Tag Archives: Ian Hislop

No wonder Iain Duncan Smith is sceptical about disabled Bedroom Tax victims – look at his own lies

“It’s no secret that a liar won’t believe anyone else.” – U2, The Fly.

Iain Duncan Smith must reckon he’s pretty fly, casting doubt on figures that show two-thirds of those affected by the Bedroom Tax are disabled by saying they are based on tenants’ self-declarations.

He implied that the figures are doubtful because there is no “check” on them.

Well, as Bono sang in the U2 song quoted above, it is very easy for a liar to doubt what other people say – or, as Ian Hislop stated in a different context in the video clip from Have I Got News For You (about Jeffrey Archer), “Takes one to know one.”

So, in the spirit of the video clip, that covers the life and lies of Lord Archer (up to 1995, when it was recorded), let’s have a look at some of the lies we can attribute to Mr … Smith. There have been so many that this article only covers a few well-known cases, and historical incidents covered by Vox Political up to around March 2013. More will be added in later, and the subject seems worthy of its own separate page on the site. For now, have a look at these facts about the man we call RTU (Returned To Unit) in recognition of his disastrous career in the Army as a bag carrier:

He claimed that he was educated at the Universita di Perugia in Italy, founded by the Pope (of the time) in 1308, but in fact attended the Universita per Stranieri (University for Foreigners) which was founded in 1921 and did not grant degrees when he studied there in 1973. Iain Duncan Smith did not get any qualifications there or even finish his exams.

He also claimed he trained at Dunchurch College of Management, the former staff college for GEC Marconi, for whom he worked (briefly) in the 1980s. He completed six separate courses lasting a few days each, adding up to about a month in total. He never earned a recognised qualification there.

He employed a policy special adviser, Philippa Stroud, who was also being paid by the right-wing thinktank he set up – the Centre for Social Justice – that lobbies the DWP, knowing that the special advisers’ code of conduct stipulates that they “should not receive benefits of any kind which others might reasonably see as compromising their personal judgment or integrity”. He seemed to think it was okay for her to take public money on top of her own salary; he seemed to think it was all right for her to have a job as a senior member of a pressure group that tries to influence his department, when her role within that department was to give him advice on what to do; and he seemed to think it was permissible to allow all that and still lecture the nation about what is morally acceptable.

In November 2012, he appeared on the BBC’s Question Time, on which he reeled off inaccurate figures. For example, he told Owen Jones: “I didn’t hear you screaming about two and a half million people who were parked, nobody saw them, for over 10 years, not working, no hope, no aspiration.” In fact, according to the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, only in two per cent of households had nobody ever worked, and more than half of adults in ‘never-worked’ households were under 25. Two per cent of the population is not two and a half million people, and under-25s cannot have been unemployed for more than 10 years.

His DWP claimed welfare-to-work companies – firms hired by the Department to get people into jobs – weren’t paid until they had found work for a client. In fact, “The WTW [Welfare-to-Work] provider gets a £600 attachment fee. They also get paid fees for ‘providing support’ i.e. bullying her into doing what they want. Later they get an ‘outcome fee’ for making her stay in the minimum wage job of their choice. If she finds something with no help from them, they still pocket the dosh. If she finds training other than their useless ‘courses’ she gets rewarded with a sanction (benefits withheld indefinitely) to ensure compliance.” Iain Duncan Smith was adamant that no payment was made other than by results. He said: “Unlike previous work programmes that the last government did where they paid up to half the money just for taking the person on, we don’t do any of that. what we say is, the company concerned has to get them into work but just not into work; also into a job that is eventually, say, six months – that’s when we pay them.”

