Tag: Priti Patel

Prime minister phones union leaders in desperate attempt to peddle her Brexit deal

theresa may on phone

Theresa May has taken the completely unprecedented move for a Conservative PM of telephoning union leaders, including Unite’s Len McCluskey, a close ally of Jeremy Corbyn, to lobby support for her Brexit plans ahead of next week’s Commons showdown. 

I think he gave her pleading a swerve.

She also called Tim Roache, the general secretary of the GMB union. It was the first time she had spoken to either man since she became Prime Minister in 2016, indicating her desperation. Downing Street has also confirmed that she plans to call other union leaders, thought to include Unison’s Dave Prentis, in the run-up to Tuesday’s “meaningful vote” on her Brexit blueprint.

I’m sure the draconian policies designed to stifle trade union freedoms, which took our country down a dark path, will have been forgotten by now. We’ve all really valued the big move away from freedom and towards greater control for the state over our lives over the last eight years. Who could possibly object to state micromanagement and such authoritarian attacks on unions and collective bargaining, diminishing citizen freedoms that are not theirs to give away.

The EU Social Charter of Rights was intentionally excluded by May’s government from the Withdrawal Bill. Many Conservatives see Brexit as an opportunity for more deregulation and ‘cutting red tape.’ Priti Patel, for example, said: “If we could just halve the EU social and employment legislation we could deliver a £4.3bn boost to the economy.”

A boost for whom?

When Conservatives talk of a boost to the economy, they are usually referring a boost in private profits that comes at the expense of ordinary citizens.

Back in 1984, Margaret Thatcher reached the absurd conclusion it wasn’t possible for someone to be in a union and be loyal to their country. Consequently, GCHQ employees in Cheltenham were denied their basic rights and could no longer have the protection of a union at work. Fourteen workers who refused to give up their union membership cards were unceremoniously sacked.

In 2013, the coalition government introduced fees for taking cases to employment tribunals, claiming it would cut “weak and unnecessary cases”. This not only limited access to justice for some of the most vulnerable citizens in our society, it also gave some of the most unscrupulous bosses free reign exploit people, to abuse health and safety and employment law, knowing there was little chance of being called to account.  In July 2017, the Supreme Court ruled that the Tribunal fees were unlawful and the government was forced to reimburse all those who had paid them. This is a prime example of a vindictive government policy which hurt employees.

In 2015, when the Conservatives were elected with an overall majority, they attacked the trade unions and their right to organise and strike. The right to strike is a fundamental freedom in our democracy.

Now the Conservatives have the brass neck to treat worker’s rights as a mere bargaining chip to get their own way. A means to an end, nothing more. I’m pleased to say that Roache gave her a scornful rebuff to her bargaining bid. He said: “I represent 620,000 working people and it’s about time their voices were heard. After nearly three years I’m glad the Prime Minister finally picked up the phone.

“As you would expect, I was very clear about GMB’s position – the deal on the table isn’t good enough and non-binding assurances on workers’ rights won’t cut it.”

“If the deal genuinely did the the job for GMB members, our union would support it, but it doesn’t,” he added.

Both unions came out against her deal, saying her efforts to woo them were nowhere near enough to get their support. 

May’s approach is all the more surprising because of her previous lack of engagement with the TUC’s Frances O’Grady, revealing last year that she had only met the PM once since she came to power.

The PM has also launched an attempt to sell the merits of her withdrawal agreement to Labour backbenchers in an apparent recognition that she needs to reach out to opposition MPs to avert a very heavy defeat. The government is also preparing to back an amendment tabled by Labour MPs John Mann, Caroline Flint, Lisa Nandy and Gareth Snell to give stronger guarantees that EU workers’ rights and environmental safeguards are enshrined in British law.

Mann met the PM last night along with others, including Flint and Snell, to discuss working together.

It’s rather late in the day for the PM to suddenly declare her concern for worker’s rights. The Conservatives have spent the last eight years destroying people’s job security, and any opportunity for worker’s to exercise collective bargaining. People claiming social security, for example, are coerced into accepting any employment, regardless of pay or conditions, otherwise they face sanction – the withdrawal of their lifeline support, which is barely enough, as it is, to meet basic living costs. 

May has gone out of her way to meet small groups of Labour MPs from strongly Leave-supporting constituencies. Nandy, the MP for Wigan, told the BBC that the PM would only win backing for her agreement if she negotiated with the majority of MPs opposed to no deal or a hard Brexit.

“That’s the importance of what happened this week. Finally there seems to be a recognition from the Conservative leadership that they are going to have to do that,” she said.

Downing Street described May’s contact with union leaders as “constructive” and denied that the move was a sign of desperation.

A spokeswoman said: “It’s part of her ongoing engagement with leaders from across the United Kingdom.”

She added: “The PM speaks to leaders across a range of industries, business groups, and has done that consistently throughout this process and today she spoke to a couple of union leaders and there will be further engagement in the days ahead.”

The news comes as a fresh analysis from the BBC indicates that the PM could face a whopping 228 vote loss. 

 

Related

The link between Trade Unionism and equality 

 


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Government denies censuring Priti Patel regarding secret Israeli meeting, now she’s resigned

Theresa May faces increasing pressure to strip two more cabinet ministers of their posts following separate conroversies involving Priti Patel and Boris Johnson.

Patel jumped before she was pushed, and offered her resignation yesterday. In her resignation letter, Patel said her “actions fell below the high standards that are expected.”

Senior Conservatives said both ministers had committed sackable offences which have materially damaged the UK’s interests and those of its citizens.

The controversy around Patel’s unofficial trip to Israel grew, as it emerged she may have omitted to tell May she discussed funnelling UK aid cash to the country’s army despite Downing Street asking for full details of her visit.

Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson faced pressure in the House of Commons, were he denied he made undiplomatic comments that were clearly recorded in Parliament and which led to the Iranian judiciary threatening to double a British woman’s prison sentence unfairly. The 38-year-old British woman was arrested and jailed in Iran, accused of spreading propaganda, with a central part of her defence being that she had never worked teaching journalists in the country, but was merely there on holiday.

But when Johnson mistakenly told MPs in a public hearing that she had been “teaching journalists”, Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe was hauled in front of an Iranian court and threatened with another five years in prison – on top of her existing five-year sentence. 

These ministerial gaffes come less than a week after the Prime Minister was forced to push Michael Fallon out of her Cabinet, following allegations about sexually inappropriate behaviour. And then there are the emerging allegations regarding Damian Green and Mark Garnier, who both face Cabinet Office investigations over inappropriate conduct, too.

According to the government, Priti Patel, the International development secretary, failed to inform the Prime Minister about the meetings she had in Israel, including discussions of plans to send funds to the Israeli army, to support “humanitarian operations” in the Golan Heights. Amid the recent Conservative diplomatic omnishambles, Patel was already facing demands she should quit the post after failing to come clean with Theresa May over 12 other meetings she has held with senior Israeli figures, including prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Sources from the Department for International Development (DfID) confirmed on Tuesday night that Patel held further meetings in September with Israeli government officials without adhering to proper procedures. It emerged that Patel had two further meetings in September without government officials. She met the Israeli public security minister Gilad Erdan in Westminster and Israeli foreign ministry official Yuval Rotem in New York.

She was also rebuked by No 10 after giving the false impression in an interview with the Guardian that foreign secretary Boris Johnson and the Foreign Office knew about the meetings.  

At 13 out of a total of 14 meetings with Israeli officials over August and September, she was accompanied by Lord Polak, a lobbyist and a leading member of Conservative Friends of Israel.

No 10 on Tuesday said Patel had not informed the prime minister about the “aid to Israel” discussions at a crunch meeting on Monday which was supposed to draw a line under the controversy. 

The Foreign Office advised that because Britain did not officially recognise Israel’s annexation of the area, (it’s been an area of longstanding geopolitical dispute) it would be hard for the Department for International Development to work there.

Speaking in the Commons, Foreign Office minister Alistair Burt defended Patel’s “perfectly legitimate” right to raise the matter – saying it was within the context of providing medical help for Syrian refugees who could not get assistance in their own country. 

Labour’s Kate Osamor said it was a “black and white case” of the ministerial code being broken, and called for Patel’s resignation.

Writing to the prime minister, Labour’s deputy leader Tom Watson said he understood  Patel had met UK officials during the holiday.

