Friday, 17 October 2014

Hairy Palm Freud And Friends

Days on from the recording of Minister for Welfare Reform David Freud's response to a question at conference about the minimum wage for disabled people, we're no closer to anything constructive emerging. That hasn't stopped the self-congratulatory classes in politics and media from having a debate though even if it consists almost entirely the following:
  • 'Freud was offensive and wrong to say such things'
  • 'Labour party and guardianistas taking his words out of context'
  • 'At least he's started a debate'
Of all these, the last one is what rustles my jimmies. I don't consider echo-chambers to be adequate venues for debate, but that is all there has been for the past two days. There are valid points made by those who say there are  purely technical questions of what the economic value of a worker is(distinct from their value as a person) and those who say this is a dangerous road and rather hypocritically those in positions of power and wealth do in fact base their own value as human beings on their success and what they earn; they can't say one thing when practice says something entirely different.

What would stand out most in Freud's comments for disability campaigners is something we've already known was missing but we could never get journalists to listen: Freud has no understanding of the real world as regards disability and low paid work and he doesn't even care about this gap because he's already filled it with policy brief material from the income insurance industry. He was handing out leaflets on 'malingering and illness' just prior to the second reading and vote in the House of Lords for the Welfare Reform Bill. That's as far as his understanding reaches and he was keen to spread that ignorance. Of all the nonsense I've read from talking-head columnists, none make reference to the social model and how that affects the idea that disabled people could take an exclusion from minimum wages on the basis of their estimated economic output and in that sense commentators share Freud's ignorance and excuse themselves from being able to make any comment of value. 

The social model of disability re-frames the medical understanding of disabilities being impairments and instead separates impairments from disability. Disability is instead defined as being caused by the aggregate conditions affecting the individual and not solely the impairment they have. This acknowledges that technology, accommodation by other people and education or lack of have far more profound impacts on a person than almost any impairment can. How Freud should and would have responded to the question he was asked if he cared one jot for this would be to say that giving disabled people this 'right' would turn it into obligation and common practice in employment and it would not be a case of people simply doing the best they can under their unfortunate circumstances; those circumstances are not something that just happened but something that is done to them and can be prevented. Solving the problem of disability unemployment by making a linear relationship between severity of disability, productivity and wage just shirks the responsibility to treat others with dignity. It means that there is no longer any incentive or reason to innovate, empathise and learn in pursuit of the 'everyone wins' scenario. 

Freud was right to say that he shouldn't have accepted the premise of the question, but it's entirely his own fault that he's unequipped with the means to have done so. How else could a man like himself, with the attitudes he has and the policies he designs explain what was wrong with the question? Despite identifying that there is a problem with the question, Freud can't say what that problem is and still hasn't since his public apology. It's probably down to some childhood trauma and tension with his mother. Unfortunately he's not alone, as our media classes aptly demonstrated they all have a blind spot and we all know what blindness- same thing that causes hairy palms.

Thursday, 17 July 2014

Throwing The Orange Book At Liberals

Nick Clegg has long been a men best known for his mastery of non-apologies, the most famous being his deep remorse not for supporting a trebling in the annual cap for university tuition fees but for having pledged to oppose them specifically during the 2010 general election campaign. This policy was pushed through like so many others; with utter scorn and defamation directed at those affected and other critics of Coalition policy. The non-apology was intended to heal relations with students and liberal progressives whilst not committing to actually do anything; it actually reinforced Clegg's stance on tuition fees which is why it backfired and substantiated the feelings many had that he was pathologically dishonest even by usual political standards. 

In contrast, the announcement that the leadership of the party now at least partially agrees with the majority of the party that the bedroom tax was a bad idea, sort of, has a stated intent. It commits Clegg to changing it(but NOT scrapping it), where the previous mea culpae did nothing. 

Here's the problem though, where this new non-apology(not even framed to look like an apology) is similar to the tuition fees one is that it reinforces again the leadership's existing position on a stupid idea. Making it so that the charge only applies if an offer to move to better suited available housing has been turned down is not something that someone opposed to the bedroom tax does- it's something which a supporter does. It's what you do if you have thought it through, listened to advice and anticipated problems because even critics who bitterly oppose the idea know that they are unlikely to change your mind so at least don't want you to screw it up. In many policy areas and especially social security, the Coalition has done none of this. The proposed change which Clegg and co now accept would have cost absolutely nothing to have included in the Welfare Reform Act and would have spared thousands from penury. There was no reason not to have this little but important rule in place. The Liberals are claiming this change is a response to a DWP commissioned report saying that the policy wasn't working as intended, but the evidence for that was there long ago.

So to my mind this is not entirely a cold, calculated change of strategic heart from Clegg ahead of next year's election because he failed to make a cold, calculated decision to allow amendments to the Welfare Reform Bill to implement the changes he now supports. Where was the pragmatist then? Like the last non-apology, there's a chance people will see right through it and it will backfire because triangulating in politics is even less popular when it's obvious. The impression people get is that politicians think that they are idiots.

