Posts Tagged ‘Benefits Agency’

George Osborne Lies about Responsibility for the Collapse of Carillion

January 16, 2018

No, not Marillion, who had a hit in the 1980s with the classic, ‘Kayleigh’, and whose singer was called Fish, ’cause he drank like one, but Carillion, the outsourcing giant which has gone belly-up.

Mike’s put up a post about Carillion’s collapse, pointing out that the company was in dire financial trouble, and had issued at least three profit warnings. But miraculously it was still able to win government contracts.

George Osborne, our former comedy Chancellor to Dave Cameron’s comedy Prime Minister, decided to put his oar in today. Faced with the question of who was responsible for awarding these contracts to the ailing company, Osborne did what every Tory does: he lied and spun. Oh no, whined Osborne, now the editor of the Evening Standard, it’s not the Tories’ responsibility they got government contracts. It’s all the fault of civil servants.

Er, no, George. It’s not. It’s your fault, and the fault of every Thatcherite government since the days of John Major.

If you enter the civil service, you will be told that it is your duty to provide the government with impartial advice. This marks the British civil service out from its continental cousins, where the upper levels of the civil service belong to the ruling party, and so change with each election. There have been cases when the civil service has been less than impartial, such as when the rail network was privatised. This was the brainchild of a particular civil servant, who was a keen promoter of free market private enterprise. But this particular mandarin has been and gone.

Looking back, a scandal like Carillion was almost inevitable. When outsourcing began in the 1990s under John Major, firms like Capita, dubbed ‘Crapita’ by Private Eye, became notorious for the way they continually got government contracts, despite coming in late and over budget on just about all those they had been awarded. Or else the systems they installed just didn’t work. But it was Tory – and Blairite – ideology that private enterprise was always better than the state, even when, to most people, it most certainly wasn’t. And there was a revolving door between these firms and the Tory party. Under John Major, the various ministers responsible for privatising particular firms magically got jobs on the board of the same, now private companies, afterwards. Amazing! But civil servants weren’t to blame for that, although certain high level civil servants did benefit from the revolving door, particularly and most notoriously in the MOD. The system got so bad that John Major’s government got a justifiable reputation for ‘sleaze’. But a French politician was much more accurate in his description of it. He said that in Britain, we called it ‘sleaze’, but in La Patrie, they simply called it ‘corruption’. Indeed. Over the other side of La Manche, a civil servant or politician has to wait two years after they’ve retired from office before they can take up a job with a private firm. Which means that their address book, which is what the firm really wants, is out of date, and they’re of no value to them. Problem solved.

Carillion was allowed to go on because of a series of legislation put in place by the Tories to protect the outsourcing companies. Like as private companies, they are not subject to FOIA, and any attempts to probe their financial affairs is automatically denied by the government on the grounds of ‘corporate confidentiality’. You see, such requests would jeopardise their position by opening them up to scrutiny by their rivals. We’ve seen this used when justifying giving contracts to private firms in the NHS. NHS performance is published and scrutinised, but not those of the private firms angling for lucrative NHS contracts.

This has been brought in by the Tories, including Dave Cameron and George Osborne.

And while we’re at it, let’s make the point that much government advice doesn’t come from the civil service. It came from private consultants, like Anderson Consulting, who were responsible for turning the Benefits Agency as was into the shambles it now is. Under Tony Blair this grew to enormous proportions, so that Blair was taking advice from SPADs -Special Advisors – from private industry, rather than the civil service.

So it’s fair to ask which set of private consultants argued that Carillion ought to be given a contract? Perhaps no-one did, but I think it’s a fair question, given just how much sponsorship the Tories received from private industry. Was Carillion one of their corporate donors?

So who’s responsible for the government awards given to Carillion? You are, George. You, Cameron, and your whole disgusting party. Now stop lying. You were rubbish as chancellor, and you’ve got no business editing a paper either.

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Betsy DeVos Removes Guidance Documents for Disabled Students

October 28, 2017

More from a growing pile of already abundant evidence that Betsy DeVos should not be in charge of education in America. Actually, I wouldn’t trust her to run a pre-school or kindergarten. In this piece from The Young Turks, Jeff Waldorf reports and comments on the move by DeVos to rescind the 72 official documents, which explain to students and their parents, what the rights of disabled people are when they go to Uni. American universities are granted money by the federal government to support the needs of disabled students. DeVos hasn’t revoked these. She’s just making sure that disabled students, their carers and relatives, don’t know what they are.

One of these documents translates the official jargon of the legislation into ordinary plain English, so that regular peeps don’t need a lawyer to interpret it for them. Now it’s gone, things are going to be made difficult so that people will need a lawyer, which only the wealthy will be able to afford.

Waldorf states that not only is this move contradictory, as she hasn’t repealed the legislation itself, but it’s the first step to depriving disable people of the state support they need. He aptly describes it as ‘weaponising ignorance’.

DeVos is coming for the very weakest members of American society. That includes transgender people. She got rid of a whole load of federal directives demanding that the transgendered should be allowed to use the toilet facilities of the sex they identified with, on the grounds that this should be left to state and local government.

And she’s done the same with official legislation detailing how universities should deal with sexual assault on campus. That too, should be left to state and local authorities to decide, as well as the unis themselves.

Waldorf parodies the old Pastor Niemoller poem, ‘First they came for…’, with ‘First they came for the transgender, then the sexual assault victims, then the disabled’. He concludes that DeVos and her government are terrible people.

This is truly disgusting. It’s another attempt by the Republicans to restrict access to higher education, so that only the rich can afford it. And the able-bodied. I thought I’d post it here, as I know that many of the readers of the blog are either disabled, or the carers and relatives of people with disabilities. The people this government despise.

