There is a certain amount of scepticism running around Vox Political at the announcement that Coalition government finances hit a surplus of £8.8 billion in January due to a “better than expected” rise in tax receipts.
George Osborne was pilloried for his “worse than expected” tax receipts only a short while ago, and it seems highly likely that this has prompted him to order HMRC to do something about it.
Clearly they haven’t done anything about tax avoidance or evasion – it would be silly to expect that from Gideon.
Perhaps they have been wrongly billing people for more than they owe.
This seems more likely. Here at Vox Towers a bill for £25 hit the screen (not the mat – it was emailed). You might think that’s not a bad amount; that, clearly, this household made a little more than the £9,440 tax-free personal allowance for 2013-14 (the tax year being billed).
But Vox Political hasn’t made anything like that much money. We didn’t clear the tax-free personal allowance at all.
The government still billed us.
Now, according to the ONS, self-assessed income tax receipts were £12.3bn in January, an increase of £1.7bn, or 15.6 per cent, compared with January 2014. How can anyone at Vox Political have faith in this figure, having been billed incorrectly?
How can we have faith in any of the other figures spewed out by the Coalition government today?
Iain Duncan Smith: He’s proud of the sanctions regime he introduced, in which Job Centre staff are expected to use possibly-fraudulent means to push people off benefits – and he doesn’t care how many people they harm.
The Coalition government will be crowing about the latest drop in unemployment today – according to official statistics. What a shame it’s all a load of bunk.
New research by Oxford University and the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine has shown that only around one-fifth (20 per cent) of people who have been sanctioned off of Jobseekers’ Allowance have actually found work, leaving 1.6 million in limbo; they’re off the benefits system but researchers can only surmise that they are relying on food banks.
(Isn’t the Coalition government desperate to discredit food banks? Are ministers determined to drive the out-of-work population to starvation?)
This suggests that official Office for National Statistics figures are inaccurate. The latest batch – out today (January 21, 2015) – claim that unemployment dropped by 58,000 in the three months to November last year, when it totalled 1.91 million.
How can we trust these figures when it has been claimed there’s a sanction-based stitch-up going on?
The new figures are from the same ONS that is claiming wages are rising above inflation. Oh really? The figures show average earnings (excluding bonuses) rose by 1.8 per cent, which is more than the CPI rate of inflation – but not more than RPI, which is a more accurate measure of the costs affecting households.
What happens to those figures when executive pay is taken out of them? What’s the average for employees?
The revelation that sanctions have created a huge underclass of people – who have been refused benefits by Iain Duncan Smith’s homicidal system – casts all the ONS statistics into doubt.
If 1.6 million people are being denied benefits, that doesn’t stop them being unemployed.
Therefore the true unemployment figure should be almost twice as high as stated, at a massive 3.51 million.
That’s before other elements, such as the Work Programme, have been taken into account!
And what about the hidden cost of sanctions – to other taxpayer-funded services?
Professor David Stuckler of Oxford University explained this to The Guardian: “If, as we’re finding, people are out of work but without support – disappeared from view – there’s a real danger that other services will absorb the costs, like the NHS, possibly jails and food support systems, to name a few. Sanctions could be costing taxpayers more.”
Debbie Abrahams is a member of the House of Commons Work and Pensions committee, which was due to take evidence on benefit sanctions today. She told the paper: “This government has developed a culture in which Jobcentre Plus advisers are expected to sanction claimants using unjust, and potentially fraudulent, reasons in order get people ‘off-flow’. This creates the illusion the government is bringing down unemployment.”
[Image: The Void.]
Finally, there is the revelation that “physical punishment is now built into the benefit system, with sanctions both known and intended to cause a deterioration in health, says the DWP rule book”. Visit the Void blog for further details.
The evidence is stacking up, and shows that the Coalition government has falsified the figures to a shocking extent.
Any new government entering office after the general election will face an uphill struggle simply to uncover the depth of the depravity currently taking place.
Inaccurate: This meme – and others like it – provided an inaccurate interpretation of DWP statistics that the Torygraph and the BBC have seized, using them to hide the real issue. Thousands of ESA claimants are still dying every year but the DWP refuses to say how many. Why not? As David Cameron himself has said many times, “If you’ve nothing to hide, you’ve nothing to fear.”
BBC Radio 4’s More or Less promised a feature on the long-discussed deaths of people claiming Employment and Support Allowance in its programme on Friday – and delivered five minutes of drivel that is an insult to the intelligence of anybody concerned.
