Tag Archives: Plus

‘I’m starving’ says man in protest against the benefit system on Job Centre roof

Sometimes people have to stand on rooftops to make a point, it seems.

This Writer can’t approve of the damage to property implied by this particular gentleman’s behaviour, of course.

But I certainly sympathise with the motivation behind it.

He is reported to have said, “I’m starving” at one point.

Standing on the roof and shouting about it suggests this was the only way he expected to get his point across.

I wonder if he had already tried talking to the staff inside Upton Job Centre Plus before he resorted to standing on top of it and shouting.

It’s hard to get through when nobody wants to listen.

And now that they can pin criminal damage on this man, I wonder whether anybody will bother listening to him again.

Perhaps that’s how the Tories get away with victimising these people. What do you think?

Source: Man on roof for hours in job centre standoff with police – Liverpool Echo

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People are realising the DWP rulebook permits potential harm to claimants – or even death

[Image: Stop MP Lies and Corruption.]


It’s heartening to see that the facts about the DWP’s rules on finding people fit for work are starting to filter out to the general public – who are, in turn, starting to feel outraged.

After the death of David Brown, The Writer even penned a short verse for a song I’m writing (I’m in a band and we’re very political. I know). It goes like this:

Another soul on benefits has died and passed away
But did he fall or was he pushed? The government won’t say
Their rulebook authorised them to procure his suicide
It’s against the law
But they don’t care
And that’s why people die.

Mock it if you like. But I hope the rhyming structure may help people remember what has happened and think about holding the Conservatives to account.

DWP admit in 2016 they still find people fit to work even when holding evidence such a decision may kill the claimant, FoIA request reveals.

Source: DWP finds people fit to work despite having proof the decision may kill them « Stop MP lies & corruption

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Was David Brown a victim of DWP policy for claimants at risk of suicide: to PUSH THEM TOWARDS IT?

Tributes have been paid to devoted Middlesbrough fan David Brown, pictured (left) with his brother Adam (right).

In the light of David Brown’s death, it seems appropriate to highlight the Department for Work and Pensions’ current policy on claimants who are at risk of self harm or suicide.

That policy is to push them towards suicide by finding them fit for work when they obviously are not.

Claims that people in work have better health than people who aren’t, and are at lower risk of suicide, are nonsense when dealing with a person who is off work for reasons that include suicidal ideation. Any fool can see that.

The guidance on page 252 of the DWP handbook clearly suggests that anybody likely to commit suicide if they are found fit for work should be found fit for work.

This is procuring the suicide of another, contrary to section 2(1) of the Suicide Act 1961. This used to state: “A person who aids, abets, counsels or procures the suicide of another, or attempt by another to commit suicide shall be liable on conviction on indictment to imprisonment for a term not exceeding fourteen years.”

Now it states: “A person (“D”) commits an offence if— (a) D does an act capable of encouraging or assisting the suicide or attempted suicide of another person, and (b) D’s act was intended to encourage or assist suicide or an attempt at suicide.

The DWP handbook clearly suggests that people who are likely to commit suicide if found fit for work should be found fit for work, so I think the intention is clear.

The attempt to excuse the DWP from any guilt by suggesting it might be healthy is, clearly, specious – apparently plausible but actually wrong.

Turning to the death of Mr Brown: Hindsight shows us he was considering suicide, from the way he discussed it with his family.

But the DWP has done what it always does – denied even the possibility that the actions of its advisors could have anything to do with the death.

The only way around this – as This Writer has explained several times – is for the claimant to make documentary evidence of his or her suicidal thinking. Best of all would be to let the DWP know, along with friends and relatives.

Did Mr Brown do this?

Is that why his Job Centre advisor threatened him with the loss of his benefits?

It seems clear his family should demand a full investigation of the DWP’s treatment of this young man.

The Black Triangle Campaign has expressed its indignation at the new guidelines for assessors of benefit claimants who are at risk of self harm or suicide.

Concerned that the new guidelines could result in assessors forcing vulnerable people into work, the group has called on the Scottish Government to prevent their roll out in Scotland.

Additionally it has also referred the UK Government to a United Nations (UN) committee which carries out investigations into “grave and systematic violations” of the fundamental human rights of the disabled.

The new guidance suggests assessors may consider denying benefits to applicants at risk of suicide or self-harm as a way of benefiting them over the long term.

