Nicola Sturgeon vows to tackle rising levels of poverty and inequality

SNP MPs will push for immediate action to restore fairness for people on low incomes, Nicola Sturgeon said today, as she called for a 3-point plan to increase living standards.

Campaigning today in North East Fife alongside candidate Stephen Gethins, Ms Sturgeon said that the Tories cared only about cutting budgets and were indifferent to rising levels of poverty and inequality.

She said that the SNP would support increases in the minimum wage to match the real living wage, an end to the public sector pay cap, and restoring fairness in the social security system.

Commenting, Nicola Sturgeon said: “The Tories have shown nothing but cold indifference to the rising levels of poverty and inequality across the UK – they found money to cut taxes for the rich but claim there is no money to help those on lower incomes.

“With the limited powers of the Scottish Parliament, the SNP has done everything we can to make pay fairer – and Scotland has the highest proportion of people paid at least the living wage of any nation in the UK.

“But Scotland also needs strong voices at Westminster arguing for fairness. We will work with business to increase the level of the minimum wage to the level of the real living wage.

“We also want to see an end to public sector pay caps which – in light of increasing inflation caused by Brexit uncertainty – are becoming increasingly unsustainable.

“While the Tories care only about saving money, the SNP will strike a balance between affordability and the cost of living – and we will no longer assume a 1% cap.

“Finally we’ll restore fairness to our social security system – demanding an end to policies such as the freeze in working-age benefits, and the two-child limit on tax credits with its disgusting rape clause.

“At this election, people in Scotland have a clear choice between electing Tory MPs who will simply rubberstamp more cuts, voting Labour and risking letting Tory MPs in by the back door, or electing SNP MPs who will stand up for Scotland and for fairness in our society.

“Now more than ever, it is vital that we have strong SNP voices standing up for Scotland at Westminster.”

This is an official press release from the Scottish National Party (SNP).

Heart attack victim found ‘fit for work’ suffered third attack on first day in new job

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]A 44 year old man suffered his third heart attack after being refused disability benefits and being forced to work. Michael Bispham, who had already suffered two heart attacks, collapsed with a third on the day he started work as a delivery driver, just three hours into his shift.

He had been awarded zero points at his Work Capability Assessment (WCA), and was told he was not eligible to claim sickness benefit and must look for work, the Daily Mirror reports.

Michael was found “fit for work” by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), despite 11 letters from consultants and other doctors clearly stating he was unfit for work.

He received confirmation that he had won his Employment and Support Allowance tribunal – reversing the DWP decision – as he lay in hospital following his heart attack in work.

Michael had been fitted with a cardiac defibrillator – a device that delivers electric shocks as a treatment for life-threatening cardiac dysrhythmias – before he started work on February 13.

As a delivery driver, Michael was forced into an unacceptable situation of risk, both to himself and to others, potentially, through no fault of his own.

Anyone who has seen the film I, Daniel Blake will probably recognise parallels. It’s a work of art that really does imitate real life.

In February, the employer relationship manager at Jobcentre Plus in Tyne & Wear and Northumberland, who is based at the branch featured in the film I, Daniel Blake, said: “I, Daniel Blake is a representation … I hope people don’t think the film is a documentary, because it’s a story that doesn’t represent the reality we work in.”

“My team and I try to treat people as individuals, and we care about the work we do,” he told the Guardian. “There will be times when we get it wrong, but I don’t believe we are ever as wrong as how we are portrayed in this film.

“I remember talking about the film in the canteen. We were concerned about how it might affect our relationship with the people we were trying to help find work. How would they react to it?”

Ken Loach, however, defended the authenticity and realism of the film’s content. “I challenge anyone to find a single word in that film that isn’t true,” he said.

I, Daniel Blake tells the story of a joiner who has had a heart attack, and is no longer able to work. However, he becomes caught up in the nightmare bureacracy of the welfare state, is passed as “fit for work” at his Work Capability Assessment, and is told he has to look for work. He suffers a second attack just before his tribunal, as a consequence of the sustained psychological distress and strain he experiences because of the punitive Conservative welfare “reforms”.

Damian Green, the work and pensions secretary, said the film was “monstrously unfair” – though he added he had not seen it.

Michael’s wife, Emily, would disagree.

Emily has spoken out about the distress of helping Michael to recover, while having to fight the “horrendous and unfair” benefits system she says is designed to make “honest people feel worthless”.

She says: “My husband scored zero points when he was assessed for employment support allowance.

“He’d already had two heart attacks. That should have been it.

