Theresa May faces investigation after ‘misleading Parliament about scale of homelessness’

Prime Minister accused of ‘using spin rather than understanding and solving the problem’

Theresa May was accused using statistics misleadingly during Prime Minister’s Questions PA

Britain’s statistics watchdog is considering an investigation into comments made by Theresa May following complaints that they misrepresented the extent of homelessness.

The UK Statistics Authority (UKSA) confirmed concerns had been raised after the Prime Minister claimed in Parliament that “statutory homelessness peaked under the Labour government and is down by over 50 per cent since then.”

Ms May made the claim as she clashed with Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn at Prime Minister’s Questions earlier this week.

While statutory homelessness did peak under Labour in 2003, it fell significantly in the following seven years before they lost power and has subsequently risen under the Conservatives’ watch.

Some 10,100 families in England were accepted as homeless during between April and June 2010, when the coalition government was elected. At the time of Ms May’s comments this week the figure stood at 14,400.

Since then it has climbed to 15,290, up six per cent in the last year, according to the latest government statistics.

Those numbers also understate the true scale of homelessness because they refer only families who are unintentionally homeless and have been offered assistance by their council. People were who receive no help or are given assistance under other schemes are not taken into account.

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Ms May’s comments were referred to the UKSA by Lib Dem peer Olly Grender, who last year raised concerns about the Government’s use of the same statistics.

She told The Independent: “It seems particularly worrying, as we learn today of the increase in homelessness, that this government is still using spin rather than understanding and solving the problem.”

Baroness Grender’s previous complaint prompted UKSA to rebuke the Department for Communities and Local Government. The department claimed homelessness had halved since 2003 but glossed over the fact this referred only to those who met the narrow definition of statutory homelessness, while the overall number of homeless people had not dropped.

In a letter responding to her concerns, Ed Humpherson, the authority’s director general, described the department’s use of figures as “disappointing” and said they were “potentially misleading” to the public. He added he would seek a commitment from department staff that they will give “greater clarity” on data usage in the future.

UKSA confirmed it had received a complaint about Ms May’s comments this week. A spokesman said: “A concern has been raised with the UK Statistics Authority, and we will respond in due course.”

John Healey, Labour’s shadow secretary for housing, said: “This is a shameful attempt by Theresa May to mislead the public and hide the Conservatives’ appalling record on homelessness.

“The facts are clear – homelessness fell at an unprecedented rate under Labour but has risen under the Conservatives. Only a Labour government will deal with the crisis of rapidly rising homelessness in towns and cities across the country.”

The Independent has approached Number 10 for a comment.

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Vigil as court hears that PIP rules are ‘unfair and discriminatory’

Campaigners have taken part in a vigil outside the Royal Courts of Justice, as the high court was hearing claims by a disabled woman that new benefit rules are “unfair and discriminatory”.

Regulations that came into force in March mean that people who are unable to plan or undertake a journey due to overwhelming psychological distress now receive fewer qualifying points when assessed for personal independence payment (PIP).

The new rules mean that many PIP claimants are entitled to a lower level of financial support for their mobility, and in many cases no mobility support at all.

The legal challenge against work and pensions secretary David Gauke is being brought by RF, who believes that the changes to PIP will have a “significant negative impact” on her life and on the lives of many others who experience significant mental distress.

Both the Equality and Human Rights Commission and the mental health charity Mind have submitted written evidence supporting RF’s case.

Sara Lomri, RF’s solicitor and deputy legal director of the Public Law Project, said: “[RF] has told me that losing enhanced PIP mobility means she will not be able to get the support she needs to travel.

“This will have a huge impact on her ability to participate in society and her independence.”

The court’s ruling is expected before Christmas.

Among those who took part in a vigil outside the Royal Courts of Justice on the first day of the two-day hearing was Rose*, who said the new regulations could easily affect her level of support.

She currently receives the higher rate care component of disability living allowance and the lower rate mobility component, and she said she was “constantly living in dread of being called up for my [PIP] assessment”.

She said: “My psychological distress does affect my mobility. I have severe dissociation which causes me to wander around without any knowledge of danger.

“I think it’s time for justice for us because we have been discriminated against and there is such a lack of understanding of psychological distress.”

