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On Wednesday I asked the Prime Minister what she would do to help people who were waiting for benefit appeals, writes Sandy Martin MP. 

I mentioned Carla Cotton, a brave Ipswich woman who has chosen to go public to draw attention to the impossible position that so many others are also being put into.  Despite her own medical conditions, Carla has been caring for her severely disabled son at home.  The only reason she could do that is because he was getting benefits for his disability, and she was getting support for being his carer. 

Since he had his higher rate of Disability Living Allowance taken away last August, Carla has lost other benefits as well, including the carer’s allowance.  She is sure that the decision in August was wrong, and so she appealed against it, but her appeal won’t be heard until the end of this month.  In the meantime she has not had enough money to pay for her family’s needs, has fallen into debt, and risks losing her oven and washing machine.

Carla’s nine-month wait for justice is not at all unusual.  Amongst the many desperate people who have come to me for help, one constituent had her Personal Independence Payment (PIP) reduced last August after a Work Capability Assessment and had to give up her specially-adapted motability car which left her completely housebound for 3 months.  Whatever work she might have been capable of, she certainly wasn’t capable of doing it if she couldn’t even leave the house. At the end of the 3 months the wrong decision from August was overturned at appeal, but by then the damage was done and the expensively-adapted car had already been returned.

Another constituent fell 3 stories and suffered a brain injury, but scored 0 points for PIP at his assessment – he appealed in March of last year but his case has still not been heard – he has built up huge debts since then.  Another who has Bipolar disorder had his benefit stopped in May 2017.  He appealed, but was unable to attend his appeal hearing on 26 April 2018 – nearly a year later – because of an anxiety attack. So it was rescheduled to take place in Luton – except that nobody told him that.  He is finally getting a hearing in Ipswich on May 31st – two years after having his benefit removed.

The Disability Advice Service report that all PIP appeals in Ipswich are now taking at least 6 months to be heard.  In at least 85% of the cases they handle, the decisions to remove benefit are overturned at appeal. The Citizens Advice Bureau and the Disabled Advice Bureau report much the same.  This is not a system with problems, it is a system which is fundamentally broken.

So when the Prime Minister asked me to send her the details of my constituent, I did so, hoping that Carla will soon have her son’s benefits restored, but that doesn’t help all the other people whose lives are being made a misery in the long periods of time waiting for their appeals.

Nobody has much sympathy for those who are perfectly capable of working but choose not to, but those are a small minority.  By far the largest number of people receiving benefits are pensioners, and nobody would begrudge retired people their hard-earned pension.  In the same way, if someone is clearly incapable of paid work, all decent people can accept that they need financial help to survive.  And in many cases, disabled people are only able to work precisely because they receive benefits which enable them to, for instance, afford a motability car.

What happens if benefits are taken away from people who need them?  Some end up homeless.  Many are forced to use foodbanks.  I had the honour of being invited by Maureen Reynel from FIND to the turf-cutting ceremony for their new Foodbank in Gainsborough. A donation towards FIND’s appeal is a great way to help people in desperate need.  FIND do a fantastic job and will be needed for years to come, but people shouldn’t need foodbanks.

It’s time to do away with the current Work Capability Assessment which doesn’t work and use proper evidence – such as from people’s doctors – instead.  It’s time to treat all people with dignity whether or not they are ill or disabled. 

And it’s time to stop wasting time and effort keeping people in poverty and give them the opportunity to lead decent lives again.



Sandy questions Prime Minister on the evils of benefits system

On Wednesday I asked the Prime Minister what she would do to help people who were waiting for benefit appeals, writes Sandy Martin MP.  I mentioned Carla Cotton, a brave...

Yesterday, something between a quarter and a third of registered voters in Ipswich cast a vote for the council candidate of their choice, writes Sandy Martin MP.

I can be fairly sure of that, although the count hadn’t yet taken place when I wrote this, because it has been so at every council election I have attended since 1993.  

That means between two thirds and three quarters of voters in Ipswich didn’t vote this year, and many of them have probably never voted in a council election unless it happened to coincide with a General Election.

Of course, a General Election is more important.  In my view councils do not have as much power as they ought to have, and national governments - of whatever party – shouldn’t interfere so much in how they are run.  I think the voters sense that.  But it would be wrong to think it makes no difference who runs your local council - without going over all the arguments again, Ipswich Borough Council has very different priorities from the other Districts in Suffolk because it is a Labour-run authority and believes in public services to help everyone, not just those who can afford to buy things privately.

Even in General Elections there are around a quarter of voters who never vote at all.  Often the people who don’t vote are the ones who are most affected by a change in government.  Every one of us pays taxes or receives benefits, we all rely on public services, we all need armed forces to protect us from attack abroad and police to keep us safe at home.  Almost every one of us has been educated by the state, or has children or grandchildren who are being educated by the state.  We all need health-care - even those who can afford it and choose to “go private” will be relying on state-trained doctors and nurses and often NHS facilities too.  And even if we don’t live in a council house ourselves, we would all benefit from living in a society where more council housing was being built, so that everyone could either rent or buy a decent home.

The level of these services, and who pays for them, are mainly determined by the national government, but much of the actual work is done by local councils.  If you care at all about the quality of your life or the quality of your children’s lives it makes no sense not to vote.

