Category: Political ideology

‘We are raising more money for the rich’ revisited: some thoughts

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The exposure of Cameron’s lie that the welfare “reforms” are about “making work pay” and his Freudian-style slip – “We are raising more money for the rich” – during Parliamentary debate on 12th December 2012 deserve a little scrutiny and analysis. This was a memorable Commons debate, with Ed Miliband delivering some outstanding challenges to David Cameron, some of which provoked the Freudian-style slip, and exposed the traditional Tory values and neoliberal ideology underpinning their policies.

So Cameron is raising more money for the rich. Get outta town! Well, it’s not as if most of us haven’t spotted the growing gap between the wealthiest and the poorest, and made a fundamental connection there.

Tax avoidance and evasion costs this Country at least £69 billion a year, at a conservative estimate. Also, note that the highest earners each stand to gain a further £107, 000 EXTRA per year, courtesy of the Tory-led Coalition.

That’s most certainly reflects traditional Tory ideological commitments, and it drags Osborne’s sham “economic strategy” shrieking into daylight, revealing it starkly for what it is. The real reason for the austerity measures this Government have inflicted on the poorest citizens is that Tory sponsors and very greedy, hoarding rich people are being handsomely rewarded with tax payers money.

The money for our welfare provision, our healthcare, our public services, schools, and so on, is being stolen from the British public and backhanded to the undeserving rich – there is the REAL “culture of entitlement”.

Private companies, many of which donate to the Conservative party, and have a subsequent powerful (and corrupt) lobbying influence on Tory policies, are making a fortune from the poverty that has been inflicted on many citizens. We have seen that the private sector do not deliver public “services” or meet public needs at all. (AtosA4E , G4S, for example.)

Private companies simply make profit. Indeed, that profit is all too often made at the expense of the well being of Citizens. That is most certainly and clearly true of Atos.

Ed Milliband said: ‘David Cameron and George Osborne believe the only way to persuade millionaires to work harder is to give them more money.’

‘But they also seem to believe that the only way to make you (ordinary people) work harder is to take money away.’ 

A very well spotted contradiction regarding Cameron’s claims about how “incentives” work. Apparently, the rich are a different kind of human from the majority of human beings. One set of punitive incentives for the poorest, another set of deluxe incentives, based on reward, for the wealthiest. That’s most certainly discrimination, embedded in Tory policy.

Cameron rewards his wealthy friends and has a clear elitist agenda, while he funds his friends and sponsors by stealing money from the tax payer, by stripping welfare provision and public services down to the bare bones. The truly terrible and catastrophic thing is that some are paying for Cameron’s shameful and unwarranted generosity to the already wealthy with their very lives. 73 sick and disabled people die on average every week, having their benefit claim ended by the Department for Work and Pensions.

This Government have written targets into Atos’s contract when they renewed it: 7 out of 8 claimants to lose their benefit. That indicates quite clearly that people are losing their benefit regardless of whether or not they they are fit to work, since the target exists before the claimant is even assessed.

Cameron’s generosity to his pals means eugenics by the back door for the most vulnerable citizens.

  • Article 2 of the Convention of Human Rights uses the following definitions of genocide, amongst others: 
  • Killing members of the group Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group.

However, under the UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, disabled people are not currently recognised as a clearly defined protected group. The many deaths of vulnerable people are currently being denied or passed off as “unintended consequences” of Coalition policies.

The persistent denials and consistent refusal to carry out a cumulative impact assessment, or conduct an independent investigation into the many  deaths indicates, to me, that those policies are intentional. The Coalition have no intention of changing them.

Taking money from the most vulnerable and poorest members of Society means they are unlikely  to be able to meet their basic biological needs. Welfare provision – our various benefits system – was based on the carefully calculated amounts we need to survive, so the amount of benefit we have meets just basic needs. The Tories have cut that basic survival level from the money we paid in for our own provisions and services. Meanwhile, those provisions and services are being sold off to Tory-sponsoring businesses. What a truly cunning heist.

This is not just about an ideologically motivated economic theft from the people with the least, and a redistribution of wealth to those that need it least, the Tories have also waged an existential attack: a psychic war is being waged on us every bit as much as a fiscal one, with the media on the enemy frontline, attacking on a linguistic and psychological level every day.

Unemployed, ill and disabled people have been redefined, semantically reduced, dehumanised, and demarcated from the rest of the population and turned into the ‘others’, and this divisive strategy has paid off for the enemy, because we are now regularly attacked by our own side: by those people who are also with us on this increasingly sparsely resourced, economically excavated side of the growing inequality divide.

Imagine what that does to faith and hope. For those of you that are not sick and/or disabled, I can tell you that it is often a very isolating and lonely experience. That is made so much more unbearable by prejudice and hate from other people. To be excluded further from everyday life and experience, both materially and existentially, brings about a terrible, bleak, desolating sense of social abandonment and a very real imprisonment.

We are living in a Government-directed culture of division and hatred.  

It’s no coincidence that hate crime against disabled people has risen steeply over this past two years. Most of us have experienced some verbal abuse from members of the wider public, at the very least. It’s become such a common experience that it may be regarded as almost normalised behaviour.

So let’s get this right… Cameron claims that the wealthy need more money as an incentive to work, whereas the poor need money taking from them via “Reforms” to “incentivise” them to work harder. Sixty percent of the welfare cuts will affect the working poor most of all. So much for the flat lie that Cameron and Co. are “making work pay”. The jobless, of course, are to be starved into finding none-existent jobs, in an economic depression.

Everyone knows that when people are prevented from meeting basic needs – food, fuel and shelter –  they die. It’s an irrefutable fact. Consider the new sanction regime that the Tory – led Government has just introduced from December 3rd 2012. Up to three years with no benefit at all for those benefit claimants that don’t “meet certain conditions for eligibility.” 

That certainly contravenes fundamental and established human rights. And it is certainly calculated and deliberate removal of the means that the poor have of basic survival. That is certainly a calculated and deliberate eugenics agenda.

Bearing in mind that the Government has set sanction targets for the DWP, and also, we know that claimants are set up to be sanctioned by DWP staff, we know that the sanction regime is just another way that the Government are stripping welfare, punishing and harming claimants, and in a recession (some are calling it a depression).

How on earth did it become the ‘norm’ – for a government to punish people by withholding public funds to deny them their basic survival needs? How is it acceptable in any way that people are being punished by starvation and the threat of homelessness? This is a government creating destitution within a targeted sector of the population.

What kind of Government would do that? This is Cameron’s Cruel Britannia. Killing vulnerable citizens via policy IS deliberate.

People are dying so that Cameron can hand out their publicly funded welfare provision budget as pocket money for the already rich.

We are raising more money for the rich

Hansard source and my original article 

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 Many thanks to Robert Livingstone for his brilliant artwork

Worth reading:

Ed Miliband challenges Cameron on the massive growth of food banks over the past two years –I never thought the big society was about feeding hungry children in Britain,” Miliband tells Cameron.

On the subject of foodbanks – private companies with Conservative connections are benefiting from ‘reform’ of the British welfare state

 


 

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The Blame Game

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The Government are playing a game. They don’t serve the needs of the public. They serve a wealthy elite. The Conservatives don’t care about the consequences of taking money from the poorest and giving it to the wealthiest. But they won’t tell us that. They are playing the game that the game is not a game.

It’s called the “blame game.” As welfare “reforms” and housing cuts bite increasingly harder, do we ever reach the point where the government concedes that the horror and hardship caused to many is an inevitable consequence of their own policies? Not at all.  Instead we see their adeptness at digging ever deeper holes of denial.

At least Thatcher admitted there was increased unemployment, that it was as a tool of economic policy, and it was, in her opinion, a price worth paying to bring down inflation. Shucks, shame that didn’t work, Maggie. We had high unemployment AND high inflation. But at least she was honest about her original intent.

The government denies that there is job insecurity, unemployment and underemployment. Or indeed any hardship at all; public sacrifices made through an elites’ economic policy-making. They blame anyone other than the ministers who have instituted the cuts. Whenever some new example of the horrendous effects of their policies is presented to them, they have a range of stock responses. You have to wonder if there is a standard Whitehall crib sheet for ministers. Cases that clearly indicate a correlation between their policies and harm are dismissed as “anecdotal evidence”, and that “no causal link can be established”. 

Correlation often implies a causal link, but to find it, you have to investigate further, rather than issuing flat denials, loudly.

Here is what the crib sheet looks like, in the interests of democracy and open Government:-

Deny that alternatives to austerity are viable

The repetition of a lie ad nauseum is based on the idea Goebbels had – that repeated lies will somehow convince people that they are true. Cameron was busted when he repeatedly told the lie We are paying down the debt. Despite being rumbled, the Coalition have stuck with this lie doggedly. The bonus of the lie is that it may undermine the opposition’s economic credibility, and the Tories particularly delight in the lie that it’s all Labour’s fault because they “overspent” as it further justifies austerity measures and starving public services of Government funding, with our paid taxes, as well as stripping our welfare provision away.

The Conservatives have REALLY messed up the economy. We know it’s a big fat Tory lie that cutting spending at a time of economic recession will re-balance public finances. As many academics and economists have stated, cutting spending when the economy is flat is likely to cause further contraction to the economy, and that will negatively affect public finances, rather than help at all.

