Dame Anne Begg, chair of the Work and Pensions committee.
A commenter on yesterday’s article about the death of a claimant at Ashton-Under-Lyne Job Centre raised an important point.
The comment was intended to harshly criticise the piece by misrepresenting it as saying Job Centre staff are responsible for forming government policies. Of course they aren’t – but as human beings with responsibility for their own actions, they may certainly choose whether to carry out those policies. They have personal responsibility for what they do. This means they must also take responsibility for the consequences of their actions.
The response to the commenter was that there is an advisor at Ashton-Under-Lyne Job Centre Plus whose decision led to the death of a claimant and that person must live with the fact for the rest of their life. It is possible they may have to pay a penalty for it (along with those who gave the orders), if some of us get what we want from a future government. If and when that happens, resigning may seem like a much better option.
But that won’t happen at all, if nobody investigates what happens.
Here’s a letter to Dame Anne Begg, chair of the Commons Work and Pensions Committee, asking for that investigation. Perhaps readers of this article may wish to write to their own MP, asking them to support the request. The letter runs as follows:
A blog article of mine about the death of a claimant at Ashton-Under-Lyne Job Centre is gaining widespread attention. The person concerned – who happened to be homeless and to have mental health issues – had his benefits sanctioned by a Job Centre adviser. He then went out onto the streets where he died of hypothermia.
It seems unlikely that this person would have died if his benefits had not been removed. According to the originating article, Job Centre staff used the famous ‘Nuremberg Defence’ that they were “only following orders”.
Personally, I don’t think this is good enough. There is a Job Centre adviser at Ashton-Under-Lyne who is responsible for the death of a claimant – a person over whom they, together with the rest of the DWP and the Coalition Government, had a duty of care.
I think the situation needs to be investigated and the relevant people made to pay a penalty. Do you agree and will you be able to use your position on the Work and Pensions Committee to make this happen?
If DWP staff think they can get away with this, it will happen again and again. Who knows how often it has happened already?
Ashton-Under-Lyne Job Centre Plus: Yes, an image of David Cameron looking like a Nazi might have been more striking but the fact is that the evil work carried out in modern Britain takes place behind the most inconspicuous facades – like this.
I was stopped by a homeless chap who wanted to congratulate us on our hard work. He said that he hated this Job Centre. His friend who lived on the streets with him had been sanctioned after being taken off the sickness benefits that he was on and was put on Job seekers Allowance. He had severe mental health and addiction problems. He was sanctioned, and without warm clothes and very little food he fell asleep on the streets and never woke up. He died of hypothermia. People had passed him and thought that he was asleep. He didn’t stand a chance. And what do the Job Centre staff say? “We are only following orders.” Most don’t feel any guilt or remorse. And we know that this government doesn’t either.
It seems DWP responses to Freedom of Information requests are now known before the questions have even been considered.
Disability researcher Samuel Miller received an email from a senior case officer at the Information Commissioner’s Office today (Monday), referring to his long-standing request for information on Employment and Support Allowance/Incapacity Benefit claimant mortality – the number of people who died in 2012 while claiming these benefits.
It stated: “I have reviewed all the information available to me and note that the Commissioner has dealt with a similar complaint.
“You may be aware of the decision notice issued in [the case of my own FoI request, which is well-documented on this site]. That case has now been appealed to the Information Tribunal by the complainant.
“Under the circumstances I would strongly recommend that we do not proceed any further with your case until the Tribunal has reached a decision.
“I understand that this is a highly sensitive and important issue to you, but there is little to be gained by continuing the case as it stands. This is because DWP has not specifically applied an exemption when refusing your request, other than stating it does not intend to publish a further report and is monitoring requests etc. Therefore, I would have to direct DWP to issue a new refusal notice citing an appropriate exemption, and the process would in effect begin again. An internal review would be required before bringing your complaint to the Commissioner. I note that your original request pre-dates that in [my case] so it is unlikely that DWP could apply the same exemption to your request in hindsight.
“I appreciate that this seems like unnecessary ‘red tape’ however, we are bound by the legislation we oversee. The most that could be achieved at this stage would be to potentially find DWP in breach of section 1 and section 10 of the FOIA.”
For information, section 1 covers a general right of access to information, and may apply as Mr Miller’s request was not recognised as coming under the FoI Act, while section 10 refers to the timescale in which a public authority must respond to a request for information (20 days in the case of FoI requests) so it is likely that this section was breached by no less than six months.
The case officer continued: “In the event that the Tribunal disagrees with the Commissioner’s decision they can order DWP to disclose the information requested. If that proves to be the case then the information will be in the public domain and likely to be on the DWP website.
“Given the above, I recommend that this case is now closed. I would be grateful if you would confirm that you have no objection to this.”
The first thing to note about this is that it seems the Information Commissioner’s Office feels qualified to predict the result of a FoI request to the DWP.
Why go straight to rejection, when the request has not yet been considered in the context of the Freedom of Information Act? Should it not be examined in that light first, before proceeding to consideration of whether to provide the information or refuse it?
