Tag Archives: Russia Today

This Christmas, remember the hidden casualties of the Coalition years

Suffering: If fibromyalgia displayed visible signs, this is how a sufferer would look. Imagine how such a person would feel - physically and emotionally - if they were left alone this Christmas. Too much trouble for family; no fair-weather friends left; and a government that won't even investigate if they were found dead after the holidays.

Agony: If fibromyalgia displayed visible signs, this is how a sufferer would look. Imagine how such a person would feel – physically and emotionally – if they were left alone this Christmas. Too much trouble for family; no fair-weather friends left; and a government that won’t even investigate if they were found dead after the holidays.

Today I had a long chat with a Russia Today reporter, thanks to a recommendation from John McArdle of Black Triangle. It seems a foreign-owned news corporation is more interested in the plight of the UK’s most vulnerable than our home-grown media or – worse – our government.

She was asking about Vox Political‘s Freedom of Information requests, seeking information from the Department for Work and Pensions on the number of people who have died while going through the now-tortuous process of claiming Employment and Support Allowance (ESA), which includes the now-infamous work capability assessment (WCA).

As part of the dialogue she told me the government’s current line is that publicising the figures would not be instructive as they do not provide information on the causes of death and many of the deceased may have died because of their medical conditions, rather than due to government harassment or stress brought on by the assessment regime. This is, of course, nonsense.

The government cannot say that people in the Work-Related Activity Group have died because of their medical conditions without admitting that they should never have been put in that group in the first place. The WRAG is for people who are getting better, and who are expected to be healthy enough to seek employment within a year. If they die instead, then the work capability assessor (working for Atos, Maximus or whoever else) clearly missed an important point, or they, possibly together with the DWP decision-maker, disregarded it because regulations handed down from Conservative Party ministers told them to do so.

It is not quite as easy to accuse the government over people in the Support Group, because these have been judged to be in need of the maximum amount of help allowed by the law, due to the severity of their medical conditions. They are more likely to pass away. However, if fatality statistics had been published regularly and properly, it would have been possible to see whether the number of Support Group fatalities was increasing disproportionately; if it was, it follows that ministers should order an investigation into the causes of death. It does not follow that they only died because they had a medical condition. Was it worsened by the stress caused by the DWP’s regime of irregular re-assessments? What about the financial insecurity caused by benefit uprating caps? What about the personal insecurity caused by cuts in care services? With the figures hushed up, it is easy to ignore any such trends. Nobody knows about it, so why make a fuss? When politicians are in government, they have a vested interest in publicising only the information that makes them look good.

How does the government account for deaths in the assessment stage of ESA? These must be mushrooming due to well-publicised delays in processing claimants. Again, some may be due to claimants’ physical conditions but delays in assessment mean they have been deprived of the help they needed.

Then there are the suicides.

Some claimants take their own lives while on the benefit. This could be due to many reasons including the hopelessness of a situation where they foresee themselves being pushed off-benefit (this goes for people in both the WRAG and the Support Group because they are all under the threat of continual reassessment), or suffering more and more cuts to the amount received (in comparison with inflation) that their quality of life will suffer, or they’ll be kicked out of their homes, or they won’t be able to afford the necessities of their lives. The government does not record the number of people who do this and pays no attention to the verdicts of coroners performing inquests on them.

Then there are those who die after being refused the benefit. There is no information on these people at all because the government does not consider them to be its responsibility any more. They could die because of their medical condition; they could commit suicide – it won’t appear in government figures.

But, the possibility of suicide indicates a mental imbalance which should be picked up by the ‘medical experts’ conducting work capability assessments – right? In fact Dr Litchfield, the independent assessor, pointed this out in his recent evaluation of the WCAs’ performance – commenting on how numbers of people in the Support Group had increased due to fears for the safety of the claimants or those near them – and in fact this indicates a grudging nod towards progress. Somewhere, someone noticed that something was going wrong – but while the figures are kept hidden, we know that this is not nearly enough.

And now we are nearly at Christmas. Suicide season.

More people take their own lives under Conservative governments than Labour. And more people do so at Christmas than at any other time of year.

The festive season is great when you are in fine health, surrounded by a family and friends who love you, and are wealthy enough to enjoy the season to the full (we shan’t go into whether your family and friends are only around because you are wealthy enough because there’s no reason to assume any such selfishness and it is, after all, the season of goodwill).

It’s a different proposition when you don’t have your health, when benefit dependency means you can hardly keep yourself, let alone think about presents for other people, and when the lack of both of these have driven away what friends and family you might have – for whatever reasons.

Back in the summer a Twitter acquaintance with fibromyalgia remarked on how lucky Mrs Mike was to have a partner who had stuck with her, because the pressures of the condition lead to partners who are also carers walking out, leaving the sick or disabled (or both) person on their own. Put yourself in that position and ask how you would feel.

Taking all this into consideration, why do you think the death statistics for 2011 – the only year for which we have any figures at all, courtesy of an ‘ad hoc’ DWP release – run from January to November, rather than for the whole year?

