Tag Archives: cheat

Were the Tories complicit in the great Covid-19 maternity pay dodge – or just incompetent as usual?

Cheated? If this (left) was a working mother who was pregnant in March, then it’s possible the government has colluded with her employer to cheat her out of her maternity pay.

Thousands of pregnant women may have been cheated out of maternity pay because the Tory government didn’t act fast enough to prevent employers from doing it.

The government changed rules in April, to ensure pregnant women and expectant fathers did not lose out on maternity/paternity pay if they had been furloughed on 80 per cent of their normal wage and had seen their pay fall below £120 a week (the cut-off point for wages below which the benefit isn’t payable).

But the same government imposed lockdown in March, meaning dodgy employers had a window of opportunity to put expectant mothers on a lower rate of pay that would eliminate their entitlement to 39 weeks of maternity pay worth thousands of pounds.

Pregnant women were classed as clinically vulnerable. They should have been sent home on full pay, but research by the Labour Party shows many were put on Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) instead.

That is set at £95.85 per week, meaning any mother-to-be who has spent eight weeks shielding on that rate of pay would automatically miss out on maternity pay.

Sneaky, isn’t it?

Labour is calling for the regulations to be changed to ensure that people who were wrongly put on SSP in this way do not miss out on their maternity payments.

And the Tory government is refusing.

The Department for Work and Pensions is saying that anybody who has been affected in this way is welcome to take their case to an employment tribunal.

This will just gum up the tribunal system for no very good reason, and I can’t conceive of any good reason a government department would want to do that.

So we come to the question in the headline: were the Tories incompetent in failing to close this loophole in employment practice? Or were they complicit in helping employers cheat thousands of parents out of thousands of pounds?

Incompetence would be bad enough.

But from where I’m sitting, the Tories are guilty of something much worse.

Source: Pregnant women wrongly sent home on sick pay during pandemic, Labour says | Coronavirus outbreak | The Guardian

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Tories have rigged the rules to reach 100,000 coronavirus test target, source claims

Don’t believe it: apparently the BBC has not been told the Tories have rigged the rules because that was the only way they could pretend to meet their target. It will include tests the government has sent – or even only promised to send.

Once again, it seems the Conservative government has cheated in order to claim a victory in its handling of the coronavirus.

The BBC might say the Tories will have reached their target of 100,000 tests per day by the end of April, but it seems they had to change their own rules to do it.

So for April 30, the number of tests counted will include those that have been sent off but not carried out, and those that the government has only agreed to mail out. These may cover as many as half the tests counted.

Here is the evidence from the Health Service Journal:

Previously, a test would be counted once the sample had been processed in laboratories. But this definition has been changed in the last few days, a senior source told HSJ.

The Department of Health and Social Care is now including tests that have been posted or delivered to people’s homes in its figures. This means tests which are sent to people are counted before the recipient has provided and returned their sample to a laboratory.

HSJ understands that up to 50,000 of the tests that will be reported as having taken place on 30 April will actually represent the mailing or the agreeing to mail a home testing kit.

The source told HSJ that work to achieve the 100,000 tests per day had been “manic” and that the health and social care secretary Matt Hancock was “obsessed” with reaching the target. “They are trying every trick in the book,” the source said.

“They had to get the permanent secretary at DHSC (Chris Wormald) to agree to a change in the counting process.

“We’re now counting a home test as tests which have been sent to people’s homes.”

So it seems the Tories have failed yet again. They haven’t reached the target of 100,000 tests carried out per day.

Let’s see if they lie about it in the daily briefing…

And will their supine right-wing mass media let them off?

Source: Revealed: How government changed the rules to hit 100,000 tests target | News | Health Service Journal

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Guest post: Why are politicians determined to honour a corrupted referendum?

This is a question that has bothered me considerably so I am delighted to host Tony O’Malley’s article asking why our political parties are determined to ignore the “lies, misrepresentations, cheating, illegality and probably criminality” of the 2016 EU referendum.

He says he understands left-wing members of the Labour Party have advocated that it is time to “move on”.

The problem is that we can’t. The whole of the UK is in stalemate over the issue.

Perhaps the reason for that is the insistence that we accept a corrupted result and “move on”, despite knowing that doing so will harm us.

