Tag Archives: condition

Coronavirus: are people with disabilities being left to starve – in breach of the Tory government’s pledge?

Checkout: it seems the Tory governent may be encouraging people with disabilities to check out of LIFE, after promising to arrange supermarkets to deliver groceries to them and then reneging on it.

Claims that some people with disabilities could slip through a government safety net and be left to starve are understated. Where is the safety net?

According to Disability News Servicethe government announced that 1.5 million disabled people had been categorised as “extremely vulnerable” to the virus and would receive regular deliveries of basic groceries if they do not have their own support network of friends and family.

The list includes those with severe respiratory conditions, many people on immunosuppression therapies, and those with certain cancers.

DNS quoted a disabled Baptist minister who raised concerns that people with disabilities who were not on the government’s list would be left to starve to death.

But here’s my concern:

I have family members who qualify for this help – according to the criteria listed by the government – and haven’t heard a single word about regular grocery deliveries for them.

It raises the question: who actually is on this mythical list of people who qualify for such deliveries? Who compiled it? Does it exist at all?

Or is it as fake as the government’s claims about personal protective equipment, coronavirus tests and ventilator supplies?

Remember: the government has ordered the NHS to deny coronavirus treatment to anybody with the disabilities in its list, if they contract it.

This Site would be keen to hear from anybody who has been contacted about receiving deliveries of supplies from supermarkets – on grounds that their health condition qualifies them for it.

Let’s find out the truth of this.

Source: Coronavirus: Blind Baptist minister fears disabled people could be left to starve – Disability News Service

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Coronavirus: Medical groups unite to condemn bulk ‘Do Not Revive’ plan for sick and disabled people


This should be seen as absolute proof that it has been a policy to deny coronavirus care to people with long-term illnesses and disabilities.

This Writer has noted some scepticism in the responses to yesterday’s article about the GP practice in Wales that wrote to people with ongoing medical conditions, telling them that equipment used to treat coronavirus is being rationed and they were not likely to be treated if they contracted the disease. Instead, the letter asked them to sign a form directing medical staff not to attempt to resuscitate them if they succumbed to the virus.

My own attitude to this is clear: as we have all paid into the National Health Service, throughout our lives, we all deserve the best possible care available from it. I asked: do politicians and royalty get preferential treatment? If so, why?

Also, just because a person has an underlying condition, that doesn’t mean they won’t be able to shrug off the virus, given the same help that is provided to everybody else.

Now the British Medical Association, the Care Provider Alliance, the Care Quality Commission and the Royal College of General Practitioners have released a joint statement, saying more or less the same.

Here’s the statement:

It reads [boldings mine]:

The importance of having a personalised care plan in place, especially for older people, people who are frail or have other serious conditions has never been more important than it is now during the Covid-19 Pandemic.

Where a person has capacit, as defined by the Mental Capacity Act, this advance care plan should always be discussed with them directly. Where a person lacks the capacity to engage with this process then it is reasonable to produce such a plan following best interest guidelines with the involvement of family members or other appropriate individuals.

Such advance care plans may result in the consideration and completion of a Do Not Attempt Resuscitation (DNAR) or ReSPECT form. It remains essential that these decisions are made on an individual basis. The General Practitioner continues to have a central role in the consideration, completion and signing of DNAR forms for people in community settings.

It is unacceptable for advance care plans, with or without DNAR form completion to be applied to groups of people of any description. These decisions must continue to be made on an individual basis according to need.

It’s saying that any policy requiring medical staff to write off any individual – of any age and condition – as untreatable without discussing their situation with them is wrong.

If the government has handed that down to healthcare providers as a requirement, then it is wrong.

If anybody has already died as a result of such a policy, then those responsible must be identified and must pay the appropriate penalty.

This is real. It is important. It could be deadly. Don’t let the Tories get away with it.

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Coalition government condemned over sanctions regime that tortures children

A poster against benefits sanctions in Salford.

Around 100,000 children were affected by benefit sanctions between the beginning of April 2013 and the end of March 2014, according to a new report.

In the same period, nearly seven million weeks’ worth of sanctions were handed out to benefit claimants.

The data, obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, will feature in this evening’s episode of Channel 4’s Dispatches, entitled Britain’s Benefits Crackdown.

