Rampant: the Covid-19 virus is once again on the loose across the UK because the Tories haven’t just lost control; they’ve deliberately thrown it away.
This is what wage slavery does to people; it forces us to do the wrong thing, harming not just our own health but that of everybody around us.
This Writer had to face it in one of my newspaper jobs. The company dictated that employees could only take a maximum of five sick days per year – and I suffered from cluster headaches.
The condition is now acknowledged by the NHS to cause the most extreme pain of any kind at all; when it comes on, it can last around three months, inflicting excruciating migraines on the sufferer (in my case) around four times a day.
You can see the problem. The condition could last three months but I was allowed only five days off work. Even taking all my vacation time, I could not cover the time I needed.
So this does not surprise me at all:
Thousands of workers feel pressured to return to their jobs when they still risk spreading coronavirus, and employers who breach Covid guidelines are avoiding serious punishment, according to evidence of major weaknesses in England’s lockdown measures.
One in 10 of those doing insecure work, such as zero-hours contracts and agency or gig economy jobs, said they had been to work within 10 days of a positive Covid test, according to research seen by the Observer. For workers overall the proportion is around one in 25.
These people have been coerced into endangering themselves and the people around them.
And consider the consequences. Suppose family members, friends, people on the same bus or train caught Covid-19 as a result, and some died. Who would get the blame for infecting them? The firm that forced people to work when they were sick? Or the employee?
I think we all know the answer.
And now the Tory government wants to cut back employees’ rights.
New Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng has denied plans to strip us of our entitlement to paid holidays and other protections – but he is infamous for having condemned UK workers are “among the worst idlers in the world”, that the UK “rewards laziness” and “too many people in Britain prefer a lie-in to hard work”.
So what do you think he’s going to do?
Health and Safety Executive (HSE) inspectors have not issued any enforcement notices on companies for Covid safety breaches since the start of the latest lockdown, despite having been contacted 2,945 times between 6 and 14 January about safety issues.
Just 0.1% of about 97,000 Covid safety cases it has dealt with during the pandemic appear to have resulted in the issuing of an improvement or prohibition notice. No company has been prosecuted for a Covid-related breach.
This is just not taking Covid-19 seriously.
No wonder the virus is rampaging across the UK and our hospitals are being overwhelmed.
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Despair: Harsher criteria in benefit assessments led to sick people being found fit for work, pushing them to despair and suicide.
Let’s be fair: The Conservatives put Atos under immense pressure to find claimants ineligible for out-of-work sickness benefits.
Disability News Service attributed the pressure to the Department for Work and Pensions but, like all government departments, it only carries out the orders of the government of the day.
DNS stated that a new document unearthed by the family of Michael O’Sullivan, a disabled man who took his own life after being found unfairly fit for work, shows that a doctor working for the private firm Atos, contracted to carry out benefit assessments, made it clear that the Conservative-run DWP was partly to blame for the decision to find him ineligible.
The doctor’s representatives told General Medical Council (GMC) investigators: “Following the conversion of Incapacity Benefit to ESA, the DWP put immense pressure on Atos disability analysts to deem claimants fit for work when they previously would have qualified for benefits.”
They also told the GMC in their evidence that Atos assessors, who “had no formal psychiatric training”, were not required by DWP to use a medical tool that evaluates the severity of a person’s depression.
They also claimed that the criteria applied during Work Capability Assessments had been “altered” by DWP to make it more difficult for claimants to be found eligible for ESA.
We know this to be true; Iain Duncan Smith demanded that these criteria should be made harsher when he took over as Work and Pensions Secretary in 2010.
DNS reminded us that Mr O’Sullivan’s death in September 2013 led to a coroner blaming failings in the notorious work capability assessment (WCA) system for his death, and writing to DWP to request urgent changes to prevent further deaths.
Those changes were never made, and further deaths have continued to be linked to the WCA over the last five years.
The O’Sullivan case also illustrates an excellent reason Labour wants to end the involvement of private companies with the benefit assessment system.
The team investigating the death submitted questions to the DWP – only to be told last year that some of them must be directed at Atos.
Those questions were passed to the company in January and it still hasn’t answered, according to DNS.