Here’s Mr O’Malley [all boldings are mine]:

I have always considered myself a passionate believer in socialism, the internationalism of the Labour movement and Jeremy Corbyn.

I am also a litigation solicitor, who is now ‘retired’ due to various disabilities and health issues. In a prior career, I was a Registered General & Mental Nurse. I had been a member of the governing body of a major independent trades union & professional organisation (RCN), and I had the privilege of being the first ever elected U.K. President of the European Nursing Students Organisation. I have always fought tirelessly for justice for nurses, and especially for student nurses, as I consider them the future of a most noble profession and central to the delivery of high quality care and compassion in our renowned health service.

I voted Remain in the 2016 referendum. For me, it was an easy choice, though I did recognise that much institutional and policy reform was likely to be required if the EU, and the multiplicity of it’s constituent parts was to function better for the people of our continent, and thrive going forward. For quite some time now, I have been raising issues and queries with Jeremy Corbyn, Labour, Jennie Formby, Keir Starmer, and others. These many digital communications have sought early answers to the question of what was our party’s position with regard to the disturbing findings of the UK Electoral Commission about the running, result and supervision of the 2016 EU referendum. Sadly, I have not yet received any responses whatsoever, to any of my many attempts to engage in good faith with Labour politicians and officials who need to explain to me how political expediency now appears to have become so legitimate.

Whilst certain aspects of the actions by Leave campaign groups still remain under investigation by the National Crime Agency, there is already ample evidence in the public domain which reveals that the referendum result cannot be seen as the ‘will of the people’, because of the lies, misrepresentations, cheating, illegality and probably criminality which infested the whole sorry exercise. The courts have stated that, had the referendum not been legally constructed as being that of an ‘advisory’ referendum only, then they could have overturned the result because of the many serious concerns that have already been expressed and which would have been anathema to our long-standing principles of democracy and fair play.

David Cameron’s Conservative government really messed up when they committed, in a leaflet, to honouring the referendum result, when no such power for them to do so existed within the legal structure of the plebiscite.

In all other aspects of our society, we firmly and consistently adhere to the ancient principle that ‘cheats should not prosper’. The penalties for cheating in sport, business, academic testing and in many other areas of human endeavour, generally involve the complete loss of any advantage that the cheater obtained through their disreputable actions. In sport, for example, the winner’s medal would be forfeited if their performance could be shown to have been enhanced by illicit substances or done by any other breach of the rules. If I cheat in a college or school exam, then it should reasonably be expected that I do not receive the benefit that such cheating had given rise to! Nobody would realistically object to a race, match or other competition being re-run, or the prize being awarded to a non-cheater, if cheating was considered to have polluted the integrity of the initial event. This universal reaction is so uncontentious that it barely merits further debate.

Why is it then, when it comes to the widespread cheating and illegality that has been revealed in respect of the 2016 EU referendum, that politicians, the MSM and large sections of our civil society, can choose to close their eyes, and discard their moral compasses on the basis of shallow and temporary political expediency?

I have sadly witnessed a number of voices on the left of our political spectrum recently stating that it is time to ‘move on’ in respect of this unresolved issue. This response has shocked me to my core. If the Labour movement doesn’t stand for justice, then I’m afraid it doesn’t stand for very much!

How would the Hillsborough families, the Grenfell families, the Windrush families, the Orgreave families, the Palestinians and more, have reacted to the statement that it was ‘time to move on’, when their grievances and quest for justice remained unresolved after the long passage of time?

The truth is that it can never be acceptable to sacrifice our core beliefs, as we apparently appear to be doing in this shameful situation. Once you let that genie out of the bottle, it can can never be returned there. A precedent becomes set, that in certain circumstances we can give a nod and a wink to the flouting of the rule of law.

That abrogation of our core beliefs and principles will no doubt visit us again, and again, in forms not yet identified, but with potential unfathomable consequences for the Labour movement and our society.


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Found: The book that helps the government smear the sick as ‘malingerers’

 

Denied benefit: This is the late Karen Sherlock. Her illnesses included chronic kidney disease, a heart condition, vitamin B12 deficiency, anaemia, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, underactive thyroid, asthma, diabetic autonomic neuropathy, gastropaeresis, and diabetic retinopathy. She died on June 8, 2012, of a suspected heart attack, after the Department for Work and Pensions stopped her Employment and Support Allowance. John LoCascio would describe her as a malingerer. Considering the list of her illnesses, how would you describe him?

