Friday, 9 January 2015

Suey2y And A Circuit Of Binary Statements

Sue Marsh has accepted a position with the new Work Capability Assessment provider Maximus, who hold a number of government contracts. Anyone reading this probably already knows and already knows what their opinion is, based on what I have read elsewhere. I do not yet know what my opinion is and I'm writing this mainly to help me settle on it so I can resume focus. Here are a series of binary statements which can either be true or false, but I believe to be true. 

The world is 'black and white' in terms of what it is, what it allows and how we are able to describe it. 

Anyone that believes otherwise is not thinking clearly or has insufficiently developed communication skills for describing the world. 

They resort to cliches about 'shades of grey' to excuse themselves and to artificially create uncertainty to make others believe their position is understable. 

In fact, what is called 'understanding' is often just a philosophical acceptance that they can't understand something but will treat the matter in a way that maximises beneficial outcomes.

The inability of some to see the black and white world comes down to an inability to properly divide things which are unrelated and associate things which are related. 

"Has Sue made the right choice?" is a poor question.

Sue is a mother and a wife. 

Sue's first and primary responsibility is to her children, then her spouse. 

Sue's choice benefits them most and it benefits them more than if she had chosen differently. 

As a mother and a wife, Sue has made the correct decision.

Sue's primary responsibilities are not exclusive, they exceed but do not negate others.

Sue is a writer who did not choose but accepted the role of campaigner and figurehead to an influential and dynamic disability rights movement when she emerged as a natural leader.

Sue is aware that a great many people invested trust, goodwill, resources in her and her work.

Sue might incorporate that work which she was already spending much of her time on into the work she is going to be doing for Maximus. 

Both roles are only incompatible if Maximus asserts exclusive ownership of Sue's work.

Only if both roles are incompatible does Sue's position as a campaigner become compromised. 

Sue would not agree to a contract without reading and understanding it first. 

If the contract prevents any future campaign work, the value of the contract to Sue and her supporters must exceed that of future campaign work.

ESA and the assessment system are unfit for purpose. 

There is no political support for abolishing them.

There is no evidence that reforming them can improve them to a humane level.

There is abundant evidence that they are flawed in principle.

A humane level of treatment for claimants requires the system and its underlying premises to be abolished. 

This equates to there being no more contracts for assessing claims once that system no longer exists. 

This conflicts with Sue's new role at Maximus.

Sue's role at Maximus can not influence government policy.

Government policy is what makes the process what it is.

The government appointed two academics to perform roles similar to Sue's and they were first pressured secretly into changing their recommendations before having them accepted only in principle and almost none were put into practice.

Sue will resist to the point of being immune to such pressure from her employers and the government.

Sue does not posses the biases demonstrated by the government's reviewers, particularly Malcolm Harrington who stunningly argued with an Oncologist giving evidence over the(lack of) benefits of work for Cancer patients.

Maximus has a record which demonstrates a culture that is very much against disability rights. 

To Maximus, disability rights only exist when they align with the goals of Maximus. 

Maximus insists the role that Sue fills be 'results driven' and we are left to consider by ourselves what they consider to be positive 'results'.

Maximus' description of the ideal candidate requires them to serve primarily the needs to Maximus.

It does not call on the candidate to make the ethical case for business, but to make the business case for whatever improvements, without any specific mention of ethics.

Sue can not change the culture at Maximus, which is focused on the business case and requires her to consider things only from the perspective of a business case.

Maximus can not change Sue either. 

Sue is the product of her history, relationships, experiences.

Maximus as a company is blind to those sorts of things. 

Maximus is behaving consistently with a predictable mindset towards opposition by co-opting a pragmatist.

The benefit to Maximus, apart from Sue's skills if they choose to properly utilise them, is to isolate Sue the pragmatist from idealists and radicals. 

This works on the presumption that none among those margins can be effective like a pragmatist. 

This ignores that Sue is not the only pragmatist. 

This ignores that the movement developed in the UK has not formed into blocs and factions with exclusive boundaries. 

Someone can fall out with Sue over this, but not fall out with me and if I don't fall out with Sue, then that someone is not completely isolated from Sue. I fell out completely with the 'weekend warriors' of 38Degrees and UKUncut who respectively represent in my eyes a Labour party astro-turf campaign and a politically correct collective of comfortable middle-class Social Justice Warriors from Tumblr who abandoned disabled people when we most needed them and took undue credit when the media attention was there. I am not isolated from either of them though because of connections with people steadfast in their idealism and loyalty to those groups and the ones I associate with.

