Wednesday, 30 May 2012


Yesterday the Mail published this article about a family headed by one Stephanie Fennessy-Sharp. At the same time it seems(I'm not so sure despite the date given for when it was published) they also published another article reporting that Stephanie and her partner Ian Sharp appeared on the morning television show Daybreak to respond to tosh printed about them in the newspapers, like what the Mail published.

The articles both have the same author, but there are huge differences in how the family and their circumstances are reported. When the Mail journalist is given the freedom to write pretty much as they wish, Stephanie is 'a shameless mother of ten' who 'admits to fiddling the system'. But when the hack is bound by the need to actually report content from Daybreak, the couple give some much-needed context that was missing from the other Mail piece.

Ian Sharp suffers migraine headaches that are severe enough to keep him out of work. When they first appeared, he collapsed in the workplace next to a welding machine. When they occur they last for three or four days, he estimates they come every three weeks or so but it's unlikely they are predictable or it would be a manageable problem which Incapacity Benefit conditionality would exclude him from being eligible.That's what the Mail piece reporting the exchange on Daybreak said. What they reported on the family directly was considerably different, it mentions little of this.

The Mail characterisation of him and his condition was: "Partner Ian, 56, is 'on the sick' and hasn't worked in 20 years - despite only suffering headaches once every three weeks"

The Mail also claimed that Stephanie chose not to work because she's better of on benefits. Along with describing her as 'fiddling the system', this would be libel if not for the use of weasel words. For some time now the tabloids have been trying to decouple 'fiddle' from 'fraud' because voices like the Spartacus group, Black Triangle and coalitions of disability and poverty charities have been highlighting the actual benefit fraud figures. So newspapers like the Mail want to make it so the goalposts move from 'fraud is fiddling the system' to 'fiddling the system is as bad as fraud'.

On Daybreak she made it clear "the plan for the last eighteen months is that I want to go back to work", in contrast to the Mail portrayal which is that she is choosing not to. The couple also explain the circumstances in regards to Housing Benefit. Although the Mail has both these articles up, it seems redundant having both of them considering they both were apparently published at the same time. One is vile in it's distortion, the other that reports their Daybreak appearance merely unfair and attempting to demonise them for every response that they give.

Daybreak was bad to the couple as Newsnight was bad to Shanene Thorpe, but the Mail is shameless.

Tuesday, 29 May 2012

30,000th Visit (And Stealth-Cake)

We are close I see, literally tens away from the third ten of a thousand on my visit count. I feel a prize is in order. Congrats to who ever won the Banana-Shark by the way, I'm sure you are the only person to right-click and 'save image' on it. But what you really want is not a dessert/weapon in the form of a delicious/killer fruit/animal. What you want is cake you can keep to yourself so you don't have to share, as long as you can find it.

You want Stealth-Cake.

Unlike with the Banana-Shark prize, you will actually receive this. The 30,000th visitor will have this air-dropped from a high-altitude military cargo plane within the hour. It will then infiltrate your home and hide. Don't be fooled by the picture though; it doesn't just disguise itself as asparagus, but will eliminate and dispose of any random item in your kitchen and then replace it. It could be anything: the bread bin, the kettle, the light fitting or even the Bold 2-In-1. How will you find it? You'll just have to bite everything. That's how I first discovered I had Stealth-Cake. If your friends and family ask why you are tasting furniture, don't tell them you're looking for Stealth-Cake if you want it for yourself. Just say you've finally lost it.

Good luck.

The Appeal Is Upheld (Official)

For the past few weeks I have been under an embargo so have been unable to make this public. The embargo was in place until the decision was published on the BBC Trust website. Now the PDF detailing what appeals for editorial complaints the Trust discussed in meetings during the month of April has been published and I was informed last night that the embargo has been lifted.

They have decided to uphold my appeal regarding the decision of the Director of the Editorial Complaints Unit to only investigate a limited number of examples I mentioned in my complaint about the BBC 2 programme The Future State Of Welfare With John Humphrys. My case is listed as 'Stage 2 complaint handling'. Discovering that the page with these documents exists has been helpful to me as now I can see examples of complaints which get upheld and those which get rejected.