Denied benefit: This is the late Karen Sherlock. Her illnesses included chronic kidney disease, a heart condition, vitamin B12 deficiency, anaemia, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, underactive thyroid, asthma, diabetic autonomic neuropathy, gastropaeresis, and diabetic retinopathy. She died on June 8, 2012, of a suspected heart attack, after the Department for Work and Pensions stopped her Employment and Support Allowance.
John LoCascio would describe her as a malingerer. Considering the list of her illnesses, how would you describe him?

Some of our least favourite people contributed to a book entitled Malingering and Illness Deception in 2003, that seems to provide much of the ammunition used by the current government to demonise claimants of disability and incapacity benefits.

One of the relevant chapters is ‘Malingering, insurance medicine and medicalization of fraud’ by John LoCascio of the criminal American insurance giant Unum, that has been heavily involved in British social security work since the 1990s.

The other is ‘Origins, practice and limitations of Disability Assessment Medicine’ by Mansel Aylward, the Unum puppet who was formerly chief medical officer at the Department for Work and Pensions.

These are the two charmers who put forward a perversion of Professor George Engels’ biopsychosocial theory that calls an individual’s illness into question, rather than treating it, to the then-Department of Social Security back in the 1990s.

The assertion that it was a tool to reduce claimant numbers can be proved by the fact that Mr Aylward was asked to change the test used to determine whether a claimant deserved benefit, in order to reduce the flow of claimants with mental health problems. When politicians ask for specific results, you know impartiality has gone out the window!

Look at the title of the book: It labels incapacity and disability claimants as “malingerers”, defined in the book’s first chapter as those who engage in “the intentional production of false or exaggerated symptoms motivated by external incentives” – in this case, the desire to receive state benefits.

This fits with what we know of the Unum-influenced benefit system already – that claimants are to be treated as if they are trying to cheat the system, unless they can prove to a state-provided official (not necessarily medically-trained) – who has been briefed to find ways to prevent them receiving the benefit – that they are unwell. Their own doctor’s reports are ignored.

Let’s look at LoCascio’s chapter. He starts by suggesting that “disability-related programmes in both the public and private sectors are faced with increasing numbers of disability claims despite improved health care and job design (the disability paradox).”

Already we are in the realm of fantasy as he fails to mention the logical reasons for these increases, which include poor implementation of health and safety measures in the workplace under ‘light touch’ regulation, and the discovery of new medical conditions whose causes are unknown and which require protracted study before they are understood – all made possible by the “improved health care” to which Mr LoCascio refers.

Amusingly, LoCascio also claims that the commercial insurance industry “is neither medically nor legally driven. It is driven by societal imperatives”. What a whopper! Commercial insurance is driven by the desire for money. That is why his company has a criminal conviction to its name – it changed its medical procedures to make it almost impossible for anyone to claim successfully that their Unum health insurance policy had matured.

Much of the remainder of his chapter attempts to convince the reader that the lack of data available – to support claims that a medical patient is “malingering” – should not be used as evidence that they really are ill. He asks the reader to believe that three questions should be asked: Did the patient understand the medical issues? Are the patient’s reported and actual behaviours consistent through time and across observers? And are the functional capacities in question (the patient’s abilities) well-defined?

What a cheat.

It seems perfectly likely that any patient will understand the medical issues informing their condition. However, in a Work Capability Assessment it is common for the assessor to have a completely different opinion of what those issues are. This discrepancy allows the assessor to find fault with the benefit claim.

The second question supports evidence of those who have read assessment reports claiming that patients did not display the behaviours expected of a person with their condition – one famous example was that the patient was not “rocking back and forth”. The simple reason for this was that their condition did not display in that manner but the assessor – who was not an expert in this field of medicine – did not know that because the only advice available was a biased screed from the Unum-influenced DWP.

The final question – are the functional capacities in question well-defined? – can be defeated with a simple, two-word counter-question: By whom?

