Fears over government links as equality watchdog launches welfare probe


The equality watchdog is facing concerns over links between the government and two of its leading figures as it prepares to investigate whether Tory welfare reforms have breached the human rights of disabled people.

Last week, Disability News Service (DNS) revealed that the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) was to examine the impact of changes to the welfare system on independent living and poverty.

The announcement was included in the watchdog’s new business plan for 2016-17, which was published by EHRC last week without any publicity.

But concerns have now been raised about the impartiality of two key figures in the commission, who are both likely to play a key role in the inquiry.

Disability Rights UK (DR UK) has come forward to raise concerns over the voting record of Lord [Chris] Holmes (pictured), the watchdog’s disability commissioner and a Conservative peer, who voted in the House of Lords in favour of those welfare reforms.

But there are also concerns over David Isaac, the lawyer the government has chosen to take over as the commission’s new chair.

Isaac, a former chair of the gay rights charity Stonewall, is a partner in law firm Pinsent Masons, and specialises in providing advice on “major public and private sector UK and global commercial and outsourcing projects”.

His own profile on the firm’s website states that he “leads teams of lawyers on major projects” for, among others, the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).

But Pinsent Masons this week refused to say which outsourcing projects Isaac has worked on for DWP, leading to the possibility that he could have been involved in some of the reforms his own watchdog will now be investigating.

Sue Bott, DR UK’s deputy chief executive, said Lord Holmes had voted in favour of the government’s welfare reforms, including cutting payments by £30 a week for new employment and support allowance (ESA) claimants placed in the work-related activity group.

She said: “He is solidly in favour of the ESA cuts, he is solidly in favour of the cuts to PIP [that were later withdrawn by the government]and every other cut to disabled people’s income in recent time.”

But she said these were measures the commission would be investigating as part of its probe into the human rights impact of the government’s welfare reforms, with Lord Holmes likely to take a lead role.

She believes EHRC was pressured into carrying out the inquiry by the work of the House of Lords Equality Act 2010 and disability committee, which concluded last month that government spending cuts were having “a hugely adverse effect on disabled people”.

Bott said: “We are concerned about the voting record of Lord Holmes because it is straight down the line voting for the government and we wonder therefore how disabled people are to have confidence in the inquiry whilst Lord Holmes has his position as a commissioner and chair of the EHRC’s disability committee.”

She pointed out that other Conservative peers had voted against the government or abstained from votes on the welfare reforms.

She said: “We think Lord Holmes has some questions to answer as to what his position is. I think that he needs to make his position clear so that it is all upfront and transparent.”

Asked whether she would be concerned if Lord Holmes played a role in the investigation, she said: “I think he should consider his position and whether he feels able to lead such an inquiry, given that he is so clearly in favour of everything the government has done to date.”

Asked whether she also had concerns about Isaac, she said: “It is important that disabled people have confidence in what the EHRC is doing and that there is clear independence and leadership.”

EHRC plans to commission an assessment to “determine how changes to the welfare system have affected equality of opportunity and the human rights of people who share certain protected characteristics”.

It also says in its business plan that it is “not clear whether the government’s reforms to tax, welfare and public spending have taken into account the cumulative impact of these changes on the standard of living of disabled people”.

Asked about the impartiality of Lord Holmes and David Isaac, an EHRC spokesman said in a statement: “We have an ambitious programme of work to tackle discrimination and promote equality of opportunity based on comprehensive evidence about the barriers and unfairness faced by disabled people.

“The fact our business plan includes these priorities underlines that we are fully independent, and we will show neither fear nor favour in how we do our work.

“We have rigorous processes in place to avoid any conflicts of interest. Commissioners are required to comply with the principles of public life [first set out by Lord Nolan in 1995] and our code of conduct, with a register of interests publicly available.

“The strength of our board comes from the diverse range of professional skills, experience, personal qualities and perspectives our commissioners bring to bear on our important work.”

A Pinsent Masons spokesman said that the company’s “professional obligations governing client confidentiality mean we are unable to comment”.

  • User Ratings (9 Votes)
  • Mikki Barry

    these investigations have been going on for a few years now – so what is being done? anything?

  • D Smith

    As a disabled and vulnerable person on sickness benefits witnessing
    the recent budget and ensuing chaos in Parliament, I feel Great Britain
    does not deserve the prefix, “Great”. It is no longer great for anyone
    lower than the upper classes.

