Tag Archives: Workfare

Thieving Tories have breached the laws of human rights – and arithmetic – over workfare legal ruling

Once again, the Conservative Party has been found to have trampled over UK citizens’ human rights – and, once again, they are refusing to make proper reparations for the offence.

I remember the Cait Reilly ‘Poundland’ case very well – I covered it in detail at the time. See this article for an example of the coverage.

The facts are clear: The Conservatives stole £130 million from people who could ill-afford the loss – no doubt in the hope that their victims would go away and die.

Now they are determined to keep almost 99 per cent of that money, despite the court’s ruling.

It is time their crimes were exposed for what they are – and the perpetrators imprisoned for committing them.

The Tory government is planning to refund almost £2 million in benefit sanctions to 4,000 jobseekers after breaching their human rights.

It comes five years after a legal fight over the Tories’ hated ‘workfare’ schemes – which forced jobseekers to work for free or have their benefits docked.

The saga began in 2013, when graduate Cait Reilly won a Court of Appeal victory over her unpaid work placement in Poundland.

Judges found the government had not described its back-to-work schemes in enough detail when establishing them in 2011.

So an emergency law was passed in 2013 to make the schemes legal – and stop Tory ministers having to refund £130 million to those who’d had their benefits sanctioned.

It later emerged, however, that the 2013 legal change had led to thousands of appeals by jobseekers being unsuccessful.

A court found this group of jobseekers had lost their right to a fair hearing under Article 6 of the European Convention of Human Rights.

Officials also said the DWP will only repay a “very specific, small group” – people who:

  • Had been sanctioned on jobseekers’ allowance, AND
  • Had a live appeal on the tribunal system on 26 Match 2013, AND
  • The appeal related to compliance with the 2011 laws that outlined ‘workfare’ schemes, or the referral notification letters they received.

Campaigners today… said the payments do not go far enough.

Source: DWP set to refund 4,000 jobseekers almost £2million in benefit sanctions after breaching their human rights – Mirror Online

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Poundland implicated in work experience scandal – again

Poundland said it had signed a deal with the DWP to take jobseekers on work experience on condition that it was voluntary [Image: Stefan Wermuth/Reuters].

Poundland seems to be turning into a serial abuser of jobseekers.

It is now five years since Cait Reilly (remember her?) took the DWP to court for forcing her to stack shelves at one of the discount retail chain’s stores. It was forced labour, not voluntary, the company paid her nothing (she only received benefit money) and pocketed all the profits.

In May 2013, This Writer worked out that companies using jobseekers in this way were making profits of almost £1 billion per year – and were being funded by the taxpayer to do it. The public purse lost more than £16 million in the 2012-13 financial year.

And they’re still doing it.

Because nobody has ever bothered to stop them.

Poundland has been criticised for employing jobseekers, without pay, for up to two months under a deal with the government.

Several of those who have worked on the scheme told the Guardian they had worked up to 30 hours a week for at least three weeks stacking shelves in Poundland. They were told that the work experience was voluntary but one said: “I had no say in it really.”

It’s not clear how many jobseekers have been used by Poundland under the scheme as the government said it did not collect information centrally and the work experience was managed locally by jobcentres across the country. However, one store in Bolton has taken on 21 placements since last August, according to information provided in response to a freedom of information request by the Boycott Workfare pressure group.

Source: Poundland ‘gets jobless to work for free under government scheme’ | Business | The Guardian


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Tories blew £100k of public money hiding ‘Mandatory Work Activity’ firms – because they were profiting from it?

The scheme was pioneered by Tory welfare slasher Iain Duncan Smith [Image: Getty].

The scheme was pioneered by Tory welfare slasher Iain Duncan Smith [Image: Getty].

This Blog, and others, has spent years warning that the Conservative Government will spend huge amounts of public money hiding what it is doing.

So the revelation that Iain Duncan Smith spent £100,000 hiding the names of companies that have exploited the cheap, unpaid workers available through ‘Mandatory Work Activity’ comes as no surprise.

It is easy to see why. Between June 2011 and July 2012, the total profit made by Mandatory Work Activity provider companies, charities and councils was nearly £1 billion.