Friday, 20 June 2014

28 Months Later...

In November 2010 just after the Coalition's white paper was published for what would become the Welfare Reform Act, the DWP started identifying by category what groupings ESA claimants were in. The stand-out figure was for the Assessment Phase; those who had started their claim and were receiving ESA payments(at a rate in parity to Jobseekers Allowance) and were having to regularly provide the DWP with medical certificates(or 'sick notes') from their doctor. ESA was introduced for new claims in 2008, yet two years on the Assessment Phase made up the majority of claims. Something smelled and the issue was one of the first things I wrote about when I started this blog. 

As time went on the percentage of the share taken up by the Assessment Phase barely shrunk- it remained at more than half of the total claimant count for about three more years and it's still ridiculously high now. Other welfare warriors who were able to do what I could not and actually deal with people(whilst I was being bogged down with goose-chasing the BBC into accepting some responsibility over the content of that John Humphrys programme). Requests were made under the Freedom Of Information Act which revealed that the DWP has been inconsistently producing figures. The best I could do was read through the publicly available information the DWP publishes, looking for inconsistencies such as the Tabulation Tool data showing high Assessment Phase numbers yet an Ad Hoc Analysis report claiming much less people waiting months(and years) to be assessed. Nick over at MyLegalForum has highlighted FOI material revealing that far more people have been winning appeals than the government have acknowledged in what should be quality-certified national statistics. 

This fits into a suspicion Spartacus, Black Triangle and friends have discussed but failed to get journalists interested in: that the ESA system is and always has been on the verge of collapse, that changes to the system serve only to delay the inevitable and politicians have no idea what to do about it. For all the platitudes they've given us about listening and 'working in consultation' with disabled people and groups; politics trump Reason and Evidence. What Britain's 'invalidity pension' needs is something so much against the political grain built up by an active campaign against social security that has been waged for two decades now that politicians can't consider it because it would be egg on their faces. They want a bigger market for private income insurance for when people fall ill or have an accident, but disabled people don't fit into it so it's constantly referred to as 'the main sickness benefit' whilst DLA is 'the main disability benefit' and they all seem puzzled whenever it is mentioned to them or their useful idiots in journalism that people claim both; they are not for entirely separate groups of people. They want to bring the overall claimant count down, but they don't want to consider that they will need to replace it with something, that in fact the benefit is meeting a real need that won't disappear just because the support is cut back. So they buy in to evidence-free stories about it being used to hide unemployment or it rising over thirty years rather than actually rising in a few short years in the early 90s because then they'd have to explain why then and why the sudden stop and stability that followed for almost two decades(Incapacity Benefit was introduced in 1995 and there has been almost no net rise since). They do not want to entertain the idea that benefits have plugged gaps as local residential and social care for people below retirement age has been cut back to save money, because then that would mean benefits like IB, ESA and DLA are all net cost savings to the public purse and if benefit expenditure can produce net savings, what other benefits will then be considered for full cost:benefit? We'd have to look at what is saved by spending, not just the superficial upfront cost. 

Labour, Conservative, Green, Liberals, UKIP: if they even think these things, they don't much like them as policy considerations. There's nothing in it for them. They don't talk about it, journalists don't report it and then when everything goes wrong they can make up ridiculous stories to explain it after the fact and the Truth be damned. It happened with the 'sickness benefits used to hide unemployment' lie, the 'girls getting pregnant to claim benefits and avoid work' lie and many more. Call them what they are: lies. The fact that those spouting them happen to also believe them doesn't mean they are not liars; just that they started lying to themselves first. They don't like being told they are wrong, so don't expect the news outlets finally reporting the ESA catastrophe to suddenly start listening to us, especially not if we're pointing out that it was flagrantly obvious years ago that the system couldn't work, wasn't working and was imploding and ministers were just buying time. 

They've been coasting for this whole session of Parliament, without any real plan and given Labour's performance this week, still trying to get votes from people who will never vote for them and appeasing newspapers which will never be nice to them- we can't expect them to be any different. 

Tuesday, 10 June 2014

Autistics VS Who?

I could not have said just two years ago that I was ideological or even sentimental about the welfare state, I simply made my contributions to the national debate on welfare reforms because I was affected by them. It didn't take long before I formed views that there is no ethical alternative to comprehensive welfarism in a developed modern nation. I dislike the thought of being an idealogue but I would fail at self-criticism if I didn't admit that I am and like all idealogues I see patterns in society which I try to explain through my idealist prism. One repeating pattern is that those of an ethical bent so out of the ordinary as to be indefensible in ordinary terms try to re-frame the standards that their ideas should be subjected to. In the case of the Coalition policy to save money through a under-occupancy penalty on social housing tenants with what are deemed spare bedrooms, the response to criticism that the policy was effectively a 'bedroom tax' was to aggressively brief the news media that the policy was to 'end the spare room subsidy'. It didn't matter that such a subsidy never existed to be removed, an insidious idea was disguised by placing it against an insidious background.

