Monday, 31 December 2012

For Some The World Did End In 2012

The year is drawing to a close(or may have already by the time I finish this) and many unfulfilled hopes go with it. It's the year that we won, repeatedly, fair and square. Then we were cheated, again and again and again. Some who were with us on this journey are no longer with us now, some who undoubtedly could have lived on if their plight was acknowledged by those with the power to do something.

But they didn't want to do something, so they don't want to know- they will just lie and cheat, regardless of the consequences. I was told my complaint about the atrocious BBC programme The Future State Of Welfare With John Humphrys would be treated fairly and investigated thoroughly. It wasn't. The Spartacus group were told we would see the release of all the responses to the first PIP consultation published by the end of the year, in response to the Responsible Reform report which Ministers told wilful lies about. They decided to not publish the material that would supposedly show our report was not representative of the consultation responses and that their summary of it supposedly was. We won in the House Of Lords- they reversed it with a nod and a wink, misusing an arcane privilege. Then they made concessions, to which all oaths are binding in our Houses of Parliament. They have broken many of them and not been held to account.

Having changed the timetable of their plans somewhat, I myself am still likely to lose DLA next year and will be ineligible for PIP because I can use a microwave and the mobility component does not cover the issues that prevent me from going out.

The Files will close this time next year, barring some miracle. 

Thursday, 20 December 2012

Consulting Autistic Gets Consulted

Here's how consultation from local government works. Something needs to be done, statutory guidance demands it and they don't want to totally screw it up or at least they want to blame someone else if it does. So consult the stakeholders.

But there's always a problem when it comes to the matter being about disabilities, particularly the non-physical kind- the primary stakeholders are disabled. Officials can't be certain we are reliable but nor can they blame us, so they end up putting these things off for as long as possible. It is 2012 and the world is about to end. The Autism Act became law in 2009. Statutory guidance telling local authorities and NHS Trusts in England what the law requires of them was issued in early 2010. Yes, it's taken this long. North Yorkshire where I live was the last county in the whole of England to have done absolutely nothing, nothing that the statutory guidance said they must do. Well seeing as we're all going to die anyway, they have now decided to do something. The county council, local NHS branches and the National Autistic Society have been running some consultations here and there. Two questions everyone had when they arrived at one of them last week was "Why was this not more widely advertised and why is it being held in the middle of nowhere?"

Technically, most of North Yorkshire is the middle of nowhere. Ripon is the country's oldest city(owing to the presence of a cathedral), but it's so small only Smurfs can live there- it makes Durham look like Mega City One. Harrogate is the UK internet porn capital according to research for the BBC documentary The Virtual Revolution- they are so bored and there is nothing to do in that town that it has the highest per capita web porn use. Grassington is full of elderly people who believe in conspiracy theories because the rest of the population living there are frankly bonkers. The Forbidden Corner is actually probably the most sensible and balanced place out here.

The meeting we went to was held in a cricket club. Obviously one of the people from the council there was a member and decided that if they are going to be abused and humiliated, it might as well be in a familiar place where they and only they as a member may purchase cheap drinks afterwards. Everyone would want to be their friend then. The only Autistics there were us, those of us who go to the support group every Thursday afternoon. The rest were parents, carers and charity workers. We were put into groups naturally depending on where we were sat and asked to write down things such as what was working well at the moment, what needed to change and other fluff. Our group ended up needing several sheets of paper as we kept running out. What all groups agreed was that any future meetings would need to be much better advertised(it seems that this was deliberate though as similar events in West Yorkshire attracted larger crowds than the venues could support, such was the strength of feeling about the lack of statutory Autism provision) and that decisions should be made with at least one Autistic involved.

The county council have decided there should be a focus group that meets regularly to review progress on services and suggest changes. This is where they want Autistic involvement and people kept repeatedly mentioning the focus group to me, like they were trying to drop a hint. Couldn't work out what it was. 

At the support group today, I'll ask if there has been any developments.

Monday, 17 December 2012

My Face In The Mirror

Key Summary:
  • This is about the '32 WRAG deaths per week'
  • WRAG does not mean 'fit for work'
  • Overall WRAG figures not comparable to deaths
  • Deaths happened over a period
  • Period only covers January-August 2011
  • Total deaths currently unknown 
  • The in-flow onto WRAG is what matters
  • Compare WRAG in-flow with deaths over same period
  • You are eight times more likely to die if you are in the WRAG
  • Even though WRAG claimants told they will work in future 

This is something I should have blogged about back in April. I'm doing it now because there has been some recent tremors among welfare campaigners(a disturbance in the Unified Spoon Field possibly) in regards to the impacts and efficacy of the Work Capability Assessment in relation to deaths that follow the assessment. Unfortunately some factoids and myths have built up which could have been stopped before they were started. Some of them are the result of reasonable assumptions made because of information that turns out to be wrong, others because of well-intentioned but desperate embellishment(people ARE actually fearing for their lives after all and the government's response is to accuse the fearful of fear-mongering) and then there are just the talking points thrown out by supporters of the government which they don't care whether they are true or not.

It all began with a FOI request made by journalists at the Mirror and the response they received. They wanted to know how many ESA claimants had died after being assessed and found fit for work. But the DWP does not count this- it doesn't track people found fit for work at all. What the DWP did give them were figures for how many who were put in the Support Group and Work-Related Activity Group had died. The DWP collects that information because they track on-flows and off-flows, as well as the reasons for why someone claims they also record the reason for a claim ceasing including when a claimant dies.

The Mirror article states that between January and August 2011 there were 1,100 claimants in the WRAG who died and 5,300 in the SG who died. The Mirror states that they do not know how many died after being found fit for work. 1,600 died before an assessment. Well that seems clear, but the problem is the headline: "32 die a week after failing test for new incapacity benefit".

The number is arrived at by dividing the total number of WRAG off-flows due to death by the number of weeks in the period covered. Roughly; the Mirror seems to have just calculated it as 1000(cases) / 30(weeks) = 33.333

However, the bit that misleads is to say that the WRAG have 'failed' the test. They haven't- even though the current government are trying to change the meaning and purpose of the WRAG yet again, it is for people who are not able to work- it's just that they might be able to in future. A few days later, Sonia Poulton wrote in her blog at the Mail that this was people found 'fit for work' who had died following an assessment. FullFact covered it here. What gave Sonia Poulton(and the sub-editor who write the Mirror headline) that idea though? Well, because in their briefings to the press the government have inter-changeably used both those who leave ESA before assessment and the WRAG to exaggerate the proportions who are judged to be not actually in need of the benefit. In fact Chris Grayling chose to headline one of his notorious press releases to include the phrase 'the vast majority found fit for work'. I get angry about the unwillingness of the media to fact-check, but even fact-checks require presumptions that some information is trustworthy. If ministers saturate a national debate with falsehoods, we're left relying unwittingly on invisible underhand falsehoods to argue against highly visible overt falsehoods.

The meat of the issue though- later this year the figures were updated and using the same calculation now shows about 73 people in the WRAG die each week. Being short on time and spoons, I'll not address this until I've had considerable time to mull over the source material. I will deal with it in the context of the original 32 per week and the claims that were made in response to the Mirror article.

The main claim- these people could have died anyway. How do we know it isn't in line with the national average? Some of the comments below the Mirror piece ask this and make their own(wrong) calculations. At the time I did the calculations they should have actually done and my finding was that those in the WRAG have a considerably greater risk of dying than the general working-age population. How people had been calculating it was to take the total that had died and compare them to the total of WRAG claimants. This is wrong because the number who had died was over a period, whilst the total is simply a snapshot at one point in time. If you want to be accurate about calculating mortality you compare the mortality rate to the in-flow rate.

In the run-up to ESA being introduced, the media machine that allowed the Labour government to do what ever they wanted to social security(by falsely accusing them of being 'soft' on the issue, a most welcome slander) was in full-gear. They made very loud noises that someone on Incapacity Benefits for more than ten years was more likely to die than come off it and go back to work. This was back when ESA was being sold on the premise that IB was supposed to allow those who could to go back to work and clearly it wasn't working- which did completely ignore the large numbers of short-term claimants who did return to work. Long-term claimants though are permanently and severely disabled, so of course they are more likely to die than return to work. But now that the political environment demands it, the brilliant minds of press and policy have forgotten that- it conflicts with their current goals.

In the period of January to August 2011, people went onto the WRAG and people died whilst on the WRAG. These people were not found fit for work, but nor were they found to be eligible for the Support Group- the problem with them doing into the WRAG and then dying whilst on it is that they have been assessed as being able to work in the future. The extent to which this is happening highlights a problem with the accuracy of the process and the validity of ministerial claims that it is working and doesn't need any radical changes(let alone scrapping completely).

