Richard Heaton, permanent secretary, Ministry of Justice [Image: Wikipedia].
What a waste of public money – that’s your money – by the fake ‘party of financial responsibility’.
Tories don’t understand money – possibly because their party is run by entitled fools who have so much money, they don’t know what to do with it.
The cluelessness bleeds into government, despite the fact that – in public service – the Tories should have the benefit of impartial advice.
But we see, here, that two of their advisors – Richard Heaton, permanent secretary at the Ministry of Justice, and Michael Spurr, chief executive of the Prison and Probation Service – are to appear before the Commons Public Accounts Committee to explain why they have allowed the Tories to spend nearly £2.5 billion letting private companies into the probation service – that cannot do the job.
Perhaps it’s different in Westminster, but in the United Kingdom This Writer inhabits, if you take money to do a job and don’t actually do it, you’re in breach of contract.
Sure, and part of the disaster was caused by HMG. The idea was to give 21 companies £3.7 billion until 2022 to handle and help prisoners serving 12 months or more who are at low risk of self-harm.
But it seems people like Messrs Heaton and Spurr had overestimated the number of low risk ex-offenders leaving prison and underestimated the number of high risk ex-offenders who are still being helped by the publicly run probation service
It means the private companies were dealing with fewer people, so they’d get less money – £1.6 billion less. This put them in financial difficulty.
It also transpires that these companies were also complete and utter failures at the job – so bad, according to inspectors, that they may as well not exist.
So why has the Tory government agreed to spend £342 million keeping them in business and in-contract?
The state should be demanding its money back from these privateers. They’re in breach of contract.
It should seem bizarre to anyone that the government is throwing good money after bad in this way.
All should become clear when it is revealed that the government minister behind this disaster – Secretary of State for Justice at the time the contracts were awarded – was walking disaster Chris Grayling.
On Wednesday two very highly paid civil servants – £185,000 a year Richard Heaton, Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Justice and £190,000 a year Michael Spurr, Chief Executive, HM Prison and Probation Service – will appear before MPs to explain their latest botch-up – the privatisation failure of parts of the probation service.
I hope MPs on the Commons Public Accounts Committee will not only be briefed by the excellent National Audit Office report and investigation into the failure of Community Rehabilitation Companies – the fancy name for profit making companies like Sodexo and Seetec.
They should also read the coruscating reportby Dame Glenys Stacey HM Chief Inspector of Probation and Peter Clarke HM Chief Inspector of Prisons last June on the performance of these companies and their failure to either help ex offenders go straight or protect the public from child abusers and perpetrators of domestic violence.
Margaret Hodge: A principled stand against corruption of politics by corporate influence.
This is something that broke while Yr Obdt Srvt was still recovering from a recent illness, but is still worth covering because Labour really needs to understand the danger of association.
Margaret Hodge, Labour’s chair of the Commons Public Accounts Committee, broke ranks to warn the Shadow Cabinet against accepting – shall we call it – “help” from accounting firms like PricewaterhouseCoopers on Friday. She said it was “inappropriate” and she was right to do so.
It’s the political equivalent of accepting “help” from the Mafia – you end up in their pocket, owing them favours.
According to the BBC, Labour MPs including Ed Balls (Shadow Chancellor) and Chukka Umunna (Shadow Business Secretary), along with Rachel Reeves (Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary) have received more than £540,000 in research assistance from the firm in the past 18 months alone.
PwC is one of the ‘Big Four’ accountancy firms – the others are Ernst & Young, KPMG and Deloitte – who also advise the Conservative-run Treasury on tax policy. It should not be beyond anybody’s wit to see there’s a clear conflict of interest if the firm is advising both Labour and the Tories on tax policy.
Labour’s official line is that “PwC have provided long standing support to all three major political parties on a non-party basis, as happened for the Conservatives and Lib Dems before the last election. Given the complexity of government and that opposition parties do not have significant access to civil servants, the support provided by organisations such as these helps ensure that there is better scrutiny of government policy.”
PwC said its staff provided “limited and fully disclosed technical support to the main political parties” but added: “We do not develop policy on their behalf.” Staff on secondment might make “observations on the improvement of legislation or proposed legislation”, the firm added in a statement.
Isn’t this exactly the problem? Staff make “observations”, and before we know it, all our political parties are carrying out PwC policy instead of their own.
If Labour was serious about getting the advice it needed, then it would be employing advisers who have nothing to do with any of the other political parties. That’s the way it has to be. Anything else courts betrayal of the public.
Then there would be no opportunity for these firms to create embarrassment when their activities “promoting tax avoidance” on an industrial scale were revealed by the Public Accounts Committee
PwC said it disagreed with the Public Accounts Committee report (it would, wouldn’t it?) and denied claims by Mrs Hodge that the firm had misled her committee when its executives gave evidence in January 2013. Who do you believe?
