Knighting IDS shows just how much contempt the establishment has for ordinary people.

In the newly announced New Years’ honours list, Duncan Smith – key architect of Universal Credit and ‘welfare reform’ under the Tory-Lib Dem coalition government – has been knighted.The honour system is an antiquated relic based on inequality and deference, one built around the premise of heredity privilege gifting approval to subjects, all with a nod to the Empire. We routinely witness it rewarding failure, where mates of prime ministers are given cushy peerages after less than glowing careers. And yet awarding one to Duncan Smith feels particularly shameless – an establishment reward for a legacy of incompetence and cruelty.

This isn’t a partisan point. The government’s own public spending watchdog, the National Audit Office, savaged Duncan Smith’s much delayed flagship welfare programme last year, finding Universal Credit may end up costing more than the benefit system it replaces, cannot prove it helps more claimants into work and is unlikely to ever deliver value for money. The United Nations, meanwhile, described it as “a digital and sanitised version of the 19th Century workhouse, made infamous by Charles Dickens”.

Ben Jennings on Iain Duncan Smith's knighthood – cartoon
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The human impact of this is all too well established, with thousands of families falling into rent arrears and struggling to afford regular meals. The timing of the honour is particularly disgraceful in light of reports families on Universal Credit are turning to food banks over Christmas. There will be people who had to skip dinner on Friday night because their Universal Credit hasn’t come in only to wake up on Saturday to news that its creator has been knighted.

As well as Universal Credit, in his time at the Department of Work and Pensions, Duncan Smith oversaw some of the most barbaric social policy in recent years, from the bedroom tax, the roll out of ‘fit for work’ tests, benefit sanctions, and the abolition of Disability Living Allowance – all policies that have hit disabled and chronically ill people hardest, and pushed many into poverty and mental health crisis.

If you want to see the reality, look at #KnightmareIDS – the hashtag set up by benefit claimants on social media overnight to highlight their experiences. “I cried when I heard [he was being knighted],” one woman wrote.

To many, Duncan Smith has come to represent their life becoming even harder – why they can’t afford the heating in winter or they can’t leave the house after they’ve had their Mobility car taken away.

To give Duncan Smith a knighthood regardless is not simply a kick in the teeth to them, it is a message. It says: ‘those in power can act with impunity and not only will they avoid accountability for hurting you, they will be actively rewarded for it.’

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Predictably, some have already come to Duncan Smith’s defence. When Faiza Shaheen, who unsuccessfully challenged Duncan Smith for his seat in the general election last month, criticised the knighthood honour, LBC journalist Iain Dale essentially accused her of being a sore loser.

That it is seemingly so hard for some to understand why it feels wrong to gift Duncan Smith ‘respect’ after causing suffering to so many suggests plenty of what is wrong not only with the honours system but the current state of politics.

As Duncan Smith is praised in the spotlight, there are other people who should have our focus. Jen Marsden, a grandmother on Universal Credit who was told she had to survive on around £6 per day. She had just been diagnosed with cancer.

Or Phillip Herron, 34, a debt-ridden single dad who struggled for three weeks this summer waiting for his Universal Credit to come in. He took his own life.

Arise Sir Duncan Smith. Dishonour is truly yours.


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Devastating picture of mum’s six hour wait for an ambulance before her death

A devastated dad has released a photo of his daughter who waited six hours on a pavement for an ambulance before later dying in hospital. Donna Gilby, from Cwmaman in Wales, was on her way to a morning doctor’s appointment when she slipped and fractured her foot – at around 8am on the day in question.

It’s claimed an ambulance eventually arrived at 2pm, six hours after her fall, but sadly Donna later died in hospital of a heart attack. Now the family of the 47-year-old, who has an 11-year-old daughter, want the world to see the photograph of her lying outside – face down and unable to move.

Photo shows Donna Gilby stranded on the pavement outside her Cwmaman home as she waited more than six hours for an ambulance. Donna later died in hospital 

Speaking to Wales Online, her father Gareth Gilby, 74, said her friends and neighbours rallied round, covering her with blankets and duvets to keep her warm as the temperature dropped.

They also called 999 for Donna, who suffered from an irregular heart beat and had two mini-strokes, and alerted her family who live on nearby Glanaman Road. Gareth said: “We called the ambulance service and told them Donna was slipping in and out of consciousness – that must have been somewhere between eight and 8.30am.

