A line from The Guardian‘s story about cuts to policing stood out very strongly:
The home secretary said the Home Office had managed to deliver a 30% real-terms reduction in its budget since 2010 in the previous round of austerity cuts “without the roof falling in”.
She’s living in La-La Land.
Did she not notice that, while she was off in Brussels at the Justice and Home Affairs Council meeting, policing minister Mike Penning was making a grovelling apology for the fact that, due to an elemental error of statistics, her planned new funding formula for police forces has had to be scrapped in its entirety, triggering a lengthy delay?
If that wasn’t the roof actually falling in on Mr Penning, then it certainly must have seemed like it to him, as he fumbled and stuttered his way through his speech, to the amusement of Opposition MPs.
Keith Vaz, chair of the Home Affairs select committee, suggested that Mr Penning might “establish an independent panel of experts who understand the importance of sharing data and, more importantly, are able to count and understand mathematics” before embarking on a re-evaluation of the funding formula.
Jack Dromey told Mr Penning to “get a grip, and get it right”.
We have seen many errors already, due to the public service cuts that Tories love so much.
Undoubtedly we will see many more.
Mrs May should consider the facts before making unsupportable claims about her department’s performance.
It is said that pride comes before a fall, and Conservative policing minister Mike Penning has just taken a nasty tumble.
Only last week, he told us that the current model for police funding was “complex, opaque, and out of date”. What a shame that the model with which he proposed to replace it turned out to be rubbish.
“If we want policing in this country to be the best it can be, then we must reform further, and that includes putting police on a long-term, sustainable footing,” he told us all last week. How those words must haunt him now!
A Tory policing minister has been forced to make a grovelling apology after botching plans to reform police funding.
Mike Penning admitted the Home Office had made serious errors in calculating how much funding would be doled out to regional police forces.
The apology comes amid bitter controversy over the planned changes, with six Police and Crime Commissioners threatening the Home Office with legal action over fears they are set to lose millions of pounds in Government support.
Sorry – THIS is Michael Penning in Parliament yesterday. The other image was Dexter Jettster from Star Wars. It’s an easy mistake to make, especially with Mr Pennings ‘Movember’ moustache. Dexter’s information was more accurate, though.
Penning told MPs: “I am sad to say there was a statistical error made in the data that has been used. While this data does not change the principle that was consulted on, the allocation provided to the forces was never indicative. We recognise this has caused a great deal of concern to police forces around the country.
“I and the government regret this mistake and I apologise to the house. I also apologise to the 43 authorities that I wrote to during the extended consultation period, as part of the funding formula review.”
He added that the planned reforms, intended to take effect during 2016/17 would now be delayed.
Home Affairs Select Committee chairman Keith Vaz , who asked an urgent question in the House of Commons, described the situation as a “shambles”.
He said 31 out of 43 police forces would lose money as a result of the error, compared with a third under the current formula.
Mr Vaz said an independent panel should be established to look again at the issue, adding: “More importantly (including people) able to count and understand mathematics – unlike some officials in the Home Office.
The debate in the Westminster Hall today (Monday) followed the submission of an e-petition to the Parliament website calling for the legalisation of cannabis, signed by 220,000 people – more than twice the number needed to gain a hearing among MPs.
Labour MP Paul Flynn, opening the debate, said: “I would like to illustrate how this Government—like all Governments—have handled this issue. It is typified by the response we had to this thunderously eloquent petition.
“The Government response begins with the statement that ‘cannabis is…harmful’.
“Cannabis is the oldest medicine in the world. It has been trialled and tested by tens of millions of people over 5,000 years. If there were any problems with natural cannabis, that would have been apparent a long time ago. However, all we have is this wall of denial by Governments who are afraid of the subject, afraid of becoming unpopular and afraid of it being said that they are going to pot.
I am not unrealistic, and I do not expect the Government to make a volte-face on recreational cannabis, but they should explain their position and realise what is going on. However, the case for medical cannabis, including in its natural form, is overwhelming.”