Mrs Hodge herself told BBC Radio 4’s The World At One: “You have to be very, very careful when you’re in opposition whom you take money from”.
This is why Vox Political supports the removal of all private company advisors from government. The private sector has no place in decisions about public services.
Bad choices: This infographic (from the Daily Mail’s ‘This Is Money’ column) shows the effect on Serco of its involvement in overcharging for tagging criminals.
The government should be less reliant on a handful of “quasi-monopoly” private sector contractors like Serco and G4S in future, if it has any sense – according to the Commons’ Public Accounts Committee.
Isn’t it a shame that we already know the Coalition Government doesn’t have any sense – the committee’s report said as much when it criticised government departments for continuing to hand work over to the named companies while they were being investigated for overcharging.
We can bank on the Coalition awarding further contracts to these big firms, too.
The Public Accounts Committee said in its report that there needed to be more competition in the £90bn market for private outsourcing of public services.
Some might say that public services should not be performed by private contractors at all, but it seems there is a logic to it. Why create a government department for cleaning services when you can hire an existing firm more economically?
This seems to be the way the PAC is thinking, as MPs said contracts should be split up to give small and medium-sized firms a better chance of getting business – and to prevent a situation where a handful of firms were “too important to fail” despite questions about their performance (a clear reference to the financial crisis, in which the government had to use public funds to shore up “too big to fail” banks).
Government departments trust contractors too much and rely too heavily on their information, the PAC stated. This clearly provides opportunities for corruption – in a country where PricewaterhouseCoopers can provide advisors to both the government’s Mark Hoban and the opposition’s Rachel Reeves, one is inexorably drawn to the conclusion that the firm’s advice will be to its own advantage and that of its clients – not the nation’s.
But the committee said the government should be taking a much harder line on firms whose “ethical standards have been found wanting” and criticised departments including the Ministry of Justice (MoJ), the Ministry of Defence, the Department of Health, the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills and HM Revenue & Customs for continuing to award them additional work while a criminal inquiry by the Serious Fraud Office into overcharging was continuing.
It said the electronic tagging contracts were not isolated cases, with two other G4S contracts with the MoJ having been referred to the SFO while another Serco contract with the MoJ was being investigated by the City of London Police.
In response, the Cabinet Office said changes made to the government’s procurement and commercial management since the last general election in 2010 had brought savings of £5.4 billion last year, indicating clearly that ministers don’t understand the problem.
There is no point in saving money if the job is not being done properly!
A spokesman told the BBC: “Our action over the past year shows how seriously we take breaches of those high standards.”
The chickens really are coming home to roost this week.
Earlier on, we had the Million Mask marchers blockading the BBC after the corporation failed to cover other demonstrations, and Ben Elton dealt a final blow to Michael Gove’s First World War delusions by profiting from the former cabinet minister’s criticism of Blackadder Goes Forth – using it as the inspiration for his latest novel.
Today we can look at the sanctioning regime operated by Mr … Smith’s Department for Work and Pensions.
The Public Accounts Committee took … Smith to task about the sanctions operated against people on the Work Programme.
“Sanctions can cause significant financial hardship to individuals, and it is not clear whether the sanctions regime actually works in encouraging people on the Work Programme to engage with the support offered by providers,” said committee chairperson, Margaret Hodge.
“Feedback from some constituents suggests that the number of sanctions has been increasing and that some providers have been recommending sanctions more than others. The Department confirmed that Seetec has referred more claimants for sanction than other providers.
“The Department should monitor whether providers are making the right sanction referrals to the Department and that they are not causing unfair hardship. It should publish the number of sanctions by provider.”
Are they making sure they aren’t causing unfair hardship? Of course not! They couldn’t care less.
And it’s not just in the Work Programme that sanctioning is being abused.
“It emerged during an ongoing inquiry instigated by the parliamentary Work and Pensions Select Committee that Research conducted by Professor David Stuckler shows that more than 500,000 Job Seekers Allowance (JSA) claimants have disappeared from unemployment statistics, without finding work, since the sanctions regime was toughened in October, 2012,” writes kittysjones.
“This means that in August 2014, the claimant count – which is used to gauge unemployment – is likely to be very much higher than the 970,000 figure that the government is claiming, if those who have been sanctioned are included.
“The research finding confirms what many of us already knew.”
She tells us that “the Work and Pensions Committee decided to conduct a further in depth inquiry into benefit sanctions policy, following the findings of the research. This inquiry will consider aspects of sanctions policy which were outside the remit of the Oakley Review. (You can see the terms of reference for the inquiry, and submissions are invited, all details of which are here – Committee launch inquiry into benefit sanctions).”