“The call handler told us they were dealing with ‘a heavy influx of calls’ and that they’d be with her ‘as soon as possible’. “When there was still no sign an hour later we called again – this time we were told they were ‘doing their best’ but that they ‘didn’t know when they would get to her’.

Cancer patients pushed to ‘breaking point’ as overstretched nurses struggle with high workload

He said the ambulance finally arrived shortly before two o’clock and rushed his daughter to Prince Charles hospital in Merthyr Tydfil. But, in the early hours of this morning, Donna suffered a cardiac arrest and passed away. Gareth added “We still can’t really believe it.

“She was as good as gold and always put others before herself – she’d do anything for anyone. “As a result she put her own problems second, like the fact that she’d struggled with her weight and ill-health for years.”

Donna’s nephew James Perkins, a 28-year-old construction worker, says he had just been celebrating his own 13-month-old son coming out of intensive care at the Royal Glamorgan Hospital in Llantrisant when he got the devastating news.

He said: “My boy had been touch-and-go with bronchiolitis, so I’d been showing my mates in work photos of him looking well again when I took the call about my auntie. “I just can’t believe it – it’s cruel. Her poor little girl. Every Christmas from now on is going to be a reminder of her losing her mum. “Thankfully this is a strong family unit and she’ll be well looked after, but I’m so sad for her.”

In a statement from the Welsh Ambulance Service, Chief Executive Jason Killens said: “We were deeply saddened to hear about the death of Ms Gilby and would like to extend our heartfelt condolences to her family.

“We are sorry that our response took longer than we would have liked on this occasion. “Our ambulance service exists to care for people, and our staff share the same upset and frustrations as patients and their loved ones at times like this. “Lengthy waits for an ambulance are a sign of pressures across the whole unscheduled care system, not just in Wales but across the UK.

“An increase in high-priority ‘Red’ calls and significant hospital handover delays in particular are impacting on our ability to respond to 999 calls as quickly as we would like.

“We are investigating Ms Gilby’s case and would invite her family to contact us directly to share their experience of what happened in order to inform that investigation.”

A spokeswoman for Cwm Taf Health Board said: “We are unable to comment on the details of individual cases, however we would like to offer our condolences to the family. Should anyone have any concerns about any care and treatment provided, we would encourage them to get in touch with us.”


Homeless mum’s four children asked Santa for a home for Christmas

This article made me think of Jodey Whiting, because the lady has the same surname.

Zoe Whiting, 35, currently lives in a friend’s home in Stoke with her two youngest children and lost her home in Middleport following an alleged benefits mix-up.

Zoe Whiting has been sofa surfing for a year 

A mum-of-four says she has been homeless for a year due to a benefits mix-up. Zoe Whiting currently lives in her friend’s home in  Stoke  with her two youngest children after her eldest were forced to move in with their nana.

The 35-year-old has been on benefits since 2015 after juggling a full-time job and four children as a single parent became too difficult, reports Stoke-on-Trent Live. But on December 17 last year her family became homeless after losing their home in Middleport following a mix-up with her housing benefit.

Zoe is required to visit her case worker every two weeks at the Jobcentre Plus to help her find work. But Zoe says it is very difficult to find employment without a secure home. She said: “I’ve been on benefits for quite a few years. I was pregnant at the age of 16 and benefits helped me because I was a single parent.

“I got a job as a security guard in 2013 and I did that for two years, but I had to give it up because I was on my own juggling a job and four children. “It all became too much for me, I tried to work as many hours that I could and ended up making myself poorly. “I now receive £225 in child tax credits every Friday, £95 Job Seekers Allowance every two weeks and £61 child benefit.

“In December last year there was a mix up with my housing benefit and it no longer covered my rent and I lost my home in Middleport. “I’ve been sofa surfing for a year now, at first me and my kids were living with a friend in Abbey Hulton but we had to move out of there.

“At the moment I’m living with my friend in Stoke with my two youngest, who are 14 and 10, and my friend’s three children. “We’re all living in a three-bedroom house, it’s a squeeze, it really is. I share a room with my children but we manage.

