Archive for November, 2013

Whistleblower – Daily Mail approval first priority at DWP

November 27, 2013

I’ve no doubt whatsoever that this story is absolutely true. One of the Tony Blair’s cabinet has said that Rupert Murdoch was a looming presence, or words to that effect, at cabinet meetings, as Blair worried over how his policies would play in the press. A friend of mine remarked how shocked he was when he read the account of how Cameron formulated his policies in Peter Snowdon’s ‘Back from the Brink: The Inside Story of the Tory Resurrection’. Cameron basically had no considered ideological basis for his policies. He simply made them up according to what would sound good and appeal to the public. This latest description of IDS’ priorities by the DWP whistleblower simply bears this out. We really are being led by liars and propagandists, with Dacre, Murdoch and the rest of the Right-wing press standing behind them, pulling the strings.

Pride's Purge

(not satire – it’s Iain Duncan Smith!)

A whistleblower at the Department for Work and Pensions who was contracted to work on Iain Duncan Smith’s disastrous Universal Credit IT system has said the department’s first priority is to please the Daily Mail.

Computing magazine has the extraordinary interview with the whistleblower:

Disaster at DWP: the full interview with DWP’s former employee

So now it’s confirmed what we knew all along.

Iain Duncan Smith’s welfare reforms are nothing at all to do with making the system fairer, or more efficient, or even more cost-effective and everything to do with pleasing the tabloid newspapers to save his own skin.

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Related articles by Tom Pride:

Iain Duncan Smith and Universal Credit – a case of a tool blaming his workmen?

Iain Duncan Smith bullied aide to tears over his expenses claims for – underwear!

DWP forces children centre volunteer to work for Poundland instead

The…

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Tax-Payer Funded Charity Workfare Subsidy Tops £50 Million!

November 27, 2013

the void

workfare-stick-up74,070 people have now been sent to work unpaid on the Mandatory Work Activity (MWA) scheme DWP statistics reveal today (via @refuted).

Claimants on Mandatory Work Activity are forced to carry out 120 hours of unpaid labour over a period of four weeks.  The scheme is used by Jobcentres to punish people they decide aren’t trying hard enough to find work.  Those receiving Jobseekers Allowance can be sent on this type of workfare from the first day they are unemployed or face benefits being stopped completely.  17,090 of these forced to work unpaid were recorded by the Jobcentre as being disabled people.

Many of the claimants are sent to work in charity shops such as those run by @salvationarmyuk and @YMCA_England.  Others are sent to work outside on chain gangs for environmental charities such as @TCVtweets and @Groundworkuk.

Many of these so-called charities have claimed that they…

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Cameron’s Con: His ‘planned’ rules against benefit tourism are already British law

November 27, 2013

There’s further proof that you should be very careful when reading about stories of mass immigration from eastern Europe swamping us with unemployed scroungers in today’s Private Eye’s ‘Street of Shame’ column. The Daily Mail sent one of their journalists to a poor village, Berini, in Romania. The mail then quoted the local mayor and a Roma (Gypsy) man as saying that half of the town’s population would move to the UK. The Roma man, according to the Mail, also said they’d move to the UK for our generous state benefits, and were looking forward to living in council housing. When the Romanians themselves got to hear of the story, the Romanian press sent one of their people to the village. The mayor and Romany there were insistent that they had been misquoted. The Roma man said that there were in fact only 200 Roma families in the town, of which only 50 were prepared to go to the UK. He said their preferred destination was France. Moreover, it appears that the journo from the Mail had been highly unethical in the way she pursued her investigation. She had asked the local people if they would be prepared to work for her in England. She told them she could give them a job, and provide them with housing, a place at the local school and free medical assurance. If that’s the case, then it’s not hard to see why many would say they would jump at the chance to come to Britain. In short, the Mail asked some highly leading questions, and then altered the answers to follow the paper’s editorial line about immigration. It seems to me that Cameron is deliberately pandering to xenophobia in order to win a bit more popularity, now that 51 per cent of the population, according to polls, believe that the government is only on the side of the rich. So you can expect more of this kind of rhetoric and posturing as the Tories try to attract more people away from UKIP.