The government will never confess to this because they are so tightly ideologically bound to an übertreiben Neo-Liberalism, no matter what the cost is in human terms, or even in economic terms. What we need is Labour’s expansionary fiscal policies, not contractionary ones. Real, sensible economists know that the only way to address a recession is to grow the economy, and that means more public spending in the short term, to stimulate economic activity, and cutting if needed when the economy is back on the up (which needn’t mean absolute cuts, but relative cuts because the economy is growing).

Repeat that implementing the cuts is avoidable

The trick is to give the impression that all the cuts can be made painlessly by eliminating luxuries and sacking “backroom staff”. Cameron used this one at PMQs last week when he accused Councils of making high-profile cuts “to try to make a point,” and not because they need to. Delivered with a straight face and psychopathic calm, this sounds like a feasible lie that some will believe.  So, central government is severely reducing budgets to Local Authorities, leaving them with a kind of impossible table cloth pulling trick to accomplish. Rip away the funding and hope the contents of the table – local services and provisions – stay put, and don’t crash to the floor. Of course, Labour Councils will be affected by the cuts more than other Councils, too. That also works out well for the Conservatives.

Blame the previous Labour Government. A lot

“It’s all their fault we have too few homes.” The Conservatives focus on the fact that housebuilding in Labour’s very last year was the worst they achieved, even though we know that was because of the credit crunch. The government won’t admit either that housebuilding under the Coalition is on average 45,000 homes less per year than the output under Labour, or that 2010/11 and 2011/12 were the two worst years since the war for English housebuilding. They don’t mention that Thatcher sold off all of the social housing stock, either. Again, they blame local government. Westminster is putting homeless families up in expensive hotels and Camden is sending them to Coventry (or Leicester, Liverpool, or somewhere else absurdly far from London). The Government say, hiding their smug smiles, how stupid this is, and tell them to stop it, even though both they and we know they cannot.

(See also The UK deficit scam: George Osborne is nailedwe are paying down the debt and rumbled).

Don’t admit that cutting welfare affects anything else.

Cuts in all benefits for private tenants and the bedroom tax will mean that more people will become homeless, and more people will need accommodation with lower rents ad fewer rooms in the social sector. The government deny that this will happen. Most of the political debate at the moment is focused on the consequences of the bedroom tax, which they claim is “fair”and the implications of private sector high rents, local rent allowance caps, (and in some areas, councils are quietly imposing a bedroom tax on those in privately rented properties, too, despite the rhetoric that this will affect only those tenants in social housing) the poll tax style council benefit reductions and DWP related benefits cap have been somewhat obscured.

Current debate does not, and probably cannot cover the depth of utter disruption and destruction to people’s lives that these changes are going to bring about. That is partly because the full details of the changes are not being released by this government in a transparent and timely manner.

If any evidence emerges that shows them to be wrong, under no circumstances will the government agree with it. All valid criticism and evidence will be passed off as “scaremongering”. Better still, the government don’t read the evidence then no-one can accuse them of knowing the facts but ignoring them. Alternatively, officials may be able to find an obscure or outdated source that on the surface appears to contradict the evidence.

Blame the victims

Extravagant housing benefit claims may only happen in a few isolated cases, but even so the press will amplify and stigmatise those few, especially if they are large families, unemployed, migrants or – even better – all three. The government gives the impression that such claims make up most of the welfare budget. They won’t ever admit that over half of welfare spending goes to older people, as they are seen as deserving of it, by the general public. Athough older people may not be as secure as they think – there’s a little rhetoric creeping in that portrays elderly people needing social care as being a “burden” on “the tax payer”. That never bodes well for a social group, it usually signals some significant cut to their income and support.

If the government is talking about housing benefit, they will try to give the impression that it’s spent by the tenants themselves to fund their indolent lifestyles – they won’t ever confess that the money goes directly to landlords who are pushing up rents because there are insufficient houses available. There is the old Poor Law binary conceptual schema, especially resurrected to inform Tory narratives  – the notion of  “deserving” and “undeserving” poor, which is implicit in all of their anti-welfare and anti-public service rhetoric.

The government use keywords and sound bites in debate, speeches and in the media. They repeatedly refer to “scroungers”, “hard working families” , “the workshy,” “strivers” and “skivers” and talk about “subsidised housing,” and not council homes. (£23,000,000,000 every year is given to private landlords in subsidies by tax payers). This helps “confirm” the impression that most welfare spending is a waste of (“striving” tax payers’) money.

Suggestions for new and even more derogative terms are always welcome. IDS made a good attempt to link welfare recipients in the public collective consciousness with drug addicts and alcoholics. Other MPs are following his lead. Again, evidence that is presented to the contrary is dismissed, usually with angry derision and a renewed psychological and linguistic assault on the victims, and/or the label of  “scaremongering” directed at the critic that presented the evidence.

Another important strategy employed by the Tories is to manipulate the victims of their savage cuts via propaganda, so they blame each other. Those in low paid work can blame the poor unemployed for the economic recession and the misery of the cuts, those unemployed people can blame poor immigrants, and everyone can blame the poor “feckless” and “fraudulent” sick and disabled people. The Conservatives are very adept at creating  social divisions by constructing folk devils and generating moral outrage. It’s an old and established bullying tactic to blame the victim, as this serves to cover up the abuse of the victim or to “justify” that abuse.

The Tories managed to use others to persecute victims further in order to oppress and silence them. Scapegoating victims and persecution of selective social groups is also one of the hallmarks of an authoritarian government, one that does not serve the needs of the public, but rather, sees the public as a means of serving government ends.

Deny that the cuts are taking place

The government will point out if there is any part of any budget that they decided to protect, however small, and they will grossly exaggerate its importance. Take a historical lesson from Grant Shapps: every time someone has said funding for homelessness is being cut and services are being decimated, he would point to his department’s very small fund for homelessness prevention, and claim that because it hadn’t been reduced, other services had been unaffected, or – oh yes of course – any cuts are the fault of the Local Authorities. The ones that have had their funding drastically cut by central government, and that face even more cuts once the Localism Bill has been implemented.

It’s obvious to all that the scale of the welfare cuts in reality must mean massive suffering and hardship. Furthermore, Labour find and present deserving examples of cases, such as people dying of cancer, homeless ex-servicemen, that sort of thing. (There are many, many deserving examples of cases, too.) One Tory tactic is to almost always offer to investigate the particular case, implying they may do something (even though they won’t.) Another is that they point to the money that’s been set aside for special cases (e.g. Discretionary Housing Payments). They never fail to give the impression that this is sufficient to deal with any genuine hardship.

Usually there is mention of an amount e.g. Discretionary Housing Payments total £60 million in 2012/13. This will seem a large sum to the public even though it’s only a tiny fraction of the cuts taking place. There isn’t a chance in hell that such a small amount of funding “on one side” will alleviate the chaos, suffering and mass homelessness as a result of the bedroom tax, council “poll” tax and benefit cap and all of their terrible effects hit hard, which they undoubtedly will despite the pseudo-reassuring Tory rhetoric that glides with glib indifference over the surface of these socially regressive horrors. 

Stick a public plaster on it

Unfortunately some problems are so big and so obvious that the government have to pretend they are doing something about them. For example, everyone knows builders have almost stopped building. Given that the housing budget had one of the biggest cuts of all in the latest Spending Review, there’s precious little they can can do, but they will nonetheless pretend otherwise. Firstly, they argue that output is going up even when it’s going down (Tory tip – don’t appear on Sunday Politics, choose programmes where they don’t do their research.) Secondly, the government always have to hand some useful initiative available that sounds like it might solve the problem, even if it’s far too small to make any difference.

Grant Schapps gave us NewBuy and FirstBuy, which both sound sufficiently impressive, but then they may need to invent one or two more when people realise how inconsequential they are. The government have said they are selling more homes under the right to buy scheme, as if this helps solve the problems, even though they aren’t and it doesn’t.

Richard Vize made an excellent point in the Guardian last week that Cameron and Co. are undermining Local Government and failing to prepare people for the depth of the cuts that are now hitting them – with much worse still in the pipeline. He says that ministers are “giving the impression that public services can indeed manage cuts without pain or profound change. They can’t.”

How on earth can the government expect to be taken seriously, if they make cuts on an unprecedented scale over a dangerously tight time-scale, but refuse even to admit there might be consequences for public services?

Perhaps  the frightening answer is that they refuse to admit it because their intention is to push ahead relentlessly, and regardless of public opinion, and that they don’t care about the consequences.

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Picture courtesy of Robert Livingstone

The Poverty of Responsibility and the Politics of Blame

 

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Government consultation on measuring child poverty. So, what’s that about?

The Government are currently developing “better measures of child poverty” to provide a “more accurate reflection of the reality of child poverty.” According to the Tory-led Coalition, poverty isn’t caused by a lack of income. The Coalition have conducted a perfunctory consultation that did little more than provide a Conservative ideological framework to catch carefully calculated, subliminally-shaped public responses.

This framework was pre-fabricated by the strange déjà vu musings of Charles Murray, the American sociologist that exhumed social Darwinism and gave the bones of it originally to Bush and Thatcher to re-cast. Murray’s culture of poverty theory popularised notions that poverty is caused by an individual’s personal deficits; that the poor have earned their position in society; the poor deserve to be poor because this is a reflection of their lack of qualities, poor character and level of abilities.