As a reporter, I am staggered that the BBC has had the bare-faced cheek to patronise us in this manner.
The feature (which may be downloaded here – it’s the August 29 edition) took as its premise claims made on the social media that 10,600 people have died within six weeks of being declared ‘fit for work’ by Atos assessors.
There are several issues with this. Firstly, this claim is two years out-of-date. Many more are likely to have died since then but the figures are not available because the Department for Work and Pensions has refused to release them. Secondly, the claim is inaccurate, based on a misunderstanding of the DWP statistical release ‘Incapacity Benefits: Deaths of recipients’ published in July 2012.
We already know that the claim was inaccurate. Why is the BBC determined to rake over these old coals?
For the sake of the BBC and anyone else who is similarly hard-of-thinking, let’s go back to what the statistical release actually says.
Officially – according to the DWP – the 10,600 deaths were of people leaving ESA with a recorded date of death, between January and November 2011. The government document made it clear that “data on the number of ESA claimants who have died following a ‘fit for work’ decision is not available, as the Department does not hold information on a death if the person has already left benefit”. Efforts to persuade the DWP to change this policy and follow up ‘fit for work’ decisions by checking on claimants’ health at intervals afterwards have been refused at all times.
Therefore we may safely conclude that the number of deaths of ESA claimants is probably many times greater than official figures suggest.
In the Now and Then piece, the Daily Telegraph‘s Tom Chivers, enlisted to provide some spurious relevance to the show’s finding, said: “The DWP say they don’t keep records of the number of people who died after their benefits were cut off because that’s irrelevant to them; it’s no longer their problem. So we don’t have the full figures.” This is correct.
The trouble is, it is the DWP’s problem – and it’s certainly a problem for the rest of us – because anyone who has died in this way almost certainly did so as a consequence of the loss of their benefit! The news media has been riddled with stories of these people over the last few years, and we can be sure that the volume of known stories is a fraction of the true number of cases.
Back to the statistical release: Of the 10,600, the government said 2,200 died when their assessment had not been completed. This clearly suggests that the assessment process had failed these people – they died before they were able to access the support they needed.
A further 1,300 were in the Work Related Activity group. This suggests that they had been placed in the wrong group and should have been in the Support Group.
Finally, 7,100 were in the Support group. The statistical release states that “those in the Support Group receive unconditional support due to the nature of their illness, which can include degenerative conditions, terminal illness and severe disability”. However, just three paragraphs above, the same release states that the information it provides relates to people “whose latest WCA [work capability assessment] date (or activity towards assessment) was before the end of November 2011”.
This means that people in the Support Group do not receive “unconditional support” at all – they have to undergo periodic reassessment, at irregular intervals (due to the nature of the assessment process – you never know when they’ll get round to you again). This meant that people with degenerative conditions, terminal illness and severe disability are subjected to the stress and anxiety of having to face a flawed assessment system – rigged to find them ‘fit for work’ if at all possible – at any time. Stories in the press about people with terminal cancer (the most famous example) being forced back to work can only have increased this stress, making the possibility of early death more likely.
That is the situation. Now let us examine what the BBC had to say about it.
The More or Less feature is inaccurate from the start.
It states: “In 2011, existing Incapacity Benefit and Income Support claims were replaced with something called Employment and Support Allowance.” In fact, ESA was introduced by the previous Labour government on October 27, 2008 and while IB and IS claims were not migrated until 2011, it would be wrong to think that the deaths under discussion were of the migrated claims in isolation.
“Claimants were made to undergo a Work Capability Assessment to determine whether they were entitled to the new allowance and how much money they might get. Now some critics complain that these assessments are stacked against claimants. Seriously-ill people are being dismissed as malingerers by Atos Healthcare and having their claims denied. And in the middle of this argument, up pops the truly shocking finding that 10,600 people have been cut off from this vital benefit and then died within six weeks.”
Two things: Firstly – THAT IS NOT THE FINDING! See the analysis of the statistical release (above). Secondly – the claim is two years old; it was made when the statistical release was issued back in July 2012 and debunked shortly afterwards. Why is More or Less covering this old news when it could be asking relevant questions?
One has to ask why the programme enlisted help from – of all people – Daily Telegraph blogger Tom Chivers. He published a controversial piece about the Atos deaths on July 9, proceeding from the same – wrong – starting-point as More or Less. His argument is irrelevant because it does not relate to the problem.
