Posts Tagged ‘Job Centres’

Esther McVie and the Rape Clause: Adding Lies and Insults to Traumatic Assault

April 20, 2018

I really can’t let this go without comment. In one of the history books I’ve got here at home, there’s an observation that you can tell how civilised a culture is by how high the status of women is. I think it’s in part of the book discussing the ancient Egyptians, where the status of women was very high for the ancient world. If that’s the case, then Esther McVile and the Tories are dragging us back into real barbarism.

McVile was before the Scots parliament this week to give her testimony regarding child benefit, and the infamous ‘rape clause’. You can only receive child benefit for two children, but it is available for rape victims, provided they can show that their third child was conceived through rape. This in itself is immensely controversial, and Ruth Davidson, the head of the Tories in Scotland, briefly earned herself the soubriquet ‘Rape Clause Ruth’ after she got up on her hind legs to justify the rape clause. That was repulsive enough. Now the Tories have gone even lower and got Esther McVie to try to defend the indefensible.

And what did the Wicked Witch of the Wirral say? That the rape clause offered victims the chance to talk about their assault, and offered them ‘double support’.

It does no such thing. Everything about the modern Job Centre interview is design to humiliate, bully and degrade the prospective claimant. It’s all part of Thatcher’s sacred Victorian values. She followed the ‘less eligibility’ ideology of the workhouse, in which claiming benefits was to be made so harsh and degrading that only the very desperate would willingly go on them.

As for the psychological harm rape does, I know very little about it. But I do know that it leaves victims traumatised and mentally scarred. They may irrationally blame themselves, and definitely do not want to relive the experience over and over again. I can remember watching a documentary on Channel 4 about new advances in neuroscience and mental health, which included a piece about doctors in Canada, who were treating a French Canadian lady. This poor woman was still massively depressed and anxious a year or more after her assault. And it goes without saying that there are any number of rape victims like her. They don’t like talking about their experience, and they feel so deeply ashamed that in general they really don’t want other people knowing about it.

And the DWP is not known for its sensitivity. Like when its wretched servants ask depressives why they haven’t committed suicide yet. No depressed person should be asked this question. And no rape victim should be required to describe the event for an unsympathetic bureaucrat, whose only concern is to find some excuse to sanction their benefits.

One of the many great commenters on Mike’s blog, Aunty1960, posted this about their experience of the way the DWP handles rape claims.

I have witness statements on my After Atos feedback survey from rape and child sex survivors who say they have to recount their ordeal up to ten times every time they are called for an assessment as they have to again go through it with GP social worker, psychiartrist, DWP physiotherapist counsellor etc etc in order to get each bit of paper and supportive documentary evidence.

The assessors are not understanding or supportive and can ask really inappropriate and insensitive questions.

One witness statement says that all the work that has been done over the years has been totally undone because of having to go through the assessments and retell it and relive it everytime. No closure and respect for PTSD triggers, just keep opening the wound over and over again.

Some very inappropriate comments by assessor on women and their sexuality and sexual experiences. Even outright disapproval of a woman being a lesbian and inappropriate comments.

A lot of work undone and lost. and that includes physical ailments where interventions have been completely undone and undermined.

I cannot stand most people most of the time and professionals about sexual abuse and social discrimination and prejudice, Same ideas still there. This just reinforce and compounds it 100 times more.

But McVile’s statement is designed to play to that part of the Tory-voting public, who are fortunate never to have stepped into a jobcentre, at least, not recently. The people, who are prepared to take the Tories comments about their welfare reforms at face value, and swallow all the lies about how they’re not cutting benefits, their simply refocusing them to help people better. The lies that workfare isn’t about giving cheap, subsidised forced labour to big business, including the supermarkets, but about helping people into work by giving them new skills and other such specious rubbish. Quite apart from the morons that believes the lies put out by the Scum, the Heil and the Depress that all benefit claimants are really scroungers, no matter how severe their disability. ‘Cause these papers says so, and they saw that character in a wheelchair running about in Little Britain. Oh yes, and single mothers only have babies to claim the child and other benefits.You can read off the standard Tory attitudes of the people, who will believes McVile’s monstrous, platitudinous lies, almost like ticking boxes in a list.

