People die because of DWP mistakes: here’s Errol Graham, who starved to death because the department wrongly decided not to give him the benefit money he deserved. The organisation later – secretly – changed its rules in a bid to avoid humiliation in court.
Online journalist David Hencke is to be praised for digging these facts out of the black hole of Whitehall obscurity:
The Department for Work and Pensions has recorded its worst year of benefit payment failures, with Universal Credit the worst offender.
Mr Hencke reports that the department has been censured for material inaccuracy in its accounts for the 32nd year in a row – going back to the days of the old Department for Social Security.
Annual accounts released on June 30 show that “Excluding State Pension, the estimated rate of overpayments has increased again to 4.8 per cent (£4.5 billion) of estimated benefit expenditure, from a restated rate of 4.4 per cent (£3.8 billion).
“The estimated rate of underpayments, excluding State Pension, has decreased to 2.0% (£1.9 billion), from its estimated rate of 2.2% (£1.9 billion) in 2018-19. The rate of overpayments in 2019-20 is the highest estimate to date.”
Universal Credit is the worst offender – possibly because the scope for inaccurate reporting of income, and inaccurate provision of payments, is so large. It depends on claimants’ income, which varies from month to month.
The report says: “For Universal Credit, the estimated rate of overpayments increased from 8.7% to 9.4%. This is the highest recorded overpayment rate for any benefit other than Tax Credits (administered by HMRC), which peaked at 9.7% in 2003-04.”
“Underpayments rates have fallen for Universal Credit, Employment and Support Allowance and Pension Credit, and the estimated rate for Housing Benefit has increased. Personal Independence Payment has the highest rate of underpayments at 3.8% of expenditure in 2019-20. This rate has not changed from 2018-19.”
Take note of that: people with disabilities are habitually underpaid and the DWP has done nothing to stop this. No wonder so many of them die.
Mr Hencke’s report lists other omissions that are nothing less than disgraceful:
The Department has never checked whether payments are accurate for claimants on Disability Living Allowance for 16 years – last done in 2004-05.
More extraordinary the Department has never checked whether money paid out to 12 million pensioners is accurate or not since 2005 – that is 15 years ago.
Instead the department maintains there is no serious fraud or underpayments in pensions – calculating it as just £300 million out of an annual payment of £98.6 billion.
Given this year we had a case this year of a 94 year old pensioner being owed a staggering £117,000 because of 34 years of underpayments, I find this complacency mind blowing.
I also think the National Audit Office, as their auditors, is remiss in not asking for an update.
Next year’s estimate of benefit fraud and error is likely to even more out of kilter thanks to Covid 19 as the ministry have got rid of staff monitoring fraud to be able to pay out the 2.6 million claims for universal credit.
And although the department is said to be investigating 143,000 suspicious claims under Covid 19, it can’t follow them up because it can’t visit them at home.
So the prediction is that the situation will become even worse – and much worse – next year.
And you know that the people who will suffer the most will continue to be those in the most need.
The DWP’s permanent secretary is Peter Schofield, who most recently came into the news for quietly changing conditions for receiving benefits after one man starved to death.
Perhaps we need to remind him of his accountancy failures next time he tries to cover up his department’s – call them what they are – crimes in such a way.
Have YOU donated to my crowdfunding appeal, raising funds to fight false libel claims by TV celebrities who should know better? These court cases cost a lot of money so every penny will help ensure that wealth doesn’t beat justice.
Margaret Hodge: A principled stand against corruption of politics by corporate influence.
This is something that broke while Yr Obdt Srvt was still recovering from a recent illness, but is still worth covering because Labour really needs to understand the danger of association.
Margaret Hodge, Labour’s chair of the Commons Public Accounts Committee, broke ranks to warn the Shadow Cabinet against accepting – shall we call it – “help” from accounting firms like PricewaterhouseCoopers on Friday. She said it was “inappropriate” and she was right to do so.
It’s the political equivalent of accepting “help” from the Mafia – you end up in their pocket, owing them favours.
According to the BBC, Labour MPs including Ed Balls (Shadow Chancellor) and Chukka Umunna (Shadow Business Secretary), along with Rachel Reeves (Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary) have received more than £540,000 in research assistance from the firm in the past 18 months alone.