This indicates that the privatisation of benefit assessments is a mechanism to allow buck-passing between the government, the civil servants of the DWP and the company to ensure that nobody has to take responsibility for an entirely avoidable death.
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Does anybody remember a song by The Police called Murder By Numbers? One of the verses went like this:
You can reach the top of your profession If you become the leader of the land For murder is the sport of the elected You don’t need to lift a finger of your hand.
That certainly rings true in the case of Amy Nice, who took her own life because she feared that her Universal Credit would be sanctioned away from her because pen-pushers at the Department for Work and Pensions might think she wasn’t doing enough to find work.
This is a young woman with kidney disease and attendant severe depression and anxiety. She should have been classified as having a long-term illness – and eventually was, but too late to do any good. DWP assessors had pressurised her into an early grave.
Ms Nice’s terror of losing benefits was due to the ratcheting-up of the sanctions regime at the DWP. On Twitter today, I learned a little about how that had happened. It seems the Liberal Democrats had agreed to it while in coalition government with the Conservatives in 2014 – in return for agreement to place a 5p tax on plastic bags at shops. Here’s Polly Mackenzie:
The Liberal Democrats had no qualms about increasing the threat to the lives of benefit claimants; they wanted a boost for their environmental credentials in time for their party conference – and nobody had to know about their grotty little deal.
Well, now we do.
It is because of this deal that people like Ms Nice have been going to their deaths with a regularity that makes the government that has been in place since 2010 one of the worst-ever killers of its own citizens. Thousands have died.
But nobody in power will ever admit responsibility; they’ll say these people took their own lives. And the reasons for suicide are complicated.
Coroner James Newman doesn’t seem to think so. He made it perfectly clear that Ms Nice took her life because she was “under pressure from the Department for Work and Pensions” and accepted that this “would play massively on a young woman’s mind with a young child and history of physical and mental illness.”
“A struggling young mum took her own life after she feared losing her benefits under the Government’s Universal Credit scheme, an inquest heard.
“Amy Nice, 21, had been suffering from severe depression and anxiety following a diagnosis for kidney disease but had felt ‘pressurised’ to find work under new rules for claimants.
“On October 24 last year, after months of financial worry, Amy wrote a suicide note saying she ‘couldn’t see a way forward’, dropped off her young son at school then hanged herself in woodland near her home in the village of Coppull near Chorley, Lancashire.
“At an inquest into her death, a coroner ruled the tragedy as suicide saying the risk of losing benefits would ‘play massively on a young woman’s mind with a young child and history of illness’.
“Coroner James Newman said: “She was under pressure from the Department for Work and Pensions – a source of income she relied on. The pressure was to get back to work or be able to prove she was searching for work.
“”In a person with her mental history I could understand that would be difficult. There is pressure that she could run the risk of losing her benefits and I can see that financial matters would play massively on a young woman’s mind with a young child and history of physical and mental illness.””
To the DWP and its lower-than-vermin minister Esther McVey, this means nothing.
She’d probably say the Department’s cruel threat of sanctions had “assisted” Ms Nice into a place where she could be happier. I refer, of course, to the grave.
And they will never – ever – consciously accept responsibility, even though it is plain for all to see that this woman died under threat from the DWP, which was acting on the orders of the Conservative government.
The ever-increasing ranks of the deceased are a demand for justice.
When will they get it?
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Serious incidents resulting in the death of a patient rose from 31 in 2012 to 72 in 2016 [Image: Rui Vieira/PA].
The ambulance service is indeed under “excessive pressure” – but we all need to remember that this is not patient pressure, but pressure caused by Jeremy Hunt’s de-funding.
Mr Hunt is pushing the NHS towards privatisation and the way to do that, as Noam Chomsky has observed, is to de-fund the service so it starts to fail. When people complain, he can say that a publicly-funded health service doesn’t work and privatisation is the only way forward.
It is only after the service has been placed entirely in the hands of private companies that the public will realise privatised services are not better and do not receive more funds. Experience shows that money paid into such companies is drained out of them as profits, while investment dwindles.
Oh, and your services end up in the hands of foreign powers. Supporters of Brexit should pay particular attention to this, as they were fooled into voting for it in the belief that control would revert to the United Kingdom.
It won’t. Take a look at the privatised rail, water and energy companies.