Also of interest is the concept of ‘Functional Capacity’ (FC). LoCascio argues that a person should not be expected to be incapable of any type of work, just because they are incapable of one. His example is that a person limited to typing for 20 minutes due to forearm pain may be able to play piano for an hour. This is entirely possible but contradicts one of the quotations Mr LoCascio uses four pages previously: “The question of disease—that and nothing more—is the one for the physician to determine” (Drewy 1896). It is not the assessor’s job to dream up functions a claimant might be able to carry out and then discount a claim for benefits on the basis of that possibility. That is not evidence; it is fantasy.

All of the above questions are also rendered pointless by the simple fact that a claimant’s condition may be variable. LoCascio acknowledges this! However, he then goes right off the rails: “I favour a series of three questions: ‘Please describe a bad day. Please describe a good day. Please tell me how many good days and bad days you have in an average week.’ Armed with this knowledge about any particular symptom and the corresponding reduction in an FC, the medical resource can proceed to analyse the consistency of the history against the medical or observational data.”

That is an inaccurate assumption. When you are ill with (for example) fibromyalgia, there can be a huge range of difference between days. Sometimes Mrs Mike has seemed able to function almost normally (she can never walk far without suffering a huge amount of pain in the following days, as an example of why she only seems more able); other times she has been confined to the sofa for days on end in terrible pain for which medical science currently has no alleviation. At other times her condition may be anywhere between those extremes. Asking for a description of a good or bad day, or how many of these take place in an average week, is not only pointless – it hinders understanding of the condition.

“In conclusion,” LoCascio writes, “the most important product of the medical consultant is clear, credible, and defensible
documentation.” It seems strange, then, that the most clear, credible and defensible documents – those written by the patient’s doctor – are the first to be ignored in any Work Capability Assessment.

What we have here is a propaganda screed, riddled with inconsistencies and running against reason, that has been used to support the government’s position on sickness and disability benefits. As an argument in favour of current policy, it is worse than useless. In fact, it should be a tool for campaigners to use against that policy.

It tells us why a claimant who lives in agony every day should be outraged when assessors use LoCascio’s nonsense to explain away their pain.

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Three little pigs who are sticking their snouts in the trough to keep out the wolves

Caught out again: Grant Shapps is yet again having to justify his own shady behaviour.

Caught out again: Grant Shapps is yet again having to justify his own shady behaviour.

Here’s a story to get you irritated and annoyed on a hot summer’s day: Your Prime Minister, his Chancellor and the chairman of their political party have all found novel property-based cheats.

According to the Daily Mirror, David Cameron and George Osborne have done a secret deal with the taxman to cut thousands of pounds off the tax they pay while they are living in their famous grace-and-favour homes on Downing Street.

Under the change, which HM Revenue and Customs has buried deep in the small print of its accounts, Cameron is saving a minimum of £1,228 a year, while Osborne’s bill has more than halved, saving him £1,560 a year.

The Mirror points out that this means Osborne is paying just £23 a week and Cameron no more than £35 to live at Britain’s most exclusive address, while the average rent in the UK is £195.

The paper quotes Alex Hilton, director of pressure group Generation Rent, who mocked the top Tories with their election slogan from 2010: “We’re blatantly not all in it together if the residents of Downing Street can wangle themselves a nice bonus while ordinary families are seeing their rent go up by more than wages.”

Meanwhile Grant Shapps, the Tory co-chairman who hid his own shady business deals behind the false names ‘Michael Green’ and ‘Sebastian Fox’ for the first four years of his Parliamentary career, has been receiving campaign funds from a Conservative club that has not submitted a tax return since 2009.

Conservative Club (Hatfield) Ltd has been fined £3,000 by the Financial Conduct Authority for its failure to produce accounts or name its officers. Despite these issues, it seems the club has been entirely able to provide £140,000 to fund Shapps as a candidate in his Welwyn Hatfield constituency.

Shapps has claimed the club is not connected to his local Conservative Association, which is odd – because not only is it based in the same building, paying rent to the association, but its members are all counted as members of the Conservative Party as well.

Was Shapps among the Conservatives who justified last year’s Gagging Act by claiming it was vital that the public had transparency from their MPs?

And didn’t Cameron say his government would be the most transparent ever, in its affairs?

Liars. Pigs with their snouts in the trough, all of them.

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Miller resigns at last – now it is time to call in the police

Going (unpunished): Maria Miller has made a huge profit from her misuse of taxpayers' money while in public office. Now is the time for her to face a criminal investigation.