Waldorf is absolutely right about ‘weaponised ignorance’. Since John Major’s day there has been a culture of silence with the DSS/ Benefits Agency/ DWP. People are not being told their rights by DWP staff, and it’s been part of a campaign to make sure that benefits are not taken up. The government can then claim that millions of pounds in benefits are going unclaimed, and so appear generous when announcing this fact, while at the same time planning to cut the amount of benefit. That’s how it’s worked out for several decades. And the delays in the benefits system now and the sanctions system has created a murderous system of ‘checkbook euthanasia’ in which the government is apparently trying to make sure that people die of starvation before they get anything from the state.

As for transgender people, they’ve been vilified as potential sexual predators and a danger to women and children based on a single incident, if that. Some commenters have made the point that Trump and the Republicans are turning on them, because they lost the argument about gay rights and marriage.

They’ve also shown how hypocritical their attitude to sexual violence is by repealing the legislation regulating the way universities should handle real sexual assault. So they’re only worried about rape and sexual assault if it involves the transgender. If it’s carried out by cis-gendered people, then apparently they’re completely indifferent to it.

Despite the recent revelations of the sexual assault and exploitation of women – and men – in the movie business by predatory moguls like Harvey Weinstein.

This is being done in America. But the Republicans over here absolutely love every nasty trick the party of Ronald Reagan has ever played, and it will come over here. No doubt loudly supported by the Heil and the Torygraph.

Vote for Corbyn to Stop the Work Capability Tests

June 8, 2017

This is the text of another of my table-top pamphlets, this time against the notorious Work Capability Tests. These were also introduced by New Labour at the behest of Unum and other private healthcare providers.

These are not objective tests to assess who is well enough to support themselves. They are simply a callous, bureaucratic mechanism for throwing people with disability off the benefits they need to support themselves. These have included severely disabled people, including terminal cancer patients in comas!

This iniquitous system has been retained and expanded by the Tories – David Cameron and his Lib Dem lackey, Nick Clegg, and now Theresa May.

It is killing people. As I’ve mentioned far too many times before, about 600 + people have died in misery and despair after having their benefit withdrawn due to these tests. Stilloaks, Johnny Void, Mike at Vox Political and DPAC have put together lists and videos putting names to faces, to show the human reality of these statistics – whose mothers, fathers, sons, daughters, brothers and sisters were killed thanks to the Thatcherite insistence of cutting down on welfare.

The number of people, who have died after having been assessed as ‘fit for work’ is well above ten thousand, though the true figure may never be known. Mike and the other disability activists, who tried to get the figures were blocked by IDS and the DWP at every turn when they tried to get them.

Jeremy Corbyn has also promised to end workfare.

So vote for him. Don’t let the Tories kill more disabled people under the pretence of saving money.

Stop the Work Capability Test –
Before More People Die

by David Sivier

One of the very worst policies introduced by various governments as part of their campaigns to dismantle the welfare state over the past decade has been the Work Capability Test. This was introduced by New Labour in October 2008 along with a new benefit for the disabled and long-term sick, the Employment Support Allowance, which replaced Incapacity Benefit. The Work Capability Test is intended to show if the person claiming benefit really cannot work. It consists of questionnaire, in which boxes are to be ticked in answer to particular questions about the claimant’s health and disability. 2Ten of these tests were on the claimant’s physical health, and another ten are on their ‘mental, cognitive and intellectual’ fitness. There may also be a brief physical examination. The tests are performed by medical doctors working on behalf of a government outsourcing company. This was given to the French company, Atos, but the company was forced to terminate its contract a year early in 2014 following public anger at the system’s incompetence and maladministration. The contract was then given to an American company, Maximus. The tests may be repeated as often as the JobCentre Plus decides. If the disabled person scores low in the tests, they are judged fit for work. They lose their ESA and are told to apply for Jobseeker’s Allowance.

The tests are based on a monograph, The Scientific and Conceptual Basis of Incapacity Beneft, by Gordon Waddell and Mansel Aylward, of 2005 and a succeeding work, Is Work Good for Your Health and Wellbeing? By Gordon Waddell and Kim Burton. They were also strongly influenced by a 2001 New Labour conference, in which Aylward was a contributor, Malingering and Illness Deception. These led in turn to the publication of a Green Paper in 2006, A New Deal for Welfare: empowering people to work – an independent assessment of the arguments for the proposed Incapacity Benefit reform. Both Waddell and Aylward were professors at the Unum Provident Centre for Psychosocial and Disability Research at Cardiff University, which was funded by the American insurance giant from 2004-9. The Work Capability Test uses a form of Bio-Psychosocial model of assessment, developed in America by Unum Provident. This model of assessment is considered to have been devised by George Engel in 1977. In 2006 a paper produced by Professor Christopher Butler and his colleagues attacked the model as ‘wanting’ and inadequate. Waddell and Aylward’s 2006 paper has also been attacked and discredited by Emeritus Professor Alison Ravetz.

Unum, and pseudo-medical testing actually became part of the disability benefits system twelve years or so prior to the Waddell and Aylward’s paper, in 1993, when the-then Conservative Health Secretary, Peter Lilley, introduced tougher testing designed to evaluate whether claimants were totally incapable of work. They had previously been awarded benefit if they were unable to do their job. Lilley considered that this approach was to open to sentimental interference by doctors, and so set up an ‘Incapacity benefit medical valuation group’, whose members included Dr John Le Cascio, the second vice-president of Unum Corporation. Lo Cascio had recently been seconded to its British branch, Unum Ltd, based in Dorking in Surrey. In 1994 Lo Cascio was appointed to train the British doctors charged with carrying out the tests by the Benefits Agency Medical Services. New Labour claimed that the purpose of the Work Capability Tests has been ‘to get people back into work’. This was always a misleading claim. New Labour had a ten-year plan to remove one million people from the 2.8 million receiving disability benefits. Their Secretary of State for Health declared ‘We know that being in work can be good for your wellbeing’, echoing the title of the paper by Waddell and Burton. 13 Years before that, Lilley introduced the tests with the aim of cutting £2 billion from the benefits bill.

