Tag Archives: Department for Work and Pensions

DWP is wasting your money on bid to block publication of fit-for-work documents

The Department for Work and Pensions office in London.

The Department for Work and Pensions is wasting our money again:

Documents relating to the government’s controversial fit-for-work tests could be blocked from publication after the Department for Work and Pensions’ (DWP) launched a legal challenge.

In April, John Slater submitted a Freedom of Information request (FOI) asking for details of the ‘outcome reports’ which are completed by the private company contracted to carry out the tests. The reports would include information about the number of people with a terminal illness or limited capability to work subjected to the test.

The DWP initially said it did not hold the information but later argued that releasing it could damage the company’s commercial interests.

Since 2015, Work Capability Assessments (the official name for the tests) have been carried out by the Centre for Health and Disability Assessments (CHDA), a subsidiary of the company Maximus.

The outcome reports are produced every month by the CHDA and detail the outcomes of the tests from each assessment centre.

The Information Commissioner’s Office ruled that the DWP must publish the documents but the department has appealed that decision, meaning the case will now be heard at the First Tier tribunal.

(Source: DWP fights to block publication of fit-for-work documents – Westminster )

Firstly, this means DWP officers lied to the public – they claimed they did not hold information that had been requested when in fact they did.

Secondly, any company carrying out work for the government should expect to have that work reviewed by members of the public, at the convenience of those people. Labour intended to make that right explicit in law after previous attempts by the DWP to hide behind commercial confidentiality.

Finally, this demonstrates that the Department for Work and Pensions is beyond salvation. It is riddled with corruption and the only option, when a sensible government is returned to office, will be to break it up, sack the worst offenders in its ranks, and restore the Department of Social Security and the Department of Employment as separate entities.


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Iain Duncan Smith’s latest foolishness: He no longer uses poverty to measure poverty

Brierfield in Lancashire where nearly 35% of children live in poverty and just over 50% are classed as poor according to reach by the End Child Poverty Campaign.

Brierfield in Lancashire, where nearly 35 per cent of children live in poverty and just over half are classed as poor according to research by the End Child Poverty Campaign.

We all knew this was coming because we have a Conservative Government whose policies have been intended to increase poverty since 2010 – while apparently working to eliminate child poverty by 2020.

It simply couldn’t be done, and now the Gentleman Ranker, Iain Duncan Smith, has admitted it.

This is not a failure by the Conservative Government – it is a mark of its success in increasing poverty while fooling people into believing that they are better-off being ruled by a gang of greedy, selfish, chinless toffs.

RTU’s (Returned To Unit – an Army term denoting uselessness that we use to describe IDS) move to abolish the elimination target and change the way poverty is defined – away from the internationally-recognised measure which considers anybody earning less than 60 per cent of median pay to be in poverty – has been attacked by, of all people, Alan Milburn.

This as-good-as-Tory quisling in the Labour Party pointed out that it was “not credible to try and improve the life chances of the poor without acknowledging the most obvious symptom of poverty – lack of money.

“Abolishing the legal targets doesn’t make the issue of child poverty go away… The key issue is less how child poverty is measured and more how it is tackled.”

Duncan Smith won’t care. He’s dreaming of poorhouses.

And he gets his script from the Taxpayers’ Alliance.

According to fellow blog Zelo Street, the TPAs former chief spinner Susie Squire went through the revolving door to become a special advisor for SNLR (Services No Longer Required – we have many alternative acronyms for IDS). “Then, by complete coincidence you understand, he had his brilliant idea of doing away with the 60% target.”

Zelo Street continues: “And so Duncan Cough told the world about his new targets: “Worklessness measures will identify the proportion of children living in workless households and the proportion of children in long-term workless households … The educational attainment measures will focus on GCSE attainment for all pupils and for particularly disadvantaged pupils”. This is total horses**t. Unemployed single parents mean poverty [according to Duncan Smith]. Equally less well off working couples with children mean otherwise.

“And then there is the education criterion. By the time GCSE attainment is calculated, the system will have long ago failed those being studied.”

Tory followers will be putting all the weight of their fat mouths behind this, so expect some seriously dull-witted inanities from the usual suspects over the next few days. Zelo Street singled out Chinless Tim Montgomerie, who tweeted: “Big moment from IDS. Rejecting Left’s materialistic idea of poverty for broader understanding of basis of a good life” and then pointed out: “It’s got sweet Fanny Adams to do with the Left, materialism, understanding, or ideas.”

It does have a lot to do with hate.

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When will the BBC get its priorities right?

Covered by the BBC: Today's rally against the violence in Gaza.

Covered by the BBC: Today’s rally against the violence in Gaza.

It seems the BBC is delighted to carry out saturation coverage of popular demonstrations against injustice – as long as they are taking place in a foreign country and not right here in Blighty.

Compare the huge amount of coverage being given to today’s (Saturday) rally for Gaza in London, where “tens of thousands” of protesters have turned out to protest against the deaths of almost 2,000 people since “violence” broke out between the Israeli government and Palestinian Hamas terrorists (as far as VP is concerned, both sides are terrorists) around a month ago (picture above)…

… with the almost nonexistent coverage of a 50,000-strong march and rally against UK Coalition government austerity policies that have killed tens of thousands of people – if not more than 100,000, by now. Think of the Department for Work and Pensions and the 10,600 deaths caused by its policy on Employment and Support Allowance – in less than a year. Here’s a picture of that event, that wasn’t shown by Auntie.

Not covered by the BBC: The anti-austerity rally that attracted as many people - if not more - to complain about austerity measures that have led to at least five times as many deaths.

Not covered by the BBC: The anti-austerity rally that attracted as many people – if not more – to complain about austerity measures that have led to at least five times as many deaths.

It would be wrong to say that the Israel-Gaza protest is not worthy of coverage, because it is.

