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David Blunkett: Jack Ashley Lecture speech

11 March 2015

Jack Ashley Memorial Lecture speech delivered by the Rt. Hon David Blunkett MP

The subject of tonight's lecture was From the Paralympics to ‘penury’ – what is happening to the public perception of disability? The evening was hosted by Disability Rights UK, the APPDG and the Ashley Family. Disability Rights UK would like to thank Barclays for sponsoring the event, Mr Speaker, The RT Hon John Bercow MP for kindly providing the venue and the Rt Hon David Blunkett MP for agreeing to be our guest speaker.

I would like to thank the Speaker and his staff for the generosity of providing the Speaker’s House for this lecture. I would also like to make mention of the All Party Parliamentary Group here in Westminster as well as the campaigning zeal of Disability Rights UK. I would like to make a particular mention of Jack Ashley’s family, who are represented here today and all of whom have a story to tell.

Change always comes about by people themselves campaigning, struggling and demonstrating a commitment to making the world a better place. Passing resolutions sometimes leads to legislation but it is normally responsible campaigning, detailed argument and the use of the political process that brings about important changes.

So, let me begin by making it clear that at the present moment we have seen two steps forward and one back, when it comes to the rights and programmes of support for people with disabilities.

From the euphoria around the Paralympics (and the celebration of success and the demonstrable capability of the men and women involved) through to the ridicule and, Lord help us, the celebrity of Channel 4’s Benefits Street. And even worse, Channel 5 who have made no effort whatsoever to reach out and offer positive images in relation to disability, jumping on the bandwagon with Benefits Britain.

The terrible irony for Channel 4 is that they have above all broadcasters done more in the last three years to celebrate the capability of disabled people. Not only in presenting during the Paralympics but employing individuals, providing exemplary training, and engaging disabled people in the process of commentary and entertainment. I have to say that The Last Leg is a good example of how to present, through the use of humour, the absurdity of people’s attitudes towards physical difference, and of course the talent of those participating.

Yes, two steps forward and one step back. Not positive discrimination but positive action. Where this would not be “contrived”, those commissioning programmes should require programme makers to recruit (and provide appropriate support and training) actors and presenters who reflect the diversity, the demographic and yes the difference which exists in our society.

So what is new? Stepping back 20 years, it is worth recalling that the then MP for Kingswood in Bristol, Roger Berry, observing after the Government was forced to introduce the much criticised first stage of the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 that this was “after years of doing everything imaginable, and even things which I thought were unimaginable to block the legislation”.

And yet, twenty years later here we are, with many disabled people feeling as though their need for support was somehow being incorporated into a general attack on benefit recipients.

As the Guardian newspaper reported on the 14th of December last year, from late 2012, 60 people with disabilities who had been sanctioned under the Employment Support Allowance had committed suicide.

There had been a 470% increase in 18 months from November 2012 in sanctions on disabled people.

In the first three months of 2014, 62% of adverse judgements under the Employment Support Allowance were against people with mental health or behavioural problems.

The Independent Living Fund (specifically designed to provide choice and independence for the most severely disabled) has been abolished. This is despite considerable campaigning and legal action which finally failed in the courts last year.

The chairperson (Anne Begg, herself in a wheelchair) of the Department for Work & Pensions All Party Select Committee here in the House of Commons, has been measured but deeply critical. Speaking to the New Statesman magazine on the 23rd of January this year she said “This parliament has been the one step back. Attitudes seem to have polarised to ‘Aren’t they wonderful?’ which is the Paralympics, or ‘What a bunch of scroungers’”. Praising the hard work and bloody mindedness of those who get selected as candidates for election she said “the kind of qualities you need to survive as an active disabled person are the same qualities you want in an MP”.