And Unum itself regarded the benefit cuts as a great commercial opportunity. In their report in 1994, Chairman Ward E. Graffam was enthusiastic about ‘exciting developments in Britain’, saying ‘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.’

Atos immediately decided that three-quarters of those in receipt of benefit were fit for work.16 Between the introduction of the tests in October 2008 and February 2012, the Department for Work and Pensions made over 1.36 million decisions on whether to award ESA following the administration of the tests on claimants. It declared 794,000 sick and disabled people ‘fit for work’. From the very beginning, the tests were criticised as being vastly inaccurate, and the treatment of claimants under it as cruel and degrading. ‘We Are
Spartacus’, a network of disability researchers and campaigners, denounced the way claimants were ‘wrongly assessed, humiliated and badly treated’. In response to repeated requests by disability campaigners, the DWP finally released the figures for the number of people dying over 11 months in 2011 while in receipt of ESA. 10,600 people in total had died. Of these, 1,300 had died after being taken off benefit following the decision that they were ‘fit to work’. Some of the people, who have died, committed suicide in despair at having their income terminated. One of these was a 47 year old man, who took a drug overdose. Others experienced a deterioration in their mental health due to the stress of assessment. Between 2008 and 2014, there were 600,000 appeals. This constitutes a third of all assessments, and in 2012-13 there were 465,000 appeals, with a success rate of 39 per cent. In some areas, lawyers had a success rate of over 80 per cent overturning decision by Atos against the claimant receiving benefits. 60 per cent of those, who had successfully appealed had scored zero. That is, Atos had declared them entirely fit for work. In 2013, however, the Conservative government took the decision to end legal aid for claims for welfare payment, which meant that fewer people would be able to afford to take the government to court.

In America, Unum Provident was fined $31.7 million in a class action lawsuit in California in 2003 for running ‘disability denial factories’. Two years later in 2005, John Garamendi, the California Department Insurance Commissioner, fined the company $15 million, declaring ‘Unum Provident is an outlaw company. It is a company that has operated in an illegal fashion for years’. The insurance commissioners of 48 American states had made a settlement with the company by 2006 that required it to review 200,000 claims and pay a $15 million fine. In 2008 the American Association of Justice declared that the company was the second most discredited insurance provider in America.

Despite public anger at Atos’ conduct of the Work Capability Test for ESA, the government in 2012 awarded the company another contract, worth over £400 million, for assessing whether disabled people were suitable for the Personal Independence Payment that was scheduled to replace the Disability Living Allowance in 2013. The Disability Living Allowance provided the handicapped with up to £130 per week to help them look after themselves. This was mostly awarded to help people cook, wash, and assist those with mobility problems. In the three years from April 2013 to 2016, this is to be phased out and replaced with the PIP, which is designed to get people back into work. The government was determined to cut spending on the PIP by twenty per cent during these three years, after the number claiming DLA rose by 30 per cent to 3.2 million people between 2002 and 2011. This was expected to throw 500,000 people off disability benefit.

As with their administration of the ESA fitness to work tests, Atos has proved to be less than efficient in its administration of the PIP. Those applying for the benefit may have to wait months before being notified that they are entitled. The cancer charity, MacMillan Cancer Support, stated that there were serious delays in the approval of payments. As well as leaving the terminally ill without this benefit, it also meant that they were unable to claim other vital benefits with which PIP was linked. As a result, some were forced in their desperation to take out loans from payday loan companies, which have a truly exorbitant interest rate. The number of problems with ESA dealt with by Citizens Advice rose by 54 per cent from 2011 to 2012, when the bureaux dealt with 450,000 of them.

Paul Farmer, the head of the mental health charity, Mind, criticised the tests for failing to consider the effects of mental health on people’s ability to work. In an interview with the Guardian in 2012, he said

The system is based on assumptions that claimants need to be forced back to work, rather than supported on their own terms, and that those not well enough to go back to work are somehow perceived as scroungers. These attitudes only serve to further damage individuals’ mental health and increase the time until they may be ready to return to work.

Richard Hawkes, the chief executive of Scope, another disability charity, stated that the tests ‘should be more than an exercise in getting people of benefits. It should make sure disabled people get the specialist, tailored and flexible support they need to find and keep a job.’ The House of Commons Work and Pensions Committee condemned the tests, stating that the system was so flawed it needed to be completely overhauled.

Guy Standing in his A Precariat Charter states that governments have been able to cut benefits for the disabled far more than for other groups, because they are a minority and so there is likely to be fewer objections to their treatment and lost votes. He also recommends that any firm hired by the government to provide services for the disabled should be bound by three commitments. The first should be to the disabled themselves; the second should be to the government; and the third should be to the whole of society, as the rest of us could be next. The employment contract awarded to such outsourcing firms should include penalty clauses requiring them to compensate the disabled claimant directly when they do not award them the correct benefits. This compensation should be much more than the benefits the disabled person did not receive. They should also be penalised for their mistakes. This would be a start, but it is not enough. The problem lies not with the companies administering the tests, but with the whole system of tests itself. The cause of the problem is attitude of successive governments, from John Major’s Conservatives, through Blair and Brown’s New Labour and then the Conservative-led governments of David Cameron, that the disabled should automatically have their benefits reduced, regardless of the poverty and hardship involved. The goal should be to provide benefits to support the poor and disabled, rather than cuts intended to reduce the tax burden for the rich. The Work Capability Test and the poverty and stress it inflicts should be stopped. Now.

Vox Political: Teen Bullied by DWP Commits Suicide; DWP Staff enjoy £140 million Bonuses

December 7, 2016

Mike today also posted a couple of stories today, which together show how disgraceful and corrupt the DWP is. Apparently, over the last three years the DWP has awarded £140 million in bonuses to its civil servants, of which £124.37 million went to the Department’s senior managers.