He is on record as saying the benefit system is “too generous” but was quick enough to take advantage of it himself: His first job was taxpayer-funded military service, carrying bags for a Major-General. After six years of this, he left the Army and spent six months on the dole. You can guarantee he was getting housing benefit for it. Current plans would give a man that age only as much as if he was renting a single room in a shared house, and one must wonder how well this gentleman would have coped in that situation. He then started a job, using the skills he had gained while being paid by the taxpayer in the Army – as a salesman for arms dealer GEC-Marconi. He moved on to a property firm, but after six months found himself back on the dole (and housing benefit, one presumes). Then he sold gun-related magazines for Jane’s Information Group. Then he got elected to Parliament, in 1992. Every year since then, he has been paid more than most taxpayers earn, and currently receives £134,565 per year. He has had four children and received child benefit for all of them. He currently plans to restrict child benefit, making it payable for only two children per household. He put all of his children through private school – with the help of his MP’s salary which is paid by, you guessed it, the taxpayer. His wife’s record of work, since they married, totals 15 months as his diary secretary – for which the taxpayer gave her £15,000. It has been suggested that she did not, in fact, do any work at all while drawing this paycheck.

At the end of December 2012 he spoke in support of the Universal Jobmatch computer system. Jobseekers were coerced into signing up (they didn’t have to) and into ticking a box which allowed Job Centre staff to view their activities and pass their personal details on to possible employers (again, not a legal requirement. If the adviser did not believe the claimant was looking for work, their benefits would be withdrawn, Iain Duncan Smith said. He said: “I’m a job adviser and I’ve got someone who doesn’t want to do this. I will haul them in a lot. Instead of them going in every two weeks, these job advisers can bring them in every day if they want, if they think they are not getting out of bed in the morning.” Universal Jobmatch very quickly became a second home for pimps, who lured users into the sex industry, and identity thieves, who used complicated ‘application forms’ to steal users’ personal details.

In January 2013, he said the previous Labour government’s tax credit system had been wide open to abuse, with fraud and error costing £10 billion. “Tax credit payments rose by some 58 per cent ahead of the 2005 general election, and in the two years prior to the 2010 election, spending increased by about 20 per cent,” he said in a Telegraph article. Between 2003 and 2010, Labour spent a staggering £171 billion on tax credits, contributing to a 60 per cent rise in the welfare bill. Far too much of that money was wasted, with fraud and error under Labour costing over £10 billion. It will come as no surprise therefore that fraudsters from around the world targeted this benefit for personal gain.” In fact, in 2003-4, £16.4bn was paid, and the following year – the one including the general election to which Mr Duncan Smith referred – £17.7bn. That’s an increase of eight per cent, not 58. The total spent on tax credits between 2003 and 2010 – under Labour – was £147 billion, not £171 billion. During that period, £11.16bn was lost through fraud and error, with only £1.27bn of that due to fraud – 0.7 per cent of the total. The claim that fraudsters around the world targeted tax credits was completely unsubstantiated as the system does not record the nationalities of claimants. However: Everyone claiming Working Tax Credits must have a UK National Insurance number. Everyone claiming Child Tax Credits must be able to show they are on Child Benefit, for which they must produce a birth certificate for each child, thereby proving they were born in the UK – otherwise, they get nothing.

The very next day, he said that benefit payments were increasing faster than wages when this was impossible. His claim that unemployment benefits had risen by 20 per cent in the previous five years, compared with an average 12 per cent rise in private sector pay, was rendered meaningly when the actual amounts of money were used to illustrate this. These showed that, in the five-year period quoted by Mr Duncan Smith, unemployment benefits had risen by just £11.85 per week, while average private sector pay had risen by £49 per week.

A week later, the BBC quoted him as saying the Benefit Uprating Cap was necessary because inaction would leave the UK “bankrupt”, with “huge borrowing costs”. It is impossible for the UK to become bankrupt – as a sovereign nation with its own currency, it can always print enough money to get out from under debt – and in fact this has happened during the course of the current Parliament. It’s called quantitative easing. Also, UK government debt is embodied in bonds which are sold to organisations including foreign governments and pension fund operators, who snap them up as extremely reliable investments. Therefore the level of government debt is in fact an indicator of the balance between public sector and private sector involvement in government spending.

Also in January 2013, he told the House of Commons that “we have better employment figures — there are one million new private sector jobs, which outweighs the public sector jobs we have had to get rid of” – only to have this debunked by Clive Efford, who pointed out: “The argument coming from the Government benches is wholly founded on misinformation, particularly in respect of the claim that the Government have created one million jobs in the private sector… According to the Office for National Statistics, 196,000 of those jobs are due solely to the reclassification of sixth-form colleges and further education colleges.”