Of course, this perspective also assumes that the opposite is true: wealthy and “successful” people are so because they are more talented, motivated and less lazy, and are thus more deserving. Just like the widely discredited social Darwinism of the Victorian era, proposed by the likes of Conservative sociologist Herbert Spencer, (who originally coined the phrase “survival of the fittest,” and not Darwin, as is widely held) these resurrected ideas have a considerable degree of popularity in upper-class and elite Conservative circles, where such perspectives provide a justification for extensive privilege. In addition, poor communities are seen as socialising environments where values such as fatalism are transmitted from generation to “workshy” generation.

Perhaps that’s why Thatcher destroyed so many communities: in a bid to drive her own demon out. It was invoked by a traditional Tory ritual of blame. Political responsibility was sacrificed, and that’s also a traditional Tory ritual.

According to traditionalist sociologists Kingsley Davis and Wilbert Moore, not only is poverty a reflection of one’s lack of talents, but inequality is necessary and functional for society. Some positions are socially more important (or functional) than others. Such important positions usually require deferred gratification – sacrifices – to be attained: surgeons need long years of education and dedication to finally practice their crafts. Therefore, it is legitimate that those who make such sacrifices be rewarded with money, power and prestige. Such rewards are offered to motivate the best and brightest to aim for such positions. The poor are poor because they are less intelligent, talented, driven, innovative, motivated, self-restrained and hard working, according to the right-wing pseudomeritocratic narrative. 

Of course we know from psychological studies that the “brightest and best” are often driven by greed, hunger for power and status: narcissism and psychopathic ambitions, and that the genuinely brightest and best are very often less well financially rewarded for more virtuous and intelligent behaviours.

The salary/pay differences between nurses and footballers is a good example that highlights the myth of meritocracy. We reward good eye and foot coordination skills in footballers and prize them far more highly as a society than we do caring, medical knowledge and health and healing skills in nurses.

How we organise socially (which is shaped considerably within a dominant paradigm of competitive individualism, and a Conservative neoliberal economic framework) and how we endorse and reward behaviours as a society is also a big factor in the distribution of competitive, (as opposed to cooperative) greedy, narcissistic, (as opposed to empathic, collectivist) psychopathic traits in those holding the most financially rewarding positions of power.

Blame-the-victim theories of poverty assume that all individuals think alike independently of their social context and circumstances. They ignore the actual resilience and ingenuity that people in absolute poverty mobilise in order to simply survive. And these theories also ignore the tremendous social obstacles that block people’s path to prosperity, such as war or political and ethnic repression. They ignore, in particular, the crucially significant role that Government decision-making and policy plays in shaping inequalities, and the distribution of wealth.

An overview of the underhanded, not the underclass.

In the consultation, material deprivation was mentioned almost in passing. Iain Duncan Smith memorably said recently that poverty isn’t caused by a lack of money. Oh really? Hmmm…  I suppose if you are stranded on a desert island, then it isn’t, but that’s not applicable here as a line of reasoning, Iain. Although I have seen many impoverished souls amongst the rich, I have yet to see a materially deprived wealthy person. Gosh, I’m surprised you didn’t know that the elite do tend to accomplish avoiding vagabondage and pauperism with aplomb, Iain.

Other “causes” of poverty outlined in the document include “worklessness,” unmanageable debt, poor housing, parental skill level, family stability,  and quality education, substance abuse and addiction … and it’s sounding like a Charles Murray Bell Curve mantra to me. Tory ritualistic chanting again.

Eugenics in a ball gown.

This Tory and almost quaint positivist notion of “cause and effect” – personal and socio-cultural inadequacies cause social inequality and poverty – is teleological (functionalist): poor housing, unmanageable debt, family instability and lack of access to quality education are all outcomes of poverty, not causes. I know this to be true, having worked with families that were experiencing difficulties caused by periods of deprivation and poverty, and I have to report that those sorts of misfortunes happened to people regardless of their social background. (Although I must add that none of the upper class or elite, to my knowledge, have ever required intensive support from social services.)

Yet these ideas have become tacitly accepted socially, politicised vigorously and relentlessly, and given pseudo-credibility in the largely right-wing agendarised media. Inequality in Britain today is now so stark, yet there is remarkably little public concern or anger about poverty. (But plenty of anger about the “feckless” poor.) Indeed, compassion and concern for the poorest in society has declined substantially due to the sustained and increasing prevalence of the view that poverty is largely caused by laziness and is the fault of the individual, and that is also simply a shruggable, unavoidable fact of life. Poverty is caused by the poor. It’s not a generous or an expansive view of human nature, from the Tory ontological camp.

Moreover, much of the British public believes that there are sufficient opportunities to succeed for those who try hard enough, and also that it is the middle class which actually struggles the most, economically. These assumptions are highly Conservative, ideologically, with political implications that limit public support for egalitarianism and extensive wealth redistribution from rich to poor, and stifle empathy and understanding for the victims of poverty. There is also, of course, the fact that many don’t want to think about the issue at all, because it causes discomfort and unease: making poverty visible reminds people on some subliminal level, no matter how much they blame the victim, that poverty could nonetheless happen to anyone. The saying goes that most of us are just a couple of pay cheques away from destitution. To many, this is tacit knowledge, but such misfortune will never happen to them.

Competition is threaded throughout the Conservative neoliberal ideological framework, and the Tories have always been inclined to see society as having a hierarchical organisation and structure. Competitive individualism is an all-pervasive social contagion, and has led to those who have the least feeling that they are competing the most for rapidly disappearing resources. This is why the media propaganda campaigns of the Government have seen success, because the Government, via the media, has tapped into this contagion and constructed convenient scapegoats.

Sick and disabled people have been negatively labelled and stigmatised by the media, and it’s no coincidence that hate crimes directed at this social group have significantly increased. We see the poor who work hating the poor unemployed, we see the poor unemployed hating poor immigrants, and we see people who are poor and ill saying that they deserve more support than others that are also poor and ill.

Yet instead of maintaining divisions, the casualities of this Government’s policies would do better to organise, cooperate and mutually support each other. There’s a few socialist principles to counter the isolating poverty trance that many of us are in danger of succumbing to. We can’t afford to be dazed. “Divide and conquer” as a propaganda strategy has certainly been effective, and whilst the authoritarian diversionary (middle) finger is being pointed in blame at the poor and the vulnerable, the real villains are stealing all of our money, and stripping away our publicly funded services and support programs, and enjoying huge tax cuts and handouts as they go. Poverty and wealth do tend to grow together. It’s no coincidence.

I do not agree with the idea that “worklessness” is the cause of child poverty, or many of the other “causes” proposed in the consultation document. We are in an economic recession, and I do believe the Government has a duty to protect the most vulnerable of its citizens, rather than blaming them for the consequences of Government policies. What has happened instead is Coalition policies have contributed enormously to creating more poverty and are set to continue to do so, at a rapid pace, especially once the rest of the cuts via the Localism Bill, Bedroom Tax and Benefit Cap are implemented from April. Coalition policies have of course generated more money for the wealthy, with the very wealthiest gaining around £107, 000 each per year, for example, whilst austerity targets the poorest disproportionately. That is the cause of poverty: utilising social and economic policies to bring about a hugely unequal, grossly unfair and unmerited redistribution of wealth.

In a time of economic recession, jobs are lost, unemployment rates are rising, (despite what we are being told by Cameron – how can we possibly have the best employment rates since the 1960’s, when we are in the middle of the worst global recession we have seen for many decades?) and businesses are increasingly facing bankruptcy, it is therefore hardly fair to penalise the unemployed. Yet taking money from those who have the least via the “reforms,” sanctions and work fare is the Government’s response to the rising unemployment, and to sickness and disability, too. We know that work fare results in even more job losses, because we know that businesses are inclined to get rid of paid workers and replace them with free labour, which comes funded from the tax payer, and so further increases company profits.

We know that private companies are driven by the profit motive, and that they ride roughshod over human needs. They employ the cheapest (and therefore least qualified and professional) workforce that they can. They provide the cheapest materials, economise and make “efficiency savings” in services they provide.

Add to that the matter of Government targets to “incentivise” businesses through further financial reward – with the political aim of reducing State support for the poorest and most vulnerable – and we have the most corrupt and inhumane profiting from human misery, with private companies such as Atos being encouraged explicitly (contractually and via policies) to inflict misery, and being financially rewarded for inflicting that misery, suffering, sometimes death, and of course, increasing financial hardship and poverty. Companies like Atos and A4E reflect the very worst aspects of “vulture capitalism”. It is the asset-stripping of our public services, selling them off and exploiting people for profit, no matter what the cost is to those people.

Sanctions of up to 3 years – stopping a person’s basic means of survival (benefit covers the cost of food and fuel, with housing benefit covering the other basic survival need – shelter) means that those who cannot find work will quite likely die. That’s a fact. Evidence of this biological fact is well articulated by Abraham Maslow  (see Maslow’s Hierarchy.)  Maslow’s proposition also illuminates clearly why poor people cannot be “incentivised” or “helped” through sanctions and  punishment, or motivated by these methods to find none existent jobs when they are struggling to survive.