Not the Scots, however. The day after McVile uttered this bilge, they organised a demonstration against her. Bravo! and maximum respect! McVie is truly vile, along with the rest of the squad running the DWP – Damian Green and his predecessor, Ian Duncan Smith. All of them should be cleaned out and charged with crimes against humanity for their role in manipulating the benefits system to cause the victims of their sanctions to starve to death or commit suicide.

Unfortunately, they’re likely to be rewarded instead. Rape Clause Ruth was in today’s papers because Time magazine has named her one of the 20 most influential women, or at least, influential women in Scotland. Which is enough to have millions of Scots voting SNP because of Nicola Sturgeon. Although I’d rather see named as more influential than Davidson the actress, who played Mary Hen, Rab. C. Nesbit’s long-suffering wife.

Apart from being offensive in itself, McVile’s stupid comments are dangerous because they try to justify a system that is causing people harm. And her words themselves are likely to upset victims of sexual assault and their families. One of the things I’ve learned from being made redundant along with others is that it isn’t just an official action that hurts. It’s also the dull platitudes management offer to try and make it more palatable. I used to be a civil servant years ago, and one day a whole group of us were called in individually to be told we were going to be made redundant. One young lad left in tears. Talking to him afterwards, he told me that it wasn’t the redundancy itself, but the nonsense the manager came out with about the possibility of getting jobs elsewhere in offices in the area. The lad knew that there was no hope of that. The redundancy stung, and what made it all the worse was the smooth assurances made by someone from outside the office to make it all seem better. McVie’s comments are like that, but much worse because of the horrific nature of the crime to which these women have been subjected.

McVie deserves her nickname. She really is vile, and so are the rest of her corrupt and mendacious crew. Get them out, and Labour in!

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Vox Political on the Strange Disappearance of aIDS Whinging Letter about ‘Outrageous Claims’

February 15, 2016

Mike put up this story earlier today about the letter Ian Duncan Smith had written, whining about the ‘outrageous claims’ Mike and other bloggers had made about his reforms causing the deaths of the poor and disabled. It seemed for a moment it had mysteriously disappeared. In fact, this seems to have been something of a false alarm. One of Mike’s commenters, however, states that it had vanished, only to reappear on the Commons Work and Pensions website.

Iain Duncan Smith’s latest attempt to justify benefit-related deaths has disappeared from the government’s website

I’ve blogged several times about the way the Spurious Major gallops away at high speed, whenever it looks like he might have meet his opponents. The minister for chequebook genocide simply can’t stop himself. He’s hidden in laundry baskets, run out of the rear entrance in Job Centres, and spoken at early hours of the morning at Tory-run job fairs in order to avoid the angry Great Unwashed. And when he was forced to face the disabled and their carers in the public gallery in parliament at a meeting of the Commons’ Work and Pensions Committee, this mighty general in the tradition of Wellington, Mark Anthony, Julius Caesar and Henry IV, surrounded himself with armed goons.

Now it seems even cyberspace is not safe from his cowardice. He’s starting to run away from people there. Of course, the Tories have form for this kind of thing. Some of us can still remember how a paragraph in one of the papers, written by a leading Tory, which lauded the motto on the gates of Auschwitz, Arbeit Macht Frei, ‘Work Makes You Free’, mysteriously disappeared after someone realised that it made them look like what they are: Nazis. Just that they don’t have the stormtroopers and the jackboots just yet, although no doubt aIDS is working on the forced labour camps. They’ve certainly set up their own system of secret courts, under which you may not even be told under what law you’re charged if this is deemed to be against ‘national security’. We are heading to the old Nazi strategy of Nacht und Nebel – ‘night and fog’, the mysterious disappearance of dissidents.

And like the Spurious Major, Himmler was also not nearly half as tough as he made himself out to be. When he attended an execution by firing squad, he had to be carried away, hysterical. IDS also shows that he wants to run away as from shame and personal danger as possible, even when its Virtual.

Vox Political: Jeremy Hunt Runs Away from Doctors

February 15, 2016

Last week Mike posted about how a Tory fundraising event in Fareham had supposedly been cancelled after it was found that doctors had been buying the £15 tickets in order to confront Jeremy Hunt. It seems this wasn’t quite true. According to a report from the Groaniad Mike’s reblogged on Vox Political, the event wasn’t cancelled. The location was changed, and those attending the event were checked to make sure they didn’t have any medical people with them.

See http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2016/02/15/confirmed-tory-activists-prevented-doctors-from-attending-event-with-jeremy-hunt/.