Some of that case was made by other MPs. Conservative (yes, Conservative!) Graham Stuart said: “My constituent B- M- suffers from Crohn’s disease and psoriatic arthritis, and she is allergic to most of the pharmaceutical medicines that are prescribed—in fact, they have given her ulcers. She has found effective pain relief only through cannabis… Sadly, the current situation sees her forced into the company of illegal drug dealers.”
Green MP Caroline Lucas said: “The biggest scandal is that this Government, like successive Governments, have set their face against the evidence… If we look at an evidence-based approach, there is absolutely no correlation between a drug’s legal status and the amount it gets used. In other words, prohibition simply does not work.”
Former Social Security Secretary Peter Lilley (Con), who co-sponsored the debate, said: “There are practical reasons for wanting to move to legalisation. First, attempts to prohibit the sale and use of cannabis have failed. It is readily available and widely used.
“The second point is that they have failed despite the fact that 80 per cent of the effort in the so-called war on drugs goes on trying to prohibit the use of cannabis. If we provided some legal outlets for cannabis, that enforcement effort, the treatment effort and so on could be diverted to tackling hard drugs, which really do harm people, enslave people and, sometimes, kill people.
“Thirdly, keeping on the statute books a law that is widely ignored and impossible to enforce undermines faith not just in that law, but in law and the legal system more generally.
“Finally, legalisation would deprive the criminal world of a large and lucrative market.”
But Mike Penning, minister for policing, crime and criminal justice, wasn’t having any of it. The most he could offer was: “I am committed to working with other Departments and whoever else wants to work with us to ensure that, in the 21st century, where cannabis can be helpful through pharmaceuticals, we will try to make sure that that happens. I am committed to looking at the research and at what work we should be doing. This debate has been enormously useful, but I cannot support the petition.”
And that was the bottom line.
It’s sad to say that the conclusion to be reached after this debate is not one about whether cannabis should, shouldn’t, will or won’t be legalised, but about the usefulness of government e-petitions – and it is this:
We might as well write our petitions on toilet paper and flush them into the sewers. The Conservative Government we have now would pay just as much attention and respect to that as it will to anything coming in via the e-petitions website.
Entrenched: Like the soldiers of WWI, our political leaders’ thinking hasn’t moved forward in decades – that’s why they think it’s all right to impose policies that lead to thousands of deaths.
Jayne Linney’s latest blog post starts off by discussing her relationship with her ‘Pop’, victim of a rogue grenade in World War I who spent much of his later life in surgery having shrapnel removed; clearly the centenary of the war has stirred memories.
As such, this piece might have been lightweight fluff to read and pass without comment. However…
Jayne writes: “We had endless discussions about right and wrong. I like to think he really heard me when I argued for Equality, but maybe he indulged me as his only grandchild, either way he listened, and even when we disagreed he never shot me down; he taught me to debate and for this, and everything else he was to me, I adored him.”
She continues: “Despite the pain he lived with for the next 70 years, he always demanded Truth; whether this be because he lived with the fact he suffered as a result of the lies sold by the ruling classes I can’t say, but knowing him I can’t help but think this is so.”
Now we come to the point: “In this week as I especially remember Pop, I read that Lord Freud has been proven to have Lied AGAIN, joining Mark Hoban, Esther McVey and Mike Penning to become the Fourth DWP Minster to have Made the SAME LIE – Impact Assessment are Impossible.”
[This refers to the Conservative Party’s oft-repeated and utterly discredited claim that it is impossible to carry out an assessment of the cumulative impact caused by the Coalition’s many changes (we don’t dignify them with the label ‘reforms’) to the British system of social security. In fact, some organisations have already carried out unofficial assessments of their own, and one organisation that the government often uses for statistical work – I forget which one – has made it clear that it would like to carry out exactly such an assessment.]
