Mental health professionals slam ‘vicious’ Tory attack on disabled benefit claimants

In a letter to the national news media, an organisation representing mental health professionals in the UK write:

The Alliance for Counselling and Psychotherapy is a nationally recognised interest group of mental health professionals from diverse clinical and academic backgrounds.

We were appalled to learn that last Friday, February 24th, without consultation or warning, the Government launched yet another vicious attack on the psychological, as well as financial resources of benefit claimants with mental health and physical disabilities (Tory ministers have rewritten the law to deny increased disability benefit payments to more than 150,000 people Daily Mirror, 24 Feb).”

Read more: Tories ‘shifting the goal posts’ on disability benefit entitlements, say Labour

Emergency legislation has over-ridden the rulings of two tribunals that the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) should expand the reach of Personal Independence Payments (PIP). At stake is mobility support for over 140,000 people who suffer “overwhelming psychological distress” when travelling alone, and more than 1,000 people who need help to take medication and monitor a health condition.

The courts ruled both categories of support needed to be included in the PIP assessment of people’s needs. The DWP itself admits this will include for example those who have a learning disability, diabetes, epilepsy, anxiety or dementia.

In September 2016, Theresa May and her DWP ministers promised there would be no more welfare cuts on top of the string of draconian measures agreed last year as the final contribution of Cameron and Osborne’s campaign to punish those who cannot work. It seems her promise was another lie.

With delicious irony, Disabilities Minister Penny Mordaunt said this latest move would “make sure we are giving support to those who need it most”. Meanwhile on Marr this Sunday, Tory party chairman Patrick McGloughlin responded to criticism of the emergency legislation by stating “as far as supporting disabled people in this country is concerned, we do very proudly”.

This is a government determined, come hell or high water, to strip welfare provision to the absolute bone, an ideological commitment it justifies in terms of the fiscal necessity of austerity savings and the therapeutic magic for all benefit claimants of getting themselves into work.

As mental health professionals, we find it tragic and painful to be living through a period in which the social contract between the advantaged and the disadvantaged is under full-frontal attack.

More particularly, we find it shameful that our own professional bodies – psychotherapists, counsellors, psychologists and psychiatrists – continue to participate in the abuse of human rights and of their own ethical codes through their involvement in the psycho-compulsion of benefits complainants through the DWP’s workfare and Work and Health policies.

We call on the government to reverse its policies of welfare cuts as a minimum step to honouring Theresa May’s promises for a fairer deal for those struggling to cope to maintain any decent conditions of life.

And we call upon our fellow ‘psy’ professionals to now insist on a withdrawal of all involvement in supporting the psychological coercion and punishment by the DWP of the most disadvantaged members of our society.

Yours sincerely,

Paul Atkinson and Professor Andrew Samuels (for the Alliance for Counselling and Psychotherapy)

Children in UK’s poorest areas 10 times more likely to go into care

Powered by article titled “Children in UK’s poorest areas 10 times more likely to go into care” was written by Patrick Butler Social policy editor, for on Tuesday 28th February 2017 00.01 UTC

Children living in the poorest neighbourhoods of the UK are almost 10 times more likely to be taken into care or placed on a child protection plan than those from affluent areas, a study has revealed.

Poverty was the biggest single factor behind wide inequalities in child safeguarding interventions that see one in 60 children taken into care in the most deprived areas, compared with one in 660 in the wealthiest areas. “Children in Blackpool, Hull or Wolverhampton were many times more likely to be LAC [‘looked after children’] than children in Wokingham, or Windsor and Maidenhead,” the authors said.

The research called on ministers to take action to minimise wide variations in demand for child protection services, which had a similar effect to health and education inequalities in terms of the long-term consequences for a child’s health and wellbeing in later life.

It said: “Placing children on child protection plans or taking children into care are very powerful state actions. If these powers are carried out inconsistently or inequitably between children with different identities or backgrounds or from different places, important issues of social justice are raised.”

The Child Welfare Inequality project analysed data on more than 35,000 children who were either looked after or on a child protection plan in March 2015. It was carried out by academics at Coventry, Sheffield, Huddersfield, Cardiff, Edinburgh and Stirling universities and Queen’s University Belfast.

