Category Archives: Assessment

Thousands of disabled students could get Universal Credit after woman wins legal fight

Tactical cruelty: perhaps DWP bosses realised they were going to lose a court case so they changed the law in order to ensure that disabled students would continue to be unable to claim Universal Credit.

This is good news for many – but not for everybody:

Tens of thousands of disabled students could qualify for Universal Credit after 22-year-old mostly-blind Sidra Kauser won a legal victory over a loophole saying she could not claim Universal Credit.

To receive the benefit, she would have had to take a work capability assessment – but the DWP’s rules contained a bizarre ‘Catch-22’ that she could not take the test, because she is a student.

As a result, she could not be found to have limited capability for work, and therefore couldn’t receive the benefit.

The High Court has quashed the DWP’s decision, saying it breaches the Tory-run government department’s own regulations, dating back to 2013 – and ordered it to pay Ms Kauser’s legal fees.

But this fight is not over because the Tory government changed the law on August 5, ensuring that disabled students claiming Universal Credit after that date would not be invited to a work capability assessment and therefore would not be eligible for the benefit at all.

That will have to be challenged in a future court case.

But this is another victory for crusading lawyers Leigh Day, who explained the case:

Sidra Kauser, aged 22, from Halifax, is visually impaired and is currently studying for a masters degree at York University.

She received Personal Independence Payment (PIP) but that, combined with a student loan, was not enough to provide her with an acceptable standard of living. After payment of her rent, she had £120 a month to live on.

She applied for universal credit, but because she was a student, she was refused a Work Capability Assessment (WCA), which meant she was effectively disentitled from claiming universal credit.

Sidra applied for a judicial review of the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) policy (which stated that disabled students shouldn’t be invited to a WCA), arguing that the law required the DWP to conduct a WCA to determine whether she had limited capability for work, in which case she would be entitled to universal credit.

Now, after the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, Therese Coffey, told the court in July, 2020 that she would not be defending Sidra’s claim, a high court judge has ruled that the SSWP had acted unlawfully and has quashed the decision to refuse Sidra’s claim for universal credit.

Sidra will now be given a WCA, and if she is deemed to be unable to work, she will be entitled to make a claim for universal credit.

The court ruling also has an impact on those disabled students whose applications for universal credit had previously been unsuccessful because they had been refused a WCA.

However, on 5 August the DWP changed the law so that other disabled students who made a claim for universal credit after that date would not be invited  to a WCA and would not therefore be able to establish their limited capability for work.

Ms Kauser said: “I am glad I decided to take a stand and pursue my claim for judicial review of the DWP decision to refuse me a WCA. Hopefully other students will benefit from the court ruling.”

Leigh Day solicitor Lucy Cadd added: “Sidra made a brave stand against the decision to refuse her a WCA and it has proved successful. It has been estimated by the charity Disability Rights UK that the Secretary of State’s unlawful policy, which has been in operation since 2013, could have adversely affected 30,000 disabled students. Other disabled students who were refused a WCA prior to 5 August 2020 and therefore lost out on their claim for universal credit, should ask the Secretary of State to revise her decision.

“Although the DWP has callously changed the regulations to prevent more disabled students being entitled to a WCA, there may be scope for legal challenge to the new regulations.”

Source: Disabled student wins right to be considered for universal credit

DWP disabled sanctions extension shows great tragedy is due to timing, too

Habitual cruelty: if you thought the Tories stopped persecuting people with long-term illnesses and disabilities during the Covid-19 crisis, think again.

The Department for Work and Pensions has employed its usual subtlety and tact – and has extended benefit sanctions against people with disabilities in time for the new English lockdown.

People with long-term illnesses and/or disabilities who fail to take part in telephone work capability assessments are now to be sanctioned. The change was brought in on November 2, days before the new lockdown began.

The change has been attacked by mental health charity Mind as an “abandonment of their responsibility to keep people safe”.

Mind’s Ayaz Manji said:

We need to see a compassionate response to this pandemic.

That has to mean removing benefit sanctions and cancelling reassessments for disability benefits so that people with mental health problems don’t face the prospect of going without income this winter.

Sadly, we are not going to see any compassion from the Department for Work and Pensions while it is under Tory control.