So why do people not vote? Firstly, they don’t know what the parties stand for.  Most politicians now have websites where people can read our views, and most of us respond to direct questions from voters too.  But in a nutshell, Labour wants better public services and is prepared to ask those with the most money - over £80,000 per year - to pay extra to achieve them.  The Conservatives want to give people tax cuts - and most of those tax cuts go to the wealthiest people.  That’s a very simplistic description of the two parties, but it’s largely accurate.

Secondly, people say “well my one vote won’t count”.  The problem is that the people who don’t bother to vote are not a balanced cross-section of voters.  Most people who don’t vote earn less than the average wage, so it’s hard for a Party that wants to help the less well-off to get elected. Most young people under 25 don’t vote either - why be surprised when tuition fees are tripled, housing benefit is refused to under-25s, the minimum wage is artificially low for younger workers, and less and less council properties are made available to young families?

Thirdly, people say “well I voted last time and it didn’t make any difference, so why should I vote again?” It took nearly fifty years from the foundation of the Labour Party before people finally voted in a government which was able to introduce the NHS.  If Ipswich voters had said after 1938 “well I voted for that Dick Stokes but he hasn’t transformed society yet”, we would never have got the 1945 Labour Government.

There’s lots of things Labour would like to do but we can’t make them happen while the Conservatives are in Government.

If you agree with our programme for building a fairer, healthier and greener Britain, and ensuring the wealthy pay their taxes to achieve it, then your vote in elections - local and national - will help to build the Britain you want to be proud of.


Sandy Martin reflects on the local elections

Yesterday, something between a quarter and a third of registered voters in Ipswich cast a vote for the council candidate of their choice, writes Sandy Martin MP. I can be...

Voting for the council elections starts at 7am tomorrow and ends at 10pm, writes Ipswich Borough Council Leader, David Ellesmere.

I would urge everyone to go out and vote.

Local elections are about choosing how our councils are run. Sometimes that choice isn’t clear because the differences between the main parties isn’t obvious.

However, here in Ipswich the choice is clear because we can see side-by-side how Labour-run Ipswich Borough Council operates compared to Conservative-run Suffolk County Council.

Take one of the most basic things for residents: the level of council tax. In Ipswich your council tax bill is made up of charges from three authorities. Many people will have seen a big increase in their bills this year.

For an average Band B council tax payer, the increase from Ipswich Borough Council is just 16p a week. But the increase from the Conservative Police and Crime Commissioner is 36p a week and from the County Council, a whopping 74p a week.

Larger bills from the Police and County Council aren’t translating into better services though.

We still have hundreds fewer police officers and PCSOs in Suffolk compared to 2010. It’s no surprise that crime is going up.

The picture for Suffolk County Council is even worse.

As the highways authority they are in charge of maintaining the roads. I probably don’t need to say any more. Everyone knows the state of our roads is shocking.

The cuts from the County Council keep coming. They want to completely cut funding for Suffolk’s Citizens Advice Bureaux. In the last few weeks they have started turning street lights off half an hour earlier, making our streets even less safe at night. They have started consulting on plans to close Speech and Language hubs and plans have leaked out to close around half Suffolk’s Children’s Centres.

Conservative county councillors will no doubt blame this on cuts in government funding. There is some truth in this but their poor financial management hasn’t helped.

They wasted £8m on survey work for Ben Gummer’s vanity bridge, a project which they then cancelled. That’s £8m flushed down the drain with literally nothing to show for it.

Even worse, while they were messing around with Ben’s Bridge, they weren’t working on trying to deliver a Northern Bypass for Ipswich. We’re at least four years behind where we could have been as a result of this. Four years of Ipswich grinding to a halt and businesses losing £1m a day every time the Orwell Bridge shuts.

Labour councillors in Ipswich have taken a different path. We too have had cuts – big cuts – in funding from the Government. But we have made careful efficiency savings and worked on alternative funding sources, not least from our commercial property investments. As a result we have been able protect services from cuts and, in some cases, even improve them.

We are keeping brown bin collections free of charge. Every other Conservative-run district in Suffolk charges up to £55 for brown bins. Because there is no charge in Ipswich, more residents use their bin and we recycle more garden waste.

We have supported the town centre by building a new Crown multi-storey car park and lowering charges to £1 an hour there. This has forced NCP to reduce their extortionate charges at the car park behind M&S. We will be improving Arras Square over the coming year.

We are building more council houses for Ipswich families. Seventeen new homes are nearing completion on Cauldwell Hall Road and work has started on 60 new homes on the former Tooks bakery site.

We have purchased an empty sheltered housing scheme and are turning this into decent temporary accommodation for families and individuals who have been made homeless so they do not have to go into a Bed and Breakfast or, worse, end up on the streets. Disgracefully, local Conservative councillors have opposed this project.

We have made council sports centres and swimming pools free of charge for Ipswich school children over the long summer holidays, helping to keep them fit, out of trouble and saving their parents money.

Unlike Suffolk County Council we have maintained our funding to community, charity and voluntary groups like Ipswich Citizens Advice Bureau, handing them a vital lifeline.

There is nothing inevitable about the cuts from Conservative-run Suffolk County Council. Nor the improvements by Labour-run Ipswich Borough Council.

If Labour was running Suffolk or the Conservatives running Ipswich, different decisions would have been made.

When you vote tomorrow you are making a choice about which one of these ways you want our Ipswich Borough Council to be run.

Vote Labour on Thursday 2nd May

Voting for the council elections starts at 7am tomorrow and ends at 10pm, writes Ipswich Borough Council Leader, David Ellesmere. I would urge everyone to go out and vote. Local...

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