The prime minister has become the third senior Conservative figure in a week to refuse to say in front of television cameras whether his party plans to tax key disability benefits after the general election.David Cameron was asked by SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon in last night’s (2 April) leaders’ debate on ITV how his party planned to find the £12 billion-a-year in welfare cuts announced by the chancellor in last month’s budget.Cameron refused to say where those cuts would come from and whether they would include taxing disability benefits.Last week, the BBC reported that it had seen leaked documents that suggested the Conservatives were considering taxing disability benefits as one way to cut the social security bill by £12 billion a year by 2017-18.Among the options, drawn up by civil servants in the Department for Work and Pensions, were an introduction of means-testing for the contributory form of employment and support allowance (saving a possible £1.3 billion a year), taxing disability living allowance (DLA), personal independence payment (PIP) and attendance allowance (possibly saving £1.5 billion a year), and restricting eligibility to carer’s allowance (saving £1 billion a year).George Osborne, the chancellor, refused to promise that there would no further cuts to disability benefits, when interviewed by Channel 4 News, but would only say that the party would “protect the most vulnerable”.And Iain Duncan Smith, the work and pensions secretary, said on BBC’s The Andrew Marr Show that the party might not provide any details before the election of how they would find most of the £12 billion in cuts, because “no decisions have been made”.But Duncan Smith added: “What throughout I’ve always said is I didn’t come into this job after years looking at this to just make cheese paring cuts.“What we’ve come in to do is to reform the welfare system, so that we don’t waste money on organisations and groups and things that don’t actually help life change.”So many people tried to sign an open letter on the Disabled People Against Cuts website – calling on Duncan Smith to “come clean about cuts affecting disabled people” – that the site crashed.And Richard Exell, a disabled senior policy officer at the TUC, said in a column that taxing DLA and PIP would be “particularly felt by low-paid disabled workers”.He also said that the government’s own figures suggested that more than 600,000 disabled people “could find it more difficult to keep their jobs or to move into employment if their DLA or PIP became liable for tax, reducing their ability to pay for services that remove barriers to employment”.Disability Rights UK (DR UK) said that it was “really concerned about the BBC’s report that officials have developed options for politicians to make spending cuts that would again unfairly hit disabled people and carers”.A DR UK spokesperson said: “DLA/PIP is not an out-of-work benefit; but it could become one, because if it is taxed it will certainly act as an incentive not to work.“It makes no sense to tax DLA/PIP since the purpose of the benefit is to help cover the extra costs of disability – things like getting around, and getting support – and so create more of a level playing-field between disabled people and other citizens.”The DR UK spokesperson added: “Furthermore, many disabled people already pay most, if not all, of their DLA/PIP over to local authorities if they get social care support – what we might call the ‘care tax’. In effect, what this proposal would do would be to tax a tax.”A letter, published this week by the Guardian, and signed by leading disabled campaigners and organisations, including members of the WOWcampaign, Black Triangle, Disabled People Against Cuts, Pat’s Petition and People First England, called for the next government to carry out a proper assessment of the “human cost” of the cuts already made by the coalition before even contemplating any further cuts.The letter said: “The news of some leaked documents, explaining further horrendous cuts to carers and sick and disabled people, have left them terrified of what is going to happen.“We would have thought it imperative that any government respecting human rights would check the consequences of the cuts disabled people and carers have already endured, before imposing further draconian cuts.”Of the seven party leaders who took part in the ITV debate, only two were willing to mention the issue of disability poverty.Natalie Bennett, leader of the Greens, said that two-thirds of the households affected by the bedroom tax included at least one disabled person, and she pointed to the imminent closure of the Independent Living Fund, whose users were having their support “slashed away”.Bennett said: “We have to be a human, fair, decent society. We have to support the most vulnerable.”Sturgeon also raised the issue of cuts to welfare, when she asked Cameron: “You’re proposing an additional £12 billion in welfare cuts. Where are those cuts going to fall? Who’s going to pay the price of those cuts?”She added: “Let’s explain what that means: one million people on disability benefit across the UK are going to lose £1,100 of their benefit. That’s not the kind of economic plan I want.”Cameron said: “In the last parliament we found £21 billion of savings in welfare because everybody knows that welfare was overblown and needed to be properly dealt with.“What is the alternative to making cuts in welfare? Putting up taxes and working people’s pay. I don’t want to see that happen.”