This is in contrast to the previous guidelines, where it was stated that someone who is at suicide risk should be placed in the designated Support Group.

On page 252 of the new department of work and pensions (DWP) handbook it states: “If you conclude that finding a claimant fit for work would trigger risk of suicide or self-harm then you need to consider whether there are factors that would mitigate the risk if the claimant were found fit for work.

“Have you considered the benefits of employment weighed against any potential risks? Remember that there is good evidence that people in work have better health outcomes and are at lower risk of suicide.”

Source: Outrage from campaigners at benefit denials for suicide risk claimants | CommonSpace

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Tories will continue to kill the poor as long as ordinary people keep trying to blame Labour

Labour's Anna Turley MP, standing up for victims of Conservative 'welfare' policy in exactly the way some people want you to think Labour doesn't.

Labour’s Anna Turley MP, standing up for victims of Conservative ‘welfare’ policy in exactly the way some people want you to think Labour doesn’t.

Some readers of This Blog may be unfortunate enough to have witnessed a conversation with a person calling him- or herself ‘Ghost Whistler’ in the comment column of the recent article on Momentum, in which this person has resorted to accusing the Labour Party of complacency in the deaths of benefit claimants. What a despicable distortion.

“Where are the Labour politicians when kids are taking their own lives due to benefit sanctions and DWP bullying?” That’s what this person asked, in a clear reference to the case of David Brown that This Blog covered yesterday (December 7). The implication is, of course, that Labour was complicit in the death.

Clearly this person had failed to do any research at all, as that particular comment was made more than four hours after Labour MP Anna Turley directly challenged the government over that very case, during Prime Minister’s Questions.

She told Leader of the House David Lidington, standing in for Theresa May while she’s off on a junket to sell weapons to Middle East countries: “I know that the whole House will join me in sending heartfelt sympathies and condolences to the family of David Brown, from Eston, who, aged just 18, took his own life.

“The inquest into his death has heard that he did so on the day he was due to sign on at the Job Centre, after saying that he felt ‘belittled’ by staff despite actively looking for work and seeking an apprenticeship. Shortly before taking his own life, he told his mum: ‘The way the Job Centre treat people, it is no surprise people commit suicide.’

“Will the Leader of the House undertake to review that individual case? Will he also undertake to take stock of six years of brutal welfare reform, and look into the way the Department for Work and Pensions treats its most vulnerable constituents, particularly young people?”

If anybody wants to find complacency about this death, they need look no further than Mr Lidington’s reply. After expressing what he described as “unreserved sympathy” for Mr Brown’s family, the Leader of the House contradicted himself thus: “Clearly, human beings in any organisation sometimes make decisions that get things wrong, and I will ask the Department for Work and Pensions to have a look at the particular case that the hon. Lady has described.

“However, I have to say to her that I think the principle remains right that while staff should always behave with courtesy towards people seeking to claim benefits, it is also right for us to expect people who are receiving benefits to be subject to the kind of disciplines that apply to people in work even if they are on low pay. There is a principle of fairness here, which is what lies behind the approach that the DWP takes.”

What’s fair about putting an impressionable young man into the clutches of a woman who clearly had not respect for him at all and from whom he could not demand proper treatment for fear of being removed from the interview by the guards that are now routinely posted at these facilities, his benefit sanctioned on the grounds that his behaviour fell short of the mark?

Who says it is right that jobseekers must be placed under the same pressures as people who are in work? They are not in work. They are seeking work. The two conditions are not that same and it is wrong to pretend that they are.

What will be gained from asking for the DWP to examine the David Brown case individually? This is not an isolated episode. DWP ‘advisers’ are constantly attacking claimants.

Today I read of a young man with severe disabilities that mean he has the mentality of a small child, being called in for a highly-distressing and pointless work capability assessment by the DWP.

The Department later apologised, saying he would not have been invited to an interview if the Job Centre had known the full extent of his condition – a condition for which the same department had been paying benefits for his entire life.

The problem is system-wide. Singling out a single case won’t stop the abuses from happening – unless the DWP intends to give, to the woman who forced David Brown towards suicide, a bonus? That seems far more likely.