This is prize cowardice, well worthy of the Gentleman Ranker, Ian Duncan Smith, or as I prefer to call him, aIDS, because of his similarly lethal and virulent nature. The Galloping Major is known to gallop off at very high speed whenever he’s faced with his opponents in person. He’s hidden in laundry baskets, run out the back of job centres, and deliberately scheduled speeches first thing in the morning in order to avoid protestors. And when he can’t, such as when he was called before the parliamentary work and pensions committee, he hides behind armed policemen. I think Kitty S. Jones blogged a fine description of that incident, showing how afraid he was of the disabled and their carers.

Now it seems Jeremy Hunt is joining him by turning tail and running from the very people his cuts and reforms harm the most. Which shows you all you need to know about the tough-talking, but ultimately cowardly Tories in this cabinet. Sir Keith Joseph was a despicable Nazi, but ultimately he wasn’t afraid of the egg throwers.

Vox Political: Jeremy Hunt Cancels Tory Fundraiser after Junior Doctors Threaten to Show Up

February 12, 2016

Jeremy Hunt’s parliamentary colleague, Ian Duncan Smith, has a long history of running and hiding from his critics. Faced with the prospect of meeting the victims of his wretched policies, the Spurious Major either runs and hides, or hides behind big men with guns. He’s hidden from protestors in laundry baskets in Scotland, run out the back door of a Job Centre in Bath, and scheduled his speech at a jobs fair run by his local Conservative party in Chingford for early in the morning, so he could get away before the proles arrived. And when he was called to speak to the parliamentary Work and Pensions Committee, he turned up surrounded by armed rozzers. And this idiot fancies himself as a leader of men.

Now, it seems, his habits have spread to Hunt. According to another article over at Vox Political, Hunt was due to appear at a fundraising event for Fairham Conservative Association. This was cancelled after news of the event and its location were circulated on social media, and junior doctors bought tickets. See http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2016/02/12/jeremy-hunt-meet-and-greet-drinks-event-cancelled-after-junior-doctors-buy-tickets/.

Mike points out that this clearly demonstrates how absolutely unpopular the new contracts are, even if it costs our junior medical professionals £15 a head to tell Hunt to his face.

This reminds me of the various incidents where teenagers have seen their homes comprehensively trashed after they made the mistake of telling the world they were holding a party on Facebook, and suffered an invasion of gatecrashers as a result. Except that this was an event that was open to the public, and the doctors bought tickets. They didn’t just turn up. For some reason, the Tories are putting on a lot of these fundraisers. They did one in the summer, where for a certain amount you could get to go on a nine mile run through the Pennines or the Yorkshire Dales with aIDS. I joked with a friend that I was prepared to go in for that, just to get the opportunity of pushing the dreadful man over a cliff.

But there is a more serious point underlying this: the Tories are clearly experiencing a problem with funding. The actual grassroots membership of the Tory party, easily the largest political party in the country at one time, has shrunk massively. Those that remain in the constituency party are angry that their views were ignored by the parliamentary leaders. This is partly due to Cameron, like Bliar and New Labour, taking the party’s ordinary supporters and voters for granted, and running around rich donors for funding instead. It’s bad for democracy, as it’s leading to the gradual withering away of political parties and their replacement by oligarchies funded and maintained by rich paymasters.

It’s another reason why the Tories hate the unions supporting Labour. They’ve always hated the unions and the union levy, but it means that Labour has a grassroots source of funding that they don’t. And it also means that they’re really afraid of Jeremy Corbyn. Apart from being left-wing, he’s also managed to bring tens of thousands more back to the Labour party.

Against this, the Tories put on cheese and nibbles parties, and hope the proles don’t attend.

Private Eye on Death of Man from Heart Attack after being Assessed ‘Fit for Work’

February 11, 2016

IDS Death Meme

This is a piece from Private Eye’s issue for the 27th November to0 10th December 2015 issue. It’s an article reporting the death of a man suffering from diabetes, Alan McArdle, after he failed to attend ‘work related activity’ sessions with Maximus. The article makes it very plain that the Eye sees it as further proof of the harm aIDS’ policies are having on disabled people, and those genuinely unfit for work.

Fitness To Work Tests
Deadly Reckoning

Yet more evidence has emerged of the often devastating impact of the government’s welfare reforms on those with disabilities after Alan McArdle died of a heart attack less than an hour after learning that the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) was threatening to cut his out-of-work disability benefits.

