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DWP debate highlights Duncan Smith’s failure to perform

“This particular Secretary of State, along with his Department, is pushing people through [the] cracks and hoping that the rest of the country will not notice that they have disappeared.” – Glenda Jackson MP, June 30, 2014.

Yesterday’s Parliamentary debate on the performance of the Department for Work and Pensions under Iain Duncan Smith was more like a trial, with witnesses lining up to condemn the accused.

If the man this blog likes to call RTU (Returned To Unit) thought he would be able to show that his behaviour had improved, he was sorely mistaken – as the comment above illustrates.

It is vital that this information reaches the general public despite the apparent news blackout, in the mainstream media, of any disparaging information about Duncan Smith or his DWP.

But we were discussing the debate as a trial. Let us first look at the evidence in favour of the government.

There. That was illuminating, wasn’t it?

Seriously, the government benches were unable to put up a single supportable point against the mountain of evidence put forward by Labour.

Iain Duncan Smith, the Secretary-in-a-State, resorted yet again to his favourite tactic – and one for which he should have been sacked as an MP long ago – lying to Parliament. He accused Labour of leaving behind a “shambles” – in fact the economy had begun to improve under intelligent guidance from Alistair Darling. “The economy was at breaking point,” he said – in fact the British economy cannot break; it simply doesn’t work that way. His claim that “We were burdened with the largest deficit in peacetime history” is only supportable in money terms, and then only because inflation means the pound is worth so much less than it was in, say, the 1940s – or for the entire century between 1750 and 1850. He called yesterday’s debate “a cynical nugget of short-term policy to put to the unions,” but the evidence below renders that completely irrelevant.

He said complaints about long delivery times for benefits were “out of date” – a common excuse. He’ll do the same in a few months, when the same complaint is raised again.

“Universal Credit is rolling out to the timescale I set last year,” he insisted – but we all know that it has been ‘reset’ (whatever that means) by the government’s Major Projects Authority.

He said there had been four independent reviews of the work capability assessment for Employment and Support Allowance, with more than 50 recommendations by Sir Malcolm Harrington accepted by the government. This was a lie. We know that almost two-thirds of the 25 recommendations he made in his first review were not fully or successfully implemented.

He said appeals against ESA decisions “are down by just under 90 per cent” – but we know that this is because of the government’s unfair and prejudicial mandatory reconsideration scheme – and that the DWP was bringing in a new provider to carry out work capability assessments. Then he had to admit that this provider has not yet been chosen! And the backlog of claims mounts up.

He tried to justify his hugely expensive botched IT schemes by pointing at a Labour scheme for the Child Support Agency that wasted hundreds of millions less than his Universal Credit, without acknowledging the obvious flaw in his argument: If he knew about this mistake, why is he repeating it?

Conservative Mark Harper said Labour opposed the Tories’ most popular scheme – the benefit cap. That was a lie. Labour supported the cap, but would have set it at a higher level. We know that the Coalition government could not do this because it would not, then, have made the huge savings they predicted.

Now, the evidence against.

First up is Rachel Reeves, shadow secretary of state for work and pensions: “After £612 million being spent, including £131 million written off or ‘written down’, the introduction of Universal Credit is now years behind schedule with no clear plan for how, when, or whether full implementation will be achievable or represent value for money.

Over 700,000 people are still waiting for a Work Capability Assessment, and… projected spending on Employment and Support Allowance has risen by £800 million since DecemberThe Government [is] still not able to tell us which provider will replace Atos.

Personal Independence Payment delays have created uncertainty, stress and financial costs for disabled people and additional budgetary pressures for Government… Desperate people, many of whom have been working and paying into the system for years or decades and are now struck by disability or illness, waiting six months or more for help from the Department for Work and Pensions.

The Work Programme has failed to meet its targets, the unfair bedroom tax risks costing more than it saves, and other DWP programmes are performing poorly or in disarray.

“Spending on housing benefit for people who are in work has gone up by more than 60 per cent, reflecting the fact that more people are in low-paid or insecure work and are unable to make ends meet, even though they may be working all the hours God sends.

