Tag Archives: voodoo

Budget fever grows but is Gideon up to the task?

Cart crash: In line with the theme explored in this article, not only is it likely that George Osborne won't even have the right vehicle to carry his budget - he'll probably crash it, too.

Cart crash: In line with the theme explored in this article, not only is it likely that George Osborne won’t even have the right vehicle to carry his budget – he’ll probably crash it, too.

Part-time Chancellor Gideon George Osborne will be having another go at delivering a budget next week; while we can all hope he does better than the last four wrecks, experience – and a voodoo poll on the ConservativeHome website – suggests the opposite.

The poll asks readers to prioritise possible policies on a scale of one to 10, where one is “low” and 10 is “high”. The policies themselves?

“Cut spending further, so that the deficit can be reduced faster”. Clearly this is nonsense. Osborne’s massive spending cuts have, so far, delivered tiny reduction in the national deficit of only £7 billion – from £118 billion to £111 billion. In four years. Clearly, he needs to change his ways.

Other possibilities include cutting the higher rates of tax (or raising the threshold for them) – helping the very rich; extending National Insurance cuts for employers taking on young workers – helping employers; cutting business rates – helping businesspeople; and privatising more state assets, such as roads – helping rich investors and penalising the poor.

Other ideas intended to harm the poor include regionalising public sector pay, extending the freeze on public sector pay rises or cutting public sector pay, lowering the benefit cap to less than the current £26,000 per family and lowering a cap on broader social security spending that is yet to be introduced (it is scheduled for 2015).

All of the measures mentioned in the above two paragraphs will harm the British economy, rather than helping it. If Osborne includes any of them, he will deserve censure (if not prosecution, although it might be hard to find an offence on which to charge him after five years of Tory/Tory Democrat tinkering with the legal system).

By now, dear readers, some of you will be sitting with your blood boiling at this insolent blogger who’s telling you your prized policy ideas won’t work. You’re probably itching to demand what I would do to address the challenge.

I would have examined the economy from a different angle. Let’s look at it metaphorically.

Imagine the British economy is a haulage lorry or, better yet, a horse and cart. Tories are pushing us back towards pre-industrialism so we might as well get used to the idea. Either way, the job in hand is to take provisions to different parts of the locality that will allow the people there to prosper – and return with a share of that prosperity, to be distributed equally for the benefit of everyone.

Firstly, you need fuel. This is where we can prove that Osborne’s austerity is completely useless. How far can a lorry travel with an empty fuel tank? How far will a horse pull a cart if you don’t feed it? Not very far at all.

Then you need to make sure you’re providing the right kind of fuel. A diesel lorry won’t go far on petrol or vegetable oil before it starts to complain; give a horse the wrong kind of food and it will develop who-knows-what kind of digestion-related illness and keel over. This is what happens to an economy that is over-reliant on – for example – a single economy sector such as finance, or an economic ‘bubble’ like the housing growth triggered by Help to Buy (although this scheme could work well with the correct controls, in the same way you can probably keep a horse working with the correct medicine).

The result in both cases – no fuel or wrong fuel – is the same: Your supplies don’t get out to your people and they suffer as a result. The last four years of Tory/Tory Democrat rule has proved this.

In non-metaphorical terms: There must be investment, and it must be the right kind.

Then, of course, there is the question of what you have in the back of your lorry (or on the cart). You must be providing your people with what they need, otherwise there’s no point in making the journey and the fuel/food in which you have invested – in fact, the whole journey – will have been wasted (like Osborne’s last four budget attempts). Your choice of supplies will depend on what your people are doing – what crops they are growing or products they are making – and on whether these can be traded with your neighbours. If they have been misled into producing wares that can’t be traded, what good is that?

Get it right and you’ll be able to make a return trip laden with goods and supplies that will – with a bit of wise distribution and trade – help build up your society, meaning that the load might not be so great on the next trip. This means less fuel/horse feed will be needed and there won’t be as large a load in goods to be redistributed on the return journey (although an expanding economy means there might be farther to travel, so this must be recognised in the amount of fuel to be used).

That’s about as simple a metaphor as I can devise at the moment.

