Tag Archives: Social Research

The government is not UNABLE to assess its policies’ impact on the disabled. It is REFUSING to do so

[Image: www.disabledgo.com]

[Image: www.disabledgo.com]


People who signed a petition calling for the Conservative Government to “assess [the] full impact of all cuts to support and social care for disabled people” have been told that the tools aren’t there to do the job. This is because the Tories have chosen not to use them.

More than 29,000 people have signed the petition, leading to a response from the Department for Work and Pensions. If it tops 100,000 signatures, it may trigger a debate in Parliament. Don’t get your hopes up – the evidence provided in these debates is routinely ignored by the government because it doesn’t want to know.

The DWP screed starts with some waffle about being committed to a “fair tax and welfare system” with the effect of each policy change “carefully considered”, in which “everyone contributes to reducing the deficit” and where “those with the most contribute the most”. Is that in money or percentage terms?

But it continues: “However, it is not possible, using the Government’s existing analytical tools, to produce a cumulative assessment of the impact of policies on disabled people.”

This is why a cumulative impact assessment published by Landman Economics and the National Institute for Economic and Social Research (NIESR), for the Equality and Human Rights Commission, recommended more than a year ago that the DWP should change its tools.

“HM Treasury has a world-leading distributional model, which it has used since 2010 to publish analysis of the impacts of policy decisions on households across the income distribution,” the DWP response states. “This model uses the Living Cost and Food Survey (LCF), which does not have information on disability status. It contains expenditure information which allows analysis of the impacts of indirect taxes such as VAT and fuel duty, and underpins a unique model of public service usage; both of these enable HMT to consider the impacts of all of the Government tax and spending decisions which directly affect households.

“As well as the inability to identify who has a disability in the data, most analysis of the impacts of welfare reforms tend to be limited in that they take static snapshots of benefit changes. Fundamental reforms are designed to support people into employment and will therefore enable people to generate more income for themselves. Analysis needs to take account of behaviour change of reforms rather than the more limited approach of focusing solely on benefit changes.”

(Of course we know that the reforms mentioned here do not support people into employment; they deprive people of the benefits they need to survive and force them into an unknown future. For example, a DWP study in 2012 found that more than half the people who had been told they were “fit for work” after a work capability assessment had been left unemployed and without any income at all. The Department had been forced to reveal the facts by – guess what? – a Freedom of Information request. This probably contributed to the government’s current attempt to curtail the use of such requests.)

“This analysis shows that the proportion of welfare and public service spending which benefits poorer households has not changed since 2010-11, with half of all spending on welfare and public services still going to the poorest 40 per cent of households in 2017-18. At the same time, the richest fifth of households will pay a greater proportion of taxes than in 2010-11 as a result of government policy – and more than all other households put together.

“The Government spends around £50 billion on disability benefits and services annually, and expenditure on sick and disabled people is higher than the OECD average. Welfare changes since 2010 have included protections for key vulnerable groups least able to increase their earnings, including those who need additional support as a result of disability. In the Welfare Reform and Work Bill 2015:
• Many disability-related elements of the benefit system are still uprated by the Consumer Price Index (but this is the lowest index of inflation. How is that supposed to be an advantage for the disabled?)
• The additional component for those in the Support Group of Employment and Support Allowance and Universal Credit (UC) equivalents has been maintained
• Households which include a member who is in receipt of Disability Living Allowance, Personal Independence Payment, the Support Component of Employment and Support Allowance or UC equivalents are exempt from the benefit cap.

“Overall, reforms are focused on supporting people to find and keep work where appropriate. Growing evidence over the last decade shows work can keep people healthy as well as promote recovery which is why, as part of the Government’s objective to achieve full employment, it aims to halve the disability employment gap.”

There is no evidence to show that work makes people healthy; Iain Duncan Smith merely adapted the phrase “Arbet macht frei” from the gates of the Auschwitz extermination camp he visited several years ago to create a new lie. As for halving the disability employment gap: The Conservative Government has made sure there continues to be a large number of people without work, who now receive less money in benefit than they need to avoid going into debt. This means competition for jobs is increasing. Any employer faced with a choice between taking on an able-bodied worker and someone with a disability who will need adaptations and special treatment will opt for the former; it’s simply better business.

