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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UN’s ‘human catastrophe’ verdict is the latest dent to the Tories’ disability rights record | The Friday Article

How a Conservative government can even begin to dispute the damning report by the United Nations Committee on the Rights of People with Disabilities (UNCRPD) this week beats me. After numerous disability organisations complained to the UN about the Tories’ treatment of disabled people, the Chair of the UNCRPD, Theresia Degener described it as a ‘human catastrophe’.

Photo: Pixabay.

“The austerity measures that they have taken – they are affecting half a million people, each disabled person is losing between £2,000 and £3,000 pounds per year, people are pushed into work situations without being recognised as vulnerable, and the evidence that we had in front of us was just overwhelming,” said Degener, as quoted in an article by the Mirror.

Yet, when one looks at the government’s response to the comments, a spokeswoman said it ‘fails to recognise all the progress we’ve made to empower disabled people in all aspects of their lives’, before going on to mention statistics such as them spending ‘over £50 billion a year to support disabled people and those with health conditions’, that they’re a ‘recognised world leader in disability rights and equality’, and that ‘almost 600,000 disabled people have moved into work in the UK over the last four years’.

It is a response which can be picked apart in a rather hilarious fashion, even when the data appears positive. With regards to the 600,000 disabled people in work since 2013, they fail to mention the recent news that the disability employment gap has remained stagnant at over 30% since 1998, despite launching a commitment to halve the gap in ten years.

As for being a ‘recognised world leader in disability rights and equality’, one does not need to showcase the biggest disability news stories of the past decade to show that this is completely laughable. A UN inquiry last November had some harsh words for the Conservatives, a disabled student took the government to court in 2015 due to it failing to consult with disabled people over changes to Disabled Students Allowance (DSA), and without a doubt one of the most appalling statistics which seems to suggest otherwise is that 2,380 people died between December 2011 and February 2014 because they were declared ‘fit for work’ after claiming for Employment Support Allowance (ESA).

The Tories ignoring yet another damning report on their disability rights record would not only show a disregard for any public scrutiny, but it would only prove the lack of consideration for one of the most marginalised groups in our society.

It’s why, as always, we must support charities in holding the government to account and demanding change. Granted, saying that we need to continue campaigning is a typical call-to-action when it comes to these sort of social issues, but applying pressure on MPs around disability issues has worked wonders before. Aside from the DSA example mentioned above, the British Deaf Association (BDA) has pushed tirelessly for British Sign Language to be given legal status, and after the UN’s latest verdict, it seems as though that is getting closer to becoming a reality.

“We were impressed with the openness of the committee to listen to our evidence and apply their significant legal experience,” said Dr Terry Riley OBE, Chairman of the BDA. “Therefore we are glad to see that the committee has expressly recommended that the UK government finally legislate to protect language rights of deaf people, and that so many of the committee’s remarks related to this. Deaf people have been passed over too long; there can now be no doubt that the government has been taken to task. Without language rights, we have no human rights.”

There are 13.3 million people in the UK. Whether or not the Government will choose to listen to such a large group of people is another matter for debate (this article suggests that for many years, they haven’t), but now more than ever we must support the charities that are giving a voice to a community which is being unfairly targeted – especially when they claim they are being ‘gagged’ by the Lobbying Act 2014.

The incredible young voter turnout in the recent snap election has shown the Conservative government what can happen when they continue to target a specific group of people in our society. Now, they’ve tried desperately to win back students from Corbynism with a right-wing ‘ideas festival’ and most recently, a grassroots movement called Activate which some people have called ‘the Tory Momentum’.

It’s time for disabled people to do the same, and shock the Conservative Party into making long overdue changes to improve our lives for the better.