Tag Archives: shirker

Challenged to defend their record of persecution against the disabled, Tories have nothing to say

Debbie Abrahams in the House of Commons.

Debbie Abrahams in the House of Commons.

How pleasant to hear this said in a Parliamentary debate, with not a single word of denial from the Conservative Government:

“Last week there was an amazing sequence of events. On Monday, the Secretary of State told me that he could not publish … data because they were not kept, and told me to stop scaremongering; on Wednesday, the Prime Minister said that they would be published; and this was swiftly followed by the Government saying that they were appealing against the Information Commissioner’s ruling, stating that publishing these data would lead to ‘probable misinterpretations’ and ‘was too emotive…and wasn’t in the public interest’. What an absolute shambles!”

This was part of the speech by Debbie Abrahams, Labour MP for Oldham East and Saddleworth, in a debate on ‘welfare reform and people with disabilities’, called by her to set the scene for any measures against the disabled that George Osborne is considering for his July budget. As the Government prepares to cut £12 billion from the annual social security budget next week, there are real concerns that – in addition to potentially slashing tax credits for the working poor – they will cut further support for working-age people with disabilities.

She was referring, of course, to the government’s increasingly confused response to This Writer’s request for an honest answer to the question, ‘How many people have died while claiming Employment and Support Allowance between November 2011 and May 2014 (the date of my request)?” But wait! She continued:

“I could not disagree more. This is definitely in the public interest. As a former public health academic, I am more than aware of the strict criteria for establishing causality, but there are no grounds for not publishing numbers of actual deaths as well as the Government-proposed standardised mortality ratios, including those who died within six weeks of being found fit for work. Will the Minister now confirm when these data will be published?

Dear reader, it falls to This Writer to report that not one word came back from the Government benches – not even when the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, Justin Tomlinson (who?) got onto his hind legs to give the Government’s response to the debate.

You can sign the petition demanding that the Government end its appeal against the order to publish the statistics, and provide the figures to the public, on the Change.org website.

She also asked when the Government will publish redacted information on the circumstances of the deaths of claimants who died while sanctioned, and what changes the DWP instigated in the light of reviews of these deaths – and whether the significant surge in suicide rates for both men and women since 2010— particularly for working-age men—is being analysed by the DWP. No response.

The Government doesn’t have anything to say to the sick, disabled or vulnerable, and even less to say about them.

Ms Abrahams began her speech by pointing out, “It is poignant that this debate falls on the very day that the Independent Living Fund closes. A further £1.2 billion is being cut from support for people with disabilities. Such cuts were a hallmark of the Tory-led coalition, and many are concerned that not only will this increase but the cuts will get worse under this Government.

“I … want to draw attention to the punitive and dehumanising culture that has been part of the delivery of these welfare reforms, which set the tone for the leadership within the Department for Work and Pensions and the Government’s wider tone on social security.”

Here’s a quick precis of the facts: She said that, by 2018, £23.8 billion of support would have been taken from 3.7 million people with disabilities, according to Demos. The measures include:

  • Indexation of social security payments was changed from the higher retail prices index to the lower consumer prices index
  • There was also a 1% cap on the uprating of certain working-age benefits.
  • People on incapacity benefit were reassessed.
  • The time that disabled people in the work-related activity group are able to receive the employment and support allowance was limited.
  • Disabled people in receipt of disability living allowance are being reassessed to determine whether they are eligible for the personal independence payment.
  • Disability benefits are approximately 15% of average earnings. With the recent changes—the 1% uprating and the indexation to the consumer prices index—they will fall even further below those in Austria, Belgium, Croatia, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Germany, Hungary, Iceland, Luxembourg, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Serbia, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland.
  • People with disabilities are twice as likely to live in persistent poverty as non-disabled people: 80% of disability-related poverty is caused by extra costs. This has implications for disabled people’s families – a third of all families living in poverty include one disabled family member.
  • Since the Government’s new sanctions regime, the rate of sanctioning of people on IB and ESA has doubled.

She said part of the Government’s strategy has been the “invidious” spreading of a culture of blame and fear.

“In the 1980s we saw the unions being targeted; today the focus is on the poor and the vulnerable.

“The narrative associated with the so-called welfare reforms has been one of divide and rule, deliberately attempting to vilify people who receive social security as the new undeserving poor.

“The Government have spread a culture of pejorative language, such as “shirkers” and “scroungers”. They have intentionally attempted to demonise social security recipients, including disabled people.