But when one realises that the BBC – considered the greatest public-service broadcaster in the world – habitually ignores evidence of much greater harm taking place on its own doorstep (literally, in the case of the anti-austerity march – it started outside the main entrance of New Broadcasting House), one is forced to ask very uncomfortable questions about the priorities of its policy-makers and their intentions, in depriving us of vital information about our own country.

Let us hope the BBC receives a large amount of correspondence remarking on this discrimination.

If you want to contact the BBC and ask why it prioritises a foreign conflict that has cost a fraction of the number of lives lost here in the UK due to government policy, here’s how you can do it:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/complaints/complain-online/

Phone: 03700 100 222 *
03700 100 212 * (textphone)
*24 hours, charged as 01/02 geographic numbers

Post:BBC Complaints
PO Box 1922
Darlington
DL3 0UR

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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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My Bedroom Tax protest speech

Standing in the shadow of a giant: Vox Political's Mike Sivier (front) at 'Cooper Corner', with Caerphilly Castle in the background.

Standing in the shadow of a giant: Vox Political’s Mike Sivier (front) at ‘Cooper Corner’, with Caerphilly Castle in the background.

Vox Political was relatively quiet yesterday; although I reblogged plenty of articles from other sources, there was no new piece from the site itself because I was in Caerphilly, delivering a speech at a Bedroom Tax protest there.

Caerphilly is the birthplace of the late, great comic Tommy Cooper, and it was in the shadow of his statue that the demonstration took place. I instantly (and privately) named the location ‘Cooper Corner’.

I took the opportunity to lighten proceedings at the start by suggesting that Mr Cooper (albeit in petrified effigy) would be providing the jokes. I held the microphone up towards the statue. “Anything? No? No. I didn’t think so.” Turning back to the crowd I added: “The Bedroom Tax is no laughing matter.” Then I got into the body of the speech:

“I write a small blog called Vox Political. I started it a couple of years ago as an attempt to put in writing what a reasonable, thinking person might have to say about government policies in these years of forced austerity, and politics in general.

“As you can probably imagine, this means I knew about the Bedroom Tax, several months before it was actually imposed on us all. I was writing articles warning people against it from October 2012. The trouble was, Vox Political is a small blog that even now has only a few thousand readers a day – and the mainstream media has been almost entirely bought by a political machine with far more funding than I have.

“It is a tax, by the way. You may have heard a lot of nonsense that it isn’t, but consider it this way: a tax is defined as a compulsory contribution to state revenue, levied by the government against a citizen’s person, property or activity, to support government policies.

“It is not a ‘spare-room subsidy’. If anyone in authority tries to tell you you’re having your ‘spare-room subsidy’ removed (or more likely, imposed, they’re so confused about this), just tell them to go and find the Act of Parliament that introduced the ‘spare room subsidy’, using those words. Tell them if they can find it, you’ll pay it – but if they can’t, they must not take any money away from you. They won’t be able to find it because it doesn’t exist.

“It is more accurately described as the ‘State Underoccupation Charge’ – SUC! And it really does suck.

“It sucks money that social housing tenants need for food, heat, water and other necessities out of their pockets and forces them to send it to their landlord instead – either the local council or a social landlord like a housing association. The reasoning behind it has always been that this would encourage people to move, but in fact we know that there is no social accommodation for them to move into. When the Bedroom Tax became law, there was only enough smaller housing to accommodate around 15 per cent of the affected households. It is clearly a trap, designed to make poor people poorer.

“This is why the first advice I put on my blog was for anyone affected by the Bedroom Tax to appeal against it – and I was criticised quite harshly for it, because some people decided such action would mark tenants out as troublemakers and create more problems for them. At the time, I thought it was right to give some of the aggravation back to the people who were foisting this additional burden onto lower-income families; make them work for it, if they want it so badly. As it turns out, I was right to do so, because there are so many loopholes in the legislation that it seems almost anybody could avoid paying!

“Do you think Stephanie Bottrill would have died if she had known that she could successfully appeal against her Bedroom Tax, on the grounds that she had been a social housing tenant since before January 1996 and was therefore exempt? The government spitefully closed that particular loophole earlier this month, but that lady is already dead, due to a lie. Had she been properly informed, she could have successfully fought it off and then taken advice on how to cope with it after the government amendment was brought in.

“There is a case for corporate manslaughter against the Department for Work and Pensions, right there. If tested in court, it seems likely that the way its activities have been managed and organised by senior management – the fact that it foisted the Bedroom Tax, wrongly, on this lady – will be found to have led to her death, in gross breach of its duty of care to those who claim state benefits (in this case, Housing Benefit).

“David Cameron has wasted a great deal of oxygen telling us all that disabled people are not affected by the tax. Perhaps he could explain why a disabled gentleman in my home town was forced to move out of his specially-adapted home, incurring not only the cost of moving but an extra £5,000 for removing the adaptations and installing them into new accommodation? He appealed against Bedroom Tax decision but the result came back after the date when he had to be out of his home. Can you guess what it was? That’s right – he won. I have been trying to get him to take legal action against the council and the government about this as it would be an important test case.

“There are other grounds for appealing against the Bedroom Tax. Just because your council wants to claim every room that could be a bedroom is a bedroom, that doesn’t make it so. A fellow blogger, Joe Halewood, has published a list of other room designations that you are allowed to have.

“It includes a study, a utility room, a play room, even an Iain Duncan Smith voodoo doll-making room, if that takes your fancy!

“I was particularly happy to hear that you can have a study as I’ve been writing my blog from the broom cupboard – oh! That’s another room you can have!

“Check the DWP’s online forms. They ask about bedrooms, and then they ask about other rooms. The distinction is clear.”

Then I closed the speech. In retrospect, I should have finished with a few words about the fact that this was the first bit of public speaking I had ever done. I could have given them something along these lines: “I am aware that speech-making is a lucrative sideline for many people, including comedians (although I’m not aware that Mr Cooper ever made any) and also politicians. Perhaps I should use this platform to suggest that, if you know anybody who is considering booking a speaker for a special occasion – society dinner, rugby club social, wedding or party, why not ask them to get in touch with me – instead of Iain Duncan Smith!”

