It was the largest one-day record for the number of schools infected.
Somehow, I doubt it will all be over by Christmas.
So does Eoin Clarke, who runs the Tory Fibs Twitter feed. He laid out his own concerns about the current Tory policies in a thread that I have no qualms about reproducing here, so you can experience the depth of the Johnson government’s failure here:
First, the government in England think this is a "north of England" problem. People work in regions outside which they live. Uni students traveled outside those regions. Data will soon show CV19 Wave II across the whole of England.
Third, the Gvmnt's CV19 approach has taken on a puritanical, almost mystical, streak. That if they stop all the things that involve fun inevitably the virus will commend society's efforts & depart accordingly. Self Flagellation will not beat the virus.
Fourthly, government are measuring risk by exposure of the person infected. Eg kids rarely die from CV19 thus no risk. Schools do not exist in isolation. Pupils carry viral load back into society. Neither to Uni Halls. These people work in our essential front line services.
Herd immunity will never occur with this virus without catastrophic loss of human life. Attempting it in winter will cause a syndemic & overwhelm our NHS impacting all other admissions & A&E. We do not have the capacity. Besides, it would require 8 full blown waves & still fail.
Conclusion: by failing to focus on cutting the number of social contacts the government are on course to kill thousands. Bubbles in social life, free for all in work/study life will not work. Coronavirus cannot tell, nor either cares about, the difference.
This Writer has been saying much the same – especially about the concentration on the economy causing more damage in the long run.
Sadly, there no way to stop Johnson, Hancock and the other incompetents from continuing on their course to disaster – for a very simple reason:
There is no cure for stupidity.
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.
Agony: If fibromyalgia displayed visible signs, this is how a sufferer would look. Imagine how such a person would feel – physically and emotionally – if they were left alone this Christmas. Too much trouble for family; no fair-weather friends left; and a government that won’t even investigate if they were found dead after the holidays.
Today I had a long chat with a Russia Todayreporter, thanks to a recommendation from John McArdle of Black Triangle. It seems a foreign-owned news corporation is more interested in the plight of the UK’s most vulnerable than our home-grown media or – worse – our government.
She was asking about Vox Political‘s Freedom of Information requests, seeking information from the Department for Work and Pensions on the number of people who have died while going through the now-tortuous process of claiming Employment and Support Allowance (ESA), which includes the now-infamous work capability assessment (WCA).
As part of the dialogue she told me the government’s current line is that publicising the figures would not be instructive as they do not provide information on the causes of death and many of the deceased may have died because of their medical conditions, rather than due to government harassment or stress brought on by the assessment regime. This is, of course, nonsense.
The government cannot say that people in the Work-Related Activity Group have died because of their medical conditions without admitting that they should never have been put in that group in the first place. The WRAG is for people who are getting better, and who are expected to be healthy enough to seek employment within a year. If they die instead, then the work capability assessor (working for Atos, Maximus or whoever else) clearly missed an important point, or they, possibly together with the DWP decision-maker, disregarded it because regulations handed down from Conservative Party ministers told them to do so.
It is not quite as easy to accuse the government over people in the Support Group, because these have been judged to be in need of the maximum amount of help allowed by the law, due to the severity of their medical conditions. They are more likely to pass away. However, if fatality statistics had been published regularly and properly, it would have been possible to see whether the number of Support Group fatalities was increasing disproportionately; if it was, it follows that ministers should order an investigation into the causes of death. It does not follow that they only died because they had a medical condition. Was it worsened by the stress caused by the DWP’s regime of irregular re-assessments? What about the financial insecurity caused by benefit uprating caps? What about the personal insecurity caused by cuts in care services? With the figures hushed up, it is easy to ignore any such trends. Nobody knows about it, so why make a fuss? When politicians are in government, they have a vested interest in publicising only the information that makes them look good.
How does the government account for deaths in the assessment stage of ESA? These must be mushrooming due to well-publicised delays in processing claimants. Again, some may be due to claimants’ physical conditions but delays in assessment mean they have been deprived of the help they needed.
Then there are the suicides.
Some claimants take their own lives while on the benefit. This could be due to many reasons including the hopelessness of a situation where they foresee themselves being pushed off-benefit (this goes for people in both the WRAG and the Support Group because they are all under the threat of continual reassessment), or suffering more and more cuts to the amount received (in comparison with inflation) that their quality of life will suffer, or they’ll be kicked out of their homes, or they won’t be able to afford the necessities of their lives. The government does not record the number of people who do this and pays no attention to the verdicts of coroners performing inquests on them.
Then there are those who die after being refused the benefit. There is no information on these people at all because the government does not consider them to be its responsibility any more. They could die because of their medical condition; they could commit suicide – it won’t appear in government figures.