Mike is understandably outraged by this, and asks if this includes money awarded through schemes like the ‘Space Invaders Game’ set up in one office for getting people of benefits, or the Sheriff’s Stars, which Johnny Void stated were set up to reward clerks, who sanctioned people in others.

See: http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2016/12/06/almost-140-million-in-bonuses-for-dwp-staff-for-sanctioning-people-off-benefits/

These bonuses have been awarded for the bullying of claimants either to get a job, or stop claiming benefit. Tens, if not hundreds of thousands of people, have died of desperation, neglect and starvation after being sanctioned by the DWP. They have included a diabetic ex-serviceman, an elderly couple, and a young woman, who killed herself and her infant child. Stilloaks has compiled a list of the people, who’ve been killed. Johnny Void has also in his blog published an extensive list of the DWP’s victims. And now it seems the DWP has claimed another one.

Mike today also reported that an 18 year-old man, David Brown, from Eston in North Yorkshire, committed suicide after being belittled by Job Centre Staff. He was looking to get an apprenticeship in welding, but the Job Centre put him on pressure to find a job. An inquest was told that before he killed himself, he told his mother

“The way the Jobcentre treat people, it is no surprise people commit suicide.”

Mike comments that it seems harsh, but the question has to be asked: who received the bonus for getting him off the DWPs books.

http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2016/12/07/teen-committed-suicide-after-being-belittled-by-job-centre-staff/

These are more vile policies that can be traced back to Maggie Thatcher and John Major. It was Maggie and Major who, in my experience, introduced ‘performance related pay’ into the civil service. And I got the distinct impression it was done as part of a policy to keep the staff working as hard as possible for little pay. Instead of a proper pay rise, there was just the promise that if you worked hard, you might get a bonus. Might. In fact, the bonuses were always going to go to the bosses, just as the captains of industry constantly award themselves massive pay rises as ‘bonus-related pay’ for closing down factories and shops and laying people off. And it was the same with the DSS and Benefits Agency. That came in when Anderson Consulting decided that the Benefits Agency and Inland Revenue should be rationalised, so that local offices would be closed down, and all the decisions concentrated in regional centres instead. Which is a good reason why ordinary civil servants should hate and despise Anderson Consulting, or whatever it now describes itself.

As for the deaths of humiliated and sanctioned benefit claimants, this all comes from the principle of ‘less eligibility’. This is the ‘Victorian value’ of the workhouse, which was taken over by Maggie Thatcher, then by Blair, and his successors Cameron, Clegg and May. The idea is that you make welfare so humiliating, that it acts as a deterrent – people are supposed to want to do anything to find a job and avoid the hardship. And people are suffering from it. Apart from those, who’ve died, I know many people personally, who’ve been very reluctant to sign on because of the way they’ve been picked on and abused by DWP staff.

There has been talk about prosecuting the DWP for such cases. I don’t know if you can do it, but this seems to me to be a clear case where the Department was guilty of culpable negligence, possibly even breach of a duty of care towards a clearly vulnerable young man. But I don’t know for sure. Except that this vile system needs to ends now, and those responsible punished to the fullest extent of the law.

In Defence of Left-Wing Anger

August 17, 2016

I’ve been meaning to get this off my chest for a little while now. One aspect of the anti-Corbyn Labour MPs that really annoys me is the hypocrisy that comes with their constant playing at being the victims of terrible abuse by Momentum and Jeremy Corbyn. Every so often they make pleas for political discourse and exchange to be made kinder or more genteel, while showing precious little of such qualities themselves. Jess Philips, according to the Groan, is having a panic room installed at her constituency office. But Mike’s already stated that she herself is an abrasive character online. This doesn’t justify any threats against her, but it doesn’t make her quite the innocent victim she claims either.

I’ve reblogged a video several times made by a couple in Angela Eagle’s constituency pointing out that Eagle’s story about the brick being thrown by Jeremy Corbyn supporters through her constituency window is a load of hogwash. It begins with footage of Eagle giving her story to the press. She concludes by saying that ‘We need a kinder, gentler style of politics’, before turning smartly on her heel and marching off, surrounded by her aids. This little piece has infuriated me ever since I’ve seen it. Firstly, it seems more than a little imperious. It’s bit of ‘I, the Great One, am speaking. Mortals listen!’ I also object to it on the grounds that it seems to be trying to deny the fact that her critics and opponents just might have entirely justifiable reasons for their anger. She seems to want to have the kind of exchange where everything is calm and mild. Now this is the kind of exchange I prefer. I honestly don’t like abuse and trolling. But on certain issues, if people do become abusive, it can be because the issue they’re discussing has all too real implications and consequences for them.

And many of the policies enacted by the Blairites have had terrible consequences for Britain as a nation, and specifically for the poor and working class. Let’s go through them.

Firstly, Blair took Britain into an illegal war in Iraq. The country had not threatened us, and at the time we invaded, Saddam Hussein was pretty much a joke to the rest of the Middle East. He was a thug, but he was contained. And the country over which he ruled was relatively prosperous, and with an advanced welfare state and educational system, at least for the region.

This has all changed. A quarter of a million Iraqis have died, and the country degenerated into a bloodbath of competing factions. Their economy has been wrecked, and ISIS and related death squads have terrorised its population. Our squaddies have been sent to fight and die, not to keep the world safe, but to produce even greater profits for the oil companies and American multinationals wishing to get their mitts on the country’s appetising state industries. Domestically it reinforced the view of many Muslims that the country was being targeted simply because it was Islamic. So it’s increased more racial and religious friction and intolerance over here. Is the Iraq invasion a good reason for people to get angry. Yes.