The deaths of a few hundred people mean nothing to the Tories who are pushing these policies through – as those of use who have watched their behaviour towards benefit claimants and those on social care know very well.
A sharp rise in the number of patients dying unexpectedly while under the care of NHS ambulance staff has prompted warnings that the service is under “excessive pressure”.
NHS figures for England obtained under freedom of information (FoI) laws show “serious incidents” resulting in the death of a patient more than doubled from 31 in 2012 to 72 in 2016, rising year on year.
One trust noted that a serious incident meant a three-year-old asthma patient had died, and another death was logged as being caused by a delayed response linked to “no resources”. Deaths were also due to missed diagnoses and long delays, with one patient even taken to the wrong hospital.
Serious incidents are logged when the consequences for patients and staff are so significant they warrant investigations. The number of such reports that involved death, low, moderate or serious harm, injury and abuse rose sharply over the five-year period, almost doubling from 194 in 2012 to 376 last year.
The walk-in centres in Bury and Prestwich will close but will remain as healthcare sites [Image: BBC].
You’d have to be an idiot to believe that closing NHS walk-in centres is about relieving pressure on hospital Accident and Emergency departments.
Walk-in centres were intended to relieve pressure on both GP practices and hospital A&E departments by providing treatment to people, without appointments (they could just walk in) on a range of illnesses and ailments.
The idea was to leave only real emergencies to Accident and Emergency departments.
But the Conservatives have been closing walk-in centres and we can all see the result: A humanitarian crisis in the English National Health Service that has led to several deaths and seriously compromised the system.
Now the BBC is reporting the closure of two more, with the doublespeak justification that is will “reduce hospital attendance and admissions”.
How is that supposed to happen? Without the walk-in centres, people in immediate need will have nowhere else to go!
I think we all know what is really behind this.
The local Clinical Commissioning Group is having to make budget cuts, so the service must suffer.
Meanwhile, Theresa May chatters on about “minor pressures” on the NHS while more patients suffer.
Two walk-in centres will close as part of a shake-up of urgent care to reduce hospital attendance and admissions.
The sites, in Bury and Prestwich in Greater Manchester, will shut so resources can be moved to NHS 111, GP surgeries and A&E departments.
Though popular, the service was deemed “confusing” and the changes are intended to direct patients to the “right care”.
Bury Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) approved the plan earlier.
However, protesters said the group had “ignored” their concerns.
More than 2,000 people signed a petition to save Moorgate Primary Care Centre and Prestwich Walk In Centre.
‘My students are making the sort of weekly progress that would make an inspector drool.’ [Image: Alamy].
The UK’s Kafka-esque education system vexes This Writer.
Discussion of it always falls into the same problem – where to lay blame/make changes.
When central government, regional assemblies and local councils all have a say – not to mention school governors themselves, and don’t even get me started on the private influence brought in with academisation – it’s no surprise that so many teachers end up with work-related stress problems.
Perhaps this snapshot of working conditions and job satisfaction abroad is the kind of information we need (although I doubt anybody in a position to take positive action will even pay attention to it).
This line is extremely telling:
“It’s a low-pressure, high-freedom environment that places absolute trust in its teachers’ abilities. As a result, my students are making the sort of progress that would make an inspector drool.”
Low-pressure? Yes. In the UK ‘The Secret Teacher’ had 130 students; in East Africa, 75 – with no “emergency data-meetings, twilight Insets, morning briefings, and admin-centric departmental meetings”, no “box-ticking exercises of bloated middle-management teams”, no “sharp-suited Machiavellis, clinging desperately to iPads and spreadsheets in the hope that they are projecting a credible image of what a manager looks like”.
So perhaps this is the lesson the UK needs to be taught: Don’t over-manage schools and teaching.
Give them just one boss to satisfy, and make sure that they have a straightforward set of criteria to meet: “We want English to a minimum of this standard, Maths to this standard, Science to this standard”.
The price of privatisation: This graph charts the rise and rise of utility prices since privatisation. When the Conservative governments of the 1980s and 1990s sold them off, the promise was that prices would fall.
Here’s something many people may have missed: German energy company E.On has cut its standard gas tariff in response to “mounting political pressure”, according to the Telegraph.