“My two eldest are 18 and 16 but they live with my mum as there isn’t enough space, so I’ve been split from my kids.” Zoe says she was ’embarrassed’ going to the Jobcentre after becoming homeless.

She said: “I have to go to the Jobcentre once every two weeks. I go there and they ask me how I’ve been and how my personal situation is, then I go to the next appointment.

“My case worker is really good, they know about my depression and they know I’m homeless and going from place to place, so they aren’t really forcing me to go for a job at the moment. As soon as I get a property I can work straight away.

“I think people have the wrong perception of the Jobcentre, I did feel embarrassed the first time I had to got there and telling them that I was homeless was embarrassing, but it was fine, my case worker listened and helped me.”


Zoe says it is hard for herself and her children living on benefits. She added: “It’s hard living on benefits and it’s worse for my kids. “My children go to school in Abbey Hulton so a lot of my benefits go on travel from Stoke to Abbey Hulton and back four times a day to take them and bring them home from school on the bus.

“I travel for more than five hours a day and the rest of my money goes on food and putting money towards the bills. It’s impossible for me to get a job while I’m homeless because I don’t have a permanent home. “We have asked Santa for a home this year.”

A DWP [BS] spokesman said: “Our dedicated Jobcentre staff provide personalised, tailored support to help people into work and break down barriers to employment. “For people who are out of work or on low wages, Universal Credit provides a vital safety net.”


Bex Clifton, pictured with support dog Maxxy, was chucked out of a supermarket 

A disabled mum claims she was asked to leave a Sainsbury’s after staff insisted her support dog “was not real”. Bex Clifton said employees at the supermarket “shouted at her” in front of other shoppers after spotting her emotional support pooch Maxxy.

The mother, who has an invisible disability , says had been in the shop in Basingstoke, Hampshire, for 25 minutes before she was asked to leave. “It made me feel discriminated against,” Ms Clifton said. “I’ve got a disability and them shouting at me made me feel discriminated. “The second time my daughter was with me and she was in tears.

Staff at the Sainsbury’s thought the Jack Russell collie cross was not a real service dog 

“[The Sainsbury’s worker] was shouting from the customer service desk to the door ‘he’s not a service dog’. “Everyone was looking at us and it was making us feel different.” The employee allegedly said Maxxy, a nine-year-old Jack Russell collie cross, was not a real service dog on December 2.

Ms Clifton, from Basingstoke, has since complained to the supermarket giant. She’s received an apology from the retailer and has been handed a voucher as a goodwill gesture. Ms Clifton said: “This was about raising awareness.

“A lot of people don’t really know what an assistance dog really is, everyone thinks it’s a guide dog and that’s it. “Not many people have heard of emotional support animals.”

A Sainsbury’s spokesman said: “We have apologised to Rebecca for her experience and provided her with a gesture of goodwill so that we can welcome her back into store with Maxxy.”

It comes after Mirror Online told how young people with invisible disabilities had experienced vile discrimination because they “look like healthy people”.


UNIVERSAL CREDIT: Single mum forced to use food bank over Christmas

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Annalise Hooley said she will end up in debt as she cannot afford to pay her bills.

Teesside University student Annalise Hooley with her son
Teesside University student Annalise Hooley with her son 

A university student is being forced to use a food bank to feed her one-year-old son after being paid nothing this month by Universal Credit. Teesside University student Annalise Hooley lives with her son Dennis Weall in a house which she rents from a private landlord in Grangetown, Middlesbrough.

The 20-year-old single mum said she began a social work degree in September and repeatedly told the Department of Work and Pensions about the student maintenance loan which she had received. She said that her monthly payments did not change and for three months she used the loan to cover the cost of travel expenses, books and previous debts.

Just two weeks before Christmas, Annalise was told by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) that she had been overpaid and would receive £0 to pay her bills over the festive period, report TeessideLive.

She was told that the only payment she was entitled to was £165.40 towards her £440 a month rent, which was paid directly to her landlord.

‘I just felt hopeless’

The mum-of-one said: “It’s always been a dream of mine to go to university. When I had my son it became even more important – it wasn’t just about my lifestyle it was about making sure he had a good future.

“I continued getting my payments as normal, nothing changed until two weeks ago. “It said £0 on the top of the statement. I was worried about how I was going to be able to feed my son for the next few weeks. “I just felt hopeless and I still do now.