But, the possibility of suicide indicates a mental imbalance which should be picked up by the ‘medical experts’ conducting work capability assessments – right? In fact Dr Litchfield, the independent assessor, pointed this out in his recent evaluation of the WCAs’ performance – commenting on how numbers of people in the Support Group had increased due to fears for the safety of the claimants or those near them – and in fact this indicates a grudging nod towards progress. Somewhere, someone noticed that something was going wrong – but while the figures are kept hidden, we know that this is not nearly enough.
And now we are nearly at Christmas. Suicide season.
More people take their own lives under Conservative governments than Labour. And more people do so at Christmas than at any other time of year.
The festive season is great when you are in fine health, surrounded by a family and friends who love you, and are wealthy enough to enjoy the season to the full (we shan’t go into whether your family and friends are only around because you are wealthy enough because there’s no reason to assume any such selfishness and it is, after all, the season of goodwill).
It’s a different proposition when you don’t have your health, when benefit dependency means you can hardly keep yourself, let alone think about presents for other people, and when the lack of both of these have driven away what friends and family you might have – for whatever reasons.
Back in the summer a Twitter acquaintance with fibromyalgia remarked on how lucky Mrs Mike was to have a partner who had stuck with her, because the pressures of the condition lead to partners who are also carers walking out, leaving the sick or disabled (or both) person on their own. Put yourself in that position and ask how you would feel.
Taking all this into consideration, why do you think the death statistics for 2011 – the only year for which we have any figures at all, courtesy of an ‘ad hoc’ DWP release – run from January to November, rather than for the whole year?
There’s nothing to be done about the government’s attitude at the moment. Because of it, people are going to die this month and in January.
But there is a way to minimise the situation.
If you know someone who has a long-term sickness or disability and who is going to be on their own this Christmas, why not see what you can do to make it brighter?
It could be the difference between life and death.
What we’re fighting for: It seems certain that Jacqueline Harris (pictured) died because her benefits were stripped from her after a one-question medical assessment. The DWP wants to hide the number of other people who are dying in similar circumstances. [Picture: Daily Mirror]
Long-term readers will know that the author of this blog has spent the last few months trying to get officials at the Department for Work and Pensions to release mortality statistics for people undergoing the assessment procedure for Employment and Support Allowance.
It is in the public interest for the nation to know how many seriously ill or disabled people are dying while they wait to undergo the controversial Atos-run medical assessment, while they await the result, and while they appeal against a result that puts them in the wrong group or claims they are fit for work.
These deaths may be due to deterioration in their health – whether or not it was caused by the process – or suicide prompted by the process or the decision.
An initial Freedom of Information request was rejected by the DWP on the grounds that it was “vexatious”. I disputed that claim, and eventually had to appeal to the Information Commissioner for a ruling after ministers proved intractable.
The first obvious implication of this behaviour is that the number of deaths has been increasing and the DWP is trying to hide that fact from us. During 2012, when the department was still publishing the figures, we saw the average number of deaths leap from 32 per week to 73 per week.
The second obvious implication is that DWP policy is causing the deaths. With regard to this, your attention is drawn to the fact that this decision has been published a matter of days after it was revealed that Jacqueline Harris, of Kingswood, Bristol, died from a suspected overdose after the DWP signed her ‘fit for work’ – on the basis of a ‘medical assessment’ that consisted of one question – “Did you get here by bus?”
The partially-sighted former nurse, who required walking sticks, had a bad back and was in constant pain due to arthritis in her neck, lost all her benefits on the basis of her one-word answer – “Yes.” Amazingly, she lost an appeal against that decision and her death followed soon after.
An inquest has been opened and adjourned, so it is not possible to state the cause of death for certain – but any suggestion that the DWP decision was not a factor must beggar credulity.
That is the context in which the Information Commissioner’s ruling arrived.
You’re really not going to like it.
“The Commissioner’s decision is that the DWP has correctly applied the vexatious provision.”
It seems it is therefore impossible to use the Freedom of Information Act to extract this information from the Department for Work and Pensions. Ministers will never provide it willingly, so it seems we are at a dead end.
Apparently, “The DWP explained to the Commissioner that on 25 June 2013 they received 11 identical FOI requests and in the following days another 13 identical requests. They claim that this was the direct response to an online blog written by the complainant [that’s me] on 25 June 2013.
It seems that I am at fault for encouraging this as, after detailing my FOI request, I did write, “I strongly urge you to do the same. There is strength in numbers.” After a commenter asked if they could copy and past the request, I responded, “Sure, just make sure they know you’re making it in your own name”. And the following day, another commenter wrote, “If we swamp the DWP with requests they surely must respond”. Then on June 29, in another article, I added, “If you believe this cause is just, go thou and do likewise.”
