Tag Archives: Justice Secretary

Our sick and disabled are being stifled; we should give them space to breathe

The People’s Assembly Against Austerity will be holding a mass demonstration against the government’s austerity measures on Wednesday (July 8) – which is when George Osborne is set to deliver his benefits-bashing ’emergency’ budget.

They have invited Maggie Zolobajluk, who organised the petition in support of my bid to find out how many people have died while claiming sickness/disability benefits, to speak – but not me.

Maggie kindly asked me if I would be able to make it to London and speak instead of her – and I’d love to – but I don’t think it’s possible. The distance is too great, and I can’t justify being away from Mrs Mike – and also the blog, on a day that will affect the way the UK develops for the foreseeable future.

I started drafting out a few words for her to deliver on my behalf – but they turned into a full-blown speech instead. I ended up writing far too much – so, rather than ask her to say it, I’m publishing it here instead.

A previous demonstration, staged by the People's Assembly Against Austerity in 2014.

A previous demonstration, staged by the People’s Assembly Against Austerity in 2014.

I am neither sick, nor disabled – but I choose to side with the sick and disabled against oppression.

It isn’t an entirely altruistic choice. Mrs Mike – as she is known on my blog, Vox Political – has been ill for many years, and we have fought battle after battle with the Department for Work and Pensions over the benefits to which she is entitled.

You’re probably sick of hearing the famous verse by Pastor Martin Niemoller, but he was right. Who’s going to stand up for me, if I don’t stand up for other people first?

Mrs Mike and I are used to winning those battles, and I wonder how much of that success is due to the fact that I am able-bodied. Think about it – if you are battling constant pain, or are a victim of depression, or your condition fluctuates so you simply don’t know if you’ll be able to get out of bed in the morning, or you have any number of the other maladies that may affect the sick or disabled – then the last thing you’ll want to do is argue over tiny details with a gang of suited pedants in Whitehall.

Additionally, these pedants have employed private contractors to make sure they judge the severity of a person’s sickness using information that is wrong.

If you’re sick, or disabled, the pressure can be too much to bear. And not every sick or disabled person has an able-bodied partner like me to take up the slack.

So, inevitably, the worst happens.

Only last weekend I learned about Graham Shawcross, of Manchester. Mr Shawcross had lived – and worked – with Addison’s Disease for 40 years before having to claim sickness benefit. It is a potentially fatal condition whose symptoms include exhaustion, muscle weakness, dizziness, fainting and cramps that can lead to adrenal crisis, which can be fatal. But that isn’t what killed him!

No – Mr Shawcross died of a heart attack in February, after being ruled “fit for work” by the DWP in November last year. He had been preparing to present an appeal against the decision – writing out the details several times a day, and talking about it constantly.

His widow said the stress of having to do this – stress that was created by, and only by, the DWP’s “fit for work” decision – was what killed him.

You should be aware that the DWP says it is “irresponsible to suggest a causal link between the death of an individual and their benefit claim”, and “mortality rates among people with serious health conditions are likely to be higher than those among the general population”. We’ve seen that comment in the newspapers very often over the last few weeks.

It’s a statement that falls flat when the DWP’s own position is that the individual was “fit for work” at the time of his death.

Months after Mr Shawcross passed away – and despite being told this had happened by his widow – the DWP initially invited him to an appeal hearing, and then admitted he was seriously ill and deserved Employment and Support Allowance.

It’s a bit late for that now!

How many other benefit denials have been reversed after the claimant has died?

We don’t know – but it’s the subject of my next Freedom of Information request!

The man responsible for this regime, Iain Duncan Smith, is said to be religious so he should understand me when I say people claiming benefit must feel as though they have been crucified by their physical or mental ill-health. Instead of offering relief, Mr Duncan Smith and his department complete the job with a ‘crown of forms’ that push them into an early grave.

One has to question the morality of a supposed Christian who approves of crucifixion!

But then, it seems even leading members of the Catholic Church to which he belongs have tried pleading with him to alter the fatal direction of his policies – there was an article to that effect in the most recent edition of Catholic newspaper The Tablet.

