The controversial Scots comedian Frankie Boyle was interviewed last year at the Guardian’s International Television Festival last year by Pointless’s Richard Osman. The interview was a review of the state of television. And Boyle made it very clear that he though British television was being held back by the desire of TV commissioning editors to remain safe. Boyle made it very clear that class attitudes were very definitely a part of this.
The article is quite lengthy, and all of it is worth reading – but you should visit Beastrabban\’s Weblog to do so. The part to which the headline refers runs as follows:
Boyle gave the murderous campaign of Cameron against the disabled. He said outright that Cameron had killed at least 2,200 people ‘bottom line’ through Atos and the fit for work test. But he was never challenged. [Richard] Osman raised the topic of the Channel 4 conspiracy drama, Utopia, as an example of television tackling difficult topics. Boyle stated in his usual forthright terms that the show was rubbish. It was based very much on the type of comics produced by Alan Moore and his ilk. However, Channel 4 had taken all the good material out of it. If they were really determined to produce quality television, they’d hire Alan Moore and co. Instead Channel 4 produced endless programmes genuinely exploiting deformity and sneering at the working class, explicitly mentioning Benefits Street.
Here’s the YouTube recording of the interview. Warning: Boyle’s language is at times very coarse, and the jokes about Katie Price and Rebecca Adlington may be offensive.
Bad education; bad government: Another attempt at explaining the benefits system to Mark Hoban fails, despite using really BIG writing.
This is the last article in the quartet about private organisations carrying out public duties – and the government ministers who employ them – focusing on what happens when things go wrong.
(This was delayed from yesterday because yr obdt svnt developed a splitting headache. It seems that a trip to the gym and a three-hour drive, taking a sick neighbour to get help, isn’t conducive to writing four articles in a day!)
It should be noted that, in some cases, the error is clear and a logical solution is enacted. For example, when G4S completely failed to carry out its security responsibilities at the London Olympics last year, the government cancelled the company’s contract and called in the Army to sort out the mess. This wasn’t a perfect solution as it meant leave was cancelled for many squaddies and officers, but it did at least allow the Olympics to go ahead with a reasonable amount of security.
On the other hand, we have the current situation with the DWP, Atos and the work capability assessment.
“DWP is to bring in additional providers to carry out assessments,” yesterday’s press release announced under the headline Hoban – taking action to improve the Work Capability Assessment.
The possibility that the Work Capability Assessment may be improved might fill the casual reader with joy, but the problem – for those of us in the know – is that Mark Hoban’s name is attached to it. This is a man who has admitted that he does not understand the benefit system. Why is he still being allowed to meddle with it?
Read down the release and it turns out that the government does indeed want to change the WCA – but not in any way that is meaningful to us. It seems that the paperwork accompanying decisions isn’t sufficiently robust for the Department for Work and Pensions. It seems likely Mr Hoban’s problem is that this might make it possible for more people to succeed in appeals against decisions.
The real problem is that the Work Capability Assessment regime is fatal for many thousands of people, of course. This government isn’t interested in that at all. It appears that Mr Hoban and his associates are happy to let the deaths continue – for them the main issue is that they don’t have to pay back any money to successful appellants.
The details are in the ‘more information’ section of the press release: “In April/May 2013 the DWP carried out an urgent audit of around 400 reports, following concerns raised from a previous smaller audit. This covered cases audited by Atos between October 2012 and March 2013.
“The quality of the reports produced by Atos following an assessment are graded A-C and the audit demonstrated that the number of C-grade reports was around 41 per cent between October 2012 and March 2013.”
Crucially: “A ‘C’ grade report does not mean the assessment was wrong, and the recommendation given in a ‘C’ grade report may well be correct, but, for example, their reasoning for reaching that recommendation may lack the level of detail demanded by the DWP.”
In other words, the reason provided for reaching a decision is unlikely to be strong enough to sway an appeal tribunal.
The press release says: “The Minister also announced that he has already directed Atos Healthcare to put in place a quality improvement plan following… an unacceptable reduction in the quality of written reports produced following assessments.
“Measures include retraining and re-evaluating all Atos healthcare professionals, with those not meeting the required standard continuing to have all of their work audited until they do, or have their approval to carry out assessments withdrawn by the department.”
We know from the Channel 4 Dispatches documentary last year that Atos assessors are ‘audited’ if they don’t meet their targets, which are to put around 12-13 per cent of claimants into the support group, marking around 70 per cent fit for work and putting the rest in the work-related activity group for Employment and Support Allowance (ESA).
Could it be that the Atos employees have started to lose faith in the process? Maybe they’ve seen the death figures that are being kept from the general public and have started to question whether they are doing the right thing?
In that case, what would a government do, if it wanted to continue wheeling the disabled into the charnel house? Would it not take steps to weed out the dissenters and employ other organisations to carry on the work – until such time as they too develop a moral backbone?