Going (unpunished): Maria Miller has made a huge profit from her misuse of taxpayers’ money while in public office. Now is the time for her to face a criminal investigation.

Maria Miller resigned as Culture Secretary today (Wednesday) – after nearly a week of hanging on by her fingernails in the hope that everyone would suddenly forget that she fraudulently claimed mortgage interest on a south London house that she wanted the authorities to believe was her second home (when in fact it was her parents’ first).

During that time she has managed to reignite public disgust at the many expenses scandals in which Parliamentarians have been revealed to have been involved since the Daily Telegraph first lifted the lid on them in 2009.

She has also managed to undermine public support for comedy Prime Minister David Cameron, whose continuing support for her has shown just how weak he must be. He needed Miller because she was a woman in a predominantly male Cabinet, state-educated in a mainly private-school Cabinet, and an avid supporter of Cameron himself in a government that is beginning to realise that he’s a dud. In supporting her, he showed just how precarious his hold on the leadership really is.

Of course, she also generated a huge amount of hatred towards herself. Remember, this is a person who used taxpayers’ money to pay for her parents’ house – a building which she subsequently sold for a profit of more than £1 million.

Miller is not the first Cabinet member to make a million with taxpayers’ cash either – stand up George Osborne, who formerly had us paying for a paddock, a house and other scraps of land in his Tatton constituency on which he falsely claimed expenses, saying they were vital for the performance of his duties as an MP. He later sold the lot for around £1 million, having spent not a single penny of his own on the property – it all came from the taxpayer.

Osborne was protected from prosecution by the Parliamentary Standards Authority – a body that appears not to be as independent as it claims.

Now is the time to report Miller to the police.

A Parliamentary inquiry is not the same as a criminal investigation and it is important for her case to be tested in a court of law. This woman was part of a government that has had no qualms about using the law to take taxpayers’ money away from people who needed state benefits in order to survive; now let us see how she fares when the law turns its attention to her.

Who’s up for it?

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Rogues turn government Twitter feed against Miller

Found on Facebook: Members of the public on all the main social media are queueing up to take a pop at former DWP minister and benefit fraudster Maria Miller. How long will David Cameron delay sacking her, and how weak will he seem by the time he gets round to it?

Found on Facebook: Members of the public on all the main social media are queueing up to take a pop at former DWP minister and benefit fraudster Maria Miller. How long will David Cameron delay sacking her, and how weak will he seem by the time he gets round to it?

In comparison to recent events in this saga, what follows is light relief.

A so-called “rogue” Twitter user commandeered a government feed to post satirical comments about the Maria Miller expenses scandal, yesterday evening. (Saturday)

The three tweets appeared on the Department for Culture, Media and Sport’s feed, where they were picked up and shared widely before government watchdogs had a chance to hush them up. The offending tweets have since been deleted from the DCMS feed.

“Seriously though guys which one of us hasn’t embezzled and cheated the taxpayer? #FreeMariaMiller,” ran the first tweet.

This was swiftly followed by one that claimed Miller, who falsely claimed more than £40,000 in mortgage interest payment for a south London house, saying it was her second home while her parents used it as their first, was “like a modern day Robin Hood, she robs the poor to help the rich”.

Miller, who made more than £1 million in profit when she sold the house in February, was ordered to pay back just £5,800 and apologise to Parliament for failing to co-operate with an investigation. The final rogue tweet asked: “Is @Maria_MillerMP guilty? We will let the public decide.”

Unfortunately it seems that the Conservative Party has rallied around the (confirmed) criminal in its ranks and has no intention of allowing British justice anywhere near Miller. They’re all in it together, you see.

That is why Grant Shapps, who knows a thing or three about false claims himself (ask him about his other persona, ‘Michael Green’) wants to “draw a line” under the affair – and why our pitifully weak comedy Prime Minister David Cameron wants to “leave it there”.

It seems the DCMS is also happy to “leave it there”. A spokeswoman has confirmed it was investigating the hacking but, when asked if Twitter or the police had been contacted, admitted: “All I’ve done is change the password.”

A Parliamentary investigation cleared Miller of using public money to provide for her parents, in spite of all the evidence that this was precisely what she had been doing, including a recent revelation that the size of energy bills for the house indicated that somebody had been using it as their main, rather than second, home.

