Introduced in 2014 and dubbed the ‘charity-gagging law’, the Lobbying Act provides a set of rules for charities that publicly campaign in the run-up to elections [Image: Getty].
We knew this would happen when the so-called Transparency of Lobbying, Non-Party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Act was imposed on the UK, back in 2014. It was labelled the “Gagging Act”, for crying out loud!
And we had hard evidence of it in February 2015 – more than two years ago, when John Pring of Disability News Service wrote: “Disability organisations have been intimidated by new lobbying laws – and the risk of losing government contracts – into failing to campaign on key issues like social care and welfare reform in the run-up to the general election, say disabled campaigners.
“They fear that the “sinister” impact of last year’s Transparency of Lobbying, Non-Party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Act [also known as the ‘Gagging’ Act], and the trend towards funding charities through government contracts to provide services, are ‘closing down all debate’.”
I remember attending meetings with my MP, who at the time was the Liberal Democrat Roger Williams. He made promise after promise to stand up for free speech – to our faces – then went back to Westminster and told us that cosmetic changes made by the Conservatives meant there was nothing to worry about.
We all knew that wasn’t true, and in the 2015 general election Mr Williams was replaced…
By a Conservative!
Local politics is insane. And the “Gagging Act” has been given free rein to live up to its name.
Labour has vowed to repeal it – but Labour is not in office, due to bizarre decisions by the voting public in June this year. Perhaps it’s time to vote sanely?
More than 100 charities have warned that they are being gagged by controversial government legislation that they claim is preventing them from campaigning on issues affecting the poorest and most marginalised groups in society.
An open letter signed by 122 organisations including Save the Children, Greenpeace and Christian Aid says campaigning is being “lost” from public debate due to the “draconian” requirements of the Lobbying Act.
Dubbed the “charity-gagging law”, it dictates what charities can do publicly in the 12-month run-up to elections in order to ensure individuals or organisations cannot have an undue influence over the vote.
Given the possibility of a snap election, charities say they are not able to carry out political campaigns now for fear of being hit with retrospective fines.
The boss of parcel delivery firm City Link, John Moulton, announced on Christmas day that it has gone into administration. The firm employed 2,727 staff – none of whom knew anything about this until they saw it on the news (if they saw it there).
The image above is a clever response, courtesy of ‘nutfree’, spotted on the social media. The comment alongside it was: “Wonder if the Tory Party will refund the £450, 000 City Link head John Moulton has bunged them over the years to help pay outstanding wages to staff?”
Several political organisations (including, to Yr Obdt Srvt’s regret, Labour) have been talking up the possibility of imposing charges on the public for NHS services. Possibilities under discussion have included direct charging at the point of use or a new ‘NHS tax’. Nobody wants to mention that this means paying for the NHS twice (we already fund it with our taxes/NI contributions).
BBC Radio 4 recently ran a debate on NHS charging, on which one of the speakers was Dr Clive Peedell. This gentleman is a stalwart of the National Health Action Party, the political group founded to end the Coalition’s privatisation of healthcare by defeating the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats at election time.
He made many solid points – information that the public needed to hear. We know this because the presenter tried to shout him down while he was in full flow, and in the Tory-dominated BBC this is always a sure sign that a speaker is on the right track.
The YouTube clip (above) whittles down the debate to cover only Dr Peedell’s words, in which he states that:
It is a myth that charges can reduce demand for healthcare; this is a zombie policy.
If people start paying they expect more from the service, so you get people with wants, rather than needs.
The NHS has been chronically under-funded for decades – by £267 billion over 25 years.
It is become a fantastically efficient system and all the evidence suggests that progressive taxation is the fairest way to pay for healthcare.
Even so, there are efficiencies that can be made – the market system costs £10 billion per year in administration costs, and 10 per cent of the budget pays off venture capitalists who invested in costly PFI schemes.
Austerity increases demand on the healthcare system and reduces supply.
And healthcare spending stimulates economic growth so we should increase healthcare expenditure with money reclaimed from tax avoiders.
The clip is well worth playing.
After all, it isn’t often you hear anybody talking sensibly about the health service for nearly six minutes!
Exploitation: The logo on the cups says, “Conservatives – for the privileged few” – and the intern carrying them isn’t included.
“We’re all in it together” are we, George?
