Tag Archives: Employment Minister

Why is the Labour Party in bed with a RIGHT-wing thinktank?

130909unumreformLabour’s shadow ministers, including Stephen Timms (Employment) and Anne McGuire (Disabled People) seem to be in cahoots with right-wing thinktank Reform, according to information that has come to Vox Political.

The fact that members of the UK’s left-wing political party are working with such an organisation is frightening enough, but you should be prepared for that fear to turn into terror when we reveal that Reform is part-funded by the criminal American insurance giant Unum.

That’s right – Unum. The mob who have been influencing British policy on social security from behind the scenes since Peter Lilley invited them in, back in the 1990s. The mob who have been working to turn this country away from what was an excellent nationalised social security system and towards poorly-regulated private health insurance, in order to sell duff policies which offer very little likelihood of ever paying out.

What could possibly have possessed anyone involved with Labour to have anything to do with these corporate pirates?

“Unlike political parties, Reform and other think tanks can accept foreign funds… As a result, a number of foreign companies are now ‘Partners In Reform’ where an annual donation, which now stands at [just] £8,000, allows these companies [UNUM etc] to find representation in Britain’s policy hubs,” an OpenDemocracy report states.

“Reform uses the ‘charitable’ money donated to convene private policy conferences on Health, Education, Social Care, Criminal Justice and Policing, Armed Forces, Welfare and Public Reforms. Through this, the corporate-funded body appears to have gained a high degree of influence over a number of important debates that are central to Britain.”

One such conference was ‘A team effort: the role of employers in closing the protection gap’. Sponsored by Unum, the event on June 17 this year had, as one of its keynote speakers, Stephen Timms.

He shared the platform with Conservative Employment Minister Mark Hoban – yes, the very same Mark Hoban who can’t get his facts right on matters of law that his own policies have created – and Peter O’Donnell, chief executive of Unum UK.

It seems the event was advertised as Tory and Labour MPs acting in a team effort with an American insurance company, regarding “reform of the welfare state”.

Now, it seems Reform is planning to influence all three main political parties at their annual conferences.

Its event, ‘New thinking on the welfare state’, will be staged at the Labour conference by Anne McGuire. Attendance will be by invitation only – behind closed doors. And it is sponsored by the Association of British Insurers, which includes Unum among its members.

At the Liberal Democrat conference it will be staged by Steve Webb MP, and at the Conservative conference by the unelected Lord Freud.

Would anybody from Labour care to explain why the Party is in bed with organisations that have decimated the provision of social security, contributed to the deaths of many thousands of ill or disabled individuals, and that intend to con many more thousands of workers out of hard-earned and desperately needed cash in the future, with their inappropriate health insurance policies?

The people are entitled to know the facts.

MPs: Terminate the deadly Atos assessment regime before anyone else dies

Sick and disabled people in the UK can justifiably feel they are lining up for a death sentence as they prepare to take the dreaded Work Capability Assessment – the test devised by the Department of Work and Pensions and run (badly) by the French company Atos.

It leads – directly or indirectly – to an average of 32 deaths every week.

But there may be a ray of hope for them in the fact that the Labour Party has secured a Parliamentary debate on Atos and the WCA, to take place on September 4 – next Tuesday.

It is to be hoped that this will be the debate when Labour leader Ed Miliband finally gets off the fence and puts his weight – and that of his party – fully against the murderous system imposed by Chris Grayling and his master Iain Duncan Smith, both of whom are on record as stating that their version of the system is preferable, and less harsh, than that carried out under the previous Labour government.

The Daily Mail columnist Sonia Poulton has written two open letters to Mr Miliband, calling on him to break cover and declare his opposition to the scheme, and it seems bizarre that he has left people wondering for so long whether he actually supports a scheme that kills society’s most vulnerable.

The signs are hopeful that Mr Miliband will support change. In a letter to Sonia Poulton, he wrote: “Disabled people need support and compassion, and the Labour Party believes in a welfare state that fulfils this principle… I share some of the concerns that have been expressed about the test by you, along with many charities, disability groups and healthcare professionals. These concerns… have shown that the test must be improved. The Government needs to listen. We have also forced a vote in Parliament on the need to reduce the human cost of the wrong decisions that result from the WCA in its current form.”