“This default position of Lying when proven incorrect is unacceptable. The reality is the lies politicians spew out today are resulting in pain as did those told 100 years ago; and albeit in much lesser numbers, people are still dying as a result of the policies they lie about.”
Yes indeed. Look how far our Conservative and Liberal politicians have progressed since 1914. They’ve hardly moved forward at all – just like the trench warfare that spilled the blood of a generation 100 years ago.
Now they’re merrily spilling the blood of a new generation – and once again justifying it with lies.
The study shows that more than £1.6 billion a year will be removed from the Scottish economy, with the biggest losses based in changes to incapacity benefits. The Scottish average loss, per adult of working age, is £460 per year (compared with a British average of £470) but the hardest hit area was impoverished Glasgow Carlton, where adults lost an average of £880 per year.
In affluent St Andrews, the average hit was just £180 per year.
Of course, the cumulative effect will hit the poorest communities much harder – with an average of £460 being taken out of these communities it is not only households that will struggle to make ends meet; as families make cutbacks, local shops and businesses will lose revenue and viability. If they close, then residents will have to travel further for groceries and to find work, meaning extra travel costs will remove even more much-needed cash from their budget.
For a nationwide picture, the EHRC commissioned the National Institute of Economic and Social Research (NIESR) and the consultancy Landman Economics to develop a way of assessing the cumulative impact of “welfare reform”.
The report will be published in the summer, but Landman Economics has already told Disability News Service that the work was “not actually that difficult”.
Why, then have Mark Hoban, Esther McVey and Mike Penning, the current minister for the disabled, all claimed that a cumulative assessment is impossible?
Some might say they have a vested interest in keeping the public ignorant of the true devastation being wreaked on Britain’s most vulnerable people by Coalition austerity policies that will ultimately harm everybody except the very rich.
National disgrace: The green benches were almost empty during yesterday’s debate on the DWP’s new ‘mandatory reconsideration’ regime – and the potential number of deaths it is causing.
It is hard to know where to start. Perhaps with DWP minister Mike Penning’s failure to answer the questions raised in yesterday’s adjournment debate on the ESA ‘mandatory reconsideration’ process, despite having prior notice of Sheila Gilmore’s entire presentation? Perhaps with the DWP’s failure to release accurate statistics, which is especially appalling as press officer Richard Caseby attacked a newspaper for inaccuracies very recently? Perhaps with the DWP’s continuing denial of the deaths caused by its increasingly-bizarre and unreasonable attempts to save money?
The debate was brought to Parliament by Labour’s Sheila Gilmore who, in her own words, has been trying to get a succession of useless Conservative ministers to acknowledge the homicidal nature of their incapacity benefit “reforms” ever since she was elected. This was her sixth debate on the subject.
Yesterday’s debate was about the stress and poverty caused by the government’s decision to impose ‘mandatory reconsideration’ on ESA claimants who have been found fit for work and want to appeal against the decision. The benefit – originally paid at the ‘assessment’ rate – is cut off during the reconsideration period, meaning that claimants have no income whatsoever; housing benefit and council tax reduction claimants have their claims interrupted during this time.
People might be able to accommodate this if the reconsideration period lasted the maximum of two weeks that was implied when the new system was introduced, but it doesn’t take a maximum of two weeks.
The average length of time an ESA claimant – a person who is so seriously ill that he or she cannot work for a living, remember – has to wait for a decision after ‘mandatory reconsideration’ is seven to 10 weeks.
That puts a different complexion on matters.
Ms Gilmore called on Mr Penning to confirm the length of time claimants are being made to wait for a decision after ‘mandatory reconsideration’ – and asked when the DWP will publish statistics on average times and the total number of claimants who are waiting for a decision (rumoured to be 700,000 at this time).
She said the minister had defended a decision not to set a time limit on reconsiderations, despite concern from the Administrative Justice and Tribunals Council that the absence of such a limit could have the effect of “delaying indefinitely the exercise of the right of appeal to an independent tribunal”.