There was no cost associated with that profit, either – at least, not to the organisations involved.

You and I and everyone else who pays any tax at all put more than £16 million into making profits for those companies – as we were paying the benefits of the claimants who were being forced to work, and for far less than the then-minimum wage.

And that’s just for a 14-month period, ending more than four years ago.

Mandatory Work Activity has made many billions of pounds for the organisations taking part, and I suspect the Conservative Party has fared very well out of it, also.

How many of the organisations taking party in the scheme are donors to the Conservative Party – and how much did they give?

You see? It was all part of a nasty plan to spend public money and make a private profit for the Tories – to help them gain an unfair advantage at election times when they will be able to outspend everyone else, no doubt.

That is the purpose of Mandatory Work Activity: Making money for the Conservative Party. And that is why we look down on every dirty organisation that has been taking part.

The Tory government blew £100,000 of public money trying to hide a huge list of firms that used jobseekers for unpaid work.

Tesco and Asda were among household names on a list of 500 companies, charities and councils named as taking part in ‘Mandatory Work Activity’.

The list dates to 2011 but was only released in July – after the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) launched an astonishing four-year legal battle to hide it.

Officials claimed releasing the information would hurt “commercial interests” – but eventually lost in the Court of Appeal.

The whole saga cost more than £100,000.

That is because taxpayers had to fund both sides of the court action in a farce branded “worthy of a movie plot”.

The DWP spent £92,250 on lawyers and court fees trying to keep the list secret.

It did so by challenging the government-funded Information Commissioner watchdog (ICO), which had to spend £7,931 defending its case.

Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary Debbie Abrahams said: “Damian Green said the film I, Daniel Blake was ‘a work of fiction bearing no relation to the modern benefits system’.

“And yet here we have a scenario worthy of a movie plot in which a government tries to hide the truth of its own failings from the public.

“They think nothing of demonising those who need the support of our social security system, a system that is there for any one of us in a time of need, forcing them into unpaid work or using spurious reasons to sanction them to manipulate the unemployment figures.

“At the same time they fritter taxpayers’ money on lawyers to cover up their failings and defend pernicious policies like the bedroom tax.”

Source: Tories blew £100k of public money hiding list of firms that used jobseekers for unpaid work – Mirror Online

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Even now, the DWP is pushing sickness benefit claimants toward early graves

[Image: Black Triangle Campaign]

[Image: Black Triangle Campaign]

Doesn’t this say everything you need to know about our homicidal Tory government?

At the same time as a major film is released, criticising the Department for Work and Pensions over its treatment of the sick and disabled, the DWP alters its guidance to make it easier to threaten their lives.

It concerns ESA regulations 29 and 35. Many people have relied on these regulations to save them from potentially life-threatening demands by the DWP. Now, it seems, the rules have been watered down.

Meanwhile, Iain Duncan Smith is telling anybody who will listen that I, Daniel Blake is nothing but a work of fiction and the DWP actually wants what is best for people with long-term illnesses.

Someone should ask him why he thinks an early grave is the best thing for these people.

A leading psychiatrist who helped the government draft guidance that protected mental health service-users who were threatened with forced work has refused to criticise major changes to the guidelines that have risked the lives of thousands of benefit claimants.

Disability News Service (DNS) reported last month that the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) had secretly made major changes that watered-down guidance given to “fitness for work” benefits assessors, and then “lied” about what it had done.

Ministers appear to have decided that it was worth risking the loss of some lives in order to cut benefits spending and force more disabled people into their discredited back-to-work programmes.

The guidance explains how assessors should translate employment and support allowance (ESA) regulations 29 and 35, which concern whether decisions to find someone fit for work or able to carry out work-related activity would cause a substantial risk of harm to an ESA claimant.

A DWP response to a freedom of information request, obtained by DNS this week, shows that new guidance was sent out to healthcare assessors working for the discredited US outsourcing giant Maximus in early December last year.

The month after the new guidance was sent out, the proportion of claimants placed in the support group of ESA – and therefore not forced to take part in work-related activity – began to fall sharply.