“More than five million people — 20 per cent of the workforce — are paid less than the living wage. Furthermore, 1.5 million people are on zero-hours contracts and 1.4 million people are working part time who want to work full time.

“This… is about the young woman diagnosed with a life-limiting illness who has waited six months for any help with her living costs. It is about the disabled man whose payments have been stopped because he did not attend an interview to which he was never invited.

“The Government are wasting more and more taxpayers’ money on poorly planned and disastrously managed projects, and are allowing in-work benefits to spiral because of their failure to tackle the low pay and insecurity that are adding billions of pounds to the benefits bill.

“The Government are careless with the contributions that people make to the system, callous about the consequences of their incompetence for the most vulnerable, and too arrogant to admit mistakes and engage seriously with the task of sorting out their own mess.

“What this Government have now totally failed to do is to remember the human impact, often on people in vulnerable circumstances, of this catalogue of chaos. Behind the bureaucratic language and spreadsheets showing backlogs and overspends are people in need who are being let down and mistreated, and taxpayers who can ill afford the mismanagement and waste of their money.

“To fail to deliver on one policy might be considered unfortunate; to miss one’s targets on two has to be judged careless; but to make such a complete mess of every single initiative the Secretary of State has attempted requires a special gift. It is something like a Midas touch: everything he touches turns into a total shambles.

Meanwhile, the Secretary of State will spew out dodgy statistics, rant and rave about Labour’s record, say “on time and on budget” until he is blue in the face and, in typical Tory style, blame the staff for everything that goes wrong.”

Julie Hilling (Labour) provides this: “The Government do not know what they are talking about… They talk about the number of jobs being created, but they do not know how many of them are on zero-hours contracts or how many are on Government schemes or how many have been transferred from the public sector.”

Stephen Doughty (Labour/Co-op): “another stark indictment of their policies is the massive increase in food banks across this country.”

Helen Jones (Labour): “When I asked how many people in my constituency had been waiting more than six months or three months for medical assessments for personal independence payment, the Government told me that the figures were not available. In other words, they are not only incompetent; they do not know how incompetent they are!”

Sheila Gilmore (Labour): “Although the problems with Atos were known about—and it is now being suggested that they had been known about for some time—a contract was given to that organisation for PIP. Was due diligence carried out before the new contract was issued?”

Gordon Marsden (Labour): “Many of my constituents have been caught by the double whammy of delays involving, first, the disability living allowance and now PIP. They have waited long periods for a resolution, but because a decision is being reconsidered, their Motability — the lifeline that has enabled them to get out of their homes — has been taken away before that decision has been made. Is that not a horrendous indictment of the Government?”

Emily Thornberry (Labour): “I have been making freedom of information requests.. in relation to mandatory reconsiderations. When people get their work capability assessment, and it has failed, before they can appeal there has to be a mandatory reconsideration. The Department does not know how many cases have been overturned, how many claimants have been left without any money and how long the longest period is for reconsideration. It cannot answer a single one of those questions under a freedom of information request.”

Natascha Engel (Labour): “The welfare state is designed as a safety net to catch people who absolutely cannot help themselves… That safety net is being withdrawn under this government, which is certainly pushing some of my constituents into destitution.”

There was much more, including the devastating speech by Glenda Jackson, partly in response to Natascha Engels’ comments, that is reproduced in the video clip above.

The vote – for the House of Commons to recognise that the DWP was in chaos and disarray – was lost (of course). A government with a majority will never lose such a vote.

But once again, the debate was won by the opposition. They had all the facts; all the government had were lies and fantasies.

By now, one suspects we all know somebody who has died as a result of Coalition government polices on welfare (or, preferably, social security). Two such deaths have been reported in the Comment columns of Vox Political since the weekend, and it is only Tuesday.

That is why it is vital that this information reaches the general public despite the apparent news blackout, in the mainstream media, of any disparaging information about Duncan Smith or his DWP.

Share it with your friends, use parts of it in letters to your local papers or radio stations, even mentioning it in conversation will help if the other person isn’t aware of the facts.

