Archive for August, 2013

DWP denials: They would kill you and call it ‘help’

August 15, 2013

This is another excellent piece by my brother, Mike, over at Vox Political. It shows the government’s lying again about the ATOS contract. Contrary to what their new spokesman, Mark Hoban, would have us believe (and what happened to the proper Disability minister, Esther McVey?) ATOS’ contract is framed so that they do not take into account any additional information from medical professionals. The only opinion that matters is that of ATOS. And ATOS’ contract with the government makes them exempt from healthcare regulations. Once upon a time, when thriller writers thought of an out-of-control government agency, responsible for the deaths of millions under a Right-wing administration with complete contempt for democracy and the rule of law, it was the CIA under Richard Nixon. Well, Watergate is history and Nixon has gone the way of all flesh. The baton of corrupt, murderous organisation has gone from the spooks to ATOS and the Conservatives. I hope it won’t be too long before they meet with Nixon’s fate.

Vox Political

Who do you believe about the Work Capability Assessment?

Not the government, obviously.

You may have missed this – because it hasn’t been reported widely in the mass media – but a quiet row has been running for several months, concerning the collection and use of medical evidence to support applications for Employment and Support Allowance, the benefit people taking the WCA have applied to receive.

The government – whose spokesman appears to be Employment Minister Mark Hoban rather than Esther McVey, the Minister who is actually responsible for Disabled People – insists that decisions are made after consideration of all medical evidence supplied by claimants, and that they can provide further evidence during the reconsideration process or appeals.

But there is a mountain of evidence that this is a load of bunkum.

Back in 2010, an ex-military claimant, ‘Mrs S’ wrote a damning report on the service at…

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The DWP’s Refusal to Give the Death Stats for ATOS: A Political Decision

August 15, 2013

I’ve blogged several times about my brother Mike’s attempts to get the government to release the statistics for the people, who have committed suicide following their assessment by ATOS over at his blog, Vox Political. His requests under the Freedom of Information Act have been refused, on the spurious grounds that they were ‘vexatious’. Sparaszczukster, of Granny’s Last Mix and Johndeee have had exactly the same experience. They note that the replies sent to them appear to have been written by someone else, although the reply is signed ‘from the FOI team’.
Sparaszczukster states

‘What John says is interesting. My original FOI request was addressed ‘Dear Sir/Madam’ and the reply was signed , as was John’s, ‘from the FOI Team’. The reply sent in response to my request for internal review was written in the first person in such a way as to give the impression that someone outside the FOI Team had scrutinised their decision. However, this letter was also signed off ‘from the FOI Team’. I’m hoping the ICO will take note of this sloppiness and make some comment.The ICO complaint form asks specifically for both the organisation complained about and the name of the person who dealt with the FOI request which suggests there is an expectation of more than the vague reference to ‘FOI Team’ which the DWP relies on.’

Mike’s request, and the consequent refusal by the Department to release the figures, was raised in parliament in a series of questions asked by Anne Begg and Frazer and Shield of the DWP. Mike says of this part of the meeting that

‘The next factette knocked this one into a proverbial cocked hat: It seems my request was most probably refused by a Conservative DWP Minister, for political reasons. Take a look at this exchange between Dame Anne Begg, chairing the meeting, and Messrs Frazer and Shield.

Anne Begg: Who makes the decision of whether to answer a Freedom of Information request?

David Frazer: In some cases the decision is finally down to the Minister, but on a routine basis it is officials that will routinely answer and prepare them.

Anne Begg: Recently there has been a Freedom of Information request and a reply came back saying that it was a ‘vexatious’ request, and the department wasn’t going to provide the information. Who would make that decision?

David Frazer: In the first instance we have officials who will look at what the request is; they will look at whether it would produce a disproportionate cost for what it is – they will make that judgement, but I believe it will come down to Ministers to make that call. (He is saying it was a political decision).’

So Mike’s request, along with those of Sparaszczukster and Johndeee, have been refused on political reasons why a Conservative minister. The trail of corruption goes all the way to the top, as they say in Hollywood thrillers.
Mike’s article is entitled ‘Revealed: The Facts about DWP Lies’ and can be read here http://mikesivier.wordpress.com/2013/07/10/revealed-the-facts-about-dwp-lies/.

