Tag Archives: telephone

DWP disabled sanctions extension shows great tragedy is due to timing, too

Habitual cruelty: if you thought the Tories stopped persecuting people with long-term illnesses and disabilities during the Covid-19 crisis, think again.

The Department for Work and Pensions has employed its usual subtlety and tact – and has extended benefit sanctions against people with disabilities in time for the new English lockdown.

People with long-term illnesses and/or disabilities who fail to take part in telephone work capability assessments are now to be sanctioned. The change was brought in on November 2, days before the new lockdown began.

The change has been attacked by mental health charity Mind as an “abandonment of their responsibility to keep people safe”.

Mind’s Ayaz Manji said:

We need to see a compassionate response to this pandemic.

That has to mean removing benefit sanctions and cancelling reassessments for disability benefits so that people with mental health problems don’t face the prospect of going without income this winter.

Sadly, we are not going to see any compassion from the Department for Work and Pensions while it is under Tory control.

The Department has said nobody will be sanctioned without being contacted first – which raises interesting questions if assessors can’t even phone up a claimant properly:

People will be contacted to ask them to explain why they did not, or could not attend or participate in the assessment and where good cause is provided and accepted, support will continue.

We don’t want to sanction anyone and our absolute priority is to ensure people continue to receive the support they are entitled to.

We will contact anyone who hasn’t engaged in a telephone appointment and their support will absolutely continue if they have a good reason for not attending or participating.

We’ve heard it all before. Expect a slew of articles about the DWP failing to follow this simple routine.

Source: DWP extends benefit sanctions against disabled people just as new lockdown begins – Mirror Online

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PIP claim rejected due to ‘good eye contact’ – in a TELEPHONE assessment

As seen on Twitter: considering the thread quoted below, assessors caught doing this would probably protest that they were giving her a wash.

I found this on Twitter and had to share it.

Apparently people working on Personal Independence Payment assessments for a private company hired by the Tory government have developed the ability to see people at the other end of telephone lines.

Otherwise, how could this have happened?

Evander v – who identifies as “SLE(lupus), hEDS, Sjögren’s, suprapubic catheter, wheelchair user, depression, hypomania, self-harm, autistic” – continued with an excellent thread on the state of PIP assessments under the Conservatives, which I’ll reproduce here for you:

The thread has struck a chord with fellow Twitter users, leading to a large number of replies – because it is accurate.

Too many people have suffered as a result of fabricated, false PIP assessments, written by cynics who know that the appeal process is Kafka-esque; once you start it, you’ll be lucky ever to reach a satisfactory end.

The assessment process used to disregard mental illness completely, despite the fact that this was supposed to be one of the qualifications for receiving the benefit. The same process has always been considered to worsen such maladies.

PIP is, indeed, a benefit that – on the face of it – is intended to help working disabled people with their daily lives as much as those who can’t manage a job. But any actual independence appears to be penalised in the assessment.

And the last comment is brutally accurate. The system is, indeed, working exactly as intended by the Conservatives; it’s kicking people off of benefit, even though they need it more than ever.

You may have thought this problem had gone away in these “all in it together” days of the Covid-19 lockdown. Not a bit of it.

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PIP claimants: don’t believe DWP reps – you CAN have a witness in telephone assessments

Here’s some good news – unless you’re a DWP Personal Independence Payment advisor:

The Minister for Disabled People, Justin Tomlinson, has confirmed that PIP claimants have the right to have someone else sitting in on their telephone assessment.

He told the Commons Work and Pensions Committee on April 23: “If you are having a telephone assessment, we are allowing your friend, family, trusted partner to be part of that process which is something we introduced a few years ago for face-to-face assessments which has made a huge difference to the quality of the outcome of the assessments.”

The website Benefits and Work has reported that PIP claimants have been told that nobody else can take part – even when they can’t speak for themselves.

Well, now we’ve had it from the minister.

If anybody from the DWP tries to tell you otherwise, they’re wrong and you can demand the extra participant.

Source: Minister confirms right to have someone join you for PIP assessment call

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Coronavirus: ‘Don’t call us’ say DWP as Universal Credit Claim line is overwhelmed

This is what happens when you create a system to stop people claiming benefits – and then need to pay them to millions of people.