The Department has said nobody will be sanctioned without being contacted first – which raises interesting questions if assessors can’t even phone up a claimant properly:

People will be contacted to ask them to explain why they did not, or could not attend or participate in the assessment and where good cause is provided and accepted, support will continue.

We don’t want to sanction anyone and our absolute priority is to ensure people continue to receive the support they are entitled to.

We will contact anyone who hasn’t engaged in a telephone appointment and their support will absolutely continue if they have a good reason for not attending or participating.

We’ve heard it all before. Expect a slew of articles about the DWP failing to follow this simple routine.

Source: DWP extends benefit sanctions against disabled people just as new lockdown begins – Mirror Online

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Will new inquest into death of ESA claimant Jodey Whiting show failure of DWP safeguarding?

Jodey Whiting, 42, took her own life after her benefits were stopped.

Permission for a new inquest into the death of ESA claimant Jodey Whiting has been granted amid concern that a government department’s role in it had been covered up.

Here is the announcement from solicitors Leigh Day:

“The family of Jodey Whiting has been granted permission to apply to the High Court for a fresh inquest into her death after new evidence was submitted about the effect on her of a Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) decision to halt the benefits on which she was entirely dependent.

“Jodey’s mother, Joy Dove, was granted permission by the office of the Attorney General following her submission that the original inquest into her daughter’s death was insufficient. The new evidence she submitted in support of her application included an investigation into the handling of Jodey’s benefits by the DWP and a report from an independent psychiatrist.

“Jodey, from Stockton-on-Tees, died aged 42 on 21 February, 2017. She took her own life three days after she received her last Employment Support Allowance (ESA) payment.

“She had been informed on 6 February that the payments would stop and the associated housing benefit and council tax benefit payments would also be stopped.

“The decision to halt the payments was made because following a reassessment of Jodey’s entitlement to ESA, begun in 2016, she had failed to attend a work capability assessment (WCA).

“However, Jodey had requested a home visit for the WCA as she rarely left the house because of her severely poor health. She suffered multiple physical and mental health difficulties, took 23 tablets a day and was entirely dependent on welfare benefits.

“She had made in clear in her request for a home WCA that she had “suicidal thoughts a lot of the time and could not cope with work or looking for work”.

“The request was refused, the WCA was set for a date in January, and Jodey did not attend.

“After Jodey’s death, an inquest was held three months later, 24 May, 2017, which lasted less than an hour.

“The coroner declined to consider the potential role of the DWP and their acts or omissions in Jodey’s death.

“Jodey’s family were unrepresented and were unaware that they may have been entitled to publicly funded legal representation.

“After the inquest a report by an Independent Case Examiner concluded that the DWP had made multiple significant errors in how it treated Jodey.

“Some of the failings had not been known to Jodey’s family, who were horrified to learn how many failings had occurred in the handling of Jodey’s benefits.

“The opinion of an independent Consultant psychiatrist, sought by Jodey’s family,  confirmed that the DWP’s failings would probably have had a substantial effect on Jodey’s mental state at the time she took her own life.

“Joy argues that the manner in which Jodey was treated by the DWP, and in particular the withdrawal of her ESA, caused or materially contributed to her death and that, had this not occurred, Jodey’s death would not have occurred when it did.

“Following the letter giving her permission to apply for a new inquest into Jodey’s death, Joy said: “What a relief to be granted permission for a new inquest into Jodey’s death. It has been a nightmare but I want to thank the hard work of Merry Varney and all the team at Leigh Day and everyone who has been helping me with the Justice for Jodey campaign. This is a big step forward.

““I love my daughter so much and this should never have happened. How could they say she was fit to work? What they put her through was terrible, but I hope that this will mean that Jodey has saved others from the same nightmare.”

“Joy is represented by Leigh Day partner Merry Varney, who added: “The Attorney-General’s decision is very welcome. It is the first completed step in the long journey by Jodey’s family to seek a full and fearless investigation into whether the DWP, and its flawed decision making regarding Jodey’s benefits claim, caused or contributed to her death.

“”We must now apply to the High Court and seek to persuade the Court a fresh inquest is necessary.”