Johndeee also says ‘Note also, I wrote to an individual but was replied to from the ‘FOI team’ although *I didn’t make an FOI request*! I just wrote a “what’s going on?” request for info. Seems like more than a few other requests for this information were made if they’re now answering with a form letter from the ‘FOI team’….’

It seems from this that a lot of people are asking for the same information, which makes the DWP’s refusal to publish the figures even more reprehensible and scandalous. The Freedom of Information Act was a piece of Labour legislation, modelled on Clinton’s over in America. It seems that the Tories don’t like it, and instead have retreated into their old position of cover-ups and obfuscation in order to protect themselves.

The Conservatives: Definitely not the party of open government.

Johndeee: Another Inquiry Given the Brush-Off by the DWP over the Deaths of Those Refused Benefit

August 14, 2013

As I’ve blogged about previously, the DWP has been turning down or giving glib non-answers to requests for information on the number of disabled people, who have committed suicide after having their benefits claims refused by ATOS. My brother, Mike, over at Vox Political and the Sparaszczukster of Granny’s Last Mix are just two, who’ve made such requests only to have them refused as ‘vexatious’. Another is Johndeee, who kindly sent me his correspondence with the DWP on the issue. Here is his request, and their reply.

From: John D. Ingleson
Sent: 20 July 2013 00:46
To: DWP esa analysis
Subject: Incapacity Benefits: Deaths of recipients

Dear Mr David Green

Please can you explain why no more recent publication concerning “Incapacity Benefits: Deaths of recipients” has been published?

This information is vitally important at a time of such radical changes to the to benefit system.

The effects of such changes to a most vulnerable group must surely warrant a vigilant investigation of the data if contravention of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons of Disabilities (which the UK ratified in 2009) is to be avoided.

Please advise at your soonest convenience.

Yours faithfully

John Ingleson
_____________________________
Tue, 23 Jul 2013 at 15:04

FW: Incapacity Benefits: Deaths of recipients
FROM DWP IGS FOI TO You + 2 More
From: DWP IGS FOI
CC: DWP IGS FOI, DWP esa analysis

Dear John Ingleson,

The report you refer to was a piece of original analysis produced on a one-off basis and released as an ad hoc statistical note. The statistics it contained are not routinely compiled and the analysis has not been repeated. Although we currently have no plans to directly update the ad hoc report, statisticians and other analysts do monitor requests the department receives for new statistics and consider whether we can produce and release analysis that will helpfully inform public debate. The Secretary of State has agreed that officials should look at this issue with a view to seeing what statistics could be produced on a regular basis.

We can also assure you that Ministers will look for ways to ensure that we have a welfare system that is fair to everyone. This includes benefit and pension recipients, but also taxpayers. Ministers and officials have, therefore, been evaluating a wide variety of propositions, and they will continue to do so. Many factors need to be taken into account and carefully considered before any single measure is implemented. Ministers are looking at a wide variety of issues because they believe that reform is needed in a number of areas.

The reforms that are being implemented are wide-ranging, and involve the work of a number of Government Departments.

As Secretary of State in this Department, Iain Duncan Smith is focusing on how the benefits system can best be reformed, including the introduction of the Universal Credit for people of working age and how that will interact with the work of other Departments. Plans for the reform of State Pensions have also now been published.

Ministers do welcome all views on Government policies, and I thank you for your comments. Should you wish to find out more about the reforms, or about Government services, information can be found through the GOV.UK website. This will now be the best source of information about Government services.

Thank you.

IGS Freedom of Information Team

Johndeee’s comment on this bland, completely uninformative reply is the same Private Eye prints whenever they get a similar glib excuse from authority for a piece of blatant corruption or injustice: So that’s all right then.

The take-home message from this is that, despite their bland assurances that the government welcomes all points of view in this matter, they are not collecting information on this matter and have no intention to do so. This is probably because it would conflict with Ian Duncan Smith’s vaunted reforms of the system. The authorities’ lack of transparency on this matter is now a national scandal. With many hundreds of our society’s most desperate and vulnerable people committing suicide over the termination of their only means of support, the government’s attitude is deeply disgusting. This issue will not, and should not, go away.