In the same debate, discussing Employment and Support Allowance, he said: “By and large, the benefits for those who are disabled and qualified as disabled, and for those in receipt either of support payments in ESA, disability living allowance or the premiums in many other benefits, are being uprated in line with inflation… The only benefit that is not being uprated in line with inflation is ESA for those in the work-related activity group. Some of those with disability will be affected because many in their households will be on other benefits.” This was rebuffed by Fiona O’Donnell, who said: “Disability Rights UK… has said that 1 million disabled people will be affected by the one per cent uprating, and that more disabled people will be living in poverty.”

He said: “Under Labour, public spending spiralled out of control… Labour spent taxpayers’ money like drunks on a Friday night, with no care or concern for how effective it was. Our record on getting people into jobs is better than theirs.” But Liam Byrne responded: “No doubt he, like me, will have looked at the DWP benefit expenditure tables, which show that spending on out-of-work benefits between 1996-97 and 2009-10 did not rise, but fell by £7.5 billion. That is why Lord Freud said that Labour’s record in getting people back to work was ‘remarkable’ and noted that Labour had tackled the long-term dependency on unemployment benefits that it had inherited from the Tories in 1997.” Lisa Nandy added: “Research carried out recently by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation found that no … culture of worklessness existed, and that in fact there was a strong commitment to work among people throughout the country.”

Told that the Benefit Uprating Cap would push an estimated 200,000 children into poverty, according to figures from The Children’s Society, he said: “I don’t agree that the way to get children out of poverty is to simply keep transferring more and more money to keep them out of work,” revealing a belief that, rather than receiving benefits to support them, poor children should be sent out to work.

That last comment suggests a resemblance to Tories of the Victorian era, who saw working class people of any age as a commodity to be used up as required.

In fact, Iain Duncan Smith is more similar to Mussolini – especially around the eyes. Musso was famously said to have made the trains run on time, but RTU isn’t like that.

Judging by his DWP record, if he was in charge, they’d all be empty.

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Blame David Cameron for the catalogue of Conservative lies

Don’t expect Conservative ministers to do the honourable thing when they are found to have misled Parliament – it turns out they have ‘previous’ (or is it ‘form’?) in this regard.

Take a look at the YouTube clip above. It is from an April, 1994 episode of Have I Got News For You and refers to Nicholas Scott, then a minister of state for social security, who ‘talked out’ a private members’ bill aiming to outlaw discrimination on grounds of disability.

On behalf of the Conservative government of the day, he made it his business to ensure that it would remain possible to discriminate against disabled people.

Asked if this was true, he denied it and – as the very young-looking Ian Hislop states in the clip – “he was lying, of course.”

Angus Deayton (remember him?) fleshes out the story: “John Major previously gave his word that any minister who knowingly misled his fellow MPs should be sacked… It sounds like John Major has knowingly misled his fellow MPs as well. Perhaps he should go sack himself.”

Of course Major stood by his minister – Scott was only doing what Major had told him!

In fact, Parliamentary convention has long held that anybody committing ‘contempt of Parliament’ by deliberately misleading fellow MPs may be suspended or expelled, as highlighted previously by this blog.

The clip makes it clear that Conservatives have been ignoring such rules for decades – and that the person to blame is usually the one at the top – John Major, back in the 1990s.

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David Cameron, now.

This makes sense. Look at Iain Duncan Smith, who has loudly and continually fibbed his face off about his so-called “welfare reforms”, in spite of the mountain of evidence showing that tens of thousands of people have died because of them.

That is as discriminatory as a law can be.

Commenters on this blog, in their multitudes, have asked why Iain Duncan Smith has remained in his post after setting in motion the sequence of disasters that have hit the Department for Work and Pensions on his watch. Looking at the Scott/Major affair, we can deduce that the man we call RTU has not been ‘Returned To Unit’ (in this case, the backbenches) because he has been doing exactly what David Cameron wanted – victimising the disabled in the worst possible way.

