22 January 2009
In a move that will deeply dismay disability rights campaigners, Disability Alliance has entered into a joint publishing deal with the Department for Work and Pensions.
A guide to Employment and Support Allowance published as a supplement to Disability Alliance’s Disability Handbook in November 2008 and sold at a price of £7.00 was part financed by the DWP, checked for accuracy by the DWP and is now available as a free download from the DWP website.
News of the alliance between the DWP and campaigning charity came on the same day as publication of the DWP’s latest Welfare Reform Bill, with provisions for compulsory work, compulsory drug testing and treatment for claimants and compulsory work-related activities.
The 61 page guide to Employment and Support Allowance begins by offering ‘thanks to the DWP for the financial contribution to the production of this guide and for helping to ensure its accuracy.’
The guide itself is largely a technical account of the law, with little in the way of hints, tips or tactics for actually pursuing a claim. However, it will still be of concern to many people that a publication that will be incorporated in the 2009 edition of Disability Alliance’s flagship publication, the Disability Handbook, has been written in such close co-operation with the DWP.
Curiously, although the guide has only been on sale for three months – and customers who ordered it from Amazon as long ago as the beginning of November are still waiting for copies – the guide is now available as a free download, but only from the DWP website. Customers who visit Disability Alliance’s own website are told that the guide can be purchased for £7.00 (£2.00 for claimants) but no hint is given that it is available for free from the DWP.
A spokesperson for Disability Alliance told Benefits and Work that they were unable to disclose how much taxpayers money they had been given by the DWP because of a confidentiality clause in their contract.
We also received no response to our request to be told when Disability Alliance first began discussing payment with the DWP. Given that Disability Alliance sat on the consultative panel which helped shape the new harsher ESA medical tests, it would have been reassuring to know that at that stage they were not already in financial negotiations with the DWP.
In response to a query about maintaining their independence as a campaigning organisation, the spokesperson told us that:
“Regarding the question about Disability Alliance maintaining its independence, I can say that this remains an issue that we take very seriously. We have a variety of safeguards in place for any work we do that involves input from any other organisations; in this case, the DWP. These safeguards include, but are not limited to the following - retaining editorial control and intellectual property rights.”
News of this joint publishing venture comes hard on the heels of concerns about Disability Alliance’s Easy Read guide to ESA for claimants with learning difficulties. In an effort ‘to keep the guide simple about what is different under the new ESA system’ Disability Alliance chose not to tell readers that they had any right to challenge DWP decisions about entitlement to the new benefit.
Following an article on Benefits and Work (see: ‘New guide threatens disabled benefits’) Disability Alliance have admitted that ‘with hindsight’ this may have been a mistake and are considering revising the guide.
It seems entirely possible that the charity will also, with hindsight, conclude that working as a junior partner to the DWP at a time when disabled claimants are being continually attacked by that agency is a serious mistake. And one that really shouldn’t have required hindsight to spot.