Useful Resource: Lobster’s Guide to the 2005 Freedom of Information Act

August 14, 2013

My brother, Mike, of Vox Political, Sparaszczukster, Johndee and many other bloggers and activists have had trouble getting the DWP to give the statistics on the number of disabled people, who have committed suicide after being refused benefit by ATOS. This follows their attempts to get that information under the Freedom of Information Act. Nine years ago, way back in 2004 the parapolitical magazine, Lobster, published a short guide to the then-forthcoming 2005 Freedom of Information Act by their long-time contributor, Jane Affleck. The article was entitled ‘Freedom of Information – New Access Legislation’. It included guides to making a request, the fees charged, complaints and appeals, exemptions to the act, qualified exemptions and environment information. Regarding exemptions, she states that

‘An authority is not obliged to comply with a request if it estimates that the cost of complying would exceed the appropriate limit (s12); alternatively, the authority may charge for information in such circumstances (s13). Nor need an authority comply with a request if it considers it to be ‘vexatious’ (s14); or if the request is ‘identical’ or ‘substantially similar’ to a past request, unless a ‘reasonable interval’ has elapsed between the two requests (s14). Also exempt is information held by an authority that is intended for future publication (s22); information that is covered by other access regimes: the Environmental Information Regulations – where the information concerns the environment, see below (s39, s74); or under the Data Protection Act – where the information constitutes personal data of which the applicant is the data subject. (s40).’

Mike and Sparaszczukster have both had their requests turned down on the grounds that their requests are ‘vexatious’ and based on a prior request. She also includes in the article a number of websites on the act, the 2002 Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act, the regulations for environmental information, and the Freedom of Information page for the Department of Constitutional Affairs, as well as the Data Protection Page. She also provides the web address for the Campaign for Freedom of Information. They’re at http://www.cfoi.org.uk.

Lobster is now on the net, along with an archive of its back issues that includes the edition with this article on the Freedom of Information Act. This is issue 48, for Winter 2004. The article is on pp. 30-2.

Channel 4’s Benefit Britain and the Expansion of the Welfare State after 1948

August 14, 2013

Last night Channel 4 broadcast their latest contribution to the ‘poverty porn’ programming genre, Benefits Britain. This showed a group of modern welfare claimants attempting to live as they would have done on the benefits available in 1948. The perceptive and extremely well-informed Scriptonite Daily blog has already strongly criticised the programme for presenting welfare claimants yet again as idle scroungers, who, under the modern benefits system, ‘have never had it so good’ in Supermac’s phrase.

I didn’t watch the programme on the grounds that I had a fair idea that this was the way they would present their subject. I am also completely unsurprised by the fact that the claimants on the programme found the 1948 welfare system very had. It was, and researchers and social workers from the 1950s found that often horrific poverty still existed. The existing system was inadequate, and they demanded that action should be taken expand the system to support those, who had not been helped by the 1948 provisions.

One of those campaigning for the system’s reform was the social worker, Audrey Harvey, who had worked in the East End of London since 1955. In her 1960 Fabian Tract, Casualties of the Welfare State, she presented the case that poverty still existed. She attacked the attitude of the middle classes that too much was being done for the working class, and noted that working class people were most concerned with having independence, rather than reliance on the welfare state. She also presented the case that the tax system disproportionately affected the working classes, rather than the rich. These arguments are still valid today, now that Cameron and his henchmen are keen to destroy the welfare state, and grinding poverty is increasing. Here is part of her pamphlet addressing these issues:

What is Wrong?

That we have a divided society, which is rapidly becoming more sharply so, is painfully obvious …

This may be partly due to loss of contact between people of different education and employment, different resources and ways of living; partly, too, to an over-estimation – encouraged by both the big political parties – of the extent to which working people have benefited by the reforms. At any rate reaction has set in, bringing with it pressure to chip bits off the services; while among the armchair critics of the Welfare State it is axiomatic that ‘they’ – meaning roughly the working class – ‘get too much done for them nowadays’ while ‘we’ have to foot the bill.