Mike Sivier's blog

David Cameron seems to have created quite a stir with his plan to restrict access to benefits for EU immigrants. Would he have made such a splash if it was widely known that, firstly, benefit tourism is a myth and, secondly, most of his ‘new’ measures are already in place?

The BBC has reported that Cameron is “proposing powers to deport homeless migrants and cut rights to unemployment and housing benefits”. This is simply not accurate.

The ‘proposal’ to stop out-of-work benefits being paid after six months unless a claimant has a “genuine” chance of a job is already enshrined in UK law.

Take a look at the Citizens Advice Bureau website, which states quite clearly: “If you’re looking for work and have registered as a jobseeker at Jobcentre Plus… you will … have to take the Habitual Residence Test [to prove residence in the UK] and prove…

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‘Observations on the Suicide of Jacqueline Harris’: How Do We Send this by the Thousands to the Government

November 26, 2013

My thanks to everyone who has liked and commented on the pieces about the horrific suicide of Jacqueline Harris in Bristol. My particular thanks to everyone who did so for my piece, ‘Observations on the Suicide of Jacqueline Harris’. I’m glad to have your appreciation for my views on this troubling and tragic death.

One of the commenters, Jaypot2012, has asked the following question:

‘A very eye-opening article and I agree that it deserves a large audience.
Any chance of this being sent by thousands of us to IDS, Cameron, Atos and the DWP?
As you say, they are breaking the law so maybe the House of Lords and the Police should be involved?
IDS has gone far to far and Atos ARE the ones making the decision for our benefits.
I agree that Atos should be closed down immediately and the “tests” stopped, how and what is the best way to do this?’

If you like the article and my observations on ATOS and their paymasters, then by all means send it to IDS, Cameron, ATOS and the DWP. The more the merrier. I suppose the easiest way to do this would simply be to write to the MPs concerned at the Houses of Parliament, Westminster, and simply cut and paste the text of my article into the letter, stating that this blogger has raised important points about ATOS and the assessment process, which you want answered. If they have email, you could send them one of these instead, saying pretty much the same. My only concern would be that the DWP would do to everyone writing in what they did to Mike and the other bloggers, who made a FOIA request for information on the number of people who’ve died as a result of ATOS and the DWP. This was turned down as vexatious, because more than one person was making the request. The Department had previously refused the request when it was made by a single individual, because it had only been made by one person and was therefore a waste of resources. Catch 22, and evidence that the Tories are running scared on this issue. But if enough people want to do this, then I think a mass letter-writing campaign is a great idea. I also wonder about the possibility of sending the email to the press to make the same points, as well as follow up letters when we get the inevitable brush-off.

I’ll contact Mike, over at Vox Political, as he’s got a far better grasp of journalism and publicity than me. And any other suggestions from readers here are more than welcome.

Labour History at M Shed, Bristol

November 26, 2013

The M Shed museum in Bristol is also the venue for a series of public seminars on various aspects of the city’s history. These are held jointly by the Museum and the Regional History Centre at the University of the West of England. UWE is Bristol’s second university. It was formerly Bristol Polytechnic. I took my MA there, and it does have some extremely good, lively teachers. Many of them had a background in women’s and social history. I can remember that one of the courses run by the history department is on the Slave Trade, taught by Madge Dresser. Dr Dresser has also organised conferences at the university on the subject, and was one of the organisers of the ‘Respectable Trade’ exhibition on Bristol and the slave trade way back in the mid 1990s. Other courses included Bristol Corporation of the Poor, which looked at the operation of the poor law and the workhouse in Bristol from its establishment in the mid-17th century to its abolition in the 20th.

