Jeremy Corbyn: He must control Labour policy announcements and not let ‘spokespeople’ offer opportunities to Tories [Image: AP]
Labour under Jeremy Corbyn must be much more careful and clear with its message – with no “loose lips” making it possible for the Tories to “sink the ship” (to adapt an old saying).
The BBC is reporting that Jeremy Corbyn has voiced his opposition to plans by the Conservative Government that would lower the overall household “welfare cap” in an interview with New Statesman. There’s nothing wrong with that – the cap was introduced at a level that was too low, and now the Tories want to cut it further, pushing more and more families into poverty and out of their current homes in what has been dubbed “economic cleansing” of housing estates.
But the report also quotes a “spokesman” who said Corbyn was “very much in favour” of getting rid of the cap altogether – supporting this with a quote from Corbyn himself, telling the TUC conference last week that he wanted to “remove the whole idea of the benefit cap”.
That’s just opening up the goal for the Tories to score.
Lo and behold, up pops Iain Duncan Smith – a man who has been missing for months while his Department for Work and Pensions was battered by allegations that his policies have been killing benefit claimants – accurate allegations.
Working hard to wash the blood off his hands and divert attention elsewhere, the Gentleman Ranker said: “chaos and confusion” surrounded Labour’s position – despite being an unlikely judge. Chaos and confusion have dogged his tenure as Work and Pensions secretary, yet he continues, blithely unwilling to acknowledge any problems.
“Conservatives believe that nobody should be able to claim more in welfare than the average family earns by going out to work,” he said. “By pledging to reverse this position, it’s clear that today’s Labour Party are simply not on the side of working people. They are still the same old welfare party – wanting to borrow more to spend more on benefits.”
If Conservatives really believed that nobody should claim more than the average working family earns, then social security benefits would be capped at £32,000 – not £20,000. The fact that the Tories want to cut the amount available means they don’t want social security to be a safety net for people in hard times. Instead, they want to use it to prise people out of their homes and into poverty. That much is clear and indisputable.
Labour has not pledged to reverse any claim that people should have more in benefits than an average working family. The evidence shows that Iain Duncan Smith was lying. Claims by a spokesman and comments that the Labour leader wants to do something do not add up to a policy commitment.
And the claim by the man This Blog calls RTU (Return To Unit – a military term for an officer candidate who is not up to the task) that Labour is “not of the side of working people” is nothing less than offensive to all the working people who have suffered at the hands of the Tories over the last five years and more.
But the fact remains that Labour people gave the odious IDS a chance to push his perverted version of the facts.
Labour needs to be better than that. Whoever this “spokesman” is, they should take a back seat for the foreseeable future. Anyone who is that loose-lipped cannot be allowed to speak for the party or its leader. The party needs to be on-message, all the time.
Owen Smith, Labour’s new Work and Pensions spokesman, has fought a rearguard action, saying it is “very clear” that Labour is currently opposing only the plan to cut the cap to £20,000 nationally, and to £23,000 in London – but he shouldn’t have to do it.
It doesn’t matter whether Labour MPs, spokespeople, supporters or whoever want a particular policy, or want to undermine the new leader (still an issue among the neoliberals who are hanging on in the party in the hope of turning it back to Red Toryism), or have an agenda of their own – they need to shut up and stick to party policy.
Tories like Duncan Smith are constantly on the lookout for opportunities to attack Labour and divert attention away from their own policies of hatred towards anybody not in the top one per cent of earners. If Labour is to win the country back from these despots, then Labour needs a much better publicity strategy.
“No left-wing account of this defeat will be complete without a reference to the Tory press (bonus drink for “Murdoch-controlled”) and its supposed inexorable hold over the political psyche of the nation. Funny: the day before the election everyone decided The Sun was a joke and nobody reads newspapers anyway.
“3. CLEVER TORIES
“It will be said that the Tories, in their ruthlessly efficient way, pinned the blame for austerity on Labour and Labour allowed it to stick. Clever Tories. Few will mention that the Tories were, for the most part, a hubristic and directionless shambles, divided amongst themselves, the authors of several howlingly stupid own goals that would certainly have sunk them had they not got so lucky with their opponent.