PwC is one of the ‘Big Four’ accountancy firms – the others are Ernst & Young, KPMG and Deloitte – who also advise the Conservative-run Treasury on tax policy. It should not be beyond anybody’s wit to see there’s a clear conflict of interest if the firm is advising both Labour and the Tories on tax policy.
Labour’s official line is that “PwC have provided long standing support to all three major political parties on a non-party basis, as happened for the Conservatives and Lib Dems before the last election. Given the complexity of government and that opposition parties do not have significant access to civil servants, the support provided by organisations such as these helps ensure that there is better scrutiny of government policy.”
PwC said its staff provided “limited and fully disclosed technical support to the main political parties” but added: “We do not develop policy on their behalf.” Staff on secondment might make “observations on the improvement of legislation or proposed legislation”, the firm added in a statement.
Isn’t this exactly the problem? Staff make “observations”, and before we know it, all our political parties are carrying out PwC policy instead of their own.
If Labour was serious about getting the advice it needed, then it would be employing advisers who have nothing to do with any of the other political parties. That’s the way it has to be. Anything else courts betrayal of the public.
Then there would be no opportunity for these firms to create embarrassment when their activities “promoting tax avoidance” on an industrial scale were revealed by the Public Accounts Committee
PwC said it disagreed with the Public Accounts Committee report (it would, wouldn’t it?) and denied claims by Mrs Hodge that the firm had misled her committee when its executives gave evidence in January 2013. Who do you believe?
Mrs Hodge herself told BBC Radio 4’s The World At One: “You have to be very, very careful when you’re in opposition whom you take money from”.
This is why Vox Political supports the removal of all private company advisors from government. The private sector has no place in decisions about public services.
Speaking before the event, Mr McGowan said a few words that were particularly illuminating. “Without a mandate, having concealed their health policy, this government is giving away NHS contracts to the highest bidder,” he said.
“Under the cloak of austerity, the primary purpose of this government is to move public money into private pockets, as fast as humanly possible. They are like pigs at the trough of public money.
“These people in government are liars, criminals and thieves and should be arrested for embezzlement of public funds. A staggering 206 parliamentarians have recent or present financial private healthcare connections; amazingly all of them were allowed to vote on the Health and Social Care Act.
“This is not a democracy.”
You’d have expected this expression of free speech to have received a huge amount of coverage in the free press, wouldn’t you? Well, think again because I just checked: An article in the Metro and a video on something called London24. That’s all.
Ah, but there’s always Facebook, where bloggers such as myself can freely direct readers such as yourselves to our work and highlight the subjects not covered in the so-called popular press, isn’t there?
Well, this was a story that Facebook was doing its damnedest to make sure didn’t get out.
Facebook then seemed to get a taste for censorship: The Pride’s Purge blog by Tom Pride received similar treatment after it posted links to an openly-satirical article (It was plainly marked ‘Satire’) about the Department for Work and Pensions and Atos.
Tom claimed in a later post that a JobCentre Plus worker “openly bragged” to him that JCP had complained to Facebook about him, and this had led to the censorship of his work.
Even this blog, which only posted links to other articles about these issues, was targeted for attack. As readers who link here from Facebook will know – you alerted me to it – we had a couple of days when visits here were accompanied by this stern warning: “Facebook thinks this site may be unsafe. If you’re not familiar with it, please provide feedback by marking it as spam (you’ll be brought back to Facebook).” As site statistics show, this was enough to put many readers off.
I wasn’t having it. I have written to Facebook, pointing out that the unfounded allegation is defamatory and demanding that reparations must be made – to charity, and to the Labour Party (of which I am a member), since this site is not for profit and the attacks seemed to be centred on left-leaning bloggers. They’ve got three weeks to respond, then I start adding noughts to the amount that I suggested.
Facebook has said the mass censorship was a mistake made by its automated systems – but you’d have to be gullible in the extreme to believe that.
So much for freedom of speech; so much for freedom of the press; so much for freedom on the Internet.
Yesterday it emerged that a man had been held in prison for two weeks after claims were made that he made a “threat to kill” during an Atos work capability assessment.
Steve Topley, a 49-year-old Hucknall father with multiple health conditions including Reynard’s syndrome, who has a heart replacement valve and lost one of his kidneys to cancer, and is on a strict medication regime including treatment to stabilise his blood levels and maintain safe blood pressure, was whisked away after he made comments about a person who was not present at the assessment.
