Tag: Owen Smith

Dead cat conditioning, attention deficit and the social order

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Last week I wrote about hundreds of people dying of malnutrition in the UK over this past twelve months alone, as a consequence of government policies. I wrote about how our universities are no longer permitting free speech and critical thinking, and how dissenting academics have taken to blogging, using pseudonyms and writing anonymous letters because of the repressive political developments in the UK.  I am now about to write another piece on how our Human Rights Act is to be scrapped and replaced by a Conservative Bill of Frights.

The Labour party needs to be collectively opposing the government and addressing these pressing, socially calamitous issues, raising public awareness regarding the profound damage that this authoritarian government are inflicting on our society and drafting remedial policy outlines which extend social justice and equality. 

In the Labour Party Forum – a Facebook group for party members – I was told that my post about the implications of the Government Higher Education white paper, along with an analysis of the illogic of neoliberalism and its consequences is “irrelevant” to the Labour party.

There is a problem with that. 

If the Labour party is to reach out and persuade the electorate that they have an alternative which is better than the current government, they will need to recognise and to fully understand issues that are affecting the wider public. In the Labour Party forum, every single post (except mine) is about about the leadership debate. But being engaged with what is culturally popular isn’t always in our best interests.

The comments from members are dripping with bad feeling, oozing impotent anger and bleeding bitterness. The party infighting is clearly visible on every thread, the hostility is palpable, and all of this in a group that was once united in fighting the real enemy of ordinary people: the Tories. The old, easy camaraderie among members has seeped away.  Cooperation has plummeted sickeningly down the chasms of division. Fallen socialist values, lying broken. Many who claim they are fighting for a “socialist party” seem to have forgotten to practice what they preach. 

I do understand the anger that many feel in the face of a neoliberal, right wing establishment openly demonstrating a hegemonic stranglehold via the media, with endless streams of poisonous propaganda. We witness overt claims, subtexts and a level of perpetual subliminal messaging about who is fit to lead our country and who isn’t. The attacks on Corbyn in particular highlight just how the powers that be in the UK  have ensured that alternatives to the status quo never become established as a part of our mainstream conceptual and linguistic universe. The media write them out. There is a war going on, for sure. But this is nothing new.

The roots of our current crisis of democracy and class warfare go back a long way, and many of these have been embedded deeply in the changes to Britain’s sociopolitical economy since the Thatcher era. Neoliberalism is a doxa, it didn’t come into being as a means of social and economic organisation because it works: it became mainstreamed “common sense” because the establishment won. 

I gave an interview last year to Phil, who is a very public sociologist on the All That Is Solid site, outlining my own position on developments within the Labour party. Since then, I have written just two articles about party ideology, values and the leadership issues. I do write regularly about ideology, propaganda and the techniques of persuasion that are used by the establishment and media to maintain the status quo. This is an issue that extends well beyond the arising claustrophobic parochialism of Labour party disunity, leadership battles and current disarray. 

The media is the message

Social control is maintained in part by the use of a strategy of distraction, which is designed to divert public attention from important issues and changes determined by the political and economic elites, using a technique of flooding continuous diversions and insignificant information. Distraction strategy is also used to prevent public interest in essential knowledge that is then used to exercise control, whilst ensuring those being controlled are also completely disarmed.  The media maintain public attention, and divert it away from real social and economic problems. The public become an audience captivated by matters of no real importance. I’m probably loosely paraphrasing Noam Chomsky, here. 

From within the Westminster playpen, originating from the likes of Conservative babysitter, Lynton Crosby, the dead cat strategy is basically deployed as a major distraction tactic, usually entailing insulting diversion from a government’s political controversies and failings. So when, for example, the government are investigated by the United Nations for contravening basic human rights, they will scream that the opposition leader is somehow a threat to our national security. 

Everyone will gasp, clutch their brand of indignation and moral panic, and bang on about that for the rest of the week. The fact that democracy is gone for a burton, or human rights are being sidestepped and people are dying because of austerity policies is buried under a pile of furry corpses piling up on the allegoric political table, whilst commentators across the land discuss Jeremy Corbyn’s tweed jacket and beard. 

Then there is the age-old strategy of dīvide et īmpera. Every person on the left of the political spectrum knows what “divide and rule” means. It refers to a strategy that breaks up existing power structures, undermines democracy, and especially prevents smaller power groups from organising, collaborating, cooperating and forming alliances, by creating rivalries, fostering discord, distrust and enmity among the groups. Hello.

Thing is, despite these strategies being common knowledge, this hasn’t stopped many Labour party supporters using the disgracefully unreliable and establishment-collaborative media to present their own personal preferences. The Labour Pary Forum is filled with trivial articles about Owen Smith, this, Jeremy Corbyn, that and Tom Watson, the other, the comment threads full of screaming  indignation and neatly blinkered participants.

Socialist politics is supposed to be conscientious, and rather more about the social, not the personal.

This week, we see  the Independent, the Spectator, the Mirror, the Huffington Post, Politics Home, the London Economic, Channel four, amongst many others, report an audience booing the mention of a perceived political rival at a rally comprised of his opponent’s supporters. I’m all for freedom of speech, but for crying out loud, why and how is this by now mind-numbing tittle tattle considered to be NEWS? And even more importantly, why do social media campaigners think it is?

Don’t look away now

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Only a matter of weeks ago, a Labour MP was murdered by a far right fanatic, because of her political work, and because we are a distracted society that permits a right wing authoritarian othering and outgrouping demagoguery.

But now there are no ripples on the pond.

How can so many people seemingly forget such a horror? It’s almost as if this outrageous, politically motivated murder was a normal event, expected and accepted. Why are we allowing an ideology-driven and opportunistic establishment to divide our society into hierarchies of human worth and value? There’s an underpinning message in policies and political rhetoric that some lives are worth more than others; it’s has crept in unchecked, almost unnoticed, and we have allowed that to happen because we look the other way. In fact many of us seem quite determined to look the other way.