Its findings come as ministers prepared to publish a social justice green paper with the stated aim of tackling the root causes of poverty and disadvantage.

The project found that children living in pockets of deprivation within affluent council areas were 50% more likely to be taken into care than children in equally deprived neighbourhoods in poorer local authority areas.

It said the most likely explanation for this was poorer authorities – facing greater overall demand for child protection services and proportionately larger funding cuts – were more tightly rationing expensive safeguarding interventions.

On average, the study found that each 10% increase in neighbourhood deprivation levels triggered a 30% increase in rates of looked after children. Overall, children of mixed heritage were most likely to be taken into care, with Asian children the least.

The fact that poverty was the biggest influence on rates of children taken into care was not surprising, the study said. “Parenting is much harder if you do not have enough money to provide for the essentials of food, housing, heating and clothing.

“Parenting is much easier if you can purchase help and support in the form of additional child care, clubs and activities, holidays and tutoring and there is no need to worry about the basics or the stigma that comes with poverty.”

Lead investigator Paul Bywaters, professor of social work at Coventry University, said: “This is not about pointing the finger at local authorities or apportioning blame to anyone for a situation that is in critical need of attention. What we’re doing is holding up a mirror to the child welfare sector and to the UK’s government, and saying ‘This is how it is – now what shall we do about it?’

“We’ve known for years that child abuse and neglect is linked to poverty, but there’s been a fundamental gap in our understanding of how a child’s family circumstances and neighbourhood deprivation or locality impacts their chances of the state intervening to improve their life chances.

“Our ultimate aim is to make reducing inequalities in child welfare a key policy objective, in the same way that tackling inequalities in health and education have been prioritised in recent years. With further austerity measures and fundamental changes to local government financing on the horizon, time is very much of the essence in tackling this most vital of social issues.”

A Department for Education spokesperson said: “We want to make sure every child has the best possible start in life. We are changing the law to strengthen protections for vulnerable children, give them greater support in school to help support their educational attainment and help them as they prepare to leave the care system and enter adulthood.

“We are also tackling inequality by targeting 12 social mobility ‘coldspots’ across the country, backed by £72m funding. These ‘opportunity areas’ will see government working with schools, colleges, local authorities and businesses to overcome the barriers to social mobility and make sure young people from all backgrounds can go as far as their talents will take them.”

Dave Hill, the president of the Association of Directors of Children’s Services, urged ministers to engage with the findings. “With further reductions in local government funding expected in the forthcoming budget and fundamental changes to our financing on the horizon, time is of the essence in tackling this most vital of social issues before it’s too late.” © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010

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UK workers have ‘suffered one of the worst pay squeezes in the world’

Working people in the UK have “suffered one of the worst pay squeezes in the world”, with the UK near the bottom of the global rankings for real wage growth, according to new analysis by the Trade Union Congress (TUC).

The TUC’s analysis, based on figures issued by the International Labour Organisation alongside their Global Wage Report 2016/15, found the UK ranks 103 out of 112 countries for pay growth since the financial crisis.

Both the Office for Budgetary Responsibility and the Bank of England have predicted that real wages will continue to fall, with the TUC warning the falling pound and higher prices threatens another living standards crisis.

According to the TUC, UK workers have experienced the sharpest fall in real wages of any OECD country with the exception of Greece, and their latest research ranks the UK below countries including Nicaragua, Jordan, and Tunisia for real wage growth between 2008-2015.

Topping the table is Tajikistan with a wage growth of 14.4% between 2008-2015, closely followed by Zambia (12.1%), Cambodia (10.4%), and Mongolia (9.7%). China is the richest country to make it into the top five, with a real wage growth of exactly 9%. Greece, Jamaica and and Sri Lanka and all in the bottom three.

TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said: “UK workers suffered one of the worst pay squeezes in in the world after the financial crash. And with food prices and household bills shooting up again, another living standards crisis is a real danger.

