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Every new MP receives briefing on how Tory social security reforms have harmed us – so they can’t say they don’t know

Long-term readers of This Site will remember Mo Stewart, the researcher into the harm being caused to claimants of sickness and disability benefits by successive Conservative governments’ determination to convert the social security system to a for-profit insurance scheme.

Mo spent 10 years researching and writing a book on this subject: Cash Not Care – The Planned Demolition of the UK Welfare State.

After the 2019 general election, she became concerned that the huge new influx of Conservative MPs – along with those from other political parties – were ignorant of the harm that government policies had caused.

So she wrote a briefing paper specifically addressing the issue and sent it to all of them.

Labour’s John McDonnell has apparently offered to arrange a debate on the subject, if possible.

Whether or not that happens, Mo has provided me with a copy of the document so we all have a record of what these MPs should know – and so they won’t be able to plead ignorance.

And here it is:

Social Policy Abused:
The Creation Of Preventable Harm

Executive Summary

The Preventable Harm Project (the Project) ran for ten years and closed in November 2019, with the evidence identified within the Project findings widely promoted during 2019/20. The Project identified the bipartisan political ambition to eventually remove the UK welfare state, to be replaced by private income replacement health insurance. In order to remove the welfare state, it was first necessary to remove the psychological security provided by the welfare state. This was achieved by the adoption of a flawed disability assessment model, and the manipulation of the general public aided by the tabloid press, that successfully demonised claimants of disability benefit(s). Large numbers of suicides linked to the adoption of the Work Capability Assessment are overlooked by the Department for Work and Pensions, and successive Rule 43 ‘prevention of future deaths’ Coroners’ reports, highlighting the link between the Work Capability Assessment and suicides, have also been disregarded. The Work Capability Assessment was fatally flawed by design and should be abolished, and the departmental intimidation of disability benefit claimants should be outlawed.

Introduction: The Creation of Preventable Harm

1. Introduced in 2008 to restrict access to the new Employment and Support Allowance long-term out-of-work disability benefit, the Work Capability Assessment (WCA) is a ‘non-medical functional assessment’ that disregards all clinical opinion. Since 2010, the WCA has been linked to the deaths of thousands of chronically ill and disabled benefit claimants who applied for state financial support when unable to work, yet were deemed to be ‘fit for work’ by the fatally flawed WCA.

2. Twelve years since the adoption of the WCA there is an identified and growing mental health crisis within the UK linked to claimants of disability benefit(s), and a disturbing increase in suicides directly linked to the WCA, as identified by published academic research but dismissed by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).

“The worst thing, I find, is realising that I am forced into looking for a life that I want but have no chance of having. I seriously feel I may kill myself because being sick, having next to no money, no life, no future, no cure, constant pain and constant disapproval defeats me.”

An extract from the ‘Fulfilling Potential? ESA and the fate of the Work-Related Activity Group’ project, conducted by Catherine Hale and published by MIND and the Centre for Welfare Reform.

3. In both 2006 and 2007 the government’s own expert medical panel warned the administration not to adopt the WCA, advising that it was ‘not fit for purpose’ due to the predictable negative impact on public mental health. The expert panel’s clinical opinion was disregarded by the DWP. The removal of clinical opinion from disability assessment using the WCA guaranteed that many of those in greatest need were destined to die, as the state removed the financial and the psychological security of a guaranteed income when unfit to work.

4. There have been two official Rule 43 ‘prevention of future deaths’ Coroners’ reports linking the WCA to suicides, with other Coroners expressing concern at inquests due to the identified enforced suffering of the deceased by the DWP. Coroners’ official Rule 43 reports and identified concerns are disregarded by the DWP, whose social policy reforms since 2010 created preventable harm to those in greatest need linked to intimidation. The constant threat of sanctions, which removes all disability benefit income, leaves the chronically ill and disabled community in need of state financial support living in fear of the DWP.

5. Regardless of the Jobcentre being advised that a claimant is unable to attend an interview due to ill health, disabled claimants are routinely met with an ‘institutional reluctance’ to meet their needs, as identified in Coroner’s reports. Jobcentre staff’s decisions to sanction a claimant can cause death by starvation, in C21st UK, when all income is removed for a period of weeks or months. No-one is held to account when some of those in greatest need are starved to death by the state.

6. The WCA is used to limit access to all state disability funding including the Employment and Support Allowance (ESA), Personal Independence Payment (PIP), Universal Credit and the War Pensions for older working-age disabled veterans, which is a military medical pension not an out-of-work benefit.

7. The WCA is regularly and inappropriately referred to as a ‘medical assessment’ by the DWP, MPs, academics, policy advisers and journalists. The WCA is not a medical assessment and is totally unrelated to clinical opinion. The adoption of the WCA is identified as being attributed to psychocoercion by successive administrations, to remove what once was the psychological security of the welfare state for anyone who is unfit to work.

