The Man With No Time for the Truth is back again with more of the same shenanigans.
Iain Duncan Smith reckons his huge and unnecessary benefit cuts are breaking up the culture of unemployment on the UK’s housing estates – a culture he likened to that shown in the TV drama Shameless.
There’s just one problem with what he’s saying: It’s rubbish.
“The Work and Pensions Secretary revealed that cuts to jobless hand-outs had reduced the number of workless households in council homes to the lowest level since records began,” shrilled the Express report on Friday.
Apparently nobody had pointed out to either RTU or the Express that removing people from the unemployment figures does not automatically mean they are in work. It is far more likely to mean that our heartless Tory-led government of selfishness has consigned these people to destitution.
That’s of no consequence to Iain I-Believe-I’m-Right. If they’re off his books, he doesn’t worry about them. What a fine Christian attitude from this upstanding and still un-excommunicated Catholic.
“We are beginning to change this dependency culture that Labour bred and are turning it into an independence culture where people see they can take control of their own lives,” he lied. Throwing them to the wolves is not making them independent.
He added that the proportion of people in social housing who do not work had fallen from just under 50 per cent in 2010 to 41 per cent – and that he believed it would fall below 40 per cent. Perhaps this is because he has engineered a situation in which increasing numbers of unemployed people, unable to pay his Satanic Bedroom Tax, are being thrown onto the streets?
“People are beginning to say – I ought to go to work, I have to go to work,” he gloated, knowing that his party had devised a poverty trap in which falling wages are ensuring that people going to work will be no better-off for it.
People are, in fact, telling themselves they have to get off benefits before Iain Duncan Smith kills them – just as his policies have killed tens of thousands of incapacity benefit claimants.
And now the Tories reckon the country should support their plan to cut the maximum amount a household should claim in benefits from an already too-low £26,000 a year to £23,000. The original figure was in line with a Tory lie about the average family income. Does this mean incomes have dropped by £3,000 a year since they imposed the cap?
It seems the money ‘saved’ by the increased cap would fund three million apprenticeships, as David Cameron says he wants to “abolish” youth unemployment.
As ever, the devil’s in the detail. The money would be used to give 18-21-year-olds a six-month window to “find” work or training – but would be withdrawn if they did not carry out “community projects” like cleaning local parks.
And will any long-term jobs result? Or will these youngsters be thrown back after the money runs out, to be branded SNLR (as Iain Duncan Smith was, back in his Army days) – Services No Longer Required?
This is work formerly carried out by convicted criminals, which tells you everything you need to know about the Conservative attitude to unemployed youth.
Tomorrow will see a national day of protest against benefit sanctions, benefit cuts and the bedroom tax, according to RealFare.
“Campaigners will demand that it be ended now, along with vicious and unneccesary benefit sanction regimes,” the article states, before quoting from antibedroomtax.org.uk:
“Ex-soldier David Clapson died hungry and destitute after his benefits were stopped, the latest in a string of deaths and suicides related to sanctions and benefit cuts. The overwhelming majority of referrals to food banks are due to claimants being sanctioned.
“Sanctions cutting benefits of disabled people on Employment and Support Allowance, rose by nearly 580 percent between March 2013 and March 2014, and total sanctions rose to over a million last year, from 100,000 in 2010 (DWP figures).
“PCS union is supporting the 11 September protests. Research by PCS members working in the DWP revealed that 82% of members felt ‘pressured’ into sanctioning claimants, and 62% said they had made ‘inappropriate’ sanctions decisions.
“If this isn’t intimidation, I don’t know what is – it’s a very clear message to anyone: How dare you protest against us and, if you do, we’ll find you fit for work!” Anti-Atos protester Joanne Jemmett with the sign left by Atos workers outside the assessment centre in Weston-Super-Mare on Wednesday (“Fit enough to protest – fit enough to work!”) at the start of this short film documenting the demonstration there.
Watching the stories stack up in the wake of the national day of protest against Atos last Wednesday has been very interesting.
The immediate response was that Atos has approached the government, seeking an early end to its contract. This deal, under which Atos administers the hated Work Capability Assessments to people on incapacity or disability benefits, would have been worth more than £1 billion to the company over a 10-year period.
Allegedly, company employees have been receiving death threats, both during and after the protests. We’ll come back to those shortly.
The Conservative-led Coalition took this development in the way we have come to expect – spitefully. A DWP spokesperson said that the company’s service had declined to an unacceptable level, and that the government was already seeking tenders from other firms for the contract.
This is what happens when bullies squabble.
Atos is the big bully that has just had a shock because the other kids in the playground stood up to it and made it clear they weren’t going to stand for its nonsense any more. We’re told that all bullies are cowards and it appears to be true in this case – Atos went running to the bigger bully (the government) and said it was scared. The government then did what bigger bullies do; it said Atos was rubbish anyway and set about finding someone else to do its dirty work.
Here’s the sticking-point, though – as the BBC identified in its article: “The government was furious with Atos for leaking information it believes to be commercially confidential… If Atos wants to pull out early, some other companies may pay less to take those contracts on than they otherwise would.”
I should clarify that companies don’t actually pay for contracts; they offer to carry out the work at the lowest prices they think are viable, in competition with other firms. The government chooses the company it feels is best-suited to the work. In this situation, it seems likely that the possibility of death threats may put some firms off even applying.
So let’s come back to those threats. A spokesperson for the organisers of Wednesday’s demonstration tells us that pickets took place outside 93 Atos centres, across the UK. Most of these were very small – averaging 30 people or less (I can confirm that in Newtown, Powys, a maximum of 15 people attended at any one time). Brighton and London were bigger, but 12 demos had only one person present.
“That is really funny because, as you have seen, Atos are saying they had to close down all their centres for the day – up and down the country – because of huge hoards of scary, threatening disabled people issuing death threats,” the spokesperson said.
“All demos were peaceful and no trouble or arrests were reported.”
In the spokesperson’s opinion: “Atos have been planning to step down for a long time because they weren’t making enough profit and just used our tiny little demos as an excuse.”
Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC) and sister group Black Triangle issued a joint statement: “The bizarre exit strategy Atos have developed in identifying apparent physical threats on Facebook despite the growing lists of real deaths caused by the WCA regime is an outrageous insult to all those who have died and all those who have lost family members through this regime.