Don’t get too excited – the 3.5 per cent reduction is less than one-eighth of the 27 per cent drop in wholesale gas prices over the last 12 months, but it does mean that around two million customers will save £24 on their gas bills if the reduction stays in place for a year. That’s equivalent to two weeks’ worth of usage.
E.On will lose £48 million of what it would have had if it had kept the tariff at its previous level – but if prices stay the same, it will gain £322,285,710 in comparison with its profits before the wholesale price dropped.
In any case, E.On has a lower tariff with an annual bill of £923, more than £200 less than the £1,145 post-cut cost of its standard rate.
So it seems Labour was right to call the cut “pretty measly”.
Some commentators have tried to claim that E.On’s move will signal a price-cutting war between the so-called ‘Big Six’ suppliers, but nearly a week has gone by with no further announcements.
The day after E.On cut prices, a Labour motion for regulator Ofgem to force energy companies to pass on the benefits of wholesale price cuts to their customers was defeated when the Tories and Liberal Democrats voted to support the energy companies rather than their constituents.
Despite voting against a move that would make it compulsory, Tories have hypocritically called on energy firms to pass on such savings willingly, and George Osborne has asked fuel companies to do the same with the prices of petrol and diesel.
There’s one more thing to say about this. Take note of the fact that E.On is a German company. This is what happens when you allow rampant privatisation of national utilities like gas and electricity – foreign companies get a chance to take those utilities away and run them for their profit, rather than for the good of the country.
E.On will make more than £300 million in profit from UK citizens, even after cutting its prices – and that’s on top of the profit it was already making before wholesale prices dropped.
Foreign firms own our energy companies and water suppliers. Foreign healthcare firms now have their claws firmly embedded in the English National Health Service. Hedge funds now own a large part of the Royal Mail as a result of Vince Cable’s botched sham of a sale last year. Who knows what will happen to the UK’s share of Eurostar, if the Coalition succeeds in selling that off before the election?
These travesties were all made possible because the public allowed the Conservative Party into government, giving its members an opportunity to strip the country of any assets that had value.
Despair: You don’t have to be elderly or infirm to put extra strain on accident and emergency departments this Christmas. In ‘suicide season’, all you need is depression.
Perhaps NHS bosses have been reading Vox Political because this site put out a similar warning almost three weeks ago.
NHS leaders are urging people to look in on elderly friends and neighbours over the Christmas period to ease pressures on hospital A&E departments, according to the BBC.
They’re saying loneliness and isolation can increase the risk of emergency hospital admissions at a time when accident and emergency departments are already facing their highest-ever demands.
In contrast to the Vox Political message, though, they’re saying people are more likely to report health problems in good time if they have someone to tell.
This blog was warning against the possibility that disabled or depressed people – no matter what their age or physical condition – might decide to take their own life in response to constant pressure from the government.
At a time of year that many consider to be ‘suicide season’, this seems a more pressing concern.
The intention of the NHS announcement is good, though.
It’s just a shame that they’re obscuring the facts that make it necessary.
Victim of government persecution: A coroner has agreed that government pressure drove Stephanie Bottrill to suicide.
It’s official – stress and pressure caused by the Bedroom Tax pushed grandmother Stephanie Bottrill into taking her own life.
Zafar Siddique, coroner for Birmingham and Solihull, said he was “satisfied she intended to take her own life” after hearing evidence that Mrs Bottrill had blamed the government’s Bedroom Tax policy for pushing her to suicide in a note she left at her Meriden Drive, Kingshurst, home before walking across the M6 motorway into a collision with a lorry early on May 4, 2013.
The coroner also heard evidence from Dr Bindu Nair, who saw the former postal worker the day before her death after Mrs Bottrill’s daughter-in-law, concerned for her safety, made an appointment.
Dr Nair said Mrs Bottrill had “expressed unhappiness at being pushed by the housing department to make a decision, in half an hour, in reference to being made to move into a smaller property”.
He added that Ms Bottrill was “happy to move but it was the way in which she was forced to make a decision” which had caused her “considerable anxiety and stress”.