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‘WoW’ debate on sickness and disability benefits live blog

Today's the day: The WoW Petition is being debated in Parliament today, having won the support from MPs necessary to trigger a debate.

Today’s the day: The WoW Petition is being debated in Parliament today, having won the support from MPs necessary to trigger a debate.

That concludes today’s live blog. Thanks to everybody who visited and pressed ‘F5’ to keep up with events.

2.38pm The motion for the government to commission a cumulative impact assessment has been passed – resoundingly – after the debate. Admittedly very few people attended but the result was what the 104,000 people who signed the ‘WoW’ petition wanted.

However, there now arises the question of what the government will do. As was noted in the debate, the Conservative-Liberal Democrat Coalition has been defeated three times in succession over social security benefits – and has done absolutely nothing about the motions that have been passed.

Those who believed Labour would abstain have been proved wrong by today’s result; we must now judge the government by its actions in response.

The public wants action on this matter, and it has been supported by a House of Commons vote.

This is not just a test of Parliamentary democracy but also one of the e-petition system by which the debate was secured in the first place. Does David Cameron intend to ignore the will of the people that has been revealed by this new method which he is said to support?

2.30pm Speaker John Bercow has turned up to take the vote – and the ‘Ayes’ have it.

2.30pm Mr McDonnell says if the government thinks a cumulative assessment is too complicated, why not bring in the independent organisations who say they can do it, and fund them to do it?

2.28pm John McDonnell is winding up after an inadequate response from Mr Penning. “I’ve heard nothing here today that will alleviate that suffering [of disabled people because of the cuts]. If an impact assessment was published, people would be up in arms.”

2.23pm Rather than discuss the policies behind the WCA, Penning agrees that assessments are taking too long.

2.22pm Penning is departing from the usual Tory stance by admitting that problems have arisen since the Coalition took over in government. He says taxpayers’ money should not be paid to Atos to exit its contract.

2.21pm Fears of a Labour abstention are causing a great deal of distress among the general public watching the debate. Ghost Whistler comments: “If Labour are going to abstain, what’s the point of all this?”

2.19pm Already Penning is saying a cumulative impact assessment cannot be carried out accurately. Other organisations have managed it – why not HM Government?

2.17pm Mike Penning is on his feet. Prepare for a rehash of the government stance (at length).

1.14pm WoWCampaign on Twitter is unhappy: “Kate Green departs from motion over scrapping of #WCA  This is an integral part of WOW petition.”

2.13pm Jaypot2012 has read my correction and writes: “My apologies – but I do stand by my comment that if they abstain from this vote then they deserve to lose the next election.”

2.11pm Jason Sheffield on Twitter, apparently responding to Grahame Morris, states: “It is obvious from the empty benches in HoC that UK political parties no longer protect the interests of the poor & vulnerable.”

2.08pm Kate Green tells us Labour wholeheartedly supports the call for a cumulative impact assessment outlined by the petition and in the motion. So Caroline Lucas was wrong whether her abstention rumour, then?

2.07pm Jaypot2012 is on a roll: “These MP’s, MEP’s, etc. forget their places – they are civil servants who are paid by US, the taxpayer.  It’s about time someone reminded them of this, and it’s also time that the people of this country were reminded as well.”

2.05pm Commenter Jaypot2012 again: “If Labour abstain from this vote then they deserve to lose the next election.  They have been far too pally with the Tories, they are in talks with the Lib Dems, and throughout this coalition “stint in office”, they have backed them, instead of being an opposition party!
“I know that I will NOT vote for labour if they abstain, I will vote for the greens instead!”
In fairness, Labour has not backed the Coalition. This is a falsehood that has been put about often but is not supported by voting records.

2pm On Twitter, #WOWFeb27 is trending above #Merkel. An indication that the majority of MPs got their priorities wrong?

1.58pm Commenter Jaypot2012 writes: “How about all the money that has been wasted and thrown away on IDS schemes?  How much has been lost with the IT schemes?  He says he’ll just write it off.  Does he realise that money belongs to us and could have been used to pay people their ESA whilst they appealed against their decisions?  Now we have people who are starving, who are ill and have no money because IDS thinks the money is monopoly money and he can waste it and throw it away!”

1.57pm WoWCampaign tweets: “Is it not time the whole House faces the horror of what is being done? History will judge, if not before.”

1.55pm “It is not a lack of interest; it is not a lack of understanding that means so few people are here today – it’s a lack of time,” says Madeleine Moon in defence of the low attendance at the debate.

1.53pm “We weren’t elected to this house to fight for the interests of the powerful and privileged,” says Mr Morris.

1.50pm Cuts are being targeted on just two areas, with 50 per cent aimed at benefits and local government, and the sick and disabled being affected disproportionately, says Mr Morris.

1.48pm Grahame Morris: “The sick, vulnerable and disabled weren’t responsible for the economic crash, but they are bearing the burden.” He says, “If these cuts had been made fairly, they would have fallen on the better-off.”

1.46pm The problem with WCA assessments is not with Atos but with the policy it is pursuing, as Capita is experiencing the same issues, says Sheila Gilmore.

1.44pm The claim that DLA was going to too many people and hardly anyone was ever reassessed was a “straw man”, leading to flawed proposals for reform, says Sheila Gilmore.

1.40pm Sheila Gilmore to the hardly-represented government: “I didn’t know why it is so difficult – why it is so hard to work out the impact of your policies!”

1.35pm Commenter Barry Davies: “Kudos to Dennis Skinner, well stated argument, and the sort of passion we need to get our case over.”

1.34pm Caroline Lucas reckons Labour will abstain when this debate comes to the vote. What do readers think about that?

1.33pm Upbraided by Labour on her claim that Rachel Reeves said Labour would be tougher on welfare (“Labour will be tougher on welfare spending”), Caroline Lucas said spending should be based on need, not targets.