“Last year 226,000 more disabled people found work [how many stayed in it?] and to continue this success the Government has extended Access to Work to provide support to more disabled people in pre-employment, launched Specialist Employability Support to provide intensive, specialist support to the disabled people who need the most help and has extended Work Choice, providing tailored support to disabled people, to 2017. The Disability Confident campaign is working with employers to ensure that they understand the benefits of recruiting and retaining disabled people in work.

“Sickness Absence in the workplace is also a major issue, with employees off sick for four weeks or more being at greater risk of not returning to work. The Government recognises the importance of early support which is why Fit for Work has been developed; giving access to free, impartial work-related health advice to help employees on sick leave get back to work.”

This is the tyrannical scheme under which “fit notes” from your GP are refused and people are discouraged from claiming the Incapacity Benefits they need.

“In terms of Social Care and NHS reforms, the Government is committed to supporting the most vulnerable. The Care Act 2014 introduces a modern system to promote and maintain the wellbeing of those with care and support needs so they can live independently. This includes introduction of a new national eligibility threshold which allows local authorities to maintain previous levels of access for service users. This threshold is set out in Eligibility Regulations, and local authorities cannot tighten eligibility beyond this threshold. The Act also provides new legislative focus on personalisation by placing personal budgets into law for the first time for people and carers, increasing opportunities for greater choice and control, so that people can choose social care best suited to meet their needs.”

Shall we have a look at the Landman/NIESR cumulative impact assessment – the assessment the DWP says it cannot perform – and its recommendations for the Department, that could have been implemented in summer 2014 but weren’t? [boldings mine]

“Impact of tax, spending and benefit changes 2010-15

  1. The impacts of tax and welfare reforms are more negative for families containing at least one disabled person, particularly a disabled child, and … these negative impacts are particularly strong for low income families. This is not surprising, given the significant reductions to working-age welfare, and the high proportion of working age welfare spent on disabled people, particularly those on low incomes.
  2. Women lose somewhat more from the direct tax and welfare changes compared to men. This is mainly because women receive a larger proportion of benefits and tax credits relating to children, and these comprise a large proportion of the social security reforms between 2010 and 2015. It should be noted that these results are sensitive to the precise assumption made on the ‘sharing rule’ being used within households.
  3. Households containing younger adults do better than other households; although the impact of benefit changes is relatively uniform across groups, they benefit more from changes to direct taxation (the increase in the personal allowance) than any other group.
  4. In terms of public services (as opposed to tax and welfare), Black and Asian households lose out somewhat more than other groups. This is largely due to greater use of further and higher education, and (for Black households) social housing.

“Recommendations

“The main recommendations of the study are that:

1. HM Treasury’s distributional impact analysis of tax and benefit changes should incorporate analysis by groups sharing different protected characteristics in particular disability, ethnicity, age and gender. The analysis should:

  1. show the impact of tax and benefit changes by different groups;
  2. show the interaction between distributional impacts by income and by equality group;
  3. identify the key drivers of differential impacts; and
  4. identify the key assumptions made in producing the analysis and, where appropriate, present alternative assumptions.”

This was not adopted by the Treasury (or the DWP).

“2. HM Treasury should consider its approach to equality impact assessment for the next Spending Review (2015). In particular, it should:

  1. issue guidance to Departments on data collection and analysis;
  2. identify in which areas quantitative analysis of equality impacts is likely to be feasible and informative, focusing on key service areas (health, education, etc); and
  3. publish a detailed explanatory and methodological note to guide interpretation of distributional impact analysis (covering both income and equality issues).”

This was not adopted by the Treasury (or the DWP).

Your comments are welcome; the above is merely what This Writer could derive from the statement at first sight of it.

Undoubtedly many of Vox Political‘s readers will have their own observations about this DWP drivel.

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Cumulative effect of welfare reform revealed – deprived areas hit much harder than the rich

Deprived parts of Glasgow were worst-affected by 'welfare reform' according to The Courier [Image: thecourier.co.uk].

Deprived parts of Glasgow were worst-affected by ‘welfare reform’ according to The Courier [Image: thecourier.co.uk].

