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.


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.

* * * * *

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 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, 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.

New welfare boss is either loyal party stooge or genuinely uncaring

David Gauke is the new man in charge of the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) in the UK. He has been appointed by lame duck prime minister Theresa May.


David Gauke MP. (Picture: South West Herts Conservatives Association).

So, as the PM works on a deal with the Democratic Unionists, can we expect more compassion from the DWP? Regretfully, the answer is ‘no’.

Look at the way Gauke has voted on welfare and benefits in the House of Commons to see the truth.

Gauke’s voting record says this is how David Gauke voted:

  • Generally, he voted to reduce housing benefit for social tenants deemed to have excess bedrooms. Labour describes this as the “bedroom tax”. 11 votes for, 0 votes against, 6 absences, between 2012 and 2014.
  • He consistently voted against raising welfare benefits at least in line with prices. 0 votes for, 5 votes against, in 2013.
  • Almost always, he voted against paying higher benefits over longer periods for those unable to work due to illness or disability. 0 votes for, 13 votes against, 2 absences, between 2011 and 2016.
  • He consistently voted for making local councils responsible for helping those in financial need afford their council tax and reducing the amount spent on such support. 4 votes for, 0 votes against, in 2012.
  • Almost always, he voted for a reduction in spending on welfare benefits. 45 votes for, 1 vote against, 8 absences, between 2012 and 2016.
  • He consistently voted against spending public money to create guaranteed jobs for young people who have spent a long time unemployed. 0 votes for, 9 votes against, between 2011 and 2014.

Still no care at top?

That means David Gauke is loyal and votes as he is told by his party. Either that, or he is as genuinely uncaring as his Conservative predecessors.

Whichever is true, his appointment seems likely to prove disappointing for all who receive welfare benfits. And that includes everyone who is elderly, has a disability, has a low income, or is without a job.

Source of voting record: For an explanation of the vote descriptions please see the FAQ entries on vote descriptions and how the voting record is decided.

* * * * *

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.

After PIP, second budget u-turn threatens Osborne

Chancellor George Osborne announced the 'under fire' academies plan in his budget in March.

Chancellor George Osborne announced the ‘under fire’ academies plan in his budget in March. Education secretary Nicky Morgan is on the far right of the picture.

First the UK government completes a massive u-turn in welfare benefit reform and now it looks as though it may have to complete another.

Having dropped (at least for the time being) the planned changes to the Personal Independence Payment, which would have left many people with disabilities far worse off financially, now it is having to reconsider its plans that all state schools will be required to become academies within six years.

Both the PIP changes and the schools to academies plan were part of George Osborne’s March seemingly ill-fated budget and a second u-turn would be seen as an embarrassment for him and is likely to add to calls to remove him from his position of chancellor of the exchequer.

However, a second u-turn is what the government is facing and may be forced to do – because of a backbench revolt of its own MPs.

According to the Guardian newspaper, Conservative backbenchers are calling for the policy to be dropped or at least amended to remove the part to force all state schools to become academies.

MPs have called on education secretary Nicky Morgan to ensure that the plans are not included in the Queen’s speech on May 18, following warnings from Conservative whips that they face inevitable defeat in the House of Commons. What’s more, she has been asked to appear before the 1922 Committee of Conservative backbenchers with many of the party’s own MPs demanding that she goes back to the drawing board to avoid a parliamentary bloodbath.

With a majority of just 17 in the Commons, Tory whips believe legislation on ‘forced academisation’ would have no chance of passing through parliament unless the policy was watered down and the compulsory element removed, the Guardian added.

Since the academies plan was announced, Conservatives in local government, backed by MPs, have spoken out against what they say would be an unwanted and costly ‘top-down’ reorganisation of thousands of schools, including many judged as good or outstanding by Ofsted.

Speaking to the Observer newspaper, Graham Brady, chairman of the 1922 Committee, said that there might be a place for limited legislation on aspects of school reform in the Queen’s speech – such as measures to help schools leave academy trusts they found unsatisfactory and to define more clearly the future role of local education authorities – but the element of compulsion should be dropped.

“Good academies can bring enormous benefits and it is right that we should be helping those that want to convert to do so but I hope the white paper will be adapted to reflect the need to support and ease the process, rather than impose the change in areas where schools are already performing very well,” he said.

Opponents of the plans complain that the white paper proposes that local councils would still be under a legal obligation to find places for all children in their areas, but would lack the power either to build new schools or force academies to expand in order to provide them. Many believe they will weaken the role of parent governors and put schools in the hands of remote, inexperienced new management.

Indeed, to add to the chancellor’s woes, the Conservative-dominated County Councils Network (CCN), which represents local authorities with education responsibilities, has said that the government’s new national funding formula for schools, coupled with plans to force them to become academies, could harm councils’ ability to support young children and those with the greatest need.

Welfare benefit cuts high on anti-austerity agenda

anti austerity londonPlacards proclaiming ‘Cut War Not Welfare’  are held aloft during Saturday’s Anti-Austerity protest.