But government ministers say it is “irresponsible” to claim that the benefit assessment system had anything to do with the death.

I wonder if they’ll say that to Mrs Shawcross, who is adamant that the system is what killed her husband. That would be a conversation worth hearing!

I first became concerned about the number of people who were dying while claiming benefits when the DWP itself revealed that 10,600 deaths had occurred between January and November 2011. Note that the official figures did not include December, which is considered to be a season of increased suicides.

This concern became alarm after I learned that Freedom of Information requests by other individuals, calling for updated figures, had been refused for no reason other than that the 2011 statistics had been part of an ‘ad-hoc’, one-off, release.

So I sent off a request, and asked readers of the blog to support it with requests of their own – to show that it was a matter of wider public concern. Only 23 did, but that was enough for the DWP to refuse me on the grounds that I was being “vexatious” – trying to flood the Department with work.

I’m still not sure how that claim can be justified. It’s the same information – all they had to do was put it together and send it off to the people who wanted it. It seems that creating a mailing list of email addresses is too much for a government department with more than 100,000 employees.

The tribunal that turned down my appeal did express considerable sympathy for my position, and suggested that another FoI request should result in publication of the statistics. So I wrote another one.

I won’t go into the details – it’s enough for you to know that, after several months of fighting with the DWP, I won.

The DWP then chose to take the matter to a tribunal, employing an expensive Treasury barrister to make out the case. It seems that, while Freedom of Information requests cannot cost more than £600 – that’s the legal limit – the government can spend as much of your money as it likes, if it wants to withhold the facts.

That’s when Maggie Zolobajluk started her petition, calling on the tribunal to refuse the appeal.

Now, instead of 23 supporters, my request has 230,000.

So David Cameron told Parliament that the figures will be published. What he didn’t tell Parliament was that they would be homogenised, amortised, Age-Standardised Mortality Rates, that show the deaths as a ratio compared with the death rate amongst the wider population – and he certainly won’t tell anyone how many people have died while claiming sickness and disability benefits since November 2011.

And now the Justice Secretary is trying to make it harder for Freedom of Information requests to succeed. It seems the embarrassment they cause is just too much for the administration that once said it intended to be the most open government ever.

Michael Gove wants to include “thinking time” in the cost of handling FoI requests.

What does that even mean?

Parliament’s Justice Select Committee has already stated that including “thinking time” in FoI costs would introduce an unwelcome variable into the system, which relies on everyone having equal access to the facts. The cost of “thinking time” would depend on the abilities of the civil servant dealing with the request.

Not only that, but we should ask what “thinking” has to do with it in any case. When a request is made under the Freedom of Information Act, the only questions a public authority may ask are whether it has the information and can publish it within the £600 cost limit. Questions about – for example – the motives behind the request are immaterial.

What are we to conclude?

That we have a government that intentionally complicates benefit claims for the sick and disabled.

That people who might live decent and, in many ways, productive lives are having those lives cut short because of goverment policy.

That the government does not want the wider population of the UK to know the true number of deaths.

That the government wants to shut down the Freedom of Information system so inconvenient questions like this can no longer be asked.

In short, that the government wants to smother any attempt to question it.

Too many sick and disabled people have been smothered already.

They need space to breathe.

It is up to the rest of us to help them get it.

Follow me on Twitter: @MidWalesMike

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‘Failing Grayling’ could cost the Tories hundreds of thousands of votes – Left Foot Forward

Almost where he belongs: But Injustice Minister Chris Grayling should be behind bars - not in front of them.

Almost where he belongs: But Injustice Minister Chris Grayling should be behind bars – not in front of them.

According to Left Foot Forward: 82 per cent of people in the legal sector say they would be less likely to vote Conservative in the general election if justice secretary Chris Grayling is not removed from his post.

The poll was conducted by new social networking site www.mootis.co.uk which focuses on the legal services sector. Many of the 350,000 people working in this sector are traditional Tory voters.

