The pick of the Tories: Iain Duncan Smith is a creature of odious habits and even worse politics.
The former Tory leader whose ‘reforms’ of social security have led to the deaths of thousands upon thousands of people has been appointed to lend his ignorance to the government again.
Iain Duncan Smith will chair the new Taskforce on Innovation, Growth and Regulatory Reform.
The title of the organisation creates the acronym TIGRR – tiger, get it? But Duncan Smith is no kind of tiger. As benefit claimants know from his time as Work and Pensions Secretary, he’s a little bitch.
This Site has its own acronym for him – RTU. It stands for “Returned To Unit”, the message of shame on the record of armed forces personnel who fail training for promotion up the officers’ ranks – as he is said to have done.
The government has claimed that the TIGRR will “identify and develop proposals across a range of areas that will drive innovation and competitiveness, reduce barriers to start-ups and scale-ups, create opportunities for innovation to make the most of cutting-edge technologies, and support growth and dynamism right across the UK economy”.
But with RTU at the helm it is more likely to reduce competitiveness with new schemes that will be massively expensive while helping nobody (like Universal Credit), create barriers that stop people getting what they need (as he did with all benefits, particularly those for the sick and disabled), and abandon cutting-edge technologies for paper and ink (as DWP workers were forced to do when his plan for Universal Credit to be fully computerised fell on its ass).
He didn’t even help his own government! All his so-called “reforms” created more expense and none of them saved any money at all.
Labour has said it is ready to fight over any reforms that could be harmful – particularly to employment rights.
While This Writer has nothing personal against Andy McDonald, I remember when the party under Ed Miliband, in the dying days of its previous right-wing, neoliberal incarnation, voted in support of RTU to harm benefit claimants and I have a doubt.
The simple fact is that the appointment of this death machine should tell us everything we need to know about what his organisation will do. And it won’t help anybody.
Have YOU donated to my crowdfunding appeal, raising funds to fight false libel claims by TV celebrities who should know better? These court cases cost a lot of money so every penny will help ensure that wealth doesn’t beat justice.
Iain Duncan Smith has responded to the concerns of fellow Catholics over the harmful effects of benefit sanctions on health – by lying to them.
Earlier this year, Catholic magazine The Tablet published an open letter from fellow Catholics to the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, urging him to rethink his welfare reforms, and warning that vulnerable people will be harmed by cuts.
Now the man we call the Gentleman Ranker, in tribute to his failure as an Army officer, has responded with a letter published in the current edition. Thanks to Samuel Miller for bringing the matter to This Blog’s attention.
In it, he claims that “safeguarding the vulnerable” is at the heart of the Conservative Government’s changes to the benefit system, and goes on to say, “Let me be clear that there is no evidence to suggest that sanctions have caused claimants’ health to deteriorate.”
Take a look at this excerpt from the Department for Work and Pensions’ own guidance on the effect of benefit sanctions:
Note that it does not say anything about there being no evidence that claimants’ health will decline – it automatically assumes that this will happen.
“It would be usual for a normal healthy adult to suffer some deterioration in their health,” according to the DWP’s official guidance.
It goes on to say that, in the case of claimants with a medical condition, a DWP decision maker (DM) must decide whether they would suffer a “greater” decline in health than a “normal healthy adult”.
Yet again, Iain Duncan Smith is revealed to be a liar and, more importantly, a man who would deceive the public in order to continue inflicting harm on his fellow human beings.
Is this a Catholic attitude?
Is it a Christian point of view?
Remember, Iain Duncan Smith lied to Parliament recently, when he claimed that statistics on the deaths of incapacity benefit and Employment and Support Allowance claimants are not collected by the Department for Work and Pensions. Not only are they collected, they are being prepared for release to the public.
The data has been delayed for several years, however – because he wants it released in a form that will not reveal what is suspected to be a horrifying amount of blood on his own hands.
The claims in the rest of the letter pale into irrelevance next to these facts.
How can anyone trust the claims of a habitual liar?
The Gentleman Ranker has labelled the British people as “disgraceful” because they are supporting a petition to force his Department for Work and Pensions to reveal information that should be published routinely.
“Disgraceful”, is it?