If I had to predict what will happen on Wednesday, though, I would probably expect Osborne to be demanding that we leave the lorry in the garage (or the horse in the yard), and struggle out on foot with all our burdens on our own back.

Not so much “all in it together” as “everyone for themselves” – and that’s how we’ll all be ruined.

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Call for evidence on Work Capability Assessment: My submission

Tell him about it: Dr Paul Litchfield is carrying out a review of the Work Capability Assessment and needs to know how you think the system could be improved. The Coalition government would like him to think that there is no need for any change at all; if you don't tell him exactly what you think of it, he won't know any different.

Tell him about it: Dr Paul Litchfield is carrying out a review of the Work Capability Assessment and needs to know how you think the system could be improved. The Coalition government would like him to think that there is no need for any change at all; if you don’t tell him exactly what you think of it, he won’t know any different.

An article on this site earlier today publicised the DWP’s call for submissions to its independent review of the Work Capability Assessment and called for anyone with experience of the process to contribute by answering the four questions at this web address:

https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/fourth-independent-review-of-the-work-capability-assessment-wca

As someone with direct experience of the assessment procedure, I made my own submission shortly after writing the piece, and I am reproducing it here. I threw as much information into the submission as I could, and I would like to take this opportunity to beg everybody who has also experienced a work capability assessment to do the same. It is weight of numbers that will carry any changes to this diabolical, unfit-for-work assessment system; if you have been affected, you cannot rely on other people to get it changed for you.

Here are the questions and my responses:

1. If you have undertaken a WCA yourself or represented somebody who has, what has been your/their experience of the face-to-face assessment and follow up contact with the DWP?

Before the assessment we were not provided all the information we needed, such as details of how to arrange to have the interview recorded. I went along with a Dictaphone, expecting this to be allowed, but the Atos employees made a huge fuss about it and it was clear that they were not prepared to go ahead with the interview if we insisted on recording it. This would not have been our fault or theirs, but the fault of the DWP for failing to make the situation clear. The DWP claims to have only 31 recorders available to it, but this seems ridiculous when every work capability assessment is carried out on a laptop computer which is perfectly capable of running audio recording programmes and burning the resulting files to disc. Fears that someone might tamper with the files (hardly likely between finishing the interview and creating the disc minutes later) can be allayed with a simple time-check at the beginning and end of the recording; the length of the recording should match the time expired between the start time-check and the stop time-check. Microphones are extremely cheap – even more so if ordered wholesale – so there is no reason not to provide them in order to ensure sound clarity. The assessment itself was inadequate – not fit for purpose. The problem is that the questions have been devised in order to shoehorn ESA claimants into particular categories – therefore the assessor needs straightforward “yes” or “no” answers about conditions that are NOT straightforward, and for which such answers would be inappropriate. I attended my partner’s WCA and, with almost every question, she was trying to explain how her situation affects her. This was of no interest to the person conducting the assessment. The problem lies in the fact that the whole system was originally devised by an American insurance company – Unum – in order to find ways of refusing payouts to customers whose policies had matured. Despite the fact that this strategy led to the company being successfully prosecuted in its home country, the UK government enthusiastically hired Unum to transform the assessment of disability/incapacity benefit claimants along the same lines. The implication is always that the claimant’s illness is in his or her mind, and in fact they are perfectly capable of doing a job. There is no effort to find out the claimant’s actual medical condition – all effort is devoted to finding which category they can most easily be put into. There’s more but I’m out of space!

2. On the basis of your experiences, can you suggest any changes to improve the face-to-face part of the WCA? Please give details of why you think these changes would help.

Scrap the work capability assessment as it currently exists; it is a waste of time and money. The interview should be a genuine fact-finding exercise in which a genuine medical doctor gathers all the evidence possible about a claimant’s case, including evidence from their GP and other experts involved with it, and makes an assessment without having to conform to any requirements imposed by the government (which has its own agenda). My partner has mental health issues but there was no attempt to address them. She also has fluctuating health conditions but these were not explored either. New guidelines on these may have been brought in after her assessment but she was not contacted about them afterwards.

3. Thinking about the overall WCA process from when you make a claim for ESA to when you receive a notification of a decision from the DWP, what changes do you think are needed? Please give details of why you think these changes would help.