Let’s remind ourselves why it’s important. There’s a petition online at the moment, calling for the restoration of benefits to an Afghanistan war hero who lost his leg in the line of duty. Sapper Karl Boon lost his left leg in a Taliban rocket-propelled grenade attack in Afghanistan in 2010 and has been stripped of his benefits by the Department for Work and Pensions and ATOS.

In signing the petition, I wrote: “More penny-pinching from the poor by the government that doesn’t have the guts to tax the rich. Here’s a man who has risked his life and lost a limb in the service of his country, and all his country’s leaders can think of doing in return is taking away his financial support – aided by a foreign company. We have witnessed many stories like that of Sapper Karl Boon over the last two years and it seems to me that there is no depth to which the current government will not sink. To those in government, I say: Prove me wrong. Give this man the respect he deserves and pay him what you owe him.” Too harsh? Think on this: At least Karl Boon is currently still alive.

Let’s also remember that we’re experiencing an enormous rise in hate crime against the sick and disabled, fuelled by government propoganda and a right-wing media that’s primed to support it. ITV’s Tonight programme reported last Thursday (August 23) that more than 65,000 hate crimes against the disabled were reported in the last year. You can read my article on this blog site to find some of the stories.

So why has Miliband sat on the fence for so long?

There are two issues to separate out here.

Firstly, there is nothing wrong with the idea of having regular assessments to judge whether a person on one or both of the disability benefits is able to work, or will be likely to be able to do so in the near future. The only people who can be against that are people who want the easy life, living on benefits and off the hard work of the taxpayers.

But the way the Coalition regime has gone about these assessments, through its private contractor Atos, is totally inappropriate and unfit for purpose. We can see that in the many horror stories that have come out over the last few weeks and months.

Why should those who are permanently disabled be forced to go through reassessment every few months? They’re never going to get better! But we have Atos reports saying an amputee will be fit for work as soon as his arm grows back (for crying out loud)!

Why are doctors’ reports ignored? I know there is an argument that doctors may be persuaded to sign people off work when they aren’t actually unfit but, if the assessments were carried out by properly qualified medical professionals, working in accordance with the standards their qualifications have set for them, those would be found out. Instead, we get unqualified assessors working to a tick-box questionnaire, that isn’t remotely adequate to the job and has been acknowledged (as we saw on both Dispatches and Panorama) to be designed to get people off benefit.

There is no realism to the questions in the assessment, no anticipation of the kind of work that a person will be asked to do. There is no acknowledgement of the ways an employer would have to stretch to accommodate people with particular disabilities. Signing somebody as fit for work because they have one finger able to push a button does not make them attractive to an employer and merely sets them up to fail, possibly on a life-threatening scale because, as we know and I make no apologies for repeating, 32 people are dying every week because of the assessment system.

So what’s the alternative?

A better assessment would refer to the notes made by a patient’s GP, but would also include tests by a medical professional to ascertain the current condition of the disability – that it has been correctly reported.

It would then go on to cover the patients’ ability to carry out the sort of work that they might reasonably be likely to see on offer. Would they be able to manage it with a minimum of bother to an employer? That is the only way we will see sensible assessments coming in.

Atos is not fit to carry out these assessments in any case. The company had a bad reputation in France before it ever got a British contract and does not deserve to be making money from the taxpayer by condemning British people to the death that many of them have suffered.

These are the arguments I would wish to hear aired during the Parliamentary debate on the subject.

What would you like to hear?

Suicide rate is now the strongest indicator of unemployment

Iain Duncan Smith has been crowing about the private sector after the official unemployment figure dropped from 8.2 to 8 per cent of the workforce.

He reckons we should take our hats off to private sector employers for providing the new work. Well he would, wouldn’t he?

His attitude conforms with the narrative the Tories have been trying to build since 2010, that the private sector would rush in to fill the jobs gap left behind after the Coalition cut the public sector to ribbons – providing decent, gainful employment for the masses.

