Thursday, 17 March 2011

These Aren't The Voids You're Looking For

About seven hours ago I was in Portcullis House. The scanners having failed to scan, the camera unable to take a clear picture(my image on film or a screen will always appear as a black silhouette), I walked unhindered after using the Yorkshirian mind-trick through the building. If all you hear when a Yorkshireman speaks is an incoherent blurb that conveys some sense of injustice and distrust of foreigners(anyone not from Yorkshire) then it has worked on you and you have no recollection of what they've made you do or think. In all I got to meet with three MPs at the National Autistic Society's lobby session including my own. I had odds running in my head about who would actually turn up and Maria Miller the minister for disabled people was there; right at the end for 15 minutes. I knew everyone would want a turn with her, she knew everyone would want a turn with her and having had the chance to observe her personally I quickly cottoned onto something.

Maria Miller does the gish gallop, a verbal dance where you are made to listen to her and it's no longer a dialogue but a monologue. You're just a recipient of her message and she's just really trying to help you. Miller is in her comfort zone when she faces as few questions as possible and she makes it difficult for anyone to do so or elaborate or get clarification. She changes the topic, she decides the pace of the conversation and the premises on which a debate is based. She is very Cameron-like and quite a few people saw the resemblance.

I got one chance and it made the 5-hour journey to London and 5-hour journey back again well worth it. It took little more than twenty seconds, just as Miss Miller was leaving. Knowing in advance exactly how she would receive me and knowing she wouldn't snub me in front of the men in expensive suits around her, she had to show the personal touch she carries so well...I gish galloped Maria Miller. Some background though; Maria Miller is associated with the claim by the government that DLA has never been properly reviewed since its inception. This often gets fudged with the claim that many DLA claimants have never had their cases looked at or have had no contact with the DWP about it for a long time.

DLA did in fact get reviewed in the 90s in the Benefit Integrity Programme, an initiative that repeatedly stated that its intent was not to root out frauds among the rising number of claimants. Despite trying very hard to find fraud and not very hard to hide that it was trying very hard to root out fraud, it found only 1.5% of claimants were claiming fraudulently. Dissatisfied, it also claimed a much greater number of people were suspicious to varying degrees, concluding that maybe as much as 22% of claimants could be committing fraud but they couldn't prove it. The BIP caused people to be re-assessed and they got put on lesser brackets whilst a fewer number got moved up. There were blood-curdling cries of the BIP's unfairness, lack of professionalism, inflexibility and box-ticking. It had huge gaping holes in its methods.

So it was replaced by a Periodic Benefit Review, which unlike the BIP aimed to looked at all claimants and not just focus on those in the higher bracket(possibly a strong contributing reason for why more were 'demoted' than were 'promoted'). The problem was that actually having better trained staff usually of a professional standard able to make discrete judgements cost quite a bit of money, too much money for Labour in fact so they scrapped it.

This morning something was unclear, it gnawed at my mind on the train; did ministers know about the Benefit Integrity Programme when they made the claims they did about there never being such a review? Something critical happened a few hours earlier when I checked Sue Marsh's blog one last time it turned out to be momentously pivotal; she had given me a URL which contained strong evidence that ministers did remember or at least were reminded of the BIP.

Twenty seconds was what I had to make Maria Miller give a single short answer to two questions which were gish galloped to seem as if they were just one. I introduced myself and asked her for one last thing as I hadn't had a chance to speak before "in this reform, are lessons being learned from the Benefit Integrity Review?". She began before I had finished 'yes..' but I didn't let her; with that briefest of confirmations that she was completely and totally aware of the BIP and it's failure I made the gish gallop by pretending that question was rhetorical and the real questions was "because early on when the public debate on this began it was STRONGLY 'implied' that DLA had never had any review since it started so I was really concerned about where the reforms could be going".

That wasn't a question, but Maria Miller had been bamboozled enough that she thought it was and did the worst thing she did that day: she provided an answer to a question that was never asked, her own imagination was filling in the blank. She had been taken by the Yorkshirian Mind Trick.

I don't know whether it was arrogance or a genuine desire to impress, to seem knowledgeable, on the ball and in touch but feigning ignorance would have done her better. First she corrected me quite rightly on the 'Benefit Integrity Review' which was actually the 'Benefit Integrity Programme' or 'Project', but that was just the name; at the time it was called a review because it was a review. It took stuff that had been viewed and then viewed it again; a review, an intent to summarise a judgement of the content and standards of something.
Second she explained why it wasn't actually a review; what it did was merely look at the accuracy of assessments as applied to claimants at the time as their needs and circumstances change. It tried to make sure people were getting the right benefit and only getting DLA if they were eligible.

And lastly, she explained why what she and the Coalition are doing are different from the BIP: the assessments of claimants need to be reviewed and targeted at those most needing DLA because circumstances change as do their needs and it's important that the assessment process is reformed so that it stays up-to-date and accurate.

Remember that. BIP = to look at claimants and assess the accuracy of their assessments. DLA reform = to correct assessments and make the benefit more targeted. Completely. Different. Things.
...according to Maria Miller.

I thanked her and let her go as she had to be somewhere. If she had re-wound that conversation in her head on the way out she might have muttered a little 'fuck' under her breath.

Case file 1# finds that the Coalition is aware of previous attempts at getting DLA expenditure under control and making the benefit more 'targeted'. They are also aware of its failure. 

The Coalition says it won't repeat those mistakes. This investigation found no evidence that the Coalition can achieve this; it is more likely prepared to tolerate them. 

1 comment:

  1. A contender for the worst title and pop reference I've come up with, unless you're into post-modernist arty stuff where as you will have instantly recognised politics as the void, politicians as the source of that void and the voids not being found as their void-promoting narrative was broken down in a massive Autistic onslaught. Seventeen MPs attended in total and there were about six Autistic adults and four more who were carers of severely disabled Autistic adults or children. National Autistic Society staff numbered in the 47 million.