The Conservative Party represents “fairness”, “for hardworking people”, does it, David?
It seems not – if we are to judge the Conservative Party by its actions, rather than its words.
Yesterday a website focusing on graduate careers blew the full-time whistle on these deceptions, exposing how the Tories have been briefing MPs and candidates on ways to avoid paying the minimum wage by exploiting the perceived differences between volunteers, interns and paid employees.
The article on Graduate Fogsaid a memo circulated to Party members was advising them to start calling their unpaid interns ‘campaign volunteers’, in order to evade “potential hostile questioning” about exploitative business practices.
It would have been better for the Party spokesperson to deny that Conservatives have been wrongly recruiting people as employees – under the umbrella title of ‘interns’ (which means nothing in UK law), while treating them – for payment purposes – as volunteers.
But that was impossible because it is exactly what has been happening – as the memo makes clear.
Look – here it is:
Graduate Fog kindly published it for us all to examine.
The part that blows the gaff is a “suggested template reply” for “hostile questioning” about the issue of “recruiting unpaid interns”.
Clearly, this is what Conservative chiefs want to avoid.
Clearly they would not have gone to the effort of circulating a memo if NOBODY was “recruiting unpaid interns”.
So there is a clear implication that some Conservative Party MPs and prospective Parliamentary candidates, in fact, have been “recruiting unpaid interns” – and illegally exploiting them by demanding that they carry out the duties of employees.
The tone is clear from the get-go: The Conservative Party is running scared.
Members are told that people working in an unpaid capacity are no longer to be described as ‘interns’ – they are ‘campaign volunteers’ from now on because, that way, there is no obligation to pay them.
Conservatives are advised not to pay anything at all to these ‘volunteers’ – even expenses – as this could lead to them being classed as ‘workers’ and establishing ‘mutuality of obligation’. This would be equivalent to payment for services rendered – and the ‘volunteer’ would therefore be classed as a ‘worker’, requiring payment for services rendered, at the minimum wage or higher.
From now on, the memo states, recruitment adverts should be “appropriately worded” – meaning there must be nothing resembling a “formal job description”. This means references to “work”, “worker”, “hours” of work, “tasks” the ‘Volunteer’ will be “expected” to perform, and “expenses” are all out.
Instead, Party members are advised to use words like “volunteering”, “volunteer”, “campaigning administration”, and “help” – and to describe functions carried out by the “volunteer” as “the kind of activities it would be great to get some help with”.
This advice would not be necessary if Conservative Party MPs and prospective Parliamentary candidates had not been illegally “recruiting unpaid interns”.
For the interns themselves, this should be terrific news: There can be no requirement for them to turn up to work, and no disciplinary measures may be taken against them if they don’t. They may come and go as they please and do not have to conform to any set working hours. Nor may they be expected to perform any specified duties.
If the Tories want people to do that kind of work, they can pay for it like everybody else.
… although the minimum wage probably won’t be enough.
Leading us down the garden path: Cameron wants us to believe the economy is growing but, like a bad gardener, he hasn’t fertilised it, and has allowed it to be overrun with weeds. [Image: Andy Davey www.andydavey.com]
“The week before the autumn statement, and the right honourable gentleman [Ed Miliband] cannot ask about the economy because it is growing. He cannot ask about the deficit because it is falling. He cannot ask about the numbers in work because they are rising. People can see that we have a long-term plan to turn our country around.”
What a shame he chose to give Parliament bluster instead of facts.
Does he think that the economy is growing because of the housing price bubble engineered by his deranged Chancellor via his ‘Help to Buy’ scheme? It is massively increasing the cost of housing in London but will inevitably lead to a crash and the loss of serious amounts of money for both buyers and the government (as mortgage underwriter). The Bank of England has revealed that it has no power of veto and can only advise on whether the scheme should continue – it is for the Conservative-led government to decide how long it will last.
Gideon’s ‘Help to Buy’ offers unsupported mortgage guarantees to buyers and lenders. He has not said where he will find the money for it. Critics have warned that this is simply creating another housing-fuelled debt bubble that will burst in a couple of years’ time, leaving even more people in debt than after the financial crisis hit us all.