“It is an insult to those left without their homes, without money and needing to go to food banks.
“It is an insult to every person who has suffered worsening physical and mental health through this inhuman regime.”
The statement also poured water on any government claim that other companies had been put off bidding for the contract:”The alphabet corporations – G4S, A4E, SERCO, CAPITA – are already lining up to take over the multi-million profits and the mantle of the new Grim Reapers. The misery imposed by this Government and the DWP will continue as long as its heinous policies continue.”
I would strongly urge all readers to put their support behind the remainder of the statement, which asserted: “The Work Capability Assessment must also end.
“The reign of terror by this unelected Coalition Government which has awarded itself pay rises and cut taxes for those earning more than £150,000 while piling punishment, poverty, misery and premature death on everyone else in its policies of rich against poor must end.
“Make no mistake – we will continue to demonstrate against ATOS, now delivering the complete failure of PIP in which claims are being delayed by up to a year.
“We will demonstrate against any other company that takes over the WCA contract.
“We will continue to demand the immediate removal of the WCA, and the removal of this Government.”
In my article on the Bedroom Tax evictions taking place in my home town (yesterday) I made it clear that too few people are bothering to pay attention to the evils of the Conservative-Liberal Democrat Coalition government. That article received a huge response, garnering almost four times the readership of other recent posts within just 24 hours.
The situation described in this article is much worse – people aren’t being evicted from their homes; they are being forced off of the benefits that have kept them alive, pushed – by the government! – towards destitution, despair and death through either suicide or a failure of their health that their Atos assessment results deny should ever take place.
Today’s article should have more readers, after the success of yesterday’s – but we’ll have to see, shan’t we? If fewer people read it, we’ll know that they all just looked up for a moment, thought, “Oh, that’s interesting,” and went back to whatever distraction keeps them happy in the face of impending government-sponsored pain.
Any attempt to inform the public will fail if the public stops paying attention.
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When David Cameron stands up in all his hypocrisy and tells you that tearing apart the basic safety net that guaranteed people would not be left in hunger or destitution is part of his “moral mission”, even die-hard Tories should agree that the country has taken a turn for the worse.
When he defends an administration that has become so punitive that applicants who don’t get it right have to wait without food for months at a time, by claiming he is doing “what is right”, even die-hard Tories should agree that the man who claims he is Prime Minister has diverged from reality.
That is precisely what he has done, and you can bet that the Tory diehards will quietly go along with it because they think it is far better for other people to lose their lives than it is for their government to lose face.
Cameron has been responding after the Catholic Bishop of Westminster, Vincent Nichols, delivered a vehement attack on the social security “reforms” being forced on the country’s most vulnerable people by Iain Duncan Smith.
In the Daily Telegraph, Cameron smarmed: “Our long-term economic plan for Britain is not just about doing what we can afford, it is also about doing what is right… Nowhere is that more true than in welfare. For me the moral case for welfare reform is every bit as important as making the numbers add up.
“We are in the middle of a long and difficult journey turning our country around,” Cameron said. “That means difficult decisions to get our deficit down, making sure that the debts of this generation are not our children’s to inherit.
“But our welfare reforms go beyond that alone – they are about giving new purpose, new opportunity, new hope – and yes, new responsibility to people who had previously been written off with no chance.
“Seeing these reforms through is at the heart of our long-term economic plan – and it is at the heart too of our social and moral mission in politics today.”
Drivel. Any evidence-based analysis will find the exact opposite. Where are the opportunities in Workfare schemes that pay only benefits, meaning travel expenses alone put claimants out of pocket, and then send jobseekers back to the dole queue so rich companies can profit further by taking on more claimants on the same terms?
How can anyone derive hope from taking responsibility for their job search, when DWP staff at Jobcentre Plus are ordered to ignore their own responsibilities in favour of harsh sanctions for invented infringements of the Jobseeker’s Agreement?
And how is encouraging people to say they are self-employed, even though they have little chance of earning enough to support them and none of enjoying a holiday or a pension, different from writing them off with no chance?
Look at the new employment figures from the Office for National Statistics – the Coalition government has been making a song and dance about them ever since they came out. On the face of it, they seem reliable: In December 2013, 30.15 million people were in work of some kind, up by 396,000 from the same time the previous year; there were 2.34 million unemployed, down 161,000 from December 2012; and the Claimant Count (those on Jobseekers’ Allowance) was 1.22 million in January, down 327,000 from a year earlier.
However, the number of people marked as self-employed has rocketed to a record level, totalling one in seven of the workforce. That’s 4,370,000 – up 150,000 on the previous year. This is extremely suspicious, as the increase in the previous year totalled 25,000 – just one-sixth of this week’s figure.
Some of these people might be genuinely self-employed and making their new business work – but all of them? In an economy where productivity hasn’t increased since the Coalition took office? You’d have to be stupid to believe that.
Assuming the amount of real self-employment has increased in line with economic growth (at 1.9 per cent), that’s an extra 25,475 in 2013, leaving 124,525 in limbo. Are these really self-employed? Or were they told by Jobcentre advisors to say so and claim working tax credits (as we’ve seen in the past), leading to a huge debt when HMRC tells them they have been claiming fraudulently and have been overpaid?
How many of the unemployed have been wiped off the books due to sanctions? We don’t know, because we don’t have figures up to December 2013. We do know that 897,690 sanctions were enforced in the year to September 2013. We don’t know how many were for one month, how many for three months or how many for three years, but we do know that the rate was six per cent of jobseekers per month in the three months to the end of September 2013. Assuming that rate stayed solid, it suggests that 73,200 were off-benefit due to sanctions in December and should be added to the Claimant Count to give a more accurate figure.
How many of the unemployed have been wiped off the books due to Workfare? We don’t know. How many are unemployed but on Universal Credit, which isn’t included in the Claimant Count? We don’t know – 3,610 were on it at the end of November last year, but the DWP has not divided them into those in work and those without.
David Cameron has access to all of this information, and he doesn’t care. He also has access to the mortality figures for claimants of Incapacity Benefit/Employment and Support Allowance, that the DWP has been withholding from the rest of us, probably for fear of sparking an international outcry. He doesn’t care about that either.
