Press release: Hugely disappointing that Government refuses to pay disabled benefits during appeals

Sheila Gilmore MP today said it was hugely disappointing that the Government have refused to pay sick and disabled people benefits while they appeal against incorrect ‘Fit for Work’ decisions. This was a key recommendation from a report by the Work and Pensions Select Committee, of which she is a member.

Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) provides support for people who cannot work due to a health condition or disability. Entitlement is determined by the controversial Work Capability Assessment (WCA). Previously claimants who were declared ‘Fit for Work’ and wished to challenge their decision were paid ESA at a reduced rate throughout the appeal process. However since October 2013 claimants have had to submit an informal appeal – known as a mandatory reconsideration – to a DWP civil servant, and only if they are still refused benefit can they take their case to a judge.

During mandatory reconsideration, a claimant’s only option is to claim Jobseekers Allowance, which entails applying for jobs and attending regular appointments. As a result many sick and disabled people have been refused JSA or sanctioned, leaving them stuck between benefits and without any income.

The Committee called for claimants to be paid ESA during the mandatory reconsideration process, but in the Government’s formal response to the committee published today, DWP Ministers have refused this request.

Sheila Gilmore said:

I regularly meet sick and disabled people who are unable to work but who have been declared fit to do so following a flawed ESA assessment.

Since last year people in this position have been forced to claim Jobseekers Allowance when they initially challenge an incorrect decision. Many are refused or quickly sanctioned, leaving them without money for periods of up to ten weeks.

In July the Work and Pensions Select Committee recommended that claimants are paid ESA throughout the application process. We noted that this shouldn’t cost any extra money, unless DWP are already factoring in sick and disabled people being unable to claim JSA.

Unfortunately we now learn that Iain Duncan Smith and his department have refused this request. In doing so they are deliberately leaving vulnerable people stuck between benefits – too fit for ESA but too sick or disabled for JSA. Conservative and Liberal Democrat Ministers should be ashamed.

Notes to Editors

The key paragraph of the Committee’s report reads:

However, DWP needs to set a reasonable timescale for the MR process, rather than this being left open-ended. The current illogical arrangement whereby claimants seeking MR are required to claim Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA) instead of ESA should be abolished. Official statistics showing the impact of MR on the number of appeals and on outcomes for claimants should be published as a matter of urgency.

See page 36 of the document for context: http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201415/cmselect/cmworpen/302/302.pdf

They key paragraph of the Government’s response reads:

When claimants are found fit for work, unless the decision is overturned, that decision is in law a final decision and there is no legal basis on which to continue to make any ESA payments.

See page 24 of the document for context: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/employment-and-support-allowance-and-work-capability-assessments-response-to-the-work-and-pensions-committee

For more information on these issues see Sheila Gilmore’s website:
http://www.sheilagilmore.co.uk/my-work-on-esa/reconsideration/

For more information please contact Matt Brennan, Parliamentary Assistant to Sheila Gilmore MP, on 020 7219 7062, 07742 986 513 or matthew.brennan@parliament.uk.

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Press release: Sheila Gilmore MP reacts angrily to ideological East Coast privatisation

Edinburgh East MP Sheila Gilmore today reacted angrily to the UK Government’s ideological decision to award Stagecoach and Virgin the contract to run intercity services on the East Coast Main Line from 2015.

eastcoastSheila Gilmore, who has campaigned against the plans to re-privatise the line since they were first announced in March 2013, said:

Passengers recognise the improvements to services that East Coast have made under public ownership over the last four years. They also appreciate that at present, all profits are retained for the benefit of British passengers and taxpayers.

But despite calls from Labour for these arrangements to continue in the long term, today we received confirmation that Ministers are pressing ahead with their ideological privatisation of services before the next General Election.

If the franchising programme had simply been restarted after its collapse in October 2012, both the West Coast and Great Western routes would have been let first, and East Coast would have been dealt with later next year.

But because the Conservatives were embarrassed by the success of a nationalised railway, East Coast was instead pushed to the front of the queue.

A future Labour Government would take a different approach. We would allow a public sector operator to bid for rail contracts, so that passengers and taxpayers always get value for money.