We can't compare the number of deaths with the total WRAG figure because we don't have the total death figures- just the ones for that period. There are problems with comparing deaths in that period with the in-take of that period, they won't track exactly, but it's the closest we can get.

I've looked at the ESA tables and for Jan-Aug 2011 the aggregate total joining the WRAG is 60,700. In that time 1,100 people died.

So is it a simple matter of comparing this to the national UK average mortality? No- that figure includes children and pensioners, who are not represented among ESA claimants and pensioners especially drag the mortality rate up. We need to look at the chances of dying when you are aged between 16 and 60/65. Do most working age people really have a 1.1 in 60.7 chance of dying in the next seven months like WRAG claimants do? Just to note before excluding pensioners though- I looked at the ONS table on this and as recently as 2010, the mortality rate for the UK population generally is 655 per 100,000 for men and 467 per 100,000 for women. That averages at 561 per 100,000. Just so you know, I went to a children's educational website just to refresh my memory on how to calculate mean averages- that says something about my current state. Anyway, for WRAG claimants that comes out as 1,532 in 100,000. I'll be back to correct my math later if it's wrong, but for now your chances of dying in the WRAG is approximately three times that of the general population.

Then you exclude pensioners and look only at working-age mortality...

The most accessible information to hand was a report from that indicates premature deaths have been falling in the general population. They look only at 25-59/64 but I don't think 16-24 year olds will change things much, so the figure that comes out of this is accurate. So, for working age people the mortality rate is 185 per 100,000.

If you are in the ESA WRAG, your chances of dying are more than eight times that of the general working-age population, even though you've been told you will be able to work in the future.

These aren't perfect figures, but if the ones that showed the truest picture were available- the government would never deliberately publish or publicise them.

Wednesday, 12 December 2012

Case File Closed

I'm done. Yesterday I received an indifferent response to the comments I submitted regarding the provisional findings of the ECU about 11 points of complaint made about The Future State Of Welfare With John Humphrys. These were being treated separately from the other 55 points of complaint, a decision made unilaterally by the ECU seemingly with the intent of trying to force me to multi-task beyond my capabilities.

The findings are now finalised and unchanged. The justifications made by the ECU defy reason, even in their pleading that they don't have to actually provide citations. These are standards beneath almost any journalist. This does not bode well for the outcome of the 55 points currently under ECU investigation and in fact I now believe my complaint never stood a chance, regardless of its own merit. The target was too large, the bureaucracy too dense and the rules utterly hidden to any outsider.

The process has been frustrating and had an impact on my ability to function, it has also dragged on for far too long. It started in October 2011, it ends now. I have asked the ECU to cease investigating and given my reasons why. I will pursue a complaint about my treatment to the BBC Trust, simply so that they are forced to put this ordeal on the record. With my deteriorating functioning, I can't continue.

This is the end of Case File #3. There will be no new entries.

Tuesday, 11 December 2012

Up To The Job

There's been some noises about the government's new jobsearch website the Universal Jobsmatch. You can not apply anywhere to be a consulting Autistic which gives you the privilege of introducing yourself as "YourName, Autistic". You either are or you aren't and if you see this position advertised, it's probably fake, like a substantial minority of the jobs on Universal Jobsmatch, of which some brief history is needed.

A few months ago Jobcentres started handing out instructions to their advisors to promote the website ''. Despite what they may have stated- this is not a job-search site any more than Google News is a newspaper or news organisation. It's a site which data-mines from real job-search sites, as many as possible, with the effect(intentional or not) of stealing their traffic. It survives off the work others do and the expenses they make for server space. Commercially lucrative, ethically off-putting and of questionable utility. I had a very tense and unusually confrontational conversation with the new advisor I had been assigned to about it. I've not seen her again, but her understanding of how this site was actually working was inadequate and she was misleading her clients about how useful it would be to them. If you search for something, does not filter very well for relevance and will bring back literally thousands of results, sometimes duplicates, which the user must then filter through manually.

The government liked this site so much they decided to hire the people behind to make them one just like it and thus Universal Jobsmatch was born.

To add cherries on this ruined pudding they wanted to also monitor jobseekers, with the long-term goal of shutting down Jobcentres and also keeping the old system of their own DWP vacancy database but with more accessibility to employers. It's not so much the accessibility though that is likely to have caused the recent problems, especially as it is not all that accessible at all and users still keep reporting issues, it's that this release has come with fanfare and the age of the Internet. Particularly Web 2.0, which has defined itself as a backlash against pretentious post-modernism and pretentious self-ironic criticism of post-modernism. First clowns are funny. Then clowns are funny because they are un-funny. Then clowns are funny because they know they are un-funny. Finally clowns are funny because the Internet says they are child molesters. That's the level we are on when examining the Internet hive-mind.

Attracting the attention of that amorphous mass is the worst thing you can do, unless you are a cat or otherwise memetically infallible like Batman, Stephen Colbert and the Old Spice Guy(NO ONE took the piss out of his amateurish public audition for the as yet non-existent role of Luke Cage in a future Marvel Comics film, because he's the Old Spice Guy and he should be Luke Cage). Yet this is essentially what Universal Jobsmatch did. The result?

A problem was revealed that was already a problem to begin with. Nothing actually changed but the participants. What was the problem then? That the jobs market is not policed. It is illegal to advertise fake vacancies but no one enforces the law. You'll note that all the DWP has so far done is take the reported and obvious infringements down, there's not been an indication that they'll track down the culprits and prosecute. If they did, then they would have to explain the unknown number of false vacancies which are put out by recruitment, telemarketing and employment agencies to farm CVs, usually for contact details. Putting hobbies down on a CV didn't use to actually be a thing until a rather short time ago. Employers don't really need to know them, nor do they actually want to except in very narrow circumstances. Who does want to know them? Telemarketers, basically. They want to know what your interests are on top of your name and address so crap can be advertised to you.

So it's interesting that whilst the government don't want to actually clamp down on this, the Universal Jobsearch website does warn against users giving out precisely those kinds of details. It's currently a hostile environment for the CV-farmers because the DWP have been forced to act because of public outrage that was non-existent when it was just them flooding the Jobcentre database with false vacancies, but the novelty for pranksters will wear off soon. Then they can go back to the way things were.

Then the government will just simply let them. Don't expect the mainstream media to bother keeping the momentum on this going, or expose the scandal of the unregulated jobs market. The pranks have revealed misuse of the database to be all too easy and in fact always has been. 

EDIT: By the way, many have been saying that Universal Jobsmatch is not mandatory and the Jobcentre said as much to me in regards to consenting to have your activity monitored. However- I was told that I would have to bring in a lot more jobsearch evidence than before if I did not consent, with a threat of sanction if I didn't. They didn't specify what exactly they were looking for and I don't own a printer. Similar threats are made to people to 'volunteer' for the completely non-mandatory work experience initiatives.

Sunday, 9 December 2012

The Soft Paper Wall

Tiger's are stupid. Some of the rarest were hunted to near extinction in India because they fell for an illusion used by hunters; that of the paper wall. When hunters spotted a tiger, they'd surround it before moving in with a large roll of paper they were carrying. Tigers are huge and strong, nothing would stop them from running straight through it to safety except that they didn't know they could.

A lot of boring political commentary last week spoke of the 'ingenious trap' the Chancellor set up for the leader of the official opposition in his Autumn statement. The law says that all social security benefits in the United Kingdom must be uprated each year in line with inflation, to protect the basic safety net. So it requires a change in the law to implement the policy the Chancellor has come up with to lock this to a 1% rise for the next three years and this means an Act of Parliament very soon. The Chancellor believes that the opposition will be forced to vote for it or against it and either choice would be politically damaging, but voting against would be the worst. The Coalition parties have repeatedly tried to paint Labour as 'the party of the shirkers', ignoring that most benefit claimants are in-work and most of those out of work were working before and want to work again.

The Facts don't matter to them because welfare has been the government's most popular policy area, yet it is simultaneously the one on which they have shown the most incompetence.

More than anything, incompetence will finish this government.

Sometimes European hunters in India got too confident. Sometimes they fell for the illusion too- they actually thought the paper sheet being carried by local boys would always keep the tiger contained, even if the tiger launched itself at the wall. Imagine their surprise when it came straight for them, through the paper as the Sun cast their shadows onto the back of the paper and seeing a target, the tiger struck out. In their last moments, tigers are at their most dangerous- when cornered. Hunters taking their time and enjoying the show rather than just getting it over quickly would be the worst risk. The incompetent hunter.

