Friday, May 31, 2013

'Poverty-porn' TV in bad taste?

Forty-five per cent of the general public say reality TV programmes depicting the lives of the poor are in bad taste - although almost a quarter of Britons think they're interesting and entertaining

A new genre of reality TV programmes depicting the lives of people on lower incomes and generally living in housing estates has attracted criticism in recent days, with some commentators branding the genre ‘poverty porn’. Two of the shows criticised are Channel Four’s Skint, about a father of seven on a council estate in Scunthorpe, and BBC Three’s People Like Us, about the Manchester suburb Harpurhey previously described as the UK’s ‘most deprived suburb’

New YouGov research finds that nearly half of the public (45%) say the programmes “are in bad taste. They make a spectacle out of poor people's lives and are bad for society”, although nearly a quarter say they “are interesting and entertaining, and give people an opportunity to see how the poorest people in our society live.”

Londoners and 18-24 year olds are the least likely to oppose the programmes however: only 39% of both groups think the shows are in bad taste, compared to 54% of Britons aged 60 or over and half of people living in the North.

One council worker claims his daughter was given alcohol before appearing on People Like Us, and said: “This Jeremy Kyle-style, laugh-at-the-chavs type of television has run its course and the BBC should not be propagating this harmful and misleading image of the working class.” A Harpurhey councillor said: "We are now collectively going to go down and talk to the BBC about this disgraceful programme. People are up in arms – public money has been used to run down the Harpurhey area."

See the full poll results

Source; You Gov

The homeless aren't 'negative impacts' – they are living victims of policy

Homelessness is not a problem. Homelessness is many problems woven together into a human calamity and a social catastrophe: lack of housing; lack of jobs; lack of money; lack of social support; lack of mental health care; but above all, lack of compassion where it matters.

The past week has vividly illustrated the complexities of the issues. Already the eviction notices have begun to arrive for arrears on the new "bedroom tax", as prompt as they were predictable. Freedom-of-information requests to 107 local authorities have revealed that 86,000 households in council or housing association properties have been forced to look for one-bedroom homes, of which only 33,000 have become available in the past year.

Charities are reporting vast increases in requests for help and their caseloads as squeezed incomes and benefits combined with rising living costs lead to increased debt and arrears. Caps to housing benefits arrive nationally in September to exacerbate the crisis.

Meanwhile, the only response of disparate arms of authority is to punish the victims. Nowhere is this more obvious than in Ilford, where last week police raided a disused building to remove a small group of rough sleepers, confiscating the sleeping bags and food which had been donated by charities and members of the public. Chief Inspector John Fish told the press that "the public rely on police to reduce the negative impact of rough sleepers". One might wonder when rough sleepers ceased being members of the public.


Update on Independent Living Fund campaign

Received from Inclusion London :-

Hi all,

1)   Below is an update from the solicitors:

The five clients represented by Deighton Pierce Glynn and Scott-Moncrieff & Associates filed papers in the Court of Appeal on 14 May 2013 to start the process of appealing the decision by the judge in the ILF judicial review.  The first stage is for a single judge to consider the application for permission to appeal; this usually takes six to eight weeks.  If this is refused, there is sometimes the possibility to re-apply for permission at an oral hearing.  If permission is granted, sometimes it is only granted on some of the grounds argued.

The legal arguments raised by the clients are that the judge did not explain his ruling properly, there was no evidence the minister had met the public sector equality duty and no evidence that the consultation had been open and candid, as required by law.  The appeal also argues that the judge was wrong to rely on the White Paper (the proposed social care bill) becoming law, as part of his reasoning.  The appeal is limited to what was wrong legally with the judgment in the judicial review; it cannot bring in new evidence or new legal arguments.

If permission is granted, on any or all of the grounds, the court has been asked to have the appeal hearing itself by the end of October 2013.  The judge should have decided whether to give the clients permission to appeal by mid-July and at the same time have decided how quickly the case will be heard; another update will be provided after that.”

2)   Inclusion London and DPAC have been contacted back by Anne McGuire and the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services for meetings following our letters

3)   Questions were asked within the House of Lords about future funding for ILF users and the response was that nothing is known until the spending review:

Kate has done some more filming and we are planning a film screening to highlight the impact of the closure of the ILF on 25th June, the eve of the spending review, in partnership with Shape Arts with performances from Sophie and Penny. We have no budget for travel but if any member of this group would like to attend please let me know as places will need to be reserved.

5)   The Care Bill has begun its journey through Parliament. This is very relevant for the ILF. The All Party Parliamentary Groups on Local Government and Disability published their report last week from their joint inquiry into social care (Promoting Independence, Preventing Crisis). Lords like Jane Campbell think this has great potential ( but without funding for social care campaigners don’t see how it can be. The Inclusion London Policy and Campaigns Forum have asked for Inclusion London to work on a campaigns strategy around the care Bill and for us to set up a meeting with Lords about it.

6)   We have put out a call out for information and evidence to show how the closure of the ILF to new applicants has already impacted on disabled people. I think this is going to be really important when making our arguments for the above. If anyone has information to share on this please get in touch.

Best wishes,

Ellen Clifford
Campaigns and Communications Officer
Inclusion London


Samaritans called in over Liverpool bedroom tax suicide risk

City's housing associations say one tenant attempted suicide, with more people becoming distressed and overwhelmed

A bedroom tax protest in Liverpool in March this year 
A bedroom tax protest in Liverpool in March this year

The Samaritans have been drafted in by Liverpool's Riverside Housing Association to help deal with desperate tenants on the brink of suicide because of the bedroom tax.