That story went straight into the circular file when the economy flatlined, right after George Osborne took charge – and resurrecting it now seems a desperate act, especially in the light of the facts.

Firstly, the Olympics have distorted the figures. We don’t know how many employers took on extra hands in advance of the games, so we don’t know how many of those jobs will go again, now that the major event is over. We do know that businesses suffered losses during the games because an expected influx of consumers did not materialise; how will that affect future figures?

Second, the number of people working part-time because they cannot find a full-time job hit a record high of 1.42 million – the most since records began in 1992.

Third, the unemployment rate actually rose in around half of the British regions. This supports the claim that the Olympics distorted the figures, and points to a continuing downward trend.

Finally, if Mr Smith wants a more accurate monitor of unemployment, he should look at the suicide rate – according to a new report by the British Medical Journal.

It found that the suicide rate among men rose by 1.4 per cent for every 10 per cent increase in unemployment.   This means that between 2008-2010, 846 more men ended their life than would normally have been expected; the corresponding number for women was an extra 155 suicides.   On average, male unemployment rose by 25.6 per cent in each of those years, while the male suicide rate rose by 3.6 per cent each year. When male employment rates rose briefly in 2010, the suicide rate dropped slightly.

We already know that an average of 32 people per week are dying as a result of Mr Smith’s brutalities against the disabled; now we know that more than 1,000 have been driven to kill themselves because of the government’s unemployment policy.

Meanwhile, among those who do have jobs, we know that average wages now only last 21 days in the month, meaning that workers have to dip into their savings, ask family for funds, or go to loan sharks for help – increasing the national debt problem and creating a trend that could lead to even more suicides.

I notice Iain Duncan Smith, promoter of the private sector, hasn’t got anything to say about that.

Let’s get Ed on-side

The Daily Mail columnist Sonia Poulton has written a letter to Ed Miliband, in order to secure his opposition to the DWP/Atos work capability assessment regime that is killing 32 disabled people every week. She has invited readers to ‘sign’ her letter by filling in their names and postcodes in the Comments column of her blog. It will be closed to new signatures from midday on Saturday (August 4) so get yours on quick! Here’s the link:

http://ramblingsofafibrofoggedmind.wordpress.com/2012/08/01/open-letter-to-ed-miliband-please-add-name-and-postcode-if-you-agree-with-contents/#comment-1723

New Atos contract to increase misery for the disabled

Not content with killing 32 Incapacity/Employment Support Allowance claimants every week, the Department for Work and Pensions has awarded the contract to test whether disabled people should continue receiving benefits to Atos.

The firm won contracts worth more than £400 million, although in Wales and parts of central England the job will go to outsourcing company Capita.

Since the assessment regime for those on IB/ESA is continuous, this means that, less than a year from now, disabled people may have to undergo two deeply flawed assessments – within the same month – to get the essential financial support they need to live their lives.

Since ESA pays less than IB, it is not even certain that their living costs will be covered, even if they are among the lucky 12-13 per cent of claimants who are likely to be successful.

The aim of the change from Disability Living Allowance to the Personal Independence Payment (PIP) is to cut spending by 20 per cent over the next three years. The fraud rate, according to the DWP’s own figures, is less than 0.5 per cent. It is easy to deduce, therefore, that even if all the fraudulent claimants are taken out of the system (they won’t be), another 39 times as many honest claimants will unfairly lose their benefit.

The assessment system is likely to be based on that already in place for IB/ESA. This means about 500,000 people would be cut from the benefit roll due to arbitrary judgements based on a scheme that has already been proven to be flawed, target-driven, and – in many cases – fatal.

As if that isn’t bad enough, David Cameron has announced he wants to desecrate the NHS constitution, in order to allow the sale of millions of UK residents’ medical records to pharmaceutical companies without consent. This will allow those companies to develop new drugs – which is a good thing – which they are likely to sell back to the health service at sky-high prices – which is bad.

The information will be anonymous – he says – but it won’t be long until ways are found to trace it back to individual patients, who will then, for example, face exorbitant insurance premiums or be refused a mortgage. It is believed that consent for the sale of your records will be assumed unless you tell your GP otherwise.