Her Committee in its report of the 15th of December last year raised a whole plethora of issues in regard to the operation of the tightened Benefit System, appeals and review. They drew attention to the continuing problems with the Work Capability Assessment, the delays and subsequent nature of the appeals themselves, and above all the fact that peremptory action is often taken to withdraw support even when the decision is being disputed. Individual cases abound with men and women having their mobility cars withdrawn; decisions which leave people with disabilities isolated, frustrated and often pushed into depression which in itself then reduces their chance of obtaining employment and thereby independence.

At the time of speaking the Government have not replied to the Committee’s recommendations.

As I spelt out in a speech I gave to the think-tank Policy Exchange on the 4th of  February this year, I am deeply committed to work being the best form of welfare and to ensuring that people with a variety of disabilities should be provided with independence, dignity and of course the ability to be self-reliant.

That is why I and so many others were opposed to the changes that the government have made to the Disabled Students Allowance. Some moderate alterations have been made to the original proposal to simply withdraw the DSA in favour of individual institutions having to meet the needs of disabled people. Nevertheless, the right to make choices, to work on equal terms without the patronage of the institution, surely has to be right. Not least in avoiding what is so little understood about the subliminal barriers that exist, the psychology of concern by those making decisions on behalf of someone else! Changes made purely to save money, at the expense of those who are endeavouring to make their way in life, are hardly a sign of either understanding or of commitment to equality.

Forty-five years ago Alf Morris completed the work of campaigners in carrying through the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act. A great stride forward but unfortunately using the word “sick” in conjunction with disability. I do hope that we can distinguish between those who are ill and therefore can be cured or the condition substantially ameliorated and those with lifelong disability. Of course some illnesses (including mental health) lead to a variety of forms of disability. But it is important to distinguish where we are helping people to overcome a continuing challenge and where we are actually being able to set that challenge aside through the wonders of modern medicine and therapy. 

Whilst the Government’s policy has undoubtedly been successful in reducing the number of workless households, it is those with defined disabilities, ongoing mental health problems and the need for support not punishment that concerns me most.

In 1997 I was privileged to be the Secretary of State responsible for establishing the Disability Rights Taskforce, which drew together all those with an experience or knowledge of the key challenges facing people with disabilities. That taskforce came up with practical, measured and affordable proposals that we implemented.

I believe the incoming government, of whatever persuasion, should be willing to bring together a similar body to examine the impact of existing legislative change and the challenges ahead including evidence from the pilot programme of Universal Credit.

I would at this point like to pay tribute to those who have worked over the last 20 years to make disability issues not an add-on, not a patronising pat on the head but an absolutely key part of the equality agenda and of our mainstream politics. Margaret Hodge, Anne McGuire (who worked with me at key moments) and now Anne Begg, have all made tremendous contributions, as have the members of the All Party Group.

In addition, many colleagues of all persuasions in the House of Lords (including my good friend Colin Low and of course Tanni Grey-Thompson who has done so much in recent years in the fight for equality) have carried the torch and complemented the voices of those elected to the Commons.

However, it is the campaigning zeal (as I have mentioned) of men and women in the community and in their own lives that is really transformational. Learning about and then exercising power involves being able to bring pressure to bear, to approach and yes to campaign to change the policies of political parties, of government and the language of individual policies. That is why I am so concerned about a little noticed written statement laid at the end of February by the Communities Secretary Eric Pickles. 

The statement read that “the extensive practice of taxpayers’ money being given to pressure groups and supposed charities, in turn being used to lobby the Government and Parliament for more money and more regulation” needed to be addressed and that in his own Department “payments that support activity intended to influence or attempt to influence parliament, government or political parties” were no longer eligible expenditure.

The implications of this are obvious. Any organisation receiving funding should automatically be precluded from lobbying government! This interpretation of the Lobbying Act fulfils the worst fears of voluntary and charitable organisations who, whilst concerned about restrictions leading up to the general election, could never have imagined that such a “catch- all” edict would be issued, all be it without a fanfare of publicity!

But campaigning in itself is only successful if someone is listening. We mustn’t therefore downplay the importance of people finding their way into key public positions and above all elected office.