“The application for a new inquest will be made to the High Court within the next 6 weeks and a final hearing may take place by summer, 2021.”

This Site has been covering this case since June 2017 and will report further developments as and when they become available.

Source: Jodey Whiting’s Family Given Permission To Apply For Second Inquest Into Her Death | Leigh Day

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If PIP assessments are now being audio recorded, can claimants have copies?

Days after This Site noted that the Department for Work and Pensions is running trials of video assessments for Personal Independence Payment – and other benefit – claims, we find that the Tories are already recording telephone assessment interviews.

This is very interesting because the recording of assessments has been a roasting-hot potato ever since it was first suggested.

The most recent statement of the situation was that, in order to have an assessment recorded, a claimant needed to bring a piece of tape-recording equipment worth around £1,400 to the interview, capable of recording on two tapes at the same time, with one to be held by the interviewer and one by the interviewee.

The DWP – and by extension, assessors at Atos and Capita – has a small number of these devices, but their scarcity meant it was hard to be sure of securing one for an interview.

This led to some charitable people buying the equipment in order to lend it to benefit claimants who needed it. I’m sure it also led to less charitable people renting the same equipment out for money.

With the announcement that Atos is recording telephone assessments, though, hasn’t that situation changed?

If the assessment company is making recordings unilaterally, does it still have to use the same equipment as in previous stipulations?

Will it have to provide claimants with copies?

If it doesn’t have to use the prescribed equipment, why not? And does this mean claimants don’t have to use it either and can make their own recordings? If not, why not? There must be a level playing-field for these matters.

Here’s Benefits and Work on this:

IAS (Atos) have begun recording telephone assessments for personal independence payment (PIP) Therese Coffey, secretary of state for work and pensions, told the Work and Pensions Committee on Wednesday 30 September.

Coffey told the committee that IAS had begun recording the assessments on 21 September.*

“But that has not yet started with Capita. That is under, I can assure you, active management to get Capita going quickly on this

claimants must ask to have their assessment recorded, it will not be done automatically.

You are likely to need to arrange this in advance. The earlier you request a recording the better, as a new appointment may need to be arranged.

I note that the website’s authors say the DWP will not give permission for claimants to make their own recordings – and say they should do it themselves, clandestinely, if they feel they need to:

You may still consider it sensible to record the assessment yourself just in case the DWPs recording goes astray. Though you will need to do this covertly as the DWP will not give permission.

We would still strongly recommend that claimants consider making a covert recording of their assessment, just in case the DWP’s copy goes astray when you challenge a decision.

The suggestion that copies of assessors’ audio recordings can go “astray” indicates that the DWP and its privately-contracted assessors are as untrustworthy as ever (75 per cent of benefit refusals are now being overturned at appeal).

This is worth chasing up. I’ll ask the DWP what’s going on and let you know the answer.

Source: PIP assessments now being audio recorded

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The Tories have started PIP and ESA video assessment trials. Claimants are terrified

What the claimant sees: benefit assessors carrying out video interviews may think they’re being perfectly reasonable but the Depatment for Work and Pensions has created such a stink around its denial-of-benefits system that people with illnesses and disabilities are likely to be terrified by them. And that’s if they can even afford the equipment to take part in video interviews!

People are being put in fear for their lives because the Johnson government has started work trialling video assessments of disability and sickness benefit claims.

The trial arises from a false premise – that people with long-term illnesses and disabilities are as capable as able-bodied people of taking part in video calls with confidence and coherence.

That is not true and, in many cases, the mere fact of taking part in one of the Tory government’s notoriously-rigged benefits “assessments” will be enough to put them off.

Work and Pensions Secretary Therese Coffey announced the trials at a meeting of the Commons Work and Pensions committee on September 30, saying, “We did try to get some extra capital on video assessments. We weren’t successful in getting additional money, so we have reprioritised some of our capital budget to get that underway.”

A senior civil servant, John Paul Marks, put flesh on these bones: “For video, CHDA has started trialling how to do fit for work decisions by video, so we’re starting that now.

“For PIP we’re trying to also test doing video assessments for about 500 customers.

“So we can understand, does that improve the health care professionals capacity to ensure a positive experience for the customer and be able to get more evidence to support a recommendation on a functional assessment.”