The report – Time to Rethink Benefit Sanctions – is published today by the Baptist Union of Great Britain, Church Action on Poverty, the Church in Wales, the Church of Scotland, the Methodist Church and the United Reformed Church. It contains new data on the severity and length of sanctions under ‘welfare reform’, and on how sanctions affect vulnerable groups such as children and those with mental health problems.

It features the stories of people like James [not his real name] who have had their benefits sanctioned: “During the first three weeks of my sanction I continued to look for work as I was required to.

“By the fourth week, however, I was exhausted, unwell and no longer had it in me. I was not eating as I had no food and was losing a lot of weight. I told the Jobcentre I was unwell through not eating, but was sanctioned for another three months for not looking for work properly,” he added.

According to The Void, Job Centres are being awarded special 'sheriff stars' for meeting sanction targets (that's right - the sanction targets that the DWP keeps insisting don't exist, even after being presented with the proof). Link: http://johnnyvoid.wordpress.com/2014/12/21/sandra-gives-the-game-away-jobcentres-given-sheriffs-stars-for-hitting-benefit-sanction-targets/

According to The Void, Job Centres are being awarded special ‘sheriff stars’ for meeting sanction targets (that’s right – the sanction targets that the DWP keeps insisting don’t exist, even after being presented with the proof). Link: http://johnnyvoid.wordpress.com/2014/12/21/sandra-gives-the-game-away-jobcentres-given-sheriffs-stars-for-hitting-benefit-sanction-targets/

“Those who already have the most difficult lives are those most likely to be sanctioned,” said Paul Morrison, public issues policy adviser for the Methodist Church and one of the authors of the report. “Sanctions impact disproportionately on young people, care leavers, homeless people, single parents, the mentally ill and those with long term illness. This system causes problems for the very people that most need help.

“But sanctions don’t just have a financial impact. The people we’ve spoken to have told us of the shame, demoralisation and loss of self-worth caused by this system. As Christians we believe that everyone is loved, valued and made in the image of God, and we have a responsibility to challenge any structure or system that undermines that dignity.”

The Churches are calling for a full and independent review of the regime and for urgent reform of the hardship payments system to avoid the deliberate imposition of hunger.

This is worth highlighting – these churches consider the government to be deliberately forcing hunger on people. Doesn’t that run against Article 3 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, as enshrined in the UK’s Human Rights Act? Human rights campaigning organisation Liberty says this is the case, with this web page quoting a case study that includes “food and drink deprivation”.

In the meantime, they are urging the Government to suspend all sanctions against families with children and those suffering from mental health problems. Most importantly, they say, there needs to be a change of culture, from one of enforcement and punishment to one of assistance and support.

“If you commit a crime, no criminal court in the UK is allowed to make you go hungry as a punishment,” added Niall Cooper, Director of Church Action on Poverty. “But if you’re late for an appointment at the Jobcentre, they can remove all your income and leave you unable to feed yourself or your family for weeks at a time.

Most people in this country would be shocked if they knew that far from providing a safety net, the benefit sanctions policy is currently making thousands of people destitute. This policy must be reviewed urgently.”

The Archbishop of Wales, Dr Barry Morgan, said: “The findings of this report are disturbing. It exposes a system that is harsh in the extreme, penalising the most vulnerable of claimants by the withdrawal of benefits for weeks at a time. Most worryingly, it appears from DWP guidance, quoted in the report, that deprivation and hunger are knowingly being used as a punishment for quite trivial breaches of benefit conditions. Employers would not be allowed to stop someone’s wages for a month the first time they were 10 minutes late for an appointment, but this is the kind of sanction that is being imposed on some of the most vulnerable people in our society, including those with mental and physical health problems.

Here is the DWP’s own guidance to Job Centre officials on the subject. Judge for yourself:

150121dmg-sanctions

The Archbishop continued: “We are concerned that the problem may be even worse in Wales, recognising the higher levels of poverty in this country. No Welsh data, however, is included in the report because despite submitting a Freedom of Information request to the DWP three months ago, we are still waiting for a reply. There is supposed to be a 20-day turnaround period for Freedom of Information requests. We are pursuing this.”

It is clear that the DWP is in breach of the Human Rights Act and is subjecting benefit claimants to torture as punishment for late attendance at appointments.

This report by the churches is to be welcomed. Now, what can they do to punish the government for torturing its own citizens?

