Tag Archives: Dispatches

Look at the diseases in the US food your Tory government wants you to eat

Yummy yummy diseases for your tummy: a chlorinated, antibiotic-fed chicken. It may well be full of salmonella, e.coli and excrement but your Tory government will be demanding that you eat it if it signs a trade deal with the United States.

Channel 4’s Dispatches has highlighted the danger into which Boris Johnson’s Tory government will force us, if it is allowed to make a trade deal that will kill UK farming and force us to eat chlorinated chicken and other diseased foods from the United States.

This Site told you on Tuesday (October 13) that the government has rejected calls to enshrine high food standards in law, saying it is enough that Tory ministers have said they will demand such standards in any trade negotiations with foreign nations.

These are the same Tory ministers who supported Johnson’s EU Withdrawal Agreement to the hilt in January, and now say that it is no good and they support breaking international law – turning the UK into a criminal state – instead, so their word is worth less than nothing; it is a promise of betrayal.

Dispatches has shown us what it will mean if we allow food into the UK from the United States:

Yes, you heard it correctly: the Americans would sell us meat that has animal excrement in it.

And yes: the diseases carried in this US meat would cause serious problems to people with long-term ill-health, meaning the Tories would be creating another opportunity to quietly kill off many thousands more people with long-term illnesses and disabilities and wipe them from the benefits bill.

Apparently somebody spoke up on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, demanding that the Tory government legislate for higher food standards.

But I fear this Twitter user has drawn the right conclusion:

That is my feeling, too: Boris Johnson’s loyalty lies with the US rather than with us.

Have YOU donated to my crowdfunding appeal, raising funds to fight false libel claims by TV celebrities who should know better? These court cases cost a lot of money so every penny will help ensure that wealth doesn’t beat justice.

https://www.crowdjustice.com/case/mike-sivier-libel-fight/


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Ex-cabinet ministers accused of telling China how to cash in on Brexit in C4 ‘sting’

The senior politicians were lured to a luxury Mayfair office (pictured) where they were secretly filmed discussing being paid for telling Chinese tycoons how to make money out of Britain leaving the European Union [Image from the Daily Mail].

Tory sleaze.

But is this the story the Sunday Times dropped for its fake news about a left-wing purge of Labour MPs?

A political storm erupted … over claims that three former Cabinet ministers secretly tried to earn thousands of pounds in a ‘cash for Brexit’ scandal.

The senior politicians were lured to a luxury Mayfair office where they were secretly filmed discussing being paid for telling Chinese tycoons how to make money out of Britain leaving the European Union.

Those targeted were ex-Health Secretary Andrew Lansley, former Chief Whip Andrew Mitchell, and ex-Trade Secretary Peter Lilley. All three … denied wrongdoing.

The latest Westminster sleaze claims follow a three-month investigation by Channel 4’s Dispatches programme.

Source: Cabinet ministers accused of telling China how to cash in on Brexit


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Torygraph Launches Scathing Attack On Commons Standards Commissioner After Rifkind/Straw Ruling

Painful though it is to agree with the Torygraph, the paper is absolutely right to go for Kathryn Hudson’s jugular in its editorial about her ruling on the Rifkind/Straw cases.

It seems that, rather than investigating MPs and uncovering wrongdoing, the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards is more interested in defending them against any investigation or criticism.

Where the Telegraph editorial questions whether she is fit to hold her post, This Writer would question whether that post should be dissolved altogether and potential wrongdoing by MPs referred to the police – preferably to be investigated by a force not directly connected to the Member in question or Parliament itself.

In her ruling, Kathryn Hudson, criticised the journalists who broke the story, commenting: “The distorted coverage of the actions and words of the Members concerned has itself been the main cause of the damage.

“If in their coverage of this story, the reporters for Dispatches and the Daily Telegraph had accurately reported what was said by the two Members in their interviews, and measured their words against the rules of the House, it would have been possible to avoid the damage that has been done to the lives of two individuals.”

But the Telegraph retorted with its own scathing editorial this week, saying the “sorry tale” of both ex-MPs proved “beyond doubt” that those in the Commons could not be trusted to regulate themselves over lobbying.

“Ms Hudson’s credulity towards MPs raises questions about whether she is fit to hold her post,” leader writers wrote, “yet her performance is laudable in comparison with the egregious work of the Standards Committee.