The Chancellor is an incompetent hunter and trapper, with a very undeserved reputation for cunning and political instinct. The mainstream media is very forgetful of his 2007 clunker where he sought to implicate Peter Mandelson in a corruption scandal by 'asking questions' about why he was on the yacht of a Russian billionaire accepting hospitality. Mandelson is a notorious schemer and George Osbourne thought he had him, that he'd out-witted him. Mandelson didn't hardly need to be Machiavelli to then point out that Osbourne knew because he was there, on the billionaire's yacht. Yet as EU Trade Commissioner at the time, Mandelson had a legitimate reason to be there whether it was true or not, Osbourne didn't. Make up your own mind about why the Establishment and our institutions of state did not investigate Osbourne, as he thought they would have Mandelson.

He doesn't know that the trap he's set for Edward Miliband is a soft paper wall. He's one of those over-confident hunters that is too convinced of his own cleverness. He doesn't remember or he never knew at all about Miliband's finest hour. I wrote a harshly critical essay of Miliband last year describing it: he used all his five questions at PMQs to ask the same one because the Prime Minister did not understand the specifics of his own government's policies. Miliband's success was so absolute that the government-supporting media were forced to ignore what was an extraordinary exchange. He managed it because someone had done their research and briefed him very well on the Facts about the issue. Evidence and Reason carry no risk; the government benches were a mix of confusion and arrogance- they thought they'd won, they'd thought it was Miliband who looked ridiculous and were going to make huge political capital over his 'buffoonery' in wasting all five of his questions.

Then they would have met with the parliamentary party researchers who then told them what Miliband was actually getting it and how idiotic Cameron was made to look to anyone that understood the issue. Rather than making capital out of it, they then had to pretend it never happened and the media acquiesced. But now they are going 'all-in' and have made a lot of noise about the upcoming votes, where Miliband will almost certainly tell his party to vote against. The media can not ignore the outcome as they did last time because the government are involving them so deeply, cocksure of the case based on popularity.

All Miliband has to do is see this paper wall for what it is and do as he did last time.

1. Most of those affected are not even out of work.

2. The disabled are not protected. The WRAG are not 'fit for work', they are sick and disabled.

3. Of those who are out of work- most have worked before, want to work again and the data says that even in a recession they will. 

4. The IMF has had to adjust their fiscal multipliers for austerity, why hasn't the government or even the supposedly 'independent' Office of Budget Responsibility? This could be a measure that costs more than it saves because it sucks demand out of the economy. 

5. There is a repeated logical inconsistency in the government's arguments. Either you believe benefits are a basic safety net or you don't. If they are a subsistence-only net, then it is always immoral to cut them. If they are above subsistence, then you'd believe in cutting them anyway on moral grounds, but this precludes the financial 'need for austerity' argument. Yet the government makes contradictory moral and fiscal arguments depending on which they are being attacked on. Attack their morals, they'll try pragmatic 'fiscal reality'- attack their figures, they'll make empty moralisations.

6. If there was a Moral or Reasonable case for their welfare policies, they wouldn't need to lie and distort constantly.

Miliband has nothing to fear from the paper wall. He just needs to realise it.

Sunday, 25 November 2012

If I Had Been Owen Jones

For the first time- ever, the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions was made to feel the heat. Every journalist had failed, every disabled person was evaded(except for that one encounter with Kaliya Franklin trapping him in the disabled toilet he shouldn't have been in) and when that couldn't be done, it was always off the record. The media were nowhere to be seen to film these encounters with Duncan Smith, or Grayling or Miller. Only Freud has been caught on camera being so inept, but no one in the media seemed to bother much with the committee stage of the Welfare Reform Bill.

I have to say though that I do not like Owen Jones' style. On Question Time this week, he did what every other member of the media-class should have already done, rather than treating this most despicable of ministers with gentleness and regurgitating his briefings to them word for word. But I felt unsatisfied. He made Iain Duncan Smith angry and seen to be angry, as in 'lost his temper through lack of self-control' angry rather than 'righteous railing against injustice angry' which is what Jones expressed.

I would have made him scared, and seen to be scared. Or that's just my incredible ego talking. You decide.

Jones' method was to bring up a case recently reported unusually widely in the media- that of the father Brian McArdle, who was found 'fit for work' by Atos after suffering a stroke that paralysed half his body and then dying the very next day after the assessment, and of his 13-year old son Kieron who wrote a letter to Duncan Smith. The response was a template letter that was tone-deaf to the situation. I'm constantly reminded that the public remember stories, not facts and figures. Narratives have the more immediate influence and the McArdle's were a powerful enough story with the few words Jones was allowed to get out to sway at least half of the audience. But I still don't like them(narratives I mean, not the McArdles). I like something that is on an even playing field, even when the opponent keeps cheating- it makes their eventual defeat more absolute. Iain Duncan Smith is a consummate cheat and rule-breaker.

Combining statistics with narrative, he got away with his '2.6 million just parked on benefits and forgot about' again. What ever Jones could have come back with if time had not run out, it would simply have been another piece of one-upmanship, not a rebuttal. A rebuttal means Duncan Smith can never use that gambit publicly again, ever- it's been revealed to be tripe. A clever comeback just means you are showing there are 'two sides to a story' and the public thinks the reasonable ground is somewhere in between them. This however implies that both sides have gone beyond what most would consider reasonable in their public actions. The disclaimer to make is that welfare campaigners do not set policy and do not have the near-automatic access to the national media that the government and supporting think-tanks have: the burden on them should automatically be higher than it is on us.

Even still- on the facts we are consistently right and ministers like Duncan Smith are consistently wrong. The only time they are right is when they are being downright slippery. This makes us the far more trustworthy and reasonable, if we are to interpret this as being two distinct sides in a debate.

Duncan Smith thinks the welfare reforms are not going to cost more than they will save- but the government very deliberately only filled in impact assessment forms(without any evidence of actually assessing impacts) for individual proposals, not for the cumulative effects of all of them. 

Duncan Smith says that '26 thousand pounds a year is hardly impoverishing somebody'. But the government fought very hard in the House of Lords to stop benefits for children being exempted, as it more than halved the already small savings of the benefit cap. Essentially, the cap is targeted at families. Most people do not live with the costs of many children and they think that benefits are so high that each child is a net gain for the household. Rather than tackle that myth, Duncan Smith has exploited it. With both housing and the costs of raising children thrown in, 26 thousand annum is not enough given that circumstances can change rapidly. Let's also not forget that this is based on average income, not average 'earnings' like Duncan Smith stated- working families that have an income like this are usually getting some of it from working benefits themselves, hence the reason why the government exempted those on Working Tax Credits. Pointing out how little money this vindictive policy saves, intended purely to win popularity from a certain demographic and little else, would have disarmed Deborah Meaden's barely coherent point on the need to spend money wisely, without screaming 'the country is not like a company' as I might have.

Disabled people are not exempted from the cap, despite what the Secretary claimed at least three times. Duncan Smith already said that DLA claimants were exempt- this does not by a long shot equate to 'disabled people' unless everyone with a disability is now eligible for DLA. They aren't, they aren't anywhere near. Even with the changes to ESA, DLA remains the hardest benefit to win a claim for and the government intend on narrowing that further when they replace it with PIP.

 And the cherry on the top when the Secretary blew his top. Here's what he said:

"Hold on, we've heard a lot from you..."

we actually didn't, David Dimbleby constantly interrupted Jones throughout the programme.

"I didn't hear you screaming about two and a half million people, who were parked, nobody saw them for ten years, not working, with no hope and no aspiration. We are changing their lives, I'm proud of doing that, getting them off benefit is what we're going to do."

He got applause. Would he if the audience had known it was a complete lie? For most of the last decade the overall claimant count for Incapacity Benefit was around just under 2.6 million. But these were not 2.6 million people on it for a decade- most of them were actually different people. In the narrative Duncan Smith is asserting, 2.6 million people on IB for a decade is only possible if there are absolutely no on-flows, no new people claiming the benefit as well as no one leaving it. Readers of The Files will remember this graph:

No that's not it, sec:

The blue line is ESA and IB claimants combined up to May 2010. The green line is just IB claims. What I pointed out when I first posted this graph was the drop on the green line and how sudden it was beginning from Autumn 2008, when new claims for IB were stopped as ESA was introduced. That sudden drop on the green line is entirely because new claims stopped, that represents the natural off-flow for Incapacity Benefit. I kept tabs on the figures every quarter as they updated and just before the IB-ESA migration trials started, they had settled on around 1.3 million although they were still naturally falling. These aren't people 'parked' on IB, almost all of them leave it because they either go back to work or because they die of the serious illness that was why they were claiming in the first place. They were seeing doctors for treatment quite regularly.