Interesting, that.

There’s nothing to be done about the government’s attitude at the moment. Because of it, people are going to die this month and in January.

But there is a way to minimise the situation.

If you know someone who has a long-term sickness or disability and who is going to be on their own this Christmas, why not see what you can do to make it brighter?

It could be the difference between life and death.

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Malnutrition up by 71 per cent since Cameron took office

He must be so proud.

According to Russia Today, malnutrition in the UK has increased by 71 per cent since the Coalition came into office in May 2010.

This cannot be a natural progression and must be attributed to the policies of the Conservative Party, aided and abetted by their little yellow friends, the so-called Liberal Democrats.

The gist is that people don’t have enough to eat as cuts become more severe and living costs escalate. Nearly 6,700 people were diagnosed with malnutrition in the last financial year, with Greater Manchester seeing the greatest increase.

Scarlet Fever has more than doubled and Cholera is up no less than 450 per cent.

Take a look at the video.

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UK involvement in Ukraine is just a lot of gas

Battlefield: Independence Square in Kiev after clashes on February 20.

Battlefield: Independence Square in Kiev after clashes on February 20. [Image: AFP]

It isn’t often that Vox Political discusses foreign affairs; this would usually involve mentioning that national disaster, William Hague. But we’ll make an exception in the case of Ukraine.

If you don’t know that thinly-disguised Russian soldiers have occupied the Crimea, which is currently Ukrainian, you’d probably have to be living in a hole in the desert.

Russia says this is entirely justified, but the position is not clear-cut.

It seems this crisis started after a pro-Russian Ukrainian president, Viktor Yanukovych, decided to abandon plans for co-operation with Europe in favour of allying his country more closely with Russia.

At the time, Ukraine was deeply in debt and facing bankruptcy, with £21 billion needed to get through the current financial year and 2015. The country cannot call on the same financial levers as the UK, meaning this is a serious issue. How fortunate, then, that Russia was on hand to buy $15 billion of Ukrainian debt and reduce the price of Russian gas supplies by around one-third.

Gas. Ukraine produces around a quarter of its own supply and imports the rest from Russia and Asia, through pipelines that Russia controls. These pipelines continue into Europe, providing supplies to Western countries as well.

The alignment with Russia sparked huge popular protests which quickly escalated into violence. Even though Yanukovych gain office through an election that was judged free and fair by observers, it seems clear his pro-Russian policies do not have the support of the people. But Crimea used to be part of Russia until 1954, and most of its population are Russians.

Then on February 22, Yanukovych did a runner to Russia, from where – surprisingly – he has claimed he is still President of Ukraine. Politicians in Kiev thought differently and have named their own interim president until elections can take place in May. It is this action that sparked rival protests in Crimea, where people appear to support the previous, pro-Russian policies.

Troops, apparently in Russian uniforms, have appeared across the Crimea, besieging Ukrainian forces and effectively taking control. It has been suggested that Russian President Putin sent them in response to a request from Yanukovych, but Putin denies this. Crimea’s parliament has asked to join Russia.

There is also the matter of the Russian naval base on the Crimean Black Sea coast. This seems uncontroversial, though, as Ukraine had agreed to allow Russia to keep it.

To sum up:

It seems that most of Ukraine wants to keep Russia at arms’ length; but it must still find a way to pay back its debts.

It seems that most of Crimea wants to rejoin Russia. This will be tested in a referendum on March 16.

It seems that Western European countries like the UK are desperate to condemn Russia for interfering in Ukraine. Concerns were raised on the BBC’s Question Time last Thursday that the referendum will be rigged, but we have no evidence to suggest that will happen – independent observers have reported that previous exercises of democracy have been free and fair.

It seems hypocritical of us to condemn Russia’s intervention in a place where that country’s citizens are threatened by violence. What did we do when the Falkland Islands were invaded in 1982 – and have we not stood firm against threats to those islands ever since? Nor can we criticise Russia for invading a country on a flimsy pretext – Iraq springs to mind.

So what’s it all about?

Gas.

It seems most likely that, because most of Western Europe’s supply of Russian gas comes through Ukraine, we are far more concerned about our energy supply than about local democracy in an eastern European country. The UK, along with France and Germany and no doubt many others, wants to ensure that this supply is not interrupted as this could seriously jeopardise our ability to generate power.

… And if that isn’t a powerful reason for this country to invest massively in renewable energy generation, it’s hard to find one. What possible advantage is there in putting ourselves at the mercy of another country – especially one that has been less than friendly to us in the past?

It seems the only reason the UK has for outrage is the possibility of violence. We know that military intervention in the affairs of another country doesn’t work; nobody can parachute in, effect regime change, and leave a stable democracy running smoothly behind them. We should have learned our lessons in Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya.

Unfortunately, it seems that only a minority are willing to speak up and admit this – headed most visibly by Russia Today presenter Abby Martin, who delivered an impassioned denouncement of Russia’s involvement. “I will not sit here and apologise for or defend military action,” she said.

Nor should we.

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