“I am committed to ensuring the Work Capability Assessment process is as fair and accurate as possible, with the right checks and balances to ensure the right decision is reached,” Mr Hoban is quoted as saying. For him, of course, the right decisions involve putting claimants into the three categories, in roughly the proportions described above.
“Where our audits identify any drop in quality, we act decisively to ensure providers meet our exacting quality standards.” Note that he does not define these standards. Is he hoping you make a false assumption about what they may be?
“Since 2010 we have made considerable improvements to the system we inherited from the previous government.” Perverted an already-poor scheme to suit a more sinister purpose.
“However, it’s vital we continue to improve the service to claimants, which is why we are introducing new providers to increase capacity.” To claimants? But… claimants have had no input into this process. It was a government audit that led to these changes; claimants’ wishes are routinely ignored.
“The DWP has also engaged PricewaterhouseCoopers to provide independent advice in relation to strengthening quality assurance processes across all its health and disability assessments.” Meaningless to those concerned for the safety of people being put through the process.
“Atos Healthcare have also brought in a third party to assess the quality of their audit and make recommendations for improvements.” Meaningless to those concerned for the safety of people being put through the process.
“The WCA process has a number of checks and balances built in to ensure the right decision is reached. These include:
“DWP Decision Makers making the final decision on claimants’ benefit entitlement. Decision Makers can – and do – reach different decisions to those recommended to them by the assessments when all the supporting information is taken into account.” The decision is changed in – what – less than 10 per cent of cases?
“Claimants who disagree with the outcome of their WCA can provide more medical evidence and ask the DWP to reconsider the decision.” The DWP can take as long as it wants reconsidering the decision, while the claimant’s benefits are suspended and they are left with no means of support.
“A claimant who disagrees with their decision can also appeal to an independent tribunal, and before any appeal the original decision is looked at again by another DWP Decision Maker.” Is this accurate? Is not more accurate to say the claimant can only appeal after going through the reconsideration process?
“This change in approach for contracting providers to carry out the assessments to be delivered on a regional basis is likely to be fully operational from summer 2014 and will provide extra capacity to help tackle waiting times,” the release continued.
Extra capacity – and in the run-up to the general election in 2015. Didn’t Hitler try to push more Jews into the gas chambers when he knew he was running out of time?
Not the right kind of tree-hugger: This is an artist’s impression of what Jeremy Hunt looked like, hiding behind a tree to avoid being seen going to a meeting with Rupert Murdoch.
It is not a good time to be Jeremy Hunt.
“When is?” I hear you cry. Fair point. The reactions of the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh certainly seem to have put the Health Secretary in a state.
He was at a smart Buckingham Palace event, arranged to thank everyone involved in the Diamond Jubilee celebrations, which took place while he was Culture Secretary. He decided this was the moment to put his greatest talent on display.
Clearly, it wasn’t his wit. No, I refer to his talent for making a faux pas – or, in English, a bloody fool of himself.
“I read about a Japanese tourist who said afterwards how wonderful our Queen must be to take part in that, as they would never get their emperor to jump out of the plane,” he told Her Majesty. Faced with an irrelevant comment about a completely different event, she paused, smiled politely, shrugged, and moved on.
Then the Duke of Edinburgh turned up. You may remember he had quite a rough time during the Diamond Jubilee, contracting an infection that hospitalised him for several days. As a result, he probably saw most of it on TV but – clearly – the then-Culture Secretary hadn’t made the slightest impression on him as the first thing he said was, “Who are you?”
Hunt managed to spit out some information about his current job, and that he was Culture Secretary during the Diamond Jubilee and the Olympics, only to have the Duke respond: “Well they do move you people on a lot.”
We are led to believe Mr Hunt was embarrassed by the whole episode. What makes it worse is that he might have gained a bit more recognition if he had mentioned some of the other public disasters in which he has been involved.
Ask not for whom the bell tolls: Mr Hunt’s bell-end landed in a passing lady’s lap. Oh dear.
Perhaps he should have said, “I’m the fool who went ringing a bell to announce the start of the Olympics, only to have the end fall off and hit a passing lady in the lap”?
Or: “I’m the twit who arrived at a meeting with Rupert Murdoch – a gentleman with whom I have long-standing ties, even though he’s being investigated by an official inquiry ordered by my government – but, finding a multitude of press photographers there and not wanting to be seen publicly with the head of NewsCorp… hid behind a tree. One that was too narrow to stop them from spotting me.”
At least he had the good taste not to mention the moment when James Naughtie mispronounced his surname, live on national radio. The use of the C-word would have been beyond the pale.
(Although, it might have won him the recognition he wanted from the Duke).