In the broadcast, Chivers compounded the error with further inaccuracies: “In July 2012 there was a Freedom of Information request about how many people died within six weeks of their benefit claim ending,” he blithely spouted. WRONG. Here is the request, copied verbatim from the DWP’s statistical release and pasted here:
Information request: Can you please provide me with the number of ESA claimants who have died in 2011?
Can you please break down that number into the following categories:
Those who are in the assessment phase
Those who have been found fit to work
Those who have been placed in the work related activity group
Those who have been placed in the support group
Those who have an appeal pending
(This is the format I have used in both of my own, subsequent, FoI requests on this matter, and I believe Samuel Miller’s was phrased the same way. The DWP has sidestepped all three.)
There is nothing about any six-week period after the claim ended. The request is about ESA claimants who died during 2011 – no more, no less.
Chivers accurately quotes a paragraph from the response which mentions the six-week time figure. He goes on to say that he found it questionable and checked it with the DWP. What he then tells us suggests that the fault lies with the Department for Work and Pensions, for deliberately failing to directly answer the direct questions that had been put to it.
“They said no – actually there is a rather weird, obtuse meaning of it, which they mean it was six weeks either side of this thing – there was a six-week period either side of the death and that was when the claim ended.”
That has nothing to do with the original request! If they died, they died!
“A lot of these people would have died, and then the claim ended shortly afterwards because they were dead,” Chivers said, as though it excused the DWP of any wrong-doing. All he was doing was reiterating the problem – that people have been dying while claiming ESA!
Presenter Tim Harford then chimed in: “So what the DWP are doing here is, they take a snapshot, they see a certain number of people are making a benefit claim and are alive, and then six weeks later they take another snapshot and they discover that these people are no longer making a benefit claim, and these people are no longer alive?”
This would make a nonsense of the DWP’s statistical release from 2012. It covers a period from January to November 2011, inclusive. That’s 11 months, not six weeks! No ‘snapshots’ were taken – it was a running total showing all deaths during the c.48 weeks covered, not the sum of two ‘snapshots’ taken six weeks apart. In fact, the DWP should be grateful for this because 10,600 deaths within six weeks comes out at 1,767 deaths per week, rather than the 220 maximum that some of us have been suggesting.
Not content with producing a statement of utter nonsense, Harford decided to confuse the listening public with a completely different interpretation within minutes of the first: “So 10,600 claimants didn’t die six weeks after their claim ended; 10,600 claimants died within the same six-week period as their claim ended – not the same thing at all.” Correct – it’s not even the same thing you said moments previously, Tim.
And it still isn’t accurate! Look at the top of this article again. The DWP made it perfectly clear that it does not monitor what happens to people after their claim ends – these are all people who died while claiming the benefit, who should have been receiving the maximum amount of care possible, but didn’t.
That is the issue More or Less should have been investigating. That is why the show, Harford, Chivers and the BBC have failed us so appallingly.
The perpetrators of this atrocity decided to end with some unbearably smug platitudes – to show how completely they have misunderstood the situation, it seems.
From Chivers: “What this comes down to, as far as I’m concerned, is just a dreadful piece of communication by the DWP. This fairly, well, not simple but not complicated piece of information has been translated into 10,000 people dying within six weeks of being callously removed from their benefits.”
Wrong! Thanks to a few inaccurate memes, Chivers has tried to translate the DWP’s information into something it is not, diverting attention away from the real problem.
People are still dying – on a daily basis – because of the way the Department for Work and Pensions has decided to handle claims for incapacity benefits. It is a national scandal.
Remember: Those 10,600 deaths cover a period of just 11 months, ending nearly three years ago. How many have died since then? Has the number escalated or decreased? If More or Less had done its research, it could have been reporting on the biggest genocide of the British people by their own government since the Harrowing of the North.
Instead, we got this from Tim Harford: “So the moral of this story: It’s always worth asking what a statistic is really counting, rather than assuming we know.”
Really? What a shame Mr Harford did not practise what he was preaching.
Bad taste in the mouth, Theresa? Not nearly as bad as the flavour that faced British citizens, wrongly accused of being illegal immigrants because of your race vans.
Anyone with an ounce of brain in their head knew the Home Office was going to be banned from using its advertising vans again – the ones telling illegal immigrants to “go home”, in the language of “knuckle-dragging racists”, as Owen Jones so memorably phrased it.
That is, anyone except everyone working at the Home Office, including the Secretary of State – Theresa May.