The website Benefits and Work pointed out that many claimants will be “deeply unhappy” with the principle of video assessment:

Some will find the experience of talking on camera provokes considerable anxiety. Some will have concerns about data protection, given that a copy of the video is likely to be saved on a server by the DWP.

At the moment it is not clear whether claimants will have the option to refuse to have a video assessment and insist on either a telephone or, when they become available and safe, face to face assessment instead.

A commenter to the site said the issue would be particularly acute for those with mental health issues:

“This could breach the Equalty Act 2010… Anxiety would make the assessment inaccessible or [the claimant] would suffer an unreasonable experience if required to be video [or] audio-recorded.”

Not only that, but what happens if the claimant doesn’t have the technology to take part in a video assessment, due – for example – to extreme poverty? After all, why would they be claiming the benefit if they didn’t need the money?

Consider this response to This Site’s story yesterday:

Some have already come to the conclusion that this is a quota-filling exercise; that the DWP isn’t interested in whether people deserve Personal Independence Payment or Employment and Support Allowance – the only concern is ensuring that a certain number of people are pushed off the books:

As with any change in a benefit system, it seems clear that video trials will be open to abuse.

This will have to be monitored closely and I will be keen to hear of any experiences.

Source: PIP and ESA video assessment trials have started

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Why do we think it’s okay for people with disabilities to be terrorised by Tory benefit assessors?

As seen on Twitter.

“When I looked at the report I had to double check it had my name on it. I have never seen so many lies in my life!”

That‘s just one comment on the assessment process for Personal Independence Payment, the so-called “benefit” the Conservative government claims it provides to people with disabilities.

In fact, it has always been more about denying that claimants have any disabilities at all and removing their cash so that they die slowly in despair – but the Tories can deny responsibility.

A response to the above comment reads: “Fantasy masquerading as fact again in a PIP assessment. How many more such cases are there going to be before the DWP does something about it?”

Many – because a change of government is required before we can expect a change of heard and we can’t expect that any time soon.

Even people who should reasonably expect to be safe from sanction are terrorised by the process.

So. The dreaded PIP renewal has arrived. Why when he’s 20 and nothing has changed, do I get the awful knot in tummy? Knowing we will have to fight hard again,” wrote one carer.

Another wrote: “Got a brown envelope regarding … PIP today. Theres no issue, they’re extending it. Its fine. But the effect that brown envelope has on me is terrifying. Seeing it makes me physically sick, sweaty and my heart race I’m genuinely scared [of] my government.”

These good people have reason to be.

New figures from the Department for Work and Pensions have shown that, between April 2018 and the end of January this year, 1,700 people died within three months of their PIP claim being rejected by the government.

As I mentioned above, the Tories can deny responsibility for these deaths – as minister for disabled people Justin Tomlinson did when providing the figures in response to a question from Labour MP Jessica Morden.

He said: “There is no evidence in this data to suggest someone’s reason for claiming Personal Independence Payments was the cause of their death and it would be misleading to suggest otherwise.”

But it is reasonable to question whether these people would have died if they had not been deprived of the benefits they seem clearly to have needed, in order to live.

And these figures follow on from work carried out by This Writer – me – a few years ago in which I had to force the government of the day to admit 2,400 people had died between dates in 2011 and 2014, within just two weeks of having their claims for sickness benefits rejected.

It is a quiet cull.

The Tories have learned from the mistakes of the Nazis; they don’t send a van around to people’s houses to gas people with disabilities to death. They have realised they don’t have to.

The Tories know that it is much easier for them simply to deprive people with disabilities who claim benefits – the Nazis used to call them “useless eaters” and I’m sure some Tories do the same – of the means to survive.

This Site is filled with countless stories of the victims of this policy.

I could pick holes in Tomlinson’s words; of course it is not anybody’s reason for claiming a benefit that leads to their death after being denied it. The cause is the deprivation of the means to continue living.

But no individual case can prove this because the Tories would say it was anecdotal.

What is needed is a class action legal case in which it may be demonstrated that disabled people died who may not have done so, had they not been deprived of money.

There are plenty of examples now. All that is needed is someone to take it up as a cause. They could probably face a deluge of information if only they advertised for it.