Grayling was defeated at least seven times in the courtroom last year, over policies aimed at reducing compensation for asbestos victims, cutting legal aid and banning books in prison… [his] career has been marked by controversies, including a scandal over expenses claims and a botched set of statistics on violent crime. In 2010 he was named ‘Bigot of the Year’ by gay rights charity Stonewall after he was recorded saying that B&B owners should have the right to bar gay couples.

Grayling is the first Lord Chancellor in 440 years who is not a trained lawyer. Mootis Chairman Bill Braithwaite QC said that it was clear that the vast majority of legal sector workers ‘are fed up of Grayling and are prepared to turn their back on the Conservatives if he remains as Justice secretary’.

Hilary Meredith, CEO of Hilary Meredith Solicitors Ltd in London and Wilmslow said: “It is time for failing Grayling to go. He is the most inept Justice secretary in living memory. The vast majority of lawyers would accept that cuts needed to be made to the legal aid bill but the ham-fisted way in which he has gone about his business has made a mockery of our legal system.”

Meanwhile, former Tory MP Jerry Hayes has also laid into the Justice secretary over his attempts to limit access to judicial review. In an astonishing attack, Hayes described Grayling as “a s*** which will have to be flushed” after the election.

Read the rest of the article on Left Foot Forward.

Follow me on Twitter: @MidWalesMike

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A few words on the large government-funded corporations who don’t pay their taxes

[Picture: Another Angry Voice}

[Picture: Another Angry Voice}

Apologies are due to readers for the fact that new articles have been few and far between this week; Vox Political creator Mike Sivier has been occupied with other concerns including work at the Citizens Advice Bureau and campaigning to be a Labour candidate in the 2015 election. Normal service will resume (hopefully) on Monday.

In the meantime, here’s some information from a VP reader (who very kindly asked not to be credited) on some of our favourite private companies with entire fists – never mind fingers – in the public sector pie.

With around half of all public sector spending now paid to private companies, lets look at some facts about the four largest recipients – Serco, Capita, Atos and G4S.

In total, they have received more than £4 billion of taxpayers’ money in the past year, making a cumulative profit of £1.05 billion. This means that, if the work had been carried out within the public sector, the taxpayer would have saved more than a quarter of the money used. That’s a lot of money!

With Corporation Tax currently standing at 23 per cent, let’s look at how much tax they paid: £75 million (around 7.5 per cent).

But the situation is actually worse than that! This is only the tax paid by Capita and Serco.

Atos and G4S paid no tax at all.

Furthermore, none of these companies has successfully delivered the public services they were contracted to carry out, despite having been paid anyway. Did G4S successfully manage security at the 2012 Olympics, or was that the British Army? Did Capita provide adequate court translation services? Has Atos carried out work capability assessments for Employment and Support Allowance in a professional and unproblematic manner? What about Serco and out-of-hours GP services?

These firms have been content to take taxpayers’ money but avoid paying tax on it, and then provided botched services. Two of them – Serco and G4S – are currently under investigation by the Serious Fraud Office for overcharging on electronic tagging of offenders.

It seems we were paying for these companies to monitor 3,000 phantom offenders. They were charging for 18,000 while only 15,000 were being monitored.

Coalition Justice Secretary and part-time clown Chris Grayling told MPs in July that an external audit had revealed the overcharging, which included bills for tracking the movements of criminals who had moved abroad, who were back in prison, who had had their tags removed and even, in a few cases, those who had died.

Even so – and despite sanctions against the companies as a result, the scenario presented in the image (above) is still possible, thanks to the Coalition government.

Outsourcing – a good deal for taxpayers? You decide…

(Source: http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2013/nov/12/public-sector-paid-outsourcing-firms-4-billion-pounds)

Failings over race earn Theresa May a figurative rap on the knuckles – twice!

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.

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 Advertising Standards Authority ordered the Home Secretary not to put the vans on the streets again, saying the phrase “go home” was indeed a reminder of a racist slogan and “clearly carries baggage”.

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.”

130804xenophobia

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.