This is about the least-distressing image I could find to describe the situation in Syria [Image: BBC].
Russia is bombing parts of Syria in raids that appear to have been planned, not to relieve the suffering of innocent people there, but to cause logistical and diplomatic problems for the USA and its allies.
According to the BBC, Russia has claimed it is targeting Islamic State, but a US official has said none of the targets appear to be in IS-held territory. War planes have attacked what appears to be territory held by rebels against Syrian President Assad in the Homs and Hama provinces.
This has created serious complications in what are already seriously-complicated hostilities.
Russia gave the US an hour’s notice that it would be launching air strikes, along with a demand that America and its allies, in effect, get out of the way – but we don’t know who the targets are.
America is, in its usual bullish manner, saying it won’t halt any of the operations it has already planned with its own allies.
This makes it possible that US and Russian forces will end up shooting each other – even if they say they don’t mean to. Americans have an extremely poor record in this regards – as their British allies in the Second Gulf War learned to their cost.
In the midst of all this, the UK’s damned-fool Defence Secretary, Philip Hammond, has asserted that this country will continue bombing IS, in Syria, for “as long as it takes” – even though the Conservative Government has no Parliamentary mandate to do anything of the kind.
MPs rejected military action in Syria, almost exactly two years ago. They have since approved strikes against IS in Iraq, but the ban on raids in Syria is technically still in force. Our personnel should not be there.
In the light of the new development, there is even more reason for the UK to pull out of Syria – but of course our Defence Secretary is a damned fool.
This is a situation that could escalate into a shooting war between America and Russia, if damned fools like him are allowed to continue running around like bulls in front of red rags. That should be the last thing anybody wants – but do you see anybody trying to stop it?
And what about the innocent parties in all this – the Syrian citizens who just want to be left in peace? Nobody seems to care about them, even though the addition of Russia into this apocalyptic mess means even more refugees streaming into Europe.
If anybody has any ideas about how to restore sanity, could they please make those ideas known – before we’re all blown to smithereens?
You loved yesterday’s meme about Iain Duncan Smith so here’s one about Chris Grayling. Feel free to share it across the Internet and tell all your friends to do the same [Image: 38 Degrees].
Here’s further evidence that Justice Minister Chris Grayling is not only unjust but actually evil.
It seems he is drawing up contracts which will ensure profits – for the period of the next two parliaments – for private companies taking over probation services, and massive penalties for the next government if it cancels the contracts.
“Taxpayers will face a £300m-£400m penalty if controversial probation privatisation contracts are cancelled after next May’s general election under an “unprecedented” clause that guarantees bidders their expected profits over the 10-year life of the contract,” according to The Guardian.
It seems the contracts would guarantee the income of two of our favourite outsourcing firms, G4S and Serco, both of which have been at the centre of serious fraud allegations. They have received these contracts during a period when Grayling himself had said they would receive nothing.
Clearly he has misled Parliament.
The Ministry of Justice says it is following Treasury guidance by including the clause, making it likely that we are seeing a conspiracy among Tory-led government departments – and that we will see more of the same in other politically-controversial contracts that will be signed before next May’s general election.
In a time of austerity, inflicted on us by the same government!
Isn’t it illegal for one government to tie the hands of the next in this manner?
Margaret Hodge, chairman of the Commons public accounts committee, has said she was appalled by the discovery, according to the newspaper.
This is a typical Tory tactic in new wrapping. Remember how the Tory-led Coalition has forced budget cuts on councils and the regional assemblies, meaning in return that they had to cut services to citizens – and take the blame for the choices?
Grayling is clearly hoping that a Labour or Labour-led government of the future that cuts the contracts to G4S and Serco will take the blame for the increased cost to the taxpayer that he is imposing.
He isn’t thinking straight, though. G4S and Serco are under investigation, facing serious allegations of fraud. While they were cleared to work on government contracts in January, this came from auditors working for the Conservative government; a future government may disagree with that decision.