“Far from accepting any error by Sir Malcolm or Mr Straw, or any flaw in the rules they so nimbly stepped around, the committee suggests that the failing here lies with the public for not properly “understanding” the role of MPs.

It continued, saying: “That is bad enough. Worse are the committee’s words on the press. It is only because of investigative journalism that the conduct of Sir Malcolm and Mr Straw became known to the voters they were supposed to serve.

“Yet the committee’s report amounts to a warning to journalists not to carry out such investigations in future, promising to ‘consider further the role of the press in furthering…understanding and detecting wrongdoing’.”

Source: Daily Telegraph Launches Scathing Attack On Commons Standard Commissioner After Rifkind/Straw Ruling

Rifkind and Straw didn’t break lobbying rules – it seems they only offered

Sir Malcolm Rifkind: Not the only Tory suspected of wrong-doing.

Sir Malcolm Rifkind: Not the only Tory suspected of wrong-doing.

Parliament’s standards commissioner, Kathryn Hudson, has let former MPs Sir Malcolm Rifkind and Jack Straw off the hook after they were accused of corruption – but is this because they only offered to break the rules, rather than actually breaking them?

Rifkind and Straw were filmed secretly by Channel 4’s Dispatches documentary programme, speaking with an undercover reporter posing as a representative of a fake Hong Kong firm, ‘PMR’.

This representative asked Sir Malcolm if he would be able to provide advance information on HS3 – the mooted high-speed train route linking the northeast of England with the northwest.

He was recorded saying: “I could write to a minister… And I wouldn’t name who was asking… But I would say I’ve been asked to establish what your thinking is on X, Y, Z. Can you tell me what that is?”

Sir Alistair Graham, former chairman of the Committee on Standards in Public Life, said on the programme: “It’s absolutely clear in the Code of Conduct for Members of Parliament that they have to be open and frank in all communications and yet he was saying on that clip that he would be able to write to ministers, and he wouldn’t have to say who exactly he was representing.

“Well that would be a clear breach of the Code of Conduct and an example of, here, an experienced Member of Parliament rather using their privileged position as a public servant in trying to get access to information which would benefit individuals and this company in a way that I think the public would find totally unacceptable.”

But of course, he didn’t actually do it, because PMR was a fictitious company.

Jack Straw was filmed telling an undercover reporter how he managed to get Ukrainian law changed in order to allow another company to run its business more easily there – a perfectly legal and reasonable activity, according to Dispatches.

But then he said that EU regulations had been hampering the business so he “got in to see the relevant director general and his officials in Brussels” and got the regulations changed. He said: “The best way of doing things is under the radar.”

Sir Alistair Graham pointed out, on the programme: “That’s worrying because that’s saying ‘I can do these things without transparency’ – without the
openness and frankness that the MPs’ Code of Conduct is expecting is the normal behaviour from Members of Parliament.”

But, again, he didn’t actually do anything “under the radar” because PMR was a fictitious company.

So Ms Hudson cleared both former MPs of any wrong-doing – and gave both Dispatches and the Daily Telegraph (with whom the programme had run its investigation as a joint affair) a lashing.

“If in their coverage of this story, the reporters for Dispatches and the Daily Telegraph had accurately reported what was said by the two members in their interviews, and measured their words against the rules of the House, it would have been possible to avoid the damage that has been done to the lives of two individuals and those around them, and to the reputation of the House.”

This seems unreasonable as Dispatches actually filmed both these people making their claims, and measured them against the words of Sir Alistair Graham – and there was plenty of qualification in the voice-over, explaining what was permitted by the rules and what was not.

What was she really saying? That Rifkind and Straw had to carry out their suggestions before they could be accused of anything? Wouldn’t that be leaving things a little late? Fixing the barn door after the horse has bolted, to quote a well-known phrase?

Remember, this is the standards commissioner who was reluctant to examine the case of George Osborne, who paid mortgage interest on his paddock with taxpayers’ money before selling it off with a neighbouring farmhouse for around £1 million and pocketing the cash.

She refused to look into it, saying she had already investigated the case – but an examination of her report revealed no mention of the million-pound paddock at all.

Prime Minister David Cameron was said to have welcomed the commissioner’s whitewash, in a BBC report.

But Channel 4 is standing by its story and has asked broadcasting watchdog Ofcom to investigate the programme. Channel 4 says the programme raised legitimate questions and, in all honesty, this is true.

