Tag Archives: Scope

LabourLeaks: will party leaders take disciplinary action while inquiry is ongoing?

The scope of an investigation into the leaked Labour report on a right-wing faction’s interference will not stop party members being suspended and investigated for improper behaviour, it seems.

So it is entirely possible for Keir Starmer and his team to suspend the memberships of all those who are named as responsible for misconduct in their roles as party officers, investigate what happened alongside the investigation into the report, and finally expel them if necessary.

The investigation’s full terms of reference have yet to be published but a LabourList report states that:

  • “The inquiry does not preclude disciplinary action by the party… the new leadership team was not trying to discourage such action from being taken by the party in line with normal processes, and in fact “they’re encouraged” to do so.”
  • The person who leaked the report will be protected as a whistleblower. A Momentum spokesperson said: “While the report should not have been leaked unredacted, Labour is Britain’s largest political party and the contents were clearly in the public interest. Labour’s half a million members deserved to know what was happening at the top of their party, and those involved in bringing these actions to light must not be penalised.”
  • Sources say the independent investigation will not focus on the leaking of the report in terms of identifying the leaker(s), though how and why the leak occurred will be considered.

Of course, both Starmer and deputy leader Angela Rayner have said they support introducing an independent complaints system.

For the benefit of Labour members: this means the party, as data controller, would pass your personal details to somebody completely unconnected with it, who you may not wish to have information about you, without consulting you about it and without asking your consent. This runs contrary to the Data Protection Act.

A majority vote in Conference will not be enough to give the party legal justification for such a move. It will have to gain the consent of every single party member – and if just one of you refuses to allow it, then the party will be acting illegally in doing it.

That’s the law.

This Site will continue to report on this matter as developments continue to take place.

Source: Labour’s ruling body agrees scope of investigation into leaked report – LabourList

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Liberal Democrat disability policy: arse-backwards

I doubt many people who aren’t Liberal Democrats will have read the agenda for their conference, currently taking place in Brighton. That’s probably for the best because it includes a policy motion on disability that would leave you dizzy. They really don’t know which way they’re facing on this one.

But no worries, eh? It’s only the public who’ll suffer because of it!

The motion starts by noting that the Welfare Reform Act has been passed, including changes to Employment and Support Allowance (ESA); the introduction of Personal Independence Payments (PIPs) to replace Disability Living Allowance (DLA) – and the plan to use this to cut the benefit by 20 per cent by 2015-16 (therefore stopping people from receiving it); the feeling of exclusion from the welfare reform policy development process amongst the disabled community (hang on – the Lib Dems supported the Act; isn’t it a bit late to be moaning about how it excluded the people it was supposed to be working for?); and the conclusions of the report Reversing Recovery on the impact of the Act.

It also notes the rise in disability hate crime “as reported in a survey conducted by the disability charity Scope”, but makes no mention of the fact that this has been fuelled by inflammatory reports of so-called “scroungers” in the right-wing press.

So already they don’t know which way they’re going with this.

It goes on to welcome – welcome! – the introduction of Universal Credit. This is the benefit that will cap the amount households receive, ensuring that even people in the Support Group of ESA claimants will lose benefit if the total they get is more than an arbitrary prescribed amount. They are welcoming a change that will put more people in poverty and misery.

And it welcomes the Government’s decision to allocate an extra £15 million to the Access to Work budget, on the recommendation of Liz Sayce in her review of specialist disability employment programmes. This is the woman who had all those Remploy factories closed. She is no friend to disabled people.

Now we get really confused.

The motion asks the LD conference to state its belief that “society and government have a duty of care towards sick and disabled people and that the goals of government policy must be the empowerment of sick and disabled people in order to tackle and reduce their dependency on others and, fundamentally, to enable them to enjoy full and equal citizenship.” Empowerment? Full and equal citizenship? Read it again and boggle at the hypocrisy in the words from a party that has helped reduce the disabled to a hated and ridiculed underclass.

“Current welfare policy is failing sick and disabled people and […] the Welfare Reform Act does not do enough to remedy this situation.” Because it is the Welfare Reform Act that has created the situation! “Sick and disabled people unable to work or unable to find employment should be supported by the welfare system for as long as they are unable to work or find employment and […] mechanisms such as the current method of time limiting […] contributory ESA are counterproductive and harmful.” Nearly half of all people found “fit for work” by Atos, the company running the WCA regime for the DWP, now have NOTHING to live on. That’s no money at all. And the Lib Dems voted in favour of that.