Michael Meacher has read the £130 billion scheme right – as we can see from his blog: “Where does that sort of money come from when the public accounts are under extreme pressure to make enormous cuts? State-subsidised mortgages for the well-off (houses valued at up to £600,000) seems, even for Osborne, a strange decision when some of the poorest tenants in the country are at the same time being expelled from their homes by the bedroom tax.
“It can only be explained by Osborne panicking at the time of the March budget this year that the economy showed no sign of recovery in time for the 2015 election, made worse by his mistaken increase in VAT and big cuts in capital spending. He chose a big artificial stimulus of the mortgage market to kick-start the moribund economy, repeating the mistake of every previous boom triggered by consumer borrowing and a pumped-up housing market, an inevitable forerunner eventually of yet another round of boom and bust.”
Does Cameron really think the deficit is falling fast enough to revitalise the nation’s economy? In October, borrowing (excluding the cost of interventions like bank bailouts, so we’re already in the realm of made-up figures) fell by two one-hundred-and-thirds, from £8.24 billion in the same month last year to £8.08 billion.
We are told the aim is to keep borrowing for 2013-14 at £120 billion or below. In his ‘Emergency Budget’ of 2010, Osborne predicted that borrowing this year would be down to half that – at £60 billion, and estimates have been rising ever since.
The 2011 budget had the 2013-14 deficit at £70 billion; in 2012 it was expected to be £98 billion; and now £120 billion – double Osborne’s prediction when he became Chancellor.
As for the numbers of people in work, let’s ask Cameron: If more people are working, why has productivity fallen back to the level it reached in 2005? Is it because employers are taking on workers in part-time, zero-hours or self-employed contracts, rather than full-time, in order to take advantage of the opportunity to get out of their holiday pay, sick pay and National Insurance obligations? This seems most likely.
Average wages have been cut by nine per cent since 2010, in real terms, and are still falling. Should Cameron really be boasting about this?
“It’s my policy and I’ll cry if I want to” – or is Jeremy *unt simply responding to criticism of his bid to climb on the anti-immigration bandwagon?
A speech by Iain Duncan Smith is immediately reminiscent of a wasp negotiating its way through a bulldog’s digestive system; there’s a lot of droning and implied pain, but through it all you know exactly what the outcome will be.
From this starting point, one may liken a speech by Jeremy Hunt to a hippo having an unhappy bowel movement as a result of an unwise dietary choice; much clumsy blundering in the wilderness and a fair amount of distress – which may be transferred to any poor creature unlucky enough to get in the way.
It seems that migrants and visitors from abroad who use the NHS are now facing the full onslaught of the Health Secretary’s metaphorical indigestion, with nary a bucket of Rennie in sight – except in this case the cure would be a set of reliable statistics covering the use of NHS services by our foreign-born friends.
Armed with new reports by independent firms Prederi and Creative Research, the Health Secretary (and well-known misprint) believes ‘health tourism’ is costing the NHS £2 billion every year – and has announced that he plans to claw back around £500 million of that money.
A BBC report states that ministers believe some of the spending is unavoidable but “it would be realistic to save a quarter. Savings would come from deterring so-called health tourism, recovering money owed by other countries and a levy on non-European temporary residents”.
But the cost of health tourism, as set out in the report, is tiny – at a maximum of £80 million it would be four per cent of the estimated total loss – and this is based on evidence which even one of the reports’ authors, Prederi, have admitted is incomplete. On its own, it could not possibly generate the saving demanded by the new policy, nor could it justify the claim that £2 billion is currently being lost.
That is not the point, though. This is about getting the NHS on the anti-immigration bandwagon.
The study has been released to coincide with the Immigration Bill, which (surprise, surprise) includes plans for a £200-per-person-per-year charge for temporary migrants to use the NHS during any stay lasting between six months and five years.
The Conservative-led Coalition government says this could recoup around £200 million per year, but this is clearly nonsense.
Put yourself in the position of a person from abroad, considering an extended stay in the UK. If an extra cost of up to £1,000 for a five-year stay was added to the trip, out of the blue, would you go ahead with it? Or would you consider other destinations?
Alternatively, if the trip could not be avoided, would this not make you more likely to use the NHS, in order to simply get your money’s worth? The trouble with this is that such a person would not know the cost of a consultation. According to Dr Chaand Nagpaul, chairman of the British Medical Association’s GPs committee, the cost of a single hospital outpatient appointment would equal the £200-per-year levy.
