Tag Archives: John Shield

Bad apples?

Meet the new boss: Richard Caseby - no connection with any 'bad apples' at News UK or the DWP. Let's hope it stays that way.

Meet the new boss: Richard Caseby – no connection with any ‘bad apples’ at News UK or the government. Let’s hope it stays that way.

The highly confrontational former managing editor of both The Sunday Times and The Sun has been named as the new director of communications at the Department for Work and Pensions.

Richard Caseby takes over after former comms boss John Shield was hired by the BBC last September.

Gosh, what an incestuous world we live in! The BBC, now confirmed as little more than a mouthpiece for the Conservative Party in its political news content, hires the former press officer for the Tory-run DWP. The DWP then hires an executive from Rupert Murdoch’s News UK, previous home of – oh, yes – former Number 10 press supremo Andy Coulson, currently on trial for criminal offences allegedly committed while he was employed by the same firm!

Murdoch, the government, the BBC – these people like to stick together, and they like to put their people in positions of influence.

There is no evidence – to my knowledge – that could link Mr Caseby to any criminal behaviour at News UK. It is to be hoped that any ‘bad apples’ who worked there did not manage to spoil the whole bunch. It would be wrong to consider him guilty of any wrongdoing merely by association with his previous employer.

And we should not automatically consider him to have been elevated to this position – in which, as a government employee, he should be impartial and not partisan – because he may be ideologically aligned with the Conservatives.

That being said, I shall certainly be watching this character like a hawk.

It seems he has gained a reputation for being “outspoken” and “forthright” – Roy Greenslade in The Guardian recounts an occasion when a columnist for that paper had mistakenly reported that The Sun had doorstepped a Leveson Inquiry lawyer, writing that such activities were equal to “casually defecating on his lordship’s desk while doing a thumbs-up sign”.

In response, Mr Caseby sent a toilet roll to Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger along with a note saying: “I hear Marina Hyde’s turd landed on your desk.”

Of his new roll – sorry, role – at the DWP, Mr Caseby said: “Welfare reform and the introduction of Universal Credit represent the biggest transformation programme in the UK. It is fundamentally about changing culture and behaviour to make sure there is always an incentive to work.

“This is a huge and inspiring communications challenge and I’m delighted to be joining the DWP team to help in the task.”

Clearly he is already getting the hang of the lingo: “tranformation”, “changing culture and behaviour”, and “always an incentive to work” are all DWP catchphrases – probably because they don’t mean anything.

A “transformation” programme can turn a good system into the substance he mentioned in his Guardian note.

“Changing culture and behaviour” does not mean improving standards of living – in fact the evidence shows the exact opposite.

And the idea that DWP cuts mean there is “always an incentive to work” has been disproved to the point of ridicule. Iain Duncan Smith’s changes have hit low-paid workers more than anybody else and wages have been dropping continuously since the Secretary-in-a-State slithered into the job back in 2010.

Universal Credit has been the subject of so many expensive write-offs and relaunches that a campaign was launched earlier this week, called ‘Rip It Up And Start Again’, seeking an end to the fiasco.

This is the arena into which Mr Caseby has stepped.

He’d better tread carefully.

If he puts just one foot wrong, he might just get his head bitten off.

Iain Duncan Smith: Big on belief – lacking in truth

Strong beliefs: But is Iain Duncan Smith about to say a prayer - or is he eyeing up his next victim?

Strong beliefs: But is Iain Duncan Smith about to say a prayer, or eyeing up his next victim?

I believe that Chris Huhne really wasn’t a crook
I believe Britannia Unchained is a readable book
I’m prepared to believe that the government isn’t leaking
And that Boris Johnson sometimes thinks before speaking
Yes I believe J Hunt is clever
Norman Tebbit will live forever
And that GM foods will make us healthier
And there were WMDs out in the desert.

I believe that Cameron means what he says.
And that Michael Gove got good ‘O’ Level grades.
And I believe our courts are great;
That the NHS is safe:
And the economy’s professionally-run…
And that George Osborne knows how to do his sums.

