Tag Archives: Cardiff University

Duncan Smith weighs in with support for Tory bid to impose right-wing bias on BBC

131029bbcbias

The Secretary-in-a-State about Work and Pensions, Iain Duncan Smith, has joined Grant Shapps in attacking the BBC with entirely fictitious claims that it has a left-wing bias.

Smith, affectionately known as ‘RTU’ or ‘Returned to Unit’ by this blog because of doubts about his achievements in the Army, is a serial spreader of falsehood, as has been documented here many times.

It seems he missed his true vocation and should have been a farmer; he spreads muck so vigorously.

And this is the case today. The Daily Mail has reported in its usual bombastic style that RTU is angry because the BBC keeps describing his charge on social housing tenants who the government deems to be “under-occupying” their homes as a “bedroom tax”.

His “furious” letter states that the corporation has been misleading viewers because the phrase is “innately politically and indeed factually wrong”.

Oh, is it, Iain?

Let’s have a look at his reason for saying this: “A tax, as the Oxford English Dictionary makes clear, is a ‘compulsory contribution to state revenue, levied by the  government on workers’ income and business profits, or added to the cost of some goods, services and transactions’.”

That’s right – and the state under-occupation charge (to give it it’s correct title) is a compulsory contribution to state revenue, added to the cost of a service. In this case, the service is rental of a dwelling. There can be no doubt that the contribution is compulsory, and it is clearly the state that receives (or rather, keeps) the money.

It is a tax. And we can say that, since the number of spare bedrooms in a dwelling is used to apply the charge, it is a bedroom tax. It’s the same principle as was used to describe the ‘Window Tax’ of the 19th century or thereabouts.

Some pundits have stated that it cannot be a tax because it is not paid by everybody, but this is also nonsense. Does everybody pay Inheritance Tax, or Capital Gains Tax? No. Even the corporations don’t pay Corporation Tax any more, according to all the reports we hear about tax avoidance!

And it may also be stated that the BBC is simply reflecting public parlance in its use of the phrase. People do not talk about the “underoccupation charge” or the “removal of the spare room subsidy” – they talk about the Bedroom Tax.

So RTU can whine all he likes; the BBC is factually correct in using the phrase, and it also reflects public custom in doing so.

His letter continues by claiming the BBC has adopted the language of the Opposition, stating, “We do not believe it is the job of the BBC to use misleading terms and promote the views of the Labour Party.”

Again, he is wrong to claim that the BBC has a left-wing bias. You may get tired of reading this, Dear Reader, but research by Cardiff University has shown that “The BBC tends to reproduce a Conservative, Eurosceptic, pro-business version of the world, not a left-wing, anti-business agenda”. Read the report for yourself.

The Daily Mail goes on to report that former Immigration Minister Damian Green has been unhappy with the Beeb’s reporting of immigration data, saying it was “mystifying” that a 36,000 drop in migration was described as “slight”.

But it is Mail readers who should be mystified at this claim. Didn’t they read, only last month, that more than two million immigrants have been given British passports since 2000 – one every two and a half minutes? Was this not accurate? In comparison to that figure, 36,000 is indeed “slight”.

And Mr Green might have had a little more sympathy for the BBC report if he had bothered to read the latest information on immigration by the Office for National Statistics, which stated that a drop of 39,000 long-term migrants between December 2011 and December 2012 was “not a statistically significant fall”. This is the information used by his government.

Of course we all know the reason for this latest round of BBC-bashing – the Tories are putting out a ‘marker’ for the general election.

They are telling the BBC, in no uncertain terms: “Behave. We don’t want any trouble from you in the run-up to May 2015 – just nice stories saying how great we are. Otherwise it will go badly for you after the election.”

Considering the evidence that the BBC already has a right-wing, Conservative-supporting viewpoint, it would be perfectly understandable if any high-ranking member of the corporation, receiving that message, did the exact opposite.

