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
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
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.

Wednesday, 4 July 2012

What Is Wrong With The Future State Of Welfare (Part 5)

In the next part, The Future State Of Welfare With John Humphrys moves onto single parents and children. He draws a distinction between Beveridge's time in the early to mid 20th century and more recent times in regards to the number of single parents.
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51. The presenter omits the vast social change that has happened in recent decades and instead the programme shows a vox pop featuring Professor Paul Gregg talking about cash payments for having children. The audience is mislead into thinking that rather than the rise of single parenthood being caused by social changes, it is instead implied that benefit payments have done this. In fact those benefit changes came after the social changes. Paul Gregg does give a timescale for this as being in the past 20 years, which is long after Beveridge's time. The general public though are less likely to spot that this doesn't support the angle the presenter is trying to advance, nor will they know that since those benefits were introduced the claims for Income Support have dropped and have dropped fastest among lone parents. When demographic changes are factored in, the rise in benefits paid to families with children is driven by families with two parents. The presenter persists in linking the rise in child benefits with single parenthood into the next scene.

52. The presenter goes to Knowsley in Merseyside. In the introduction to this scene he claims that the number of one-parent families in Knowsley is twice the national average. Given the context the programme and presenter have set up for this issue, the audience is likely to be mislead into thinking Knowsley has a problem with single mothers having children because of a supposed incentive to avoid work. A look at the Labour Force Survey reveals that the town has roughly 33,900 households, of which 20,700 have children. This is about 50% higher than the national average. But does it have anything to do with worklessness? There are 6,600 households with a child and no working adult in Knowsley, but 14,000 which have an adult in work. The households divided into working, mixed and workless show that proportionally, households with an adult in work are more likely to have a child, not less. No matter how many of them might be single parents, the programme is wrong to link Knowsley's high number of households with children with worklessness.The presenter still persists with it throughout the segment.

53. The programme returns to New York and the Deputy Welfare Commissioner Lisa Fitzpatrick is asked what would happen to a mother who made an application for cash assistance but said she didn't want to work. Lisa Fitzpatrick explains that the application is likely to be rejected unless the mother otherwise qualifies for exemptions. The presenter makes no enquiry into what these exemptions are, so the audience is left with the impression that New York is very different to the United Kingdom. Whilst in the UK single parents are paid Income Support and not expected to look for work, they are expected to look after their children, that is part of the conditionality for the benefit. But the way the programme presents this is as if the provision in New York is absent rather than different, that the government is not spending money because of the policy to make single parents go to work. Whilst in the United Kingdom childcare is expensive, New York subsidises it heavily for low-income families and has an Office of Children and Family services that find childcare providers for parents. Prior to the recession, there were steps in the United Kingdom to move more towards this model as Income Support claims by lone parents were falling anyway and any future planned changes to it would have less harmful impact. But now policy in Britain is aimed at cutting both the embryonic childcare infrastructure and benefits that support families with children, this does not bring us closer to New York.

54. For the last ten minutes of the programme, the presenter attempts a facade of being balanced after almost fifty minutes of terribly misleading questions, comments, assertions and framing devices. He takes a visit to a New York food bank or soup kitchen. He talks to director Aine Duggan and begins immediately with an outright falsehood: "We in Britain, have unemployment, we don't have soup kitchens." We call them food banks here. They exist, have always existed and have been on the rise for some years. I'm having trouble believing the presenter did not already know during filming that they did because it was reported nationwide that Westminster Council were attempting to pass a by-law banning food banks from distributing free food around that time. It's estimated that around 128,000 people had to go to a food bank last year and it's estimated to be double this year. The Trussel Trust alone has 200 food banks in the UK and are opening a new one on average every week. This not only misleads the audience but even Aine Duggan is misled by the presenter's claim, concluding reasonably that the only explanation is that the UK has not 'encountered the atrocity of welfare reform yet'. That is the conclusion the audience will also draw, not knowing that Britain followed New York's example in the 90s. Jobseekers Allowance was introduced to replace Income Support for the unemployed and immediately started falling, anti-fraud measures were ramped up, reviews were commissioned for Disability Living Allowance and Incapacity Benefit. The Trussel Trust opened their first food bank in 2000.

