Pathetic government causes laughter and pity, it’s time to go

Sitting here alongside Lisa, in our home in southern Spain, I watch the political shenanigans in the UK over Brexit with both amusement and pity.

Amusement, because of the knots into which politicians contrive to tie themselves, and pity for residents of the UK who deserve a government that is fit for purpose. Unfortunately, events show that it isn’t.

And that goes much deeper than issues surrounding Europe. Those of us who have disabilities are well aware of this government’s shortcomings.

The latest wheeze of its Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) is to introduce what are referred to as ‘text box tribunals’.

The idea behind it, supposedly, is to make life easier for claimants. Documents available online and use of video-conferencing for benefit appeals would, in theory at least, save claimants from the need to make long trips.

In reality, however, it is about cutting costs, and providing another obstacle for claimants to navigate before reaching an oral hearing.

Steve Donnison, director of Benefits and Work Ltd, explains: “Under the new Continuous Online Resolution (COR) system, soon to be piloted, most PIP (Personal Independence Payment) and ESA (Employment and Support Allowance) claimants who appeal a decision will have their case looked at by an online tribunal panel.

How online panels will operate

“The panel will review all the documents relating to the appeal and will then ask the claimant any further questions they think may be relevant. The claimant is given a deadline to respond to these questions. They do this by typing directly into text boxes in their Tribunals Service account dashboard.

“Once the text box tribunal has all the information it thinks it needs, it gives the claimant its decision.”

Claimants who do not agree with that decision, will still have the right to have their case heard at an oral hearing.

Donnison continues: “The new system will not allow the (online) panel to ask nearly as many questions as they would at an oral hearing.

“It will also not give the panel the chance to meet the claimant and form an opinion about their reliability as a witness. In the vast majority of oral hearings, panels have a high opinion of the claimant’s credibility.

“The success rate for paper hearings is dramatically lower than for oral hearings. Text box tribunal results will almost certainly fall somewhere in the middle.”

That would mean many thousands of claimants will have to endure a claim, a mandatory reconsideration and a text box tribunal before they can get to an oral appeal.

The appeal process was long enough already – now this “easier” online tribunal is just an extra step in the disgustingly long-drawn-out ordeal process.

I fear that not many claimants will manage to cope with it. At least that will be good news for the DWP and the Tribunals Service – just not so good for the rest of us.

This government is incapable of managing anything. Whether it is Brexit, disability benefits, or Universal Credit (don’t get me started), just to name a few,. There is chaos and pandemonium. The government is unable to govern. It is time for Theresa May and her pathetic cohorts to go.

* * * * * is the personal website of Ian Franks. 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. More recently, he was a freelance medical writer and editor for various health information sites. 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.

* * * * *

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. Ian is not a doctor, so cannot and does 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 his own unless otherwise stated.

Government in fight for survival, cabinet split, opposition turns up pressure on health and disability

Key ministers have drawn up their battle lines and daily newspapers say the cabinet is split. The government has descended into disarray and this is likely to deteriorate into a form civil war within the party. The national leader seems completely unable to set any form of direction.

Meanwhile, the opposition is promising to review its social welfare policies and, so, take the high ground on such issues. Additionally, it already has the best policies for people with diseases including MS, and other causes of disability.

Sound familiar? Of course. In the US, the Republican majority cannot agree its own policy on the future of healthcare. Opinions are sharply divided.

But that’s not the story here.

survivalThis battle is in the UK. Chancellor of the exchequer (treasury minister) Philip Hammond and foreign secretary Boris Johnson are already skirmishing about Brexit and Europe. And other cabinet ministers are busy choosing sides.

So much for prime minister Theresa May’s ‘strong and stable’ government, promised as part of her failed campaign to win a bigger majority. In the end, her party lost its overall majority in June’s general election. Now, the knives are out and May appears to be lost.

Fight for survival

Yesterday, the Sunday press had a field day. According to the headlines:

Labour’s shadow secretary of state for work and pensions, Debbie Abrahams, has supported calls for the party to come up with a stronger policy on reversing government cuts to social security spending.

Mrs Abrahams spoke after Labour’s annual conference, last week in Brighton, voted overwhelmingly to ask the party’s policy-making machinery to reconsider its approach to reversing the government’s latest cuts to benefits.

The conference vote means that the Labour party MUST rethink, and hopefully strengthen, its response to the government’s horrendous benefit cuts.

A commitment to remove the benefits cap would be a great start.

* * * * *

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

* * * * * 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.



Disabled employees: What does Brexit mean?

As representatives of the UK and the European Union (EU) negotiate about Brexit, our attention is focused on disability. Now, the spotlight is on how disabled employees may be affected by the country’s withdrawal from the EU.

The Business Disability Forum says that disabled employees, including people with MS, potentially have a lot to lose.

Disabled employees

Diane Lightfoot, Business Disability Forum chief executive.

The forum is a not-for-profit member organisation, headed by chief executive Diane Lightfoot. It aims to makes it easier and more rewarding to do business with, and employ, disabled people.