His comments are therefore doubly outrageous – not only is he claiming that his Coalition’s changes are having a beneficial effect when the figures demonstrate the opposite, but he is also claiming the moral high ground when his actions are more appropriate to the populace of the Pit.
In terms of his morality, there can be only one description for him and his cronies:
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Calls for a ‘commission of inquiry’ into the impact of the government’s changes to social security entitlements on poverty have won overwhelming support from Parliament.
The motion by Labour’s Michael Meacher was passed with a massive majority of 123 votes; only two people – David Nuttall and Jacob Rees-Mogg – voted against it.
The debate enjoyed cross-party support, having been secured by Mr Meacher with Sir Peter Bottomley (Conservative) and John Hemming (Liberal Democrat).
Introducing the motion, Mr Meacher said: “It is clear that something terrible is happening across the face of Britain. We are seeing the return of absolute poverty, which has not existed in this country since the Victorian age more than a century ago. Absolute poverty is when people do not have the money to pay for even their most basic needs.”
He said the evidence was all around:
There are at least 345 food banks and, according to the Trussell Trust, emergency food aid was given to 350,000 households for at least three days in the last year.
The Red Cross is setting up centres to help the destitute, just as it does in developing countries.
Even in prosperous areas like London, more than a quarter of the population is living in poverty.
According to the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, for the first time, the number of people in working families who are living in poverty, at 6.7 million, is greater than the number of people in workless and retired families who are living in poverty, at 6.3 million.
Child poverty will rise from 2.5 million to 3.2 million during this Parliament, around 24 per cent of children in the UK. By 2020, if the rise is not stopped, it will increase to four million – around 30 per cent of children in the UK.
The use of sanctions depriving people of all their benefits for several weeks at a time, had increased by 126 per cent since 2010 and 120 disabled people who had been receiving jobseeker’s allowance had been given a three-year fixed duration sanction in the previous year.
There are now more than 2,000 families who have been placed in emergency bed-and-breakfast accommodation after losing their homes.
The per cent rise in the overall homelessness figures last year included nearly 9,000 families with children, which is the equivalent of one family losing their home every 15 minutes.
A third of families spent less than £20 a week on food and that the average spend on food per person per day was precisely £2.10. That is a third less than those families were able to afford three months before that.
The proportion of households that had to make debt repayments of more than £40 a week had doubled and the average level of debt was £2,250.
A third of families had council tax debt.
2.7 million people had lost out through the Government’s changes to council tax benefit – many of them disabled people, veterans and some of the most vulnerable in our communities.
Households were having to spend 16 per cent more on gas and electricity.
There are 2.5 million people who have been unemployed for the best part of two years, and there were 562,000 vacancies when the debate took place (Monday), so four out of five of those who are unemployed simply cannot get a job whatever they do.
Cuts to local authorities mean many home care visits are limited to 15 minutes.
The 10 per cent of local authorities that are the most deprived in the country face cuts six times higher than those faced by the 10 per cent that are the most affluent.
60 per cent of benefit cuts fall on those who are in work.
Mr Meacher said the biggest cause of absolute poverty was the huge rise in sanctioning, often for trivial reasons such as turning up five minutes late for a job interview or the Work Programme:
A dyslexic person lost his Jobseekers Allowance because his condition meant that in one fortnightly period he applied for nine jobs, not 10. He was trying to pay his way and already had work, but it provided only an extremely low income.
The jobcentre didn’t record that a claimant had informed them that he was in hospital when he was due to attend an appointment and he was sanctioned.
A claimant went to a job interview instead of signing on at the jobcentre because the appointments clashed – and was sanctioned.
A claimant had to look after their mother who was severely disabled and very ill – and was sanctioned.
A Job Centre sent the letter informing a claimant of an interview to their previous address, despite having been told about the move. The claimant was sanctioned.
A claimant was refused a job because she was in a women’s refuge, fleeing domestic violence and in the process of relocating, but I was still sanctioned.
Mr Meacher also quoted what he called a classic: “I didn’t do enough to find work in between finding work and starting the job.”
The latest DWP figures suggest that more than one million people have been sanctioned in the past 15 months and deprived of all benefit and all income. “Given that the penalties are out of all proportion to the triviality of many of the infringements, and given that, as I have said, four out of five people cannot get a job whatever they do, the use of sanctioning on this scale, with the result of utter destitution, is — one struggles for words — brutalising and profoundly unjust,” said Mr Meacher.
Other reasons for the rise in absolute poverty included:
Delays in benefit payments.
The fact that it is impossible for many poor and vulnerable people to comply with new rules – for example a jobseeker who asked to downsize to a smaller flat who was told he must pay two weeks’ full rent upfront before getting housing benefit. He does not have the funds to do so and is stuck in a situation where his benefits will not cover his outgoings due to the Bedroom Tax.
The Bedroom Tax, which applies to around 667,000 households, and two-thirds of those affected are disabled. More than 90 per cent of those affected do not have smaller social housing to move into.
The Benefit Cap, imposed on a further 33,000 households.
Mistakes by the authorities; up to 40,000 working-age tenants in social housing may have been improperly subjected to the Bedroom Tax because of DWP error (although Iain Duncan Smith claims a maximum of 5,000).
Mr Meacher said: “The Chancellor’s policy of keeping 2.5 million people unemployed makes it impossible for them to find work, even if there were employers who would be willing to take them, and the 40 per cent success rate of appeals shows how unfair the whole process is.”
Responding to a comment from David TC Davies (Conservative) that those who are not looking for work must realise there will be consequences, particularly when a million people have been able to come to the UK from eastern Europe and find work, Mr Meacher said, “Those who come to this country are more likely to be employed and take out less in benefits than many of the indigenous population.”
He asked: “Is all this brutality towards the poor really necessary? Is there any justification in intensifying the misery, as the Chancellor clearly intends, by winding up the social fund and, particularly, by imposing another £25 billion of cuts in the next Parliament, half of that from working-age benefits?