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This Christmas, remember the hidden casualties of the Coalition years

Suffering: If fibromyalgia displayed visible signs, this is how a sufferer would look. Imagine how such a person would feel - physically and emotionally - if they were left alone this Christmas. Too much trouble for family; no fair-weather friends left; and a government that won't even investigate if they were found dead after the holidays.

Agony: If fibromyalgia displayed visible signs, this is how a sufferer would look. Imagine how such a person would feel – physically and emotionally – if they were left alone this Christmas. Too much trouble for family; no fair-weather friends left; and a government that won’t even investigate if they were found dead after the holidays.

Today I had a long chat with a Russia Today reporter, thanks to a recommendation from John McArdle of Black Triangle. It seems a foreign-owned news corporation is more interested in the plight of the UK’s most vulnerable than our home-grown media or – worse – our government.

She was asking about Vox Political‘s Freedom of Information requests, seeking information from the Department for Work and Pensions on the number of people who have died while going through the now-tortuous process of claiming Employment and Support Allowance (ESA), which includes the now-infamous work capability assessment (WCA).

As part of the dialogue she told me the government’s current line is that publicising the figures would not be instructive as they do not provide information on the causes of death and many of the deceased may have died because of their medical conditions, rather than due to government harassment or stress brought on by the assessment regime. This is, of course, nonsense.

The government cannot say that people in the Work-Related Activity Group have died because of their medical conditions without admitting that they should never have been put in that group in the first place. The WRAG is for people who are getting better, and who are expected to be healthy enough to seek employment within a year. If they die instead, then the work capability assessor (working for Atos, Maximus or whoever else) clearly missed an important point, or they, possibly together with the DWP decision-maker, disregarded it because regulations handed down from Conservative Party ministers told them to do so.

It is not quite as easy to accuse the government over people in the Support Group, because these have been judged to be in need of the maximum amount of help allowed by the law, due to the severity of their medical conditions. They are more likely to pass away. However, if fatality statistics had been published regularly and properly, it would have been possible to see whether the number of Support Group fatalities was increasing disproportionately; if it was, it follows that ministers should order an investigation into the causes of death. It does not follow that they only died because they had a medical condition. Was it worsened by the stress caused by the DWP’s regime of irregular re-assessments? What about the financial insecurity caused by benefit uprating caps? What about the personal insecurity caused by cuts in care services? With the figures hushed up, it is easy to ignore any such trends. Nobody knows about it, so why make a fuss? When politicians are in government, they have a vested interest in publicising only the information that makes them look good.

How does the government account for deaths in the assessment stage of ESA? These must be mushrooming due to well-publicised delays in processing claimants. Again, some may be due to claimants’ physical conditions but delays in assessment mean they have been deprived of the help they needed.

Then there are the suicides.

Some claimants take their own lives while on the benefit. This could be due to many reasons including the hopelessness of a situation where they foresee themselves being pushed off-benefit (this goes for people in both the WRAG and the Support Group because they are all under the threat of continual reassessment), or suffering more and more cuts to the amount received (in comparison with inflation) that their quality of life will suffer, or they’ll be kicked out of their homes, or they won’t be able to afford the necessities of their lives. The government does not record the number of people who do this and pays no attention to the verdicts of coroners performing inquests on them.

Then there are those who die after being refused the benefit. There is no information on these people at all because the government does not consider them to be its responsibility any more. They could die because of their medical condition; they could commit suicide – it won’t appear in government figures.

But, the possibility of suicide indicates a mental imbalance which should be picked up by the ‘medical experts’ conducting work capability assessments – right? In fact Dr Litchfield, the independent assessor, pointed this out in his recent evaluation of the WCAs’ performance – commenting on how numbers of people in the Support Group had increased due to fears for the safety of the claimants or those near them – and in fact this indicates a grudging nod towards progress. Somewhere, someone noticed that something was going wrong – but while the figures are kept hidden, we know that this is not nearly enough.

And now we are nearly at Christmas. Suicide season.

More people take their own lives under Conservative governments than Labour. And more people do so at Christmas than at any other time of year.

The festive season is great when you are in fine health, surrounded by a family and friends who love you, and are wealthy enough to enjoy the season to the full (we shan’t go into whether your family and friends are only around because you are wealthy enough because there’s no reason to assume any such selfishness and it is, after all, the season of goodwill).