The next bit criticises the last Labour government for relying on advice from private companies with a potential financial interest in affecting policies about the sick and disabled. It reminds me of a Biblical extract in which Jesus says that, before you can remove a mote from another person’s eye, you need to take the plank out of your own. Isn’t the current government – of which the Coalition is a part – welcoming the wholesale introduction of the private sector into all manner of public services – with open arms? Look at the privatisation of NHS services, which is kicking up a gear with the arrival of Jeremy Hunt’s red and blue lists. Look at David Cameron’s declared intent to privatise everything but the security services and the judiciary. And the Lib Dems are blaming Labour for relying on private sector advice? Get the plank out of your eyes, boys and girls. Or better still, get out of government and take the Tories with you.

The next part states: “Policies which force sick and disabled people to be dependent on others may prevent them from being able to enjoy equal citizenship and leads to exclusion from society,” – which begs the question: Why do you support such policies?

“Further action by government is required to prevent victimisation of and discrimination against sick and disabled people by employers.” This will never happen under a Conservative-led government.

Let’s move on to what they want. Some of these are in fact good ideas but the hypocrisy in the Liberal Democrats calling for them is staggering. The motion asks the LD conference to seek:

“An independent review of the impact of the Welfare Reform Act.” Isn’t it a bit late for that? Wasn’t the impact checked before the Act was passed? Are they saying the Tories lied to them about what would happen? Are they admitting they were reckless as to the effect on disabled people?

“A review of WCA assessment centres to ensure they have adequate disabled access andeasy access by public transport or that mechanisms are in place to provide home visits oralternative assessment venues.” What, because access to assessments is the main problem? It’s a practical idea, and I understand access has been an issue – unnecessarily – but again, this is something the Liberal Democrats should have considered before they allowed the stupid and vindictive legislation through. Did they actually read the Welfare Reform Bill before it became an Act of Parliament?

“The establishment of a public consultation on the assessment mechanisms for DLA, ESA and PIPs, with special emphasis on eligibility for support for those with time variant conditions.” Again, this is a good idea but its time was before the Act was passed. Even if the majority of Liberal Democrats go back on their original support for the Act, the Conservatives will never allow it to be changed. They want the disabled to live in poverty and misery.

“The results of this consultation to be used by the DWP to reform its sickness and disability policies.” This will never happen with Conservatives in charge.

“Additional support and effort to be targeted at enabling sick and disabled people to remain in work and at removing barriers of access to work through expansion of schemes such as the Access to Work Fund.” Again – this will never happen with Conservatives in charge. They want to cut another £10 billion from the benefits bill, on top of the £18 billion that is already being hacked away.

“The Government to ensure that it continues to take a balanced approach to the advice it receives, and that it prioritises the advice of organisations representing sick and disabled people.” Continues? This Coalition government has never taken a balanced approach to advice, and will never prioritise the advice of representative organisations above that of private business and its own hatchet-people. This is dangerous idealism.

“The Citizen’s Advice and non-profit-making advice services to receive increased government funding during the transitional periods for any future substantial changes to the welfare system.” As a CAB trustee, I’d like to see this happen. As a realist I know it won’t.

“The Government to examine the impact of means-testing and income-related support elements of disability welfare policy and, when funds allow, to reform policy to reduce the number of cases where sick and disabled people are made dependent on partners and carers and to ensure that, where this does happen, this does not lead to exclusion from society.” The operative phrase here is “when funds allow”. A Conservative-led government will ensure that funds are never available to allow the reforms suggested here. The programme, in case the Liberal Democrats weren’t paying attention, is about shrinking the state down to almost nothing. This is being done by ensuring that the national debt stays high, providing an excuse for cut after cut.

“A public awareness campaign to tackle prejudice and other attitudes detrimental to the well-being of sick and disabled people.” This is against Conservative Party policy and will not see the light of day in this Parliament, unless done in a half-hearted and cack-handed manner that will do more harm than good.

So what do YOU make of all that?

I think it will win loud applause in the conference chamber. The Liberal Democrat leadership will enjoy that, hoping that the media will report it as an attempt to moderate the excesses of the right-wing Tories.