“I have been informed that while she was in Israel, Ms Patel met officials from the British consulate general Jerusalem, but that the fact of this meeting has not been made public,” he wrote.

“If this were the case, then it would surely be impossible to sustain the claim that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office was not aware of Ms Patel’s presence in Israel.”

He added: “The existence of such a meeting or meetings would call into question the official account of Ms Patel’s behaviour, and the purpose of her visit.”

In a her disjointed statement on the government site, Patel says: “On Friday 3rd November, the Secretary of State was quoted in the Guardian newspaper as follows:

“Boris knew about the visit. The point is that the Foreign Office did know about this, Boris knew about [the trip].”

This quote may have given the impression that the Secretary of State had informed the Foreign Secretary about the visit in advance. The Secretary of State would like to take this opportunity to clarify that this was not the case. The Foreign Secretary did become aware of the visit, but not in advance of it.

“The stuff that is out there is it, as far as I am concerned. I went on holiday and met with people and organisations. As far as I am concerned, the Foreign Office have known about this. It is not about who else I met, I have friends out there.” 

And: “The Secretary of State regrets the lack of precision in the wording she used in these statements, and is taking this opportunity to clarify the position.”

The comments looked like a pretty terrible attempt to gloss over what were apparently  out and out lies. On the face of it.

But perhaps the lies are not entirely Patel’s. 

She then goes on to disclose the meetings in her statement. The official story is that Theresa May learned about the proposals from reports in the media, and Downing Street sources “confirmed” this.

However, Stephen Pollard at the Jewish Chronicle says that he understands Patel was told by Number 10 not to include the extra meetings so as not to embarrass the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. In an interesting development, information emerged from two different sources, that Patel did disclose the meeting with Mr Rotem but was told by Number 10 not to include it as it would embarrass the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. In addition, the article goes on to say that although Patel’s meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was not authorised in advance, the British government was made aware of it within hours. 

The Jewish Chronicle says: “On 22 August – the same day as Ms Patel spoke to Mr Netanyahu – Middle East minister Alistair Burt and David Quarrey, the British Ambassador to Israel, met Michael Oren, Deputy Minister at the Israeli Prime Minister’s Office. According to the notes of the meeting, Mr Oren referred to Patel having had a successful meeting with Mr Netanyahu earlier. 

It is understood that this information was then conveyed to Number 10.

In addition, Prime Minister Theresa May spoke to Patel in advance of the UN General Assembly and they discussed the Development Secretary’s meeting with Mr Netanyahu, as well as the details of Ms Patel’s plan for UK aid to be shared with the Israelis. Mrs May agreed that the idea was sensible but needed sign off from the FCO.”

Of course Downing Street deny telling International Development Secretary Patel to withhold the information. A spokesman for May accepted Number 10 knew about a meeting between Patel and Yuval Rotem, but said the minister’s department did not put it in a list disclosing 12 meetings that took place on her summer holiday “because it occurred several months later.” 

The Number 10 spokesman said Patel did disclose the September 18 meeting when she met and was censured by Theresa May on Monday.

He explained that the reason the meeting did not appear on the list of disclosed appointments was because the Department for International Development had confined the list to those that took place on her summer holiday to Israel.

Several reports have claimed Number 10  instructed Patel not to publicise the Rotem meeting, because it would be too embarrassing for Boris Johnson and the Foreign Office.

It was thought the emergence of the Rotem meeting in New York would give the prime minister further reason to sack Patel, who was expected to lose her job yesterday.

However, she resigned. She was ordered back from an official trip in Africa by the PM and summoned to Downing Street over the row, yesterday. 

In her resignation letter, Patel said: “While my actions were meant with the best of intentions, my actions also fell below the standards of transparency and openness that I have promoted and advocated.

“I offer a fulsome apology to you and to the government for what has happened and offer my resignation.”

In her reply, the prime minister said: ‘‘As you know the UK and Israel are close allies, and it is right that we should work closely together. But that must be done formally, and through official channels.

”That is why, when we met on Monday I was glad to accept your apology and welcomed your clarification about your trip to Israel over the summer.

“Now that further details have come to light it is right you have decided to resign.”

The question is what did the Foreign Office already know of Priti Patel’s visit to Israel?

 


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A black day for disabled people – disability benefit cuts enforced by government despite widespread opposition

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“The fact is that Ministers are looking for large savings at the expense of the poorest and most vulnerable. That was not made clear in the general election campaign; then, the Prime Minister said that disabled people would be protected.” – [Official Report, Commons, 2/3/16; cols. 1052-58.]

A coalition of 60 national disability charities have condemned the government’s cuts to benefits as a “step backwards” for sick and disabled people and their families. The Disability Benefits Consortium say that the cuts, which will see people lose up to £1,500 a year, will leave disabled people feeling betrayed by the government and will have a damaging effect on their health, finances and ability to find work.

Research by the Consortium suggests the low level of benefit is already failing to meet disabled people’s needs. 

A survey of 500 people in the affected group found that 28 per cent of people had been unable to afford to eat while in receipt of the benefit. Around 38 per cent of respondents said they had been unable to heat their homes and 52 per cent struggled to stay healthy.

The Government was twice defeated in the Lords over proposals to cut Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) for sick and disabled people in the work-related activity group (WRAG) from £103 to £73.

However the £30 a week cut is set to go ahead after bitterly disappointed and angry peers were left powerless to continue to oppose the Commons, which has overturned both defeats. The government has hammered through the cuts of £120 a month to the lifeline income of ill and disabled people by citing the “financial privilege” of the Commons, and after Priti Patel informing the Lords that they have “overstepped their mark” in opposing the cuts twice.

The Strathclyde review, commissioned by a rancorous and retaliatory David Cameron, following the delay and subsequently effective defeat of government tax credit legislation in the House of Lords, recommends curtailing the powers of Upper House. Strathclyde concludes in his report that the House of Lords should be permitted to ask the Commons to “think again” when a disagreement on proposed legislation exists, but should not be allowed to veto. MPs would ultimately make a decision on whether a measure is passed into law. The review focuses in particular on the relationship between the Commons and the Lords, in relation to the former’s primacy on financial matters and secondary legislation, and serves to highlight the government’s very worrying increasing tendency towards authoritarianism.

The cuts to ESA and proposed and probable cuts to Personal Independent Payments (PIP), take place in the context of a Tory manifesto that included a pledge not to cut disability benefits.

Yesterday in the House of Lords, independent crossbencher Lord Low of Dalston warned: “This is a black day for disabled people.”

Contrary to what is being reported, it won’t be only new claimants affected by the cuts to ESA. Firstly, it may potentially affect anyone who has a break in their ESA claim (and that could happen because of a reassessment with a decision that means needing to ask for a mandatory review), and secondly, those migrated onto Universal Credit will be affected. The benefit cap will also cut sick and disabled people’s income if they are in the ESA WRAG.

Paralympic gold medallist Baroness Grey-Thompson said she was bitterly disappointed that this “dreadful and punitive” part of the Bill was going ahead.

Parliamentary procedure had prevented her putting down another amendment opposing the move, which will have a harsh, negative impact on thousands of people’s lives.

Already facing a UN inquiry into grave and systematic abuses of the human rights of disabled people, Cameron remains completely unabashed by his government’s blatant attack on a protected social group, and the Conservatives continue to target disabled people for a disproportionately large burden of austerity cuts.

The Government have been accused of failing to fulfil their public sector equality duty. Under the Equality Act 2010, the Government must properly consider the impact of their policies on the elimination of discrimination, the advancement of equality of opportunity and the fostering of good relations. This is shameful, in a very wealthy first-world democracy.

The “justification” the Tories offer for the cut of almost £120 a month to the lifeline support of people judged to be unfit for work by their own doctors AND the state, is that it will “help people into work”. I’ve never heard of taking money from people who already have very little described as “help” before. Only the Conservatives  would contemplate cutting money from sick and disabled people, whilst gifting the millionaires with £107, 000 each per year in the form of a tax “break”.

Reducing disabled people’s incomes won’t “incentivise” anyone to find a job. It will just make life much more difficult. The government have made the decision to cut disability benefits because of an extremely prejudiced ideological preference for a “small state” and their antiwelfare agenda. There are alternative political choices that entail far more humane treatment of sick and disabled people. The fact that ministers have persistently refused to carry out a policy impact assessment indicates clearly that this measure has got nothing to do with any good will towards disabled people, nor is it about “helping” people into work.