“The innuendo that people with a disability or illness might be faking it or are feckless is, quite frankly, grotesque… Unfortunately, the regular misuse of statistics is another way that the Government are trying to harden the public’s attitude.

“The facts are that, in an ageing population, the largest proportion of social security recipients are pensioners and not, as is often implied, the workshy.”

The whole debate can be found here.

Additional: It has been pointed out to me that Mr Tomlinson stated: “We will be publishing them [sic] the mortality stats—I know the hon. Lady is keen to see them soon; we would all like to see them as soon as possible.” Since he did not define the form those statistics would take, nor did he provide a firm date on which they would be published, it seems clear that what he did say was as near to nothing as makes no odds.

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Frankie Boyle disparages Labour’s right-wing leader candidates – with uncomfortable facts

Frankie Boyle

There is a problem with criticising people for failing to say what they mean in a straightforward way. It arises when you do exactly the same thing.

Frankie Boyle’s critique of the Labour leader candidates in The Guardian is very amusing but falls prey to exactly this problem. He makes several good points, but they’re a long way down the page. Why? So people will lose interest and stop reading before they get to them? Let’s pull them out and give them a proper airing.

Political parties are meant to have guiding principles. Frankie mentions this way down in the fifth paragraph, after revealing: “We’re told that they are responding to the concerns of voters. Labour keeps saying: ‘We’re concerned about immigration because that’s what people say on the doorstep’,” which is guaranteed to stimulate yawns as we’ve all heard it many times before.

Labour did have guiding principles once. They were intended to improve prosperity for everybody in the UK by raising the people who did the work out of the poverty that the leisure class (the people who profit from unearned wealth) force them to endure. So Labour used to stand for cheap accommodation, cheap – but nutritious – food, affordable utilities (gas, electricity, water), nationalised healthcare, a living wage, good government – all the things that helped Jeremy Corbyn score so highly in Newsnight‘s televised hustings a few nights ago.

Ah, but Corbyn, despite being lauded as “one of the few decent politicians remaining in the Labour Party”, is talked down as a candidate who caused “the left of the party to get quite excited that it is still allowed to lose”. He’s saying all the right things, Frankie. People are connecting with him. Don’t write him off so blithely.

Can it really be easier to convert Tories than to reconnect with your own core support? Of course not, but Frankie hits on one of the largest elephants in Labour’s room. It’s just a shame he does it in his concluding paragraph. He reckons Burnham, Cooper and Kendall get their information on what voters want from what businesspeople say (they’re desperate to be pro-business without knowing what it means), polls (which Frankie rightly says can be misleading) and the media (which are, again, rightly labelled deliberately misleading). As a result, they end up campaigning on all the wrong issues and turn potential supporters away, rather than attracting them.

Why does being ‘pro-business’ have to mean being ‘anti-worker’? The three leading – actually they’re not leading anything at all in the eyes of the public; let’s call them ‘preferred’ – candidates seem determined to disappear up their own rear ends, trying to explain how they will support the kind of people who couldn’t care less about anything other than building their own wealth, even though this creates misery for the workers on whose efforts it is built. Frankie hits it on the head when he writes: “I’m reduced to imagining that ‘pro-business’ is simply a rhetorical code for ‘right-wing’, and that we are watching leadership contenders wonder aloud whether they are being right-wing enough.”

We end up with a leadership campaign aimed at a public who hate benefits, immigrants and shirkers. Benefits and shirkers are in fact the same issue, but Frankie is right to highlight it. Labour introduced the most punitive benefit-cancelling system in British history – Employment and Support Allowance – in 2008 and the party line is still to say that there’s nothing wrong with it in principle, even though its implementation has led to many thousands of deaths that the DWP has already admitted – and who knows how many that it is covering up (see Vox Political‘s many articles on the subject). The simple fact is that Labour is afraid of newspapers saying the party is soft on ‘shirker’ benefit claimants, and is instead forcing itself to persecute people who desperately need help, just to stay alive. That is a Tory Party attitude.

There is a very simple case to be made against austerity, but Labour doesn’t have the guts to make it. Jeremy Corbyn did.

Still, they must know that they are not going to win the next election. This is the most damning claim of all. A decade ago, the Conservative Party was finished, washed up; a joke. All Labour had to do was keep a steady hand on the tiller and the Nasty Party would have been banished to history.