What does this say about Cameron, whose own late son was disabled? Cameron claimed all the disability benefits he possibly could, before he became Prime Minister and ordered RTU to cancel them or change their eligibility criteria so that almost nobody could legitimately claim them.

Recent stories show that RTU is still victimising the disabled while his reaction to criticism is becoming increasingly unbalanced.

Meanwhile, Cameron has to answer for multiple offences of his own. Most recently he lied about waiting times in the English part of the National Health Service, but this article also highlights his false claim – in a party political broadcast – that the Coalition was “paying down Britain’s debts”, and the false claim that spending on the NHS had risen in real terms since the Coalition took office.

What conclusion can we draw from this? It’s obvious, really.

Your Conservative-led Coalition government has been lying to you. It is lying to you now. It will lie to you in the future.

This is not in the national interest. How can it be in the national interest for the government to pass laws that harm the disabled – and to pass laws that could harm the sick by delaying medical aid – and then lie to you to keep you quiet?

It is ideologically-motivated cruelty. Nothing more.

It will continue as long as your vote supports it.

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Panellists hijack Question Time to attack Iain Duncan Smith

Finger-jabbing protest: Iain Duncan Smith talked over Owen Jones in his last Question Time appearance; this time the other panellists didn't give him the chance.

Finger-jabbing protest: Iain Duncan Smith talked over Owen Jones in his last Question Time appearance; this time the other panellists didn’t give him the chance.

Around three-quarters of the way through tonight’s Question Time, I was ready to believe the BBC had pulled a fast one on us and we weren’t going to see Iain Duncan Smith get the well-deserved comeuppance that he has managed to avoid for so long in Parliament and media interviews.

There was plausible deniability for the BBC – the Isis crisis that has blown up in Iraq is extremely topical and feeds into nationwide feeling about the possibility of Britain going to war again in the Middle East. The debate on extremism in Birmingham schools is similarly of public interest – to a great degree because it caused an argument between Tory cabinet ministers. Those are big issues at the moment and the BBC can justifiably claim that it was making best use of the time and the panellists (for example Salma Yaqoob is a Muslim, from Birmingham, who is a member of ‘Hands Off Our Schools’).

But Auntie shouldn’t think for a moment that we didn’t notice the glaring omission on tonight’s agenda. With the Work and Pensions Secretary as the major politician on the panel, we should have had a question about his job but were fobbed off instead with non-items about ‘British values’ and whether parents should be arrested for allowing their children to become obese. That’s enough for some of us to read a right-wing agenda between the lines – an aim to avoid embarrassing Iain Duncan Smith.

It seems that, even if Auntie’s twin-set is pink, her bloomers are blue. Blue-mers, if you like.

By the time the fourth question came up, it seemed there would be no opportunity to analyse RTU (we call him Returned To Unit after his failed Army career) and his disastrous ministerial career.

This question was: “After the Newark by-election, are we looking at the destruction of the Liberal Democrats?” Thank goodness some of the panellists realised this was their chance.

Chris Bryant leapt at the opportunity to bypass the Lib Dems altogether. “The real enemy is over there,” he said, indicating the Secretary-in-a-State. “The Conservatives have made this country a place where two million people need food bank handouts.”

He was trying to hit a nerve; Duncan Smith’s department has been accused of trying to mislead the public on the reason food banks have been springing up all around the country – and it was very recently alleged that senior figures in the government had warned food bank charity the Trussell Trust to stop criticising government policy or be shut down.

Salma Yaqoob pointed out that, thanks to the Conservative-led coalition (and, because he’s the Work and Pensions secretary, Duncan Smith’s policies), “13 million people are now below the poverty line and one million are suffering the indignity of having to use food banks.

“People are suicidal,” she pointed out – a very pertinent claim to make, as the most common cause of death for people going through Iain Duncan Smith’s benefit system appears to be suicide (due to the stress created by Department for Work and Pensions officers who work very hard to push them off-benefit). “They don’t want to be a burden to their families because their support has been taken away.”