Labour MP Debbie Abrahams is quoted as follows: “Sanctions are being applied unfairly to job-seekers, as well as the sick and disabled.
The reason the Government is doing this is that it gets them off the JSA claimant figures, so it looks like there are fewer people unemployed.”
This is all good, but we should bear in mind that the Work and Pensions committee has been singularly unsuccessful in its previous attempts to get Mr … Smith to reign in his murderous spree against benefit claimants, and any recommendations are likely to be as toothless as those applied by the Public Accounts Committee to the Work Programme, earlier this week.
kittysjones also quotes an angry exchange between Debbie Abrahams and Mr… Smith during the Work and Pensions Committee questions session on Wednesday, when he said Ms Abrahams’ claims were “’ludicrous’.
“But the MP for Oldham East and Saddleworth said : ‘People have died after being sanctioned, Minister.’
“’No, I don’t agree with that,’ Mr Duncan Smith answered. But he has yet to provide any evidence that supports his view.”
There is plenty that supports hers. It’s just a shame that the government denies it.
This is the heart of the matter. We have a government that simply will not accept any evidence that it is harming others – not because the evidence does not exist, but because it doesn’t want to. And ministers believe that there is nothing the public can do to reverse the situation.
Well, there is an election coming. If the Tories fail to gain office next May, they will be exposed and may face legal challenges – not against their department but against themselves – in which they may be made to account for their actions against the mountain of evidence that has been piling up against them.
This week, that criticism was justified: “Evidence shows that differential payments have not stopped contractors from focusing on easier-to-help individuals and parking harder-to-help claimants, often those with a range of disabilities including mental health challenges,” said the PAC report.
“Data from Work Programme providers shows that they are, on average, spending less than half what they originally promised on these harder to help groups.”
Here’s the knockout blow: “It is a scandal that some of those in greatest need of support are not getting the help they need to get them back to work and are instead being parked by providers because their case is deemed just too hard.”
Why is it a knockout blow? Because it is using the language of Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan ‘Returned To Unit’ ‘Services No Longer Required’ Smith.
Almost two years ago, on November 22, 2012, that blowhard appeared on the BBC’s Question Time, where he told Owen Jones that his DWP would make sure that nobody stayed parked on benefits.
“I didn’t hear you screaming about two and a half million people who were parked, nobody saw them, for over 10 years, not working, no hope, no aspiration,” he ranted.
And yet, here we are today. “Some of those in greatest need of support are… being parked by providers [chosen by Iain Duncan Smith, no less] because their case is deemed just too hard.”
That day’s article suggested that the government should “adopt a strategy that we all know these companies use in order to boost their profits. Because they get paid on results, they concentrate on people more likely to generate a fee and sideline jobless clients who need more time and investment – a process known as ‘creaming and parking‘.
“It’s time to “park” all the work programme provider companies… The money saved will total billions.”
Alas, VP‘s recommendation fell on deaf ears and we have all paid the price – literally – in the year and nine months since.
Of course, as with all critical reports by Parliamentary committees, the PAC report falls flat where it makes its own recommendations.
“The Department must do more to encourage providers to work with harder-to-help groups by tackling poorly performing prime contractors and sharing information on what works. It should also collect and publish information from each provider on how much they are spending on different payment groups.”
For crying out loud – what’s the point of that? We know that Work Programme providers are never going to do anything other than park people in the ‘harder-to-help’ groups, as long as the taxpayer is funding them for results.
This report says nothing on how ‘poorly performing contractors’ are to be ‘tackled’, therefore that is not going to happen.
And publishing information on how much providers are spending on different payment groups – why? This information will not be made available if it is uncomplimentary to the government. Freedom of Information requests will fall on deaf ears – like those relating to the deaths of ESA claimants.
No, there’s only one way to use this information: As ammunition against Iain Duncan Smith.
He said he was going to help people who had been parked. He didn’t.
He said – to the Work and Pensions committee only yesterday, that the Work Programme was “outperforming” expectations and was “set to do even better”. It isn’t.
Let’s tell everybody we know about this liar. Get him kicked into his own Work Programme and see how he likes it.
Other sites have produced excellent articles on this subject; here are some that have come to VP‘s attention:
You loved yesterday’s meme about Iain Duncan Smith so here’s one about Chris Grayling. Feel free to share it across the Internet and tell all your friends to do the same [Image: 38 Degrees].
Here’s further evidence that Justice Minister Chris Grayling is not only unjust but actually evil.