The ESA50 form should be scrapped and re-thought. The questions in the ‘descriptor’ section are bizarrely-worded and unfit for use as any means to judge a person’s fitness for work. For example, section 8, ‘Getting around safely’, is said to be about visual problems, but the request is “please tick this box if you can get around safely on your own”. I had to write “This is a misleading question. She can’t, but not because of sight problems”. The form provides an opportunity to mislead assessors about the issues they will face at the assessment. The decision notification must be much more detailed. Claimants need to see not only what the decision was, but why it was made. They do not currently receive a copy of the assessment/assessor’s notes, and must instead request it after receiving the decision notice, if they intend to appeal. Why? What does the DWP/Atos/the individual assessor have to hide? Making the recording of assessments mandatory and providing all the documents used to make a decision along with the decision notice itself would hugely increase transparency in the process, helping to prevent costly mistakes.

4. Please give us any further information and evidence about the effectiveness of the WCA, particularly thinking about the effect on claimants, that you consider to be helpful.

My partner was put in the work-related activity group of ESA and told she would be contacted about what she would be required to do. She had to wait FOUR MONTHS (out of a 12-month benefit period) before anybody got in touch. After an interview at the Job Centre, a work programme provider contacted her and established, within half an hour of telephone conversation, that there was nothing they could do with her. She was advised to request reassessment, which she did. That was six months ago and we have heard nothing. As her benefit period is coming to an end, she is currently undergoing reassessment anyway, but this does not excuse the DWP from its tardiness. You can see from this that the WCA, in my partner’s case, produced an inaccurate response. She is not the only one – statistics from the tribunals service show the number of appeals against WCA decisions between January and March have more than doubled, compared with the same period last year, and findings for the claimant have risen to almost half of cases (43%). The work programme has failed most WRAG members – as it failed my partner. Only 10% of them have found work, according to the DWP – around 1.7% of all ESA claimants. This conforms with the view that the rest have been misplaced and are too sick or disabled to work. Of course, the WCA has had a devastating effect on many claimants – statistics last year showed dozens were dying every week, while going through the process, while appealing, or after having been found ‘fit for work’. The DWP is refusing to release current figures, which implies that they have not improved. This proves that the system does not work and should be scrapped. The fact that claimants have DIED while going through this process, and ministers have done nothing about it, implies corporate manslaughter and I would certainly recommend that criminal investigations take place on this basis. Hopefully others will provide details of some of the deceased; otherwise I should be able to provide contact details.

That was my submission.

The web page is at https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/fourth-independent-review-of-the-work-capability-assessment-wca

Over to you.

Work Capability Assessment: Time to make your experience count

What we're fighting: Not only are work capability assessments leading to many deaths every week (we don't know how many because the DWP won't release the numbers), but administrative idiocy has led to at least one of the deceased being harassed AFTER DEATH, for failing to attend an interview. And Mark Hoban says no significant reforms are required. Dream on...

What we’re fighting: Not only are work capability assessments leading to many deaths every week (we don’t know how many because the DWP won’t release the numbers), but administrative idiocy has led to at least one of the deceased being harassed AFTER DEATH, for failing to attend an interview. And Mark Hoban says no significant reforms are required. Dream on…

The Coalition government is launching a call for evidence to help with its fourth annual independent review into the Work Capability Assessment process – and I, for one, will be delighted to be part of it.

The review will be carried out by Dr Paul Litchfield, a senior occupational physician replacing Professor Malcolm Harrington, who ran the review process for the previous three years.

According to the Department for Work and Pensions’ press release, it “will continue the process of monitoring whether the assessment is effective in identifying people who could be helped back to work, while ensuring financial support goes to those who are too sick or disabled to seek employment”.

We all know that the WCA is a total failure in those terms. Recent Work Programme and appeal tribunal statistics are unequivocal in making that clear.

Now – if you have had the same experience of the assessment process as I, and Mrs Mike, have – it is time for you to have your say.

If you are an individual or a member of an organisation with information on how the Work Capability Assessment is operating and further changes that may be needed to improve the process, then you can submit it using the online form on this web page:

https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/fourth-independent-review-of-the-work-capability-assessment-wca

It also includes links to more information about the reviews, large print and Easy Read documents. Audio and BSL versions “will be made available on this page shortly”.