And I believe that the Devil is ready to repent
But I don’t believe IDS should be in government.
(With apologies to Rowan Atkinson)

Early to bed and early to rise… means you have a chance to hear the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions put his foot down his own throat on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

Needless to say, I missed it. It’s a shame, because the letter of complaint I was to write to Andrew Dilnot of the UK Statistics Authority would have been slightly different if I had.

But we’re getting ahead of ourselves.

In yesterday’s article, I mentioned the need to query a claim attributed by the BBC News website to the Department for Work and Pensions. True to my word, I wrote – and sent – the following:

A report on the BBC website has stated, ‘More than 12,000 people have moved into work after being told about the benefits cap, the government says.’

“It continues: ‘The Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) said that 12,000 claimants have found jobs over the last year, after being contacted by job centres. The job centres warned them they might have their benefits capped if they did not find employment.’

“I am writing to ask you to investigate this claim, as I believe it may have its origins in a previous statement that you have already shown to be false – relating to a claim that 8,000 people had found jobs because of the benefit cap.”

I went on to quote Andrew Dilnot’s letter containing his verdict on the ‘8,000’ claim – that it was “unsupported by the official statistics” in two documents, one of which “explicitly” stated that the figures were “‘not intended to show the additional numbers entering work as a direct result of the contact’”, while the other noted “Once policy changes and methodological improvements have been accounted for, this figure has been no behavioural change.’”

I also drew attention to the comments made by John Shield, the DWP’s Director of Communications, at a meeting with the Commons Work and Pensions Committee last Wednesday (July 10) when he seemed to be saying that Mr… Smith ignored his officers’ advice and went ahead with a false statement.

I now dearly wish I had known about the part of the Today interview in which Mr… Smith discussed his own opinion of the affair.

The Huffington Post reported it as follows: “Challenged over the fact his statement was not supported by officials statistics published by his own department, Duncan Smith said: ‘Yes, but by the way, you can’t disprove what I said either.'” We’ll come back to that in a moment!

“‘I believe this to be right, I believe that we are already seeing people going back to work who were not going to go back to work,’ he said.

“‘I believe that this will show, as we move forward ,that people who were not seeking work are now seeking work.'”

“The work and pension’s secretary was mocked by Labour’s shadow minister for disabled people, Anne McGuire, who tweeted that ‘I believe’ was ‘a substitute for facts in IDS world’.”

Well, maybe his Roman Catholic upbringing makes him a creature of strong beliefs.

Unfortunately, his beliefs don’t hold a candle to the facts – and yes, we can disprove what he said!

The blog alittleecon takes up the story: “Ipsos Mori undertook telephone interviews with 500 of the 8,000 people who had found work since the announcement of the benefit cap to try to show that people had been motivated by the cap to find work.

“The problem is that they did not find that. Remember, IDS originally tried to claim that all 8,000 had moved into work because of the benefit cap. The survey found though that 15% of them hadn’t even heard of the benefit cap, and another 31% only knew a little about it. Only 57% remembered being informed that the cap would affect them, and of these, 71% were already looking for work.

“About half of those who remembered getting a letter about the cap took action afterwards. For 31%, this meant looking for work (although half of these were already looking). This means of the 500 surveyed, only around 45 people started looking for work because of the cap that weren’t doing so before. 45!!

“Looking at the results then, and if we assume the survey was representative of all 8,000 people, far from being able to say all 8,000 found work as a direct result of the cap, the best that can be said in reality is that about 720 people started looking for work and found it after hearing of the cap that weren’t looking before. Not a particularly impressive behavioural change.”

There can be no doubt about this. Ipsos Mori is a reputable polling agency and its figures are trustworthy.

It doesn’t matter what Iain Duncan Smith believes, his figures were wrong – plainly wrong.

He has no business peddling them around the TV and radio studios as though they’re set in stone.

He has no business mentioning them at all.

And, if he is determined to keep pushing his falsehoods on us, claiming they aren’t lies because he believes in them, then he has no business being a Cabinet Minister.