These Tories are ungrateful. They should know it is impossible for the BBC to hide the vast amount of cock-ups, miscalculations and intentional harm they have inflicted on the nation in the last three years. Attempted intimidation can’t alter the facts.

But then, threats are a part of the Tory way of life – especially for Iain Duncan Smith.

That is clear to anyone who has spent a few months signing unemployed at a Job Centre.

Why listen to naysayers when Labour has so many reasons to be cheerful?

A strong hand: Ed Miliband has plenty of ammunition with which to hammer the Conservative-led Coalition this autumn - but using it would mean a break from his recent policy direction. Does he have the stomach for it or will he continue to ignore the majority of Labour supporters and favour an inner circle of advisers who have, so far, served him poorly?

A strong hand: Ed Miliband has plenty of ammunition with which to hammer the Conservative-led Coalition this autumn – but using it would mean a break from his recent policy direction. Does he have the stomach for it or will he continue to ignore the majority of Labour supporters and favour an inner circle of advisers who have, so far, served him poorly?

Vox Political reblogged a post on the Skwawkbox blog yesterday, identifying a commonplace tactic used by members and supporters of the Coalition government.

It works like this: You make an assertion in the media that will harm your opponents, even though you have no evidence to back it up. You argue your case vehemently, refusing to accept any alternatives to what you are saying. And when the evidence comes in and it’s against you, you say it is a stitch-up and continue claiming both the moral and factual victory.

This is what the Conservative Party has been doing, loudly and continually. Look at its record on the NHS and on social security reforms and you’ll see that this assertion is supported by fact. Now, more factual evidence has arrived to undermine other Tory claims.

In spite of this, the Labour Party presents the appearance of an organisation torn by inner disagreement, after several high-profile figures broke ranks to criticise the leadership for failing to go on the attack during the summer, when the Conservative-led Coalition was vulnerable on any number of levels.

The BBC ran a story in which Labour’s Tessa Jowell warned that public criticism of Labour leader Ed Miliband by party colleagues creates an “unappealing sense of toxic disunity”.

We’ll come back to the BBC shortly, but for now it is enough to say the story quoted an article by Dame Tessa in the Observer, claiming that “disloyalty” of this kind risked handing the next election to the Tories.

She wrote: “There is… nothing constructive in publicly delivering ‘helpful advice’ that could be much better delivered quietly in private,” but for all we know, Mr Miliband’s critics had already done this, only for him to turn a deaf ear.

She is wrong, of course. Those people spoke up because they believed that their leader has been ignoring the mountain of evidence piling up against the Coalition – evidence that he could use to pummel David Cameron and Nick Clegg into the dust long before the next election; that Mr Miliband is unaccountably trying to avoid criticism from the likes of the Daily Mail and the Daily Express, in an attempt to court the right-wing readership of those papers; and that he would get more respect from those people – and win back disenchanted Labour voters – if he acknowledged and supported the evidence against the Coalition’s policies and set out opposing plans that mapped out a different course for the UK, one that might actually have a chance of success.

There are so many ways to strike against the web of so-called ‘myths’ (in fact outright lies) spread by the Conservatives since they came into office with the Liberal Democrats that it is hard to know where to start.

Let’s begin with the report by the international doctors’ organisation Medecins Du Monde (Doctors of the World), stating very clearly that the claim, by Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt, that health tourism is rife in the UK, is nonsense.

In a policy briefing, the organisation stated: “Seven years of data… shows that service users had, on average, been living in the UK for three years before they tried to access healthcare. Only 1.6 per cent of people using the service had left their country of origin for personal health reasons.”

Concentrating on one particular illness, “Research carried out by Terrence Higgins Trust and George House Trust found that people living with HIV using their services had been resident in England for between 12-18 months before testing positive for HIV. If access to HIV drugs had been their motivation for coming to England, they would have been unlikely to wait so long to become eligible for life-saving treatments.”

Therefore, “Research by Doctors of the World’s European network indicates no correlation between accessibility of healthcare to migrants and migration patterns.”

