Tag Archives: subjective

Backlash against ‘subjective’ Online Harms Bill may harm policing of social media trolls

Who would have thought the Online Harms Bill could reverse the roles of the aggressor and the victim in social media abuse?

A plan to base prosecution of online trolls on subjective judgements by lawyers could derail a perfectly good law.

The Times has reported on changes to the planned Online Harms Act:

Trolls could face two years in prison for sending messages or posting content that causes psychological harm under legislation targeting online hate.

Ministers will overhaul communication laws by creating new offences in the forthcoming Online Safety Bill, the flagship legislation to combat abuse and hatred on the internet.

The Department for Culture, Media & Sport has accepted recommendations from the Law Commission for crimes to be based on “likely psychological harm”.

The proposed law change will shift the focus on to the “harmful effect” of a message rather than if it contains “indecent” or “grossly offensive” content, which is the present basis for assessing its criminality.

A new offence of “threatening communications” will target messages and social media posts that contain threats of serious harm.

The sticking-point is the issue of “likely psychological harm”. Nothing else in the article is new – and This Writer has already supported much of what is planned.

I can’t support a clause that allows conviction based on nothing but wishful thinking.

How would a lawyer gauge “likely psychological harm”? Would they seek reports from medical experts? Would they examine the effect of the messages on their victim? Or would they just take the word of a social media user who may be a good actor with their own axe to grind?

It’s too subjective; it’s wide open to abuse.

The benchmark for criminal prosecution must always be harm that a person has definitely suffered – that can be proved by showing evidence. It can’t be based on hearsay or the wild claims of someone who makes a profession out of being offended.

So, for instance, the teenage girl in Rachel Riley’s libel case against me had genuine anxiety issues that, it could be argued, had been worsened by the dogpiling she suffered as a result of her Twitter encounters with Riley; she was terrified of leaving her home alone for a period of months afterwards.

If this law had been in force at the time – without the subjective element – I am satisfied that it would have been possible to show the harm that had been done.

The fear with the new measure is that it will allow people with a political axe to grind – most probably right-wingers, as usual – to victimise others by claiming psychological injury from social media posts that simply engage in robust debate.

See what I mean?

And note how The Times misrepresented the story; Twitter ‘pile-ons’ (more properly known as dogpiles) were already going to be criminalised before the subjective element was added in.

We all got the point:

Even a former Conservative chairman and Brexit minister has come out against this offence to justice: David Davis.

According to Sky News:

Mr Davis criticised the bill as “a good example of the best of intentions leading to the worst of outcomes” and warned that it was “a censor’s charter” as a result.

He warned that as the law is backed up by fines potentially stretching into billions of pounds for companies that fail to tackle this content, they will err on the side of caution.

“You can be sure that in any area of controversy – political issues, culture wars, or even COVID science – there will be plenty of people complaining and demanding a post be taken down.

“And with Silicon Valley mega corporations as arbiters of the truth, anything that appears online and can be characterised by someone as misinformation could be censored.

“The chilling effect on free speech will be terrible,” he added.

Still, being British, we can laugh at it:

We laugh because it’s funny, and we laugh because it’s probably true. It shows how low the UK government has fallen.

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.

https://www.crowdjustice.com/case/mike-sivier-libel-fight/


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The fakery and failure behind the DWP’s new ‘health’ scheme

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It seems that the Department for Work and Pensions is sticking to the ‘Adolf Hitler’ model of public relations: If you tell a big lie and repeat it often enough, people will believe it. The press release announcing the new ‘Health and Work Service’ is riddled with long-debunked old lies – and one new statement that deserves our scrutiny.

This is the press release used by the BBC in its article on Saturday, telling us that the new, privately-run service is needed to combat the high cost of long-term absence from work.

It seems to be the DWP’s new practice to pass announcements to – let’s call them “trusted” – media outlets before putting them up on the government’s own press website, as a kind of test-run, allowing any credibility problems to be fixed before the government commits itself in an official way.

That’s why the announcement appeared on the government website yesterday (Monday) – two days after the BBC broke the story. Now – in just half the time it took to appear – let’s look at why it’s a load of rubbish.

“As many as 960,000 employees were on sick leave for a month or more each year on average between October 2010 and September 2013, the government has revealed,” the document begins.

Oh really? The DWP reached this figure by applying the findings of a survey, showing the ratio of long-term absences to total days of sickness absence, to findings by the Labour Force Survey showing the total number of days of sickness absence in the UK. That’s 9,000 sick days and 70 absences, applied to an average of 120 million sick days per year. This is based on 2,019 interviews with employees. There’s just one problem.

At the time covered by these surveys, there were around 4.9 million private sector employers.