This means that contracts awarded to G4S and Serco would be void – and no money would be due to them.
Whatever happens with the contracts, Grayling himself should face legal proceedings for his own involvement in what amounts to interference with the public finances, after he is forced out of office next year. The favouritism he shows towards the two companies is deeply suspicious and he should be investigated for financial connections to them.
Let us remember, also, that Grayling has no mandate for these actions as nobody elected a Conservative government into office to tie the hands of future administrations. It was not in the Conservative 2010 manifesto, nor was it in the Coalition agreement.
Facepalm: When Karel de Gucht [pictured] offered to hold a public consultation on proposals for the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, he clearly did not expect to receive 150,000 responses. Now he is calling the public reaction a “concentrated attack”.
Isn’t it a shame about Karel de Gucht?
The European Union’s trade commissioner launched a public consultation on the hugely controversial Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership back in January – as reported in this blog – but has now changed his tune.
Perhaps somebody could send the following message to Mr de Gucht, to help him understand something fairly fundamental about his position:
When hundreds of thousands of people voice opposition to a political plan, that isn’t an attack; it’s called democracy.
Apparently it’s quite a popular concept in Mr de Gucht’s home country of Belgium, where they’ve been struggling to form an effective government since 2007. Perhaps that’s why he seems to have a problem with it…
Mr de Gucht seems keen to forget about his consultation so, faced with this opposition from a man who clearly thought an ill-informed public would support TTIP – or would not care about it – SumOfUs has launched an alliance with more than 150 partner organisations to create a European Citizens’ Initiative (ECI) calling for TTIP negotiations to be halted.
For this to work, these groups must collect at least one million signatures in seven European countries. The ECI can request a legislative act from the European Commission, repealing the European Union’s negotiating mandate for the Transatlantic Trade Investor Partnership (TTIP) and not concluding the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) – and can force a hearing at the European Parliament.
Inevitably there is a price to pay for this kind of democracy and SumOfUs is seeking donations to pay for the two full-time staff who are coordinating the European-wide campaign work, developing a software to collect the signatures online, and planning to print and send thousands of packages with information material and signature lists “so that TTIP is an issue on every market stall in even the remotest village in Slovenia”.
To contribute a quid towards this project, click here.
It might be one of the most important pounds you’ve ever spent.
Isn’t it nice to see some clear blue water emerge between the main political parties on an important issue?
Less than two weeks after Ed Miliband announced that he would tackle the “epidemic” of zero-hours contracts if Labour wins the next general election, the Conservatives have confirmed that Universal Credit – if they can ever get it working – will force jobseekers into those very contracts.
Labour said workers on zero-hours contracts should not be obliged to be available outside contracted hours; be free to work for other employers; have a right to compensation if shifts are cancelled at short notice; have ‘clarity’ from their employer about their employment status, terms and conditions; have the right to request a contract with a ‘minimum amount of work’ after six months, that could only be refused if employers could prove their business could not operate any other way; and have an automatic right to a fixed-hours contract after 12 months with the same employer.
At the time, the Tories said the number of zero-hours contracts had increased under the last Labour government, which had done nothing about it.
This tired excuse has been trotted out far too many times to be taken seriously any more, but it may have led some members of the public to believe that the Tories were distancing themselves from zero-hours contracts as well. They are, after all, supposed to be The Party of More Choice. Perhaps they are, themselves, less than keen on this kind of exploitation.
Currently, people on Jobseekers’ Allowance are able to refuse such jobs without facing penalties.
The policy change was revealed in a letter from employment minister Esther McVey to Labour MP Sheila Gilmore. She said Job Centre “coaches” would be able to “mandate to zero-hours contracts” – basically forcing them to accept this kind of exploitation by employers.
The DWP has also stated: “We expect claimants to do all they reasonably can to look for and move into paid work. If a claimant turns down a particular vacancy (including zero-hours contract jobs) a sanction may be applied.”