And then there is the administration cost. New Statesman revealed that the chair of the Royal College of GPs, Claire Gerada, has warned that the cost of administrating the new system could outweigh the savings, while also increasing public health problems such as TB by deterring temporary migrants from seeking treatment when they first fall ill. This gives rise to the possibility that we are facing another Tory policy that could have deadly consequences for the population.
This is not a plan to deal with health tourism at all. This is an attempt by an increasingly-desperate Conservative Party to claw back some of the voters who have (themselves) migrated to UKIP because of fears that have been planted in their minds by political spin-doctors, rather than any real threat – the phantom problem of immigrants getting benefits they haven’t earned.
Health tourism is not costing the UK £2 billion a year, and the measures outlined by the government will not stop it, or save any lost money. If anything, it will cost the country millions of pounds.
But then, when has Jeremy Hunt bothered with the facts, when he can have his way simply by playing on people’s fears and manipulating their beliefs?
This is why reference was made, at the top of this article, to Iain Duncan Smith – another Tory minister who won’t let thousands of possible deaths interfere with his beliefs.
Despair: How can you get the government to do the right thing when the rules mean it doesn’t have to?
Those of you who read the comments on this blog will be familiar with Nick. He’s a gentleman who has been ill for a very long time. The effects of his illness are readily apparent just by looking at him – he describes himself as having the appearance of an inmate in a Japanese POW camp during World War Two.
The Department of Work and Pensions still wanted to tell him he was able to seek work; they only stopped trying to cut his benefits because his MP intervened.
This is how he describes the attitude of the Coalition government: “David Cameron … is not to be trusted as he has a way of killing people in a very barbaric way, the way of silence, in the privacy of one’s home, to have a letter dropped on them to place that person in a deliberate panic, knowing and hoping it kills them.”
Elsewhere, he states: “I myself have lost all my many online friends bar one… over the past three years – all dead at the hands of the DWP.”
Now this government department is doing its best to starve the life out of Mrs Mike, it seems.
She received a letter yesterday that makes absolutely no sense at all, to anyone with sense. Attend:
“Please allow us to apologise for the lack of communication you have received regarding the changes in your benefit. As per normal procedure, you should have received a letter and phone call some weeks ago to prepare you for the end of your contribution based ESA claim. An invitation to claim income related ESA should then have been sent out. A fault on your claim meant that our processing section did not receive a prompt to contact you to explain the changes to contribution based ESA eligibility.”
Our first reaction to that was: Not our problem. The “fault” on our claim would be one that was created at the DWP, by DWP employees, and is entirely the responsibility of the DWP. But who suffers for it? We do.
“I can see that you have an ongoing appeal against being placed in the Work Related Activities Group of ESA. I cannot see an outcome to the appeal as of yet. Once an outcome has been reached, we will contact you. If successful, you will be placed in the Support Group of ESA.”
The letter goes on to contradict itself, revealing that a decision-maker examined the appeal – in April – and determined that another work capability assessment would be necessary to find out whether Mrs Mike is less able to work now than she was in July last year.
We were not told about this decision. We have not been notified about any new WCA. And now we are confused – are we supposed to be claiming income-related ESA, or waiting for the results of the appeal – an appeal which has been ongoing for nearly half a year now – in case Mrs Mike gets put into the support group. And how is she supposed to live until then – on roots and berries?
“Please be aware that we receive a very high volume of appeals; due to the volume, it is not possible to resolve each appeal as quickly as we or our ESA claimants would like. However, please be assured that your appeal is ongoing and you will be contacted when we have an outcome. In your case, our Decision Maker has stated that we will need to know the outcome of your next medical assessment before we can progress your appeal.”
Yes, we are indeed aware that the DWP receives a very high volume of appeals – 255,084 between January and March. The cost of these appeals to the taxpayer totalled £66 million between 2012-13 – and that it is losing them in increasing numbers. This is because Atos assessors and DWP decision-makers have been making decisions that are not only wrong according to the law but harmful to the lives of those affected. Do I really need to quote the 73-deaths-per-week figure that we all know and loathe – and that we all believe has inflated to even more horrific levels since it was first released? We don’t know because the DWP – again – is refusing to release the figures it holds.