Considering the huge size difference between the sample surveyed and the body it represents, it seems unlikely in the extreme that the figure is accurate. If it is right, it would be by luck; it’s probably wrong. The figure might as well have been made up – and you should treat it as though it was.

“The government has already taken big steps in getting people on long-term sick benefits back into work as part of the government’s long-term economic plan, with almost a quarter of a million coming off incapacity benefits since 2010-” Let’s stop there and examine the information content of this sentence so far.

The “government’s long-term economic plan” is a phrase that is being shoe-horned into every press release possible and means nothing. There never was a “long-term economic plan”, and there isn’t one now. Have you seen it? Of course not – it doesn’t exist. This is just a comforting nonsense inserted to lull people into false security that somebody knows what they are doing; I suspect the newly-privatised “nudge” unit may have had something to do with this.

As for “almost a quarter of a million coming off incapacity benefits since 2010”, check out this interview with Iain Duncan Smith, published in the Telegraph & Argus in 2010. He said: “I intend to move 1.5 million off incapacity benefit by 2014.”

It’s now 2014. We don’t have up-to-the-minute figures but on November 13 last year, the DWP press office helpfully tweeted us its then-current figure for people moving off incapacity benefits in a handy chart: 156,000.

140211fakes

That is a long way from a quarter of a million, and only around one-tenth of the Secretary-in-a-State’s 2010 target.

“- and almost a million who put in a claim actually have been found fit for work.” This is a bare-faced lie. It relates to a statement that 980,400 people were judged capable of work between 2008 and March 2013, but there are two problems with this. Firstly, it does not take into account the number of successful appeals against the ‘fit for work’ judgement (125,700); when adjusted to account for these, the total drops to 854,700. Secondly, this refers to the cumulative number of ‘fit for work’ outcomes of initial functional assessments since October 2008, and it seems likely that many people will have made repeat claims after being knocked off-benefit by an adverse decision. We do not know how many people have done this. Therefore the figure is meaningless.

So far, the DWP has told us that working people get sick (no surprises there), that it has failed to reach its target for clearing people off incapacity benefit and that its work capability assessment system is failing to push as many off-benefit as it should, because it is riddled with errors.

How does this connect with the creation of a new ‘Health and Work Service’, dedicated to ensuring that people who spend more than four weeks at a time off work with an illness get back into their job with a minimum of difficulty?

It’s obvious, isn’t it?

This is a scheme to ensure that people are discouraged from claiming incapacity benefits; the idea is that a drop in new claims, coupled with the number of uncontested ‘fit for work’ decisions, might lead to a larger drop in the number of active claims – which means the amount of money being paid out in benefits would also drop.

Inclusion of the word ‘health’ in the title of the new service is misleading, as it seems unlikely that consideration of an employee’s physical condition will have anything to do with the aim of the exercise.

Look at what the release has to say: “The Health and Work Service will offer a work-focused occupational health assessment and case management to employees in the early stages of sickness absence.”

It continues: “The work-focused occupational health assessment will identify the issues preventing an employee from returning to work and draw up a plan for them, their employer and GP, recommending how the employee can be helped back to work more quickly.”

Health doesn’t get a look-in.

No, what we’re most probably seeing is an expansion of the “biopsychosocial” method employed in work capability assessments, in an attempt to convince sick people that their illnesses are all in their minds. Don’t expect this approach to be used for people with broken limbs or easily-medicated diseases; this is for the new kinds of ‘subjective illness’, for which medical science has not been prepared – ‘chronic pain’, ‘chronic fatigue syndrome’, fibromyalgia and the like.

People with these conditions will probably be sent back to work – with speed. Their conditions may worsen, their lives may become an unending hell of pain and threats – I write from experience, as Mrs Mike spent around two years trying to soldier on in her job before finally giving up and claiming her own incapacity benefits – but that won’t matter to the DWP as long as they’re not claiming benefits.

That is what we can all expect from the new ‘service’.

It will be a fake, necessitated by failure.

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Here’s why Labour needs to go a lot further to win back our trust

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Only days after Ed Miliband announced a Labour government would sack Atos, the party’s conference is hosting an event part-funded by the architects of the ‘work capability assessment’ administered by that company – the criminal American insurance giant Unum.

‘New thinking on the welfare state’ is a fringe event taking place at the Labour conference on Monday, September 23, organised by the right-wing thinktank Reform (which has Unum as one of its funders) and sponsored by the Association of British Insurers (which includes Unum among its members). Does anybody doubt that it has been arranged in order to give Unum a chance to influence high-ranking party members? No?