Mr McArdle is the latest claimant to have fallen foul of a push to force people off sickness benefit and into work, no matter how ill they are.

Mr McArdle, whose diabetes left him with no feeling in his arms or legs, had just come out of hospital following a fall and was too unwell to visit the offices of Work Programme contractor Maximus for sessions of compulsory “work-related activity”. Even though the charity Slough Homeless Our Concern, which had worked with Mr McArdle for 16 years, told Maximus he was not well enough to travel to its offices, the company recommended to the DWP that he be sanctioned with the loss of benefits. Slough MP Fiona Mactaggart said it was “shocking” that the only way Mr McArdle could prove he was not well enough to take part in the Work Programme was by dying.

Details of his death emerged as new research from Liverpool and Oxford universities concluded that the government’s controversial “fit to work” tests for disabled claimants, which Mr McArdle faced, were associated with an extra 590 suicides in just three years and 279,000 cases of mental ill health. Eye readers will be aware that the tests, until recently run by Atos, have attracted widespread criticism for delay; for being too prescriptive, leading to devastating errors; and for leaving claimants stressed and penniless.

Ministers continue to claim that any link to suicide or death is “misleading”- even though they received a formal warning in 2010 in a “Rule 43” letter from a coroner after a suicide “triggered” by a wrong dining of “fit for work”. The coroner urged improvement in the collection of medical evidence before finding someone fit for work, in order to prevent further unnecessary deaths.

It is now being asked why work and pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith and former employment minister Chris Grayling failed to respond substantively to the coroner back in 2010 – as they are legally obliged to. Nor did they pass on the coroner’s concerns to Professor Malcolm Harrington, the independent expert commissioned to review the tests in the wake of widespread concern.

Let’s make this very plain, and itemise some of the salient general points about the policy as a whole.

* Private Eye concurs that there is a real and overwhelming link between aIDS’ policies and the deaths of disabled people. The Eye is, presumably, sure of the legal basis of its claim. It is a magazine, after all, that has had a very long history fighting libel battles, and I doubt Ian Hislop, the editor, fancies another appearance in court.

* It also mentions studies by Oxford and Liverpool Universities. This sounds like the book, First Do No Harm, mentioned in Mike’s article.

* The Eye cites the figures of 590 suicides and 279,000 cases of ‘mental ill-health’. Vox Political has put up some of these suicides. So has Stilloaks, who put on a website the increasing number of this foul policies helpless victims. Tom Pride over at Pride’s Purge has also covered it, along with many, many others. And Mike has also reported the various reports and warning about the policy from mental health practitioners – the doctors, psychiatrists and psychologists, who have to treat severely vulnerable people, who have been made seriously depressed or turned into genuine nervous wrecks from …Smith’s callous, inept and cruel policy.

* A coroner has come to the same conclusion as the Eye, and informed aIDS and his vile colleagues under a legal instrument.

* Furthermore, aIDS has broken the law by not responding to the coroner’s “Rule 43” letter, and he and Chris Grayling also did not pass it on to an independent researcher, Professor Malcolm Harrington.

This is truly a perverse and lawless administration that has absolute contempt for both the disabled and the laws and legal and academic authorities, who try to protect them. Mike has issued a challenge to aIDS stating that he has made outrageous claims about the Gentleman Ranker, and that the Spurious Major should prove him wrong.

IDS can’t and probably won’t. … Smith is the stereotypical bully: once confronted, he runs away and starts squealing. He has hidden from protestors behind armed guards in parliament, run away from them out the back way of a Job Centre, and hidden in laundry baskets in hotels. These are acts of such magnificent cowardice that you could probably turn them into a brilliant comedy film. He’s just as craven when it comes to producing evidence. When it’s demanded, his tactic has been to find some spurious reason to turn it down, or stonewall the request, and appeal at the very last minute. And then finally to misinterpret the terms of the request quite deliberately so that he can send the wrong information.

Now he’s squealing that people have been making ‘outrageous claims’ about him. This is wrong. They’ve been making entirely reasonable statements, based on solid factual evidence, about aIDS’ policies and their effects. The only thing that’s outrageous are precisely those: that nearly 600 men and women have killed themselves due to his wretched policies, and over a quarter of million have been driven into depression, anxiety and madness.