The headline should not come as a surprise – of course changes that cut benefits for the poor are going to harm them more than rich people.

But do you remember David Cameron’s claim that his government would be the most transparent ever?

Isn’t it interesting, then, that the independent Equalities and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) has found a way to compile information on the effects of tax, social security and other spending changes on disabled people, after the government repeatedly claimed it could not be done?

It seems Mr Cameron has something to hide, after all.

We already have a taste of what we can expect, courtesy of our friends in Scotland, who commissioned the Centre for Regional Economic and Social Research at Sheffield Hallam University to study the relationship between deprivation and financial loss caused by “welfare reform”.

The study shows that more than £1.6 billion a year will be removed from the Scottish economy, with the biggest losses based in changes to incapacity benefits. The Scottish average loss, per adult of working age, is £460 per year (compared with a British average of £470) but the hardest hit area was impoverished Glasgow Carlton, where adults lost an average of £880 per year.

In affluent St Andrews, the average hit was just £180 per year.

Of course, the cumulative effect will hit the poorest communities much harder – with an average of £460 being taken out of these communities it is not only households that will struggle to make ends meet; as families make cutbacks, local shops and businesses will lose revenue and viability. If they close, then residents will have to travel further for groceries and to find work, meaning extra travel costs will remove even more much-needed cash from their budget.

For a nationwide picture, the EHRC commissioned the National Institute of Economic and Social Research (NIESR) and the consultancy Landman Economics to develop a way of assessing the cumulative impact of “welfare reform”.

The report will be published in the summer, but Landman Economics has already told Disability News Service that the work was “not actually that difficult”.

Why, then have Mark Hoban, Esther McVey and Mike Penning, the current minister for the disabled, all claimed that a cumulative assessment is impossible?

Some might say they have a vested interest in keeping the public ignorant of the true devastation being wreaked on Britain’s most vulnerable people by Coalition austerity policies that will ultimately harm everybody except the very rich.

Some might say this is why the BBC – under the influence of a Conservative chairman – failed to report a mass demonstration against austerity by at least 50,000 people that started on its very doorstep.

Misguided conspiracy theorists, all!

Or are they?

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The Coalition is creating serious problems and distracting you with phantoms

140124earnings

According to the beauty industry, women must now start deodorising under their breasts.

I kid you not – it was in The Guardian.

Columnist Jill Filipovic hit the nail on the head when she wrote: “I can already hear your objections: ‘But the area under my boobs doesn’t stink!’ or ‘What kind of marketing genius not only came up with the term “swoob,” but actually thought half the world’s population might be dumb enough to buy into it?’ or simply, ‘This is a dumb product aimed at inventing an insecurity and then claiming to cure it.’

“You would be correct on all three points.

“In fact, inventing problems with women’s bodies and then offering a cure – if you pay up – is the primary purpose of the multi-billion dollar beauty industry.”

The simple fact is that you don’t really need to worry about smells down there – a good old soapy flannel will cure any such problems.

That’s not the point, though. The aim is to get you thinking about it and devoting your energy to it, rather than to other matters.

Now let’s translate that to politics.

We already know that all the scaremongering about Romanian and Bulgarian immigrants storming the country from January 1 was a crock. That bastion of good statistics, The Now Show, told us last week that the total number of Bulgarian immigrants in the last couple of weeks was “around two dozen so far”, according to their ambassador. In the first three months after our borders were opened to Croatians, 174 turned up.

Yet the government wanted you to believe they would flood our immigration service in their millions, “taking benefits and yet simultaneously also taking all the jobs”.

My use of language such as “storming” and “flood” is not accidental. By far the more serious threat to the UK in the early days of 2014 was the weather – and, guess what, not only was the government unprepared for the ferocity of the storms that swept our islands, the Coalition was in fact in the process of cutting funding for flood defence.

This would have gone unnoticed if the weather had behaved itself, because we would all have been distracted by the single Romanian immigrant who was ensnared by Keith Vaz in a ring of TV cameras at Heathrow Airport.

Now the Tories are telling us that our take-home pay is finally on the rise for all but the top 10 per cent of earners, with the rest of us seeing our wages rise by at least 2.5 per cent.