“We knew he was too poorly, we submitted 11 letters about his condition from consultants and the hospital, but they declared him fit to work.

“It nearly killed him. I’m so angry about it.

“Just when we needed help and support, we had to navigate the system with pages of forms.

“They stopped any money because he was no longer able to job seek and we were told to start from the beginning and apply again for the ESA he’d been turned down for in the first place.

“We had nothing for three weeks at what was the worst time of our lives. It was so difficult.”

Emily was forced to stop work herself last year after being diagnosed with Crohn’s disease. She is hoping to return to work as soon as she is well enough, though Crohn’s disease is a chronic illness.

She said: “We were just normal people with jobs. We’ve got a mortgage. This could happen to anyone. But the way you are treated by the government is appalling.

“Basically, it’s a case of guilty until proven innocent at these assessments. You are there to prove you’re not making it up.

A DWP spokesperson, giving what has become a standardised and somewhat meaningless response, said: “The decision on whether someone is well enough to work is taken following a thorough assessment, including all available evidence from the claimant’s GP or medical specialist.

“Anyone who disagrees with the outcome of their assessment can appeal.” 

However, a recent Freedom of Information request showed that controversial targets still exist within the DWP, that prompt decision makers carrying out mandatory reconsiderations of DWP decisions to favour their original decision, regardless of the evidence submitted and the quality and appropriateness of the original decision.

Appeals cannot go ahead until the mandatory reconsideration has been carried out.

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SNP general election manifesto: key points and analysis

Powered by article titled “SNP general election manifesto: key points and analysis” was written by Alan Travis Home affairs editor, for on Tuesday 30th May 2017 14.30 UTC

The SNP manifesto does not, as might be expected, place independence at its heart but instead puts pledges to “roll back the impact of Tory austerity” in Scotland centre stage.

Indeed, in launching her party’s manifesto, Nicola Sturgeon criticised Scottish Tories for “banging on so much” about independence at the expense of anything else.

The manifesto lists a commitment to hold a second independence referendum as 10th out of 10 “key pledges” and significantly delays its timing until the end of the Brexit process, when the terms of Britain’s withdrawal from the EU are known.

It sets out a radical programme “to demand an end to austerity” that is clearly designed to keep on board SNP voters who are thinking of switching to Corbyn and to woo Labour unionists swinging towards the Tories. For the first time in its history, the SNP is fighting a defensive campaign with 53 seats at stake.

Sturgeon said her manifesto included £80bn of new spending commitments financed by £10bn of tax rises, including abolition of married tax allowance, and £118bn “freed up” by slowing down the pace of deficit reduction compared with Conservative plans.

Ending austerity

SNP MPs in Westminster will vote against any further planned social security cuts, for an end to the freeze on working-age benefits and for abolition of the two-child cap on tax credits and the associated rape clause. The party would abolish the bedroom tax. MPs will vote to protect the triple lock on pensions and full support for the Waspi campaign by women who have lost out due to increases to the pension age. And the party would end the public sector pay freeze and increase the minimum wage to the level of the living wage.

Analysis: The pledge on social security is designed to outflank Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour party, which has promised only to reverse a quarter of the Tory government’s planned social security cuts. Some voters may regard the lack of commitments to take any major utilities back into the public sector qualifies this position to the left of Labour. But at the same time the SNP, unlike Labour, has a clear pledge to scrap Trident.


The manifesto says:At the end of the Brexit process, when the final terms of the deal are known, it is right that Scotland should have a choice about its future.” It argues that if the SNP victories in last year’s Holyrood election and vote in Scottish parliament are joined by the party winning a majority of Westminster seats in Scotland on 8 June, then there will be a “triple lock” reinforcing the claimed mandate for an independence referendum.

Analysis: The manifesto clearly drops Sturgeon’s previous demand for a second referendum to be held between autumn 2018 and spring 2019. The SNP said previously that it wanted a second referendum when Brexit terms were known but, crucially, before the deal was signed. The new position would push the timetable back to late 2019 at the earliest.

Education/health/public services

The SNP guarantees the continuation of free university education in Scotland, no grammar schools north of the border and to match Labour’s offer of 30 hours of free childcare for two- to four-year-olds by 2021. There is an extra £750m to improve standards in Scottish schools. It calls for the UK government to increase health spending in England to Scottish levels, which are 7% higher.

The SNP would increase the NHS England budget by £11bn and deliver an extra £1bn in consequential funding for NHS Scotland over and above the £2bn SNP has committed to. The party will campaign for the return of emergency services VAT payments that would boost Scottish funding by £140m.