She said: “People have been called scroungers… Iain Duncan Smith quite happily labels poor people as scroungers, when he claimed £39 on expenses for his own breakfast.”

Duncan Smith was interrupting from the background to claim that he had never called benefit claimants scroungers. Feel free to go to your favourite search engine right now, type in “Iain Duncan Smith scroungers”, and see for yourself whether his name has ever been associated with the word.

And, thank goodness, a member of the public spoke up to say: “Iain Duncan Smith is systematically taking down public services in this country and destroying people’s lives.”

He went on to invite anybody who cares about this issue to the demonstration in London by the People’s Assembly Against Austerity, on June 21.

(I have since discovered that he was David Peel, press officer for the People’s Assembly Against Austerity. In my opinion, the fact that he was a political representative, planted in the audience to make a point, diminishes what he had to say – but I am still glad that somebody said what he did.)

It was sad that the great satirist Ian Hislop did not take an opportunity to make a few sharp observations – especially as commenters to this site have made it clear that they contacted him to request this action. He addressed himself to the question he had been asked and I make no comment about that; you can draw your own conclusions.

It didn’t happen the way this writer would have wanted, but the job got done anyway.

Expect multiple attempts by the right-wing press to salvage the situation – all doomed to failure.

Last week, Vox Political stated that there was an opportunity here to show the public the homicidal – if not genocidal – nature of the changes to the benefit system this man mockingly describes as “welfare reforms”.

Job done.

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Will Question Time’s panel do what Parliament can’t – and hold Iain Duncan Smith to account?

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Picture the scene if you can: It’s shortly after 11.35pm on Thursday (June 5) and all my inboxes are suddenly overflowing – with the same message: Iain Duncan Smith will be on Question Time next week.

The implication was that there is an opportunity here – to show the public the homicidal – if not genocidal – nature of the changes to the benefit system this man mockingly describes as “welfare reforms”.

We were given the name of only one other panellist who will be appearing in the June 12 show, broadcast from King’s Lynn: Private Eye editor Ian Hislop. He is certainly the kind of man who should relish a chance to take the politician we call RTU (Returned To Unit) down a peg or two – in fact the Eye has run articles on DWP insanity fairly regularly over the past two decades at least.

Personally I’d like to see him joined by Michael Meacher and Owen Jones, at the very least. A rematch between Smith and Jones would be terrific television (but it is unlikely that the coward IDS would ever agree to it).

All such a panel would need to get started is a question about “welfare reform”. Then they could start at the beginning with the involvement of the criminal US insurance corporation Unum, which has been advising the British government since Peter Lilley was Secretary of State for Social Security. There appears to be a moratorium on even the mention of Unum in the British press so, if this is the first you’ve heard of it, now you know why.

Unum’s version of an unproven strand of psychology known as biopsychosocial theory informs the current work capability assessment, used by the coalition government to evaluate whether a claimant of sickness benefits (Incapacity Benefit/Employment Support Allowance or Disability Living Allowance/Personal Independence Payment) should receive any money. The assessment leans heavily on the psycho part of the theory – seeking to find ways of telling claimants their illnesses are all in the mind and they are fit for work. This is how Unum wormed its way out of paying customers when their health insurance policies matured – and it is also how Unum received its criminal conviction in the States.

Here in the UK, the work capability assessment appears to have led to the deaths of 3,500 ESA claimants between January and November 2011 – 73 per week or one every two hours or so. These are the only statistics available to us as the Department for Work and Pensions stopped publicising the figures in response to a public outcry against the deaths.

Members of the public have tried to use the Freedom of Information Act to pry updated figures from the DWP. I know of one man who was told that the 2011 figures were provided in an ‘ad hoc’ release and there was no plan for a follow-up; the figures are not collected and processed routinely. The last part of this was a lie, meaning the DWP had illegally failed to respond to a legitimate FoI request.

Having seen that individual attempts to use the FoI Act to get the information had failed, I put in a request of my own and suggested others do the same, resulting in (I am told) 23 identical requests to the DWP in June last year. Apparently this is vexatious behaviour and when I took the DWP to a tribunal earlier this year, it won.