Let’s hope the result of this investigation takes Ms Hudson down a peg or two. She is long overdue for it.

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Channel 4, 8pm: DWP’s Universal Credit ‘Lobster Pot’ – Brian Wernham

lobster

Reposted from Brian Wernham’s blog:

“Jay Montrose had previously been living on his own and claiming UC as a single person. In June he moved in with his partner, Nikki Colton, who is pregnant, and their four-year-old son, Ethan. Montrose and Colton told Dispatches their claim took so long to process, they were unable to pay for food, rent and other bills, built up debts of £2,500 and eventually received an eviction notice from their landlord. Now their claim is being processed manually.” Sources: Guardian & Channel 4

DWP said the couple’s claim had been delayed because the pair had failed to complete the correct forms.

So, what went wrong at DWP? Lobster pots…

The intended ‘big bang’ implementation of Universal Credit was based on the ‘lobster pot’ principle. The idea was that once a claimant is on the Universal Credit IT system, he/she remains on it – no matter how complex their life becomes.

For this simplifying assumption to work, the staff (using the cobbled together IT that DWP has agreed to write off by 2016) have to calculate up to six existing benefits simultaneously as soon as a claimant’s life gets more complex. The IT simply can’t deal with that complexity, so it is up to staff at Job Centres to do so.

When the coalition government came into power, it introduced a new IT Strategy to ensure that incremental ‘Agile’ development would be the norm, and thus new IT projects would be less risky.  There has been one exception to the rule: the Universal Credit programme.

Despite DWP’s insistence that an Agile and incremental approach was taken on Universal Credit, the NAO and the Cabinet Office “do not consider that DWP has … appropriately adopted an Agile approach.”  The approach was, in fact, the opposite of Agile: it was predicated on a ‘big bang’ implementation of all the Universal Credit functions simultaneously from October 2013.  A target that has now been abandoned.

Can the Universal Credit Programme be put back on track?

(Visit Brian Wernham’s blog to read his thoughts on the matter.)

Follow me on Twitter: @MidWalesMike

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BBC confirms ‘Tory mouthpiece’ accusation with updated lies about ESA

131029bbcbias

I have complained to the BBC and the UK Statistics Authority about this disgrace.

Today (January 25) the BBC published a scurrilous little screed claiming that “nearly a million people who applied for sickness benefit have been found fit for work”. Needless to say, the figures come from the Department for Work and Pensions and aren’t worth the time it took to type them in.

The story states: “The DWP claims 980,400 people – 32% of new applicants for Employment and Support Allowance – were judged capable of work between 2008 and March 2013.

“More than a million others withdrew their claims after interviews, it adds.”

It goes on to say that disability campaigners had stated that the work capability assessment tests were “ridiculously harsh and extremely unfair”, but says nothing about the fact that an almost-identical story was withdrawn last year after it was found to be riddled with inaccuracies – if not outright lies.

Even more bizarre is the fact that the story does provide the factual reason for claims being withdrawn. They “either returned to work, recovered or claimed a benefit “more appropriate to their situation”.

In other words, these people used the system in exactly the right way, yet the DWP – and the BBC – are pretending that they were trying to fiddle it in some way.

To explain what happened last year, let’s look at a letter from Sheila Gilmore MP to Andrew Dilnot, head of the UK Statistics Authority, and his response. You can find it on page 39 of the DPAC report on DWP abuse of statistics.

The letter from Sheila Gilmore states: “On 30 March 2013 an article by Patrick Hennessy entitled ‘900,000 choose to come off sickness benefit ahead of tests’ was published in the Sunday Telegraph. Please find a copy enclosed. I believe that the headline and the subsequent story are fundamentally misleading because they conflate two related but separate sets of statistics. I would be grateful if you could confirm that my interpretation of what has happened is correct.

“The sickness benefit in question is Employment and Support Allowance (ESA). People have been able to make new claims for ESA since October 2008, but those in receipt of the benefits it replaced – Incapacity Benefit, Severe Disablement Allowance, and Income Support on the grounds of disability – only started migrating across in April 2011.

“The article implied that many of this latter group were dropping their claim rather than having to go through a face-to-face assessment, with the implication that they were never really ill in the first place and had been ‘playing the system’.