The government made its claims (up) by taking into account only cuts to income tax and national insurance, using data leading up to April last year, according to the BBC News website.

This kind of nonsense is easily overcome – New Statesman published the above chart, showing the real effect of changes to weekly income for people in various income groups, and also provided the reason for the government’s mistake (if that’s what it was).

“The data used … takes no account of the large benefit cuts introduced by the coalition, such as the real-terms cut in child benefit, the uprating of benefits in line with CPI inflation rather than RPI, and the cuts to tax credits,” writes the Statesman‘s George Eaton.”

He also pointed out that other major cuts such as the bedroom tax, the benefit cap, and the 10 per cent cut in council tax support were introduced after April 2013 and were not included in the Coalition figures.

Once all tax and benefit changes are taken into account, the Institute for Fiscal Studies has shown that almost all families are worse off – and the Coalition also appears to have forgotten the five million low-paid workers who don’t earn enough to benefit from the increase in the personal allowance.

Skills and enterprise minister Matthew Hancock compounded the mistake in an exchange on Twitter with Jonathan Portes, director of the National Institute of Economic and Social Research (NIESR). Asked why his analysis “ignores more than four million people in work (the self-employed)”, Mr Hancock tweeted: “Analysis based on ONS ASHE survey of household earnings data”.

Wrong – as Mr Portes was quick to show: “Don’t you know the difference between household and individual earnings?”

Apparently not. ASHE (Annual Survey of Hours and Earnings) is a survey of employed individuals using their National Insurance numbers – not of households or the self-employed.

So the Coalition – and particularly the Tories – were trying to make us all feel good about the amount we earn.

That’s the distraction. What are we supposed to be ignoring?

Would it be David Cameron’s attempt to bribe councils into allowing shale gas companies to frack their land? Councils that back fracking will get to keep all the business rates collected from the schemes – rather than the usual 50 per cent.

He has also claimed that fracking can boost the economy and encourage businesses into the country, in a further bid to talk down dissent.

Or is it the growing threat of a rise in interest rates, which may be triggered when official unemployment figures – which have been fiddled by increased sanctions on jobseekers, rigged reassessments of benefit claimants, a new scheme to increase the number of people and time spent on Workfare, and the fake economic upturn created by George Osborne’s housing bubble – drop to seven per cent?

It seems possible that the government – especially the Tory part of it – would want to keep people from considering the implications of an interest rate rise that is based on false figures.

As Vox Political commenter Jonathan Wilson wrote yesterday: “If the BOE bases its decisions on incorrect manipulated data that presents a false ‘good news’ analysis then potentially it could do something based on it that would have catastrophic consequences.

“For example if its unemployment rate test is reached, and wages were going up by X per cent against a Y per cent inflation rate which predicted that an interest rate rise of Z per cent would have no general effect and not impact on house prices nor significantly increase repossessions (when X per cent is over-inflated by the top 1 per cent of earners, Y per cent is unrealistically low due to, say, the 50 quid green reduction and/or shops massively discounting to inflate purchases/turnover and not profit) and when it does, instead of tapping on the breaks lightly it slams the gears into reverse while still traveling forward… repossessions go up hugely, house prices suffer a major downward re-evaluation (due to tens of thousands of repossessions hitting the auction rooms) debt rates hit the roof, people stop buying white goods and make do with last year’s iPad/phone/tv/sofa, major retail goes tits up, Amazon goes to the wall, the delivery market and post collapses… etc etc.

“And all because the government fiddled the figures.”

Perhaps Mr Cameron doesn’t want us thinking about that when we could be deodorising our breasts instead.

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From the DWP to the economy – the Coalition’s growing credibility chasm

All the wrong things for all the wrong reasons: The evidence shows no good reason for George Osborne's economic austerity policies - other than, possibly, an intention to rob this nation of everything possible before 2015.

All the wrong choices for all the wrong reasons: The evidence fails to support George Osborne’s economic austerity policies – the only likely explanation seems to be an intention to rob this nation of everything possible before 2015.

The more we learn of the Tory-led Coalition’s policies, the wider the gap grows between what it is doing and what it should be doing.