The message from the Conservatives – the Party of More Choice – is clear: Beggars can’t be choosers.
Their chums on the boards of big businesses want more profits, and know the way to get it – employ people on low pay and with no employee benefits. Zero-hours contracts mean you can be made to work fewer hours than you need in order for employers to have to pay National Insurance credits for you. You don’t get sick pay; holiday pay; or a pension. And you’ll probably still be on benefits, meaning the work that you do is subsidised by other hardworking taxpayers, most of whom earn only a little more than you do.
It’s a racket – as bad as workfare/mandatory work activity/the work programme/whatever-they’re-calling-it-today, in which taxpayers subsidise work carried out by jobseekers for participating employers, hugely boosting those firms’ profits while ensuring that the number of people without proper, paid jobs remains high.
Their attitude is that, if you don’t have a job, you are a beggar.
Beggars can’t be choosers.
So they’ll choose what you do, and they – or their boardroom chums – will benefit from it.
If you are a working taxpayer, think about this before casting your vote later this month – and especially before you do so in May 2015: A vote for the Conservative Party means more of your fellow citizens will be prevented from getting proper jobs and becoming contributing members of society by the greedy – and idle – rich.
A vote for the Conservative Party means more of your tax money going to subsidise fat business board members who already have more money than they can ever use.
A vote for the Conservative Party means a better life for them and their friends – and a poorer life for you.
Here’s an article from US website Global Comment on what America clearly understood to be the privatisation of the National Health Service in England. It was published in March 2012, about a month after the Health and Social Care Act was passed – and seems much more perceptive in its evaluation than – for example – the BBC!
The article states: “The level of health care privatization being implemented by the British government via the Health and Social Care Bill (and experts agree it amounts to privatization and will lead to more, even as ministers known to love the private sector deny it) is seen by many as essentially the end of the National Health Service (NHS). The editor of the respected medical journal The Lancet has described the impact of this “coming disaster” very bluntly: ‘People will die thanks to the government’s decision to focus on competition rather than quality in healthcare.'”
It continues: “A hatchet is being taken to the NHS without a mandate, which explains the lack of transparency and authoritarianism of the process. The government doesn’t want a risk assessment for their “reforms” published, and meanwhile protests that have been held with the aim of quite literally conserving a beloved British institution, a pillar of the welfare state, have been policed as if they were radical demonstrations aiming to smash the state.
“The Conservatives very explicitly lied about their intentions: a famous and frequently parodied campaign poster featured Tory leader and now Prime Minister David Cameron promising that he wouldn’t cut the NHS.”
Moving on to other policies, it states: “In place of free healthcare for UK citizens, the government is providing free labor for corporations: “Jobseekers have been made to do compulsory unpaid work for up to four weeks after refusing to take part in the voluntary work experience scheme,” reports The Guardian.
Government-approved sex industry: A “gentleman’s” club – possibly as Conservative MPs understand them. Indeed, some sitting members may have posed for this very portrait. Picture: As attributed.
We seem to be returning to the days when our so-called betters dictated to us that the mere sight of a lady’s ankle was enough to inflame the blood and led to lewd, lecherous and scandalous behaviour – before the hypocritical old nobs headed off to the “gentlemen’s” club for an appointment with ‘Lady Lola’ or some similarly-named professional whose main talent was wrapping her own ankles around her ears.
Now we can see that, even while the government cracks down on internet pornography, it is actively promoting live sex work (in the flesh, as it were) by advertising jobs in the sex industry on its Universal Jobmatch website. Jobseekers can be sanctioned if they fail to use this site, so it seems likely there is a high chance they will be exposed to this sort of thing.
So it seems the government wants to force porn addicts away from indulging their obsession in the comfort of their own home and into “very professional and discreet” clubs. Could there possibly be a money incentive in this?
To make these clubs enticing, the government’s jobsearch site is advertising for female “table top” dancers who need a “good sense of rhythm”.