It seems he is drawing up contracts which will ensure profits – for the period of the next two parliaments – for private companies taking over probation services, and massive penalties for the next government if it cancels the contracts.
“Taxpayers will face a £300m-£400m penalty if controversial probation privatisation contracts are cancelled after next May’s general election under an “unprecedented” clause that guarantees bidders their expected profits over the 10-year life of the contract,” according to The Guardian.
It seems the contracts would guarantee the income of two of our favourite outsourcing firms, G4S and Serco, both of which have been at the centre of serious fraud allegations. They have received these contracts during a period when Grayling himself had said they would receive nothing.
Clearly he has misled Parliament.
The Ministry of Justice says it is following Treasury guidance by including the clause, making it likely that we are seeing a conspiracy among Tory-led government departments – and that we will see more of the same in other politically-controversial contracts that will be signed before next May’s general election.
In a time of austerity, inflicted on us by the same government!
Isn’t it illegal for one government to tie the hands of the next in this manner?
Margaret Hodge, chairman of the Commons public accounts committee, has said she was appalled by the discovery, according to the newspaper.
This is a typical Tory tactic in new wrapping. Remember how the Tory-led Coalition has forced budget cuts on councils and the regional assemblies, meaning in return that they had to cut services to citizens – and take the blame for the choices?
Grayling is clearly hoping that a Labour or Labour-led government of the future that cuts the contracts to G4S and Serco will take the blame for the increased cost to the taxpayer that he is imposing.
He isn’t thinking straight, though. G4S and Serco are under investigation, facing serious allegations of fraud. While they were cleared to work on government contracts in January, this came from auditors working for the Conservative government; a future government may disagree with that decision.
This means that contracts awarded to G4S and Serco would be void – and no money would be due to them.
Whatever happens with the contracts, Grayling himself should face legal proceedings for his own involvement in what amounts to interference with the public finances, after he is forced out of office next year. The favouritism he shows towards the two companies is deeply suspicious and he should be investigated for financial connections to them.
Let us remember, also, that Grayling has no mandate for these actions as nobody elected a Conservative government into office to tie the hands of future administrations. It was not in the Conservative 2010 manifesto, nor was it in the Coalition agreement.
Following the bogus Work Capability Assessment (WCA) conducted by Atos Healthcare, as contracted by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), the United Kingdom (UK) Government admitted that it was wrong to cut the disability benefits of Mark Wood, the vulnerable disabled man who starved to death following the removal of his benefits, in the 21st century UK, when weighing only 5st 8lbs.
Despite the fact that the WCA was introduced by the Labour Government in 2008, it was originally designed by previous Conservative Governments, in consultation with the notorious American corporate giant now known as Unum Insurance, identified in 2008 by the American Association for Justice as the second most discredited insurance company in America.
Without a welfare state, sick and disabled people in America are required to use private healthcare insurance. The tyranny now imposed on the sick and disabled people in the UK, using the WCA, was designed in consultation with Unum Insurance to oblige the general public to purchase private income protection insurance policies once it was made very clear that chronically sick and disabled people could no longer rely on the British State for adequate financial support.
Americans often suffer when attempting to claim from the income protection insurance policies of Unum Insurance, who use an identical bogus disability ‘assessment’ model as that used by Atos Healthcare.
Due to the similarities of the negative and damaging experiences of claimants, American sick and disabled people are periodically informed about the struggle in the UK by the high calibre and relentless work of Linda Nee, who tries to encourage claimants to publicly protest as witnessed in the UK, which it seems disabled Americans still don’t dare to do – such is the intimidation of Unum Insurance & the American authorities (see here, here and here).
The new report by The Mental Health Welfare Commission for Scotland, regarding a woman’s suicide after being ‘stripped of disability benefits’, was reported by John Pring at the Disability News Service (DNS) and by many others. The Coalition Government knew this carnage would happen.
Three years ago a list of distinguished academics, together with politicians and disability support groups, identified the future in a letter as published in The Guardian newspaper: ‘Welfare reform bill will punish disabled people and the poor.’ Now, three years after this letter was published, questions are being asked as to why the appointed and totally unsuitable Lord Freud, in his capacity as the Minister for Welfare Reform – who was not elected by anyone in the usual democratic way – deemed it necessary for the DWP to stop collating the numbers of deaths recorded after the long-term sickness and disability benefit, Incapacity Benefit, now changed to the Employment Support Allowance (ESA), is removed from claimants. (My emphasis.MS)
Questions are also being asked as to why this unelected former City banker was ever afforded so much authority and power in the UK Government given his reputation, where one commentator described Freud as: ‘…one of the key players in several of the most embarrassing and badly managed deals in investment banking history.’ (See here and here)(My emphasis. MS)
The recent welfare Backbench Business debate in the House of Commons (HOC) was granted due to the 104,000 signatures on the WOW petition, as gathered by disabled people and their carers, who are demanding a cumulative impact assessment of all the welfare reforms. The debate was held on February 27, 2014 where, lamentably, most Coalition Government Members of Parliament (MPs) failed to attend this very important and historic debate. Of course, Coalition MPs still played the ‘blame game’, reminding the opposition that the previous Labour Government had introduced the Work Capability Assessment (WCA).