For claims completed in December 2015, 56 per cent were placed in the support group; the following month that fell to 48 per cent, and then to 33 per cent in February, and 33 per cent again in March.

The previous version of the guidance, published as DWP’s Work Capability Assessment Handbook in February 2015, included six indicators of “substantial risk”, which were marked “D” for “definitive” – including someone who was currently sectioned, who had active thoughts of suicide, or had had a documented episode of self-harm requiring medical attention in the last 12 months – to show that that person should be placed in the ESA support group.

But the latest edition of the guidance says only that such indicators “might” give rise to a substantial risk in “exceptional circumstances”.

Source: Professors’ silence after DWP waters down their guidance on preventing WCA suicides

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Are the Tories increasing benefit conditionality to include working people on sick leave?

Anger: People taking part in a welfare-to-work protest in London in 2012 [Image: PA].

We know from the Autumn Statement that Mandatory Work Activity and Community Work Placements are being scrapped.

This has been welcomed by organisations like Boycott Workfare, who have campaigned against the enforced “work 30 hours per week for your benefits” schemes ever since they were introduced in 2011.

But it is only being replaced by something which is potentially much worse: the so-called Work and Health Programme.

According to the Daily Mirror, this new scheme aims to help long-term sick people find a job, “but a DWP spokesman could not confirm whether it will involve forced labour because the details have not yet been drawn up”.

To This Writer, it seems like an amalgamation of the ‘workfare’ schemes with the current ‘Health and Work Service’. You see? All they’ve done is reverse the words.

Health and Work is intended to prevent people from taking sick leave from their jobs that lasts any longer than four weeks (if This Writer recalls correctly).

Current operator Maximus (which also operated the Work Programme in a clear conflict of interest) was tasked with running a “work-focused occupational health assessment” which “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”.

So it seems the scheme will be rolled out to lump in people who have jobs – but are ill – with people who don’t have jobs and make them all jump through the same hoops in order to keep their benefits or sick pay.

Health won’t get a look-in and it seems likely that the scheme will make sick workers even less able to return to their jobs than if they are left alone to get on with it. In other words, they’ll be treated like ESA claimants.

This seems extremely contradictory.

On one hand, the Conservative Government is saying it is trying to get as many people off benefits and into work as possible, but on the other hand, the same Tories are saying once you get into work, you’d better not get sick, because you’ll be treated like a person on benefits!

It’s another incremental erosion of the rights of UK citizens, reminiscent of the words of Adolf Hitler: “The best way to take control over a people and control them utterly is to take a little of their freedom at a time, to erode rights by a thousand tiny and almost imperceptible reductions. In this way, the people will not see those rights and freedoms being removed until past the point at which these changes cannot be reversed.”

But then, so much of the Conservative Government’s behaviour is directly relatable to the Nazis – especially where the Department for Work and Pensions is concerned (“Arbeit macht frei”, Mr Duncan Smith?) so perhaps we should not be surprised.

All this is mere speculation, of course.

It will be interesting to see how much of it corresponds with the reality – when the DWP finally unveils it.

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Do you really want Tories to reintroduce slavery by the back door? Please share #HumanRights #BillOfRights #slavery #slave #workfare #workprogramme

You’ll be aware that there have been many legal challenges against Workfare/The Work Programme/Mandatory Work Activity, on the basis that they are slave labour schemes.

The Department for Work and Pensions, under slave-master Iain Duncan Smith, has worked tirelessly to dismiss these challenges – with only limited success, as our courts are populated by judges who still believe in something called justice.

However, the repeal of the Human Rights Act 1998 means the end of the ban on slavery. Conservatives are already making plans to force any young person without a job to work for 30 hours a week in exchange for benefits – or starve.

Do you think that’s acceptable?

Let’s put it another way:

Would you accept it if they did it to you?

Here’s a handy infographic about it for you to share:

zHumanRights3

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Rachel Reeves could single-handedly lose the election for Labour

Rachel Reeves: So stupid she'll cost Labour the election.

Rachel Reeves: This photo is a rare occasion in which she doesn’t have her foot in her mouth.

I’ll say it if nobody else will – Rachel Reeves is so stupid she could lose Labour the election.