Iain Duncan Smith has defamed millions of people. He has done this to score points and get his way, but in doing so he has rendered British society unable to understand its sick and disabled, effectively alienating them. He has undermined his own government's ability to help us in the process because they refuse to acknowledge just what challenges we actually face in getting work. If he can not represent us accurately, he can not make informed decisions about us and certainly not when he's stonewalled us like he has done.

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

As The Secretary Of State Sees Fit

A solicitor has this article up on the Guardian website. This is the most striking part:
"One of the beacons of Britain's modern democracy is its advanced system of judicial review of administration. It is hard to believe now that even in the 1960s, our courts were just about as executive-minded as judges in some non-democratic states, refusing to rock the boat of public policy. If parliament conferred discretionary power on an official in wide terms (such as "to act as he sees fit", or "in the public interest"), then the courts would interpret such a power as the grant of an infinite authority, with which they could not properly interfere."
In case anyone needs reminding, language exactly like this features in the Welfare Reform Act 2012.

The words 'as the Secretary Of State sees fit' now governs eligibility for all income-based benefits within Universal Credit, rather than statutory entitlement.

David Cameron is laying the groundwork to scrap 'redtape', among it the Equality Act 2010. Why? Because the ability of an official to have legally infinite power, restrained only in broadness but not in depth by their office, really is archaic in Britain and is the preserve of less democratic countries in the 21st century. The Welfare Reform Act grants Iain Duncan-Smith that kind of power. The only thing standing in his way is this question: Is it legal?
Almost certainly not, hence the Prime Minister wants to make it legal. I want to highlight that two years ago before I started writing these Files I thought the mission was lost before it had even begun as whilst opposition to the current political consensus on public spending was at first formidable(the Conservative Party in particular managed to decimate their 17 point poll lead in 2009 when they began advertising their economic plan), the distinct groups forming organised public opposition were somewhat distasteful and didn't in my view know what they were doing. I still dislike these 'weekend warriors' and even though hardly anyone would notice a gesture from a tiny blog like mine, I publicly renounced my support for one. One of the more irritating things were the ill-conceived and historically illiterate comparison with the Third Reich that were frequently used.

Two weeks ago, Sue Marsh made this post on her blog. Read it, it makes a comparison with the Third Reich and the current situation facing sick and disabled people in Britain. But there is something in it which is very different from the hysterical comparisons of internet comments. Namely, Sue does not use a broad-brush and still has the insight to understand this is still a generalisation. But it's a very specific one- the comparison is specific and it can be supported or refuted on a very limited number of points without hair-splitting.

When it became clear to me that Pat's petition to halt all changes to benefits for sick and disabled people until after a thorough review of them was going to fail to hit the target before the deadline, even I began making very specific comparisons. At that point there was nothing to lose and the Nazi comparison when done carefully is an effective rhetorical device which says to detractors- "When you have the benefit of hindsight, you will find that we were right".

So here is another comparison: the Prime Minister in numerous speeches and in briefings to journalists has expressed his desire to move the country onto a militaristic footing, in order to secure it's future prosperity and lift it out of a depression. He has called for a change in national attitudes, norms and institutions so that they behave as if the country were in a war against an existential threat. He has successfully kept himself from being implicated in almost anything his government and supporters are criticised for. He has used scapegoats and blamed the nation's problems on them, they have limited means of fighting back. Scores of people are to be forced to work for less than they can survive on, some of them indefinitely. The business-class are carefully courted for support. High-ranking officials are given executive powers which they can exercise as they see fit.

Remind you of any other industrialised western democracy from the last century?

Monday, 19 November 2012

The Record Has A Pro-Welfare Bias

There are two posts I wish to make(doesn't mean I'll succeed) and they are partly a response to events over the weekend. 

Yesterday an interview with the former Families Minister Sarah Teather was published in the Observer. The significant parts of this interview were in regards to her statements about welfare reforms, particularly the benefit cap. The way the mainstream media has treated it would make it seem like a non-event. The way others have treated it suggests otherwise. The main Observer piece online was flooded with comments, a disproportionately large number of which were critical of her. Some were critical of her apparent hypocrisy- she had voiced concerns but very quietly about welfare reform whilst in government. She then abstained from the crucial Commons votes, without actually making it clear whether this was deliberate and even suggesting unconvincingly that there were just scheduling conflicts. These votes were subject to so-called 'three-line whips' where ambitious MPs have their rise threatened and serving ministers almost invariably lose their jobs if they fail to vote with their party. Ministers with seniority even as high as Iain Duncan-Smith are forced to vote against their publicly sworn views on matters when a government risks their reputation on the parliamentary equivalent of an 'all-in' gamble.
Rockets and robots, one might be better, but both is 'all-in' and hedges all resources on a single success

However, an apparently greater number of 'spontaneous' online responses were critical of her for expressing such views at all. Leaving aside the suspicious online response resembling orchestration(basically only one of the articles on the website was flooded with comments, showing a link was being followed and these were not from people who were just browsing the Guardian/Observer website), the response from a 'spokesman for Iain Duncan-Smith'(note it was not reported as a 'DWP spokesman' but the Secretary directly) repeated a familiar talking point:
"The criticisms Sarah Teather is levelling against the government's welfare reforms are hugely misinformed and therefore result in needless scaremongering. It's not fair or right that benefits claimants receive higher incomes than hard-working families who are striving to get on in life. Our reforms bring fairness back to the system while ensuring we support the most vulnerable."
The spokesman does nothing to actually point out what Teather was factually incorrect about. In fact, this statement implies factual inaccuracy without actually accusing her of it. This is a familiar thing for me and it will be familiar also to other Spartacus contributors, researchers, writers and campaigners from other groups. It's familiar to us because this message is not intended for Sarah Teather nor is it intended for the public.

What passive-aggression looks like
It's intended for us. It's meant to bully us, quite intentionally. Ministers aren't the slightest bit scared of the likes of Sarah Teather who are easily dealt with by the rent-a-mobs that have responded online. The most significant political damage has been done by people who's daily lives are often decided by when and where they poo. To be beaten by the best is one thing, you can bow out gracefully. But to be badly beaten and then only to win on technicality, time and time again, by the likes of us who fall to pieces with the slightest upset; it's terrible. Politicians can survive being hated, they rarely survive being made to look ridiculous and that is what the real opposition to government welfare plans have done. So the government responds with constant passive-aggression, dog-whistles and defamation of critics. Assertions, which seem to turn normality upside down, accusations that the victim is to blame.

In this case the assertions are:

1. The fearful are scaremongering.
2. The fact-users are misinformed.
3. The needy are unfair.

These are outrageous, but it is the narrative that is repeated no matter what critics do. It's ministers way of telling us 'We can say whatever we like, you can argue what you like and pile up how ever many mountains of evidence- no one will question us and no one will listen to you until it is too late'. They started doing it around the time that they realised that even if they lost the fight in Parliament over the Welfare Reform Bill, they could win on technicality by citing the arcane and rarely used function of 'financial privilege' despite it being rather questionable that it was primarily a finance bill. Considering the weight politically they put on the benefits cap which was a very small part of it, and wouldn't save much money at all, it's incredible that they got away with it and they never stop rubbing our faces in it.

The record always has the final say
I'm resigned to the despair that it will be far too late before it is widely accepted what the government has actually done, knowing full-well what the consequences would be. The record however still stands. Declan Gaffney pointed out yesterday that the central factual assertion in the spokesman's response is an utter distortion of reality. The re-occurring theme is that almost every claim, argument and prediction made by critics of the welfare reforms has been right even when the evidence was unclear or it was too early for all but the most careless of pundits to make a call. Each and every time the response from the government, directly or indirectly, has been to repeat the same thing- the fearful are scaremongering, the fact-users are misinformed and the needy are unfair to everyone else. They don't change and they don't cough up the contrary evidence, even when they have the means to cherry-pick and skew research.

This week I'll try to bring together some examples. If anyone has any, feel free to share them below.

Tuesday, 6 November 2012

Remember, Remember....

Today on the Fifth of November I received the provisional rulings regarding the initial 11 points of complaint considered by the Editorial Complaints Unit in regards to The Future State Of Welfare. It's a stinking pile of concentrated ruin, an aborted foetus of reason. Here's a summary of how it came to this.