It’s not only migrants that are being politically and socially outgrouped. Disabled people are experiencing an unprecedented increase in hate crime and people are dying of malnutrition in the 5th wealthiest nation of the world. People are dying because of a government’s policies here in the UK. Prejudices are flourishing, violence growing. This is the kind of society we have become. Yet many people are still not paying attention. We are being conditioned not to look and not to see.

Whilst so many people are so happily distracted and so easily diverted by the most trivial details, our democracy is being quietly dismantled, the social gains of our post-war settlement have been almost erased from history, our human rights are being sidelined and re-written to shift the balance of obligation and responsibility from the state to the individual. Such profoundly damaging developments with such dire and toxic implications for our country ought to be recognised and challenged. Citizens are dying prematurely because of class contingent Conservative policies in a post-welfare, low waged Britain.

Those of us who reject austerity and neoliberalism are not “Trot entryists” , “revolutionaries” , “militants” or “extremists”. We are simply people who see beyond prejudiced ideologies and doxas. We recognise neoliberalism only works for 1% of the population. Furthermore, I am certain that in a world where people paid attention, instead of being distracted by mainstreamed, dominant narratives and  the mind-numbingly mediocre, homogenenised X factor culture, almost everyone else would recognise this, too.

I support Corbyn. Not because I invest in a superficial cult of personality type of politics. Not because I see a Corbyn-led Labour party as an end in itself. I have always maintained that a Labour government would simply mark a viable starting point  – the means – for a concerted campaign for social justice and equality.

I support Corbyn because I object to the destruction of people’s lives and the dismantling of protective civilised and civilising social structures because of a neoliberal and social Darwinist politics that invariably creates, through class contingent policies, inequality and social injustice – a few winners and many losers, the latter are then blamed by the state for the faults that are actually intrinsic to the system and extended by the state. I believe that in democracies, governments are elected to meet public needs, we don’t elect them to manipulate public perceptions and nudge us into meeting political and narrow, economic needs. I also believe that progress won’t happen unless we actively participate in democratic processes and work to extend them. Democracy (rather like intelligence) isn’t something we have: it’s something we must DO.

 The current infighting will kill the Labour movement. Vote for Corbyn, (or don’t), but there’s no need for the endless and insular justifications of your voting choice. Let’s keep some perspective and deal with what we NEED to – the  much bigger picture –  instead of impotently bickering among ourselves about a single issue. Socialism is surely all about a vision of the kind of society that is just and fair for the majority; it’s not about personal preferences and narrowly individualist perspectives.

Right now, the establishment have got us exactly where they want us. Their corporate media mouthpieces have made sure of that. The infighting, meanwhile, is destroying the Labour movement from within. 

But we can resist dead cats, Conservative bouncing bomb propaganda and such blatant techniques of persuasion… really, we can do so much better than this.

We won’t do so if we ignore the wider social realities and policy impacts being shaped by an authoritarian government.

sociologyexchangecouk-shared-resource-5-728It’s time to fight back

 

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Stephen Crabb’s obscurantist approach to cuts in disabled people’s support

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It’s less than two months ago that the new Work and Pensions secretary, Stephen Crabb, assured us that the Government had “no further plans” for specific welfare cuts. Now, he has admitted that welfare is to be the source of further austerity cuts to “bring down the deficit,” bearing in mind that the last budget saw alternative  and far more fair, humane measures taken off the table when the Conservatives controversially announced cuts to disability benefits to fund tax cuts for the most affluent – the top 7% of earners. The Chancellor raised the threshold at which people start paying the 40p tax. This leaves the poorest and some of our most vulnerable citizens carrying the entire burden of austerity and the whole responsibility for cutting the deficit.

Of course Crabb assumes we believe that austerity is an economic necessity and not an ideological choice. However, austerity is being used as a euphemism for the systematic dismantling of the gains of our post-war settlement: welfare, social housing, the NHS, legal aid and democracy. There is no such thing as conditional democracy. It can’t be rationed out or applied with prejudice and discrimination. That would make it something else, more akin to totalitarianism and not a necessarily inclusive democracy.

The Government has already made substantial cuts to the Employment and Support Allowance disability benefit, cutting the rate for new claimants in the Work Related Activity Group by £30 a week from 2017. Now the Work and Pensions Secretary has said he wants to go further than the £12 billion welfare cuts declared in the Conservative manifesto and to “re-frame discussion” around disability welfare support, signalling his intention to cut expenditure on disability benefits through further reform to the welfare system. The Conservatives are clearly using the word “reform” as a euphemism for dismantling the welfare state in its entirety.

Prior to 2010, cutting support for sick and disabled people was unthinkable, but the “re-framing” strategy and media stigmatising campaigns have been used by the Conservatives to systematically cut welfare, push the public’s normative boundaries and to formulate moralistic justification narratives for their draconian policies. Those narratives betray the Conservative’s intentions.

Crabb said that he will set out a “discursive” Green Paper on the additional proposed cuts to disability benefits later this year. Iain Duncan Smith had previously promised a more formal White Paper which was considered key to persuading Tory rebels to vote through the cuts despite opposition in February.

The shadow Work and Pensions secretary, Owen Smith, said that the Government should reverse the ESA cuts which had already been passed, adding that the Conservatives needed to offer clarity on how the “reforms” would support disabled people into work.

He said: “Yet again the Tories have let down disabled people, by breaking their promise to quickly publish firm plans on supporting disabled people in to work.

“When the Tories forced through cuts to Employment Support Allowance in the face of widespread opposition they bought off their own rebels with a promise to have a firm plan in place by the summer.

“Now the new Secretary of State has confirmed that he is going to downgrade the plan to a Green Paper, effectively kicking the issue in to the long grass for months, if not years.

The flimsy case for the cuts to Employment Support Allowance is now totally blown apart by this broken promise and the Tories must listen to Labour’s calls for them to be reversed.”

Remarkably, Crabb has claimed that disability benefit cuts are among policies “changing things for the better.” However, if cutting people’s income is such a positive move, we do need to ask why the Conservatives won’t consider taxing wealthy people proportionately, distributing the burden of austerity more fairly amongst UK citizens, instead of handing out money for tax cuts to those who need the very least support, at the expense of those who need the most.