This idea overlooks the fact that only about 4 per cent of the population do not use the State services at all and do not draw family allowances, pensions or insurance benefits or apply for grants for further education of their children at the State-subsidised universities. It neglects the fact, too, that it is chiefly the middle classes who have benefited from the provision of free medical services and entitlement to a full retirement pension after only ten years of contributions…

But while it is obvious that taxation, and particularly indirect taxation, often hits the poor harder than the well-to-do- as do National Insurance contributions – these are not the only payments which State-dependent families may have to make for essential services…

There are assessed charges for the home help service and the school meals service unless inability can be provded; and assessed charges for the care of children in children’s homes and ay nurseries; and for badly-off people not receiving assistance, there is the whole range of health service charges, from £3 for a surgical boot to £2 for a doctor’s report needed for an accident claim. Again and again ‘they’ are still forced to plead poverty…

Something for Nothing?

This is not to suggest that the principle of paying for certain special services is necessarily a wrong one or that it is resented. The outstanding quality of the people I have met in the course of my job is independence. There is a pronounced loathing among families of low income of anything that smacks of charity, and the number of those trying to get something for nothing is, in actual experience, very small indeed. This is also the experience of the National Assistance Board. Its report for 1957 stated that only 65 men on assistance were prosecuted for neglecting to work when able to do so, and that there were only 750 prosecutions for fraud out of a total of over 1 1/2 million people (excluding dependents) then receiving assistance…

Going on Assistance

…In 1958 the National Assistance Board had to make 1,119,000 weekly allowances to supplement inadequate pension and benefit rates, and this represented no less than 68 per cent of all allowances in payment.

We know, therefore, that over a million people in this Welfare State were living below subsistence level for this reason alone, and were granted assistance. We also know that for 780,000 of all assisted people the minimum rates of assistance were considered by the Board to be insufficient … since this was the number of discretionary allowances made … for extra fuel, special diet and other requirements, in addition to which 152,000 single payments for shoes, clothing and bedding had to be provided for people in the most extreme need.

These figures do not precisely tally with the axiom that ‘poverty has been abolished’. But if we can feel little complacency about the numbers of the poor or the extent of their relief … we can feel even less about the incalculable number in bitter need who di not even apply for help …

Why is there so much aversion from seeking its help?… Even if the officers are kind and tactful, as they often are, the applicant is, in fact, pleading poverty; and since that poverty must be checked, he must be visited at home and asked questions which, to the sensitive, are often embarrassing, and which may involve relatives and other people living in the house;.

The price of application is, therefore, a surrender of personal privacy and a strong deterrent is the fear that, even when this price is paid, assistance may not be forthcoming…

We have been deluded into thinking not only that we have already achieved a Welfare State … but this it is second to none. Our National Health Service is still unrivalled, but in other matters we are falling behind. The Scandinavian countries are ahead of us in providing better old people’s homes and up-to-date hospitals; New Zealand enables young families to buy their own houses by advancing Family Allowances. France does not invariably deny a family allowance to the first child of a family as we do; Germany gives better insurance coverage in illness and is spending half as much again on social security as we are …’

There have been many changes to the welfare system since then. Many of the welfare payments that directly benefited the middle classes, or rather, the lower middle classes, have been abolished, like student grants and the payment of tuition fees. This has created the ‘squeezed middle class’, who find themselves increasingly impoverished through taxation and denied the remaining welfare benefits available to the working class. The result has been to drive something of a wedge between the two classes, as the lower middle class becomes increasingly resentful of working class privilege. Looking at the above extract, and Audrey Harvey’s comments that the middle classes benefited the most from the welfare state, It does seem to me that this gap in welfare provision between the working and lower middle classes seems to have been deliberately engineered. That way the Tories can always claim they’re responding to public concern by the voters, or at least the middle class readers of the Daily Mail.

Despite the changes to the benefit system, the core arguments remain the same. There are people, who don’t like claiming welfare. Social security fraud is much less than the Conservatives and their friends in the Right-wing press have claimed. The essential point remains the same: the reason why the benefits system was expanded after 1948 was that this was genuinely inadequate in combatting the real poverty that existed in post-War Britain.

Moreover, thanks to the Coalition, poverty in Britain is actually increasing. What we need are fewer programmes purporting to show how generous modern welfare provision, and more that show how the Coalition’s policies and cuts are actually making it more widespread. Perhaps we should have a few programmes in which the poorest claimants are shown living on the more generous allowances of the past, and the difference this makes in their lives. I suspect, however, that such a programme would never be made. It would be attacked as another example of Left-wing media bias. It would also conflict with the think-tanks and received opinion of the media movers and shakers that guide public programming and dictate public attitudes to these matters.