It's been a point I've raised repeatedly with Andrew Bell. The more errors in a programme, the more the system protects it from complaints. The system works like this:

Stage 1: You make a complaint, a response is made by the complaints department completely denying there is a problem whilst giving a non-apology('we are sorry YOU feel this way'). This becomes the template for stock responses to all versions of that complaint sent in by other viewers. Most complaints were about bias- but there are no clear guidelines on what constitutes bias(the guidelines for impartiality are utterly meaningless and contradictory) meaning it's impossible for this complaint to ever have any hope of redress. Systematic failure to address overtly problematic programmes #1

Stage 1a: Procedure says that substantial complaints must get a response from the programme-makers, however even substantial complaints like mine were subjected to the stock template responses. Procedure as far as I can see was not followed, on the grounds that I had not given my complaint in full- something which would have been impossible because of the enormity of errors and mandatory time and word-limit for complainants. Systematic failure to address overtly problematic programmes #2

Stage 2: If the response from a programme's makers is unsatisfactory(even though as I have been informed, such responses all must be approved by the relevant BBC Exec, in this case it was the Current Affairs head Fiona Campbell) the complaint can now be referred to the Editorial Complaints Unit. Only then will a complainant be informed that complaints can only be considered if they take the form of 'specific points only'. The sheer volume of errors in the programme meant I had to summarise my complaint in it's entirety as 'a lack of factual rigour'. This complaint was not considered at all, instead 11 examples of errors which I had cited previously were considered. Systematic to address overtly problematic programmes #3

Despite this and despite Andrew Bell being quite aware of my difficulties, he said he could 'see no special reason' to deviate from the procedures the system demanded despite my requests. I made an appeal to the Trust...

Appeal: I write my reasons for appealing, highlight the parts of my correspondence so far which are relevant to my case, receive the BBC Trust's interpretation of it and make a comment about what is and isn't accurate. The ECU is allowed to see this, I am not told. They are allowed to make comment on it, I am not told. They are able to shape the Trust's understanding of the matter, I am not. I am given a single opportunity to give input after the decision has been made. It changes only the way in which the decision is presented when released to the public on the complaints website, not the decision itself. My protest about the unreasonableness of still requiring specific points of complaint rather than considering the programme's 'lack of factual rigour' which could easily be investigated by demanding Matchlight's record of research which the charter requires them to make during production. This is not addressed at all- the ECU actually managed to change the parameters of the appeal because they had secret input which I didn't.

This year the complaints website has been re-designed and a review into complaints procedure finish, including in it a desire for complainants and the BBC to be on an equal footing. I was precluded from an equal footing at all times. Systematic failure to address an overtly problematic programme #4

Obligations: I fulfilled my part of the deal under the terms of the Trust ruling and provided the ECU(and it was specified that it would be the ECU) with all the additional points of complaint I could think of. This required a request for more time, a transcript and copy of the programme, which was obliged- the first time that anyone at the BBC had made any accommodations for me as required by the Equality Act. The procedures however don't appear to require this to be followed- where procedures conflict with the Equality Act, the procedures take precedence. Systematic failure to address an overtly problematic programme #5 for anyone who requires reasonable adjustments on disability or sickness grounds.

But it wouldn't have been possible if I had not already been working on a full rebuttal of the programme as a separate project. I had to use vast chunks of text from that. I had also been reassured that I would not need to provide absolute debunkings with full citations of evidence because 'the ECU is very thorough' and can be trusted to do that.

Stage 1??: They did specify that I should send these to the ECU. However, the ECU had been allowed to lobby the Trust in secret to change the parameters that I had very carefully specified as being the basis of my complaint. I was making a protest about the 'specific points only' rule being..

1. Secretive and revealed only after the fact once a complaint advanced to stage 2, despite generally-worded complaints being responded to in stage 1.

2. The Complaints Director's decision that there 'was no special or exceptional case' to deviate from procedures, despite it being made plainly clear that no one person could ever list all the errors in the programme in the time limit following broadcast for complaints to be submitted.

The ECU changed this to being a request to supply further specific points of complaint outside of the time-limit and within a new one. So it was treated as an entirely separate matter. I'd only realised they'd done this when Andrew Bell contacted me to ask if I wanted the original 11 points to be investigated. I shat bricks and then went back to look at the Trust decision and spotted that the ECU had been making arguments which were being mentioned in the Trust's summing up. But they weren't just making arguments- they were making statements in relation to points that I had only made to the Trust, not to the ECU. They had been allowed to see my appeal and make contributions which re-interpreted it to the Trust. This was a strong deviation from the interpretation that I had authorised the Trust to consider.

Being told to send the work I had done to the ECU implied very strongly to me that it was still being treated as a stage 2 complaint. The ECU's manoeuvring allowed them to 'follow procedure' and send it back to stage 1 for a response from the programme-makers. Incidentally, despite me being just one person with complicated issue and them being a production company with it's own legal team, they were given A LOT more time to read and reply to the points than I had initially been granted to research and write it. They still went over their allotted time by one working week, blaming me for providing an e-mail address that they couldn't send their response to; an address I did not ever provide them with and which I had been corresponding with Andrew Bell and Fiona Campbell just fine.

So I instead received the response unexpectedly by post directly from Matchlight. At no point did I consent for anyone at the BBC to share my real name or home address with anyone else. The BBC had managed to give them everything Data Protection forbids, except information about my disability or need for reasonable accommodations because when I asked for an electronic copy I was sent an image-based PDF rather than text-based. If I were Blind, there would be no means for accessibility features to read-out image-based documents to me and I have a similar need for text-based document that I can copy-paste and reformat. Come to think of it, at no point in the complaints process is there any assumption that some will need to utilise accessibility functions. Systematic failure to address an overtly problematic programme #6, applying for anyone with special needs.

Stage 2a: I had repeatedly requested that my complaint be handled by someone other than Mr Bell on the grounds that I believed he was unfit by this time. This was not taken seriously- I made noises about wanting to have contact details about where to send complaints about handling of complaints as Mr Bell was completely unresponsive or dismissive about distress and his virtually transparent attempts to simply get the complaint dropped. Someone from the BBC Trust contacted me and made reassuring noises to drown out my bleating. I responded that Mr Bell had in fact refused flat-out any request to make reasonable accommodations. The response was to abruptly cease correspondence with me, a return to business-as-usual after BBC Trust staff had previously been the only ones to make any accommodations. In the meantime I had panicked about Mr Bell's request as to whether I would want his entirely contrived 11 points investigating.

I feared that Mr Bell was aware I would have difficulty multi-tasking and by splitting these 11 complaints from the 55 I slogged out following the Trust ruling would mean the confusion would finally make me just give up. If I said yes then it would cement his perverse manipulation of my appeal and overburden me with information all at once. If I said no, he might fudge the matter and intentionally 'misinterpret' this to also mean the larger 55 points. My opinion of him was as low as it was ever going to get, so I would put nothing past him. Saying yes meant I could still fight, saying no carried the risk of it all ending- the consequence either way being a bullet in the mouth before Christmas.

In any case, pursuing a proper complaint about Mr Bell and all others meant going back to the BBC Trust. Mr Bell had been able to unduly influence them before just as the programme-makers have been allowed to unduly influence the supposedly 'constitutionally independent' Editorial Complaints Unit now. I had already agreed to the ECU investigating the 11 points of complaint separately when this came up and determined that I would definitely not be able to juggle three separate branches of over-lapping complaints with the BBC and Andrew Bell knew it. Having previously stonewalled on complaints about him, he only referred it to someone at the BBC Trust when I already had too much on my plate.

During the investigation Mr Bell got back to me about the timescale and dropped that the programme-makers were being asked things about the points. I objected because obviously this rendered their stage 1 responses and thus my rejection of them redundant. I pointed out that the recent review into the complaints process had expressed a desire to make sure complainants and the BBC were on an equal footing throughout- I was not being given the same say in matters as the programme-makers who had already fluffed repeated opportunities to make their case. Mr Bell responded that the programme-makers have no avenue of appeal whilst I did. The irony hanged thick in the air. Every 'next step' I had taken in the process had disadvantaged me, it had drained me, my points were interpreted through the harshest and most dismissive lens whilst they(Matchlight) were given the benefit of the doubt and the broadest doors at every turn.

The ECU also don't get an avenue to appeal, it didn't stop them utterly distorting it so that even when I won, I still lost. Mr Bell has repeatedly cited procedure but there is nowhere a member of the public can actually see the procedure beforehand- you only know it's there and what it does after it's been slipped into your bum. Like an ice cream scoop. I would only get my say once the investigation was over. The decisions would be provisional but it didn't matter- the investigation at this point is over. One reason I had agreed to it was because I wanted an outlier, a canary to warn me what lies ahead when the investigation into the larger points of complaint is concluded.

The future's bright: it's a bonfire of the Truth. 

