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.