“5. THE SNP STOLE OUR VICTORY
“It is true that nobody, but nobody, foresaw the SNP tidal wave. But it’s not true that Labour would have won or even done OK without it. Labour saw a net gain of one seat from the Tories in England. One. Seat. One seat, in an election where everything favoured them. One seat, after five years of a shabby and meretricious government making unpopular decisions and a third party that virtually donated its voters to them. An epic failure.”
Firstly, nobody is blaming the media entirely for voters’ insistence on self-destructively supporting the Tories. The media helped hammer the Tory messages home, by amplifying Cameron’s statements and ignoring or vilifying Miliband’s. After a while – and in accordance with Goebbels’ (Cameron is a big fan of Goebbels) claims about The Big Lie – people start believing the claims they see most often.
This is why Conservative claims must be challenged at every opportunity from now on. Whenever a Tory puts forward a policy in the papers, on the Internet and social media or wherever, let’s try to put the questions in front of them that deflate their claims. It has been said that a lie can go around the world before the truth gets out of bed; let’s kill The Big Lie before it can get its shoes on.
Secondly, nobody This Writer knows is saying anything at all about “ruthlessly efficient” Tories. This lot are about as stupid as they come. It’s just a shame – and this was a constant problem for bloggers like Yr Obdt Srvt – that nobody in the Labour leadership saw fit to counter the silly Tory claims with a few ounces of fact. Therefore we must conclude that, not only are the Tories monumental imbeciles; most of Labour were, as well.
This is why the Conservative Party as a whole should be undermined at every opportunity. Whenever they make bold claims about their record – especially against that of the last Labour government – let’s put up a few embarrassing facts to pull the wool out from under them.
Finally, nobody but the SNP and its supporters is making any claim that the SNP’s “tidal wave” – alone – stopped Labour. As This Writer has already mentioned (and the election result was only known yesterday), the Conservative Party used the threat of an SNP surge to put fear into Middle England that “loonie-left” Labour would ally with these crazed Caledonians, to the detriment of the nation. Amazingly, people were gullible enough to believe it.
But you don’t have to take This Writer’s word for it. Here’s Professor Simon Wren-Lewis, from his latest Mainly Macroarticle [italics mine]:
“Why do I say Cameron is lucky? First, largely by chance (but also because other countries had been undertaking fiscal austerity), UK growth in 2014 was the highest among major economies. This statistic was played for all it was worth. Second, although (in reality) modest growth was not enough to raise real incomes, just in the nick of time oil prices fell, so real wages have now begun to rise. Third, playing the game of shutting down part of the economy so that you can boast when it starts up again is a dangerous game, and you need a bit of fortune to get it right. (Of course if there really was no plan, and the recovery was delayed through incompetence, then he is luckier still.)
“The Scottish independence referendum in September last year was close. 45% of Scots voted in September to leave the UK. One of the major push factors was the Conservative-led government. If Scotland had voted for independence in 2014, it would have been a disaster for Cameron: after all, the full title of his party is the Conservative and Unionist Party. That was his first piece of Scottish fortune. The second was that the referendum dealt a huge blow to Labour in Scotland. Labour are far from blameless here, and their support had been gradually declining, but there can be no doubt that the aftermath of the referendum lost them many Scottish seats, and therefore reduced their seat total in the UK.
“Yet that led to a third piece of luck. The SNP tidal wave in Scotland gave him one additional card he could play to his advantage: English nationalism. The wall of sound coming from the right wing press about how the SNP would hold Miliband to ransom was enough to get potential UKIP supporters to vote Conservative in sufficient numbers for him to win the election.”
While I’m not convinced about the UKIP claim (UKIP’s vote share enjoyed the largest increase of any of the parties in Thursday’s election) the rest rings true.
You have already heard an awful lot of hogwash about the reasons for the Conservative Party’s slim win. Don’t believe everything you hear.
It’s long past time that facts and evidence were reintroduced to politics.
Inadequate wages and extortionate rents are pushing up the Housing Benefit bill, it has been revealed.
What is the Coalition government’s solution? It is increasing its efforts to tackle fraud.
“Forecast spending on Housing Benefit (we call it Landlord Subsidy) has been revised up by £2.5bn (11 per cent) since the expected number of renters and the level of rents relative to earnings have increased at a faster rate than predicted,” according to the New Statesman.
“As wages have continued to lag behind inflation, the number forced to rely on welfare to remain in their homes has surged. The government is now forecast to spend more than £27bn on housing benefit by 2018-19, accounting for more than 11 per cent of welfare [that’s social security] expenditure.”