Anne Begg and I served on the Speaker’s Commission looking at how we could improve access to public life and to Parliament. She chaired that Commission which took place through 2009 and 2010. Originally this was intended to be an examination relating to race, gender and sexuality. Anne and I ensured it covered issues relating to all forms of disability. It would be churlish of me not to pay tribute to the Government in setting up the Access to Elected Office Fund, to help those at local and national level seeking candidature to elected office. I call upon all three major parties (south of the border) to commit themselves to renewing the fund. So far the Coalition have not indicated that this will continue from April the 1st.

But fine words are meaningless without the resources and support to make it possible for people to get their first foot on the ladder, never mind their voice heard in the Chamber of the House of Commons.

The fact that there are few disabled people identified as declared candidates for this General Election makes me feel somewhat reflective of my own 45 years as a councillor and then a Member of Parliament, as I leave the House of Commons for the last time at the end of March.

Over recent years we’ve not only had the example of the Paralympics but also the passage of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. However, at the same time the original Millennium Development Goals made only passing mention of disability, even though if you are poor, female and at the same time disabled, you have the most disadvantaged start in life and the least chance of longevity.

The Global Campaign for Education has made progress but there is still a great deal to be done across the world, as I myself have found when working with Sightsavers International in Africa.

But closer to home, changes made five years ago in the equality field have had unintended consequences. It is my view that the combining of the three main equality commissions in the 2010 Equality Act was a mistake. Enforcement as well as policy analysis are crucial if rights are to be made real, words are to become meaningful and good intentions are to be translated into the lives of those most affected.

To make matters worse, these changes have been followed by a cut of over a third in the budget of the EHRC. This at a time when the climate and perception in relation to disability has to say the least, fluctuated.

In my work with Sightsavers international I have seen real progress overseas in the understanding of how to liberate blind people from the constraints placed on them by others. Normally lack of knowledge, and sometimes downright ignorance. We should not be surprised however that is still so much to do in removing what William Blake called the “mind‐forged manacles”.

Take for instance, the perception of a blogger with a column in the Wolverhampton Express and Star. On the 4th of March this year in misquoting an interview I gave to the Daily Telegraph about having to use other senses than sight when dealing with former colleagues in Cabinet, he wrote “How could a totally blind Home Secretary fully comprehend the effects of immigration, the scale of a riot or CCTV footage showing police brutality? Equal opportunities is a fine principle but when the final arbiter on law and order cannot see the effects of disorder, all is not well”. It is not surprising therefore that I believe Equality and Human Rights Commission should have a proactive role, ensuring there is proper information throughout the population and not just those with a specific interest.

For instance, how many people know what the Disability Living Allowance was intended to provide? In the early days of the debate around the change to the Personal Independence Payment, it was clear that some Ministers did not understand that this was not an income related benefit but designed to ensure that people with a specific disability could obtain the necessary practical support to overcome that disability and live a normal life as possible.

In fact, the contradictions in the early draft regulations were bizarre.  If because you had support (as I have had for many years through both Sheffield City Council and the House of Commons), and with that support you were able to work on equal terms, the assessment would remove that very help. In other words, if you could demonstrate that you were doing what you needed to do, the judgment would be that you didn’t need the help to do it! Such perversity has not yet been completely eliminated from the implementation of the Personal Independence Payment.  Which, in addition, is designed to cut £2 billion from the welfare budget with much more to come!

Which brings me briefly to the detailed work undertaken by the think-tank Demos in respect of the projected cuts and the landscape ahead (brief details attached). Taking the period of austerity laid out by the Coalition Government to 2018, their scoping exercise projected a total cut of £28.3 billion (affecting 3.7 million people, out of total reductions of around £89 billion).  Of course this is about impact and not necessarily defined cuts amounting to this eye watering sum. Nevertheless it demonstrates the simple fact that disabled people of working age are in the firing line.