It’s a different proposition when you don’t have your health, when benefit dependency means you can hardly keep yourself, let alone think about presents for other people, and when the lack of both of these have driven away what friends and family you might have – for whatever reasons.

Back in the summer a Twitter acquaintance with fibromyalgia remarked on how lucky Mrs Mike was to have a partner who had stuck with her, because the pressures of the condition lead to partners who are also carers walking out, leaving the sick or disabled (or both) person on their own. Put yourself in that position and ask how you would feel.

Taking all this into consideration, why do you think the death statistics for 2011 – the only year for which we have any figures at all, courtesy of an ‘ad hoc’ DWP release – run from January to November, rather than for the whole year?

Interesting, that.

There’s nothing to be done about the government’s attitude at the moment. Because of it, people are going to die this month and in January.

But there is a way to minimise the situation.

If you know someone who has a long-term sickness or disability and who is going to be on their own this Christmas, why not see what you can do to make it brighter?

It could be the difference between life and death.

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Are Labour’s work capability assessment changes really ‘crucial’?

WCAcartoon

This cartoon was created to highlight the difficulties created by the Conservatives for people attending a work capability assessment. But would Labour’s proposed changes make any difference?

According to Benefits and Work, the Labour Party has been emailing people with proposals for three “crucial changes” it is proposing for the way the work capability assessment works for disability/incapacity benefit claimants.

The three problems are:

  • That the WCA is ‘not integrated with employment support’ and so is not helping claimants back into work;
  • That the WCA ‘lacks credibility with disabled people, causing anxiety and stress’; and
  • That the system is ‘riven with poor decision making’, leading to a ‘staggering 45 per cent of appeals against the test’ being upheld last year.

The Benefits and Work report addes that “critics may point out that not only did Labour devise and introduce the WCA, but also that the level of appeal success under Labour was very similar to what it is now” – all valid criticisms, as long as it is also noted that Labour has accepted those criticisms and is trying to do something about them.

Unfortunately – well, see for yourself. Here are the “crucial changes” being proposed:

“Labour will ‘start by transforming the way the WCA is designed to make it more effective at helping disabled people into work’.” Benefits and Work says “there are no details of what this transformation will involve, except that ‘disabled people would receive a copy of the assessor’s report of how their health condition may affect their ability to work, and information about the support that is available in their local area to help them’.”

What about disabled people with progressive degenerative conditions, who cannot, under any circumstances, be put back to work? This “change” makes no allowance for them whatsoever – it is as if they do not exist.

“Labour will also ‘continue to produce an independent review of the WCA’. In addition, they will ‘ask the Office for Disability Issues to support an independent scrutiny group of disabled people to work together with the independent reviewer to assess whether the test is being conducted in a fair and transparent way’.” Benefits and Work tells us “Labour says it will only ‘commit to responding to the recommendations of this report’; there is no undertaking to actually act on them.”

How is the promise of a paper exercise with no commitment to act at the end supposed to reassure anybody?

“Labour will introduce ‘penalties for poor performance by assessors, measured both on the number of times decisions are overturned by DWP decision makers, and the number of times they are overturned on appeal.’” Benefits and Work suggests that these penalties “undoubtedly” would be “hidden behind a cloak of ‘commercial confidentiality’” and “will offer no reassurance whatsoever” – but this is unfair, in the light of Labour’s promise to make commercial firms working in the public sector subject to public sector Freedom of Information laws. Any punishment meted out to these firms would be a matter of public knowledge under a Labour government.

If the information provided to Benefits and Work is correct, then this plan is, at best, weak. At worst, it’s catastrophic.

This blog has been arguing that the work capability assessment should be abolished altogether – and Vox Political stands by that.

Decisions about whether a patient should be granted disability or incapacity benefits should be made by their doctor, in conjunction with the specialists who would naturally be consulted to confirm the nature and extent of the patient’s medical condition.

What – you think doctors are going to be unduly influenced by the fact that they know the patient? That is precisely why their opinion is the most important.

It seems strange. We know some people believe doctors need to be bribed by the government into sending sick people back to work before they are better. They don’t get any extra financial reward for signing patients off-work, though.

Doesn’t this suggest that they are more likely to be honest when signing the sicknote?

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The Conservative Party – nasty, stupid and clumsy

Is this the face of a 'Caring' Conservative? Or is he nasty and clumsy? And if he is, does that mean the supporters behind him are stupid?