However, the Coalition routinely overlook the fact that they knowingly changed the WCA into the government-funded nightmare that it is today, whilst MPs such as George Hollingbury (Column 430) actually claimed that the Coalition “took it forward”… (Welfare Reform Act 2012) whilst disregarding the fact that a WCA face-to-face assessment with Atos Healthcare is taking over six months to arrange. (Column 433) (My emphasis.MS)
Hollingbury waxes lyrically about all the ‘expert’ opinion (Column 431) that totally failed to expose the dangerous and limited reality of the WCA, not least due to the restricted possible answers in the tick box WCA computer questionnaire, as conducted by Atos Healthcare, that fail to offer the choice of ‘none of the above’ as an additional possible answer when the WCA questions do not refer to a particular claimant’s situation.
Hollingbury quotes Dr Litchfield’s WCA review whilst overlooking the fact that Professor Harrington, who conducted the first three annual reviews into the WCA, when no longer responsible, appeared in a BBC Panorama documentary and confirmed that ‘…people will suffer.’ No government representative can answer the subsequent obvious simple question – why should chronically sick and disabled people ‘suffer’ in the UK, apart from at the whim of a tyrannical government? (My emphasis.MS)
During the historic WOW petition debate, Alan Reid (Column 434 & 435) claims to be proud of his record in government as a Liberal Democrat (Lib Dem), still claiming that Lib Dems in government have been responsible for ‘improving’ the WCA process, whilst totally disregarding the fact that it is irrelevant how much more ‘flexibility’ is given to the DWP ‘Decision Makers’ and overlooking the fact that the ‘Decision Makers’, by their own admission, are totally unqualified for the vast responsibility they have. (My emphasis.MS)
They are basic grade administrators, not medical administrators, and they are incapable of comprehending diagnosis, prognosis or the implications of long term drug use when using a combination of prescribed drugs. (See here and here) More and more DWP bureaucracy with more and more administration means more and more delays, increasing DWP errors and utter chaos with a system clearly in meltdown as more and more victims of this UK government suffer and die. (See here and here) (My emphasis.MS)
Guto Bebb (Column 442) demonstrated that he is very poorly briefed, and doesn’t appear to want to be better informed, claiming that the damning report by the National Audit Office was ‘disappointing’ but insisted that the policy aims were OK. Bebb still seems to think that any sick or disabled person not in paid employment is ‘unproductive’. This disabled researcher begs to differ and, if the MP reads the very detailed published reports (here and here) as accessed by academics at universities throughout the UK, he’d know how incorrect he is.
Dame Angela Watkinson (Column 445) also appears to be remarkably poorly informed, as were various other speakers in this poorly attended yet important debate, who continued to repeat government rhetoric whilst disregarding the detailed evidence that has exposed the realities behind the ‘reforms’ as paving the way for private insurance to replace the once-hallowed UK Welfare State.