The secretary for Work and Pensions has said: “The measures  that have either already been legislated for or announced get us to the £12 billion [welfare cuts planned in the Conservative manifesto].

Does that mean welfare reform comes to an end? I would say no. I’ve already pointed to what I see as one of the big challenges of welfare reform – and that’s around work and health.”

Crabb told MPs on Work and Pensions Select Committee that he would deploy “smart strategies” for cutting expenditure on disability and sickness benefits and would hopefully be able to secure the support of disability charities.

“In terms of how you make progress of welfare reform there when you are talking about people who are very vulnerable, people with multiple barriers, challenges, sicknesses, disabilities – I am pretty clear in my mind that you can’t just set targets for cutting welfare expenditure,” he said.

“When you’re talking about those cohorts of people you’ve actually got to come up with some pretty smart strategies for doing it which carry the support and permission of those people and organisations who represent those people who we are talking about.”

Both Crabb and his predecessor, Duncan Smith, have claimed that there are “millions of sick and disabled people parked on benefits,” yet rather than providing support for those who may be able to work, the Conservatives have abolished the Independent Living Fund and made substantial reductions to payments for the Access To Work scheme, creating more barriers instead of providing support for those who feel they are well enough to work.

A government advisor, who is a specialist in labour economics and econometrics, has proposed scrapping all ESA sickness and disability benefits. Matthew Oakley, a senior researcher at the Social Market Foundation, recently published a report entitled Closing the gap: creating a framework for tackling the disability employment gap in the UK, in which he proposes abolishing the ESA Support Group. To meet extra living costs because of disability, Oakley says that existing spending on PIP and the Support Group element of ESA should be brought together to finance a new extra costs benefit. Eligibility for this benefit should be determined on the basis of need, with an assessment replacing the WCA and PIP assessment. The Conservative definition of “the basis of need” seems to be an ever-shrinking category.

Oakely also suggests considering a “role that a form of privately run social insurance could play in both increasing benefit generosity and improving the support that individuals get to manage their conditions and move back to work.”

I’m sure the private company Unum would jump at the opportunity. Steeped in controversy, with a wake of scandals that entailed the company denying people their disabilty insurance, in 2004, Unum entered into a regulatory settlement agreement (RSA) with insurance regulators in over 40 US states. The settlement related to Unum’s handling of disability claims and required the company “to make significant changes in corporate governance, implement revisions to claim procedures and provide for a full re-examination of both reassessed claims and disability insurance claim decisions.

The company is the top disability insurer in both the United States and United Kingdom. By coincidence, the  company has been involved with the UK’s controversial Welfare Reform Bill, advising the government on how to cut spending, particularly on disability support. What could possibly go right?

It’s difficult to see how someone with a serious, chronic and progressive illness, (which most people in the ESA Support Group have) can actually “manage” their illness and “move back into work.” The use of the extremely misinformed, patronising and very misleading term manage implies that very ill people actually have some kind of choice in the matter. For people with Parkinson’s disease, rheumatoid arthritis, lupus and multiple sclerosis, cancer and kidney failure, for example, mind over matter doesn’t fix those problems, positive thinking and sheer will power cannot cure these illnesses, sadly. Nor does refusing to acknowledge or permit people to take up a sick role, or imposing benefit conditionality and coercive policies to push chronically ill people into work by callous and insensitive and medically ignorant assessors, advisors and ministers.  

The Reform think tank has also recently proposed scrapping what is left of the disability benefit support system, in their report Working welfare: a radically new approach to sickness and disability benefits and has called for the government to set a single rate for all out of work benefits and reform the way sick and disabled people are assessed. 

Reform says the government should cut the weekly support paid to 1.3 million sick and disabled people in the ESA Support Group from £131 to £73. This is the same amount that Jobseeker’s Allowance claimants receive. However, those people placed in the Support Group after assessement have been deemed by the state as unlikely to be able to work again. It would therefore be very difficult to justify this proposed cut.

Yet the authors of the report doggedly insist that having a higher rate of weekly benefit for extremely sick and disabled people encourages them “to stay on sickness benefits rather than move into work.”

The report recommended savings which result from removing the disability-related additions to the standard allowance should be reinvested in support services and extra costs benefits – PIP. However, as outlined, the government have ensured that eligibility for that support is rapidly contracting, with the ever-shrinking political and economic re-interpretation of medically defined sickness and disability categories and a significant reduction in what the government deem to be a legitimate exemption from being “incentivised” into hard work.

The current United Nations investigation into the systematic and gross violations of the rights of disabled people in the UK because of the Conservative welfare “reforms” is a clear indication that there is no longer any political commitment to supporting disabled people in this country, with the Independent Living Fund being scrapped by this government, ESA for the work related activiy group (WRAG) cut back, PIP is becoming increasingly very difficult to access, and now there are threats to the ESA Support Group. The Conservative’s actions have led to breaches in the CONVENTION on the RIGHTS of PERSONS with DISABILITIES – CRPD articles 4, 8, 9, 12, 13, 14, 15, 17, and especially 19, 20, 27 and 29 (at the very least.) There are also probable violations of articles 22, 23, 25, 30, 31.

The investigation began before the latest round of cuts to ESA were announced. That tells us that the government is unconcerned their draconian policies violate the human rights of sick and disabled people.

And that, surely, tells us all we need to know about this government.

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This post was written for Welfare Weekly, which is a socially responsible and ethical news provider, specialising in social welfare related news and opinion.

 

I don’t make any money from my work. But you can support Politics and Insights and contribute by making a donation which will help me continue to research and write informative, insightful and independent articles, and to provide support to others. The smallest amount is much appreciated, and helps to keep my articles free and accessible to all – thank you.
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Report shows significant challenges facing the Universal Credit system

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It’s disappointing and very worrying that a published report from the Work and Pensions Committee says: “The employment support service for in-work claimants of Universal Credit (UC) holds the potential to be the most significant welfare reform since 1948, but realising this potential means a steep on-the-job learning curve, as the policy appears to be untried anywhere in the world.”