The Tory government could just switch to a Universal Basic Income system that is straightforward and cheaper – but for some reason it doesn’t seem to want to do that.

I wonder why not?

Instead – well, read about the shambles for yourself:

From Thursday, a new frontline team will be in place to proactively call customers where additional information is required.

Customers applying for universal credit are being advised to sign-up online, where they can share details such as salary and national insurance information for the DWP to assess.

It said claims will then be reviewed, and where additional details are needed, it will get in touch with you over the phone or via your online portal.

The move, it said, is designed to take some of the worry and frustration out of submitting a claim, while speeding it up by putting an end to long call wait times.

More than 1.2 million people have applied for Universal Credit in the past three weeks, and in the past seven days more than 5.8 million calls have been made to its helpline, equivalent to three times the average per day.

That’s an awful lot of people signing up to wait five weeks before they get any money.

And they’ve overloaded the system.

On April 8, the DWP admitted access to its phone lines had to be “controlled” in order to stop critical services like NHS 111 collapsing.

Now, it is asking people to avoid its phone lines altogether.

That is not the statement of an organisation that wants to help.

It is an organisation that only wants to help itself.

Source: Universal Credit claimants sent urgent message by DWP as millions more sign up – Mirror Online

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Coronavirus: have the Tories told a big lie? Do they expect HUNDREDS of THOUSANDS of DEATHS?

Did I make that headline big enough for you?

According to Byline Times, the people there have gained access to a Home Office conference call that shows the facts about Tory government policy on the coronavirus: heartless and two-faced.

It seems the government does not expect a vaccine to appear before most of the population has caught the virus – and expects around 264,000 of us to die in the long term.

This is the scientific advice behind the government’s policy on coronavirus; remember that when Dominic Raab or Boris Johnson come out to a press conference and say they’re “following scientific advice”.

So it seems the Tories want to downplay the dangers of going to work. As we’re all going to catch Covid-19 anyway, they want us to get back to servicing their economy.

We already know that Tory policy is to “flatten the curve” of coronavirus infections – ensure that the rate of infection slows to one that the NHS can manage, after years in which that party, in government, has starved it of investment in favour of giving money to profit-making firms.

But it turns out that a more accurate description is that Tory policy is simply to slow down “the rate at which we get this virus [which] has direct impact on the NHS”.

So sending us home might have more to do with preventing the NHS from having to deal with it – even if it means people die in their homes (or care homes); and it explains why vulnerable people received letters saying they would be denied treatment if they caught the disease.

The whole strategy suggests that the Tories have never shifted from the “herd immunity” nonsense spouted by Boris Johnson in early March; they want us to “take it on the chin” and if we die in a quiet corner as a result, that’s just too bad.

And it seems that, while we wait for a vaccine that may be a long time coming, we will experience several peaks in infections, each increasing the aggregate number of deaths.

These assumptions are supported by a lot of bad science.

First, it was claimed that the coronavirus cannot survive more than 48 hours on hard surfaces and clothing; in fact survive on hard, shiny surfaces like plastic and steel for up to 72 hours, up to four days on glass and paper money, and as much as seven days on the outside of a surgical mask. Suggestions of a shorter lifespan are begging for people to be infected.

It was also suggested that the coronavirus is uniformly spread across the country, and that this is the reason it is not possible to stop it spreading – but without mass community testing it is impossible to make that claim.

Statements in support of people going to work are contradictory in the extreme.

People who go to work while a vulnerable person is at home are said to be protecting that person because they don’t have to leave the house – but then if the worker catches Covid-19 their housemate is likely to die of it.

So a person going out to work must put a vulnerable person in their household at higher risk!

Going to work is justified because it would keep the economy moving – and said to be equivalent in risk to staying at home or shopping, again on the grounds that we are all doomed to get the virus.

“It’s perfectly okay to carry on in your business” is the claim – made only, it seems, to support the economy rather than to support workers’ safety.

In other words, it seems to be Tory policy for people to put themselves at risk of contracting Covid-19, in order to keep money flowing into the hands of the already-rich. If true: despicable.