Then there’s the privatisation of the NHS. Blair, Brown and the others in New Labour took over the Private Finance Initiative and massively expanded it as official labour policy. They also began to split up the NHS into different commissioning groups, with the intention of creating competition. These commissioning groups were to provide healthcare not only from the NHS, but also from private healthcare companies. Hospitals and doctors surgeries have been taken over by private hospital chains. More than half of all hospital treatment is now commissioned from private healthcare providers. The ‘walk-in’ centres, or polyclinics, that were set up were also intended to be privately run. New Labour took as their care model a private American company, Kaiser Permanente. These policies have been taken over and further extended by the Tories after they won the 2010 election. Now it’s almost set to be totally privatised. Frankly, this makes me absolutely furious.

Let’s take the Work Capability Test. This was adopted by Blair and co. because they uncritically swallowed the Tory rubbish about most disabled people, the long term sick were malingerers and scroungers. They took over a tick-box questionnaire approach to examining people’s health pioneered by Unum, an American health insurance company that was guilty of some of the biggest insurance frauds prosecuted by the American state. The questionnaire used, and its underlying assumptions, are scientific nonsense. The policy is so notorious, that Atos decided to throw in the towel early, and were released from their contract a year before it was due to expire.

But the policy goes on, and it has had terrible real world consequences. Seriously ill people have been thrown off their benefits, and in some cases, have actually starved to death through lack of an income. Those with mental health problems, like anxiety and depression, have become worse, often much worse. As an example of how farcical this is, you consider some of the worst incidents, where people terminally ill in comas have been told they should find a job. Or when an amputee was asked when they expected their limbs to grow back. People are suffering and starving because of this. This isn’t a case of abstract policy, an interesting intellectual puzzle, which has no clear consequences for people’s lives. It makes a different over whether people are actually able to put food on their tables, or have a roof over their head, or can live out their lives with dignity.

It’s the same with the issue of benefit sanctions. Thanks to them, and the flexible employment policies Blair and Brown were so keen to employ, there are about 4.7 million people living in ‘food poverty’ in this country. There are cases where mothers are starving themselves, because it’s the only way they can afford to feed their children. And I can remember an incident I read on one of the other blogs, about how people in one town came to the aid of a young man, after he broke down in tears outside the Jobcentre, because they wouldn’t help him. As with the Work Capability Test, this is an issue that all-too real consequences for millions of people. And when nearly five million are going hungry in the fourth richest country in the world, you bet people have a right to be angry.

You can expand this to include the way the treatment of jobseekers has been deliberately made as humiliating and degrading as possible, with the imposition of workfare, capitalist forced labour brought to you by Sainsbury’s and the myriad other firms using it to cut down on labour costs. This was introduced as part of Margaret Thatcher’s return to ‘Victorian values’, which in this case meant the same values on which the workhouse system was established. The DHSS and the Benefits Agency always had an element of danger with them, because claimants naturally got angry with the state bureaucracy that could deny them money. People are left angry, despairing and furious with their treatment by the Jobcentre. But they also have a right to direct this rage at the politicians, who created the system.

And here New Labour have also shown themselves to be despicable. Cameron introduced workfare, but Ed Miliband ordered his cabinet not to oppose it, in case the Labour party should be seen to be soft on ‘benefit scroungers’ by the Tory press. Again, people have a very definite right to be angry.

I also think part of what makes me angry about Eagle’s behaviour, is her manner. It’s as if she seems to be completely insulated from the grim reality of the suffering New Labour have inflicted. She sounds to me like a bureaucrat or manager, completely obsessed with administering the policies that have been set, and getting irritated because somebody, somewhere, has had the temerity to object to it. I’ve remarked before that many of the Blairites seem to come from affluent, privileged, middle class backgrounds. My guess is that they genuinely don’t appreciate the harm they’re doing, because they’ve never experienced it themselves. They’ve only ever seen these policies from the vantage point of people, who’ve taken on the task of carrying them out. And they find it confusing and intensely infuriating when the masses don’t just accept what’s being done is for their good.

I am not saying that people have a right to abuse politicians or Jobcentre staff, or threaten them, let alone attack them or try to damage their property. I am very definitely against all of that. But people do have a right to be enraged at what has been done to them by the Thatcherites, both in the Tories and in New Labour.

And anger, as John Lydon sang, is an energy.

The gaol should now be to use this anger, this resentment against an unfair and deliberately cruel and exploitative system, to argue, research, expose and organise and keep the pressure on relentlessly to overturn these policies.

Shirley Williams on the Growth of Bureaucracy under Thatcher

May 25, 2016

SWilliams Book Pic

The great boast of Margaret Thatcher and the Conservatives is that private enterprise, unfetter by state control, somehow magically reduces bureaucracy. Apart from ignoring the fact that firms also necessarily have their own bureaucracies, the economic and social importance of many of the industries taken into state control means that even after these industries were privatised, there still had to be a state bureaucracy to make sure these industries continued to act in a fair and responsible manner. So there are a plethora of regulatory bodies supervising telecommunications, electricity, water and the environment. And one effect of privatisation was to make these regulatory authorities and the state supervisory bureaucracy bigger than they were under state ownership. Private Eye in the 1990s during John Major’s administration ran story after story noting the massive increase in such bureaucracy in the electricity, water and environment agencies. The Eye also noted how Thatcher’s successors attempted to cut down this bureaucracy by increasingly depriving them of their statutory powers and limiting their remit. Bureaucracy was reduced not be being more efficient, but by being deliberately cut down to prevent it interfering. And thus was public protection against the predation and mismanagement by the newly privatised companies removed.

Shirley Williams, the former Labour MP, who became one of the founders of the SDP also noted the growth of bureaucracy under the Conservatives before Thatcher in her book, Politics Is For People. She wrote

Another paradox can be seen in Britain, and no doubt in many other countries as well: the growth of administration. In 1970, the then Conservative government brought in the American industrial consultant, McKinsey & Co., to advise them on the reorganisation of the National Health Service. the reorganisation, in which professional interests were extensively consulted, led to a substantial increase in the number of administrative and clerical posts, and a higher proportion of administrators and clerical employees to doctors and nurses, the front line of the service. Local government reorganisation, under the same Conservative government, had similar consequences: more highly paid administrative posts, no evidence of improvement in local government services. Big government has its own impetus which is hard to stop, whatever the philosophy of the executive in charge. But opposition to it rubs off most on political parties identified with a substantial role for it. (Pp. 29-30).