“However I have checked the figures published by the Department for Work and Pensions and it would appear that the figure of 900,000 actually refers to all those who have made new claims for ESA since its introduction over four years ago, but who have since withdrawn their application before undergoing a face-to-face assessment. These people were not claiming the benefit before and generally drop out of the system for perfectly innocent reasons – often people become ill, apply as a precaution, but withdraw when they get better.

“Of the 600,000 people who have been migrated from Incapacity Benefit over the past two years, only 19,700 have dropped their claim. This is the figure that should have featured in the headline, but the 900,000 figure was used instead.”

Mr Dilnot replied: “Having reviewed the article and the relevant figures, we have concluded that these statements appear to conflate official statistics relating to new claimants of the ESA with official statistics on recipients of the incapacity
benefit (IB) who are being migrated across to the ESA.

“According to official statistics published by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) in January 2013, a total of 603,600 recipients of IB were referred for reassessment as part of the migration across to ESA between March 2011 and May 2012. Of these, 19,700 claims were closed prior to a work capability assessment in the period to May 2012.

“The figure of “nearly 900,000” referenced in the article appears to refer to the cumulative total of 878,300 new claims for the ESA (i.e. not pre-existing IB recipients) which were closed before undergoing assessment in the period from October 2008 to May 2012.

“In your letter, you also expressed concern about the apparent implication in the Sunday Telegraph article that claims for ESA had been dropped because the individuals were never really ill in the first place. The statistical release does not address the issue of why cases were closed in great depth, but it does point to research undertaken by DWP which suggests that ‘an important reason why ESA claims in this sample were withdrawn or closed before they were fully assessed was because the person recovered and either returned to work, or claimed a benefit more appropriate to their situation’.”

What he was saying, in his officialese way, was that the Conservatives had wrongly ‘conflated’ monthly figures into a cumulative total; they had misled the press about the figures’ significance; and the press release (which then mysteriously disappeared) ignored a clear caveat in the DWP’s own report that the reason the claims were dropped each month had nothing to do with fear of medical assessment but were because people recovered and went back to work, or else were switched to another benefit deemed more suitable to their circumstances.

Now the BBC has resurrected this story, with brand new, larger numbers that add in the totals for 2013 without telling you whether these were all new claims, or repeat claims, or a mixture; they are all treated as new.

The claim that 980,400 people had been found fit for work after medical tests – the feared Atos work capability assessments – is also extremely questionable – as the BBC well knows.

Its own Panorama programme, ‘Disabled or Faking It?’, investigated whether the DWP was knocking people off-benefit in order to hit financial targets – in essence, making people destitute in order to show a budget saving. A Channel 4 Dispatches documentary, ‘Britain on the Sick’, proved that this was happening. Both were shown at the end of July 2012.

I have complained to the BBC and to Mr Dilnot about the deeply offensive and defamatory way in which these lies have been resurrected, in order to encourage the general public to hold people who are genuinely ill in hatred, ridicule and contempt. If you believe this cause is just, go thou and do likewise.

This behaviour is even more appalling when one considers the rise and rise of hate crime against the sick and disabled.

Members of groups such as DPAC or Black Triangle may even wish to take libel action against the corporation and the DWP on the basis of this report.

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The great wage con is keeping you poor

minimum-wage-poverty

Is anyone else sick of employers bleating that the minimum wage is hindering their business?

They must think we’re all stupid.

A few of them were on the BBC’s Any Answers on Saturday, saying the minimum wage keeps pay down, and that people can’t afford to go to work – especially if they live in London – because their housing costs are paid by benefits. This is nonsense.

The minimum wage is exactly what it claims to be – a minimum. And if people aren’t getting up to work for it because benefits give them more, we can see that it is not enough.

But let’s take this further: We all know that Landlord Subsidy is being restricted – especially in London, where landlords charge more than in the rest of the country. This means that people on low incomes in rented homes will be unable to pay the bills and will be forced to move somewhere cheaper (if they can find it), as intended by our extreme right-wing government.

Where are all these minimum-wage employers going to find their minimum-wage workers then?

Even that isn’t the limit of it, though. We know from such sources as the summer’s excellent Dispatches documentary on Channel 4 that employers have found ways around the minimum wage.

