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 Poverty.org 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 'Indeed.co.uk'. 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, Indeed.co.uk 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 Monster.co.uk 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 publicity...in 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.