The government has made health tourism a major part of its anti-immigration campaign, claiming that it costs the taxpayer a fortune, but even this was rubbished by the professionals: “Current estimates vary greatly, although last year the NHS estimates it spent £33 million treating foreign nationals and wrote off £12 million of this sum. This represents about 0.01 per cent of the £107 billion NHS budget. These sums are considerably less than the net contribution made to the UK by migrants of 1.02 per cent of GDP, or £16.3 billion, according to the OECD.”

Just 0.01 per cent of the NHS budget is lost treating foreign nationals who do not pay – even less than the 0.7 per cent of the social security budget that is lost to fraud, according to DWP figures. But the government talks up these comparatively tiny amounts as though they will topple us all into bankruptcy (impossible).

One might almost believe there was an intention to distract us from something else. Remember, the Conservatives are well-practised at ‘bait-and-switch’ fraud, as mentioned in an earlier article. Perhaps they don’t want us examining their lackadaisical attempts at pretending to counter corporate tax avoidance that costs up to £120 billion per year? Or maybe they don’t want us thinking about what could have been done to restore respectability to our bankers after the financial crisis they caused.

Meanwhile, Tory claims that the Bedroom Tax – I said the BEDROOM TAX – would cut the Housing Benefit bill by £480 million have been destroyed after Labour MP Karen Buck retrieved figures from the House of Commons library, showing that the cost will in fact increase by £1.5 billion this year – and still further over the next three years.

The Mirror reported that this is because more than 40,000 more people have claimed HB since this time last year, with the biggest pressure coming from working people who need help with housing costs because their wages no longer cover them, especially since private landlords have increased rents by an inflation-busting three per cent over the last 12 months.

Meanwhile, councils have been forced to rehouse victims of the Bedroom Tax from cheaper social housing into more expensive private rented properties, creating more unwanted extra costs.

It was previously reported that larger social housing is going empty because people do not want to move in and then fall foul of the Bedroom Tax. I can’t currently find the reference for that, but if anyone can help out, please send in a comment with the link.

The SPeye blog has filed an alternative take on Housing Benefit, which claims that the current amount paid by the taxpayer on HB, at £23.77 billion, is £5.77 billion more than George Osborne predicted in 2010 when he said his changes to HB meant it would be “controlled and reduced” from £20 billion in that financial year to £18 billion by 2014-15.

This blog is highly critical of Labour’s reasoning, as reported in the Mirror story, but then comes up with an even greater loss to the taxpayer, caused by the Conservatives’ changes.

Back to the NHS now, where the Coalition government has spent £1.4 billion on redundancy payoffs, rather than care, since it came to power. This can be added to more than £3 billion that was spent on the pointless and unnecessary top-down reorganisation that David Cameron promised, prior to the 2010 election, would not take place.

The government has claimed that the redundancies will save £1.5 billion per year, which will be reinvested in patient care – but this will only bring annual spending back up to just above where it was when Labour left office, as it was revealed at the end of 2012 that annual spending on the NHS has dropped by nearly £1 billion. The government has stated that spending will have increased by £12.7 billion by 2014-15 which, in financial terms, is next year.

The Coalition lied when it said changes to the planning system would protect the Green Belt. This land, “intended to provide countryside access for urban dwellers and ensure conservation of nature, as well as maintaining agriculture and forestry” according to a BBC website article, is being eroded away with the help of new rules introduced by the Coalition, with planning applications on Green Belt land in England almost doubling from 81,000 homes in 2012 to 150,000 this year.

The government said protection was being maintained but the Council for the Protection of Rural England said the Green Belt was under threat. Who do you believe?

The announcement that the UK economy grew by 0.7 per cent, rather than 0.6, has been greeted rapturously by the Coalition, whose representatives have claimed that it shows the economy has moved “from rescue to recovery”. This is, of course, utterly ludicrous. There is no way an improvement of this kind – after years of economic flatlining thanks to Coalition policies – can be claimed as either evidence of a sustained recovery or evidence that Coalition policies are responsible for the improvement. The weakness of the upturn suggests the change brought on by conditions that would have arisen, whether the Coalition had tinkered with the economy or not.