The DWP’s response to Mr Brown’s death was an insult to him and everybody else who has died as a result of Conservative ‘welfare’ policy – and, make no mistake, there have been thousands upon thousands; far more than those covered by official statistics, even though they now run into the thousands.

A spokesman said: “Our thoughts are with Mr Brown’s family at this difficult time. Suicide is a very complex issue and there is no evidence of a link between Mr Brown’s suicide and his interaction with Jobcentre Plus.”

That is exactly the same line the DWP always trots out when somebody on benefits commits suicide – in defiance of the facts.

I read that comment on the Channel 4 News Facebook page and was so incensed I penned the following in response: “This is a person who made it clear he was being treated like dirt by a DWP staff member – and actually said, ‘The way the Job Centre treats people, it’s no surprise that people commit suicide’. Then on the day he was due to visit the Job Centre again, he was found dead.

“And the DWP wants us to believe there is no link?

“I’d like to know who made that comment and ask them just what somebody would have to do to get them to accept that there is a link.

“Their comment is an insult – not just to David Brown and his family, but to everybody else who has lost a friend or loved one because of the Conservative Party and its homicidal attitude, and to the public in general who they think they can patronise in this manner.”

All of the above was triggered by a Labour MP’s concern over the death of young man due to his treatment by the benefit system.

But that doesn’t matter because ‘Ghost Whistler’ wants to blame the Labour Party for it.

These deaths aren’t going to stop any time soon – not because Labour isn’t opposing them but because people like ‘Ghost Whistler’ are blaming Labour rather than putting responsibility where it is due, on the Conservatives. ‘Ghost Whistler’ is contributing to the problem, along with anybody else who would rather accuse the wrong people to make some obscure political gesture. This person is such a coward, they won’t even support their words with their own name.

So I’ll tell you what, ‘Ghost Whistler’ – do us all a favour. Take your ill-informed and offensive opinions, take yourself, and take all the other blinkered bigots like you, and toddle off back to whatever slimy hole you call home.

Don’t come out again. Don’t try to infect anybody else with your ignorance. Don’t insult the memory of the dead.

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Teen committed suicide after being ‘belittled’ by Job Centre staff

Tributes have been paid to devoted Middlesbrough fan David Brown, pictured (left) with his brother Adam (right).

Tributes have been paid to devoted Middlesbrough fan David Brown, pictured (left) with his brother Adam (right).

This is going to seem harsh, but somebody has to ask the obvious question:

Who will receive the bonus payment for clearing David Brown off the benefit books?

Will it be the staff member who he claimed “belittled” him, shortly before he took his own life?

If so, there is no justice.

Instead of taking a bonus, she should be facing a judge on a charge of corporate manslaughter.

A football fan who desperately wanted a job took his own life after being ‘belittled’ by Job Centre staff, his inquest heard.

David Brown, 18, seeking a welder’s apprenticeship, was under ‘immense pressure’ from the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP), the coroner was told.

The Middlesbrough supporter, from Eston, North Yorkshire, was allegedly told he would have his benefits stopped unless he did more to find employment, reports Gazette Live.

Shortly before he killed himself, David told his mother: “The way the Jobcentre treat people, it is no surprise people commit suicide.”

Source: Teenager desperately seeking work took his own life after being ‘belittled’ by Jobcentre staff

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Shame on you, Job Centre! Getting people off the dole isn’t getting them into work!

austeritydolequeue

One of Vox Political‘s many astute commenters made an extremely good point about government schemes to get people (a) off the dole and (b) into work. They said the fundamental question we should be asking the DWP is: “How many people have you turned into productive taxpaying workers who do not claim any benefits at all?”

It is as though they were prescient and could predict the way the debate has developed this week, firstly with the bogus DWP press release that has allowed some of us to suggest that we should judge the DWP by results, not targets; and now with the declaration by the Commons Work and Pensions committee that Job Centre Plus staff should be rewarded for the number of people they get into work, not just the number they get off the dole.

It seems this is an idea whose time has come.

Employment minister Esther McVey’s time – like that of her boss Iain Duncan Smith – has been and gone. Do not expect her to do anything about this.

Job Centre staff are currently given incentives to get benefit claimants off the dole, and this has led to wholesale abuse of the system of sanctions which can mean people are banned from claiming benefits for three whole years after a third ‘offence’.