Source: COVID-19 SPECIAL INVESTIGATION: Leaked Home Office Call Reveals Government wants Economy to ‘Continue Running’ as ‘We Will All Get’ COVID-19 Anyway – Byline Times

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Theresa May and the 55p-per-minute miscalculation


The biggest cock-up committed by Theresa May at Prime Minister’s Questions yesterday has to have been over Universal Credit – and the cost of phoning in a claim.

First, let’s have a quick summary of the problem, courtesy of the Labour Party:

Mrs May doesn’t see it that way, of course – and defended the benefit when Jeremy Corbyn challenged her about it.

So Mr Corbyn made the following point:

See, to Mrs May and her fellow Tories, 55p per minute is hardly worth considering. But £5.50 for a 10-minute call is a fortune if you’re unemployed and need to claim a benefit.

Tories avoid thinking about these things because they show up the flaws in Conservative thinking.

The rest of us don’t avoid thinking about these things, and Mrs May’s stuttered response (always a sign that they’re lying or don’t have anything good to say) provided plenty of opportunity for criticism:

The situation was worsened – if that’s possible – by Tory minister for Cheese, Liz Truss, who was sent to the BBC’s Daily Politics and The World at One programmes to justify her boss’s gaffe:

https://twitter.com/Barkercartoons/status/918143047174586368

Yes it was. You can see the moment she realised she was in trouble – her face drops around 40 seconds into the clip.

But she went on to make matters worse:

There was only one conclusion to reach, and here it is:

And here’s the clincher – it was left to BBC political editor Laura Kuenssberg (possibly after a phone call from her friends in the Tory government) to point out that people can ask the DWP to call them back:

Knowing the DWP, though, is there any guarantee that the call would be returned?


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Data retention debate: The lies they tell to steal your rights

Haggard: Theresa May looked distinctly ruffled as she responded to criticism of her government's undemocratic actions. Some of you may wish to abbreviate the first word in this caption to three letters.

Haggard: Theresa May looked distinctly ruffled as she responded to criticism of her government’s undemocratic actions. Some of you may wish to abbreviate the first word in this caption to three letters.

It is ironically appropriate that an Act of Parliament guaranteeing government the right to invade the private communications of every single citizen in the UK, ostensibly in the interests of justice, should be justified by a web of dishonesty.

This is what an indecisive British electorate gets: A government that can lose every major debate in the chamber – and look shambolic while doing so – and still win the vote because all its members have been whipped into place.

We all knew the government’s case for providing itself with a legal ability to snoop on your telephone and Internet communications was paper-thin, and by failing to produce any new justification, the government confirmed our suspicions.

Introducing the Data Retention and Investigatory Bill earlier today, Minister for Security and Immigration James Brokenshire said the three-month delay since the European Court of Justice judgement that allegedly necessitated the legislation was because the Coalition had “sought clarity” on it.

He went on to say that “There is a risk in relation to co-operation on the use of the powers; indeed, there may be legal challenge. The House must face up to the prospect that the powers we use—they are constantly used by our law enforcement agencies—are at potential risk, and we are seeking to address that risk.”

Michael Meacher suggested a more persuasive reason for the three-month delay: “Panic or a deliberate attempt to blackmail the House into undiscriminating compliance.”

He said the argument that foreign phone and Internet firms were about to refuse UK warrants, demanding the contents of individual communications, was another red herring: “It has been reported that communications service providers have said that they did not know of any companies that had warned the UK Government that they would start deleting data in the light of legal uncertainty. Indeed, the Home Office, according to the Financial Times, instructed companies to disregard the ECJ ruling and to carry on harvesting data while it put together a new legal framework.”

So Brokenshire was lying to the House about the potential effect of inaction. That will be no surprise to anyone familiar with the workings of the Coalition government. At risk of boring you, dear reader, you will recall that the Health and Social Care Act was based on a tissue of lies; now your privacy has been compromised – perhaps irrevocably – on the basis of a lie.

MPs could not limit the extension of the government’s powers until the autumn, Brokenshire said, because a review of the power to intercept communications had been commissioned and would not be ready by then.

According to Labour’s David Hanson, the main Opposition party supported the Bill because “investigations into online child sex abuse, major investigations into terrorism and into organised crime, the prevention of young people from travelling to Syria and many issues relating to attempted terrorist activity have depended on and will continue to depend on the type of access that we need through the Bill”.