Analysis: The pledges match the scale of Labour’s spending, particularly on health and education, but without the specific pledges to recruit more police officers, firefighters or border guards.


At the manifesto launch, Sturgeon said Brexit was putting at risk the efforts to tackle the biggest economic problem facing Scotland, which was the decline in its population. The manifesto builds on the remainer majority in Scotland by insisting the country should have a place at the negotiating table to stay in the single market.

Scottish population

“The SNP will continue to seek devolution of immigration powers so that Scotland can have an immigration policy that works for our economy and society. And we will stand firm against the demonisation of migrants,” it adds.

Analysis: The SNP estimates that leaving the single market would put at risk 80,000 jobs in Scotland. The manifesto also voices anxieties about the impact of a post-Brexit immigration policy on a country that has a declining population. These include the possibility of imposing a £1,000-a-head levy on EU migrants. The SNP wants to see immigration policy devolved to Edinburgh. Concerns have been raised about the role of the English/Scottish border in such a move, but the UK points-based system already has a different shortage occupation list for Scotland.


The manifesto proposes an increase in the top rate of income tax from 45p to 50p on income over £150,000 across UK from 2018/19, the abolition of the married couple’s allowance, the cancellation of reductions in the bank levy and a new tax on bankers’ bonuses.

The party would balance the UK budget for day-to-day spending by the end of the parliament and after that borrow only to invest, return the deficit to its pre-crash average and set debt on a downward path as a proportion of GDP.

SNP manifesto tax policy

Analysis: The Scottish parliament has power over income tax rates so the SNP could already have chosen to reintroduce a 50p top rate of tax in Scotland alone. This is a modest tax-raising package compared with the scale of spending commitments, especially when coupled with pledges to continue the freeze on basic rates of income tax and opposition to any increases in VAT or national insurance. © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010

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BBC knew American corporate ‘racketeers’ were influencing UK welfare reforms

In November 2007, BBC News exposed the influence of Unum Insurance with the welfare reforms, and now the UK is perilously close to adopting private healthcare insurance to fund welfare as the Welfare State is demolished.

Almost ten years after the BBC News report chronically ill and disabled people, whose financial survival is dependent upon State funded finance, have paid a very high price for the influence of this American corporate giant with successive UK governments since 1992.

“A multinational insurance company accused of racketeering and cheating thousands of Americans out of welfare benefits, is giving advice to the British government on welfare reform. A BBC investigation has found that executives from Unum have held meetings with senior Whitehall officials to discuss changes to the benefit system”…

The above quote was the introduction by BBC News anchor Hew Edwards for an exclusive BBC News report, transmitted on 6th November, 2007.

Fortunately, some very wise researchers and activists downloaded the transcript of the report as, within a few short days, both the transcript and the BBC News video were inexplicably removed from the BBC News archives.

Read more: Demolition of UK welfare state planned with corporate America

Quite whose authority was used to rapidly remove this BBC News investigation remains a mystery. Presumably, the New Labour government didn’t want reference to Unum Insurance and their many court cases to be permanently available, or the $multi-million fines they paid out in America for refusing to honour their Income Protection Insurance policies.

In reality, Unum (Provident) Insurance worked with the British government from 1992, and were appointed as official government advisers for “welfare claims management” from 1994, to guide the then Conservative John Major government to eventually replace the Welfare State with healthcare insurance policies.

This official guidance was despite the fact that Unum (Provident) Insurance were regularly exposed for their resistance to funding insurance payments to as many genuine claimants as possible, and there was a parliamentary debate in 1999 which exposed the preventable harm the American corporate giant created for claimants.

During the BBC News report, presenter Mark Daly advised that: “US-based multi-national insurance giant, Unum, has shown a keen interest in UK welfare reform since the mid-1990s…. Unum are the world’s largest disability insurers, with more than 25 million customers in the US alone.

“But in 2002, a series of whistle blowers came forward with damning allegations. Linda Nee was a claims handler for UnumProvident, as it was called then”.

She exposed her experiences when working for Unum, and Linda is quoted as saying: “I was often placed in a position by a consultant, who was my supervisor, of denying a claim. Of telling me to deny a claim, or having a manager tell me to remove documentation from a claim so that an attorney would not have the opportunity to see it”.

Daly advised “It was alleged that UnumProvident cheats tens of thousands of disabled Americans out of their rightful insurance claims”, and he interviewed several claimants who had all challenged the Unum decision in court and had been awarded substantial damages.