Then consider: This is a private round-table policy seminar, staged by Anne McGuire MP. Rank and file Labour members aren’t invited – attendance is by invitation only. Can you smell a rat? Still no?

The event has already been staged at the Liberal Democrat conference (by Steve Webb MP, whoever he is), and will also be a feature of the Conservative Party conference, courtesy of that turncoat floor-crossing slime Lord Freud. It shouldn’t take a genius to work out that Unum wants to ensure that all three parties have the same social security/welfare policy, going into the next election – and that Unum continues to figure prominently in the formulation of that policy.

If you didn’t smell a rat infestation before, by now you’re probably wondering why pest control hasn’t been called.

Ed Miliband knows that any change of the organisation administering work capability assessments is purely cosmetic; the Conservative-led Coalition itself is bringing in other companies to carry out the work, and Capita has already been taken on to carry it out in some areas.

It is the policy itself that must change.

Unum knows all about that policy. The company came up with it in the 1990s as a way to combat claims on its health insurance policies for ‘subjective’ illnesses such as ‘chronic pain’, ‘chronic fatigue syndrome’, fibromyalgia, multiple sclerosis, Lyme disease and others – by aggressively disputing whether a claimant was ill.

It based its new test on the Biopsychosocial Model of illness developed by the psychiatrist George Engel, which is itself an unproved theory. Unum removed the bio- and -social aspects in order to concentrate on the ‘psycho’ – the claim that a person’s illness is all in their mind; that they are imagining it.

This worked very well for the company until the American people realised that they were being diddled out of their insurance money and very large lawsuits were launched that ended with the company having a criminal record in several US states.

Undaunted by this, Unum branched into the UK and cosied up with then-social security minister Peter Lilley, who wanted to cut the number of people claiming disability benefits. Unum saw an opportunity here, with a long-term goal of making state disability benefits useless to the British citizen and forcing them to pay out for the companies duff health insurance policies – which had already fallen foul of the law in America.

That’s why the work capability assessment takes precedence over any evidence your doctor might provide to support your claim, and it’s also why doctors are being actively discouraged from providing any evidence at all; that’s why UK law currently sees a glowing future for people who may be paralysed, but for one finger, as a button pusher; that’s why people with Parkinson’s Disease or other degenerative conditions are being told they will be able to work again in the future; and that’s why thousands upon thousands of people have died as a result of the current policy – especially since the Conservative-led Coalition came into office in 2010.

Meanwhile, Unum has begun a mass-marketing campaign to encourage able-bodied British citizens to invest in ‘Income Protection Insurance’ and a scheme known as the ‘Back-up Plan’. These are only available via the workplace, and it is understood that it has been designed to ensure that the company can resist paying out if anybody should be unlucky enough to have to make a claim.

So you see, the plan is to leave the sick and disabled of this country with no support whatsoever; they can either take out Unum’s insurance policies, pay the company a fortune in premiums and get nothing in return – or they can throw themselves at the mercy of a state which has no mercy and be refused the benefits for which their taxes have been paying ever since they were old enough to pay taxes in the first place.

Either way, Unum wins. For younger readers, it’s like the plot of the prequel trilogy in the Star Wars saga, where the character who becomes the Emperor engineers a war in which he controls both sides. So you see? Those films weren’t as bad as we all thought.

But of course, any person or organisation that intentionally creates a parallel between itself and the most evil character in recent fiction should absolutely not be anywhere near the real-life political decision-makers of this or any other country.

That’s why Mo Stewart, the retired healthcare professional and disability researcher who has spent four years examining the relationship between Unum and the UK government, has contacted Ms McGuire, demanding to know why she is having anything to do with the firm.

She wrote: “Given the amount of evidence against the practice of the dangerous corporate giant, Unum Insurance, and the fact that Labour MPs have exposed their influence with government during debate, the British disabled community are wondering why you would chose to host a fringe meeting by Unum at the conference on Monday?

“‘New Thinking on the Welfare State’ it seems is the title of the meeting, and they should know since Unum have been helping to systematically destroy the welfare state, as welcomed by various governments, since 1994.

“If you were planning to cause offence, you couldn’t have done a better job.

Keep betraying the British disabled people and you’ll be waiting in the wings for a lot longer before Labour ever return to Government.

“I have spent the past 4 years exposing the links between the DWP, Atos Healthcare & UNUM Insurance. Some of your colleagues are very familiar with my work, which is to be considered by the UN within weeks, and I suggest that if you wish to be taken seriously as the Shadow Minister for Disabled People then you need to be familiar with this evidence.”

This blog wholeheartedly supports Mo Stewart’s position.

