Government minister’s welfare benefits statements prove economical with the truth

Sarah Newton, one of two ministers of state at the department for work and pensions (DWP), was in the centre of a heated debate in the House of Commons, this week.

The Canary, a website dedicated to independent campaigning journalism, reported that she made some staggering claims. It went on to question how many of them were true. Those of us with disabilities, resulting from MS and other causes, know that the answer will be ‘very few´.

The debate was about a report by the UN committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD). The report said successive UK governments had committed “grave” and “systematic” violations of disabled people’s human rights. The chair of the committee said the government had created a “human catastrophe” for disabled people.

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Sarah Newton MP.

In the debate, Labour accused Newton and the government of making disabled people a “forgotten class”; of allowing the DWP to ‘endlessly mistreat’ them, and of creating a “national scandal”.

Newton dismissed Labour’s assertions. She said: “Let’s actually deal with the facts of the situation, and stop this really quite irresponsible talk that we hear in the chamber today…”

But, it seems that Newton and “the facts” don’t go hand in hand. No surprise that DWP politicians are always ready to brush unpleasant, but genuine, facts under the carpet. They are past masters of spouting their own version of the “truth”.

The Canary went through her comments and fact-checked them. Of course, it found that Newton statements were, to put it politely, economical with the truth.

Time to check the genuine facts

So, let’s look at the real truth!

CLAIM: Newton: “I utterly refute the allegations that have been made today: that we are discriminating against disabled people; that we are systematically undermining and violating their human rights, or worst of all that we are targeting their… welfare support…”

FACT: The High Court ruled in December 2017 that aspects of the Personal Independence Payment rules were “blatantly discriminatory”. It then ruled again on June 14 that aspects of Universal Credit’s implementation had been ‘discriminatory’.

Additionally, a tribunal found the DWP had discriminated against one of its own workers, who was disabled, awarding him £26,000 in damages.

The Canary also pointed out that besides the UNCRPD, the UK government has been accused of breaking international treaties and violating disabled people’s rights by the UN Human Rigth Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Affairs and the European Committee of Social Rights (part of the Council of Europe).

Meanwhile, the UNCRPD report said government policies had become “life-threatening to many disabled people”.

CLAIM: Newton said that the government was “very disappointed” that the UNCRPD did not take on board… the evidence that the government gave them. They did not acknowledge the full range of support.

FACT: The UNCRPD report was overarching in the evidence it took on board. However, it condemned the UK government’s attempts to misrepresent the impact of policies through “unanswered questions”, “misused statistics”, and a “smoke screen of statements”.

Equality Act fails disabled people

CLAIM: Newton said:I want to reassure everyone that we have very strong legislation… on our statute book to protect disabled people – that’s through the public sector equality duty in the Equality Act 2010…”

FACT: Just one example of the implementation of the Equality Act 2010 failing disabled people is the UK rail network. Disabled people’s organisations, trade unions, and commuter groups have argued that the train operator’s policies breach the act. Their claims have been largely ignored.

Newton then had to answer a question from Labour’s shadow secretary for work and pensions, Debbie Abrahams. Abrahams asked why the government had not done a cumulative impact assessment of all welfare reforms.

CLAIM: Newton said: “We do undertake a cumulative assessment of reforms, each fiscal event. This is because we want to be as transparent as possible regarding the cumulative distributional impacts of government policies, including welfare reforms, tax changes – direct and indirect – and public spending changes.”

FACT: This is not the same as doing an impact assessment of the combined effect of every cut, reform, and change on disabled people. The government is merely giving itself individual snapshots.

Poverty level  figures not all they seem

CLAIM: Newton said that the proportion of people in a family where someone is disabled… in relative poverty has not risen since 2010.

And that the proportion of people in a family where someone is disabled, who are in absolute poverty, is at a record low…

FACT: The government admits that changes it made around 2011, to how disabled people are identified, could affect poverty measures. Also, the government does not include in its poverty figures the average additional £570 a month costs disabled people face because of their impairments. Moreover, the government’s measure for absolute poverty is different to that of the UN, and different again to a measure the House of Commons Library used in a briefing paper.

Newton’s claim of no rise in poverty is even different to the DWP’s own figures, which show the number of disabled people in relative poverty has risen since 2010 [source: the Joseph Rowntree Foundation].

CLAIM: Newton said: “These allegations, that we are driving people to the food banks and forcing people into destitution, is simply an irresponsible statement.

FACT: The government’s National Audit Office says Universal Credit is driving people to food banks and throwing them into rent arrears.

CLAIM: Newton said: “We’re spending over £50bn a year on benefits to support disabled people and people with health conditions.”

FACT: The amount the government spends on disability benefits is actually £39bn. Full Fact says the £50bn figure is from 2012, and includes adult social care, free travel, and home adaptations

UK actually fifth in G7, not second

CLAIM: Newton said that the £50bn was: “up by £7bn since 2010, and it’s around 2.5% of GDP – over 6% of the government’s spending. Now as a share of our GDP, our public spending on disability and incapacity is the second highest in the G7…”

FACT: This is a selective use of statistics, as it also includes some NHS spending. The Office for National Statistics reported on EU “social protection” figures. The UK actually spends less than Norway, Germany, Spain and France on disability benefits.