In the decade before the Coalition I'd struggled along in ad hoc employment, training programmes and futile attempts to get help as a person with a cognitive disability who was not learning disabled or mentally ill(yet). I made many tremendous mistakes and even learned from them. I'd tried to find some sense of belonging and support from online Autism groups but there was an astonishing Berlin-wall running right through them all: messageboards for parents and messageboards for Autistics, always on different websites. These two groups absolutely could not relate to each other and when they attempted to mix the results were explosive and bans were handed out. It did not go unremarked though that the parent boards were far more likely to ban anyone, way more likely to ban someone if they were Autistic and not a parent and to do so for even slight perceived infringements. Considering one group is thought to lack social skills and tolerate insults to their comfort zone, it was surprising that it was the other group that freaked out over even mild criticism and responded with abuse. 

Unfortunately it is that group who control the largest and most powerful Autism organisation in the world: Autism Speaks. This organisation is quick to respond with lawyers and I will not go on about them, but they too practice re-molding standards to suit their ethics. In one example a splinter-organsation was founded here; Autism Speaks UK. Unfortunately Autistics had successfully fed local organisations and the National Autistic Society with toxic disability propaganda like the social model and 'nothing about us without us' which meant that ASUK found itself in a hostile environment and without the usual option of simply excluding Autistics from every area they were wishing to influence. They went from describing themselves as 'the UK's leading Autism charity'(as long as you ignored the then 50-year old National Autistic Society) to 'the UK's leading Autism research charity' and changed their name to Autism Research UK. People still didn't buy it though so they got round to calling themselves 'Autistica'. 

If it sounds similar to 'Aspergia', an infamous Autistic community from 2000-2002(spin-offs and splinters continued to use the name afterwards), that's because this appears to be a deliberate attempt to make people think that the organisation is Autistic-friendly. Aspergia was one of the most fondly remembered communities, but also the closest you could get to an online 'Aspie Benevolent Militant Fascist Republic' planning supremacy and baked THC-based confectionary. 

Why bring them up? Because they are the only source for comment in reports featured in the news today about LSE research into the 'costs of Autism', you'd actually think that the press release the reports are based on were put out by 'Autistica'. If it shows anything, it's that they may have changed their name(twice) but not their crummy ethics. 

Now you know Who, next post I'll tell you Why. 

Tuesday, 29 April 2014

The Weirdening

Not more than a few miles from where I'm sitting the body of teacher Ann Maguire is still warm, but the focus is turning to the pupil accused of her murder; a 15-year old boy. I expect that media coverage of the tragedy will quickly shift away from the victim as they run out of interesting things to mention, as they always do. With killers and alleged killers though, you can get away with anything even if they are still a child and somehow it's even worse when the child is possible vulnerable. 

You can not excuse crimes like this, but that does not absolve us of our responsibility to try understanding them. It's a responsibility some sections of the press loath, so they make it as problematic as possible for others even to try. They make it so any expression of empathy or simply academic interest beyond harsh punishment is no different from making excuses. Only then will the victim go back to receiving attention, to be used as an ideological weapon regardless of what their views were on these issues when they were alive. Argument will be personalised with the trope of 'a liberal is a conservative who hasn't been mugged yet' adapted for the situation- the unprovable counter-factual that a victim would agree with their view had they survived. 

It's all familiar but there are aspects of it that are seldom discussed, aspects which seem to crop up mostly when the alleged perp is a young person: their weirdness. 

A loner, awkward, bright, odd or intense hobbies, immaturity, irritability, depressed, identifies as an outsider. Have I just describe every teenage killer ever or most teens given a diagnosis of Asperger's Syndrome? Given this coincidence I would expect to find substantial literature linking the diagnosis and Autism in general with violence, but I can't find it and the National Autistic Society says there isn't any. We're left with the equally disappointing conclusion then that the weirdo teen killer is a media-made stereotype, fitted to a wide number of diverse cases with just a few tangential similarities. There are some arguments that people just don't want to accept that most violent crimes are committed by 'normal folk' and that people at the margins of human experience and behaviour are far more likely to be victims than perpetrators. Yet the Mail today is lending credence to it's coverage by specifically citing that this is what the alleged killer's fellow students are saying about him. 

For me, both these opposite views have problems. Let's start with the first, or a common response to the first- "Of course there is something wrong with them- they're criminals". The mere refutation of this tautology isn't enough to support the claim being made that 'normal people' are mainly responsible for violence on a number of points: 1- we don't know what 'normal' is, 2- research may one day yield a sufficient comprehensive explanation for violence that requires the use of diagnoses and once you have a diagnosis of something you are usually considered 'not normal', 3- some people are far more prone to violence than others(men as a whole are more violent than women, young people fight more than mature adults, etc). The Mail point of view is more simple- you will always find what you are looking for and the Mail of course gets the juicy gossip from the students; there's no equivalent statement about the alleged killer from any teacher or staff member. The only point of reference other students have is what they hear about killers their age and that is that they are always weird.