The Department for Work and Pensions has refused to name the charities and other organisations being paid millions of pounds to help deliver its new disability employment programme across England and Wales.All six of the new Work and Health Programme contracts went “live” last week, and DWP announced the main contractors in October.But it has refused to say which smaller organisations are helping to deliver the programme as sub-contractors.DWP’s reluctance to do so is likely to be linked to criticism that has been aimed at disability charities that were set to play a significant role in the new programme.When Disability News Service contacted seven of the largest disability charities – most of which are not user-led – in December 2016, none of them ruled out seeking Work and Health Programme contracts.But disabled activists have raised concerns that winning such contracts could mean that these and other charities would be unwilling to criticise the government on social security reform.All seven of the charities contacted in December 2016 insisted then that any contracts they won from the government would have no impact on their campaigning work.There are also major concerns about the programme itself, which is part of the government’s much-criticised Improving Lives work, health and disability strategy, with its “cruel and disastrous” emphasis on “work as a cure”, the placement of employment advisers in health services, and the continued use of benefit sanctions to “punish” disabled claimants.Disability News Service submitted a freedom of information request last month in a bid to discover which voluntary and private sector organisations would be helping to deliver the Work and Health Programme (WHP).But when DWP responded to the request earlier this month, it said the subcontracting organisations were still “subject to change”, but that it would “seek to publish a list of the confirmed main sub-contractors supporting the WHP” following “go live of all WHP contracts” in the week beginning 15 January.That date passed last week, but no list has yet been published.When DNS asked why it had not been released, a DWP spokeswoman said the department “will seek to publish a list of the sub-contractors in due course”.She refused to comment further.Linda Burnip, co-founder of Disabled People Against Cuts, said: “It is no surprise that DWP are unwilling to release details of firms involved in colluding to exploit disabled people for their own profits and this simply confirms the underhand way DWP run their programmes and their diabolical practices. “We look forward, together with Boycott Workfare, to finding out which organisations will be involved in implementing the new disability employment programme.”Denise McKenna, co-founder of the Mental Health Resistance Network, said: “No one who is on the side of disabled people is celebrating the delivery of the Health and Work Programme, as it will wreck lives.“Perhaps the successful bidders will choose to celebrate their wins in private, because they know these contracts are shameful.“Disabled activists have called out charities on their close links with the DWP and their failure to remain independent of Tory ideology.“The private firms who take on these contracts, along with the charities, will be closely watched by activists.“Their identities can’t be protected by the DWP forever.“We are used to the DWP being secretive. After all, they have so much to hide.”The main WHP contractors are Remploy (in Wales); the charity Shaw Trust in central England and the home counties; Reed In Partnership in north-east England; Ingeus in the north-west; and Pluss in the south of England.Remploy, formerly owned by the government, is now mostly controlled by the US company Maximus.Maximus has a disturbing track record of discrimination, incompetence and fraud in the US, while Remploy slashed the pay of service-users who were taking part in inspections of health and care facilities, after taking on three Care Quality Commission contracts, and has since been heavily criticised for its performance in delivering those contracts.
The number of staff working in the government’s Office for Disability Issues (ODI) has plummeted by more than two-thirds under the coalition and Conservative governments, new figures released under the Freedom of Information Act have revealed.In March 2010, just before the Tory-led coalition came to power, there were the equivalent of 48 full-time staff working in ODI.By March 2012 that had fallen to 29 full-time equivalent staff.Although there are no figures for 2013, 2014 and 2015, by 1 January 2016 there were just 20 full-time equivalent staff working at ODI.DWP insists that part of the reason for the fall is that “elements of the work that was carried out by ODI is now being taken forward by specialist units across government”, such as the Work and Health Unit (WHU), jointly set up with the Department of Health in 2015.But following the launch of WHU, the numbers continued to fall, to 13.65 in January 2017 and just 11.5 in January this year, although they rose again slightly to 15.45 by May this year.The numbers were released to Disability News Service by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) in response to a freedom of information request.Meanwhile, the ODI website has not been