“Next month’s budget must have a clear plan for helping hard-pressed families – millions are still worse off than before the crash.

“The Chancellor should end the pay restrictions on nurses, teachers and other key workers that are making them thousands of pounds poorer.

“And if we are to build a high wage economy we need stronger action to raise pay in low-pay, low-productivity sectors – and that means giving those workers stronger rights to collective pay bargaining.”

Figures seen by Welfare Weekly suggest average wages are on the decline, despite record employment levels, adding to speculation of a fresh squeeze on living standards in the wake of the EU referendum.

The figures, not due to be released until Tuesday, are also expected to show the UK labour market is weakening, with the number of advertised job vacancies falling to the lowest level since the beginning of the year.

In the meantime, average house prices increased by 7.2% in the year leading up to December 2016, making it even more difficult for first-time buyers to get a foot on the housing ladder and exacerbating the growing housing crisis.

Benefit sanctions have ‘increased rates of mental health problems’, experts warn

The Tory Government’s controversial benefit sanctions regime is leading to “increased rates of mental health problems” and causing unemployed people to slip into poverty and destitution, experts have warned.

In an open letter to the Independent newspaper, many of the UK’s leading bodies representing psychologists, psychotherapists, psychoanalysts, and counsellors, say benefit sanctions damage people’s mental health and call on the UK Government to “immediately suspend” the cruel system.

The letter follows a joint response from psychotherapy organisations to a Government consultation, who also called on the Tories to suspend its cruel sanctions regime.

“Findings from the National Audit Office (NAO) show limited evidence that the sanctions system actually works, or is cost effective”, the experts say.

They also draw attention to a recent Public Accounts Committee (PAC) report which found “sanctions and exemptions are being applied inconsistently”.

Meg Hillier MP, Chair of the PAC, said “sanctions have been used as a blunt instrument” by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) “with little understanding of why”.

The Committee also warned the crude system risks pushing vulnerable people into debt and could ultimately “undermine their efforts to find work”.

Meg Hillier said: “Some people who receive sanctions stop claiming without finding work, adding to pressures on other services.”

She added: “A third of people surveyed by the charity Crisis who were claiming Housing Benefit had this stopped in error because of a sanction – an appalling situation to be faced with.

“All of this highlights the need for a far more nuanced approach to sanctioning claimants, with meaningful measures in place to monitor its effectiveness.

“As a priority the Government must make better use of data and evidence from the frontline to improve its understanding of what best supports both claimants and the interests of taxpayers in general.”

In their letter to the Independent, the experts say: “Vulnerable people with multiple and complex needs, in particular, are disproportionately affected by the increased use of sanctions.

“Therefore, we call on the Government to suspend the benefits sanctions regime and undertake an independent review of its impact on people’s mental health and wellbeing.”

However, the letter says “suspending the sanctions system alone is not enough”, and urges the government “to change its focus from making unemployment less attractive, to making employment more attractive.”

It adds: “We want to see a range of policy changes to promote mental health and wellbeing. These include increased mental health awareness training for Jobcentre staff – and reform of the work capability assessment (WCA), which may be psychologically damaging, and lacks clear evidence of reliability or effectiveness.”

Jobcentre’s should also rethink the role they play in helping unemployed people back to work, the letters says, and warns “bad jobs can be more damaging to mental health than unemployment”.

The letter is signed by leading representatives from the British Psychological Society, UK Council for Psychotherapy, British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy, British Psychoanalytic Council, and the British Association of Behavioural and Cognitive Psychotherapies.

May adviser regrets saying benefits should only go to ‘really disabled’ people

Powered by article titled “May adviser regrets saying benefits should only go to ‘really disabled’ people” was written by Heather Stewart Political editor, for on Monday 27th February 2017 13.14 UTC

George Freeman, the chair of the prime minister’s policy board, has expressed regret after defending government changes to benefits rules by saying funding should go to the “really disabled”.

The Department for Work and Pensions announced last week that it was tightening benefits rules in response to two tribunal rulings, including one that found people with extreme anxiety who struggle to leave the house should be given the same status as, for example, the partially sighted.