8. Identified in 2008 by the American Association of Justice as being the second worst insurance company in America, the corporate insurance giant Unum (Provident) Insurance have been advisers to the UK government since 1992, and were appointed as the official UK government consultants for ‘welfare claims management’ from 1994. Concerned by the increase in various conditions that could not be confirmed by blood tests or x-rays, such as chronic fatigue syndrome, Unum Insurance adopted a biopsychosocial (BPS) model of disability assessment, which disregards all clinical opinion.

9. Unum advised the UK government as to how to adopt a similar BPS assessment model in the UK, and funded an assessment centre at Cardiff University for this purpose. The DWP adopted the discredited Waddell-Aylward BPS model of assessment for the WCA, which disregards diagnosis, prognosis, past medical history and prescribed medicines. The human consequences of using the WCA is that many of those in greatest need would die, with many driven to suicide with a common perception that anyone claiming to be unfit to work, and in need of state financial support, will be persecuted by the DWP. The Waddell-Aylward BPS model of assessment failed all academic scrutiny.

Policy recommendations

• Since 2009 every clinical authority in the UK have demanded that the WCA should be abolished. This includes the British Medical Association, the Royal College of General Practitioners, the Royal College of Psychiatrists, the Royal College of Nurses and the British Psychological Society. Introduced by the private health insurance industry, disregarding clinical opinion was always dangerous. The WCA is fatally flawed and should be abolished without further delay, to be replaced with a disability assessment that considers clinical opinion, with many assessments being paper-based, so that the chronically ill and disabled community are no longer intimidated by the DWP.

Research findings
• In order to remove the past psychological security provided by the welfare state it was necessary to discredit vast numbers of disability benefit claimants, aided by the tabloid press, which helped to manipulate the British public.
• Social policies were adopted with a fiscal priority whilst disregarding health and wellbeing, which policymakers failed to take into account when recommending policies which were harmful.
• Since 2010 the social policy reforms, and the additional austerity measures, were destined to have a catastrophic and often fatal consequence for many of those in greatest need. Thousands of chronically ill and disabled benefit claimants have died when ‘killed by the state,’ with a 2014 NHS Digital Adult Psychiatry Morbidity Survey report that identified that almost 50 percent of ESA disability benefit claimants had attempted suicide at some point.
• Prosecuted disability hate crimes, including murder, increased by 213 percent between 2010-2016, during the coalition government’s term in office.
• The relationship between physical health and mental health is well documented. The numbers of benefit claimants who have perished due to social policies since 2010 will never be known.
• Published in September 2016 ‘Cash Not Care: the planned demolition of the UK welfare state’ provides the results of the first six years of independent disability studies research for the Preventable Harm Project. The book is now recommended reading for various social policy, health and legal courses at universities in the UK, Australia, Canada and New Zealand.

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UK already has the highest Covid-19 death toll in the world – and it has hit a new height

You must be sick of seeing this image but this story would require as an alternative the virus represented by deaths-head skulls – and I thought that would be too depressing.

“We’re world beating!” says Boris Johnson.

How hollow those words ring.

They mean This Writer lives in the deadliest country in the world:

The UK has recorded its deadliest day from coronavirus so far, with 1,610 deaths recorded on Tuesday.

It comes as the number of new infections fell, showing early signs that lockdown restrictions are working, with confirmed coronavirus cases within 24 hours dropping to 33,355 – down from 38,598 cases on Sunday, and 37,535 on Monday.

Official data showed one in eight people in England – about 5.4 million – had already had Covid by December last year, with experts claiming the disease was “much more widespread than previously realised”.

A further 1,610 people died in the UK within 28 days of a positive Covid test, Public Health England (PHE) confirmed. This is the biggest UK figure reported in a single day since the pandemic began.

We know, now, that a huge number of deaths from Covid-19 are now being recorded beyond 28 days after a positive test, as the so-called “long Covid” makes itself felt in a big way.

And I regret I will soon be writing about a massive 46 per cent increase in care home deaths. After Johnson and his Tories vowed to protect vulnerable residents, it seems his promise was empty.

That is the grim reality.

Meanwhile, Johnson and his Tories are living in a fantasy – and trying to get you to believe in it too.

Damian Lewis, on the morning media round of UK TV and radio channels, tried to avoid the huge death toll by emphasizing the claim that the Tories have vaccinated more citizens than any other nation.

It isn’t true. Our people haven’t been vaccinated because they have had only one of two necessary shots. After the second jab they will be vaccinated – if, and only if, they have had the injection within the recommended time limit. That’s three weeks, for the Pfizer vaccine.

This issue has been picked up by the media, it seems. The Guardian report of the death toll, above, suggests that the fall in infections is due to the current (attempt at a ) lockdown, rather than to the injections.

It may well be the worst failure of any government in its duty to protect the citizens of a nation since history was first recorded. The enormity of this catastrophe cannot be overstressed.

And it happened because, instead of trying to care for the sick, the government concentrated on filling Tory pockets with public money.

Yet, even after more than a year of Covid-related incompetence, the Tories are still rated highest in political opinion polls. Are we all masochists now? Do we have a death wish?