However, it is not just a matter of money but of perception, sensitivity and understanding. One Minister responsible for disability who is no longer in the Government, when challenged on the impact of changes to the mobility component, suggested that the local church might be able to provide volunteer drivers.

I’m in favour of volunteering, I’m in favour of mutual help and reciprocity and I’m in favour of communities reaching out and giving support. I’m not in favour of cutting the independence and dignity which goes with modest funding, and expecting others to pick up the pieces.

And as the Work and Pensions Select Committee identified, even those measures that everyone agrees are essential such as Access to Work, are little known and are operating without transparency. If in answering questions at a fringe meeting at the Conservative Party Conference David (Lord) Freud had linked the answer he gave on disability to the importance of Access to Work and the Tax Credits System, he might have avoided condemnation. Because a combination of measures can actually help people work part time as well as full time, at home and in the workplace.

This is not confined to one specific political administration. Often the machine rolls on without any real understanding or knowledge of disability inside the system – for instance the Department for Transport removing advisory committees which had members who have day to day experience of travelling with a disability.

A further stark example would be from ten years ago when I entered the Department for Work and Pensions. Faced with Treasury demands for a round of funding cuts, one candidate put before me was a substantial cut to the Access to Work budget. A proposal as everyone would understand that I immediately rejected.

At home as well as at work, the living space, the adaptations and the day to day support really do matter.

Another example of unintended consequences, displayed by the rhetoric that suggested people with disabilities would not be affected by the Bedroom Tax. Quite clearly this has not been the case! An extra room encouraging families to help each other and respite for those normally caring, all add up to the need for sensitivity and an appreciation by those who do not have such challenges of what it means for those who do!

As I pointed out in my lecture to Policy Exchange, those of working age as opposed to those in retirement have faced a multiplicity of financial hits. From council tax benefit which has been substantially altered, charges for homecare rocketing, independent living has taken the brunt of changes. Even the Better Care Fund, is not substantially new money but a switch between health and local government!

Yes, joined up health and social care is vital. Some progress has been made through the Care Act. Not everything is doom and gloom but cumulatively so much is happening that effects people with disabilities or mental health problems, that it is really time to take stock and above all for politicians to change their rhetoric. Those in the position to do so must understand the impact of their words, of their policies, and to rebalance the perception which in addition to financial cuts, can so often hurt disabled people in all kinds of ways.

Take the most recent revelation from the former head of the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, Andrew McDonald (and now head of Scope). After being diagnosed with Parkinson’s he was advised by his colleagues not to disclose his illness as he might be labelled as a disabled civil servant and it would end his career. The experience left him with “the clear conviction that we need to act to make our workplaces more open to discussion of illness and disability.” It has to be said that the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority have been sensitive to and on the whole very positive in their support for those with disability.

However, this raises the issue of how much we need a really well funded coordinated approach to occupational health nationally and locally. A partnership between employers and the Government, the medical profession and those able to offer rehabilitation and therapy. As Professor Dame Carol Black demonstrated in her work a decade ago, this would genuinely be an “invest to save” policy. Keeping people in work as well as preparing for return to work is critical.

From Franklin D Roosevelt to those seeking office today, there is still a subliminal concern as to how people will react to disability. Sometimes it is more than just misunderstanding or indifference.

The most obvious is hate crime. Whilst I do not suggest that the present Coalition are responsible for the undoubted increase in attacks on people with disabilities, the evidence that this is happening faces us on a daily basis.

Those with learning disabilities literally enslaved, through to physical as well as verbal abuse of those with sensory or physical disabilities.

Sometimes there is an upsurge of human feeling. Large sums of money through the use of social media, people responding to a specific case. But from bullying of children with some form of difference in school, through to attacks on guide dogs, we have to take decisive action to indicate that in a civilised society we are simply not prepared to tolerate the unacceptable.

That is why I welcome the commitment made last month by Yvette Cooper, to strengthen our hate crime legislation, the aggravated offences linked to it, and the sentences that can then be imposed.

