Friday, 18 April 2014

If Labour Has A Plan, They Dare Not Speak It

Sue Marsh did not choose the headline of her recent Guardian article, a headline which holds little relevance to the words beneath it. The headline says nothing about Sue's views, but much about those of some at the newspaper. 

Responses have been published to the Wednesday Independent article by Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary Rachel Reeves and her colleague Kate Green, Sue's article among them. None are without criticism but they are constrained by a need to have good relations with Labour, who are still on course to go into office in 2015 and we who have campaigned on social security will want the government to be making it a main issue. I don't have these constraints because I'm not critically important to anything at present nor likely to be in future; I'll follow press embargoes but that's it. I can speak my mind. 

My mind says Labour is not on the fence even if they give that impression sometimes, they were never even on it. Unfortunately they were not and are still not on 'our side' of the fence even though they're trying to convince us very incompetently that it is the case. They are not going to pull a David Cameron trick of only pretending to be reforming their party and then swinging suddenly to the other end once power is secured. It was Labour, not the Coalition, who brought the pointless Malcolm Harrington in to review the Work Capability Assessment, the man who actually argued with an Oncologist over whether work is good for people enduring Chemotherapy(guess who was for and who was against). That was their initial response to concerns about the process for claiming ESA and it was a fix. Do I think they have changed in the years since, where we have had the spectacle of Edward Miliband's 'I met a man' speech, Liam Bryne's repeated 'shirker versus workers' sound-bites, Rachel Reeves promising to be 'tougher on benefits' than the Coalition and no indication at all that the New Labour record on social security will ever be addressed? 

The public still believe Miliband and his minions will be better for the poor, those claiming benefits, than the Coalition. It is precisely this persistent delusion which enabled the previous Labour government to be harsher towards claimants than any that came before them since the poor laws. Labour now still seem to want to feed it enough to keep that impression up but not to ever actually do anything principled, honest and just.

Wednesday, 9 April 2014

The Hunger Game

Hunger has become political. It used to be a straightforward argument about ethics and logistics which had reached near universal consensus long ago, that hunger must not be a weapon. So now in Britain in 2014 there is actually a heated argument being had about three things; What is hunger? What is causing acute hunger? Who is responsible for it?

Doesn't take a genius
Food, water, shelter- we now have two out of the three most basic human needs called into question and most fingers are being pointed at our government. They should be lucky that it is already the law that licensed premises can not refuse tap water to anyone requesting and water companies can not cut off a household or else we'd also have an epidemic of water-borne diseases from rivers and ponds. 
A patient with 'birdseye chimeras'
Another study has linked the incidence of food banks with government policy and in spite of ministerial denials about any suggestion that would make them responsible and therefore using hunger as a weapon, the evidence mounts up that this is the case. Remember though, even before the media bothered to pay attention to food banks- Westminster council banned them and soup kitchens from distributing food to anyone who was homeless. Our politicians seems to not want it rubbed in their faces even before the current government came in. They're not simply ignorant, they actively do not want to see the full picture and so will trot out the most absurd talking points which don't stand up to seconds of critical thought. 

Take for instance the claim that food banks create the demand and the variations of(such as Normon Tebbit's howler that poor people collect from food banks to save money and then use that money to buy the stuff they like). The problem being that food banks have existed for a long time- I remember as an infant my school collecting donations from pupils and I brought in a bag of sugar because sugar is awesome and makes the bland stuff everyone else brought taste better. Even vegetarians can eat it. Yet it is only after 2010 that the growth in food banks went into phenomenal overdrive with the largest, The Trussel Trust, only having opened their first branch in 2001. They weren't exactly promoting themselves either; this was before the media were bothering to show any interest. John Humphrys even claimed in October 2011 in his truth-allergic BBC2 polemic The Future State Of Welfare that Britain didn't have food banks. Remember that this programme had more errors than minutes, but Humphrys got off scot-free for it despite the extensive efforts of myself and two other complainants.

If the excuses for food bank demand given by establishment figures made sense, then they would still have to explain why the sudden behaviour changes among the public began in 2010 when food bank growth was much slower before.

Sunday, 6 April 2014

Al Capone Syndrome

On the basic premise which would be agreed by most, accountability should be in proportion to responsibility and responsibility in proportion to power. If everyone were accountable to their conscience, it would be fine and the world would be a better place but reality encroaches and makes it so that we have to design the rules based on there being people who do not have a conscience to restrain their behaviour. 