The Mail is as always, a parody of itself. We are told on the MailOnline in bullet-points no less that he played violent video games like Dark Souls and Grand Theft Auto. That sounds perfectly normal, I bet he's not the only one in his class who has played either of them, including those who have provided the gutterpress with material for weirdening him. A drawing of the Grim Reaper on his Facebook page is supposed to be a 'chilling insight' into his background, like Death is not a regular mascot for many metal bands and fans who haven't killed anyone. Oh and also "Last night friends told of their shock at his arrest", but the Mail said he was a loner? Maybe he was friends with other loners, in which case: he's not a loner then. In fact the Mail provides ample evidence of frequent social interaction with a range of people he knew both locally and around the world, who he positively engaged with. It seems the only people that actually speak a word against him hardly even know him. 

The Mail has to print what limited stuff they can get out of the bottom of the barrel, but the focus and sign-posting is clear and they don't even care that it contradicts. Rather than presenting it as a case of a typical teen with currently unknown motives, which are not at all revealed by anything reported, the need to weirden him comes ahead of the truth. If they won't accept a moral responsibility to be fair to the accused, then they should at least consider the wider impact on the innocent oddballs constantly associated with violence.

Friday, 18 April 2014

If Labour Has A Plan, They Dare Not Speak It

Sue Marsh did not choose the headline of her recent Guardian article, a headline which holds little relevance to the words beneath it. The headline says nothing about Sue's views, but much about those of some at the newspaper. 

Responses have been published to the Wednesday Independent article by Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary Rachel Reeves and her colleague Kate Green, Sue's article among them. None are without criticism but they are constrained by a need to have good relations with Labour, who are still on course to go into office in 2015 and we who have campaigned on social security will want the government to be making it a main issue. I don't have these constraints because I'm not critically important to anything at present nor likely to be in future; I'll follow press embargoes but that's it. I can speak my mind. 

My mind says Labour is not on the fence even if they give that impression sometimes, they were never even on it. Unfortunately they were not and are still not on 'our side' of the fence even though they're trying to convince us very incompetently that it is the case. They are not going to pull a David Cameron trick of only pretending to be reforming their party and then swinging suddenly to the other end once power is secured. It was Labour, not the Coalition, who brought the pointless Malcolm Harrington in to review the Work Capability Assessment, the man who actually argued with an Oncologist over whether work is good for people enduring Chemotherapy(guess who was for and who was against). That was their initial response to concerns about the process for claiming ESA and it was a fix. Do I think they have changed in the years since, where we have had the spectacle of Edward Miliband's 'I met a man' speech, Liam Bryne's repeated 'shirker versus workers' sound-bites, Rachel Reeves promising to be 'tougher on benefits' than the Coalition and no indication at all that the New Labour record on social security will ever be addressed? 

The public still believe Miliband and his minions will be better for the poor, those claiming benefits, than the Coalition. It is precisely this persistent delusion which enabled the previous Labour government to be harsher towards claimants than any that came before them since the poor laws. Labour now still seem to want to feed it enough to keep that impression up but not to ever actually do anything principled, honest and just.

Wednesday, 9 April 2014

The Hunger Game

Hunger has become political. It used to be a straightforward argument about ethics and logistics which had reached near universal consensus long ago, that hunger must not be a weapon. So now in Britain in 2014 there is actually a heated argument being had about three things; What is hunger? What is causing acute hunger? Who is responsible for it?

Doesn't take a genius
Food, water, shelter- we now have two out of the three most basic human needs called into question and most fingers are being pointed at our government. They should be lucky that it is already the law that licensed premises can not refuse tap water to anyone requesting and water companies can not cut off a household or else we'd also have an epidemic of water-borne diseases from rivers and ponds. 
A patient with 'birdseye chimeras'
Another study has linked the incidence of food banks with government policy and in spite of ministerial denials about any suggestion that would make them responsible and therefore using hunger as a weapon, the evidence mounts up that this is the case. Remember though, even before the media bothered to pay attention to food banks- Westminster council banned them and soup kitchens from distributing food to anyone who was homeless. Our politicians seems to not want it rubbed in their faces even before the current government came in. They're not simply ignorant, they actively do not want to see the full picture and so will trot out the most absurd talking points which don't stand up to seconds of critical thought. 

Take for instance the claim that food banks create the demand and the variations of(such as Normon Tebbit's howler that poor people collect from food banks to save money and then use that money to buy the stuff they like). The problem being that food banks have existed for a long time- I remember as an infant my school collecting donations from pupils and I brought in a bag of sugar because sugar is awesome and makes the bland stuff everyone else brought taste better. Even vegetarians can eat it. Yet it is only after 2010 that the growth in food banks went into phenomenal overdrive with the largest, The Trussel Trust, only having opened their first branch in 2001. They weren't exactly promoting themselves either; this was before the media were bothering to show any interest. John Humphrys even claimed in October 2011 in his truth-allergic BBC2 polemic The Future State Of Welfare that Britain didn't have food banks. Remember that this programme had more errors than minutes, but Humphrys got off scot-free for it despite the extensive efforts of myself and two other complainants.