The Work and Pensions Committee recommendations in the report are:

Given there is no comprehensive evidence anywhere on how to run an effective in-work service, the DWP will be learning as it develops this innovation. The Committee says:

  • for the reform to work, it must help confront the structural or personal barriers in-work claimants face to taking on more work, such as a lack of access to childcare and limited opportunities to take on extra hours or new jobs
  • the question of applying proposed sanctions is complex: employed people self-evidently do not lack the motivation to work.  The use of financial sanctions for in-work claimants must be applied very differently to those for out-of-work claimants
  • a successful in-work service will also require partnership between JCP and employers to a degree not seen before.

Frank Field MP, Chair of the Committee said:

“The in-work service promises progress in finally breaking the cycle of people getting stuck in low pay, low prospects employment. We congratulate the Government for developing this innovation. As far as we can tell, nothing like this has been tried anywhere else in the world. This is a very different kind of welfare, which will require developing a new kind of public servant.”

This imprudent comment from Field implies that individuals need financial punishments in order to find work with better prospects and higher pay. Yet there are profoundly conflicting differences in the interests of employers and employees. The former are generally strongly motivated to purposely keep wages as low as possible so they can generate profit and pay dividends to shareholders and the latter need their pay and working conditions to be such that they have a reasonable standard of living. It’s not as if the Conservatives have ever valued legitimate collective wage bargaining. In fact their legislative track record consistently demonstrates that they hate it, prioritising the authority of the state above all else.

Workplace disagreements about wages and conditions are now typically resolved neither by collective bargaining nor litigation but are left to management prerogative. This is because Conservative aspirations are clear. Much of the government’s discussion of legislation is preceded with consideration of the value and benefit for business and the labour market. They want cheap labour and low cost workers, unable to withdraw their labour, unprotected by either trade unions or employment rights and threatened with destitution via benefit sanction cuts if they refuse to accept low paid, low standard work. Similarly, desperation and the “deterrent” effect of the 1834 Poor Law amendment served to drive down wages.

In the Conservative’s view, trade unions distort the free labour market which runs counter to New Right and neoliberal dogma. Since 2010, the decline in UK wage levels has been amongst the very worst declines in Europe. The fall in earnings under the Tory-led Coalition is the biggest in any parliament since 1880, according to analysis by the House of Commons Library, and at a time when the cost of living has spiralled upwards.

It’s worth considering that in-work conditionality and sanctions may have unintended consequences for employers, too. If employees are coerced by the State to find better paid and more secure work, and employers cannot increase hours and accommodate in-work progression, who will fill those posts? Financial penalties aimed at employees will also negatively impact on the performance and reliability of the workforce, because when people struggle to meet their basic physical needs, their cognitive and practical focus shifts to survival, and that doesn’t accommodate the meeting of higher level psychosocial needs and obligations, such as those of the workplace. It was because of the recognition of this, and the conventional wisdom captured in the work of social psychologists such as Abraham Maslow that provided the reasoning behind the policy of in-work benefits and provision in the first place. 

In-work conditionality reinforces a lie and locates blame within individuals for structural problems – political, economic and social – created by those who hold power. Despite being a party that claims to support “hard-working families,” the Conservatives have nonetheless made several attempts to undermine the income security of a signifant proportion of that group of citizens recently. Their proposed tax credit cuts, designed to creep through parliament in the form of secondary legislation, which tends to exempt it from meaningful debate and amendment in the Commons, was halted only because the House of Lords have been paying attention to the game.

Last month I wrote about the Department for Work and Pensions running a Trial that is about “testing whether conditionality and the use of financial sanctions are effective for people that need to claim benefits in low paid work.” 

The Department for Work and Pensions submitted a document about the Randomised Control Trial (RCT) they are currently conducting regarding in-work “progression.” The submission was made to the Work and Pensions Committee in January, as the Committee have conducted an inquiry into in-work conditionality. The document specifies that: This document is for internal use only and should not be shared with external partners or claimants.” 

The document focuses on methods of enforcing the “cultural and behavioural change” of people claiming both in-work and out-of-work social security, and evaluation of the Trial will be the responsibility of the Labour Market Trials Unit. (LMTU). Evaluation will “measure the impact of the Trial’s 3 group approaches, but understand more about claimant attitudes to progression over time and how the Trial has influenced behaviour changes.”

Worryingly, claimant participation in the Trial is mandatory. There is clearly no appropriate procedure to obtain and record clearly informed consent from research participants. Furthermore, the Trial is founded on a coercive psychopolitical approach to labour market constraints, and is clearly expressed as a psychological intervention, explicitly aimed at “behavioural change” and this raises some very serious concerns about research ethics and codes of conduct, which I’ve discussed elsewhere. It’s also very worrying that this intervention is to be delivered by non-qualified work coaches.

Owen Smith MP, Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary, commenting on the Work and Pensions Select Committee’s report  into ‘in-work progression’ in Universal Credit, said:

“This report shows there are significant challenges facing the new Universal Credit system, not least how to ensure work pays and people are incentivised in to jobs.  As a result, it is deeply worrying that at the early part of the rollout, huge Tory cuts to work allowances will undermine this aim, as 2.5 million working families will left over £2,100 a year worse off. 

“If Universal Credit is to be returned to its original intentions of supporting and encouraging people in to work then Stephen Crabb needs to change his mind and reverse the Tory cuts to working families urgently. 

“It’s also problematic that the committee found there is insufficient information available after a year of piloting in-work conditionality, especially given the complete mess that has been made of the existing sanctions regime.  The DWP should move quickly to make available as much information as possible, to ensure the roll out of Universal Credit is properly scrutinised.”

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Pictures courtesy of Robert Livingstone

Related

Benefit Sanctions Can’t Possibly ‘Incentivise’ People To Work – And Here’s Why

Study of welfare sanctions – have your say

The politics of punishment and blame: in-work conditionality

It’s time to abolish “purely punitive” benefit sanctions


This post was written for Welfare Weekly, which is a socially responsible and ethical news provider, specialising in social welfare related news and opinion.