1.32pm Caroline Lucas has also updated us on the number of people on the government benches. They now number three.

1.31pm Caroline Lucas pays tribute to Francesca Martinez, who “did so much” to publicise the WoW Petition.

1.30pm The worst is yet to come, according to Mark Lazarowicz, as the consequences of the government’s cuts mount up. “We’ve had chaos, misery, the bureaucratic nightmare, the waste of money that is the bedroom tax.”

1.29pm The Benefit Claimant on Twitter: “@David_Cameron Most important debate in politics is going on in the house. You’re at home. We’ll need to sanction you.”

1.28pm Caroline Lucas MP on Twitter: “Grand total on Govt benches: 2 #shameful

1.27pm Mark Lazarowicz is quoting organisations in his constituency who say the main problems they are facing include long delays in processing. This echoes the findings of the National Audit Office, released today.

1.25pm “This government cannot be trusted to reform welfare in a fair way,” says Mr Danczuk. “While people… will be able to get rid of this government next May, the damage it is doing will last for decades.”

1.24pm ‘Kathrine’ on Twitter makes a very pertinent point about the attendance at this debate: “Thanks to all those MPs who turned up to #WOWFeb27, the rest of them are callous, cowardly, and f***ing WORK-SHY.”

1.23pm Simon Danczuk is telling us about a constituent who received a glowing letter from the DWP stating how much closer she was to getting work as a result of government efforts. This constituent was in a coma at the time.

1.21pm “It’s an absolute nonsense and the way that we are treating these people is an absolute disgrace,” says Ian Lavery. “It’s an absolute outrage. People are dying as a result of the Welfare Reform Act 2012… Is this really the sort of country we want to leave to the next generation. This is IDS’ UK.” A passionate speech to match that of Dennis Skinner.

1.19pm Universal Credit is “an absolute car crash” but “it’s not the DWP who are suffering,” says Ian Lavery.

1.18pm “I’ve got someone who was sanctioned by the DWP because he was in hospital with a severe heart condition,” says Ian Lavery. “Is this a way to treat human beings?”

1.16pm Mr Lavery says people taking the Atos assessments are facing a “Little Britain” scenario where “the computer says no” and the assessor is not medically qualified.

1.16pm “We shouldn’t be making decisions to hammer the disabled and the vulnerable because we could be next,” says Ian Lavery.

1.14pm Ian Lavery says many disabled people have given up. One asked him if he understands what it’s like to feel “trapped like an animal”.

1.13pm Katy Clark says one in five people who have been sanctioned while on JSA were disabled.

1.08pm If this motion is passed, it will be the third time this year that the government has been defeated on a motion relating to benefits. On both previous occasions the result was ignored. Maybe it will be third time lucky, says Eilidh Whiteford.

1.06pm Disabled people have been “vilified” and “stigmatised” in a way that is “shameful”, says Eilidh Whiteford.

1.05pm Eilidh Whiteford says the challenge is finding employers who are willing to take on disabled people.

1.02pm Eilidh Whiteford: “To get it so very wrong, so many thousands of times, just beggars belief. The government needs to get its head out of the sand.”

1.01pm Sheridan says if only a fraction of the resources used chasing down benefit claimants were used to tackle tax evasion, it would make a big difference #WOWFeb27

12.59pm WoWcampaign on Twitter: “Benefit mismanagement hurting sick and disabled, watchdog says http://www.theguardian.com/society/2014/feb/27/benefit-mismanagement-hurting-sick-and-disabled-atos-capita … …  #wowfeb27

12.58pm James Thurston on Twitter: “It hasnt been mentioned in the #WOWFeb27 yet but negative rhetoric generated by DWP Ministers results hinders not helps disabled get work.”

12.57pm Jim Sheridan tells us people claiming benefits are “demonised” and no consideration is given to the circumstances in which they are claiming. It is a tactic to divert attention “from the gross abuse of power” in this country.

12.55pm Jim Sheridan tells us this should be about treating people with dignity. He says he was out of work for three years, blacklisted due to trade union activity, but “I was not a shirker as some of those opposite might treat me”.

12.53pm Comment from Jaypot2012: “I am hopping mad here – I so wish I was there, and that I could speak for the disabled and long term sick.  As for the conservatives and lib/dems – they have no idea!  They sit there with their smug faces when really they are thinking that the disabled should be culled!!!!!!!!”

12.50pm Steve Turner on Twitter: “It’s not a question of ‘accuracy’ in WCA’s for #atos. They are doing what they have been told to do by #dwp. Get ppl off benefits #WOWFeb27

12.42pm Action for M.E. on Twitter: “Dennis Skinner slams Atos as a “lousy, rotten firm” and says “it’s high time we got rid of this mess”. #WOWFeb27

12.40pm “The reason they’re on demonstrations like they never did before is because they are desperate, desperate people waiting for us to do something to help them.” Powerful speech by Dennis Skinner.

12.39pm “We’re having hundreds and thousands of people being turned down.” He refers to a constituent who waited month for an appeal while he had cancer, and died before it was heard.

12.38pm “I wish [David Cameron] would say money is no object for disabled people – it really is a scandal.”

12.38pm “There were people telling me they had been for the WCA and turned down, and they couldn’t rise from their wheelchair.”

12.37pm “There were blind people telling me what was about to happen and I didn’t believe them.”

12.36pm Dennis Skinner refers to a historical debate with Sir Keith Joseph. “Even in the Keith Joseph era, the welfare state was a status quo, by and large. Even in the Thatcher years, this chaos did not happen! We never had capability assessments. We never had a march by 3,000 blind and disabled people which heralded the beginning of this coalition.”

12.34pm Steve Turner on Twitter: “I’m not ‘trapped’ on benefits, I am ILL.
I just want to be left alone to get well, not made to jump thru hoops every other week. #WOWFeb27

12.33pm Chris Bracken on Twitter: “If you are a sick or disabled constituent of Guto Bebb, you have my sympathy. #wowfeb27 #wowdebate

12.32pm Bebb says we should have WCAs, and they should take on advice from medical experts – failing to accept that the expertise of these people is in question and the rationale behind the tests has been discredited.