Disability benefits – who’s really faking it?

Earlier this week, both Channel 4 and the BBC gave us new documentaries about the way disabled people’s claims for state benefits are assessed. On Channel 4, Dispatches offered “Britain on the sick“, while the BBC’s Panorama was entitled “Disabled, or faking it?”. Both are available to watch on the web at the following addresses:

http://www.channel4.com/programmes/dispatches/4od#3388055

http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b01lldrc/Panorama_Disabled_or_Faking_It/

Both programmes were made to address the government’s focus on benefit cheats, and the narrative it has created that people claiming disability benefits are workshy scroungers who are perfectly capable of getting a job. This fiction has gained traction amongst the public and has led to verbal abuse and in some cases physical attacks on disabled people – including some on Disability Living Allowance who do have jobs (DLA is an in-work benefit, intended to defray the extra costs incurred when a person has to live with disability).

Let’s look at the official figures. The Department for Work and Pensions, which runs the disability benefit system, published a report called Fraud and Error in the Benefit System in February this year. It provided the following statistics:

For the financial year 2010-11, 0.8 per cent of benefit spending was overpaid due to fraud, amounting to £1.2 billion. This proportion was the same as in 2009-10.

For different benefits, this breaks down as follows: Retirement Pension 0.0 per cent; Incapacity Benefit 0.3 per cent (this is being changed to Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) the subject of the documentaries); Disability Living Allowance 0.5 per cent; Council Tax Benefit 1.3 per cent; Housing Benefit 1.4 per cent; Pension Credit 1.6 per cent; Income Support 2.8 per cent; Jobseeker’s Allowance 3.4 per cent; Carer’s Allowance 3.9 per cent.

From these figures, we can see that the number of fraudulent claims for Jobseeker’s Allowance – able-bodied people claiming benefit while they look for work – is eight and a half times larger than for fraudulent disability benefit claims.

The £1.2 billion cost of fraud to the taxpayer is not a small amount, I’ll grant you – but the DWP is hoping to claw back £10 billion with its new assessment regime, run by the French company Atos. That’s almost 10 times as much money as is being paid out to fraudulent claimants.

Yet the department claims that people with a legitimate claim have nothing to fear.

Dispatches reporter Jackie Long stated: “[We have] uncovered evidence that a tough regime of tests is secretly trying to push almost 90 per cent of these claimants off the sick, to look for work.”

The programme took advantage of undercover filming to show the training process for an ESA assessor who would carry out Work Capability Assessments and then determine which group a claimant would join: the support group (for those whose disability meant they were likely to need permanent help from the state), the work-related activity group (for those whose disability should not prevent them from getting a job, with the right help), and those who are fit for work.

Early in the programme, the trainer states categorically: “This new benefit, Employment Support Allowance was meant to take people off the benefit.” And later: “This was specifically designed to take people off Incapacity Benefit.” She goes on to admit that any assessor who puts more than 12-13 per cent of their cases (about 1/8) into the support group will be “audited” – their work will be queried and they will be asked to put some of these people into the other groups.

The documentary featured interviews with people that demonstrated – graphically – how inadequate the test was; a man deemed able to work at a supermarket checkout who would have fallen asleep because of the high dosage of painkillers he’s taking; a woman who could lose a leg if she uses a wheelchair habitually – and has been working hard to avoid that – who was then told she could work if she used one and would not, therefore, receive benefit.

The test asks whether claimants are able to move an empty cardboard box or push a button. Richard Hawkes, chief executive of disability charity Scope, described it as “deeply flawed” and “outrageous”.

Even though Atos assessors’ decisions are final in 94 per cent of cases (DWP decision makers accept their advice), they are told they never need to worry about appeals against those decisions (which occur in more than 40 per cent of cases) and the tribunal hearings that take place (which cost £45 million per year) – they never go to the tribunals and won’t be blamed.

On both programmes, Atos and the DWP were adamant that the DWP has not set targets for assessors to follow. The evidence we have seen shows that they were lying.