He was arrested, subjected to a mental health assessment which offered no reason to detain him, so was re-arrested and taken to Nottingham police station where he was charged and kept in custody. He was refused bail twice in closed courts which, his family said, they were refused permission to attend.
Today (Friday) he was taken to another secret court, where he was charged, admitted the crime, and bailed – with the likelihood of a community sentence waiting for him at his next appearance.
Johnny Void, writing about this in his blog, made some particularly apposite comments on the subject, as follows: “This incident happened in the middle of an Atos assessment which are notoriously stressful and frightening for claimants. If he hadn’t been put through that, it is unlikely he would have said whatever he said, which it seems was not a very credible threat, at least as far as the Judge was concerned.
“It can make people react irrationally or angrily and they end up doing things they wouldn’t ordinarily do. The context these events take place in is often ignored by ‘professionals’, because to them it is all just a job and they can’t understand why people are not being reasonable. The stark terror felt by some people facing courts, benefit assessments, arrests, bailiffs, prisons or even more seemingly benign institutions such as social services, Jobcentres and community mental health teams can often cause people to destroy themselves. This can happen even if ‘professionals’ concerned do their jobs properly within the constrain of the system and no-one is really personally culpable.”
So much for personal freedom – but wait. The situation here is actually worse than even this story makes out. I am indebted to Vox Political commenter vince032013, who tells us the following, about so-called ‘reforms’ to Legal Aid (italics mine):
“Things might be about to get a lot worse. The government are now planning on reforming the criminal justice system. Highlights are 1. Suspects in the police station will not be able to choose a solicitor. They will be appointed one. 2. The number of solicitors’ firms is to be reduced by 75 per cent (that’s not a typo – 75 per cent). 3. The reduction in the number of solicitors is to be achieved by putting criminal work out to tender. 4. The bidders are not allowed to bid at over 82.5 per cent of the current cost of running a criminal case. 5. The consultation which has introduced this idea states in terms that it does not want solicitors to offer any more than an “acceptable” level of service to suspects. 6. Once charged, defendants may be represented in court by someone with no Crown Court trial experience (and will not be able to exercise a choice to change that representative). If you’re interested read the consultation here
In other words, this Conservative/Liberal Democrat government is determined to rig the justice system against anybody who becomes caught up in it. The conditions described by the commenter are utterly corrupt and offer nobody in this country any chance at justice – unless they can afford it. So the really serious criminals and gangsters have nothing at all to fear.
Today we also discovered that the so-called “big four” accountancy firms – Deloitte, Ernst & Young, KPMG and PricewaterhouseCoopers – who were brought into the Treasury to help the government draw up tax laws, have been using the ‘insider’ knowledge they have gained to help wealthy clients avoid paying taxes. They have been telling multinational corporations and wealthy individuals how to exploit loopholes in the legislation they have helped to write – according to the House of Commons’ public accounts committee.
This represents a staggering betrayal of the working- and middle-class citizens of this country, who have no choice but to pay all the tax that the government demands from them or face imprisonment – and an appalling display of hypocrisy on the part of David Cameron, the British Prime Minister who, only yesterday, said he planned to use the UK’s chairmanship of the G8 nations to tackle what he himself described as “staggering” worldwide levels of tax evasion and avoidance – levels that he, himself, is helping to boost.
Now, I’m not voting in the elections next week. There isn’t a poll in my part of the country. But if you are planning to vote…
Considering the way the government has pushed through its plans to sell the NHS to the highest bidders (without a mandate, having concealed its health policy); considering the way it has been implicated in attempts to stop the public from finding out about the plans and what they mean (in conjunction with Facebook); considering how its servants take it upon themselves to subject very-ill individuals to extreme pressure and then imprison them on the basis of what they say in those circumstances; considering the plan to deny justice to the poor and make high-quality legal advice available only to the extremely rich people, including rich criminals, who can afford it; and considering the fact that it has opened the door for those who should be paying the most tax in this country to avoid doing so altogether – while claiming it is doing the exact opposite…
Taking all those issues into consideration, if you are a working-class or middle-class person planning to vote Conservative or Liberal Democrat next Thursday, then for your own safety, submit yourself for medical assessment because you must be barking mad.
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