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.

Disabled people can be worse off if they return to work

People with disabilities, whom the government urges to return to work, find that doing so often means they end up being financially worse off.

It’s all because for many sick and disabled people, including those of us with multiple sclerosis, self-employment is the only realistic option. Regrettably, this is because they face heavy discrimination in the employment market. Even though such discrimination is illegal, proving it is another matter.

Benefits guru Steve Donnison, of campaigning organisation Benefits and Work.co.uk, said: “Yet again, they are being punished by the DWP (Department for Work and Pensions) for the offence of being sick or disabled.”

The problem appears to stem from the way in which the self-employed are being treated under universal credit.

Writing on the benefitsandwork.co.uk website, Donnison explains: “A report by Policy in Practice has revealed that, if universal credit had already been fully rolled out across London, the average self-employed household would be £344 a month worse off than under tax credits and housing benefit.

“The huge drop in income is caused by the DWP using a ‘Minimum Income Floor (MIF)’ which minimum wage for every hour they are deemed to have worked.

“In reality, 91% of self-employed households in London, where the study was carried out, earn below the MIF,” he added.

Some years ago, I was self-employed, as a freelance consultant. From experience, I can say that not only are working hours liable to have lower income than the minimum wage, but that self-employment hours are likely to be fewer than a traditional working week.

Welfare reform rethink urged

universal creditAccording to The Guardian daily newspaper, the report’s revelation has led MPs and campaigners to call for a rethink on the government’s flagship welfare reform. It said:

Frank Field, the Labour chair of the work and pensions select committee, said it was ‘another razor cut at the vulnerable human underbelly of the labour market’. The government has already been forced to slow down the roll-out of universal credit and overhaul how claimants are paid after complaints that some waiting weeks for their payments and falling behind with their rent.

However, serious problems have now emerged in the treatment of the self-employed because of the way their earnings are recorded under universal credit. The issues have arisen because a “minimum income floor” (MIF), based on the national living wage, is used to calculate universal credit payments each month.

Because self-employed workers’ earnings fluctuate from month to month, they sometimes fail to meet the minimum figure and lose out compared with salaried counterparts. They are also only given a year to get their businesses off the ground before the MIF kicks in. Using analysis of cases from 19 London boroughs over two years, Policy in Practice found that 78% of self-employed households on low-income in London are set to become £344 per month worse off under the new system.

Ministers argue that the system has been designed to encourage people to increase their work and move into better jobs. However, the new report warns that some people (such as those with disabilities) have little choice other than self-employment.

Simplify the welfare system

But who, or what, is Policy in Practice, publisher of the report?

Its director, Deven Ghelani, “Policy in Practice believes the welfare system can work more effectively. It can help people towards greater independence if we make it simple for people and organisations to understand.

“We simplify the welfare system by showing people how policy affects them.

“We show local authorities how individual households are affected by all policy changes, now and in the future.

“We talk to government on a national level to influence policy.”

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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 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.

Universal credit benefit reform does not make anticipated savings

Universal credit (UC) is not going to give the UK government its much-desired savings in benefit costs, according to an official report.

An Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) report says that UC will save the government less than 2% of what it would have spent on benefits if UC had not been introduced.

OBR expects universal credit to save the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) just £1 billion by the time it is fully rolled-out. This compares poorly with the £63.2 billion that the benefits replaced by UC would have cost.

universal creditSo, what are the figures involved? Well, the saving in benefits paid out is estimated to be £10.7 billion, but that is not the entire story. The report says additional costs of UC will be a full £9.6 billion.

To me, that means that millions have been been stolen out of the hands of claimants. Instead, they are being used, partially at least, to line the corporate pockets of outside contractors. Disgusting, but I have ceased to be surprised by the actions of this government.

In particular, OBR says low income self-employed claimants will be the hardest hit by UC.

The report goes on to say, rather worryingly; “work coaches in UC have considerably more discretion in the conditions they can impose on both in-work and out-of-work claimants and in the sanctions that they can impose for failure to meet those conditions.”

Universal credit history repeated

As if existing sanctions are not hated enough, it seems UC claimants seem fated to face worse conditions and sanctions.

I was one of the recipients of incapacity benefit(IB) who successfully completed the move to employment and support allowance support group. Many IB claimants were not so fortunate but the government’s aim of slashing benefit costs failed dismally. All it did was to hurt the lives of many thousands of claimants.

Now we see history being repeated with ministers trying to use UC to replace six means-tested benefits. These are income-based jobseeker’s allowance, housing benefit, working tax credit, child tax credit, income-based employment and support allowance, and income support.

At the same time, the gradual introduction of personal independence payment (PIP) to replace disability living allowance (DLA) continues to terrorise those still receiving DLA-

Campaigning and information website benefitsandwork.co.uk says: “It seems clear that an enormous amount of hardship and fear is being caused by yet another failed ‘reform’ to the benefits system in the transfer to UC.

“Will successive governments ever learn from their mistakes?”

Regretfully, it appears not.