ENDS

Notes to Editors:

  • Please see photos of Sheila Gilmore MP campaigning on this issue last year with Mark Lazarowicz MP: Sheila Gilmore and Mark Lazarowicz campaign against East Coast privatisation
  • Click here for a larger version: http://www.sheilagilmore.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2013/08/photo-e1376384706403.jpg
  • After privatisation intercity services on the East Coast Main Line were run by GNER from 1996 to 2007, and then by National Express until they broke their contract in 2009.
  • Since then services have been run by East Coast, a subsidiary of Directly Operated Railways (DOR), a train operating company wholly owned by the Department for Transport.
  • As with operators of other profitable franchises, East Coast is expected to make premium payments to the Treasury, and it will have returned over £1 billion by the end of the current financial year.
  • In addition all profits – totalling over £40 million over the last four years – are reinvested in the service rather than paid out in dividends to shareholders.
  • In 2011 East Coast introduced a new timetable involving:
    • 19 additional services each day, some to new destinations including Lincoln and Harrogate, equating to an extra 3 million more seats per year;
    • Faster journeys, with a daily 4 hour service between Edinburgh and London.
    • A revamped First Class service;
  • In late 2012 East Coast achieved the best punctuality on the line since records began in 1999 with 93.3% of trains arriving within 10 minutes of their scheduled arrival time.
  • For more information please contact Matt Brennan, Parliamentary Assistant to Sheila Gilmore MP, on 07742 986 513 or matthew.brennan@parliament.uk.
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What did Labour do in the Scottish Parliament?

I spend time every week knocking on doors somewhere in the constituency and I had a conversation with someone who claimed Labour did nothing during our time in Government at Holyrood. Obviously I took a different view and I’ve reproduced my response in full below.

Thank you for talking to me when I was door knocking in your area recently. We will have to continue to ‘agree to disagree’ on whether independence is the best option for Scotland. However you stated that Labour had done ‘nothing’ in the Scottish Parliament, and I felt I could not let this go unchallenged.

Labour delivered on its devolution promise in 1997 and moved quickly to establish the Scottish Parliament. In the first eight years of the Labour/Liberal Democrat coalition a considerable amount of legislation was passed that led to positive social change. For example:

  • It was this administration that introduced Scotland-wide concessionary travel and free personal care.
  • The Housing Act of 2001 introduced a single secure tenancy across council and housing association tenancies, set in place the homelessness changes which led to the ending of the distinction between priority and non-priority need homeless applicants (a process complete by 2012), and substantially reduced Right to Buy discounts (resulting in sales dropping sharply).
  • The Housing Act of 2006 made important changes in communal repairs in flatted property particularly.
  • Land reform enabled community buy-outs in islands and rural areas.
  • The Tenement Act and Title Conditions Act modernised aspects of property ownership.
  • The Anti-Social Behaviour Act of 2004 tackled problems high on the agenda of many of my constituents, and introduced landlord registration.

Away from legislation the need for infrastructural investment was recognised and councils were invited to submit proposals for using additional investment funding to help grow the economy. These included the extension to the M74, the trams and the borders railway. Edinburgh saw, with Scottish Government support, its largest school building programme in decades.

Government support also made possible the demolition and rebuilding of substandard housing in Oxgangs and Moredun/Hyvots. Significantly the new housing was nearly all for social rent – unlike the later superficially similar developments at Gracemount and Sighthill, where only around one quarter of the replacement homes have been for social rent.

I have concentrated on the areas of policy which I know best, but there are many other examples. Whether you agree with all of the measures or not is another matter. Many people, for example, are in retrospect against the trams, or at least the implementation of that project, but the funding for a range of transport projects was a bold attempt to improve Scotland’s infrastructure. I have my own views on which measures have worked and which may now require further attention or change.

I would not seek to suggest that the SNP Scottish Government has done ‘nothing’ since 2007, although I might not agree with all their actions. I simply make the point that I cannot accept your proposition that Scottish Labour did nothing during its years in government.

Best wishes

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Press release: Sheila Gilmore MP reacts angrily to reports French firm set to take over East Coast

Edinburgh East MP Sheila Gilmore today reacted angrily to reports that a joint bid between Keolis – a company largely owned by the French Government – and Eurostar has won the contract to run intercity services on the East Coast Main Line from 2015.

eastcoastSheila Gilmore, who has campaigned against the plans to re-privatise the line since they were first announced in March 2013, said:

Passengers recognise the improvements to services that East Coast have made under public ownership over the last four years. They also appreciate that at present, all profits are retained for the benefit of British passengers and taxpayers.

