Tag Archives: distress

Child benefit scandal: a million more children in poverty, 900 women forced to disclose rape

The Scottish National Party seems to have taken over what used to be Labour’s job as guardian of vulnerable benefit claimants.

(And it’s a good thing; Keir Starmer seems to think he is better-occupied persecuting innocent party members with trumped-up anti-Semitism accusations.)

So we have the SNP to thank for revealing the latest scandalous details of the Tory government’s decision to deprive parents of child benefit if they have more than two children – and to force mothers to relive details of rape as the price of having that benefit restored for additional children.

Here’s the headline:

New figures published by the UK government have revealed that 911,190 children have lost access to vital financial support since April 2017, while 900 women have been forced to disclose that their child was conceived of rape in order to access vital funds.

SNP MP Alison Thewliss first discovered the two-child cap and the so-called “rape clause” in George Osborne’s 2015 Budget and has been a vocal opponent of the policy since its inception.

The MP has challenged the Prime Minister to scrap the abhorrent policy, describing the figures as “a horrific legacy for any government”.

She said: “The UK Tory government’s own data reveals the devastating impact of their two-child limit on families across the UK. Approaching one million children are now suffering financial hardship, the majority of them in families where their parents are working.

“This is a horrific legacy for any government. It’s time for Boris Johnson to wake up to this reality, signal a change of direction on welfare and scrap this pernicious Tory policy.

“Most shocking of all, 900 women have been forced to go through the process of claiming for an exception due to a non-consensual conception. Every single one of these women has been put in a position where they’ve had to fill in a form to prove their child was conceived as a result of rape or coercion, just to make ends meet.

“The UK Government has no place to hide in the face of these damning statistics. Covid-19 has exposed the gaps in the social security safety net – I urge the new Prime Minister to do the right thing and scrap the two-child limit for everyone”.

But this is Boris Johnson she’s talking about. Do you honestly think he could care less?

Source: NEARLY 1 MILLION CHILDREN INTO POVERTY, 900 WOMEN FORCED TO DISCLOSE RAPE – Welfare Weekly

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/


Vox Political needs your help!
If you want to support this site
(
but don’t want to give your money to advertisers)
you can make a one-off donation here:

Donate Button with Credit Cards

Here are four ways to be sure you’re among the first to know what’s going on.

1) Register with us by clicking on ‘Subscribe’ (in the left margin). You can then receive notifications of every new article that is posted here.

2) Follow VP on Twitter @VoxPolitical

3) Like the Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/VoxPolitical/

Join the Vox Political Facebook page.

4) You could even make Vox Political your homepage at http://voxpoliticalonline.com

And do share with your family and friends – so they don’t miss out!

If you have appreciated this article, don’t forget to share it using the buttons at the bottom of this page. Politics is about everybody – so let’s try to get everybody involved!

Buy Vox Political books so we can continue
fighting for the facts.


The Livingstone Presumption is now available
in either print or eBook format here:

HWG PrintHWG eBook

Health Warning: Government! is now available
in either print or eBook format here:

HWG PrintHWG eBook

The first collection, Strong Words and Hard Times,
is still available in either print or eBook format here:

SWAHTprint SWAHTeBook

More than 150,000 people to get boost in disability benefit after Tories sneak out humiliating climbdown

[Image: Black Triangle Campaign]

This is to be welcomed.

But take note of the fact that the BBC report (below) doesn’t mention the fact that Esther Mcvey sneaked out her announcement after the close of Parliamentary business for the week.

Nor is anything said of the fact that this was a humiliating climbdown for the Tories.

Still, it’s good news for the public.

And if this is an indication of Esther McVey’s future at the DWP, then perhaps she is to be welcomed after all.

But I doubt it.

Ministers have backed down in a row over paying higher disability benefits to 164,000 people by saying they will not contest a High Court decision.

Work and Pensions Secretary Esther McVey said she would not appeal December’s judgement over payments to people with mental health conditions.

Ministers had sought to limit those suffering psychological distress from claiming higher rates of benefits.

Campaigners said this was “crude and unfair” and welcomed the U-turn.

The government introduced regulations last March stating that people who could not travel independently on the grounds of psychological distress, as opposed to other conditions, were not entitled to the enhanced mobility rate of Personal Independence Payment.

Ministers pressed ahead with the proposals despite criticism from an independent tribunal in 2016 but the High Court ruled shortly before Christmas that they were “blatantly discriminatory”.

The government was expected to challenge the ruling, having previously said reversing the changes would cost an extra £3.7bn by 2022.

But Ms McVey, in one of her first major announcements since joining the cabinet last week, ruled out fresh legal action in a written statement to Parliament.

The Department for Work and Pensions will now go through all affected cases to identify anyone who may be entitled to more as a result of the judgement.

All payments will be backdated to the effective date in each individual claim.