If the excuses for food bank demand given by establishment figures made sense, then they would still have to explain why the sudden behaviour changes among the public began in 2010 when food bank growth was much slower before.

Sunday, 6 April 2014

Al Capone Syndrome

On the basic premise which would be agreed by most, accountability should be in proportion to responsibility and responsibility in proportion to power. If everyone were accountable to their conscience, it would be fine and the world would be a better place but reality encroaches and makes it so that we have to design the rules based on there being people who do not have a conscience to restrain their behaviour. 

Who is affected the most by Maria Miller's misuse of her expenses? You could argue that everyone is because if she can get away with it then it will spread and it's corruption by any standard in mature democracies. Considering how widespread we actually know the practice was(and likely still is), why does the public not perceive more political activity in Westminster as being likely steered by corruption? Policies should be receiving considerably less public support and getting more scrutiny from journalists, but that doesn't happen. So, ministers like Maria Miller often get caught out on the mundane- is expenses misuse worse than exchanging favours with lobbyists to advance certain legislation? I'd say that making policy on the basis of favours, gifts and post-ministerial job opportunities is far worse and affects more people more significantly. Yet Maria Miller is responsible for fabricating history over the 'never reviewed' Disability Living Allowance, the hiring of a patsy to provide a fig-leaf cover for closing what was left of Remploy, briefing select newspapers with Ad Hoc Analysis data spun to create outrage over figures for Asthama and Obesity being main disabling conditions by claimants. She insisted that DLA reform was necessary because the benefit over-lapped with local support across the country(which was also being cut) whilst at the same time asking the National Autistic Society for individual contact details because the new assessment needed configuring and guess what? The government weren't able to simply use the information they had from their own databases of local service users because no such statutory services exist for Autism

The consequences of her actions when she was Minister For Disabled People are still not known fully and the government is still implacably imposed to a cumulative impact assessment. We know people are committing suicide, others are starving to death or having their existing conditions and circumstances deteriorate with lethal consequences. 

How many people died because Miller didn't want to pay mortgage interest? None. How many have died because she wanted undue promotion in government and whatever rewards will await her after 2015? We're still counting, but if she's going to be snagged on this then it is a classic case of Al Capone- the gangster who could not be stuck with murder and extortion and was instead caught out on his tax evasion. Miller will not be held to account for her greed, her cruelty or her pride, but her incompetence. Considering she was actually one of the most competent out of all the Coalition ministers, that should worry the rest. 

Incompetence will finish this government. 


Tuesday, 11 March 2014

Know This- Autistics Never Win

Identity politics; when someone abuses their supposedly inalienable rights to associate, speak freely and protest, strategically, with the malicious intent of blackmailing everyone else into granting extraordinary privileges. Privilages such as having the same rights, dignity and standards which are enjoyed by almost everyone else.

Sounds fun, so I'll do it- with an experimental change to the formatting style because I've kind of started annoying myself with the big-little words. 

Society has spent the last two weeks pretending to care, first about an Autistic man killed in an unprovoked attacked where he was punched and his head hit the concrete, then about Faruk Ali who was targeted, assaulted and harassed by two police officers. I won't use the word 'allegedly' in this case because that is a societal norm codified in law that just so happens to be applied differently to Autistics. When an Autistic is accused of wrong-doing, rarely will you see 'allegedly' being used to describe what is reported. Different standards are applied to Autistics in the media, in the courts, in the NHS, on the street and in our own homes. The justifications are often defamatory and pejorative. 

The Guardian in it's usual 'get anyone but an Autistic' mode of thought decided to commission this piece by Rhiannon Cosslett(safe, regular, not Autistic- all the tick-boxes) to talk about the case, speaking generally but invoking her Autistic brother and others to make her point. Read it and you will come away with no increased understanding of Autism, hence the comments below fall back to the cliche default settings for debates about Autism. There are always a number of posts which will pull out the usual canards and tropes for justifying fear and discrimination against Autistics; the article above-the-line invites them, with Cosslett's safe, inclusionary and defensive appeals to emotion. These do not counter-balance the emotive stories and wet excuses for why Autistics should perpetually have a boot on our neck: they reinforce that this bullshit is ok and turn any discussion about rights and the worth of people into one stupid anecdote versus another. 

John Pring's DNS article does far better. Whilst the Guardian piece makes it about the police at a time where the police are unpopular, a dispassionate recount of the facts as they are known drops the heavy hints of what is considered normal for how Autistics are treated by almost everyone. Faruk was targeted by police before in 2012 and after the incident(where the complaint to the police was not upheld, unsurprisingly) his family were told that he should be wearing an Autism alert bracelet, like he was a dog off its leash and that this would have made any difference. He is reported to have been wearing that bracelet at the time this latest incident occurred. 