Freeman, the Mid Norfolk MP, who was a carer as a child, said in a series of tweets that he “hugely regrets” any offence caused by his remarks.

Interviewed on Sunday about the rule changes, which would prevent what would otherwise have been a £3.6bn increase in the benefits bill, Freeman criticised “some bizarre decisions by tribunals that now mean benefits are being given to people who are taking pills at home, who suffer from anxiety”.

He told Pienaar’s Politics on BBC 5 Live: “We want to make sure we get the money to the really disabled people who need it.”

When challenged about his comments on anxiety, Freeman said: “I totally understand anxiety and so does the prime minister. We’ve set out in the mental health strategy how seriously we take it.”

On Monday, under pressure over the comments, Freeman said: “Having experienced myself traumatic anxiety as a child carer living with alcohol, I know all too well the pain anxiety and depression causes, which is why as a former health minister and policy adviser I am passionate about supporting mental health and disability, and hugely regret if my comment about the need to prioritise the most serious disabilities inadvertently caused any offence which was not intended.”

Some Conservative backbenchers, including Heidi Allen, the South Cambridgeshire MP, are among those who have expressed concern about the tightening of the rules on personal independence payments (Pip), which also prevent those living with long-term conditions such as diabetes and monitoring themselves being classed alongside patients receiving kidney dialysis.

The rule changes, announced just days before the budget, have reminded some of George Osborne’s ill-fated attempt to claw back money from the disability benefits bill at last year’s budget, which prompted the resignation of Iain Duncan Smith.

The government hopes to push through the required shifts to disability rules through a “statutory instrument” in the House of Commons.

The Liberal Democrats’ leader, Tim Farron, has tabled a motion seeking to block the changes by “praying against” them – a formal parliamentary manoeuvre that could force the government to offer a debate on the changes, if it gains enough support from MPs.

As chair of May’s policy board, Freeman is responsible for long-term thinking on issues including intergenerational fairness and NHS funding.

Farron said: “The government is in real trouble with these Pip changes. While senior Conservatives make deeply crass and offensive remarks, many disabled people are worried about what the future will bring.

“The Liberal Democrats have tabled a motion in the House of Lords to kill these regulations and have now done the same in the Commons. I am calling on Labour and Conservative backbenchers to sign this motion and help us block these deeply damaging cuts.” © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010

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Thousands of cancer patients forced to borrow from ‘bank of mum and dad’

Thousands of cancer patients in the UK are being forced to borrow money from the “bank of mum of dad” because of the high cost of living with cancer, according to a new report from Macmillan Cancer Support.

In its new report ‘No Small Change‘ out today (Monday), Macmillan say more than 30,000 middle-aged people with cancer between the age of 40 and 50, or 8% of all those living with the condition, have been forced to borrow from their elderly parents.

And more than 2,000 have had to move in with their parents or parents-in-law after being forced to sell their home, as the charity warns cancer can cost an average £570 a month in lost income – largely due to people being too unwell to work.

Macmillan estimates that more than one in four people with cancer, equivalent to more than 70,000 or 28% of all age groups, are vulnerable to financial pressures caused by cancer because they have no savings to fall back on in a time of crisis.

Money worries during cancer can affect a person’s physical and mental health, “rob them of their independence and leave them feeling “ashamed and distressed”, say Macmillan.

Macmillan is calling on the UK Government to ensure people with cancer can access the benefits they desperately need. And health and social care professional need to be trained and kept more informed about the financial complications of cancer, so they can signpost people in financial distress to relevant support and advice services.

Terry White, from Nottinghamshire, was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma at the age of 56, and was forced to claim benefits to help keep a roof over his head.

He told Macmillan: “Life before cancer had been comfortable. I’d worked hard and saved hard but six months into an eight-month chemo regime our savings had dwindled to nothing and our finances had spiralled out of control.

“I had to claim benefits for the first time in my life, with the threat of our home being repossessed hanging over us. It got so bad that I had to borrow £2,000 from my 78-year old parents. It was deeply embarrassing that at this time in my life I was going cap in hand to ask for their support.’