She added: “It is criminal the way we are being treated. It is just not right. I had other plans for my life, not to live on benefits, but unfortunately I have to because of my mental health problems.

“I am shocked about how we are made to feel bad for being unwell.”

Paula Peters (pictured, front), a member of the national steering group of Disabled People Against Cuts, is still waiting to be assessed for PIP, as a long-term claimant of disability living allowance, and currently receives mobility support because of the psychological distress caused by travelling.

She said the case was “fundamentally important” to her and the many thousands of others who also need the support to travel.

Without that mobility support from DLA, or PIP, she would not have a Freedom Pass, which allows her free travel across the capital, so she can attend GP and hospital appointments, and take part in campaigning.

Without the support from PIP, many people with mental distress would be excluded from society and imprisoned at home, she said.

Peters said: “We get the mobility component of PIP for deep psychological distress because it is so vital for our mental wellbeing and being able to get to appointments, to interact with friends and family and just take part in everyday life.

“That exclusion ramps up anxiety and causes people’s depression to worsen and in my case ramps up my agoraphobia.”

Asked how much she trusted DWP on mental health issues, she said: “I don’t. I don’t trust DWP on anything.

“They are targeting mental health claimants on PIP, on ESA, on universal credit, on the Work and Health Programme.

“They are about ramping up the mental distress and causing a claimant’s mental health to deteriorate to the point where they want to give up and take their own life, and in many cases already have done, and we remember those who are not with us today.

“I think DWP are trivialising mental health. What they can’t see, they don’t believe exists.”

Denise McKenna (pictured, back right), co-founder of the Mental Health Resistance Network, who also took part in the vigil, said: “For a lot of people with severe mental health problems they cannot travel by public transport, they are having to use taxis for part of their journey, sometimes for all of their journey.

“It is very important that people should not become isolated. Isolation is a key precipitate of suicide and relapse. There could be fatal consequences.”

She said people with mental health problems were “being targeted by the government from all directions”, through cuts to out-of-work benefits and PIP, and the withdrawal of mental health services and the focus on employment in Improving Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPT) services.

She said: “People with mental health problems are being targeted to get back into the workplace and [the PIP changes are]an additional barrier to getting to work.

“It is part of a huge assault on people with mental health problems. One of the things they are doing is denying the existence of mental distress. They are negating it.”

She added: “I wanted to be here today, because having been involved in a judicial review I know what an emotional roller-coaster [it can be].

“I think it’s important for people taking the judicial review to know how much it means to other people and to get support from as many people as possible.

“We recognise it is in all of our interests.”

Claire Glasman (pictured, left), from the campaigning organisation WinVisible – which supports disabled women, including those who are traumatised, such as rape and sexual abuse survivors, and refugee survivors of genocide – said the government was “discriminating against people with mental distress”.

She said that disabled women needed PIP mobility support “to be able to get out of the house and to do things in the community, see friends and get involved in groups”.

Glasman said: “It just shows they don’t care, they don’t care if people have all the benefits that they need to be able to live our lives and get out of the house.

“Theresa May makes all these announcements about mental health being a priority but we know the NHS is being cut, and women’s services are struggling through lack of funding.”

Lisa Longstaff, a spokeswoman for Women Against Rape, another campaigner at the vigil, said she was there because so many of the women her organisation worked with – including traumatised women who had been raped – had had their benefits cut unfairly.

She said: “I am here because this case is an example of many of the other cuts we have been fighting together.”

RF argues that the new PIP regulations violate article 14 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which prohibits unjustifiable discrimination, including discrimination on the basis of disability.

She argues that people with overwhelming psychological distress are treated less favourably than those with other conditions, when assessed on their need for mobility support.

DWP has told RF’s lawyers that the new rules can be justified.

RF also argues that DWP should have carried out a consultation on the new regulations before they were introduced, whereas DWP has said that it had always been its intention to exclude psychological distress from certain questions in the PIP eligibility test, and so there was no need to carry out a fresh consultation in 2017.

But RF’s lawyers say that if those organisations involved in the original PIP consultation had been told this, they would have challenged it at the time by campaigning and lobbying politicians.

A DWP spokeswoman said the department could not comment on an ongoing legal case.