“When you were migrated across to ESA from Incapacity Benefit, you attended a medical for ESA reassessment. The outcome of this was that you were to be placed in the Work Related Activities Group for a period of 12 months, effective from 21.06.12. It is for this reason that you were sent an ESA50 form in May this year; you were due for your 12month review, as stated when your claim was migrated from IB to ESA.”
This is what we deduced when we received the form – which arrived with no explanatory letter. We completed it and sent it back very quickly and had heard nothing about it since. It would be logical to expect a response, or indeed a decision, before a benefit claim expired, but we’re dealing with the DWP here, whose agents seem to think they are a law unto themselves.
Note the two inaccuracies: Mrs Mike’s ESA started on August 14 last year, and the Work Capability Assessment is not a medical check and should not, in any circumstances, be described as one. It is a tick-box assessment to determine whether a claimant is capable of performing any work that may be used by the DWP as an excuse to close their claim. Nothing more.
“Your completed ESA50 has been received by ATOS; we are currently waiting for them to set a date for your new medical assessment. You will be contacted when this date has been set.”
Oh, so the fault lies with Atos, does it? That’s nice to know. In the meantime, what are we supposed to be using to pay the bills?
And has anyone noticed that we now have a choice between combinations of three ongoing matters: We can make a new claim for income-related ESA; we can wait for a decision on our appeal, which requires another work capability assessment; and/or we can wait for Atos to pull its finger out of whichever bodily orifice is appropriate and arrange a WCA in relation to the 12-month review, which is also awaiting a decision – all after the claim period has ended!
Will we have to attend two work capability assessments? That seems to be what’s implied, although nothing in the letter clarifies this.
“I have referred your letter of complaint to our Complaints Resolution Manager, for their response. I do appreciate that you have not experienced the level of communication or customer care that we seek to provide.
“Hopefully this answers your queries.”
How has this answered any queries? All it has done is create more questions!
“Once you have completed and returned the enclosed ESA3 form, we will be able to reassess your claim and consider income related ESA.
“Once you have been seen for your next medical, we will be able to progress your Support Group appeal. If placed in Support Group, it is possible that we will be able to recommence payment of contribution based ESA.”
Aren’t these mutually exclusive? Which do they expect us to do? And – again – how do they expect us to live while we’re doing this and waiting for them to get on with it?
Note that there is no mention that we can apply for a Short Term Benefit Advance while waiting for the DWP to fulfil its responsibilities. Few people know about this and the Department aims to keep it that way. Why’s that, do you think?
It is well-known to the DWP that, along with her physical problems, Mrs Mike suffers from mental health problems and depression. As I write these words, she’s asleep on the sofa where she has been bawling her eyes out for much of the morning, in utter despair at the situation. That’s the same sofa where she spends many days at a time in such agony that she cannot move.
She won’t be another casualty of this institutionalised cruelty, but now I have to be extra vigilant to make sure she doesn’t get low enough to do herself a mischief. That’s an extra burden on me, when I already have my hands full, running the household and trying to find ways to make ends meet (like the Vox Political book, Strong Words and Hard Times*).
Meanwhile, what sanctions have been placed upon the DWP officers who have been working on this case?
None at all.
Everyone knows unemployed people claiming Jobseekers Allowance have to sign a ‘Jobseekers Agreement’ in which they agree to meet stringent conditions in order to receive their benefit. In the same way, people on ESA must report changes in their own circumstances and medical health, in order to allow their benefit to be updated correctly. Both arrangements rely on correct and timely administration by the DWP.
But this is not happening – nor is it likely to happen in the future – because, when you check to find what sanctions may be placed on the DWP for failing to uphold its side of the agreement, what do you find?
None at all.
Of course, responsibility for the policy lies not with those who carry it out but with the policy-maker, in this case the Secretary of State, Iain Something Smith. How much will he pay as a penalty for masterminding this failure of a system that has caused so much agony to so many people – and that is costing the taxpayer so much extra money in legal challenges?
I’ll tell you. It’s exactly the same as the amount of remorse the failed, Returned-To-Unit Army bag-carrier showed when he was challenged about the people his policies have killed:
None at all.
There will be no hope for the sick and disabled of this country until those responsible for their persecution are made to pay the price for it.
*Vox Political: Strong Words and Hard Times may be bought here, here, here, here and here – depending on the format in which you wish to receive it.
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