The DWP press release has a lot to say about how well they have performed in changing the system so far. It is worth quoting here, just to show you the importance of the need to challenge this attitude. It states:

“In launching the call for evidence, Dr Litchfield will be considering both how the suggested improvements from previous reviews are working, and what further refinements can be made. Dr Litchfield is particularly interested in hearing how the WCA works for people with mental health conditions.

“Dr Paul Litchfield said: ‘This fourth review is an appropriate time to review the impact of the changes that have been made to the WCA in recent years, including those recommended by my predecessor Professor Malcolm Harrington. I will also be considering if more can be done to ensure that the assessment process is both effective and perceived as being objective by all stakeholders.

“‘I am keen to hear from people who have constructive and evidence-based ideas for improvement. The WCA touches many lives and it is in the interest of all of us to try and make it as good as we can.’

“Employment Minister Mark Hoban said: ‘Helping people who can work into a job, while giving financial support to people who need it, is one of my top priorities. That is why it is so important that the Work Capability Assessment is as effective as possible.

“‘Following the previous independent reviews we have already made considerable improvements to the assessment process, so this new review is a great opportunity to build on that progress.’

“This is the fourth in a series of 5 annual independent reviews into the Work Capability Assessment. The previous reviewer, Professor Harrington, made a number of recommendations, and in his third review found that – as improvements were starting to have an impact – no fundamental reforms were needed to the current WCA. Over 40 recommendations have been, or are being, implemented including:

  • Better communication with claimants, including phone calls from decision-makers to ensure all medical evidence has been provided
  • Introducing 60 mental health champions into assessment centres to provide advice to Atos healthcare professionals
  • Working with charities to test out new descriptors covering mental function and fluctuating conditions
  • Simplifying the process for people undergoing treatment for cancer – reducing the need for face-to-face assessments and ensuring more are placed in the Support Group.”

If “no fundamental reforms are needed”, then why is the DWP refusing to provide details of the number of people who are dying while going through the assessment process, appealing against its decision, or after having been thrown off-benefit? Clearly it seems to have something to hide and until we find out what that is, such claims should be considered to be wild fantasies with no basis in reality.

You’ll notice the possibility of having the Work Capability Assessment recorded is not mentioned, even though there was a debate within the last month. Does Hoban really think our memories are so short?

A submission from myself and Mrs Mike would include information on the run-up to the assessment, including the fact that we were not told we had to announce in advance our desire to have the interview recorded. When I arrived, dictaphone in hand, the Atos employees kicked up a fuss about it that could have stopped the interview taking place at all. That would not have been our fault but theirs, for failing to make the situation clear. We would also point out that claims by the DWP to have only 31 recorders are in error, as the tick-box assessment they use is carried out on laptop computers that can easily – and probably do – carry recording and CD-burning software. It would be simplicity itself to provide simple microphones for both assessor and assessee to use, to make questions and responses clear, and concerns over tampering with recordings may be addressed by a time-check at the start and finish.

I would raise issue with the ESA50 form, that includes ‘descriptors’ that are said to be intended to help describe a claimant’s condition. In fact they do no such thing. They are there to help Atos assessors fit you into the categories laid out by Unum when it originally devised the process as a way to avoid making payments to customers whose insurance policies had matured. It would be far better to allow claimants to describe their symptoms and provide medical evidence from their doctors; the fact that this would require the DWP staff reviewing the forms to use their brains in consideration of the individual situation, rather than slavishly follow instructions that try to shoehorn people into pre-defined groups, is of no concern to the claimant.

I would raise issue with the Work Capability Assessment itself, which also attempts to bypass explanations of the issues in order to shoehorn claimants into providing “yes” or “no” answers to its questions. We have seen from the Conservative Party’s own ‘voodoo’ polling that, if a question is framed in a particular way, the questioner will get the answer they want, and this would not necessarily be productive.

Mrs Mike has mental health issues. There was no concession to those issues during her assessment and I do not recall them being explored at all.

Mrs Mike has fluctuating health conditions. There was no inquiry into how those changes affect her daily life.