  • They have taken people on as self-employed contractors who are paid a flat rate for a day’s work – no matter how long that work takes – and being self-employed, these people pay their own taxes and National Insurance, and get no time off for holidays or if they are ill.
  • They have taken on workers on part-time contracts, meaning reduced or non-existent holiday and sick pay entitlements – and then boosted up their hours to full-time levels with fake ‘overtime’ offers.
  • They have employed workers on zero-hours contracts, meaning they can demand an employee’s presence at any time and make them work for as long – or short – a period as required. Again, there are no tax administration obligations, NI, sickness or holiday benefits.

The result is very nice for a government of liars such as the current Westminster administration, because it seems they have managed to increase employment (in fact the last figures showed unemployment is greater than at the end of the Labour administration in 2010, but by such a small amount that it’s not worth mentioning).

Production, on the other hand, has remained flat. If more people are in work, it should have increased.

That is how we know we are looking at a con.

If more people are in work but production hasn’t gone up, we must question the incentive for this increased employment. It has already been mentioned: The lack of holiday and sick pay entitlement, National Insurance and tax admin obligations. The larger the employer, the larger the saving – but this doesn’t mean small firms aren’t feeling the benefit.

The minimum wage worker’s income is topped up by benefits – but the government is cutting these back. Landlord Subsidy in London won’t be enough for people on the kind of contracts described here to stay in their homes, and this means a consequent job loss if they have to move out of the area.

Tax credits are being removed; child benefit restricted. Universal Credit (if it ever works) will operate in real-time, adjusting benefits to ensure that low-paid workers remain in an income trap for as long as their wages remain below a certain level.

Employers reap the benefits. But even they are being conned, because this can’t last forever.

Imagine a Britain without in-work benefits but where the living wage has not been introduced nationwide (this will be a reality in a few years, under a Coalition or Conservative government). Workers on the self-employed, part-time or zero-hours contracts described here will not earn enough to survive.

Private debt will increase exponentially, leading to increased mental illness as the stress of trying to cope takes its toll on the workforce. Physical illness will increase as people cut back on heating in their homes and food in their fridges and larders. Result: malnourishment and disease.

What happens then? It’s hard to say. It may be that employers will take on increasing numbers of cheap foreign workers – but there is already resentment at the influx of immigrants from the European Union and this could lead to civil unrest.

It seems likely that the largest firms will leave these shores. If we compare them to huge parasites – and we can – then the host will have been drained almost dry and it will be time to move on and find another to treat the same way. These are the companies who have reaped huge rewards from tax avoidance, aided by the ‘Big Four’ accountancy firms – KPMG, Deloitte, PricewaterhouseCoopers and Ernst & Young – who have been writing – into British law – ways for them to get out of paying their share.

The smaller employers might keep going for a while or collapse; it depends how much their bosses save up for the inevitable crash. Deficit financing of their business will support them for a while but, if they don’t have any ideas, they’ll go under.

All because a few very greedy people just won’t pay a reasonable amount for a hard day’s work.

They get on the media, telling us they can’t afford higher wages. In that case, why are they even in business? If they need a workforce of a certain size, but cannot pay a living wage, then they simply should not bother. All they are doing, in the long run, is contributing to a monumental confidence trick that will cause immense harm to the economy and the nation’s health.

Of course, the UK did not always have in-work benefits. People used to be paid enough to make ends meet. We should be asking why that changed and who benefits. A return to that situation would benefit the country enormously – but it isn’t going to happen on the minimum wage, and it isn’t going to happen on zero-hours contracts.

It’s time to name these firms and ask bosses who employ on these terms why those contracts are necessary and why they feel justified in the damage they are causing.

And while we’re at it, it’s time to ask our MPs why they tolerate it, too.

How much of the national debt has been faked by tax dodgers?

Diddled into debt: A corporate tax avoidance scam is conning workers out of decent pay and the government out of tax and NI money, after causing the financial crisis.

Diddled into debt: A corporate tax avoidance scam is conning workers out of decent pay and the government out of tax and NI money, after causing the financial crisis.

“A bank in the UK could lend, say, $1bn to a US bank… generating tax-free income in the UK but a tax deduction in the US – and then simply borrow it back. For the second leg a different instrument could be used that generated tax-free income in the US and a tax deduction in the UK. The banks had simply swapped $1bn, to no economic effect beyond two tax breaks, while quite possibly keeping any mention of the debts off either’s balance sheet. Such tricks – the creation of debt more for tax advantages than any real business need – undoubtedly contributed to huge levels of inter-bank indebtedness that triggered the financial crisis.” – Richard Brooks, The Great Tax Robbery, p86.