Source: UK coronavirus death toll rises with highest daily record of 1,610 | Coronavirus | The Guardian

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England’s new lockdown means a lot more than Johnson told us

Bad hair day: but we know Johnson insisted on messing it up before his broadcast began, because he thinks it makes him look like a ‘man of the people’.

Boris Johnson is locking down England until mid-February in the hope that the new vaccinations will show their effect by then.

That’s what we can glean from his announcement on January 4.

The alternative is that he has been told to keep everybody isolated until he knows whether the vaccine will work on the new strain of Covid-19.

You won’t have gathered that from what he told us all in his televised announcement, of course. Why would he bother to tell us what’s really going on?

Instead, he concentrated on his (false) claim that this new lockdown is needed because the new Covid variant has been pushing infections – and deaths – through the roof.

We don’t know that this is true. In fact, it is more likely that his silly attempts to tinker with the isolation he has forced on us are responsible for the terrifying increases.

Last year he insisted on having the shortest possible lockdown – starting it too late and ending it too early – because (we think) he needs to keep the economy ticking over for the sake of rich industrialists who donate generously to the Conservatives.

Keir Starmer (according to the same argument) backs him up to the hilt because he is at the beck and call of his own donors.

For clarity, here are the (new) new rules, courtesy of the BBC:

  • People cannot leave their homes except for certain reasons, like the first lockdown last March
  • These include essential medical needs, food shopping, exercise and work for those who cannot do so from home
  • All schools and colleges will close to most pupils from Tuesday with remote learning until February half term
  • Early years settings such as nurseries will stay open
  • End-of-year exams will not take place this summer as normal
  • Elsewhere, university students should not return to campuses and will be taught online
  • Restaurants can continue to offer food delivery, but takeaway alcohol will be banned
  • Outdoor sports venues – such as golf courses, tennis courts and outside gyms – must close
  • But outdoor playgrounds will remain open
  • Amateur team sports are not allowed, but elite sport such as Premier League football can continue

This Writer watched his announcement and my tweeted responses (and any discussion they prompted) say everything you need to know about what he told us:

The announcement means some people in England won’t have seen family members and friends in person for nearly a year – more than a year in some cases – by the time the new lockdown ends.

Some are likely to pass away, due to completely different causes from Covid-19, before any reunions can happen. Some have already done so.

It is absolutely tragic, but we must not let the amount of noise circulating around this issue cloud our judgement.

The peril to all of us is extreme because we are being attacked by two killers:

Firstly, the very competent murderer that is being passed from hand to unwitting hand; secondly, the killer-by-incompetence who is managing to wipe us out from Downing Street.

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Is it too early to demand an investigation into the naked Covid-19 cronyism that has cost so much cash – and so many thousands of lives?

Two-fingered salute: this will be the likely response if we ask Boris Johnson politely for an inquiry into his procurement methods for Covid-19-related equipment and services.

Listen to the following video from our old friend Jeremy Corbyn:

He’s right about the cronyism. The New York Times – a US newspaper and one from a country that supports private enterprise over socialism – recently ran an article examining the phenomenon.

Its findings were an indictment against Boris Johnson and his ragtag gaggle of freeloaders, for whom the phrase, “We’re all in it together,” actually means, “Everyone for themselves!”

Under the heading Waste, negligence and cronyism: inside Britain’s pandemic spending, the paper stated: “In the desperate scramble for protective gear and other equipment, politically connected companies reaped billions.”

It began: “When the pandemic exploded in March, British officials embarked on a desperate scramble to procure the personal protective equipment, ventilators, coronavirus tests and other supplies critical to containing the surge.

“In the months following those fevered days, the government handed out thousands of contracts to fight the virus, some of them in a secretive “V.I.P. lane” to a select few companies with connections to the governing Conservative Party.”

The paper said it analyzed the roughly 1,200 central government contracts that have been made public, together worth nearly $22 billion (£16.28 billion):

About $11 billion [£8.14 billion] went to companies either run by friends and associates of politicians in the Conservative Party, or with no prior experience or a history of controversy.

Meanwhile, smaller firms without political clout got nowhere.

It said the procurement system was cobbled together during a meeting of anxious bureaucrats in late March, and a wealthy former investment banker and Conservative Party grandee, Paul Deighton, who sits in the House of Lords, was later tapped to act as the government’s czar for personal protective equipment.

Eight months on, Lord Deighton has helped the government award billions of dollars in contracts –– including hundreds of millions to several companies where he has financial interests or personal connections.