 

I don’t make any money from my work. But you can support Politics and Insights and contribute by making a donation which will help me continue to research and write informative, insightful and independent articles, and to provide support to others. The smallest amount is much appreciated, and helps to keep my articles free and accessible to all – thank you.

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Iain Duncan Smith abandoned his own sinking ship

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Analysis of George Osborne’s budget from the Institute for Fiscal Studies.

Stephen Crabb has been appointed as the new work and pensions secretary, after Iain Duncan Smith resigned in a flurry of controversy on Friday.

Mr Duncan Smith has said the latest planned cuts to disability benefits were “not defensible” in a Budget that benefited higher-earning taxpayers.

David Cameron said he was “puzzled and disappointed” that Mr Duncan Smith had decided to go when they had agreed to have a rethink about the policies

Iain Duncan’s Smith’s letter of resignation must be a BIG embarrassment to the  Government. It was certainly designed to inflict maximum damage particularly on Chancellor George Osborne. I’ve previously noted that the Chancellor has a tendency to regard the Department for Work and Pensions as little more than an annex to the Treasury, and the welfare budget as the Treasury’s disposable income, but I never anticipated that Duncan Smith would come to say that he sees it that way, too. This is, after all, a minister that has invented statistics and told some pretty far-fetched fibs to prop up justifications of his policies that entail some pretty draconian measures, such as sanctions and work fare, after all.

Yet surprisingly, Duncan Smith has also quite willingly and very publicly provided the government’s opponents with ammunition. He has effectively denounced not only Osborne’s budget, but also, his targeted austerity measures, yet curiously, Duncan Smith has until now been one of the most ideologically devout Thatcherite Conservatives, which is reflected in every policy he has formulated.

He has basically said what many of us have been saying for a long time: that the cuts are political and not because of economic necessity, nor will they help the economy. He also as good as said he doesn’t think we are “all in it together”. It turns out that Osborne blamed Duncan Smith for the Personal Independence Payment (PIP) and Employment Support Allowance (ESA) cuts. But Duncan Smith has been a very quiet man recently, often conspicuous by his absence during parliamentary debates, with Priti Patel left defending the ESA cuts in particular in the Commons.

However, the Department for Work and Pensions did a review of PIP last year, and that’s where the “justification” for the cuts came from – a sample of just 150 people, which was hardly a representative sample. It’s difficult to imagine that IDS didn’t order that review. But it was Osborne who announced the cuts to PIP, not Iain Duncan Smith. Just who carries the original responsibility for the proposed PIP cuts is probably never going to be fully untangled from the crossfire of accusations and counter accusations. But surely Cameron is ultimately responsible for Conservative policies?

In his resignation letter, Iain Duncan Smith says:

“I have for some time and rather reluctantly come to believe that the latest changes to benefits to the disabled, and the context in which they’ve been made are, a compromise too far. While they are defensible in narrow terms, given the continuing deficit, they are not defensible in the way they were placed within a budget that benefits higher earning taxpayers. They should have instead been part of a wider process to engage others in finding the best way to better focus resources on those most in need.

I am unable to watch passively while certain policies are enacted in order to meet the fiscal self imposed restraints that I believe are more and more perceived as distinctly political rather than in the national economic interest.

Too often my team and I have been pressured in the immediate run up to a budget or fiscal event to deliver yet more reductions to the working age benefit bill. There has been too much emphasis on money saving exercises and not enough awareness from the Treasury, in particular, that the government’s vision of a new welfare-to-work system could not be repeatedly salami-sliced.

It is therefore with enormous regret that I have decided to resign. You should be very proud of what this government has done on deficit reduction, corporate competitiveness, education reforms and devolution of power.

I hope as the government goes forward you can look again, however, at the balance of the cuts you have insisted upon and wonder if enough has been done to ensure ‘we are all in this together’ “

You can read the letter in full here

You can see Cameron’s response in full here

Many Conservatives have suggested that Duncan Smith – a supporter of Brexit – had been looking over several weeks for an opportunity to resign, and claimed that he wanted to find a moment when he could inflict maximum damage on the campaign led by Cameron and Osborne to keep Britain in the European Union. But writing in the Observer, Bernard Jenkin, a Tory MP and chair of the Commons public administration select committee, says that Duncan Smith was not prepared to tolerate another raid on the disability budget.

Referring to the prime minister’s letter to Duncan Smith, in which Cameron said he was “puzzled” by the resignation, Jenkin says: “What that letter does not make clear is that the £4bn savings in the budget from welfare still stands and, once again, Iain was being told to find similar cuts from other benefits for working-age people – including for the disabled – again undermining the positive incentives that make it worthwhile for them to take work. That is what he finds morally indefensible.”

However, Debbie Abrahams, the shadow minister for disabled people, who has faced Duncan Smith many times during Commons debates and Work and Pensions Committee inquiries, says she does not accept the reasons Iain Duncan Smith has given for resigning, and believes he chose to resign so he could “embarrass the government as much as he can”.

She adds that planned cuts to disability benefit payments in the Budget were “grossly unfair” and would hit “the most vulnerable in society at the same time the highest earners are getting tax cuts”. 

She says she is grateful that many Conservative MPs are critical of the proposals, but adds: 

“We must make sure that this last cut that has been announced around Personal Independence Payments is stopped and does not carry on.”

The resignation is particularly surprising given that, just hours earlier, the Treasury shelved the proposed cuts to PIP – following threats of a Tory backbench rebellion. Three Tory MPs – including mayoral candidate Zac Goldsmith – have  also been asked to resign as patrons of disability charities over their support for the recent welfare cuts. The complete failure of the austerity project is finally unravelling the Conservatives, and at a time when the Brexit faction of the party is already causing considerable disarray.

Even some of the most loyal Tories were finding it difficult to defend taking money away from sick and  disabled people – particularly since many of those who receive PIP are in work, and in fact some rely on it to stay in work. The cuts to ESA and PIP take place in the context of a Tory manifesto that included a pledge not to cut disability benefits. In fact in March last year, the Prime Minister signalled that the Conservatives will protect disabled claimants from welfare cuts in the next parliament (this one). Cameron said the Conservatives would not “undermine” PIP, which was introduced under the Coalition to save money by “targeting those most in need.” Now it seems those most in need are not the ones originally defined as such.