55. A minor issue on the surface, but given the number of claims asserted by the presenter up to this point as if they were certain, it is a problem. The presenter cites the figure for how many Workfare recipients as a percentage simply disappeared and never followed up on: "One estimate says that 40% of recipients of the Workfare scheme have fallen through the safety net." Unlike almost any other factoid or statement in the programme, he qualifies this one by referring to it as 'one estimate'. It is a statistic which not even Laurence Mead disputes, but the presenter phrases it in a way that allows for doubt. This wouldn't be a problem if not for the way the language he used for the rest of the programme, which ends up implying a low credibility value for this one when it is in fact one of the few claims asserted by the programme that is evidence-based.

Tuesday, 3 July 2012

What Is Wrong With The Future State Of Welfare (Part 4)

Following on from the segment where John Humphry's misrepresented the US welfare reforms of the 90s, he states that it happened because of how attitudes turned against claimants without mentioning why it was so. Throughout the 1980s the Reagan administration constantly demonised them. Reagan cut taxes steeply, believing that because of the infamous Laffer curve public revenues would rise as federal income tax was lowered because wealthy people in particular would have more incentive to work more. The budget deficit this caused meant that his successor George Bush had to then raise those taxes after making an election promise not to do so. He deflected the anger for both the deficit and the tax rises towards recipients of social security, which had now successfully been re-branded as 'welfare'. Unfortunately the research required to cover this as a factual topic is immense. I have to leave it at this because without that research and a mountain of indisputable evidence, it becomes a question of bias over what the programme chose to include and omit. My complaint is specifically about factual rigour. --------------------------------------------------------------  

36. The polling figures the programme commissioned by Ipsos Mori is the only confirmed research that appears to have happened in the programme, even if the questions asked were mostly unhelpful. After the initial figures are introduced and it's revealed 63 percent of the public don't think the benefit system is working effectively, the presenter asks the rhetorical question of what the government is doing to reform the system and cut the welfare budget. Then the presenter asserts that David Cameron says it will be cut by £5.5 billion. No context is given, it is not said if this is in total or over a timescale or even if Cameron's claim about the amount intended to be cut is even true. It isn't. In his budget speech on the 22nd of June 2010 the Chancellor George Osborne declared that if any additional savings could be made to the social security budget, then they would offset planned cuts to other departments. So whilst each department was given the ballpark figure of a 25 percent reduction in their budgets, some departments would have lower reductions, paid for by cuts to benefits. When it came to detailing the planned cuts to social security, the Chancellor announced that by changing the measure by which benefits are up-rated using the Retail Price Index to use the Consumer Price Index instead would save £6 billion a year by the end of the current Parliament. Taken as it is, this measure alone somewhat contradicts what the Prime Minister has said before the other budget cuts are even considered. Simply reporting what David Cameron has said is insufficient for the programme, as the audience will trust that the only reason why the presenter is using what David Cameron has said is because it must be true. Leaving it 'hanging in the air' is irresponsible; there is a journalistic obligation on John Humphrys to confirm, contextualise or refute claims such as this rather than just propagate them.

At the end of his budget speech, George Osborne costed all the measures he had announced as saving £11 billion by 2014-15. Later that same year he announced in the October spending review that the cuts to the benefit budget would be even higher and revised the figure to £18 billion. The programme had plenty of accurate public domain source material for this, why it was decided to go with a context-free figure attributed to the Prime Minister is bizarre. I decided to go look for where and when Cameron has mentioned this figure. It's from a speech featured in the programme where Cameron announced the Welfare Reform Bill in February 2011. This speech includes the misleading claim about how much the benefit bill has risen, where Cameron falsely states the figure to be in 'real terms' rather than nominal.

37. The Work Programme is mentioned and asserted to be additional conditionality attached to benefits. It is stated to be 'one of the first things' the government did. The audience can be misled into believing the Work Programme is something new. What is not mentioned is that it replaces the Flexible New Deal and various other work programmes initiated by the previous government. This is not additional conditionality, it was one of the reforms made back in the 90s in-step with what most of the United States were doing.