But despite calls from Labour for these arrangements to continue in the long term, today we hear that East Coast is set to be privatised just before the next General Election.

Ironically if the contract is awarded to Keolis – which is largely owned by the French Government – ticket revenue may well be reinvested in improved services. Unfortunately these will be services between places like Paris and Lyon or Marseille and Monaco, rather than Edinburgh and London.

A future Labour Government would allow a public sector operator to bid for rail contracts, so that passengers and taxpayers always get value for money.

Notes to Editors:

  • See report of likely award here: http://www.railtechnologymagazine.com/Rail-News/eurostar-and-keolis-favoured-to-win-east-coast-franchise
  • Please see photos of Sheila Gilmore MP campaigning on this issue last year with Mark Lazarowicz MP: Sheila Gilmore and Mark Lazarowicz campaign against East Coast privatisation
  • Click here for a larger version: http://www.sheilagilmore.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2013/08/photo-e1376384706403.jpg
  • After privatisation intercity services on the East Coast Main Line were run by GNER from 1996 to 2007, and then by National Express until they broke their contract in 2009.
  • Since then services have been run by East Coast, a subsidiary of Directly Operated Railways (DOR), a train operating company wholly owned by the Department for Transport.
  • As with operators of other profitable franchises, East Coast is expected to make premium payments to the Treasury, and it will have returned over £800 million by the end of the current financial year.
  • In addition all profits – totalling over £40 million over four years – are reinvested in the service rather than paid out in dividends to shareholders.
  • In 2011 East Coast introduced a new timetable involving:
    • 19 additional services each day, some to new destinations including Lincoln and Harrogate, equating to an extra 3 million more seats per year;
    • Faster journeys, with a daily 4 hour service between Edinburgh and London.
    • A revamped First Class service;
  • In late 2012 East Coast achieved the best punctuality on the line since records began in 1999 with 93.3% of trains arriving within 10 minutes of their scheduled arrival time.
  • For more information please contact Matt Brennan, Parliamentary Assistant to Sheila Gilmore MP, on 07742 986 513 or matthew.brennan@parliament.uk.
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Press release: Sheila Gilmore MP calls on David Cameron to support life-saving bill

Edinburgh East MP Sheila Gilmore has called on David Cameron to enshrine the UK’s commitment to the world’s poorest people in law, completing a course set out by the last Labour government.

IMG_3572

Edinburgh East MP Sheila Gilmore, Edinburgh South MP Ian Murray, and Labour’s Shadow Secretary of State for International Development Mary Creagh MP

On Friday 5 December MPs will vote on a Bill to enshrine in law the UK’s promise to donate 0.7% of our Gross National Income to international aid – in line with aspiration first put forward over 40 years ago.

Both the Conservative manifesto and the Coalition agreement included a pledge to put the 0.7% measure into law, but David Cameron has since failed to keep this promise.

In November 2014, Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said he did not see the need to write the commitment into legislation. This has raised concerns that right-wing Conservative MPs may try to block the law coming before parliament.

Sheila Gilmore MP said:

The last Labour Government tripled the aid budget and dropped the debt, helping to lift three million people out of poverty each year and getting 40 million more children into school.

British aid makes a huge difference to millions – we should be proud of what our generosity can do for those in need and what it says about us as a country.

David Cameron should now face down his backbenchers and enshrine in the law our decision to spend 0.7 per cent of our Gross National Income on international aid.

Mary Creagh MP, Labour’s Shadow Secretary of State for International Development, said:

Under Labour, the UK led the world on international development. The vote on 5 December is David Cameron’s last chance to keep his promise to the world’s poorest people.

ENDS

Notes to Editors

  • On Friday 5 December the International Development (Official Development Assistance Target) Bill will be debated in the House of Commons.
  • UK aid saves and changes lives – between 1997 and 2010 Labour:
    • Helped lift 3 million people out of poverty each year.
    • Helped to get some 40 million more children into school.
    • Improved water or sanitation services for over 1.5 million people.
  • For more information please contact Matt Brennan, Parliamentary Assistant to Sheila Gilmore MP, on 020 7219 7062, 07742 986 513 or matthew.brennan@parliament.uk.
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