It warns: “The legislative impact of Brexit – and what it means for disabled employees and customers – is an area of concern. There is real worry that recent progress in the EU around access and equal treatment may be lost, or that standards of accessibility may slip.

“But fair treatment of disabled people has always been about more than just legal compliance. From a business point of view, to harness the full potential of disabled workers, to reduce staff turnover and absence, and to access the £212bn purple pound means going beyond minimum legal standards.

Disabled employees overseas

“It means we need to achieve the best outcomes for all people, with or without disabilities. It goes to the core of being businesses that people will wish to support or want to keep working for.”

Additionally, the forum believes that focusing on good practice rather than legal compliance will only become more important if the UK wishes to be a country that looks outward, and does business on the international stage.

“The work we do overseas focuses not on legal compliance but a universal code of practice for doing business with disabled people,” it says.

“Universal values apply to everyone. Principles for treating disabled people fairly, and working with them, are similar to good customer service, good management and good design.

“Even more importantly, working this way means being disability-smart isn’t effort, but attitude – something ingrained in what we do.

“Brexit may generate uncertainty around legislation and legal risks, but this needn’t bear on organisations doing business with disabled people. In the end, being disability-smart is just about aiming for the best outcome for everyone,” the forum says.


The Business Disability Forum says it builds disability-smart organisations to improve business performance by increasing confidence, accessibility, productivity and profitability.

It does this by bringing together business people, disabled opinion leaders and government to understand what needs to change. Disabled people must be treated fairly so they can contribute to business success, to society and to economic growth.

It has more than 20 years’ experience working with public and private sector organisations, formerly as Employers’ Forum on Disability. Members employ almost 20% of the UK workforce and seek to remove barriers between organisations and disabled people. It is a key stakeholder for both business and government, and has contributed to development of meaningful disability discrimination legislation.

Business Disability Forum provides pragmatic support by sharing expertise, giving advice, providing training and facilitating networking opportunities. This helps organisations become fully accessible to disabled customers and employees.

* * * * *

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

* * * * * is the personal website of Ian Franks, a Features Writer with Medical News Today. 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.

May’s ‘extreme’ bedfellows may be good for welfare benefits


Prime Minister Theresa May.

It is no surprise that Theresa May wants to hold on to the keys of 10 Downing Street. After all, it is the official home of the British prime minister. But she needs help, her Conservative party fell several seats short of an overall majority in last week’s general election.

As I write this, talks are continuing between the Conservatives and the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP). The DUP is the only other party that is willing to support a May government. And that could be interesting as far as disability and other benefits are concerned.

So, what is the DUP and what does it stand for?

Right-wing, ‘extremist’

DUP leader Arlene Foster.

It is Northern Ireland’s right-wing, unionist, protestant party. It’s the largest political party in the province and is the fifth largest in the UK’s House of Commons. It is an organisation that was born out of controversy, being founded in 1971 during the worst of the troubles. The founder and first leader was the late firebrand Rev Ian Paisley. Some label it ‘extremist’.

But what does that mean for all of us, wherever we may be?

The DUP is Eurosceptic and an advocate of a hard Brexit. It is a fierce defender of protestant unionism (with Great Britain) against Roman Catholic Irish nationalism (merging with Ireland). It opposes both gay marriage and legalised abortion.

Voted against government’s benefit cuts

Interestingly, however, while the party’s MPs might not always be in the House of Commons chamber, when they were there during the last parliament, they consistently vote against the Conservative’s cuts in welfare benefits.

Any deal between the two parties looks set to be on a case-by-case basis, not a formal coalition. As such, it could mean that the Conservative minority government might be outvoted if it tries to impose any further cuts in this sensitive area.

Now, that would be a step forward for those of us who rely on those benefits because we have a disability, or are elderly.

* * * * *

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

* * * * * is the personal website of Ian Franks, a Features Writer with Medical News Today. 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.

People with Disabilities are Right to Fear a May Victory


Theresa May, Conservative.

So, the people of the UK are facing a second general election in two years. And people with multiple sclerosis and other disabilities are worried what the results of polling day may mean for them. It could give prime minister Theresa May even more MPs to support her European exit strategy which is likely to lead to reduced benefits.

Mrs May has repeatedly dismissed the idea of holding another election but the fact that she now has one so is no real surprise for anyone with a healthy skepticism towards the honesty and trustworthiness of politicians of any nationality.

By calling an early general election, the prime minister gas gone back on her own statements. Indeed, she has repeatedly refused to call an election earlier than the due date of 2020.

Jeremy Corbyn, Labour.

In the last weeks and months, her spokesmen have maintained her public position that she herself expressed on the BBC TV’s Andrew Marr Show last year, Mrs May herself said: “I don’t think there’s a need for an election. I think the next election will be in 2020.”

When pressed by Marr, May was more direct, saying: “I am not going to call a snap general election.”

No ifs, no buts – just a categoric statement that there would not be early an election.

Tim Fallon, Liberal Democrat.

This week came her announcement. The prime minister went back on her word and called a snap general election to be held on June 8.

Should we be surprised? Of course not, it’s just another politician proving you can’t believe a word they say.