38. The presenter speaks with the centre manager Julie Gillam and suggests that the jobs might not be there. The response is that the jobs are there and that there were 500,000 in April but that matching people to the vacancy and getting them to 'be realistic' was the issue. This is not challenged, it is not highlighted that there were about two million people looking for a job at that time and the audience might be misled into thinking that these were 500,000 new jobs created in April rather than being the total available. The Work and Pensions Secretary has repeatedly used this confusion to advance welfare policy by claiming that the total number of jobs are newly created each month(and sometimes each week). Certain organisations which benefit from those policies take these messages to heart and spread them. There is a journalistic duty to not allow claims such as these to spread unchallenged.

39. A Work Programme client claims they are no longer classed as unemployed and it's the government manipulating the figures. This is left in the programme without any clarification if it is true or not.

40. It is reiterated and yet again that the conditionality for jobseekers is something new, rather than being something in place since the introduction of Jobseekers Allowance in 1998.

41. The presenter speaks with a GP in Tower Hamlets, Dr Sharon Fisher. Dr Fisher is not asked for an opinion in her area of expertise, but an opinion on statistics. As far as I am aware, Dr Fisher is not a statistician. Both John Humphrys and Dr Fisher talk as if Incapacity Benefit is purely a sickness benefit. When disability is considered, it is not inexplicable that there are 2.6 million claimants(about 1.6 million for IB and 1 million for ESA). Dr Fisher expresses her belief that the benefit system is exploited and that she tells patients that it is not in their best interests for them to be 'off sick'. She reveals she is not a statistician and certainly not one familiar with this topic when she incorrectly confuses correlation with causation by stating that the longer someone is 'off sick' the lower their chance of returning to work. Her error is not mentioned, challenged or investigated. The audience will be misled into believing in it because of this and because she is a GP, even though she is not a statistician.

42. Following his interview with Sharon Fisher, John Humphrys makes a claim that is only explained by attributing blatant dishonesty to him. He asserts that 'your local doctor no longer has final say'. This feeds into a tabloid myth about 'sicknote culture' causing Incapacity Benefit claims to be high. The impression the audience will get is that doctors ever did have the final say on whether IB would be awarded or not. A doctor can write a sicknote, which an employer can insist on if an employee has been off-work because of illness for more than a period of time prescribed by law. During that time the employer must pay Statutory Sick Pay for as long as an up-to-date sicknote is provided. Sicknotes have no statutory effect on Incapacity Benefit, which is awarded once the period for sick pay is up and the employer's obligation to pay it ends. The most a sick note can do then is be used as evidence to be considered by a DWP decision maker- it is they who have the final say and it has been for as long as there has been Incapacity Benefit. The myth is a remnant of when Statutory Sick Pay was paid by the benefits system rather than employers, that is when it was 'sickness benefit' but after responsibility was transferred to employers in the 80s, the label was misused by the press and politicians to describe Invalidity Benefit and then Incapacity Benefit.

The word of a doctor has never been enough to ensure the payment of Incapacity Benefit as John Humphrys misleads the audience into thinking.  

43. The programme compounds this falsehood by showing a vox pop featuring Professor Steve Fothergill from Sheffield Hallam University claiming it is the reason why 'the Incapacity Benefit bill rocketed upwards over the past couple of decades'. Incapacity Benefit was introduced in 1995. Over the period it existed from 1995 to 2008, it did not rise. There was a slight rise until 2004 when it began falling again and by 2008 when it ceased taking new claimants it was almost back at what it was ten years earlier. The professor asserts the myth that 'Incapacity Benefit' was used to hide unemployment, giving the timescale of '20 to 25 years ago'. No research or documentary evidence is provided for this well-worn but unsupported myth. In truth the predecessor Invalidity Benefit and Invalidity Pension rose enormously prior to 1995 but AFTER the 1985-1990 timescale Steve Fothergill gives. The most likely explanation is not high unemployment, but the Care In The Community policy that meant former residents of care homes and psychiatric hospitals now needed support. Savings were made from closing the residential units and some of those savings were re-directed towards additional benefit spending concentrating on the disabled and mentally ill. Disability Living Allowance was introduced in 1992 to replace Mobility Allowance and working-age Attendance Allowance, which further drove the expansion in claims for IVB. Far from being inexplicable, this was intended and there were worries at the time that DLA was being under-claimed and a large publicity campaign for it followed. This only changed when the obsession for benefit cutting was imported from the United States. But the major rise in claimants did not happen 'over decades' but in a short period just before 1995.