So is the overall answer a shade of grey? 

No, it's the sum of a few hundred completely binary statements, some of which I've managed to type. 

Sue's decision will do good for her and her family. 

Family matters and they have already suffered so much.

Sue's decision might not do good for the cause of disability rights in regards social security, individual prosperity and the welfare state.

It might not do harm either. 

Good things sometimes come from bad decisions, bad things sometimes come out of good decisions. 

This makes basing decisions too much on predicted outcomes potentially dangerous and unethical.

Dire warnings based on predicted outcomes should not therefore prevent a person from doing the right thing for the right reasons.  Vice-versa: doing something you know is wrong because of the promised good or avoided bad does not automatically translate into it being for the right reasons.

I do not know if Sue has chosen the right thing. 

I choose to believe she always does things for the right reasons.

Sue will remain a good person. Maximus will remain a bad company.

Friday, 17 October 2014

Hairy Palm Freud And Friends

Days on from the recording of Minister for Welfare Reform David Freud's response to a question at conference about the minimum wage for disabled people, we're no closer to anything constructive emerging. That hasn't stopped the self-congratulatory classes in politics and media from having a debate though even if it consists almost entirely the following:
  • 'Freud was offensive and wrong to say such things'
  • 'Labour party and guardianistas taking his words out of context'
  • 'At least he's started a debate'
Of all these, the last one is what rustles my jimmies. I don't consider echo-chambers to be adequate venues for debate, but that is all there has been for the past two days. There are valid points made by those who say there are  purely technical questions of what the economic value of a worker is(distinct from their value as a person) and those who say this is a dangerous road and rather hypocritically those in positions of power and wealth do in fact base their own value as human beings on their success and what they earn; they can't say one thing when practice says something entirely different.

What would stand out most in Freud's comments for disability campaigners is something we've already known was missing but we could never get journalists to listen: Freud has no understanding of the real world as regards disability and low paid work and he doesn't even care about this gap because he's already filled it with policy brief material from the income insurance industry. He was handing out leaflets on 'malingering and illness' just prior to the second reading and vote in the House of Lords for the Welfare Reform Bill. That's as far as his understanding reaches and he was keen to spread that ignorance. Of all the nonsense I've read from talking-head columnists, none make reference to the social model and how that affects the idea that disabled people could take an exclusion from minimum wages on the basis of their estimated economic output and in that sense commentators share Freud's ignorance and excuse themselves from being able to make any comment of value. 

The social model of disability re-frames the medical understanding of disabilities being impairments and instead separates impairments from disability. Disability is instead defined as being caused by the aggregate conditions affecting the individual and not solely the impairment they have. This acknowledges that technology, accommodation by other people and education or lack of have far more profound impacts on a person than almost any impairment can. How Freud should and would have responded to the question he was asked if he cared one jot for this would be to say that giving disabled people this 'right' would turn it into obligation and common practice in employment and it would not be a case of people simply doing the best they can under their unfortunate circumstances; those circumstances are not something that just happened but something that is done to them and can be prevented. Solving the problem of disability unemployment by making a linear relationship between severity of disability, productivity and wage just shirks the responsibility to treat others with dignity. It means that there is no longer any incentive or reason to innovate, empathise and learn in pursuit of the 'everyone wins' scenario. 

Freud was right to say that he shouldn't have accepted the premise of the question, but it's entirely his own fault that he's unequipped with the means to have done so. How else could a man like himself, with the attitudes he has and the policies he designs explain what was wrong with the question? Despite identifying that there is a problem with the question, Freud can't say what that problem is and still hasn't since his public apology. It's probably down to some childhood trauma and tension with his mother. Unfortunately he's not alone, as our media classes aptly demonstrated they all have a blind spot and we all know what blindness- same thing that causes hairy palms.

Thursday, 17 July 2014

Throwing The Orange Book At Liberals

Nick Clegg has long been a men best known for his mastery of non-apologies, the most famous being his deep remorse not for supporting a trebling in the annual cap for university tuition fees but for having pledged to oppose them specifically during the 2010 general election campaign. This policy was pushed through like so many others; with utter scorn and defamation directed at those affected and other critics of Coalition policy. The non-apology was intended to heal relations with students and liberal progressives whilst not committing to actually do anything; it actually reinforced Clegg's stance on tuition fees which is why it backfired and substantiated the feelings many had that he was pathologically dishonest even by usual political standards. 