Cameron’s stated aim is to protect children but there is nothing to stop people under 18 from applying for the jobs. It is even possible that Job Centre Plus staff may try to force teenagers into them, with the threat of benefit sanctions if they do not acquiesce.
Cameron’s claim is that internet porn features “vile images that pollute minds and cause crime”. It’s most likely a fair comment (this writer can’t claim to have been polluted in that way).
But suppose he’s right; statistically speaking, it’s undoubtedly possible that some of the people who look at online porn may go on to commit crimes – possibly sex crimes.
Suppose these people, unable to look at their filth online, instead attend one of the clubs advertising for “very well groomed” table top dancers. They’re likely to have a frustrating night, with real, naked bodies only inches away from them for as long as they can stand it, and no (legal) outlet for the urges this may create in them.
The club closes; they get turned out onto the street, possibly on their own, possibly with friends. What are these potentially-criminal porn addicts likely to do if they see a lone woman, possibly a dancer from the club, with nobody nearby to help her if she gets into trouble?
Work camp: But is this a Nazi camp of the 1930s/40s, or a prediction of a British residential workfare scheme for the disabled in the 2010s?
Residential Workfare for the disabled. If that sentence hasn’t already set off at least three separate alarms in your head, then you haven’t been paying attention. What follows is a warning: Stay alert. Ask questions. Do not allow what this article predicts.
Workfare, for all those who still need enlightening after three years of this particular Tory-led nightmare, is a government-sponsored way of keeping unemployment high while pretending to be doing something about it. The idea is to send unemployed people to work for a period of several weeks – often for a large employer that is perfectly capable of taking on staff at a reasonable wage – and remove them from the unemployment figures for that time, even though they continue to be paid only in benefits. When the time period is served, the jobseeker returns to the dole queue and another is taken on, under the same terms. The employer pays nothing but reaps profit from the work that is carried out. The jobseeker gains nothing at all.
The disabled are, of course, the most persecuted sector of modern British society – far more vilified than hardened criminals or terrorists. Since the Coalition came into office by the back door in 2010, it has been government policy to close down employers taking on disabled people (Remploy factories), to spread propaganda against them, claiming they are scroungers or skivers, and the vast majority of disability benefit claims are fraudulent (this is true of only 0.4 per cent of such claims – a tiny minority). The bedroom tax, enforced nationally in April, has proven itself to be a means of driving disabled people out of homes that have been specially adapted to accommodate their needs. The Work Programme, which was extended to disabled people last December, has proven totally unsuited to the task of getting them into work, yet the Work Capability Assessment for Employment and Support Allowance continues to sign 70 per cent of claimants off the benefit as ‘fit for work’ (whether they are or not), and a further 17 or 18 per cent into a ‘work-related activity’ group where they must try to make themselves employable within 365 days.
The word ‘residential’ – applied to any sector of society at all, never mind whether they’re disabled or not – rightly sends shivers through the hearts of anyone in this country of good conscience. The terrible regime at the Winterbourne View home in Bristol is still recent, and nobody wants to see those crimes repeated – on anyone.
However, put these three words together and that seems the most likely consequence.
So why bother?
Here’s some pure speculation for you: The government knew that the bedroom tax was going to put the squeeze on the disabled, and it knew that disabled people would complain (although there was no way of knowing whether it would win a court case on the issue, as happened this week). It had already devised a solution and called it residential training for the disabled.
The residential aspect means that participants currently get to stay in their own rooms, in relative comfort – but this could change, and very soon.
You see, this scheme is intended as a pilot study, and the plan has always been to expand this form of training, opening it up to the market, for private-sector parasites to run for profit after competing with each other to put in the lowest bid for the franchise.
Bye bye, individual rooms. Bye bye, dignity. Hello, communal dormitories. Hello… well, eventually it’ll just be hell.
And you can be sure mandation will follow, meaning anyone refusing to attend will lose benefit.