12.31pm Bebb is harking back to the Harrington reviews, which we know have not been implemented, even though he says they have been accepted.

12.30pm “We had a failing welfare system,” claims Guto Bebb. He says it trapped people in a way which was unproductive and unfair.

12.29pm Guto Bebb (Con) defends government policy saying the NAO report is about implementation, not policy.

12.28pm CAB Sleaford on Twitter: “#WOWFeb27 Mark Durkan: “Fixing a number and squeezing more people off benefit to reach it” .. is what we can expect in the future.”

12.27pm “Those who are terminally ill, those who have a total life expectancy of six months, are having to wait 28 days [for a PIP decision] – one-sixth of their total lifespan in the bureaucratic morass.”

12.26pm PIP – “They started with a number and framed their policy around it,” says Anne McGuire.

12.25pm Anne McGuire says disabled people are not against welfare reform – just the changes of the last three years which disproportionately affect disabled people.

12.24pm Anne McGuire reminds us that David Cameron promised in 2010 that his government would look after the sick, disabled and old.

12.23pm Anne McGuire MP says a cumulative impact assessment is something the government should have brought in when it introduced its benefit changes. She berates Graham Evans for conflating fraud and error, which are two different things.

12.21pm James Thurston on Twitter: “Its a great shame that Graham Evans MP (Con) Weaver Vale is reading his speech verbatim. Does he know what he’s talking about? #WOWFeb27

12.19pm Commenter LeonC: @GHollingbery those results are in the minority a test that just helps the few is not good enough one death too many #WOWdebate #WOWFeb27

12.18pm He’s quoting financial statistics. That won’t get him very far. We spend less than our OECD partners on disability benefits.

12.17pm Graham Evans (Con) says the government’s reforms offer protection for those who need it the most, and support to help people back into work.

12.15pm Was that Grahame Morris commenting on the fact that the WCA is based on a discredited model pushed by a criminal US insurance company?

12.14pm I just caught a reference to calls for information being described as “vexatious” but I was trying to update this page and it was glitching. If it was a reference to my request for an update on mortality statistics, he’s absolutely right.

12.11pm He says those with the most severe disabilities – two per cent of society – are suffering 15 per cent of the cuts.

12.10pm Ian Mearns: The fact that this is being considered by Parliament is an indictment of our political system. “We don’t need an independent assessment to know what is going wrong. [It is] causing immeasurable suffering. We know what the effects are. We support this motion merely as a way of exposing the truth… [measures] attacking the poorest and most vulnerable in society.”

12.08pm “The system is fine in theory and the government has made improvements, but Atos has failed completely.” Blame-shifting from Alan Reid. A Labour member asks: “Does the hon member take any responsibility for the government in which he sits?”

12.06pm Michelle Maher on Twitter has this chap pegged: “Alan Reid LibDem saying more improvements must be made but shifting balme to ATOS and Labour #wowdebate #wowfeb27

12.04pm Mr Reid is also referring to the Harrington reviews of the WCA system. He says the Coalition has improved the WCA.

12.03pm Mr Reid wants to know the official Labour line on this, as Labour does not intend to spend any more on benefits than the Coalition. It’s a fair point!

12.02pm Liberal Democrat Alan Reid supports the government, saying disabled people are moving into jobs at the rate of 100 per day. Is this the bogus figure for people who are being urged to claim they are self-employed?

12.00 Dame Anne Begg: Changes to housing benefit, local housing allowance, the bedroom tax, council tax relief have hit disabled people the hardest. The benefit cap might not have hit the disabled but it has hit carers. Social care cuts, meaning local authorities cannot provide care, again hits disabled people. Universal Credit will affect the disabled. “It’s because all of these are affecting their lives that there is an absolute need for a cumulative impact assessment. No-one knows the full force of everything that is falling on households. Unless we do that, we will never know.”

11.57am Caroline Lucas: In Brighton and Hove, of 60 clients only three – five per cent – have been assessed for PIP.

11.57am Dame Anne Begg: “The government says it isn’t picking on disabled people… Every single one of (the main) benefits is undergoing enormous reforms… and we know that they are not going well at all. Atos wants out of its contract. Face-to-Face WCAs in the home are taking up to six months to arrange. Those in the work-related activity group only get their benefit for a year. They have paid into the benefits schemes all their lives. People who thought they had done the right thing (are suffering under this government).”

11.54am “The evidence I see… is that many people have been given a new lease of life by the government’s approach to welfare,” according to Mr Hollingbery.

11.53am Hollingbery is quoting positive results for a few people in his constituency. Anecdotal. The motion here is for an independent assessment of the cumulative impact – across the board.

11.50am A Labour interjection requests Mr Hollingbery looks at John McArdle’s site to see some of the human stories of people affected by the WCA. Hollingbery is trying to brush it off.

11.49am Hollingberry is saying the WCA isn’t perfect but it is subject to continual improvement.

11.47am George Hollingberry (Conservative) is trotting out the claim that recommendations following reviews of the WCA have been implemented. Independent studies have revealed that they have not.

11.46am Liz Crow on Twitter: 15% of disabled people’s health affected “a lot” or “quite a lot” by lack of money http://iaf.gd/8sz  #InActualFact #WOWFeb27

11.44am The WoW petitioners want the truth revealed, because they believe no civilised society would allow people to be treated in this way, Mr McDonnell concludes.

11.43am The result: Poverty for many. Inability to heat homes. Difficulty feeding the household. Humiliation. Suicide. Disabled people feel hounded by the media, politicians and the government, just for being disabled.

11.43am Demos/Scope study concludes that disabled people will lose more than £28 billion and will bear 13 per cent of the cuts.