In contrast, the announcement that the leadership of the party now at least partially agrees with the majority of the party that the bedroom tax was a bad idea, sort of, has a stated intent. It commits Clegg to changing it(but NOT scrapping it), where the previous mea culpae did nothing. 

Here's the problem though, where this new non-apology(not even framed to look like an apology) is similar to the tuition fees one is that it reinforces again the leadership's existing position on a stupid idea. Making it so that the charge only applies if an offer to move to better suited available housing has been turned down is not something that someone opposed to the bedroom tax does- it's something which a supporter does. It's what you do if you have thought it through, listened to advice and anticipated problems because even critics who bitterly oppose the idea know that they are unlikely to change your mind so at least don't want you to screw it up. In many policy areas and especially social security, the Coalition has done none of this. The proposed change which Clegg and co now accept would have cost absolutely nothing to have included in the Welfare Reform Act and would have spared thousands from penury. There was no reason not to have this little but important rule in place. The Liberals are claiming this change is a response to a DWP commissioned report saying that the policy wasn't working as intended, but the evidence for that was there long ago.

So to my mind this is not entirely a cold, calculated change of strategic heart from Clegg ahead of next year's election because he failed to make a cold, calculated decision to allow amendments to the Welfare Reform Bill to implement the changes he now supports. Where was the pragmatist then? Like the last non-apology, there's a chance people will see right through it and it will backfire because triangulating in politics is even less popular when it's obvious. The impression people get is that politicians think that they are idiots.

Friday, 20 June 2014

28 Months Later...

In November 2010 just after the Coalition's white paper was published for what would become the Welfare Reform Act, the DWP started identifying by category what groupings ESA claimants were in. The stand-out figure was for the Assessment Phase; those who had started their claim and were receiving ESA payments(at a rate in parity to Jobseekers Allowance) and were having to regularly provide the DWP with medical certificates(or 'sick notes') from their doctor. ESA was introduced for new claims in 2008, yet two years on the Assessment Phase made up the majority of claims. Something smelled and the issue was one of the first things I wrote about when I started this blog. 

As time went on the percentage of the share taken up by the Assessment Phase barely shrunk- it remained at more than half of the total claimant count for about three more years and it's still ridiculously high now. Other welfare warriors who were able to do what I could not and actually deal with people(whilst I was being bogged down with goose-chasing the BBC into accepting some responsibility over the content of that John Humphrys programme). Requests were made under the Freedom Of Information Act which revealed that the DWP has been inconsistently producing figures. The best I could do was read through the publicly available information the DWP publishes, looking for inconsistencies such as the Tabulation Tool data showing high Assessment Phase numbers yet an Ad Hoc Analysis report claiming much less people waiting months(and years) to be assessed. Nick over at MyLegalForum has highlighted FOI material revealing that far more people have been winning appeals than the government have acknowledged in what should be quality-certified national statistics. 

This fits into a suspicion Spartacus, Black Triangle and friends have discussed but failed to get journalists interested in: that the ESA system is and always has been on the verge of collapse, that changes to the system serve only to delay the inevitable and politicians have no idea what to do about it. For all the platitudes they've given us about listening and 'working in consultation' with disabled people and groups; politics trump Reason and Evidence. What Britain's 'invalidity pension' needs is something so much against the political grain built up by an active campaign against social security that has been waged for two decades now that politicians can't consider it because it would be egg on their faces. They want a bigger market for private income insurance for when people fall ill or have an accident, but disabled people don't fit into it so it's constantly referred to as 'the main sickness benefit' whilst DLA is 'the main disability benefit' and they all seem puzzled whenever it is mentioned to them or their useful idiots in journalism that people claim both; they are not for entirely separate groups of people. They want to bring the overall claimant count down, but they don't want to consider that they will need to replace it with something, that in fact the benefit is meeting a real need that won't disappear just because the support is cut back. So they buy in to evidence-free stories about it being used to hide unemployment or it rising over thirty years rather than actually rising in a few short years in the early 90s because then they'd have to explain why then and why the sudden stop and stability that followed for almost two decades(Incapacity Benefit was introduced in 1995 and there has been almost no net rise since). They do not want to entertain the idea that benefits have plugged gaps as local residential and social care for people below retirement age has been cut back to save money, because then that would mean benefits like IB, ESA and DLA are all net cost savings to the public purse and if benefit expenditure can produce net savings, what other benefits will then be considered for full cost:benefit? We'd have to look at what is saved by spending, not just the superficial upfront cost. 