It looks like we should start making a list of names in advance of a future corruption inquiry, and this Lord Deighton should be at the top of it!*

That’s if we ever get all the information…

Citing the urgency of the pandemic, the government cast aside the usual transparency rules and awarded contracts worth billions of dollars without competitive bidding. To date, just over half of all of the contracts awarded in the first seven months remain concealed from the public

The paper mentions some of the firms with Tory connections that received funding:

Uniserve Group: Awarded $1 billion in PPE contracts, the company is among the biggest winners. Its founder is an adviser to a pro-Brexit think tank panel chaired by two prominent government ministers.**

Randox Laboratories: Awarded $646 million in testing contracts. Owen Paterson, a government minister [and another name for our list], is a paid consultant for the firm.**

Deloitte: Awarded a contract to consult on PPE procurement retrospectively and without competition. The company has made non-cash donations to the Conservative Party and others.**

Around $6 billion went to companies that had no prior experience in supplying medical personal protective equipment. Fashion designers, pest controllers and jewelers won lucrative contracts.

PPE Medpro: This company won its first contract barely three weeks after it was set up. It went on to win nearly $274 million in PPE contracts.**

Ocean Footprint: The marine equipment supplier was awarded a $7 million contract without having any prior experience in supplying medical PPE.**

PestFix: The pest control supply firm won more than $470 million in PPE contracts. It supplied 600,000 face masks that could not be used for their original purpose.**

More than $5 billion was awarded to companies with histories of controversy, from tax evasion and fraud to corruption and human rights abuses.

KPMG: Its UK arm recently faced a negligence lawsuit over alleged accounting failures linked to the collapse of outsourcing giant Carillion.**

Serco: Awarded $285 million for testing and contact tracing. The company admitted… defrauding the government and paid a $30 million fine in 2013.**

Honeywell: Embroiled in two global bribery probes. The UK PPE czar is a shareholder.**

All of the companies named by the NYT have denied wrongdoing, and there is no evidence to suggest that government officials were engaged in illegal conduct.

But there is ample evidence of cronyism, waste and poor due diligence. Some of it has been documented by the British media, but the scale of the problem is wider than previously known.

Officials ignored or missed many red flags. Dozens of companies that won a total of $3.6 billion in contracts had poor credit, and several had declared assets of just $2 or $3 each. Others had histories of fraud, human rights abuses, tax evasion or other serious controversies. A few were set up on the spur of the moment or had no relevant experience — and still won contracts.

The paper contacted the Department of Health and Social Care, which led the Tory government’s pandemic procurement. In denial of all the evidence, a spokesperson said that “proper due diligence” was carried out for all contracts.

How can it have been?

Did this person mean that they ran all the necessary checks, saw the information that showed the firms were not suitable to receive these huge contracts (and this huge responsibility), and handed over the cash anyway?

If so, then the government was negligent. Considering the system as described here, this seems likely:

Junior staffers reviewed thousands of proposals and passed on a chosen few to their bosses, who often had only a day to sign off on contracts, according to a government official involved in the process. Some businesses said they were left waiting months as their proposals went unanswered. Others said it was difficult to keep up with what the government wanted, with safety specifications sometimes changing after deliveries had already been made.

Normally, companies would bid on individual contracts with requirements published in advance. But given the government’s frenzied need for supplies, most companies simply submitted broad proposals through a government website. Government officials then decided yes or no, or in some cases approached companies themselves.

The race to procure PPE – Personal Protective Equipment – is a very clear example (and a sore point for the government).

The necessity to have such equipment easily available in readiness for the arrival of a pandemic infection like Covid-19 was highlighted by Exercise Cygnus in 2016 – the Tory government’s own simulation of the effect of a pandemic on the UK which predicted that the NHS would collapse due to lack of resources – and by top medical journal The Lancet, which published a direct warning to Boris Johnson that he needed to secure “supply chains of pharmaceuticals, personal protective equipment, hospital supplies and the necessary human resources” on January 24.

Johnson ignored the warnings. In fact,

Ministers could have avoided the panicked spending spree, critics said, had they not ignored their own pandemic preparedness plan and sold off stocks of P.P.E. from rainy-day reserves in the first three months of the year.

So the government’s claim that

the huge global demand for P.P.E. had created “a highly competitive market” and that it used “the quickest and most accessible routes” to buy protective gear

appears to be nonsense.

Having given way his own supply of PPE, Johnson then had to scrabble to buy some back. You can bet he had to spend more doing this than he raised from the sale, too – those are the laws of supply and demand and as a Tory, he should have known such things. But his people’s behaviour was actually worse:

In choosing speed over due diligence, however, ministers squandered millions on “unsuitable” items, including some that did not meet safety standards, according to the National Audit Office.

The government said that only a tiny portion of the supplies, 0.5 percent, had been found unfit for their intended uses.

Yes, but then the government said it followed due diligence in awarding contracts to unsuitable firms as well, so its people are hardly to be trusted.

The VIP lane

As if the above information wasn’t bad enough, Matt Hancock (another name for our list) secretly authorised a so-called “VIP lane” for favoured companies to win procurement contracts, in April.

These firms

proved to be 10 times more likely to win contracts than those outside that group, according to the National Audit Office.

The government did not carry out systematic company checks, including for potential conflicts of interest, until it had already spent nearly $2 billion, auditors found. Officials did not always document who recommended a company or why it was awarded a contract.

