Posts Tagged ‘Information Commissioners’

Private Eye on Government’s Attempt to Destroy Freedom of Information Act

November 15, 2015

This fortnight’s Private Eye has a piece attacking the government’s attempt to neuter the Freedom of Information Act. It takes apart their claims they are doing so ‘because newspapers are using it to generate stories’, and gives the email address for people to contact the Commissioners to express their opinions on the issue. The Private Eye article makes much the same points Mike over at Vox Political and the other bloggers have done.

I’m posting up the article as you have to email the commissioners before the end of Friday, 20th November. This means that if you feel so strongly about this issue that you want to state your case to the commissioners, you only have about five days or so left.

FOI
Cry Freedom

The government’s “Independent” commission of the great and not so good on the future of the Freedom of Information Act is looking for views on if and how the rules should be changed. The mood music is not encouraging.

First there was the appointment of former cabinet ministers with little interest in the full truth emerging – Lord (Michael) Howard and Jack Straw – while no campaigner for more openness was invited on the commission. Then last week the leader of the Commons, Chris Grayling, complained that the law was being used by the media to “generate stories”. How appalling!

Among the “stories” that would not have come out were it not for the legislation, and might not again if it were watered down or subject to financial charges, are MPs’ expenses and several exposed in the Eye over the past ten years, including: the recent mapping of English and Welsh property owned by offshore companies; the “shameful” (the Coalition’s word) privatisation of part of the UK’s international development fund CDC; rampant junketing by the country’s public spending watchdog; the scale fo the “tax gap” (extent of the tax dodging in the UK); the schmoozing of Whitehall mandarins that forced the open publication of hospitality registers; and New Labour’s prolific and ruinous spending on management consultants and the disastrous NHS IT project – to name just a few.

Readers who think such matters should continue be exposed, or indeed if they think they should be covered up, can write to foi.commission@justice.gsi.gov.uk by the end of Friday 20 November.

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At Last! Vox Political Wins Legal Challenge to Force DWP to Release Death Numbers

May 4, 2015

I’m afraid I’m a bit late covering this, for which I duly apologise. Mike over at Vox Political has finally won his appeal before the Information Commissioner for the DWP to release the stats for the number of people, who have died while claiming Invalidity Benefit and ESA between November 2011 and May 2014.

Mike’s article reporting his victory, Victory for Vox Political: DWP ordered to give details of benefit-related deaths, states that the government now must release the figures within 35 calendar days of April 30th. The statistics must also be broken down into the following categories.

◾Those in the assessment phase,
◾Those who were found fit for work,
◾Those who were placed in the work-related activity group,
◾Those who were placed in the support group, and
◾Those who had an appeal pending.

The Information Commissioner ruled

“It appears … that the DWP has had reasonable time to prepare for publishing [the] information and that disclosure was not so novel or unusual given the previous requests and disclosures made.

“DWP have not supplied any detailed or convincing evidence about the time needed and what preparation would need to be undertaken during this time or what the specific impact of disclosure would be… The DWP has previously published similar information.

The decision notice continued: “It is not reasonable for the DWP, having had enough time to extract the information and prepare internally for publication, to seek further time to provide the information requested.

“The Commissioner also finds that delaying publication is not reasonable in light of the requests DWP have received from the public and the fact that the previous statistics published were around two years old at the time of the request.”

Mike describes what initially moved him to campaign for the release of the information – an interim government report in 2013 Incapacity Benefit (Deaths of Claimants), which contained information on 10,000 + people, who had died. The report claimed that the amount they had been claiming was sufficient to give them sufficient to live on. Mike states he was sceptical, as there was later information suggesting that many had died because of unsympathetic treatment by a government determined to clear as many people off its books as possible, no matter how many casualties this would incur.

He describes the considerable difficulty he had in obtaining the information from the DWP, including their ruling that his request was ‘vexatious’. The DWP can still appeal the decision, but Mike believes that this would be unsuccessful. When he was first turned down by the Information Commissioners, they stated that they were sympathetic to his case. It was that comment that convinced him that a second attempt would be successful.