The Information Commissioner’s decision notice states: “In this case, there were 24 identical requests which were sent to the DWP in a short space of time and the Commissioner has seen three identical complaints from the individuals that the DWP believes are acting in concert.
“Given that this issue was raised in a previous request at the end of 2012, it is apparent that the wording of the complainant’s online blog on 25 June 2013 prompted the numerous requests on this issue at the end of June 2013.
“Taking this into account the Commissioner has determined that there is sufficient evidence to link the requesters together and to accept they are acting in concert.”
It seems that there isn’t strength in numbers after all – or rather that the way that the large (by the DWP’s standards) number of us expressed ourselves was detrimental to our efforts. I take responsibility for that. I should have said that if you really believed in the issue, you needed to do something that was clearly separate from my own efforts. With hindsight this seems obvious, but only because we have all learned about the process as we went along. Would anybody have known better?
Regarding the impact of dealing with the requests, “The Commissioner accepts that when considered in the wider context, 24 requests on one topic in a few days could impose a burden in terms of time and resources, distracting the DWP from its main functions.
“The Commissioner accepts that the purpose of the requests 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.”
Surely, one of its main functions is the continued well-being of those claiming benefits. If people like Jacqueline Harris are dying because of DWP policy, it could be argued that the requests were reminders of its main function – not a distraction.
I have maintained throughout this process that there was no intention on my part to disrupt DWP functions. The only intention has been to see the mortality figures published. It seems neither the DWP nor the Information Commissioner are willing to allow that.
You have to wonder why, don’t you?
There are gaps in the argument which might provide future possibilities.
According to the decision notice, “The DWP argue that ‘the nature of the actual request is not the issue here. It is merely how these requests were instigated and orchestrated which led to them being treated as vexatious.”
In that case, why did the DWP not honour Samuel Miller’s original request for the information, which was turned down in June? If the nature of his request “is not the issue here”, then it should have been honoured and my own FOI request would never have been made. By its own intransigence, the DWP has wasted not only its own time but mine and that of 24 other people.
How many other requests were made, on the same subject, that the DWP could not associate with this blog?
Also, I was surprised to read the Information Commissioner’s statement: “However, the most significant factor is that the complainant runs an online blog in which the main focus is the DWP and their ‘cover-up’ on the number of Incapacity Benefit and Employment and Support Allowance claimants who have died in 2012.”
If that was the most significant factor in this ruling, then the decision is invalid. This blog was not set up to focus on the DWP’s admittedly despicable behaviour towards its clients; its focus is on British politics in general. Look at the articles published in the last week, covering topics ranging from immigration to the minimum wage, to the economy, and – yes – concerns about the DWP. If DWP ministers think the entire blog was set up to harass them, they’re getting ideas above their station.
It could also be argued that the quoted belief of the DWP, that “it is reasonable to view the requests as part of an obsessive campaign of harassment against it and its officers” is insupportable. If 24 people made FOI requests, but only three complained about the response, this is hardly obsessive. Were any of these people writing in on a regular basis, or were they corresponding only after they themselves had been contacted? I think we all know the answer to that.
Also, the Commissioner’s comment that “the disparaging remarks and language used in the blog cannot be overlooked and does demonstrate a level of harassment against the DWP” is insupportable. The language of the articles has been moderate, when one considers the subject matter. Regarding remarks made by other commenters, the DWP and the Information Commissioner should bear in mind that the comment column is a forum where people may express their opinions. If the DWP doesn’t like those opinions, it should modify its corporate behaviour.
It seems I have a further right of appeal, to the First-Tier Tribunal (Information Rights). I will consider this; observations from interested parties are encouraged.
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?
Their doctors will say you’re not sick: The DWP’s new policy is another sign of disrespect to PROPER health professionals across the UK; their diagnoses aren’t good enough for the Department. It’s bringing its own people in, to pretend more sick people are actually healthy, no doubt.
“People on sickness benefits will be required to have regular meetings with doctors, occupational health nurses and therapists to help them address their barriers to work – or face losing their benefits,” the Department for Work and Pensions announced yesterday.
The initiative was revealed under the euphemistic headline ‘Help for people on sickness benefits to address barriers to work’ and shows yet again that ministers in the DWP do not understand the meaning of the word “sick”.
“Around 3,000 people on Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) who have been assessed as being able to work in the future will have regular appointments with healthcare professionals as a condition of receiving their benefit. The meetings will focus on helping claimants to move closer to being able to get a job,” the DWP press release states.