Is this the face of a ‘Caring’ Conservative? Or is he nasty and clumsy? And if he is, does that mean the supporters behind him are stupid?

Independent luminary Andreas Whittam Smith reckons the Conservative Party in its current form is both nasty and stupid – and also clumsy, if his latest article is to be believed.

Nasty because of its aggressive behaviour – such as the decision to withdraw support for rescue operations that save thousands of migrants from drowning as they attempt to cross the Mediterranean to Europe.

Or because of benefit assessment policies that mean people living with progressive and degenerative conditions such as Parkinson’s, motor neurone disease and rheumatoid arthritis are being subjected to what a group of charities describes as “upsetting and unnecessary” examinations to see whether they will recover enough to look for work in the future – a pointless exercise because their conditions are flagged up from the start as progressive and degenerative; they’re never going to get better.

Or because, after the Resolution Foundation found that one-in-five employees (4.9 million people) earned less than the living wage, George Osborne is promising that if the Conservative Party wins next year’s general election, then most welfare payments that the working poor rely on – including child benefit, tax credits, jobseeker’s allowance, housing benefit and income support – will be frozen in April 2016 for two years. They are currently rising by 1 per cent a year. He will make the working poor poorer.

zTorypromise

Clumsy because they have imposed unpopular decisions on the people in an unfair way. Mr Whittam Smith defines fairness in terms of “the four main elements that go into creating a sense of procedural justice: Those concerned should have been able to play an active part in the process. The rules should be applied with sensitivity to individual situations. Decision-makers should be impartial and fair. And the agents of the system with whom people have to deal should treat them with respect.”

He continues: “There is no evidence that people living with progressive and degenerative conditions or members of the working poor or families struggling to pay care bills for elderly relatives have been consulted. There is no evidence of sensitivity to individual situations or else the bedroom tax legislation would have recognised the special difficulties of disabled tenants who are unable to share a bedroom and would have taken into account where homes have been specially adapted.

“As for the agents of the system with whom people have to deal, outsourcing many of these tasks has not produced happy results. Naturally the outsourced staff work by the book. They cannot be flexible or understanding. They are chiefly concerned with getting the job done as quickly as possible so as to reach the profits targets set by their employers. And then, in the final analysis, claimants are not dealing directly with the state at all but with a sort or mercenary army. Mutual respect cannot exist in these circumstances.”

Let’s expand on the last point for a moment, and connect it with the previous points about benefit assessment, with this snippet of information: An academic report from Edinburgh Napier University and the University of Stirling has confirmed that the Tories’ welfare reforms are not helping people to find work.

According to Alan Wyllie on the A Working Class Man blog, the report showed:

  • “The current welfare system is not helping people find work. Those who had moved into employment found work independently and not due to Jobcentre Plus services;
  • “There was limited support on offer to help recipients of out of work benefits move into work. Those participating in the Work Programme did not report that it was helpful;
  • “Most people wanted to work but issues such as childcare, illness and training made it difficult for them to do so;
  • “The current welfare system also does not appear to meet its aim of ‘make work pay’. People who had moved into work felt only slightly better off and continued to find it difficult to make ends meet;
  • “Benefit freezes or restricted increases have meant falling real-term incomes, with many study participants finding it hard to meet basic needs.

“The report concludes that: ‘Participants with a health condition or a disability, and those who were lone parents, reported that they wanted to be in work but faced considerable barriers to doing so, which were unlikely to be addressed by increasing conditionality.

“’According to the views of participants, stronger conditionality is unlikely to get more people into work, due to a lack of suitable work and barriers in the areas of education, skills, employability, childcare and health.’

“The researchers found that claimants who did not abide by the new conditions faced serious consequences.

“’The impact on benefit recipients who fall foul of new rules – or who are affected by a mistake on the part of a benefits agency that is not their fault – can be severe,’ they said.”

That’s nasty – not only have benefit changes been forced onto people without any regard for them, but they don’t even work.

However, this – moving back to Mr Whittam Smith – may be the Tories’ downfall. He points out: “Nowadays we are no longer a homogenous mass but an agglomeration of minorities. In my own circle of family and friends, for instance, there are people who are disabled and others with serious illnesses. There are those who are single parents, others who are retired. There are middle-aged people with back-breaking mortgages, others who are and young and ambitious. There are regular Church-goers as well as non-believers. There are people in jobs, and people who cannot find work. There are Londoners who can’t conceive of living anywhere else (I am one of these), and people who resent the capital city and all its works.