Source: U-turn in disability benefits row


Vox Political needs your help!
If you want to support this site
(
but don’t want to give your money to advertisers)
you can make a one-off donation here:

Donate Button with Credit Cards

Here are four ways to be sure you’re among the first to know what’s going on.

1) Register with us by clicking on ‘Subscribe’ (in the left margin). You can then receive notifications of every new article that is posted here.

2) Follow VP on Twitter @VoxPolitical

3) Like the Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/VoxPolitical/

Join the Vox Political Facebook page.

4) You could even make Vox Political your homepage at http://voxpoliticalonline.com

And do share with your family and friends – so they don’t miss out!

If you have appreciated this article, don’t forget to share it using the buttons at the bottom of this page. Politics is about everybody – so let’s try to get everybody involved!

Buy Vox Political books so we can continue
fighting for the facts.


The Livingstone Presumption is now available
in either print or eBook format here:

HWG PrintHWG eBook

Health Warning: Government! is now available
in either print or eBook format here:

HWG PrintHWG eBook

The first collection, Strong Words and Hard Times,
is still available in either print or eBook format here:

SWAHTprint SWAHTeBook

‘Monstrously unfair’, Damian Green? I, Daniel Blake’s writer stands behind every word

161103-laverty-message-to-green

Paul Laverty’s message to Damian Green, writing inside a copy of the screenplay for I, Daniel Blake that was handed to him in Holyrood. Chances of Mr Green reading further are zero, I would expect.

I note that Damian Green has very quickly got into the habit necessary to be the Work and Pensions Secretary, in that he is a liar and may not be trusted with anything at all.

He was in Holyrood today (November 3), defending his department’s homicidal track record against a panel of MSPs who didn’t believe a word of it – and quite rightly.

Mr Adam, who presented Mr Green with the book (screenplay author Paul Laverty was also present) stated that I, Daniel Blake, the story of a 59-year-old joiner who is plunged into extreme poverty and confronted by a faceless bureaucracy when his benefits are stopped was drawn from real-life research.

He also said campaigners from the Black Triangle Campaign group had told the Scottish Parliament’s social security committee that “basically the regime of Personal Independence Payment assessments (which assess people with a disability for benefits) is sending people to go and commit suicide”.

He added: “They almost accused you of murdering people.”

Mr Green said: “There is no evidence, and I think bringing people who committed suicide into political debate is always unfortunate.”

Liar. There is evidence, and plenty of it. The DWP fairly recently had to change its story from complete denial of complicity in benefit-related suicides to saying there were many reasons. Mr Green is only denying the existence of any evidence because he knows the DWP deliberately fails to collect it.

“Clearly every suicide is a tragedy, there are complex reasons behind everyone, and as I say to try and politicise individual tragedies like this always seems to me to be very unfortunate.”

Liar. With any suicide, one may whittle away those complex reasons to discover the trigger. Many DWP-related suicides are characterised by a note – blaming the removal of benefits.

He added: “It is absolutely not the intention of anyone connected with the welfare system, whether it’s ministers or staff of the DWP, to cause distress.”

Liar. Here’s a video of DWP staff setting out to cause distress, published… Oh! Goodness me, it was published today* – the very same day Mr Green was denying any such behaviour taking place.

And what does he have to say about a government building discriminating against the disabled?

Mr Laverty’s message reads:

“To Mr Damian Green,

“We noticed you condemned our film in Parliament as “having no relationship to the modern benefit system” and as being “monstrously unfair” to the Job Centre staff.

“It is a pity you didn’t see the film first.

“Do you always reach conclusions before examining the evidence? Especially, which speaking at the dispatch box?

“I thought the script might be [useful?] for you in your busy schedule.

“FOR THE RECORD WE STAND BY EVERY SINGLE INCIDENT AS A FAIR REFLECTION of what is going on today UNDER YOUR WATCH.

“IF YOU HAVEN’T TIME FOR THIS SCRIPT, VISIT A FOOD-BANK. They will tell you, as they told us.

“DO THE DECENT THING – put a stop now to this barbaric and systematic attack against YOUR FELLOW CITIZENS.”

If Mr Laverty is willing to stand behind those words, This Writer is happy to do the same. How about you?

MSPs have given the UK government’s work and pensions secretary a signed copy of the I, Daniel Blake book.

It was presented to Mr Green by SNP MSP George Adam, who suggested he use it as “light reading” for his journey back to London.

It came as a Holyrood committee repeatedly challenged Damian Green over the benefit system’s sanctions regime.

Mr Green strongly rejected claims that the welfare system had driven people to commit suicide.

He also accused MSPs of attempting to “politicise individual tragedies” and said the system was there to help people.

Source: Damian Green given signed I, Daniel Blake book – BBC News

*Before any smart-alec says the timecode shows the video was taken on October 3 – that’s all very well, but it was posted on YouTube today.