Gradually, disabled people will disappear from our communities, ending up in these residential ‘Workfarehouses’.
How long will it take before we start hearing stories about abuses taking place against people living in these places?
How long did it take before the stories came out of Winterbourne View?
Come to that, how long did it take before the world found out about places like Auschwitz or Dachau or Belsen?
I know what you’re thinking:
“It couldn’t happen here.”
(The first Vox Political book, Strong Words and Hard Times, is available now in paperback or as an eBook, including a large ‘footnotes’ section in which you can actually connect to internet links containing supporting evidence – if you’re reading on a device that supports this kind of activity.)
Speaking before the event, Mr McGowan said a few words that were particularly illuminating. “Without a mandate, having concealed their health policy, this government is giving away NHS contracts to the highest bidder,” he said.
“Under the cloak of austerity, the primary purpose of this government is to move public money into private pockets, as fast as humanly possible. They are like pigs at the trough of public money.
“These people in government are liars, criminals and thieves and should be arrested for embezzlement of public funds. A staggering 206 parliamentarians have recent or present financial private healthcare connections; amazingly all of them were allowed to vote on the Health and Social Care Act.
“This is not a democracy.”
You’d have expected this expression of free speech to have received a huge amount of coverage in the free press, wouldn’t you? Well, think again because I just checked: An article in the Metro and a video on something called London24. That’s all.
Ah, but there’s always Facebook, where bloggers such as myself can freely direct readers such as yourselves to our work and highlight the subjects not covered in the so-called popular press, isn’t there?
Well, this was a story that Facebook was doing its damnedest to make sure didn’t get out.
Facebook then seemed to get a taste for censorship: The Pride’s Purge blog by Tom Pride received similar treatment after it posted links to an openly-satirical article (It was plainly marked ‘Satire’) about the Department for Work and Pensions and Atos.
Tom claimed in a later post that a JobCentre Plus worker “openly bragged” to him that JCP had complained to Facebook about him, and this had led to the censorship of his work.
Even this blog, which only posted links to other articles about these issues, was targeted for attack. As readers who link here from Facebook will know – you alerted me to it – we had a couple of days when visits here were accompanied by this stern warning: “Facebook thinks this site may be unsafe. If you’re not familiar with it, please provide feedback by marking it as spam (you’ll be brought back to Facebook).” As site statistics show, this was enough to put many readers off.
I wasn’t having it. I have written to Facebook, pointing out that the unfounded allegation is defamatory and demanding that reparations must be made – to charity, and to the Labour Party (of which I am a member), since this site is not for profit and the attacks seemed to be centred on left-leaning bloggers. They’ve got three weeks to respond, then I start adding noughts to the amount that I suggested.
Facebook has said the mass censorship was a mistake made by its automated systems – but you’d have to be gullible in the extreme to believe that.
So much for freedom of speech; so much for freedom of the press; so much for freedom on the Internet.
Yesterday it emerged that a man had been held in prison for two weeks after claims were made that he made a “threat to kill” during an Atos work capability assessment.
Steve Topley, a 49-year-old Hucknall father with multiple health conditions including Reynard’s syndrome, who has a heart replacement valve and lost one of his kidneys to cancer, and is on a strict medication regime including treatment to stabilise his blood levels and maintain safe blood pressure, was whisked away after he made comments about a person who was not present at the assessment.
He was arrested, subjected to a mental health assessment which offered no reason to detain him, so was re-arrested and taken to Nottingham police station where he was charged and kept in custody. He was refused bail twice in closed courts which, his family said, they were refused permission to attend.
Today (Friday) he was taken to another secret court, where he was charged, admitted the crime, and bailed – with the likelihood of a community sentence waiting for him at his next appearance.
Johnny Void, writing about this in his blog, made some particularly apposite comments on the subject, as follows: “This incident happened in the middle of an Atos assessment which are notoriously stressful and frightening for claimants. If he hadn’t been put through that, it is unlikely he would have said whatever he said, which it seems was not a very credible threat, at least as far as the Judge was concerned.