“Each of these minorities has its own particular concerns and needs, prejudices and resentments, but yet feels sympathy for any group that is badly treated.

“The Coalition led by its Conservative ministers has often gone about its work in an unfeeling, insensitive manner. And for that shortcoming there could be a price to pay at the next general election.”

Quite so – especially as they came into government under the banner of ‘Compassionate Conservatism’. What a terrible joke.

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DWP limbo: We ask Job Centres ‘How low will you go’?

It is as if staff at the Department for Work and Pensions were trying to commit vocational suicide, in pale emulation of the lengths to which they drive their ‘customers’.

Following on from yesterday’s article on the DWP’s sickening response to the latest Freedom of Information request on incapacity claimant deaths come two accounts of the heartlessness of the Department’s staff.

The first is from our old friend Pride’s Purge, and concerns a letter from the DWP to a woman who suffers with Ewing’s Sarcoma, a rare bone cancer.

It states, in very poor English: “On whether you have contributed to your medical condition. We have now decided that you did contribute to your medical condition.”

This is physically impossible and DWP staff, who are not medically qualified, had no right to suggest otherwise. The lady’s boyfriend was so enraged by the incident that he posted the letter on Facebook and you can see it below.

ewings-sarcoma

The second is from the Blue Annoyed blog, and runs as follows:

“A sick and disabled man attend[ed] Newcastle JCP to use the phones to make an enquiry when he was attacked by [a] G4S guard for using his mobile when they refused his request… The JCPs are now removing telephones.

“It is now policy that you are intimidated BY G4S security to turn off your mobiles after many used them to film maladministration of JCP staff.

“At the time of writing this blog a complaint has gone in to the manager of this JCP and the police have been informed.”

There’s more, but you should go to Blue Annoyed to read it.

It seems the gentleman involved had previously been made homeless, and his story had appeared in the New Statesman.

He made a video of the attack, using his mobile, which you can see here.

If anyone tells you that benefit claimants get what they deserve, show them this article.

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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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How do we wrestle fairness from a rigged economic system?

The problem in a nutshell - and this cartoon was drawn in 1972! [Image: Alan Hardman]

The problem in a nutshell – and this cartoon was drawn in 1972! [Image: Alan Hardman]

It’s terrific when an article makes you think.

Why Capitalism needs unemployment, by Cheltenham & Gloucester Against Cuts, tells us that unemployment is used as a weapon against the workers – with the threat of it used to force pay cuts on employees, while we are told to fear inflation if unemployment falls.

So fatcat company bosses win either way, it seems.

The article commented on Margaret Thatcher’s ideological mentor, Milton Friedman, who “understood that low levels of unemployment give confidence to workers, who can fight for better pay and conditions. When they’re successful, the profit margins of capitalists are reduced, causing them to put their prices up in response“.

We know this happens; we have seen it many times. Some may argue that it is different from cases in which shortages of particular commodities push up their prices and the prices of products that are made from them – but, with fuel prices as the only notable exception, have you ever seen prices drop after these shortages end?

The system is rigged to ensure that working people stay poor, either through pay cuts during high unemployment or inflation in low unemployment; meanwhile the employers and shareholders ensure that they stay rich, by sharing out extra profits gained by keeping pay low or by putting up prices.

What do they do with this money?

The answer, it seems, is nothing. They bank it in offshore tax havens and leave it there. This is why, we are told, Britain’s richest citizens have more than £20 trillion banked offshore at the moment.

That’s more than £20,000,000,000,000! Enough to pay off this country’s national debt 18,000 times over and still have plenty to spare. Enough to solve the problems of the world, forever. It is, in fact, more money than we can comfortably imagine.

It is doing nothing.

Faced with this knowledge, there can only be one logical question: Why?

Why rig the system so that ever-larger sums of money pour into these offshore accounts, if nothing is to be done with it? Where is the sense in that?

The only logical answer appears to relate to its effect on workers: Keeping the profits of their work away from the workforce means they are kept in misery and servitude to the ruling classes – the parasitical board members and shareholders.