The affair has set off a public outcry, with calls for Miller to resign or be sacked, and for the former Department for Work and Pensions minister to face the same criminal justice system as anyone else accused of wrongly taking taxpayers’ money – like a benefit cheat.

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DWP’s shame: Facts reveal how ministers duped the press

Lest we forget: We know that, on average, 73 people died every week between January and November 2011 - after undergoing the DWP work capability assessment administered by Atos. Who knows how many are dying now?

Lest we forget: We know that, on average, 73 people died every week between January and November 2011 – after undergoing the DWP work capability assessment administered by Atos. Who knows how many are dying now?

Today the DWP finally released its press release claiming that huge numbers of people who wanted Employment and Support Allowance have been found fit for work instead.

Interestingly, the DWP story differs from that published by the BBC, even though the corporation must have used a version of the press release provided to it in advance.

In the BBC story, released on Saturday, “More than a million others withdrew their claims after interviews” – but the DWP press notice, released today, claims “More than a million others withdrew their claims before reaching a face-to-face assessment”.

In addition, the DWP release features a long section on its Disability Confident roadshow, and there is another statistic which claims that the proportion of disabled people in work has reached 45 per cent.

Disability Confident, designed “to encourage more employers to hire disabled people”, “to showcase the talents of disabled people and highlight their tremendous value to the British economy” is, on the face of it, a good idea.

But I wonder if it isn’t a smokescreen to hide how the DWP is pushing thousands of disabled people into saying they are self-employed and taking tax credits rather than ESA, in order to fudge the figures and make it seem as though good work is being done.

Vox Political reported on this before ,and it is worth adding that the BBC itself ran the original report that work advisers were pushing the jobless into self-employment.

Oh, what a tangled web we weave, when first we practise to deceive…

Of course, the best source of ESA-related statistics is on the iLegal site where the figures behind the press release have been picked apart by an expert who doesn’t have a vested interest in saving ministerial face.

They show that an average of 83 per cent of the 1,078,200 Incapacity claimants who were assessed qualified for ESA between October 2012 and May last year, while 88 per cent of the 1,332,300 ‘repeatedly assessed’ were re-qualifying.

While the DWP and the BBC have claimed 1.8 million people have magically disappeared from the Incapacity/ESA claimant count, the DWP’s own figures confirm that overall numbers have reduced by only 156,630 since May 2010.

The iLegal article makes it clear that “the claimant count is far from a static number; each month thousands of claimants come on and off all benefits”. But it seems clear that the BBC/DWP figure is a conflated total, simply adding up all new claims – rather than claimants – from 2008 onwards.

This is exactly why UK Statistics Authority chief Andrew Dilnot chastised the government after the Conservative Party released an almost-identical press release last year, using then-current (but still inaccurate) figures and not mentioning Disability Confident.

Let’s go back to the number of people found ‘fit for work’ after assessment. Has everybody forgotten the hammering that the government took during a debate on Atos’ handling of the Work Capability Assessment, exactly a year and a week ago today? If you have, don’t worry – you can read all about it here.

The debate demonstrated time after time that the work capability assessment, as devised by the DWP’s Conservative ministerial team and run by its employees at Atos, was not fit for purpose; that the overwhelming majority of those who had been found ‘fit for work’ were nothing of the sort; and that “this is a government that is perfectly happy with a system that is throwing thousands of sick and disabled people to the wolves”.

The government refused to listen. Then-Employment minister Mark Hoban (standing in, conspicuously, for Esther McVey, who was minister for the disabled at the time) said the independent reviews conducted by Professor Malcolm Harrington had identified areas of improvement and appropriate steps were being taken.

This claim was false. Out of 25 recommendations made by Professor Harrington in his year one review alone, almost two thirds were not fully and successfully implemented.

The government also claimed, repeatedly, that Prof Harrington had supported the migration of Incapacity Benefit claimants to ESA. When fellow blogger Sue Marsh contacted him for confirmation, he responded: “I NEVER—repeat–NEVER agreed to the IB migration. I would have preferred that it be delayed but by the time I said that, the political die had been cast. I then said that i would review progress of that during my reviews. The decision was political. I could not influence it. IS THAT CRYSTAL CLEAR?”