“After £80 billion of public spending cuts, with about £23 billion of cuts in this Parliament so far, the deficit has been reduced only at a glacial pace, from £118 billion in 2011 to £115 billion in 2012 and £111 billion in 2013. Frankly, the Chancellor is like one of those first world war generals who urged his men forward, over the top, in order to recover 300 yards of bombed-out ground, but lost 20,000 men in the process. How can it be justified to carry on imposing abject and unnecessary destitution on such a huge scale when the benefits in terms of deficit reduction are so small as to be almost derisory?”
Suggested alternatives to the punitive austerity programme of cuts came thick and fast during the debate. Challenged to explain what Labour’s Front Bench meant by saying they would be tougher on welfare than the Tories, Mr Meacher said: “As the shadow Chancellor has made clear on many occasions, is that we need public investment. We need to get jobs and growth. That is the alternative way: public investment in jobs, industry, infrastructure and exports to grow the real economy, not the financial froth, because that would cut the deficit far faster than the Chancellor’s beloved austerity.”
He asked: “How about the ultra-rich — Britain’s 1,000 richest citizens — contributing just a bit? Their current remuneration — I am talking about a fraction of the top 1 per cent — is £86,000 a week, which is 185 times the average wage. They received a windfall of more than £2,000 a week from the five per cent cut in the higher rate of income tax, and their wealth was recently estimated by The Sunday Times at nearly half a trillion pounds. Let us remember that we are talking about 1,000 people. Their asset gains since the 2009 crash have been calculated by the same source at about £190 billion.
“These persons, loaded with the riches of Midas, might perhaps be prevailed upon to contribute a minute fraction of their wealth in an acute national emergency, when one-sixth of the workforce earns less than the living wage and when one million people who cannot get a job are being deprived of all income by sanctioning and thereby being left utterly destitute.
“Charging the ultra-rich’s asset gains since 2009 to capital gains tax would raise more than the £25 billion that the Chancellor purports to need. I submit that it would introduce some semblance of democracy and social justice in this country if the Chancellor paid attention to this debate and thought deeply about what he is doing to our country and its people.”
Ronnie Campbell (Blyth Valley, Lab) suggested that the Government might save a lot more if its members “showed the same energy and enthusiasm for getting those who evade their taxes and run to tax havens as they do for going after the poor, the sick and people on the dole”.
Against this, David TC Davies offered insults and distortions of the facts, quoting the Daily Mail as though it provided an accurate account of current events: “Members of the shadow Cabinet might need a boxing referee to sort out their disputes at the moment, as we read today in the Daily Mail.”
He said: “We took office with a deficit of £160 billion and a debt that was rising rapidly to £1 trillion. That was after years of overspending in good times, as well as in bad, by Labour, a cheap money supply and lax banking regulation under the former Government.” Labour’s spending, up until the financial crisis, was always less than that of the previous Conservative administration; Gordon Brown and Tony Blair both ran a lower deficit than John Major and Margaret Thatcher, and at one point actually achieved a surplus, which is something that the Conservatives had not managed in the previous 18 years. While Mr Davies here complained about the “lax banking regulation”, Conservatives supported it at the time and in fact demanded more DE-regulation, which would have made the financial crisis worse when it happened.
“We had disastrous economic decisions, such as that to sell gold at a fraction of its real rate,” said Mr Davies. Yes – the UK lost around £9 billion. But compare that with the disastrous economic decision by George Osborne to impose more than £80 billion worth of cuts to achieve a £7 billion cut in the national deficit. The UK has lost £73 billion there, over a three-year period.
And Mr Davies said: “Worst of all and most seriously, we had a welfare system that allowed people to get into a trap of welfare dependency, leaving them on the dole for many years, but at the same time filling the consequent gap in employment by allowing mass and uncontrolled immigration into this country, which completely undercut British workers.” The first assertion is simply untrue; the second is a legacy of previous Conservative administrations that agreed to the free movement of EU member citizens, meaning that, when the eastern European countries joined in 2004, citizens migrated to the UK in the hope of a better life. Labour has admitted it should have negotiated for a delay in free movement until the economies of those countries had improved, making such migration less likely, but the situation was created before Labour took office.
Challenged on the Coalition’s record, Mr Davies fell back on the Tories’ current trick question, which is to counter any criticism by asking: “Is he suggesting that we are not doing enough to pay down the national debt? Is he suggesting that we should cut further and faster? If so, and if we had the support of other Opposition Members, that is exactly what the Government could do and, indeed, possibly should do. I look forward to seeing that support for getting the deficit down.” This disingenuous nonsense was batted away by Labour’s Hugh Bayley, who said “investing in the economy, creating jobs and thereby getting people off welfare and into work” was the way forward.
Mr Davies’ Conservative colleague Jeremy Lefroy took a different view, agreeing that increasing numbers of people are finding it impossible to make ends meet, and that job creation and apprenticeships were a better way out of poverty than changing the social security system alone. He agreed that sanctions were applied to his constituents “in a rather arbitrary manner”. He spoke against George Osborne’s suggested plan to remove housing benefits from people aged under 25, saying this “would have a drastic impact on young people who need to live away from home and who have no support from their families”. He spoke in favour of councils increasing their housing stock. And he admitted that disabled people faced severe problems when unfairly transferred from ESA to JSA: “A lady in my constituency says, ‘I am simply not fit for work, but by signing on for JSA I have to say that I am available and fit for work.’ She does not want to tell a lie.”
Steve Rotheram (Liverpool Walton, Labour) spoke powerfully about the effect of being on benefits: “Lots of people in my city are on benefits for the very first time. Far from being in clover — it beggars belief what we read in the right-wing press — they are struggling to make ends meet, and the problem that thousands of Liverpudlians are facing is new to them. For many, the idea that they might miss a rent payment is totally alien. They have not done that in the past 20 years, but since May 2010, their individual household incomes have been on such a downward trajectory that they now find themselves in rent arrears, seeking advice on debt management and unable to afford the daily cost of travel, food and energy. Figures suggest that 40 per cent of the adult population in Liverpool are struggling with serious debt problems.”
And he said poverty had health implications, too: “David Taylor-Robinson of the University of Liverpool and his fellow academics have highlighted the doubling of malnutrition-related hospital admissions nationally since 2008.”
