Wednesday, 11 January 2012

Welfare bill in tatters after Lords’ savaging

Ministers have been humiliated in the House of Lords over their plans for sweeping changes to the benefit system, suffering three defeats in a single evening in a concerted rebellion that leaves the government’s bill in tatters.

Peers voted decisively to exempt people who have been disabled from a young age and people recovering from cancer from key parts of the government reforms. And in a result that had not been predicted, they also voted to extend the length of time people could continue to claim employment support allowance without being means tested. Government officials claim the move to extend the limit from one year to two would cost £1.6bn over five years.

Liam Byrne, Labour’s shadow work and pensions secretary, said: “The government have been defeated tonight because, quite simply, they tried to cross the basic line of British decency. For months, Labour has been determined to stop this cruel attack on cancer patients in its tracks. And today the House of Lords agreed. The government’s proposal to cut paid-for benefits for people still in chemotherapy crosses the basic test of fairness.”

Ministers had planned to place stricter limits on who can claim employment and support allowance, which is paid to people who are too sick or disabled to work. They planned to limit the amount of time people could claim ESA without being means tested to one year, but by voting for exemptions for cancer patients, young disabled people and an overall extension of the time limit, peers have set back those plans significantly.

Lord Mackenzie, the Labour work and pensions spokesman in the Lords said: “We have accepted with some reluctance that there could be a time limit on ESA, but the time limit would have to reasonably reflect a sufficient time period for people to overcome their illness or disability, sufficient to be able to access employment.” He said the one-year time limit was an “arbitrary figure”.

David Cameron had previously been tripped up in the Commons over the government’s refusal to exempt those recovering from cancer from the reforms, measures Ed Miliband, the Labour leader, claimed would cost 7,000 cancer patients £94 per week. 

Wednesday’s rebellions mean the government has now been defeated four times on its welfare bill in the Lords, after Labour joined 13 Liberal Democrat rebels before Christmas to reject a plan to reduce housing benefit for families with spare bedrooms in their homes. Officials in the department for work and pensions will now have to come to a compromise with peers to avoid the legislation becoming bogged down or bouncing constantly between the two chambers.

The scale of the defeat particularly surprised government insiders. The exemption for young disabled people was carried with a majority of 44, that for people receiving treatment for cancer gained a majority of 56 and the overall time limit on ESA was defeated by 48 votes. A DWP spokesman said: “The time-limit of one year strikes the best balance between recognising that some people need extra help to enter the workplace and that the taxpayer cannot afford to support people indefinitely who could be in employment.”

Kiran Stacey, Financial Times

Monday, 9 January 2012

25th January is Peter Tatchell Day, announces Pink News

To mark the 60th birthday of "our most iconic human rights campaigner", Pink News has named Wednesday 25 January 'Peter Tatchell Day'. To celebrate the day, they will look back at the enormous contribution Peter Tatchell has made to the fight for equal gay rights and human rights in general across the UK and abroad with contributions from all around the globe. Late January will also mark 45 years of human rights campaigning by the naturalised Briton, and 10 years since the Peter Tatchell Foundation was originally launched.

For the day, all advertising space on the Pink News website and email newsletter will be donated to the Peter Tatchell Foundation, which promotes and protects human rights in the UK and globally. The foundation will use the estimated 300,000 spots (of varying sizes and locations) to raise awareness of its campaigns and to recruit new donors. 

More importantly, for the rest of Peter’s 60th birthday year, Pink News will donate advertising on at least one spot on every piece of content on the Pink News website to the foundation as well as space on their iPhone/iPad apps. It is hoped that in total 41 million advertisements will be shown to mark the 41 years since Mr Tatchell first joined the London Gay Liberation Front.

Born in Australia in 1952, he began his career as a campaigner at the age of 15 by opposing the death penalty. Two years later, he realised he was gay and two years after that was bound for England because he objected to Australia’s involvement in the Vietnam war and was not willing to be to drafted.

In 45 years of non-violent human rights campaigning, Mr Tatchell has been arrested hundreds of times, but only one conviction has been upheld. Convicted under the Ecclesiastical Courts Jurisdiction Act 1860, he received a fine of £18.60 for interrupting the 1998 Easter Sermon of the then Archbishop of Canterbury, George Carey, in protest at his support for homophobic discrimination.

Today, Mr Tatchell said: “I am immensely grateful to Benjamin Cohen and the rest of the PinkNews team for their support and generosity. This advertising blitz will increase awareness of our human rights work and raise much-needed funds.

“The Peter Tatchell Foundation has no organised funding. Donations from readers will help us continue our campaign for the worldwide abolition of the death penalty for gay sex, and assist our efforts to win same-sex marriage, football without homophobia and the decriminalisation of homosexuality throughout the Commonwealth.

“My message to everyone is very simple: Don’t accept the world as it is. Dream of what the world could be – and then help make it happen.” 

Pink News

Thursday, 5 January 2012

Cameron orders merger of health and social care

David Cameron has ordered health and social care services to be brought together in order to benefit patients in a move which government advisers are calling the NHS's most urgent overhaul. At the moment, health and social care – the help given mainly to old or disabled patients to help them continue to live at home rather than in hospital or nursing homes – are different systems in England. Cameron made integration one of his five "personal NHS guarantees" last year.

NHS medical treatment and domiciliary support, which is provided mainly by local councils, are usually not joined-up. However, Cameron has told the health secretary, Andrew Lansley, to drive through changes that health policy experts claim will make life more convenient for patients, improve care and save the NHS money. The changes will lead to some hospitals closing, warned the pro-integration NHS Confederation, which represents hospitals and other major NHS employers.

The prime minister has been persuaded by senior doctors and Downing Street health advisers that, without integration, the NHS could become unsustainable due to rises in the number of patients with long-term health conditions such as obesity, diabetes and breathing problems. The first move towards creating joined-up services is likely to see Lansley tell the NHS that it has to give integration the same priority that keeping waiting lists under control has had for the last decade.

That new target is the key recommendation of a new report on integrating care by the King's Fund and Nuffield Trust health think-tank's, whose chief executives both advise Downing Street. They want the introduction of "a clear, ambitious and measurable goal to improve the experience of patients and service users, and to be delivered by a defined date. This goal would serve a similar purpose to the aim of delivering a maximum waiting time of 18 weeks for patients receiving hospital care."