The authority also said the posters on the vans referred to inaccurate arrest statistics, claiming there had been 106 arrests in the area in the past week. The ASA said this was misleading as it did not relate to accurate arrest statistics for the specific areas where people would have seen the vans.
They were out in Barking and Dagenham, Redbridge, Barnet, Brent, Ealing and Hounslow – areas the Home Office believe many illegal immigrants live and work.
The report stated: “The ad must not appear again in its current form. We told the Home Office to ensure that in future they held adequate substantiation for their advertising claims and that qualifications were presented clearly.”
The ASA had received 224 complaints about the vans from individuals, campaign groups, legal academics and the Labour peer Lord Lipsey, who is from Vox Political‘s home constituency of Brecon and Radnorshire, we’re proud to say.
But in an impressive display of tightrope-walking the ASA said the van campaign was not offensive or irresponsible. While the “Go home” slogan had been used in the past to attack immigrants, its report said, the Home Office was now using it in a different context.
Oh! Well, that makes it perfectly acceptable, doesn’t it? Never mind the possibility that nobody seeing those vans in the street was ever likely to consider such a nuance, it was “unlikely to incite or exacerbate racial hatred and tensions in multi-cultural communities” because the intention was different!
What about the message implied by these vans – a message that was clearly pointed out by commentators at the time – that Conservative-leaning voters should treat with hatred, suspicion and contempt anybody who is not a white, Anglo-Saxon protestant?
What about the way they encouraged suspicion that another person may be an illegal immigrant?
What about the way the Home Office Twitter account spent the week-long pilot period in which the vans were traipsing round London tweeting messages about the number of illegal immigrants it wanted us to believe had been detected or turned themselves in? Can we believe those figures, if the number on the vans themselves was fake?
What about the photographs transmitted by the same Twitter account, of suspects who had been arrested, before they had been charged? Does anybody remember if any of these people were the white Anglo Saxons mentioned a couple of paragraphs ago?
What about the spot-checks at railway stations, where anybody who was not clearly white could be stopped by immigration officers wearing stab vests who demanded to see identification proving they were in the UK legally? How galling was it for British citizens – people who were born and raised in this country – to be faced by a flak-jacketed fiend who (it is claimed) became unreasonably aggressive when challenged over their right to behave in this manner without direct cause for suspicion?
What about the fact that the Home Office undermined its own arguments by being unable to reveal the different ethnicities of the people who were stopped – information that was vital in determining whether they had been breaking the law?
What about the fact that all of this effort was hugely out of proportion when considering the number of illegal immigrants it was likely to net? Forget forced labourers who are brought into the country but kept hidden by criminal organisations – these are not responsible for what happened to them and their cases are likely to be part of criminal investigations into the people holding them captive. Who does that leave?
And what about the possibility that this was not about illegal immigrants at all, but a sop to all those people – many of them Daily Mail readers, we expect – who believe that immigration of any kind is out of control? These are people who need to get to grips with the facts.As reported by this blog and others back in August, the UK has a lower immigrant population than almost any ‘developed’ nation; they are assessed via a points-based system, only seven per cent are asylum-seekers and only a third of asylum claims are accepted. They do not have access to most of the benefits available to UK citizens and what they do receive are nowhere near the same value. They are one-third less likely to claim those benefits, meagre as they are, than UK citizens.
The Unite union has been seeking legal advice over this matter, and the Equality and Human Rights Commission has also been investigating this. It will be interesting to see what they say.
But a rap on the knuckles over bad information is a good start. Naughty, naughty, Theresa May!
On the same day, the Home Secretary – along with Justice Secretary Chris Grayling – faced questions from two Lords committees on the UK’s 2014 opt-out from EU police and criminal justice measures, as part of a reopened inquiry.
If this opt-out is exercised, the Coalition government has listed 35 measures that it would seek to rejoin, and it is these that prompted the Lords to reopen their inquiries.
Parliament’s own website said they were likely to face questions on how they defined the national interest in selecting the 35 measures the UK would seek to rejoin, and whether the changes will break the UK’s obligations to European arrest treaties.
And there were questions to be answered on whether non-participation on measures dealing with xenophobia and racism (the issues at the heart of the matter with the advertising vans) sent an “unfortunate” signal to other EU member states that the UK, under a Conservative-led government, no longer regards those issues as important.
Fortunately for Theresa May, these proceedings do not appear to have been made public.
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