If you are not deeply disturbed by the implications of the above quotation, read it again until you are. Richard Brooks is saying that the major banks of the UK, the USA, and who knows how many other countries colluded to hide massive amounts of money from the tax man by claiming – falsely – that it was debt.

The financial crisis happened because the banks could not service the debt they had created – they could not even pay back the interest on it, let alone the debt itself – and so the government was forced to step in and bail them out. So now the government had not only lost the tax it was due from the bank profits that had been hidden by the dodge Mr Brooks mentions, but it had now taken on the fake debt that had been created. The taxpayer was doubly the loser.

Who pays back the debt? Not the banks. Not the large corporations that are also avoiding tax. Not the rich businessmen and women who dreamed up the tax dodges. Thanks to changes in the law and already-existing legal loopholes that have not been closed by the Coalition government, they have been able to park their ill-gotten gains in offshore tax havens, depriving the nation of the wherewithal it needs to fix the problem they created.

Now it seems the government is also being deprived of badly-needed tax money because of the way large firms are structuring their pay packets – to the disadvantage of low-paid workers. The details were in Channel 4’s Dispatches documentary, Secrets of Your Pay Packet, broadcast on October 21.

With more people in work than ever before, the UK should be getting massive amounts more in tax and National Insurance, allowing it to provide the services we expect and pay down the national deficit. But the deficit hasn’t budged. Why?

Because the new jobs are part-time, self-employed or temporary.

Self-employed contracting means you can end up working for less than the minimum wage (you’re paid a fixed daily rate for the job, not the hours it takes to do it, so if it takes a long time to get it done, your pay-per-hour diminishes proportionately – and, as you are self-employed, you’re not entitled to the minimum wage).

Conversely, if you are employed part-time, you can end up working too few hours to qualify for tax or National Insurance (so you don’t get enough credits to pay for your pension later in life and the Treasury doesn’t get the tax money it needs to pay for services and clear debts) and on a personal level you don’t work enough hours to qualify for decent holidays. The company doesn’t pay for employees going on annual leave, potentially saving tens of millions of pounds.

If you work overtime, this doesn’t count towards annual leave, of course. So you can be employed on a part-time contract for, say, three days a week, be asked to work two more days overtime (a full five-day week) and lose out on all the benefits a full-time worker would expect.

The threshold is 20 hours per week. If you work less than that, employers do not have to pay NI contributions which would cost them nearly 14 per cent of pay. So people may work all their lives but never qualify for the state pension.

This is why more people are now in work than before the recession – it’s a cheat by bosses. They’re the ones who pay your tax and NI contributions. If you’re on pay that’s below the new tax threshold, you don’t pay tax. We have the Liberal Democrats to thank for that. It seems like a good deal but in fact it isn’t.

Meanwhile the companies say that cutting down working hours has saved jobs in a hard business environment, while the number of full-time jobs is down and wages have now fallen by 12 per cent in real terms (up from nine per cent, only a few months ago).

It is cheaper for companies to employ more people on shorter hours because they pay less to the government in tax and NI. And they say the “flexible” labour market has been a boost for the country, that having a job is better than having no job, and that it will help people progress.

That is not what we see.

We see a workforce ground down by the pressure of making ends meet on part-time or zero-hours jobs, making no NI contributions, getting very few holidays, and afraid to challenge the situation because their employers can simply let them go and hire someone else from the huge 2.5-million-strong pool of the unemployed (who are desperate for jobs because the DWP fills their entire lives will bullying and threats about losing their benefits).

We see the government completely unable to cover its costs because its own tax system – written by the ‘Big 4’ accountancy firms that have been responsible for more tax avoidance schemes than any other organisations in the country – actively promotes corporate tax avoidance; and Conservative ministers are totally indifferent to the huge losses they are piling up, because it means they can cut public services, or sell them off to (again) big corporations who will then avoid paying tax on them.

And we see the rich corporates laughing all the way to the (offshore) bank yet again.

The Coalition government has tried to tell us that it must squeeze benefits for the extremely poor, and low-paid working people must work much harder, in order to pay off the debt that – no matter what ministers tell us – neither they, nor the last Labour government, created.

In fact, this has been a story of tax avoidance by the very rich. A huge scam, running for decades, and hidden from the British people.

Are you angry yet?

Bad government: Their idea of ‘wrong’ isn’t the same as yours!