But they know that it won’t achieve anything in real terms.

Like so much Liberal Democrat posturing – as part of the Coalition – it’s nothing more than words on paper and hot air.

Let’s get Ed on-side

The Daily Mail columnist Sonia Poulton has written a letter to Ed Miliband, in order to secure his opposition to the DWP/Atos work capability assessment regime that is killing 32 disabled people every week. She has invited readers to ‘sign’ her letter by filling in their names and postcodes in the Comments column of her blog. It will be closed to new signatures from midday on Saturday (August 4) so get yours on quick! Here’s the link:

http://ramblingsofafibrofoggedmind.wordpress.com/2012/08/01/open-letter-to-ed-miliband-please-add-name-and-postcode-if-you-agree-with-contents/#comment-1723

New Atos contract to increase misery for the disabled

Not content with killing 32 Incapacity/Employment Support Allowance claimants every week, the Department for Work and Pensions has awarded the contract to test whether disabled people should continue receiving benefits to Atos.

The firm won contracts worth more than £400 million, although in Wales and parts of central England the job will go to outsourcing company Capita.

Since the assessment regime for those on IB/ESA is continuous, this means that, less than a year from now, disabled people may have to undergo two deeply flawed assessments – within the same month – to get the essential financial support they need to live their lives.

Since ESA pays less than IB, it is not even certain that their living costs will be covered, even if they are among the lucky 12-13 per cent of claimants who are likely to be successful.

The aim of the change from Disability Living Allowance to the Personal Independence Payment (PIP) is to cut spending by 20 per cent over the next three years. The fraud rate, according to the DWP’s own figures, is less than 0.5 per cent. It is easy to deduce, therefore, that even if all the fraudulent claimants are taken out of the system (they won’t be), another 39 times as many honest claimants will unfairly lose their benefit.

The assessment system is likely to be based on that already in place for IB/ESA. This means about 500,000 people would be cut from the benefit roll due to arbitrary judgements based on a scheme that has already been proven to be flawed, target-driven, and – in many cases – fatal.

As if that isn’t bad enough, David Cameron has announced he wants to desecrate the NHS constitution, in order to allow the sale of millions of UK residents’ medical records to pharmaceutical companies without consent. This will allow those companies to develop new drugs – which is a good thing – which they are likely to sell back to the health service at sky-high prices – which is bad.

The information will be anonymous – he says – but it won’t be long until ways are found to trace it back to individual patients, who will then, for example, face exorbitant insurance premiums or be refused a mortgage. It is believed that consent for the sale of your records will be assumed unless you tell your GP otherwise.

Disability benefits – who’s really faking it?

Earlier this week, both Channel 4 and the BBC gave us new documentaries about the way disabled people’s claims for state benefits are assessed. On Channel 4, Dispatches offered “Britain on the sick“, while the BBC’s Panorama was entitled “Disabled, or faking it?”. Both are available to watch on the web at the following addresses:

http://www.channel4.com/programmes/dispatches/4od#3388055

http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b01lldrc/Panorama_Disabled_or_Faking_It/

Both programmes were made to address the government’s focus on benefit cheats, and the narrative it has created that people claiming disability benefits are workshy scroungers who are perfectly capable of getting a job. This fiction has gained traction amongst the public and has led to verbal abuse and in some cases physical attacks on disabled people – including some on Disability Living Allowance who do have jobs (DLA is an in-work benefit, intended to defray the extra costs incurred when a person has to live with disability).

Let’s look at the official figures. The Department for Work and Pensions, which runs the disability benefit system, published a report called Fraud and Error in the Benefit System in February this year. It provided the following statistics:

For the financial year 2010-11, 0.8 per cent of benefit spending was overpaid due to fraud, amounting to £1.2 billion. This proportion was the same as in 2009-10.

For different benefits, this breaks down as follows: Retirement Pension 0.0 per cent; Incapacity Benefit 0.3 per cent (this is being changed to Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) the subject of the documentaries); Disability Living Allowance 0.5 per cent; Council Tax Benefit 1.3 per cent; Housing Benefit 1.4 per cent; Pension Credit 1.6 per cent; Income Support 2.8 per cent; Jobseeker’s Allowance 3.4 per cent; Carer’s Allowance 3.9 per cent.