If you want to add your support, you can contact Anne McGuire by emailing [email protected] – and you might wish to include Ed Miliband and Liam Byrne (while he’s still there): [email protected] and [email protected]

If you’d like to do more, feel free to broadcast that facts about Unum as widely as you can. There seems to be a media blackout on mention of this criminal organisation’s involvement with the state, so you cannot rely on the national news media. This means word of mouth – viral networking – is the only alternative.

Spread the word.

Oh, and Ed? Mr Miliband? We’ll all be waiting for you to make a slightly more solid commitment to the British people. You know what it is because we’ve made it perfectly clear already:

New policies on sickness, disability and incapacity benefits that are humane to claimants and rely on real medical evidence – not the opinions of an unqualified ‘decision-maker’ at the DWP.

Expel Unum from any position in which it may influence the government – including fringe events at party conferences. This may mean dismantling the DWP altogether as that organisation appears to have been terminally compromised.

End the work capability assessments. Find a different way to assess people’s ability to work – perhaps one that involves knowledge of what jobs are available and whether employers have any intention to take on people with limited abilities… Something practical, rather than the dribble that masquerades as current government policy.

And, for goodness’ sake, get rid of Byrne (and McGuire… and let’s not forget Stephen Timms) and replace them with backbenchers who actually understand and sympathise with the plight of benefit claimants who have been made to suffer under a needlessly brutal system.

You don’t dare betray the British people again.

If you do, you’ll have more than eggs to dodge, whenever you dare show your face in public.

Are British workers being lured into health insurance that will never pay out?

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Working people in the UK could be facing a huge drain on their income, if they join an insurance scheme being offered by a discredited American firm.

It seems that the company behind the hated Work Capability Assessment that has denied disability benefits to thousands of genuinely sick and disabled people, has begun a mass-marketing campaign to encourage able-bodied members of the British public to invest in ‘Income Protection Insurance’, and another scheme known as the ‘Back-up Plan’.

This insurance scheme is only available via the workplace, and it is understood that it has been designed to ensure that the company can resist paying out whenever a claim is made.

In other words, if you join the scheme, you will be giving away your money to a criminal firm. If you become ill or suffer disability in the future, you will not receive a single penny of the insurance money that is due to you.

That is the allegation against Unum Insurance, the American giant that has spent more than two decades advising successive British governments on how to avoid paying sickness and disability benefits to the most deserving claimants in our society.

If you have been contacted in the workplace and offered a chance to take out this insurance, please get in touch. Your experience of this system and insights into its operating procedures could be invaluable.

For those who don’t know the Unum story, you can read some of it here. Unum’s bosses devised their current system to combat the rise of ‘subjective’ illnesses such as ‘chronic pain’, ‘chronic fatigue syndrome’, fibromyalgia, multiple sclerosis, Lyme disease.

The solution devised by the bosses was to reduce the number of successful claims it paid out, by aggressively disputing whether the claimant was ill. So the company skewed its medical examinations to its own favour by questioning illnesses that were “self-reported”, labelling some disabling conditions as “psychological”, and playing up the “subjective” nature of “mental” and “nervous” claims.

The acknowledged basis for this attitude is the Biopsychosocial Model of illness, developed by the psychiatrist George Engel – but it’s a bastardised version, removing the bio- and -social aspects and concentrating on the ‘psycho’. This version of the theory, as used by Unum, has been utterly discredited. It is nonsense, totally disregarding such inconvenient medical procedures as diagnosis and prognosis, or limited life expectancy.

But it proved a great success for Unum – so much so that the UK government sought advice from the company in the early 1990s, when Peter Lilley was running the Department of Social Security. He wanted to reduce the number of disability claimants on his books, and Unum was only too happy to help out. It has been at the heart of disability benefit policy ever since.

We have Unum to thank for the Work Capability Assessment (administered by another private firm, Atos – an IT firm that has no expertise in healthcare, even though that word occasionally appears on its company logo). The recommendations made by Atos representatives, following these assessments, have led to the deaths of at least 73 genuinely ill people every week (according to government figures that are now almost a year old), who have claimed Employment and Support Allowance (formerly Incapacity Benefit). The real figure may be much higher.

The Coalition government considers this to be a great achievement and has now begun expanding the Work Capability Assessment regime to cover claims for Disability Living Allowance, now branded the Personal Independence Payment, with criteria that are much more difficult to achieve.

We can all expect many more deaths to arise from this.

Now, it seems, Unum believes the UK is ripe for bleeding – and that is why it is trying to sell its bogus insurance to working people here.

If you have been contacted, please get in touch.

For further information (with annotations pointing to the really damning evidence) see ‘The Hidden Agenda’ by disability researcher Mo Stewart.