“The proposed pilot scheme will compare the help given by doctors, occupational health nurses and therapists to two other pilot schemes which will offer enhanced support from Jobcentre Plus and Work Programme providers to see which is best at helping people off sickness benefits and into work.”
This is all very well, but has it not occurred to DWP officials that perhaps a person who is off work because of illness may already be involved in meetings with healthcare professionals?
This is anecdotal evidence, I know, but Mrs Mike has attended many, many appointments with her GP, physiotherapists, osteopaths, other back specialists, nerve specialists, surgeons, she’s had MRI and CT scans, spent a week at the pain clinic in Bronllys Hospital (recently featured on a BBC documentary which notably focused on its successes and not its failures – it does have them) and is currently due to attend an appointment at the orthopaedic hospital in Gobowen.
What do DWP officials think its people can do, that these specialists – who are experts in their field – cannot?
Employment minister Mark Hoban trotted out the usual line that “we need to ensure that people who are able to work get the encouragement they need to get a job, while those who are too sick to work get real support”. What, by threatening them with losing their sole source of income? That’s not encouragement – it’s bullying; it’s threats; it’s intimidation.
“Many people on sickness benefits want to work, so it’s vitally important that we give them the right help to move into a job if they are able. The help we give people at the moment tends to focus on work-related skills, but doesn’t necessarily address health problems. But by giving people regular support from doctors, occupational health nurses and therapists we can do more to help people manage or improve their conditions.”
The thought of the DWP – an organisation that absolutely refuses, under any circumstances, to publish the number of people its policies are killing every week (or have killed already) – claiming it is trying to help people into work is laughable. The fact that it will do this by threatening to remove their benefits is serious to the point of being deadly.
The release goes on to remind us all that people in the work-related activity group of ESA recipients already have ‘work-focussed interviews’ with Job Centre Plus staff as a condition of receiving their benefit. This is true – Mrs Mike attended and, due to her interest in finding work, was passed on to a work programme provider who immediately – within one telephone conversation – told her she was not fit for any kind of work, the Atos assessment had put her in the wrong group and she must seek re-assessment with a view to going into the support group immediately.
That was in January; the DWP has been dragging its heels somewhat. I would say this demonstrates the department’s real concern for people with long-term health problems (almost as much as those nebulous death figures).
In the pilot area, the press release states, the work interview would be replaced by meetings with healthcare professionals – provided by the DWP. The length and frequency of the meetings would be flexible, depending on the individuals’ needs.
“The regular discussions will focus claimants on how they can improve their view of their readiness for work by taking steps to manage their health issues,” the release claims. “They will not replace a person’s GP, but can promote health support and help a claimant to re-engage with their GP if they are struggling to adapt to their condition.” Plausible language, but let’s remember this is DWP doublespeak, so we must not expect anything of the sort.
There will be three separate pilot schemes:
Healthcare professional-led – mandatory engagement with health care professionals. Interestingly, this will use funding from the European Social Fund. How they managed to persuade the EU that this was a good idea defies rational explanation.
Jobcentre Plus – enhanced Jobcentre Plus support
Work Programme – enhanced support designed by Work Programme provider
The pilots will begin in November and will run until August 2016 – so, if there’s any justice, they will be terminated in May 2015 when a sensible government takes over. This depends on whether Labour can devise any reasonable ideas for Work and Pensions in the next 18 months or so, of course.
While we’re discussing ways of getting sick people off-benefit (which is what this is about – never mind putting them back into work), I wonder whether DWP officials partaking in this scheme will also employ the “Pester Power” strategy?
I learned about this from Vox Political commenter Maria Nelson this morning. She wrote: “They partake in something called ‘Pester Power’ to bully and harass claimants… knowing it may push people over the edge.”
Apparently it is employed by staff “who bully claimants by hanging up on them and aggravating stressed, angry claimants, losing paperwork etc to create misery – sanctioning etc… Their horrid phone service is privately operated and numbers changed regular[ly] – wrong numbers given out – and it generates nice profits for that private company, and there’s supposed to be a free number for mobile callers but no-one gets told… I was so shocked [by] what I was told, I forgot to ask [for] it”.
Come to that, why not come out of the undergrowth and give us the facts about the number of people who are dying because of the fatal policies practised by your department? You do realise, don’t you, that your continued participation involves you in mass murder, don’t you? After the response to the FOI request, I see no reason to give any of you the benefit of the doubt; not only are you participating in a scheme that leads to death – it is revealed as a scheme that is intended to cause death. You don’t cover up mass deaths, with an intention to continue the policies that cause them, without intending to induce those deaths.
That’s murder. If you are an employee of the DWP involved in this process, then you are implicated. There will be trials; the dead will have justice. And, just as in Nuremberg in the 1940s, saying you were “only following orders” will not help you.
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