11.42am “Disabled people are disproportionately hit by the bedroom tax with 72 per cent of affected households containing a disabled person. Local authorities have rejected applications from disabled people in adapted houses who are unable to downsize.” On a personal level, I know this to be true because I know a person in my home town who is affected in this way.

11.40am Backlogs have developed at each stage of the claimant process for the new Personal Independence Payment. The assessment provider? Atos, along with Capita. See today’s NAO report on the rollout of PIP.

11.38am Disabled people are put on the work programme with only a 5.3 per cent success rate. Forced closure of Remploy factories has removed the opportunity of sheltered work for them.

11.37am The government is reneging on a promise to conduct an independent review on the abuse of sanctions.

11.36am There has been a huge increase in the number of sanctions against people on ESA and JSA. One in five of those sanctioned were disabled.

11.35am The British Medical Association has called for the end of the WCA with immediate effect, to be replaced by a safe system – McDonnell.

11.34am Mr McDonnell acknowledges that the work capability assessment is based on the biopsychosocial model promoted by the Unum insurance company – and condemns the fact.

11.33am In theory, the introduction of the work capability assessment administered by Atos (by the last Labour government) was a good idea; in practice it has caused suffering, humiliation, stress, and at times absolute despair – McDonnell.

11.31am Looking at the number of people present on both sides of the house, does anyone else get the impression Angela Merkel’s visit was timed to sabotage this debate?

11.30am Jenny Gulliford on Twitter: 30,000 reduction in no. of people with mental health conditions recieving social support according to McDonnel #WOWFeb27

11.29am Many local authorities have changed eligibility criteria to those with only the most substantial needs. This is a false economy as the cost to society becomes greater (according to another backbencher).

11.27am 2.7 million disabled people live in poverty, and it is this group the cuts are hitting the most, says Mr McDonnell. He says we were told the cuts were intended to be fair – “Well, the reverse is the case.” He says the burden could be affecting people with disabilities up to 20 times more than the average, because of the cumulative effect of multiple ‘reforms’.

11.25am “We feel that many of us simply won’t survive these cuts,” says Mr McDonnell, quoting campaigners.

11.24am “Maybe naively, they believe that if MPs and ministers really knew what disability was like, they would not stand by and let disabled people be treated in this way.”

11.22am The debate is on. John McDonnell is on his feet, saying “We’re making history today.” He pays tribute to all of us ‘WoW’ campaigners who worked so hard for a year to get the signatures to secure the debate, working despite their disabilities. “MPs may speak in this debate, but it is the voice of the ‘WoW’ campaigners that will be heard.”

11.21am Don’t forget you can make your own feelings known by commenting on this article; I’ll include your comments in the text as long as they don’t contain libellous comments or swearing!

11.14am Kirsty Bentham on Twitter makes an excellent point: “Spoken to many clients contemplating taking their own life solely as a result of ESA and PIP delays #WOWFeb27” The fact is that we don’t know how many people have died as a result of the assessment regime imposed by the current government (they’ll say it was Labour, but the current criteria were imposed by the Coalition). Michael Meacher tabled a Parliamentary question to have mortality statistics published as the last figures date from November 2011, and there has been no response so far. There’s also the tribunal hearing that I have demanded in order to force the Information Commission and the DWP to release the figures.

11.10am ‘Neverender’ has proposed a drinking game: “It’s the #WOWFeb27 game; every time ‘the previous government’ is mentioned.  Take a shot.  We’ll all be ratted a half hour in.” It’s a little swipe at the Coalition habit of blaming everything on Labour.

11.05am ‘In Actual Fact’ on Twitter cuts to the heart of the issue: “Current system for assessing disabled welfare benefit claimants is killing people http://iaf.gd/1t3  #InActualFact #WOWFeb27

11.03am ‘Emsy’ on Twitter injects a note of cynicism before the debate has even begun: “Ok, when do we start taking bets on how many Tories will turn up to #WOWFeb27? Anyone going into double figures?”

10.53am Ekklesia’s website comments on the debate, saying Disabled people challenge damage of current welfare policies.

10.48am Another Guardian piece welcomes today’s debate, stating that ‘Government, not disability, makes us vulnerable’.

10.46am The WoW Petition was sponsored by comedian Francesca Martinez. The Guardian has published a piece about her involvement here.

10.40 am The motion for the debate is slightly different from the text of the petition, and runs as follows:

“That this House calls on the Government to commission an independent cumulative assessment of the impact of changes in the welfare system on sick and disabled people, their families and carers, drawing upon the expertise of the Work and Pensions Select Committee; requests that this impact assessment examine care home admissions, access to day care centres, access to education for people with learning difficulties, provision of universal mental health treatments, closures of Remploy factories, the Government’s contract with Atos Healthcare, IT implementation of universal credit, human rights abuses against disabled people, excess deaths of welfare claimants and the disregard of medical evidence in decision-making by Atos, the Department for Work and Pensions and the Tribunals Service; urges the Secretary of State for Health and the Secretary of State for Education jointly to launch a consultation on improving support into work for sick and disabled people; and further calls on the Government to end with immediate effect the work capability assessment, as voted for by the British Medical Association, to discontinue forced work under the threat of sanctions for people on disability benefits and to bring forward legislative proposals to allow a free vote on repeal of the Welfare Reform Act 2012.”

10.36am You can follow the debate on Twitter with the hashtag #WOWFeb27

Welcome to the live blog covering the Parliamentary debate on the effects of ‘welfare reform’ on disabled people.

The debate was triggered by the Commons Backbench Business Committee, after an e-petition calling for it won support from more than 100,000 people. It was known as the ‘WoW’ petition, because the organisers said it represented their fight against the government’s ‘War on Welfare’.

The debate will be opened by Labour MP John McDonnell.

The petition calls for:

“A Cumulative Impact Assessment of all cuts and changes affecting sick & disabled people, their families and carers, and a free vote on repeal of the Welfare Reform Act.

“An immediate end to the Work Capability Assessment, as voted for by the British Medical Association.