Unsurprisingly, less than 12 months following the BBC broadcast, the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) stopped the out-of-work disability funding known as Incapacity Benefit and replaced it with the Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) in October 2008.

Introduced by New Labour, to access the ESA sick and disabled people who were unfit to work were required to endure the new Work Capability Assessment (WCA), as conducted by unaccountable corporate giants, using a ‘functional assessment’ that disregards diagnosis and prognosis and is a replica of the totally discredited moderated biopsychosocial (BPS) model used by Unum Insurance to resist funding insurance claims.

Almost ten years since the ESA was introduced, the DWP commissioned research used to justify the use of the BPS model for the WCA has been totally discredited by academic excellence, Coroners have identified a link between the WCA and suicides, the DWP have refused to publish updated ESA mortality totals and Professor Sir Mansel Aylward, the academic architect of the discredited and dangerous BPS assessment model used for the WCA admitted as long ago as 2012 that it was “unsatisfactory”.

Yet, the DWP continue to use the WCA to resist funding welfare benefit to as many as possible, regardless of the human and often fatal consequences.

Mo Stewart is an independent researcher and retired healthcare professional. Her book “Cash Not Care: the planned demolition of the UK welfare state” was published in 2016 by New Generation Publishing.

Theresa May’s plans for further austerity cuts exposed in ‘car crash’ interview

Theresa May was exposed over her damaging plans for more cuts and further austerity in a car-crash interview for Sky News’ “Battle for Number 10”, SNP Depute leader Angus Robertson said tonight.

The Prime Minister failed to answer basic questions on social care, winter fuel payments and further cuts to police during her first encounter with the general public in a televised Q&A session.

She was also grilled by Jeremy Paxman over her litany of U-turns and ‘weak and wobbly’ leadership in a campaign which has seen the Tories plummet in the polls.

Despite direct questioning, she failed to put a figure on the income level for pensioners to receive winter fuel payments, what the criteria would be for social care for the elderly, whether she plans to increase or cut police numbers, what immigration levels she would set or what the damage to the economy will be from Brexit.

She also threatened to walk away from Brexit negotiations without a deal for vital jobs and industries.

Commenting on Mrs May’s woeful performance, the SNP’s Depute Leader Angus Robertson said: “Tonight Theresa May proved exactly why now, more so than ever, Scotland needs strong SNP voices standing up to the Tories at Westminster.

“She let the cat out of the bag — the Tories are gearing up for more cuts on a monumental scale, and more damaging austerity which will hit Scottish families hard.

“Theresa May’s election campaign has gone from bad, to worse, to utterly embarrassing.

“She doesn’t have the answers on the most basic questions, either because she doesn’t know them or she’s trying to lead voters up the garden path.

“It’s clear that she cannot be trusted to get a good deal in Brexit negotiations — she’s weak and wobbly and completely lacking in the qualities of leadership.

“It’s no surprise she has been in hiding all campaign.

“The only way to defend Scotland from more Tory cuts and from a messy, damaging Brexit is to vote for MPs who will put Scotland’s interests first — by voting SNP next Thursday.”

This is an official press release from the Scottish National Party (SNP). Headline chosen by Welfare Weekly.

Charities say ‘gag law’ stops them speaking out on Tory social care plans

Powered by article titled “Charities say ‘gag law’ stops them speaking out on Tory social care plans” was written by Anushka Asthana Political editor, for on Monday 29th May 2017 19.39 UTC

Charities have been silenced from speaking out about the Conservative social care plans despite believing they will be hugely damaging to elderly and disabled people across the country, it has been claimed.

One chief executive of a major charity in the social care sector told the Guardian they felt “muzzled” by legislation, introduced in 2014, which heavily restricts organisations from intervening on policy during an election period.

They said Theresa May’s decision to means test winter fuel allowance would inadvertently result in some of the poorest pensioners in the country losing the support, adding that “will literally cost lives”.

Sir Stephen Bubb, who runs the Charity Futures thinktank but previously led Aveco, an umbrella organisation for voluntary organisations, said it was notable how quiet his sector had been about the policy.

“The social care proposals strike at the heart of what charities do but they should be up in arms about them but it hasn’t happened. It is two problems: there is the problem of the so-called ‘gagging act’, but also the general climate of hostility towards charities means there is a lot of self censorship,” he said.

“Charities that once would have spoken out are keeping quiet and doing a disservice to their beneficiaries. They need to get a bit of a grip.”