When people are struggling to meet their most basic needs, they cannot summon the effort to do anything else. The Government expect us to believe that punishing poor people will somehow cure them of their poverty, although many people who are not claiming a benefit won’t know about the punishment regime in place for the unemployed poor, since the use of words by the Government like “helping” people into work (that isn’t real) is such a big detour from truth, and it makes a completely menacing, sneering mockery of the real meaning of that word.  Ah, those “caring” Conservatives are at it again …

We really need to ask ourselves what kind of Government would steal money from the poorest citizens through “reforming” the system of welfare provision, when we are in recession. Then ask again why there is a desire to redefine poverty in a way that excludes the obvious reason for it: a lack of money. One cannot help but wonder why the Coalition think that poor people need money taken from them to “incentivise” them, but very wealthy people need money giving to them, to “incentivise” them. Where did the money come from that rewarded so well those who do not need it ? Oh yes, I can see now….

A simple truth is that poverty happens because some people are very, very rich. That happens ultimately because of Government policies that create, sustain and extend inequalities. The very wealthy are becoming wealthier, the poor are becoming poorer. This is a consequence of  “vulture capitalism” – at the core of Tory ideology – designed by the opportunism and greed of a few, it is instituted, facilitated and directed by the Tory-led Coalition.  

Welfare provision was paid for by the public, via tax and NI contributions. It is not a “handout.” It is not the Government’s money to cut. That is our provision, paid for by us to support us if and when we need it. It’s the same with the National Health Service. These public services and provisions do not and never did belong to the Government to sell off, make profit from, and strip bare as they have done.

Low wages and low benefit levels, rising unemployment and a high cost of living are major causes of poverty. “Worklessness” is a made up word to imply that the consequences of Government policies are somehow the fault of the victims of traditional Tory prejudices.

It’s a psychological and linguistic attack on the vulnerable – blaming the unemployed for unemployment, and the poor for poverty. Those are a consequence of Coalition policies. The Coalition take money from those who need it most to give away to those who need it least. That causes poverty. The Coalition are creating poverty via the consequences of policies. Occasionally they do admit it, or more likely, slip up with a truth. (It was Steve Webb in this case, in addition to the opposition.)

Bearing in mind we are in a recession, I believe that the way the most vulnerable have been treated is unforgivable, and inhumane, and it also breaches several basic human rights. Poverty is caused by economic policies driven by political prejudice and ideology. Poverty is generated through structural – socio-economic – conditions that some Governments impose on a population. I would therefore like to see acknowledgement of this in the Tory-led  measurement of poverty. It’s time the Coalition took some responsibility for the appalling and miserable conditions and human suffering that they are deliberately imposing on the Citizens that they are meant to serve

Given the Coalition’s significant contribution to the continuing rise in childhood poverty, it’s worth noting their abject failure to meet their obligations to make provision for children at risk from the effects of poverty, because they prefer instead to make provision for those who need it the very least: the already very wealthy.

Signatories (such as the UK, since 1991) of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (the most rapidly and widely ratified international human rights treaty in history), are legally obliged to protect children from the adverse effects of economic policies.

The Coalition’s austerity measures, which target the poorest citizens for the greatest proportion of cuts, must surely breach this Convention.

Article 3: (Best interests of the child.) The best interests of children must be the primary concern in making decisions that may affect them. All adults should do what is best for children. When adults make decisions, they should think about how their decisions will affect children. This particularly applies to BUDGET, POLICY AND LAW MAKERS.

That would be the Government.

 The Convention Rights of Children


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Pictures courtesy of Robert Livingstone.

 


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The ESA ‘Revolving Door’ Process, and its Correlation with a Significant Increase in Deaths amongst Sick and Disabled People

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A Department for Work and Pensions Freedom Of Information request (FOI) yielded a response showing that people having their claim for Employment Support Allowance (ESA) stopped, between October 2010 and November 2011, with a recorded date of death within six weeks of that claim ceasing, who were until recently claiming Incapacity Benefit (IB), totalled 310. Between January and November 2011, those having their ESA claim ended, with a recorded date of death within six weeks of that claim ending totalled 10,600. 

Bearing in mind that those who were successfully migrated to ESA from IB were assessed and deemed unfit for work, (under a different assessment process, originally) one would expect that the death rates would be similar to those who have only ever claimed ESA. This is very clearly not the case.

Furthermore, there are NO alarming increases in mortality rates amongst those who are still in receipt of Incapacity Benefit – there were approximately a million and a half claimants, compared to less than a million ESA claimants for this period. Many of those migrated so far have not yet had a Work Capability Assessment, as the Government decided to re-assess those people when their review from the Incapacity Benefit  Personal Capability Assessment is due, for practical reasons. The migration process won’t be completed, it is anticipated, until 2014.

David Green from the DWP has urged that “care should therefore be taken when interpreting these figures”. Well I have taken care interpreting this data, Mr Green. My careful interpretation is that there is a probable correlation demonstrated here, linking the reformed Work Capability Assessment process and the withdrawal of lifeline benefits with an increase in mortality amongst sick and disabled people.

Incapacity Benefit was fair, it was a genuine social security provision. The “reforms”, including the new Tory-shaped ESA benefit, by stark contrast, are all about taking support and provision away from the sick and disabled, leaving them potentially very vulnerable. It’s very evident that there are measures in place to reduce successful claims for ESA, and many lose their lifeline support for the most arbitrary or manufactured reasons.

Indeed, the Tories have been very keen to articulate the welfare “savings” that they anticipated with regard to the disability benefits, including PIP, which is replacing DLA. But of course, these anticipated “savings” reflect a dark truth: the Government are setting targets to remove benefits from people, regardless of the impact of that imposed deprivation (and frank State theft of our tax funded welfare) on their wellbeing, health and safety. How else is it possible to predict probable “savings?”

Those claiming IB were not required to have continuous assessments, whereas those on ESA are constantly required to have the Work Capability Assessment. Many claimants have described a “revolving door” process of endless assessment, ceased ESA claim, (based on an outcome of almost invariably being wrongly “assessed” as fit for work), appeal, successful appeal outcome, benefit reinstated, only to find just 3 months later another assessment is required. The uncertainty and loss of even the most basic security that this process creates, leading to constant fear and anxiety, is having a damaging, negative impact on the health and wellbeing of so many.

A significant proportion of those required to have endless assessments have very obviously serious illnesses such as cancer, kidney failure, lung disease, heart disease, severe and life threatening chronic conditions such as multiple sclerosis, lupus, myalgic encephalomyelitis, rheumatoid arthritis, brain tumours, severe heart conditions, and severe mental health illnesses, for example. To qualify for ESA, the claimant must provide a note from a doctor stating that the person is unfit for work. There can be no justification for subjecting people who are so ill to further endless assessments, and to treating us as if we have done something wrong.

Marginalising and stigmatising vulnerable social groups via political propaganda in the media, using despiteful and malicious terms such as “workshy” and “feckless” is a major part of the Government’s malevolent “justification” to the public for removing the lifeline support from sick and disabled people, amongst whom are some of our most vulnerable citizens.

We are climbing Allport’s Ladder.

I have often suspected that Iain Duncan Smith is channelling the spirit of Goebbels.

In addition to very justified anxieties regarding the marked increase in disability hate crime that the Tory-led propaganda campaign has resulted in, many sick and disabled people have also stated that they feel harassed and bullied by the Department of Work and Pensions and Atos. Many talk of the dread they feel when they see the brown Atos envelope containing the ESA50 form arrive through the letter box.

The strain of constantly fighting for ESA eligibility/entitlement and perpetually having to prove that we are a “deserving” and “genuine” sick and disabled person is clearly taking a toll on so many people’s health and wellbeing. Many families of those who have died have said that the constant strain, anxiety and stress of this revolving door process has contributed significantly to their loved ones’ decline in health and subsequent death. The figures from the DWP, and the marked contrast between the ESA and IB death statistics certainly substantiates these claims.

The horrific, unforgivable and massive increase in deaths over this period coincides with the Government’s totalitarian styled rapid fire legislation – the “Reforms” – in the face of protest, horror, disbelief, fear and mass opposition. The Tories cited “financial privilege” to trample over opposition and stifle dissent, to drown out the voices of protest. Those protesting this Bill notably included many from the House of Lords. I lobbied the Peers, and emailed every single one of them, stating very clearly that the welfare reforms must not happen. I got a high number of encouraging responses. But  David Cameron got his own way.

Cameron made a Freudian-style slip when he announced to Ed Miliband recently, during Parliamentary debate, that We are raising more money for the rich.” Not that we didn’t already know this was so. Many of us – around 73 sick and disabled people every week –  are paying for that wealth increase for the already wealthy with our very lives.

There are many who have so tragically lost their lives because of this malicious Government’s brutal and grossly unjust economic war on the poorest, on sick and disabled people and on the most vulnerable citizens, because of the Tory-led ransacking and plundering of our welfare provision and social support programs.

But just one life would be one too many.

Further reading:

The Black Triangle Campaign

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Many thanks to Robert Livingstone for his outstanding artwork.

This is an excerpt taken from a much longer piece of work – Remembering the Victims of the Welfare “Reforms.”

Welfare Wrongs and Human Rights: a dialogue with Anne McGuire

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“It is undeniable that every human being is entitled to living space, daily bread, and the protection of the law as a common birthright; these are fundamentals and should not be handed out as an act of charity” ― Alfred Delp, S.J.