People have been sanctioned because the dates on which they applied for jobs did not tally with the number of jobs they were supposed to seek every week – as the Job Centre week starts on Tuesday.

They have been sanctioned for arriving late at their signing-on appointment – because a job interview overran.

They’ve been sanctioned because they didn’t apply online for a job, as advised, because the job had ‘expired’.

They have been sanctioned while on Workfare because signing on – as advised by the Job Centre – made them late for the placement.

They have even been sanctioned for failing to apply for jobs, after they had succeeded in getting a job.

The Work and Pensions committee has diplomatically described this as a “haphazard” approach to assessing claimants, saying many were referred for sanctions inappropriately, or “in circumstances in which common sense would dictate that discretion should have been applied”.

Common sense has no place in a Job Centre overseen by a Conservative-run DWP. The people who work there are under the cosh, just as much as the claimants. They have a target to meet – five per cent of jobseekers off the books every month, unless I am mistaken (perhaps readers could provide the correct figure if I am).

Sanctioning rates in the year to October 2012 stood at 4.2 per cent, so staff were failing to hit this target – but after a sterner regime was introduced in that month, sanctioning increased to five per cent.

The system has been particularly cruel on younger claimants. In the year to October 2012, the sanction rate for those aged 18-24 was eight per cent, per month.

The number of sanctions in the year to 30 June 2013 was around 860,000 – the highest number in any 12-month period since statistics began to be published in their present form in April 2000.

The committee also said the DWP needed to monitor financial hardship suffered by claimants who lose their benefits. This could include publishing information on the number of claimants “signposted” to food banks by Job Centres and the reasons given for this action.

It is as if Dame Anne Begg (who chairs the committee) has been reading this blog. Readers will know that part of Vox Political‘s Freedom of Information request about incapacity/ESA claimant mortality referred to the well-being of those who had been thrown off-benefit altogether.

I can tell you now that the DWP does not monitor what happens to these people, nor does it have any plan to do so in the future. They are thrown to the wolves.

Dame Anne was quoted in The Guardian, saying: “JCP must be very clearly incentivised to get people into work, not just off benefits.

“The processes by which JCP currently establishes claimants’ needs are haphazard and prone to missing crucial information about a person’s barriers to working, including homelessness and drug dependency. A more thorough and systematic approach to assessing claimants’ needs is required.”

She added: “Whilst conditionality is a necessary part of the benefit system, jobseekers need to have confidence that the sanctioning regime is being applied appropriately, fairly and proportionately and the government needs to assure itself that sanctioning is achieving its intended objective of incentivising people to seek work.”

This is exactly what Vox Political has been saying since Rachel Reeves described Labour’s compulsory job guarantee policy on finding work for claimants, last week. Reeves’ words were derided by visitors to certain blogs who said she was as bad as the Conservatives. Now that some flesh is appearing on the bones of her strategy, we can see that this was undeserved.

According to the BBC, ministers cited the recent fall in unemployment to say the system was working, but they failed to mention what their intention was.

Was it working in getting people into jobs?

Or was it only working in getting people off-benefit, as claimed by the committee?

If people were going into jobs, were they real jobs, or fake “self-employed” jobs of the kind that the BBC itself investigated last year, intended only to get claimant numbers down?

What about the rise and rise of Workfare schemes, in which claimants are knocked off the unemployment statistics but continue receiving an equivalent amount to JSA – from the DWP – for a full week’s work, effectively subsidising commercial firms?

It seems likely that ministers will be reluctant to answer those questions.

While institutions like the BBC are determined to broadcast inaccurate stories based on falsified figures supplied by those ministers, it seems they have no incentive to do so.

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Iain Duncan Smith: Big on belief – lacking in truth

Strong beliefs: But is Iain Duncan Smith about to say a prayer - or is he eyeing up his next victim?

Strong beliefs: But is Iain Duncan Smith about to say a prayer, or eyeing up his next victim?

I believe that Chris Huhne really wasn’t a crook
I believe Britannia Unchained is a readable book
I’m prepared to believe that the government isn’t leaking
And that Boris Johnson sometimes thinks before speaking
Yes I believe J Hunt is clever
Norman Tebbit will live forever
And that GM foods will make us healthier
And there were WMDs out in the desert.