“At the beginning I was fine with Universal Credit but the way they have just conducted it has been shocking. They had no sympathy and no remorse. They didn’t give me any help or advice.”I’m going to struggle over Christmas and New Year. “I’m behind on all of my bills. I had got a few bits for the baby but nothing compared to what I should have had.

“I had intentions of bringing my family to me and hosting my own Christmas dinner for the first time but I can’t do that now. I don’t know how I will be spending Christmas Day.”

Annalise said that she normally receives a living allowance of £433 a month and an additional payment of £425 towards her rent, which is £440 a month. She said she informed the DWP that she had received £3,984 maintenance loan at the beginning of September but that it did not change the payments which she received.

The DWP asked Annalise to provide additional paperwork which she said she had to get from the Student Loans Company and was not able to hand in until December. Annalise was then told that she had been overpaid by Universal Credit and would have to pay back the cash.

The £691.37 deduction this month meant that she received a payment of £0.

“It’s just not fair”

She said: “Two weeks before Christmas they took my pay from me, they just did it out of the blue. “It’s not like it’s a small amount, they took a drastic amount off me. It’s just not fair!

“They should be taking small amounts off people so it is easier for people to manage their money. “They put you in a worse position by taking it all off you. “I have nothing against paying back the money but I expected them to leave me with a something so I can have a decent life, instead of leaving me with nothing.

“I didn’t get any warning that my loan was going to affect my payments. “They went through three assessment periods before they notified me that it does affect my benefits. “They never said that I wasn’t entitled to the payments.

“If I had known in September then I would have budgeted my money and been prepared for it. “They made me believe my payments were normal.” Annalise said that she is unable to get a loan from Universal Credit or borrow money from her family over the festive period. She has resorted to using vouchers for the food bank in order to survive until January.

Annalise said: “My family can’t help me as they are struggling themselves. It’s hard, there’s not many people that I can turn to. If I take anything from them it means there is a little bit less for them. “I don’t know what I would have done if I hadn’t been able to access the food bank.”

Annalise fears that her gas and electricity will not last until she gets her next maintenance loan in January and she may need to stay with a friend. She said that the issues she has faced have made her question whether it is worth studying for a degree.

Annalise added: “I love helping people and I want to be a social worker for people with mental health issues. “It makes you wonder if there is any point of me doing the degree if I am going to be struggling for the next three years.”

A spokesperson for the DWP said: “It is important that claimants share all relevant information related to their application at the earliest opportunity so we can ensure their payments are correct.

“Safeguards are in place to ensure repayments are affordable and we have recently announced we will reduce the maximum amount that can be deducted from someone’s Universal Credit claim.”


Dr Death gets knighted!

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Tweet from Nadia Whittome
MP tweets about people ‘killed’ by welfare policies as IDS is knighted

In 2013, Duncan Smith boasted that he could survive on a benefit allowance of £53 a week. This from a man who claimed £39 for a single breakfast from parliamentary expenses. While looking after his own comforts, Duncan Smith has worked to make the lives of the unemployed, poor, sick and disabled as wretched as possible. In addition to creating the universal credit scheme, Duncan Smith is also responsible for the bedroom tax and inflicting the humiliating “fit for work tests” on the disabled and ill.

Ben Jennings on Iain Duncan Smith's knighthood – cartoon

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New Year Honours: Fury as Tory welfare slasher Iain Duncan Smith gets a knighthood

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The architect of Universal Credit and former Tory leader and Work and Pensions Secretary pushed through countless cruel reforms, from ESA cuts to the Bedroom Tax – before finally resigning when he felt it went too far in 2016.

Welfare slasher Iain Duncan Smith – who was the architect of cruel Tory reforms including the disastrous Universal Credit programme and the bedroom tax  – has been knighted in the Queen’s New Years honours.

As work and pensions secretary under David Cameron, Sir Iain – Tory leader from 2001 to 2003 – was the architect of the Government’s controversial Universal Credit welfare reforms. He claimed his changes would simplify the benefits system and encourage people to find work but his reforms have left tens of thousands struggling to cope.

Iain Duncan Smith knighthood labelled a reward for ‘legacy…

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Dr Death gets knighted!