Who is affected the most by Maria Miller's misuse of her expenses? You could argue that everyone is because if she can get away with it then it will spread and it's corruption by any standard in mature democracies. Considering how widespread we actually know the practice was(and likely still is), why does the public not perceive more political activity in Westminster as being likely steered by corruption? Policies should be receiving considerably less public support and getting more scrutiny from journalists, but that doesn't happen. So, ministers like Maria Miller often get caught out on the mundane- is expenses misuse worse than exchanging favours with lobbyists to advance certain legislation? I'd say that making policy on the basis of favours, gifts and post-ministerial job opportunities is far worse and affects more people more significantly. Yet Maria Miller is responsible for fabricating history over the 'never reviewed' Disability Living Allowance, the hiring of a patsy to provide a fig-leaf cover for closing what was left of Remploy, briefing select newspapers with Ad Hoc Analysis data spun to create outrage over figures for Asthama and Obesity being main disabling conditions by claimants. She insisted that DLA reform was necessary because the benefit over-lapped with local support across the country(which was also being cut) whilst at the same time asking the National Autistic Society for individual contact details because the new assessment needed configuring and guess what? The government weren't able to simply use the information they had from their own databases of local service users because no such statutory services exist for Autism

The consequences of her actions when she was Minister For Disabled People are still not known fully and the government is still implacably imposed to a cumulative impact assessment. We know people are committing suicide, others are starving to death or having their existing conditions and circumstances deteriorate with lethal consequences. 

How many people died because Miller didn't want to pay mortgage interest? None. How many have died because she wanted undue promotion in government and whatever rewards will await her after 2015? We're still counting, but if she's going to be snagged on this then it is a classic case of Al Capone- the gangster who could not be stuck with murder and extortion and was instead caught out on his tax evasion. Miller will not be held to account for her greed, her cruelty or her pride, but her incompetence. Considering she was actually one of the most competent out of all the Coalition ministers, that should worry the rest. 

Incompetence will finish this government. 


Tuesday, 11 March 2014

Know This- Autistics Never Win

Identity politics; when someone abuses their supposedly inalienable rights to associate, speak freely and protest, strategically, with the malicious intent of blackmailing everyone else into granting extraordinary privileges. Privilages such as having the same rights, dignity and standards which are enjoyed by almost everyone else.

Sounds fun, so I'll do it- with an experimental change to the formatting style because I've kind of started annoying myself with the big-little words. 

Society has spent the last two weeks pretending to care, first about an Autistic man killed in an unprovoked attacked where he was punched and his head hit the concrete, then about Faruk Ali who was targeted, assaulted and harassed by two police officers. I won't use the word 'allegedly' in this case because that is a societal norm codified in law that just so happens to be applied differently to Autistics. When an Autistic is accused of wrong-doing, rarely will you see 'allegedly' being used to describe what is reported. Different standards are applied to Autistics in the media, in the courts, in the NHS, on the street and in our own homes. The justifications are often defamatory and pejorative. 

The Guardian in it's usual 'get anyone but an Autistic' mode of thought decided to commission this piece by Rhiannon Cosslett(safe, regular, not Autistic- all the tick-boxes) to talk about the case, speaking generally but invoking her Autistic brother and others to make her point. Read it and you will come away with no increased understanding of Autism, hence the comments below fall back to the cliche default settings for debates about Autism. There are always a number of posts which will pull out the usual canards and tropes for justifying fear and discrimination against Autistics; the article above-the-line invites them, with Cosslett's safe, inclusionary and defensive appeals to emotion. These do not counter-balance the emotive stories and wet excuses for why Autistics should perpetually have a boot on our neck: they reinforce that this bullshit is ok and turn any discussion about rights and the worth of people into one stupid anecdote versus another. 

John Pring's DNS article does far better. Whilst the Guardian piece makes it about the police at a time where the police are unpopular, a dispassionate recount of the facts as they are known drops the heavy hints of what is considered normal for how Autistics are treated by almost everyone. Faruk was targeted by police before in 2012 and after the incident(where the complaint to the police was not upheld, unsurprisingly) his family were told that he should be wearing an Autism alert bracelet, like he was a dog off its leash and that this would have made any difference. He is reported to have been wearing that bracelet at the time this latest incident occurred. 