Nor should the meeting of such fundamental human needs ever be regarded as such.

“A decent provision for the poor and vulnerable is the true test of civilization” – Samuel Johnson.

I know that some of you have been waiting for an account of the discussion that took place between Anne McGuire and the small group of us that met with her in November, and quite understandably so. Labour currently present our only viable way of undoing the devastating damage, bleakness and despair that the Tory-led Coalition have created for so many of us, and of halting the shameful suffering and premature deaths being inflicted on some of our most vulnerable citizens. I am sorry this has taken such a while to write up, but I haven’t been very well, and have had to make some difficult choices about priorities over the last few months. I was hospitalised and seriously ill at the start of the year, and that has set me back some. However, Gail produced a report shortly following the meeting, this is the substantial version. It’s a long read, it was a long meeting that covered a lot of ground.

The meeting between Gail Ward, Susan Archibald, Sue Jones (me) and Anne McGuire took place on Friday 16th of November at the Stirling Labour headquarters. The meeting arose as follow on work from Sonia Poulton’s letter to Ed Miliband regarding the serious concerns many of us have about the work capability assessment (WCA). The idea of the letter arose, in part, because of a productive debate between Sonia and myself, following the Dispatches and Panorama documentaries about Atos and the WCA, and the appalling and shameful treatment of sick and disabled people by the Coalition.

The meeting with Anne was not time-limited, and she had to cancel an appointment to extend our time with her. We are enormously grateful for her time and consideration. The meeting also reflects something of Labour’s ongoing dialogue with the disabled community, which is a very positive development, as is the ongoing work of MPs such as John McDonnell, Michael Meacher, Dennis Skinner, Anne Begg, Debbie Abrahams, Tom Greatex, Anne McGuire, Liam Byrne and others in championing the human rights of the sick and disabled, and challenging an increasingly authoritarian Government.

Gail Ward and I each compiled an independent list of issues that we felt reflected those concerns we have encountered most commonly amongst our peers. The lists were remarkably similar, and so I consolidated the issues we both observed to inform and formalise an agenda.

Our starting point in the discussion was to state categorically that we believe that welfare provision is NOT a “hand out” or “something for nothing”. It is paid for by us via taxes, and is for us, to support us at times of vulnerability, such as when we are sick, or unemployed due to recession (some are now calling it a depression) that has been created by a totally ideologically-bound and unresponsive Government.

The fact we felt we had to state this at all indicates plainly just how terribly effective the Government’s anti-welfare propaganda has been. The Tories and some of the Sun, Mail and Telegraph-reading public are finger pointing, bullying, mean spirited: the moralsing outraged, and we are victims of the hideous, dehumanising Tory-led ideological rantings, we are the minoritized, marginalised and disabled, and we are shocked, fearful, and cannot believe that this has been allowed to happen. We are justifiably afraid and angry. We know the current benefit system is no longer about welfare, and current policies do not have a core principle – implicitly or explicitly, despite the rhetoric – of ensuring or promoting the well-being of sick and disabled people.

The welfare “reforms” – and the word “reform” implies some positive change that certainly isn’t evident here  –  are entirely about stripping away our publicly paid for welfare provision –  our “social security”. Not a single Tory “reform” is about enhancing lives: they are all about taking money away, leaving us to struggle for survival, and so stifling our potential for positive experiences, personal growth and development.

Through a combination of changes to existing benefits and the new Universal Credit, the UK Government aims to cut £18 billion off the benefits bill. A further £10 billion is to be cut from welfare provision in the near future. The hate-filled propaganda campaign of this Government is all about an attempt at justifying the theft of our support and provision. It is our money that we have PAID into the system via taxes. It was never the Government’s money to take from us. They have stolen it.

When we struggle to meet basic physical needs, we cannot transcend biology to fulfil other higher level, psychosocial  We become bound by the physical, and can’t be motivated beyond struggling to survive. Abraham Maslow told us that.

Benefit rates were originally carefully calculated by a body of professionals and officials to meet basic living requirements, such as food, shelter and fuel costs. Benefit rates have never reflected anything more than a financial amount to meet these fundamental human needs. Our welfare provision has eradicated absolute poverty in Britain, and has been an essential lifeline for many citizens, in times of their need of support. Benefit rates were set at the amount “the law says you need to live on”. If people cannot meet their basic living requirements, they die. It’s a fact. Furthermore, Maslow tells us that if we are struggling to survive, we cannot fulfil other human needs and motivations. The welfare “reforms”, and the subsequent reduction of our benefits indicates that the Government do not care about the wellbeing and survival of those people that depend on this crucial support to meet their basic living requirements.

This is not a Government that recognises the intrinsic value and worth of life. It is not a Government that recognises human potential, or values personal growth and development. It is not a Government that values social evolution and progress. Trying to explain these fundamental concepts to a Tory is like pondering how best to describe a rainbow and shooting stars to a blind man with no imagination. Or soul.

This is not just about an ideologically motivated economic theft from the people with the least, and a redistribution of wealth to those that need it least (the already very wealthy), it’s an existential attack too: a psychic war that is being waged on us every bit as much as a fiscal one, with the media on the enemy frontline, attacking us on a linguistic and psychological level every day. We have been redefined, semantically reduced, dehumanised, and demarcated from the rest of the population and turned into the others, and this divisive strategy has paid off for the Government, because we are now regularly attacked by our own side: by those people who are also with us on this increasingly sparsely resourced, economically excavated side of the growing inequality divide. Tory divide and rule tactics: fostering a politics of hatred.  

Imagine what that does to faith and hope. For those of you that are not sick and/or disabled, I can tell you that it is often a very isolating and lonely experience. That is made so much more unbearable by prejudice and hate from other people. To be excluded further from everyday life and experience, both materially and existentially, brings about a terrible, bleak, desolating sense of social abandonment and a very real imprisonment. We are living in a Government-directed culture of hatred.  It’s no coincidence that hate crime against disabled people has risen quite steeply over this past two years. Most of us have experienced some verbal abuse from members of the wider public, at the very least. It’s become such a common experience that it may be regarded as almost normalised behaviour.

Anne McGuire told us that she and Anne Begg, amongst others, have challenged  the Tory-led stigmatising and dehumanising language, and the shameful invention of statistics in the media. Publicly and privately. Anne expressed her anger and disgust at the “serial offenders” – especially Iain Duncan Smith.

The defamatory Tory-led commentary must surely constitute hate crime and we know that the rising statistics of disability hate crime is certainly linked to this hateful propaganda campaign on the part of the Coalition to justify removing support and benefit from the sick and disabled, and from those in low paid work.

Tory logic – punishing people into non-existent or unsuitable jobs

We raised our grave concerns about the fact that the Government have recently introduced harsh sanctions of up to three years without benefits for all benefit claimants, the only group being exempt from sanctions currently are those in the ESA Support Group. This is only  a proportionally small number of claimants that will remain unaffected. The Conservatives claim that the sanctions will “help people into work”, and are to be applied to those who “fail” to meet certain “conditions” to look for work. We know, however, that sanctions are applied often without any justifiable reasons because the DWP  deliberately set people up to fail, and we also know that the Government sets sanction targets for the DWP. 

Firstly, only a very cruel and injudicious Government would punish people for being out of work during an economic depression in this way. There are no jobs. We know this is true from our everyday experience, despite the Governments continued lies about employment figures. Secondly, removing people’s means of meeting fundamental survival needs by sanctioning them is most certainly not going to motivate them and “help them into work” as the Government are claiming.

“Evidence also suggests that work can have a positive impact on the long term health of people with disabilities and health conditions,” according to the Government, but we have yet to see convincing evidence of this. Those in the ESA Work Related Activity Group (WRAG) are expected, from December 3rd 2012, to undertake unlimited periods of mandatory workfare in order to meet conditions for continued eligibility. This means that they are at an increased risk of being sanctioned, because the condition of qualifying for this benefit in the first place is that a doctor has provided a statement to say that the claimant is unfit for work. There is clearly a monumental problem regarding Government expectations of those in this group. Once again, the sanctions raise some serious concerns regarding the Government’s casual transgression of human rights.

The previous Minister for Employment, the Rt Hon Chris Grayling MP, has made the following  official statement regarding the new sanctions regime and Human Rights: “In my view the provisions of the Jobseeker’s Allowance Sanctions Amendment Regulations 2012  are compatible with the Convention rights”. We don’t agree.

Anne concurred with our concerns regarding human rights transgressions, and she stated that the benefit system as it currently stands is unfit for purpose more generally, and agreed that the Government need to carry out an impact assessment to consider the cumulative consequences of the welfare reforms on disabled people, including the reform of DLA. We also have the 12 month time limit on contributory ESA, the incapacity benefit reassessment to move people on to ESA, cuts to local authority care budgets and the lowering of disability premiums under universal credit. Some people may be hit by only one or two of the changes, but some might have to deal with them all, as they are implemented over the next two years.

That would be an enormous and very challenging change for them. Despite being urged many times by Anne McGuire and Anne Begg, amongst others, Iain Duncan Smith refused to acknowledge the pressing need for a cumulative impact assessment – part of the crucial equality and human rights safeguarding, as well as the considerable need for Government accountability. Iain Duncan Smith claims there is no need to carry out an assessment regarding the consequences of his “reforms”. I believe that Iain Duncan Smith already knows the devastating impact that his “reforms” have already had on many, and that he is also aware that the real catastrophe is yet to come, when the very worst of the cuts are implemented in April.