New Year Honours: Fury as Tory welfare slasher Iain Duncan Smith gets a knighthood

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The architect of Universal Credit and former Tory leader and Work and Pensions Secretary pushed through countless cruel reforms, from ESA cuts to the Bedroom Tax – before finally resigning when he felt it went too far in 2016.

Welfare slasher Iain Duncan Smith – who was the architect of cruel Tory reforms including the disastrous Universal Credit programme and the bedroom tax  – has been knighted in the Queen’s New Years honours.

As work and pensions secretary under David Cameron, Sir Iain – Tory leader from 2001 to 2003 – was the architect of the Government’s controversial Universal Credit welfare reforms. He claimed his changes would simplify the benefits system and encourage people to find work but his reforms have left tens of thousands struggling to cope.

Iain Duncan Smith knighthood labelled a reward for ‘legacy of cruelty’

Opposition parties said it “beggared belief” that someone whose policies had caused so much distress should be honoured in this way.

In government, Sir Iain – who survived a bid to unseat him in the 2019 election – argued the changes were designed to end the benefits trap, ensuring that it always paid for claimants to take work, while simplifying the system. However, complications with the roll-out of the new system and delays in making payments were blamed for driving thousands of low-income families into poverty.


In 2016, Sir Iain unexpectedly resigned from the cabinet, attacking the Government’s policy of welfare cuts. He later called for £2bn to be put back into Universal Credit. But he was accused of hypocrisy for saying £4.4bn in cuts to PIP benefit went too far – since he had already pushed through a host of other cuts, including £30 a week from sickness benefit ESA. And he had backed Universal Credit at the time it suffered huge cuts under Chancellor George Osborne.

An ardent Brexiteer, as a backbencher he was a leading light in the Tory European Research Group (ERG), which proved to be such a thorn in the side of Theresa May.

Labour MP Stephanie Peacock said: “A knighthood for IDS will seem like a joke to the many families who have struggled this Christmas thanks to his cuts. “I have seen first hand the devastation wrought on my constituents by his policies – they will not be impressed by this award.”

While fellow Labour MP Alison McGovern said: “Universal credit has been a universal catastrophe for my constituents. Iain Duncan Smith is the architect of that failure.

Sir IDS would be a disgrace, slams DPAC

“What message does this honour send about the Tories and what they value? “Our country deserves so much better than this.”

Labour’s Rosie Duffield, who has sat on the Work and Pensions Committee said: “It is deeply regrettable that the architect of the Universal Credit program is set to receive one of our country’s highest honours.

“I see first-hand in my surgeries and across the work on the Work and Pensions Select Committe the impact UC has had on low income families – it is far from honorable what the Universal Credit programme has done to the most vulnerable in our society.

“Recent government statistics show that nearly half of people (46%) in the UK claiming an older benefit, Disability Living Allowance, lost out when reassessed for Personal Independence Payments since 2013 when the introduction of PIP and UC began – that’s thousands of families pushed below the poverty line owing to the severe cuts to the welfare state brought about by the 2012 Welfare Reform Act, as sponsored by Iain Duncan Smith.”

Liberal Democrat MP Christine Jardine said Sir Iain had been responsible for creating a welfare system in which people were expected to survive for weeks without payment, causing “untold stress”.

“It beggars belief that Iain Duncan Smith has been rewarded in the New Year’s Honours list,” she said. “He is the architect of Universal Credit – a failed system that has left thousands of families struggling to pay bills and buy food.”


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With no change of direction on Universal Credit we can expect more reliance on food banks

Peter Kelly, The Poverty AllianceAfter more than three years of debate that was vigorous, increasingly divisive and, for most, exhausting, the outcome of the General Election has now provided clarity on whether we will leave the European Union. The Conservative Party in England and Wales have, with a clear proposition on Brexit, made gains in places and communities that were previously thought to be out of bounds. Voters in Scotland have not followed the same path, but they too will be governed by a UK Government that will press ahead with Brexit. 

But when Brexit is finally ‘done’, what next? What can we say – based on the Conservative manifesto and the Queen’s Speech – about the new government’s policies in relation to the issues of poverty and inequality?