But she pointed to a statement made earlier this year by the minister for disabled people, explaining the reasons for the new regulations, and a departmental statement issued on the same day in February.

In the statement, DWP said that “people who cannot carry out a journey because of a visual or cognitive impairment are likely to need more support than someone who experiences psychological distress when they undertake a journey, for example as a result of social phobia or anxiety”.

The department added: “Recent legal judgments have interpreted the assessment criteria for PIP in ways that are different to what was originally intended.

“The government is now making amendments to clarify the criteria, to restore the original aim of the policy and ensure support goes to those most in need.”

*Not her real name

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‘Flawed’ Work Capability Assessment requires urgent review

‘Flawed’ Tory welfare test requires urgent review, warns SNP MP

David Linden, MP for Glasgow East, is seeking urgent action
David Linden, MP for Glasgow East, is seeking urgent action

THE UK Government’s Work Capability Assessment (WCA) system is “failing the most vulnerable in society”, according to an SNP MP.

David Linden, Member of Parliament for Glasgow East, yesterday used his speech in Westminster Hall to highlight the system’s shortcomings, calling on the Government to act urgently.

His speech led the debate into the issue and came as the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) select committee launched an inquiry into the controversial Personal Independent Payment (PIP) and Employment Support Allowance (ESA) assessments.

The WCA is used by the DWP to access claimants of ESA but has faced criticism for its practicalities and for leaving vulnerable people in precarious situations. This includes what is known as mandatory consideration periods, which leave applicants with no other option but to claim Jobseeker’s Allowance while they wait.

The DWP said it is continually reviewing the system and has introduced a number of changes since its initial roll out in 2008.

Linden pointed out that he “seldom had a surgery” in his constituency that did not raise at least one case study related to the “flawed” WCAs, adding that “time will not permit me to share every testimony”.

He called for a thorough examination of the process which “all too often plunges people into chaos”.

“We need a full, root-and-branch review of the WCA process and I want to see an assessment that is underpinned with professionalism, knowledge, dignity and – above all – respect,” said Linden.

“We need action now – not words from the Tories.

“As it stands, the current system is failing the most vulnerable in our society and all too often plunges people into chaos, depression and – in some cases – to the brink of suicide. Throughout my short time as Glasgow East’s MP, I have very seldom had a surgery in which a constituent hasn’t come to me having been the subject of a flawed WCA.”

Linden continued by highlighting the difficulties faced by certain groups, in particular people with mental health conditions or learning disabilities. These include a lack of information about outcomes for individuals following fit for work determinations, and concerns about the risk of poverty and destitution as a result of incorrect decisions.

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The DWP obviously made the right decision here!

“We all hear about difficulties experienced by claimants seeking to challenge fit for work decisions,” continued Linden, “including the fact that ESA is not payable pending a ‘mandatory reconsideration’ – meaning that the only option in the meantime is to claim Jobseeker’s Allowance, potentially exposing the individual to inappropriate conditionality and the impact of assessments, frequent reassessments, and poor decision making on the physical and mental health of claimants.

“It is abundantly clear to me that the UK Government’s Work Capability Assessment is not fit for purpose and requires a full review to ensure that it treats people with dignity and respect.

The DWP said that they were constantly reviewing the application process, and that the new system was implemented to address failings of the past and to provide support missing in years gone by. a

“WCAs ensure that people get the level of support they need, rather than just writing them off as happened in the past,” said a DWP spokesperson.

“A decision on whether someone is able to work is taken following a thorough independent assessment, and after consideration of all the information provided, including supporting evidence from a GP or medical specialist.

“We continually review the WCA, and have already introduced a number of changes to strengthen the service.”

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Some mental health services are telling patients: ‘If you really wanted to kill yourself, you would have done it’

And here was I was thinking it was only CAPITA/ATOS/MAXIMUS That asked: ‘If you really wanted to kill yourself, you would have done it’…. Govt Newspeak

When people do get to access crisis care, many feel that the emphasis is on getting rid of them as quickly as possible. Psychiatric inpatients have even been told to phone the Samaritans if they wish to talk

People are encouraged to seek help if they are feeling suicidal like never before. Yet a deadly new mix of funding cuts and dangerous ideas about suicide are leaving many people with long-term conditions at greater risk.