Bad education; bad government: Another attempt at explaining the benefits system to Mark Hoban fails, despite using really BIG writing.

Bad education; bad government: Another attempt at explaining the benefits system to Mark Hoban fails, despite using really BIG writing.

This is the last article in the quartet about private organisations carrying out public duties – and the government ministers who employ them – focusing on what happens when things go wrong.

(This was delayed from yesterday because yr obdt svnt developed a splitting headache. It seems that a trip to the gym and a three-hour drive, taking a sick neighbour to get help, isn’t conducive to writing four articles in a day!)

It should be noted that, in some cases, the error is clear and a logical solution is enacted. For example, when G4S completely failed to carry out its security responsibilities at the London Olympics last year, the government cancelled the company’s contract and called in the Army to sort out the mess. This wasn’t a perfect solution as it meant leave was cancelled for many squaddies and officers, but it did at least allow the Olympics to go ahead with a reasonable amount of security.

On the other hand, we have the current situation with the DWP, Atos and the work capability assessment.

“DWP is to bring in additional providers to carry out assessments,” yesterday’s press release announced under the headline Hoban – taking action to improve the Work Capability Assessment.

The possibility that the Work Capability Assessment may be improved might fill the casual reader with joy, but the problem – for those of us in the know – is that Mark Hoban’s name is attached to it. This is a man who has admitted that he does not understand the benefit system. Why is he still being allowed to meddle with it?

Read down the release and it turns out that the government does indeed want to change the WCA – but not in any way that is meaningful to us. It seems that the paperwork accompanying decisions isn’t sufficiently robust for the Department for Work and Pensions. It seems likely Mr Hoban’s problem is that this might make it possible for more people to succeed in appeals against decisions.

The real problem is that the Work Capability Assessment regime is fatal for many thousands of people, of course. This government isn’t interested in that at all. It appears that Mr Hoban and his associates are happy to let the deaths continue – for them the main issue is that they don’t have to pay back any money to successful appellants.

The details are in the ‘more information’ section of the press release: “In April/May 2013 the DWP carried out an urgent audit of around 400 reports, following concerns raised from a previous smaller audit. This covered cases audited by Atos between October 2012 and March 2013.

“The quality of the reports produced by Atos following an assessment are graded A-C and the audit demonstrated that the number of C-grade reports was around 41 per cent between October 2012 and March 2013.”

Crucially: “A ‘C’ grade report does not mean the assessment was wrong, and the recommendation given in a ‘C’ grade report may well be correct, but, for example, their reasoning for reaching that recommendation may lack the level of detail demanded by the DWP.”

In other words, the reason provided for reaching a decision is unlikely to be strong enough to sway an appeal tribunal.

The press release says: “The Minister also announced that he has already directed Atos Healthcare to put in place a quality improvement plan following… an unacceptable reduction in the quality of written reports produced following assessments.

“Measures include retraining and re-evaluating all Atos healthcare professionals, with those not meeting the required standard continuing to have all of their work audited until they do, or have their approval to carry out assessments withdrawn by the department.”

We know from the Channel 4 Dispatches documentary last year that Atos assessors are ‘audited’ if they don’t meet their targets, which are to put around 12-13 per cent of claimants into the support group, marking around 70 per cent fit for work and putting the rest in the work-related activity group for Employment and Support Allowance (ESA).

Could it be that the Atos employees have started to lose faith in the process? Maybe they’ve seen the death figures that are being kept from the general public and have started to question whether they are doing the right thing?

In that case, what would a government do, if it wanted to continue wheeling the disabled into the charnel house? Would it not take steps to weed out the dissenters and employ other organisations to carry on the work – until such time as they too develop a moral backbone?

“I am committed to ensuring the Work Capability Assessment process is as fair and accurate as possible, with the right checks and balances to ensure the right decision is reached,” Mr Hoban is quoted as saying. For him, of course, the right decisions involve putting claimants into the three categories, in roughly the proportions described above.

“Where our audits identify any drop in quality, we act decisively to ensure providers meet our exacting quality standards.” Note that he does not define these standards. Is he hoping you make a false assumption about what they may be?

“Since 2010 we have made considerable improvements to the system we inherited from the previous government.” Perverted an already-poor scheme to suit a more sinister purpose.

“However, it’s vital we continue to improve the service to claimants, which is why we are introducing new providers to increase capacity.” To claimants? But… claimants have had no input into this process. It was a government audit that led to these changes; claimants’ wishes are routinely ignored.