Perhaps David Cameron would have been better off introducing into his Cabinet some faces that were more recognisable?
Iain Duncan Smith has been crowing about the private sector after the official unemployment figure dropped from 8.2 to 8 per cent of the workforce.
He reckons we should take our hats off to private sector employers for providing the new work. Well he would, wouldn’t he?
His attitude conforms with the narrative the Tories have been trying to build since 2010, that the private sector would rush in to fill the jobs gap left behind after the Coalition cut the public sector to ribbons – providing decent, gainful employment for the masses.
That story went straight into the circular file when the economy flatlined, right after George Osborne took charge – and resurrecting it now seems a desperate act, especially in the light of the facts.
Firstly, the Olympics have distorted the figures. We don’t know how many employers took on extra hands in advance of the games, so we don’t know how many of those jobs will go again, now that the major event is over. We do know that businesses suffered losses during the games because an expected influx of consumers did not materialise; how will that affect future figures?
Second, the number of people working part-time because they cannot find a full-time job hit a record high of 1.42 million – the most since records began in 1992.
Third, the unemployment rate actually rose in around half of the British regions. This supports the claim that the Olympics distorted the figures, and points to a continuing downward trend.
Finally, if Mr Smith wants a more accurate monitor of unemployment, he should look at the suicide rate – according to a new report by the British Medical Journal.
It found that the suicide rate among men rose by 1.4 per cent for every 10 per cent increase in unemployment. This means that between 2008-2010, 846 more men ended their life than would normally have been expected; the corresponding number for women was an extra 155 suicides. On average, male unemployment rose by 25.6 per cent in each of those years, while the male suicide rate rose by 3.6 per cent each year. When male employment rates rose briefly in 2010, the suicide rate dropped slightly.
We already know that an average of 32 people per week are dying as a result of Mr Smith’s brutalities against the disabled; now we know that more than 1,000 have been driven to kill themselves because of the government’s unemployment policy.
Meanwhile, among those who do have jobs, we know that average wages now only last 21 days in the month, meaning that workers have to dip into their savings, ask family for funds, or go to loan sharks for help – increasing the national debt problem and creating a trend that could lead to even more suicides.
I notice Iain Duncan Smith, promoter of the private sector, hasn’t got anything to say about that.
Conservative MP Damien Hinds has launched a scurrilous attack on teachers’ union the NASUWT, after it told its members not to do unpaid work after-hours (for example on after-school sports).
Mr Hinds, a member of Parliament’s Education Select Committee, said, “If everyone in Team GB worked to rule like the NASUWT we would have fewer medals than Australia”.
What a shame this ignorant Tory nit-picker had to bring political point-scoring into the Olympics!
To Mr Hinds, I can say only this: Crawl away and die, you fetid little maggot. The only similarity between Team GB and these teachers is that they all want to do well at their chosen careers. The athletes whose successes we have enjoyed so much over the last two weeks were lucky to have worked within conditions that have helped them do well; the teachers clearly have not been so fortunate and since the conditions of their work are a matter for government ministers such as yourself, it is clearly you who are at fault.
We live in a country with a serious unemployment problem. If you would rather mouth off than do your job, then you should step down and make way for somebody who’s got their priorities right.
When your name has already been linked with a well-known, if distasteful term, for female genitalia, the last thing you need to have happen to you is a mishap with your bell-end.
However, this is exactly what happened to Culture, Media and Sport secretary Jeremy C- sorry, Hunt, while in his capacity as minister for the Olympics he was celebrating the opening of the London games today. (July 27)
Many of you may be aware that I live in a large county called Powys, that has a small population. This means that the amount of money the local authority receives from central government and local taxation is always stretched very thin, in order to provide the services required across – what is it? – 6,000 square miles.
Given that context, it should come as no surprise at all that some of the information I have been receiving about the way that money is being spent has raised concern.
It seems the county council has employed a consultancy to carry out a survey of housing stock – to pinpoint where repairs are required and carry them out. This consultancy has taken £1.5 million from the council’s budget and not one repair has yet been carried out.
In addition, it seems most of the council’s own employees at its benefits section have quit, to be replaced by staff from an agency. This organisation charges £20 per hour for each worker’s services, I’m told.
Is this value for money? I don’t think so.
I think it is a local symptom of a national malaise: the disastrous affair public authorities have been having with the private sector. It is an affair that has already led to the humiliation of the government in the G4S Olympic security debacle; an affair that has its roots in the Private Finance Initiative that was launched by the Conservatives in the 1990s and continued into the current century (to my shame) by my own political party, Labour.
I have recently become quite a fan of ‘lefty’ columnist Owen Jones. This may come as a surprise to some readers as not only has he enjoyed greater success than me at the same career (journalism), but he is 16 years my junior. Talented, young and successful – I should be green with envy rather than cheering him on, right?