Work and Pensions is a gaping policy open-goal for the Tories but Ms Reeves can’t see this and wants the world to know she’ll out-cut them on the Benefit Cap.

“Labour supports a cap on benefits. We will ask an independent commission to look at whether the cap should be lower in some areas,” are her actual words.

What stupidity. One can only imagine she is basing these comments on the fact that wages are lower in some areas than others. But prices are just as high!

Sure, it’s an important point that David Cameron’s government “has spent £25bn more than planned on welfare because of his failure to tackle the low pay that leaves millions dependent on benefits to make ends meet”. And her comments about apprenticeships may be accurate as well.

But what about all the deaths caused by Iain Duncan Smith’s homicidal benefits regime?

What about the huge numbers of people who have simply disappeared from the benefit system rather than face another round of humiliation and sanction on possibly fraudulent grounds?

What about workfare?

What about zero-hours contracts, part-time and temporary work, and all the dodges employers are using to get out of paying for holidays, sickness and the like?

What about the scandal of our low-wage economy, that keeps people on in-work benefits and denies the Treasury the Income Tax money it needs to pay off the deficit and debt?

What about the many other legitimate grounds for laying into the Coalition government?

This is utterly unacceptable – and in the run-up to an election.

What is Ed Miliband thinking, letting her keep the Work and Pensions brief?

He must get rid of her – not just for our sakes, but for his own party’s electoral chances.

Sanction and suicide – The poor side of life

131028pensionerdeaths

We don’t easily get shocked on our weekly demos; we hear so many terrible stories. But yesterday was a day that I won’t forget for a while, writes SeerCharlotte71 on The poor side of life.

I walked over and spoke to this lovely man. He was … in his mobility scooter and shook my hand. He went on to say, “My friend committed suicide just before Christmas. He hung himself at the top of his stairs.

“He had been sanctioned but he had mental health problems. He was that scared that he was going to lose his house, he killed himself. He couldn’t see any other way out. I miss him every day – life without him isn’t the same.

“Since when was this government allowed to hurt people like this? It’s wrong – so wrong. They’ve put me on the work programme and I’ve got to go to Manchester for an interview for a workfare job. How am I going to afford to do that?

“I won’t eat just so I can go, I’m too scared – that I will be sanctioned – to do otherwise. I already volunteer but it’s not good enough, they say. They won’t let me breathe. I want to work but I am limited in what I can do.”

To most people this is shocking; it’s wrong. To the government this is okay; this is right. How can it be right?

More examples of the Coalition Government’s inhumanity are offered in the original article on The poor side of lifegive it a visit.

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Social security/welfare: How badly has the Coalition failed the nation?

 141010CoalitionWelfare

Does anybody remember the Coalition Agreement? This was the document drawn up between the Liberal Democrat and Conservative parties, either in May 2010 or in March that year, depending on who you believe. Did they stick to it?

Of course they didn’t!

The whole thing seems to have been a Con job. A glance through it today reveals inconsistencies with what has happened, deviations… some might even say outright lies. Let’s have a look at a chapter, shall we?

19. JOBS AND WELFARE

This seems an obvious place to start because of the incredibly reckless behaviour of Iain Duncan Smith. Here’s the introduction:

The Government believes that we need to encourage responsibility and fairness in the welfare system. That means providing help for those who cannot work, training and targeted support for those looking for work, but sanctions for those who turn down reasonable offers of work or training.

Experience shows that “help for those who cannot work” meant ending unnecessarily complicating the benefit assessment system to ensure that any evidence supporting a claim of illness is treated with suspicion if not discounted altogether, and ensuring that those on the Work Related Activity Group of Employment and Support Allowance were shunted off the benefit after a year, whether they were better or not. “Training and targeted support for those looking for work” meant work programme providers who were supposed to be helping those on ESA find appropriate employment in fact ran a ‘cream and park’ system in which only those for whom it was easiest to find work ever received serious attention; the rest were left to rot until their term on the benefit ended. For jobseekers, this training involved silly ‘lowest-common-denominator’ education schemes in which graduates were asked to relearn simple English and arithmetic or how to write their CV, being forced into ‘Workfare’ schemes at the taxpayers’ expense while the participating companies made a huge profit, and being pressured into registering with Universal Jobmatch, a job advertisement system that quickly gained a reputation as a home of identity thieves and sex industry predators. “Sanctions for those who turn down reasonable offers of work or training” suffered ‘mission creep’, and very soon people were being sanctioned because they were being offered driving jobs when they didn’t have a licence, or because they arrived for Job Centre appointments slightly late.