But let me end on a positive note. We can through what has become known as “co-delivery” of services, engage people with disabilities in planning as well as implementing service changes. To have their voices heard (to coin a phrase, “no change about us without us”).

From design and planning (and the training of architects), through to major infrastructure work, those who would otherwise face very real challenges because of inappropriate or insensitive provision, must have a say.

In addition, all public facilities over time (new build and adaptations should automatically build in) the loop system to facilitate the equal participation of those facing deafness wherever possible, equality of access would be enhanced enormously by the provision of sign language and speech to text reporting for those who are profoundly deaf

Equally, improvements to television and online subtitling, and audio describe can also be transformational. If people only think what is needed in advance of commissioning and investing in programming, it can be done at much less expense.

And thinking what is needed will become more critical for a larger swathe of our population.  As with longevity, we all move into an era where issues such as these become suddenly much more important.

I am naturally proud of so many of the things that I have been able to achieve and in making a difference through the political process.

In local government as well as in Parliament, taking through major legislation and facing both personal and political challenges.

But it is the potential change in the attitude of people towards disability that I may have made my greatest contribution.

If the parents of a youngster can  feel hope, an employer decides to offer the chance of an interview, or a simple change in attitude towards someone walking down the street, then that really will have made a difference.

Politics as has been said so often is a ‘rough old trade’ and no quarter is asked or given. But as I said at the beginning of this lecture, it is not the individual no matter how well placed but the campaigning, the zeal  of those building on what comes before, to make the world a better place, who in the end will make that difference.

I like to believe that Jack Ashley in his way and me in mine have offered hope and inspiration to young people and that engagement in the political arena can really make the world a more equal, fairer and yes more decent place in which to live.

APPENDIX

Appendix A: List of proposals

Proposals

  • The establishment of a taskforce made up of those with the experience of disability and closely associated with organisations working with and speaking on behalf of disabled people on the lines of the 1998 initiative.
  • An urgent review of the Equality and Human Rights Commission to establish how, within the existing structure, issues relating to equality for disabled people can be enhanced and improved.
  • Ask that the government should act urgently on the Work and Pensions Select Committee recommendations including greater transparency, and an assessment of the impact of existing and proposed measures to cut welfare benefits, on disabled people.
  • We need a well-funded coordinated approach to occupational health nationally and locally. A partnership between employers and the Government, the medical profession and those able to offer rehabilitation and therapy.
  • All major political parties should recommit to continuing the funding under the Access to Elected Office Fund.
  • Access to Work should be adequately funded, better publicised and more sensitively implemented.
  • The incoming government from May the 8th should take seriously the urgent review of hate crime, to ensure that disabled people are adequately protected and perpetrators adequately punished.
  • The incoming government should look at how best to sponsor “co-delivery” to give disabled people a voice at local and national level, not only in the design of services but in their implementation.
  • All planning, architecture and design courses should have an element built in respect of sensitive forward thinking for those with any form of motor disability, sensory requirement or similar challenge.
  • Appropriate steps should be taken to ensure that in public auditoriums facilities for deaf people (loop, signing and speech to text reporting) should be available.
  • The broadcast and print media should take a close look (and those in positions of responsibility in executive and non-executive level should review practises urgently) to prevent unwarranted scapegoating of people with disabilities or the confused presentation of disability with other but different challenges to get into work and independent living.
  • Broadcasters should be brought together to have a coherent programme for all terrestrial and satellite broadcasters when commissioning programmes, to consider the impact in relation to the need for affective and high quality subtitling, and the rapid expansion of audio describe (including where subtitles are used in foreign language presentations) to allow access not just for those registered blind but for older people losing their sight.
  • That where this would not be “contrived”, those commissioning programmes should make a positive effort to recruit (and where appropriate provide support for training) actors, presenters and members of the public, who truly reflect the diversity, the demographic and the difference which exists in our society.