Unmentioned in the report is the fact that Mrs Bottrill was found to be exempt from the Bedroom Tax (also called the State Under-Occupation Charge) under the Housing Benefit and Council Tax Benefit (Consequential Provisions) Regulations 2006, because she had been living at her address since before January 1996.
The implications for the government are enormous.
A British court has accepted that a government policy pushed a UK citizen into ending her life.
Organisations including government departments are guilty of corporate manslaughter if the way in which their activities are managed or organised causes a person’s death, and amounts to a gross breach of a relevant duty of care owed by the organisation to the deceased.
An organisation is guilty of an offence if the way in which its activities are managed or organised by its senior management is a substantial element in the breach.
The pressure placed on Mrs Bottrill, according to the evidence of her own doctor, caused “considerable anxiety and stress” that contributed to her decision to commit suicide.
It seems clear that the Department for Work and Pensions – as the organisation responsible for both the Bedroom Tax and the pressure placed on Mrs Bottrill by housing officers – must now face criminal charges under the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act 2007.
As far as this blog is concerned, responsibility for this woman’s death lies firmly with Iain Duncan Smith.
Andy Burnham, Shadow Health Secretary: He’d rather listen to real doctors than spin doctors.
The title of this article should seem brutally ironic, considering that the Coalition government famously ‘paused’ the passage of the hugely controversial Health and Social Care Act through Parliament in order to perform a ‘listening exercise’ and get the views of the public.
… Then again, maybe not – as the Tories (with the Liberal Democrats trailing behind like puppies) went on to do exactly what they originally wanted, anyway.
Have a look at the motion that went before the House of Commons today:
“That this House is concerned about recent pressure in Accident and Emergency departments and the increase in the number of people attending hospital A&Es since 2009-10; notes a recent report by the Care Quality Commission which found that more than half a million people aged 65 and over were admitted as an emergency to hospital with potentially avoidable conditions in the last year; believes that better integration to improve care in the home or community can relieve pressure on A&E; notes comments made by the Chief Executive of NHS England in oral evidence to the Health Select Committee on 5 November 2013, that the NHS is getting bogged down in a morass of competition law, that this is causing significant cost and that to make integration happen there may need to be legislative change; is further concerned that the competition aspects of the Health and Social Care Act 2012 are causing increased costs in the NHS at a time when there is a shortage of A&E doctors; and calls on the Government to reverse its changes to NHS competition policy that are holding back the integration needed to help solve the A&E crisis and diverting resources which should be better spent on improving patient care.”
Now have a look at the amendment that was passed:
“That this House notes the strong performance of NHS accident and emergency departments this winter; further notes that the average waiting time to be seen in A&E has more than halved since 2010; commends the hard work of NHS staff who are seeing more people and carrying out more operations every year since May 2010; notes that this has been supported by the Government’s decision to protect the NHS budget and to shift resources to frontline patient care, delivering 12,000 more clinical staff and 23,000 fewer administrators; welcomes changes to the GP contract which restore the personal link between doctors and their most vulnerable patients; welcomes the announcement of the Better Care Fund which designates £3.8 billion to join up health and care provision and the Integration Pioneers to provide better care closer to home; believes that clinicians are in the best position to make judgements about the most appropriate care for their patients; notes that rules on tendering are no different to the rules that applied to primary care trusts; and, a year on from the publication of the Francis Report, notes that the NHS is placing an increased emphasis on compassionate care, integration, transparency, safe staffing and patient safety.”
Big difference, isn’t it?
From the wording that won the vote, you would think there was nothing wrong with the health service at all – and you would be totally mistaken.
But this indicates the sort of cuckooland where the Coalition government wants you to live; Jeremy Hunt knows what the problems are – he just won’t acknowledge them. And he doesn’t have to – the media are run by right-wing Tory adherents.
So here, for the benefit of those of you who had work to do and missed the debate, are a few of the salient points.
Principal among them is the fact that ward beds are being ‘blocked’ – in other words, their current occupants are unable to move out, so new patients cannot move in. This is because the current occupants are frail elderly people with no support in place for them to live outside hospital. With no space on wards, accident and emergency departments have nowhere to put their new admissions, meaning they cannot free up their own beds.
Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt had nothing to say about this.