“It can make people react irrationally or angrily and they end up doing things they wouldn’t ordinarily do. The context these events take place in is often ignored by ‘professionals’, because to them it is all just a job and they can’t understand why people are not being reasonable. The stark terror felt by some people facing courts, benefit assessments, arrests, bailiffs, prisons or even more seemingly benign institutions such as social services, Jobcentres and community mental health teams can often cause people to destroy themselves. This can happen even if ‘professionals’ concerned do their jobs properly within the constrain of the system and no-one is really personally culpable.”
So much for personal freedom – but wait. The situation here is actually worse than even this story makes out. I am indebted to Vox Political commenter vince032013, who tells us the following, about so-called ‘reforms’ to Legal Aid (italics mine):
“Things might be about to get a lot worse. The government are now planning on reforming the criminal justice system. Highlights are 1. Suspects in the police station will not be able to choose a solicitor. They will be appointed one. 2. The number of solicitors’ firms is to be reduced by 75 per cent (that’s not a typo – 75 per cent). 3. The reduction in the number of solicitors is to be achieved by putting criminal work out to tender. 4. The bidders are not allowed to bid at over 82.5 per cent of the current cost of running a criminal case. 5. The consultation which has introduced this idea states in terms that it does not want solicitors to offer any more than an “acceptable” level of service to suspects. 6. Once charged, defendants may be represented in court by someone with no Crown Court trial experience (and will not be able to exercise a choice to change that representative). If you’re interested read the consultation here
In other words, this Conservative/Liberal Democrat government is determined to rig the justice system against anybody who becomes caught up in it. The conditions described by the commenter are utterly corrupt and offer nobody in this country any chance at justice – unless they can afford it. So the really serious criminals and gangsters have nothing at all to fear.
Today we also discovered that the so-called “big four” accountancy firms – Deloitte, Ernst & Young, KPMG and PricewaterhouseCoopers – who were brought into the Treasury to help the government draw up tax laws, have been using the ‘insider’ knowledge they have gained to help wealthy clients avoid paying taxes. They have been telling multinational corporations and wealthy individuals how to exploit loopholes in the legislation they have helped to write – according to the House of Commons’ public accounts committee.
This represents a staggering betrayal of the working- and middle-class citizens of this country, who have no choice but to pay all the tax that the government demands from them or face imprisonment – and an appalling display of hypocrisy on the part of David Cameron, the British Prime Minister who, only yesterday, said he planned to use the UK’s chairmanship of the G8 nations to tackle what he himself described as “staggering” worldwide levels of tax evasion and avoidance – levels that he, himself, is helping to boost.
Now, I’m not voting in the elections next week. There isn’t a poll in my part of the country. But if you are planning to vote…
Considering the way the government has pushed through its plans to sell the NHS to the highest bidders (without a mandate, having concealed its health policy); considering the way it has been implicated in attempts to stop the public from finding out about the plans and what they mean (in conjunction with Facebook); considering how its servants take it upon themselves to subject very-ill individuals to extreme pressure and then imprison them on the basis of what they say in those circumstances; considering the plan to deny justice to the poor and make high-quality legal advice available only to the extremely rich people, including rich criminals, who can afford it; and considering the fact that it has opened the door for those who should be paying the most tax in this country to avoid doing so altogether – while claiming it is doing the exact opposite…
Taking all those issues into consideration, if you are a working-class or middle-class person planning to vote Conservative or Liberal Democrat next Thursday, then for your own safety, submit yourself for medical assessment because you must be barking mad.
I took Mrs Mike up to the Job Centre on Friday, for an interview with her advisor on the work-related activity group of Employment and Support Allowance.
Linda (Mrs Mike) has been in the WRAG since her work capability assessment in August. I won’t go into the details of that particular interview because those of you who have experienced it will know that, even in the best of circumstances, it can be harrowing for a disabled person.