It seems our Tory leaders find this far more acceptable than the alternative, which is to cap rents and pay working people a living wage. Remember that the vast majority of new Landlord Subsidy claims come from people who have jobs.
The Bedroom Tax must also take some of the blame: “One of the main causes of higher spending has been the shift from public to private rented housing,” states the Statesman. “In 2012-13, the number of private renters exceeded the nunber of social renters for the first time in nearly 50 years. Since private rents are usually higher than social rents, the housing benefit bill has risen accordingly.” This may be attributable to the introduction of the Bedroom Tax in April 2013, with social tenants scrambling to grab the cheapest – that’s right, the cheapest – private accommodation before everyone else.
The Coalition government’s response has been predictable: Falsely accuse tenants of fraud. It worked with incapacity benefits – why not with this?
“We know there is more to do to crack down on benefit fraud,” said Work and Pensions Minister Mark Harper – who is himself a fraudster, having employed an illegal migrant and lied about it. “This month we have brought in a new detection system that will cross-check all housing benefit claims against up-to-the-minute information on earnings and pension income.”
Great. Will that bring down the level of fraud, which totalled £340 million for the tax year 2013-14 – a monumental 1.42 per cent of that year’s £23.9 billion Housing Benefit bill?
Who cares? Even if it eliminated fraud altogether, no new claims were made and HB was not increased, the bill would still be £23.56 billion.
(Here’s a little perspective: If the total spent on fraudulent claims was saved, the government would keep more money than it would make from selling the UK’s share in the Eurostar train service, which is expected to be £300 million.)
Labour has said it will increase wages and build more affordable homes – tackling the causes of the problem rather than scapegoating its victims.
It is as if staff at the Department for Work and Pensions were trying to commit vocational suicide, in pale emulation of the lengths to which they drive their ‘customers’.
Following on from yesterday’s article on the DWP’s sickening response to the latest Freedom of Information request on incapacity claimant deaths come two accounts of the heartlessness of the Department’s staff.
The first is from our old friend Pride’s Purge, and concerns a letter from the DWP to a woman who suffers with Ewing’s Sarcoma, a rare bone cancer.
It states, in very poor English: “On whether you have contributed to your medical condition. We have now decided that you did contribute to your medical condition.”
This is physically impossible and DWP staff, who are not medically qualified, had no right to suggest otherwise. The lady’s boyfriend was so enraged by the incident that he posted the letter on Facebook and you can see it below.
“A sick and disabled man attend[ed] Newcastle JCP to use the phones to make an enquiry when he was attacked by [a] G4S guard for using his mobile when they refused his request… The JCPs are now removing telephones.
“It is now policy that you are intimidated BY G4S security to turn off your mobiles after many used them to film maladministration of JCP staff.
“At the time of writing this blog a complaint has gone in to the manager of this JCP and the police have been informed.”
Crocodile tears: Everybody thought Iain Duncan Smith had a change of heart at Easterhouse and intended to help people. Instead, under his direction, the Department for Work and Pensions has caused the deaths of thousands upon thousands of innocent people.
The Department for Work and Pensions reckons that the rise of food banks has more to do with Christian evangelism than with helping people who can’t afford food because of Conservative government policies.
According to Political Scrapbook, DWP director Neil Couling said: “For the Trussell Trust, food banks started as an evangelical device to get religious groups in touch with their local communities.”
Has Mr Couling forgotten Iain Duncan Smith’s ‘Road to Damascus’ moment on the housing estates of Easterhouse and Gallowgates in Glasgow in 2002?
Struck by the run-down housing, visible signs of drug abuse and general lack of hope, Roman Catholic Duncan Smith set out – with evangelical zeal – to do something about it.
He now sits in a government that kicks people out of their run-down houses and turns the lack of hope into abject despair by cutting off the benefits they need to survive (his government has pushed wages even further below the amount necessary for people to be able to live without government assistance than ever before).
So, really, who do you think is misusing the plight of the very poor as an “evangelical device” for his own “quasireligious” ends?
Couling’s attitude defies belief. He refers to a report from Oxfam – one of Britain’s most highly-respected anti-poverty charities – together with Church Action on Poverty and the Trussell Trust, as “unverified figures from disparate sources”.
Okay, then. How about the DWP supplying us with all the figures it collects, and we’ll do the working-out?