    Important questions and petitions
    are dismissed, leaving unanswered questions and growing dissention and
    frustration. We no longer feel our voices are heard.
    Most of the
    media spread lies and twist the truth and actually ignore important news
    in favour of celebrity trivia or biased spins for their own financial
    gain. Many protests are not reported on, and some reporters are told
    they aren’t allowed to film public displays of dissent, thus depriving
    us of events in the public’s best interests. Politicians known to have
    broken the law are not reprimanded, arrested or sacked, but are kept in
    their jobs as though they have done nothing wrong. Our Government have
    even recently overruled the House of Lords by invoking “financial
    privilege” to ensure the cuts to ESA were passed without interference.
    They then announced the cuts were not going to happen, which made far
    too many people assume this meant the ESA cuts, when in fact they meant
    the PIP cuts which were discussed. And now we are finding out that when
    we move over to Universal Credit, not only will it take 6 weeks to be
    switched over, which will result in no benefits, so no housing
    benefit/council tax/bill money/food money etc, will also make impatient
    landlords evict tenants and companies take the people in debt to court,
    but it will be almost £30 per week less than ESA. So when Stephen Crabbe
    announced there will be no more benefit cuts except the ones previously
    agreed on, he was being deliberately vague and misleading the public.

    with the facts and in the public eye needs to list how our Tory
    government are failing our country, who they are harming, laws they
    surely must be breaking.
    They need to stop important organisations
    and industries from being sold off, jeopardising jobs and commodities
    such as steel, fuel etc.
    They need to ask how they can systematically
    dismantle the welfare system and put our NHS at risk which were put in
    place to look after the vulnerable.
    They need to address the
    undeniable fact that all these cuts will result in more crime, illness,
    drug related hospitalisations, more divorces, suicides, malnutrition,
    homelessness, debt, mental illness, domestic and child abuse, related
    deaths, etc. There will be more alcoholism and drug-taking as those who
    can’t afford it will find illegal ways to escape their depression due to
    not having enough money to live on and subsequent deaths from these
    too. There will be more burglaries, fraud, shoplifting,
    street-robberies, and many other types of criminal activities will rise.
    Reducing benefits is not taking into account the fact that what the
    government are claiming is enough to live on is not, as most of us have
    debts and costs that they do not deem as important, yet will put our
    health and wellbeing at further risk, such as higher energy
    usage/transport costs/clothes/bedding/equipment/household goods and food
    costs for the disabled, energy debt, ongoing budgeting loans, rent and
    council tax arrears, less benefit means more debt, energy companies will
    cut us off, take us to court, evictions will occur from council and
    private tenants etc. Many vulnerable people being forced to pay their
    housing benefit directly to their landlords will find themselves unable
    to do so through debt problems or temptation due to need or addiction,
    will be evicted and become homeless, which our government are talking
    about making illegal, and our prisons will hold even more convicts than
    they can handle, again costing the taxpayers more money.

    The resulting effect of all of this will cost our country MORE money than the government are claiming they will save.

    of campaigners and suchlike trying to pinpoint areas, we as a country
    need to take notice of these issues as a whole…and maybe then this
    country will realise our government is dangerous and is causing the
    vulnerable actual harm. What they are doing should be illegal, if it
    isn’t why isn’t it, and if it is, who is going to bring them to justice?

    are not the actions of a democracy, these are the actions of a
    dictatorship, intent on punishing the weak and vulnerable, the poor and
    the disabled. These are acts of wanton class warfare and social
    cleansing as the rich/poor divide widens into an ever-growing chasm.

    fit for work assessments are carried out by people who do not know the
    claimant, and many illnesses are not adequately if at all covered by
    their vague questions. Many people have intermittent and varying
    symptoms and simply cannot answer the questions, thus failing the
    assessment, only to have their money stopped when they appeal, with an
    attempt to get them to claim jobseeker’s allowance, which is declaring
    themselves fit for work, setting them up for a failed appeal. It is a
    fact that most of the media exaggerates how many people fake being ill,
    so it is obvious that the best people to do these assessments are our
    doctors, who know us, and will be able to gauge their patient’s ability
    to work or not. There are people who are terminally ill and who have
    been ill since birth who will not recover being forced to look for work,
    and as a result many are dying.

    The ONLY thing that will result
    from forcing ill people into work instead of helping them live better
    lives, which could actually help them to improve their health enough to
    work, which is what most disabled people would love to be able to do (it
    is doubtful that more than a small few actually enjoy being unable to
    provide for themselves and their loved ones, that they are happy feeling
    like they are failing their children and grandchildren etc) is that
    they will deteriorate instead of being able to work, it will NOT
    incentivise the majority of them. Most disabled people feel like they
    already have a job, just keeping themselves alive from day to day. Even
    if disabled people begin to look for work, and many long-term sick do
    not have up to date work skills or the money or health to gain
    qualifications, many firms will take them on because they legally have
    to but will sack the employee if they take time off due to sickness or
    cannot carry out their jobs satisfactorily, which will result in them
    being sanctioned and refused benefits, beginning a vicious circle of
    debt, court cases, appeals, evictions, homelessness etc.

    three cancelled fit for work assessments over the last year and a half
    where the doctor didn’t even turn up, I’ve received another one for the
    26th April, and my anxiety levels have rocketed, and I am now on
    anxiety/depression tablets.