Since being introduced by the Conservative Government in 1992, all UK Governments have used the second worst insurance company in America as “government advisers” on welfare reforms, and the dangerous and totally discredited WCA is the result. (See here and here)
Jim Sheridan’s comments (Columns 448,449) were especially welcome during the debate when making reference to the new Personal Independence Payment (PIP) that has replaced DLA: “Reference has already been made to the obsession with people receiving welfare benefits, but for those with money – the tax avoiders and evaders – life goes on as normal. If only a fraction of the resources used and the time spent on chasing down those on welfare benefits was diverted to tackle tax avoidance and evasion, some people might understand the rationale behind it.”… “When people finally hear about their assessments, there is not much hope. Only 15.4 per cent of new claims have received a decision, and only 12,654 of the 220,300 people who have made a new claim since April 2013 have been awarded some rate of PIP. A constituent of mine got in touch because her father had been diagnosed with lung cancer. Because there is a possibility that his treatment will work, giving him a life expectancy of up to five years, he has not been classed as terminally ill. He is not well enough to attend a medical assessment and so will have to wait longer for a home visit. It appears that letters from his GP, cancer doctor and cancer hospital are not enough to prove the seriousness of his illness.”… “Inclusion Scotland has highlighted the case of the father of an applicant who was told that they would have to wait at least 10 months for any kind of decision, and perhaps even for a first assessment. A constituent of mine who is undergoing cancer treatment has been told that the eight-week time frame given by DWP is an unrealistic amount of time in which to process an application and offer an assessment slot. When my staff called the MP’s hotline, they were told that they simply cannot process the number of applicants as there is not enough staff. They also say that most people who have applied for PIP will not be entitled to it, even before individual cases have been looked at. If that is the mindset of the staff processing the applications, it is hard to see how balanced decisions will be made.” (My emphasis. MS)
Dr Eilidh Whiteford’s comments during the debate were also very welcome (Columns 450 & 451) and highlighted the vital work of the disability support groups such as the Black Triangle Campaign: “The Government are looking at this through the wrong end of the telescope. Raising the bar on eligibility will not make anyone any less sick or any less disabled; it will just make it more difficult for them to function in society and place more pressure on those on whom they rely for their care and support”…. “One of the most profoundly disheartening experiences for me as an MP since being elected in 2010 has been the relentless way in which disabled and sick people have been vilified and stigmatised in the public discourse about welfare reform. Those who had very little responsibility for the financial collapse and subsequent economic problems have nevertheless had to carry the can. The attempt to discredit disabled people in order to justify harsh and punitive cuts in their already fairly paltry incomes is quite shameful. It appals me that the most disadvantaged have been asked to pick up the tab disproportionately for the profligacy of others. As we look to the future, we see further cuts of £12 billion, at least, promised in the years ahead. For disabled people in Scotland, the choice between two very different futures is opening up before them: one with decisions on welfare made in Scotland or one where further cuts slash their incomes even more. That choice must seem very stark indeed.” (My emphasis. MS)
The very experienced Labour MP, John McDonnell, who requested this Backbench Business debate, actually confirmed the involvement of Unum Insurance with the entirely bogus WCA (Column 426): “The work capability assessment was flawed from the start. It stemmed from the work of the American insurance company Unum, and the so-called biopsychosocial model of disability assessment. That was exposed as an invention by the insurance companies simply to avoid paying out for claims.” … “The staff employed in order to achieve that often had minimal medical or professional qualifications, and their expertise or experience was often totally unrelated to the condition or disability of the people they assessed.”… “Assessments largely disregarded people’s previous diagnosis, prognosis or even life expectancy. The recent Panorama programme Disabled or Faking It? exposed the scandal of seriously ill patients—people diagnosed with life-threatening conditions such as heart failure or endstage emphysema—being found fit for work. The so-called descriptors, or criteria, on which assessments are based bear no relation to the potential employment available, take little account of fluctuating conditions and are particularly unresponsive to appreciating someone’s mental health issues.” John also identified the utter absurdity of this Government, introducing yet another bogus assessment as the Personal Independence Payment (PIP) that will ‘replace’ DLA although it is likely to remove this additional support from the vast majority of the 3.5 million people in receipt of DLA.
Shockingly, the provision of a Motability long leased vehicle, as funded by the mobility component of the DLA, will now be removed from the majority of chronically disabled people who do work; thus actually preventing them from going to their place of work since they are physically unable to use public transport, which will dramatically and knowingly increase the numbers of disabled people not in paid employment. (Column 428) (My emphasis.MS)
No matter how many unnecessary tragedies are reported, or how many people die in utter despair and destitution, Conservative MPs like George Hollingbury will dismiss them all as ‘questionable’ results….and Alan Reid, for the Lib Dems, still actually claims to have had some positive function in a Government that helped sick and disabled people, whilst disregarding the horrors, the deaths, the suicides and the overwhelming evidence; including distinguished academic papers from UK universities, together with detailed reports by both the British Medical Association and the Royal College of Nurses. Reid accepts no responsibility for the nightmare he helped to create, blaming anyone except the Government he belongs to. He needs to read the detailed, referenced research to help him learn what the disability movement already know. As he talks nonsense, people die.