The pattern is familiar to me- it's the story of my life and that of so many other Autistics I know. You do something, you get in trouble. You do nothing, you get in trouble. You go find the certain person, or show the certain thing and say the magic words you were told to which will stop you getting in trouble and somehow these never seem to work and you still get in trouble. Sometimes they are even cited as the very thing which got you in trouble, but after so many no-win situations you become suspicious that this has ever been the case. You start wondering if there is something about being Autistic that stimulates the worst predatory instincts in other people, so you become very vigilant and then they start describing you as 'aggressive' and 'difficult'. The Autistic is always to blame, even if communication mandates effort between more than one person. So the lame excuses trotted out each and every time involve downplaying utterly the role of anyone else when something happens and the finger is pointed at the nearest Autistic. Take the objection of one comment below the line in the Guardian piece to a comment by another poster that Autistics are not violent:
"They are at least as capable of violence as anyone else - and since they are overwhelmed by emotions in tense situations, ie dealing with authority, they are more likely to become violent."
So this person accepts the premise given that Autistics feel emotions more strongly, but chooses to infer from this alone that Autistics are not only at least as capable of violence as others, but are more likely to be. No explanation required, no qualification or acknowledged exceptions(exceptions are important as it is often exceptions which 'prove the rule'). The poster is challenged, but what he said is not- it's like everyone responding is incapable of considering that there is any other conclusion except the one already given. If we assume that Autistics feel emotions more strongly, to the point we are often overwhelmed by them(and I believe it is the case), then we must allow also for every possible meaning to it including the blatantly obvious that Autistics must also feel revulsion towards violence more strongly too. Ergo, Autistics could be naturally less inclined towards violence and using Autism as an explanation for instances of violence to distract from the role of non-Autistics in such matters is naked bigotry and cowardice.

Despair, because these are the highest standards Autistics receive anywhere.

Monday, 24 February 2014

It's Time

As I said the other day, the moral rightness of welfare reform turns on a simple axis: that a substantial number of benefit claimants, particularly those for sick and disabled people, do not need this kind of support and that the DWP would be able to tell who they were and therefore savings can be made here without simply shifting the cost to another balance sheet covertly.

Everything the Coalition(and Labour predecessors) betted on with ESA and the Work Capability Assessment was based on a forecast made by David Freud back in 2007 which was itself simply a re-hash of what a criminal insurance company had been pushing for years(Freud was caught circulating briefing sheets written by that company around Parliament during the Lords stages in the passage of the Welfare Reform Act). This forecast was that there were a million Incapacity Benefit claimants who could move into work immediately.

Absolutely no research was initiated by our political elite to determine the truth of this before they embarked on what has been the single most damaging policy towards the sick and disabled in modern times. Nazi comparisons might have seemed absurd at the time, they don't now. Yes, Labour delayed a full roll-out of the policy until after a pilot had tested some existing IB cases for migration- but we've had absolutely no reason to believe they would have halted or reversed the policy because the results were claimants being booted off the benefit which was the plain and simple intention from the beginning despite IB totals not rising since it was introduced in 1995.

If they had been right, then totals would have quickly dropped by a million and JSA claims would have proportionately risen. This didn't happened. What instead happened was that needy people had support cut, so they had no choice but to appeal and the whole thing took so long every time that if they won then they would be scheduled for re-assessment abusively or if they lost then they had reached the period where they could submit a new claim. Essentially, an inordinary number of ESA claimants have been kept perpetually in the Assessment Phase where they get JSA-level payments but keep the JSA total low.

There is a practical problem to these shenanigans though- you have to get a significant number of people to keep tabs on others even if you are just running fake assessments that often see people for mere minutes. In a normal world, good people do good, bad people do bad, but to get a good person to do bad things- it takes bureaucracy. It was never possible to run regular checks on so many people that would be accurate, fair and meeting with basic ethical standards. So the Work Capability Assessment was never intended to be any of those. It would only have had a chance of working if there had been the predicted reduction in totals and the intended side-effect of that insurance company seizing a large portion of the market that should have developed for income insurance(hint: can't be afforded by people in poverty). The system started crumbling not long after it was introduced and just got worse as time went on and more was demanded of it. The straw that breaks the camel's back is probably the rollout of Personal Independence Payment of which Atos is one of the contractor's. There have been substantial delays in processing applications and getting claims for PIP assessed.

It's time for the denials to stop; this was never going to work. It's time for Evidence and Reason; when did claims actually rise, how did they rise and what is the probable Reason for the rise? It's time to come clean about what has driven the war on welfare for the last two decades; the parts that are frequently targeted are those which provide the most value, work best and yes, save money. What justification can possibly still exist for the complacency with which the political and media classes treat social security?