Do you want Vox Political to cover a story? Use this form to tell us about it:

Join the Vox Political Facebook page.

If you have appreciated this article, don’t forget to share it using the buttons at the bottom of this page. Politics is about everybody – so let’s try to get everybody involved!

Vox Political needs your help!
If you want to support this site
(
but don’t want to give your money to advertisers)
you can make a one-off donation here:

Donate Button with Credit Cards

Buy Vox Political books so we can continue
fighting for the facts.


The Livingstone Presumption is now available
in either print or eBook format here:

HWG PrintHWG eBook

Health Warning: Government! is now available
in either print or eBook format here:

HWG PrintHWG eBook

The first collection, Strong Words and Hard Times,
is still available in either print or eBook format here:

SWAHTprint SWAHTeBook

Has the Season of Goodwill infected the DWP’s compliance unit?

Distortion With Prejudice: Will we ever get FACTS from the Department for Work and Pensions - or just more spin and spiel?

Distortion With Prejudice: Will we ever get FACTS from the Department for Work and Pensions – or just more spin and spiel?


It seems the answer to the above question is “yes”.

Readers may recall that Mrs Mike received a letter from the Department for Work and Pensions’ ‘compliance unit’ at the end of last month, announcing that our home would be invaded by a ‘compliance officer’ on December 3.

Particularly disturbing was the following passage:

“What will happen if we do not hear from you?

“If you fail to be available for this visit and do not contact me, your entitlement to benefit may be in doubt and your payments will be stopped.

“If there has been an unreported change in your circumstances then any overpayment will have to be paid back. Further, you may be liable for financial penalties.”

The letter put Mrs Mike on the verge of panic – terrified that this ‘customer compliance officer’ was being sent to find any excuse to say she was ‘fit for work’ and throw her off the benefit

In response, and thanks to a friend who signposted us to information on the Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC) website, Mrs Mike told the DWP, in terms only slightly more polite than what follows here, to get stuffed.

You see, the information provided to her showed that any letter causing her considerable distress and exacerbating her illness, as this had, put the DWP in a very actionable position. She was able to respond: “Should the DWP persist in sending me further letters of a similar nature I can only conclude that it does so knowing that it will cause me alarm or distress. Such actions are a criminal offence under section 2 of the Protection from Harassment Act 1997 and I retain the right to make a criminal complaint to the police.”

In addition, she said she was entirely happy to conform to all legal requirements.

Would you believe we had a telephone call from a DWP ‘compliance manager’ today (December 23)?

It was from one of those ‘Out of area’ numbers that we never ever answer, but fortunately she left a message and I called her back.

She could not apologise enough for the upset that had been caused to Mrs Mike.

She said there was no allegation of wrong-doing; it was a purely-routine reassessment.

She said she had already sent a letter assuring Mrs Mike that she need not be worried over the Christmas period; this call was to ascertain whether she would be happy to submit her reassessment in writing, so we would have a copy for our records, to be returned by the end of January.

The whole episode made a welcome change from the usual antagonism – although we should all know it’s just a ceasefire – hostilities will undoubtedly recommence soon.

Join the Vox Political Facebook page.

If you have appreciated this article, don’t forget to share it using the buttons at the bottom of this page. Politics is about everybody – so let’s try to get everybody involved!

Vox Political needs your help!
If you want to support this site
(
but don’t want to give your money to advertisers)
you can make a one-off donation here:

Donate Button with Credit Cards

Buy Vox Political books so we can continue
fighting for the facts.

Health Warning: Government! is now available
in either print or eBook format here:

HWG PrintHWG eBook

The first collection, Strong Words and Hard Times,
is still available in either print or eBook format here:

SWAHTprint SWAHTeBook

My bid to foil DWP persecution of people in the ESA support group

[Picture: Skwawkbox blog]

[Picture: Skwawkbox blog]

Insane as it may seem, the Department for Work and Pensions is actively pursuing people with long-term illnesses, apparently in order to make them increasingly anxious and thereby worsen their health.

This will not be news to anybody who is familiar with the benefit system for the sick and disabled. All you others, take note.

On Monday, Mrs Mike received a letter from the DWP. It said:

“Notification of Customer Compliance Visit

“We will be calling at your home.

“A customer compliance officer … will be visiting you at your home on Thursday 3rd December 2015… It is essential that you are available for this visit and provide the documents requested in this letter. This interview has been arranged because your circumstances may have changed and we need to ensure your payments are correct.

“When you claimed benefit you agreed to tell us immediately if the circumstances relating to your benefit entitlement changed.

“What will happen if we do not hear from you?

“If you fail to be available for this visit and do not contact me, your entitlement to benefit may be in doubt and your payments will be stopped.

“If there has been an unreported change in your circumstances then any overpayment will have to be paid back. Further, you may be liable for financial penalties.”