Labour has suffered because, as the party most identified with big government and state expenditure, it has also been criticised by its Right-wing opponents as the party of waste. Yet the Tories have vastly inflated the bureaucracy involved in the remaining areas left under state control. Private Eye noted that the creation of the internal market in the NHS, and the PFI financing of hospitals, vastly increased bureaucracy in the Health Service. Successive governments have carried on the marketization of the NHS, with a further increase in bureaucracy. Within the BBC, the Eye also noted that John Birt’s administrative reorganisation of that once-great and respected institution resulted in the expansion of the upper management grades on vastly bloated salaries coupled with a damaging reduction in the production staff, who actually made the programmes people watch.

Britain’s public services and industries have been made increasingly inefficient through the creation of a corrupt and parasitic class of managers, who seem to serve only to perpetuate themselves at the expense of their own companies and their workers. Indeed, Ha-Joon Chang in his book, 23 Things They Don’t Tell You About Capitalism in one of the very first chapters describes the cases of several companies that actually went to the wall because their managers cut investment and wages, and sold of the companies’ assets, in order to increase their share price and their own salaries.

The Conservatives are the party of parasitic, useless bureaucracy. And the management consultants they have called in to advise them on how to reform British state administration have done nothing but wreck it. Arthur Anderson, later Anderson Consulting, destroyed the Benefits Agency and the Inland Revenue in the 1980s and 1990s. Their successors in PriceWaterhouseCoopers and the rest of the accountancy firms sending their senior staff to help both Tories and Labour draft their policies on tax and so on are part of the same poisonous trend. The Tories should be thrown out of government, and the management consultants and accountancy firms firmly excluded from the business of government.

Vox Political: Amazon Boss to Get DWP Directorship

February 4, 2016

Mike over at Vox Political today posted this piece from the Guardian, commenting on Margaret Hodge’s disgust at Amazon’s boss of Chinese operations getting a directorship at the DWP: http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2016/02/04/amazon-bosss-dwp-appointment-is-disgusting-but-when-did-government-departments-start-having-directors/ In his comment, he asks a very pertinent question: since when did the DWP, or the Civil Service as a whole, start having directorships? Traditionally, the heads of the civil service were secretaries over various descriptions, undersecretaries, private secretaries, personal private secretaries, etc. Secretaries by the bushel, secretaries by the bucketful. But no directors. So, he asks, is this indication that the Gentleman Ranker, Ian ‘Snollygaster’ Duncan Smith, wants to privatise another section of the DWP, or indeed the whole government department?

It’s a good question. IDS – just one vowel away from ‘AIDS’, and nearly as poisonous – and the rest of the Tories really do seem to think that privatising everything is the solution. They took this idea over from the Libertarians in America, who want just about everything privatised, even the courts. All in the name of small government. I don’t think even IDS is so stupid that he wants to go as far as completely privatising the justice system, but he and they do seem to follow the libertarian line about privatising the police force. This policy is based on the idea that private corporations are automatically more efficient and more effective than state operated enterprises or organisations. Even when it’s been proved again and yet again that they aren’t. The Civil Service was originally considered unsuitable for privatisation, so they did the next best thing. They quasi-privatised part of it, but separating the Department of Health from the Department of Social Security, and turned the latter into the Benefits Agency. Now it seems that they want to privatise it completely, at least piecemeal.

As for the title of ‘director’, there’s an element of vanity in there. IDS, Cameron and the others have all entered public service from business, and therefore don’t seem to be satisfied with simply having the title and job description as ‘public servants’. No, they want to be seen as hot-shot directors, not secretaries. So directors they must be, even if it’s completely inappropriate. Way back in the 1990s, a similar rebranding occurred in the Department of Trade and Industry. This wasn’t good enough for the responsible minister at the time, who insisted on calling it, ‘The Department of Enterprise’, in line with Thatcherite Yuppie ideology. Well, yuppies have come and gone. A lot of them finally gave up the game when the steam ran out of the part of the Thatcher Revolution, and New Labour came to power, only to carry on her legacy in a slightly less noxious form. But as the idea of directorships in the DWP shows, it’s still there. And it’s entirely inappropriate.

Directors are the heads of private companies, which are driven by the profit motive. The aim of private enterprise is primarily to make money, not to provide a service. The role of the civil service, on the contrary, is to provide a service in spheres which are outside the applicability of the profit motive. It’s why there are just so many regulations prescribing the correct conduct of civil servants and what constitutes corruption. They aren’t there to enrich themselves at the expense of the state or its citizens. They are there to serve the public. This latter point is important. It was imported into the Civil Service ethos by the Trevelyan in the 19th century. His idea of moral, responsible service by state officials was largely based on the old Stoic ideal of service to the state. Trevelyan himself was an utter b*stard in some respects. He had absolutely zero sympathy for the victims of the Irish Potato Famine, and did not want them to be given any relief in their most dire need. It’s an episode which has cast a terrible shadow over subsequent relations between Britain and Ireland ever since. But Trevelyan’s reform of the Civil Service did create an ethos of efficient, responsible public service. IDS’ creation of directorships threatens to undermine this, and throw the whole institution back to the corruption of the 18th century and previously, when officeholders believed that they had an absolute right to exploit their position to the full to enrich themselves.

And in that case, ideology will have come full circle, and the Tories will have gone back to their roots. Modern Neoliberalism has much of its ideological roots in 19th century radicalism. 19th century radicals generally wanted small, cheap, efficient government, free of the webs of patronage and corruption that stifled the economy and prevented individuals from developing their own talents and being rewarded by the fruits of their energy and enterprise. Thatcher and her Yuppy crew largely took power by muttering a lot of nonsense about ‘meritocracy’. It informs the very title of Norman Tebbit’s autobiography, ‘Upwardly Mobile’.