Let’s consider what it means. Of course, all UK citizens will potentially be affected, whether or not they vote. And that’s because the composition of the House of Commons will materially affect the outcome of the Brexit negotiations which could significantly shape their future.

Then there are those of us who are receiving disability benefits. We stand to be affected by the fact that UK laws are likely to be less generous without the EU looking over its shoulder.

Paul Nuttall, UKIP.

The likelihood of a Conservative government in a UK, without EU constraints, is not something that I can anticipate with much pleasure, in fact not with any pleasure at all – but, while I live in Spain, at least I have the right to vote back in the UK.



* * * * * is the personal website of Ian Franks, who has enjoyed a successful career as a journalist, from reporter to editor, in the print media. During that career he gained a Journalist of the Year award in his native UK. He was diagnosed with MS in 2002 but continued working until mobility problems forced him to retire early in late 2006. He now lives in the south of Spain. Besides MS, Ian is also able to write about both epilepsy and cardiovascular matters from a patient’s perspective and is a keen advocate on mobility and accessibility issues.

Referendum, they think it’s all over, but it isn’t yet

To Brexit or not to Brexit, that is the question hanging over the UK´s politicians at the moment. But, surely, the majority of people voted ‘Leave’ in the referendum; it must all be over bar the shouting.

Whatever that might mean for people with disabilities, whatever that might mean for the health service, whatever it may mean for anything, it is decided. That’s right, isn’t it?

Well, it is true that the referendum resulted in a Leave vote but that certainly does not need to be the end of it – because the vote was only advisory and is not legally enforceable. So, parliament could, and I stress could, decide to reject that advice.

The House of Commons has more pro-Europe MPs than antis. If a proposal to leave Europe is put to a vote, they have enough votes to defeat it. And since the referendum was such a close run race with the majority for Leave being so small, just 3.8% of those who voted, who’s to say they wouldn’t?

Other MPs are demanding a House of Commons vote to try and stop Brexit altogether. Can they do that? Well, they could but the real question is, would they?

Scottish First Secretary Nicola Sturgeon threatens to block Brexit.

Scottish First Secretary Nicola Sturgeon threatens to block Brexit.

Already, pro-Euro MPs are saying that even accepting the referendum result, the voters did not vote to leave the single market or stop free movement. These are things that need to be negotiated independently.

To me, as the vote last Thursday was only advisory, I´d question whether anyone has the right to notify the European Union of the UK´s decision to withdraw -to activate Article 50. Only Parliament has the constitutional authority to take such a step and that means that the House of Commons has to be persuaded to agree.

Another problem for the Brexit team is that Scotland voted emphatically, by 62% to 38%, to remain in Europe. Scottish First Secretary and SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon has warned that the Scottish Parliament will try and block the UK leaving the EU using an obscure legal mechanism even if it infuriates the English.

The First Minister said Brexit requires a legislative consent motion (LCM) from the Scottish Parliament as it impacts directly on Holyrood’s devolved responsibilities.

She confirmed that SNP MSPs would seek to block any such motion, even if this meant that this blocked the UK from leaving the EU, because this would reflect the overwhelming Remain vote in Scotland. Although the SNP is a minority government, a pro-Europe majority is guaranteed with the addition of six green MSPs.

Europe IN or OUT? You might have thought it’s all over – but it isn’t yet.


MSNT strapline copy


Obama and Hillary both urge UK to stay in EU

obama uk hillary euPresident Obama and, possibly next US president, Hillary Clinton want the UK to remain in the EU.

No sooner had pro-Brexit campaigners labelled US President Barack Obama’s warning against the UK leaving Europe as the views of a ‘lame duck’ president than Democratic front-runner, and possibly next president, Hillary Clinton added her opinion. And she made it clear that if she enters the White House she will want the UK to be fully engaged, and leading the debate, within the EU.

Obama had warned that it could take up to 10 years for the UK to negotiate trade deals with the US if it leaves the EU. In a BBC interview, the US president said: “It could be five years from now, 10 years from now before we were able to actually get something done.”

Asked to explain, Obama said: “The UK would not be able to negotiate something with the United States faster than the EU. We wouldn’t abandon our efforts to negotiate a trade deal with our largest trading partner, the European market.”

Britain would also have less influence globally if it left, he added.

This brought about an angry response from the Leave campaign.

“This is really about a lame duck US president about to move off the stage doing an old British friend a favour,” said Justice Minister Dominic Raab.

And while it may be fairly safe to discount the views of any president in his last nine months in office, it may be unwise to ignore those of someone leading the chase to succeed him – former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

In a statement to the Observer, her senior policy adviser, Jake Sullivan, said: “Hillary Clinton believes that transatlantic cooperation is essential, and that cooperation is strongest when Europe is united. She has always valued a strong United Kingdom in a strong EU. And she values a strong British voice in the EU.”

It has also been reported, apparently according to ‘sources close to the former secretary of state’s campaign’, that she stands fully behind Obama’s opposition to Brexit, which the president said on Friday would not only undermine the international institutions, including the EU, that had bound nations closer together since 1945, but would also mean the UK being at ‘the back of the queue’ when negotiating new trade deals.