    The first time I had pneumonia
    (around 2000) they told me I have hypogammaglobulinemia
    [hi-po-gam-ah-glob-u-lin-e´me-ah] which is abnormally low levels of all
    classes of immunoglobulins, associated with heightened susceptibility to
    infectious diseases. After many childhood illnesses and three bouts of
    Pneumonia, I was left with Bronchiectasis/partial deafness and COPD, and
    other regular symptoms from the medications I need, such as stomach
    problems, water infections, swollen glands, poor memory, poor
    concentration, and a dangerously low appetite. My health is at risk in a
    work place environment and my days are full of joint and chest pain and
    desperate attempts to improve my appetite. I have appointments coming
    up with a heart specialist, chest specialist, rheumatism specialist and
    have ongoing appointments with an ENT specialist as meningitis as a
    child and an assault a few years ago left me with partial deafness, and
    tinnitus and pain in one ear, but as nothing new is diagnosed they won’t
    take it into account.

    The last time I had a fit for work
    assessment, I failed it, and two minutes into my appeal they apologised
    to me, said they didn’t know about my hearing, and that I had won my
    appeal. Although they told me they would strongly recommend I was not
    called back in, I’m now about to endure the whole ordeal again.

    questions do not adequately cover anyone with an immune deficiency. I
    can’t tell them categorically what I do and do not have, as the symptoms
    I have are very unpredictable. I could literally catch anything from
    anyone. Yet there’s nothing on their questions to address this.

    terrified I’m going to end up evicted while the appeal goes through
    because I’m not willing to apply for Jobseeker’s Allowance as that will
    state I am fit for work, regardless of their attempts to assure us that
    this would not affect our appeal. So I am going to have no income at all
    while I appeal, which would take months at least. my last appeal took
    over a year.

    Also, last time I was at my wrag place they told me
    they were sending me back to the jobcentre because my time there was up.
    I’ve just received an appointment for the 18th April telling me that
    I’ve got to go in and start taking steps to go back to work or I’ll lose
    my money. There’s no way they will let me cancel if I’m ill, even
    though going into the Jobcentre will put my health at further risk if I
    have an infection, and if my stomach is playing up, they don’t let you
    go to the toilet, and if they won’t, I can see I’m going to get really
    pissed off with them, and I don’t want to do that, for fear of

    There are many other factors, they are becoming too
    numerous to mention, and these things are only what one very worried
    disabled person has been able to list in one account. I suffer from
    hypogammaglobulinaemia (a primary immunodeficiency), copd and
    bronchiectasis, which means I am susceptible to anything I come into
    contact with, (not to mention the side-effects I suffer from my
    medication and how I am seriously underweight from so many illnesses
    including three bouts of pneumonia, one of which killed me and our
    wonderful NHS had to resuscitate me and induce a coma, from which I woke
    only 5 stone, with a tracheotomy and unable to move) and in the week of
    the budget I developed influenza, a severe chest infection and
    re-started anxiety/depression medication, the latter I fully believe is
    the fault of our government. This is making us ill because we feel we
    are the only ones fighting our corner.

    Why are they not held accountable by law?
    Who is going to stand up against them and bring the democracy back to the people?
    Why can’t we the people force a new general election?
    Who is going to help us before it’s too late?

    Someone needs to do something to stop the class warfare and social cleansing.

  • carol Busby

    All those who voted this so called government in, need to be put on P I P benefit for a month then made to go to the same assessments we have too ,,, see how quick they all are when they are made to feel belittled, to have themselves described as worthless and made to feel like THEY are the reason the country has financial problems. I have experience of how the DWP can twist things to there advantage, i worked for them as a civil servant that was until my medical problems worsened and had to have very strong meds, they tried everything to get rid of me .. this was when ATOS were more credible as i was always asked my opinion on retiring medically before they completed the report .. until i got a wheelchair when i was told either accept the medical retirement or we will sack you over you surpassing the agreed sick leave. They are expert at getting situations turned in there favor. The more ive read on the P I P assessments today i’m disgusted they are getting away with all these lies i’m more scared than i was. I have my assessment tomorrow the 21/04/16… I’M SO CONFUSED AND NOT SURE WHAT I SHOULD TAKE WITH ME NOW, , SO MANY PEOPLE HAVE HAD EVIDENCE REFUSED SO I WONDER IF I SHOULD.. If we behaved as the MPS in this god forsaken country do we’d all be prosecuted before we could defend our actions… I would do any thing to have the opportunity to tell them to stuff there benefits and go and live in another country…