Anti-austerity protests and movements have become increasingly popular during the latter half of last year year and again this year.

Mass protests have taken place around the world, notably in Greece, Spain, France, Italy, the UK, Canada and the United States’ commonwealth of Puerto Rico. And opposition to austerity is seen as the force behind the rise of new political parties such as Podemos (We Can) in Spain, Italy’s Five Star Movement and Syriza (‘from the roots’ or ‘radically’) that is now forming the government in Greece.

And on Saturday, thousands of people again took to the streets of central London to protest against government cuts. Banners calling for UK prime minister David Cameron to quit were brandished by protesters as they marched to a rally in Trafalgar Square.

The demonstration, organised by the People’s Assembly, was also attended by the Labour Party’s shadow chancellor John McDonnell who said that a Labour government would end cuts and “halt the privatisation of our NHS”.

Importantly, for people with disabilities, Mr McDonnell pledged that his party would scrap the hated work capability assessments and also target homelessness by building hundreds of thousands of council homes.

While the UK government says austerity measures are key to reducing the country’s deficit, McDonnell described the government as being bankrupt in its political ideas and handling of the economy. He called for Mr Cameron to resign and to “take his party with him”.

“On every front now we are seeing the government in disarray – in terms of the economy we are slipping backwards instead of growing,” Mr McDonnell said.

David Cameron, or Dodgy Dave as MP Dennis Skinner prefers to call him, has previously argued that the government needs to make savings, over the course of this parliament, so that it can “prioritise what matters for working families – schools, the NHS and our national security”.

Labour’s Diane Abbott, a fellow speaker, said that fighting austerity was the “political struggle of our time”. She blamed cuts on “forcing people out of work and into zero hours’ contracts”.

Also there were Len McCluskey, general secretary of the trade union Unite, Green Party leader Natalie Bennett and National Union of Teachers’ general secretary Christine Blower.

Speaking for the Stop The War Coalition, which was chaired by Jeremy Corbyn MP from 2011 until he became Labour leader last year, Chris Nineham said: “Austerity is not about economic necessity, it is a political choice.”

Cameron’s Conservative manifesto for the 2015 general election pledged to save £12bn from welfare by the end of this Parliament in 2020. However, it has already abandoned one set of proposed cuts to disability benefits although those receiving welfare payments are fearful of the government’s next move.

No surprise as Welfare Reform and Work bill’s benefit cuts are restored by House of Commons

Baroness Tanni Grey Thompson speaking in the House of Lords.

Baroness Tanni Grey Thompson speaking in the House of Lords.

UK Government plans to cut welfare benefits still further were, as expected, put back on track last night, Wednesday, when the House of Commons voted 309 to 275 to throw out an amendment passed by the House of Lords last week after an impassioned plea from a well-known former wheelchair athlete.

The bill, when it is finally approved and given the formality of Royal Assent, will hit people with disabilities who are assessed, often wrongly, as being fit enough to work This includes those with multiple sclerosis.

Indeed, a huge proportion of such people who have been judged as ‘fit to work’, under the Employment and Support Allowance’s Work Capability Assessment, have had their assessments overturned on appeal.

Last night, the Welfare Reform and Work Bill was back in the House of Commons as the latest stage of what has been labelled parliamentary ‘ping pong’ with the bill being played back and forth like a table tennis ball between the two Houses that together form the British parliament.

The bill aims to implement a number of changes including lowering the benefits cap, reducing support to low income in-work families through cuts to child tax credits, toughening work-related requirements for Universal Credit, changing Support for Mortgage Interest from a grant into a loan and, most controversially, cutting the Work Related payments of Employment and Support Allowance, for new claimants, by around £30 a week.

Tanni the wheelchair athlete as we were used to seeing her.

Tanni the wheelchair athlete as we were used to seeing her.

Before last night, this had been approved by the Commons, thrown out by the Lords, re-approved by the Commons and delayed by the Lords a second time on Monday this week when the Lords voted to approve an amendment, by 289 and 219, to delay the ESA cuts pending a parliamentary report on the impact on claimants.

Crossbench (unaligned) Baroness Tanni Grey Thompson, a former international wheelchair athlete, made a passionate speech urging the Lords to oppose the cuts.

If allowed to remain, the amendment would have meant that the cut could only be implemented once a full impact assessment had been carried out. The report would then be put before both Houses and they would vote on the legislation.

But the Commons, as the elected House, has rejected this particular Lords’ amendment.


Government wages ‘disability war’ on benefit claims

dwp logo 


For those of you outside the UK, as I am now, it must be difficult to understand what is happening there with government policies seeming to be continually targeting disabled people including those with multiple sclerosis and all other physical and mental disabilities.

Well, it’s true. It is easy enough to find news stories about various different policies striking at yet another aspect of life of those least able to contend with it.

Now, I want to make it absolutely clear that every reader of this post fully realises two things. Firstly, this is not being written from a political perspective as there are good and bad policies of all parties; and none match my beliefs entirely. Secondly, there is no element of sour grapes involved as, so far at least, the British government’s welfare cuts have not affected me.