The talks for this academic year, 2013-14, include the following:

Peter Fleming, (UWE), Bristol’s First Historian? Robert Ricart’s Maire of Bristowe is Kalendar and Notions of History Writing in 15th-c Bristol, Thursday, 24th October 2013;

Nigel Somerville (Bristol Record Office), The Dreadnought Journal: A Cruise Against the Enemies of Great Britain, Thursday, 21st November 2013;

Nick Rogers, (York University, Toronto), Naval Impressment in the South West in the Eighteenth Century, Tuesday, 10th December 2013;

M Shed Curators’ Roundtable, Moved by Conflict: Collecting and Curating the First World War, Thursday, 16th January 2014;

Richard Coates, (UWE), Place-Names and History in the Bristol Area, Thursday, 20th March 2014;

Kent Fedorowich (UWE) ‘Returning Home to Fight’: Bristolians in the Dominion Armies, 1914-1918, Thursday 17th April 2014;

Paul Tobia (UWE), Life Stories and the Photograpic Image: Patients in the Bristol Lunatic Asylum in the Nineteenth Century, Thursday 15th May 2015;

Andrew Flack (University of Bristol), Animal Commodities: Bristol Zoo, the Wild Animal Trade and Imperial Networks in the Nineteenth Century, Thursday 19th June 2014.

The seminar on the 20th February 2014 is on a piece of the city’s labour history. Given by Mike Richardson of UWE, this is on Bristol and the Labour Unrest of 1910-14. The description for this seminar in the Museum’s pamphlet on them states

‘1910 witnessed a renewed outbreak of industrial strife in Britain, as significant sections of the trade union rank-and-file began to express their frustration at the lack of progress made in their struggle for better working conditions and a new social order. Strikes reached levels not seen since the ‘new unionism’ upsurge of 1889-92. Workers unrest combined with clashes over Home Rule for Ireland, and the militant tactics of Suffrage campaigners, which added to the problems of the ruling class. Confronted by these parallel rebellions, the ruling class feared their convergence, and some warned of the dangers of revolution.

This talk will focus on Bristol’s experience of labour unrest between 1910 and the outbreak of the First World War. Rather than focus solely on Bristol’s famous union leaders, Ben Tillett and Earnest Bevin, this seminar will examine the events from the union rank-and-file perspective.’

The pamphlet notes that Mike Richardson, who gives the talk, is a Visiting Research Fellow at the Centre of Employment Studies Research at UWE.

The seminars run from 18.00 – 19.30, or from 6 O’clock to 7.30 in the evening. Admission is free.

M Shed is down on Bristol’s docks. It’s at Princes Wharf, Wapping Road, Bristol, BS1 4RN.

Boris Plans To Build 27,000 Unaffordable Houses A Year To Ease London’s Housing Crisis

November 26, 2013

the void

rough-sleepers-esLondoners should brace for themselves for an influx of toffs whilst the poor sleep on the streets if Boris Johnson’s latest Housing Strategy is given the go ahead.

According to the Mayor, 42,000 new houses a year are planned for the capital  over the next ten years.  Many of these houses will be bought by global super-rich vultures who seem intent on buying up London properties as investments, not homes.  Most of the rest will go to highly paid professionals.  5,000 will be built for ‘long term private rent’ at the current soaring market levels.  Of the total number of new homes Boris plans to build a mere 15,000 a year will be ‘affordable’.

Yet even this will mean nothing to the hundreds of thousands of low income Londoners desperate for decent and secure housing.  40% of these ‘affordable’ homes will be ‘low cost home ownership products’. The Mayor’s own…

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The great wage con is keeping you poor

November 26, 2013

Mike Sivier's blog

minimum-wage-poverty

Is anyone else sick of employers bleating that the minimum wage is hindering their business?

They must think we’re all stupid.

A few of them were on the BBC’s Any Answers on Saturday, saying the minimum wage keeps pay down, and that people can’t afford to go to work – especially if they live in London – because their housing costs are paid by benefits. This is nonsense.

The minimum wage is exactly what it claims to be – a minimum. And if people aren’t getting up to work for it because benefits give them more, we can see that it is not enough.