The cut simply expresses the Conservative’s contempt for social groups that are economically inactive, regardless of the reasons. Sick and disabled people claiming ESA have already been deemed unfit for work by their doctors, and by the state via the work capability assessment. Simply refusing to accept this, and hounding a group of people who are ill, and who have until recently been considered reasonably exempt from working, is an indictment of this increasingly despotic government.

I can’t help wondering how long it will be before we hear about government proposals to cut the financial support further for those in the ESA support group. There does seem to be a recognisable pattern of political scapegoating, public moral boundaries being pushed, and cruel, highly unethical cuts being announced. Social security provision is being dismantled incrementally, whilst the Conservative justification narrative becomes less and less coherent. Despite the arrogant moralising approach of Tory ministers, and the Orwellian rhetoric of “helping” and “supporting” people who are too ill to work into any job, or face the threat of starvation and destitution, none of this will ever justify the unforgivable, steady withdrawal of lifeline support for sick and disabled people.

Baroness Meacher warned that for the most vulnerable the cut was “terrifying” and bound to lead to increased debt.

Condemning the “truly terrible” actions of the Treasury, she urged ministers to monitor the number of suicides in the year after the change comes in, adding: “I am certain there will be people who cannot face the debt and the loss of their home, who will take their lives.” Not only have the government failed to carry out an impact assessment regarding the cuts, Lord Freud said that the impact, potential increase in deaths and suicides won’t be monitored, apart from “privately” because individual details can’t be shared and because that isn’t a “useful approach”.

He went on to say “We have recently produced a large analysis on this, which I will send to the noble Baroness. That analysis makes it absolutely clear that you cannot make these causal links between the likelihood of dying—however you die—and the fact that someone is claiming benefit.”

Actually, a political refusal to investigate an established correlation between the welfare “reforms” and an increase in the mortality statistics of those hit the hardest by the cuts – sick and disabled people – is not the same thing as there being no causal link. Often, correlation implies causality and therefore such established links require further investigation. It is not possible to disprove a causal link without further investigation, either.

Whilst the government continue to deny there is a causal link between their welfare policies, austerity measures and an increase in premature deaths and suicides, they cannot deny there is a clear correlation, which warrants further research – an independent inquiry at the VERY least. But the government are hiding behind this distinction to deny any association at all between policy and policy impacts. That’s just plain wrong.

Insisting that there isn’t a “causal link” established, whilst withholding crucial evidence in parliament and from the public domain is what can at best be considered the actions and behaviours of tyrants.

 

Related reading

House of Lords debate: ESA – Monday 07 March 2016 (From 3.06pm)

Thatcher’s policies condemned for causing “unjust premature death”

MP attacks cuts hitting disabled people – Debbie Abrahams

Leading the debate against the Welfare Reform and Work Bill – 3rd reading – Debbie Abrahams

My speech at the Changes to Funding of Support for Disabled People Westminster Hall Debate – Debbie Abrahams

The government need to learn about the link between correlation and causality. Denial of culpability is not good enough.

The new Work and Health Programme: government plan social experiments to “nudge” sick and disabled people into work

A Critique of Conservative notions of “Social Research”

The DWP mortality statistics: facts, values and Conservative concept control

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Pictures courtesy of Robert Livingstone

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Maximus ‘has falsified results of fitness for work tests’, says MP – John Pring

By John Pring

The discredited US outsourcing giant contracted to carry out “fitness for work” tests on behalf of the government has been accused by an MP of “falsifying” the results of assessments.

Labour MP Louise Haigh attacked the track record, ethics and even criminal behaviour of Maximus in delivering public contracts in the US, during a debate on the work capability assessment (WCA).

But she also highlighted what she described as a “disconcerting pattern of behaviour” by Maximus in the UK since taking over the WCA contract from Atos last year.

She said: “There seems to be an alarming trend of cases being rejected based on factual errors or even – I hesitate to say this – falsification.”

Haigh (pictured speaking in the debate), a shadow Cabinet Office minister, also raised concerns that there was no way for the public to check whether targets set for Maximus by the government – such as the number of serious complaints and the payment of travel expenses within nine working days – were being met.

 

You can read the rest of this excellent article here

Related

Doctors bribed with 70-90k salaries to join Maximus and “endorse a political agenda regardless of how it affects patients.”

Benefits Assessor: How Long Are You Likely To Have Parkinson’s?

I was asked in 2011 by an Atos assessor how long I thought I would have a “chronic, progressive illness”.  Medical testing had confirmed I have connective tissue disease (lupus). That was the diagnosis from my rheumatologist, which she read aloud at the assessment, from a correspondence between my consultant and my GP. Dumbfounded, I replied:

“Until I die. The clue is in the words ‘progressive’ and ‘chronic’.”

But an essential failure to grasp what words like “chronic”, “degenerative” and “progressive” actually mean isn’t peculiar to state assessors of illness and disability, who work for the government specifically to reduce the number of people eligible for sickness benefits. Government ministers display the same level of purposive ignorance:

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Hardly  “appropriate” , “reasonable” or taking “circumstances”, or medical diagnoses, for that matter, into account. A degenerative condition is one that DOES deteriorate. That is why it is called  a “degenerative condition.” It is therefore wrong and displays a degree of exceptional ignorance to assume that people WON’T or “may not” deteriorate.

This is why we don’t visit the government rather than a doctor when we become ill, especially when the state thinks it knows best about our medical conditions and how we should address those – and clearly doesn’t. This is about irrational ideology-driven policies aimed at cutting  back the welfare state. Regardless of how unreasonable that is and regardless of the consequences for those needing social security.

Sick and disabled people need support, understanding and medical care, not ignorance, Conservative dogma, vicious stigmatisation and a (neo)liberal re-translation of the words “Arbeit macht frei”.  

The government have conflated human needs with purely dogmatic economic outcomes.

Kitty S Jones.

Same Difference

This paragraph from Frances Ryan’s latest article- an interview with a claimant called Phil Brehaut- just says it all.

“It was very daunting, like being in court,” he says. “The lady on the panel actually asked me, ‘How long are you likely to have Parkinson’s?’” He pauses. “The person next to her quickly whispered in her ear … You would think they’d know a little bit about it.”

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The importance of citizens’ qualitative accounts in democratic inclusion and political participation

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Government policies are expressed political intentions regarding how our society is organised and governed. They have calculated social and economic aims and consequences. In democratic societies, citizens’ accounts of the impacts of policies ought to matter.

However, in the UK, the way that policies are justified is being increasingly detached from their aims and consequences, partly because democratic processes and basic human rights are being disassembled or side-stepped, and partly because the government employs the widespread use of linguistic strategies and techniques of persuasion to intentionally divert us from their aims and the consequences of their ideologically (rather than rationally) driven policies. Furthermore, policies have become increasingly detached from public interests and needs.

The merits of quantitative analysis

The government have denied there is a causal link between their welfare policies, austerity measures and an increase in mental distress, premature death and suicide. However, ministers cannot deny there is a clear and well-established correlation, which warrants further research. But the government are hiding behind a distinction often made by researchers, to avoid accountability and to deny any association at all between policy and policy impacts. That’s just plain wrong.

Correlation isn’t quite the same as causality. When researchers talk about correlation, what they are saying is that they have found a relationship between two (or more) variables. “Correlation does not mean causation” is a quip that researchers and quite often, the government, chucks at us to explain that events or statistics that happen to coincide with each other are not necessarily causally related.

However, the possibility of causation isn’t refuted by political denial or somehow invalidated by the establishment of a correlation. Quite the contrary. Indeed an established association implies there may also be a causal link. To prove causation, further research into the association between variables must be pursued. So, care should be taken not to make an assumption that correlation never implies causation, because it quite often does indicate a causal link.

Correlations between two things may be caused by a third factor that affects both of them. This sneaky, hidden third factor is called a confounding variable, or sometimes, simply a confounder.

However, a lot of social research tends to indicate and discuss a correlation between variables, not a direct cause and effect relationship. Researchers are inclined to talk cautiously about associations.

It’s worth bearing in mind that establishing correlation is crucial for research and shows that something needs to be examined and investigated further. That’s precisely how we found out that smoking causes cancer, for example – through repeated findings showing an association (those good solid, old fashioned science standards of replicability and verification). It is only by systematically eliminating other potential associations – variables – that we can establish causalities.