I believe that Cameron means what he says.
And that Michael Gove got good ‘O’ Level grades.
And I believe our courts are great;
That the NHS is safe:
And the economy’s professionally-run…
And that George Osborne knows how to do his sums.

And I believe that the Devil is ready to repent
But I don’t believe IDS should be in government.
(With apologies to Rowan Atkinson)

Early to bed and early to rise… means you have a chance to hear the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions put his foot down his own throat on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

Needless to say, I missed it. It’s a shame, because the letter of complaint I was to write to Andrew Dilnot of the UK Statistics Authority would have been slightly different if I had.

But we’re getting ahead of ourselves.

In yesterday’s article, I mentioned the need to query a claim attributed by the BBC News website to the Department for Work and Pensions. True to my word, I wrote – and sent – the following:

A report on the BBC website has stated, ‘More than 12,000 people have moved into work after being told about the benefits cap, the government says.’

“It continues: ‘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 job centres warned them they might have their benefits capped if they did not find employment.’

“I am writing to ask you to investigate this claim, as I believe it may have its origins in a previous statement that you have already shown to be false – relating to a claim that 8,000 people had found jobs because of the benefit cap.”

I went on to quote Andrew Dilnot’s letter containing his verdict on the ‘8,000’ claim – that it was “unsupported by the official statistics” in two documents, one of which “explicitly” stated that the figures were “‘not intended to show the additional numbers entering work as a direct result of the contact’”, while the other noted “Once policy changes and methodological improvements have been accounted for, this figure has been no behavioural change.’”

I also drew attention to the comments made by John Shield, the DWP’s Director of Communications, at a meeting with the Commons Work and Pensions Committee last Wednesday (July 10) when he seemed to be saying that Mr… Smith ignored his officers’ advice and went ahead with a false statement.

I now dearly wish I had known about the part of the Today interview in which Mr… Smith discussed his own opinion of the affair.

The Huffington Post reported it as follows: “Challenged over the fact his statement was not supported by officials statistics published by his own department, Duncan Smith said: ‘Yes, but by the way, you can’t disprove what I said either.'” We’ll come back to that in a moment!

“‘I believe this to be right, I believe that we are already seeing people going back to work who were not going to go back to work,’ he said.

“‘I believe that this will show, as we move forward ,that people who were not seeking work are now seeking work.'”

“The work and pension’s secretary was mocked by Labour’s shadow minister for disabled people, Anne McGuire, who tweeted that ‘I believe’ was ‘a substitute for facts in IDS world’.”

Well, maybe his Roman Catholic upbringing makes him a creature of strong beliefs.

Unfortunately, his beliefs don’t hold a candle to the facts – and yes, we can disprove what he said!

The blog alittleecon takes up the story: “Ipsos Mori undertook telephone interviews with 500 of the 8,000 people who had found work since the announcement of the benefit cap to try to show that people had been motivated by the cap to find work.

“The problem is that they did not find that. Remember, IDS originally tried to claim that all 8,000 had moved into work because of the benefit cap. The survey found though that 15% of them hadn’t even heard of the benefit cap, and another 31% only knew a little about it. Only 57% remembered being informed that the cap would affect them, and of these, 71% were already looking for work.

“About half of those who remembered getting a letter about the cap took action afterwards. For 31%, this meant looking for work (although half of these were already looking). This means of the 500 surveyed, only around 45 people started looking for work because of the cap that weren’t doing so before. 45!!

“Looking at the results then, and if we assume the survey was representative of all 8,000 people, far from being able to say all 8,000 found work as a direct result of the cap, the best that can be said in reality is that about 720 people started looking for work and found it after hearing of the cap that weren’t looking before. Not a particularly impressive behavioural change.”

There can be no doubt about this. Ipsos Mori is a reputable polling agency and its figures are trustworthy.

It doesn’t matter what Iain Duncan Smith believes, his figures were wrong – plainly wrong.

He has no business peddling them around the TV and radio studios as though they’re set in stone.

He has no business mentioning them at all.

And, if he is determined to keep pushing his falsehoods on us, claiming they aren’t lies because he believes in them, then he has no business being a Cabinet Minister.

The benefit cap reveals the black centre of IDS’ mind

130715benefitcap

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.”

The BBC opened with a much sunnier perspective that has caused Vox Political to send a query to the UK Statistics Authority.

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?

