, though, what’s happening in the US seems to be just as bad.

A healthcare reform proposal known as Graham-Cassidy, named after its main protagonists, is currently before the Senate. And, if passed, it will limit healthcare benefits to those Americans who need them the most.

The National Multiple Sclerosis Society and several patient and healthcare groups oppose the proposal, led by Republicans Senators Lindsay Graham (South Carolina), and Bill Cassidy (Louisiana).

Benefits funding cuts proposed

In headline terms, the Graham-Cassidy proposal would:

  • reduce funding for Medicaid, a benefits program on which so many people with MS depend
  • remove the Obamacare requirement that insurance policies cover basic, essential medical services
  • remove Obamacare’s protection for people who have pre-existing conditions.

The Republican party, the majority in the Senate, has a fight to pass the reform proposal. That is because, if the Senate doesn’t vote it through on or before this Friday, September 30, it will need more votes to move the proposal forward.

Up to the end of this week, the supporters will require only 50 votes but after that, according to the voting procedure, they will need 60 votes to move to a vote on the bill.

So, what happens if the Republicans miss this Friday’s deadline? Well, the good news is that followers of Washington politics believe it’s highly unlikely that the Republicans could gather 60 votes.

The current state of the parties in the Senate, is Republican 52, Democrat 46, and Independents 2.

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Affiliate disclaimer: This affiliate disclosure details the affiliate relationships of MS, Health & Disability at 50shadesofsun.com with other companies and products. Read more.

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50shadesofsun.com is the personal website of Ian Franks, a Clinical Writer with Healthline, the fastest growing health information site. He enjoyed a successful career as a journalist, from reporter to editor in the print media. He gained a Journalist of the Year award in his native UK. Ian received a diagnosis of MS in 2002 and now lives in the south of Spain. He uses a wheelchair and advocates on mobility and accessibility issues.

Government figures prove UN’s human catastrophe verdict

Shocking new figures underline the facts behind a UN committee’s decision to describe UK welfare benefits as a human catastrophe.

And the figures come from the government’s Department for Work and Pensions (DWP). Not that they were provided willingly. The MS Society forced them out by a freedom of information request.

During the first three years of Personal Independence Payment (PIP), people with MS have lost at least £6 million a year in benefits, according to the society. PIP started to replace Disability Living Allowance (DLA) in 2013.

The Department for Work and Pensions admitted that between October 2013 and October 2016:

  • almost one in three people (2,600) with MS who received the highest rate mobility component of DLA had their payments cut after they were reassessed for PIP.
  • nearly a quarter (800) who received the highest rate for the care component of DLA had their payments cut after being reassessed for PIP.

System doesn’t make sense

reassessed

Genevieve Edwards (pic: MS Society).

MS Society director of external affairs, Genevieve Edwards, said: “These staggering figures show how PIP is failing some people with MS who need the highest level of support.

“It doesn’t make sense that people are losing money they once qualified for, when they are living with a progressive condition.” I agree, the disease gets worse progressively, not better.

The society is rightly worried that many people no longer get what they were entitled to, and should still be able to claim. Their individual situations are no better but their care benefits have been cut.

One problem is when people are unable to explain the reality of living with MS when reassessed for PIP. And assessors, who are of dubious quality, rarely understand how unpredictable it can be.

Harder to get highest rate mobility under PIP

Additionally, it’s now also harder to qualify for the highest rate of mobility support for PIP. And that’s what you need to take advantage of the Motability car scheme.

Before the changes, under the DLA claimants wouldn’t receive the highest level of support if they could walk more than 50m. Now, under PIP, they won’t get the higher rate if they can walk more than 20m – including the use of sticks or walking aids, if needed.

Exactly what the basis of that change is, I just don’t know but it is unfair. Interestingly, on May 4 last year Baroness Altmann, then minister of state at the DWP, said in the House of Lords: “I would like to clarify what appears to be a widespread misconception regarding the differences between the mobility assessment in PIP and the mobility assessment in DLA. (See my post of May 16, 2016, Disability: There is no 20-metre rule, says minister).

“Many noble Lords have spoken of a ‘20-metre rule’, but there is no such rule. Some people believe that we have changed the assessment of a distance a claimant is able to walk from 50 metres to 20 metres. This is not the case.”

What a load of absolute codswallop.

  • Have the requirements changed between being assessed for DLA and being reassessed for PIP? YES.
  • Is the cut off for highest rate mobility payment now being unable to walk 20m instead of 50m? YES.
  • Did Baroness Altmann lie? Well by archaic tradition, she cannot be accused of lying as she made the statement in the House. She can only be guilty of “misleading the House”. It is clear, she did mislead the House.

Now, what is a non-parliamentary term for deliberately misleading the House? Let me think. Oh yes, I remember, it is LYING.

Fix this broken system, MS Society demands

The MS Society is calling on the government to urgently fix “this broken system” and ensure PIP assessments reflect the realities of living with MS. I couldn’t agree more.

“Having MS is hard enough. It shouldn’t be made harder by a system that doesn’t make sense,” said Ms Edwards.

And so say all of us. 

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Affiliate disclaimer: This affiliate disclosure details the affiliate relationships of MS, Health & Disability at 50shadesofsun.com with other companies and products. Read more.

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50shadesofsun.com is the personal website of Ian Franks, a Clinical Writer with Healthline, the fastest growing health information site. He enjoyed a successful career as a journalist, from reporter to editor in the print media. He gained a Journalist of the Year award in his native UK. Ian received a diagnosis of MS in 2002 and now lives in the south of Spain. He uses a wheelchair and advocates on mobility and accessibility issues.