Thankfully Michael Meacher has returned, after a brief holiday from blogging, to give us chapter and verse. “Today’s announcement by the ONS that its initial 0.6 per cent growth estimate for the second quarter of this year has now been upgraded to 0.7 per cent is insignificant when put into perspective against the recoveries of the five other UK recessions in the previous 100 years,” he writes.

“This time the economy still remains 3.3 per cent below its pre-crash level in 2008, while at the same stage of cycle (ie five years on from the crash) it was nearly FIVE per cent above the pre-crash level in the early 1980s, SIX per cent above pre-crash in the 1920s, SIX per cent above pre-crash again in the early 1930s, SEVEN per cent above pre-crash in the early 1970s, and nearly 10 PER CENT above pre-crash in the 1990s.” (Caps and italics mine)

“Come on, at this stage 0.7 per cent is to be apologised for – both historically and in comparison with other other economies emerging from recession this time round – Britain still three per cent down, but France one per cent down, Germany two per cent up, the US four per cent up and Canada six per cent up.”

The above stories emerged over the past couple of days. Look back over the rest of August and we have:

  • The revelation that the upcoming Lobbying Bill will do nothing to prevent professional lobbyists from influencing Parliament unduly, but will attack your right to campaign politically in “an outrageous attack on freedom of speech”.
  • The revelation that a ‘top ten’ list of benefit fraudsters, reported by right-wing newspapers, does not exist.
  • Information that the government may be corruptly supporting fracking because several of its members have stakes in fracking firms.
  • Home Office vans stirring up racism in London.
  • Conservative plans to abolish the human rights of everybody in the UK, in order to inflict a dangerous and exploitative regime on working people that will amount to slavery.
  • The revelation that recent attacks on the NHS for causing needless deaths have been blown out of proportion in order to make public opinion more receptive to further privatisation.
  • The revelation that the DWP is spending £1.3 million on extra staff who have been calculating the government’s flagship benefits cap – perhaps its only popular policy – because the computer system needed to do the job has not yet been built. Ministers had no intention of admitting this and the information only became public after it was discovered by somebody else.
  • And then there’s the fact that the fundamental claim of the Coalition government – that the financial crisis of five years ago happened because Labour overspent massively and mishandled the economy – was absolute and total groundless fabrication. Labour in fact handled the economy responsibly, even when the financial crisis hit.

That has to total more than 10 ways in which Labour could undermine the Coalition. All Mr Miliband has to do is open his mouth and tell people about them in ways that will be reported by the media.

And on that subject: If and when he does, and it is reported by the BBC, we can all be certain that right-wing commentators will claim that this is because the BBC is full of pinko left-wingers who support Labour. Let’s put that myth to rest as well.

A lecturer at Cardiff University has checked the facts and found that the BBC has a broadly right-wing bias. The study showed that the government of the day generally gets more airtime than anyone else (natural considering it is making policy and actually carrying out the business of government) but in reporting of immigration, the EU and religion, in 2007 Gordon Brown’s appearances on the BBC outnumbered David Cameron’s by less than two to one, while in 2012, Cameron’s outnumbered Ed Miliband’s by around four to one. The same ratios occurred for other prominent members of each party. When reporting of all topics is taken into account, Conservative politicians were featured more than 50 per cent more often than those from Labour in both 2007 AND 2012.

Going into the autumn Parliamentary session, Ed Miliband has a strong hand to play – if he has the stomach for it. And if any of the media try to suppress his arguments, he can just point to the evidence of right-wing bias and tell them they need to clean up their act just as much as the Coalition.

Unum, Atos, the DWP and the WCA; Who gets the blame for the biopsychosocial saga?

Mansel Aylward, former chief medical officer at the Department of Work and Pensions, now director of the (UnumProvident) Centre for Psychosocial and Disability Research at Cardiff University: Architect of misery?