We can start with the deaths of people receiving incapacity benefits.
Columnist Jill Filipovic hit the nail on the head when she wrote: “I can already hear your objections: ‘But the area under my boobs doesn’t stink!’ or ‘What kind of marketing genius not only came up with the term “swoob,” but actually thought half the world’s population might be dumb enough to buy into it?’ or simply, ‘This is a dumb product aimed at inventing an insecurity and then claiming to cure it.’
“You would be correct on all three points.
“In fact, inventing problems with women’s bodies and then offering a cure – if you pay up – is the primary purpose of the multi-billion dollar beauty industry.”
The simple fact is that you don’t really need to worry about smells down there – a good old soapy flannel will cure any such problems.
That’s not the point, though. The aim is to get you thinking about it and devoting your energy to it, rather than to other matters.
Now let’s translate that to politics.
We already know that all the scaremongering about Romanian and Bulgarian immigrants storming the country from January 1 was a crock. That bastion of good statistics, The Now Show, told us last week that the total number of Bulgarian immigrants in the last couple of weeks was “around two dozen so far”, according to their ambassador. In the first three months after our borders were opened to Croatians, 174 turned up.
Yet the government wanted you to believe they would flood our immigration service in their millions, “taking benefits and yet simultaneously also taking all the jobs”.
My use of language such as “storming” and “flood” is not accidental. By far the more serious threat to the UK in the early days of 2014 was the weather – and, guess what, not only was the government unprepared for the ferocity of the storms that swept our islands, the Coalition was in fact in the process of cutting funding for flood defence.
This would have gone unnoticed if the weather had behaved itself, because we would all have been distracted by the single Romanian immigrant who was ensnared by Keith Vaz in a ring of TV cameras at Heathrow Airport.
Now the Tories are telling us that our take-home pay is finally on the rise for all but the top 10 per cent of earners, with the rest of us seeing our wages rise by at least 2.5 per cent.
The government made its claims (up) by taking into account only cuts to income tax and national insurance, using data leading up to April last year, according to the BBC News website.
“The data used … takes no account of the large benefit cuts introduced by the coalition, such as the real-terms cut in child benefit, the uprating of benefits in line with CPI inflation rather than RPI, and the cuts to tax credits,” writes the Statesman‘s George Eaton.”
He also pointed out that other major cuts such as the bedroom tax, the benefit cap, and the 10 per cent cut in council tax support were introduced after April 2013 and were not included in the Coalition figures.
Once all tax and benefit changes are taken into account, the Institute for Fiscal Studies has shown that almost all families are worse off – and the Coalition also appears to have forgotten the five million low-paid workers who don’t earn enough to benefit from the increase in the personal allowance.
Skills and enterprise minister Matthew Hancock compounded the mistake in an exchange on Twitter with Jonathan Portes, director of the National Institute of Economic and Social Research (NIESR). Asked why his analysis “ignores more than four million people in work (the self-employed)”, Mr Hancock tweeted: “Analysis based on ONS ASHE survey of household earnings data”.
Wrong – as Mr Portes was quick to show: “Don’t you know the difference between household and individual earnings?”
Apparently not. ASHE (Annual Survey of Hours and Earnings) is a survey of employed individuals using their National Insurance numbers – not of households or the self-employed.
So the Coalition – and particularly the Tories – were trying to make us all feel good about the amount we earn.
That’s the distraction. What are we supposed to be ignoring?
Or is it the growing threat of a rise in interest rates, which may be triggered when official unemployment figures – which have been fiddled by increased sanctions on jobseekers, rigged reassessments of benefit claimants, a new scheme to increase the number of people and time spent on Workfare, and the fake economic upturn created by George Osborne’s housing bubble – drop to seven per cent?
It seems possible that the government – especially the Tory part of it – would want to keep people from considering the implications of an interest rate rise that is based on false figures.
As Vox Political commenter Jonathan Wilson wrote yesterday: “If the BOE bases its decisions on incorrect manipulated data that presents a false ‘good news’ analysis then potentially it could do something based on it that would have catastrophic consequences.