And this coward, bully, braggart and fantasist has the audacity to declare that he’s being maligned. Well, Mike’s right. The facts speak for themselves. Let this monumental sham and incompetent prove otherwise.

More Racism and Homophobia from UKIP: Their Candidate for Oxford West

April 1, 2015

Hope Not Hate have just posted another piece reporting the racist, Islamophobic and anti-gay comments of another Kipper candidate on his Facebook page. This time, the prospective politico is Alan Harris, the party’s candidate for Oxford West and Abingdon. In addition to his candidacy, Harris is also the chairman of the Kipper’s branch in West Oxford. The article contains screenshots from Harris’ Facebook page in which he claims that ‘f****ing Muslims’ object to British culture, like bacon sandwiches; objects to Morrison’s in London for refusing to sell poppies in case it offends Muslims; and claims that Romanians and Bulgarians are only here for the job centres, and are responsible for robbery on the tube. He also asks the rhetorical question why he can’t say in his own country that black is a colour, and gays are ‘queers’. He also shares a story posted last year by the Bolton branch of the BNP. The article questions whether Morrison’s in London actually did refuse to sell poppies. As for ‘black’ not being a colour, I’ve heard that someone, somewhere, has made a loony pronouncement like this, but it ain’t general. As for not referring to gay people as ‘queers’, well, not only is it Harris’ country, it’s also theirs. And like everyone else, they have a right not to be sneered at. Even so, some gays have adopted ‘queer’ as an attempt to reclaim the word. As for Harris, it appears that he just another prejudiced Kipper with a hatred of Muslims and gays, and inclinations towards the Far Right. Like so many others. I’m starting to wonder if there’s anybody in Farage’s little army, who isn’t a BNP-lite stormtrooper. At the moment it appears that there’s so many of them, pretty soon Hope Not Hate will be just doing articles on the entire membership, one by one.

Private Eye on the Numbers Who Won’t Be Able to Claim Universal Credit

April 1, 2015

Private Eye also has a piece in their ‘In the Back’ column criticising IDS’ flagship Universal Credit. It reports that the Minister for Chequebook Genocide has announced that people on UC have been found to be five per cent more likely to find work within four months.

The Eye states that the people lucky enough to qualify for the benefit comprise less than one per cent of the seven million, who will be subject to the new benefit. The article also notes that it’s only been implemented in a small number of areas and given to people with straightforward needs and uncomplicated claims. The Eye also states that what was not mentioned, when IDS announced it would be rolled out across England, Wales and Scotland by 2016 was how few would qualify for the benefit.

There are 23 qualifying criteria itemised in a ‘knock-out’ list given to job centres in the North West. According to this, you won’t get UC if you are any of the following:

*A person earning more than £80 a week/ £300 a month.

* People, who own their own homes.

* The homeless, or people living in temporary accommodation.

* Pregnant women.

* People with disabled, adopted or foster children.

* Those caring for others with a health condition or disability.

* Those who either themselves or their partner, are already claiming the benefits that UC is designed to replace have also been told they ‘cannot make a claim yet’.

Some of the other criteria vary from place to place, with some only giving the new benefit to single people.

The Eye then quotes one welfare adviser on the scheme. They said

‘The roll-out is a complete sham. Most of our clients, who we would expect to claim Universal Credit, cannot do so at present because of the ‘knock-out’ criteria, serious disadvantaging people who face in-work poverty’.

The lady gave as examples two cases of single people, who worked part-time. They would have been better off by about £40 a week – an increase of 50 per cent – if they were able to claim Universal Credit to top up their incomes.

The article makes clear that Universal Credit is a farce. It’s not designed to support the poor, sick, disabled and unemployed, but to deny them that support under the guise that it’s really encouraging them to find a job. Mike’s already estimated that about 50,000 plus people are dying a year thanks to IDS wretched sanctions system. If UC gets rolled out next year, the number dying will be much, much higher. Not that the public’ll know, as the stats will be doctored and the deaths unreported. All so IDS can live in his fantasy of claiming he’s got the poor into work, while satisfying his lust for blood.

Coming Soon to TV this Christmas: IDS – A Real Video Nasty?