Mansel Aylward, former chief medical officer at the Department of Work and Pensions, now director of the (UnumProvident) Centre for Psychosocial and Disability Research at Cardiff University: Architect of misery?

If we know anything at all about the Work Capability Assessment for sickness and disability benefits, we know that it doesn’t work. In fact, it kills. There is a wealth of evidence proving this, and if any readers are in doubt, please take a look at the other article I am publishing today, MPs tell their own Atos horror stories.

Much has been made of this fact, without properly – in my opinion – addressing why it doesn’t work. The apparent intention is an honourable one – to help people who have been ‘parked’ on disability benefits back into work, if it is now possible for them to take employment again, and to provide support for those who cannot work at all. What went wrong?

Let’s start at the beginning. The WCA is, at least nominally, based on the biopsychosocial model developed by George Engel. He wanted to broaden the way people think about illness, taking into account not only biological factors but psychological and social influences as well. He contended that these non-biological influences may interfere with a patient’s healing process.

The idea has been developed to suggest that, once identified, the non-biological factors inhibiting healing would be neutralised via a variety of support methods. Stressful events in a person’s life or environmental factors are acknowledged as having real effects on their illness, and it can be seen that this confers a certain amount of legitimacy on symptoms that are not currently explainable by medicine.

Engel stated, in 1961, “Many illnesses are largely subjective – at least until we as observers discover the parameters and framework within which we can also make objective observations. Hyperparathyroidism… was a purely subjective experience for many patients until we discovered what to look for and which instruments to use in the search.” He also warned that people engaged in research should “see what everyone else has seen and think what nobody else has thought” – as long as they don’t automatically assume that their new thought must be correct.

The Engels theory forms the basis of the system of insurance claims management adopted by US giant Unum when its bosses realised that their profits were being threatened by falling interest rates – meaning the company’s investments were losing value – and a rise in claims for “subjective illnesses” which had no clear biological markers – Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (ME), also known as Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS), Fibromyalgia, Chronic Pain, Multiple Sclerosis, Lyme Disease, even Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS).

As I wrote on Wednesday, Unum adapted the biopsychosocial model into a new medical examination that stripped it of its ‘bio’ and ‘social’ aspects in order to concentrate on the ‘psycho’ – with a relentless emphasis on an individual claimant’s beliefs and attitudes.

The new test aggressively disputed whether the claimant was ill, questioning illnesses that were “self-reported”, labelling some disabling conditions as “psychological”, and playing up the “subjective” nature of “mental” and “nervous” claims.   The thinking behind it was: Sickness is temporary. Illness is a behaviour – all the things that people say and do that express and communicate their feelings of being unwell. The degree of this behaviour is dependent on the attitudes and beliefs of the individual, as well as the social context and culture. Illness is a personal choice. In other words: “It’s all in the mind; these people are fit to work.” (as I mentioned in When big business dabbles with welfare; a cautionary tale)

Already we can see that this is a perversion of Professor Engel’s theory, using it to call an individual’s illness into question, not to treat it. Yet this is the model that was put forward to the Department of Social Security (later the Department of Work and Pensions) by its then-chief medical officer, Mansel Aylward, in tandem with Unum’s then-second vice president, John LoCascio.

Together they devised a new ‘All Work Test’ that would not actually focus on whether an individual could do their job; instead it would assess their general capacity to work through a series of ‘descriptors’. Decisions on eligibility for benefit would be made by non-medical adjudication officers within the government department, advised by doctors trained by Mr LoCascio. Claimants’ own doctors would be marginalised.

When New Labour came to power, Mansel Aylward was asked to change the test to reduce the flow of claimants with mental health problems. In came the ‘Personal Capability Assessment’, which again focused on what a person was able to do and how they could be supported back into work.

It is at this point that US IT corporation Atos Origin (now Atos Healthcare in the UK) became involved. The task of administrating the PCA was contracted out to a company which was taken over by Atos, meaning its employees – who had no medical training – could now assess claims for sickness and disability benefits, using the company’s Logical Integrated Medical Assessment tick-box computer system. These evaluations proved unreliable and the number of successful appeals against decisions skyrocketed.