But for all that they mouth Neoliberal clichés about enterprise, efficiency, meritocracy and self-reliance, the Tories aren’t motivated by a desire to increase social mobility, or limit the stifling power of an hereditary ruling class, like the 19th century Liberals. Cameron, Osbo, IDS and their cabinet are toffs. They are the stifling hereditary ruling class. Social mobility under New Labour had all but ceased. Under Cameron it’s stopped completely. And they’re determined to hold on to power, and oppress everyone else. Hugh Montgomery-Massingberd gave the game away in the Times in the 1980s when he loudly hailed Maggie Thatcher as bringing about a ‘social restoration’ of the old country house elite. The only difference now is that the ruling elite are corporations and their managers, rather than an agricultural aristocracy. But the ethos remains of a ruling class, which regards the state and its institutions as their instruments with which to govern and plunder, rather than to serve the greater national good.

Jolyon Rubinstein and Politicians’ Failure to Connect with the Young

February 11, 2015

This is a continuation of the comments I posted on my reblog of Tom Pride’s interview with Jolyon Rubinstein. Rubinstein is on a campaign to get the politicos to take the young seriously. He laments that while there are certain politicians across the House in all parties, who want to get more young people interested in politics, the majority don’t. In his interview with Mr Pride, he seems to feel that the established position among the parties is that they don’t trust the young, as engaging them would upset the ‘status quo’.

Patronising with Pop Stars

I think he has point. When politicians have tried to engage the young, it’s been patronising and rather half-hearted. The prime examples of this was when various Tory MPs suddenly started telling the world, who their favourite pop musicians were. Almost as if there’d been a meeting at Central Office, which said, ‘Okay, chaps, next on the agenda: young people. They like pop music, so you’ve all got to have a favourite band or pop star. The PR people have had a look at what’s in the charts, and compiled a list of who you’re going to like.’ It was hardly surprising that the bands selected include the Spice Girls and the Scissor Sisters. They were in the charts and were highly popular. The Scissor Sisters seem to have been deliberately chosen to show that the Tories were now at ease with gays. Of course the bands they chose weren’t anything too challenging or potentially controversial, like Public Enemy, NWA, Megadeath, or the Mission. They were either too obscure, or would have put too many potential voters off, in the case of Public Enemy and NWA, with their angry, racially alienated stance. And the bands definitely did not include PIL.

MPs Younger but Not Interested in Young People’s Problems

The other way the parties have tried to appeal to the young is by having progressively younger Prime Ministers and members of their cabinet. I’ve got a feeling that when he was elected, Blair may have been Britain’s youngest prime minister. Cameron, Osborne and Clegg are also young. Well, young-ish. They’re still in the ’40s. As they should be. I want senior politicians old enough to have a proper, lived experience of the world and its trials and problems. Age shouldn’t necessary be a barrier. It shouldn’t matter how old the MP is, provided that they actually have some understanding of what life really is like for most young people. Simply saying that they are concerned with young people’s problems, because they’re parents, or from talking to parents and young people themselves, simply and unostentatiously, and actually showing they have, would overcome a lot of this alienation.

But they don’t. They simply dole out to the under 30s the same patronising flannel they give to the rest of the population. They might state that they understand their problems, but the very next thing they say in their next breath shows that they don’t. They then go back to talking in the abstract about economic predictions, without actually seeming to take on board that this has real consequences for their audience. They seem just interested in the abstract, economic reality without taking on board that to their audience, this means whether they can afford a proper house, decent clothes for the kids, run a car. Or for the unemployed and disabled, getting enough to eat that month.

Distrust of Youthful Radicalism

And I think Rubinstein is right about the parties distrusting the young. Young people have dangerous ideas. They can be dangerously and embarrassingly radical. Bliar deliberately closed down democracy in the NUS, probably because too many of the delegates were too extreme. And the Tories had troubles with their youth wing becoming increasingly racialised and supporting apartheid and racial nationalism.

Possibly going further, they may well be afraid of the spirit of ’68 and the radicalism of the 70s. The ’60s were a revolutionary decade, where youthful rebellion merged with and supported a number of then-radical, liberal causes: feminism, Civil Rights and ant-racism, militant peace movements against imperialism and particularly the Vietnam War. The election of Thatcher and Reagan was partly a reaction against all that, and succeeding administrations have tried to stress how responsible and sober they are, rather than youthful radicalism and revolt. Even as these administrations have taken over some of the liberal causes, like equality for women and ethnic minorities.

Tory Portrayal of Blair as Punk

You can see how much the Conservatives in particular hated youth culture, its fashions and political radicalism, by the cover of one of the books written by one of the Tory journos attacking Blair. Blair at the time was busy reforming the House of Lords, or stuffing it with his own supporters, whichever way you want to look at it. He was also engaged on other constitutional reforms, like suggesting possibly that judges might after all look a bit better if they didn’t have the horsehair wigs stuck on their heads. This was too much for that particular defender of the British Constitution. The cover showed Blair as some kind of punk or rocker, in black leather jacket and combat trousers. The terrible, slovenly, ignorant sprogs of the great unwashed were out there, and about to tear down tradition and decency. Kenny Everett’s thick punk character, Sid Snot, had risen up and somehow got into No. 10. If Middle England didn’t act pronto, he’d be followed by Harry Enfield’s Kevin and Perry. Quick! Give them proper haircuts and make them do National Service!

All of this has created a political culture in which young people are marginalised and distrusted, no matter how youthful country’s leaders are. Politicos don’t have to adopt their dress or youth culture to engage with them. My guess is that when it comes to conducting business, most people would prefer to see their politicians and public officials dressed conservatively in jacket and trousers. That said, I used to work in the Benefits Agency just before they passed the law requiring everyone to where suitable business clothing to work. You did see some of the younger staff wearing jeans and T-shirts for rock and pop bands. My guess is that while some of the older clients may have found it objectionable, most of the people actually going in probably couldn’t care less what the civil servant opposite them was wearing, so long as they were able to get them some money and properly process their claims.