Changes for both of the above may have been brought in after the assessment, but they are still relevant to my partner. However, no attempt has been made to contact her or explore her situation in the light of these developments. That is a grave omission.

She was put in the work-related activity group and asked to visit her local Job Centre Plus for interviews. After doing so, and being passed on to a Work Programme Provider, it took just one half-hour telephone conversation to establish that this organisation could do nothing for her, and she was advised to seek re-assessment. This was six months into her one-year period on ESA (remember, those in the work-related activity group get benefit for one year only). Nobody had contacted her during the first four months she was on the benefit.

Mrs Mike did ask for reassessment but nothing was done about it. She is, in fact, going through the assessment process again, but this is because a year has passed since her initial assessment and it is therefore time for her to go through the whole torturous process again. The form went off in mid-May and we have yet to hear back from the DWP.

From our point of view, the whole situation has been a farce.

If you have been through the process, how did you find it?

https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/fourth-independent-review-of-the-work-capability-assessment-wca

Don’t just tell us – tell the independent assessor.

Osborne ‘in tune’ with majority – but do the majority have all the facts?

osborne embarrassed
Gideon does it again!

After sticking his foot in his mouth last week – both with his speech about how great the benefit cuts are, and his attempt at using Estuary English rather than Received Pronunciation to deliver it to unimpressed workers at Morrisons – he has pronounced himself “in tune” with what the majority of the country thinks about those cuts.

He might be right; most people might think, as he does, that there is a large amount of social security fraud and the cuts will force people to get off their backsides and go to work (never mind, for a moment, the fact that the jobs don’t exist because those places are full of people on Mandatory Work Activity, making oodles of money for Poundland or whatever other companies are still clinging to that albatross of a scheme).

It begs a few questions.

Firstly: How knowledgeable is the British public on this matter?

Radio 4’s The Now Show had a few things to say about this, way back in November 2011, and the observations shine a bright light on the subject:

“There’s been a lot of fuss that THE PEOPLE haven’t been given a say, but then the media have a very schizophrenic attitude to THE PEOPLE.

“You must have noticed that newspapers regularly run stories that go: ’70 per cent of adults can’t read a bus timetable’ or ‘Half of the population are unable to multiply 50 by 17’.

“They’re forever running surveys that show that people can’t add up, or don’t know the name of the Foreign Secretary, or the year World War II broke out, and then suddenly the next day, the same papers go: ‘It’s time voters had a say on the debt restructuring of the Eurozone!’

“What?

‘Why, oh why, can’t they let the people decide on the feasibility of operating a single currency in an economic area of widely differing levels of productivity?’

“Because yesterday you said most people can’t read a bus timetable, that’s why – you can’t have it both ways. It doesn’t make sense!

“A lot of the reason for this confusion, of course, is that often people’s opinions depend on how you phrase the question. “If you go: ‘Should we cut public sector jobs to save money?’ people say yes, but if you go: ‘Should we cut public sector jobs such as airport border officials to save money?’ They… still say yes, but when it goes wrong they claim they didn’t and blame someone else.”

That’s a very good point. The answer really does depend on the question. In this case, OUR question must be: Has the Conservative Party been ‘voodoo’ polling again?

I refer you to the Vox article that covered this, back in December 2012:

Today I was made aware of another survey that attempts to manipulate the responses it receives by cleverly-worded “leading” questions – except I’m referring to a survey on the Conservative Party website, so neither the questions nor their wording are particularly clever.

“We’re interested in your view about the fairness of our benefit reforms” is the overture. I have to admit that, on reading this, I was overjoyed. At last a chance to let the Tories know how wrong-headed their approach has been! That they are hitting the vulnerable in society – and that their policies are in fact leading to the deaths of many of the most vulnerable. Fat chance.

“Conservatives in Government have made a decision that we will support people who work hard and that work will be rewarded.” This was the snap back to reality. Anyone reading this has to see that it’s a propaganda exercise. The only other response is to ask, when is this support going to happen?