And then there’s a list of documents the ‘customer compliance officer’ wanted to see – ID, bank/pensions/earnings details.

Mrs Mike was deeply distressed by this letter.

I came down from the office to find her in what one might describe as “a proper state”. She was on the verge of panic, in fact – terrified that this ‘customer compliance officer’ was being sent to find any excuse to say she was ‘fit for work’ and throw her off the benefit.

As her carer, it would be grossly understating the situation to say that I was extremely concerned for her mental well-being.

But it’s funny how events transpire – later in the day I saw a tweet from a friend in DPAC (Disabled People Against Cuts): “Template letters for those in ESA Support Group harassed by Job Centres.” How interesting… I clicked the link.

“We’ve had increasing numbers of emails from those in the ESA support group facing constant harassment from local job centres,” the DPAC page begins.

“Harassment takes the form of letters and phone calls ‘inviting’ people to work focused interviews, chats with job coaches or other ‘helpers’. Another type of ‘invite’ suggests that the job centre need to check you’re getting the right amount of benefit. They advise you to take in bank statements and other documents.

Often these letters and phone calls wrongly state that your benefits are at risk if you do not attend.

“All such interviews are voluntary according to the regulations, not mandatory. It sounds like a scam warning from some dodgy company doesnt it? But this is the DWP Job Centre, supposedly public servants, causing anxiety and misery.

“We have reproduced two template letters to use if these scams happen to you.”

The letters were directly below. They were written as if by the ESA recipient.

“The DWP is aware that I have been placed in the Support Group for Employment and Support Allowance and therefore exempt from activity of this nature,” the template letter relevant to Mrs Mike states. “The Welfare Reform Act 2012 makes no provision for people allocated to the Support Group to be summoned to attend random benefit interviews.

“On the .GOV website the DWP states:
“Y’ou’ll then be placed in 1 of 2 groups if you’re entitled to ESA:
“‘* work-related activity group, where you’ll have regular interviews with an adviser
“‘* support group, where you don’t have interviews’

“In fact the DWP has the Benefit Centre network that contains benefit integrity centres and performance measurement to undertake this type of review by appropriately qualified officers. Therefore, this interview appears to be incompatible with the DWP’s own processes.

“In respect of payments the DWP knows that I am in the Support Group and the amount of which I am in receipt. Therefore, it can easily determine if this amount is correct without recourse to a face to face review.

“To the best of my knowledge my circumstances have not changed. If the DWP has evidence to the contrary please address it to me in writing as I find the benefit system far too complex and distressing to deal with on the telephone or face to face. I also rely on extensive support from other people when dealing with the DWP.

“This letter has caused me considerable distress and has exacerbated my illness. Should the DWP persist in sending me further letters of a similar nature I can only conclude that it does so knowing that it will cause me alarm or distress. Such actions are a criminal offence under section 2 of the Protection from Harassment Act 1997 and I retain the right to make a criminal complaint to the police.

“As the DWP is acting contrary to the Welfare Reform Act 2012, please regard this letter as notification to cease and desist all such activities immediately.

“I will not be accepting the customer compliance visit and in doing so I will not be placing my entitlement to ESA at risk. Any suggestion by the DWP to the contrary will be considered harassment.

“I remind the DWP that I will continue to comply with all lawful requirements in respect of my ongoing claim for ESA.”

Now, some of you might think it’s a bit dicey, sending what is effectively a “cease and desist” demand to a government department, and backing it up with the threat of criminal prosecution.

But those of you who are familiar with This Writer will also know that I love humiliating the DWP, and my natural inclination when offered a chance to do something, rather than sit by and let authority roll over me, is to take the plunge.

So the letter went off yesterday (Tuesday). I had to do a bit of detective work because the DWP correspondence had no return address (clearly they’re trying to make it as difficult as possible for people to shut them down).

I’ll let you know what happens.

Join the Vox Political Facebook page.

If you have appreciated this article, don’t forget to share it using the buttons at the bottom of this page. Politics is about everybody – so let’s try to get everybody involved!

Vox Political needs your help!
If you want to support this site
(
but don’t want to give your money to advertisers)
you can make a one-off donation here:

Donate Button with Credit Cards

Buy Vox Political books so we can continue
fighting for the facts.

Health Warning: Government! is now available
in either print or eBook format here:

HWG PrintHWG eBook

The first collection, Strong Words and Hard Times,
is still available in either print or eBook format here:

SWAHTprint SWAHTeBook

Iain Duncan Smith really did claim expenses for his underpants – and reduced the woman who revealed it to tears

Latest wheeze (or last gasp): The current plan for the man we call RTU (Returned To Unit) is claiming that cutting benefits cuts unemployment.

Latest wheeze (or last gasp): The current plan for the man we call RTU (Returned To Unit) is claiming that cutting benefits cuts unemployment.