The benefit cap reveals the black centre of IDS’ mind

130715benefitcap

The long-feared roll-out of the benefit cap happened today. There has been a great deal of shouting about it from all sides, but it is possible to get a balanced view – by linking news articles from opposing sources such as, say, New Statesman, the BBC and the Daily Mail.

Yes, the Daily Mail. I’m serious.

The benefit cap is one of the Coalition’s most popular policies – not the ONLY popular policy; believe it or not, a sizeable proportion of the population think Cameron and Co are doing a good job. New Statesman quotes a YouGov poll in which 79 per cent of people, including 71 per cent of Labour voters, support the cap – with just 12 per cent opposed. The Mail quotes Ipsos Mori, whose poll states 74 per cent support the cap.

We’ll start with the Statesman, which gives us the facts that Iain Duncan Smith – architect of the policy – won’t want people to know:

“1. An out-of-work family is never better off than an in-work family

The claim on which the policy rests – that a non-working family can be better off than a working one – is a myth since it takes no account of the benefits that an in-work family can claim to increase their income. For instance, a couple with four children earning £26,000 after tax and with rent and council tax liabilities of £400 a week is entitled to around £15,000 a year in housing benefit and council tax support, £3,146 in child benefit and more than £4,000 in tax credits.

“Were the cap based on the average income (as opposed to average earnings) of a working family, it would be set at a significantly higher level of £31,500. The suggestion that the welfare system “rewards” worklessness isn’t true; families are already better off in employment. Thus, the two central arguments for the policy – that it will improve work incentives and end the “unfairness” of out-of-work families receiving more than their in-work equivalents – fall down.

“Contrary to ministers’ rhetoric, the cap will hit in-work as well as out-of-work families. A single person must be working at least 16 hours a week and a couple at least 24 hours a week (with one member working at least 16 hours) to avoid the cap.

“2. It will punish large families and increase child poverty

The cap applies regardless of family size, breaking the link between need and benefits. As a result, most out-of-work families with four children and all those with five or more will be pushed into poverty (defined as having an income below 60 per cent of the median income for families of a similar size). Duncan Smith has claimed that “at £26,000 a year it’s very difficult to believe that families will be plunged into poverty” but his own department’s figures show that the poverty threshold for a non-working family with four children, at least two of whom are over 14, is £26,566 – £566 above the cap. The government’s Impact Assessment found that 52 per cent of those families affected have four or more children.

By applying the policy retrospectively, the government has chosen to penalise families for having children on the reasonable assumption that existing levels of support would be maintained. While a childless couple who have never worked will be able to claim benefits as before (provided they do not exceed the cap), a large family that falls on hard times will now suffer a dramatic loss of income. It was this that led the House of Lords to vote in favour of an amendment by Church of England bishops to exclude child benefit from the cap (which would halve the number of families affected) but the defeat was subsequently overturned by the government in the Commons.

“The DWP has released no official estimate of the likely increase in child poverty but a leaked government analysis suggested around 100,000 would fall below the threshold once the cap is introduced.

“3. It will likely cost more than it saves

“For all the political attention devoted to it, the cap is expected to save just £110m a year, barely a rounding error in the £201bn benefits bill. But even these savings could be wiped out due to the cost to local authorities of homelessness and housing families in temporary accommodation. As a leaked letter from Eric Pickles’s office to David Cameron stated, the measure “does not take account of the additional costs to local authorities (through homelessness and temporary accommodation). In fact we think it is likely that the policy as it stands will generate a net cost. In addition Local Authorities will have to calculate and administer reduced Housing Benefit to keep within the cap and this will mean both demands on resource and difficult handling locally.”

“4. It will increase homelessness and do nothing to address the housing crisis

“Most of those who fall foul of the cap do so because of the amount they receive in housing benefit (or, more accurately, landlord subsidy) in order to pay their rent. At £23.8bn, the housing benefit bill, which now accounts for more than a tenth of the welfare budget, is far too high but rather than tackling the root of the problem by building more affordable housing, the government has chosen to punish families unable to afford reasonable accommodation without state support.