Mr Hanson’s colleague David Winnick disagreed. “I consider this to be an outright abuse of Parliamentary procedure… Even if one is in favour of what the Home Secretary intends to do, to do it in this manner—to pass all the stages in one day—surely makes a farce of our responsibilities as Members of Parliament.”

He pointed out – rightly – that there has been no pre-legislative scrutiny by the select committees – a matter that could have been carried out while the government sought the clarification it said delayed the Bill. “This is the sort of issue that the Home Affairs Committee and other Select Committees that consider human rights should look at in detail,” said Mr Winnick. “None of that has been done.”

The Bill did not even have the support of all Conservative MPs. David Davis – a very senior backbencher – said: “Parliament has three roles: to scrutinise legislation, to prevent unintended consequences and to defend the freedom and liberty of our constituents. The motion undermines all three and we should oppose it.”

Labour’s Tom Watson, who broke the news last Thursday that the Coalition intended to rush through this invasive Bill, was more scathing still: “Parliament has been insulted by the cavalier way in which a secret deal has been used to ensure that elected representatives are curtailed in their ability to consider, scrutinise, debate and amend the Bill. It is democratic banditry, resonant of a rogue state. The people who put this shady deal together should be ashamed.”

Plaid Cymru’s Elfyn Llwyd said Parliament was being “ridden over roughshod”.

Labour’s Diane Abbott made two important points. Firstly, she called the Bill an insult to the intelligence of the House. “We have had a Session with a light legislative programme, and for Ministers to come to the House and say, ‘We’ve only got a day to debate it’, when weeks have passed when we could have given it ample time is, I repeat, an insult to the intelligence of MPs.”

Then she turned on her own front bench: “I believe… that those on the Opposition Front Bench have been ‘rolled’ [one must presume she meant this in the sense of being drunken, sleeping or otherwise helpless people who were robbed]. All Ministers had to do was to raise in front of them the spectre of being an irresponsible Opposition, and that children will die if they do not vote for the Bill on this timetable, and they succumbed.”

Despite this opposition – not just to the way the Bill had been tabled, but to its timetable and its content – MPs voted it through, after a derisory nine hours of debate, by a majority of 416.

So much for democracy.

So much for MPs being elected to protect their constituents.

When Hansard publishes details of the vote, I’ll put them up here so that you can see which way your own MP voted and use that information to inform your actions during the general election next May.

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See if YOUR objection is mentioned in the Surveillance Bill debate!

internet-surveillance

It seems Parliament’s discussion of the Data Retention and Investigatory Bill, also known as the Surveillance Bill, will now take place tomorrow (Tuesday) rather than today (Monday).

This works better for Yr Obdt Srvt, who has carer-related business today and would not have been able to watch the debate.

Hopefully, many Vox Political readers – if not all – have emailed or tweeted MPs, calling on them to speak and vote against the Bill which, while only reinstating powers the government has already been using, is a totally unacceptable infringement of our freedom that is being imposed in a totally unacceptable timeframe.

As has been discussed here previously, the Bill enshrines in law Theresa May’s ‘Snooper’s Charter’, requiring telecommunications companies to keep a complete record of all your telephone and Internet communications for examination by politicians.

The information to be kept includes the location of people you call, the date and time of the call, and the telephone number called.

It seems the Bill is intended to be a response to a European ruling in April, making the valid point that the government’s current behaviour is an invasion of citizens’ privacy. Clearly, therefore, the Coalition government is determined to continue invading your privacy.

The judgement of the European Court of Justice is being overridden and the Conservative-led Coalition is making no attempt to find a reasonable compromise between the need for security and the right of privacy.

The fact that David Cameron has waited more than three months before putting this on the Parliamentary timetable, during a time when MPs have had very little to discuss, indicates that he wanted to offer no opportunity for civil society to be consulted on the proposed law or consider it in any way.

Cameron wanted to restrict our freedom to question this restriction of our freedoms.

Another reason given for the haste is that foreign-based Internet and phone companies were about to stop handing over the content of communications requested by British warrants – but service providers have confirmed that this was a lie. No companies had indicated they would delete data or reject a UK interception warrant.

Ignoring the fact that this does nothing to support your privacy, at least it does completely undermine Mr Cameron’s case for rushing through the legislation.