John Hemming (Birmingham Yardley, LD) raised concerns about “the interrelationship between the welfare cap and victims of domestic violence, and whether there are situations that need more attention. I believe that people can get discretionary housing payment to leave a violent home, but it is important that we ensure that there is a route out of domestic violence for women. I am worried about that issue, just as I am about some wrongful sanctioning that I have seen. That does not help at all, because it undermines the whole process.” He also called for “a substantial increase in the minimum wage, because as the economy is improving the Government should look at that, rather than maintain things as they are”.
The vote gave huge endorsement to the call for an independent inquiry into poverty under the Coalition.
But with an election just 15 months away, how long will we have to wait for it to report?
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One of the critics sought to alter the stated opinion of David Cameron and his Conservatives by pointing to a letter from Margaret Thatcher to then-South African President PW Botha in 1985, seeking Mr Mandela’s release from prison. This part of the letter didn’t sway yr (dis-)obdt srvt, as the suggestion seemed to be made as part of advice on how Mr Botha could gain political advantage from the situation, rather than from any genuine moral standpoint.
The letter did feature comments that are of considerable interest and relevance at this time – relating to sanctions. Mrs Thatcher wrote: “The Commonwealth meeting opened with forty-five countries seeking extensive trade and economic sanctions against South Africa… My rebuttal of the case… rested on two main premises: that sanctions do not work, indeed are likely to be counter-productive and damaging to those they are intended to help: and that it was inappropriate to take punitive action against South Africa at the very moment when you are taking steps to get rid of apartheid and to make necessary changes in the system of government in South Africa.”
Let’s take these comments back home and apply them to people who are unemployed in the UK today.
The Department for Work and Pensions, under Iain Duncan Smith, imposed a tough new regime of sanctions against Jobseekers’ Allowance claimants in November last year.
Now, sanctions can be imposed for a month if a claimant is judged to be not actively seeking a job or being available for work. Subsequent misbehaviour along these lines would mean a 13-week period without benefit. The claimant must then reapply for benefit in both instances.
Benefit may also be lost for 13 weeks if a jobseeker fails to attend an interview with a Job Centre advisor, although it restarts automatically at the end of this period.
The highest sanction withdraws JSA for 13 weeks if a person leaves their job voluntarily, rising to six months for a second “failure” and three YEARS for a third.
In the eight months between the application of the new rules and June this year, nearly 600,000 JSA claimants were sanctioned. Employment Minister Esther McVey claimed that this affected only a small proportion of jobseekers – “The vast, vast majority of people don’t get sanctions” – but when you compare the actual number of sanctions (553,000) with the number of people on JSA (1,480,000) it becomes clear that this is not true.
In September 2012, 1,570,000 people were on JSA. The government has been claiming that the figure has dropped because people are getting jobs but from these figures it seems far more likely that they have had their money stopped instead.
Ms McVey also said: “The people who get sanctions are wilfully rejecting support for no good reason.” Let’s have a look at that with the help of this website. All the sanctions it describes were really imposed on real jobseekers by Job Centre Plus employees, and these are just some of them:
“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 9 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.”
The victims of these sanctions were clearly people who were trying to take steps to rid themselves of their unemployed status and get a job – but they were sanctioned by our Conservative-led government under a policy created by former Conservative leader Iain Duncan Smith. Draw a parallel with what Mrs Thatcher was saying about South Africa and it is clear that she would call that “inappropriate”.
But do they work? No.
According to Liam Purcell, writing in the Church Action on Poverty blog: “Where there are few jobs available, as in the North West of England, taking money away from people is hardly going to help them find jobs.
“Many of the unemployed despair of getting help and meaningful training. For most people who are sanctioned, it does nothing to help them acquire skills that would help them compete in the labour market.
“Having to apply online for dozens of inconvenient, unsuitable jobs for which they are poorly qualified, and which they may be physically or mentally incapable of holding down, is hardly a profitable use of time… Yet failure to comply can mean an end to even the minimum income produced by benefits.”
And the result? “Destitution, which follows, merely helps the poorest to learn how to survive by ducking and diving, by applying to charity, by falling into the clutches of payday lenders and loan sharks, by begging and sometimes stealing. Increasingly we come across people who find the whole process of claiming out-of-work benefits so demeaning and stressful that they just can’t be bothered to apply, and conveniently disappear from the official register of the unemployed.”
And conveniently disappear from the official register of the unemployed.
For those the system was originally “intended to help”, as Mrs Thatcher put it, her letter of 1985 was absolutely right: “Sanctions do not work [and] are likely to be counter-productive and damaging.”
But for a government that is desperately trying to claim that its policy on jobs is succeeding, sanctions that “conveniently disappear” people work very nicely indeed.
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Everyone should agree that the Tory fuss over former Co-op Bank chief Paul Flowers is an attempt to distract us all from a more serious transgression that they themselves have committed.
Flowers, who is also a former Labour councillor, was arrested last week after being filmed allegedly handing over money to pay for cocaine.
The Conservatives have spent the last few days working very hard to establish a link, in the public consciousness, between the criminal allegations against Flowers, the Co-op Bank’s current financial embarrassment – believed to have been caused because Flowers knew nothing about banking, and the Labour Party, which has benefited from loans and a £50,000 donation to the office of Ed Balls.
This is unwise, considering a current Tory peer, Viscount Matt Ridley, was chairman of Northern Rock at the time it experienced the first run on a British bank in 150 years. He was as well-qualified to chair that bank as Paul Flowers was to chair the Co-op. A writer and journalist, his only claim on the role was that his father was the previous chairman (apparently the chairmanship of Northern Rock was a hereditary position).
Ridley was accepted as a Tory peer after the disaster took place (a fact which, itself, casts light on Conservative claims that they were going to be tough on bankers after the banker-engineered collapse of the western economies that started on his watch). The Conservatives are currently obsessing about what happened between Flowers and the Labour Party before the allegations of criminality were made.
Ridley is listed as having failed in his duty of care, which is not very far away from the kind of responsibility for the Co-op Bank’s collapse that is alleged of Paul Flowers. (Source: BBC Any Questions, November 22, 2013)
In addition, the Co-op Bank is not the Co-operative Party or the Co-operative Movement, and those two organisations – one of which is affiliated with the Labour Party – must not be tarred with the same brush.
The Tories are hoping that the public will accept what they are told, rather than digging a little deeper for the facts.