Benefits Britain and the Rise of Poverty Porn

August 14, 2013

This is the ever-excellent Scriptonite Daily’s critique of yet another ‘poverty porn’ programme, ‘Benefits Britain’, broadcast on Channel 4 last night. I’ve already blogged about the way the genre misrepresents the unemployed and benefit claimants as idle scroungers. This was very much the case in the Beeb’s ‘Nick and Margaret: We All Pay Your Benefits’. The Oprichnik Rising blog heavily criticised that one, as Mr Oprichnik actually knew one of the claimants on the programme. This chap was very definitely not as he was presented by the programmes producers. I have to say I really am not surprised that modern benefit claimants would find the 1948 system hard. It was. Society was much harder in those days, and it was realised by social workers such as Audrey Harvey in the 1950s and Brian Abel-Smith and Peter Townsend of the LSE in the 1960s, for example, that poverty had not been eliminated and the system needed to be reformed and expanded. This, however, seems to have been deliberately excluded from the above programme, in favour of showing the unemployed poor that they’ve ‘never had it so good’. It’s effectively more Tory propaganda, this time brought to you by a formerly alternative channel.

Scriptonite Daily

BF1

Last night, Channel 4 engaged in yet more Poverty Porn, with the pseudo-reality programme Benefits Britain.  The programme followed several 2013 social security claimants as they were put through the 1949 welfare system. As with the other Poverty Porn Programming, the social security system was portrayed as costly, over generous and prone to abuse – and those reliant upon it as feckless and entitled.  It is time to bust the myths of Poverty Porn, and demand better from our media.

The UK in 1949

 BF2

The UK of 1949 might as well be a different planet.  The public had voted out the Conservatives and the country was represented by the Labour government of Clement Attlee.  Confectionary such as sweets and chocolate were rationed.  The gas industry was nationalised in the May.  George Orwell’s book Nineteen Eighty Four was published in June. The world’s first passenger jet made…

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A Possible Useful Resource: Colin Challen’s Book on Tory Funding

August 13, 2013

The parapolitical magazine, Lobster, carried a short review in its winter 1998/99 edition of Colin Challen’s book, The Price of Power: The Secret Funding of the Tory Party (London: Vision Paperbacks 1998), £7.99. Challen had contributed articles to the magazine on the subject of the Tories’ highly murky finances. The review states that there are far more sources for the Thatcher and post-Thatcher years, despite the fact that Thatcher tried to keep anything to do with the intelligence services and the connections to the Conservatives strictly under wraps. She was unable to cover it all up simply because there was a general, rapid increase of knowledge in those areas while she was in power. According to the article, Challen identified the links between the Conservative party, the City and the intelligence services as the triangle of power at the heart of the British system. The review also notes that while there is less material available on the funding of the Tory party before her, nevertheless there is a surprising amount of information present. Despite this, the review noted that at least half of the Conservative party’s recent financial sources remain secret.

Challen originally worked for the Labour Party, and I’ve got a feeling he left for the Lib Dems when he found Tony Blair adopting the same authoritarianism and contempt for human rights. The Lobster review considers that with Labour adopting the same methods of fund-raising as the Tories, a similar book would one day be necessary for them. The review also states that the book is the only one yet published on the subject. It would be interesting to see if this was still true after fifteen years. I suspect it probably is. The situation made have changes slightly in the intervening period, but I would imagine that the picture of the Tory party’s finances is still pretty much the same. In the absence of later books analysing the Tories and their dodgy finances, this may still be an extremely useful resource.

Source

The Price of Power: The Secret Funding of the Tory Party, Colin Challen, in Lobster, Winter 1998/9, 36: 42.