He is offering concessions – but they are not convincing and nobody should be fooled into thinking that they make this Bill acceptable. However:

A possibility of restrictions on retention notices is not clarified in the text of the Bill, and is therefore meaningless; and

The ‘sunset clause’ for the Bill’s provisions does not come into effect for two and a half years, by which time (we can assume) the government is hoping everybody will have forgotten about it and it can be renewed with a minimum of fuss. This is how your freedoms are taken away – behind your back.

If you have not yet contacted your MP, you are advised to do so.

If you lose your right to privacy – especially to this government – you won’t get it back.

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The security services are already snooping on us – why aren’t we out in the streets about it?

A Snooper: This woman has been allowing police and security services to monitor your phone and Internet communications - illegally. Now her government wants to rush through a law to make it legal, without proper scrutiny.

A Snooper: This woman has been allowing police and security services to monitor your phone and Internet communications – illegally. Now her government wants to rush through a law to make it legal, without proper scrutiny.

No matter what Nick Clegg might say, the Coalition government will be reintroducing – and rushing into effect – Theresa May’s long-cherished Snooper’s Charter on Monday.

This is her plan to ride roughshod over your right to privacy by requiring telecommunications companies to keep a complete record of all of your telephone and Internet communications. While the Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Bill does not include the content of the calls or messages, it does include the location of the people called, the date and time of the call and the telephone number called.

Theresa May’s Snooper’s Charter would have called on telecoms firms to record the time, duration, originator and recipient of every communication and the location of the device from which it was made.

Anybody who cannot see the similarities between these two would have to be blind and stupid.

Apparently the move has been necessitated by a European Court of Justice ruling in April saying current laws invaded individual privacy.

This means that the government has been doing, already, what it proposes to enshrine in law now.

But hang on a moment – this court ruling was made in April. In April? And they’re just getting round to dealing with it now?

Perhaps they were busy. But no! This is the Zombie Parliament, that has been criticised for muddling along with nothing to do, so it can’t be that.

It seems far more likely that this Bill has been timed to be pushed through without any consideration by, or consultation with, civil society – in order to restrict our ability to question what is nothing less than an attack on our freedom.

Cameron is desperate to justify his government monitoring everything you do: “The ability to access information about communications and intercept the communications of dangerous individuals is essential to fight the threat from criminals and terrorists targeting the UK.”

It isn’t about fighting any threat from criminals or terrorists, though, is it? It’s about threatening you.

Has anybody here forgotten the disabled lady who received a midnight visit from the police, at her home, in relation to comments she had posted on Facebook about the Department for Work and Pensions’ cuts?

She told Pride’s Purge: “They told me they had come to investigate criminal activity that I was involved in on Facebook… They said complaints had been made about posts I’d made on Facebook.”

Facebook is an internet communication, not a telephone communication – so you know that the security services have already been overstepping their mark. This was in 2012.

There’s always the good old postal service, embodied in the recently-privatised Royal Mail – which has been examining your correspondence for decades. You will, of course, have heard that all your correspondence with HM Revenue and Customs about taxes, and all your correspondence with the DWP about benefits, is opened and read by employees of a private company before it gets anywhere near a government employee who may (or may not) have signed the Official Secrets Act. No? Apparently some secrets are better-kept then others.

If you want proof about the monitoring of letters, I’ll repeat my story about a young man who was enjoying a play-by-mail game with other like-minded people. A war game, as it happens. They all had codenames, and made their moves by writing letters and putting them in the post (this was, clearly, before the internet).

One day, this young fellow arrived home from work (or wherever) to find his street cordoned off and a ring of armed police around it.

“What’s going on?” he asked a burly uniformed man who was armed to the teeth.

“Oh you can’t come through,” he was told. “We’ve identified a terrorist group in one of these houses and we have to get them out.”

“But I live on this street,” said our hero, innocently. “Which house is it?”

The constable told him.

“But that’s my house!” he said.

And suddenly all the guns were pointing at him.

They had reacted to a message he had sent, innocently, as part of the game. They’d had no reason to open the letter, but had done it anyway and, despite the fact that it was perfectly clear that it was part of a game, over-reacted.

What was the message?

“Ajax to Achilles: Bomb Liverpool!”

Neither of these two incidents should have taken place but many more are inevitable if this legislation goes the distance and allows the government to legitimise its current – illegal – actions.