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Disabled people’s rights are hanging on upcoming judicial review

Welcome to hell: The work capability assessment is the start of a long path involving challenges, continual reassessments, misdirection or demands from the DWP, Job Centre Plus or work programme providers, leading eventually to despair, destitution and, in many cases, death. Could YOU mount a judicial review against this regime?

Welcome to hell: The work capability assessment is the start of a long path involving challenges, continual reassessments, misdirection or demands from the DWP, Job Centre Plus or work programme providers, leading eventually to despair, destitution and, in many cases, death. Could YOU mount a judicial review against this regime?

An appeal to the United Nations, using its Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities to show how the sick and disabled in the UK are being mistreated by the government, will depend on the result of a judicial review later this month.

I have previously documented the work of Samuel Miller, to make the UN aware of the life-threatening activities undertaken by the Department for Work and Pensions under Iain Duncan Smith’s regime of cuts and changes to entitlement, so he should need no introduction.

Mr Miller has been hoping to induce the UN to consider whether the current Smith/DWP regime contravenes international agreements on human rights and the rights of the disabled. Many Vox Political readers have submitted evidence to him, to be used in support of this.

But he wrote to me yesterday, saying this work must be deferred until the result of the judicial review is known.

“Submission criteria require that domestic remedies be exhausted,” he wrote. “Any complaint submitted to the [UN] committee must first have been submitted to the national courts and authorities for consideration.

“As you are probably aware, there’s an upcoming judicial review of the Work Capability Assessment for people living with mental health problems. The dates are January 15-16 & 18, in the Upper Tribunal Courts in London.

“If I can demonstrate to the UN that remedies invoked by the State are neither effective nor available, then UNCRPD complaints would carry more weight.”

He quoted a letter from Jorge Araya, secretary of the UN committee on the rights of persons with disabilities, who stated: “Complainants have initially the duty to demonstrate that they have exhausted domestic remedies, then the burden shifts to the State party to demonstrate that there are remedies still available; if that happens, complainants should demonstrate  that remedies invoked by the State are neither effective nor available.”

So that’s the situation at the moment. Before Christmas, Mr Miller said the amount of time required to mount a judicial review would put the lives of sick and disabled people in jeopardy; that is not the case while one is about to be heard.

Also, consultation with a barrister, Steve Broach (@SteveBroach) has suggested that sick and/or disabled people should explore potential judicial review with solicitors – especially after the DWP announced that people on sickness benefits were “to be offered work experience to help them back into a job”.

The DWP’s announcement last month stated: “People on Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) who have been assessed as being able to go back to work at some point are placed in the Work-Related Activity Group for the benefit and are expected to take part in activity which helps them prepare for a return to employment. One of the options available to them will now include voluntary work experience.

“Having taken into account an individual’s circumstances, a Jobcentre Plus adviser or Work Programme provider may feel that an appropriate mandatory work placement – which must be of benefit to the community – would be helpful.

People who fail to carry out any agreed work-related activity without good reason may face having their benefits sanctioned. The sanction will be made up of an open-ended period which is lifted when the claimant meets the requirements, followed by a short fixed period of 1, 2 or 4 weeks.”

The sticking-point would be the cost of bringing a judicial review – in the region of £10,000 to £20,000 for a straightforward case; higher for a more complex matter. If the claimant is unsuccessful, they are likely to be liable for the defendant’s costs as well as their own. “They are therefore looking at a legal bill of upwards of £30,000 if they lose, and they must be prepared for this eventuality, bearing in mind the unpredictability of judicial review proceedings and costs orders,” Mr Miller told me.

Also, of course, we know that David Cameron has vowed to crack down on appeals that delay new laws, planning decisions and policies, and this could potentially be extended to human rights judicial reviews, since his has government already made substantial cuts to legal aid.

What do you think? I’m really interested in hearing what readers think about this.

Could you mount a judicial review, if a decision was made to force you into a work placement and you thought it would harm your health?

What about those of you in the legal profession? You should understand the current situation – regarding the cost of legal action – better than anyone else – is it realistic to expect people on sickness and disability benefits to finance expensive court cases?

If not, what other possibilities are available?

Universal Jobmatch or Jobseekers’ Home-grab?

I predict this result when using the government’s new Universal Jobmatch. Picture from the Thurrock Heckler.