He is highly suspicious, however, of the delay in releasing this information. He feels it has been done for political reasons, as if the true number of deaths of people on Invalidity Benefit and ESA were made known – and these could be as high as 60,000 – it may deter many people from voting for the Tories and their Lib Dem collaborators. He then questions the validity of an election result if the details of the numbers of people dying while claiming benefits is not known.

The article’s at http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2015/05/01/victory-for-vox-political-dwp-ordered-to-give-details-of-benefit-related-deaths/. Go there for more information.

It is a great victory for Mike, after his long struggle trying to get this information out the DWP and the serial liars Iain Duncan Smith, Esther McVile and the public school bullies and thugs. They have indeed tried nearly every trick in the book to avoid releasing these figures. And it hasn’t just been Mike requesting them – many others have too, and been given the same feeble excuses, or simple flat denials.

And I’ve no doubt that Mike’s right when he says that the release of this information has been deliberately delayed until the very last minute in order to save the government from embarrassment. Others have been given the same treatment and shown the same attitude when making different, but similar requests for government information that should be freely available. Johnny Void and the other anti-workfare campaigners have tried to get the DWP to release details of the firms, that have enrolled on the scheme to use such forced, unfree labour. The DWP have turned down his and the others’ requests for the information flat. Why? Because they actually admit that if they released the information, it might stop people from using the firms involved. They would then be forced to pull out, and the scheme would fail.

Which also shows that the Tories and Lib Dems have absolutely no shame, and freely acknowledge that the scheme is unpopular, and wouldn’t go ahead if people actually knew more about it and the firms backing it.

It also shows the absolute contempt Cameron, Clegg and their oligarchic clique have for public opinion, despite all the mouthing they have done about democracy and expanding choice. They despise the poor and weak, and sneer at any genuine concern for them by the opponents of their exploitation.

In the case of the information on the number of deaths due to their benefit reforms, they have a bit more self-awareness, and realise that adopting the same attitude would just spread contempt and disaffection for them and their policies. So they have simply resorted to excuses such as the information wasn’t ready yet; or it didn’t need to be released right now, because it was already being prepared for publication in due course. Of course, their first, and risible response was simply that it would take too long, and the request was ‘vexatious’. By which they meant it wasn’t genuine, and was just done to cause trouble.

It’s a good excuse, as it does recognise that the request was made in order to question and challenge the welfare reforms and the policy of sanctions that forms a part of them. It also tries to dismiss this, as not being a serious request. There’s no need to take it seriously or release the information. It’s just some troll causing trouble for the fun of it. Now get back to work.

But it is a serious request, no matter how badly Cameron, IDS and their circle have tried to shrug it off. It’s good that Mike’s now got a ruling in his favour, but it is also marred by the fact that this information probably won’t be released in time for the election.

Apart from Mike’s success in finally getting a positive court ruling, I’m also touched and heartened reading and hearing about the many messages of support he’s had from people reading his blog. A huge number of people all across the country have wanted this information to be released, and are glad that someone is campaigning against the policy, even if it’s only in a small way.

You can see just how many people back the critics and protestors against the Coalition’s attempts to degrade, humiliate and destroy the very poorest sections of society reading the comments not just on Mike’s blog, but also over at Tom Pride, Johnny Void, the Angry Yorkshireman, Disabled People Against Cuts and so many others.

In the run-up to the election, the government will trying telling everyone that their policies are wonderful, and have almost unanimous support. They’re even manufacturing letters from business and charity leaders to present this mirage. There has also been comments posted on left-wing blogs supposedly by welfare claimants, saying how wonderful and positive the government’s policies have been and how they’ve worked for them. These have also looked suspiciously like fakes coming from someone at Tory Central Office. Particularly now as Wikipedia has accused Grant Shapps, AKA ‘Michael Green’, fraudster, of editing his Wikipedia entry and those of this political colleagues.

Go and read the comments on Mike’s and the other blogs to see how far this piece of spin very definitely does not correspond to reality. Despite their lies and spin, the Tories know very well how unpopular their policies are with the very people they’ve inflicted it on. Hence the attempts to shut them up by denying them information on just how destructive and pernicious these policies are.