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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.

Universal credit not so universal after all, conflicting advice about ESA

People unable to work who try to claim universal credit can receive conflicting advice from different UK government officials. Some say the new benefit includes employment and support allowance (ESA), claimed by many with MS, other diseases and disabilities. However, other advisers maintain that it is separate.

conflicting adviceStrange as it may seem, I can understand both pieces of contradictory information. In fact, universal credit does include income-related ESA. However, it does not contribution-based ESA.

So, if you ask whether universal credit includes ESA, the correct answer is both YES and NO. Confusing, huh?

In fact, universal credit replaces six benefits. These are:

  • Child tax credit
  • Housing benefit
  • Income support
  • Income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA)
  • Income-related Employment and Support Allowance (ESA)
  • Working tax credit

Confused by conflicting advice

The case of one claimant given conflicting advice was highlighted by the Manchester Evening News. This was its story:

A bereaved dad has told how battling with the ‘chaotic’ Universal Credit system in the wake of his daughter’s death helped push him to the brink of suicide.

Steve Pogson suffered a breakdown a year ago and since then has tried twice to claim benefits designed for people too unwell to work.

But faced with the new Universal Credit roll-out he says confusion, contradictory advice, endless expensive phone calls and repeated delays ultimately contributed to him trying to take his own life.

Steve, 50, from New Islington, has suffered depression and anxiety all his life, but had held down a successful civil service career until tragedy hit.

“When my daughter died in a car accident – my only child – I threw myself into my work rather than address that, but eventually a few years later it just overwhelmed me.

“I lost my job due to having a breakdown and last October just climbed into my bed and used my savings and credit card to get by.”

Official advice

After six weeks he eventually applied for Universal Credit after being advised by an official that Employment Support Allowance (ESA) – which is intended for people unable to work due to illness or disability – had now been rolled into it.

But after being bounced backwards and forwards between the departments and repeatedly ringing the government’s 0345 number, his back-dated ESA claim was eventually rejected, despite a letter from his GP stating that he had been unwell.

Worried about his rising levels of debt, he then forced himself back into work, while also embarking on a frustrating appeals process that is yet to be completed.

Eventually his mental health took another turn for the worse.

“I managed to work through until August but this time I attempted suicide, because of the spiralling debt situation, plus the Department for Work and Pensions situation, plus the bereavement,” he said.

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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.

Good news about WCAs and Scotland BUT Universal Credit to roll out faster

As dust settles following UK prime minister Theresa May’s farcical conference speech, there’s mixed news for people claiming disability benefits. This includes people with MS and other diseases that cause disability.

disability

Theresa May’s distress call at party conference (Pic: Daily Star).

Good news is some Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) recipients will no longer face repeated work capability assessments (WCAs).   

I say ‘some’ as this is only a limited concession. It affects claimants in the ESA support group or any with limited capability for work-related activity for Universal Credit (UC).

There are two further conditions to qualify for exemption from repeat WCAs. Firstly, claimants need to have a severe, lifelong disability, illness, or health condition. Secondly, they must be unlikely to ever be able to move into work.

Department for Work and Pensions secretary David Gauke said this week: “After early tests of this approach, it has now been implemented and I can tell you that around twice as many people are expected to benefit from this reform than were originally thought.”

The government has devolved, to the Scottish parliament at Holyrood, control of some benefits paid to people living in Scotland. These benefits include Personal Independence Payment (PIP), Disabled Living Allowance (DLA), and Carer’s Allowance.

Holyrood has decided that Scottish people should get a better deal than anyone elsewhere in the UK.

Disability benefit changes for the Scots

It has decided that, in Scotland:

  • Benefits will rise annually by at least the rate of inflation.
  • Private companies will no longer be allowed to carry out assessments for disability benefits such as PIP, DLA, and Attendance Allowance.
  • Any child in receipt of DLA will be given an automatic award of that DLA to age 18, to allow for continuity for families.
  • Mandatory reconsiderations of claim denials will have to take place within a set time limit or claimants will be able to take their case to a tribunal without needing to wait any longer.

Perhaps, other parts of the UK will follow suit in due course. We can only live in hope – certainly not in expectation.

On the downside, the government has decided to continue to roll out the highly criticized Universal Credit. However, it is now doing so 10 times faster than originally planned. Now, 50 areas a month will transfer to the new benefit, instead of just 5.

Compassionate? DWP secretary David Gauke (Picture: South West Herts Conservatives Association).

The government decided to proceed despite warnings of ‘disaster’ and a ‘human and political catastrophe’ from the Citizens’ Advice Bureau and politicians from all parties, including 12 Conservative MPs

What seems perverse to me is that this government takes pride iin the harshness with which it treats claimants, while always claiming to be compassionate.

In his speech, Gauke also spoke of the government’s vision. He said: “It is a vision of the welfare state that is compassionate, practical and aspirational. It is, in short, a Conservative vision for a modern welfare state.”

Compassionate? No, just some sick joke.

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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.