But let’s take this further: We all know that Landlord Subsidy is being restricted – especially in London, where landlords charge more than in the rest of the country. This means that people on low incomes in rented homes will be unable to pay the bills…

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“Back to work” scheme prevents unemployed from …. getting back to work!

November 26, 2013

Pride's Purge

(not satire – believe it or not – it’s the UK today!)

Another one to add to my growing collection of news headlines that look like satire but aren’t.

A private company which is being paid millions of taxpayers’ money by the coalition government to supposedly help unemployed people get back to work is preventing people from ….. getting back to work!

This from local newspaper the Cumbernauld News:

I’m not allowed to look for work

This is not the first time Triage has been in the news for all the wrong reasons.

This is from the Daily Record last January:

Fury as taxpayer-funded firm are accused of insulting sick and disabled clients on regular basis

Another example of Cameron’s so-called Big Society?

Or as I like to call it – ‘TOFFS paying SPIVS to rip off PLEBS

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Related articles by Tom Pride:

DWP forces children…

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Paid Internships in the Cultural Sector in Bristol

November 26, 2013

And now something rather more positive, I hope, after the news of yet another death due to ATOS.

I’ve been going on a course here in Bristol at ‘M’ Shed, one of the City’s many fine museums. It’s run jointly by the museum and South Gloucestershire and Stroud College, and is designed to give people some of the employment and job seeking skills they need to get them back into work, as well as the opportunity to do some voluntary work at the Museum. I’m aware how close it is to workfare, but nevertheless I decided to go on it as I’m interested in working in the heritage/ museum sector. I’ve met a lot of very interesting people on the course, who’ve come from a variety of backgrounds and with different skills. And it’s been extremely interesting hearing their experience of the current job situation, and their views on the disgusting policies of the government. The lecturers running the course are by no means blind to the failings of various employers. When a few of the people on the course started discussing the truly terrible and exploitative employers they’ve had, one of the lecturers joined in with some other tales of bad employment practice, though diplomatically naming no names.

Yesterday they announced that they, along with the other museums and art galleries in Bristol, including the Arnolfini, had come together to form a scheme that has created 72 paid internships for young people in Bristol aged between 18 and 24, who wish to work in the heritage/ cultural sector. They urged us to spread the word about it, and pointed to one of the lads, who was assisting them on the course, as one of the interns.

I have to say that I have very strong reservations about internships. All too often they’re simply a way for already wealthy firms to profit from the unpaid labour of idealistic young people wishing to work in that industry. Private Eye has run several pieces in its ‘Street of Shame’ column covering the use of internships and extremely poorly paid junior posts in newspapers like the Times, which enable Murdoch to award himself the vast pay rises he and the rest of his board and senior editorial staff enjoy. The worst offender for this is actually the supposedly Left-wing Guardian, which is presumably trying to use them to stop it from losing even more millions by actually having to pay its journos. These internships are paid, and so, I hope, different from these other exploitative schemes.

I don’t really know much about them, apart from the fact that they exist, and are for people between 18 and 24. Thus they don’t benefit middle-aged people like me. Still, they may offer someone else a start in the museums and cultural sector, and so I thought they were worth mentioning.

The Arts Council page reporting the establishment of the scheme is at http://www.artscouncil.org.uk/news/arts-council-news/creative-sector-offers-new-employment-opportunitie/.

They give the following websites for finding out more about apprenticeships, internships and applications for wage funding cep@ccskills.org.uk and http://www.creative-employment.co.uk #sthash.QojyaxEU.dpuf.

Also according to the website, more information on Bristol’s Creative Employment Programme can be found from Sam Thomson at sam.thomson@uwe.ac.uk.

Observations on the Suicide of Jacqueline Harris

November 26, 2013

Like very many other people, I was saddened and angered to read Johnny Void’s and Tom Pride’s posts on the death of Jacqueline Harris. This lady took her own life after ATOS found her fit for work, despite her multiple disabilities and the great pain she suffered from them. This poor woman, like me, came from Bristol. I’ve also had a run-in with ATOS. Here are a few more of my observations and comments on the case. I intend to write a much deeper article attacking the pseudo-scientific nature of the ATOS assessment form later.