Look at the sham psychometric tests, exposed by fellow blogger Steve Walker in a series of articles on his Skwawkbox site. It is now firmly established that the DWP – aided by the Cabinet office ‘nudge unit’ – set out to pressgang put-upon benefit claimants into taking part in a crude piece of neuro-linguistic programming – no matter what answers you provided, the test always pushed out a ridiculously upbeat appraisal of your character and then tried to get you to act according to this verdict in your jobsearching activities. The theory is that this will make a jobseeker more confident and finding a job easier. The problem is that it’s quite utterly ludicrous.

If you haven’t already, you can read the Skwawkbox exposure of this particular caper on that site – there are plenty of links to it from this one. The reason it is mentioned here is that it provides a useful set of questions with which to analyse any government activity: First, is the theory behind this activity sound? Second, if that theory is being used to support a particular course of action, is that action justifiable?

So let’s turn once again to George Osborne’s reasons for pursuing economic austerity, as described in the letter Vox Political received from the UK Treasury last month.

Firstly, the letter warns against the perils of losing market confidence. By this, we can see that it means we should fear any downward revision of our credit rating by the credit agencies, as “a one percentage point increase in government bond yields would add around £8.1 billion to annual debt interest payments by 2017-18”.

What’s being said is that a drop in our credit rating would mean the people and organisations that have invested in UK government debt (by buying our bonds) might move their funds to others, meaning the government could be faced with an interest rate rise, leading to increased difficulty in borrowing.

But we know that this isn’t true. The UK’s credit rating was downgraded only a few months ago. Did interest rates rise? Was our ability to borrow hindered at all? No. There’s a reason for that.

As Professor Malcolm Sawyer notes in Fiscal Austerity: The ‘cure’ which makes the patient worse (Centre for Labour and Social Studies, May 2012), “It is well-known that a government can always service debt provided that it is denominated in its own currency. At the limit the UK government can ‘print the money’ in order to service the debt: this would not take form of literally ‘printing money’ but rather the Central Bank being a willing purchaser of government debt in exchange for money.” This is what is happening at the moment. Our debt is in UK pounds, and we can always service it. Our creditors know that, so they remain happy to continue financing it.

This means that the Treasury’s next point, that “any loss of investor confidence in the UK’s fiscal position would not only affect the UK, but also the global economy” is also meaningless. There won’t be a loss of investor confidence, so there won’t be an effect on the global economy.

We move on – to the Chancellor’s claim that fiscal austerity is required to prevent the slowing of economic growth that happens when the national debt hits 90 per cent of gross domestic product (or thereabouts).

You’ll recall that my letter to the Chancellor was prompted by the revelation that the academic paper on which he relied most often, by Reinhart and Rogoff, had been proved to be mistaken. The Treasury’s response pulled out a series of references to other academic works suggesting a fiscal cliff similar to the Reinhart-Rogoff model, off which we would drop if the national debt passed an arbitrary level around 85-90 per cent of GDP. These were published by the International Monetary Fund, which we know isn’t quite as keen on austerity as it used to be; the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, which this blog marked out as “schizoid” only a few days ago; and others.

Obviously I haven’t had time to look up eight academic works to support any opposing theory I may wish to create – and I think I would be foolish to try. I don’t have any grounding in economics beyond what I’ve been able to pick up by following the national and international debates.

But, then, according to Dean Baker of the Center (yes, it’s American) for Economic and Policy Research: “As a general rule economists are not very good at economics.”

He writes: “Most economists are unable to conceptualize anything that someone with more standing in the profession did not already write about. This is the only reason that the Reinhart-Rogoff 90 per cent debt-to-GDP threshold was ever taken seriously to begin with.”

That prodded my curiosity to check some of the papers listed by the Treasury in support of its stance, and the three that I checked (The Real Effects of Debt, Public Debt and Growth, and How Costly Are Debt Crises?) all listed the Reinhart-Rogoff paper in their supporting references. So Mr Baker is right.

