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Tories condemned for denying charities' free speech rights

At least 22 organisations were required to sign clauses promising not to damage McVey's reputation as part of their involvement with the controversial welfare reform

WIDESPREAD condemnation for the government’s hated universal credit scheme grew yesterday after it was revealed that charities working with claimants signed gagging clauses preventing criticism of Work and Pensions Secretary Esther McVey.

At least 22 organisations were required to sign the clauses promising not to damage the reputation of Ms McVey as part of their involvement with the controversial welfare reform.

The signatories are to “pay the utmost regard” to maintaining the “standing and reputation” of Ms McVey, and must not act in a way which may cause “adverse publicity” to her, according to the Times investigation.

Labour’s shadow work and pensions secretary Margaret Greenwood said: “This government’s attempts to gag charities is utterly unacceptable and shows how far it is prepared to go in curbing free speech to hide the truth about universal credit.

“People all over the country will be shocked to learn that this government is preventing charities from speaking out when they see the suffering caused by universal credit.

“Esther McVey must immediately announce that she will put an end to these undemocratic gagging clauses and make clear that they will not be enforced.

“You cannot contract out of compassion or free speech.”

The disclosure comes after trade unions and Labour figures labelled universal credit “inhumane” and a “failure,” while former prime minister Gordon Brown warned the Tories may face “poll tax-style backlash” if the scheme should continue.

Pubic and Commercial Services Union general secretary Mark Serwotka said: “Universal credit has failed claimants, leaving many with mounting debt, facing eviction from their homes and in many cases leaving entire families going hungry.

“Our members who work in the DWP [Department for Work and Pensions] have repeatedly warned about the chronic problems endemic to universal credit. They see claimants suffer every day but are hamstrung by a draconian system which puts emphasis on punishing people rather than helping them.

“Ministers are making themselves complicit in the suffering of claimants by ignoring the evidence and insisting three million more people should be forced on to universal credit next year.

“Due to the inhumane social security system that this heartless Tory government has put in place, we now see reports of children suffering from rickets and malnutrition.”

The DWP denied emphatically that the contract represented a “gagging clause” to halt scrutiny or criticism of the government.

However it conceded that the contracts include references to ensure how the “best interests” of “both parties.”

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