I don’t know if there are any other ATOS centres in Bristol, but there’s one at Flowers Hill in Brislington. This is a suburb of Bristol, which contains a mixture of light industrial buildings and former warehouses along with residential homes, and some of the most historic buildings in Bristol. It has Arnos Vale cemetery, dating from the 19th century. The funeral monuments there are impressive, with one of the most striking the tomb of Rajah Rammohan Roy, an Indian reformer and one of the founders of his country’s independence movement. He was married to the daughter of Bristol Unitarian minister, and preached in her father’s chapel. I believe there is an annual visit to his grave every year by members of the City’s Indian community. Other monuments include the Black Castle, an 18th century factory in the shape of a castle, made from black stone. There is also a 19th century mental hospital. Established by those guardians of peace and humanity, the Quakers, this was pioneering in its day for the humane treatment given to the inmates. It possessed extensive grounds and gardens for the patients’ enjoyment, as it was found that this greatly assisted their healing and recovery.

If I recall correctly, the ATOS offices are in a complex of buildings just down from a DIY centre and other stores. ATOS share the site with a complex of buildings, which include an NHS administration and a driving test centre.

When you go for an assessment, bring someone into the interview with you, or record it. It has been my experience that ATOS will lie and try and falsify your answers. You need to keep some kind of record of the interview, and that other person will remember or pick up on things that you may not notice or forget. Similarly, when going through the form it is very wise to photocopy it after you have filled it out, so you have a record of your answers there.

This poor woman’s suicide, along with so many others, raises the following points and questions.

Firstly, ATOS have tried to distance themselves from the tragedy. They state that they have no part in any decision on benefits. This is disingenuous. While the decision to end someone’s claim is taken by the DWP, rather than ATOS, ATOS clearly have the contract for the development and administration of their tests on the express knowledge that those, who fail it will lose their invalidity or disability entitlement. With this in mind, they cannot justly deny responsibility for the loss of benefits from those they judge fit to work.

In view of the number of people, who have committed suicide after ATOS declared them fit for work, it should be asked what training ATOS gives its personnel to deal with extremely distressed or suicidal interviewees. Johnny Void and the other left-wing bloggers have carried stories reporting that some Job Centres are training their staff to deal with such emergencies. I myself have seen a stack of cards for the Samaritans on the desk of one of the interview staff at the Job Centre Plus in Eagle House, St Stephen’s Street in Bristol. Are there similar items stocked by staff at ATOS? If not, why not?

Seventy-five per cent of ATOS decisions that someone is fit for work have been overturned on appeal. This suggests that either the ATOS assessors are criminally negligent when administering the tests, or that they are under pressure to falsify results to get a negative decision which will please their paymasters in the DWP. I said before that it has been my own experience that ATOS will lie in order to be able to turn down your claim. There have been revelations of secret quotas for benefit sanctions within the DWP and Job Centres, along with bonuses and gifts awarded to staff, who have the most number of claimants disallowed. Is there are a similar system operating within ATOS? What pressure are its staff under to declare someone fit for work? Are they also given financial incentives and gifts, like Easter Eggs, for so doing?

What policies and procedures does ATOS have to protect the vulnerable adults they interview? We have had reports of people with severe mobility problems forced to take their assessment in centres, which are some distance from where they or their lifts may park, or else on the upper floors of buildings. Does ATOS consider this acceptable? The ATOS form itself is heavily biased towards physical disability. It and its administrators therefore appear to have little experience or awareness of mental health issues. What procedures have been put in place to safeguard people with schizophrenia or disorders, like depression during the interview and afterwards? Shouldn’t their fitness for work or otherwise be assessed by a trained, objective psychiatrist or psychologist?