If the question has not been considered as a Freedom of Information request, a case officer from another organisation cannot – legally – tell a requester whether it will be refused or not.
This casts doubt upon the validity of the entire process.
Secondly, it seems both the Department for Work and Pensions and the Information Commissioner’s Office have chosen to link Mr Miller’s request with my own. This is inappropriate. My request was made after his was rejected, in response to that rejection, but is a separate request and each should be judged on its own merits.
For example, my request was rejected due to a claim that I had organised a campaign of harassment against the DWP. This is nonsense when applied to me, and irrelevant when applied to Samuel; nobody even knew about his request until he received his reply.
In my case, the Information Commissioner sided with the DWP for the even more ridiculous reason that I run a blog “in which the main focus is the DWP and their ‘cover-up’ on the number of IB and ESA claimants who have died in 2012”. That was “the most significant factor” in his opinion, but even the most disinterested glance through this site disproves it. Samuel Miller has a site, but it is concerned with documenting the problems facing disabled people and any suggestion that it is part of a plot to bring down any part of the government would be ludicrous.
Mr Miller is furious at this treatment of his entirely appropriate and legally-submitted request which, let’s not forget, pre-dates my own, as another part of the same matter. It isn’t.
As he put it in an email today: “No disrespect intended… but I take umbrage that the ICO is violating my rights by linking my case to your Tribunal appeal. My case should be judged on its own merits, without the taint of a ‘vexatious’ ruling.
“It’s very upsetting that The Information Commissioner’s Office regards us as conjoined twins, joined at the hip like Chang and Eng Bunker (1811–1874).”
I sympathise completely.
I hope the ICO case officer will soon be receiving notice that Mr Miller does object to this treatment, that he wants his request considered on its own merits, and that he will consider any further action after a decision has been made in the proper manner.
But I feel constrained to go on record right now to say that, if he does, I will have had nothing to do with it.
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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.
We always knew that the Tories don’t give a damn about the fundamental principles of our National Health Service – for example, the one that says access to healthcare should be based on clinical need.
The papers today are reporting on a Conservative Party document which proposes a cap on the number of GP consultations you will be allowed to have every year.
The attitude seems to be that allowing people to see their doctor as many times as are needed is a luxury that the UK cannot afford. From this, we can conclude that money is more important than health to them.
This is contradictory, though – didn’t the Conservatives push through an unnecessary top-down reorganisation of the health service in England at a cost of £3 billion? And aren’t they busily opening up opportunities for their chums in private health companies to make a profit out of the NHS, meaning billions more will be siphoned off into their bank accounts as profit, rather than being used to benefit patients?
The paper asks readers to respond with their opinions on what a GP’s “core” or “essential” services should be, and asks if they should be better-defined so that patients know what they can expect. Significantly, it provides ‘case studies’ from Switzerland and the Netherlands, concentrating on health insurance schemes in use within those countries.
This is the direction of travel, then: We can see that the Tories definitely intend to push us all into buying health insurance schemes, rather than enjoying the current service which is free at the point of use.
Now join the dots:
Health insurance means we would only get what we pay for. If this consultation provides the blueprint, then the rest of the country would get a basic package that is defined by only a few Tory adherents and optimised to make the most profit for the companies running the schemes.
There is already an insurance company working with the UK government – Unum, the company with a criminal record in its home country, the USA, for selling schemes designed to make it close to impossible for anyone to receive a payout.
Do any of you seriously believe, if these plans go through, that you would receive any healthcare worth having?
I read about this on the day I also read about double-heart and lung transplant patient Linda Wootton, who died just nine days after being told her entitlement for Employment and Support Allowance had been stopped because she was fit for work (she was, in fact, dying on a hospital bed at the time).
My first impression was, therefore, that this was an attempt by the Conservatives to stop people from compiling the medical evidence needed to contest ESA entitlement decisions.
But then I remembered: The work capability assessment is not a medical test and does not rely on medical evidence from anyone who is qualified to have an opinion about it. So it can’t be that.
If this gets passed into law, you should expect your health, and that of everyone you know, to worsen exponentially as time goes by. It’s as the U2 lyric from the 1980s put it: “The rich stay healthy while the sick stay poor”. There will be many, many deaths due to preventable causes.
The New World Order conspiracy theorists are probably salivating at the thought of this – they’ll believe it proves what they’ve been saying all along, that there is a cadre of ‘elite’ manipulators who intend to thin out the world population and this is part of that agenda.
There is only one thing to do: Protest. The ‘discussion brief’ entitled ‘Local Health’ was buried on the Conservative Policy Forum website when the papers reported on it, but now it has magically found its way to the top of the homepage. So why not visit www.conservativepolicyforum.com, read the document for yourself and make your opinions known in no uncertain terms:
Hands off our NHS!
Ask yourself how many of the people who wrote the paper actually use the NHS. If they don’t play the game, why are they so determined to make up the rules?
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