The pattern is familiar to me- it's the story of my life and that of so many other Autistics I know. You do something, you get in trouble. You do nothing, you get in trouble. You go find the certain person, or show the certain thing and say the magic words you were told to which will stop you getting in trouble and somehow these never seem to work and you still get in trouble. Sometimes they are even cited as the very thing which got you in trouble, but after so many no-win situations you become suspicious that this has ever been the case. You start wondering if there is something about being Autistic that stimulates the worst predatory instincts in other people, so you become very vigilant and then they start describing you as 'aggressive' and 'difficult'. The Autistic is always to blame, even if communication mandates effort between more than one person. So the lame excuses trotted out each and every time involve downplaying utterly the role of anyone else when something happens and the finger is pointed at the nearest Autistic. Take the objection of one comment below the line in the Guardian piece to a comment by another poster that Autistics are not violent:
"They are at least as capable of violence as anyone else - and since they are overwhelmed by emotions in tense situations, ie dealing with authority, they are more likely to become violent."
So this person accepts the premise given that Autistics feel emotions more strongly, but chooses to infer from this alone that Autistics are not only at least as capable of violence as others, but are more likely to be. No explanation required, no qualification or acknowledged exceptions(exceptions are important as it is often exceptions which 'prove the rule'). The poster is challenged, but what he said is not- it's like everyone responding is incapable of considering that there is any other conclusion except the one already given. If we assume that Autistics feel emotions more strongly, to the point we are often overwhelmed by them(and I believe it is the case), then we must allow also for every possible meaning to it including the blatantly obvious that Autistics must also feel revulsion towards violence more strongly too. Ergo, Autistics could be naturally less inclined towards violence and using Autism as an explanation for instances of violence to distract from the role of non-Autistics in such matters is naked bigotry and cowardice.

Despair, because these are the highest standards Autistics receive anywhere.

Monday, 24 February 2014

It's Time

As I said the other day, the moral rightness of welfare reform turns on a simple axis: that a substantial number of benefit claimants, particularly those for sick and disabled people, do not need this kind of support and that the DWP would be able to tell who they were and therefore savings can be made here without simply shifting the cost to another balance sheet covertly.

Everything the Coalition(and Labour predecessors) betted on with ESA and the Work Capability Assessment was based on a forecast made by David Freud back in 2007 which was itself simply a re-hash of what a criminal insurance company had been pushing for years(Freud was caught circulating briefing sheets written by that company around Parliament during the Lords stages in the passage of the Welfare Reform Act). This forecast was that there were a million Incapacity Benefit claimants who could move into work immediately.

Absolutely no research was initiated by our political elite to determine the truth of this before they embarked on what has been the single most damaging policy towards the sick and disabled in modern times. Nazi comparisons might have seemed absurd at the time, they don't now. Yes, Labour delayed a full roll-out of the policy until after a pilot had tested some existing IB cases for migration- but we've had absolutely no reason to believe they would have halted or reversed the policy because the results were claimants being booted off the benefit which was the plain and simple intention from the beginning despite IB totals not rising since it was introduced in 1995.

If they had been right, then totals would have quickly dropped by a million and JSA claims would have proportionately risen. This didn't happened. What instead happened was that needy people had support cut, so they had no choice but to appeal and the whole thing took so long every time that if they won then they would be scheduled for re-assessment abusively or if they lost then they had reached the period where they could submit a new claim. Essentially, an inordinary number of ESA claimants have been kept perpetually in the Assessment Phase where they get JSA-level payments but keep the JSA total low.

There is a practical problem to these shenanigans though- you have to get a significant number of people to keep tabs on others even if you are just running fake assessments that often see people for mere minutes. In a normal world, good people do good, bad people do bad, but to get a good person to do bad things- it takes bureaucracy. It was never possible to run regular checks on so many people that would be accurate, fair and meeting with basic ethical standards. So the Work Capability Assessment was never intended to be any of those. It would only have had a chance of working if there had been the predicted reduction in totals and the intended side-effect of that insurance company seizing a large portion of the market that should have developed for income insurance(hint: can't be afforded by people in poverty). The system started crumbling not long after it was introduced and just got worse as time went on and more was demanded of it. The straw that breaks the camel's back is probably the rollout of Personal Independence Payment of which Atos is one of the contractor's. There have been substantial delays in processing applications and getting claims for PIP assessed.

It's time for the denials to stop; this was never going to work. It's time for Evidence and Reason; when did claims actually rise, how did they rise and what is the probable Reason for the rise? It's time to come clean about what has driven the war on welfare for the last two decades; the parts that are frequently targeted are those which provide the most value, work best and yes, save money. What justification can possibly still exist for the complacency with which the political and media classes treat social security?