Reid complains about Atos whilst ignoring the fact that the DWP is complicit. Totally unqualified DWP ‘Decision Makers’, under any UK Government, are dangerous as they aren’t qualified; they can’t comprehend diagnosis or prognosis and hence they are a liability and constantly make incorrect decisions. Their decisions to remove benefits from genuine claimants are killing the innocent victims of this UK State tyranny. Their countless wrong decisions mean that people die, encouraged by this enthusiastic and very dangerous UK Government, who sit back and watch as the majority of people blame Atos Healthcare who are simply following the DWP contract by using the bogus Lima computer assessment to conduct the WCA, as required by the DWP. (My emphasis.MS)
Atos Healthcare doesn’t remove anyone’s benefits – a constant incorrect claim by many – as they don’t have the authority. All Atos staff can do is to decide if someone is ‘fit for work’ based on the results of a bogus imported computer assessment. Any other company in the same position would result in the same conclusions as that is how the computer software in designed, which is why the Lima software should be banished and this particular WCA cancelled. (My emphasis.MS)
By definition, DWP ‘Decision Makers’ actually make the decisions about welfare benefits. These totally unqualified administrators are required to consider all additional evidence provided by the claimant; including detailed letters from Consultants and GPs who know their patients very well. It is the incompetence of the unqualified DWP Decision Makers, who fail to comprehend the details of medical information and choose to accept any decision following the WCA, as conducted by Atos Healthcare, that makes these DWP staff so very dangerous to the most vulnerable people in the UK. Mandatory reconsiderations won’t help if the Decision Makers remain unqualified for the job. What better way is there to remove as many people as possible from welfare benefits than to employ totally unqualified staff to make these vital decisions? (My emphasis.MS)
Identified claimant suffering includes dramatic increases in the onset of mental health problems. The General Practice (GP) service is close to collapse due to overwhelming numbers of patients needing support with DWP paperwork, that limits GP time spent with other patients who are ill and the British Medical Association (BMA) and the Royal College of Nurses (RCN) have both exposed the WCA as causing ‘preventable harm’ (as we have already seen). Yet this dangerous UK Government, with a Cabinet full of millionaires who fail to comprehend need, dismisses all other evidence regardless of source. They disregard the obvious fact that the ‘reforms’ are falling disproportionately onto chronically disabled people, and those who are very ill and in need of guaranteed long-term welfare benefits, as the Government sells the UK and transforms a once-great nation into UK plc. (My emphasis.MS)
In a now-infamous 2008 interview, Lord Freud claimed that he ‘couldn’t believe’ that anyone had been awarded a benefit ‘for life’, demonstrating the immense danger of permitting a former investment banker to have control of welfare spending when he fails to comprehend that many health conditions are permanent and do indeed last a lifetime. Meanwhile, the Public Accounts Committee’s report of February 2013 regarding the DWP’s contract management of medical services was unlimited in its criticisms of the DWP: ‘Poor decision-making causes claimants considerable distress, and the position appears to be getting worse, with Citizens Advice reporting an 83 per cent increase in the number of people asking for support on appeals in the last year alone. We found the Department to be unduly complacent about the number of decisions upheld by the tribunal and believe that the Department should ensure that its processes are delivering accurate decision-making and minimizing distress to claimants.‘ (My emphasis. MS)
There were many powerful speeches in the historic WOW petition debate and it isn’t possible to highlight them all. However, one name in particular should be highlighted for the courage to expose the fact that, if a link could be proven, “…there would be a case for corporate manslaughter.” (Column 460) (My emphasis.MS)
I salute Caroline Lucas MP of the Green Party for her courage and, in particular, for her condemnation of the official opposition for their total failure to offer detailed, significant support to this nation’s chronically sick and disabled people, with the new Shadow Secretary for Work and Pensions, Rachel Reeves MP, using her first interview to announce that she ‘…would be tougher on people on benefits’. (My emphasis.MS)
What a catastrophic announcement from the Shadow Secretary for Work and Pensions that, effectively, offers this nation’s most vulnerable people no hope if the Labour Party were to win the next General Election in 2015.
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But it was Lisa Coleman, an Atos senior vice president, who bore the brunt of the committee’s anger, thanks to concerns DNS had passed to the committee about the way the company won the contract to assess PIP claimants across London and the south of England.
Insincerity man: Would YOU believe Iain Duncan Smith if he told you he wasn’t a bully?
Claims that Iain Duncan Smith bullied members of the Public Accounts Committee into blaming his permanent secretary for the failings of Universal Credit are gaining traction after the Daily Telegraph reported that committee chair Margaret Hodge said that “senior figures had sought to influence her report”.
The Telegraph report states: “In comments to students on November 11 – four days after the publication of he committee’s report – Mrs Hodge said: ‘I can’t tell you how much inappropriate talking there was to me and other members of the committee, by both ministers and civil servants, either to get me to blame the permanent secretary in the DWP and therefore transfer blame away from Iain Duncan Smith or to put the blame on Mr Devereux [Robert Devereux, the permanent secretary] and to ensure ministers escaped blame.'”
As reported here on November 7, Iain Duncan Smith “has denied claims he tried to ‘lean on’ members of the committee to place the blame on Mr Devereaux, but Labour sources on the committee told BBC News there was a ‘concerted’ effort by Tory members to shift the blame, with extra meetings and discussions over amendments ‘pointing the finger’ at the permanent secretary”.