But the case brought out useful information, such as a DWP employee’s admission that “the Department does hold, and could provide within the cost limit, some of the information requested”.

Now, why would the Department, and Iain Duncan Smith himself, want to withhold these figures – and lie to the public about having them? It seems to me that the death toll must have increased, year on year. That is the only explanation that makes sense.

The DWP, and its Secretary-in-a-State, have had their attention drawn to the deaths many times, if not in interviews then in Parliament. DWP representatives (if not Mr Duncan Smith himself) have taken pains to say they have been improving the system – but still they won’t say how many deaths have taken place since November 2011.

If it can be proved that DWP ministers were aware of the problem (and we know they are) but did not change the situation enough to slow the death rate (as seems to be the case), then it seems clear that there has been an intention to ignore the fact that people have been dying unnecessarily. This runs against Human Rights legislation, and a strong case could be made for the corporate manslaughter of thousands of people.

And that’s just ESA!

When we come to PIP, there’s the issue of the thousands of claimants who have been parked – without assessment – for months at a time, waiting to find out if they’ll receive any money.

Universal Credit currently has no budget, it seems, but the DWP is clearly still wasting millions of pounds on a project that will never work as it is currently conceived.

It would be nice to think that at least one member of Thursday’s panel might read this article and consider standing up for the people, but it’s a long shot.

Possibly a million-to-one chance, in fact.

According to Terry Pratchett, that makes it an absolute certainty!

Here’s hoping…

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Plus Ca Change (or: The More Times Change, The More Tories Stay The Same)

I’ve just found the following fascinating snippet in a recording of the BBC’s News Quiz, c 1993. It’s a reference to a cock-up by then Social Security secretary Peter Lilley, that was revealed right around the time of the Conservative Party Conference that year.

“Peter Lilley had a very successful Blackshirt Rally- Blackpool Rally – in which he made one of those caring, sensitive speeches about how the loss of money and the budget deficit was all the fault of three single mothers in Cardiff,” said Private Eye editor Ian Hislop.

“But then it transpired rather amusingly that his own department had managed to lose, entirely by incompetence, about £331 million, which is more money than all his stupid measures would have saved anyway.”

The legendary Barry Took, chairing the show, explained: “It is Peter Lilley and his team at the DSS. They’ve managed to overspend a massive sum from the welfare benefits, so would the person who received the Giro for £331 million and 48p please send it back to Mr Lilley or to any of his immediate staff: Eva, Unity or Benito.

“It was of course Mr Lilley who attacked scroungers of all sorts, and especially the growth in claims from single mothers, so any young woman thinking of getting into that condition should think again, and stay away from cabinet ministers.”

Now we have Chris Grayling at the Department for Work and Pensions – a man dubbed ‘Goebbels’ by the media, after Nazi Germany’s propoganda minister, in an apt (and entirely coincidental) follow-up to the News Quiz reference to Hitler (Barry Took’s comment namechecked Hitler’s wife Eva Braun, along with Unity Mitford and Benito Mussolini; and Ian Hislop’s reference to Blackshirts was a comparison with Oswald Mosley’s British Union of Fascists before World war Two).

Grayling’s department awarded a contract to Atos Origin that was worth £801 million over a 10-year period, to carry out ‘work capability assessments’ on claimants of sickness and disability benefits, at which people with terminal illnesses or severe medical conditions have been declared fit for work and had their benefits cut.

The cost of appeals against Atos decisions is running at £50 million per year, and the number of successful appeals is currently around 40 per cent, according to The Guardian.

So, this time, we’re already up to nearly £1 billion (£801 million plus around two years of appeals against decisions) wasted on the latest attempt to demonise “scroungers”.  The language is exactly the same as in 1993, although it is now being used to attack the sick and disabled, rather than single mums.

And the situation is exactly the same. The Coalition wants to cut £9.2 billion from sickness and disability payments but is already on course to spend far more in the attempt, due to – in my opinion, and I’m sure I’m not alone – incompetence.

The more times change, the more Tories stay the same. It would be pathetic if it wasn’t so dangerous.

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