Friday, 21 February 2014

Moral Kombat 3

If you read David Cameron's response to the Archbishop Vincent Nichols' intervention this week on the effect of welfare reforms, then like me the more you know about the subject the more you will have been confused and frightened. Like me you will have probably have previously thought that the Prime Minister has been disinterested in policy specifics and ignorant about what his ministers have actually been doing. You might not have gone as far as believing that David Cameron actively avoids learning though and does not treat matters with a degree of seriousness that suggests he considers the effects beyond a few weeks into the future.

That's where I ended up after both seeing his ultra-slow, ultra-incompetent reaction to the floods in the South-West and reading his Telegraph piece which addresses nothing the Archbishop or government critics have said but instead falls back on the old bingo-card with many 'facts' which have been refuted many times before. The focus of this post though is on the 'moral mission' that the Coalition has invoked whenever they've failed to make their 'facts' stand up because it appears to require nothing more than the belief that it works as well as an undefined idea of what 'works' is supposed to mean. Everyone knows the Work Capability Assessment 'doesn't work' and the response of politicians(yes, including Labour who I still say will disappoint us in 2015) is to focus the blame on Atos- who then respond with factual correctness that it actually does work, it's just that 'works' refers to the explicit design intention which has nothing at all to do with accuracy, fairness or relief from hardship. It is working in other words, as politicians intended it to; the problem is with their intentions, not it's implementation. These are not mistakes that need correcting, problems that need fixing or errors that need reversing. They're wrongs that need righting, abuses that need punishing and attitudes that must be deterred absolutely into the indefinite future. The solution is not just to be found in yet another contract for another company(immune as always from FOI requests) but in making sure politicians know that they shouldn't be stamping and throwing their weight around where angels fear to tread; that their actions have consequences for other people and their bingo-card talking points are no remedy.

The morality of welfare reform is simple to illustrate and if anyone manages to fudge it as bad as the Prime Minister has done, then it is deliberately so. It's about claiming that certain people, who make up a substantial number of claimants, do not require the assistance they are currently receiving. They might require none, they might require something else. Policy-makers choose to believe who these people are, how many of them there are and what kind of policy action is needed. They must also accept that if they are wrong, the they are wholly responsible for the consequences suffered by people as a result. That's it, that is all there is to it.

What has Cameron's government done? First, they failed to properly do consultations in accordance with the law, they fabricated responses and consensus, they hid data from the public and Parliament, they briefed the press against those worst affected, they defamed some of us behind Parliamentary privilege, accused the fearful of fear-mongering and the hungry of greed, distorted assessment data, conflated in-work, out-of-work and universal benefits, accepted review recommendations only after forcing them to be changed completely, retrospectively made their unlawful actions lawful(aided by Labour), lied about the existence of targets and quotas for multiple systems, lied about attacking Mobility allowance for care home residents(it is still in the Welfare Reform Act, go look), insisted that a higher burden of evidence should be held for campaigners against their belief-based policies and Iain Duncan Smith doesn't wash his hands after using the disabled WC he was blocking.

What keeps this man and his gang in power? Journalists, not doing their jobs, basically. It's left up to people at death's door and church leaders.

Tuesday, 28 January 2014

ESA Claimants- 'Tried To Claim'

Language matters; our choice of words doesn't just communicate to others the ideas we want them to infer about the world they see, those words also communicate our intent.

To say that ESA claimants 'tried to claim' the benefit carries only two meanings. The first is that they made an attempt and failed, therefore they did not 'try and claim' but 'tried to claim'. The fact that they did claim ESA makes this gibberish, so only the remainder could possibly be true. You only get an assessment after spending a period of time in the assessment phase, during which you are claiming ESA at the assessment phase rate.

The DWP press office is trying to get those who follow the Twitter account to infer that these people were not merely found 'fit for work' and therefore ineligible following the assessment, but from the moment their attempt to claim began. The only reasonable conclusion that follows this inference is that over a hundred-thousand people were wrongly making ineligible claims.

In a world where the government is actually held to account by someone, a message like this put out by a government department directly into the public domain would be swiftly corrected. In a world where the government felt the slightest bit threatened by social security e-pamphleteers like myself, they would quietly remove that tweet and hope no one notices.

But we live in this world, so the most likely thing to happen is that this will be ignored, nothing will happen and they will get away with it as has been the case non-stop for three and a half years now.

Thursday, 2 January 2014

Double-Triple Jeopardy

Self-congratulatory journalists like to quote a saying, something like 'the relationship between the press and politics is like that of a dog and a lamp-post'. The intent is to assure the reader that their profession is inclined towards antagonism against politicians, therefore our leaders must be inclined towards the public good in order to address the balance rather than give writers rancid material to sling at them. The past few years have taught me how self-serving this comparison is; the relationship between news media and politics is more like that of relatives openly engaged in incest, in full view of the public and then not only blatantly lying about it but changing the definition of the word itself. 