An administration united behind three key principles: freedom, fairness and
responsibility.” – David Cameron, first Coalition press conference, May 2010.

The government’s new online tool, which it claims is intended to make searching for a job easier, came into service on Monday. You might think that’s a good thing.

Think again!

It seems the appropriate term for the new system is “Orwellian”, as it tries to funnel jobseekers into any work that is available – no matter how inappropriate – and monitors responses in order to apply sanctions for any misplaced keystrokes.

These sanctions go up to three years without benefit. Bearing in mind the number of jobseekers who are living in social housing (they’re without jobs; of course they won’t be living in mansions) I think it’s safe to agree with a friend of mine, writing on Facebook: “You watch the homelessness figures skyrocket now!”

To me, that’s what it looks like: Another bid to grab people’s homes. Why the government should be so obsessed with depriving the population of its dwelling-places, I do not know – but I’m not looking forward to hearing the reason.

This is how my friend informed me about the new system:

WARNING: The government have introduced the new Orwellian jobsearch system on the directgov website.

“I was told by my adviser at the jobcentre that after some point next year, account registry will be mandatory for all JSA claimants, after which, they will be able to monitor every job you view, and when you view any job, you will not be able to leave the screen until you select a reason why you did not apply for that job.

It wont give you the details to apply for the job unless you register an account, and if you leave, the cookies will just tell them ‘refused to answer the question’.

They’re removing the Jobseekers’ Agreement. which effectively means they can now force people with First Class degrees or above to scrub toilets for four hours-plus per week, with no gain in pay.

They’re gonna call and spot-check all the jobs they recommend you for as well – even if they recommend you for jobs you know you’ll never get.

One slip-up and you lose your unemployment entitlement. First mistake: 13 week penalty, no pay. Second mistake: six months’ penalty, no pay. Third mistake: THREE YEAR penalty, no pay.

You watch the homelessness figures skyrocket now – because the fact of the matter is, there simply ARE NO JOBS for people. How many people in Pembrokeshire, where I live, unemployed? Thousands. How many jobs for the same area? A few hundred maybe. That’s for an entire SHIRE [county], not a town.”

According to OpenRightsGroup.org, a US company was commissioned to deliver this service – Monster Worldwide, an online recruitment and technology service firm, infamous for many major personal data losses through hacking. According to a Freedom of Information request made to the government, Monster was the only company invited to tender for the contract. The system does not require the consent of the participant – it is mandatory. Job Centre staff and external contractors – we don’t know who – will have full access to all user activities, including correspondence with employers, content of CVs, applications, job searches, feedback from employers, interviews offered and personal profiles.

Job Centre staff will be able to attach job vacancy details to user accounts – and those users must then apply for those jobs. It doesn’t matter how inappropriate those jobs might be – they must apply. Otherwise: sanctions.

It’s a stunning infliction of coercion and repression on a sector of society that has no defence against it. Details on the Jobmatch database remain there for 18 months after a user leaves the system, implying a huge invasion of their privacy. Add to that the fact that this ‘service’ will be integrated with central and local government and private sector databases, showing wages paid, hours worked, credit ratings, electoral roll entries and tax liability – it will be part of a huge tool to check up on you and make sure you don’t have cash you shouldn’t have. Because, at the end of the day, it’s all about keeping you down.

And remember the other Snoopers’ Charter – the one being pushed through by Theresa May? Not only will the government – and who knows who else? – have access to your financial information; it will also be able to check your communications, track your contacts and work out your opinions and sympathies from that. Orwellian: Big Brother really is watching you.

The sanctions do, indeed, run to three years without benefit. Workfare – the mandatory work scheme – is also a possibility. Claimants must be able to give evidence that they spend 35 hours per week doing job search activities.

I wonder how that is going to work?

I don’t think it will.

Users will be unable to provide evidence of every single minute’s work; they will make mistakes; they will get frustrated and intentionally abuse the system. Then they’ll be off the books. Then they’ll be in financial trouble.

Then they’ll be homeless.

Alongside all the people who’ve been thrown out because they couldn’t afford the Bedroom Tax, or because they couldn’t pay their council tax under the new relief schemes that are coming in.

I wonder what the government plans to do with all these houses that will be going spare?

One thing’s for sure, though: I don’t think “freedom” will have anything to do with it.

Or “fairness“.