To This Writer, it is “disgraceful” that the Secretary of State has lied to his fellow MPs yet again about the facts relating to people who have died while claiming sickness and disability benefits.
The “disgraceful” Duncan Smith said, “The Department does not collate numbers on people in that circumstance.” In fact, we all know – because I have published it here – that the DWP does hold, and could provide within the cost limit for Freedom of Information requests, figures on the number of claimants who have died. That was said in an email between the DWP and the Information Commissioner’s office on October 21, 2013.
His attitude has been pilloried by the Daily Mirror. Under the headline, “Iain Duncan Smith claims 200,000-strong campaign to reveal Tory benefits deaths is ‘disgraceful'”, reporter Dan Bloom stated: “Iain Duncan Smith has attacked a ‘disgraceful’ campaign to reveal the number of people who died after being declared fit for work.
“The Work and Pensions Secretary lashed out after coming under fire over the figures – which his department is waging a legal battle to keep secret.”
Duncan Smith, who readers of this blog like to describe as RTU (Return To Unit) and SNLR (Services No Longer Required) in acknowledgement of his failed career in the Army, was reacting to questions from Labour MPs Marie Rimmer and Debbie Abrahams, in the House of Commons yesterday (Monday).
Ms Rimmer asked “why the Government are refusing to publish—even though the Information Commissioner has instructed them to do so—the up-to-date statistics”.
His “disgraceful” response was: “I find it absurd that Opposition Members deliberately try to misrepresent what happens under such schemes. I remind the hon. Lady that it was her Government who introduced the employment support allowance and the work capability assessment, and at no stage did they say that that led to people committing suicide. People in that situation are often in a very delicate and difficult position, and I find it disgraceful that she is going round making such allegations.”
Let’s just correct him on that. When Labour introduced ESA and the work capability assessment ‘medical’ test, it was not perfect – This Blog has campaigned for the removal of both and their replacement with a more humane system since it was founded in 2011. However, it was not until Duncan Smith arrived at the DWP and ratcheted up the stress for claimants with the additional of hugely stressful conditions and demands that the deaths started mounting.
He knows perfectly well that 10,600 people died between January and November 2011. Why did his department not publish statistics for the full year? Was it because he and his ministers know that the period leading up to Christmas regularly suffers an increase in suicides and they did not want the figures to be even more calamitous than they were already?
Those numbers are a disaster for the UK’s social security system, yet this man seems to be proud of them. He is certainly determined to defend the regime that created them, and to keep it in place.
Debbie Abrahams – a long-time friend of This Blog due to her actions as a member of the Work and Pensions Committee in the last Parliament – asked: “Given that on 5 June the High Court found the Department’s actions—this time on PIP delays—unlawful, does the Secretary of State think that he and his Department are above the law? Why does he refuse to publish the details of the number of people who have died within six weeks of their claims for incapacity benefit and employment and support allowance, including those who have been found fit for work?”
Duncan Smith’s “disgraceful” response failed to answer either of these questions. He whined: “I find it unbelievable that she, the hon. Lady and others have spent all their time trying to make allegations about people going about their work. She knows very well that the Department does not collate numbers on people in that circumstance. It deals with individual cases where things have gone right or gone wrong and reviews them. It is a crying shame that Labour Members want to go out every day scaring and frightening people. It is no wonder they lost the election.”
No – he knows that the statistics he is withholding will terrify people. That is why he is trying to keep them secret. If they had been published, his Conservative Party would undoubtedly have lost the election instead of Labour.
It remains to be seen whether the facts are so abominable that Duncan Smith himself should face criminal proceedings, as many believe.
Is he withholding the evidence simply to save his own scrawny neck?
The petition currently has around 220,000 signatures. Please sign it if you haven’t already, and publicise it widely so we can push it up to 400,000 signatures as soon as possible.
The effect of Iain Duncan Smith’s ‘welfare reforms’ should, by now, be plain for all to see: Increased poverty – including child poverty, the torture of starvation for people who have been sanctioned off of benefit and cannot afford food, hopelessness, despair, suicide.
We saw the signs as long ago as 2012, when the man we call RTU (Return To Unit) and SNLR (Services No Longer Required) launched his famous rant on the subject against Owen Jones.