Tom Pride has been doing his research:

If there were ever any doubts that Secretary of State for Work and Pensions Iain Duncan Smith is a very nasty bully of the highest order – as well as a hypocrite of the highest order – this little anecdote will surely remove them.

Around 10 years ago – when IDS was leader of the opposition – you may remember the ‘Betsygate‘ scandal when it was revealed he’d been using taxpayers’ money to pay his wife a wage for doing nothing.

In October 2003, a senior aide to IDS –  Dr Vanessa Gearson – gave written evidence to the House of Commons Select Committee on Standards and Privileges about the scandal.

In her written statement Dr Gearson revealed that she had written an email to Conservative Central Office expressing her concerns about IDS claiming money from the taxpayer for his own personal expenses—for example his lunches, haircuts, food for his own home, a mirror for his flat, his laundry and – his underwear!

Even more revealing than the fact that IDS thinks the taxpayer should pay for his underpants, Dr Gearson also describes how after she sent the email, she was reduced to tears by an “extremely agitated” and “very angry” Duncan Smith after he called her to a meeting to demand that the offending email be “expunged” from the central server:

Mr Duncan Smith did not ask me for an explanation. He did not ask why I was concerned. Indeed, besides my own apology for having formalised the matter in the form of an email I did not utter another word as Mr Duncan Smith spoke without break. I was so distressed by his manner and conduct that I was reduced to tears in the meeting.

You can see the whole written statement from Dr Gearson here:

Select Committee on Standards and Privileges – Written statement by Dr Vanessa Gearson

Yet more irrefutable proof – if any more were needed – of what a very nasty piece of work Duncan Smith really is.

Follow me on Twitter: @MidWalesMike

Join the Vox Political Facebook page.

Buy Vox Political books!
Health Warning: Government! is now available
in either print or eBook format here:

HWG PrintHWG eBook
The first collection, Strong Words and Hard Times,
is still available in either print or eBook format here:

SWAHTprint SWAHTeBook

Vox Political needs your help!
If you want to support this site
(
but don’t want to give your money to advertisers)
Y
ou can make a one-off donation here:

Donate Button with Credit Cards

Tax credit debt collection is a double-edged attack on the poor

140126facts

There’s more than a little of the piscine about the fact that our Conservative-led has set debt collection agencies onto poor families who have been overpaid tax credit due to errors made by HM Revenue and Customs.

Firstly, the move undermines the principle behind the tax credit system – that it is there to ensure that poorly-paid families may still enjoy a reasonable living standard. Tax credits are paid on an estimate of a person’s – or family’s – income over a tax year and the last Labour government, knowing that small variances could cause problems for Britain’s poorest, set a wide buffer of £25,000 before households had to pay anything back.

By cutting this buffer back to £5,000, the Conservatives have turned this safety net into a trap. Suddenly the tiniest overpayment can push households into a debt spiral, because their low incomes mean it is impossible to pay back what the government has arbitrarily decided they now owe.

And the sharks are circling. Instead of collecting the debt on its own behalf, HMRC has sold it on to around a dozen debt collection agencies who are harassing the families involved with constant telephone calls, mobile phone messages and letters to their homes.

In total, HMRC made 215,144 referrals to debt collectors in 2013-14. Of the working families involved, 118,000 earned less than £5,000 per year.

This takes us to our second area of concern. Remember how the Department for Work and Pensions has been encouraging people – particularly the disabled – to declare themselves as self-employed in order to avoid the hassle and harassment that now go hand in hand with any benefit claim? You know – the refusal of benefits based on arbitrary ‘descriptors’ that were originally devised by a criminal insurance company as a means to minimise payouts, and the constant threat of sanctions that would cut off access to benefits for up to three years unless claimants manage to clear increasingly difficult obstacles.

And do you remember how the DWP reported earlier this year that more than 3,000 people who were subjected to the government’s benefit cap have now found work? This blog suggested at the time that many of them may have been encouraged to declare themselves self-employed in order to escape the hardship that the cap would cause them.

Both of these circumstances are likely to lead to a verdict of overpayment by HMRC, as the self-employment reported by these people is likely to be fictional, or to provide less than required by the rules – either in terms of hours worked or income earned.

Suddenly their debt is sold to a collection agency and they are suffering government-sponsored harassment, alarm and distress (which is in fact illegal) far beyond anything they received from the DWP; debt collection agencies are not part of the government and, as Dame Anne Begg pointed out in the Independent article on this subject, “The tactics they use to collect the debt are not tactics a government should use.”

Maybe not. So why employ such tactics?

Let’s move on to our third, and final, worry. By setting sharks on the hundreds of thousands of minnows caught in the government’s trawler-net (that was formerly a safety net – and I apologise for the mixed metaphor), the Tory-led administration is creating a handy distraction from the huge, bloated, offshore-banking whales who donate heavily into Conservative Party funds and who are therefore never likely to be pursued for the billions of pounds in unpaid taxes that they owe.