The welfare reforms, and the lack of equality impact assessment have massive implications regarding our various human rights. We know that the Legal Aid Bill contravenes Article 6, and with regard to the welfare reforms, we cited further probable contraventions of Article 3, particularly with regard to the sanctions, with further possible breaches to Articles 2, 4, 6, 8, 11 and 14. Anne also agreed that there is a real concern with respect to our human rights,  and she told us she has undertaken some work with Liam Byrne regarding a public consultation to address the issue of human rights for disabled people, and to raise public awareness.

Anne also explained that the Equality and Human Rights Commission have suffered significant cuts to funding from 70 million when Labour were in Government to just 25 million since the Coalition took Office, with fears that this will be further reduced to just 18 million. This has meant severe staffing reductions, and a massive backlog of work, and at a time when many are seeking to bring forward cases regarding the impact of current Government legislation. We all agreed that it is no coincidence that the Legal Aid reform is also due to be implemented at the same time, as well as the Bedroom Tax and the Localism Bill in April 2013.

Anne and others have also expressed concern that Harrington’s recommendations are not being implemented – “The review notes that although all recommendations from two previous annual reviews of the system have been accepted by the government, “not all have been fully acted upon yet”.… progress has been slower that hoped for and the scope and depth of these changes is less than desirable.” –  Michael Harrington

Bearing in mind that there are people dying within days or weeks of being told that they are “fit for work” by Atos and DWP, we all agreed that very clearly, urgent attention  is required from the Government. We note, however, that the Government prefers to ignore the rising number of deaths associated with people being wrongly assessed, and of course, having their benefit payments stopped. It’s a well known medical fact that stressful circumstances exacerbate illness, yet the Government persistently refuse to listen to these very real fears and concerns. One would have expected, at the very least, that an independent enquiry into the deaths would have happened by now. Ask yourselves what kind of Government responds to such grave concerns with shrugging indifference and a loud determination to carry on with a process that is causing, or at the very least correlated with fatalities at a rate currently estimated by some at more than  73 per week, according to the DWP (via an FOI).

Anne confirmed that discussion with the Government regarding the circumstances of ESA related deaths has been problematic, and both Anne and her colleagues have called for the release of pertinent information regarding those circumstances, such as details of which claimants were in the process of Appeal, and which ones had been reassessed.

I also know from discussion I had with Tom Greatex recently that the Government are now claiming that those 10,600 deaths that happened within six weeks of their claim for ESA ending may have happened “either side” of their claim being stopped. In other words, the claim may have ended because of the death, rather than the other way around.

Furthermore, of those deaths amongst those placed in the Support Group, the Government have (conveniently) claimed that “these were very ill individuals, and so we expect that there will be a higher death rate amongst that group”. Claiming that “the deaths MAY have prompted the claim to be closed, in some cases, rather than the converse being true” is NOT an adequate response at all. Anne and other Labour Ministers have demanded accurate, clear and precise data regarding the circumstances of the large number of tragic deaths. None have been presented to date.

However, I analysed the data from DWP, and noted that between October 2010 and November 2011, people with a recorded date of death within six weeks of that claim ceasing, who were until recently claiming Incapacity Benefit, (those that had been migrated to ESA ) totalled 310. Between January and November 2011, those having their ESA claim ended, with a recorded date of death within six weeks of that claim ending totalled 10,600.  One would expect that the death rates would be similar to those who have only ever claimed ESA. This is very clearly not the case.

So the Government don’t appear to be keeping very clearly defined data regarding the impact of their “reforms” and the precise circumstances of those deaths, or at least that information isn’t being released. Once again, we have to ask ourselves what kind of Government would be so casual about the large number of deaths of a group of citizens, especially when Government policy has been implicated as the cause of those deaths. Whilst the Coalition continue to play unacceptable, disgusting data interpretation games to support their loud and flat denial of culpability, people continue to die. The Government’s indifference to the deaths of vulnerable citizens is completely unacceptable and inhumane, the lack of willingness to investigate the correlated deaths, the loud and faux indignant framed denials, and the refusal to carry out an impact assessment regarding the broader impact of the welfare reforms  lead me to conclude that the consequences were known in advance of the legislation. We have an authoritarian Government that has a social Darwinist agenda: those deaths are calculated, hence the refusal to engage in open public discussion about the subject, and to investigate the circumstances of those deaths.

For the Record.

We raised the issue of  the right to record Atos assessments, and we informed Anne that whilst some people’s requests were accommodated, many were simply told that the equipment was not available. Some people also reported that they had their appointment cancelled on the last minute due to a lack of available recording machines. The provision is patchy, to say the least, and some people are being denied the right to have their assessment recorded.

 large number of reports by charities and disability groups have highlighted gross inaccuracies in the WCA testing process, which determines eligibility for Employment and Support Allowance. Many claimants are anxious to record their assessments to make sure an account of their health problems is correctly reflected in the Atos report. A wide array of accounts tell us that Atos reports are often full of “inexplicable” errors and not so full of truthful detail. Large numbers of cases are currently going to Tribunal because applicants know that  have been wrongly refused benefits; around 40% of cases are overturned in the claimant’s favour at tribunal. That percentage rises steeply, proportionally, when claimants are represented at Tribunal. This is evidence in itself that the Atos assessment process is deeply flawed, at the very least.

Despite a Government promise that everyone is entitled to record their assessment, many people have been told there are no machines available, because they are being repaired, and that they must go ahead with the test anyway. Individuals have been told they are not able to record assessments with their own devices “in view of security and confidentiality considerations”.

Chris Grayling has said: “Large scale purchase of machines in the absence of an evaluation of the process is not effective use of public money.” Bearing in mind that the right for all to have their assessment recorded was one of Harrington’s key recommendations in his first report, Grayling’s response is deplorable. We need to ask why the Government don’t favour assessments being recorded, for transparency and accountability.

I explained to Anne that those of us having been through assessments, particularly more than once, know that the whole process is heavily weighted towards ensuring that a person is passed as “fit to work”. I informed Anne that we know that even the fact that someone has managed to gather medical evidence is regarded as an indication by Atos that the person is capable of organisation and coherent thought. That’s a tick in the “work capability” box. The fact that the task may have taken a month of intermittent effort, and caused extreme pain and fatigue for the claimant is not recorded by Atos, of course. Nor is whether or not a person can perform any task reliably, consistently, safely and comfortably. (These and related issues was addressed in more detail later in the discussion.)

We pointed out to Anne that the consensus amongst our peers and ourselves is that Atos often lie in their reports to minimise (and trivialise) the impact of our illnesses and disability on our lives, and ability to function. Therefore, many now wish that the assessment is recorded, in order to at least make it more difficult for Atos assessors to write grossly misleading reports. And of course an accurate record is also important for appeal.

The shadow employment minister, Stephen Timms, who has written to Grayling to highlight his concerns about the lack of recording equipment, said: “I find it hard to believe that a company with a multimillion pound government contract is incapable of obtaining and operating sufficient recording devices.”

Anne informed us that despite the fact that Chris Grayling has said that more equipment has been purchased, there is no actual evidence of this being the case. MP’s are not allowed to call each other “liars”. I handed Anne an apt phrase when occasion calls for observation of parliamentary rules and etiquette – being “conservative with the truth”. Anne liked that very much.

Anne also told us that we do have a right to have our assessment recorded. That was recommended and established by Harrington.

We also raised the problem of access to Atos buildings, and explained that we have encountered many accounts of difficulties from disabled people, including appointments taking place that are not on the ground floor, with no lifts in the building. We know of people who have had their benefit stopped because they “failed to turn up for the assessment”. Anne recognises this problem, and how outrageously and unacceptably unfair it is, she told us that this pressing issue is to be raised by the Commons Work and Pensions Committee. (The Chair is Anne Begg)

The Blame Game.

We informed Anne that it is common opinion that the WCA – no matter how much it may be re-designed – is not fit for purpose, and that no-one has any faith in it because of the appalling damage already inflicted on so many members of the disabled community. The overwhelming consensus is that it needs to be scrapped. Atos have no credibilty whatsoever, with most of us regarding them with loathing and fear. Unfortunately, many sick and disabled people also recognise that successive Governments have contracted Atos, trust and faith in Government and Ministers has receded. I explained that some blame the previous Labour Government for current problems, as they originally contracted Atos to undertake the WCA. I don’t agree with this, personally, but I raised the point because it’s one that I’ve encountered frequently, and I recognise that it’s an important issue for some. However, I would like to point out that I don’t hold a previous Government responsible for what a current one does.

Anne explained that the original Labour Party contract with Atos did not happen within a context of welfare cuts, and was very different to the one that the current Government have with Atos.  Labour support some kind of assessment, and the old system typically involved a decision that was made entirely by the DWP, and the decision was regarded as final. Labour had felt at the time that this needed addressing with some form of independent decision-making mechanism.

We stated that the WCA has had such devastating consequences for so many sick and disabled people that it would never be trusted again, no matter how much it was redesigned and “improved” by ANY Government. However, the context of the Labour version of WCA, when it was piloted, was a completely different one to present day. There were many more jobs available, we were not in a recession, and there was support available (and well funded) for disabled people who wanted to work. Anne pointed out again that it is in the context of the welfare reforms, which are about taking away essential support, rather than providing it, that the aims of assessment have become grossly distorted. The original aims were intended to support sick and disabled people. That is clearly not the Coalitions’ aim at all.