Let’s go into the details:

  • We will end all existing welfare to work programmes and create a single welfare to work programme to help all unemployed people get back into work. Did this ever happen?
  • We will ensure that Jobseeker’s Allowance claimants facing the most significant barriers to work are referred to the new welfare to work programme immediately, not after 12 months as is currently the case. We will ensure that Jobseeker’s Allowance claimants aged under 25 are referred to the programme after a maximum of six months. We know that those with the most significant barriers were ‘parked’ on benefits by the work programme providers, despite Iain Duncan Smith’s protestations that his DWP was “transforming their lives”. Transforming them into misery, perhaps.
  • We will realign contracts with welfare to work service providers to reflect more closely the results they achieve in getting people back into work. This never happened. Work programme providers are supposed to receive payment based on results but it seems they are still receiving payment based on the number of jobseekers who get put on their books.
  • We will reform the funding mechanism used by government to finance welfare to work programmes to reflect the fact that initial investment delivers later savings through lower benefit expenditure, including creating an integrated work programme with outcome funding based upon the DEL/AME switch. What?
  • We will ensure that receipt of benefits for those able to work is conditional on their willingness to work. Unfortunately this willingness to work has become subject to arbitrary decisions by Job Centre staff, based on the number of people they need to get off their books at any particular time. There is no consistency to it at all, and certainly no justice.
  • We support the National Minimum Wage because of the protection it gives low income workers and the incentives to work it provides. Can either Coalition party then explain why the minimum wage has suffered below-inflation increases until now, when an above-inflation rise has been programmed in time with a forthcoming general election?
  • We will re-assess all current claimants of Incapacity Benefit for their readiness to work. Those assessed as fully capable for work will be moved onto Jobseeker’s Allowance. The assessment was based, not on any rational system, but on a regime devised by an American insurance company as a way to prevent people from receiving the support they clearly deserve.
  • We will support would-be entrepreneurs through a new programme – Work for Yourself – which will give the unemployed access to business mentors and start-up loans. Has anybody ever heard of ‘Work for Yourself’?
  • We will draw on a range of Service Academies to offer pre-employment training and work placements for unemployed people. Did this ever happen? If it did, how many people have won proper jobs (not part-time or zero-hours positions) because of it?
  • We will develop local Work Clubs – places where unemployed people can gather to exchange skills, find opportunities, make contacts and provide mutual support. Did this ever happen?
  • We will investigate how to simplify the benefit system in order to improve incentives to work. This would be the ongoing and exorbitantly expensive fiasco that Iain Duncan Smith calls Universal Credit.

What a catalogue of calamity. Viewed in the Coalition’s own terms, it is easy to see that the Conservative and Liberal Democrat government has done nothing to improve jobseekers’ chances and everything to fatten the wallets of their friends running the sham ‘Work Programme’ schemes or build the profits of the companies taking part in Workfare programmes.

Policies for the long-term sick or disabled have been nothing short of catastrophic, with tens of thousands driven off-benefit and into an uncertain life with no income, either forced to claim Jobseekers’ Allowance (and be refused because they are too ill to work) or to beg from friends and family, or to commit suicide or die quietly of malnutrition. The Department for Work and Pensions conveniently keeps no record of what happens to those who are bumped off-benefit, and is stubbornly refusing all legally-submitted requests for statistics on the number of people who have died while in receipt of benefit.

Bear in mind also that this is just one policy area out of 31, and you start to get an idea of the chaos that has been caused by this single rogue administration.

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Tories unleash flagship scheme ahead of conference – to abolish your rights!

Slavery in the UK: This image was part of a campaign against it - but the Conservative Party wants to extend it to include you.

Slavery in the UK: This image was part of a campaign against it – but the Conservative Party wants to extend it to include you.