“For example if its unemployment rate test is reached, and wages were going up by X per cent against a Y per cent inflation rate which predicted that an interest rate rise of Z per cent would have no general effect and not impact on house prices nor significantly increase repossessions (when X per cent is over-inflated by the top 1 per cent of earners, Y per cent is unrealistically low due to, say, the 50 quid green reduction and/or shops massively discounting to inflate purchases/turnover and not profit) and when it does, instead of tapping on the breaks lightly it slams the gears into reverse while still traveling forward… repossessions go up hugely, house prices suffer a major downward re-evaluation (due to tens of thousands of repossessions hitting the auction rooms) debt rates hit the roof, people stop buying white goods and make do with last year’s iPad/phone/tv/sofa, major retail goes tits up, Amazon goes to the wall, the delivery market and post collapses… etc etc.
“And all because the government fiddled the figures.”
Perhaps Mr Cameron doesn’t want us thinking about that when we could be deodorising our breasts instead.
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The Tory Faraway Tree: By the power of very bad image editing, David Cameron, Iain (RTU) Smith and Grant Shapps have replaced the protagonists. Careful, Mr Shapps – your panties are showing! How unusual that they aren’t on fire!
Do any British readers remember what it was like to live in a country where the government respected the law, and accepted facts without making up silly little stories about them?
What an amazing place that must have been.
Sadly, we’re all trapped in Tory-Coalition purgatory for the next 19 months at least, and have to endure the relentless procession of nonsense associated with it.
Yesterday (Friday) we were provided with two glowing examples.
Firstly, the visit of the United Nations Special Rapporteur on adequate housing, Raquel Rolnik, was treated with extreme prejudice by the Tories and their poodles in the right-wing press, after she announced she would be filing an unfavourable report after investigating the effect of the bedroom tax on the British people.
Tory chairman and ‘Michael Green’ impersonator Grant Shapps then wrote to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to complain about the Special Rapporteur’s behaviour. A reply has now arrived and, rather than give it the due consideration it deserves, Shapps seems to have handed it straight to The Sun.
That newspaper reported that the UN had “slapped down” Ms Rolnik for her behaviour. Shapps himself told the paper: “People expect the UN to be neutral, yet on this occasion a former Workers Party politician came with a clear agenda” – a bizarre claim, when the letter itself creates a completely different view.
It states: “Ms Raquel Rolnik is one of 72 independent experts appointed by the United nations Human Rights Council – the lead UN body responsible for human rights – on the basis of their expertise and independence, and following a competitive selection process. As in the case of all mandate holders, Ms Rolnik serves in an independent capacity and in accordance with a Code of Conduct adopted by the Council. She is not a staff member of the United Nations, is neither accountable to nor appointed by the Secretary-General, and does not receive any compensation beyond a daily allowance when engaged in mandated activities.
“Among other activities, Special Rapporteurs are mandated to undertake country visits to assess human rights enjoyment on the ground. The United Kingdom is one of 94 Member States which has extended a standing invitation to mandate holders thus indicating that it is open to the visit of any Special Rapporteur. Country visits are governed by rules and procedures set out in the Code of Conduct referred to above and the Manual of Operations adopted by Special Procedures. Ms Rolnik’s visit was planned and organised over many months in consultation with the Government in compliance with these rules and procedures.
“As in the case of all country visits, Ms Rolnik’s visit concluded with a press conference and a press statement, provided to the Government in advance, which indicate preliminary findings and recommendations. The final report on the visit will be submitted to the Council’s twenty-fifth session which will take place in March 2014 in Geneva.”
Reading between the lines, we can piece together the gist of Shapps’ correspondence – and it’s clear that he made a lot of mistaken assumptions. Firstly, it seems likely he wrote to Ban Ki-moon demanding that Ms Rolnik be fired from her position, in the belief that she is a hired hand and that the Secretary-General can hire and fire her as he pleases, the way Tories would like to run the UK. She’s just ‘the help’ in Shapps’s eyes. He must also have made a claim about her remuneration – possibly that she receives too much money from the UN or that, as a Socialist, she must be pulling pennies out of the public purse like there’s no tomorrow. Both claims get short shrift.
Next, Shapps is likely to have reasserted his claim that “It is completely wrong and an abuse of the process for somebody to come over, to fail to meet with government ministers, to fail to meet with the department responsible.” The UN response is the same as Ms Rolnik’s own statement in her preliminary report.
And the final paragraph seems to be a response to his further claim that it was out of line “to produce a press release two weeks after coming, even though the report is not due out until next spring.”