Labour, Conservative, Green, Liberals, UKIP: if they even think these things, they don't much like them as policy considerations. There's nothing in it for them. They don't talk about it, journalists don't report it and then when everything goes wrong they can make up ridiculous stories to explain it after the fact and the Truth be damned. It happened with the 'sickness benefits used to hide unemployment' lie, the 'girls getting pregnant to claim benefits and avoid work' lie and many more. Call them what they are: lies. The fact that those spouting them happen to also believe them doesn't mean they are not liars; just that they started lying to themselves first. They don't like being told they are wrong, so don't expect the news outlets finally reporting the ESA catastrophe to suddenly start listening to us, especially not if we're pointing out that it was flagrantly obvious years ago that the system couldn't work, wasn't working and was imploding and ministers were just buying time. 

They've been coasting for this whole session of Parliament, without any real plan and given Labour's performance this week, still trying to get votes from people who will never vote for them and appeasing newspapers which will never be nice to them- we can't expect them to be any different. 

Tuesday, 10 June 2014

Autistics VS Who?

I could not have said just two years ago that I was ideological or even sentimental about the welfare state, I simply made my contributions to the national debate on welfare reforms because I was affected by them. It didn't take long before I formed views that there is no ethical alternative to comprehensive welfarism in a developed modern nation. I dislike the thought of being an idealogue but I would fail at self-criticism if I didn't admit that I am and like all idealogues I see patterns in society which I try to explain through my idealist prism. One repeating pattern is that those of an ethical bent so out of the ordinary as to be indefensible in ordinary terms try to re-frame the standards that their ideas should be subjected to. In the case of the Coalition policy to save money through a under-occupancy penalty on social housing tenants with what are deemed spare bedrooms, the response to criticism that the policy was effectively a 'bedroom tax' was to aggressively brief the news media that the policy was to 'end the spare room subsidy'. It didn't matter that such a subsidy never existed to be removed, an insidious idea was disguised by placing it against an insidious background.

In the decade before the Coalition I'd struggled along in ad hoc employment, training programmes and futile attempts to get help as a person with a cognitive disability who was not learning disabled or mentally ill(yet). I made many tremendous mistakes and even learned from them. I'd tried to find some sense of belonging and support from online Autism groups but there was an astonishing Berlin-wall running right through them all: messageboards for parents and messageboards for Autistics, always on different websites. These two groups absolutely could not relate to each other and when they attempted to mix the results were explosive and bans were handed out. It did not go unremarked though that the parent boards were far more likely to ban anyone, way more likely to ban someone if they were Autistic and not a parent and to do so for even slight perceived infringements. Considering one group is thought to lack social skills and tolerate insults to their comfort zone, it was surprising that it was the other group that freaked out over even mild criticism and responded with abuse. 

Unfortunately it is that group who control the largest and most powerful Autism organisation in the world: Autism Speaks. This organisation is quick to respond with lawyers and I will not go on about them, but they too practice re-molding standards to suit their ethics. In one example a splinter-organsation was founded here; Autism Speaks UK. Unfortunately Autistics had successfully fed local organisations and the National Autistic Society with toxic disability propaganda like the social model and 'nothing about us without us' which meant that ASUK found itself in a hostile environment and without the usual option of simply excluding Autistics from every area they were wishing to influence. They went from describing themselves as 'the UK's leading Autism charity'(as long as you ignored the then 50-year old National Autistic Society) to 'the UK's leading Autism research charity' and changed their name to Autism Research UK. People still didn't buy it though so they got round to calling themselves 'Autistica'. 

If it sounds similar to 'Aspergia', an infamous Autistic community from 2000-2002(spin-offs and splinters continued to use the name afterwards), that's because this appears to be a deliberate attempt to make people think that the organisation is Autistic-friendly. Aspergia was one of the most fondly remembered communities, but also the closest you could get to an online 'Aspie Benevolent Militant Fascist Republic' planning supremacy and baked THC-based confectionary. 

