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Friday, October 12, 2018

Charities gagged by Ministers

There were echoes of a previous battle in the Welsh Assembly in today's Times, who report that charities and companies working with universal credit claimants have been banned from criticising or harming the reputation of the work and pensions secretary Esther McVey.

The paper says that at least 22 organisations have been required to sign gagging clauses as part of their involvement with programmes to help people back to work. The contracts, worth a total of £1.8 billion, state that groups receiving the money must “pay the utmost regard to the standing and reputation” of the work and pensions secretary.

In addition, they must “not do anything which may attract adverse publicity” to her, damage her reputation or harm the public’s confidence in her:

This newspaper has found at least 22 contractors, including charities, who have had to sign gagging clauses as part of their involvement in back-to-work programmes run by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).

Although the schemes are not directly involved in the delivery of universal credit, they involve organisations working with benefit claimants, including those on universal credit, to help them to find jobs. These contractors see the effects of universal credit first hand as they have meetings with claimants who are looking for work, organise placements for them and provide them with advice once they have found a job.

Under one £1.7 billion “employment and health related services” programme, 11 suppliers signed contracts with the DWP in January last year. Those suppliers included Shaw Trust, a charity for unemployed people, the outsourcing company G4S and the disability employment company Remploy. The contracts, which run until 2021, include a clause on universal credit stating that the organisations must support the policy’s implementation where it affects their work.

There is also a “publicity” clause which states that the organisation “shall pay the utmost regard to the standing and reputation of the Authority and shall not do anything which may damage the reputation of the Authority; bring the Authority into disrepute; attract adverse publicity to the Authority; or harm the confidence of the public in the Authority”. The “Authority” is defined in the contract as the secretary of state for work and pensions.

All but two of the contracts were signed while Damian Green was work and pensions secretary. The other schemes that involve the clauses include those to encourage employment for troubled families, disadvantaged people, those aged 50 and over and people with mental health problems.

This is of course one of the weaknesses of the third sector. Because they are dependent on the government for funding and contracts, they are constrained from acting independently and criticising ministers when they deserve it.

A similar situation blew up in Wales back in 2015 when women's groups were effectively instructed to support defective legislation on violence against women. Groups who had lobbied AMs for changes to the bill were forced to back down under government pressure.

This is no way to run a democracy.
How about our 'democracy' is a one party state.Tory.
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