Oh yes – claimants can apply for Jobseekers’ Allowance in the meantime – but this has a high level of conditionality. They have to be available for work, actively seeking work, attending work-focused interviews, searching for jobs and making a minimum number of applications every week.
What these Conservative DWP ministers are saying is that sick people waiting for an ESA decision must undergo a process that is itself extremely stressful, can worsen existing physical or mental conditions, and can lead to them being sanctioned or refused benefit altogether for failing to meet the requirements of Job Centre Plus advisors (who are not, let’s be honest, the most sympathetic people in the country).
Most who have applied for JSA have been refused outright or failed to attend necessary appointments due to their various conditions; or they did not apply, either because they could not face the trial of another benefit application or because they did not know they could.
They were forced to turn to the food banks that the DWP has accused of “misleading and emotionally manipulative publicity-seeking” and “aggressively marketing their services”, rather than being vitally important now that the government has reneged on its responsibility to citizens.
Or they turned to high-interest loans – run, undoubtedly, by some of the Conservative Party’s most faithful donors – and amassed debts at such high interest rates that they would struggle to repay them, even after being provided backdated payments. “One constituent sold off his few remaining possessions to survive,” said Ms Gilmore.
The Tories have engineered a situation where people who are seriously ill can be found too fit for ESA and too sick or disabled for JSA.
Ms Gilmore said she had been told by previous minister Mark Hoban – last September – that claimants could request “flexible conditionality”, to ease these pressures – but the DWP’s benefits director acknowledged in April – seven months later – that “not all advisors had been aware of this”.
So claimants had been deprived of a right to extra help because DWP ministers had not provided accurate information to them or to employees.
Ms Gilmore said, “It is hard to have confidence in the Department, given that previous assurances were clearly unfounded,” and it is interesting that this should be revealed in the same week that the useless ex-Murdoch yellow-press spin-machine detritus DWP press officer Caseby (Dick to his… well, to everybody) claimed The Guardian should be blackballed from new press regulation authority IPSO for failing to print, you guessed it, accurate information from the DWP.
Ms Gilmore also pointed out the cost to the taxpayer of all this hustling of claimants between benefits: “There is also an administration cost involved in a claimant receiving the assessment rate of ESA, ceasing to receive it, claiming JSA and then potentially claiming the assessment rate of ESA again. These are significant costs when multiplied by the number of people involved. In addition, if everybody claimed JSA successfully, they would receive benefit at exactly the same rate as they would have been getting on ESA, so if there are any savings to be anticipated, is it because ministers thought that people would, in fact, struggle to claim JSA during the reconsideration process, given that administration costs are likely to outweigh anything else?
“I am sure that cannot be the case,” she added. Of course that’s exactly what ministers wanted.
Her point was as follows: Why not amend the law so that ESA claimants can continue to receive the benefit at the assessment rate during the reconsideration process? “The only way that could be more expensive for the Government would be if ministers expected sick and disabled people to go without any benefit — and I am sure that that cannot be the case,” she said, ramming home her previous point about benefit savings.
Reinstating assessment-rate ESA during ‘mandatory reconsideration’ would be simpler than setting a time limit and may be an incentive for the government to speed up the process, she added.
Finally, she called on Mr Penning to publish the number of successful reconsiderations, rather than lumping them in with original decisions so it is impossible to tell exactly what has happened. She said this was particularly important because the DWP has been celebrating a drop in the number of appeals.
Her claim was that it is premature to celebrate a drop in appeals – or to claim the DWP was making more correct decisions – when the number of successful applications for ‘mandatory reconsideration’ was not known and many cases may still be caught up in the process as part of the enormous backlog built up by the Department.
Mr Penning made no offer to reinstate assessment-rate ESA during the reconsideration period.
He made no offer to impose a time limit on reconsiderations.
He made no attempt to confirm the size of the ‘mandatory reconsideration’ backlog or the length of time taken to reach decisions.
His response was about as inhuman as he could make it, within the Chamber of the House of Commons:
“I would rather have slightly more delays than have decisions incorrectly taken and then turned over at tribunal.”