“The cap will increase homelessness by 40,000 and force councils to relocate families hundreds of miles away, disrupting their children’s education and reducing employment opportunities (by requiring them to live in an area where they have no history of working).

“5. It will encourage family break-up

Duncan Smith talks passionately of his desire to reduce family breakdown but the cap will serve to encourage it. As Simon Hughes has pointed out, the measure creates “a financial incentive to be apart” since parents who live separately and divide the residency of their children between them will be able to claim up to £1,000 a week in benefits, while a couple living together will only be able to claim £500.”

The BBC opened with a much sunnier perspective that has caused Vox Political to send a query to the UK Statistics Authority.

According to the report, “More than 12,000 people have moved into work after being told about the benefits cap, the government says.” Oh, really?

“The Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) said that 12,000 claimants have found jobs over the last year, after being contacted by job centres,” the BBC report went on. “The job centres warned them they might have their benefits capped if they did not find employment.”

Didn’t Iain Duncan Smith get into trouble only a few months ago, for reporting that 8,000 people had moved into work after being told about the cap?

Only last week, his own officials told the Work and Pensions committee he had ignored small print in their reports, stating clearly that he could not use the figures to claim that any “behavioural change” had taken place.

Vox‘s article last week quoted Dame Anne Begg, who asked: “So no-one checking the written articles from the Secretary of State – from the statisticians’ point of view – actually said ‘Secretary of State – if you look at the little footnote… It says that you cannot interpret that these people have gone into work as a result of these statistics’. Nobody pointed that out?“

John Shield, Director of Communications at the DWP, responded: “In this instance it did involve the press office. I’m just trying to be clear that not everything that comes out of the department will go through us – particularly when there are political ends.”

In other words, the Secretary of State ignored his advisors to make a political point that had no basis in fact. He lied to the public.

How do we know he isn’t doing it again?

A letter to Mr Dilnot is in order, I think.

Finally, to the Daily Mail, where it was reported that “Cabinet minister Iain Duncan Smith today accused the BBC of launching a ‘politically-motivated’ attack on government plans to cap benefits at £26,000.

“The Work and Pensions Secretary accused the Corporation of using ‘lots of little cases’ to claim that limiting welfare payments would not get people back to work.”

Unfortunately for Mr… Smith, his story unravelled further down the piece, when it was revealed that he told the nation that HIS evidence is right because it’s from people working in Jobcentres: “This is advisers, they talk to me… I talk to people actually in the Jobcentres.”

That’s anecdotal, and may not be used to suggest a national trend. He is using lots of little cases to claim that his cap will work.

So we go from the cold, hard facts, to the comforting fantasy, to the shattering of the Secretary-in-a-State’s temper on national radio when the flaws in his scheme were exposed.

Mail readers, in that paper’s ‘comment’ column, seem to have supported his viewpoint – despite the facts.

Will their opinions change when the horror stories start appearing – or will they stick their fingers in their ears and scream, “La la la I’m not listeniiiiiing!” – as Mr… Smith did (figuratively speaking) on the Today programme?

Follow me on Twitter: @MidWalesMike

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Revealed: The facts about DWP lies

Hands up if you're a liar: Both Iain Duncan Smith and Grant Shapps have been outed as using inaccurate material in a manner contrary to officials' advice (if they'd bothered asking for it) in today's meeting.

Hands up if you’re a liar: Both Iain Duncan Smith and Grant Shapps have been outed as using inaccurate material in a manner contrary to officials’ advice (if they’d bothered asking for it) in today’s meeting.

I never expected to see the first round of my fightback against the DWP over my ‘Atos deaths’ FoI request fought out at Westminster – by other people. We truly live in interesting times!

I refer to the ‘information gathering’ session of the Commons Work and Pensions committee that took place this afternoon involving John Shield, Director of Communications and David Frazer, Director of Information, Governance and Security Directorate at the Department for Work and Pensions. They provided some fascinating information on the workings of the Department which may prove extremely helpful in the future.