The Prime Minister has already started referring to the ‘People’s Government’, reflecting a desire to be seen to be governing for all. However, if he is to retain the support of the communities where his party has made gains, he needs to deliver on more than just Brexit.

The constituencies that the Conservatives won in the north of England contain many of those communities that have borne the biggest impacts of the austerity policies of the last decade. They are communities that have experienced cuts in public services, that have been hardest hit by the freeze on social security benefits and where insecure work has become the norm for too many.

Whilst Brexit was the thread that ran through the Tory manifesto, there was a gaping hole in the manifesto where we would have expected detailed social security plans. Commitments to continue to roll out Universal Credit and to end the benefits freeze next year were included, but this effectively means more of the same for people living on low incomes. Indeed, the Queen’s Speech made no mention at all of the social security system.

Yet it has been Universal Credit, and particularly the five-week wait for first Universal Credit payments, that has driven the growth of foodbanks in Scotland. With no change of direction on Universal Credit we can expect more people being forced to rely on food banks in the future. Maintaining this approach to social security means that the new Government will implement another £3.8 billion worth of cuts to social security. The end result? More children and families swept into poverty in the coming years.

And it is not just about social security. Low pay and insecure work are increasingly what locks people into poverty, and two-thirds of children living in poverty in Scotland are in working households. Here, the Conservatives’ promise to progressively increase the rate of the statutory ‘National Living Wage’ to £10.50 by 2024 is welcome. However, earlier promises to raise the National Living Wage to median earnings by 2020 were not delivered.


On security of work, the Queen’s Speech offered little prospect of further protection for those on insecure contracts beyond the right to request ‘a more predictable contract’. More robust action on forms of employment – like zero hours contracts – that tighten the grip of poverty on families will be required if the new government is to deliver a labour market based on dignity and respect.

On areas like social security and employment, it would appear that the new government’s approach will only serve to reinforce the injustice of our current system; tightening rather than loosening the grip of poverty. But the new Prime Minister has promised an end to austerity and previously talked of the need to ‘look after the poorest’ and give ‘everyone a fair chance in life.’

If Boris Johnson wants to lead a genuine ‘People’s Government’, he must signal a genuine change of direction. He must listen to people who are using social security or struggling to get by on poverty pay, and then act. It is only by doing this that he can deliver for those who have been the hardest hit over the last 10 years.

In Scotland, we need to decide how to respond to policies that are likely to more people locked into poverty. The Scottish Government has made clear its commitment to use its social security powers to tackle poverty. This is welcome, but we need to use these powers to their fullest, as well as taking more action to reduce the cost of living for people caught up in the rising tide of poverty. Where we can show more ambition in Scotland we must, and where we can go further we should.

We are a compassionate country. We see it in the actions of grassroots groups and organisations that come together to help people struggling to get by, or the thousands of volunteers that support Citizens Advice Bureaux, food banks or homeless people. Across civil society we will need more demonstrations of solidarity and compassion in the years to come. It is through these acts of compassion that we can demonstrate the need for social policies based on justice.

But more importantly, we need the UK Government to listen. With child poverty levels projected to increase rapidly, we simply cannot go on the way we are. The lives and life chances of millions of people across our communities depend on the government charting a different course.


Retiring Supreme Court President slams Tory cuts to legal aid

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Lady Hale: Retiring Supreme Court President slams Tory cuts to legal aid. The outgoing head of the UK Supreme Court shot to fame when, wearing a spider brooch, she ruled Boris Johnson’s prorogation of Parliament unlawful. Now she has some harsh words for his party’s cuts to justice. 

The President of the Supreme Court who shot to fame by ruling against Boris Johnson has bowed out with a swipe against Tory cuts to legal aid.

Baroness Brenda Hale warned spending cuts are causing “serious difficulty” for the justice system as she prepares to retire next month at the age of 70. She added with more resources, many disputes could be resolved early without the need for them to go to court.

She told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “The lack of access to legal services for some people who seriously need them in the areas which most affect their ordinary, everyday lives – that is a problem.

“It is a particular problem in family law – disputes between husband and wife, mother and father – where there may be an imbalance in resources because of the lack of access.

“Most people need legal services at the beginning of a difficulty, and if they have them then it will be sorted out and they won’t have to go anywhere near a court or they won’t have their house repossessed or whatever, because somebody has managed to find a solution to the problem at an earlier stage.