December 13, 2014

Ever since Charles Dickens invented the ‘traditional’, Victorian Christmas with A Christmas Carol, ghost and horror stories have been a part of the season’s entertainment. In the 1970s and ’80s the BBC broadcast a series of ghost stories, including a version of Dickens’ The Railwayman, and the chilling tales of the master of the British ghost story, M.R. James. The latter were told by Robert Powell, taking the part of James himself, who every Christmas settled down in his room at Oxford to tell a story of the ghastly and supernatural to his students. Last year Mark Gatiss of the League of Gentlemen and now Dr Who, presented a documentary on James’ life and career. Gatiss and the other members of the League were horror fans, and arguably much of the new Dr Who has its roots less in Science Fiction than Dark Fantasy and Horror. He therefore was a good choice as the programme’s presenter.

Other spooky delights on offer on TV in the past were Hammer’s gory and grisly tales, such as Dracula, Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell, and The Wolfman, featuring Oliver Reed as a werewolf, a part, which it could be said, he continued playing in many of his subsequent dramatic performances on chat shows around the world for much of his life. Some of his still remember his finest hour when he was thrown off the final programme of the discussion programme, After Dark.

Now watching the trailers last night for the forthcoming seasonal delights on the Beeb, I came across something that was genuinely unpleasant, far more so than anything dreamed up by Terence Fisher and the other fevered minds at Bray Studios in the 1960s. It was for a celebrity edition of University Challenge, and one of the faces looked like that of IDS.

This is genuinely grotesque. Christmas is traditionally a time of peace and goodwill to all, and yet there’s precious little of that on display with IDS and his actions. This is the politician, who has cut benefits and imposed sanctions to the point where claimants have actually died of cold and starvation on Britain’s streets, in their homes, or taken their lives through desperation. This is the politicians, who has lied and lied again about the effects of his policies to parliament. Not only that, but he is also personally treacherous and utterly without honour. When one lady, a Dutchwoman who had grown up here, worked all her life and paid her tax came to him as her MP about immigration problems, not only did … Smith refuse to help, he tried to have her deported.

Good King Wenceslaus, the song goes, took pity on a poor man ‘gathering winter fuel’, and so took him home to share his food and hearth out of charity. The real King Wenceslaus was the early medieval king of Bohemia, now part of the Czech Republic, who converted the country to Christianity. I’ve got the feeling that the Czech version of his name is Vaclav, which is obviously still a popular name in the Republic. It’s the first name, for example, of the dissident poet and first democratic Czech president after the fall of Communism, Vaclav Havel. I don’t know whether the real King Wenceslas ever did what the carol describes, but it’s not impossible. Medieval religion strongly emphasised charity and the ‘works of mercy’ as part of the co-operative grace granted to humanity through which they could gain salvation partly through their good works. It formed what modern scholars have termed an ‘economy of salvation’ in which wealthy merchants and rich noblemen were careful to work out exactly how much money they should spend on charity for the poor in order gain time off in Purgatory. Looking after the material needs of the poor was particularly important, as it was believed that they far dearer to the Lord than the rich, and so their blessings and prayers were particularly important in securing God’s pardon.

For all IDS’ rhetoric about ‘social justice’, I’ve seen precious little evidence that IDS has anything but hatred and contempt for the poor. Far from helping the poor man collect his firewood, and show due concern for the page following in his footsteps against treacherous, icy footing, IDS strikes me as far more likely to have taken away the pauper’s firewood as above the level allowed by feudal law, and given him a strong lecture on his improvidence and lack of self-sufficiency in not having rationed his firewood properly in the Christmas season. And the page would have to have made his own way to keep up with the king, as this would have been the only way to give him the proper training to compete in the go-ahead, globalised economy of the 11th century.

It also struck me as the beginning of a charm offensive by the Tory party in preparation for next year’s election. The Tories are keenly aware that they have an image as ‘the nasty party’. IDS himself is surely aware that he is one of the most hated men in Britain. It’s why he opened a jobs fair in his constituency, Chingford, early and left before the masses arrived. It’s also why he has been forced to sneak out the back when appearing at a job centre in Bath, as well as hide in laundry baskets to escape protesters. He’s also such a physical coward that when he appeared before a select committee in parliament to give evidence, he was surrounded by bodyguards and armed cops, pointing their guns at the public, including a number of disabled people and their carers in the public gallery.

His appearance on a festive edition of University Challenge looks like an attempt to present him as genial and family-friendly, a jolly type quite prepared to make a fool of himself on a quiz show at this time of year, rather than the vindictive, mean-spirited curmudgeon his really is.