The charity is also urging the banking and insurance sector to identify and provide better support to people affected by cancer. For example, banks should ensure staff are able to identify and help those struggling with the cost of cancer, say Macmillan.

Lynda Thomas, Chief Executive of Macmillan Cancer Support said: “It is heart-breaking that people in their 40s and 50s with cancer might have to go cap in hand to their parents to ask for money simply to keep a roof over their head or put food on the table.

“The cost of cancer is leaving people embarrassed, ashamed and dependent.

“Borrowing money could cause tension amongst families at a time when people need support more than ever.

“While Macmillan is here for anyone facing money worries, we also need the Government, healthcare professionals and the banking and insurance sector to play their part to ease this burden.”

If you or someone you know are affected by the issues raised in this article and need support you can call Macmillan Cancer Support free on 0808 808 00 00, or visit their website.

Opinion: Tories neglect the young and disabled at their peril

There’s an air of complacency about the Conservative Party at the moment. They seem to have developed a sense of invincibility, particularly after their victory in the Copeland by-election, and feel as if they can do whatever they like without any real consequences.

But complacency has a way of coming back to bite you where it hurts, as Labour found out to their detriment in Scotland.

While there may not be a credible opposition threat at this time – some might disagree – there will come a time when Labour and others finally sort themselves out.

And if not we may yet see the emergence of a new party of the working class, perhaps run by the same people who have been so cruelly brutalised by this government and its predecessor. Some may think this chain of events is unlikely to happen, but few would say it’s impossible.

I know some of you may believe the SNP are “the only real opposition to the Tories”, as they keep saying to us all, but the SNP only has MPs in Scotland and cannot, by themselves, win a UK-wide General Election.

They could of course become part of a coalition, but union parties like Labour and the Liberal Democrats are unlikely to go for it.  Indeed, in years to come Scotland may no longer be part of the union at all.

There are, however, rumors of growing discontent among Theresa May’s own MPs, with at least some of them feeling increasingly uncomfortable about the party’s image and how the Tories keep hitting the young, the poor, and the disabled, with cut after cut. May herself promised to build a Britain “that works for everyone” – a pledge that has so far failed to materialise.

And let us not forget the group of working age adults the PM admits are “just about managing”, many of whom will be affected by cuts to tax credits and Universal Credit. Even those who are not in receipt of state benefits, but still on modest incomes, are struggling to make ends meet.

They (the Tories) may be able to weather the storm of mounting criticism for now, and it’s true they look to be on course for victory at the next general election, but negative image tends to follow you around and will stain the party’s reputation for years to come.

People will not forget what the Tories have done to them and their families, and will ultimately pass this information down to their children and grandchildren.

Children will not forget how their parents had to go to a foodbank to feed them, or how they have been saddled with debt due to the extortionate cost of a university education. Perhaps they will remember the feeling of being frozen to the bone because mum and dad didn’t have enough money to turn the heating on?

Whatever their memories, they’ll know exactly who is to blame.

Children and young people today are the voters of the future. Many young people feel let down by this government and will be eligible to express their anger at the ballot box in only a few years time.

Others are already angry about the way people with disabilities have been made scapegoats for austerity. Some of them may have disabled friends or relatives who have lost their independence at the hands of the cruel and callous government.

It’ll be the job of opposition parties like Labour to encourage them to vote, not that they’ll need much encouragement to punish those who hurt them and those they care about.

The Tories’ short-term thinking of policies designed to appeal only to older voters, such as the triple-lock on pensions, may be working for them for now. But it’ll be the young people of today who’ll have the last laugh of tomorrow. How many of those young people will be voting Tory? I doubt it’ll be very many….

Disability benefits should only go to ‘the really disabled’, says Tory MP

George Freeman, MP for Norfolk and chair of the Prime Minister’s Policy Board, has defended the government’s decision to subvert the judicial system, by disregarding the rulings of two independent tribunals regarding Personal Independent Payment (PIP) for disabled people.

In an interview on Pienaar’s Politics, on BBC 5 Live, Freeman said: “These tweaks [new regulations] are actually about rolling back some bizarre decisions by tribunals that now mean benefits are being given to people who are taking pills at home, who suffer from anxiety.”