CLAIM: Newton said: “There is no freeze on the benefits that people with disabilities have received…”

FACT: Tax-free disability benefits like the Personal Independence Payment (PIP) have been rising. But the “work-related activity” part of Employment and Support Allowance has been frozen since 2015. 391,000 people, many of them sick and disabled, are in this group.

CLAIM: In closing Newton summed up by accusing Labour and the Scottish Nationalist Party (SNP) of fearmongering and not dealing in facts.

She said: Who’s going to suffer? Who’s going to suffer from what… we’ve been hearing from the opposition today?

FACT: It is going to be disabled people and their families, who are going to be frightened – frightened to come forward and get the benefits that are there for them; frightened to come forward and get the support that’s available to them.

The Canary said: “Newton either displayed staggering delusional behaviour or wilful ignorance.” I agree but would describe both as shameful. Worse, the same descriptions can be applied equally to the government as a whole.

Interestingly, but unsurprisingly, The Canary says it contacted the DWP for comment but received no response by the time of publication.

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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.

* * * * *

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.

Junior minister suggests world ‘realities’ mean government attacks on rights are likely to continue

Any cherished hope that the government could embrace the opportunity of doing something positive for disabled people seems misplaced.

This came to light when a justice minister effectively dismissed calls for government action. That is, action to do more to protect the social and economic rights of disabled people and others.

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Dr Phillip Lee.

The hard truth was revealed by a junior justice minister Dr Phillip Lee, whose responsibilities include human rights. He spoke at the launch of the Equality and Human Rights Commission’s (EHRC) report on Britain’s progress in implementing the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR).

He said that “the realities of the world” – including population growth, an ageing society, and mass migration – and “finite resources” meant the government could not afford to meet the report’s call for action on the rights laid out in the covenant.

That means NO action on:

·        rights to work, including safe and healthy working conditions;

·        social security and an adequate standard of living;

·        the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health;

·        education and cultural life.

Although the ICESCR was ratified by the UK in 1976, the EHRC report says the “overall picture” with its implementation in the UK “remains deeply concerning”.  It goes on to say that the government has “failed to show why its tax, policy and legal reforms since 2010 were necessary and fair, and how they align with human rights standards”.

It also says: “Social security reforms made by successive UK Governments since 2010 have had a particularly disproportionate, cumulative impact on disabled people, resulting in a regression of their rights to independent living and to an adequate standard of living and social protection.”

Rights ‘recognised’

Disability News Service (DNS) reports that Lee said he recognised the rights laid out in the covenant and said the EHRC report provided a “timely” and “useful summary” of the commission’s views on the government’s progress in its implementation. He added that it highlighted “some key issues and certainly gives us some pause for thought”.

The clear indication that no action would be taken was when he said he wanted to “talk from the heart”.

According to DNS, he said it was “all very well talking about social and economic rights” but the world was changing “at an ever increasingly-fast pace”. This, he said, includes population growth, developments in artificial intelligence, an ageing population, and migration.

He added: “It’s all very well talking about rights… but the corresponding thing is responsibility, duty, duty to others, duty to each other, duty within the community, responsibility within communities, responsibility of our country and the world.

“Although I congratulate you on your work and recognize it’s well-motivated, I have to deal with realities of the world.”

rights

Virginia Bras-Gomes.

Virginia Bras-Gomes, chair of the UN committee on economic, social and cultural rights (UNCESCR), later told DNS that there was a “growing concern” among her committee that progress in realising those rights had “come to a standstill”.

The UK government appears to “know what the difficulties are” – including migration and an ageing population – she said, but added: “What I don’t see happening in many countries, including the UK, is that not everything is being done to use the resources the country has to deal with the difficulties.”

She said: “There is a growing defiance on the part of developed countries to say, ‘look at all the difficulties we face, we cannot go beyond what we have done already’.”

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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.

* * * * *

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.

* * * * *

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 and 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.

UK benefit cuts breach human rights, says UN

Those of us with disabilities, as well as other disadvantaged and vulnerable people, have been battling the UK government and its benefit cuts, disguised as so-called welfare reforms, and other austerity measures

Well, now we have official backing. The United Nations has confirmed that the UK’s austerity policies breach the UK’s international human rights obligations.

The UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights has expressed ‘serious concern’ about the impact of what it calls ‘regressive policies on the enjoyment of economic and social right’s in a damning report on the UK.

pip actionOver a period eight months, the UN committee spoke with government officials, the UK human rights commissions and civil society groups. And now it concludes that austerity measures and social security reform breach the UK’s international human rights obligations.

Yes, the benefit cuts do actually breach our human rights – and the UN committee is calling for them to be reversed.

This was the Committee’s first review of the UK since 2009 and thus its first verdict on the austerity policies pursued by successive governments since the financial crash.