It also seems to bear out a comment by Mark Kermode about the personal character of the makers of Horror and Family movies. Kermode’s the film critic on Radio 5 Live. He’s a long term Horror fan, having written books on Horror cinema and spoken before the British Boards of Film Certification about the censorship of particular video nasties. You remember them. They were films like Driller Killer, I Spit on Your Grave and Last House on the Left, that were so disgusting that when they appeared in the 1970s and ’80s they were banned. Kermode has said in his reviews that the makers of Horror movies all invariably tend to be really nice people. Wes Craven, who made Last House on the Left and then the Nightmare on Elm Street series, was actually a genuinely nice, highly educated, intelligent man. Craven has said in interviews that the extreme and genuinely disgusting violence and brutality in Last House on the Left was partly inspired by the images that were coming out of Vietnam in 1973. He saw the film as a polemic against violence, and showing how violence simply begets even more violence. To that point, he once walked out of one of Quentin Tarentino’s flicks. When one of the horror great Horror directors asked him how he could walk out of Tarentino’s movie, after he had directed something as revolting as Last House on the Left, Craven replied, ‘Well at least my movie’s about something!’

M.R. James seems to be another case in point. Rather than being a pale, sour misanthrope, Gatiss’ programme described James as quite a jovial, very sociable figure in real life, who enjoyed physically romping with his fellow students. Gatiss talked to the son of one of James’ students, who said that his father believed him to have been a non-practicing gay. Regardless of the speculation about James’ sexuality, what was clear was that James was a genuinely friendly man, who enjoyed his friends’ company and affection.

By contrast, according to Kermode, you can bet that the people who make family films are personally nasty. Well, this seems pretty much the case with IDS, which is no doubt why he wants to appear on TV in a positive light. Forget Hammer, Frankenstein, Dracula and Freddie Kruger, this is one Horror story I’ll be glad to miss.

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.

A Hellish Morass of the Demoralised, Poorly-Paid and the Back-Stabbing: Life at the Bottom of the Civil Service

November 23, 2013

I’ve been doing a course run by one of the local further education colleges and held at one of Bristol’s museums these past two weeks, intended to give the unemployed some of the skills and qualifications to help them find work. It’s been fascinating meeting the other people on the course, and hearing their stories and views about employment and the Job Centre. They’re a very mixed group. Some are intellectual and academic, while others’ skills and experience lie in the practical, manual trades. Listening to them, it’s a complete mystery why some of them don’t have jobs. There are a few, who have been out of work for a couple of years, yet are clearly articulate, capable and willing. Several have been on other courses before. Several of them have suffered from bullying employers in what were blatantly cases of constructive dismissal. Many also have been badly treated by the Job Centre.

One of the gents on the course has worked at one time in the Civil Service. It is not a job to which he wishes to return. He stated that at the lowest levels – that of the AAs, it is extremely poorly-paid, and the other employees are personally treacherous in their desperation to move on. AA stands from ‘Administrative Assistants’. Their job is basically going round taking claimant’s files to those higher up the chain of command, to the AOs, who interview clients, and the EOs, HEOs and office managers making the decisions. They also deliver the mail. According to this fellow, the pay is below £7,000. As a result, many are forced to ask for advances on next month’s salary in order to make ends meet. What he found shocking is that they were so acculturated to this exploitative arrangement, that they accepted it as normal. He also was shocked and disgusted at the amount of back-stabbing he had encountered amongst them, as each one fought against the others to climb up the corporate ladder. From the way he describes it, it sounds very much like he was glad to leave the job. It sounds very much like Thomas Hobbes’ ‘war of each against all’, with personnel, who are very definitely nasty and brutish.

This is very different from the civil service AAs I met in my career over twenty years ago. I don’t know how much they were paid, but they were largely a very good-natured, cheerful bunch, who got on well together, while doing their jobs efficiently and conscientiously. That, however, was over two decades ago, and clearly years of re-structuring by Blair and now the Coalition has taken its toll.

I don’t think this fellow is alone in his feelings about working in the Civil Service either. I’ve met other civil servants, who were bitterly disgusted at their working conditions and the poor management from above. They too, wanted to get out of it.

Now this reflects very strongly on IDS’ claim to leadership quality. Ian Duncan Smith has made much of attending Sandhurst, even if there are considerable doubts about whether or not he actually graduated. He desperately wants the public to be impressed with his alleged leadership ability through his claimed rank in the army.