This blog reported it at the time: “Irately wagging his finger in Mr Jones’s general direction, he barked: ‘We’ve heard a lot from you. 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. We are changing their lives; I’m proud of doing that. Getting them off-benefit is what we’re going to do.'”
Establishment figures like David Dimbleby, it seems, wanted us to take this at face value – that the Secretary-in-a-State was going to put people to work (whether they liked it or not).
Now we know that wasn’t what he meant.
He meant he was going to force people off benefit by perverting the system in the worst way possible. He was going to order his staff to find any slight excuse to inflict benefit sanctions on society’s most vulnerable.
As we read today, “Unlike benefit delays, where in theory claimants can receive backdated payments to cover the period when they were without income, sanctions left already vulnerable recipients struggling with a massive hole in their finances which they had often filled with expensive credit, trapping them in a cycle of debt.”
He has inflicted torture on the innocent, in contravention of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
His benefit assessors practice “chequebook euthanasia” – when claimants say they have suicidal thoughts, they are asked why they have not yet killed themselves.
And sometimes he just condemns people to die in the cold. Note that Job Centre staff – like Nazi soldiers – use the so-called ‘Nuremberg defence’ for their actions; they were “only following orders”.
Take this comparison to its logical conclusion and Iain Duncan Smith may be compared with Hitler; the unemployed, sick and disabled are his Jews, Romanies, sick and disabled; and the whole of the UK is his extermination camp.
But a general election is coming and the Conservatives are not expected to win. Will Iain Duncan Smith take Hitler’s way out?
He’ll probably try to cover his tracks, too.
So let us appeal to all DWP personnel: Here’s your chance to get something worthwhile from the last five years!
It is time to start copying information. Iain Duncan Smith will want to cover up all his dirty little secrets and it is likely that his shredder will be working day and night if he thinks someone else might discover any inconvenient truths.
If there are any inconvenient truths, then as servants of the country – rather than servants of the Conservatives or the Secretary of State – it is your duty to collect this evidence, preserve it and bring it forward after he has been ousted.
Nobody can order you to do this. Undoubtedly you will be discouraged from doing it; there are likely to be rules that say you must not, invoking the same national interest that Yr Obdt Srvt is invoking here.
This is a matter for your conscience.
Do you think Iain Duncan Smith and his associates should be allowed to go unpunished for the harm they have caused?
Universal Credit has been an unmitigated calamity and so-called ‘reforms’ intended to end billions of pounds of spending on Incapacity Benefits every year have instead increased the cost – that is the end-of-Parliament report on Iain Duncan Smith’s Department of Work and Pensions from Jonathan Portes, director of the National Institute of Economic and Social Research (NIESR).
In addition, the department has suffered serious – and possibly lasting – damage to its reputation since 2010, a reputation that was at a high when Mr Portes left it in 2008, due to the success of its integration of benefit offices and job centres into Job Centre Plus.
“Six years on, that reputation is in tatters,” he writes in The Guardian. “This decade’s flagship programme – the integration of the six major working-age benefits into universal credit – is far behind schedule, with tens of millions of pounds of IT investment already written off and much more to come. The [National Audit Office]’s verdict has been damning, describing weak management, ineffective control, and poor governance, with both ministers and civil servants coming in for severe criticism. External experts – most of whom supported the principles behind universal credit – are unsure of whether the system can ever be made to work, even several years late.
“But this is far from the worst of the failures. The collapse of the department’s contract with Atos to reassess incapacity benefit claimants means perhaps half a million remain in limbo. The suffering of individual claimants misclassified by Atos and DWP – in some cases left literally starving – has been well-publicised. Less so has been the cost to taxpayers. But the Office for Budget Responsibility’s Welfare Trends report, published last week, shows an upward revision of £3bn a year in spending on incapacity benefits – entirely attributable to delays and mismanagement.”
And it is all the fault of the Tories, it seems.
Mr Portes states: “But the evidence points to a combination of hubris on the part of Iain Duncan Smith, a reluctance by civil servants to push back against unrealistically ambitious timetables, and arbitrary, Treasury-driven spending cuts.” The man we call RTU (Return To Unit) or SNLR (Services No Longer Required) is too proud to admit his ambition outweighed his ability; his staff were too timid (afraid of him?) to make him face the realities of the situation and the Treasury, run by Duncan Smith’s rival George Osborne, forced cut upon cut onto the department, perhaps in an effort to make the Secretary-in-a-State look worse than he already did.