Thursday, 1 November 2012

Our Survey Says...Autism

Back in August the DWP released a small but significant piece of internal research. It can be read here but it includes a graphic that astounded me. This is it. 

There will be some first impressions when you look at itI didn't actually read the paper properly before I spotted this, so my first impression was "Is this something about the government's invented 120,000 troubled families?". That was mainly because I was looking at the larger words first.

The study was a survey of Jobcentre staff and they were asked about clients with complex needsNamely, they were asked to list what they consider to be complex needs that they've encountered. With that information I looked at the word-wall again and reinterpreted it, but it confounded my expectations. The major words there are ones which politicians and media outlets paint as simplistic, often proscribing very simple and direct solutions. They do this with the benefit of no-experience.

Jobcentre staffburdened by actual experience and having direct contact with such people disagree. They say these are people with complex needs.

What is most personally important to me, is one of the medium-sized responses. Only about 1 in 100 people are estimated to be Autistic and still there are many adults who are not recognised. But 'autism spectrum' is there. Notice that mental health and learning difficulties are generalised- no specific diagnoses under those umbrellas is mentioned. But Autism is. There are lots of reasons why it shouldn't be, but it is. The research says it's not only punching above its weight as a sign of complex needs- it's growing.

There remains no statutory Autism-specific service provision in the United Kingdom. The discrepancy between need and support can not remain if policy-makers finally start realising vast potential is being poured away.

Thursday, 20 September 2012

The Kindest (And Most Rational) Cut

On my Work Programme letter it says the scheme/scam is partly funded by the European Social Fund. A bit of digging found this to be a tad misleading- the ESF only applies to very few areas of our isles. Most of the £7 billion is from the DWP budget.

I was looking at the benefit expenditure tables yesterday to see how the cuts reflect in the forecasts. The target is to cut £18 billion from the projected expenditure by 2015 and most of this is going to happen between now and then. Only a small bit of that £18 billion has happened so far, mainly from the index change for uprating. The cuts come to an average of almost £6 billion between 2012/13 and 2014/15 and it shows up in the real terms forecast for working-age DWP benefit expenditure.

It's a point that has been made by others but I've only just unscrambled my brain on: cancelling the Work Programme would mean about a third of the cuts wouldn't have to happen. Soon the detailed Work Programme statistics which Chris Grayling had been making a lot of claims that were impossible to disprove because we couldn't see the data. will finally come out. I'm expecting the success of the contractors and therefore their payments up to now to be very poor. Definitely more than £6 billion of the allocated funds will be left untouched. If this turns out to be the case when the figures are published, they will have confirmed everything critics and committees have warned about: that the Work Programme is worse than nothing. Any rational minister would halt this nonsense. They'd even have had the foresight to not include allowances in the service contracts where they have to compensate the contractors, like the Flexible New Deal idiotically did.

One of the early gambits Grayling got in when he saw these in-house figures was that a substantial number of attached claimants are no longer on benefits. The question of whether they were actually in jobs was very carefully not at all asked by journalists in the slightest. They'd best at least make a start on his successor when the data is published.

Sunday, 16 September 2012

The Wrong Man In The Right Place

Some questions(also known as 'things') about the News items which have appeared over the weekend in regards to the Social Security Advisory Committee criticising the proposals for Universal Credit. 

The first thing: what proposals? The Welfare Reform Act became law in March. The white paper for Universal Credit was published two years ago.

The second thing: when was this criticism made? I can find no release for this month on their website. The only document which mentions the phrase 'unworkable and unfair' is the committee's response to the white paper and this was published in February 2011.

The third thing: who briefed the press? Seriously- when something is not actually News it is when the 'news' reporting on it fails to mention how old it is when it is rather old and they couldn't be bothered reporting it when it mattered. So it looks like the work of a briefing. Few newspapers have it covered on their sites at the moment, but this story officially broke on this Sunday so we still have some time to go before Monday's pages go online and hit the presses tomorrow.

I will have a good rant about how the mainstream media fail utterly to take any interest in social security matters as they are happening only to cover them months or years later when bloggers have already covered them and taken any libel risk, but right now I want answers. Iain Duncan Smith's ideas are wrong-headed and even downright suspicious but there is a right way and a wrong way to oppose them. If journalists are now only doing their job because someone in government opposed to the Secretary's policy has told them to, then that is the wrong way.

Thursday, 6 September 2012

I've Met My Match..light

I have received a response from Matchlight who made The Future State Of Welfare With John Humphrys.

I am not impressed.

I have to read through it a couple of times and then consider what to advance back to Stage 2 so our friend Mr Bell can stall further. Due to the mental resources this always exhausts, it will be a while before I can post further on what the response consists of. I do wish to say though that despite feeling stupid most of the time, I can't come to terms with the fact that whilst I am without gainful employment, there are people who are well-paid to fall far short of the standards expected of them and that I hold myself to.

I'll take each day as they come.

Tuesday, 28 August 2012

Seven Weeks Of Eye Strain

What follows is the full-blown text sent to the BBC almost seven weeks ago. One week from now will be seven weeks to the day since Fiona Campbell the Commissioning Editor for Current Affairs at the BBC told me I should expect a response by then. This is the series 'What Is Wrong With The Future State Of Welfare' complete with the covering letter in the e-mail and notes I added. This is what those dealing with my complaint had to read. I wouldn't try reading it all at once, but if there was any part of the programme last October that really got under your skin, flick to that part and put your mind at ease that you're not wrong.

Tuesday, 31 July 2012

I Dare To Dream

Let's go over it one more time. Incapacity Benefit was not introduced in the 1980s. There is no evidence it was used to hide unemployment. It certainly is not the case that the swell in claims happened under either the Conservative government of that time, nor under Labour. The history is unclear before the 90s but by some accounts, the government under Margeret Thatcher changed the criteria for Invalidity Benefit and the Invalidity Pension about eleven times between them; with the goal of keeping the claims low, not high in an attempt to hide the unemployed. It was around that time that certain newspapers began using pejorative headlines and printing alarmist stories about 'dangerous loonies' released from residential units that were closed to save money. What purpose this was meant to serve isn't known(I suspect that like today, ministers had a hand in it whilst denying their infuence),but what should have been cost-saving carried with it some terrible costs; both financial and social. The consequences as far as I could see was that the government did not want to pay for residential care if they could get away with it, but did not want those former patients and residents claiming benefits; so media attack-dogs were engaged to make sure they were demonised, alienated and discouraged. The concept that below a certain points, the costs of disability and sickness is irreducible had not yet sunk in.

It is also not true that the Labour government presided over a 'soft-touch' period on benefit claims, in which Incapacity Benefit grew enormously. Over the period it existed as a functioning benefit since 1995, there was almost no net rise. It grew slowly then began falling again in 2004 and that continued until the introduction of ESA in 2008. For thirty years, those unable to make their own way due to sickness and disabiity have had to survive through this: the facts say one thing, politicians and journalists say something quite different in the cause of not recognising a catastrophe. They sort of almost did in 1990 and started encouraging people to claim.

Thirty years of soul-crushing indifference and hate-mongering was challenged for the first time last night. Before the Work Capability Assessment for ESA, there was the Personal Capability Assessment for Incapacity Benefit and before that, it was a genuine independent medical assessment that provided evidence to a DWP decision maker for consideration. The WCA has been worse than the PCA, but not by much; there was a great amount of disquiet before 2008 over how eligibility for IB was being assessed and the fear for politicians then was that sick and disabled people were winning the argument, maybe not in the public arena but in our courts of law. The response of the government then was the same as John Major's in the 90s: they would simply replace the benefit with a new one so that the legal precedents won would not carry over and the fight by charities and individuals would have to start all over again from the beginning. This is also what the current government are doing by replacing Disability Living Allowance with Personal Independence Payment. Their key goal however is to prevent as much as possible any recourse a claimant has to the law. Both by slashing legal aid and by merging nearly everything into Universal Credit, which gives the responsible minister almost unlimited power in altering and imposing eligibility criteria.

But just as they have reached this goal, they've over-extended their advance. Having potentially plugged a few legal whack-a-moles a lot of PR moles have bounced up and pooped on their shoes. I don't know when the decison was made, but I suspect it was just days ago: they will replace Malcolm Harrington as the 'independent reviewer' of the ESA assessment process with an as-yet unknown 'fresh set of eyes'. Despite speculation by some journalists, it is unlikely to be because of Harrington's reports because he has actually been a very safe pair of hands for the government. He has failed to serve the best interests of sick and disabled people(he really believes Cancer doctors should sell the benefits of staying in work to their patients) and whilst the government claims to have agreed with and implemented all his recommendations- what they've really done is 'agree in principle' to many of them whilst others they insisted be changed outright before they agree with them and Malcolm Harrington did as he was told.