Andy Burnham, who opened proceedings, pointed out the huge increase in admissions to hospital accident and emergency departments – from a rise of 16,000 between 2007 and 2010 to “a staggering” 633,000 in the first three years of the Conservative-Liberal Democrat Coalition government.
Why the rapid rise? “There has been a rise in people arriving at A and E who have a range of problems linked to their living circumstances, from people who have severe dental pain because they cannot afford to see the dentist, to people who are suffering a breakdown or who are in crisis, to people who cannot afford to keep warm and are suffering a range of cold-related conditions.”
He said almost a million people have waited more than four hours for treatment in the last year, compared with 350,000 in his year as Health Secretary; the statement in the government amendment that waiting times have halved only relates to the time until an initial assessment – not total waiting time. Hospital A and Es have missed the government’s targets in 44 of the last 52 weeks.
Illnesses including hypothermia are on the rise, and the old Victorian ailments of rickets and scurvy are back, due to increased malnutrition.
Hospitals are filling up with the frail elderly, who should never have ended up there or who cannot get the support needed to go home because of a £1.8 billion cut in adult social services and support. This, Mr Burnham said, was “the single most important underlying cause of the A and E crisis”; ward admissions cannot be made because the beds are full. The number of emergency admissions of pensioners has topped 500,000 for the first time.
Ambulances have been held in queues outside A and E, unable to hand over patients to staff because it is full. That has left large swathes of the country — particularly in rural areas — without adequate ambulance cover.
The government is downgrading A and E units across the country into GP-run clinics, while pretending that they are still to be used for accidents and emergencies – in the middle of the A and E crisis.
People in England are reducing the number of drugs they are taking because they cannot afford to buy them. Families are choosing between eating, heating or other essentials, like prescriptions.
Competition rules have been stifling care, Mr Burnham said: “The chief executive of a large NHS trust near here says that he tried to create a partnership with GP practices and social care, but was told by his lawyers that he could not because it was anti-competitive.”
He added: “Two CCGs in Blackpool have been referred to Monitor for failing to send enough patients to a private hospital. The CCG says that there is a good reason for that: patients can be treated better in the community, avoiding costly unnecessary hospital visits. That is not good enough for the new NHS, however, so the CCG has had to hire an administrator to collect thousands of documents, tracking every referral from GPs and spending valuable resources that could have been spent on the front line.”
And the health trust in Bournemouth wanted to merge with neighbouring Poole trust, but competition rules stopped the merger taking place.
Mr Burnham demanded to know: “Since when have we allowed competition lawyers to call the shots instead of clinicians? The Government said that they were going to put GPs in charge. Instead, they have put the market in charge of these decisions and that is completely unjustifiable. The chief executive of Poole hospital said that it cost it more than £6 million in lawyers and paperwork and that without the merger the trust will now have an £8 million deficit.
“The chief executive of NHS England told the Health Committee about the market madness that we now have in the NHS: ‘I think we’ve got a problem, we may need legislative change… What is happening at the moment… we are getting bogged down in a morass of competition law… causing significant cost and frustration for people in the service in making change happen. If that is the case, to make integration happen we will need to change it’ – that is, the law. That is from the chief executive of NHS England.”
The response from current Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt needs to be examined carefully.
He said more than 96 per cent of patients were seen within four hours – but this conforms with Mr Burnham’s remark; they were seen, but not treated.
He tried to rubbish Mr Burnham’s remarks about scurvy by saying there had been only 26 admissions relating to scurvy since 2011 – but this misses the point. How many were there before 2011? This was an illness that had been eradicated in the UK – but is now returning due to Coalition policies that have forced people into malnutrition.
He dodged the issue of competition rules strangling the NHS, by saying that these rules were in place before the Health and Social Care Act was passed. In that case, asked Mr Burnham, “Why did the government legislate?” No answer.
As stated at the top of this article. he did not answer the question of the frail elderly blocking hospital beds at all.
The vote was won by the government because it has the majority of MPs and can therefore have its own way in any division, unless the vote is free (unwhipped) or a major rebellion takes place among its own members.
But anyone considering the difference between the Labour Party’s motion and the government’s amendment can see that there is a serious problem of perception going on here.
Or, as Andy Burnham put it: “This Secretary of State … seems to spend more time paying attention to spin doctors than he does to real doctors.”
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