The target is the percentage of people being put on the top rate of disability benefit – the support group. The trainer: “You are being watched carefully for the rate of support group. If it’s more than 12 or 13 per cent you will be fed back – your rate is too high. I do not set the criteria; that is what we are being told.” She said assessors would be constantly audited to see what they do. Another trainer said that figure came from the DWP.

When the doctor who carried out the training, and the undercover filming, was put to work, he carried out eight assessments – four of them were bounced back and he was told to take points off. The documentary’s producers contacted Atos, who expressed doubt about the doctor due to his political background.

Panorama followed case-histories also – the most noteworthy being that of the gentleman who was, for all intents, harassed by the system. Found fit for work despite being told to see a doctor by the assessor – the doctor discovered he had a critical heart condition – he won an appeal only to be contacted again, weeks later, with notification of a further assessment. At the time, he was waiting for a heart operation. Again found fit for work, he was waiting on a second appeal when he suffered a fatal heart attack. It could be argued that this man is dead because of DWP harassment.

Both documentaries featured claimants who had been wrongly placed into the work-related activity group – including one man who was sitting catatonic in a mental hospital at the time.

A doctor said the tests are adding to the cost of NHS work, rather than saving money, because people were booking GP appointments for the sake of their benefits, rather than their health.

Atos refused to be interviewed in either documentary, and details of its contract were hidden because they claimed it contained sensitive commercial information. But on Panorama, Employment Minister Chris Grayling, defending his regime, said: “We do not have a financial target for the reassessment of people on Incapacity Benefit, or for the level of new applications for ESa which are successful. There are no targets anywhere in the system, for numbers of people to move onto or off benefits.” As we have seen evidence proving the opposite, we know that this minister was lying.

And the most damning statistic of all: According to Panorama, every week, 32 people die after being declared “fit for work” by WCA assessors.

That means, at the time of writing, 960 people have died since January 1 this year, after being declared “fit for work”. The DWP, Atos, Mr Grayling and his DWP boss Iain Duncan Smith don’t just have blood on their hands – they’re swimming in it.

Stand up, you slaves!

I’ve been accosted by several people in the 24 hours or so since I wrote ‘No forced labour please, we’re British’ – all of them determined to make me believe that any stand against government injustice is doomed to failure and I shouldn’t try to support it.

What a bunch of craven cowards.

If these people had their way, everyone in the UK would be a slave. If the religion they preach was true, all of our ancestors would have been slaves as well – to the biggest bullies with the nastiest weapons, all the way back down through time.

None of the great changes, emancipations, freedoms that were ever gained in history would have taken place.

Well, I’m here to tell you that we are not slaves; those changes did take place, and they happened because people like you and I made them happen.

The writer J Michael Straczynski, creator of the cult SF TV show Babylon 5, put it very well a few years ago, so I’ll hand the rest of this article over to him:

“Let me tell you about a little psychological trick called conditioned helplessness.

“When our world and our choices are restricted over a sufficiently long period of time, we come to believe that we cannot snap our bonds, cannot choose anything other than what we have, even though those bonds are often as sheer as gossamer.

“And it’s when we are in that state of conditioned helplessness that we are truly at our most dangerous, to ourselves as we fall into despair or poor decisions, and to others when the weight of the perceived chain becomes too much, and like enraged elephants we go mad… and make those around us pay the price for our confinement.

“It is in the vested interests of any society, any form of government, any hierarchical system to make you believe that you have no power, that you have no choices, that you cannot fight City Hall or Parliament or the Party or the Committee. We are told to play nice, to behave, to get along, that the human being singular can’t really change anything, can’t affect anything. Leave it to the rest, to the authorities, to those qualified to deal with the problem. They want you to go to sleep, to believe that there is nothing you can do.

“They are, of course, quite wrong. And when they tell you you cannot do anything, that you do not have a choice, they are lying to you. Nothing more, nothing less.

“History was changed by one assassin in Sarajevo, whose bullet set off a chain reaction that led to World War I and by default to World War II and much of the Cold War history thereafter.

“One man with a bullet can change the world. We’ve seen it. We know it’s true.