updated in more than six months.In all of 2017, the website was updated just three times, compared with five updates in 2016, and 17 in 2015.Only last month, DWP admitted that none of the bodies it set up to engage with disabled people and their organisations as part of its disability strategy had met in nearly a year.And earlier this month, DWP refused to say whether it still followed the Fulfilling Potential strategy, which was supposed to describe the government’s commitment to “a society where disabled people can realise their aspirations and fulfil their potential”.A DWP spokeswoman said: “ODI remains the focal point for cross-government disability issues, working on a range of issues to empower disabled people and enable them to participate fully in society, but their team is [by] no means the only people working on disability issues.“ODI has an oversight role to provide advice and facilitate engagement, as departments focus upon disability as part of their policy.”She also pointed to this week’s announcement by Sarah Newton, the minister for disabled people, of a new “interdepartmental ministerial group on disability and society”, which “will include ministers from a wide range of departments to oversee and drive forward the work of government in tackling the barriers faced by disabled people and to ensure their voice is heard in policy development and legislation”.No further details of how the group will operate and who will be involved have yet been released.But there was confusion following the announcement because the coalition had previously announced it was setting up an “inter-departmental ministerial group on disability” in February 2014.Successive governments have failed to explain what happened to that group, and why it appears to have been scrapped at some point in the last four years.But the DWP spokeswoman said: “The IMG in 2014 was set up and run under a previous parliament.“It is normal practice for different governments to set up new structures and protocols.”She had not confirmed by 9am today (Thursday) when the previous IMG was scrapped.The DWP spokeswoman added: “This government is determined to build an inclusive society that enables everyone to realise their full potential and as such remains committed to ODI facilitating the work across government for disability issues.”DWP’s admission of the cuts to ODI staff since 2010 will cast further doubt on the government’s commitment to disability rights and equality, and its pledge in 2013 to make the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) “a living reality for disabled people in Britain”.Last August, the UN’s committee on the rights of persons with disabilities told a UK government delegation – led by ODI – that its cuts to social security and other support for disabled people had caused “a human catastrophe”, which was “totally neglecting the vulnerable situation people with disabilities find themselves in”.The committee later told the UK government to make more than 80 improvements to the ways its laws and policies affect disabled people’s human rights.In its “concluding observations” on the progress the UK has made in implementing UNCRPD, the committee raised concerns and made recommendations on all but three of the 33 treaty articles it could have breached.It was, said the committee, the highest number of recommendations it had ever produced for a country undergoing the review process.
SAINTS have announced their squad for Sunday’s Stobart Super League Round 15 game against Wigan Warriors at the Etihad Stadium.Tommy Makinson and Mark Flanagan miss out through injury which means Ade Gardner and Andy Dixon are recalled.The squad is:1. Paul Wellens, 2. Ade Gardner, 3. Michael Shenton, 4. Sia Soliola, 5. Francis Meli, 6. Lance Hohaia, 7. Jonny Lomax, 8. Josh Perry, 9. James Roby, 10. Louie McCarthy-Scarsbrook, 11. Tony Puletua, 12. Jon Wilkin, 13. Chris Flannery, 14. Anthony Laffranchi, 16. Paul Clough, 17. Gary Wheeler, 18. Shaun Magennis, 19. Andy Dixon, 26. Josh Jones.Shaun Wane, Wigan’s head coach, will select from:1. Sam Tomkins, 2. Josh Charnley, 3. Darrell Goulding, 4. George Carmont, 6. Brett Finch, 7. Thomas Leuluai, 9. Michael McIlorum, 10. Lee Mossop, 11. Harrison Hansen, 12. Gareth Hock, 13. Sean O’Loughlin, 14. Jeff Lima, 16. Liam Farrell, 17. Chris Tuson, 21. Epalahame Lauaki, 22. Gil Dudson, 24. Anthony Gelling, 28. Logan Tomkins, 33. Dominic Crosby.The game kicks off at 6pm and the referee is Ben Thaler.Stat Pack:Last 10 meetings:Wigan 18, St Helens 4 (CCQF, 12/5/12)St Helens 10, Wigan 28 (SLR10, 6/4/12)St Helens 26, Wigan 18 (SLQSF, 1/10/11)Wigan 18, St Helens 26 (SLQPO, 18/9/11)St Helens 12, Wigan 18 (CCSF, 6/8/11)(at Halliwell Jones Stadium, Warrington)St Helens 10, Wigan 32 (SLR18, 17/6/11)Wigan 28, St Helens 24 (SLR11, 22/4/11)St Helens 16, Wigan 16 (SLR1, 12/2/11)(at Millennium Stadium, Cardiff)St Helens 10, Wigan 22 (SLGF, 2/10/10)(at Old Trafford, Manchester)Wigan 24, St Helens 26 (SLR18, 20/6/10)Super League Summary:St Helens won 26 (includes win in 2000 Grand Final & wins in 2000, 2002, 2009 and 2011 play-offs)Wigan won 28 (includes win in 2010 Grand Final & wins in 2001, 2003 and 2004 play-offs)4 drawsHighs and Lows:St Helens highest score: 57-16 (MM, 2008) (also widest margin)Wigan highest score: 65-12 (A, 1997) (also widest margin)