So “Even after it was obvious that the [Universal Credit] programme was well off-track, Duncan Smith continued to claim it was ‘on time and on budget’.”
Sir Bob Kerslake, outgoing head of the civil service, described a “culture of good news” where no one could say that things were going wrong.
Meanwhile, in a bid to claw back some of the money lost on UC, ministers were desperately clamping down on incapacity benefit claimants: “Ministers firmly believed that hundreds of thousands of people on incapacity benefits could in fact work, and that the new work capability assessment would show just that, giving the Treasury some of the savings it needed. So when their own independent reviewer, Malcolm Harrington, told them that the work capability assessment needed major changes, and meanwhile the reassessment process should be delayed, they ignored him; not pressing ahead would have left a significant black hole in the sums.
“The predictable result – tens of thousands of appeals, many successful; considerable hardship; administrative chaos; and eventually the collapse of the DWP’s contract with Atos. And the long-term downward trend in the number of people on the benefit has now actually reversed. Ministers have yet to explain why, if it is really the case that hundreds of thousands of people were receiving the benefit when they shouldn’t have been, the “reforms” are now actually seeing the numbers going up again.
“The promised savings, of course, have long since vanished. In fact, the OBR estimated last week that the delays to the government’s plans for these two benefits are now costing taxpayers close to £5bn per year – dwarfing savings made elsewhere, and leaving a large potential black hole in the next government’s budget.”
Perhaps this is why Rachel Reeves keeps talking about money, rather than the human cost of the DWP’s bungling.
Only this morning, she was on Twitter telling us she would be appearing on LBC to talk about how Labour will “make work pay” – annoyingly trying to steal a Tory soundbite.
Perhaps, also, this is why the DWP is infamously reluctant to answer Freedom of Information requests. The infamous call for an update on the number of ESA claimants who have died since November 2011, first made by Yr Obdt Srvt in 2013 (following other unsuccessful attempts) is now – on a second attempt – with the Information Commissioner’s Office on appeal after ministers found another reason to refuse it.
And the Huffington Posthas told us that a perfectly legitimate request by Newsnight’s Chris Cook has also been snubbed by the department.
“Iain Duncan Smith’s DWP has made a name for itself as one of the most vindictive arms of government since the coalition came into power, far more concerned with saving money than serving its jobless customers, and as useful as a wet paper bag in getting people into work,” wrote Nick Stephenson.
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:
Conference speaker: It seems Iain Duncan Smith was at the Tory conference after all – talking about some hare-brained plan to use pre-paid cards to limit what benefit claimants buy.
Iain Duncan Smith was practically invisible during the Conservative Party conference. He made a speech – apparently. Can anybody remember what it was about? It seems to have been obscured by overarching interest in what people like Theresa May, George Osborne and even David Cameron had to say.
Well, he’s back now, talking such flagrant and unremitting nonsense about his job that it is hard not to remove the asterisks from the following description of his words: B*llsh*t.
So in Saturday’s Telegraph he was b*llsh*tting about his mission to kill as many people with long-term illness or disabilities as he can, and to kick social housing tenants onto the streets: “I don’t think about this as a job… I have a vocation.”
Oh is that right? Let’s see what RTU has to say when the public kick him out of office next May, when he’ll be told in no uncertain terms – as he was when he was in the Army – that his Services are No Longer Required (and never were).
The Torygraph article seems an attempt to rehabilitate the image of this evil dunce by claiming his founding of the (let’s give it its proper name) Centre for Social Injustice brought into being “one of the most influential centre-right thinktanks in British history”. Does it deserve this gushing praise? Not at all; its only influence is as a cheerleader for RTU’s policies of hate.
“Mr Duncan Smith’s animating passion is to help the workless poor to help themselves by moving off benefits and into employment,” gushes the article by some apparatchik called Tim Ross (who?). “It is easy to see how much value he places on meaningful work, especially after a recession.
“’People at the bottom end have felt it worst,’ he says. ‘I just want to get on and improve their quality of life. This is my mission so I’m going to continue on it.’”