Disability living allowance supports many in work, and despite Labours’ pleas for common sense safeguards, according to the Hardest Hit survey, three in ten disabled people stated that without DLA their carer would not be able to work. Carers UK estimates that 10,000 people could lose carer’s allowance as a result of cuts to DLA. Without this vital care, disabled people could be forced to turn to overstretched social care services. Liam Byrne  stated that here must now be an assessment, in the round, of all the changes hitting disabled people: a cumulative impact assessment. Esther McVey weakly said to the Commons that she wouldn’t order one because “Labour never did one.” Labour did complete a review, and informed this Government of the findings, and raised their concerns regarding the piloted WCA. They were completely ignored. Furthermore, Labour never inflicted the concerted attack we’re now seeing on disabled citizens. It was the Coalition that harshly “reformed” and reduced our welfare provision, and not Labour.

The Access to Work fund was re-established by the last Labour Government to ease the transition to work for disabled people, by paying grants to businesses for vital equipment. It was put in place to support people with disabilities, it aimed to reduce inequalities between disabled people and non-disabled people in the workplace by removing practical barriers to work. This fund has seen severe cuts since 2010, which flies in the face of this Government’s claim to “make work pay” for all. By reducing this essential funding, the Coalition have effectively excluded many from work.

Additionally, disabled people with the highest support needs have been left in fear and distress following a Government announcement that it is to callously abolish a key source of independent living support. The Government decision to close the Independent Living Fund and devolve responsibility to local authorities follows a consultation that disabled people claim is unlawful and on which an urgent hearing has been scheduled by the High Court to go ahead on 13/14 March 2013. Labour have also challenged the decision to close this crucial source of support. Opportunity for new applications for this funding was closed in June 2010 by the Coalition. Once again this plainly indicates that the Coalition do not consider the needs of disabled people as important, and clearly demonstrates the extent of their eager ideological drive to strip away essential provision and support for the vulnerable.

It’s important to acknowledge that there are those of us who simply cannot not work. Anne told us that the Labour Party agree that regardless of the national employment situation and support for those who could and wish to work, we must, as a civilised Society, make provision and support those who cannot work, too. I’m pleased that this important issue was recognised, because as we know, doctors are providing written evidence to the DWP and Atos that verifies people are not fit for work, and that professional and expert opinion and evidence is being ignored by people who are NOT qualified to decide otherwise. DWP “decision-makers” and Atos assessors have no expertise on medical conditions and how those impact on a persons’ capabilities for work. We know that the majority of Atos assessors are nurses or occupational therapists, and that Atos don’t take into account any medical facts at all: the assessment is entirely about “work capability”.

We informed Anne that we are acutely aware that every single part of the assessment process is designed to interpret any capability a person has to complete a task at all, no matter how small, as an indication that they can work. For example, if a person says that they watch TV, that translates as “can sit unaided for at least half an hour”, even if that half an hours viewing is done laid up in bed, propped up by pillows. Huge inferences are drawn from anything that a person can do, and translated into “work capability,” regardless of whether or not person can fulfil tasks without pain, fatigue and discomfort, and it always assumed that people can complete a task reliably, consistently and safely, unless it is explicitly stated that this isn’t the case. Even when it is expressed clearly, it is often ignored and omitted from the Atos reports. Anne acknowledged that there is a significant problem with the WCA descriptors, not least because of the many cases that have been brought to her attention regarding this issue.

Anne recognised that the WCA makes it very difficult for health professionals to exercise their professional judgement. It’s computer-based and has little or no regard to the complexity of the needs of severely disabled or sick persons. This is why the British Medical Association has condemned the WCA as unfit for purpose. Those who have been assessed often feel the opinion of their own health professionals have been overridden or ignored. As Iain McKenzie, Labour MP for Inverclyde, put it: “It is ridiculous to have people making an assessment based on a tick-list that looks like it should be used for an MOT on a car.” Anne has observed and acknowledged that people are having their lives ruined by a system that was designed to support them. It is outrageous; it is inhumane, it is shameful.

Labour conducted a review of the ESA pilot, and by the time they lost Office, they were aware of the fact that there were problems with the Work Capability Assessment: the main ones being that it did not acceptably accommodate fluctuating conditions, or mental health problems. Labour raised their concerns about this with Iain Duncan Smith, but he refused, as previously stated, to undertake an impact assessment, and he pushed the reforms through and made them law, regardless. Furthermore, the WCA was amended by the Coalition to be even less sensitive to how conditions impact on work capability. We know that when Atos were re-contracted by the Coalition, it was in the context of the “reforms”, and Atos are therefore contracted to remove support from the vulnerable. Dr Steven Bick revealed that there are targets imposed on staff at Atos, and  that only one in eight ESA claimants are passed as eligible for ESA (as “unfit for work”) regardless of their actual state of health and their capabilities.

This exposes what a sham the entire assessment process is, because it has been decided in advance that 7 out of 8 will lose their eligibility for ESA, no matter how much a person needs that support, or  how much of a negative impact this will have on the lives of those stripped of their ESA award. It’s therefore not terribly surprising that Atos reports contain so many widely reported “errors”, “inaccuracies” and “mistakes”. These are actually calculated and deliberate lies, which are also attempts at justifying taking away a persons’ benefit, regardless of the impact this will have on their well being and health. This is what Atos are contracted to do by the Coalition. This has nothing whatsoever to do with genuine assessment. It has everything to do with denying people what they are entitled to, and what they have already paid for. It has everything to do with an ideological drive to strip our welfare provision to the bone.

We know that PIP has targets because Esther McVey has indicated this by stating in advance that “More than 300,000 disabled people to have benefits cut”. It is concerning that in making her statement to Parliament, Disabilities Minister Esther McVey set out very clearly the numbers of people who she believed will qualify for the new benefit. But not surprising in light of how the whole legislative process has been conducted by Esther McVey. Conservatives are not known for following established procedure and protocol, nor do they value transparency and accountability.

Labour recognise it is people that are the most vulnerable who will bear a disproportionate share of the  cuts, simply because of the inequality they face in employment means they are more likely to rely on benefits. In other words they are facing a double penalty simply because of their characteristics – disadvantaged in the (somewhat limited) labor market and now targeted by benefit reform. This also raises concern about human rights, since this constitutes discrimination on the basis of “characteristics”, in accord with Labour’s Equality Act.

Anne has voiced major concerns about the mandatory workfare introduced to the ESA Work Related Activity Group, and the sanctions attached to this. She commented: “How can people be punished into work, especially during a recession?” We all agreed that there is a likely contravention of human rights, and we cited Article 3 of the ECHR, which we believe has clearly been breached.

Again, I pointed out that the issue isn’t so much one concerning the availability of jobs, but rather, it is one concerning the fact that people who have been deemed unfit for work by a doctor are being bullied into unlimited workfare and finding jobs, when they cannot, and ought not be expected to undertake these tasks. Anne agreed again that those who cannot work ought to be fully supported, and should not be not coerced into any kind of work if professional opinion is that they are unfit for work.

Again, the issue of human rights contraventions was raised, and Anne told us that there is a substantial backlog of work, concerning human rights cases, and this is because the  Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) – established by Labour – has had its funding severely reduced  this past two years, as stated previously.

One cannot help but wonder just how calculated the cuts are in light of the extremely punitive nature of the reforms, and the continued blatant disregard of basic human rights, which is very evident in Tory-led policies. Such a well-coordinated attack on our rights seems unlikely to have happened by coincidence.

Since the meeting with Anne took place, I have remained in regular contact with her, and Anne Begg, John McDonnell, Tom Greatex, Dennis Skinner and my own MP, Kevan Jones. I send out information and articles on a regular basis, to ensure that the continued impact and the consequences of current policies are known to the Labour Party, as well as the United Nations and parliamentary select Committees when appropriate. By raising awareness, we can prompt the Opposition to challenge effectively. That is needed, because we have a Government that doesn’t follow procedure and protocol, and does not like to share information regarding its own policies, even to the relevant Parliamentary Committees, let alone with the Opposition.

We know from history that under Conservative Governments, poverty, unemployment, inequality and civil unrest increase, whilst the wealthy accumulate even more wealth, whilst the recognition and accommodation of human rights, our social secuirty, and all of our public support provisions and programs decrease.

“Those who do not remember the past are doomed to repeat it” –  Boris Pasternak

We need to learn how to be responsible citizens and participate in how our Country is governed. And we must. We do have a choice: we can each contribute something, when we are able, and in our own way, to raise public awareness and demand positive change. Governments must reflect and serve the needs and interests of the whole population, and not just an elite. It’s our duty and responsibility to make sure that they do.

It’s our responsibility to keep the Labour Party informed, and to push for effective challenges to be made against the Coalition, and to promote, prioritise and value social progress, the recognition of human potential, fairness and equality. We set the policy agenda, as voters, if only we will take that responsibility. The Coalition are dismantling democratic process. David Cameron has already stated that he wants to “reduce” consultations, judicial review, and equality impact assessments, amongst other processes that are essential to human rights safeguarding, accountability and transparency. “It’s not how you get things done” he said of these essential processes of inclusion and democracy. Ask yourself what it is that he wants to “get done”, which requires bypassing democratic process and human rights safeguarding. Clearly, this is a Government that certainly intends to continue to inflict harm.