In a wide ranging assessment, expressed in unusually strong terms, the committee sets out the following findings:

  • Tax policies, including VAT increases and reductions in inheritance and corporation tax, have diminished the UK’s ability “to address persistent social inequality and to collect sufficient resources to achieve the full realization of economic, social and cultural rights”. The committee recommends the UK adopt a “socially equitable” tax policy and the adoption of strict measures to tackle tax abuse, in particular by corporations and high-net-worth individuals.
  • Austerity measures introduced since 2010 are having a disproportionate adverse impact on the most marginalised and disadvantaged citizens including women, children, persons with disabilities, low-income families and those with two or more children. The committee recommends that the UK reverse the cuts in social security benefits and reviews the use of sanctions.
  • The new ‘National Living Wage’ is not sufficient to ensure a decent standard of living and should be extended to under-25s. The UK should also take steps to reduce use of “zero hour contracts”, which disproportionately affect women.
  • Despite rising employment levels, the committee is concerned about the high number of low-paid jobs, especially in sectors such as cleaning and homecare.
  • The committee urges the UK to take immediate measures to reduce the exceptionally high levels of homelessness, particularly in England and Northern Ireland, and highlights the high cost and poor quality of homes in the private rented sector and the lack of sufficient social housing.
  • The UK is not doing enough to reduce reliance on food banks.

Jamie Burton is chair of Just Fair, a consortium that includes 76 national and local organisations, was quick to comment He said: “The UN’s verdict is clear and indisputable. It considered extensive evidence and gave the government every opportunity to show why its tax and policy reforms were necessary and fair. In many important respects the Government proved unable to do this.

“It is clear that since 2010, ministers were fully aware that their policies would hit lower income groups hardest and deepen the suffering of many already facing disadvantage without offering any long term gain for the pain they inflicted. We urge the government to take heed of the committee’s recommendations and commit to ensuring that it does not diminish human rights further in the UK,” said.

Trouble is, with last week’s referendum vote, the government has more on its collective mind. Expecting positive action? Don’t hold your breath.

 

 

MSNT strapline copy

 

Religious freedom and the law

us constitution The US Constitution guarantees freedom of religion.

Exactly what is meant by the term ‘freedom of religion’ varies widely from country to country and even person to person. Even in one country, there are differences of interpretation.

The most notable case at the moment is that of an elected clerk in the USA state of Kentucky.

Quoting her right to religious freedom under the constitution’s first amendment, Kim Davis has steadfastly refused to issue wedding licences to single-sex couples. As an Apostolic Christian, she is opposed to such marriages. However, since the US Supreme Court ruled in favour of gay marriages, she has refused to issue ANY licences.

A week ago, having once again refused to comply with a court order to resume issuing licences, she was jailed for contempt of court.Kim Davis

So, just what is the law? Well, the first amendment does guarantee all citizens the right of freedom of religion. But the question seems to be more about just how far you can take that. Can you legally choose to exercise your freedom to the detriment of others? Can an elected official choose to refuse to carry out an element of her duties because of her own beliefs?

The judge thinks the answer to both questions is NO. But is he correct or do the lawyers acting for the clerk have a valid argument?

Now, here it must be pointed out that I am no lawyer. My training has been as a journalist, my legal training only equates to media laws such as libel. It must also be realised that being British, I am not well versed in the intricacies of the US judiciary system.

Having said all that, though, there is one Supreme Court ruling which seems to fit this case perfectly, saying “Freedom of religion means freedom to hold an opinion or belief, but not to take action in violation of social duties or subversive to good order.”

In Reynolds v. United States (1878), the Supreme Court found that while laws cannot interfere with religious belief and opinions, laws can be made to regulate some religious practices (e.g., human sacrifices, and the Hindu practice of suttee). The Court stated that to rule otherwise, “would be to make the professed doctrines of religious belief superior to the law of the land, and in effect permit every citizen to become a law unto himself. Government would exist only in name under such circumstances.”

I may be wrong, not being an expert, but as a layman that means to me that the clerk in question can have whatever beliefs she likes but cannot legally let those interfere with the duties of the office she holds or allow them to subvert good order. In short the doctrines of her religious beliefs are cannot be treated as superior to the law of the land.

I feel that the clerk has only three options to choose between:

  1. To obey the court by issuing licences despite her private religious objections
  2. To resign as she cannot fulfill the duties of her office;
  3. To stay in prison while her legal team fights on.

We’ll just have to wait and see how all this turns out.

In EU countries, freedom of religion is guaranteed under the terms of the European Convention on Human Rights that have been put into national laws, for example the UK’s Human Rights Act.

The ECHR states that everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief, in worship, teaching, practice and observance.

The freedom to manifest one’s religion or beliefs shall be subject only to such limitations as are prescribed by law and are necessary in a democratic society in the interests of public safety, for the protection of public order, health or morals, or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.

That appears to mean that if the Kentucky clerk was making the same stand in Europe, she would run foul of this law too.