So in 2003 the DWP introduced ‘Pathways to Work’, in which claimants – now labelled ‘customers’ – had to undertake a work-focused interview with a personal advisor. If they weren’t screened out by the interview, they would go on to mandatory monthly interviews where they would be encouraged to return to work and discuss work-focused activity. I can assure readers, from personal experience with Mrs Mike, that this activity remains a prominent part of the DWP’s sickness and disability benefit policy.

Mansel Aylward is no longer at the DWP, though. In 2004 he was appointed director of the UnumProvident Centre for Psychosocial and Disability Research at Cardiff University (it has since dropped the company title from its name). Was this as a reward for services rendered in getting Unum and its practices into the heart of the UK government?

Let’s have a look at some of the ‘descriptors’ that are being used to determine a claimant’s – sorry, customer’s – fitness for work in what is now called the ‘Work Capability Assessment’. I am grateful to Helen Goodman, Labour MP for Bishop Auckland, who provided this information during yesterday’s debate on the Atos WCA in the House of Commons. She said a person who…

“Cannot mount or descend two steps unaided by another person even with the support of a handrail”;

“Cannot, for the majority of the time, remain at a work station, either…standing unassisted by another person…or…sitting…for more than 30 minutes, before needing to move away in order to avoid significant discomfort or exhaustion”

“Cannot pick up and move a one litre carton full of liquid”;

“Cannot use a pencil or pen to make a meaningful mark”;

“Cannot use a suitable keyboard or mouse”;

“Is unable to navigate around unfamiliar surrounding, without being accompanied by another person, due to sensory impairment”;

“Is at risk of loss of control leading to extensive evacuation of the bowel and/or voiding of the bladder, sufficient to require cleaning and a change in clothing, not able to reach a toilet quickly”;

“At least once a month, has an involuntary episode of lost or altered consciousness resulting in significantly disrupted awareness or concentration”;

“Has an epileptic fit once a fortnight”;

“Cannot learn anything beyond a simple task, such as setting an alarm clock”;

“Has reduced awareness of everyday hazards leading to a significant risk of…injury to self or others; or…damage to property or possessions such that they frequently require supervision”;

“Cannot cope with minor planned change” such as a change to lunchtime;

“Is unable to get to a specified place with which they are familiar, without being accompanied by another person”

… is “fit for work”.

A person in the following category is also deemed fit for work, if: “Engagement in social contact with someone unfamiliar to the claimant is always precluded due to difficulty relating to others or significant distress experienced by the individual.”

Kate Green, Labour MP for Stretford and Urmston, added: “My constituents told me categorically last week that they believe that the whole system was deliberately designed and operated to trick them — to make them incriminate themselves and to catch them out.

“They firmly believe that the system is deliberately designed, not to assess and then help them into work if they are fit for it, but simply to stop paying benefits wherever possible.

“There are far too many instances of trickery and misleading people and of distorting what they have done, said and reported and drawing conclusions from that. That is happening far too often.

“It is an absolute disgrace that we should run a public assessment process in such a discredited way.”

It seems to be a result of Professor Aylward’s work that the main influence on government welfare reform has been a perversion of a perversion of a theory that has not been shown to work. Authentic evidence is disregarded by those in power, who clearly continue to persecute the sick while feeding the profits of private concerns.

I wonder what he would have to say, if he were to be confronted by the evidence of what his policies have done to the sick and disabled of this country – as spelled out, in the House of Commons, by MPs from many parties.

Afterthought: It should be noted that Professor Aylward is on record as having expressed doubts about the Work Capability Assessment and the current system, as run by the government, with the caveat that he has not been involved for several years.

He told the Black Triangle Campaign: “I will make myself aware … but I think that I’m a man of integrity … and if I think that the Work Capability Assessment … test or whatever … is not proper … I will speak out against it.”

In the light of what happened while he was at the DWP, I leave it to readers to judge whether he will.