Johnny Void and the others have also reported that many of the employees administering the test are not doctors, but nursing staff. This is unacceptable. However, the medical qualifications of ATOS’ assessors are, in my experience, superfluous and irrelevant. They do not examine you themselves under their own initiative, but simply ask you the questions on the form. Presumably medical staff are employed in case a physical examination, such as to confirm some of the claims made by the interviewee, is necessary. Mostly I think it’s just to provide a pseudo-professional medical gloss to the proceedings.

The interviewing staff do at least have some medical qualifications. What are the medical qualifications of the decision-makers? Are they doctors, surgeons, psychiatrists? Or is that an entirely risible question, and they are really just another bunch of faceless bureaucrats? Again, from the procedure it seems that no proper medical experience is required or needed. All the decision makers do is go through the form, tot up the answers and then declare a person fit, even if that person is in a coma or possibly dead. This is no exaggeration. These things have happened. If the decision makers are medical personnel, have any of them expressed reservations or criticisms about the tests? Or resigned? What mechanisms are in place to assure that any criticisms or complaints they have about the test are passed on and accepted?

The ATOS assessment has also led to violations of British disability law, and contravenes the Hippocratic Oath. This was for centuries taken by British and European doctors. It has now been discarded, but is, I believe, still held in great respect by parts of the profession. At its heart is the stipulation that the doctor should ‘first do no harm’. Clearly this lies at the heart of all medical practice. If you can’t cure something, then for heaven’s sake don’t make it worse. But ATOS does make it worse. Clearly the individuals who have suffered heart attacks due to the stress of their assessment, or mentally ill people who’ve taken their own lives, have been made worse by the procedure. Private Eye a few years ago ran a story about one woman, who had already frequently attempted suicide. Tragically, she succeeded after ATOS told her she was fit for work, and no longer eligible for benefits. ATOS broke the law. According to the Eye, it is explicitly against the law to force the mentally ill to undergo such tests if this will exacerbate their condition. Has ATOS ever been prosecuted for one of these incidents? Were staff disciplined for such legal and medical negligence? What procedures were set in place to stop this ever occurring again?

Well, it seems to me that the answer is obviously none, but the question still needs to be asked.

Ordinary doctors, nurses and other medical professionals can be sued for malpractice. They have medical insurance to provide for this, and practice under the knowledge that they are responsible for the care of the patients and may be sued and convicted if they abuse or criminally neglect this sacred trust. The Coalition are considering passing legislation that will further criminalise and inflict severe penalties for negligent hospital staff. The question must be raised here of whether similar procedures are in place to discipline and try ATOS staff generally – the interviewers and decision makers – for similar negligence and malpractice in or through the administration of the test, quite apart from the horrific incidents mentioned above.

These are a few of the questions I feel still need to be answered. I believe strongly that the ATOS assessment form and process does not constitute proper, valid medical practice but a form of pseudo-medical bureaucratic quackery to provide a professional gloss to what is at heart an entirely bureaucratic procedure. Science is meant to be objective. According to Popper, the essence of science is falsification: the experimenter arranges his tests not to prove a theory, but to disprove it. If this occurs, new theories must be devised, and further experiments conducted. This is how science has progressed, and it has resulted in astounding advances in nearly all areas of endeavour, including biology and medicine. The ATOS test is the exact opposite of this. It has been devised and administered according to a narrowly and ideologically driven pre-conceived notion of what constitutes ‘fitness for work’, regardless of the personal needs and abilities of the individual to whom it is administered. It has been expressly designed to get as many people off benefit as possible according to the Neo-Liberal imperative of reducing government spending (but only on the poor). In this, it is strongly reminiscent of other pseudo-medical and pseudo-scientific fads, such as monkey glands, the removal of vestigial organs in order to make us more evolved, and the Stalinist ‘proletarian’ science of Lysenkoism. The only proper solution to this is to have ATOS shut down immediately, its wretched assessment permanently expunged from responsible, ethical medical practice. Oh yes, and the prosecution of Thierry Breton and his minions for culpable negligence and serious malpractice.