And the key words to the whole problem affecting the UK are ‘welfare cuts’, the implementation of which has now degenerated into what should be termed the ‘disability war’.

From the government’s point of view, faced with a huge budget deficit when it first came to power in 2010, it introduced a massive programme of spending cuts across all departments.

One of these, the Department for Work and Pensions is headed by former, failed Conservative leader Iain Duncan Smith, pictured above. Its responsibilities include the administration and payment of welfare benefits including those for the unemployed and those with disabilities. IDS was appointed to head the department with a remit to cut welfare spending.

Basically, most of his actions have centred on two areas – besides state pensions that are another matter completely.

Unemployed people used to be able to claim a benefit called Job Seekers Allowance while those unable to work through sickness including disabilities were paid Incapacity Benefit. Well, in a supposed cost-cutting exercise, both of these were gradually replaced by Employment Support Allowance but, within that, it is divided into the Work-Related Activity Group, for those judged able to work, and the Support Group, for those unable to work.

People with disabilities who were previously paid Incapacity Benefit had to complete a lengthy application form and, in many cases, go through a face-to-face medical assessment, in an attempt to gain the new ESA. The problem is that many were assessed as fit to work – a decision that has time-and-again been reversed on appeal.

Completion of the introduction of the new benefit has been seriously delayed and has cost the country so much in terms of money and goodwill.

Another benefit being replaced is Disability Living Allowance. This does not depend on ability to work but by an individual’s abilities and disabilities – and not only physical. Now everyone being paid DLA, even those already granted a lifetime award, are gradually being required to apply for the new Personal Independence Payment.

Once again, all is not going well for the claimants, many of whom have lost some or all of the benefit, while the government’s own timetable for completion of the transition makes the worst bus and train timetables look perfect.

And that does not even touch the introduction of the so-called Universal Credit. That’s another mess.


Uncertain future of circus animals

Thomas Chipperfield ad Lion

Animal welfare is an issue of some importance. It matters more to some people than others but the elimination of cruelty and mistreatment is important. Where it lies in relation to human rights, domestic violence and cruelty to children is another matter.

But, today, this blog will concentrate purely on animal issues, especially those animals that perform in travelling circuses.

As a young boy, my dad took me to see Chipperfield’s Circus when its tour came to our town. It featured all the usual types of acts including elephants, ponies, lions, clowns and a glamorous female trapeze artist who performed on a single swing. There was no safety net and, several weeks later, she fell to her death.

In those days, no mention of cruelty reached my ears and the show was greatly enjoyed by an appreciative audience – especially the children. How attitudes have changed over the years since then. These days, the number of touring circuses has fallen dramatically and the number of acts involving performing animals even more so.

The training of wild animals to perform unnatural tricks for the entertainment of humans is now generally frowned upon. Over the years, there have been widely-held concerns and a few allegations about training methods; concerns and allegations that have been based on the use of cruel training techniques. Another area that has come under the spotlight is the facility for housing the animals while on tour.

Now, Chipperfield’s is in the news again. In the UK, the country’s last remaining lion tamer has said he’s determined to keep touring in the face of protests from animal rights campaigners and some politicians.

Thomas Chipperfield is from a family that has been running circuses for seven generations; circuses that have included lions and tigers doing tricks on command. However, this past summer, his tour of Wales has been troubled by protesters picketing the venues and, allegedly, intimidating landowners who rent property to the travelling circus. The Welsh Government has also stated that it will investigate whether or not to ban the use of wild animals in circuses.

Mr Chipperfield says his animals are well cared for – and accuses animal rights campaigners of spreading lies. He said: “The opposition to this has existed for a long time but it’s only recently that it’s gained a significant foothold because of misinformation that’s put out and so easily spread. Animal rights groups can send out propaganda to thousands of people based on dated and carefully selected footage which has no relevance to myself.”

His travelling circus, which has two lions and three tigers, passed inspections to operate in Wales but was refused a licence to operate in England this year when the Department or Environment, Food & Rural Affairs said the big cat sleeping area was too small, and recommended it to be enlarged.

In response, Mr Chipperfield has started a crowdfunding campaign to raise the cash needed to build a new enclosure ready for next season.

There are only two other circuses left in the UK that use wild animals and, in 2007, the last major report into animal welfare in the UK found little evidence that the welfare of animals kept in travelling circuses was any better or worse than those in zoos.

Whether you think zoos are a good idea or not is another matter but, except for dolphins and whales, they don’t generally train animals to perform. And, to me, that is the main issue. Hopefully, they are trained with kindness but being expected to perform unnatural tricks for our pleasure has to be wrong.

Circuses can continue with just human acts but, if wild animal acts are banned, what happens to the animals? To be blunt, instead of being assets, they would become costly liabilities. And, in any business, costly liabilities are axed.


Pic: SkyNewsScreenGrab  Thomas Chipperfield face-to-face with lion.