There’s no real basis for their venom; they ennobled a man who presided over much worse damage to the UK’s financial institutions, and attracting attention to criminal behaviour by members or supporters of political parties would be a huge own-goal.
Therefore this is a distraction. From what?
Cast about a little and we discover that Jeremy Hunt is threatening to create a new criminal offence for doctors, nurses and NHS managers if they are found to have wilfully neglected or mistreated patients – carrying a penalty of up to five years in jail.
Some of you may be delighted by this move, in the wake of the Mid Staffs scandal – even though questions have been raised over the accuracy of the evidence in that case.
But let’s look at another controversial area of government – that of social security benefits for the seriously ill.
It appears the Department for Work and Pensions, under Iain Duncan Smith, is planning to remove financial support for more than half a million people who – by its own standards – are too ill to seek, or hold, employment.
The Observer‘s report makes it clear that the arguments are all about money, rather than patient care. Smith is concerned that “only half of WRAG claimants are coming off-benefit within three years, and hundreds of millions of pounds are being tied up in administration of the benefit, including work capability assessments and the appeals process”.
No mention is made of the fact, revealed more than a year ago, that many of those in the WRAG in fact belong in the Support Group for ESA (the group for people recognised to have long-term conditions that are not likely to go away within the year afforded to WRAG members). They have been put in the WRAG because targets set by Smith mean only around one-eighth of claimants are put into the Support Group.
The knock-on effect is that many claimants appeal against DWP decisions. This has not only caused deep embarrassment for Smith and his officials, but added millions of pounds to their outgoings – in benefit payments and tribunal costs.
Not only that, but – and this is the big “but” – it is known that many thousands of ESA claimants have suffered increased health problems as a result of the anxiety and stress placed on them by the oppressive process forced upon them by Iain Duncan Smith.
This means that between January and November 2011, we know 3,500 people in the WRAG died prematurely. This cannot be disputed by the DWP because its claim is that everyone in the WRAG is expected to become well enough to work within a year.
These are not the only ESA claimants to have died during that period; a further 7,100 in the Support Group also lost their lives but are not used in these figures because they had serious conditions which were acknowledged by the government and were getting the maximum benefit allowed by the law.
What about the people who were refused benefit? What about the 70 per cent of claimants who are marked “fit for work” (according to, again, the unacknowledged targets revealed more than a year ago by TV documentary crews)?
We don’t have any figures for them because the DWP does not keep them. But we do know that many of these people have died – some while awaiting appeal, others from destitution because their benefits have been stopped, and more from the added stress and insecurity of seeking work while they were too ill to do it.
Now Iain Duncan Smith (we call him ‘RTU’ or ‘Returned To Unit’, in reference to his failed Army career) wants more than half a million people – who are known to be too ill to work – to be cut off from the benefit that supports them.
Let’s draw a line between this and Jeremy Hunt’s plan to criminalise medical professionals whose wilful, reckless or ‘couldn’t care less’ attitude to patients’ needs causes avoidable death or serious harm.
Clearly, such an attitude to people with serious long-term conditions should be carried over to all government departments, and yet nobody is suggesting that the DWP (and everybody who works for it) should face the same penalties.
By its own admission, choices by DWP decision-makers – acting on the orders of Iain Duncan Smith – have led to deaths. We no longer have accurate information on the number of these deaths because Smith himself has blocked their release and branded demands for them to be revealed as “vexatious”. No matter. We know they have led to deaths.
If doctors are to face up to five years in prison for such harm, then government ministers and those carrying out their orders should be subject to the same rules.
By his own government’s standards, Iain Duncan Smith should be in prison serving many thousands of sentences.
This request was refused on the specious grounds that it was “vexatious”. The DWP officer making the refusal cited as his reason, not any part of the request itself, but the last line of the blog entry about it, stating “I strongly urge you to do the same. There is strength in numbers”.
The DWP decision-maker used this to claim that the request “is designed to harass DWP in the belief that encouraging others to repeat a request which they know has already been raised will affect the outcome of that request” and stated very clearly that this was “the stated aim of the exercise”.
In other words, the Department decided to squirm out of its responsibility by making a false claim about something that was not even part of the request.
A demand for reconsideration was soon wending its way on electric wings to the DWP, pointing out a few home truths from the Information Commissioner’s guidance notes on “Dealing with vexatious requests”, refuting the position the Department had chosen to take.
The guidance states that a public authority must have reason to believe that several different requesters are “acting in concert as part of a campaign to disrupt the organisation”. In this instance, “acting in concert” does not cover a sentence at the end of a blog entry suggesting that people who feel the same way about an issue might like to do something about it. That is perverse.
The guidance also states that “it is important to bear in mind that sometimes a large number of individuals will independently ask for information on the same subject because an issue is of media or local interest”. Media interest must include mention in a blog that is read up to 100,000 times a month, and the DWP decision-maker had clearly failed to recognise that people can only take action on a issue when they know it exists and have been told there is something they can do!
The reconsideration demand also quotes examples of evidence an authority might cite in support of its case that a request is vexatious, such as whether other requesters have been copied in or mentioned in email correspondence – in other words, can it be proved that these co-conspirators are working together? Nobody involved with Vox Political knows of any other request made “in concert” with our own, and the direct question to the DWP, “Have you received such correspondence?” went unanswered. We must therefore assume they have not.
ICO guidance also states that a website must make an explicit reference to a campaign. Vox Political did not.
The only logical conclusion is that the request – and any others that followed it – were “genuinely directed at gathering information” – according to ICO guidance. In that circumstance, the only reason the DWP could legally use to refuse the request is that it would “cause a disproportionate and unjustified level of disruption, irritation or distress” – which it cannot prove as the information is available to it, and would only have to be collated once. After that, distribution to anyone requesting it would be easy, via email.
The response that arrived today was written by someone “of a senior grade to the person who dealt with your request previously” but who appears to be so ashamed of their own response that they have failed to legitimise it with their own name.
This person stated: “The guidance on vexatious requests encompasses a range of activities including requestors [sic] acting in concert to repeatedly request the same information. Thus I uphold the original decision.”
No information was provided to support this claim, therefore it is irrelevant and the DWP is in breach of the Freedom of Information Act.
The matter will now go to the Information Commissioner who will, in time, make mincemeat of the DWP arguments.