The objective of most research or scientific analysis is to identify the extent to which one variable relates to another variable and the direction of the association. If there is a correlation then this guides further research into investigating whether one action causes the other. Statistics measure occurrences in time and can be used to calculate probabilities. Probability is important in research because measurements, observations and findings are often influenced by variation. In addition, probability theory provides the theoretical groundwork for statistical inference.

Statistics are fundamental to good government; to the delivery of public services and to decision-making at all levels of society. Statistics provide parliament and the public with a window on the work, performance and intentions of a government. Such data allows for the design of policies and programmes that aim to bring about a desired and stated outcome, and permits better targeting of resources.

Once a policy has been implemented it is necessary to monitor and evaluate the effectiveness of the policy to determine whether it has been successful in achieving the intended outcomes. It is also important to evaluate whether services (outputs) are effectively reaching those people for whom they are intended. Statistics play a crucial role in this process. So statistics, therefore, represent a significant role in good policy-making, monitoring and political accountability. The impact of policy can be measured with statistics.

So firstly, we need to ask why the government are not doing this.

If policy impacts cannot be measured then it is not good policy.

Ensuring accuracy and integrity in the reporting of statistics is a serious responsibility. In cases where there may not be an in-depth understanding of statistics in general, or of a particular topic, the use of glossaries, explanatory notes and classifications ought to be used to assist in their interpretation.

Statistics can be presented and used in ways that may lead readers and politicians to draw misleading conclusions. It is possible to take numbers out of context, as Iain Duncan Smith, amongst others, is prone to do. However, official statistics are supposed to be produced impartially and free from political influence, according to a strict code of practice. This is a government that systematically breaches the code of conduct. See: List of official rebukes for Tory lies and statistical misrepresentations, for example.

We need to ask why the government refuses to conduct any research into their austerity policies, the impacts they are having and the associated mental distress, physical harm, deaths and suicides.

Without such research, it isn’t appropriate or legitimate to deny a causal link between what are, after all, extremely punitive, targeted, class-contingent policies and an increase in adverse consequences, such as premature mortality rates.

It isn’t unreasonable to be concerned about policies that are targeted to reduce the income of those social groups already struggling because of limited resources, nor is it much of an inferential leap to recognise that such policies will have some adverse consequences.

In social research, traditionally, quantitative methods emphasise maintaining objectivity, and aim to keep social inquiries “value-free.” However, the area of study is intentionally selected by researchers, funded by interested parties and there are problems related to the connection between observation and interpretation. Perhaps every observation is an interpretation, since “facts” are seen through a lens of perceptions, pre-conceptions and ideology.

The Joseph Rowntree Foundation choose to study poverty. Cynical Iain Duncan Smith simply changes the definition of it to reduce its visibility.

The importance of qualitative research: who are the witnesses?

Social phenomena cannot always be studied in the same way as natural phenomena, because human beings are subjective, intentional and have a degree of free will. One problem with quantitative research is that it tends to impose theoretical frameworks on those being studied, and it limits responses from those participating in the study.

Social reality is not “out there” waiting to be discovered: we are constructing and reconstructing it meaningfully. However, politically, there’s been a marked shift away from understanding the lived experiences of real people in context.

There are also distinctions to be made between facts, values and meanings. Qualitative researchers are concerned with generating explanations and extending understanding rather than simply describing and measuring social phenomena and establishing basic cause and effect relationships. Qualitative research tends to be exploratory, potentially illuminating underlying intentions, responses, beliefs, reasons, opinions, and motivations to human behaviours.

This type of analysis often provides insights into social problems, helps to develop ideas and establish explanations, and may also be used to formulate hypotheses for further quantitative research.

The dichotomy between quantitative and qualitative methodological approaches, theoretical structuralism (macro-level perspectives) and interpretivism (micro-level perspectives) in sociology, for example, is not nearly so clear as it once was, however, with many social researchers recognising the value of both means of data and evidence collection and employing methodological triangulation, reflecting a commitment to methodological and epistemological pluralism.

Qualitative methods tend to be much more inclusive than quantitative analysis, lending participants a dialogic, democratic and first hand voice regarding their own experiences.

The current government have tended to dismiss qualitative evidence from first hand witnesses of the negative impacts of their policies – presented cases studies, individual accounts and ethnographies – as “anecdotal.” However, that is a very authoritarian approach to social administration and it needs to be challenged. 

The most rigid form of quantitative research, associated with positivism, is a traditionally Conservative way of rigidly demarcating the world, imposing hierarchies of priority, worth and order, to assure ontological security and maintain the status quo, regardless of how absurd this shrinking island of certainty appears to the many of us that are being systematically exiled from it.

Neither positivism nor Conservatism extend an acknowledgement, recognition or account of human diversity – which is among our greatest assets, after all. It’s a curious ideological tension for neoliberal Conservatives: they value competitive individualism on the one hand, but have such rigid ideas about pluralism and social group deviations from imposed, value-laden norms, on the other. 

Competitive individualism arises from competitive systems, rather than co-operative, collective ones. The function of the system is to maintain inequality in the society and fields of human engagement, based on the largely unchallenged notions of ‘deserving’ and ‘undeserving’. These are tacit notions at the heart of meritocracy. Neoliberals believe that competition acts as an incentive to people’s behaviours, encouraging a “race to the top”. Those at the top then ‘trickle down’ wealth to benefit the poorest citizens, according to this behaviourist theory. But of course that hasn’t happened.

In any system of competition, there are inevitably relatively few ‘winners’ and rather more ‘losers’. Such is the logic of competition. And most people don’t share their trophies with others.

The competition is rigged in any case, since the Conservatives are not too keen on widening access to equality of opportunity. Such is the acrobatic, logic of elitism. 

The Conservatives don’t like social individualism, difference or diversity within society.  For them, the only individualism worth anything is that defined and categorised by how much money you have.  A ‘good citizen’ is wealthy. The logic follows that they must be ‘good’ to be so wealthy, after all.  Such is the politically convenient circular argument of meritocracy. 

In the current context, the Conservatives’ approach to ‘research’ is tantamount to a politically extended epistemological totalitarianism. (Epistemology is an important and underpinning branch of philosophy that extends various theories of the nature and grounds of knowledge in the social sciences, particularly with reference to its limits, reliability and validity.)

It’s merely politically convenient to use a discredited positivist approach to policy-making, because such pseudoscientific narratives can be used to legitimise and impose virtually any policy.  Pseudoscience was once used to justify eugenic policies, after all. This is an approach that purposefully excludes citizens’ accounts. It’s authoritarian.

However, a qualitative approach to research potentially provides insight, depth and richly detailed accounts. The evidence collected is much more coherent and comprehensive, because it explores beneath surface appearances, and reaches above causal relationships, delving much deeper than the simplistic analysis of ranks, categories and counts.

It provides a reliable and rather more authentic record of experiences, attitudes, feelings and behaviours, it prompts an openness and is expansive, whereas quantitative methods tend to limit and are somewhat reductive. Qualitative research methods encourage people to expand on their responses and may then open up new issues and topic areas not initially considered by researchers. 

As such, qualitative methods are prefigurative and bypass problems regarding potential power imbalances between the researcher and the subjects of research, by permitting participation and creating space for genuine dialogue and reasoned discussions to take place. Research regarding political issues and policy impacts must surely engage citizens on a democratic, equal basis and permit participation in decision-making, to ensure an appropriate balance of power between citizens and the state.

That assumes, of course, that governments want citizens to engage and participate. There is nothing to prevent a government deliberately exploiting a research framework as a way to test out highly unethical and ideologically-driven policies, and to avoid democratic accountability, transparency and public safeguards. How appropriate is it to apply a biomedical model of prescribed policy “treatments” to people experiencing politically and structurally generated social problems, such as unemployment, inequality and poverty, for example? This is happening and needs to be challenged.

Iain Duncan Smith and Priti Patel, amongst other ministers, claim that we cannot make a link between government policies and the increasing number of deaths of sick and disabled people. There are no grounds whatsoever for their claim. There has been no cumulative impact assessment or monitoring of welfare policies, no inquiry, no further research regarding an established correlation and a longstanding refusal from the Tories to undertake any of these. There is therefore no evidence for their claim.

Such political denial is oppressive – it serves to sustain and amplify a narrow, hegemonic political narrative, stifling pluralism and excluding marginalised social groups, excluding alternative accounts of citizen’s experiences, negating counternarratives; it sidesteps democratic accountability, stultifies essential public debate, obscures evidence and hides politically inconvenient, exigent truths. Denial of causality does not reduce the probability of it, especially in cases where a correlation has been well-established and evidenced.