“It is that lack of initial advice and help which is a serious difficulty.” She added: “I don’t think that anybody who has anything to do with the justice system of England and Wales could fail to be concerned about the problems which the reduction in resources in several directions has caused for the system as a whole.”

Legal aid reforms under the Tory-led Coalition from 2010 aimed to cut £350m a year and hit areas including benefits advice and domestic abuse. Just 440 people were given legal aid for “advice and assistance” around welfare cases in 2016/17, compared to 83,000 in 2012/13 – a 99.5% drop.

A cut that forced domestic violence victims to show evidence before getting a lawyer was declared flawed by the Court of Appeal in 2016. And a year later the same court ruled cuts to prisoners’ legal aid were unlawful and “unfair” – especially for the mentally ill and prisoners with learning difficulties.

The number of firms offering legal aid fell by 20% in the five years to 2017 – making it harder for people who need legal help on issues including family breakups.

Lady Hale – who shot to prominence when she ruled Boris Johnson’s prorogation of Parliament unlawful – also warned against any attempt by the Prime Minister to “politicise” the judiciary.

The Government has refused to rule out changes to the way judges in the court are scrutinised after it announced plans in the Queen’s Speech for a “constitution, democracy and rights commission”.

The move was seen by some at Westminster as an attempt by Boris Johnson to exact revenge after the court ruled earlier this year that his suspension of Parliament had been unlawful.

The Prime Minister has previously hinted at US-style confirmation hearings for Supreme Court justices, suggesting they should be subject to “some form of accountability”.

Lady Hale said: “We have an independent, merit-based appointments system which most of us are extremely comfortable with. “We don’t want to be politicised, we don’t decide political questions, we decide legal questions. In any event, Parliament always has the last word.”

She added: “I hope very much that we never get to a situation where the politics of the judge – if he or she has any politics – come into whether or not they merit appointment as a judge at any level of the system.

“We do not have political appointments in this country and I think it would be a very great shame if we did. “We are not politically motivated. I do not know the political opinions of my colleagues and they do not know mine, and long may it remain so.”


Man wins benefit battle almost two years after being refused by DWP

John Hinds
John Hinds (Image: Newcastle Chronicle)
After waiting 22 months for his day in court, John Hinds says justice has been done after winning his benefit battle. John, of Consett, County Durham, claimed a victory after appeal judges said his Personal Independent Payment (PIP) should be reinstated.

The 54-year-old has curvature of the spine and is facing life in a wheelchair, but was awarded zero points in the initial assessment. The Department for Work and Pensions stopped his benefit, forcing him to appeal the decision and wait nearly two years for a hearing.

He said: “I feel relief. I have been really depressed about it. “At the end of the day, I feel justice has been done.” John attended a hearing with the Ministry of Justice at Durham Justice Centre and was awarded 23 points across both sections of the assessment, entitling him to the highest rate of payment.

He said: “I was shocked by decision when I went back to the court and they said they were upholding my appeal. “I thought I was not going to get my appeal. There was one hour of questions and the judge went back years.”

John, who also has osteoarthritis, anxiety and depression, will have his benefit back dated to the date of his initial application.

His victory comes after new figures were released that reveal more than 650,000 disabled people living on benefits had their payments cut or stopped after moving onto the new system.

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Figures revealed 46% of claimants moving from Disability Living Allowance to PIP lost out financially. The new system is overruled in almost three quarters of appeals.

John has branded the company carrying out the assessments “not fit for purpose”. He said: “This is the sixth tribunal I have won. 

“The assessment process is obviously faulted as thousands of people are either being turned down or having PIP awards reduced. “This has to stop the company doing the assessments is not fit for purpose and the Government needs to use another company.

“I decided to ask the help of the Newcastle Chronicle and Mirror newspapers to highlight my situation and this will hopefully help other claimants who are currently or will be suffering the same situation I have endured for nearly two years.”

A DWP spokesperson said they are committed to ensuring disabled people get the support they’re entitled to. “Mr Hinds has been awarded the standard rate of PIP for daily living and the higher rate for mobility after additional medical evidence was provided to the tribunal.

“He continued to be supported with Employment Support Allowance payments while awaiting the outcome of his PIP appeal.”