But it will take time.
This is what the Department wants, of course – time. Time to continue with its dangerous policies, which are deeply harmful to the unemployed, the sick and the disabled and have caused many, many thousands of deaths. It seems clear that ministers want this… ‘social cleansing’, you could call it… to continue for as long as possible and do as much harm as possible.
Curiously, the Director of Public Prosecutions may have just shot them in the foot.
The DPP, Keir Starmer QC, has declared that anyone found to be cheating on benefits in England and Wales could face longer jail terms of up to 10 years, after he issued guidance that they should be prosecuted under the Fraud Act rather than social security laws.
He clearly hasn’t considered the possible advantages of this for people who would otherwise face an uncertain future of destitution, worsening health and even imminent death if their benefits are refused. To them, a term in jail might seem like absolute luxury.
What greater incentive could there be for someone to lie extravagantly about their situation on a benefit form than the possibiity of losing everything, including their life, if they don’t get the money? If the alternatives were imprisonment or death, what do you think a person on the danger line would take?
This blog therefore predicts an increase in the UK prison intake due to benefit fraud.
And here’s the funny part: Mr Starmer said it was time for a “tough stance” because the cost of benefit fraud to the nation is £1.9 billion (he was wrong; in fact it’s only £1.2 billion, unless new figures have been released).
One year’s ESA costs the state around £5772, while a year’s imprisonment costs £37,163 – in other words, prison costs the taxpayer six times as much as the benefit. At that price, the DPP could imprison only 51,126 people before the cost of imprisoning them exceeds the cost of fraud – according to his own figures.
Of the 2.5 million people claiming ESA, the DWP is busy throwing 70 per cent off-benefit – that’s 1.7 million people who could justifiably be accused of benefit fraud and imprisoned. Total cost to the taxpayer: £63,177,100,000 per year.
Meanwhile, £12 billion in benefits goes unclaimed every year.
It seems this Conservative-led Coa-lamity of a government can’t even get its sums right.
The public voted him back in: Disgraced former Cornwall councillor Colin Brewer resigned over remarks he made about the disabled – it seems he has suggested disabled children should be treated in the same way as deformed lambs. These comments are beyond the pale but the electorate in his Cornish ward voted him back into office, knowing what he had said! What does that tell us about attitudes in Britain today?
This is a sequel. Last October, Vox Political published Living under the threat of welfare reform, a personal account of the hardships suffered by just one disabled benefit claimant as a result of the Coalition government’s crude and unnecessary attacks on people who are unable to work and must rely on social security. The author expressed fears about her future, after the main changes to benefits that were expected in April this year. Vox Political contacted her earlier this week to find out how she was coping, and this article is the result. Please welcome Sasson Hann:
Definition of ‘welfare’: the good fortune, health, happiness prosperity, etc., of a person, group, or organisation; well-being: to look after a child’s welfare; the physical or moral welfare of society.
When I first read ‘21st Century Welfare‘ published in the summer of 2010, 10 months after I was forced to give up my professional career, I realised that those of us reliant on benefits were facing an almost insurmountable challenge to their well-being: a challenge like nothing before in recent history.
At the time, I spoke to friends about the possible consequences of welfare reform, then subsequently became distraught and angry when hearing that people had died after having benefits reduced or removed; sadly, now a weekly occurrence. So when Vox Political asked me to write a guest blog – an update of my personal circumstances – in all honesty, I felt that my situation was nothing in comparison: it’s challenging nonetheless.
The collective mindset towards people who claim benefits has definitely changed since 2010. ‘Hate crimes’ are in the news; hateful comments under articles in online newspapers. In fact a new term coined by researchers for this change – particularly toward benefit claimants – is ‘infrahumanism‘; people viewed as ‘less’ than human. Colin Brewer, the disgraced former Cornish councillor who was forced to resign after making derogatory comments about disabled children is an extreme example of this. Only yesterday he was reported as saying that society should treat disabled babies like farmers treat deformed lambs: the police are investigating. What concerns me more is why a community recently voted him back into office: what does this indicate?
Attitudes have certainly altered towards me, though not as drastically. Strangers think that they have the right to walk up to me and demand: ”What’s wrong with your legs then?’ People think it’s fair that the government should force me from my home of 27 years. Others cast doubt on my integrity, not believing that I’m too disabled to work. Some repeatedly ask me to explain why I receive certain levels of care and benefits, even why I should need a wheelchair outside: not indicative of ‘infrahumanism’ exactly, but definitely insensitive. Of all the pressures a disabled person faces, frequently having to justify your disability is one of the hardest challenges.
As for financial matters, my income has dropped drastically since 2010. I receive DLA and I’m in the ESA support group; a half decent income. That was until 2 years ago when my local authority started charging me for my care – some £3,000 per annum – despite me having no assets or savings. Nevertheless, I adjusted, and figured that unlike some, at least I had a ‘personalised’ care package.
Then I had a care reassessment last year. The assessor informed me that most of what my carers do was ‘no longer funded’. Basically, the new packages focus on eating and keeping a person clean: we do more for pets. I fought and gained a hollow victory: whilst I retained 75 per cent of the hours, social services dictated their use; I would also have to pay extra for private care. Ironically, in 2011, the government published a document about personalisation, but implemented the exact opposite. The reassessment commences again in July – another six months of stress compounded by the additional yearly financial and disability reassessments. I tell myself this is the ‘new normal’: I must rise to these challenges; not so easy when chronic illness dominates your life.
Beginning in April, I had the extra cost of a £100 per month bedroom tax (my housing association has nowhere for me to move to); along with the extra care costs, this totals £5,900 per annum. As a result, I can rarely socialise now, and it will take much longer to save to replace things. I reasoned that at least I have a home, enough money to pay bills, buy food, and the occasional treat. It’s unnerving though not having a financial buffer if my benefits are removed: a sobering thought. I have a good network of family and friends to help me, but ultimately, like others, they can’t afford to keep me financially long term; is it any wonder that some feel they cannot carry on, that there is no way out?
Multiply what I’ve lost by thousands of households in my area and country-wide, and imagine just how much money is being taken out of the local/national economy; how damaging this will become. In Wales for instance, due to historical poverty, the cuts to benefits have affected one in three people, such that the Welsh Assembly have recently appointed the first ‘Poverty Minister‘, claiming that austerity will cause hardship not known since the 1930’s.