From these figures, we can see that the number of fraudulent claims for Jobseeker’s Allowance – able-bodied people claiming benefit while they look for work – is eight and a half times larger than for fraudulent disability benefit claims.

The £1.2 billion cost of fraud to the taxpayer is not a small amount, I’ll grant you – but the DWP is hoping to claw back £10 billion with its new assessment regime, run by the French company Atos. That’s almost 10 times as much money as is being paid out to fraudulent claimants.

Yet the department claims that people with a legitimate claim have nothing to fear.

Dispatches reporter Jackie Long stated: “[We have] uncovered evidence that a tough regime of tests is secretly trying to push almost 90 per cent of these claimants off the sick, to look for work.”

The programme took advantage of undercover filming to show the training process for an ESA assessor who would carry out Work Capability Assessments and then determine which group a claimant would join: the support group (for those whose disability meant they were likely to need permanent help from the state), the work-related activity group (for those whose disability should not prevent them from getting a job, with the right help), and those who are fit for work.

Early in the programme, the trainer states categorically: “This new benefit, Employment Support Allowance was meant to take people off the benefit.” And later: “This was specifically designed to take people off Incapacity Benefit.” She goes on to admit that any assessor who puts more than 12-13 per cent of their cases (about 1/8) into the support group will be “audited” – their work will be queried and they will be asked to put some of these people into the other groups.

The documentary featured interviews with people that demonstrated – graphically – how inadequate the test was; a man deemed able to work at a supermarket checkout who would have fallen asleep because of the high dosage of painkillers he’s taking; a woman who could lose a leg if she uses a wheelchair habitually – and has been working hard to avoid that – who was then told she could work if she used one and would not, therefore, receive benefit.

The test asks whether claimants are able to move an empty cardboard box or push a button. Richard Hawkes, chief executive of disability charity Scope, described it as “deeply flawed” and “outrageous”.

Even though Atos assessors’ decisions are final in 94 per cent of cases (DWP decision makers accept their advice), they are told they never need to worry about appeals against those decisions (which occur in more than 40 per cent of cases) and the tribunal hearings that take place (which cost £45 million per year) – they never go to the tribunals and won’t be blamed.

On both programmes, Atos and the DWP were adamant that the DWP has not set targets for assessors to follow. The evidence we have seen shows that they were lying.

The target is the percentage of people being put on the top rate of disability benefit – the support group. The trainer: “You are being watched carefully for the rate of support group. If it’s more than 12 or 13 per cent you will be fed back – your rate is too high. I do not set the criteria; that is what we are being told.” She said assessors would be constantly audited to see what they do. Another trainer said that figure came from the DWP.

When the doctor who carried out the training, and the undercover filming, was put to work, he carried out eight assessments – four of them were bounced back and he was told to take points off. The documentary’s producers contacted Atos, who expressed doubt about the doctor due to his political background.

Panorama followed case-histories also – the most noteworthy being that of the gentleman who was, for all intents, harassed by the system. Found fit for work despite being told to see a doctor by the assessor – the doctor discovered he had a critical heart condition – he won an appeal only to be contacted again, weeks later, with notification of a further assessment. At the time, he was waiting for a heart operation. Again found fit for work, he was waiting on a second appeal when he suffered a fatal heart attack. It could be argued that this man is dead because of DWP harassment.

Both documentaries featured claimants who had been wrongly placed into the work-related activity group – including one man who was sitting catatonic in a mental hospital at the time.

A doctor said the tests are adding to the cost of NHS work, rather than saving money, because people were booking GP appointments for the sake of their benefits, rather than their health.

Atos refused to be interviewed in either documentary, and details of its contract were hidden because they claimed it contained sensitive commercial information. But on Panorama, Employment Minister Chris Grayling, defending his regime, said: “We do not have a financial target for the reassessment of people on Incapacity Benefit, or for the level of new applications for ESa which are successful. There are no targets anywhere in the system, for numbers of people to move onto or off benefits.” As we have seen evidence proving the opposite, we know that this minister was lying.

And the most damning statistic of all: According to Panorama, every week, 32 people die after being declared “fit for work” by WCA assessors.

That means, at the time of writing, 960 people have died since January 1 this year, after being declared “fit for work”. The DWP, Atos, Mr Grayling and his DWP boss Iain Duncan Smith don’t just have blood on their hands – they’re swimming in it.