“How much more can one man or one woman with one idea change the world? Ask Mahatma Ghandi, Mother Theresa, John Kennedy, Nelson Mandela, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Aquinas.

“And while you’re at it… ask yourself.”

JMS is appealing to us to see “hope, and optimism, and our capacity to build a better world if we are willing to fight for the future, to seize it for ourselves and make of it what we want, because if we don’t then someone else will make it for us, and it may not be the best possible future, or the one we most desire. It is about the nobler aspects of our humanity, those elements which call us together in a common cause, not the differences that pull us apart… In the final analysis, whatever we may have been taught to the contrary, we are more alike than we are different.”

There is something we can do. And we should praise those who do it.

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No forced labour please, we’re British!

Here’s a story to chill the heart.

Unemployed Geology graduate Cait Reilly, aged 22, was forced to give up volunteering at the Pen Room museum in Birmingham (she was hoping it would lead to a curatorship further down the line) in order to work for nothing at Poundland, sweeping the floors on a government scheme.

She was told she would lose her £53-a-week Jobseeker’s Allowance if she did not submit to the “forced labour” of stacking shelves for the discount retailer, which did not have to pay her.

Let’s put this into context: Poundland’s annual profit in 2010 was £21,500,000. Split among its 390-odd stores, that’s more than £54,000 – or enough to pay three extra employees, per store, on minimum wage, with cash to spare. That’s up from the previous year, when it could have paid two extra employees on minimum wage, with cash to spare.

Ms Reilly said in a Telegraph article: “There were five of us sent there. I was the only graduate. We were doing exactly the same work as the paid staff. It makes no sense.

“If the Government subsidises high street chains with free labour, they don’t have to recruit. It causes unemployment rather than solves it.”

Absolutely correct.

Ms Reilly has employed a lawyer to sue the government for contravening article 4(2) of the Human Rights Act, which states: ‘No one shall be required to perform forced or compulsory labour,’ and I think many people around the UK will be waiting impatiently for the result of that action.

The Daily Mail appears to have reverted to its usual form (after the moment last week when one of its columnists actually stood up for disabled people, who are also being victimised by the current government).

That hideous harpy, attack columnist Jan Moir scribbled: “Cait, I really want to say this to you. Two weeks stacking shelves in Poundland — a breach of your human rights? Grow up.

“You might think that a student with barely an NI payment to her name would be happy to put something back into the pot, would be very grateful to be in receipt of taxpayer-funded benefits in the first place.”

Catherine Bennett in The Guardian leapt to pour acid on this attitude: “Many Daily Mail columnists, you gathered, would not have reached the ethical heights they occupy today if they had not, once upon a time, been willing to wash down the Tesco aisles with their own tongues – and, yes, to pay Tesco for the privilege. Forgive them, but what exactly is wrong with no pay for a decent day’s work?

“Annoyingly, for this school of thought, Reilly’s story requires a little finessing before she can be depicted as a total princess. Prior to Poundland, she was regularly volunteering – for no pay – in a Birmingham museum, hoping this would help her find a job in curating.”

The whole saga is the result of a scheme in which Job Centre staff have the power to force anyone claiming unemployment benefits to take part in “mandatory work activity” designed to get them used to working from nine to five.

The pilot scheme found that one in five who were ordered to take part in a four-week community project stopped claiming immediately. Another 30 per cent never turned up and had their benefits axed.

This result – people coming off benefits rather than submitting to being treated as slave labour – was treated as a huge success by Employment Minister Chris ‘Goebbels’ Grayling and his cronies.

A ‘source’ told the Telegraph: “What this demonstrates is that there is really a hardcore of claimants who have absolutely no intention of working come what may.”

I say: The people who refused to do unpaid work were absolutely right to do so and should never have been penalised for it.

If commercial work is available and needs to be done, then companies should be employing people to do it.

This scheme is nothing but another scurrilous attack on the people who are least able to defend themselves, by the most privileged and least deserving government in the recent history of the UK.

To describe this scheme as a success because it has deprived people of the income they need to survive, is sickening.

To those responsible, I say: Shame on you. May you suffer poverty and homelessness for the rest of your days and may good people shun you.

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