Controversially, the cuts to disability benefits were planned to fund tax cuts for the most affluent – the top 7% of earners. The Chancellor raised the threshold at which people start paying the 40p tax, in a move that will  see many wealthier people pulled out of the higher rate of income tax, in the coming budget. Mr Osborne said that he wants to “accelerate progress” towards the Conservative’s manifesto pledge of raising the threshold for the 40p rate to £50,000 in 2020. The average annual income in the UK is around £27,000.

The Labour Party have urged Stephen Crabb to appear before MPs on Monday to announce formally that the cuts to disability benefits had been dropped. Owen Smith, the shadow work and pensions secretary, said: “His very first act as secretary of state must be to come to parliament on Monday to announce the full reversal of cruel Tory cuts that will see 370,000 disabled people lose £3,500 a year.”

He also urged Crabb to “stand up to a Treasury that is intent on cutting support for those most in need to pay for tax breaks for those who least need them”.

The main retaliation from the Conservative frontbench has been that Duncan Smith knew about the disability cuts (which he did) and that this is an act of mischief and sabotage designed and timed to destablise Cameron regarding Europe. It may well be. But the divisions had already caused wobbles, Duncan Smith just delivered a swift and hefty kick to the “in” crowd.

However, it’s also clear there has been a rising tension between the Treasury and the Department for Work and Pensions for some time. Duncan Smith felt that the benefits system could be scaled back only so far. Osborne and Cameron would prefer to see the welfare state completely dismantled.

Nonetheless, we have witnessed Duncan Smith’s long term disconnection from the impacts of his policies. He has persistently refused to engage with critics raising serious concerns about the consequences of the welfare “reforms”. He has refused to carry out a cumulative impact assessment of his policies and absolutely refused to monitor the impacts, most of which have been dire for sick and disabled people, and when the specifics of negative consequences were pointed out to him, he has typically reacted with denial, anger and accusations of “scaremongering.”

Duncan Smith used the mantra “there’s no proof of causality” to dismiss those who recognised a correlation between his welfare “reforms” and an increase in premature mortality rates and suicide. He has consistently and quite unforgivably shown that he is more concerned about hiding evidence and stifling criticism than he is about conscienciously investigating the harmful and sometimes devastating consequences that his policies have had on many people.

On the day he resigned, Duncan Smith’s department lost a four year legal battle to keep the many potentially humiliating problems with Universal Credit from the public.

Whatever the reasons may be for Duncan Smith’s resignation, he has certainly highlighted very well that Conservative budget decisions are partisan, taken for  party political interest rather than with consideration for the national interest. But in more than one way.

It’s also worth bearing in mind that it is Iain Duncan Smith’s “reforms” that have prompted a United Nations inquiry into grave and systematic violations of the human rights of disabled people. It’s highly unlikely that Duncan Smith’s reputation will be enhanced in the long-term regarding his legislative legacy, particularly regarding disabled people. He has collaborated with other ministers in designing and extending techniques of neutralisation to attempt justify what are extremely prejudiced, discriminatory and punitive policies aimed at the poorest citizens.

This is a man who has removed people from a structural socioeconomic context and then intentionally blamed them for their individual socioeconomic circumstances, most of which have been created by this government’s actions since 2010. Every single Conservative budget has taken money from the poorest and gifted it to the wealthiest. It’s inconceivable that Tory ministers don’t understand such policies will invariably extend and perpetuate inequality and poverty.

Duncan Smith has damned himself, but nonetheless, a Conservative minister resigning and stating that it is because of a Conservative budget, publicly citing reasons that correlate with the opposition’s objections regarding the government’s ideologically driven and targeted austerity, is a particularly damning turn of events for the Conservative Party as a whole, that’s for sure.

Now that Duncan Smith has publicly denounced the Conservative austerity project, I wonder if he will also recognise and embrace the rational expertise and economic competence of a real party of social justice, which rescued this country from the consequences of a global recession by the last quarter of 2009, whilst Osborne had us back in recession by 2011, and lost us our triple A Fitch and Moody credit ratings after promising not to. I wonder if Duncan Smith now supports the fair party with a track record of verifiable economic expertise – that would be the Labour Party.

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Government plans further brutal cuts to disability support

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Disabled people are already carrying a disproportionately high burden of the austerity cuts, despite government claims of economic recovery.

Government ministers are planning to cut a key element of the Personal Independent Payment (PIP). Last year a consultation indicated that the Conservatives were considering ways of reducing eligibility criteria for the daily living component of PIP, by narrowing definitions of aids and appliances.

From January 2017, the cut is likely to hit people experiencing incontinence, who struggle to dress themselves, and those facing other fundamental barriers to health and essential basic care. The cut, it is estimated, will affect at least 640,000 disabled people by 2020.

Controversially, it is alleged that the cuts to disability benefit will fund tax cuts for the most affluent – the top 7% of earners. The Chancellor is set to raise the threshold at which people start paying 40p tax, in a move that will probably see  many wealthier people pulled out of the higher rate of income tax, in the coming budget. Mr Osborne says he wants to “accelerate progress” towards the Conservative’s manifesto pledge of raising the threshold for the 40p rate to £50,000 in 2020, it is understood.

Meanwhile, under the plans announced on Friday, sick and disabled people will be much less likely to receive essential disabled benefits if they use aids such as a handrail or a walking stick to get dressed or use the toilet.

The Department for Work and Pensions reviewed a sample of 105 cases of people who had scored all, or the majority, of their points for PIP due to aids and appliances, in order to assess the extent to which the award may reflect extra costs.

The review led the government to conclude that PIP “doesn’t currently fulfil the original policy intent”, which was to cut costs and “target” the benefit to “those with the greatest need.” That originally meant a narrowing of eligibility criteria for people formerly claiming Disability Living Allowance, increasing the number of  reassessments required, and limiting the number of successful claims.