The Electoral Commission said the legal test for charities was whether their spending on an activity could be reasonably regarded as intended to influence people to vote for a political party, and stressed that organisations could register as a non-party campaigner.

Meanwhile, a decision to include a person’s personal property in an assessment for how much they will pay towards social care in the home – dubbed the “dementia tax” – could stop people accessing the care they need.

“We are ready to speak out at one minute past midnight on 9 June,” the charity leader added, but stressed they were too afraid to do so now.

Some fear charities face a permanent “chilling effect” after the Electoral Commission said they must declare any work that could be deemed political over the past 12 months to ensure they are not in breach of the Lobbying Act.

But Bubb said the self-censorship was to do with the way the government had reacted to charities speaking out in the past.

He cited the decision by May to hit out at the British Red Cross after its chief executive claimed his organisation was responding to a “humanitarian crisis” in hospitals and ambulance services.

The prime minister accused the organisation of making comments that were “irresponsible and overblown”.

“That was a warning shot,” said Bubb. “So many charity leaders do feel that if they do speak out there will be some form of comeback on them. The Charity Commission has been notably absent in defending charity rights to campaign – the climate has been hostile to the charity voice.”

A second senior figure in the charity sector also said they were too afraid to speak out on the social care proposals. “We are all scared of the lobbying act and thus most of us are not saying much during the election. There was the same problem in the EU referendum – if you criticise the government then you are being political.”

During the referendum a row broke out after the Charity Commission issued guidelines that some charities interpreted as preventing them from making pro-EU arguments.

The head of the organisation, William Shawcross, dismissed the charge by Margaret Hodge MP that his Euroscepticism was to blame for the issuing of the advice from the commission on when charities could intervene on the issue.

This year, Greenpeace became the first organisation to be fined under the act after failing to register as a “third-party campaigning organisation” in the run-up to the 2015 election.

Steve Reed, the shadow minister for civil society, said the Labour party would scrap the lobbying act because it had “effectively gagged” charities.

“Here is this disastrous U-turn on social care and we are not hearing much from the charities that are working on the ground with older people and those with dementia because the Tories have shut them up. They’ve been banned from pointing out the negative consequences of government policy,” he said.

He argued that advocacy groups were not being allowed to advocate on behalf of the vulnerable people they worked with.

The Liberal Democrat health spokesman, Norman Lamb, agreed, claiming the legislation had caused an “extraordinary chilling effect on charities’ willingness to challenge government”, which was “particularly pernicious during an election”.

He concurred with the charity chief executive that the “big risk with high charges for home care were that people would be fearful of spending money on it, and a proportion will do without or take on less care than they need”. Lamb argued that the policy and the combination of the reduction in the winter fuel allowance was “immensely challenging”.

A Tory source said: “We are going to consult very widely on these changes in policy to avoid unintended consequences – we want to take into account views of people who use services, charities, stakeholder and so on and that will happen after the election period.” © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010

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Greens launch disability manifesto pledging to scrap ‘fit for work’ tests

The Green Party of England and Wales have today launched its disability manifesto at an event in London, promising empowerment for deaf and disabled people and accusing the Conservatives of removing disabled people’s basic rights and limiting their opportunities.

The Green Party’s disability manifesto highlights the daily struggles faced by many disabled people: from their battle to hold on to Personal Independence Payments (PIPs), the loss of £30 per week for people in the Employment Support Allowance Work Related Activity Group, and the scrapping of the Independent Living Fund.

The first Deafblind person ever to stand for Parliament in the UK, Ben Fletcher, joined Green Party Co-Leader Jonathan Bartley at the launch in Putney, south west London, saying: “Disabled people are desperately under-represented in public life in Britain.

“At a time of deep disillusionment with politics in the UK, it is really important for the MPs elected in 2017 to reflect the diversity of the people they are meant to represent.

“There are over 11 million disabled people in Britain. That’s one in six. And yet many of us are still prevented from participating fully in education, in employment, and in politics because of inflexible, outdated attitudes, needless barriers to access and a general lack of understanding about what disabled people can really achieve if they receive the support they need.”

Jonathan Bartley, who co-leads the Green Party as a job share so he can support his disabled son Samuel, attacked the Conservative’s record on supporting people with disabilities.

“This General Election is about the kind of country we want to live in” he said. “Is it the kind of country the Tories tell us we must accept, in which austerity cuts are inflicted on those least able to withstand their impact, including disabled people who already face huge barriers to basic equality?

He added: “The Green Party refuses to accept that the UK, as the fifth largest economy, cannot do better. The Government should focus on removing the real barriers to disabled people finding work, and tackle the widespread prejudice against disabled people rather than fostering it.”