Let’s look at how he plans to do that. According to The Independent, it involves taxing disability benefits for the first time, in order to make it even harder for people living with permanent and progressive conditions to “get on and improve their quality of life”.
The new Personal Independence Payment (PIP) is already much harder-to-get than the benefit it replaces, Disability Living Allowance (DLA). Smith reckoned this was fair when he introduced it but now he has decided it would be more fair to reduce the amount of cash available still further.
He’s saying that those on higher incomes should be taxed in order to subsidise higher benefits for the poorest – but the same article states that the move is intended to raise £7 billion, not for people with disabilities, but for the Tory-led government.
It quotes a government source, talking to the Sunday Times: ““It cannot be right that those on the lowest incomes get the same disability benefits as those who are millionaires.” Do we know many millionaires who have claimed DLA or PIP – other than David Cameron?
Ending the universality of disability benefits would involve means-testing. This is complex and costly and results in people who need the benefit not claiming it because the process is too complex or intrusive. Iain Duncan Smith – that odious worm – is aware of this. Why else would he be proposing it? You can expect the new system also to have a version of his ‘mandatory reconsideration’ procedure, currently ruining Employment and Support Allowance, to make sure possible claimants get the message and clear off.
The Man With No Time for the Truth is back again with more of the same shenanigans.
Iain Duncan Smith reckons his huge and unnecessary benefit cuts are breaking up the culture of unemployment on the UK’s housing estates – a culture he likened to that shown in the TV drama Shameless.
There’s just one problem with what he’s saying: It’s rubbish.
“The Work and Pensions Secretary revealed that cuts to jobless hand-outs had reduced the number of workless households in council homes to the lowest level since records began,” shrilled the Express report on Friday.
Apparently nobody had pointed out to either RTU or the Express that removing people from the unemployment figures does not automatically mean they are in work. It is far more likely to mean that our heartless Tory-led government of selfishness has consigned these people to destitution.
That’s of no consequence to Iain I-Believe-I’m-Right. If they’re off his books, he doesn’t worry about them. What a fine Christian attitude from this upstanding and still un-excommunicated Catholic.
“We are beginning to change this dependency culture that Labour bred and are turning it into an independence culture where people see they can take control of their own lives,” he lied. Throwing them to the wolves is not making them independent.
He added that the proportion of people in social housing who do not work had fallen from just under 50 per cent in 2010 to 41 per cent – and that he believed it would fall below 40 per cent. Perhaps this is because he has engineered a situation in which increasing numbers of unemployed people, unable to pay his Satanic Bedroom Tax, are being thrown onto the streets?
“People are beginning to say – I ought to go to work, I have to go to work,” he gloated, knowing that his party had devised a poverty trap in which falling wages are ensuring that people going to work will be no better-off for it.
People are, in fact, telling themselves they have to get off benefits before Iain Duncan Smith kills them – just as his policies have killed tens of thousands of incapacity benefit claimants.
And now the Tories reckon the country should support their plan to cut the maximum amount a household should claim in benefits from an already too-low £26,000 a year to £23,000. The original figure was in line with a Tory lie about the average family income. Does this mean incomes have dropped by £3,000 a year since they imposed the cap?
It seems the money ‘saved’ by the increased cap would fund three million apprenticeships, as David Cameron says he wants to “abolish” youth unemployment.
As ever, the devil’s in the detail. The money would be used to give 18-21-year-olds a six-month window to “find” work or training – but would be withdrawn if they did not carry out “community projects” like cleaning local parks.
And will any long-term jobs result? Or will these youngsters be thrown back after the money runs out, to be branded SNLR (as Iain Duncan Smith was, back in his Army days) – Services No Longer Required?
This is work formerly carried out by convicted criminals, which tells you everything you need to know about the Conservative attitude to unemployed youth.
“Not even this much”: Iain Duncan Smith demonstrates how much he cares about the fact that his claims about unemployment being a lifestyle choice have been revealed as lies. It WON’T change his attitude and it WON’T change his policies.
Hopefully the piece’s author, Hugh Moir, will forgive us if we don’t bat an eyelid in surprise.
Researchers spent eight months failing to unearth any examples of joblessness as a lifestyle choice, or multiple generations of a family in which nobody had worked. And – crucially: “They did not find any prevailing aversion or reluctance to work.”