Taken at face value, then, this is a letter that entirely supports Ms Rolnik, both in her position within the United Nations and the way she carried out her role in the UK.
But that wasn’t enough for the United Nations, whose higher echelons clearly wanted to ensure there can be no doubt about the way this – let’s face it – international incident is being viewed.
Rupert Colville, a spokesman for the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, told the Huffington Post: “The Sun‘s take on it – that ‘The United Nations has slapped down’ Ms Rolnik – is pure spin. There was no such intention whatsoever.
“In the face of a blizzard of misinformation and personal abuse of Ms Rolnik, published in one or two other UK tabloids during and immediately after her visit, the letter to Mr Shapps simply corrects the factual errors that have been asserted about her status and her role as an independent UN expert, or ‘Special Rapporteur.’
“Ms Rolnik’s visit was planned and organized over many months in consultation with the UK Government in compliance with these rules and procedures.
“As in the case of all country visits, Ms Rolnik’s visit concluded with a press conference and a press statement, provided to the Government in advance, which indicate preliminary findings and recommendations.
“The final report on the visit will be submitted to the Human Rights Council’s session next March in Geneva.
“In short, there was nothing unusual or untoward about Ms Rolnik’s visit – apart from some of the reactions to it.”
No doubt Mr Colville will have drawn his own conclusions about the current UK administration from that Sun article – conclusions that, one hopes, will be included in that final report next March.
The New Statesman reckons the Tories have an “antipathy for evidence” and presents a theory regarding why this should be so: “If all the facts are against you, your best tactic is to make stuff up and hope you can shout the other person down (changing your mind obviously not being an option).”
Alternatively, we return to V for Vendetta territory. The graphic novel’s writer, Alan Moore, referenced Enid Blyton’s novel The Magic Faraway Tree several times. For an anarchist like the story’s protagonist, the Land of Do-as-you-please would be very attractive – but here in reality, it seems the Tories think they’ve taken the ladder to that land and can do and say whatever they want – and facts don’t matter.
For more evidence of this, let’s turn to our second example: The Department for Work and Pensions and its reaction to a benefit tribunal in Scotland, who ruled against Fife Council, saying that a room of less than 70 square feet should not be considered a bedroom for the purpose of the bedroom tax. This led the council to call the tax “unworkable” and demand its reversal. Since then, a disabled gentleman has won a ruling against Westminster Council, after he claimed that a room used to store equipment that helps him manage his disability was not, and never has been, a bedroom.
In his decision notice, the judge wrote: “The term ‘bedroom’ is nowhere defined [in the relevant regulations]. I apply the ordinary English meaning. The room in question cannot be so defined.”
Perhaps we are to assume Iain Returned-To-Unit Smith believes that, having achieved one retrospective law via the normal legislative route, he can now ordain such rulings willy-nilly. He’s wrong.
His Department’s demand that “when applying the size criteria and determining whether or not a property is under-occupied, the only consideration should be the composition of the household and the number of bedrooms as designated by the landlord, but not by measuring rooms” is worthless.
If he wanted that to be the case, he should have written it into his silly little Bedroom Tax Bill (or whatever it was called).
For the moment, Shapps and RTU can get away with their bizarre pronouncements – although they can’t expect to be believed – because the Conservatives are in office.
But they won’t be in office forever.
In the meantime, let’s all keep supporting the opposers, wherever they turn up. If you are being subjected to the Bedroom Tax – appeal. And write to the UN, supporting Ms Rolnik and her findings against the tax.
You have a chance to prove that the Land of Do-as-you-please is a very small place.
And, as in the book, the return to normality involves a very, very long descent.
Employment Minister Mark Hoban: His attempt to cover up the failings of the ESA Work Capability Assessment, and his nepotistic use of a former employer to rubber-stamp the cosmetic changes, bring all politics and politicians into disrepute.
Who do you believe about the Work Capability Assessment?
Not the government, obviously.
You may have missed this – because it hasn’t been reported widely in the mass media – but a quiet row has been running for several months, concerning the collection and use of medical evidence to support applications for Employment and Support Allowance, the benefit people taking the WCA have applied to receive.
The government – whose spokesman appears to be Employment Minister Mark Hoban rather than Esther McVey, the Minister who is actually responsible for Disabled People – insists that decisions are made after consideration of all medical evidence supplied by claimants, and that they can provide further evidence during the reconsideration process or appeals.