Private Eye on the Right-Wing Press’ Attacks on the European Court of Human Rights after the SAS Shooting of the IRA in Gibraltar

August 13, 2013

Looking for more information yesterday on Private Eye’s account of how Thames Television lost its broadcasting license due to Thatcher’s anger at its documentary, ‘Death on the Rock’, I came across a piece in its ‘Hackwatch’ column reporting the attacks by the Right-wing press on the European Court of Human Rights for their judgement on the actions of the SAS. It ran:

Hackwatch: Rock Bottom Revisited

In February 1989 the Eye published Rock Bottom, a pamphlet about the SAS shooting the previous March of three IRA bombers in Gibraltar. Its main conclusions were:

1. That the terrorists’ plan to set off a bomb in Gibraltar on 8 March had been well known to intelligence officers in Britain and in Spain, who closely followed the three from Malaga to Gibraltar and never once lost sight of them.

2. The Det Chief Inspector Joseph Ullger, head of Gibraltar special branch, had admitted at the inquest that the terrorists had been allowed on to the Rock without hindrance, though the authorities knew what they looked like, what passport aliases they were travelling under and what car they were driving.

3. That the failure to stop and arrest the terrorists before they got to Gibraltar was crucial to the entire operation. Either the authorities knew there was a bomb in the car and that the terrorists could detonate it, in which case they were putting a substantial section of the Gibraltar population at risk; or they thought or knew there was no bomb in the car (as there wasn’t) in which case there was no danger of a bomb being detonated.

4. That the only realistic conclusion from these facts was that the terrorists had been deliberately allowed into Gibraltar so they could be killed by the SAS – and that this was unacceptable lynch law.

5. That the lynching had been covered up by the British government, especially at the Gibraltar inquest.

6. That the government was supported to the full in its cover-up by its agents in the press, notably the Sun and the Sunday Times, which waged an hysterical campaign against one of the few attempts in the British media properly to report what went on Gibraltar: Thames TV’s Death on the Rock.

The majority verdict of the European court of human rights goes along with points one, two and three. The court refused to accept point four, the ‘execution plot’ theory, but could provide no other reason the terrorists were not arrested at the border.

One reason for the court’s failure to explain such an inexplicable lapse by the authorities was lack of information. Pre-planning by British intelligence about what it would do to the terrorists once they arrived at Gibraltar was specifically barred from the inquest by a flow of our old friends, “public interest immunity certificates” (gagging orders). The judges did not demand a lifting of the gagging orders, even if they were empowered to do so. Accordingly, without the necessary intelligence information, they were reluctant to jump to the “trap” conclusion reached by the Eye.

The European court of human rights was set up after the war, among others by Winston Churchill, as a “bulwark against fascism”. A majority verdict finding the British government guilty of breaching article two – the right to life – might be expected to be greeted in Britain by a moment of humility, even apology. Instead the air has been thick with the delicious noise of law ‘n’ order fanatics denouncing the due process of law and order.

The Sun launched into a vitriolic attack on the court (urging its readers to ring in and abuse any court official they could find who spoke English, which some of them did in racist language embarrassing even to the Sun editors).

The judges who voted with the majority were denounced one by one. In Lithuania, for instance, the Sun shrieked on 28 September, “three people had been sentenced to death for murder” (no doubt the Sun forgot its many angry campaigns for the return of capital punishment in Britain). Greece was savaged for imprisoning Jehovah’s Witnesses. In Luxembourg “five prisoners were held in solitary confinement over the legally allowed limit” and in Spain “prisoners were beaten with truncheons”. Civil liberties campaigners in Britain can look forward to future Sun campaigns against the imprisonment without trial of hundreds of people seeking asylum to Britain or the new “head-opener” truncheons so eagerly wielded by the British police.

Why had the judges done such a terrible thing? Alan Clark in the Mail opined: “We have never been forgiven for leaving the ERM.” But Peter Hitchens, political correspondent of the Daily Express, had discovered the real reason. “Could it be,” he asked, “partly because these judges are infected by the sort of ‘correctness’ which has spread into the governing class from the campus revolutionaries of the sixties”? (including even perhaps the vigorously correct York organiser for the International Socialists in the mid-1970s -a certain P. Hitchens).

But no one could touch the master. Andrew Neill filled his column in the Daily Mail (26 Sept) with a hymn of hate against the judges, and followed this up with an almost identical piece in the Sunday Times (29 Sept). Once again Neill singled out the Thames programme Death on the Rock for special abuse, especially for its use of witnesses. Among matters not mentioned in either article were

1. The huge sums in libel damages paid out by the Sunday Times for the hysterical abuse of honest witnesses to the programme. (Neill faces yet another action from Carmen Proetta for shooting his mouth off recently in the Irish media).