This site has already documented the story of Ayanda Capital. Awarded $340 million (£251.6 million) to supply personal protective equipment, it eventually delivered 50 million masks worth more than $200 million (£148 million) that could not be used for their original purpose, because the ear loop fastenings did not match the government’s new requirements.

One of the firm’s senior board advisers was Andrew Mills (another name for our list) who also worked on the government’s Board of Trade, meaning there was a clear conflict of interest even though we don’t know what part he played in the awarding of the contract, if any.

Ayanda has said the masks met all the government’s requirements when the order was placed and – considering the evidence that requirements were likely to change after contracts were signed – it is entirely possible that this is true. It is the fault of Boris Johnson and his government that this process failed. They chose to employ firms that were unable to provide the equipment that was needed.

Meanwhile,

many companies and business people, often better qualified to produce P.P.E. but lacking political connections, had no access to the V.I.P. lane. Multibrands International, a British manufacturer that had been producing P.P.E. for China since December, was among them. Its owner, Rizwana Hussain, spent months trying to reach government officials through public channels.

Ms. Hussain had offered to supply the government starting in March, her emails show. She was still at it in early May when news broke that 400,000 protective gowns that the government ordered from Turkey had proved to be unusable. “I was so upset thinking, ‘Why are we listening to these disastrous happenings when we’re here and are offering our help?’” Ms. Hussain said.

She said that although her company could produce large quantities of P.P.E. at its factories in China and India, she never heard back from the government.

Government officials said the high-priority lane was set up to efficiently prioritize credible offers of PPE for the National Health Service, and that all proposals, whatever channel they went through, were assessed by the same standards. Does anybody really believe that?

But they have not released the names of the nearly 500 companies that made the V.I.P. list., fuelling questions of cronyism.

It seems clear there is enough evidence here – or lack of it, in many instances – to justify an inquiry. This Writer, being a lay person, is unsure what form such an investigation should take. Judicial review? Public inquiry? Perhaps somebody with more specialised knowledge could let us know.

We already know that Johnson will try to brush this scandal under the carpet (his carpets must be bulging with the amount of mess he has hidden beneath them).

It is our responsibility to ensure that he doesn’t get away with it.

*The New York Times had quite a lot to say about Lord Deighton:

Two of the contracts linked to Lord Deighton were P.P.E.-related. One, for $78 million, was awarded to Honeywell Safety Products, a subsidiary of Honeywell International, a company he holds shares in.

Lord Deighton is also a shareholder of AstraZeneca, the British pharmaceutical company that is developing a vaccine with Oxford University, and was awarded $205 million for test services.

He also holds shares in the consulting firm Accenture, which was awarded a $5.6 million contract to help develop England’s ill-fated contact tracing app and detect fraud in procurement. Another company he has a stake in, UBS, won $770,000.

Neither Lord Deighton nor the companies would divulge the size of his share holdings.

A $406,000 contract was awarded to a consulting firm, Chanzo, to help set up and run the P.P.E. procurement system, including providing a chief of staff for Lord Deighton.

Chanzo’s founder and chief executive, Jean Tomlin, is a long-time business associate of Lord Deighton, and worked with him on the Olympic committee. Ms. Tomlin is also a fellow director at Hakluyt, a corporate intelligence firm founded by former British intelligence officers, which Lord Deighton chairs.

Lady Alison Deighton, his wife, is a former director of N.M. Rothschild, which won a $770,000 contract for consulting services. Another consulting contract of the same value went to Moelis & Company, an investment bank where one senior adviser and Labour peer, Lord Charles Allen, was also on the Olympic committee board with Lord Deighton.

** The article also provides the following information on the companies it names:

PestFix said it had repurposed its business during the pandemic to supply medical P.P.E. and said the government changed its specifications after it had supplied the face masks. PPE Medpro said that it was awarded contracts based on the considerable experience and expertise of its staff. Uniserve Group said that its director had no connections to the Conservative government. Deloitte said that its U.K. arm does not give cash contributions to political parties. Ocean Footprint said it had previously sold masks to the boat-building industry. Serco said that it “took significant steps to reform itself” after the 2013 fraud scandal. Randox Laboratories did not respond to questions and Owen Paterson declined to comment. All other companies mentioned in the article either declined to comment or did not respond to questions.

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New Covid threat – but government sticks to advice over Christmas ‘bubbles’

Not a Christmas decoration: but the fear is that people will be letting Covid-19 into their homes – possibly a new, more virulent strain – when families come together under restriction relaxations that are still being permitted by the government.

Boris Johnson’s Tory government is sticking to its advice about the five-day ‘bubbles’ into which families will be allowed to go while they celebrate Christmas.

But ministers are warning that people should do “the minimum that is possible” over the festive period.

What the hell does that mean?

Meanwhile, new threats are arising with the discovery of a new strain of the Coronavirus, most heavily concentrated in London and the South East.

Is it a coincidence that London and parts of Essex and Hertfordshire are going into Tier 3 restrictions from midnight today (December 15-16)?

The number of cases of the virus there has been found to have risen, even while cases elsewhere were falling during the English lockdown in November.