This is an admission that he would rather push sick people into unendurable poverty, debt, stress and possibly towards suicide than make his department do its job properly.
He knows he’s in trouble: Mike Penning, staring down the hole in his claims about Atos.
The Liverpool Echo has reported the death of a woman who had been ordered to claim the new Personal Independence Payment – and was then denied any benefit payments for six months.
At the same time, we have learnt that disabilities minister Mike Penning has been caught giving false evidence to a Parliamentary committee on the way contracts for the assessment of disability benefits have been awarded.
The two are not unconnected, it seems.
Annette Francis was found dead at her home in Garston on May 22. She had been suffering severe mental illness but had not received a single penny of disability benefit for six months, since the Department for Work and Pensions had stopped her claim for Disability Living Allowance and told her to apply for PIP.
She did so – but was still waiting for her first payment at the time of her death. She leaves an 11-year-old son, who is currently in the care of his great-aunt.
Problems with the private companies that carry out work capability assessments for benefits including PIP and Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) were discussed with disabilities minister Mike Penning in December last year – right around the time Ms Francis’s DLA was being cut off.
He told the Commons Work and Pensions Committee that problems with the firm carrying out the assessments – Atos – were created because it was not possible to make a profit on the contract it signed with the previous Labour government.
He said: “We are picking up the mess behind that.”
If he was telling the truth, he didn’t pick it up quickly enough. But it seems more likely that he was lying.
According to Sheila Gilmore, a Labour MP who sits on the Work and Pensions committee, “he is not entitled to access advice given to the previous Government on the assumptions Atos made as part of their tender”. In that case, he could not possibly have been aware of the terms under which Atos was employed by Labour and was therefore lying to his fellow MPs.
So we are left to ask which situation is worse – one in which a woman has died because a private company carrying out a public service was upset that it couldn’t make a profit, or one in which she died because the same public service has been unforgivably delayed while the private company and the government have been arguing about how much profit it should make?
Either way, unless Penning gets his apology and correction sorted out quickly, he should be booted out of Parliament in disgrace.
His boss is Iain Duncan Smith, who will be appearing on the BBC’s Question Time on Thursday. Do you think this will get a mention?
Mike Penning, Minister for the Disabled [Image: The Guardian].
There are two sides to every story, we are told – and two sides to the new minister for disabled people, Mike Penning, it seems.
Asked why many cancer patients had died before their claims for the new Personal Independence Payment had been processed – during periods of up to 10 weeks – Mr Penning told The Guardianit was vital that the service must be improved.
“We have to get it right because these people need the help as fast as they can get it,” he told the Commons Work and Pensions committee, according to the paper.
Penning said he wanted people with terminal illnesses to be able to claim and receive payment within seven days – but was reluctant to introduce targets, saying he would enforce the goal with: “My size 10 boots.”
Presumably this means he’s going to use them to give his officers a kick up the backside, meaning he wants to encourage a culture of bullying in the DWP – from the top down – rather than professionalism. That’s worth knowing.
He talked up a storm, though. “I have a passion about this. Not just because it’s something that has touched my life, but because it is a moral position,” he said. “While I am the minister, I want to see seven days. I can’t see why we can’t achieve seven days or even less.”
What a change this is from the man met by Paula Peters after the Work and Pensions meeting in Westminster on Monday!
According to Paula, Mr Penning met people from organisations representing the disabled and told them, in her words: “Our disabilities are our fault. Everyone who claims benefits is frauding the system.”
Considering the performance statistics, it seems likely that those at the latter meeting may have seen Mr Penning’s true face.
If so, then perhaps he should make better use of his size-10s…
And take a hike.
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It is said that you can get the measure of a man, not from his words, but from his actions. Iain Duncan Smith brought bodyguards to the Commons Work and Pensions Committee yesterday. (Monday)
Why did he need the muscle? Probably because he knew how his behaviour would be received. This is a man who is absolutely not going to accept criticism, in any form at all.