2. The payment by the Sunday Times of £2,000 to a convicted drugs smuggler for “information” to smear one of the Gibraltar witnesses. (The information never materialised and the prisoner hopped it with his loot to the Cost del Sol).

3. The denunciation of Neill and his Insight editor by at least three Sunday Times journalists who complained that their reports and assessments on the ground were twisted to feed the paper’s vendetta against Thames TV.

4. The fact that the award-winning Death on the Rock was subjected to one of the most thorough independent investigations in the history of the British media – and commended and cleared of all the serious charges. The investigation was headed by Lord Windlesham, a former Tory minister’.’

Private Eye, 6 October 1995, p. 11.

The shooting of the IRA terrorists by the SAS was therefore the action of a death squad, rather than soldiers governed by the rule of law. The government covered this up using gagging orders, and when the European court of human rights nevertheless ruled against it, the Right-wing press subjected the court to a campaign of denunciation and abuse. The worst of these propaganda pieces was written by Andrew Neill, now appearing as the fair and balanced host of the BBC’s Daily Politics.

Also from 1995: Tories Reject Report on Poverty in Wales as ‘Communist Propaganda’

August 12, 2013

Just below the article on Peter Lilley’s commissioning of the American private disability insurance firm, Unum, to assist in their slashing of disability benefit in the 16th July 1995 issue of Private Eye was another piece. This reported the rejection of an officially commissioned report into Welsh rural poverty by the junior Welsh Minister, Rod Richards, simply because it told him something he didn’t want to hear. Foot’s piece went:

For Richards or Poorer

When civil servants in Wales heard that a survey on English rural life was being carried out by a team headed by Professor Paul Cloke of University College, Lampeter, Wales, they decided to ask the professor if he would do a similar job for rural Wales.

The professor obliged. He and his team sent out 1,000 questionnaires with exactly the same questions they had sent to 3,000 people in England. The answers were analysed and the report compiled in exactly the same way. The three sponsoring bodies – the Welsh Office, the Welsh Development Agency and the Development Board for Rural Wales – worked closely with Cloke’s team, and when the report was produced last year the Welsh Office indicated that it would soon be published by the government, as the English report had been.

They reckoned without Rod “The Rod” Richards MP, the eccentric junior Welsh minister who learned his politics in the intelligence services. Richards was outraged when he read the report’s very mild conclusion that 30 per cent of the people of rural Wales are living in poverty.

The report wasn’t published and the Welsh Office politely says: “We weren’t happy with the research.” Officials there are embarrassed by the truth – that Rod Richards regarded the whole exercise as communist propaganda.’

It’s almost like the stereotypical image of a Conservative – a fierce reactionary decrying anything that doesn’t present capitalism as absolutely perfect as ‘communist propaganda’. Faced with ministers like this, it’s no surprise that an increasing number of Welsh people want devolution.

Rod Richards

Rod Richards in 1995. The protector of the Welsh peasantry against exploitation in Communist propaganda.

Paul Foot on the Insurance Company Unum and Cuts to Disability Benefit in Private Eye from 1995

August 12, 2013

Paul Foot, the journalist brother of Labour leader Michael Foot, had a regular column in Private Eye until his death. Entitled ‘Footnotes’, this documented the abuse of corporate and political power, and Right-wing attacks on welfare, the poor, the disabled, minorities and the working class. After his death it became ‘In the Back’, and is one of the features that lift the Eye above being merely another humour magazine making cheeky comments about politicians and celebs. One of the companies standing behind the Coalitions cuts to disability benefit and the welfare state is the American private insurance company, Unum. Paul Foot turned his gaze on the company way back in the Eye’s issue for the 16th June 1995, when they were hired by Major’s Social Services Secretary, Peter Lilley. The article went as follows:

Doctor on Call

To help him in his bid to save £2 billion a year by slashing the benefits of disabled people, Peter Lilley, social services secretary7, has hired the vice-president of a big multinational insurance company which is usinig the benefit cuts to boost its sales.

