Charity Commission receives assurances that charities can “speak out” on Universal Credit

The Charity Commission says it has “sought and received assurances” that charities dealing with Universal Credit “are not prevented from speaking out about any challenges” faced by those claiming the benefit. 

The news comes after The Times reported that organisations which have signed contracts as part of their role of helping Universal Credit applicants “must support the policy’s implementation where it affects their work”.

Work and Pensions Secretary Esther McVey MP has been criticised following the revelation by The Times. Photo: Number 10.

Sarah Atkinson, Director of Policy, Planning and Communications at the Charity Commission, said: “The public rightly expect charities to put the interests of those they help first, and that will sometimes mean speaking truth to power. It is vital charities are free to do this.

We have sought, and received, assurances from DWP [Department for Work and Pensions] that charities in contracts to deliver elements of the Universal Credit programme are not prevented from speaking out about any challenges that recipients may be facing.”

The body, which regulates UK charities, has guidance on charities and political activity, which states that a charity “may give its support” to specific party policies “if it would help achieve its charitable purposes”.

The document also says that a charity “must stress its independence” and that any involvement with political parties is “balanced”.

“A charity must not give support or funding to a political party, nor to a candidate or politician,” it reads.

The Times’ report also found that the contract states signatories “shall pay the utmost regard to the standing and reputation” of the work and pensions secretary, prohibiting them from doing anything which could “damage the reputation” of the secretary of state or “attract adverse publicity”.

In a letter to Esther McVey MP, shadow work and pensions secretary Margaret Greenwood MP called for the minister to publicly announce that the clauses will be removed by the Government, describing it as “unacceptable”.

“The human suffering already caused by the failed roll out of Universal Credit is unacceptable, and the next phase could bring even more severe problems.

“All civil society organisations, whether or not they are contractors of your Department, must have the right to speak out about this injustice. And yes, that must include the right to criticise you and your work.

“This is not a bureaucratic technicality; it is a fundamental element of democratic accountability,” she wrote.

In a statement to The Mirror, a DWP spokesperson said: “It’s completely untrue to suggest that organisations are banned from criticising Universal Credit.

“As with all arrangements like this, they include a reference which enables both parties to understand how to interact with each other and protect their best interests.”

The spokesperson then went on to add that it is in place to “safeguard any commercial sensitive information” for both the government and the organisation in question.

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Enough is enough – the Tories must wake up and tackle the disability employment gap | The Friday Article

“We must close the disability employment gap.” It was a simple enough statement made by the Minister for Disabled People Penny Mordaunt on her website last year. A consultation on ‘work, health and disability’ and a commitment to halving said employment gap in 10 years was announced by the government a short while later. From a party that has passed ruthless reforms to disability benefits, it’s likely that it had a few disabled people scratching their heads. Have the Conservatives finally started to care about a group in society which they have cruelly targeted for years?

Disabled person in powered wheelchair driving down the street
The disability employment gap remains stagnant at 31.3%. Photo: Pixabay.

One only has to look at what was announced on Wednesday this week for the answer. The disability employment gap the Tories planned to work on cutting down has stayed at 31.3%, lingering above the 30% mark for a decade. If they really wanted to tackle the issue, then the changes would be visible – be it in the statistics or in public announcements. James Taylor, Head of Policy at the disability charity Scope, said ‘these figures should be a wake-up call to the Government’ and he is absolutely right. The latest data shows the Conservatives’ current approach is indolent, lazy and slothful.

Granted, it can be argued that ministers have 10 years to get somewhere close to closing the gap, but the fact that there have not been any significant updates since the consultation closed in February is a cause for concern. The Brexit argument is likely to be an excuse given by some for this work taking a back seat during the middle of the year (following the triggering of Article 50 at the end of March), but it’s always worth mentioning that there are other burning issues and injustices that need to be addressed whilst also focussing on those all-important negotiations in Brussels. A crumbling NHS, the housing crisis and many other social issues can’t be brushed under the carpet because of our vote to leave the European Union. Ministers are yet to provide an explanation as to why the disability employment gap remains at the current level, but no excuse is valid.

So what could possibly cause a lack of disabled people in employment? As much as it comes down to the current benefits system, a more ideological issue is the stigma, stereotypes and misconceptions surrounding disability that have been generated from years of Conservative policies. Confusing and complex regulations and assessments have degraded disabled people – presenting them as inconveniences or numbers to meet a particular quota.

Whilst assuming all employers see a disabled candidate or employee as a pain in the backside in terms of paperwork and workplace support is a completely inaccurate and flawed judgement, it’s likely that some employers are unaware of how they can support disabled people in their company. The communication between the government, firms and workers about such things is inefficient if not non-existent. It’s part of the reason why I’ve always been reluctant to tick the ‘are you disabled’ question on an application form. Aside from the fact that I don’t really consider myself disabled (except under ‘the social model’), the possible discussion about workplace support if I did mention it always felt daunting – where would I start?

Although the ‘work, health and disability’ consultation intends to look at how health and work interconnect, more needs to be done to address attitudes and improve communication. The communities of disabled people in society must continue to call for better support when it comes to employment – only then will we have the chance to wake Conservatives up from their slumber when it comes to addressing the needs of the community of disabled people.

Now, one can hope that a stat-obsessed government which always likes to shout about increased employment or a stronger economy will notice one of the more concerning pieces of data that has come from the Office for National Statistics’ latest release. If the state of the disability employment gap led to a planned reform of the Work Capability Assessment, then here’s hoping that the gap remaining static will finally prompt the Department for Work and Pensions to take action. Enough is enough.

 

Cuts to DSAs: ‘The Tennis Effect’ and An Unnecessary Factor 

The government announced yesterday that it is to make further cuts to Disabled Students’ Allowances (DSAs), which students with disabilities vitally need to get the right support in further and higher education.

Jo Johnson, the Minister for Higher Education, was the one who made the announcement, which sees more responsibility being placed on universities to provide disability support.

Whilst this doesn’t mean that the DSAs won’t fund any support, it ends up creating what I call ‘the tennis effect’.

This is where students will go to the government for the support, only to be told that the university should provide it. But then, when they approach the university, they are told to go back to the government.

All in all, it will only create more confusion. The phrase ‘reasonable adjustments’ has been thrown about recently, but for most students it’s a term they don’t understand. It’s another example of where doubt and uncertainty is felt by disabled students applying to university.

It is because of the lack of distinction that students are confused. It still seems to be unclear as to who provides what support.

On top of that, for disabled students visiting universities in open days, they now have to consider another, unnecessary factor – what support they will get.

In turn, this could lead to a student choosing a degree based on the support, not the course. Everybody should have the right to study the course they want to study, and questions about support should not influence this.

I’m extremely disappointed by the government’s decision, but what do you think about the announced cuts? Comment below!

Liam