Tom is 22 and has made a couple of serious attempts on his life following prolonged periods of depression. “When I regained consciousness after the last attempt”, he said, “I was told ‘If you really want to kill yourself, you would have done it’.” Tom, like many other people, feels like when he now contacts the crisis team, they treat him brusquely. “It is like they will only take me seriously if I actually die”, he continued. “I am told again and again ‘well if you really want to kill yourself, that’s your choice’.”

We are not talking about nuanced Schopenhauerian conversations about the right to die here. In the context of deep despair, the idea of choice is a deadly one, absolving the other party from doing everything they can to help the person in pain. If one is suicidal it is very difficult to feel any hope that things might change; one is often exhausted. It is crucial that hope is held actively by mental health professionals at these bleakest moments in a life.

Yet the idea of choice is being used increasingly to rebuff those who seek help when suicidal, a discursive move that an increasingly burnout mental health workforce appears to be using more often. This makes those suffering feel rejected and further alienated – key trigger factors to suicide.

Laura, 60, has also made multiple attempts on her life. She has been told that she should “take responsibility” when she is feeling suicidal, an idea fuelled by the neoliberal discourse of rights and responsibilities which has taken hold of mental health services. “There is a strict management plan and boundaries in place”, she said. “I am allowed to call the crisis team three times a week, and the calls are time-limited. When I do call, I am only allowed to talk about the present not the past”, she says. “If I try to talk about anything else, or call at another time, I am told I am ‘threatening suicide’.”

The approach to suicide prevention Laura is receiving is based on a behavioural “carrot and stick” approach to mental health. The idea is to shape behaviours into ones which are healthier in the medium term by positively reinforcing only “healthy” boundaried behaviours, though distress can increase in the short term. This kind of approach is very dangerous if it is transmitted in a judgmental, blaming way; it should only ever be attempted slowly in collaboration with patients with the explicit recognition that change is incredibly hard, and that patterns of behaviour in the face of overwhelming distress have developed for an understandable reason.

Yet these are now being used by undertrained staff, without the consent or understanding of patients, and without giving people access to the kind of long-term therapy so essential to working through the experiences behind the pain. This is actively re-traumatising patients.

“They treat me like a bad person, who doesn’t deserve care and support” says Laura, who has been treated abusively throughout her life.

jaws

Laura has a diagnosis called “borderline personality disorder” – a diagnosis that lacks scientific validity and is steeped in misogyny. This diagnosis demonstrably makes professionals more likely to treat patients with distance, fear and sometimes disdain – the feelings of rejection are not simply a result of projection. Like many others, Laura is made to feel like she is “attention seeking” and “manipulative” when she is suicidal or makes attempts on her life. “I don’t do this for fun,” Laura said of her recent suicide attempt, “I do it when there is nothing else left”.

Roger, 34, has also been told the decision to end his life is his because he is deemed to have something called mental capacity. Mental capacity, simply, is the ability to weigh up information and make decisions, something that fluctuates in the throes of a mental health crisis. Mental capacity should never be used to justify withholding treatment from someone seeking help. But mental health services, desperately underfunded, seem to be using ever more drastic means to buffer increasing demand. “I am desperate for help” said Roger, “and my GP keeps writing to mental health services, but the letters get returned unanswered.”

When people are finally able to access crisis care, many feel that the emphasis is on getting rid of them as quickly as possible. “They tell me to distract myself, or take a bath, or go for a walk when I am feeling suicidal, when what I actually need is a few kind words and some compassion”, one service user reported. Psychiatric inpatients have even been told to phone the Samaritans if they wish to talk.

I am writing this article in awareness that most mental health services do a fantastic job, and with the wish that people continue to seek help. I cannot emphasise enough how many people I have met who have made multiple attempts on their life, often over many decades, and come to thrive.

But I write too with a desperate request that we not only fund crisis services better, that we not only skill mental health staff to be able to contain suicidal despair, but that we change attitudes around suicide within psychiatric services which block people from care. It is inexcusable that mental health services make people feel like a burden for continuing to struggle, that we take away from them the possibility of help and therefore hope.