But Labour couldn’t do that. It had been infiltrated by neoliberal might-as-well-be-Tories who pushed harmful policies including ESA and the failure to regulate the banks that eventually sucked the UK into the global financial crisis and allowed the Tories to create a myth that Labour had messed up the economy. If Labour is unlikely to win elections now, it is that party’s own fault for giving the Tories a chance – by being too much like the Tories themselves.

Now we have three ‘preferred’ leader candidates who want Labour to be different from the Conservative Party only in nuance.

Let’s vote for the one who wants Labour to be the Labour Party again.

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Jobseekers told to do more to find (non-existent) work

Esther McVile: The employment minister, who claims adamantly that changes to housing benefit do not constitute a 'bedroom tax', is pictured complaining about a so-called 'tunnel tax' in her own constituency in a blatant display of double standards.

Esther McVile: The employment minister, who claims adamantly that changes to housing benefit do not constitute a ‘bedroom tax’, is pictured complaining about a so-called ‘tunnel tax’ in her own constituency in a blatant display of double standards.

WARNING: This article has been edited using the ‘Guide to DWP euphemisms’ published by Richard Hutton, and with inspiration from it.

New rules coming into force at the end of the month mean jobseekers will have to do more to find work – even though there are currently five of them for every job available – the Department for Work and Pensions has announced.

Simply ‘signing-on’ for benefits will be a thing of the past under the draconian and repressive new rules.

Employment Minister and double-standards queen Esther McVey has hailed the new rules as undermining the range of support available, which helps diminish aspects of the social security system so that it no longer protects anybody from being left impoverished – in this case by making sure people cannot start claiming Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA) by just signing-on without first humbling themselves before the Tory-led government.

She said: “With the economy growing, unemployment falling and record numbers of people in work, now is the time to start expecting more of shirkers if they want to claim benefits. It’s only right that we should push people who are unemployed into such a depth of poverty that even ‘in-work’ poverty is a step-up.

“This is about taking support away from people and undermining the range of support available to them so they can hit rock bottom faster. In return, we will give people as much harassment as possible, to make them stop scrounging or face sanctions, because we know from employers that we have to break people’s spirit before they’ll work for a really low wage.”

To prepare for their first interview with a Jobcentre Plus adviser, people looking for work will be told they will not even be able to sign as unemployed until they have prepared a CV, set up an email address – even though they might not have a computer on which to use it – and registering with the government’s discredited jobs website Universal Jobmatch, which will expose them to identity thieves and exploiters looking for sex workers. This change will make it possible to exploit people as soon as they start their JSA claim.

People who don’t tow the line will receive more harassment from their Jobcentre Plus adviser – weekly rather than fortnightly – to ensure they can be cleared off the books via sanctions if it proves impossible to push them into poverty work.

All new JSA claimants will also now have a quarterly review with their adviser, who will try to find a reason to impose sanctions and get them off the books.

These new measures are being introduced as figures show the number of people claiming Jobseeker’s Allowance fell by over 363,000 on the year, the largest annual fall since 1998. This shows that the system of sanctions, putting people on Workfare to hide the fact that they are unemployed, and asking them to pretend that they are self-employed in order to fraudulently claim tax credits instead, is working.

The government is committed to sanctions and the vast majority of people are bullied off JSA quickly – more than 75 per cent of people end their claim within six months. Every working day Jobcentre Plus advisers shout at 98,000 interviews jobseekers and there are a range of ploys available to push them off the system. These include:

• Hiding them on the Work Programme
• Referring them for ‘training’ by companies that provide the minimum help available, take the money and run
• Putting people on pointless ‘work experience’ that won’t lead to a job but will clear them off the claimant count
• Fooling people with ‘incentives’ that mean nothing
• Getting people to pretend they are self-employed.

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First Mail/Miliband, now Mail/Mehdi – don’t they know two wrongs won’t make them right?

131004mailmehdiIt was a virtuoso performance, and one that earned Mehdi Hasan congratulations from Vox Political, just as soon as I could get to a keyboard.

For those who missed it, the panel on BBC Question Time was discussing the Daily Mail‘s veiled attack on Ed Miliband, which cast suspicion on the Labour leader’s motives by questioning those of his late father. It’s about the lowest kind of attack a newspaper could possibly launch – the kind that one might have expected from the News of the World in its latter days.

The piece in question was headlined The man who hated Britain and referred to Ralph Miliband’s “evil legacy”.