But there is a mountain of evidence that this is a load of bunkum.
Back in 2010, an ex-military claimant, ‘Mrs S’ wrote a damning report on the service at the time. It stated: “This dangerous DWP contract offers the medical opinion of the Atos Healthcare Disability Analyst as a PRIORITY, which the DWP Decision Makers accept verbatim, so all additional specialist medical opinion of consultants, offered by the patient/claimant, is totally overlooked. Consequently, desperately ill people are now being declared fit for work because they are physically capable of collecting a pen from the floor. Patients, welfare advisors and MPs all presume that specialist medical opinion by a consultant will be accepted because they are unfamiliar with the details of the contract.
“The contract requires specialist medical opinion for several conditions… This is routinely ignored by Atos Healthcare with devastating consequences, whilst the UK government offer total support for this private company.
“Atos Healthcare doctors do not have access to a patient’s detailed medical history at the interview with the patient, as confirmed by Atos Healthcare, so one needs to question why so much detailed medical evidence is requested, which will be totally ignored?
“Atos Healthcare is totally unaccountable for all medical examinations. All usual patient safety networks in place for NHS and private healthcare do not apply and, according to the GMC and the Healthcare Commission, Atos Healthcare, as a company, ‘…have total immunity from all medical regulation.’
“There is no clinical supervision whatsoever.”
Get the picture? This situation has not changed in three years, despite the claims of Mr Hoban that he is “committed to ensuring that the Work Capability Assessment is as fair and accurate as possible”.
On Tuesday (August 13), New Statesman published details of several Atos claimants with mental health problems who – surprise, surprise – have been let down by the system.
One of these, who had previously attempted suicide, was driven to a further attempt to take her own life after receiving a string of 18 letters from a Work Programme Provider, all sent after it was advised to leave her alone for the good of her health.
“The DWP said it would not investigate the matter because [the Work Programme Provider] has its own internal complaints procedure,” the article stated, before going on to report on how that worked.
The company refuted the allegation and went on to say that it “takes its responsibilities to its customers and staff seriously. We have robust policies on safeguarding and data protection in place to ensure their privacy and safety is always maintained. With this in mind, it would be inappropriate for [us] to comment on individual any cases”.
It is clear that there is a culture of unaccountability running right through this system; the only people who bear the consequences of Work Capability assessors’ actions are the claimants themselves.
Perhaps that is why so many are dying that the DWP is now afraid to publish mortality figures for people going through the process. The suicidal person mentioned in the Statesman article would have been one more to add to the multitude, if they had succeeded in taking their own life.
This is what your votes support – a state-sponsored drive for sick or disabled people to kill themselves, rather than continue to be a burden on a Conservative-led government. Compassionate Conservatism – and this is at its most compassionate.
Let’s add in a few details. We know that the government recently lost a court battle in which it claimed that the current process was fair to people with mental health conditions. The Upper Tribunal disagreed and now the DWP is appealing against that decision – because ministers don’t want their underlings to have to consider medical information on anyone that hasn’t been gathered in the biased way ensured by the Atos Healthcare training system.
“We already request claimants supply any evidence they feel will be relevant to the assessment in the ESA50 questionnaire,” the department said in an email quoted by the Statesman.
But we already know from ‘Mrs S’ that this information is “totally overlooked”. It was in 2010 and we have no reason to believe the current situation is any different, judging from the treatment of claimants.
Now it seems claimants are finding it harder to get the expert medical evidence they need, because GPs are either refusing to hand it over, or are charging more money for it than claimants receive for their personal survival.
In southeast Wales, Bro Taf Local Medical Committee has come under fire for ordering GPs to stop providing support information to disability benefit claimants who were appealing against WCA decisions. The LMC has said its problem is not with the provision of evidence itself, but with the “increasing number of appeals [which] has resulted in more GP appointments being taken up to deal with such requests”.
Hoban said last month that he was bringing in “additional providers” to carry out assessments from summer 2014 and had already directed Atos to improve the quality of its written reports following assessments.
This will do nothing to improve matters, if the contract and the training given to the new providers is the same as that given to Atos.
And he has engaged a company to “provide independent advice in relation to strengthening quality assurance processes”. This company is PricewaterhouseCoopers, Mr Hoban’s former employer. The connection with the Minister implies an inappropriate relationship from the get-go.