In memory of JL

Dr Jay Watts is a consultant clinical psychologist and psychotherapist, and honorary senior research fellow at Queen Mary, University of London

If you have been affected by this article, you can contact the following organisations for support:
https://www.mind.org.uk/
https://www.beateatingdisorders.org.uk/
http://www.nhs.uk/livewell/mentalhealth
https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/
https://www.samaritans.org/

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Number of homeless families up by almost 1,000 in three months

An increase in  homeless figures is “nothing short of a tragedy,” a charity has said after a Government report showed the number of households in temporary accommodation has surged by 65 per cent since 2010.

Local authorities accepted 15,290 households as being statutorily homeless between 1 July and 30 September, up 6 per cent from 14,390 on the previous quarter.

It is also an increase of 2 per cent from 14,930 on the same quarter of last year.

Across England, on September 30, the number of households in temporary accommodation was 79,190, up 6% from the same date last year – and a 65% increase from a low point of 48,010 on December 31 2010.

Of those 79,190 households, 61,090 included dependent children and/or a pregnant woman, within which there were 121,360 children or expected children.

Some 132 households with children were former residents of Grenfell Tower or Grenfell Walk, within which there were 261 children, the report said.

Jon Sparkes, chief executive of the homelessness charity Crisis, said in a statement sent to The Independent: “Knowing that nearly 80,000 households will find themselves homeless and living in temporary accommodation this Christmas is nothing short of a tragedy.

“Temporary accommodation is often cramped, unsuitable, and sometimes even dangerous, and no place for anyone to call home.”

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The Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) report said that between July and September, 214 homeless acceptances were reported by the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea for the residents of Grenfell Tower and Grenfell Walk.

It said acceptances were not reported in the second quarter of 2017 because the household level information still needed to be collected and processed. There were a further 181 households living in temporary accommodation from areas surrounding the Tower and Walk.

Of the total 395 affected households, 300 were living in hotels, 75 households were in self-contained and serviced apartments, nine were living with friends and family under their own temporary arrangements and 11 had moved into permanent settled accommodation, the report said.
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Paul Noblet, head of public affairs for Centrepoint, said: “We’re facing a crisis in homelessness and these worrying figures provide only a limited picture of a much larger problem. We know thousands more young people are approaching their councils for help, data which the government chooses not to collect.”

He added: “Young people not much older than many of our children and grandchildren are being confronted with impossible choices that no one should have to make.

“Homelessness does not need to define a young person’s life if they receive the support they need at the right time.”

Across England, local authorities also took action to prevent and relieve homelessness for 52,190 households between July and September 2017, down 1 per cent on 52,880 in the same quarter of 2016.

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Nearly half of disabled people have had their benefits withdrawn or reduced

Nearly half of disabled people reassessed under Government’s new benefit system had financial support withdrawn or reduced

Government accused of ‘slashing away at welfare’ after new figures show 47 per cent of disabled people see benefits reduced or stopped altogether

Almost half of disabled people reassessed under Government’s new benefit system last year had financial support withdrawn or reduced, new figures show.

Government statistics published on Wednesday show 47 per cent of people who were formerly receiving Disability Living Allowance (DLA) saw their support fall or stop altogether when they were reassessed for Personal Independent Payment (PIP).

Of a total of 947,000 claimants who were reassessed in the year to October 2017, 22 per cent saw their support reduced, while a quarter were disallowed or withdrawn altogether — meaning 443,000 people will have had their claims reduced or removed.

Thirteen per cent had their benefit left unchanged and 39 per cent had their support increased, according to the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) figures.

A breakdown of claimants shows people claiming benefit for psychosis saw the highest proportion of cases either reduced or disallowed or withdrawn, at 58 per cent, while psychoneurosis and back pain also had high rates, at 52 per cent and 49 per cent respectively.

Opposition leaders and MPs accused the Government of “slashing away at welfare”, saying ministers were trying to balance “increasingly precarious” accounts on the backs of the most vulnerable.

 It comes after figures obtained through Freedom of Information laws revealed that the amount paid to the private companies that carry out the assessments, Capita and IAS, has increased by an average of 30 per cent.

Responding to the new DWP figures, co-leader of the Green Party Jonathan Bartley said: “By slashing away at welfare, the Government is heading in totally the wrong direction. It is weaponising welfare against those it should help.