Mass Politics in Decline from Concentration on Rich Donors

Another contributory factor in the alienation of young people from politics is undoubtedly the fact that the parties have concentrated on getting funding and support from rich, frequently corporate donors, rather than party subscriptions. The result has been that party membership generally has plummeted. The local Conservative Associations in particular have stated that they feel they are ignored and sidelined by the Tory party machine. Rubinstein has identified part of it in his recognition that people feel that the only thing that’s important to politicians is money, not people.

Politicians desperately need to reconnect with the young, along with much of the rest of the population. Indeed, just about everyone, who didn’t got to public school and has an income less that £50k. But as the Tories are doing their level best to stop people from registering to vote, and even taking the franchise away from resident Irish people and Commonwealth citizens, I can’t see Cameron taking any initiative in this direction at all.

From 2000: SEMA – the Atos of its Day

January 31, 2015

Private Eye in its issue for Friday, 19th May 2000, carried the story below on the establishment of the Work Capability Tests. These were originally a Tory idea, but where put into practice by Blair’s Labour after their election victory in 1997. The contract to administer the tests were awarded to Sema. Their conduct of them was so appalling that it was the subject of a report by the House of Commons social services committee.

Cringe Benefits

It was a Tory idea to begin with: how to make more money out of the disabled for a big private company.

After a “study of options” about what to do with the rather expensive government system for examining disabled people to see if they were entitled to benefit, the Tory government concluded that contracting out to the private sector was “most likely to deliver the improvements sought”.

Tory ministers agreed and the publicly-owned Benefits Agency Medical Services was divided into three areas “to encourage competition in terms of bids”. the Tory government fell in the spring of 1997, to be replaced by Labour with a huge majority and a secretary of state for social services, Harriet Harman, who had been eloquent in her condemnation of privatisation.

Ms Harman, however, was at once convinced of the case for privatising the testing of the disabled, and in February 1998 (in the interests of competition) she awarded the contracts for all three areas to one company, SEMA.

It was a juicy contract too. A government memorandum at the time announced that the three contracts would cost the government £305m, a figure, which the memo announced, “represented savings of £62m” compared with what the service used to cost the taxpayer.

One problem which soon became clear was that SEMA had no medical experience whatever. The British Medical Association, disgusted by the company’s treatment of doctors and patients, complained officially that SEMA executives “did not understand the complexities, having had no experience of employing doctors”. This obviously worried the company so much that when the five original bidders were invited to discuss the complexities of their new contract with the BMA, which represents most British doctors, two declined, including SEMA.

If it didn’t have any doctors or medically qualified staff, SEMA made sure it was well-stocked with “new” Labour lobbyists. It hired Westminster Strategy, which had a batch of such lobbyists on tap: Jo Moore, former Labour press officer; Mike Lee, who used to work for David Blunkett; and former chair of the Fabian Society and wanabee Labour candidate Mike Dauber. To clinch the business, SEMA acquired the then employment minister Andrew Smith as a speaker at its glittering conferences (see Eye 955).

Partly to make up for this lack of experience, SEMA engaged two companies as sub-contractors to do the new work, Nestor Healthcare Group and Nestor Disability Analysts. The board of the former was graced by a former Tory MP, Charles Goodison-Wickes, who quickly made way for the more acceptable Anne Parker, who chairs the Carers Association and is an examiner for the Child Support Agency. Nestor Healthcare has just branched into prisons, explaining in true “new” Labour tradition that “prisoner numbers are steadily growing”.

The performance of these SEMA subsidiaries and of privatisation in general, has recently been examined in detail by the House of Commons social services committee, whose shocking report has just been published. “To often”, says the report, “the organisation fails to deliver an adequate service … at its worst it puts claimants through examinations which are painful and distressing and gives poor advice.”

Bizarre examples of the doctors’ hostility to the people they are examining are provided by the report. In one case a patient was described as healthy because she could sit up watching television for up to two hours. In fact this patient could only watch television lying down. In another case a patient’s dirty fingernails were submitted as evidence of his ability to work in the garden – whereas in fact he could not even wash himself.

The conclusion makes sad reading for the “new” Labour lobbyists and privatisers of past years. There has been no improvement whatever. “Our inquiry has led us to conclude that, so far, the primary focus of SEMA has been on operational efficiency to achieve value for money rather than the delivery of a quality service.”

How has Labour responded so far to these devastating allegations? It has handed over a confidential contract for running the Labour party’s own membership records to … SEMA. And SEMA’s subsidiary Nestor has won a contract for the provision of an immigration centre for Group 4.

Since then, SEMA has been replaced by ATOS, who have now been replaced by Maximus, but still have the contract for administering the test for the Personal Independence Payments. ATOS made sure it avoided one of the criticisms of SEMA – that it didn’t have enough doctors or medically qualified staff. For patients and claimants, however, this has made absolutely no difference. The administrators of the Work Capability Test are still hostile towards those whom they are examining. Subsequent Tory policies, like those of Iain Duncan ‘Tosser’ Smith, have made this even worse. Maximus are going to be no different. Given the previous performance of the companies administering the test, they are likely to be worse.

There is even a lesson here for the recent recruitment of Sue Marsh, a disability campaigner, by Maximus. SEMA’s subsidiary, Nestor Healthcare, had on its board Anne Parker. As well as being an examiner for the Child Support Agency, she was also the chair of the Carers Association. This was doubtless to give the impression that the tests were to be fair, with the object of helping the disabled and their carers. It wasn’t, and isn’t.

This is the policy the Tories produced and are developing. It becomes nastier, more vindictive and humiliating every day. It’s high time the Tories were kicked out of office.