He claimed that the “bizarre” Upper Tribunal rulings meant that “claimants with psychological problems, who are unable to travel without help, should be treated in a similar way to those who are blind.”

George Freeman MP said: “We want to make sure we get the money to the really disabled people who need it.”

He added that both he and the Prime Minister “totally” understood anxiety. “We’ve set out in the mental health strategy how seriously we take it,” he said.

“Personal Independence Payments (PIP) reforms were needed to roll back the bizarre decisions of tribunals”, said Freeman.

His controversial comments about people with anxiety “at home taking pills” implies that people with mental health problems are ‘faking’ disability. It trivialises the often wide-ranging disabling consequences of mental health problems, and clearly implies that Freeman regards mental illnesses as not a ‘real’ disability.

He contradicts the government’s pledge to ensure that mental health and physical health are given a parity of esteem, just months after the Prime Minister pledged to take action to tackle the stigma around mental health problems.

Despite some scathing comments and challenges from the opposition, Freeman maintains: “My point was that these PIP reforms are partly about rolling back some frankly bizarre decisions in tribunals which have seen money that should go to the most disabled spent on people with really much less urgent conditions.”

Campaigners storm parliament in protest against government disability policies.

The chief executive of Scope, Mark Atkinson. said: “It is unhelpful to make crude distinctions between those with physical impairments and mental health issues because the kind of impairment someone has is not a good indicator of the costs they will face.

“Many disabled people will be now be anxiously waiting to hear as to whether or not these tighter rules will affect their current PIP award.

“The government must offer clarity and reassurance that these new measures will not negatively affect the financial support that disabled people receive now or in the future, and that they stand by their commitment to making no further changes to disability benefits in this Parliament.”

Debbie Abrahams MP, Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary has also responded to the comments by Freeman.

“Mr Freeman must immediately apologise for the comments he made regarding sick and disabled people”, she said.

“Freeman dismissed the needs of people with mental health conditions saying support should go to “really disabled people” rather than those who are “taking pills at home, who suffer from anxiety.

“Not only does this fly in the face of the commitment to ‘parity of esteem’ for people with mental health conditions, but it directly contradicts Theresa May’s comments on mental health and two recent tribunal judgements.”

The Shadow Chancellor, John McDonnell, has called on Philip Hammond not to go ahead with the £3.7bn worth of cuts to Personal Independence Payments (PIP) which will hit 160,000 disabled people.

The announcement about the two controversial regulations to be imposed without any parliamentary scrutiny and debate, and without any democratic dialogue with disabled people, was sneaked out last week by the government.

It will mean 160,000 disabled people are likely to see a loss in their income as a direct effect of the changes made by the government to how PIP is awarded, despite promises by ministers that there would be no further cuts to welfare over the remainder of this parliament.

McDonnell said: “Theresa May has used the cover of the by-elections to sneak out this announcement hurting so many vulnerable disabled people.

“His is a return to the worst politics of spin that so tarnished our politics for so long. It is an act of immense bad faith. She is degrading politics and demeaning the role of Prime Minister.

“Next week the Tories will make out that the economy and the public finances are doing better, however, they are planning to go ahead with a £3.7 billion cut to the disabled.

“This time last year when the economy and public finances were not doing as well, and the then Chancellor George Osborne tried to cut PIP, Labour stopped him. And in his u-turn he claimed that he could “absorb” the cost of reversing this cut.

“Hammond can’t hide from these PIP cuts in his Budget. He needs to explain why he can’t absorb them like his predecessor while he is still going ahead with tax giveaways to the very wealthiest in our country.”

But cutting PIP may cost more than it saves. PIP is an in-work benefit as well as being accessible to disabled people out of work. Cutting PIP will invariably mean that some disabled people can no longer remain sufficiently independent to work.

Many have lost their higher mobility rate component when they were reassessed for PIP after claiming Disability Living Allowance (DLA), and as a consequence, have lost their motability vehicles.