The man whose benefit reforms were mocked by Ed Balls last week as “In Deep Sh…ambles” batted away concerns about inaccurate statistics as somebody else’s fault and, when confronted with a whistleblower’s claim that jobseekers were being sanctioned indiscriminately, said he wanted to see the evidence.
That’s a bit much, coming from the man who is still withholding the mortality statistics of people going through the assessment regime for Employment and Support Allowance. Where is that evidence?
Our evidence that he had a bodyguard comes from Paula Peters on Facebook, who attended the meeting. She wrote: “The police, and they were armed, hustled him into the room. He had a bodyguard in the room with him! What the hell for? We are entitled to watch proceedings and follow due process.”
Dame Anne Begg, chairing the meeting, pointed out that the UK Statistics Authority has received more complaints about the Department of Work and Pensions’ use of statistics than any other government department.
His response: “Yes, but I’ve had two letters. One was about two years ago, concerning something about the use of them on immigration, but they let that one sit – and the last one was where we had a discussion on the use of where I referred to those going back to work on the back of the benefit cap. They said that … I should not make the link. I believed it to be the case – that those people were going back to work due to the fact of reducing the cap; that’s my belief. They said it should not remain as a flat statistic, which we’ve accepted.”
So in that one respect, he admitted that he was wrong.
But he also said: “We have published, over the period that I have been there, over 500 statistical releases. We’ve also started the innovation of ‘ad hoc’ releases – which, actually, we were congratulated for by UKSA… We try and publish as regularly as possible… We try to sell a positive message, and I know there have been issues around negativity with regard to disability benefits.”
Pressed on the fact that Grant Shapps had claimed nearly 900,000 people shuffled off ESA because they weren’t willing to take the work capability assessment, the Secretary of State denied responsibility: “We didn’t actually – and have never – given them that idea about those figures. It was something that they put together and released themselves. I wasn’t even aware that they were going out with that comment at the time… I have had conversations with him and others about being careful to check with the department.”
Committee member Debbie Abrahams wanted to know about the claim by a whistleblower in Job Centre Plus, that JSA claimants were deliberately being set up to fail, contrary to the Civil Service code, with ploys including making appointments without telling the claimant, in order to create an easy opportunity for a sanction and thereby distorting statistics – not after they had been collected but in the collection itself.
She said the whistleblower had tried to raise the issue with managers at all levels, but had been rebuffed each time.
“Well, I’m not aware of that,” drawled Mr Duncan Smith, “and I have to say that I would like to see his evidence for that. With respect, he is making an allegation about some of the incredibly hard work that job advisors do. There’s always one or two people who have a different view about operating in an organisation. I happen to believe that, unless it is proved to the contrary, people in Job Centres do a very good job, work very hard, and they apply sanctions within the rules.”
Challenged on this by Dame Anne, he started to claim that sanctions are always issued because of failure to comply with the strictures imposed on claimants, provoking an interruption from Debbie Abrahams that caused his mask to slip momentarily. “I have listened a lot to what has been said – and moaning about this… You’ve had a fair crack at this.”
So there you have it. Statistical errors are nothing to do with Iain Duncan Smith. Sanctions are always applied fairly and never to distort the statistics.
And anyone who thinks otherwise is “moaning”.
Paula Peters, in her Facebook post, said that disability minister Mike Penning met people from organisations representing the disabled. She reported his words as follows:
“Our disabilities are our fault.
“Diabetes is a lifestyle choice.
“Everyone who claims benefits is frauding the system.
“Everyone who uses the access to work programme is frauding it.”
The public verdict on the meeting has been universally negative. Nicola Clubb (again on Facebook) summed it up well: “I have just watched an hour’s worth of IDS and the DWP evidence to the Work and Pensions Committee and they let him and his three cronies off the hook.
“They did not push him him to explain his use of dodgy stats, they just asked him about a couple of pieces of data released by people.”
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