In fact I’m simply glad that someone is around to say what I would have said, in his position.
You may have heard this gentleman speaking on the BBC’s Any Questions (Radio 4, last Friday and Saturday), on the very subject of private involvement in public services. If you did not, allow me to enlighten you.
“What’s happened with G4S has exposed the dogma of the last 30 years, that the private sector is good and efficient, and the public sector is wasteful. What happened when G4S failed? The state had to go in and fill the vacuum – and it’s not just there we’ve seen it. We’ve seen it with A4E, this welfare to work programe, this company that basically took taxpayers’ money to line the pockets of those who were running it; we saw it with PFI – started by the Tory government, continued under New Labour, that’s like paying for public services on a credit card, getting these private companies to do what the state should have done, apparently it costs up to £25 billion more, of our money. It’s the same with the London Underground; it’s the same with rail privatisation – we’re now paying up to four times more on subsidies for private rail companies than we did in the time of British Rail. And we’ve seen it recently with water. We just recently had a drought when rain was absolutely hammering the southeast. That’s because a water company sold off 25 reservoirs in the last 20 years.
“Public services should be run by the public sector, accountable to us, democratically-run, instead of taxpayers’ money lining the pockets of private companies who do not have our interests at heart; they just want to make profit out of our services.”
In support of that, let’s have a few facts and figures. Those I have at hand come from a book entitled ‘You Are Here’ by satirical luminaries Rory Bremner, John Bird and John Fortune, with Geoff Atkinson. It was published in 2005 so the information – accurate at the time – may be out of date by now and I would be happy to read any updates on what follows.
In 2005, this was the situation:
When the railways were privatised (by the Conservatives) it was decided that one company would own and run the tracks, one group of companies would operate the trains and another group of companies would own them. There are three rolling stock leasing companies – roscos – that lease their trains to the operating companies. These trains cost just over £2 million to build and are leased out for £500,000 per year. Their lifetime is anything up to 40 years – which is a huge profit margin.
But don’t worry – they don’t receive a penny of taxpayers’ money. No – the subsidy for the South Central franchise was set to increase by £342 million between 2005-2010. Of this, 80 per cent went to the roscos for new rolling stock – around £273,600,000. But it wasn’t taxpayers’ money by then. It was taxpayers’ money when it was part of the operating company’s subsidy, but when it was passed between that company and the rosco it was a simple business transaction.
That’s how they get away with it. You and I both know that the cash came out of our pockets, but because it went through a middle-man, these companies can call it their own.
You might be interested to know that the three leasing companies are (or were, in 2005) all owned by banks.
According to ‘You Are Here’, “The Future of Transport White Paper says: ‘The privatisation of the rail industry in the early 1990s assumed that private sector discipline and innovation would drive down the railway’s subsidy requirement and drive up the quality of service. In part this has been borne out.
“Rail users might well ask: In which part? The same document shows 80 per cent of trains arriving on time in 2004, compared to 90 per cent in 1998. The latest National Rail Trends shows total government support to the rail industry in 1995-96 of £431 million. For 2002-03 it was £2,588 million.”
Private Finance Initiatives were intended to bring private sector cash in to fund public services – which may seem like a good idea on the face of it. As ‘You Are Here’ states: The deal is simple. Money for the new service is raised privately in the money markets and thus kept off the country’s balance sheet… but like any free offer, it does come with small print.
“The long-term value of PFI contracts may go down as well as up. Your public services are at risk if you do not keep up the repayments. The return for consortiums running PFI projects” – on the other hand – “may go up and up and up. Standard terms include: cost-cutting, short-term employment contracts, high management costs, huge legal costs. Every element must be a profit centre. After expiry of contract (typically 35 years) the consortium is under no obligation to renew the terms of the lease and can renegotiate at more favourable rates or move out of the public service sector and turn the property into a hotel or office block.
“PFI often means that an organisation which previously worked to a single goal is now in competition with itself, as different parts of the same system strive to outbid each other, the primary goal being to enhance profitability rather than deliver a service.” To enhance profitability rather than deliver a service.
In February last year (2011), David Cameron promised to deliver a ‘revolution’ in public services, in which he envisaged everything but the security services and the judiciary being privatised. You can read about it here. Private prisons; private police; private health services – we’ve seen these rear their ugly heads already, and I’m sure more is to come.
Considering the disastrous profit-driven performance of the private sector in public services, as detailed above, I cannot think of anything worse than letting private companies continue with what they’ve got, let alone adding anything new to their portfolio of travesties!
With this in mind, I have to ask why Powys County Council thinks employing a private firm to survey its housing stock, or workers for a private agency to administer its benefits, is an economical use of my taxpayer money.
It’s time the madness stopped, and if Westminster is too sick to do it, then perhaps local government should lead the way back to sanity.
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