While all eyes were on Brexit, thousands of people scored a victory against the DWP

“It is time it recalibrated it’s moral compass and steered it’s policies in a new direction. We need a new, modern vision for the welfare state – one that removes barriers for those who want to work, while giving real choices and opportunity to everyone.”

Mr Bartley suggested that this could start by piloting a universal basic income that supports every person, with extra payments made available to those – like the disabled –  ensuring everyone can lead the pursue the life they want.

On the considerable rise in the amount private companies tasked with carrying out PIP assessments are paid, the politician said: “The Government is taking food from the mouths of disabled people while laying on a banquet for private companies.

“This comes only a week after Philip Hammond revealed his biases by labelling disabled people a drain on UK productivity. It shows just how twisted the Government’s priorities have become.”

Stephen Lloyd, the Liberal Democrats’ DWP spokesman, claimed his party had fought “tooth and nail” in the House of Lords to stop Government cuts to PIP, but that the Government had still “ploughed ahead”.

He said: “These shocking figures show what I and others have believed for a while; a primary objective behind PIP is to cut costs rather improve the lives for disabled people.

“The chancellor had a chance in last month’s budget to reverse the £12 billion worth of welfare cuts still to come, but instead he chose to continue trying to balance the Government’s increasingly precarious accounts on the backs of the most vulnerable. A bad business.”

Phil Reynolds, senior policy and campaigns adviser at Parkinson’s UK, said it was “unacceptable” that despite our many warnings to the Government about the impact of PIP, almost a quarter of people were continuing to lose vital support.

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SEE: DON’T EVER SHAKE A PIP/ESA ASSESSOR’S HAND !!

“This means that around a thousand people living with a condition that will only get worse are losing out, and in many cases, having to return cars that keep them independent.

“With around a year to go until the Government aims to move everyone over to PIP, this nonsensical, head in the sand approach needs to stop. It is urgent that the Government recognises the system is failing people and makes changes now, by fixing the broken assessment process and improving assessors’ training before more lives are ruined.”

Last month, the Government admitted that some disabled people had been receiving too little financial support to meet their needs, after a court found some disabled people were not being offered enough, prompting the  DWP to alter their guidelines.

PIP, which was was introduced in 2013 to replace DLA, brought in a new face-to-face assessment and regular reviews of a claimant’s ability to wash, dress, cook and get around as well as reading and communicating.

The system has come under fire on numerous occasions, accused of denying benefits to those who need them.

A DWP spokesperson said: “We introduced PIP to replace the outdated DLA system. PIP is a better benefit which takes a much wider look at the way an individual’s health condition or disability impacts them on a daily basis, and is tailored to suit each individual’s needs.

“Under PIP, 29 per cent of claimants receive the highest rate of support, compared to 15 per cent under DLA.”

They also urged that decisions for PIP were made after careful consideration of all the evidence provided by the claimant and their GP or medical specialist, and that the “large majority” of reassessed DLA claimants had received an award of PIP.

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Claiming disability benefit? Don’t ever dare shake hands

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‘If you’re disabled and meeting your DWP assessor for the first time – or any time – DON’T SHAKE THEIR HAND! They ain’t your friend!

Do you shake hands? I do – with people I’m meeting for the first time, and often meeting up with people I already know really well. But the classic handshake is now not the single accepted greeting, and even with strangers you must awkwardly negotiate the possibility of the kiss on one or both cheeks, or bro shake with optional shoulder bump.

But I’ve been trained to think of the unhesitating handshake as simple good manners. The same, I suspect, is true of former pub landlady Bethen Thorpe from north London, who was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in October 2014. She had to apply for disability benefit, filled in a 35-page application form, and then travelled to Chelmsford, Essex, for an assessment meeting. She was turned down because she shook the DWP assessor’s hand, which was taken as evidence of her fitness for work.

The handshake, that historic gesture of good faith, was turned against her. Since then, Thorpe has had the handshake-dismissal overturned on appeal. But what lessons are to be drawn? Only this. If you’re disabled and meeting your DWP assessor for the first time – or any time – just offer up your cheek for a delicate, feather-light kiss.

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