“The DWP has also engaged PricewaterhouseCoopers to provide independent advice in relation to strengthening quality assurance processes across all its health and disability assessments.” Meaningless to those concerned for the safety of people being put through the process.

“Atos Healthcare have also brought in a third party to assess the quality of their audit and make recommendations for improvements.” Meaningless to those concerned for the safety of people being put through the process.

“The WCA process has a number of checks and balances built in to ensure the right decision is reached. These include:

  • “DWP Decision Makers making the final decision on claimants’ benefit entitlement. Decision Makers can – and do – reach different decisions to those recommended to them by the assessments when all the supporting information is taken into account.” The decision is changed in – what – less than 10 per cent of cases?
  • “Claimants who disagree with the outcome of their WCA can provide more medical evidence and ask the DWP to reconsider the decision.” The DWP can take as long as it wants reconsidering the decision, while the claimant’s benefits are suspended and they are left with no means of support.
  • “A claimant who disagrees with their decision can also appeal to an independent tribunal, and before any appeal the original decision is looked at again by another DWP Decision Maker.” Is this accurate? Is not more accurate to say the claimant can only appeal after going through the reconsideration process?

“This change in approach for contracting providers to carry out the assessments to be delivered on a regional basis is likely to be fully operational from summer 2014 and will provide extra capacity to help tackle waiting times,” the release continued.

Extra capacity – and in the run-up to the general election in 2015. Didn’t Hitler try to push more Jews into the gas chambers when he knew he was running out of time?

Encouraging words about disability – masking a sinister intent?

paralympians

Even when David Cameron is saying something positive, we need to look for the hidden meaning, it seems.

This week, in Comedy Prime Minister’s Questions, Mr Cameron fielded a query from Liberal Democrat Greg Mulholland about last year’s Paralympic Games. Mr Mulholland said: “We were all hugely inspired by the wonderful Paralympic Games in London last year – not only a triumph for sport but also a triumph for perceptions of disability.

“Will the Prime Minister welcome the ‘Generation Inspired’ report which is going to be presented to Downing Street today, as a great opportunity to use the legacy of this to improve the lives of young disabled people?”

On the face of it, this might seem very bright and noble – reminding us all of our paralympians’ achievements and making a commitment to keep trying to help them, so that their aspirations will not outstrip the support they receive.

But let’s all remember that this question was being put in the same week that Channel 4’s Dispatches programme aired a documentary about the disappointment that awaited our paralympians after the Games – the loss of interest, the loss of help and, crucially, the loss of benefits.

It seems that they are capable of work, you see.

Look at Mr Cameron’s response in this context.

“I thought that the Paralympic Games were an absolute triumph for Britain – the way they were put on, and also the way that the auditoria, the stadia were full for almost every single event.” On the face of it, very supportive.

But then he said: “I thought it was a great testament to the generosity of people in this country and their enthusiasm for paralympic sport, but I think the most important thing is the change in perception about what disabled people are capable of, and I think that is a real gift and something we should encourage.”

A “change in perception about what disabled people are capable of”? This is very worrying indeed. He’s saying that the performances of athletes are comparable to the abilities of other people with disabilities – many of whom struggle simply to get out of bed in the morning and get dressed!

Would he have grouped his late son together with paralympians in the same way?

It is completely unrealistic to compare the two – akin to equating a marathon runner with a 50-year-old woman with a tendency to overweight, who survives on junk food and runs a supermarket checkout all day (with apologies to any such ladies who may exist).

He thinks that’s a “real gift”? There can be only one reason for that – it’s a gift because it supports his government’s policy of clearing disabled people – real, honest, disabled people who deserve state benefits to help them survive – off the benefit books.

If the wider public perception of disabled people is that they can compete and win in Olympic sports, then that’s half Cameron’s work done for him. No wonder he said it was “something we should encourage”!

Perhaps you thought the Paralympics were excellent – and they were. Maybe you thought they struck a blow for recognition of disabled people – and they did.

But not all disabled people are the same. I’m no marathon runner – and I consider myself to be relatively fit.

But I’m not superfit. Neither are the majority of disabled people even remotely able to achieve the feats of our Paralympians.

Cameron should be ashamed of himself for trying to group them all together in this way.

At the very least, Conservatives across the UK should be ashamed of him.