Friday, 21 February 2014

Moral Kombat 3

If you read David Cameron's response to the Archbishop Vincent Nichols' intervention this week on the effect of welfare reforms, then like me the more you know about the subject the more you will have been confused and frightened. Like me you will have probably have previously thought that the Prime Minister has been disinterested in policy specifics and ignorant about what his ministers have actually been doing. You might not have gone as far as believing that David Cameron actively avoids learning though and does not treat matters with a degree of seriousness that suggests he considers the effects beyond a few weeks into the future.

That's where I ended up after both seeing his ultra-slow, ultra-incompetent reaction to the floods in the South-West and reading his Telegraph piece which addresses nothing the Archbishop or government critics have said but instead falls back on the old bingo-card with many 'facts' which have been refuted many times before. The focus of this post though is on the 'moral mission' that the Coalition has invoked whenever they've failed to make their 'facts' stand up because it appears to require nothing more than the belief that it works as well as an undefined idea of what 'works' is supposed to mean. Everyone knows the Work Capability Assessment 'doesn't work' and the response of politicians(yes, including Labour who I still say will disappoint us in 2015) is to focus the blame on Atos- who then respond with factual correctness that it actually does work, it's just that 'works' refers to the explicit design intention which has nothing at all to do with accuracy, fairness or relief from hardship. It is working in other words, as politicians intended it to; the problem is with their intentions, not it's implementation. These are not mistakes that need correcting, problems that need fixing or errors that need reversing. They're wrongs that need righting, abuses that need punishing and attitudes that must be deterred absolutely into the indefinite future. The solution is not just to be found in yet another contract for another company(immune as always from FOI requests) but in making sure politicians know that they shouldn't be stamping and throwing their weight around where angels fear to tread; that their actions have consequences for other people and their bingo-card talking points are no remedy.

The morality of welfare reform is simple to illustrate and if anyone manages to fudge it as bad as the Prime Minister has done, then it is deliberately so. It's about claiming that certain people, who make up a substantial number of claimants, do not require the assistance they are currently receiving. They might require none, they might require something else. Policy-makers choose to believe who these people are, how many of them there are and what kind of policy action is needed. They must also accept that if they are wrong, the they are wholly responsible for the consequences suffered by people as a result. That's it, that is all there is to it.

What has Cameron's government done? First, they failed to properly do consultations in accordance with the law, they fabricated responses and consensus, they hid data from the public and Parliament, they briefed the press against those worst affected, they defamed some of us behind Parliamentary privilege, accused the fearful of fear-mongering and the hungry of greed, distorted assessment data, conflated in-work, out-of-work and universal benefits, accepted review recommendations only after forcing them to be changed completely, retrospectively made their unlawful actions lawful(aided by Labour), lied about the existence of targets and quotas for multiple systems, lied about attacking Mobility allowance for care home residents(it is still in the Welfare Reform Act, go look), insisted that a higher burden of evidence should be held for campaigners against their belief-based policies and Iain Duncan Smith doesn't wash his hands after using the disabled WC he was blocking.

What keeps this man and his gang in power? Journalists, not doing their jobs, basically. It's left up to people at death's door and church leaders.

Tuesday, 28 January 2014

ESA Claimants- 'Tried To Claim'

Language matters; our choice of words doesn't just communicate to others the ideas we want them to infer about the world they see, those words also communicate our intent.

To say that ESA claimants 'tried to claim' the benefit carries only two meanings. The first is that they made an attempt and failed, therefore they did not 'try and claim' but 'tried to claim'. The fact that they did claim ESA makes this gibberish, so only the remainder could possibly be true. You only get an assessment after spending a period of time in the assessment phase, during which you are claiming ESA at the assessment phase rate.

The DWP press office is trying to get those who follow the Twitter account to infer that these people were not merely found 'fit for work' and therefore ineligible following the assessment, but from the moment their attempt to claim began. The only reasonable conclusion that follows this inference is that over a hundred-thousand people were wrongly making ineligible claims.

In a world where the government is actually held to account by someone, a message like this put out by a government department directly into the public domain would be swiftly corrected. In a world where the government felt the slightest bit threatened by social security e-pamphleteers like myself, they would quietly remove that tweet and hope no one notices.

But we live in this world, so the most likely thing to happen is that this will be ignored, nothing will happen and they will get away with it as has been the case non-stop for three and a half years now.