The disability manifesto includes a plan for a community-led ‘Care & Support Service’, which the Party says will train, support and resource communities to better help each other and the most vulnerable in society, while also saving money by supporting wellbeing and helping communities to identify and meet needs, alongside councils, the NHS and Government.

The Green Party also pledged to “enable many more disabled people to enjoy good and fulfilling lives, and scrap the ineffective work capability assessments replacing them by increasing support available via GPs and other health professionals”.

Key points from the manifesto include:

  • Reviewing essential disability benefits to enable many more disabled people to enjoy good and fulfilling lives, and scrap the ineffective work capability assessments replacing them by increasing support available via GPs and other health professionals
  • Better social care and health services, to improve care and support services for d/Deaf, disabled and older people covering all adults with assessed need
  • Empower communities to create ‘community-led’ networks of support to sustain a range of preventative services helping to improve quality of life, reducing the need for costly care or hospital services
  • Significantly improve the housing choice for d/Deaf, disabled and older people by requiring all councils to plan for their housing needs, creating Disability Housing Plans, and work to significantly increase the numbers of homes built to mobility standards over the next 5 years.
  • Create a Housing Adaptions Fund to help people return home quickly from hospital and to ensure older and disabled people’s homes are appropriate for their needs.
  • Improve education opportunities for disabled young people by ensuring all schools fully support disabled children to have a high-quality education
  • Support disabled people to have increased work opportunities through community-based Supported Employment & Enterprise services, and require all UK businesses/services to ensure at least 5% of their work goes to disabled people
  • Recognise that some sick or disabled people can’t work and ensure benefits and support systems enable all to have a good quality of life
  • Fully recognise the rights of d/Deaf, disabled and older people and ensure all UN commitments and equality legislation requirements are fully implemented
  • Adjust national infrastructure investment plans to ensure all communities, businesses, work places, leisure facilities and transport systems are accessible to all UK citizens
  • End the placement of people with complex learning disability or mental health in remote care/ NHS treatment units similar to the notorious ‘Winterborne View’, and transfer this funding to provide better locally-based housing and care alongside family and community support, and significantly increase advocacy support for all d/Deaf, disabled adults to access these services

Ben Fletcher, 36, lives in Southfields with his partner Lauren. He works as a Lead Developer for at the Financial Times and describes his first language as British Sign Language (BSL). The Green Party is campaigning for full recognition of BSL as an official language of the UK.

Ben has decided to stand for Parliament, despite the closure of the Access to Elected Office Fund by the Tory government after the last General Election. The fund provided financial support to disabled candidates standing for political office, and has not been replaced or reopened despite a recommendation by the Equality and Human Rights Commission in September 2015.

Mr Fletcher said: I have been able to stand for Parliament thanks to the support of the Green Party, who have shown themselves to be an inclusive, diverse and modern political party.

“I am proud to represent a party that stands up for what really matters. If elected to Parliament by the people of Putney on 8 June, I look forward to doing the same”.

Thatcher’s dark legacy must be stopped

Margaret Thatcher was the first elected neoliberal politician in the UK and, since then, toxic neoliberal poison has swept the world.

Neoliberal politics has successfully replaced need with greed and, in Britain, has gradually eroded all evidence of any moral or ethical responsibility by government to the chronically sick and disabled public, who are financially dependent upon welfare funding.

Known as the ‘Iron Lady’, it was Thatcher who declared in a magazine interview that “there is no such thing as society” and she demonstrated this belief using a dominant leadership style, which saw her forge a deep bond with Ronald Reagan in America, and eventually obliged her to resign from office in 1990 following a battle within the Conservative Party. But Thatcher has since been immortalized and her dark legacy continues…

Photo: Chris Collins of the Margaret Thatcher Foundation – Margaret Thatcher Foundation, CC BY-SA 3.0, Link

The long ago planned demolition of the welfare state couldn’t happen overnight and began quietly. In November 2001 conference was assembled at Woodstock, near Oxford, and the subject of the conference was ‘Malingering and Illness Deception’.

The 39 participants were all linked to UnumProvident Insurance, the American corporate giant acting as advisers to the UK government on ‘welfare claims management’, represented at the conference by John LoCascio and supported by Mansel Aylward, the Chief Medical Officer for the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).

The American corporate influence would be ever present within the DWP, as Mansel Aylward worked to undermine welfare funding for chronically sick and disabled people by suggesting that chronically sick and disabled welfare claimants were “malingering”, not least because he disregarded diagnosis and all medical opinion.