So, how do we address these issues?

Democracy is not something we have: it’s something we have to DO 

Government ministers like to hear facts, figures and statistics all the time. What we need to bring to the equation is a real, live human perspective. We need to let ministers know how the policies they are implementing and considering directly impact ourselves, their constituents and social groups more widely. One of the most powerful things we can do to make sure the government listens to our concerns is to engage and support the organisation of family, friends, neighbours and wider communities. While many people regard state or national-level politics as an intractable mess that’s impossible to influence, collective voices really do make a difference. The best weapon of influence we have is meticulous documentation of our experiences.

Once upon a time, policy was a response from government aimed at meeting public needs. It was part of an intimate democratic dialogue between the state and citizens. Traditional methods of participating in government decision-making include:

  • political parties or individual politicians
  • lobbying decision-makers in government
  • community groups
  • voluntary organisations
  • public opinion
  • public consultations
  • the media
  • prefigurative politics

Nowadays, policies have been unanchored from any democratic dialogue regarding public needs and are more about monologues aimed at shaping those needs to suit the government and rigid policy outcomes. For many of us, policies are being formulated to act upon us as if we are objects, rather than autonomous human subjects. This political dehumanisation has contributed significantly to a wider process of social outgrouping and increasing stigmatisation.

But in democracies, Governments are elected to represent and serve the needs of the population. Democracy is not only about elections. It is also about distributive and social justice. The quality of the democratic process, including transparent and accountable Government and equality before the law, is crucial to social organisation, yet it seems the moment we become distracted, less attentive and permit inequality to fundamentally divide our society, the essential details and defining features of democracy seem to melt into air.

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 Sherry Arnstein’s Ladder of Citizen Participation and Power.

Whereabouts are you on the ladder? I think socioeconomic status has some bearing on how far up people place themselves and how much power they feel they have to influence decision-making. 

For Arnstein, participation reflects “the redistribution of power that enables the have-not citizens, presently excluded from the political and economic processes, to be deliberately included in the future. It is the strategy by which the excluded join in determining how information is shared, goals and policies are set, tax resources are allocated, programmess are operated, and benefits like contracts and patronage are parceled out. In short, it is the means by which they can induce significant social reform which enables them to share in the benefits of the affluent society.”

A starting point may be the collective gathering of evidence and continual documentation of our individual narratives concerning experiences of austerity and the welfare “reforms”, which we must continue to present to relevant ministers, parliament, government departments, the mainstream media and any organisations that may be interested in promoting citizen inclusion, empowerment and democratic participation.

We can give our own meaningful account of our own experiences and include our own voice, reflecting our own first hand witnessing, experiencing and knowledge of policy impacts, describing how we make sense of and understand our situations, including the causal links between our own circumstances, hardships, sense of isolation and distress, and Conservative policies and subsequent socioeconomic frameworks, as active, intentional, conscientious citizens. Furthermore, we can collectively demand a democratic account and response (rather than accepting denial and a refusal to engage) from the government.

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Related

How can we find out whether people are really turning against democracy? – Democratic Audit UK

Psychologists Against Austerity campaign – call for evidence

The Psychological Impact of Austerity – Psychologists Against Austerity

A critique of Conservative notions of social research

The Conservative approach to social research – that way madness lies

Research finds strong correlation between Work Capability Assessment and suicide

Suicides reach a ten year high and are linked with welfare “reforms”

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Soul-breaking government scheme to provide ‘expert’ employment ‘support’ to young people in schools

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The so-called ‘small state’ government have pledged to intrude schools to place ‘demand-led, Jobcentre Plus staff to supplement careers guidance and help schools deliver their statutory duty to provide high-quality, independent and impartial careers advice.’

See government press release: Jobcentre Plus support rolled out to schools.

Isn’t all existing careers advice impartial?

Ah, I see that impartial now means: ‘to inform independent choice,’ according to the newly introduced Careers and Enterprise Company, who will work with Jobcentre Plus staff ‘to ensure schools receive a coherent and aligned offer.’

Aligned to what? 

The needs of local businesses and the neoliberal labour market and not the needs of young people.

To inform independent choice. That’s a bit like saying “If you do everything I say, you will be truly free to make your own choices.  

The Tories are experts in linguistic behaviourism, telling lies and social control freakery, but not very much else.

Impartial. It’s another one of those Tory definitions that mean something else completely. Like helping or supporting people into work, which actually means a crude type of punitive behaviourism  – the imposition of  punitive financial sanctions if you don’t do exactly what you are told, and actually, quite often, even if you do. I’ve never understood how starvation and destitution can ever help or incentivise anyone to find a job, especially when experience and empirical evidence tells us otherwise. The welfare state has been weaponised against the people it was designed to support: a penultimate, vindictive Tory tactic before they completely dismantle it once and for all.

In 2015, the government’s Earn or Learn taskforce announced a new 3-week programme to give young jobseekers an ‘unprecedented level of support that will help them find work within 6 months.’  Personally, I shudder at the very thought of the Tories supporting my own children. I don’t want them anywhere near young people more generally. Regressive and Orwellian Tory ‘support’ has killed adults. There is no conceivable way that this bunch of tyrants can ever be trusted with our children’s future.

From 2017, the new programme will offer ‘an intensive curriculum’ involving practicing job applications and interview techniques as well as extensive job searches, and is expected to take 71 hours over the first 3 weeks of the claim. Welcome to the ultimate libertarian paternalist’s dystopic ‘education’ programme.

This ‘expert employment support to young people’ has been launched by two utterly inept, lying, dogmatic Conservatives with a history of formulating extremely nasty, punitive approaches to state defined ‘welfare and wellbeing’ – Iain Duncan Smith and Priti Patel.

Someone should put them straight: education includes the opportunity to attend college and university. Curiously, the Conservative brand of ‘impartial’ career advice seems to be all about big business ‘leading the way’ by instilling the protestant work ethic in our children. Life and learning is about working for people who make profits. That is the order of the world. 

Children from the age of twelve are to be coached to undertake ‘work experience.’ To clarify, that’s work fare – stacking shelves at Poundland or sweeping floors at your local McDonald‘s, for no pay.

It’s difficult to see what kind of educational process such a Conservative ‘curriculum’ entails, although it does include a sequence of instruction: a barely concealed hidden curriculum which reinforces existing social inequalities by ‘educating’ students according to their class, promoting the acceptance of a social pre-destiny of exploitation without promoting rational and reflective consideration.

A veritable pedagogy of the oppressed.

Duncan Smith babbles:

This scheme is fundamentally about social mobility and social justice – ensuring we give all young people the best chance to get on in life.

Someone should tell this idiot that social justice is all about the fair and just relationship between the individual and society. This is measured by the distribution of wealth, resources, opportunities, freedoms for personal activity and social privileges. It is about removing barriers to social mobility, the creation of social safety nets and economic justice. There is no mention of work fare for adults and children, exploitation, corporate profits and Tory donors in any standard definition of social justice anywhere.

Steve Bell cartoon

It’s not as if the Conservatives have historically shown the slightest interest in and recognition of realising human potential. That’s far too progressive and would require the capacity for democratic dialogue instead of paternalist preaching and lofty class-contingent, traditionally prejudiced, moralising. The Tories have always prefered a steeply hierarchical world, comprised of ascribed social status.

What the Conservatives plan is a blatant programme of indoctrination and political micromanagement to ensure that young people learn their place and accept a future of exploitative, low paid, insecure jobs, without the prospect of real opportunities or the chance to go to university. It’s more psychoregulation and authoritarian politics and has nothing to do with genuine needs-led or evidence-based policy.

And it’s to be delivered in our schools: transforming them from Ideological State Apparatuses – ideologies have the function of masking the exploitative arrangements on which class societies are based – into unmasked Repressive State Apparatuses. Hidden in plain view.

Authoritarianism tends to become more visible and frankly expressed over time.

demcracy

 


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Specialist Disability Employment Advisors in Jobcentres cut by over 60 per cent

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Full-time specialist disability employment advisors who are posted in jobcentres have been radically reduced since 2011. The full-time advisors are employed to help disabled people navigate the support system and find employment. Over the last four years, the number of specialist advisors fell by over 60 per cent, from 226 to just 90.