The Conservatives claim “the government is committed to supporting the most vulnerable” doesn’t stand up to scrutiny, given the Conservative’s policy record, including cruelly scrapping the Independent Living Fund which has had a hugely negative impact on those trying their best to lead independent and dignified lives.

Access To Work funding has also been severely cut – a fund that helps people and employers to cover the extra living costs arising due to disabilities that might present barriers to work.

Employers tricking workers out of sick pay, says Citizens Advice

Unscrupulous employers are using underhanded tactics to avoid paying their employees Statutory Sick Pay (SSP), the Citizens Advice charity has revealed.

Citizens Advice is urging people who need to take time off work because of illness or injury to check if they’re eligible for sick pay, as analysis found the charity helped with 1800 problems related to sick pay and sick leave in February 2016 – up 11% on the average for the rest of the year.

SSP is payable for up to 28 weeks of sick leave and is currently paid at £88.45 per week, although some people may be paid extra in what is known as contractual sick pay.

Employees are eligible for SSP regardless of whether they work part-time or full-time, if you normally earn more than £112 a week and have been sick for more than four days in a row.

People on a fixed term contract, or those who work through an agency or are on a zero-hours contract, are also eligible.

However, Citizens Advice has uncovered evidence showing some employers are trying to exploit confusion around the rules “so they can get away with not paying up”.

Some of the crude tactics being used to avoid paying staff SSP include cancelling people’s shifts after they call in sick, reducing people’s wages and downplaying their working hours, wrongly claiming employees need to present a sick note (now known as ‘fit notes’) after only a few days off work, refusing to fill in a HMRC sick pay form, and even dismissing (sacking) employees rather than paying them.

Citizens Advice cites the example a factory worker who worked 5 days a week, but his casual contract wrongly stated he only worked 7 hours. His employer attempted to avoid paying him sick pay, claiming he did not work enough hours or earn enough.

Another case involved a Carer on a zero-hours contract who turned to Citizens Advice for help after she needed time off for a work-related injury. Citizens Advice says her employer cancelled her shifts for the next 3 weeks and argued she wasn’t due to be working, when in reality she had already been offered the work.

Gillian Guy, Chief Executive of Citizens Advice said: “Sick pay is a basic right which many workers are entitled to. Although some employers make genuine mistakes working out whether workers are eligible, others are trying to confuse people about their rights so they can get away with not paying up.

“Getting paid time off to recover from illness is not only important for people’s health, but also prevents them from being left with a hole in their finances that they can struggle to recover from.

“If you think you’re owed sick pay but your employer won’t pay, contact Citizens Advice for help.”

Citizens Advice has the following tips for anyone who is unsure if the are eligible for SSP:

  • Entitled to extra sick pay? Some employers pay more than statutory sick pay, for example paying your wages in full for a certain time period. This is called contractual sick pay. The details should be in your contract, staff handbook or on the intranet.
  • Work a zero hours contract? If you’re on a zero hours contract and work regularly for the same employer you’re still entitled to sick pay as long as you normally earn more than £112 a week before tax.
  • Employer says you’re not entitled? Ask them to fill in the government sick pay form PDF explaining their reasons. Once you’ve got it, contact HM revenue and customs (HMRC). They will ask you about your circumstances and make a decision about whether you are owed sick pay or not.
  • Employer still won’t pay? If HMRC have said that you are owed sick pay, then your employer has to pay this to you. If they refuse, contact ACAS early conciliation service who will negotiate with your employer. The final step is taking your employer to a tribunal – though beware that you will need to pay a fee.

LibDems move to ‘kill’ new Tory restrictions on disability benefits

Around 160,000 disabled people will be stripped of their entitlement to support for the additional costs they face because of their disability after the government shifted the goalposts to deal with upper tribunal legal rulings, according to the Labour Party.

Debbie Abrahams, shadow work and pensions secretary, said: “Instead of listening to the court’s criticisms of personal independence payment assessments and correcting these injustices, the government has instead decided to undermine the legal basis of the rulings.

“This is an unprecedented attempt to subvert an independent tribunal judgment by a government with contempt for judicial process.