I would do it myself but I seem to be spending too much time in courtrooms as it is. And I don’t think that’s a coincidence.

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Tories are attacking disabled people again while we’re looking the other way

The Conservative government has changed its assessment process for disability benefits to make it harder for people to get a correct decision on their claim – it seems.

The Tory miniser for disabled people, Justin Tomlinson, revealed details of the secret change in a letter to the Commons Work and Pensions committee, after its chair, Stephen Timms, raised the issue on behalf of claimants.

It has been usual practice for claimants to request and receive a copy of their assessment report within days of the report being submitted to the DWP.

They have been able to request a copy of their report, check it thoroughly, raise any issues with the assessment providers and receive responses before they have received the decision.

In a fair, sane system, this is appropriate. So of course the Tories have changed it.

In a letter dated September 16, Tomlinson MP wrote:

“The department does not share assessment provider reports with claimants before they have been considered by a DWP Case Manager.”

This is because:

“Providing the report to claimants immediately after the assessment and before the Case Manager has made their decision could therefore give a false impression on the outcome of their claim.”

This will make it much harder for claimants to demand the mandatory review that the Tories insist they have to endure before appealing against a wrong decision.

It can take up to 15 weeks for claimants to receive the decision. Once they do, and if they disagree with it, they will have about three weeks – or less – to make a request for a mandatory review. 

The 30+ page assessment report is a key part of the process and it will take about 10 days from requesting a copy to receiving it.

This leaves very little time for them to see the recommendations made, to analyse the report, to check it for accuracy, to see if there are any errors, and to prepare and send a request for MR if necessary.

Many people with disabilities are very weak, due to their condition, and do not have the strength of will needed to push through a dispute with the government that has a short time limit.

You can be sure the Tories had this in mind when they secretly made this cruel change.

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Tories have wasted £120m in two years trying to tell people they’re not disabled

Habitual cruelty: if you thought the Tories stopped persecuting people with long-term illnesses and disabilities during the Covid-19 crisis, think again.

What a waste of time and money.

Over the last two years, Conservative governments have spent more than £120 million in taxpayers’ money fighting disability benefit claims – despite losing three-quarters of tribunal appeals.

That means automatic wastage of £90 million – but it is likely that the quarter of claimants who lost their appeals also had valid grounds to claim Personal Independence Payment and/or Employment and Support Allowance but were outflanked by a prejudiced system.

The increase in expenditure is far greater than the 13 per cent increase in applications would suggest. And it is happening at a time when the country can ill-afford to waste any cash at all. There can only be one reason for it: sick cruelty – the Tories are enjoying torturing sick and disabled people to death.

And why are there so many applications for disability and sickness benefits in the UK? Do conditions here – especially working conditions – cause illness and disability?

The new figures are further proof that the Tories’ convoluted appeal process has nothing to do with saving money from fraudsters and everything to do with starving people with disabilities – to death, if possible.

It is now well-documented that claimants initially have to go through an internal appeal process within the Department for Work and Pensions called mandatory reconsideration.

The courts only recently ruled that a Tory regulation forcing claimants to go without any benefit payments, and therefore without any income, for the period of a mandatory reconsideration – no matter how long that may be – was illegal.

Only after the DWP rules that a claim should be rejected can the sick or disabled person take their case to a tribunal.

And it is at tribunals that 76 per cent of PIP claims, and 75 per cent of ESA claims, are upheld.

This means the Tories have needlessly and cruelly deprived these people of their means of survival for the number of months – years in some cases – that these claims have been disputed.

We all know that there is hardly any fraud in disability benefit claims – the last recorded number This Writer saw was somewhere in the region of one or two per cent of claims.

So the huge proportion that the Tories refuse – and the amount of time and money wasted in the appeal process – can only mean one thing:

The Tories hate disabled people and want them to die.

Why isn’t this a national – if not international – scandal?

Source: Government spends £120m in taxpayer money fighting disability benefit claims in two years, figures show | The Independent | Independent

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Covid lockdown and Tory PIP assessment cruelty made woman attempt suicide

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Lockdown cruelty: if you thought this image had been retired for the duration of the Covid crisis, it seems you’re to be disappointed because the Tory government had other plans.