When the Conservatives were last in power in the 80s, they scrapped housing benefit for the low-paid, water was privatised, and the Poll Tax was introduced. It had a dire affect on my family: we couldn’t afford heating so we suffered painful chilblains and contracted continual chest infections; without heating, the flat developed inch thick black mould on the walls; we couldn’t dry our clothes properly so they smelled of mildew; we were lucky if we could afford one meal a day; after a number of years our clothes and shoes wore out; we regularly had to go without soap, washing powder, loo roll, personal hygiene products and the like. It was a dark and miserable time for us.
I cannot begin to describe what it is like to have your dignity stripped away like this; I never thought I would see such hard times again: I was sadly mistaken. The current cuts to services and benefits go much further than this, leaving people with no safety net and no access to legal services. Incredulously, it isn’t even saving the government much money.
The government say we can’t afford the welfare bill, but regular readers of Vox Political will know there is in fact plenty of money sloshing around. The moving of public money into private hands, and also into the pockets of MPs and Lords:money that should be used to stimulate growth and improve the lives of all. If the post war government had enough money to set up the NHS, the welfare state, and embark on a massive building programme – when they were in a far worse financial situation – then our government can do the same. Yet laughably, MPs were this week lambasting the BBC because of the ‘excessive’ £24,000 average payment made to staff who moved to Salford, when MPs claim far more in expenses every year. On the other end of the scale, the ‘stock’– as the government like to call us – who suffer and die for the sake of a few pounds a week are collateral damage; acceptable losses like deformed lambs. And if those who are left cannot afford a home and food, so what? A nightmarish ‘survival of the fittest’ scenario.
I can’t do much to oppose this; I’m too ill to attend protests. Occasionally I help people claim benefits and appeal, apply to charities, look up information and advise them, write and print a CV, and I’ve even negotiated with bailiffs! I tell everyone I meet about how welfare reform is affecting people, and I write as much as I’m able. This is all some of us can do; facing each challenge and fighting each battle, one by one. Notwithstanding this human catastrophe, I remain sanguine: I love life and I will not despair.
Martin Luther King Jr said: “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge.” The government’s answer to that ‘challenge’ is to make the poorest destitute, the opposite to the definition of ‘welfare’: in this we perceive their ‘measure’. Consequently, we ‘infrahumans’ are facing a challenge so great that it will be remembered in history: are you up to this challenge? For all of the people who aren’t; for the many families who have lost loved ones: those of us left have to be.
Unrepentant: Ignorant old Tories like Lord Young cannot see anything wrong with starving workers – and, through lack of tax revenue, the benefit budget – to make fat profits for greedy business bosses. The families of all those who have died because of these policies might have a different point of view.
Apparently we are living in an excellent time for businesses to boost their profits – because labour is cheap.
That is what Lord Young, who advises David Cameron on enterprise, told the cabinet yesterday (May 11). His words make it crystal clear that working people who vote Conservative are classic examples of turkeys voting for Christmas. They beg to be exploited.
He said low wage levels in a recession made larger financial returns easier to achieve – in other words, he actually admitted that bosses could use the current state of the UK economy, as caused by his own government (not the previous Labour administration, for reasons we’ve covered in the past), to push workers’ wages down and keep more moolah for themselves.
Vox Political has accused the Conservatives of exactly this behaviour in the past, but we never expected to see a member of the government admit it so brazenly.
Perhaps this is more of the government’s pet ‘nudge’ theory at work. We have seen that benefit increases have been lowered in order to instil fear of destitution in the jobless, and in those who have low-paid jobs. Now, businesses are being urged to capitalise on this, exploiting their workforces with the obvious threat: “There are plenty of other people out there who’ll do it for less!”
Let’s just back this up with some statistics, courtesy of The Guardian , shall we? UK employees’ average hourly earnings have fallen by 8.5 per cent, in real terms, since 2009. That’s adjusting for inflation, and the newspaper got its figure from the Office for National Statistics.
Meanwhile, the 1,000 richest people in the UK are now worth more than £414 billion – up more than £155 billion in the three years to December 2012. And in April, the Tory-led government gave those people a £100,000 per year tax cut.
Lord Young is not to be confused with Sir George Young, the Tory Chief Whip who once famously said “the homeless are what you step over when you come out of the opera” – but he is cut from the same cloth.
He had to apologise after telling the Daily Telegraph that “for the vast majority of people in the country today, they have never had it so good, ever since this recession – this so-called recession – started”.
For this reason it is easy to suggest that he would have stepped over the body of Stephanie Bottrill, had he been the first to find it.
Oh – do you think that statement goes too far? Please, reserve your judgement until I have explained my reasoning.
Like so many members of the Tory government, this is a man who absolutely point-blank refuses to understand the relationship between the decisions he makes and the conditions in which the majority of us are forced to live.
This former advisor to the Prime Minister on health and safety laws has advocated relaxing them, ignoring the fact that this will increase the likelihood of work-related injury that makes it impossible for people who need the money to go to work.
This enterprise advisor was asked to conduct a “brutal” review of the relationship of government to small firms, presumably with a view to cutting off as much public assistance for small businesses as possible.
This former chairman of the Manpower Services Commission advised the late Baroness Thatcher on unemployment, and we may take it that it is due to this advice that joblessness skyrocketed during the Thatcher years.
He refuses to see that his attitude is causing the problem: By ensuring that Britain’s labour market remains “flexible” (read “low-wage”), he ensures that the national tax take remains far lower than it should be; low-paid workers form the overwhelming majority of the workforce. In turn, the low tax take means the government cannot pay off its debts and provides it with an excuse to cut public spending – especially on benefit payments.
Stephanie Bottrill had an auto-immune system deficiency, Myasthenia gravis, which meant she was permanently weak and needed constant medication. Doctors said she was too ill to hold a job, but she never qualified for disability benefits.
She committed suicide because she could not afford the cost of living after the Bedroom Tax was forced on her, and it has been said by others that she died for want of £20 per week.
It is the attitude of Tories like Lord Young that has deprived her of that money – and ultimately, of her life.
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