 Appendix B: Guardian Article from the 14th of December 2015 – “DWP urged to reveal inquiries on benefit claimant suicides”

DWP urged to publish inquiries on benefit claimant suicides

The Department for Work and Pensions has been urged by mental health and disability charities to publish its secret investigations into suicides that may have some link to benefit changes, following revelations that it has carried out internal reviews into 60 such cases.

A Freedom of Information request by the Disability News Service has revealed that the DWP has carried out “60 peer reviews following the death of a customer” since February 2012. A peer review is triggered when suicide or alleged suicide is “associated with a DWP activity”, according to its internal guidance.

Despite growing concern over the way benefits are administered in relation to vulnerable individuals, and amid a number of reports of related deaths, the department told the Guardian it had no plans to publish the reviews.

Disabled People Against the Cuts said that, because of the way the reviews were carried out, the DWP figure was likely to be the “tip of the iceberg”.

Tom Pollard, the policy and campaigns manager at Mind, told the Guardian the figures were a concern. He stressed that suicide was a complex problem but added: “It would be helpful for organisations to see what things could be going wrong in the benefit system that could lead to these tragic situations.”

Sue Bott, director of policy and services at Disability Rights UK, said DWP reviews should be transparent.

“There have been allegations and anecdotal evidence for a while that the benefits regime has tipped people over the edge. It should be looked into in a transparent way,” Bott said. “This is not just about the nature of the decision taken as to whether it was right or wrong. It’s also about the process and there is a lot of concern about the way benefits are administered.”

The DWP’s latest figures show that sanctions to punish disabled ESA claimants had risen by 470% in 18 months, from 1,096 in December 2012 to 5,132 in June 2014.

According to DWP figures released as the result of an FoI request, 62% of adverse ESA sanction decisions in the first three months of 2014 were made against people with mental or behavioural problems (9,851 out of 15,955).

The calls for transparency from the DWP come after a number of reports of the deaths and suicides of vulnerable individuals after adverse benefit decisions.

David Clapson, 59, a former soldier and type-1 diabetic, died in July after his benefit was cut. Clapson had no food in his stomach, £3.44 in the bank and no money on his electricity card, leaving him unable to operate his fridge where he kept insulin.

MPs are to look into his death after a petition written by Gill Thompson, his sister, gathered more than 200,000 signatures.

Thompson, told the Guardian: “All I’ve ever asked for is lessons to be learned. I can’t bring him back but we should know what is going on. There are certain people who shouldn’t be sanctioned. People with terminal cancer, waiting for heart operations, people with diabetes. Before they sanctioned my brother, they knew his disability. He was waiting to hear from a job, he had been on work placement. He was claiming the bare minimum.”

Christine Norman, a nurse whose disabled sister, Jacqueline Harris, took her own life in November 2013 after her benefits were cut, said: “It’s too late for my sister. Everything is stacked against you. If you’ve got a great education, if you have great health, you’re OK. But if you haven’t, you have to fight against the odds. The government want you to work. The ones they pick are the ones that are vulnerable and ill.”

An inquest found last month that Harris, 53, of Bristol, who was partially sighted, took her own life after months of constant pain and following a “fit for work” ruling that replaced her incapacity benefit with jobseeker’s allowance. Staff at a jobcentre Harris was told to attend had to call an ambulance after she blacked out in pain.

Disabled People Against Cuts said that, because the DWP’s reviews only relate to suicides or alleged suicides and were triggered by regional managers within the benefit system, the number of deaths was likely to be far higher than the 60 cases that reached review.

Anita Bellows, of Disabled People Against Cuts, said: “The triage for advising whether a peer review is to be carried out is done by regional managers at seven regional centres, who may not have an interest in putting them forward. Also, the guidance for peer review is focused on suicide, which does not cover people like David Clapson.”

She called on the DWP to open a proper investigation into the deaths, and include evidence from medical experts. “These should be public documents” she said. “They are also only focused on the process. There are no medical experts on it.”

The DWP said it was unable to disclose the names of individuals under review because of provisions of the Social Security Administration Act.