Up to three households will be permitted to meet – in ‘bubbles’ – for five days over Christmas. But the government is saying people will have to make their own judgements about the amount of contact they have.

And the matter will be kept under review.

The discovery of the new strain of the virus was announced by Death Health Secretary Matt Hancock:

He seems to think that although it is faster-spreading, it is no more harmful than the established strain and he expects the current vaccine to be effective against it.

Those are very large assumptions.

And there are concerns that ministers are divorced from the realities of the situation.

Guardian leader article has warned that the government’s attitude to schools shows a failure to understand the ongoing threat:

Just last week the schools minister, Nick Gibb, wrote to the headteacher of a school in Ware, Hertfordshire, warning that the government could use its powers under the Coronavirus Act to prevent schools such as his from carrying out plans to send most pupils home before the end of term and switch to remote learning.

In a similar vein, suggestions from unions that schools might operate remotely at the start of next term, in order to decrease the chances that contacts over the festive period could lead to a spike in infections, were rebuffed.

Yet school leaders, and councils including Greenwich, that have asked headteachers to switch to remote learning for the final few days of term, appear more in touch than ministers with the realities – and risks – of the situation they have created, by promising the public that get-togethers of up to three families could go ahead over the festive period.

It remains unclear how Boris Johnson and his cabinet became convinced that closing schools for just the usual fortnight could be considered compatible with a plan to relax the pandemic restrictions below even the tier 1 level, under which gatherings of people who do not live together, and are not part of the same support bubble, are limited to six.

Throughout the Covid crisis, Hancock, his boss Boris Johnson, and their minions have been wrong – on an epic scale that has cost tens of thousands of lives.

They claimed their decisions were “based on the science” when in fact the underlying motive was the maintenance of a national economy that has been harmed more by their poor leadership than by the virus itself.

Now they stand poised to make another terrible mistake – and to make the rest of us pay the cost. Again.

Source: Covid: ‘Do minimum possible’ over Christmas, says UK minister | World news | The Guardian

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Will new inquest into death of ESA claimant Jodey Whiting show failure of DWP safeguarding?

Jodey Whiting, 42, took her own life after her benefits were stopped.

Permission for a new inquest into the death of ESA claimant Jodey Whiting has been granted amid concern that a government department’s role in it had been covered up.

Here is the announcement from solicitors Leigh Day:

“The family of Jodey Whiting has been granted permission to apply to the High Court for a fresh inquest into her death after new evidence was submitted about the effect on her of a Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) decision to halt the benefits on which she was entirely dependent.

“Jodey’s mother, Joy Dove, was granted permission by the office of the Attorney General following her submission that the original inquest into her daughter’s death was insufficient. The new evidence she submitted in support of her application included an investigation into the handling of Jodey’s benefits by the DWP and a report from an independent psychiatrist.

“Jodey, from Stockton-on-Tees, died aged 42 on 21 February, 2017. She took her own life three days after she received her last Employment Support Allowance (ESA) payment.

“She had been informed on 6 February that the payments would stop and the associated housing benefit and council tax benefit payments would also be stopped.

“The decision to halt the payments was made because following a reassessment of Jodey’s entitlement to ESA, begun in 2016, she had failed to attend a work capability assessment (WCA).

“However, Jodey had requested a home visit for the WCA as she rarely left the house because of her severely poor health. She suffered multiple physical and mental health difficulties, took 23 tablets a day and was entirely dependent on welfare benefits.

“She had made in clear in her request for a home WCA that she had “suicidal thoughts a lot of the time and could not cope with work or looking for work”.

“The request was refused, the WCA was set for a date in January, and Jodey did not attend.

“After Jodey’s death, an inquest was held three months later, 24 May, 2017, which lasted less than an hour.

“The coroner declined to consider the potential role of the DWP and their acts or omissions in Jodey’s death.

“Jodey’s family were unrepresented and were unaware that they may have been entitled to publicly funded legal representation.

“After the inquest a report by an Independent Case Examiner concluded that the DWP had made multiple significant errors in how it treated Jodey.

“Some of the failings had not been known to Jodey’s family, who were horrified to learn how many failings had occurred in the handling of Jodey’s benefits.

“The opinion of an independent Consultant psychiatrist, sought by Jodey’s family,  confirmed that the DWP’s failings would probably have had a substantial effect on Jodey’s mental state at the time she took her own life.

“Joy argues that the manner in which Jodey was treated by the DWP, and in particular the withdrawal of her ESA, caused or materially contributed to her death and that, had this not occurred, Jodey’s death would not have occurred when it did.

“Following the letter giving her permission to apply for a new inquest into Jodey’s death, Joy said: “What a relief to be granted permission for a new inquest into Jodey’s death. It has been a nightmare but I want to thank the hard work of Merry Varney and all the team at Leigh Day and everyone who has been helping me with the Justice for Jodey campaign. This is a big step forward.