The government says that the advisors will be replaced by unqualified  non-specialist “work coaches” as part of its Universal Credit programme, which also extends welfare conditionality, entailing sanctions, to people in part-time and low paid work.

We reported last week that the work coach scheme is to extend from jobcentres to GP practices, to prevent sick and disabled people from “leaving the job market” and “claiming Employment Support Allowance” (ESA), with pilots already underway.

The latest figures on jobcentre advisors were released by ministers in response to a Parliamentary question by Labour MP Emily Thornberry.

A spokesman for the Department for Work and Pension said the fall in advisor numbers was consistent with Government policy.

“With the introduction of Universal Credit disabled people looking for work now have access to Work Coaches who are trained to provide tailored support specific to their individual needs. As we continue to make our mainstream services more accessible to disabled jobseekers it is expected that the number of Disability Employment Advisors will continue to decline.”

“The Government is committed to halving the disabled employment gap and the most recent disabled employment figures show that 226,000 more disabled people found work over the past year.”

Charities have responded, saying that the specialist advisors are absolutely crucial for people with disabilities who have to navigate the support system and that their reduction will undermine the Government’s own claim of “supporting people in to work.”

The government have also cut in work support for disabled people, such as the Access to Work fund, which helps people and employers cover costs of disabilities that may present a barrier to work. Under the Equality Act, employers are obliged to make “reasonable adjustments” to the workplace to support people with disabilities.

A coalition of 100 disability charities had warned that the government cuts threaten disabled people’s rights earlier this year, and last month, especially those with learning disability and mental health problems, charities also called for a halt in the government’s cuts to ESA, which will be reduced, removing the work-related activity component, so that people will receive the same amount as jobseekers with no disability, which will make it more difficult for disabled people to find work, and may have an adverse impact on people with health conditions.

The cuts to specialist employment support for people with disabilities flies in the face of  Iain Duncan Smith’s comments during the Tory conference – that sick and disabled people need to see work as their route out of poverty. It’s difficult to see how that can be achieved when the government is busy closing down the transport system, as it were.

Duncan Smith commented at the Conservative conference: “We don’t think of people not in work as victims to be sustained on government handouts. No, we want to help them live lives independent of the state.

“We won’t lift you out of poverty by simply transferring taxpayers’ money to you. With our help, you’ll work your way out of poverty.”

We can’t help wondering what “help” actually means to Conservatives, because there is every indication that they don’t use the word in a conventional sense. Usually when Tories use the word “help” or “support”, it indicates some sort of penalty or punishment: a reference to the extended draconian benefit conditionality and  sanctions regime

Elliot Dunster, group head of policy, research and public affairs at disability charity Scope, has said that the fall in specialist assistance was concerning:

“Disability employment advisors make a huge difference in supporting disabled people into work – providing expert, personalised advice and guidance.

“We’re very concerned to see this drop in the number of job centres that have fulltime specialist advisors for disabled people. Disabled people are pushing hard to find work, but continue to face huge barriers, ranging from inaccessible workplaces to employer attitudes. 

“Disability employment advisors help tackle these barriers. The Government has set out a welcome ambition to halve the disability employment gap. To do this disabled people must have access to specialist, tailored employment support.”

Dan Scorer, head of policy at Mencap, has warned that the replacement generalist advisors would “simply not have the training” required:

“People with a learning disability find the demands placed upon them difficult while claiming Job Seekers Allowance or Employment and Support Allowance.

“Some find them impossible and we are worried that there is not the right support in Jobcentres to help them. Families tell us that a lack of learning disability training and cuts to DEAs is leading to many people with a learning disability being unfairly sanctioned and receiving insufficient support to appeal decisions, or the right support to find employment.

“Even if the reduction in DEAs in some part of the country is due to the rolling out of Universal Credit and part of a strategic move to generic advisors, we are concerned that these advisors will simply not have the training to fully support claimants with a learning disability.

“The problems with the administration of benefits and changes in the benefits system, combined with future cuts to benefits and social care, is causing fear and anxiety among the 1.4 million people with a learning disability and their families in the UK who are scared they could be isolated in their local communities.”

Mind have already warned that the transition away from specialist help under Universal Credit would make the benefits system more difficult for people with mental health issues. Policy manager, Tom Pollard told the Independent:

“We’re pretty sceptical of the ability of those jobcentre advisors to be able to understand the barriers that people with mental health issues face.” 

Labour MP Debbie Abrahams recently challenged Priti Patel, the employment minister, during work and pensions questions in the Commons recently to raise concerns about the negative impacts of social security sanctions on the mental health of claimants.

During the session the Patel had claimed: “Our staff are trained to support claimants with mental health conditions and there is no evidence to suggest that such claimants are being sanctioned more than anybody else.”

Mrs Abrahams, Shadow minister for Disabled People, responded: “The minister may have inadvertently slipped up there. There is clear evidence from last year that 58 per cent, more than half, of people with mental health conditions on the employment and support allowance work-related activity group were sanctioned.”

A recent Freedom of Information request showed that between April, 2014, and March this year there were almost 20,000 benefit sanctions received by people who were out of work because of their mental health.

However, in this same period only 6,340 of the group were successfully supported into employment during the same period by the Work Programme.

Tom Pollard said: “Figures obtained by us show that people with mental health problems are more likely to have their benefits stopped than those with other conditions.

“Last year, the Department of Work and Pensions issued more sanctions to people with mental health problems being supported by Employment and Support Allowance than they did to those with other health conditions.

“Stopping somebody’s benefits, or threatening to stop them, is completely the wrong approach to help people with mental health problems find work — it’s actually counterproductive.

“In continually refusing to listen to calls for a review of the use of sanctions, the Government is not only undermining its ambition of helping a million more disabled people into work, but is also failing its duty of care for the health and wellbeing of hundreds of thousands of people with mental health problems.”

The Department of Work and Pension’s own research shows that the threat of sanctions does ensure that people who need support from social security comply with benefit rules, but that doesn’t actually help them to find work. It also tends to undermine confidence, and many jobcentre advisors have expressed concern that people with mental illness are more likely to be sanctioned simply because they would have greater difficulty meeting the strict conditionality criteria and because of the greater pressure to sanction “non-compliance” from government. (page 54)

But we deeply suspect that sanctions are precisely what the government are referencing when they use the phrase “helping people into work.”

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

Government refuses to review the negative impact of sanctions on people with mental illness

Illustration by Jack Hudson.

The increased use and rising severity of benefit sanctions became an integrated part of welfare “conditionality” in 2012. Sanctions are based on the behavioural theory called “loss aversion,” which is borrowed from economics and decision theory. Loss aversion refers to the idea that people’s tendency is to strongly prefer avoiding losses to acquiring gains. The idea is embedded in the use of sanctions to “nudge” people towards “changing their behaviours,” by using a threat of punitive loss, since the underpinning assumption is that people are unemployed because of personal behavioural deficits and making “wrong decisions,” rather than because of socio-economic conditions and political policy decisions.

However, a wealth of evidence has demonstrated that sanctioning does not help clients into work; indeed, it is more likely to make it much harder to get a job. Furthermore, sanctions are often applied in an arbitrary manner, without due regard to proportionality, rationality or for the health and wellbeing of people claiming benefits.

The Government is facing renewed calls for an independent review to examine its controversial benefit sanctions policy and to ensure vulnerable people are protected. However, Department of Work and Pensions minister, Priti Patel, has refused to examine the effect of its  sanctions regime on the mental health of people who are affected by it.

MPs used a question session in the Commons to raise concerns over the impact of benefit sanctions on the mental health of claimants.

Employment minister, Patel, said any analysis of the temporary benefit cuts’ effects would be “misleading” in isolation and that their effect should therefore not be examined.

“There are many factors affecting an individual’s mental health. To assess the effect of sanctions in isolation of all other factors would be misleading,” she told MPs at a Work and Pensions Questions session in the House of Commons.

She also claimed that there was no evidence that sanctions particularly affected people with mental health problems – a claim contrary to the results of independent research.

More than 100 people with mental health issues have their benefits sanctioned every day, according to figures released earlier this year.

The government’s refusal to engage with criticism of the sanction system’s effect on mental health comes after the highly critical study by the charity Mind.

83 per cent of Work Programme participants with mental health issues surveyed by Mind said the scheme’s “support” had made their mental health problems worse of much worse.