44. The presenter asserts that 'more stringent tests have been brought in to flush out people claiming on health grounds when they shouldn't be'. No evidence is presented to support that the Work Capability Assessment for Employment Support Allowance is 'more stringent' nor is it explained what that is supposed to mean. The Personal Capability Assessment for Incapacity Benefit that it replaced was ranked as the 'toughest' test for a benefit of its kind in the whole of the OECD in that it rejected more claimants than any other. The audience is not told whether 'stringent' means it is thorough or more accurate or simply that it just rejects more claimants who apply.

45. The presenter asserts that 'figures show three quarters of new claimants who've been tested were deemed not to merit the benefit at all'. No supporting evidence is provided for this claim. It is untrue and can be sourced to a DWP press release that lumps those put into the 'Work Related Activity Group' and those actually found 'Fit For Work'. Those in the WRAG can not be described as not 'meriting the benefit at all'. They are not fit for work, they are those claimants deemed to be able to work eventually with the right support- they have not been rejected for their ESA claim nor would they be rejected for an Incapacity Benefit claim if it were still available. The presenter conveniently does not mention the number of claimants who appeal and those who are successful, or that this is an ever-lasting cycle where half of all ESA claimants are in the Assessment Phase which is perverse considering how the presenter remarks "But it's political dynamite. You can imagine the headlines if it goes wrong." It is going wrong but as there has been a complete abandonment of ethics from journalists like Mr Humphrys, there are no headlines.

46. The presenter continues using figures that originate with government ministers without actually checking them when he claims '11,000' claimants are assessed per week. The figure is wrong, even if IB-ESA migration claims are added on top of the new ESA claims.

47. Moving onto Housing Benefit, a segment from that speech by David Cameron is shown where he links the cost of Housing Benefit with the government 'paying for people to live in some of the most expensive real-estate in London', which in fact makes up for a very tiny amount of the expenditure. Rather than challenging this, the programme and presenter support it and the audience is misled into believing it as a result.

48. The presenter uses a very unfortunate choice of words when talking about how Housing Benefit is used. He begins by sensibly talking about the lack of social housing in Islington which means the council has to house people with private landlords, but he describes those people as being 'on benefit'. Given the context of the programme up to this point and the general nature of what constitutes the welfare debate in Britain, the audience link people 'on benefit' with 'unemployed'. It is not mentioned that the recent rise in Housing Benefit is almost entirely from people in-work, that only one in eight claimants are on a benefit where they are expected to seek work and most claimants are lone parents, pensioners, the disabled and full-time carers. Considering the purpose of Housing Benefit, the argument against paying it to people in expensive private rental accommodation is not simply about why the employed should pay for the unemployed to be housed, but an argument against Housing Benefit entirely which misunderstands what it is for and who receives it.

49. In an interview with Eduardo Celleri and his family, John Humphrys is told through a translator that most of the rent on their home is paid through Housing Benefit. Their monthly rent is £2,300. After making them thoroughly uncomfortable and feeling unwelcome, the presenter leaves the questions that would actually enlighten the audience unaddressed. The main one would be how much Housing Benefit they actually receive. The presenter left the impression that a substantial amount of that monthly fee was paid with it but this isn't confirmed and the actual national picture for families like Eduardo's suggests it is unlikely but because of the need for a translator it isn't clarified and Eduardo is not able to confidently confront Humphrys on the way he is being treated, although he responds admirably, accurately and with dignity. I doubt the presenter would have been as nice about the Celleri family to the camera after the segment had Eduardo Celleri had not cottoned and been assertive in a way that many claimants up to this point had been too nervous to do.

50. The programme comes back to the Ipsos Mori polling. Whilst the other questions were just uselessly vague, this one actually misleads both those being polled and the audience: "People who receive higher housing benefit because they live in expensive areas should be forced to move into cheaper housing to bring down the benefit bill." The problem with this question is that it implies it was not already the case. Local authorities ration their housing and limit where claimants of Housing Benefit may live. This is never mentioned in the programme and this question implies Housing Benefit is a free-for-all with no restrictions of this nature.