However, the Mental Welfare Commission of Scotland, a Scottish government-funded watchdog, published its comprehensive review of the suicide of a claimant known only as Ms DE this year. The MWCS concluded that the WCA process and the subsequent denial of ESA was at least a “major factor in her decision to take her own life”. It concluded that the work capability assessment process was flawed and needed to be more sensitive to mental health issues.

Colin McKay, chief executive of the Mental Welfare Commission of Scotland, said he was disappointed with the DWP response to the report on Ms DE, who died on 31 December 2011.

“Certainly, nothing in what they said gave us confidence that if another Ms DE was claiming benefit, the outcome would be any different,” he said. “If the number of deaths are 60, that’s a lot. You would expect any organisation experiencing deaths as the potential consequences of their actions would be seriously considering whether they needed to do anything differently.”

This year a whistleblower tasked with getting claimants out of the ESA sickness benefit told the Guardian that some of her clients were homeless, many had extreme mental health problems – including paranoid schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and autism – and some were “starving” and extremely depressed after having benefits stopped. “Almost every day one of my clients mentioned feelings of suicide to me” she said.

Mind released research on Thursday that found that people with mental illness were having their benefit cut more than those with other illnesses. It also found 83% of those with mental health problems surveyed said their self-esteem had worsened, and 76% said they felt less able to work as a result of DWP back-to-work schemes.

The DWP said: “We take these matters extremely seriously, which is why we carry out peer reviews in certain cases to establish whether anything should have been done differently. However, a peer review in itself does not automatically mean the department was at fault.

“Since its introduction in 2008 there have been four independent reviews of the work capability assessment and we have made significant improvements to make it better, fairer and more accurate.”

Appendix C: Communities Minister Eric Pickle’s Ministerial Statement 23rd of February 2015

Communities and Local Government

Protecting Public Money

The Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government (Mr Eric Pickles): I would like to update the House with steps that my Department is taking to protect taxpayers’ money.

23 Feb 2015 : Column 2WS

Lobbying by “Sock Puppets”

However, the practice of Government lobbying Government is not just confined to quangos. The Institute of Economic Affairs has undertaken extensive research on so-called “sock puppets”; they have exposed the extensive practice of taxpayers’ money being given to pressure groups and supposed charities, in turn being used to lobby the Government and Parliament for more money and more regulation. This is an issue which needs to be addressed.

My Department has set an example to the rest of Whitehall by amending our standard grant agreements to impose a new anti-lobbying, anti-sock puppet clause. The simple, short but effective clause says:

“The following costs are not Eligible Expenditure:- Payments that support activity intended to influence or attempt to influence Parliament, Government or political parties, or attempting to influence the awarding or renewal of contracts and grants, or attempting to influence legislative or regulatory action”.

We hope this can and will be rolled out more widely across the public sector.

Appendix D: Demos Study April 2013 – “Destination Unknown” – the impact of welfare cuts on disabled people

Benefit change

Number of disabled people affected

Total Financial Loss up to 2018

Incapacity benefit

608,000

£5,6 billion

1% cap on benefit rises

3.7 million

£9 billion

Time limitation of WRAG (employment and support allowance)

700,000

£4,4 billion

Bedroom tax

420,000

£1,1 billion

Freezing child benefit

1 million

£1,7 billion

Overall benefit Cap

142,5000

£2 billion

Introduction of Personal Independent Payment

600,000

£2,62 billion

Universal Credit

446,000

£2,2 billion

Abolition of Independent living Fund

21,000

£1,2 billion

Change to Local Housing Allowance

827,000

£2,43 billion**

Uprating and cuts to Tax Credits

545,300

£370 million

Localisation and 10% cut for Council Tax Benefit

1.38 million

£594.8 million

1% cap on various benefits and tax credits

475,900

£457 million**

 

Total number of disabled people affected = 3.7million

Total loss of income for disabled people  = £28.3 billion

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