Jobseekers are to be given 14 days’ notice before facing benefit sanctions under a new scheme being trialled next year by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).

But the government were questioned why they are waiting until next year to trial this idea.

Eilidh Whiteford, the SNP’s social justice and welfare spokeswoman, told Ms Patel: “The so-called yellow pilot scheme is actually an admission by the Government that the sanctions regime isn’t working at the present time, and it’s particularly badly failing people with serious mental illnesses.

“Why is the Government waiting until next year to bring in this pilot scheme, and in the meantime will they please just stop sanctioning people who are seriously ill?”

Ms Patel said she would “respectfully disagree” with Ms Whiteford, adding: “Claimants are only asked to meet reasonable requirements taking into account their circumstances and I think, as you will find with the pilots as they are under way, that again this is about how we can integrate support for claimants and importantly provide them with the support and the guidance to help them get back to work.”

Ms Whiteford insisted the reality is people with mental health problems are being “disproportionately sanctioned”, adding that has been clear for “some time”.

Ms Patel replied: “For a start, the Government has been listening and we have responded to the Work and Pensions Select Committee, hence the reason we will be trialling and piloting the new scheme.”

She reiterated staff in jobcentres are trained to support claimants with mental health conditions, adding: “There is no evidence to suggest mental health claimants are being sanctioned more than anybody else.”

Shadow work and pensions minister Debbie Abrahams told Ms Patel: “You may have inadvertently slipped up there.

“There is clear evidence from last year that 58% of people with mental health conditions on the Employment Support Allowance work-related activity group were sanctioned.

“Obviously that’s over half and that’s the equivalent to 105,000 people – 83% in a Mind survey say that their health condition was made worse as a result of this.”

Data released by the mental health charity Mind recently revealed the scale of sanctions imposed on people with mental health problems being supported by out-of-work disability benefits.

Obtained by the charity under the Freedom of Information Act, the figures show that there were up to three times more benefit sanctions issued by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) to people with mental health problems last year than there were people “supported” into work.

There were almost 20,000 benefits sanctions received by people who were out of work because of their mental health last year, while only 6340 of this group were successfully supported into a job during the same period.

Professor Jamie Hacker Hughes, President of the British Psychological Society, said:

“Today’s news, from a Freedom of Information request made by the mental health charity Mind, shows that three times as many people are subject to benefit sanctions as those who have been supported back into work.”

“We in the British Psychological Society have become increasingly concerned about benefit sanctions and a number of other issues concerning the psychological welfare of those on benefits.

“We have repeatedly sought a meeting with the Secretary of State and his team and now repeat that request so that his Department may become aware of the most up-to-date psychological research and opinion on these issues.

“There are approximately 250,000 people receiving the benefit Employment and Support Allowance who need this support primarily because of their mental health. People can be sanctioned – have their benefits cut – if they fail to participate in work-related activity, including missing appointments or being late for meetings or CV writing workshops.

“However, many people with mental health problems find it difficult to participate in these activities due to the nature of their health problem and the types of activities they’re asked to do, which are often inappropriate.”

The government has a duty to monitor the impact of its policies, and to make the results public. Sanctions are founded on theory and experimental behavioural science, which adds a further dimension of legitimacy to calls for a review into the impacts of sanctions on people.

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

The government need to learn about the link between correlation and causality. Denial of culpability is not good enough.

 

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Correlation isn’t quite the same as causality. When researchers talk about correlation, what they are saying is that they have found a relationship between two, or more, variables. “Correlation does not mean causation” is a quip that researchers chuck at us to explain that events or statistics that happen to coincide with each other are not necessarily causally related.

Correlation means that an association has been established, however, and the possibility of causation isn’t refuted or somehow invalidated by the establishment of a correlation. Quite the contrary. Indeed an established association implies there may also be a causal link. To prove causation, further research into the association must be pursued. So, care should be taken not to assume that correlation never implies causation, because it quite often does indicate a causal link.

Whilst the government deny there is a causal link between their welfare policies, austerity measures and an increase in premature deaths and suicides, they cannot deny there is a clear correlation, which warrants further research – an independent inquiry at the VERY least. But the government are hiding behind this distinction to deny any association at all between policy and policy impacts. That’s just plain wrong.

Correlations between two things may be caused by a third factor that affects both of them. This sneaky, hidden third factor is called a confounding variable, or simply a confounder.

However, most of the social research you read tends to indicate and discuss a correlation between variables, not a direct cause and effect relationship. Researchers tend to talk about associations, not causation. Causation is difficult but far from impossible to establish, especially in complex sociopolitical environments. It’s worth bearing in mind that establishing correlations is crucial for research and show that something needs to be examined and investigated further. That’s precisely how we found out that smoking causes cancer, for example – through repeated findings showing an association (those good solid, old fashioned science standards of replicability and verification). It is only by eliminating other potential associations – variables – that we can establish causalities.

The objective of a lot of research or scientific analysis is to identify the extent to which one variable relates to another variable. If there is a correlation then this guides further research into investigating whether one action causes the other. Statistics measure occurrences in time and can be used to calculate probabilities. Probability is important in studies and research because measurements, observations and findings are often influenced by variation. In addition, probability theory provides the theoretical groundwork for statistical inference.

Statistics are fundamental to good government, to the delivery of public services and to decision-making at all levels of society. Statistics provide parliament and the public with a window on the work and performance of a government. Such data allows for the design of policies and programs that aim to bring about a desired outcome, and permits better targeting of resources. Once a policy has been implemented it is necessary to monitor and evaluate the effectiveness of the policy to determine whether it has been successful in achieving the intended outcomes. It is also important to evaluate whether services (outputs) are effectively reaching those people for whom they are intended. Statistics play a crucial role in this process.  So statistics, therefore, represent a significant role in good policy making and monitoring. The impact of policy can be measured with statistics.

So firstly, we need to ask why the government are not doing this.

If policy impacts cannot be measured then it is not good policy.

Ensuring accuracy and integrity in the reporting of statistics is a serious responsibility. In cases where there may not be an in-depth understanding of statistics in general, or of a particular topic, the use of glossaries, explanatory notes and classifications ought to be used to assist in their interpretation.

Statistics can be presented and used in ways that may lead readers and politicians to draw misleading conclusions. It is possible to take numbers out of context, as Iain Duncan Smith, amongst others, is prone to do. However, official statistics are supposed to be produced impartially and free from political influence, according to a strict code of practice. This is a government that systematically breaches the code of conduct. See: List of official rebukes for Tory lies and statistical misrepresentations, for example

We need to ask why the government refuses to conduct any research into their austerity policies, the impact they are having and the associated deaths and suicides.

Without such research, it isn’t appropriate or legitimate to deny a causal link between what are, after all, extremely punitive, targeted, class contingent policies and an increase in premature mortality rates.

The merits of qualitative research

However, I believe that social phenomena cannot always be studied in the same way as natural phenomena. There are, for example, distinctions to be made between facts and meanings. Qualitative researchers are concerned with generating explanations and extending understanding rather than simply describing and measuring social phenomena and establishing basic cause and effect relationships. Qualitative research tends to be exploratory, potentially illuminating underlying intentions, reasons, opinions, and motivations to human behaviours. It often provides insight into problems, helps to develop ideas, and may also be provide potential for the formulation hypotheses for further quantitative research.

The dichotomy between quantitative and qualitative methodological approaches, theoretical structuralism (macro-level perspectives) and interpretivism (micro-level perspectives) in sociology, for example, is not nearly so clear as it once was, however, with many social researchers recognising the value of both means of data collection and employing methodological triangulation, reflecting a commitment to methodological and epistemological pluralism. Qualitative methods tend to be much more inclusive, lending participants a dialogic, democratic voice regarding their experiences.

The government have tended to dismiss qualitative evidence of the negative impacts of their policies – presented cases studies, individual accounts and ethnographies – as “anecdotal.”

However, such an approach to research potentially provides insight, depth and rich detail because it explores beneath surface appearances, delving deeper than the simplistic analysis of ranks, categories and counts. It provides a reliable record of experiences, attitudes, feelings and behaviours and prompts an openness that quantitative methods tend to limit, as it encourages people to expand on their responses and may then open up new topic areas not initially considered by researchers. As such, qualitative methods bypass problems regarding potential power imbalances between the researcher and the subjects of research, by permitting participation and creating space for genuine dialogue and reasoned discussions to take place. Research regarding political issues and impacts must surely engage citizens on a democratic basis and allow participation in decision-making, to ensure an appropriate balance of power between citizens and government.