“Consultation between the Departments of Health and Education to improve support into work for sick and disabled people, and an end to forced work under threat of sanctions for people on disability benefits.

“An Independent, Committee-Based Inquiry into Welfare Reform, covering but not limited to: (1) Care home admission rises, daycare centres, access to education for people with learning difficulties, universal mental health treatments, Remploy closures; (2) DWP media links, the ATOS contract, IT implementation of Universal Credit; (3) Human rights abuses against disabled people, excess claimant deaths & the disregard of medical evidence in decision making by ATOS, DWP & the Tribunal Service.”

This blog will follow developments in the debate as they happen, taking information from the debate itself, from comments on Twitter, and from comments made directly to this page by readers; this is your chance to get involved with events as they happen.

The article will NOT be self-refreshing. Readers will have to refresh this page themselves at regular intervals – the easiest way is by pressing the F5 button on your keyboard.

The debate starts at 11.15am today (Thursday, February 27).

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‘Scrap maternity pay’ – how Tories see the future of ‘welfare’ reform

[Image: The Guardian]

[Image: The Guardian]

Yesterday (February 11) we had a chance to see what the Tories – or at least some of them – want to do to state benefits.

Charlie Elphicke, Tory MP for Dover, launched a debate in the Westminster Hall in which he called for the axing of maternity pay – and other in-work benefits – to make way for a new insurance system into which employers and the self-employed would pay, and from which the costs of maternity leave and other benefits would be met. He suggested that participating employers would see a corresponding cut in their National Insurance contributions.

He said he wanted this system to pay out at minimum wage levels, rather than at the current £137 per week maternity rate. The state would back the scheme, but it would be entirely funded by businesses.

The taxpayer would not fund any of this scheme – at least, not the way the visionary Charlie put it during the debate. It would be “paid for by the workplaces of the nation”.

This is how (some) Tories want the system to be: Insurance schemes-a-go-go, with people and businesses standing or falling on their ability to meet the requirements of the system.

Obviously he has not considered the drawbacks of such a scheme. One is very simple: If employers are paying everything towards in-work benefits, why not simply pay the Living Wage, whether a person is working, on maternity, or whatever? The cost would be the same or lower – because there would be no government administrative burden.

Liberal Democrat Work and Pensions minister Steve Webb put some more of them into words.

“As the system currently works… 93 per cent of the cost of statutory maternity pay is refunded to employers. In fact, more than 100 per cent is refunded to small firms,” he said.

“If an employer is reluctant to take on a woman who might have a child, therefore, the pure finances should not make a huge difference.

“I am not therefore sure that having a collectivised… system of insurance is any different substantively for the employer. Either way, employers are getting reimbursed — the costs are being met and are not in essence falling on the employer.”

In other words, there would be no benefit to employers.

He continued: “Whenever we set up a new scheme, we have new infrastructure, bureaucracy and sets of rules. If we had the levy—the at-work scheme that he described — we would have to define the new tax base, have a new levy collection mechanism, work out who was in and who was out, have appeals and all that kind of stuff. There is always a dead weight to such things. Simply setting up new infrastructure costs money. I would have to be convinced that we were getting something back for it.”

In other words, the scheme proposed by the intellectual Mr Elphicke would be more expensive than the current system.

“He then says that he wants the rate not to be some £130 a week, but to be £200 and something a week,” said Mr Webb.

“I was not clear where that extra money would come from. If we pay women on maternity leave double, someone must pay for it. If he does not want that to be an extra burden on firms, paying for it will simply be a tax increase.”

In other words, the scheme might be doubly more expensive.

In addition, he said the proposal created issues around whether it distorted the choice between becoming an employed earner or a self-employed person.

And he pointed out that Mr Elphicke’s proposal was based on a belief that women taking maternity leave would not return to their previous employment – but this is no longer true. Mr Elphicke’s proposal is based on an outdated understanding of the market.

Mr Webb said: “The norm now for an employer who takes on a woman who goes on maternity leave is that — four times out of five — he will come back to the job for which she was trained, in which she is experienced and to which she can contribute.

“We now find that three quarters of women return to work within 12 to 18 months of having their baby… We need to educate employers about the fact that, if they do not employ women of childbearing age, they are depriving themselves of talented people who contribute to the work force. Not employing such women is clearly a bad thing, not only from a social point of view, but from an economic point of view.”

There you have it. Mr Elphicke’s proposal was defeated by a member of his own Coalition government; it was archaic, it was expensive, and it offered no profit for the people who were to pay for it.

That won’t stop him pushing plans like this. You will have noticed that a keystone of his scheme was that businesses would pay for in-work benefits – not the state. Charlie Elphicke is a Tory, and Tories cut taxes for very rich people like themselves. He’ll go on pushing for it in one form or another, for as long as he remains an MP.

Even if it is expensive, harmful nonsense.

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Have 230,000 sick and disabled people been wrongly knocked off-benefit and forgotten?

Claimants for inactive benefits and the economically inactive – inactivity benefits: This chart shows claimants of Employment and Support Allowance, and Incapacity Benefit (the red dots), compared with survey figures for the economically inactive owing to long-term sickness.

Claimants for inactive benefits and the economically inactive – inactivity benefits: This chart shows claimants of Employment and Support Allowance, and Incapacity Benefit (the red dots), compared with survey figures for the economically inactive owing to long-term sickness.

After all the government’s efforts to kick people off long-term sickness benefits, the number of claimants has risen – but statistics seem unable to account for nearly a quarter of a million people.

Even though Atos and now other private assessors are working hard to meet increased reassessment targets for Incapacity Benefit and Employment and Support Allowance, the government is paying out more money on these benefits – to around two million claimants.

This is a surprise for an administration that has been merrily throwing people off-benefit since it came into office, but it raises an important question: What has happened to those people?

In its January labour market report, the Centre for Economic and Social Inclusion said; “The number of the economically inactive who were long-term sick or disabled rose by 40,000… as did the benefit figure. The rise in the benefit figures shows ‘early estimates’ of benefit numbers.