The government has promised to clamp down on tax evasion and avoidance, but ministers would have to be out of their minds to attack the bankers and businesspeople who pay for their bread and butter.

George Osborne suffered huge – and entirely justified – derision last year when HMRC published a list of its top 10 tax dodgers, which revealed that public enemy number one was a hairdresser from Liverpool who had failed to pay a total of £17,000.

It seems likely that the Conservatives have decided that future announcements will involve the reclamation of far larger amounts, and from far more people…

Innocent people who were either cheated by Tory-instigated changes to the system or by Tory-instigated misleading benefit advice.

Meanwhile the guilty parties continue to go unhindered. Their only payouts will continue to be made to – who was it again?

Oh yes…

To the Conservative Party.

Follow me on Twitter: @MidWalesMike

Join the Vox Political Facebook page.

Vox Political needs your help!
This independent blog’s only funding comes from readers’ contributions.
Without YOUR help, we cannot keep going.
You can make a one-off donation here:

Donate Button with Credit Cards

Alternatively, you can buy the first Vox Political book,
Strong Words and Hard Times
in either print or eBook format here:

SWAHTprint SWAHTeBook

Case proven? Government stays away from benefit deaths tribunal

Seen to be done: The tribunal took place at the Law Courts in Cardiff (pictured), in public - which allowed friends of Vox Political to hear the case.

Seen to be done: The tribunal took place at the Law Courts in Cardiff (pictured), in public – which allowed friends of Vox Political to hear the case.

The Information Commissioner’s Office and the Department for Work and Pensions have highlighted the weakness of their own case for hiding the number of people who have died while claiming sickness and disability benefits – by failing to turn up at a tribunal on the subject.

They had the opportunity to explain why mortality statistics for people claiming Employment and Support Allowance since November 2011 have been suppressed, at a tribunal in the Law Courts, Cardiff, yesterday (April 23).

But, rather than be grilled on the reasons for their decision by a judge, a specialist in this area of law, and a ‘lay’ person (representing the opinions of right-thinking members of the public), they chose to stay away.

The tribunal had been requested by Vox Political‘s Mike Sivier, after he made a Freedom of Information request for access to the information – and it was refused on the grounds that it was “vexatious”.

The Department for Work and Pensions said he had written an article about his request on the blog, containing the line, “I strongly urge you to do the same. There is strength in numbers.” According to the DWP, this line constituted a co-ordinated, obsessive and protracted campaign of harassment against the department.

One line in a blog article, added as an afterthought – an obsessive campaign designed to “disrupt” the workings of the DWP. It’s ludicrous.

The DWP claimed it had received 23 requests that were similar or identical to Mike’s, in the days following his own, and inferred from this that they were from other members of this fictional campaign. Mike has only been able to track down evidence of seven such requests and, of them, only one mentions him by name. Without a tangible connection to Mike or Vox Political, the case is not made out – and one connected request does not constitute a campaign.

In fact, Mike’s own request was made after he read that a previous request had been refused – that of disability researcher and campaigner Samuel Miller. Mr Miller had published this fact in the social media and expressed that he was “furious” about it, and this inspired Mike to write his own request. Who knows how many other people did the same in response to Mr Miller? Yet he has (rightly) not been accused of starting any conspiracy.

Mr Miller’s original request has now received a reply, after the Information Commissioner’s office ruled that it had been mishandled by the DWP. This reply contained the wrong information and Mike urged Mr Miller to point this out. Clearly Mr Miller’s claim is not being treated as vexatious, even though it has inspired others to follow his example – as Mike’s article shows that he did. The contrast in treatment betrays a clear double-standard at the DWP (and the Information Commissioner’s office, after appeals were made to it in both cases).

Perhaps it is because of this fatal flaw in their logic that neither the ICO nor the DWP saw fit to send representatives to the tribunal. This left the floor free for Mike to make his own case, with nobody to speak against him or cross-examine him. Tribunal members asked questions, but these were entirely helpful in nature – allowing Mike to clarify or expand on his argument.

So the claim that the number of similar requests, received soon after the blog article appeared, indicated a campaign against the DWP was refuted with the simple observation that the subject was of topical interest at the time, because of what had happened to Mr Miller. Mike said an appropriate comparison would be with complaints to the BBC over the now-infamous radio show involving Jonathan Ross and Russell Brand. The corporation received only a couple of complaints from people who listened to the show at the time, followed by thousands from people who heard about it later. Mike asked: “Were all those thousands of complaints vexatious in nature? Were they the result of organised campaigns against Messrs Ross and Brand? Or were they genuine expressions of horror at behaviour they considered to have gone beyond the pale? The BBC accepted the latter choice because logic mitigates in its favour.”