Readers will recall that my request followed one from Samuel Miller about the number of ESA claimants who died in 2012 – while going through the Atos-run work capability assessment process; while appealing against a decision; or shortly after a decision, no matter what it was. In essence, this would be an update of a DWP statistical release entitled ‘Incapacity Benefits: Deaths of recipients (9 July 2012)’. After a seven-month wait, he was told that the document had been an ‘ad hoc’ statistical release and there was “no intention” of updating it.

Let’s look at that. According to Mr Frazer, “The main way we make statistics available is through the publication of regular statistical series – number of people on working-age benefits, employment programmes and so forth… We release something like 50 statistical series, sometimes four or more times a year.” Why not the number of people who have died while going through the Atos-led assessment process? Is this a political decision?

“We put out regular publications that say ‘this is the latest number of people on working-age benefits; here’s a summary of the key trends and matters around that.” He went on to say this was supported by background information and charts created by dedicated statisticians and analysts. In that context, it stretches credibility for the DWP to say it does not keep statistics on the results of ESA work capability assessments, including – especially – the number of people who have died. This government department has an army of experts compiling data on its activities every day, and it is claiming that it keeps no such information?

He mentioned a ‘tabulation tool’ that allows people to create their own statistics – but this, of course, depends on the figures that are made available. He describes the data sets available as “fairly rich”, but DWP-related deaths are not among them. It is a shame that nobody picked him up on the fact that fatalities are not included. As social security benefits are principally used by people with no other means of support, in order to continue living, citizens of this country expect that to be an important part of this information; it is a key indicator of the efficacy of government policy. And it is not mentioned.

Then he said: “If ministers themselves want to use information publicly, and it’s not readily available from a first-release publication or a tabulation tool, then we also produce what’s known as an ad hoc statistical release… It’ll have the key numbers and advice on how to interpret.”

We know that ‘Incapacity Benefits: Deaths of recipients (9 July 2012)’ was an ad hoc release – so Mr Frazer was saying not only that the information it contained is gathered as a matter of course; he was also saying that this information is routinely kept out of the public domain. There cannot be any other interpretation.

Let’s move on to Freedom of Information requests. I submitted mine, requesting the same information as Mr Miller, plus some extra facts that I consider to be in the public interest. Readers will be aware that my claim was rejected as “vexatious” on the paper-thin grounds that I had written an article on this site, stating that I was submitting a FOI request and suggesting – as an afterthought – that other readers might wish to do the same, the idea being that officials and ministers could judge the strength of feeling on the issue by the number of requests arising from a single refusal, made to an individual who is not – let’s be honest – a popular media personality.

The response wrongly stated that this was “the stated aim of the exercise”, rather than the afterthought it obviously was, refusing my request by claiming it was “vexatious” in that it was “designed to harass the DWP”. Of course it wasn’t. It was designed to get the death statistics into the public domain, as anyone with an ounce of intelligence can tell!

The refusal notice stated: “Compliance with multiple repetitions of a known request also causes a burden, both in terms of costs and diverting staff away from other work, due to the significant time required to administer these requests.”

But Mr Frazer said today that the DWP makes itse responses to FOI requests publicly available on its website. He actually said, on the record: “Besides sending them to the person that’s made the FOI request, they’re readily available to everybody else”. Clearly, then, if someone sends in an FOI request for identical information to that requested by someone else, they can be directed to the relevant webpage with a minimum of effort from DWP staff. The time required is TINY, not “significant” – therefore any claim that a request is “vexatious” on such grounds is obstruction on the part of the authority – abuse of the legislation.

The next factette knocked this one into a proverbial cocked hat: It seems my request was most probably refused by a Conservative DWP Minister, for political reasons. Take a look at this exchange between Dame Anne Begg, chairing the meeting, and Messrs Frazer and Shield.

Anne Begg: Who makes the decision of whether to answer a Freedom of Information request?

David Frazer: In some cases the decision is finally down to the Minister, but on a routine basis it is officials that will routinely answer and prepare them.