The incompetent – or just plain cruel? – Tory government’s failure to make adequate provision for us all during the Covid-19 lockdown has been worst in the cases of disability benefit claimants, this story shows.

Cambridgeshire Live has published the story of Katy (not her real name), who said the stress caused to her by the Department for Work and Pensions’s assessment for Personal Independence Payment drove her to attempt suicide.

It seems she was put through an assessment interview with an employee of private contractor Capita – and it followed a traumatic pattern that readers of This Site should by now understand well.

Initially offered as a face-to-face interview, the assessment was rescheduled to be on the phone because of the pandemic – and rescheduled three times at the last minute, ensuring that Katy’s mental health support worker could not participate, despite that having been agreed.

The call was pleasant enough but – long-term readers of This Site will know what’s coming – the report that came back was riddled with “gross inaccuracies”.

Denied the benefit, she was forced to file a complaint about the assessor and request a mandatory consideration to receive the funds she deserved.

As a result she was pushed into debt.

In addition – in lockdown and isolated – she had to handle the “incorrect documentation” of a psychiatric assessment.

These symptoms of incompetence by the authorities could not help but exacerbate her condition, which forced her to cope with he side effects of complex post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), including nightmares and flashbacks, and limiting her from carrying out daily tasks like washing or shopping.

It all became too much and she tried to take her own life. Fortunately – and all-too-unusually – the attempt failed.

Now – after Katy’s case was taken up by her MP, Disability Cambridgeshire and Cambridgeshire Live, and may therefore be considered to have become a public relations problem – the government has granted her the highest rate of PIP.

Funny how that happens when there’s a whiff of bad publicity, isn’t it?

Both the DWP and Capita have offered the usual arse-covering soundbites about using all the information available and changing the decision when new facts come forward.

But the fact is that a woman was driven to take her life because of the cruelty of a so-called benefit system that the Tories have perverted into a death-by-deprivation scheme.

This Writer has been campaigning against this deadly policy for years, and the fact that there is now uncontradictable proof that the DWP has been driving people to suicide is welcome.

But I fear I know what will come of it: Absolutely nothing.

Source: PIP payments: ‘The disability benefits assessment made me want to end my life’ – Cambridgeshire Live

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MP of the Year award attacked over harmful corporate sponsor. Time for a campaign to remove it?

KPMG: this corporation, part of the Atos group that has done so much harm to sick and disabled people, sponsors the Patchwork Foundation’s MP of the Year awards, Should it?

It seems the only element likely to stop Jeremy Corbyn from winning the Patchwork Foundation’s MP of the Year award is the fact that it is sponsored by corporations that have contributed to the oppression of the poor and vulnerable.

Mr Corbyn is on the shortlist of MPs for whom the public is asked to vote.

But some supporters of the former Labour leader – including his own former Shadow Chancellor – are having nothing to do with it because it is sponsored by firms including KPMG.

The controversy sprang up on This Writer’s Twitter feed overnight, springing from discussion over whether certain vested interests would allow Mr Corbyn to win, after their success in ousting last year’s popular left-wing candidate, Chris Williamson.

Paula Peters, a popular campaigner for people with disabilities and friend of This Site, raised the alarm:

It was confirmed by others:

Atos is the company that – now under an alias – carries out assessments of benefit claimants’ ability to work, when they claim sickness and/or disability benefits. It took over KPMG in 2002, and it seems some have little to say in its favour.

The firm’s record for refusing benefits to people who genuinely deserve them – who have then gone on to suffer extreme hardship and, in many cases, death – is well-documented on This Site and elsewhere.

It reflects extremely poorly on the Patchwork Foundation that it would seek – or allow – sponsorship of any of its work by a firm of such character.

KPMG’s sponsorship of the award is not well-signposted; it appears as one of many on a tickertape at the bottom of the awards’ web page.

Paula’s tweet sparked strong responses:

For This writer, the most telling comment in the discussion is Paula’s below:

So perhaps that is what should be done.

Obviously I am too busy with annoying distractions like my two court cases to take on another campaign, but would anybody like to launch one calling on the Patchwork Foundation to decline sponsorship from organisations that are known to cause harm to people?

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