I’d say so – to everybody but the Coalition government.

Now:

A good reporter at the BBC would have had all this information to hand. They would have known that the work capability assessment was extremely controversial and had been shown, many times, to be unfit for purpose. They would have known that the government had been slapped down by the UK Statistics Authority after releasing an almost-identical press release last year. They absolutely should have known that other reporters in the same organisation had revealed that the DWP had been pushing disabled people into claiming they were self-employed in an effort to cook the books.

With all that information to hand, it begs the question: Why did they then go ahead with the propagandised misrepresentation of the facts that appeared on the BBC News website on Saturday?

And, before reporters at Business Standard (“A million Britons found lying for illness benefits“?), the Belfast Telegraph, International Business Times UK, Metro, The Times, Channel 4 News, Press TV, Descrier, SME Times, AoI Money, The Mirror, Gloucester Citizen, Huffington Post, Evening Standard, and especially the Daily Mail, whose article was hysterical in both senses of the term, allow me to ask…

What’s your excuse?

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Coalition spins a li(n)e about disabled people and work; media ignore it

workprogramme1

Is it possible that the news media are finally learning to examine Coalition press releases critically, rejecting those that don’t stand up to scrutiny?

There’s a crumb of hope in the fact that the latest disinformation about disabled people has received a very poor pick-up in the press. This is probably because it is easily-disproved nonsense.

The release claims “More than 500 disabled people a week supported into work or training”, which is a grandiose claim when one remembers the trouble suffered by the DWP in doing just that, only a few months ago.

According to the text, the DWP reckons more than 78,000 “opportunities for disabled people” have been created since 2011, where they have either found a job or “taken a significant step towards the workplace”.

But the logic falls down when you get to the quotation from Sir Stelios Haji-Ioannou, founder of Easyjet. He said: “Already over 100,000 disabled entrepreneurs employ an equivalent number of people in their business start-ups.”

Firstly, in the light of other quoted statistics that say 21,000 (of the 78,000 initially mentioned) have been on work experience placement, while more than 10,000 more started in sector-based work academies, one must wonder where 53,000 of the people mentioned by Sir Stelios came from.

Secondly, did you notice that he let the cat out of the bag (so to speak)? “Business start-ups”, is it?

Didn’t we all discover, via a BBC 5 Live investigation back in February last year, that job seekers on the work programme were being encouraged to declare that they were self-employed – when they aren’t – in order to get more money in tax credits than they would on Jobseekers’ Allowance?

This is just the same scam, applied to people on disability benefits like the work-related activity group of Employment and Support Allowance. Once their year on ESA runs out, they have a choice of going on Jobseekers’ Allowance (which is problematic as they cannot say they are fit for work), going without benefits altogether, or taking the self-employed cheat.

Some of them might be working but it seems likely that the vast majority aren’t.

Meanwhile, the government gets to fiddle the unemployment statistics to make it seem that the Work Programme is succeeding and more people have jobs.

It is right that the news media should not promote this blatant false accounting. Instead (as Elizabeth Caldow states in the comment column below) they should be exposing it for the outright fabrication that it is.

There should be a law against it.

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Information Commissioner to decide about DWP deaths

The price we pay for a Conservative-led Department for Work and Pensions: While ministers stall demands for information, the death toll increases.

The price we pay for a Conservative-led Department for Work and Pensions: While ministers stall demands for information, the death toll increases. [Image: Eric Hart]

This will be no surprise to anyone:

The Department for Work and Pensions has stuck to its boneheaded reason for refusing to say how many people have died because of its policies.

Readers may remember (it is now a long time ago!) that Vox Political submitted a Freedom of Information request to the Department, back in June, asking for details of the number of Incapacity Benefit and Employment and Support Allowance claimants who have died in 2012 – including deaths of those who had been thrown off-benefit altogether, if such information was held.

This request was refused on the specious grounds that it was “vexatious”. The DWP officer making the refusal cited as his reason, not any part of the request itself, but the last line of the blog entry about it, stating “I strongly urge you to do the same. There is strength in numbers”.

The DWP decision-maker used this to claim that the request “is designed to harass DWP in the belief that encouraging others to repeat a request which they know has already been raised will affect the outcome of that request” and stated very clearly that this was “the stated aim of the exercise”.