The claim that abusive or aggressive language exhibited by blog commenters indicated harassment that was likely to cause distress to members of the DWP was batted away with the argument that nobody from the department would have seen it if they had not gone looking for it (after reading the FOI request from a Vox Political reader who referenced the blog).

Mike said it would be “like a social landlord gatecrashing a residents’ association meeting, listening to the grievances of the tenants and then saying they are harassing him and he’s not going to service any of their requests for repairs. That is not reasonable”.

The DWP had claimed that actioning the 24 requests it insisted on connecting with Mike’s “could impose a burden in terms of time and resources, distracting the DWP from its main functions”, but Mike showed that this was not true, as an email to the ICO, dated October 21, 2013, makes clear: “We can confirm that the Department does hold, and could provide within the cost limit, some of the information requested.”

Nevertheless, the ICO had upheld the claim, saying on November 27, 2013: “For the DWP to respond to all of the requests, it is not simply a matter of sending an email to 24 people. There is a requirement to collate the information, consider exemptions under the Act which may apply, provide a formal response and then, if necessary refer the decision to an internal review…. The Commissioner considers that 24 requests on the same topic in a few days could represent… a disproportionate use of the FOIA.”

In his speech to the tribunal, Mike responded: “It is reminiscent of the line in the TV sitcom Blackadder The Third, when the title character, butler to the Prince Regent in Georgian times, demands a fortune in order to buy votes in a by-election for a ‘tupenny-ha’penny place’. Challenged on the amount, he responds: ‘There are many other factors to be considered: Stamp duty, window tax, swamp insurance, hen food, dog biscuits, cow ointment – the expenses are endless.’” He said the ICO’s claim “smacks of desperation”.

One aspect that worked in Mike’s favour from the start was the fact that both the DWP and the ICO have accepted that there is a serious purpose to his request – publication of figures showing how many people have died while claiming ESA. This is important because the assessment regime for this benefit has been heavily criticised as harmful to claimants and the government has claimed that it has made changes to decrease any such effect. The only way the public can judge whether this has worked, or whether more must be done to prevent unnecessary deaths, is by examining the mortality statistics, but these have been withheld. This is the matter at the heart of the request and the fact that the ICO and DWP acknowledge this is a major element in Mike’s favour.

Perhaps realising this, the ICO tried to claim that the intention was changed by the volume of requests submitted: “The purpose of the totality of the requests as a whole may have gone beyond the point of simply obtaining the information requested and may now be intended to disrupt the main functions of the DWP.”

It is not reasonable to suggest that the purpose of an action changes, just because other people carry out the same action within a similar time-frame. Mike put it this way: “Millions of people make a cup of tea in the advertising break after Coronation Street; would the Information Commissioner suggest that this was a campaign to overload the national grid?”

With nobody on hand to provide the ICO/DWP side of the case, the hearing ended at around midday, after Mike had been speaking for two hours. He was grateful to be supported by his McKenzie friend, Glynis Millward, who provided help and advice, and by a group of Vox Political readers who attended to hear the case.

Now the bad news: No decision was handed down on the day. The tribunal judge explained that the panel must now think about the issues raised and discuss their findings. He said they would aim to provide a full, written decision within 21 days.

It is interesting to note that Mr Miller has acted on Mike’s advice and has been advised that a revised response to his request should be with him soon.

If this response contains updated information under the same headings as the original ‘ad hoc’ statistical release provided by the DWP in July 2012 (and from which we derived the 73-deaths-per-week figure that shocked so many people at the time), then a decision by the tribunal to release the same information may seem redundant. In fact, it is possible that the DWP may provide the information to Mr Miller, simply to spite Mike.

But this would be yet another misunderstanding of what this case is about. Mike doesn’t care who gets the mortality statistics first; for him, it is not about who gets to say they were the one who forced the government into submission – this is about getting the information out to the public, so the people can decide whether ESA does more harm than good.

The tribunal’s decision will still be important as it will establish whether the DWP – and other government departments – will be able to manipulate the principles behind the Freedom of Information Act to avoid providing politically inconvenient information in the future.

In Mike’s opinion, a decision in the government’s favour would effectively turn the Act into a dead letter.

So – for now – the long wait continues.

But it is nearly over.

Follow me on Twitter: @MidWalesMike

Join the Vox Political Facebook page.