Don’t let it be suppressed.

You don’t want to do Iain Duncan Smith’s work for him, do you?

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Profiteering energy firms would be stupid to believe they can hold Labour to ransom

Miliband's cost-of-living crusade starts here. [Picture: Metro - from an article in August headlined 'Energy company profits rise 74 per cent in 48 months']

Miliband’s cost-of-living crusade starts here. [Picture: Metro – from an article in August headlined ‘Energy company profits rise 74 per cent in 48 months’]

The UK’s private energy companies will be playing a very dangerous game if they think they can call Ed Miliband’s bluff on price-freezing.

According to The Guardian, Mr Miliband’s announcement that energy prices will be frozen for 20 months under a Labour government has sparked a chorus of protest from the affected firms.

In the first skirmish in the new political battle over the cost of living in the UK, Mr Miliband wants to “reset” what he sees as a “failing” energy market in which customers had paid £3.9 billion more than necessary since 2010. The measure would save families an average of £120 and businesses £1,800.

Energy firms say it would lead to blackouts similar to those seen in California. They say it will stall investment in new power stations.

Energy UK, which represents the largely foreign-owned energy firms, said: “It will… freeze the money to build new power stations, freeze the jobs of 600,000 people dependent on energy industry and [make] the prospect of energy shortages a reality.”

Here’s Centrica: “If prices were to be controlled against a backdrop of rising costs, it would simply not be economically viable for Centrica or indeed any other energy supplier to continue to operate and far less to meet their sizeable investment challenges the industry is facing.”

And Ian Peters, head of residential energy at British Gas, said: “If we have no ability to control what what we do in retail prices and wholesale prices suddenly go up within a single year that will threaten energy security.”

Labour has said the claims were “patently absurd” and “nonsense” put about by the large energy companies.

Mr Miliband said: “There’s a crisis of confidence in the system. It’s time we fixed it and they can either choose to be part of the problem or part of the solution. I hope they choose to be part of the solution.”

Suppliers say prices have gone up to cover their rising environmental and social obligations and in response to commodity price rises – sums paid on wholesale markets. So let’s examine the profits made by the “big six” – British Gas, EDF, E.On, npower, Scottish Power and SSE – over the last few years (figures courtesy of the BBC): In 2009, £2.15 billion. In 2010, £2.22 billion. 2011 – £3.87 billion (a massive hike of £1,870,000,000 in a single year). And in 2012 – £3.74 billion. That’s £11.98 billion in profits over four years – a huge and unwarranted amount in these times of supposed austerity.

And let’s not forget – this is pure profit. None of that money will have been reinvested into the companies. It goes to the shareholders.

It is while sitting on such huge amounts that these companies are trying to tell us they won’t be able to afford theinvestments to which they have signed up; that they won’t be able to increase employee pay. And it is while sitting on this massive pile of cash that they are threatening us with blackouts if they aren’t allowed to continue demanding huge price rises.

Well, it won’t wash.

Doesn’t it seem more likely that, faced with threatened blackouts, Mr Miliband will choose to re-nationalise the energy firms, rather than back down?

After all, they would be reneging on their contract to provide energy to the United Kingdom. This could be just what Mr Miliband needs to bring them back under State control, where energy generation and distribution belongs. And it would show he is serious about having the strength to “stand up to powerful vested interests”.

Naysayers may point out that this would only put him back in a position of being at the unions’ mercy, instead of under the thumb of big business, but this isn’t true either – the Tories restricted the unions’ power massively back in the 1980s.

Besides, new structures have come into being since then. What if the energy companies were re-constituted as Nationalised Workers’ Co-operatives? This would entail every employee receiving a percentage of any profits – possibly along the lines of the successful John Lewis model – with the remainder ploughed back into the Treasury to reduce income tax bills.

Such an arrangement should silence any dissent among workers as they would receive two slices of the pie – a profit-driven bonus and a tax cut – while everyone else has lower energy bills, together with the tax cut.

If it were proven to be successful, then employees of the other privatised utilities could soon be queueing up to have their companies re-nationalised as well.