One last point: It should be remembered that this is a government composed mainly of a political party with one member, still active, who managed to lose (or should that be ‘lose’) no less than 114 files on child abuse – files that could have put hugely dangerous people behind bars 30 years ago. Instead, with the files lost, it seems these individuals were permitted to continue perpetrating these heinous crimes.

Now, this government is launching an inquiry into historic child abuse by high-profile people, headed by a woman who is herself tainted by association with some of the accused, and by some of the attitudes she has expressed.

It is a government that should put its own House in order before it asks us to give up our privacy and let it look inside ours.

Or, as Frankie Boyle tweeted:

140711surveillance

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Tax credit debt collection is a double-edged attack on the poor

140126facts

There’s more than a little of the piscine about the fact that our Conservative-led has set debt collection agencies onto poor families who have been overpaid tax credit due to errors made by HM Revenue and Customs.

Firstly, the move undermines the principle behind the tax credit system – that it is there to ensure that poorly-paid families may still enjoy a reasonable living standard. Tax credits are paid on an estimate of a person’s – or family’s – income over a tax year and the last Labour government, knowing that small variances could cause problems for Britain’s poorest, set a wide buffer of £25,000 before households had to pay anything back.

By cutting this buffer back to £5,000, the Conservatives have turned this safety net into a trap. Suddenly the tiniest overpayment can push households into a debt spiral, because their low incomes mean it is impossible to pay back what the government has arbitrarily decided they now owe.

And the sharks are circling. Instead of collecting the debt on its own behalf, HMRC has sold it on to around a dozen debt collection agencies who are harassing the families involved with constant telephone calls, mobile phone messages and letters to their homes.

In total, HMRC made 215,144 referrals to debt collectors in 2013-14. Of the working families involved, 118,000 earned less than £5,000 per year.

This takes us to our second area of concern. Remember how the Department for Work and Pensions has been encouraging people – particularly the disabled – to declare themselves as self-employed in order to avoid the hassle and harassment that now go hand in hand with any benefit claim? You know – the refusal of benefits based on arbitrary ‘descriptors’ that were originally devised by a criminal insurance company as a means to minimise payouts, and the constant threat of sanctions that would cut off access to benefits for up to three years unless claimants manage to clear increasingly difficult obstacles.

And do you remember how the DWP reported earlier this year that more than 3,000 people who were subjected to the government’s benefit cap have now found work? This blog suggested at the time that many of them may have been encouraged to declare themselves self-employed in order to escape the hardship that the cap would cause them.

Both of these circumstances are likely to lead to a verdict of overpayment by HMRC, as the self-employment reported by these people is likely to be fictional, or to provide less than required by the rules – either in terms of hours worked or income earned.

Suddenly their debt is sold to a collection agency and they are suffering government-sponsored harassment, alarm and distress (which is in fact illegal) far beyond anything they received from the DWP; debt collection agencies are not part of the government and, as Dame Anne Begg pointed out in the Independent article on this subject, “The tactics they use to collect the debt are not tactics a government should use.”

Maybe not. So why employ such tactics?

Let’s move on to our third, and final, worry. By setting sharks on the hundreds of thousands of minnows caught in the government’s trawler-net (that was formerly a safety net – and I apologise for the mixed metaphor), the Tory-led administration is creating a handy distraction from the huge, bloated, offshore-banking whales who donate heavily into Conservative Party funds and who are therefore never likely to be pursued for the billions of pounds in unpaid taxes that they owe.

The government has promised to clamp down on tax evasion and avoidance, but ministers would have to be out of their minds to attack the bankers and businesspeople who pay for their bread and butter.

George Osborne suffered huge – and entirely justified – derision last year when HMRC published a list of its top 10 tax dodgers, which revealed that public enemy number one was a hairdresser from Liverpool who had failed to pay a total of £17,000.

It seems likely that the Conservatives have decided that future announcements will involve the reclamation of far larger amounts, and from far more people…

Innocent people who were either cheated by Tory-instigated changes to the system or by Tory-instigated misleading benefit advice.

Meanwhile the guilty parties continue to go unhindered. Their only payouts will continue to be made to – who was it again?

Oh yes…

To the Conservative Party.

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