When I first began my complaint, I did so under my MDA pseudonym, expecting that the issue itself was serious enough that the process would be over quickly. As time went on, I revealed my real-life name as a reaction to the impression I was getting that the complaint was not being taken seriously. I had to rule out the possibility that my blogging name was the cause. I have to say that the crap the BBC puts up with behind the scenes is no better than what they face in public. Last night an extremely thoughtful person from the BBC Trust extended some 'olive branches' as it is called and I was up all night reading other cases that the Trust had to consider. It was reassuring to know I am not one of the time-wasters, opportunists or cranks. Reasonable complaints(even when not upheld) and ridiculous complaints are miles apart. I was frequently confrontational at many points but the substance of what I was advancing meant this did not cause them to dismiss me out of hand because they have listened and actually been impressively graceful. I had criticism to make of their findings and how what I said was presented, but they listened and altered the published summary to account for it.

More later.

What Is Wrong With The Future State Of Welfare (Part 3)

I meant to return to this much earlier and have only been uplifted by some efforts to restore good faith on the part of a BBC Trust representative. More on that tomorrow, hopefully. I'll start where we left off.
31. The presenter moves onto the topic of US welfare reforms during the 90s. In doing so he takes a vastly complicated issue that is the culmination of decades of social change and simplifies it into the US 'facing a rising welfare bill' and 'politicians fearing a sense of entitlement producing a dependency culture'. Federal funding for the benefits affected by the US welfare reforms stopped keeping up with inflation after 1970, something which would have disproportionately affected poor black families. It can be interpreted that this was an intentional racialist response to the rise of the Civil Rights Movement. Between 1970 and 1994 the benefits for a family of three fell by 47% according to the National Coalition For The Homeless.

Tuesday, 15 May 2012

The Coalition's DLA Dominoes

I have repeatedly stated that the case for welfare reform has been made 'on an ad hoc basis' which in simple English means 'made up as they go along'. Ministers have had a whole range of talking points to use in the media, which journalists have consistently failed to question or look into. They no longer use most of these talking points and that's purely because bloggers, campaigners and disability organisations pulled them to pieces and identified quite early what was wrong with them. The only issues covered by mainstream journalists are often quite straightforward and usually months if not a full year after they were initially debunked in the blogosphere.

So ministers are aware that at least some things will see the cold light of day and that these will reflect on how ministers have used them in the past. If a minister persistently claims that millions have been on a benefit for over a decade and have never been re-assessed, it will come back to haunt them which is why Maria Miller changed this first into 'claimants are not regularly re-assessed' and then 'there is no systematic mechanism for re-assessment' and then she just shut her mouth completely about it in case anyone other than myself actually paid attention to it. The DWP are still using it because they aren't being challenged in the media, but Miller had pre-empted the possibility of it eventually being picked up on if us 'disability bullies' ever get an equal share of the media platform as think-tank know-nothings and ministers do. Iain Duncan-Smith is rumoured to be actually rather thick and only appears to function at something approaching average due to a trick of television- anyone can look smarter if they rehearse for it, so he'd be out of his depth if he was actually challenged on his recent use of the 'no systematic assessment' canard.

For the record; most DLA claims are for fixed term awards, always have been and this means there is a mechanism for regular re-assessment of DLA claims. The facts did not change, Miller was always wrong, but we live in a time where most journalists are stupid children if they even have ever not been. Like stupid children, they copy each others work so often this now has a name: churnalism. They do this rather than scrutinise every single detail they are given by ministers who it should be assumed are always calculating, never do anything knowingly to their own disadvantage and will exploit those journalists who earlier failed to hold them to account when their tune changes, as ministers have being doing with some of the more naive charities recently.

Thursday, 3 May 2012

What Is Wrong With The Future State Of Welfare (Part 2)

The summary of what is wrong with The Future State Of Welfare With John Humphrys continues. For a documentary, what is striking is how information-sparse it is whilst being claim-dense. 

16. The presenter tells the audience that there are now more than 800,000 people who have been out of work for more than a year. The presenter does not mention that over the past decade, the numbers of long-term unemployed have fallen.

17. To get this figure the presenter must also lump in claimants for benefits where they are economically inactive and not expected to seek work.