Prior to the introduction of PIP, Esther McVey stated that of the initial 560,000 claimants to be reassessed by October 2015, 330,000 of these are targeted to either lose their benefit altogether or see their payments reduced. Of course the ever-shrinking category of “those with the greatest need” simply reflects a government that has simply made a partisan political decision to cut disabled people’s essential income to fund a financial gift to the wealthiest citizens. There is no justification for this decision, nor is it “fair.”

The government now  claim that the proportion of people awarded the daily living component of PIP, who scored all of their points because they need aids and appliances, has more that tripled, from 11 per cent in April 2014 to 35 per cent in 2015.

The PIP assessment currently examines an individual’s ability to complete ten daily living activities and two mobility activities. Regular reviews were also introduced by the last government to ensure that claimants continue to receive the “right level of support.”

The increase has largely been driven by a significant and sustained rise in relation to activities one, four, five and six: preparing food, washing and bathing, dressing and undressing, and managing incontinence and toileting. Around three-quarters of those who score all of their points through aids and appliances score the minimum number of daily living points needed to qualify for the standard rate of the daily living component.

The government ridiculously claim that the “evidence” presented to the review suggested that in some instances points were being awarded “… because claimants chose to use aids and appliances, rather than needed them.”  And noted that in many cases “ these were non-specialised items of very low cost.”

However, it’s very difficult to justify cutting support for people who require aids to meet fundamental needs such as preparing food, dressing, basic and essential personal care and managing incontinence.

Ministers have now announced their intention to cut PIP for people who currently receive it to help them afford specially-adapted appliances and equipment. Examples of qualifying equipment currently includes adapted cutlery for people who find it difficult to hold things for long periods of time and specially-designed household items for people less able to stand.

Justin Tomlinson, the disabilities minister, said that the cuts to funding for aids and appliances for the disabled could save about £1bn a year and was announced the week before the budget. Charities warned that the cuts to personal independence payments (PIP) would be devastating after the move was confirmed by Tomlinson on Friday.

Tomlinson, said: “The introduction of Personal Independence Payment to replace the outdated Disability Living Allowance for working age claimants has been a hugely positive reform.

But it is clear that the assessment criteria for aids and appliances are not working as planned. Many people are eligible for a weekly award despite having minimal to no extra costs and judicial decisions have expanded the criteria for aids and appliances to include items we would expect people to have in their homes already.

We consulted widely to find the best approach. And this new change will ensure that PIP is fairer and targets support at those who need it most.”

Only a Conservative minister would claim that taking money from sick and disabled people is somehow “fair,” and they frequently do. The cuts of £120 a month to the disability benefit employment support allowance (ESA) are also claimed to be “fair.” and “supportive.” Though I have yet to hear an explanation of how this can possibly be the case. Ministers claimed that people subjected to the ESA Work Related Activity Group cuts could claim PIP if they required support with extra living costs, but now we are told that PIP is to be cut, too.

Bearing in mind the Department for Work and Pensions “review” was based on a sample of just 105 people, it’s very difficult to see how further inhumane cuts to the lifeline income for this group of amongst the most disabled citizens can possibly be justified. How did ministers “plan” the assessment criteria for aids and appliances to work, exactly?  People qualifying for PIP need extra support in meeting their living costs.

A coalition of 25 disability charities has written to the Government to warn against plans that would strip some disabled people of a key payments meant to help them live more independent lives.

The Disability Benefits Consortium wrote to Justin Tomlinson, to argue that proposed changes to Personal Independence Payment – or PIP – assessments would have a “severe impact” on people’s security and make it harder for them to find work.

Debbie Abrahams, the shadow disabilities minister, said: “Removing support for people who need help to use the toilet or dress is an attack on dignity.”

“These further cuts would represent another huge blow, making life even more difficult for many people who already facing huge barriers.”

Phil Reynold, policy and campaigns adviser at Parkinson’s UK, said: “If someone needs aids and appliances to carry out the most basic tasks that most people take for granted then they clearly need ongoing support to live independently, which is often expensive. They should not be penalised by making personal independence payments even more difficult to claim.”

Michelle Mitchell, chief executive of the MS Society, said: “This decision could have a devastating impact on the lives of people with MS. In the worst cases, they could lose up to £150 a week.

PIP is an essential benefit which goes towards the extra cost of being disabled. The new plans will fail some of the most vulnerable people in society and we have serious concerns about the future health and welfare of those affected.”

The government is currently being investigated by the United Nations because of  serious allegations that many of us have made regarding the welfare “reforms”, which have extended gross and systematic abuse of the human rights of disabled people. The UK is the first country to be subject to an investigation regarding the government’s failure to meet legal obligations to uphold disabled people’s human rights. In the 6th wealthiest nation of the world, and a so-called liberal democracy, this treatment of an already marginalised and protected social group is utterly shameful.

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Labour Party To Refer Groundless Iain Duncan Smith Claim To Statistics Watchdog Again

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Iain Duncan Smith is telling fibs again. Work and pensions secretary claims that 75% of jobseekers think that benefit sanctions have helped them “focus and get on.”

The following is reported by Rowena Mason and Patrick Butler, for theguardian.com on Saturday 12th March 2016:

Labour is to challenge Iain Duncan Smith’s claim that 75% of jobseekers think benefit sanctions have helped them “focus and get on” by lodging a complaint with the official statistics watchdog.

Owen Smith, the shadow work and pensions secretary, said he would write to Duncan Smith challenging him to back up the “groundless” figure and refer the matter to the UK Statistics Authority for investigation.

The work and pensions secretary made the claim in an interview with the Camden New Journal, in which he suggested many claimants were grateful for the consequences of benefit sanctions.

“Seventy-five per cent of all those who have been sanctioned say it helped them focus and get on. Even the people in the jobcentres think it’s the right thing to do … sanctions are the reason why we now have the highest employment levels ever in the UK, and more women in work,” Duncan Smith said.

“What we say is: ‘We’ll give you all the support but at the end of the day we expect you to do something for it: go back to work, take the job, take the interviews.’ And it works, talk to any of the advisers in the jobcentres.”