“Labour say that benefits should go up by more than average wages – even though it will be the taxes of people in work that pays for this increase.” Whoa, whoa, WHOA, wait. The Conservatives aren’t about to lower the base rate of taxes (only the top rate, for the benefit of their extremely rich friends). Nor are they about to increase taxes. This is disingenous and manipulative. They are trying to say that their decision to depress rises in benefit payments is reasonable because it is in line with employers’ (and let’s remember the government is itself an employer) unreasonable decisions to keep their employees’ pay down (and we’ll get onto their own pay rises in a moment).

“We don’t think this is fair for the following reasons…

“1. A real terms increase would have meant that benefits increased more than the average salary.  Since 2007, benefits have increased by 20% whilst salaries have only increased by 10%. If the Government continued to increase benefits at a higher rate than salaries, this would not be fair on working people. The same working people who pay the taxes which fund the benefits to begin with.” Hogwash. Since 2007, benefits have increased in line with inflation and, as a result, people on benefits have been able to survive. Salaries may well have increased by only 10 per cent. I recall my own pay – before I became self-employed. Month after month, year after year, I saw my disposable income being whittled away in a series of poor pay increases, until I reached the point where continuing to work at the same company would put me into debt. That is the harsh reality of the British workplace in the 21st century, under the Tory-led Coalition.

“2. Working people are having their taxes cut. Changes to the personal allowance mean that working people will pay less tax and will keep more of their earnings. Anyone in work and receiving benefits will gain more from paying less tax, than what they lose from benefits not increasing in real terms.” This is simply untrue. 60 per cent of households attacked by the Tory-led government’s cuts to benefits are working households.

“3. To increase benefits in real terms would have meant borrowing more money. This Government is reducing borrowing and cutting the deficit. Labour would borrow more and add more debt to fund unlimited benefit rises. The Conservatives don’t believe that we should burden future generations with our debts in order to live beyond our means today.” The Conservatives are in fact borrowing more money now than Labour would have, if they had won the 2010 election – £212 billion more than planned, by 2015 alone. Using an expected increase in borrowing as an excuse to deprive the most vulnerable of their ability to survive adequately is plain disgusting.

“Have Your Say on Benefits

“We’re interested in what your think about benefits. That’s why we’re asking you whether or not you support two fundamental principles upon which our welfare policies are founded – many will say they don’t but many will also be in favour. Your responses will tell us what the majority think.

“Please also leave your comments.”

Here’s the first question. Remember what I said at the top, about the way the writers manipulate the wording of these things:

“Should benefits increase more than wages?”

See what I mean? The only possible answer to that is “No” – because they shouldn’t! That doesn’t mean that Tory welfare policy is right, though. It means employers aren’t paying their workers well enough (as proven by my own experience). Next question:

“Do you think it’s fair that people can claim more in benefits that (sic) the average family earns through going to work?” Again, the only reasonable answer is “No” – but again it doesn’t mean Tory welfare policy is right. It means this question – like the first – has been carefully worded to prevent anyone responding from giving an unwanted answer.

Never mind – there’s a box for comments, in which respondents may explain their answers. Here’s what I wrote:

“Your questions are slanted to produce a particular set of answers, I notice. My answer to the first is that they should increase in line with inflation. Wages should do that as well. The simple fact is that the majority of employers in this country seem to see fit to fill their own pockets with cash while depriving their workers. It is THIS imbalance that needs to be redressed. Company bosses have given themselves generous pay rises totalling 700 per cent over the last 20 years, while employees’ wages have risen by an average of just 27 per cent in the same period. That is completely unfair – and the reason it is possible for people on benefits to make more money than the average family earns by going to work.

“You don’t make work pay by cutting benefits to the point where people can’t afford the necessities of life – you do it by actually paying people in work enough money to make doing their job worthwhile.

“I don’t think it’s fair for people in benefits to have more money than the average family earns through work, but the answer is not to cut benefits; you must stop the ruthless exploitation of working people by fatcat business bosses. It isn’t rocket science. It’s common sense.”

So you can see that the Conservative Party has a poor record when it comes to polling. They ask leading questions in order to get the result they want, and then push it at the public as proof that they’re right.

It’s crooked.

In fact, in a comment, Vox reader Janet Renwick said: “Obviously the results of this will be triumphantly waved in our faces to show that the ‘Government’ is ‘in touch’ with the population. This is evil and designed to split the population and take sympathy away from the people most in need.”