“Debt is an arbitrary number,” he continues. “The value of long-term debt fluctuates with the interest rate… The value of our debt will plummet if interest rates rise… This means that we could buy back long-term debt issued today at interest rates of less than 2.0 percent for discounts of 30-40 percent. This would sharply reduce our debt-to-GDP ratio at zero cost.

“Bonds carry a face value, meaning the amount that will be paid off when they reach maturity. This is what gets entered in our debt figure. However bonds also carry a market price, which fluctuates inversely with interest rates. The longer the term of the bond, the more its price will vary with interest rates.

“If interest rates rise, as just about everyone expects over the next three-to-five years, then the market price of the bonds we have issued in the current low interest rate environment will fall sharply. Since we count our debt at the face value of the bonds, not their market price, we could take advantage of the drop in bond prices to buy up… bonds at sharp discounts to their face value.

“The question is why would we do this, we would still pay the same interest? The answer is that the policy would make no sense for exactly this reason.

“However, if we accept the Reinhart-Rogoff 90 per cent curse, then reducing our debt in this way could make a great deal of sense. Suppose we can buy back debt with a face value of 60 per cent of GDP at two-thirds its face value, or 40 per cent of GDP. In our debt accounting we would have reduced our debt-to-GDP ratio by 20 percentage points. If this gets us below the 90 per cent threshold then suddenly we can have normal growth again.

“Yes, this is really stupid, but if you believed the Reinhart-Rogoff 90 per cent debt cliff, then you believe that we can sharply raise growth rates by buying back long-term bonds at a discount. It’s logic folks, it’s not a debatable point — think it through until you understand it.”

I found Mr Baker’s piece after asking Jonathan Portes of the National Institute for Economic and Social Research (NIESR) for his opinion on the Treasury letter. He described it as “Predictable and largely irrelevant”.

So despite my lack of economic education, we have a working theory that suggests the Treasury has built its economic castle on the sand; that its justification for austerity is unsound. What about the austerity measures themselves? Are they justifiable on any level at all?

Evidence suggests not.

Let’s go back to our other friend in this matter, Prof Malcolm Sawyer. “Fiscal austerity and cuts in public expenditure do not work – there is a limited, if any, effect on reducing the budget deficit, and any return to prosperity is severely undermined.” We can see that this is true, using the government’s own figures. It managed to cut the deficit from £150 billion to £120 billion in 2011-12, mostly by axing large projects that invested in the UK economy. How much did it cut from the deficit in 2012-13? Less than £1 billion. The benefit cuts that created much of the fuel for this blog have not helped to cut the deficit at all.

“The reduction of the budget deficit can only come from a revival of private demand which is harmed by an austerity programme,” Prof Sawyer continues. Again, we can see that this is true. Austerity measures such as benefit cuts and the axing of infrastructure investment projects means there is less money available to the people who are most likely to spend it – the working- and middle-classes, and those who are unemployed. People with less money have to spend just about everything they receive in order to cover their costs. That money passes into circulation and the economy grows, through the fiscal multiplier effect. An attempt to explain this effect appeared on this blog within the last few days. The point is that demand increases when the people who earn the least have more to spend.

Therefore we see that Prof Sawyer’s next statement, “Deficit reduction requires investment programmes and reduction of inequality to stimulate demand”, is already proved.

So the answer is to reduce the unemployment rate by creating more jobs and closing the jobs deficit, as highlighted in this blog only a few days ago; to raise incomes by significantly increasing the minimum wage and adopting the proposed ‘living wage’, as promoted in this blog frequently; and investment in infrastructure projects.

What has Osborne done, along with his economically-illiterate chums?

He has created high unemployment.

He has depressed wages.

He has cut infrastructure projects.

He has, therefore, sucked all the demand out of the economy. What effect has this had?

Economic growth has, in the single word of Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls, “flatlined”, borrowing has remained high and the national debt is continuing to rise.

In other words, this part-time Chancellor’s strategy – a plan on which we have all been asked to judge the entire Coalition government, let’s not forget – has failed. Hopelessly.

I return you to Prof Sawyer, one last time [bolding mine]: “The austerity programme is economically irrational, socially irresponsible, and lacks credibility that it can reduce the budget deficit and secure any return to prosperity. The time has come to rebuild through investment and through a major assault on inequality.”