In other words, the Department decided to squirm out of its responsibility by making a false claim about something that was not even part of the request.

A demand for reconsideration was soon wending its way on electric wings to the DWP, pointing out a few home truths from the Information Commissioner’s guidance notes on “Dealing with vexatious requests”, refuting the position the Department had chosen to take.

The guidance states that a public authority must have reason to believe that several different requesters are “acting in concert as part of a campaign to disrupt the organisation”. In this instance, “acting in concert” does not cover a sentence at the end of a blog entry suggesting that people who feel the same way about an issue might like to do something about it. That is perverse.

The guidance also states that “it is important to bear in mind that sometimes a large number of individuals will independently ask for information on the same subject because an issue is of media or local interest”. Media interest must include mention in a blog that is read up to 100,000 times a month, and the DWP decision-maker had clearly failed to recognise that people can only take action on a issue when they know it exists and have been told there is something they can do!

The reconsideration demand also quotes examples of evidence an authority might cite in support of its case that a request is vexatious, such as whether other requesters have been copied in or mentioned in email correspondence – in other words, can it be proved that these co-conspirators are working together? Nobody involved with Vox Political knows of any other request made “in concert” with our own, and the direct question to the DWP, “Have you received such correspondence?” went unanswered. We must therefore assume they have not.

ICO guidance also states that a website must make an explicit reference to a campaign. Vox Political did not.

The only logical conclusion is that the request – and any others that followed it – were “genuinely directed at gathering information” – according to ICO guidance. In that circumstance, the only reason the DWP could legally use to refuse the request is that it would “cause a disproportionate and unjustified level of disruption, irritation or distress” – which it cannot prove as the information is available to it, and would only have to be collated once. After that, distribution to anyone requesting it would be easy, via email.

The response that arrived today was written by someone “of a senior grade to the person who dealt with your request previously” but who appears to be so ashamed of their own response that they have failed to legitimise it with their own name.

This person stated: “The guidance on vexatious requests encompasses a range of activities including requestors [sic] acting in concert to repeatedly request the same information. Thus I uphold the original decision.”

No information was provided to support this claim, therefore it is irrelevant and the DWP is in breach of the Freedom of Information Act.

The matter will now go to the Information Commissioner who will, in time, make mincemeat of the DWP arguments.

But it will take time.

This is what the Department wants, of course – time. Time to continue with its dangerous policies, which are deeply harmful to the unemployed, the sick and the disabled and have caused many, many thousands of deaths. It seems clear that ministers want this… ‘social cleansing’, you could call it… to continue for as long as possible and do as much harm as possible.

Curiously, the Director of Public Prosecutions may have just shot them in the foot.

The DPP, Keir Starmer QC, has declared that anyone found to be cheating on benefits in England and Wales could face longer jail terms of up to 10 years, after he issued guidance that they should be prosecuted under the Fraud Act rather than social security laws.

He clearly hasn’t considered the possible advantages of this for people who would otherwise face an uncertain future of destitution, worsening health and even imminent death if their benefits are refused. To them, a term in jail might seem like absolute luxury.

What greater incentive could there be for someone to lie extravagantly about their situation on a benefit form than the possibiity of losing everything, including their life, if they don’t get the money? If the alternatives were imprisonment or death, what do you think a person on the danger line would take?

This blog therefore predicts an increase in the UK prison intake due to benefit fraud.

And here’s the funny part: Mr Starmer said it was time for a “tough stance” because the cost of benefit fraud to the nation is £1.9 billion (he was wrong; in fact it’s only £1.2 billion, unless new figures have been released).

One year’s ESA costs the state around £5772, while a year’s imprisonment costs £37,163 – in other words, prison costs the taxpayer six times as much as the benefit. At that price, the DPP could imprison only 51,126 people before the cost of imprisoning them exceeds the cost of fraud – according to his own figures.

Of the 2.5 million people claiming ESA, the DWP is busy throwing 70 per cent off-benefit – that’s 1.7 million people who could justifiably be accused of benefit fraud and imprisoned. Total cost to the taxpayer: £63,177,100,000 per year.

Meanwhile, £12 billion in benefits goes unclaimed every year.

It seems this Conservative-led Coa-lamity of a government can’t even get its sums right.