We must collectively fight the Coalition’s steady attack on our support programs, welfare provision, human rights, and their determined intentions of undoing all that is civilised and decent about our society. We must maintain those (Labour) principles that make society welcoming, supportive and inclusive to all.  It is our own responsibility to recognise the equal worth and potential of every person, and the intrinsic value of each life. It’s an established, historically verified fact that Conservatives never have, and they never will.

Labour are currently consulting with the public on a National level, regarding the policy content of their Manifesto. That’s democracy in action. Make sure you have your say. It matters.

You can also get involved in Labour policy ideas here and here , or you can contact your nearest Labour MP here .

Further reading:-

This is what happens when we do collectively push for positive change and participate: we arm the Opposition with crucial information, detail and cases studies so that they can challenge effectively (from column 1050 onwards.)


The Shadow State: The “dehumanising, degrading” treatment of disabled people

New Statesman

ESA SOS 

Sue Marsh

The ESA Revolving Door Process 

Kitty Jones

Clause 99, Catch 22

Kitty Jones

Back to the Dark Ages as the Tories plan to scrap your Human Rights

Mike Sivier, Vox Political

 
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Thanks to Robert Livingstone for his brilliant art work 

The Tories are not simply “out of touch”, their policies are deliberate and malevolent

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It’s a common belief that Tory policies, which are inhumane to the core, and directed at taking money and support from the most vulnerable, have happened because of a kind of naivety, lack of experience, or a simple egocentricity of the privileged. Or general incompetence.

These certainly may well contribute to the obvious lack of joined-up thinking, apparent when we step back to consider that the most vulnerable in our so-called civilised society are suffering and dying as a direct consequence of recent legislations and “reforms,” but it certainly doesn’t explain why the Tories persistently and historically CHOOSE to continue to ignore any other account of social reality but their own. That implies some intentionality, to me. Selective perception involves a certain degree of free will.

So we are now almost through the doorway to the “mad or bad” debate.

Tories also reduce every single human deed to an underlying motivation of greed for financial gain, no matter what the circumstances. They know the price of everything and the value of nothing. Some would argue that this is classic Freudian projection. But that doesn’t account for the fact that the Tories normalise and make a virtue of the financial gain principle, for the wealthy, big business and of course, the Tories themselves.

These motivations are held to be universal, and are translated into a vice when it comes to ordinary, everyday people, or in particular, poor and vulnerable people. That doesn’t hang together coherently at all, nor does it corroborate the view that the Tories are simply out of touch with everyday experience, since there is a deep and fundamental – and very apparent – contradiction here. It is a very significant flaw in their ideological grammar.

Human beings are not static, when it comes to ideas and beliefs: we are capable of learning, and in a variety of ways: though experience, through the experience of others, through historical accounts, evidence and so on. The Tories simply choose to overlook the need. They prefer, instead, to stay put, or regress, and simply insist that they know best. Challenge a Tory, and they often believe that simply talking louder, and over the top of you will somehow make what they are saying “right.” They are not called “Conservative” for nothing – they do like to maintain a status quo and resist change.

Well … notions of change apply only to their idea of how a society ought to be, hence the proliferation of legislation these past couple of years. The Conservatives are unravelling the progress we have made as a society, because they prefer the simplicity of basic feudal relationships. I’m not really joking here, unfortunately.

It’s as if the clocks stopped the moment the Tory-led Coalition took Office, and now we are losing a decade a day.

The truth is that austerity is NOT about deficit-cutting. It’s just the cover for Tory ideology. It is actually about shrinking the State and squeezing the public sector until it becomes marginal, then non-existent, in an entirely market-driven society. The banking crisis-generated deficit has been a gift to the Tories in enabling them to launch the narrative that public expenditure has to be massively cut back, which they would never have been able to get away with without the deficit-reduction excuse in the first place.

Austerity won’t benefit the economy: it will damage it further, since the cuts will reduce the income of those that spend proportionally the most money and add to the economy – the poorest. Taking more money out of an already struggling economy and impacting local economies will simply exacerbate the problem.

“We can safely abandon the doctrine of the eighties, namely that the rich were not working because they had too little money, the poor because they had too much” – John Kenneth Galbraith

Nope, that hasn’t happened, the Tories are still taking money from the poor and handing it to the wealthy. Why? Is it because the Tories are phenomenologically impoverished and incapable of learning, ever? No, I don’t think so.

I think it’s worse than that. I think that the Tories DO understand the consequences of their ideologically-driven policies, but they don’t care. Money for the wealthy has to come from somewhere, after all. The whole “out of touch/lack of experience” proposition overlooks the fact that the Tories refuse to listen, quite deliberately, they exercise authoritarian tactics to shut people up – such as excluding those people from debate who oppose their views – witnessed during the passage of the Health and Social Care Bill, for example. Then there is the monitoring” of the media for alternative political “biases.”

That is a quite deliberate narrowing down of experience, not naivety, based on a lack of understanding. That’s deliberate, calculated and certainly bears all of the hallmarks of authoritarianism. That’s the wilful imposition of a pre-moulded, dystopic Tory version of reality onto a largely unwilling population.

The propaganda regarding unemployed, sick and disabled people is not based on naivety either: it is deliberate, and calculated, a horrible and wicked attempt to justify their small state ideology and punitive approach to stripping welfare provision from the poorest, and from vulnerable citizens to redistribute funds from the public purse to the already wealthy.

David Cameron, Iain Duncan Smith and Chris Grayling have all contributed a selection of propagandic pieces of work to the press – largely the Sun and the Daily Mail. The language they use – words like “scrounger” “fraud” and “workshy” and the implied “burden on the state,” together with their knowledge that so-called benefit fraud was a mere 0.7% (and that includes DWP’s own errors, too) indicates clearly that the policies aimed at removing welfare provision, and the propaganda campaign that has led to an increase in hate crimes directed at sick and disabled people, are intentional.

10,600 sick and disabled people died last year between January and November, many within six weeks of their ESA claim closing. It’s very telling that the Department for Work and Pensions do not monitor or account for just how many of those were passed as “fit for work” by Atos, or awaiting Appeal.

Furthermore, this Government introduced targets which were written into the Atos contract when they renewed it in 2010: 7 out of 8 sick and disabled people to lose their benefits.

Bearing in mind that those targets exist BEFORE those sick and disabled people are assessed (and the Government have also redesigned the work capability assessment to make sure that there is a heavy bias towards withdrawing people’s support) then we can reasonably infer that the Government see those deaths – that have happened as a result of absolute poverty and extreme distress, some of our most vulnerable citizens have had their means of meeting their basic survival needs removed – as an intended outcome.

That the Government have not acted upon the high number of deaths associated with their welfare “reforms” is truly outrageous, and also indicates quite plainly, to me, that this “outcome” is not simply a by-product of their legislation, or incompetence, or lack of experience: it is calculated and intentional.

This is much, much worse than a little “Tory egocentricity,” incompetence, phenomenological ineptitude, or naivety: this is the deliberate, calculated and wholesale destruction of every State mechanism of support for the most vulnerable citizens as well as for the “ordinary” person. If people cannot meet their basic needs – food, shelter and so on, they die. That is common sense, everyone knows that.

Yet this Government are taking away people’s only means of support. Welfare, the safety net paid for by the tax paying public to ensure no-one dies of starvation or exposure. This Government have stolen our collective funds for social security, and blamed those they have stolen it from for their deed.

They blame the poor for poverty. They blame the unemployed for unemployment. But we know that the Government are to blame. Have you ever noticed that, historically, whenever poverty grows and inequalities become wider and deeper, look to the helm and lo and behold, we have a Tory-led Government steering the way. We need to put this Government out of our misery.

Every single “reform” has been about taking money away from the poorest and some of the most vulnerable people. The fact that the Legal Aid Bill has been timed for implementation next year, when the horrific consequences of the welfare cuts, the bedroom tax and the new council tax will become very apparent, as well as the Health and Social Care reforms, indicates quite plainly that these policies have been planned and coordinated for a long time.

The Legal Aid Bill means that challenging the Government regarding the reforms will be very difficult. Indeed, the Coalition have been steadily removing the essential democratic processes that safeguard our human rights and enable us to challenge effectively.

This is certainly an authoritarian Government.

We should hang their heads in shame.

How truly despicable. How utterly horrifying that they are getting away with it. There is an increasingly discernible taint of eugenics embedded in Tory ideology. This, and the propaganda, smoke and mirrors, media scapegoating diversions and theft from the poorest to handout to the wealthiest –  these actions are intentional, calculated and are being increasingly inflicted and administered, whilst the general population waits passively in the wings, shrugging off the blow by hammer blow accounts: more bad news of further Tory cuts, more devastating consequences.

Too many are finding temporary distractions, watching the idiot box, hoping quietly that those things they can see from the corner of their eye are not real.

Oh, but they are.

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Hanlon’s razor is an eponymous adage that allows the elimination of unlikely explanations for a phenomenon. It reads: “never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity.”

However, I always considered malice and stupidity to be strongly correlated characteristics.