““I love my daughter so much and this should never have happened. How could they say she was fit to work? What they put her through was terrible, but I hope that this will mean that Jodey has saved others from the same nightmare.”

“Joy is represented by Leigh Day partner Merry Varney, who added: “The Attorney-General’s decision is very welcome. It is the first completed step in the long journey by Jodey’s family to seek a full and fearless investigation into whether the DWP, and its flawed decision making regarding Jodey’s benefits claim, caused or contributed to her death.

“”We must now apply to the High Court and seek to persuade the Court a fresh inquest is necessary.”

“The application for a new inquest will be made to the High Court within the next 6 weeks and a final hearing may take place by summer, 2021.”

This Site has been covering this case since June 2017 and will report further developments as and when they become available.

Source: Jodey Whiting’s Family Given Permission To Apply For Second Inquest Into Her Death | Leigh Day

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PMQs: Starmer misses Johnson’s gaping-open goal, allowing the Tory to make a fool of him

Johnson and Starmer: we have a PM for whom the initials more appropriately refer to him as a Performing Monkey, but the ‘forensic’ former Attorney General is incapable of beating him, despite his incompetence.

Keir Starmer’s protestations of support for Tory government anti-Covid policies came back to bite him on the arse in Prime Minister’s Questions.

Two weeks after supporting the government in its decision to close pubs at 10pm, Starmer u-turned, demanding an explanation of the science behind it. He gave Johnson a perfect opportunity to land a knockout blow – and launch a new anti-Labour soundbite:

I was dismayed:

Sadly, that was the way of it for the whole of this week’s PMQs – as I had feared at the outset:

Look at the rest of my commentary on the confrontation:

He didn’t. But Johnson picked up on that failure and it led to the knockout later on.

As I write this, Jo Coburn on the BBC’s Politics Live is suggesting to Labour’s Stephen Doughty that Starmer wrote Johnson “a blank cheque” by offering his support “whatever restrictions are in place”.

That failure – that lack of closure – seems to have given Johnson the confidence to launch his own attack.

I could have done better:

Starmer is under attack at the moment, for his failures to lead an effective Opposition against the Johnson government.

On Twitter, the general public are at each other’s throats with many attacking him under the #StarmerOut hashtag, while others have tried to subvert that with an opposing line, #StarmerOutstanding.

In the real world, the union Unite has withdrawn 10 per cent of its funding because Starmer “isn’t listening” on matters of major importance (I’ll make more of this in a separate article).

If he can’t respond to these criticisms – as he failed to protect himself from Johnson soundbiting him into shreds – then he must seriously reconsider his position.

He is leading Labour into irrelevance.

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#ANewSlogan for #Labour and #KeirStarmer – but it’s the same old #NewLabour underneath

Empty: Keir Starmer’s slogans are as empty as the promises in the 10 pledges he made when he was trying to be elected Labour leader (he has broken nine of them already).

Keir Starmer isn’t fooling anyone with his new empty slogan.

On the eve of Labour Connected – the party’s virtual conference, he’s replacing the previous empty slogan, “Under New Management” with one making the unlikely claim that he and his party are “A New Leadership”.

The problem is, neither Keir Starmer nor Labour under him have provided any leadership at all.

What are his achievements to date? Hmm…

Approving Boris Johnson’s disastrous Covid-19 strategy.

Agreeing with Boris Johnson that schools should open in September.

Paying off a gang of media-savvy ex-Labour apparatchiks before they could take the party into a court case that Labour was expected to win.

If that is leadership then Boris Johnson is the world’s greatest statesman (ha ha)!

Iain Watson of the BBC reckons the slogan has a lot of work to do:

First, it is designed to contrast favourably with Boris Johnson’s leadership – and build on Sir Keir’s sustained attempt to portray the current government as lacking competence.

Second, it dovetails with Labour’s plan to “introduce” Sir Keir to the country.

Third, it will be deployed to try to eliminate a negative.

While he may not have been fully introduced to the electorate, the good news for Sir Keir Starmer is that his personal ratings are positive.

The bad news for Starmer is that while he has made a relatively positive impression since becoming Labour leader in March, the party has been lagging behind the Conservatives in most polls.

The aim now is to bring the party’s standing closer to Starmer’s.

That’s a lot of work for a three-word falsehood to do.

If you visit the BBC story, you’ll see that among the illustrations is one of Tony Blair unveiling his slogan, “New Labour, New Britain” back in 1994.

They were empty words. New Labour, we soon discovered, was just a continuation of old Tory neoliberalism. Margaret Thatcher later described it as her greatest achievement.

I mention this because there seems to be a clear progression in Starmer’s slogans.

Could it be that he is marching with ponderous predictability, from “Under New Management”, through “A New Leadership”…

… back to “New Labour”?

Source: Labour Party: Starmer aims to build trust with ‘new leadership’ slogan – BBC News

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The Scottish Tories have a new leader – but he seems to be both confused … and prejudiced

New Scottish Conservatives’ leader Douglas Ross – in what seems to be the role he prefers.