This interview was a far cry from that; it helped a lot that Linda knew her advisor – they worked together on a previous job.
We went through Linda’s circumstances and the list of her disabilities, and it was explained that, at the end of her year on the WRA group, she will be assessed again (we’re not looking forward to that!) to decide whether she may be found fit for work or has to go back for another year in the WRAG. This was news to me; my impression was always that you had the year, then you got booted out onto Jobseekers’ Allowance.
It was explained that she could choose to work with her advisor or with work placement provider companies, to find employment for her that is suitable with regard to her disabilities; work placements will not be valid if they do not accommodate an individual’s sickness or disability (this is a fact – I looked it up on the government’s own documentation and they do have a duty to ensure the activity is “appropriate to the participants health condition or disability”).
Mandating – forcing a disabled person to participate in the work programme by making it a condition under which they continue to receive benefit – would only happen if a claimant failed to participate in the work-related activity scheme on any level. It’s what happens when people refuse to have anything to do with it, Linda was told.
I noted that this still means Linda has to take part in some form of activity, but here’s the thing: Mrs Mike does actually want a job. She wants to be a contributing member of society and she wants to be able to pay her way. She is not, by any stretch of the imagination, a scrounger.
what she does not want is to be forced into an exploitative situation where she is made to do work that is unsuitable for her, with no concern about whether it will worsen her condition. She spent months, after her illness began, trying to soldier on at her former job and getting worse every day. She won’t go through that again.
Imagine, then, my surprise on getting home to read an article in The Guardian, stating that, from tomorrow (Monday), the government will “allow private back-to-work companies and jobcentre case managers to force [Linda] and more than 300,000 sick and disabled welfare claimants into unpaid work experience for an unspecified length of time.
“Also from that day – the UN’s international day of persons with disabilities – if those in WRAG who have illnesses ranging from cancer to paralysis to mental health issues do not comply with such instructions, they can be stripped of up to 70 per cent of their benefits and forced to live on £28.15 a week.”
The paper showed that the scheme was already in disrepute. According to the rules (and, again, I’ve read them) providers must ensure that a work placement is of “community benefit”, but the article stated “since February the DWP has stopped answering freedom of information requests about where people are being sent to work – even when instructed to do so by the information commissioner – because it fears the [Mandatory Work Activity] scheme will collapse under the weight of public protest if details are released.
“The DWP has admitted that … private, profit-seeking companies can participate in the scheme.”
the paper added that, according to the latest figures, between 1 June 2011 and 31 May 2012 there were 11,130 conditionality sanctions applied to ESA WRAG claimants. The average length of such sanction is seven weeks.
Linda and I already know that neither the work programme nor the mandatory work activity scheme (Workfare) have any effect on increasing people’s chances of getting into a job. They are ways of funnelling taxpayers’ money to the bosses of the ‘work programme provider’ companies. “Why take part, then?” you might ask. The answer is threefold: Firstly, to show willing; second, to avoid sanctions; third, to get direct experience of how it works in practice.
All this, of course, takes place in an environment where organisations like the British Heart Foundation are pulling out of the programme. According to the newspaper, “the charity said it was offered cash incentives by private companies running the programme if it took on jobseekers. The BHF refused such payments, as it would have meant the charity being paid while its volunteers – in desperate need of a job – worked for no pay in return.
“The DWP said it was not troubled by this practice: ‘We pay providers to find us placements; it’s up to them what arrangement they make with organisations who will take someone on.'”
This is interesting, considering Iain Duncan Smith is adamant that no payment is made other than by results.
On the BBC 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.”
Employment minister Mark Hoban told the Guardian: ‘”People on sickness benefits who do all they can to improve their chances of moving back into a job have nothing to worry about.
‘”They will get their benefits and we will do all we can to help. But in the small number of cases where people refuse to stick to their part of the bargain, it’s only right there are consequences.”‘
What bargain? He seems to misunderstand the meaning of the word. A bargain is an agreement in which each party has obligations to the other.