Wednesday, 2 May 2012

What Is Wrong With The Future State Of Welfare (Part 1)

Tomorrow or the day after I am expecting to be informed of the BBC Trust's ratified decision regarding my on-going complaint about factual rigour in the BBC documentary The Future State Of Welfare With John Humphrys, broadcast last October. I have progressed extremely slowly on the planned full-rebuttal of the programme and this highlights the problem for anyone concerned about factual accuracy: it is a lot faster to make speculative or false claims than it is to research them and provide accurate information. I did not submit a list of speculative complaints to the BBC because that would have been unethical and if even a few of them had been wrong I suspect it would have been grounds to discontinue my complaint entirely. Yet the Complaints Director insisted that this is what I should have done by applying the time-limit rule the way he did; no single person can investigate every problem with the programme thoroughly within the time-limit given.

I'm hoping this post will give me the additional focus needed to get the full rebuttal of the programme out faster. What follows is a list of all the speculative problems I could think of whilst watching the programme and writing a transcript of it. I'm going through that transcript and typing down the problems in order. These will be a mix of statements out of context, omissions, distortions, opinions given as facts then not corrected, appeals to authority where the authority is not an expert on what they are commenting on, claims of certainty where the bigger picture is more complex and unfortunately there are a couple of outright fabrications with no basis in fact. This is speculative, I have not finished researching most of these, which is why I did not include them in my correspondence with the BBC save for those infamous eleven examples.

Due to the size of this piece, I will be writing and posting it in parts. 

Still Too Much Info

Kaliya 'Bendygirl' Franklin is short-listed for the Orwell Prize in the blogs category for her personal Benefit Scrounging Scum blog and her latest describes when she actually realised she had a serious illness. Like Sue Marsh, she repeatedly attempted to carry on as normal despite the evidence piling up that this was a bad idea. For me this makes it even starker that they both have vividly described their symptoms and the effect on their lives. They have strong reasons to downplay these things as each of them have entertained hopes of one day going back to work. Many disabled and sick benefit claimants understate what their conditions actually do to them. I don't talk about my issues at all and I have noticed that among other disabled bloggers I am not alone, but I've had difficulty establishing a pattern.

First there is the obvious one. In the campaigning against the Welfare Reform Bill, the making of the Responsible Reform 'Spartacus' report and lobbying of peers- women have taken the lead. Perhaps women are simply more able to express themselves about things happening with their bodies. They advertise tampons on television now don't you know. I once wrote something about how I am personally challenged on my difficulties sometimes and I don't know what to say. I know what is true, I know what happens, but for me it is just too much information to give to strangers. I told the story of what happened in a Starbucks toilet because it is at least humourous to some people, but I don't have many funny stories. Almost everything that goes wrong in my life is not funny and I don't want to talk about it. If I had the problems that Sue and Kaliya had, I couldn't tell the world about them.

The second thing is that they are very seriously ill with physical symptoms that can't be ignored. Maybe they're able to talk about them so openly because they know for certain what has happened. In my case, I am frequently blamed for what happens or it is denied anything is wrong at all and I'm made to doubt my ability to perceive and assess things accurately. This has a severe impact on my ability to function normally, but people see fit to do it to save themselves from embarrassment or social discomfort.

I did not contribute towards the latest PIP consultation on the draft criteria at all. To my knowledge I barely provided any input into the Spartacus group response. I'm not sure this was the right decision but I'm not inclined to think it was a mistake either; the government has shown little interest in actually involving disability organisations or campaigners in any meaningful way beyond tokenism. I expect PIP to be a disaster and the more co-operation is given, the more the government will be able to rely on claiming that it was designed in co-operation with disability groups, as if this was a reciprocal and mutual partnership. The government have used every one of our disadvantages against us when they could get away with it and in my case my main disadvantage is my powerful unwillingness to give intimate personal details of what my body and brain does. I had an episode today, I won't say what it was and what caused it but I spent an hour in my brother's bathroom with my arms under a scalding tap trying to burn a perceived contamination away. There are no descriptors for any benefit that cover something like this. I told the doctor assessing DLA everything I could cope with talking about and it didn't matter; in the end my award was based on some of my most minor issues that just so happened to line up with the descriptors. I couldn't repeat what I said to anyone else and if I had known they would have absolutely no baring on whether I was eligible or not I would have never mentioned them and I certainly won't be talking about them when I am assessed for PIP next year. Kaliya and Sue can talk about their stuff but I can't.

I don't know how they do it but I'm glad they can. Ministers would have the country believing we're all neurosis and bad backs otherwise.