The Scottish Conservatives have a new leader – Douglas Ross, who was elected unopposed by party members.

This seems a very odd thing for them to do.

Consider the evidence in the video below – which I know was created by a supporter of the SNP. Try to ignore the party political message and concentrate on what this says about the person:

The ‘dark money’ claim seems accurate, as the Scottish Unionist Association Trust did support Ross, and did not declare donations and contributions to political campaigns properly to the Electoral Commission. As a result, SUAT was fined £1,300.

His voting record speaks for itself and seems extremely, traditionally, Tory – supporting central government, hammering the NHS and minorities.

But he seems confused: his discussion of rural broadband, ATM closures and unfair postal charges challenged his own party directly, and his votes against equal marriage and equal gay rights ran against party policy.

Also, his claim that refereeing football matches would not interfere with his Parliamentary responsibilities – and his subsequent trip to Barcelona instead of voting on a Welfare Bill – is well-documented.

Let’s look a little closer at his attitude to travellers:

Tom London’s point is a good one. He doesn’t want tougher enforcement against a particular aspect of travellers’ behaviour that the public may find objectionable; he just wants enforcement against them because they are travellers.

So it is right to ask how people would have felt if Ross had been speaking about Jews, Blacks, Muslims, gay people or any other minority group.

And this is the Scottish Tory choice as leader of their party…

A man who opposes his party as much as he supports it, with a reputation for prejudice against a minority group for no reason other than that it exists, and who prefers to run off and referee football matches rather than representing his electorate.

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Yes, it is more ‘meal deal’ than ‘new deal’ – but Sunak’s summer statement isn’t ALL bad

Rishi Sunak: his job could be hanging on the result of this plan. Shame it has already been sabotaged by his boss Boris Johnson.

It didn’t matter what Rishi Sunak was going to say in his summer statement because Boris Johnson, Matt Hancock and the other Tories had already sabotaged it.

Sunak’s objective is to save jobs while the UK works through the post-Covid recession, but his problem is that his colleagues’ insistence on easing lockdown means the Coronavirus isn’t over yet – no matter what Johnson says.

In this nation of shopkeepers (as Napoleon had it), if we want to keep people in their jobs, we need to keep spending money into – and through – the economy. That means going out and paying for things.

But the number of new infections in the UK is high – and will remain so, while Johnson insists on helping the virus infect other people by opening pubs, schools, and whatever else he’s planning next.

That means people are going to be reluctant to resume normal patterns of social consumption.

It’s going to be difficult in the extreme to restore confidence after these Tory blunders. After schools and pubs, Johnson can claim it is our social duty to go back out and spend until he is redder in the face than the gammons he represents, but the public will only hear him telling us to go out, catch the virus and die.

That’s the second hurdle that Sunak faces; thanks to Johnson, public trust in the claims of politicians is at an all-time low, being worsened all the time by his insistence on lying whenever the mood takes him and refusing to apologise when his lies are exposed.

So the ending of the furlough scheme in October is directly counter-productive; watch the number of redundancies increase when that month comes round and try to tell me I’m wrong.

The offer of a £1,000 “jobs retention bonus” is likely to fall similarly flat. The conditions are that employees must be carrying out proper work, and be paid at least £520 per month – the lower limit of National Insurance payment – and it seems unlikely that many employers will be able to manage this.

Similarly, the VAT cut from 20 per cent to just five per cent to help out restaurants, pubs, cafes, B&Bs, hotels, theme parks and cinemas may only have limited success. Who’s going to go, if there’s a chance they’ll catch a fatal disease?

Sector-specific stimuli such as this are a good idea – don’t get me wrong – and this would work if the number of Covid infections was much lower than it is (in England, at least) – and if more people were interested in wearing face masks, perhaps (how would that work, when they’re eating food?) – but as I’ve already mentioned, Johnson has put a stop to that with his ridiculous blunderings.

And the already-infamous “meal deal” voucher, offering 50 per cent of the cost of meals for everybody eating out between Monday and Wednesday, throughout August, may go hungry for customers. Here’s the reason:

On the other hand, raising the threshold for stamp duty from £125,000 to £500,000 might conceivably be a good idea, if it stimulates construction work as people are encouraged to buy new homes.

Possibly best of all the measures laid out in the statement was a scheme to create jobs for young people, subsidising six-month work placements for people aged 16-24.

If this is used to re-skill the workforce – actually preparing the UK for future opportunities – then it has enormous merit.

But I can see employers using it as a cheap alternative to the workers they already have. Why take just £1,000 over three months to keep on your current workforce when the Tories will give you a teenager for twice as long and pay all of their costs?

So my initial verdict is that this is final proof of the Conservative government’s economic illiteracy; they really couldn’t run a p***-up in a brewery.

But it would be wrong to pre-judge a plan that hasn’t gone into practice yet.

The sad part is that this may break Sunak but Johnson will laugh it off, no matter how disastrous the result.

Source: Coronavirus: Chancellor Rishi Sunak unveils £30bn plan to save jobs – BBC News

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