The article continues: “The new research does suggest that the reasons for long-term endemic joblessness are much more complicated than the story crafted by government and eagerly gobbled up by irresponsible programme makers and scrounger-seeking tabloids.”
What’s unusual about this particular article is that, rather than end it there, Moir goes in for the kill: “Attention to the multiple causes of long-term joblessness would require well-funded, well-staffed social services, a focus on problems such as alcohol abuse in deprived communities and resources to fight the ravages of drug addiction in poor areas. But these are the very services that feel the full effect of the government’s cuts in local-authority funding and its wider objective to shrink the state.
“This is waste of potential on a grand scale, ruining lives, and damaging to the economy. But in the absence of any strategy to deal with the problem at its most complex, we are offered a narrative to define it at its most superficial. Four years in, subjected to scrutiny, that approach may at last be starting to unravel.”
As, of course, it should.
Interestingly, the piece starts by referring to stories crafted by other politicians about themselves, to make them seem more appealing. So Bill Clinton was “the boy from Hope” – a small-town boy from Arkansas who did well, rather than a privileged American who had studied at some of the best universities in the world; and George W Bush claimed he was an average boy from an average family when we know his father was a leading Republican and president-to-be.
It does not mention RTU’s own self-crafted story – that he attended the Universita di Perugia in Italy, that he was educated at Dunchurch College of Management, that he had a glittering Army career. This is odd, because it is more clearly bunkum than either of the US Presidents’ claims.
Vox Political has produced an entire article about his lies – one which, due to their sheer weight of numbers, remains unfinished. For further information, why not take a look at it?
After that, you’ll never believe a single word he says.
It seems Yr Obdt Srvt has become the victim of DWP game-playing that shows contempt for sick and disabled benefit claimants whose lives are threatened by poor decision-making.
You may be familiar with the following saying (or at least with the fact that George W Bush wasn’t): “Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me.”
I mention this as a precursor to the following story, for reasons that should become clear.
Back in May, I sent another Freedom of Information request to the Department for Work and Pensions, again asking for an update of the ad-hoc statistical release Incapacity Benefits: Deaths of Recipients from mid-2012 (long-term readers will be aware a previous request was refused as “vexatious”).
In it, I pointed out: “A response to a previous Freedom of Information request (FOI 2013-IR665) stated that ‘Whilst we currently have no plans to directly update the ad hoc report on “Incapacity Benefits: Deaths of Recipients” published on 9th July 2012, the Department does monitor requests we receive for new statistics and consider whether we can produce and release analysis that will helpfully inform public debate. The Department is therefore looking at this issue with a view to seeing what statistics could be produced on a regular basis.’
“It went on to state that ‘the balance of the public interest test falls in favour of withholding this information. As I have explained above, statistics on this issue will be published in due course.’
“I have studied DWP release schedules extensively and in the 11 months since I made my request, I have found no publication of statistics on this issue… Was the DWP’s statement that ‘statistics on this issue… will be published in due course’ made in error?
“If this is the case, then there can be no public interest argument against disclosure of this information in response to either my previous request or any future request, as it is not set to be published as part of the DWP’s current schedule. I remind you that this is time-sensitive information; it is important that the data becomes public knowledge as soon as it is available, in order to inform government policy and avoid preventable fatalities in the future.”
If this was not the case, I continued, then – as at midday on May 28 this year, what was the date on which it is planned that the DWP will be publishing figures from November 2011 to those which are most up-to-date?
If no date of publication was set down, I concluded, then the DWP had a duty to provide an update, to me, immediately.
I reminded the Department’s FOI officers that an email from the DWP to the Information Commissioner’s office, dated October 21, 2013, stated that “we can confirm that the Department does hold, and could provide within the cost limit… the information requested.”
The substantive issue: A DWP statistical release in 2012 showed that more than 200 people were dying every week as a result of Iain Duncan Smith’s changes to assessment procedures for incapacity benefits – either they were put into groups where unreasonable demands were placed on them or the stress and anxiety of constant re-assessment was too much for their bodies to take. Many were driven to suicide.
Apart from acknowledging receipt, the DWP ignored my request. I therefore invoked my right to have it reconsidered, immediately after the legally-prescribed period ran out. By this time the DWP was already breaking the law.