Aylward’s biased opinion, influenced by corporate America, was welcomed by politicians on both sides of the House of Commons because it would eventually reduce the welfare budget.

In 1995 21% of Incapacity Benefit claimants had a mental health problem and by 2005 the proportion had risen to 39%, or just under one million people. This is why future DWP commissioned welfare reports claimed that one million people should be removed from long-term out-of-work disability benefits and returned to work, suggesting that mental health problems are not considered to be serious enough to warrant welfare support.

To reduce the numbers, eventually a new benefit and a new benefit assessment model would be introduced to limit access to welfare funding, to coerce as many chronically ill and disabled people as possible to find work, to manipulate the British public with propaganda and to spend a great deal of DWP time and energy demonising sick and disabled people when guaranteed to be reported by the Tory national press.

An example of misreporting and inaccurate headlines.

Commissioned by John Hutton in December 2006, when Secretary of State for Work and Pensions in the New Labour government, former city banker David Freud first gained attention in early 2007 with the publication of the report ‘Reducing Dependency, Increasing Opportunity: options for the future of welfare to work’.

The first draft was produced in only three weeks when limited to using evidence from Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) published data, which has since been exposed as being unsound.

David Freud: The unelected welfare reform minister with too much political power

Freud’s report recommended that it was possible to reduce the 2.68 million out-of-work disability benefit claimants of Incapacity Benefit (IB) by one million people, who should be returned to work, and also recommended that the private sector should undertake all re-assessments of IB claimants.

This became a reality in October 2008 with the introduction of the Work Capability Assessment (WCA), conducted by an unaccountable corporate giant known as Atos Healthcare, who reassessed IB claimants being migrated to the replacement Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) benefit, and assessed all new ESA claimants.

This new assessment system when using the private sector permitted state crime by proxy. An appointed unaccountable corporate giant was expected to tolerate any public protest against the fatally flawed WCA, whilst the DWP could hide behind the corporate screen at a cost to the taxpayer of £500 million per annum.

What is not well known is that the evidence in the ‘Freud Report’, as it came to be known, was exposed in an academic paper by Professor Danny Dorling in 2007 within weeks of the DWP commissioned report being published.

Dorling identified Freud’s incompetence and demonstrated that “he got his numbers wrong” as Freud had misinterpreted his own references, but successive governments disregarded the identified flaws and adopted Freud’s recommendations.

For his report, Freud used information from various DWP commissioned reports. The 2005 Waddell and Aylward report ‘The Scientific and Conceptual Basis of Incapacity Benefit’ had also advised that one million people could be removed from long-term sickness benefit, without providing any supportive evidence for such a claim.

The 2005 Waddell and Aylward report opened the door to future preventable harm by disregarding the medical opinion of claimants’ GPs and Consultants and recommending a “functional assessment”, using the biopsychosocial (BPS) model, for the reassessment of all 2.68 million IB claimants and for all new claimants of the replacement ESA benefit.

Despite having no political experience and admitting in a press interview that he knew “nothing about welfare”, Freud was ennobled by David Cameron, which meant that as a member of the House of Lords he could be invited to work on behalf of the Conservative Party.

Never elected, Freud was first appointed as the DWP Shadow Minister for Welfare Reform for the Conservative Party in 2009. In 2010 he was appointed as the DWP Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for the Coalition government and was reappointed, in May 2015, as the DWP Minister of State for Welfare Reform in the new Conservative government.

During his time in office, Freud recommended many changes to welfare funding with the priority of reducing DWP welfare costs. With only one notable exception, when Freud recommended that disabled people should work for only £2 per hour, the Coalition and Conservative governments accepted Freud’s recommendations verbatim and, very quickly, chronically ill and disabled people learned to live in fear with the constant psychological tyranny of relentless DWP re-assessments, which could remove essential funding without warning.

DWP coercion and brutality became the norm. The regular use of sanctions, with the claimant’s only income stopped for several weeks, meant that chronically ill people would starve to death in 21st century UK as a penalty for being five minutes late for a Job Centre appointment when the ‘bus was late.

The two most damaging DWP commissioned reports, used by successive governments to cause preventable harm to chronically ill people were the 2007 ‘Freud Report’ and the 2005 report by former DWP Chief Medical Officer Mansel Aylward and Gordon Waddell: ‘The Scientific and Conceptual Basis of Incapacity Benefit’.