While out campaigning for the Tory London mayoral candidate, Zac Goldsmith, Duncan Smith also dismissed protests about the controversial sanctions regime as “a classic buzz from the left” and claimed “these people are never going to vote for us – you have to understand, these people hate us”.

Owen Smith said: “Iain Duncan Smith’s claim that 75% of people who had been sanctioned say it ‘helped them focus and get on’ is groundless and shows he is out of touch with the real impacts of policies introduced by his department.

In reality, widespread concerns have been raised about this government’s use of sanctions, including from their own advisers, which is why the cross-party work and pensions select committee called for a full independent review into the system.

However, Iain Duncan Smith is reluctant to accept such scrutiny. Labour is calling for far greater transparency and honesty in this debate, so we can ensure greater numbers of people are actually helped into work, while being treated fairly.

That is why I will be writing to the secretary of state to inform him that we will refer his use of data to the Statistics Authority and calling for the long overdue independent review into sanctions to begin.”

Duncan Smith is believed to have been referring to DWP research that found 72% of jobseeker’s allowance (JSA) claimants said awareness of sanctions made them “more likely to follow the rules.”

However, that paper also said: “There was no evidence from the survey that knowledge of JSA conditions led to actual movement into work. Respondents who said they were more likely to look for work because of their knowledge of JSA conditions were no more likely than other respondents to have moved into work when they left JSA.”

After the interview, the Department for Work and Pensions released a statement saying: “Decisions on sanctions aren’t taken lightly but are an important part of our benefits system – they are only ever used as a last resort and the number of sanctions continues to fall.”

It is not the first time the UK statistics watchdog has been asked to adjudicate on the DWP’s approach to the sanctions regime.

Last year, it asked the DWP to ensure its statements on jobseeker sanctions are “objective and impartial” following a series of complaints by experts.

At the time, the authority’s chair, Sir Andrew Dilnot, wrote to the DWP’s top statistician asking the department to publish far more data and give the public a clearer understanding of how it is imposing sanctions on jobseekers.

Sanctions are used by civil servants to penalise jobseekers when they are alleged to have broken benefit rules, with punishments becoming increasingly severe over the last parliament.

The government has faced repeated calls from Labour to rethink the system, but is resisting pressure for an independent inquiry.

The Commons work and pensions committee last year urged the government to hold a wide-ranging independent review of the regime to address widespread concerns that it is unfair, excessively punitive, and does little to help people get into work.

© Guardian News & Media Limited 2010.

Related

A List of Official Rebukes For Tory Lies

Department of Work and Pensions officials admit to using fake claimant’s comments to justify benefit sanctions

The Department of Whopping Porkies is rebuked as claimants suddenly develop mysterious superpowers after being sanctioned

A letter of complaint to Andrew Dilnot regarding Coalition lies about employment statistics

Audit finds whereabouts and circumstances of 1.5 million people leaving welfare records each year “a mystery”

Universal Credit cuts will leave some people in work worse off

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Despite Ian Duncan Smith’s persistent claims that “nobody loses a penny” under his flagship Universal Credit reform, the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has contradicted him and admitted that some claimants will be worse off. There seems to be a pattern emerging. Whenever the word “reform” is used by the Conservative government, it is always as a euphemism for “cuts to lifeline support.”

Guidance released this week by the DWP outlines how some working people will lose almost £900 a year. The memo supplies guidance on legislative amendments made in 2015 to the regulations which provide for the amount of earned income that is deducted from the Universal Credit maximum amount.

From 11.4.16 the range of work allowances available to Universal Credit claimants is reduced from seven to two (some rates are also reduced and some are removed completely). Consequently a work allowance will only be available where the claimant or either joint claimant is responsible for a child or qualifying young person and/or has limited capability to work (LCW).

On page three, the memo uses a case study – “Bella” – a 26-year-old shop worker who is single and lives with her parents. She works eight hours a week and earns £50, according to the DWP example. But at an hourly rate of £6.25, Bella apparently earns less than the legal minimum wage, which is £6.70 an hour for workers aged 21 and over. From April 1, the minimum wage is rising to £7.20 for employees aged over 25. The DWP guidance admits Bella, who is fictional, will see her monthly UC award plunge from £253.70 to £181.55 – a loss of £72.15 adding up to £865.80 a year.

There is no transitional protection for Universal Credit claimants whose work allowance is reduced or removed by this change.

The Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary Owen Smith said: “Iain Duncan Smith has spent months trying to pretend that ‘no one is going to lose a penny’ as a result of his Universal Credit cuts.”

“That’s now been blown out of the water by his own officials, who’ve produced a guidance note for DWP staff on how to implement the cut.

“Duncan Smith should read his own department’s guidance and call on the Chancellor to drop the Universal Credit cuts in the Budget.”

A DWP spokesman said: “Universal Credit (UC) is revolutionising welfare, with claimants moving into work faster and earning more than under the previous system.”

“As part of moving to a high-wage, low-tax society we are simplifying the work allowances under UC and giving those affected extra help to progress in work and earn more.”

“Even after the changes, UC claimants will know they are better off in work.”

The Poor Law Amendment Act of 1834 was based on the “principle of less eligibility,” which stipulated that the condition of the “able-bodied pauper” on relief be less “eligible” – that is, less desirable, less favourable – than the condition of the very poorest independent labourer. “Less-eligibility” meant not only that the pauper receive less by way of support than the labourer did from his wages but also that he receive it in such a way (in the workhouse, for example) that made pauperism less respectable than work – to stigmatise it. Thus the labourer would be discouraged from lapsing into a state of “dependency” and the pauper would be encouraged to work.

The less eligibility principle “made work pay”, in other words.

The current government is going even further, and applying the same punitive approach to people in low-paid employment, presumably to serve as a deterrent to poor wages. Personally, I think unions do that much better through collective bargaining, by addressing those actually at fault – exploitative employers, rather than poor, exploited employees.

This post was written for Welfare Weekly, which is a socially responsible and ethical news provider, specialising in social welfare related news and opinion.