How prophetic she was.

But what do the British people really think, and is it out of tune with the facts?

Let’s go to a TUC poll of people’s beliefs about benefits, published in January.

This found that, on average, people think that 41 per cent of the entire social security (welfare if you like) budget goes on benefits to unemployed people.

The true figure is just THREE per cent.

It also found that, on average, people think that 27 per cent of the social security (welfare) budget is claimed fraudulently.

The government’s own figure is 0.7 per cent.

You can see why Osborne said he’s “in tune” with what people are thinking. What people are thinking is inaccurate, but because it serves his purposes, he’ll support that – against the facts – every chance he gets.

But that’s no basis on which to justify changing the system. You wouldn’t convict somebody in court because “most people” think a defendant committed a crime, would you? No, we have a legal system that – at least nominally – is concerned with the FACTS of a case. At crown court, juries totalling 12 people are called in to examine the evidence provided, and determine those facts. They don’t have newspaper accounts pushed into their hands before being sent into the jury room to read those second- or third-hand accounts and then make up their minds!

So, if the Coalition government wants a proper debate on this issue, let’s have one.

Let’s have publication of the government’s own figures on the benefit bill, including the total amount paid on unemployment benefits, in real money terms and as a percentage of the whole budget; and the total percentage of the budget that is lost to fraudulent claims.

Let’s have proper discussion, with other facts provided as and when necessary.

And let’s have proper reporting of it in the media. There’s no reason for organisations like the BBC to rely on what politicians say, when the facts are available.

If Osborne is “in tune” with anything at all, it is a fantasy.

That’s no basis on which to ruin people’s lives.

Wow! Petition renews the struggle against vicious welfare cuts

A community of the concerned – including people who are sick and disabled, carers, friends, families, and those who are perfectly healthyhas come together to launch a new resistance to the draconian Coalition welfare cuts that are killing, on average, 73 people every week.

The launch of the WOW (it stands for resistance to the ‘War On Welfare’) Petition comes only days after the Conservative Party started a ‘voodoo’ poll on its own website, intending to fool respondents into saying that the reforms already introduced by the Department for Work and Pensions – and soon to be reinforced with even more drastic measures – are fair.

The document on the government’s e-petitions website has been launched by actor and comedian Francesca Martinez. On the Ekklesia website she said we are living in a dark time for disabled people: “Already a third of disabled adults live in poverty. That’s disgraceful and with the new cuts, that figure can only rise.

“It breaks my heart that some of the most vulnerable people in society are being demonised and used as scapegoats. It’s something everybody needs to fight against.”

The petition calls for:

“A Cumulative Impact Assessment of all cuts and changes affecting sick & disabled people, their families and carers, and a free vote on repeal of the Welfare Reform Act.

“An immediate end to the Work Capability Assessment, as voted for by the British Medical Association.

“Consultation between the Departments of Health and Education to improve support into work for sick and disabled people, and an end to forced work under threat of sanctions for people on disability benefits.

“An Independent, Committee-Based Inquiry into Welfare Reform, covering but not limited to: (1) Care home admission rises, daycare centres, access to education for people with learning difficulties, universal mental health treatments, Remploy closures; (2) DWP media links, the ATOS contract, IT implementation of Universal Credit; (3) Human rights abuses against disabled people, excess claimant deaths & the disregard of medical evidence in decision making by ATOS, DWP & the Tribunal Service.”

That may seem a big demand, but the alternative is potentially fatal for hundreds of thousands of people. Esther McVey, the Minister for Disabled People, has announced that, when Disability Living Allowance (DLA) is replaced by Personal Independence Payments (PiPs), more than 300,000 people will have their benefits cut or removed altogether. That is not an achievement.

In addition, anybody who can walk more than 20 metres will not receive the mobility element of the new benefit.

The petition has already won a huge online response, and I strongly encourage you to help build on that. Go to the site and sign the petition. Visit wowpetition.com (the petition’s base website) and join the discussion on the forum. Above all, ask your friends, relatives, work colleagues, or anyone else you think might be interested, to sign the petition.

It’s time to turn the tide against the persecution of the vulnerable.