Vox Political needs your help!
This independent blog’s only funding comes from readers’ contributions.
Without YOUR help, we cannot keep going.
You can make a one-off donation here:

Donate Button with Credit Cards

Alternatively, you can buy the first Vox Political book,
Strong Words and Hard Times
in either print or eBook format here:

SWAHTprint SWAHTeBook

Sleepwalking further into Police State Britain as law offers new powers of repression

policestate

Scriptonite Daily has published a piece that everyone should read. It begins:

“The UK Government is about to pass legislation which will make any behaviour perceived to potentially ‘cause nuisance or annoyance’ a criminal offence. The Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Bill also grants local authorities, police and even private security firms sweeping powers to bar citizens from assembling lawfully in public spaces. The Bill has successfully passed through the House of Commons without issue, and is now in the latter stages of review by the House of Lords, after which it will receive Royal Assent and become Law. Those who refuse orders under the new rules will face arrest, fines and even prison time.”

It seems to me that this legislation is being made partly to deal with concerns about section five of the Public Order Act. This, as stated in Vox Political‘s article last year, states, “(1) A person is guilty of an offence if he: (a) uses threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour, or disorderly behaviour, or (b) displays any writing, sign or other visible representation which is threatening, abusive or insulting, within the hearing or sight of a person likely to be caused harassment, alarm or distress thereby” – but only applies if a person has been the victim.

It could not be used if an organisation had been subjected to abuse – as was claimed, in this case of the Department for Work and Pensions. Now, it seems, a law is coming into force that can.

This is entirely unwarranted. Abuses of the Public Order Act have clearly demonstrated that the law needs to be relaxed, rather than tightened. Your freedom is being taken away from you, including your right to free speech.

It’s no surprise that this is going on even after this blog, and Scriptonite, and others (I’m sure) have pointed out the problem. We are tiny islands on the media map; most people only ever visit the continents that are the TV news and newspapers, which are happy to pander to their prejudices.

The Public Order Act, as Rowan Atkinson stated in his (should be) legendary Reform Section 5 speech, has led to several alarming exercises of power, “like the man arrested in Oxford for calling a police horse ‘gay’.”

The new Bill introduces Injunctions to Prevent Nuisance and Annoyance (IPNAs) to replace ASBOs, which were also widely abused. Scriptonite quotes some of these abuses, including:

“The ASBO has allowed the line between criminal behaviour and annoying behaviour to become hopelessly blurred – and the IPNAs will only serve to increase the problem,” says Scriptonite. “We have seen the abuses permitted under ASBO legislation, the test for which included wording to the effect that ASBOs could only be issued where an actual act of ‘harassment, alarm or distress’ had occurred. IPNAs have a much weaker test, applicable where on the ‘balance of probabilities’ a person has or might engage in behaviour ‘capable of causing annoyance’ to another person. How many times a day could this legislation apply to any of us? Eating with our mouths open, talking too loudly into our phones in a public space, walking too slowly or quickly or belching without saying ‘pardon me’. All of this may very well cause annoyance – but soon it might well also be illegal.”

More to the point: If you had a complaint against a government department – no matter whether it was justified – and you publicised it… wouldn’t that cause annoyance to them? Would it not cause them a nuisance?

And, considering the reaction to one woman’s complaint outlined in the VP article mentioned above, would this legislation not give ministers the power to lock you up for it?

This is not a law that should be passed. It is an attack on your freedom, and mine. It is a badge of repression, to be worn by our police as they continue their metamorphosis into symbols of the totalitarianism into which the UK is falling.

There is a petition against this. Please sign it before the law is passed and this document itself becomes a nuisance or annoyance.

I can find no better way to end this article than by paraphrasing what I said before: Police intimidation of those who speak out against injustice is not only an attack on free speech; it is an attack on the entire philosophy on which our society is based.

Next article: Bedroom Tax Tories: What they said and why they were wrong – covering the debate on the Bedroom Tax (or state under-occupation charge, but never spare room subsidy) in the House of Commons on November 12.

If you have enjoyed this article, you may wish to consider picking up the book, Vox Political: Strong Words and Hard Times. The site is not professional and receipts from the book are its only means of support. Its 350 pages contain a great deal of information that should be just as useful as this article, and it may be bought here, here, here, here and here – depending on the format in which you wish to receive it.

Vox Political is funded entirely by donations and book sales.
You can make a one-off donation here:

Donate Button with Credit Cards

Alternatively, you can buy the first Vox Political book,
Strong Words and Hard Times
in either print or eBook format here:

SWAHTprint SWAHTeBook

Information Commissioner to decide about DWP deaths

The price we pay for a Conservative-led Department for Work and Pensions: While ministers stall demands for information, the death toll increases.

The price we pay for a Conservative-led Department for Work and Pensions: While ministers stall demands for information, the death toll increases. [Image: Eric Hart]

This will be no surprise to anyone:

The Department for Work and Pensions has stuck to its boneheaded reason for refusing to say how many people have died because of its policies.

Readers may remember (it is now a long time ago!) that Vox Political submitted a Freedom of Information request to the Department, back in June, asking for details of the number of Incapacity Benefit and Employment and Support Allowance claimants who have died in 2012 – including deaths of those who had been thrown off-benefit altogether, if such information was held.

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.