Why bring them up? Because they are the only source for comment in reports featured in the news today about LSE research into the 'costs of Autism', you'd actually think that the press release the reports are based on were put out by 'Autistica'. If it shows anything, it's that they may have changed their name(twice) but not their crummy ethics. 

Now you know Who, next post I'll tell you Why. 

Tuesday, 29 April 2014

The Weirdening

Not more than a few miles from where I'm sitting the body of teacher Ann Maguire is still warm, but the focus is turning to the pupil accused of her murder; a 15-year old boy. I expect that media coverage of the tragedy will quickly shift away from the victim as they run out of interesting things to mention, as they always do. With killers and alleged killers though, you can get away with anything even if they are still a child and somehow it's even worse when the child is possible vulnerable. 

You can not excuse crimes like this, but that does not absolve us of our responsibility to try understanding them. It's a responsibility some sections of the press loath, so they make it as problematic as possible for others even to try. They make it so any expression of empathy or simply academic interest beyond harsh punishment is no different from making excuses. Only then will the victim go back to receiving attention, to be used as an ideological weapon regardless of what their views were on these issues when they were alive. Argument will be personalised with the trope of 'a liberal is a conservative who hasn't been mugged yet' adapted for the situation- the unprovable counter-factual that a victim would agree with their view had they survived. 

It's all familiar but there are aspects of it that are seldom discussed, aspects which seem to crop up mostly when the alleged perp is a young person: their weirdness. 

A loner, awkward, bright, odd or intense hobbies, immaturity, irritability, depressed, identifies as an outsider. Have I just describe every teenage killer ever or most teens given a diagnosis of Asperger's Syndrome? Given this coincidence I would expect to find substantial literature linking the diagnosis and Autism in general with violence, but I can't find it and the National Autistic Society says there isn't any. We're left with the equally disappointing conclusion then that the weirdo teen killer is a media-made stereotype, fitted to a wide number of diverse cases with just a few tangential similarities. There are some arguments that people just don't want to accept that most violent crimes are committed by 'normal folk' and that people at the margins of human experience and behaviour are far more likely to be victims than perpetrators. Yet the Mail today is lending credence to it's coverage by specifically citing that this is what the alleged killer's fellow students are saying about him. 

For me, both these opposite views have problems. Let's start with the first, or a common response to the first- "Of course there is something wrong with them- they're criminals". The mere refutation of this tautology isn't enough to support the claim being made that 'normal people' are mainly responsible for violence on a number of points: 1- we don't know what 'normal' is, 2- research may one day yield a sufficient comprehensive explanation for violence that requires the use of diagnoses and once you have a diagnosis of something you are usually considered 'not normal', 3- some people are far more prone to violence than others(men as a whole are more violent than women, young people fight more than mature adults, etc). The Mail point of view is more simple- you will always find what you are looking for and the Mail of course gets the juicy gossip from the students; there's no equivalent statement about the alleged killer from any teacher or staff member. The only point of reference other students have is what they hear about killers their age and that is that they are always weird.

The Mail is as always, a parody of itself. We are told on the MailOnline in bullet-points no less that he played violent video games like Dark Souls and Grand Theft Auto. That sounds perfectly normal, I bet he's not the only one in his class who has played either of them, including those who have provided the gutterpress with material for weirdening him. A drawing of the Grim Reaper on his Facebook page is supposed to be a 'chilling insight' into his background, like Death is not a regular mascot for many metal bands and fans who haven't killed anyone. Oh and also "Last night friends told of their shock at his arrest", but the Mail said he was a loner? Maybe he was friends with other loners, in which case: he's not a loner then. In fact the Mail provides ample evidence of frequent social interaction with a range of people he knew both locally and around the world, who he positively engaged with. It seems the only people that actually speak a word against him hardly even know him. 

The Mail has to print what limited stuff they can get out of the bottom of the barrel, but the focus and sign-posting is clear and they don't even care that it contradicts. Rather than presenting it as a case of a typical teen with currently unknown motives, which are not at all revealed by anything reported, the need to weirden him comes ahead of the truth. If they won't accept a moral responsibility to be fair to the accused, then they should at least consider the wider impact on the innocent oddballs constantly associated with violence.

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.