Put it all together and you have an attempt to carry out business as usual, under the veil of a ham-fisted cover-up involving friends of the Minister. Anyone bothering to check the facts will see it as further evidence of the corruption that is rotting the institutions of British government with staggering rapidity under the Conservative-Liberal Democrat administration.
But there is a worse effect, which has a bearing on all politicians: Even those who accept such announcements at face value will consider this to be a failure by government. “They can’t get anything right” will be the chorus from the Great Uninterested – and the continuing furore as mistakes – and deaths – continue to take place will only reinforce the view that we should not give any politicians the time of day.
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.”
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?
“Getting them off-benefit is what we’re going to do,” yelled Iain Duncan Smith on Question Time last year. But why bother, when they can be so profitable for companies taking part in Mandatory Work Activity schemes?
“We’re going to end the ‘something-for-nothing’ culture.”
Sometimes a phrase stands out from everything else that’s said around it, launches itself at your face and forces you to confront the enormity of the lie it encapsulates. You knew this was going to end badly, the moment Iain Duncan Smith (Vox Political’s Monster of the Year, 2012, let’s not forget) opened his face and uttered the words.
He was trying to say that people on Jobseekers’ Allowance (JSA) should not expect to get the benefit without putting something back into society – totally bypassing the fact that they have either already paid towards it, via taxes paid while they were in a previous job, or they will in the future, when they manage to get a job (if such a thing is still achievable in a Tory-led UK).
This was to justify the many ‘Mandatory Work Activity’ schemes onto which jobseekers are currently being put by the thousands, and for which they are being paid only in JSA.
It was only a matter of time before someone identified the flaw in the logic, as Alex Andreou did in the New Statesman when he, rightly, wrote: “Such schemes do not end the “something for nothing culture”. They simply elevate it to the corporate level.”
How many weeks was Cait Reilly supposed to spend stacking shelves at Poundland – was it four? Let’s say four. So assuming 30 hours a week, if she had been employed on the minimum wage, she would have earned £742.80.
Instead, she would have received JSA at, what, £56.25 per week? That’s £225. From the taxpayer, not Poundland.
So Poundland, which runs more than 390 stores and whose annual profit in 2010 was £21,500,000, would have had the benefit of nearly £750 worth of work, for nothing. But the gravy train doesn’t even stop there!
Employees of all profit-making companies are taken on because they add to the firm’s profits in some way. Therefore we can assume that, as a result of a person stacking shelves at Poundland, a shopper will come along, see something the stacker has stacked, and buy it – creating a profit for the company.
How many times would this happen during a jobseeker’s four-week tenure on ‘Mandatory Work Activity’? There’s no way of knowing. Let’s apply a conservative estimate based on the standard levels of a fiscal multiplier, at the low end, and say that adds a further 60p to the value of every pound that Ms Reilly would have earned.
Total: 1,188.48 profit for Poundland.
Now multiply that by the number of people going through ‘Mandatory Work Activity’ and you’ll see how much these companies are making, courtesy of the taxpayer – because, don’t forget, working people are paying for jobseekers to make money for these firms. We know 878,000 people were put on these schemes between June 2011 and July 2012 – that comes out as 752,571 in a year, on average.
Total profit for companies using people on ‘Mandatory Work Activity’ should therefore be: £894,416,090. Nearly £1 billion.
Loss to the taxpayer: £16,933,000.*
If that isn’t enough to get you hot under the collar, consider this: The profits created for companies by ‘Mandatory Work Activity’ go to company bosses and shareholders, all of whom may be expected to be rich already. They won’t be putting that money back into the economy; they’ll be banking it. Possibly offshore.
If they had employed those jobseekers and paid them at minimum wage, that would have put £559,010,060, per year, back into the economy. These workers would have spent the money in their communities, on commodities that they needed, thus providing a valuable boost to shops and businesses that have been deprived of this support by Coalition government policies.
And the companies concerned would still have made £335,406,030. More than a third of a billion pounds – not to be sniffed at!
It’s mathematical proof of the Conservative Party’s economic incompetence. Making the rich richer and the poor poorer will ruin the country.
*This article does not include payments to Work Placement Provider companies because, not having gone through this system myself, I’m not sure whether it should be applied or not. My understanding is they would get £600 per referral, with higher figures if a jobseeker actually got a job afterwards. Can anyone confirm this is what would happen here?
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