Both reports would be exposed by academic excellence as being fatally flawed, but they were used by government to justify a dramatic reduction of the welfare budget, regardless of consequences. The budget is the only political priority, not the people in need of access to welfare funding.

Mo Stewart is an independent researcher and retired healthcare professional. Her critically acclaimed book ‘Cash Not Care’ was published in 2016 by New Generation Publishing.

Report reveals scale of food bank use in the UK

Powered by article titled “Report reveals scale of food bank use in the UK” was written by Patrick Butler Social policy editor, for on Monday 29th May 2017 12.31 UTC

There are at least 2,000 food banks operating in the UK, giving out emergency food parcels on a weekly basis to people in hardship, according to research that shines fresh light on the rapid growth of charity food provision in austerity Britain.

The research complements established information on UK food bank use compiled by the Trussell Trust, Britain’s biggest food bank network, which collects extensive data from its members and recently reported that it gave out a record 1.2m food parcels to families and individuals in need in 2016-17, the ninth successive year in which demand had risen.

Emerging results from the mapping project undertaken by the Independent Food Aid Network (Ifan), confirm that the Trussell figures represent only a partial picture of the scale of organised food bank provision, and suggest that the level of food bank use is far greater than headline figures indicate.

Ifan’s findings, seen by the Guardian, suggest that there are at least 651 grassroots food banks operating independently of the Trussell network, ranging from tiny voluntary groups that give out a few food parcels each week, to larger charity operations that hand out thousands of parcels to hundreds of clients each year.

Prof Jon May, of Queen Mary University of London and chair of Ifan, said the figures emphasised the rapid rise in the number of food banks over the past five years, and the changing geography of poverty. “There are now food banks in almost every community, from the East End of London to the Cotswolds. The spread of food banks maps growing problems of poverty across the UK, but also the growing drive among many thousands of people across the country to try and do something about those problems”.

Frank Field, the Labour MP, a veteran poverty campaigner and chair of the Feeding Britain charity, welcomed the figures, and called on the next government to do more to understand the scale of hunger and food insecurity. “These figures show the tide of hunger sweeping the UK. It’s another piece in the jigsaw puzzle of destitution in this country.”

The study counts the 1,373 distribution centres that operate out of Trussell trust’s 419 food banks in its figures alongside the 651 “independents” to make a total of 2,024 food banks. It defines a food bank as an organisation that gives out food parcels on a weekly basis. It does not include informal food parcel distribution by social welfare charities, children’s centres, churches, housing associations, hospitals and other groups.

independent food bank list
Ifan’s list of 651 food banks operating in UK outside of the Trussell trust network

Although the project maps the extent of food bank provision, it does not collect data on the volume of food aid provided by independent food banks, as unlike Trussell trust members, many do not record how much food they give out.

However, some independent food banks contacted by the Guardian in areas where Trussell trust has no or little presence reported that they gave out substantial amounts of food aid. In Aberdeen, for example, two of the biggest food banks in the city, Community Food Initiatives North East and Instant Neighbour, gave out 15,000 food parcels between them in 2016-17.

Sabine Goodwin, Ifan’s researcher, who spoke to more than 50 food bank workers during the project, said most had reported rising demand for food aid. “Many feel they are firefighting, finding a way to deal with the logistics of feeding more and more people, with no time to advocate for changes that would eradicate the need for food banks in the first place.”

Rachel Loopstra, lecturer in nutrition at King’s College London and an expert in food insecurity, said: “Recent national survey data suggests that 8% of adults experienced not having enough money for food over 2016 – this figure is likely to be many times more than the number helped by food banks. We need ongoing national survey monitoring to understand the scale of food insecurity, who is at risk, and the implications for child and adult health and wellbeing.”

The Ifan survey reveals a wide variety of food-bank operating models: some faith-based, others non-religious; some with strict rules on the amount of food given to individual clients, others with open-ended commitments to families in need; some requiring clients to have a voucher validated by outside agencies, others operating a self-referral system.

Successive governments have played down the rise of food banks, rejecting growing evidence that financial pressures on families caused by welfare cuts, benefit delays and low income helped drive increased demand for emergency food. Recently, the prime minister, Theresa May, attempted to brush off claims that nurses had been forced to use food banks by saying there were “many complex reasons” why people use them.

Ifan said the next stage of its research would be to map other forms of charity food aid in the UK such as school holiday hunger projects, drop-in meal centres, social supermarkets, food clubs, and soup kitchens.

• If you represent an independent food bank or food bank-style project that has not been included in the Ifan survey, contact Sabine Goodwin at © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010

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