Overcoming the xenophobia to which he so often gives voice at Tory party conferences, Mr Lilley has appointed an American.

Founded in Portland, Maine, in 1848, the Unum Corporation describes itself as “the world’s leading light in disability insurance”. Unum Ltd, its British arm, is based in Dorking, Surrey. It issued its annual report last September, when chairman Ward E. Graffam enthused about “exciting developments” in Britain.

He explained: “the impending changes to the State ill-health benefits system heralded in the November 1993 Budget will create unique sales opportunities across the entire disability market and we will be launching a concerted effort to harness the potential in these”. In January, the full extent of Lilley’s plans to replace invalidity benefit with incapacity benefit revealed to the Commons. Estimated “savings” for the year 1995-1996 were £410 million; for 1996-97 £1.2 billion; and for 1997-98 an astonishing £1.7 billion.

Obviously, with so much less government money going to sick and disabled people, the opportunities for private disability insurance were enormous. No longer could people rely on benefit income if they became ill or disabled. They would have to fend for themselves. Accordingly, UNUM Ltd, as its chairman had promised, “launched a concerted effort to harness the potential”. In April this year, a glamorous and expensive advertising campaign coincided with the new rules for incapacity benefit.

One UNUM ad warned: “April 13, unlucky for some. Because tomorrow the new rules on state incapacity benefit announced in the 1993 autumn budget come into effect. Which means that if you fall ill and have to rely on state incapacity benefit, you could be in serious trouble”. Lurid tables estimating weekly outgoings for an average family at £276, and benefit under the new rules at £100, urged people to “protect yourself with a Long Term Disability policy from UNUM”.

Crucial to the new rules were tougher medical tests to find out if people really are incapacitated. The Benefits Agency Medical Services (BAMS) recruited a new corps of doctors to carry out new “all-work tests”. The basic change in the tests was simple. In the past, disabled or sick people were entitled to benefit if they could no longer do their job. From now on, people are entitled to benefit only if they can do no work at all.

The new medical tests were fundamental to the “savings” Lilley hoped for. If the tests were too lax – if doctors were allowed to slide into sentimental slackness in assessing peoples’ ability to do any work at all – the whole purpose of the tests would be thwarted. So Lilley’s department set up an “incapacity benefit medical valuation group” to “monitor and validate the quality standards for the doctors involved in the all-work assessments”.

The most famous member of the group is Dr John Le Cascio, second vice-president of the Unum Corporation, who has recently been seconded to the company’s British arm. Dr Le Cascio was also invited last year by Lilley’s department to help in the extensive training of doctors in the new techniques of testing. The DSS stresses that “the doctors don’t decide the incapacity benefit – that is done by an adjudication officer”. No doubt; but the officer makes a decision on the expert medical information provided by the tests.

No press release was issued about Dr Le Cascio’s appointment. No one told taxpayers that the DSS is shelling out £40,000 to Unum Ltd for D Le Cascio’s services in the year from October 1994 to September this year. A DSS spokeswoman explained: “this comes down basically to a daily rate of £440 a day. That’s cheap for a consultancy, actually.”

The Eye asked Dr Le Cascio if he agreed there was an absolutely obvious conflict of interest in his position as validator and monitor of tests for a benefit, the cutting of which was being exploited to the full by the advertisements for his company. He replied:

“Well, I don’t feel that way of course, and if I did I wouldn’t have accepted the job. I was brought in for a specific reason, and that is to teach some of the medical principles which are contained in the design of the new test – that’s what I do, that’s my area of expertise. I’m a technical person and I can do that. To me, there is no sort of conflict as long as I do that job. I feel comfortable doing it, and I assume that those n the department feel comfortable with my contribution. The reason they’ve turned to me is because the commercial insurers have been working with this sort of valuation system for a long time and that’s where the knowledge lies”.

And in that article you can see the origins of the whole modern benefits system. The use by the government of a private company, in this case Unum, that stands to profit from cuts to the welfare system and the recruitment of new corps of professionals by BAMS to make the tests more difficult. The only difference is that BAMS has now gone and been replaced by ATOS. It’s another example of the way Blair merely inherited and developed a system that was put forward by the Tories.

Graffam

Graffam

Lilley

Peter Lilley