There are knock-on effects. Taxpayers are hit twice – not only are they forced to grapple with ever-more-hostile pay offers, but their taxes pay for in-work benefits that subsidise corporate-imposed pay levels; they support people who have been forced into unemployment unnecessarily and the silly make-work schemes that are forced on those people by the Department for Work and Pensions, under threat of sanction.

It’s a protection racket. There should be a law against it. And this begs the next question: Why isn’t there a law against it? How can this corrupt system be dismantled and what should replace it?

That’s a very good question, because the other cosh being held over our collective heads is the possibility that firms will move abroad if new laws in this country threaten their massive profits. This is where an international agreement between nations or groups of nations would be very useful, if it was carried out in the right way – a Transatlantic, or Trans-pacific, Trade and Investment Partnership, perhaps.

And what do we see? Plans for such agreements have been put together and they do the exact opposite of what they should – tying the workers into ever-worsening conditions. This is why the TTIP, currently being pushed on the European Union, must be rejected – and why bosses will do anything to ensure it succeeds.

This is the situation. It seems clear that nothing will change it for the better until somebody has the courage to stand up to these manipulators (who were probably schoolyard bullies back in the day) and say enough is enough; change is coming – do what you will.

Tax evasion and avoidance is already a huge issue here in the UK; perhaps we need to make a criminal offence of manipulating the economy – with prison sentences for bosses who put their prices up purely to retain high profit margins when their salaries are already dozens of times higher than those of their workers.

But what else is needed? How can such a mechanism be brought in without scaring off business? Or should we let them go, and put something fairer in their place? Ban them from trading in the UK unless they conform to the new model?

These are ideas that need exploration – by many people, not just a few.

What do you think should happen?

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Cometh the hour, time for a party

140505UPIP

A new political party has been launched – on International Workers’ Day – to represent the interests of people whose opportunities in life have been restricted because they earn low wages.

The Underpaid People’s Independence Party – UPIP – will campaign for better pay, better rights and a better say on behalf of all those who currently earn less than they need in order to pay their own way.

The new party has announced several policies already:

  • A living wage for every working person, ensuring that the overburdened benefit system does not subsidise greedy corporations
  • A guaranteed ‘income floor’ for all British citizens, ensuring that those who do not work because of illness or unemployment are able to live with dignity
  • The guarantee of employee benefits including sick pay, holiday rights and both lower and upper limits on the number of hours worked
  • Strengthened – and rigorously-enforced – health and safety regulations for all workplaces, to limit the number of workplace-related illnesses and disabilities
  • An end to corrupt ‘workfare’, ‘work programme’ or ‘mandatory work activity’ schemes that allow governments to collude with corporations in forcing citizens to work for no payment other than benefits that are subsidised by other working people
  • Tax incentives to encourage all companies to transform into co-operatives, with responsibilities and profits shared among the entire workforce

UPIP founder Nobby Fulsom, a former mineworker, said Britain’s hardworking poor had suffered for too long under neoliberal profiteers, and the time had come for a party they could all enjoy.

“I have stayed underground for too long; now is the time for working people to stand tall,” he said.

But he admitted: “It is too late for us to field any candidates in the European election.

“If we could, we would be opposing the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership that would push workers on both sides of the Atlantic into ever-worsening conditions of employment.

“Europe should be pushing for an agreement that will guarantee the best possible conditions for all workers. The fact that the EU doesn’t seem interested in supporting its constituents poses questions about its own role, and that is why we support a top-down reorganisation of the European Union, with authority granted to nobody unless they can prove they started their careers at the lowest level and worked their way up, rather than just walking in from a position of privilege.”

Mr Fulsom said it was not true that members of UPIP had been posting anti-corporatist Tweets on the internet, nor had they been targeting members of the aristocracy with derogatory remarks.

“UPIP is an inclusive party,” he said. We believe in uniting people – not in the divisive rhetoric of the Coalition government or certain minority parties with similar initials to our own.

“Any corporate executive who is willing to turn his organisation into a co-operative is welcome to join us, as is anyone from a family of wealth who accepts that the people who made that cash for them are entitled to the opportunities they and their forebears enjoyed.”

He added: “We don’t want much, but what we want is fair – for everybody, not just those with a private education and independent wealth.”

Undoubtedly, UPIP will have a great deal to say about the current election campaign and the future direction of British politics.

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