“By shifting the goalposts, the Tory government will strip entitlements from over 160,000 disabled people, money which the courts believe is rightfully theirs.

“This is a step too far, even for this Tory government. Labour will stand with disabled people, who have already borne the brunt of seven years of austerity, in fighting this injustice.”

Read more: Tories ‘shifting the goal post’ of disability benefit entitlements, say Labour

According to the Liberal Democrat Voice, the Liberal Democrats have tabled a motion to kill the government attempts to severely restrict disability benefits.

The move follows the recent undemocratic announcement by the government that they will be tightening the criteria for claimants of Personal Independence Payments (PIP) which will see people with serious illnesses such as diabetes, epilepsy and a wide range of mental illnesses left without support.

The purpose of Upper Tribunals

The government has introduced the restrictive regulations after losing two cases at tribunals, showing an utter contempt for the UK judiciary system. However, the UK tribunal system is part of the national system of administrative justice.

Administrative law is the body of law that governs the activities of administrative agencies of government. It is designed to independently review the decisions of governments, and as such, it provides protection and promotion of fundamental rights and freedoms for citizens.

The Upper Tribunal is a superior court of record, giving it equivalent status to the High Court and it can both set precedents and can enforce its decisions (and those of the First-tier Tribunal) without the need to ask the High Court or the Court of Session to intervene.

It is also the first (and only) tribunal to have the power of judicial review. .The Conservatives have a historical dislike of judicial review. See for example: The real “constitutional crisis” is Chris Grayling’s despotic tendencies and his undermining of the Rule of Law.

The Tribunals, Courts and Enforcement Act 2007 created a new unified structure for tribunals and recognises legally qualified members of tribunals as members of the judiciary of the United Kingdom who are guaranteed continued judicial independence.

This means that the judiciary is kept discrete from other branches of government. That is so that courts are not subjected to improper influence from the other branches of government, or from private or partisan interests.

Judicial Independence is vital and important to the idea of separation of powers. The intent behind this concept is to prevent the concentration of political power and provide for checks and balances.

It has been significantly influenced by judicial independence principles developed by international human rights constitutional documents. in the application of the European Convention on Human Rights in British law through the Human Rights Act 1998, which came into force in the UK in 2000.

The government’s new regulations are a particularly autocratic move, aimed at simply overturning two legal rulings that the government did not like, partly because their zealotry concerning their anti-welfarism and “small state” neoliberal ideology has been challenged.

The regulations were ushered in and imposed so that they would not be subjected to parliamentary scrutiny and debate or democratic dialogue with disabled people or groups and organisations that support and advocate for those with disability.

From Penny Mordaunt’s statement:

“The first judgement held that needing support to take medication and monitor a health condition should be scored in the same way as needing support to manage therapy, like dialysis, undertaken at home. Until this ruling, the assessment made a distinction between these two groups, on the basis that people who need support to manage therapy of this kind are likely to have a higher level of need, and therefore face higher costs.

The second held that someone who cannot make a journey without assistance due to psychological distress should be scored in the same way as a person who needs assistance because they have difficulties navigating. By way of example, the first group might include some people with isolated social phobia or anxiety, whereas the second group might include some people who are blind. Until this ruling, the assessment made a distinction between these two groups, on the basis that people who cannot navigate, due to a visual or cognitive impairment, are likely to have a higher level of need, and therefore face higher costs.”

Responding to the announcement, Baroness Cathy Bakewell, Liberal Democrat Shadow Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, said: “The government is using its recent losses in court as an excuse to severely restrict disability benefits.

“Rather than listening to the ruling they are using it to make matters worse for disabled people – that is utterly outrageous.

“What makes things even worse is that they have sneaked this announcement out under the cover of by-elections.

“These decisions impact the lives of vulnerable people, Liberal Democrats will not allow the Conservatives to get away with treating people with disabilities with such total contempt.”

The Liberal Democrats contributed to scuppering the government’s plans to restrict tax credits back in October 2015.

Personally, I welcome any collaborative effort to challenge the Conservative’s draconian policies which deny people the help and support that they need.