“The rise in both ESA/IB claimants and in the comparable survey measure is a surprise given continued IB reassessment. The impact of IB reassessment on the total claimant numbers appears to be negligible as yet, although there remains some way to go with assessments and (particularly) appeals. This factor will need to be watched closely.”

You see, the expectation was for the figure to be much lower. We know from the DWP itself that benefit reassessments have been taking place at a rate of 11,000 per week, and the assessors have been finding 68 per cent of claimants ‘fit for work’.

This means that in the last year, the work capability assessment will have found 389,000 people ‘fit for work’ and kicked them off-benefit. Around 40 per cent of them – 155,600 – are likely to have appealed, in which case they will still be on the system.

So the number of claimants would have dropped to 1,806,600. We now have 2 million claimants. Some of them will be brand new; some of them may be re-claims. We don’t know how many.

The fraud rate is 0.7 per cent. Assuming all those people have given up pretending to be sick/disabled, that means 1,634 people correctly had their benefits cut off, while 231,766 were treated unfairly by the assessors

This suggests that a number between 191,766 and 231,766 people have been wrongly knocked off the books. Where are they?

Is there a fault in this logic? Or is this figure the reason the Coalition government, Department for Work and Pensions, and Iain Duncan Smith in particular will not release the mortality figures, showing the number of people who have died within six weeks of assessment/reassessment?

We don’t have enough information to know for sure, but the implications are terrifying.

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Abuse of sanctions causes huge drop in unemployment claims

131109doublespeak

Esther McVey must be so proud. She has managed to make the unemployment benefit system do the exact opposite of its original purpose.

Today, the Coalition announced that in the last three months the UK has enjoyed “the largest quarterly rise in employment since records began”, with 30.15 million people in work.

This might be a good thing, depending on whether those jobs are well-enough paid to keep their holders from having to claim in-work benefits. The number of hours worked has also increased, but this may be due to the increase in employment itself, rather than an indication of fewer zero-hours or part-time jobs, which help employers more than workers.

The real cause for concern is the huge leap in the number of unemployed people who are not claiming Jobseeker’s Allowance, to 1,015,000. That’s a massive 43.7 per cent of the total workless population.

JSA

Ms McVey was probably whooping with joy when she heard that her government’s policies have discouraged so many people from claiming. It means the government isn’t paying them any money in benefits – exactly as intended.

The figures speak for themselves. The new sanctions regime started in October 2012, when the percentage of people who weren’t claiming JSA stood at just 37 per cent (around 936,100 – there were 2.53 million unemployed at the time). In the 15 months since, a further 78,900 have been discouraged from claiming by the new system, according to the Centre for Economic and Social Inclusion (CESI).

They haven’t got jobs.

In fact, they don’t have any visible means of support.

Why aren’t they claiming?

“You apply for three jobs one week and three jobs the following Sunday and Monday. Because the job centre week starts on a Tuesday it treats this as applying for six jobs in one week and none the following week. You are sanctioned for 13 weeks for failing to apply for three jobs each week.”

“You have a job interview which overruns so you arrive at your job centre appointment nine minutes late. You get sanctioned for a month.”

“Your job centre advisor suggests a job. When you go online to apply it says the job has “expired” so you don’t apply. You are sanctioned for 13 weeks.”

“You are on a workfare placement and your job centre appointment comes round. The job centre tells you to sign on then go to your placement – which you do. The placement reports you for being late and you get sanctioned for 3 months.”

These are all real experiences of real jobseekers – not scroungers, skivers or layabouts, as reported in a Vox Political article last month.

And they’re still going on. Benefit Tales published this account, from Facebook page The People vs the Government, DWP and Atos, today: “My lad been sanctioned yet again by job centre this time for not applying for enough jobs. He has applied for all those he can physically get to, we live in a rural area and buses are very limited. Yet they said he should have applied for the ones that are impossible for him to get to and from.”

So let’s all remember, next time we hear the government spouting “good news” about employment figures… It isn’t good news for everyone.

The benefit system has been perverted. It should be providing a safety net to keep people out of poverty while they find a new job.

Instead, the Coalition is bullying people into destitution and asking us to celebrate.

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Let’s start the New Year with some hopeful news

140101appeal

The Information Commissioner and the Department of Work and Pensions will have to defend, before a tribunal, their decision to refuse my Freedom of Information request on claimant mortality.

Readers will recall that this blog, along with others, has been trying to use official channels to secure publication of the number of people who died while going through the claim process for Incapacity Benefit or Employment and Support Allowance during 2012.

This process has been drawn out beyond reason; the first request for the information was made before that year ended, and it is now 2014. First, the DWP flatly refused to provide any information, saying it had no intention to publish the figures – this was despite having published a statistical release on claimant deaths in 2011. Then, after I submitted a FoI request, the claim was that it was “vexatious”, and I had launched an “orchestrated” campaign “deliberately designed to irritate or harass the department and/or disrupt its business” – all based on a line at the end of the Vox Political article on the subject, in which I suggested readers who felt strongly about it might like to submit a FoI request of their own.

The Information Commissioner upheld the DWP’s decision, claiming that the most significant factor in his decision was that “the complainant runs an on-line blog in which the main focus is the DWP and their ‘cover-up’ on the number of Incapacity Benefit and Employment and Support Allowance claimants who have died in 2012”. This is clearly unsupportable, as would be clear to anybody glancing through the blog.

In this context, it is my pleasure to announce that HM Courts and Tribunals Service has accepted my notice of appeal and a hearing will be held, with all parties present, between the end of March and mid-May, 2014. The date has yet to be confirmed.

While this has been going on, Michael Meacher MP has submitted a Parliamentary Question on the same subject (you can read about it on his blog). If he succeeds in getting the information before I can, I still intend to go ahead with the appeal.

It is important that government departments should not believe they can crush a legitimate request for information that is a matter of pubilc interest by playing fast and loose with the Freedom of Information Act.

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