They know they have begun the part where they start losing in public and they have tried increasingly desperate measures to reverse this. By pushing too hard, by not listening and believing their own tripe despite the overwhelming evidence to the contrary, they may have destroyed the bedrock on which the thirty year terror has been built. A lasting paradigm change on social security is now possible.

Thursday, 19 July 2012

I Want This Assessment

If you listen above the incoherent noise of those who know nothing about the topic and are therefore keen supporters of current policy on social security, you can hear us saying things. In between repetitive flat demands to know "well what is your alternative?" and "how should we check claimants?", you will hear us trying to clearly explain our ideas for alternatives and how eligibility for benefits should be assessed. We will do this even though we've come to accept there will be absolutely no change in the response from those yelling in our faces.

We don't think 'objective' tests are accurate, because we actually know what the word means. Simple math is objective(and easy, requiring primary education and/or a calculator), knowing what math to use to build an abstract and innovative model of something is subjective(and HARD, requiring expertise) and always subject to change as evidence comes to light suggesting iterative, progressive improvement.

This is objective. It's also idiotic.
The ideas on which the current assessment for ESA and the proposed assessment for DLA's replacement PIP, have gone through no such improvement since they were conceived in the 70s to justify the existence of occupational therapists.

The ministers responsible for these policies are strongly against the idea of a 'real-world test' based on evidence.

To accuse critics of lacking ideas, advertises ignorance about the subject. It's no wonder their main sources of info need to be specifically briefed on these matters, like the Sun newspaper was in May regarding ex-soldiers being reassessed when PIP is introduced.

And it was 'exclusive to all newspapers'.
The argument made was that soldiers already have to undergo thorough medical assessments(IE; real medical assessments, not the ones we're getting) in order to qualify for their Armed Forces Compensation award when they are injured or their mental health suffers. The Ministry of Defence were being shits in that they were wanting ex-soldiers to be assessed by the PIP process as well as the military medical assessment in order to qualify for the AFC, not just the PIP. You ask a department to make cuts and that's what they'll do, ethics be damned. Naturally it looked very bad among the government's army-supporting patriotic media mouthpieces. The government scrambled to quiet the noise and threw in some more concessions.

Among those is the one where the military assessment is deemed so thorough that it must override an unlimited number of PIP assessments stretching into the indefinite future. No solider having passed the military criteria for eligibility will ever need to be reassessed again for either PIP or AFC. Wow, even DLA's 'lifetime' awards never actually meant lifetime when they were around and Invalidity/Incapacity Benefit were subject to periodic review. So if the military way is so damn good, why don't we have that? What's so special about it?

Well, it just so happens to be a real-world assessment. Rather than thinking such things can be determined 'objectively' the military assessment works on 'balance of probabilities' burden of proof. They consider the extent of the injuries and how much that active service contributed to them being caused or worsened. If these criteria were used for ESA or DLA, there would be virtually no appeals and not a whole lot of inflation in claims. The assessment is either good enough or it isn't, it doesn't matter who receives it.

I want this assessment.

Thursday, 12 July 2012

Thrill Of Rights

It was frustrating, trying to warn about the dangers inherent in Universal Credit which remove almost all benefits that will merge with it as statutory entitlements. The right to the single combined benefit will depend entirely on secondary legislation and what ever the Secretary of State decides. With the Welfare Reform Act, far from simplifying the benefit system politicians have granted themselves unprecedented control over it. Most of that power of course is exercised through increasingly complex decision maker guidelines, not the primary legislation where ministers have the least control and must pass a full Act of Parliament to change, going through all the checks and balances.

I've almost given up trying to get the issue more recognised so that it can be fought, but today some small hope was delivered from the most unlikeliest of places: the front page of the Sun newspaper.

Well it turns out there was OUTRAGE(outrage I say!) yesterday over a proposal being considered by the UK Bill of Rights Commission to make social security entitlement a fundamental right or 'human right' as the Sun tried distorting it; the commission themselves never endorse or criticise the concept of human rights and the consultation document which prompted the faux outrage last night and this morning only mentions human rights in the context of legislation and arguments made by those who have contributed to earlier consultations with arguments for and against.

The UK Bill of Rights Commission page is here, the latest consultation document is here.

The part for our attention is on socio-economic rights. The arguments for, in my biased opinion, are strong and the arguments against are laughably weak. If this right were to make it into a new Bill of Rights, it would at a stroke reverse the decision made by the Coalition to do away with statutory entitlement on the quiet.

It is not well known that most benefits are statutory entitlements; the government MUST pay them to those who make a claim and meet the criteria as set out in legislation. This was tested to destruction in DLA cases where the government tried pretending some claims were fraudulent when really the claimants had made simple errors; it was ruled that the onus was on the DWP to establish that the claimants were not eligible, rather than the claimants to make sure they were. This is why despite DLA documentation that was still in use when I made my claim in 2007 which says the claimant has a duty to report such changes in circumstances, the law said otherwise. It was an important distinction that emerges from the principle of statutory entitlement and it meant people who had really done nothing wrong were not labelled fraudsters. For some time now, there has been an effort by the media to impress on the public perception that 'entitlement' when it relates to benefits means 'entitlement culture' or an attitude, rather than an actual legal principle that underpins benefit claims. So when the government removes statutory entitlement, of course few were ever going to notice. But we can kill this secretive policy before it gets far and put the sneaky bottom-feeders on the run.

Yes, like this
Entitlement to social security as a socio-economic right in a future Bill of Rights won't give us something new; it will give us back what we had before the Welfare Reform Act passed. Everyone concerned about the loss of statutory entitlement as a legal protection must contribute to this consultation. It's so important, I am considering making this Case File 4.

Friday, 6 July 2012

What Is Wrong With The Future State Of Welfare (Conclusion)

In the concluding part, we move from a summary of the problems with the programme onto a summary of the process.

This series is coming to an end and will be re-edited into a formal letter of complaint to be sent to the BBC Editorial Complaints Unit to meet a deadline by Thursday next week. I have listed all the unique factual errors, misleading claims, statements and signposting I found in my transcript of the programme. Repeated viewing of the programme from a disc sent to be by the BBC Trust has confirmed to me that my criticisms are fair and accurate and they stand at fifty-five in number. For the sake of clarity and to reduce the amount of unnecessary reading, I have not counted(though some are mentioned) every instance where the same false claims are repeated, nor have I included the citations to original sources for the factual corrections which demonstrate beyond reasonable doubt that the programme in each instance was misleading. This means that the series and the letter of complaint the ECU will receive do not amount to a full rebuttal of the programme. When those are included the number of factual problems with the programme increase to over seventy and the volume of text more than doubles to elaborate on context and compare Britain's social security benefits with other countries, particularly Poland and the United States. John Humphrys gave the impression that government reforms were trying to make our benefits and conditionality more like theirs. I contend that ours for the most part already is like theirs and the real truth is that government reforms will make it even worse.

I have received assurances from a representative of the BBC Trust that the ECU is thorough and a full rebuttal will therefore not be necessary. Since the Trust upheld my appeal I've been panicking about this because my experience with the ECU so far told me they tried everything they could to avoid properly investigating my complaint. Seeing as the BBC Trust were clearly contrite about how difficult things were made for me, I expect that they are putting pressure on the ECU to do what they were supposed to do in the first place. The BBC editorial guidelines in the first section outlines their editorial values, starting with the most important parts.
Trust is the foundation of the BBC: we are independent, impartial and honest.  We are committed to achieving the highest standards of due accuracy and impartiality and strive to avoid knowingly and materially misleading our audiences.
Truth and Accuracy
We seek to establish the truth of what has happened and are committed to achieving due accuracy in all our output.  Accuracy is not simply a matter of getting facts right; when necessary, we will weigh relevant facts and information to get at the truth.  Our output, as appropriate to its subject and nature, will be well sourced, based on sound evidence, thoroughly tested and presented in clear, precise language.  We will strive to be honest and open about what we don't know and avoid unfounded speculation.
Impartiality lies at the core of the BBC's commitment to its audiences.  We will apply due impartiality to all our subject matter and will reflect a breadth and diversity of opinion across our output as a whole, over an appropriate period, so that no significant strand of thought is knowingly unreflected or under-represented.  We will be fair and open-minded when examining evidence and weighing material facts. 
The Future State Of Welfare With John Humphrys failed to uphold any of these values.