One has to marvel at the twisted logic of modern Conservatives; right before their last party conference in the run-up to the general election, they can normally be expected to be trying to bribe us all with tax cuts and benefits (maybe they will come later).

Instead they are promising to remove the safety net that keeps us free of exploitation by – what a surprise! – the Conservatives and their friends.

It’s not a new plan – Vox Political reported on the policy back in March last year, when Theresa May announced that they would scrap the Human Rights Act and withdraw from the European Convention on Human Rights if they win the 2015 general election. They aren’t saying anything different now.

Back then, she claimed it would be “in the national interest”, and now Injustice Secretary Chris Grayling is saying more or less the same thing, dressing it up as an attempt to return power to the UK.

He told the Daily Telegraph: “Decisions like ‘do prisoners get the vote?’ or ‘can you send brutal murderers to prison for their whole lives?’ seem to be outside our control. I want our supreme court to be supreme. Decisions that affect this country should be taken in this country.”

He did not mention all the other rights you are likely to lose if the Conservatives are allowed to get away with this.

The European Convention on Human Rights was co-drafted by the UK – in fact by the Conservatives’ greatest Prime Minister, Winston Churchill – just after World War II. It states that nation states’ primary duty is to “refrain from unlawful killing”, to “investigate suspicious deaths” and to “prevent foreseeable loss of life”.

VP commented in March 2013 that “the Coalition government has been reneging on this obligation – wholesale – since it came into power”. Look at the Department for Work and Pensions’ work capability assessment for Employment and Support Allowance, and the thousands – possibly tens of thousands – of deaths related to it.

Article 4 of the Convention prohibits slavery, servitude and forced labour, so removing it would give the Tories free hand to impose their Mandatory Work Activity or Workfare schemes on us – despite the fact that these schemes are worse than useless at getting people into employment. The real reason for them is that they are a money-making scam to ensure the businesses involved support the Conservative Party.

Article 6 provides a detailed right to a fair trial, which is something Mr Grayling has been working hard to take away from you for a considerable period of time. It’s where you get the right to a public hearing before an independent and impartial tribunal within a reasonable time (the Coalition’s secret courts have removed this right already), and where the presumption of innocence until proven guilty is enshrined.

Article 8 provides a right to respect for another person’s “private and family life… home and… correspondence”. This has been violated, of course, by the Tory-led Coalition’s recent Surveillance Act.

Article 10 provides a right to freedom of expression, so removing it would allow the Tories to censor the Internet and remove blogs such as Vox Political, leaving only their own propaganda.

Article 11 protects the right to freedom of assembly and association, including the right to form trade unions. Obviously the Tories would love to ban the unions, but removing this would allow them the ability to ban anti-government demonstrations and it is probably why Boris Johnson bought his water cannons.

The Human Rights Act 1998 (brought in by the Labour Party) is the UK legislation that makes the European Convention binding on this country, meaning that breaches of it may be remedied in British courts, rather than the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. It is only appeals against the decisions of the British courts that go to Europe.

Grayling doesn’t like the idea of impartial foreigners ruling on whether his government’s politically-motivated human rights violations are legal.

That’s why he said; “I want our supreme court to be supreme. Decisions that affect this country should be taken in this country.” He wants absolute power over you.

Dominic Grieve, the former Attorney-General who got the sack during the summer, described the Tory attack on human rights as “incoherent”. It is widely believed to be one of the reasons he got the push.

The Tories are also determined to tie this policy in with anti-European Union rhetoric, even though the ECHR is nothing to do with the EU.

The Guardian‘s story on Grayling’s announcement includes a coda in which Savid Javid, our Sontaran* culture secretary, tried to reassure people that Britain could still prosper if it leaves the EU, despite the possible loss of hundreds of billions of pounds worth of trade deals (as reported in this blog previously).

But that’s another fact they’d rather you did not know. Misdirection is the only way forward for modern Conservatives.

Remember “There will be no top-down reorganisation of the NHS”?

*It’s a Doctor Who reference. Look up pictures of Javid and a Sontaran and you’ll spot the resemblance.

Follow me on Twitter: @MidWalesMike

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