That assumes of course that governments want citizens to engage and participate. There is nothing to prevent a government deliberately exploiting a research framework as a way to test out highly unethical and ideologically-driven policies, and to avoid democratic accountability, transparency and safeguards. How appropriate is it to apply a biomedical model of prescribed policy “treatments” to people experiencing politically and structurally generated social problems, such as unemployment, inequality and poverty, for example?

Conservative governments are indifferent to fundamental public needs

The correlation between Conservative policies and an increase in suicides and premature deaths is a fairly well-established one.

For example, Australian social scientists found the suicide rate in the country increased significantly when a Conservative government was in power.

And an analysis of figures in the UK strongly suggests a similar trend.

The authors of the studies argue that Conservative admininistration traditionally implies a less supportive, interventionist and more market-orientated policy than a Labour one. This may make people feel more detached from society, they added. It also means support tends to be cut to those who need it the most.

Lead researcher Professor Richard Taylor, of the University of Sydney, told BBC News Online:

“We think that it may be because material conditions in lower socio-economic groups may be relatively better under labour because of government programmes, and there may be a perception of greater hope by these groups under labour.

There is a strong relationship between socio-economic status and suicide.”

The research is published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health.

In one of a series of accompanying editorials, Dr Mary Shaw and colleagues from the University of Bristol say the same patterns were evident in England and Wales between 1901 and 2000.

Rates have been lower under Labour governments and soared under the last Conservative regime, which began in 1979 under Margaret Thatcher.

Interestingly, the authors of more recent research point out that although suicide rates tend to increase when unemployment is high, they were also above average during the 1950s when Britain “never had it so good,” but was ruled by the Conservative party.

Overall, they say, the figures suggest that 35,000 people would not have died had the Conservatives not been in power, equivalent to one suicide for every day of the 20th century or two for every day that the Conservatives ruled.

The UK Conservative Party typically refused to comment on the research.

Not a transparent, accountable and democratic government, then.

More recently, public health experts from Durham University have denounced the impact of Margaret Thatcher’s policies on the wellbeing of the British public in research which examines social and health inequality in the 1980s.

The study, which looked at over 70 existing research papers, concludes that as a result of unnecessary unemployment, welfare cuts and damaging housing policies, the former prime minister’s legacy includes the unnecessary and unjust premature death of many British citizens, together with a substantial and continuing burden of suffering and loss of well-being.

The research shows that there was a massive increase in income inequality under Baroness Thatcher – the richest 0.01 per cent of society had 28 times the mean national average income in 1978 but 70 times the average in 1990, and UK poverty rates went up from 6.7 per cent in 1975 to 12 per cent in 1985.

Thatcher’s governments wilfully engineered an economic catastrophe across large parts of Britain by dismantling traditional industries such as coal and steel in order to undermine the power of working class organisations, say the researchers. They suggest this ultimately fed through into growing regional disparities in health standards and life expectancy, as well as greatly increased inequalities between the richest and poorest in society.

Co-author Professor Clare Bambra from the Wolfson Research Institute for Health and Wellbeing at Durham University, commented:

“Our paper shows the importance of politics and of the decisions of governments and politicians in driving health inequalities and population health. Advancements in public health will be limited if governments continue to pursue neoliberal economic policies – such as the current welfare state cuts being carried out under the guise of austerity.”

Housing and welfare changes are also highlighted in the paper, with policies to sell off council housing such as Right to Buy  scheme and to reduce welfare payments resulting in further inequalities and causing “a mushrooming of homelessness due to a chronic shortage of affordable social housing.” Homeless households in England tripled during the 1980s from around 55,000 in 1980 to 165,000 in 1990.

And while the NHS was relatively untouched, the authors point to policy changes in healthcare such as outsourcing hospital cleaners, which removed “a friendly, reassuring presence” from hospital wards, led to increases in hospital acquired infections, and laid the ground for further privatisation under the future Coalition government.

The figures analysed as part of the research also show high levels of alcohol and drug-related mortality and a rise in deaths from violence and suicide as evidence of health problems caused by rising inequality during the Thatcher era.

The study, carried out by the Universities of Liverpool, Durham, West of Scotland, Glasgow and Edinburgh, is published in the International Journal of Health Services. It was scientifically peer-reviewed and the data upon which it was based came from more than 70 other academic papers as well as publicly available data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

The Government has repeatedly denied any links between social security cuts and deaths, despite the fact that there is mounting and strong evidence to the contrary. Yet it emerged that the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has carried out 60 reviews into deaths linked to benefit cuts in the past three years.

The information, released by John Pring, a journalist who runs the Disability News Service (DNS), was obtained through Freedom of Information requests. The data showed there have been 60 investigations into the deaths of benefit claimants since February 2012.

The DWP says the investigations are “peer reviews following the death of a customer.”

Iain Duncan Smith has denied that this review happened:

“No, we have not carried out a review […] you cannot make allegations about individual cases, in tragic cases where obviously things go badly wrong, you can’t suddenly say this is directly as a result of government policy.”

Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, 5 May 2015.

Several disability rights groups and individual campaigners, including myself, have submitted evidence regularly to the United Nations over the past three years, including details of Conservative policies, decision-making narratives and the impact of those policies on sick and disabled people. This collective action has triggered a welcomed international level investigation, which I reported last August: UK becomes the first country to face a UN inquiry into disability rights violations.

The United Nations only launch an inquiry where there is evidence of “grave or systemic violations” of the rights of disabled people.

Government policies are expressed political intentions regarding how our society is organised and governed. They have calculated social and economic aims and consequences.

How policies are justified is increasingly being detached from their aims and consequences, partly because democratic processes and basic human rights are being disassembled or side-stepped, and partly because the government employs the widespread use of propaganda to intentionally divert us from their aims and the consequences of their ideologically (rather than rationally) driven policies.  All bullies and despots scapegoat and stigmatise their victims. Furthermore, policies have become increasingly detached from public interests and needs.

It’s possible to identify which social groups this government are letting down and harming the most – it’s the ones that are being politically marginalised and socially excluded. It’s those groups that are scapegoated and deliberately stigmatised by the perpetrators of their misery.

Iain Duncan Smith and Priti Patel claim that we cannot make a link between government policies and the deaths of some sick and disabled people. There are no grounds whatsoever for that claim. There has been no cumulative impact assessment, no inquiry, no further research regarding an established correlation and a longstanding refusal from the Tories to undertake any of these. There is therefore no evidence for their claim.

Political denial is repressive, it sidesteps democratic accountability and stifles essential debate and obscures evidence. Denial of causality does not reduce the probability of it, especially in cases where a correlation has been well-established and evidenced.

arnstein-ladder-citizenship-participation.png

This is Sherry Arnstein’s Ladder of Citizen Participation and Power. Whereabouts are we?

For Arnstein, participation reflects “the redistribution of power that enables the have-not citizens, presently excluded from the political and economic processes, to be deliberately included in the future. It is the strategy by which the excluded join in determining how information is shared, goals and policies are set, tax resources are allocated, programmess are operated, and benefits like contracts and patronage are parceled out. In short, it is the means by which they can induce significant social reform which enables them to share in the benefits of the affluent society.”

A starting point may be the collective gathering of evidence and continual documentation of our individual experiences of austerity and the welfare “reforms”, which we must continue to present to relevant ministers, parliament, government departments, the mainstream media and any organisations that may be interested in promoting citizen inclusion, empowerment and democratic  participation.

We can give our own meaningful account of our own experiences and include our own voice, reflecting our own first-hand knowledge of policy impacts, describing how we make sense of and understand our own situations, including the causal links between our own circumstances, hardships, sense of isolation and distress, and Conservative policies, as active, intentional, consciencious citizens. Furthermore, we can collectively demand a democratic account and response (rather than accepting denial) from the government.


Related

A tale of two suicides and a very undemocratic, inconsistent government

The Tories are epistemological fascists: about the DWP’s Mortality Statistics release

The DWP mortality statistics: facts, values and Conservative concept control

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Pictures courtesy of Robert Livingstone


I don’t make any money from my work. I am disabled because of illness and have a very limited income. But you can help by making a donation to help me continue to research and write informative, insightful and independent articles, and to provide support to others. The smallest amount is much appreciated – thank you. 

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