This is unacceptable. Those who produce content for the BBC are required to be familiar with the guidelines and to follow them. So too are those within the BBC who review a production in order to determine where in the schedule it is suitable for, if it is even suitable at all. I do not believe that according to the editorial guidelines there was any editorial justification for the programme to be broadcast- there is no legitimate output purpose that can outweigh the impact the programme would have had on the audience, such was the extent to which it misled. When I re-edit this series into the complaint letter(hopefully the final complaint letter) I will be including accompanying notes pointing out exactly which parts of the BBC guidelines are being breached. These range from failure to test claims, failure to use reliable sources, failure to hold standards appropriate to the seriousness of the topic, unattributed claims, not having a source, taking the audience expectation for granted and unduly influencing that expectation. Outside of the programme, the guidelines insist that serious factual errors must be acknowledged and corrected quickly. Nine months on, it hasn't happened. The programme, its producers and the complaints system have collaborated to bend and break the guidelines.

Let's look again at the response I was given in stage 1 when those dealing with my complaint put the eleven examples I gave to the producers. That post is here. The justifications they gave failed and fell short of the guidelines in this respect:
We understand you were unhappy with our initial response, and we have forwarded your concerns with the production team for this programme.

They explain that it is difficult to respond to feedback which makes criticism of a programme on the basis of material not included or potential alternative contributors not interviewed. While we could, undoubtedly, have spoken with others every programme has a fixed production period and is transmitted within a slot of fixed duration.
In the introduction to the guidelines on accuracy, the BBC says that in news and current affairs content, achieving due accuracy is more important than speed. If the producers lacked the time to put the claims in context, then they should have left those claims out completely. They go on to say that they believe the programme gave a comprehensive overview of the welfare reforms. I had to go double-check what 'comprehensive' meant in the dictionary because I got the strong impression that they didn't know, because the programme is far from comprehensive when it actually comes to examining what the government is doing. John Humphrys doesn't even look at or reference the Welfare Reform Bill.

With stunning ignorance of what the guidelines require, they then openly admitted that their source for the figure on how much benefit expenditure has risen in the last ten years came from a David Cameron speech. They go on as if there is nothing wrong with this, stating that it refers to the cost of the benefits rather than the number of claimants. That is in response to my accusation that the context and signposting meant the audience would be misled into believing it was caused by a rise in working-age claimants. They do not actually address that. The programme only ever looks at working-age benefit claimants, which account for the minority of the expenditure rise over the last decade. The guidelines on accuracy say that they should gather first hand material where possible, check and cross-heck facts. They should also take special care when information comes from a special interest or lobby group or organisation with a vested interest rather than a disinterested bystander.

Some fuzzy logic is given on how it was perfectly fine for John Humphrys to 'use his personal experience' to illustrate a shift in attitudes and expectations over the last forty years. The issue of attitudes in society in regards to social security is difficult to authoritatively report on because there is actually not much accurate data. The correct way to approach it is to admit what you do not know and that is what the guidelines on accuracy require. The programme instead fills in the blank with anecdote and the producers try glossing over this by pretending the requirement isn't there.

They quickly move on to the scene in the Jobcentre in the same paragraph. My complaint was that John Humphrys didn't know how the jobsearch machines and the database they use works, so he ends up materially misleading the audience- often reading off job titles that aren't even on-screen. No actual attempt to verify the Jobcentre information is made. It's a chore that every active jobseeker has to sift through everyday, finding out which vacancies actually exist and in the place where they say they are located. So the producers response to being accused of relying on an unreliable source is to simply state that they are relying on this source. Again the guidelines on accuracy require them to actually check and cross-check. 

They respond to my criticism over their choice of interviewees in the programme. They say they reject my characterisation of them as being "either a local or national government employee, non-UK resident or a comical stereotype". No example is provided of a contributor who is not one of these. Puzzlingly, after asserting that they presented them within a balanced examination of the proposed welfare reforms and their impacts, they go crashing off-track and back to the topic of the Jobcentre visit and say that it is made clear that there are jobs available. That was out of the blue, there is literally no smooth transition to that or intermediate step establishing its relevance. In any case, nothing said by the contributors interviewed for the programme appears to have been checked and cross-checked as the guidelines require.

In another mashed paragraph they say in response to my criticism about how they portray Britain's jobs deficit that they address this in the scene with a visit to a jobs club in Middlesborough. They say that in that scene it is made clear that while jobs are advertised they often very difficult to secure with many individuals seeking the same opportunities. I looked at my transcript. I looked at the transcript the BBC Trust sent me. I went back and watched that scene. It 'makes clear' no such thing. A job club attendee is interviewed and says she has made sixty applications in the last year without a reply. She says her friends are in a similar situation. Nowhere is competition actually mentioned, nor the number of vacancies advertised in relation to the unemployment rate. It takes extraordinary mental gymnastics to think this is a factual substitute for accurate statistical information as the producers seem to. To interpret the scene as they are doing would make the earlier one with John Humphrys at the Cardiff Jobcentre and when speaking with the Middlesborough Mayor Ray Mallon make no sense. The programme sought to mislead the audience into thinking there were more vacancies in Britain than there really were and that the producers are trying to backtrack on this is prima facie evidence that it is exactly what they intended. In doing so they breached the guidelines on accuracy that state they must not distort known facts.

I contended that Dr Sharon Fisher was used in the programme to make a statistical commentary when she was not qualified or experienced in the relevant field. The response of the producers was to deny they had done so. But Fisher is never asked a medical question, nor was the conversation with her limited to just her own experience at her practice. She was asked about the two-million six-hundred-thousand claimants for Incapacity Benefit(which now includes ESA) and then she later made a statistical error in confusing correlation with causation. That was her primary contribution in the segment, the rest of her contribution was used to imply that as a doctor she had the authority to grant a patient Incapacity Benefit. Another leap of logic is made by the producers by saying that after the segment with Sharon Fisher they talked to an Professor Steve Fothergill at Sheffield Hallam University and he is a statistician. Well, so what? They didn't ask him the same question Fisher was asked, he instead spoke of how claimants were allegedly hidden on Incapacity Benefit to keep unemployment figures low. This doesn't explain let alone excuse the scene with Sharon Fisher and it reveals the producers didn't actually check Steve Fothergill's claims, which appear to be little more than unsupported tabloid myth.

They then use this opportunity to state that those claiming Disability Living Allowance were not mentioned because the sequence was about Incapacity Benefit and it's replacement Employment Support Allowance. The thing is, I never mentioned anything about DLA or those claiming it. I mentioned disabled people; pointing out the way in which the programme portrayed Incapacity Benefit as 'sickness benefit' when it is in fact the primary out-of-work benefit for anyone unable to work including on grounds of disability. DLA and Incapacity Benefit are not mutually exclusive; many who claim one also claim the other. The way in which the producers have chosen to not acknowledge this point speaks volumes about their regards to truth and accuracy; they'd even go as far as keeping the pretence up in the correspondence where they have been openly accused of it.

They come round to addressing one of the most flagrant distortions in the programme; that where John Humphrys following from the interview with Dr Fisher states that "You local GP no longer has final say", which is equal to claiming that a doctor ever did have the final say. Their justification for this is that what GPs said had greater weight under the previous system than it does under the ESA system. But that isn't what the programme said, what the programme said was basically that General Practice doctors had the final say and now they don't. The complaint here was about how they exaggerated the role of doctors and were so confident with this unsupported assertion that they could get away with the presenter misleading the audience into believing a GP is the gatekeeper. Whilst they acknowledge in their response to me that it was the DWP that decided rather than doctors, there was no hint from them that they had done anything wrong.

In the final paragraph they respond to my criticism of the use of their use of the claim that eleven-thousand claimants are assessed per week in the ESA system, by giving their source. Their source is a Hansard transcript of Chris Grayling. Assuming that when the producers responded to my criticism, they did so with the intention of resolving these matters immediately and therefore answered with the best information- then this is the furthest extent to which they sourced this claim. That falls far short of what the guidelines on accuracy require, it is also a figure which is unattributed in the programme.

I am unable to advance my original intended complaint in stage 2; that the programme lacked factual rigour and it was probably an intentional lack of factual rigour- the presenter/writer and the producers just didn't care about the truth. So I have had to break it down and summarise every problem in regards to how the audience is materially misled by the programme. I began researching and writing a full rebuttal immediately, some of which has been used in this summary.

Now the ECU will investigate each point individually, but I must emphasise that the context matters. Every factual short-coming in the programme is serious, even those that seem small, because the way the audience is manipulated by the sum of them is an appalling consequence. It is an opinion programme wearing the clothing of a factual current affairs programme, but the producers in their cavalier responses to criticism made their priorities, ethics and standards clear. The ECU will no doubt ask them questions and get similar responses to what I received. I hope the ECU believes standards should be higher than that and count such responses against them.