What sanctions are imposed on the DWP if it fails to provide the service – as stated – to claimants? None, that I can see.
Be assured I will keep you posted on future developments.
PS For everyone about to embark on this new adventure in disability benefits, I think it is important that you read this website – Securing your rights on Welfare to Work(fare). It provides important information on protecting your rights, which may be eroded if you sign certain documents presented to you as part of this programme.
Does anybody reading this still think the UK is a democracy?
I dare say most people are aware that the government, in the House of Commons, has reversed all seven amendments made by the Lords to the Welfare Reform Bill. This means the new benefits cap of £26,000, per family, will include Child Benefit.
The Bill will also:
Require cancer patients to undergo a means test for Employment Support Allowance – if they fail, they have to look for work
Reduce the lower rate of the ‘disabled child’ element of Child Tax Credits
Means test other ESA claimants every year
Stop young disabled people who have never worked from claiming ‘contributory’ ESA
Impose ‘under-occupancy’ penalties on social tenants with one spare room
Force single parents to face Child Support Agency charges, even if they have taken steps to reach a settlement
There is no mandate for these changes, or any of the other changes in the Welfare Reform Bill. The Conservative/Liberal Democrat Coalition does not have permission from the electorate to do this, because it was never part of either of their manifestos. This is undemocratic.
The House of Lords, in amending the Bill to prevent the measures I mention above, had been contacted by many people on benefits, and made their decision in the knowledge of the financial trauma it will cause if allowed to go ahead unchanged. This was the only opportunity the people affected by the Bill had to plead a case, and the government’s pig-headed refusal to pay attention (let’s call it a ‘not-listening’ exercise, in recognition of the sham that was carried out in respect of the Health and Social Care Bill, which is likely to cause even more harm to the honest people of the UK). The reversal in the Commons therefore flies in the face of the will of the people. This, too, is undemocratic.
Furthermore, the government has announced it will use a rule known as ‘financial privilege’ to prevent the Lords from sending the same amendments back to the Commons when they consider the Bill for the final time.
Now, Parliamentary convention has long stated that the Lords do not deliberate on “money” Bills, such as the Budget – but such legislation is never introduced to the Lords in the first place. As the Welfare Reform Bill was, there is a strong argument that this rule does not apply.
It is highly unusual for a government to introduce a Bill to Parliament with the intention of it being considered by both Houses, only for it to declare the Bill beyond the auspices of the Lords at this relative late stage in proceedings – and for this reason the whole process could end up in a judicial review.
In other words, for this to happen, it must normally be decided before a government is humiliated over its unsound policies – not after. This, again, is undemocratic.
Let’s not forget that the government falsified the results of its own consultation process about this bill. More than 90 per cent of those taking part opposed the changes in the bill but this was ignored in the report, which was intended to show that the public supported the change. It does not. This, yet again, is undemocratic.
This break with precedent could have further implications for other major government bills going through the Lords, including the Legal Aid and NHS Bills, both of which are highly controversial. Need I point out how undemocratic all of this is?
Finally, none of these measures are necessary. If the government taxed big businesses properly, instead of excusing them from paying the vast sums of money they owe, then there would be enough in the Treasury to keep benefits as they are and pay off some of the national debt. This is what the majority of the people in my country want and their refusal to do it is totally undemocratic.
If you’re not living in a democracy – and if you’re in the UK, you are definitely not living in a democracy any more – then you’re living in a dictatorship.
It is a dictatorship ruled by two parties that did not even gain a majority in the last General Election.
We have another three years of this agony, as matters stand at the moment.
All I can suggest right now is that we make our contempt for this arrogant cartel known at every opportunity. If any of the above makes you angry, make sure you’re on the electoral register and then get out and vote against them every chance you get.
There are elections in May. They’ll be a good place to start.
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