Mehdi Hasan, political editor of the Huffington Post‘s UK edition, tussled with Quentin Letts, a political sketch-writer for the Mail – winning the argument (and thunderous applause) with the following:

“Let me ask you a question,” he said. “When you talk about ‘Who hates Britain’ or ‘Who has an evil legacy’, who do you think has an evil legacy? A man who sucked up to the Nazis, who made friends with Joseph Goebbels and praised Hitler in the run-up to World War II – the owner and founder of the Daily Mail, Lord Rothermere – or a man who served in the Royal Navy, risked his life for his adopted homeland – Ralph Miliband. Who do you think hated Britain more?

“And this isn’t just about Ralph Miliband actually, because this has actually opened up a whole debate about the Daily Mail – if you want to talk about who hates Britain.

“This is a paper that, in recent years, said that there was nothing natural about the death of the gay pop star Stephen Gately, who said that the French people should vote for Marine Le Pen and the National Front, who attacked Danny Boyle for having a mixed race couple in his Olympics opening ceremony, who called Mo Farah “a plastic Brit”.

“So let’s have the debate about ‘Who hates Britain more’, because it isn’t a dead Jewish refugee from Belgium who served in the Royal Navy, it’s the immigrant-bashing, woman-hating, Muslim-smearing, NHS-undermining, gay-baiting Daily Mail.”

It did my heart a lot of good, typing that up – not just because of the Mail-bashing at its centre but because it was a speech that brings a few other groups together. Here was a Muslim praising the character of a Jew (for all those out there who think that adherents of Islam have nothing but hate to offer the rest of the world). He was also speaking up for homosexuals, mixed race couples, immigrants, women, the health service and anyone who opposes political extremism – especially of the right-wing variety.

Apart from the very last group, none of these include yr obdt srvt in their number, but I don’t think I’m alone in believing that anyone who agrees it is right to fight prejudice would support Mehdi’s opinion.

It seems the powers-that-be at the newspaper in question were listening carefully, and were keen to enter the next stage of the debate about the Daily Mail – by demonstrating just how much further they were prepared to debase themselves, just to smear the reputation of anybody who dared to stand up to them.

It seems clear that somebody in a high-ranking position at the Daily Mail went to their files and dug out a letter Mehdi had written in 2010, applying to become a writer for the newspaper. That letter then mysteriously made its way to those in charge of the Guido Fawkes blog, where it was published in full. It seems the intention was to prove that Mehdi was a hypocrite – how could this man apply for work at the Mail at one point, and then attack it so viciously only a few short years later?

Silly, silly mistake.

It seems that they didn’t read the letter very well at all.

“I am on the left of the political spectrum, and disagree with the Mail’s editorial line on a range of issues,” Mehdi2010 wrote.

“I could be a fresh and passionate, not to mention polemical and contrarian, voice on the comment and feature pages.”

In case the editors and proprietors of the Daily Mail are reading this: You seem to have mislaid your lexicons. A polemic is a passionate argument, against an established viewpoint (such as, perhaps, that put forward by yourselves) – and a contrarian is a person who always takes an opposing side.

Mehdi’s application letter was saying that he did not agree with the Daily Mail‘s opinions but he admired the forthright way it stood behind them and believed the paper would be strengthened by contributions from a writer with a different point of view to put forward.

This practice is not alien to the Daily Mail. One of the very earliest Vox Political articles praised the Mail for printing a piece by a columnist called Sonia Poulton, attacking the Coalition government’s treatment of the disabled in direct opposition to the paper’s established skivers/scroungers/shirkers rhetoric.

So it seems that, by ensuring that all journalists working in the UK now know that their confidential correspondence is likely to become public property the instant they upset the Mail‘s proprietors, by overreacting to fair, balanced and reasonable criticism of an extremely unreasonable article published in that newspaper, and by doing all this in defence of a piece intended to undermine support for one of Britain’s largest political parties – in line with its support for the most right-wing government in recent UK history, the Daily Mail has managed to destroy its own credibility (such as it was), render itself a no-go area for reputable journalists, and tarnish its readership by guilt-through-association.

Meanwhile, it has already boosted public support for Labour and the leader it hoped to harm and, if there is any justice, the current attack on Mehdi Hasan should bolster his career considerably as well.

That’s what happens when people who think a little too much of themselves overreact to criticism.

Daily Mail? It might as well be called the Daily Flail.