Bizarrely, it is Andrew Lansley, the Leader of the House of Commons, who has come under attack after the revelation – because he told the Commons (on the same day) that there was “no truth” to the claims.
While it is true that knowingly telling a falsehood to other MPs constitutes contempt of Parliament, for which the penalty used to be expulsion – as we know from the record of Iain Duncan Smith – it seems strange that the focus is on Lansley, who merely repeated what he had been told to say, and not Smith himself, the alleged perpetrator of the wrongdoing.
Spokespeople for the DWP and Lansley have denied any wrongdoing – well they would, wouldn’t they?
But Iain Duncan Smith is due to go before the Commons Work and Pensions Committee to account for the many offences he has committed in the last few months, and it seems right that this bullying allegation should be included alongside the financial irregularities now associated with Universal Credit (more than £160 million wasted on duff computer systems), his refusal to provide up-to-date figures on the number of deaths now associated with his social (in)security policies, the illegality of his attempts to deprive sanctioned victims of his workfare schemes of the back-benefit the government now owes them, and his own contempt of Parliament offence, in which he made false claims about the benefit cap.
That meeting is set to take place on December 9 (postponed from an original date in July). Do you think the lying coward will turn up?
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That’s frustration for the Coalition government, not the public (for a change).
If you’ve ever had to telephone a government department, you probably know that it is about as hard as the private company operating the service can make it. This is to enable that company to screw as much money as possible out of you before you have said a single word to a government employee.
The system is set so that there is only a small number of rings before a machine picks up – this is when they start charging you – and a recorded voice lists a series of options, from which you may choose. Then you wait.
They provide music for you to… enjoy, but this is interrupted at 20- or 30-second intervals by another recorded voice telling you that all operators are busy but your call is important.
After a non-specific length of time, a human being comes on the line and tells you that they can’t deal with your problem but will put you through to someone who can. Then its back to the music, interrupted by the recorded voice.
I have no idea what happens after that. I do not have the disposable cash to pay through the nose for the privilege of listening to ‘The Four Seasons’ being ruined. If I want to hear classical music, I’ll get Spotify or – Luddite that I am – spin a CD.
Currently, whenever I receive correspondence saying I should telephone a government department, I respond with a letter. Now that Royal Mail is privatised, I suppose I shall have to find another alternative when prices start to rocket.
Fortunately, it seems Margaret Hodge and the Commons Public Accounts Committee have taken note of the problem and action is being proposed, after it was revealed that people have been paying around £56 million to speak to government departments on premium rate phone lines.
How did they find out? Was it brought to their attention because of the high volume of ‘abusive’ messages from clients who had been told their calls were being recorded, but who still ended up screaming that they had been waiting forever, the call had already cost them the national debt of a small developing country and their spouse and family had given up and left them – most probably for a telephone company executive?
Sadly, this isn’t even news. It was reported in December 2012 that calls to HM Revenue and Customs had left customers paying £33 million a year. Somebody calling from a mobile would have spend £1.92 if they waited the average length of time on hold – and that is before anyone dealt with their query.
According to the BBC, the committee found that one-third of Whitehall numbers used by the public were higher-rate – including those for benefit, victim support and tax inquiries.
This higher rate means calls can cost 10.5p per minute. With the average call costing 56p, this means calls from landlines can last around five minutes and 20 seconds and we can deduce from our own experiences that most people are unlikely to have actually spoken to anybody human at all.
It seems possible, therefore, that the government telephone system – certainly that used by the DWP – is designed, not as a service to “customers” (their word), but as a means of keeping them away. Not only that, but it also seems designed to fleece them of as much money as possible while doing so.
“Customers of government services should be able to contact those services easily and cheaply,” the BBC article quotes Mrs Hodge. “Charging customers higher rates… is not acceptable, especially when the customers are often vulnerable people.”
There was also criticism that calls took too long to answer.
In response, the Department for Work and Pensions has said it will offer a choice between 0845 and 0345 numbers, allowing callers to choose the cheapest line. I’m willing to bet it won’t tell callers which line that is. Also, it will be massively over-used, leading to longer queues, so people will end up paying just as much.
You’ll have noted that nothing was said about cutting down waiting times.
Consumer group Which? wants public bodies and companies to provide either freephone or local rate numbers for customer service and complaints lines, saying it is “ridiculous” to force a huge bill on people, especially when they have to wait on hold.
It isn’t ridiculous if the phone service has been contracted out to a private company, though – as seems to be the case with the DWP, at the very least.
In that circumstance, it’s a money-spinner – one that is about to peter out, if Mrs Hodge gets her way. That’s why this is frustrating for the government.
How many Conservative MPs have financial interests in the Telecoms industry?
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