Apart from acknowledging receipt, the DWP ignored my reconsideration request. Are you getting angry about this yet? Remember, it is about deaths caused by government policy. I therefore notified the Information Commissioner and requested a ruling on this matter.
The Commission responded late last month, saying the DWP had 10 working days to get a response back to me. Tomorrow was the deadline and the response arrived today.
You’re really not going to like it.
“Unfortunately there was a mistake in the response you were sent for FOI 2013-IR665. Due to an administrative error an Annex A (about the Public Interest Test) appeared at the very end of the letter. It was not intended for this response and as such there is no mention of it anywhere in the main letter.
“So the answer to your first question ‘Was the DWP’s statement that ‘statistics on this issue [incapacity benefits: deaths of recipients] will be published in due course’ made in error?’ with respect to the reply you received is yes. That statement was not intended to be part of the response and was therefore made in error. We therefore attach a corrected copy of the reply to FOI 2013-IR665 and apologise for any inconvenience caused.”
That is not good enough. There was no way I could have read that response without believing that I was being told updated statistics were to be published in the future; any other interpretation would have defied common sense.
Also, it makes a nonsense of what was said in the body of the response – that the DWP was working on releasing figures on a regular basis.
And it means one of two things: Either the DWP was lying then, when it said work was progressing on what could be published, or it is lying now, by saying the information about the public interest test was included in error.
Either way, it seems clear that the intention was to stop my request from progressing any further.
Let’s move on to the really insulting part. Today’s response states, and I quote verbatim:
“We can confirm that we do intend to publish further statistics on this topic and these will answer a majority of your questions. As the statistics are intended for future publication this information is exempt from disclosure under the terms of Section 22 (Information intended for future publication) of the FOIA. This exemption is qualified, and is therefore subject to a public interest test. The public interest test is where the Department considers whether the balance of the public interest falls in favour of withholding or disclosing the information requested.
“Arguments in favour of disclosure: There are public interest arguments in favour of disclosure of this information at the present time. Disclosure would for example improve transparency in the operations of the Department.
“Arguments against disclosure: There are public interest arguments against disclosure of this information at the present time. These arguments include that it is in the public interest to adhere to the existing publication process for official statistics, which includes time for the data to be collated and properly verified.
“It is also in the public interest to ensure that the publication of official information is a properly planned and managed process, to ensure that the data are accurate once placed into the public domain. It is also in the public interest to ensure that the information is available to all members of the public at the same time, and premature publication could undermine the principle of making the information available to all at the same time through the official publication process.
“On this occasion, the balance of the public interest test falls in favour of withholding this information. As explained above, statistics on this issue will be published in due course.
“We do not have a planned publication date at this stage but we will pre-announce the agreed date.”
That’s right – having apologised for misleading me into believing that updated information was to be produced when it wasn’t, the DWP went on to say that updated information was to be produced, but it wasn’t going to provide that information to me – even though no publication date has been set – for precisely the same reasons, to the letter, for which it had just apologised.
I get the impression that someone in Caxton House is trying to be funny.
What a big joke – to put off a Freedom of Information request about thousands of needless deaths with an excuse that has already been used wrongly, on the basis that it was wrong then but it isn’t now.
No. Not funny.
Pants: Iain Duncan Smith
The situation is reminiscent of one mentioned in an article earlier today, wherein someone blew the whistle on Iain Duncan Smith’s expenses claim for underwear so he called her into a meeting and reduced her to tears with a show of belligerence. The substantive issue was of no interest to the man we call RTU (Returned To Unit); his only worry was that it should be hidden from the public. The same applies here.
As mentioned at the start: Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me. I won’t be fooled again.
The information is held by the DWP, and could be provided easily enough.
The public interest test cannot be applied to my request as the DWP has not proved that statistics on this issue will be published in due course. For this to apply, a publication date would have to have been provided in the response and none was forthcoming.
Therefore I conclude that the DWP’s response is false and will be appealing to the Information Commissioner again – and to the First-Tier Tribunal if necessary. The tribunal is likely to take a very dim view of this as, after a previous hearing, its members stated that “we have considerable sympathy for the appellant”.
We have to prove that these people are not above the law.
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