Well, the treatment of the employees in the civil service seems to disprove this.

It hardly needs to be said that the armed forces are tough environments. Discipline is rigorously enforced, frequently through lurid personal abuse screamed at you by the Sergeant Major. However, team work, and a paternalistic attitude by the commanding officers are also vitally important. Conservative opponents of Bush’s Neo-Con policies and the invasion of Iraq within the US military were highly critical of the extreme individualism and personal touchiness of the Neo-Con political advisers they were required to obey. They derisively referred to them as ‘chickenhawks’, because despite their belligerence and willingness to expend lives, they personally had never seen combat, and had frequently done their best to make sure they had avoided military service. They were also greatly unimpressed by the fact that only two of Bush’s army of advisers ever did team sports. The army, at least in the US, liked team sports because the survival and effectiveness of troopers in combat depends on their working well as a team, not as a group of individuals. In team sports, like American Football, no single player was more important, or immune to criticism for poor performance than the others. It didn’t matter if you were a great quarterback, if you dropped the ball, you could still expect to be bawled at by the coach, like anyone else, observed one female general. She stated that Bush’s Neo-Cons could never handle professional criticism as a result of their not playing such sports. When their judgements or decisions were criticised, they took immense umbrage as if it were an attack on them personally. Other officers have been critical of the way the armed forces has stressed individualism in its recruiting drive, and its apparent omission of how much teamwork and the active subordination of individual interests to that of the group plays in the forces as a whole. One senior officer in the US army voiced his low opinion of its recruiting slogan ‘Be an army of one’. He stated it was ridiculous, as the army was one of the biggest, least individual bureaucracies there was. Despite the horrors of war, it was the camaraderie that many soldiers found in the army and the solidarity they experienced with their fellow squaddies that they enjoyed, and which has been celebrated in literature, songs and poetry, like Kipling’s.

Good generals also frequently have a paternalistic attitude to the personnel under them. Nicholas Courtney, The actor, who played Brigadier Lethbridge-Stuart in Dr Who remarked in an interview that a good commander looks after his men. This was explain the Brigadier’s decisions in combating the various alien invasions and attempted coups by mad scientists, which plagued Earth regularly during his long career with the Doctor. Now these adventures were clearly fictional, but the ethos guiding the Brigadier’s treatment of the men and women under him in UNIT is real. General Sir Peter de la Billiere, who is very definitely an Eton-educated member of the establishment, states in his memoirs that he found out that one of the key leadership skills was looking after one’s troops. This didn’t mean being soft with them, but it did mean you took more care of them than you did yourself.

Almost none of this seems to be present in civil service that has been created and over which Ian Duncan Smith and his fellows preside. There clearly is no comradeship amongst people, who are all bitterly fighting each other for the merest chance of promotion. Neither can one see a paternalistic attitude amongst the senior staff and ministers, when they have increasingly inflated salaries while the people on the lowest rungs of their organisation are reduced to asking for advances to cover their inadequate pay. One can find accounts of great generals, who personally risked their careers to get their troops the equipment they needed despite the obstructions of the army bureaucracy. There’s a fictional description of such in Bulgakov’s The White Guard, set during the Russian Civil War in the 1920s. IDS certainly doesn’t seem to have fought to improve conditions for the civil servants under his management. Added to this, there is the personal cowardice of IDS himself. Like the Neo-Cons described and derided by traditional American Conservatives, IDS appears unable to take professional criticism and reacts badly when he meets it. He has repeatedly failed to meet opponents of his welfare reforms, and avoided answering questions by parliamentary committees. Once upon a time, generals led from the front. IDS, it appears, prefers to be well behind lines so he doesn’t have to take the flak dished out to his troops. And as we’ve seen, if he can’t legitimately get his way, then he reverts to bullying. No wonder he may have been returned to his unit.

This, then, is the state of the civil service under Ian Duncan Smith. It’s badly led, with no team spirit or esprit de corps, at least at its lowest levels. There it is a poisonous hell of back-stabbing by the desperate and demoralised, acculturated to poor treatment and poor pay. It’s little wonder that the civil servants in turn mistreat and abuse the job seekers and other benefit claimants. And all while IDS and his fellow ministers vote themselves increasingly bloated salaries. This constitutes the Tories’ ideas of leadership and ideal social conditions in modern Britain.