Anne Begg: Recently there has been a Freedom of Information request and a reply came back saying that it was a ‘vexatious’ request, and the department wasn’t going to provide the information. Who would make that decision?

David Frazer: In the first instance we have officials who will look at what the request is; they will look at whether it would produce a disproportionate cost for what it is – they will make that judgement, but I believe it will come down to Ministers to make that call. (He is saying it was a political decision).

Anne Begg: The reason given for not providing the information was the person asking it had mentioned something on a blog, and therefore it was interpreted as being vexatious, and therefore they wouldn’t supply the information.

David Frazer: Okay. I think that’s fairly rare.

John Shield: My understanding of what happens is that requests come in, officials analyse – look at those requests, go through the process David has described. Once that has happened, a recommendation is made, and that is sent to Ministers as part of a wider brief on FOIs. But of course we can check that for you to make sure that is copper-bottomed, 100 per cent accurate.

Go ahead if you like John, but I’ve already had a look at the Information Commissioner’s advice on “vexatious” requests – and you’re up the proverbial creek without a paddle.

Having been sold down the river by their ministers, the two officials can take heart that their responses to further questions managed to inflict considerable damage in return. Referring to Iain Duncan Smith’s claim that 8,000 people moved off-benefit and into work before the start of the benefit cap, in order to avoid being affected by it, it seems this was based on two sets of statistics – an estimate of the number of people the DWP believed would be affected, and information from Job Centre Plus that people had sought advice on the benefit cap, and 8,000 people were no longer on benefit.

It seems that Iain Duhhhhh… Smith put two and two together (conflated the information) got 8,000 and then wrote a silly little opinion piece in the Daily Mail, despite the fact that the information carried a warning from DWP officials.

“In the context of that quote, that was in relation to an opinion piece given to the Daily Mail where the Secretary of State was stating his opinion on the statistics and not only basing it on that but basing it on what staff had been telling him about the impact of the cap, the management information that he had been receiving, and what claimants had actually been saying to him,” said Mr Shield. “So that was a judgement formed by him. As a politician, he can make those judgements around what he thinks data is saying in the context of everything else.”

He continued: “This was part of an article from the Secretary of State that made out that view… It would have had some involvement from DWP officials, special advisors and the Secratary of State.”

Dame Anne Begg asked the obvious question: “So no-one checking the written articles from the Secretary of State – from the statisticians’ point of view – actually said ‘Secretary of State – if you look at the little footnote… It says that you cannot interpret that these people have gone into work as a result of these statistics’. Nobody pointed that out?

Mr Shield’s response was revealing: “If a Minister is doing very much an opinion piece which is about their reflections and views on how policy is working and performing, sometimes they’ll be produced without press office involvement at all. Sometimes they’ll be produced by special advisors; sometimes they’ll be produced partly by us, partly by advisors, partly by ministers.”

He admitted that, “in this instance it did involve the press office”, but added: “I’m just trying to be clear that not everything that comes out of the department will go through us – particularly when there are political ends.”

In other words, it seems he’s saying that Smith ignored his officers’ advice and went ahead with a false statement. That’s my interpretation. Can anyone see any other way he could have been playing it?

Finally, for this article, let’s look at Grant Shapps and the 878,000 people he said shuffled off ESA because they were afraid to take the work capability assessment. We all know, by now, that the statement was false; it was a figure covering a five year period, and included significant numbers of people who had quit the benefit for many other reasons. The total number who had dropped out before taking the WCA was something like 19,700, who may have had their own good reasons for doing so.

What was Mr Shield’s defence of the Conservative Party chairman?

“This is purely a party piece of output. People look at the website, form their own judgements and interpretations and put out their own material…. We stay away from the politics of these matters.”

So the meeting concluded that Conservative ministers have withheld information, despite receiving perfectly valid Freedom of Information requests, for political reasons. The Secretary of State made an inaccurate statement about the effect of the benefit cap, despite being warned about the facts, for political reasons. And the Conservative Party Chairman made up a story – for political reasons. Liars all.

We should be grateful to the DWP officials for making that perfectly clear.