About three years ago we started using the term 'bedroom tax' on Twitter to describe a policy in one of the white papers accompanying the draft for the Welfare Reform Bill- the policy to charge an 'under-occupancy penalty' on social housing tenants, to be levied as a charge on the benefit itself. This charge is 'positive' because there was no subsidy for rooms in any way, the benefit paid for a percentage of the rent for the domicile as a whole. The charge is not based on any calculation to do with the attributes of the rooms in question. For the charge to be 'negative', the withdrawal of a subsidy needs there to be a subsidy in the first place but there wasn't. The term spread to blogs and then to mainstream journalists and then the Labour party shadow cabinet, where it has enjoyed life as a 'Labour-coined lie'. The only bit about it that is a lie is its origin as accepted by the media and political establishment. Campaigners named it and used it because FIRST it was ACCURATE and only then because we knew it would catch on. The only people who seriously challenge the accuracy of the term 'bedroom tax' are those who were paying no attention to us when we were first trying to raise awareness of it well in advance of the Welfare Reform Bill becoming an Act of Parliament. They didn't read the white papers, they didn't read the drafts and I doubt they've even read the Act that has come of it since.

Unfortunately, we can thank journalists for this. Their interest has purely been in human interest; their focus has always been what has already happened or what is happening in the immediate now, all at the expense of what happens next even when the facts are waved directly in front of their faces. This is how Iain Duncan Smith has lasted this long and it's not just his friends in the media who have been generous to him, it's the supposed ideological enemies who have also given him the softest resistance. Last Summer they were warned of the policy of 'mandatory reconsideration' where an ESA claimant must wait for the DWP to reconsider their decision in their own time before the claimant can invoke their lawful right to seek redress at tribunal- journalists were told by myself and others "THIS is the next bedroom tax, if you have any interest in justice rather than simply human interest to sell newspapers, you'll start printing stuff about this NOW". The hope was that something would be done before the policy came into effect, but there was silence. November came and so did mandatory reconsideration.

2014 is the window of opportunity now because the first year is the best chance of forcing a U-turn after a policy is in effect. So we've been faced with a seemingly trivial but critically important question: what do we call it? The first bit is simple: we call it what it is, like we did last time with the bedroom tax, rather than allowing those perpetrating it to choose their own dishonest language. It also has to be no more than two words, which are common and widely understood. I have some suggestions, but it's likely others will come up with better- my only stipulation is that the term is ACCURATE. That is why it is important to talk about what the policy is, not what the government call it. Our aim is not to simply contradict them but form it into something that could be in a newspaper headline, eventually.

People will starve. When you are denied ESA, all the gateway benefits like Housing Benefit and Council Tax Relief stop almost immediately. If you opt to claim JSA, you will be told by the advisor at the Jobcentre Plus that this voids any appeal you would make against your ESA decision because a condition of Jobseekers Allowance is that you declare that you are not sick or incapacitated beyond the ability to seek and keep employment. The government has denied this happens, but the law for this piece of conditionality regarding JSA has not changed, it will not change under Universal Credit(but gets worse) and this is what advisors are telling people. The policy denies ESA indefinitely as claimants will not be given a time-frame where they can expect a decision and the policy is limitless because there is no statutory requirement in primary or secondary legislation nor even guidelines.

First words that came to mind here were 'parking, review, indefinite, limitless' but there is more to the policy, a sub-text that is not being discussed.

There is a misconception that the tribunal service does it's own assessment of your ability to work and decides whether the DWP got it right. They don't: their only purpose is to test in each case whether or not the DWP followed the law as it is written. So when 40% of appeals are successful, it does not mean the DWP have been proven wrong any more than they are proven right for the other 60%: it simply means that the decision was lawful. As statutory entitlement keeps playing even less of a role in determining eligibility and the whims of ministers take over as they've granted themselves unprecedented powers on this, more DWP decisions will be found to be lawful. But none have ever been found to be right.

The twist is that when you ask for a reconsideration, are the DWP sending your case files off to lawyers? As far as I've been able to tell- no, they do not. The DWP are not checking to see if the decision was legal, they're simply re-assessing your case, but the justification for this policy was to 'reduce the number of successful appeals by getting it right first time'. There is no test for whether the DWP got it right first time though, only whether they made the decision lawfully but this is not what the DWP are assessing in the reconsideration process.

You can guess accurately at the intent if these premises are true- Atos do assessments, DWP make decisions, tribunals look at the lawfulness of the decisions, but now DWP insist on reconsideration first which does not look at lawfulness but repeats the previous DWP action MINUS the legally-defined limits on time(which they breach in many cases), ESA claims for those given 'fit for work' status are stopped, the tribunal service then has to rule not just on the lawfulness of one decision but the reconsideration too if the reconsideration supported the initial decsion. What purpose does this serve?

Limitless Review. Indefinite Parking. Double Jeopardy? Yes that already exists, but to my mind this is Double Jeopardy- at the tribunal you have to win both rulings on the first decision and the reconsideration, the DWP only has to win one. But throw in the matter of benefits being completely cut-off during the reconsideration and you could reasonably call it Triple Jeopardy as you're facing trial by ordeal and 'confessing' is practically forced.