Staff at Riverside Housing Association’s head office in Speke are being trained by phone counsellors from the Samaritans as workers struggle to cope with the high volume of calls from tenants at risk of suicide.

And South Liverpool Homes (SLH) said in early May a tenant attempted suicide over the bedroom tax and earlier this year a resident committed suicide over issues believed to be related to financial hardship.

Head of business excellence at SLH Claire Ryan said: “People have become overwhelmed, they’re just engulfed by the financial situation.

“We were able to respond to the attempted suicide and support that person.

“We moved them to a smaller property which removed the impact of the bedroom tax.”

Ronnie Clawson, Riverside’s group corporate services director,  said staff first noticed a high level of distressed callers about six months ago.

He said: “It started with night staff who cover the out of hours service who had said they were picking up more calls from people who were in a distressed state and in some cases were saying they had had enough.
“Then advisors working other shifts said they were seeing similar issues.”

The social landlord contacted Samaritans to ask for training.

Mr Clawson said: “Since we started the training we have been contacted by a couple of other housing associations who have had similar issues.”

He said he thought the problems were the result of a number of welfare reforms, with bedroom tax having a big impact.

He said: “It’s a range of different issues and bedroom tax is one which affects six and a half thousand of our tenants so it’s clearly a significant factor.

“I think what we’re experiencing is the cumulative effect of the austerity measures.”

Samaritans’ executive director of fundraising and communications Rachel Kirby-Rider said: “Many of Riverside’s callers are vulnerable.

“And it’s to the credit of the organisation that they’re making a real effort to provide these people with the support they need.

“Riverside is one of the few housing associations providing this training for their staff.

“Samaritans has 60 years of experience in dealing with those unable to cope and we’re glad to be able to help Riverside provide a better service.”

The Samaritans can be called 24 hours a day on 08457 90 90 90.

I didn't know where to turn

Vanessa Putt, together with her daughter, Sommer, 15
Vanessa Putt, together with her daughter, Sommer, 15

The mum of a disabled daughter said worries over bedroom tax almost made her drop back into depression.

Vanessa Putt, 42, lives in a three-bedroom home in Garston with 15-year-old daughter Sommer –  who was born with only half her heart functioning.

Earlier this year she was told she could have to pay an extra £13 a week or lose her home.

But, after support from association South Liverpool Homes, she was awarded discretionary housing payment to cover the costs for a year.

She said: “I have suffered from depression before and when I found out about the bedroom tax I felt like I didn’t know where to turn.

“You can start feeling totally depressed, I can understand why people struggle to cope.”

Sommer has hypoplastic left heart syndrome and has had open heart surgery five times.

She goes to Alder Hey Hospital School for two hours a day.

Vanessa said: “I don’t work and I can’t because of Sommer’s needs.

“When they told me about the bedroom tax they asked if I would move and I said no.

“We have been here 13 and a half years and it’s Sommer’s home.

“She is in and out of hospital so much she needs somewhere safe to come back to.”


MP resigns as Tory over lobbying claim – it must be time to sign the anti-corruption e-petition

Out of the Party: But would Patrick Mercer have resigned if a major TV documentary wasn't about to reveal allegations against him?
Out of the Party: But would Patrick Mercer have resigned if a major TV documentary wasn’t about to reveal allegations against him?

Tory MP Patrick Mercer has resigned from the Parliamentary Conservative Party to “save … embarrassment” over a BBC Panorama programme alleging he had broken lobbying rules.
Mercer, MP for Newark, will remain as an Independent but will not stand for re-election in 2015.

The coalition government is committed to setting up a statutory register of lobbyists – companies who influence government policy, often by paying current and former MPs for advice and guidance. But, you know, it’s one of those matters that just doesn’t seem to make it onto the legislative programme – like proper bank regulation and measures to make tax avoidance impossible.

Many of you know that I have a strong opinion about this. That is why I started an e-petition to ban MPs from voting on matters in which they have a financial interest. Lobbying would definitely be affected by such a ban.

The text runs as follows:

We call on HM Government for new legislation to ensure that:

i. No member of Parliament may speak or vote in a debate on legislation which could financially benefit any commercial operation in which they have a financial interest; and

ii. No member of Parliament may speak or vote in a debate on legislation which could financially benefit any commercial operation which has made – or currently makes – donations to themselves personally or their political party.

We believe this is necessary to prevent corruption. It is also in accord with the spirit of political reform supported by the government.

I’m not saying Mr Mercer has been engaging in unacceptable behaviour; we’ll have to wait and see what happens.

But I am saying that, if the ban I propose had been in place, he would have known not to do it.
Please visit the e-petition’s page and sign, if you haven’t already done so – and, please, tell all your friends.
In fact, tell all your enemies as well – it’ll be in their best interests too!

Vox Political

Government Abandons Flagship Workfare Scheme


In a major victory for campaigners, the DWP seem to be confirming that they have scrapped the Community Action Programme (CAP), the rolling workfare scheme which had been planned for those leaving the Work Programme.

The Government had planned to force all those who have been unemployed over two years onto near permanent workfare.  This scheme was recently trialled with disastrous results as participants were found to be no more likely to find work than those who had not attended the programme.

Then the Community Action Programme was dragged through the courts in the case brought by Cait Reilly and Jamieson Wilson.  Along with other workfare measures the CAP was found to be unlawful, but unlike the other schemes, there was no retroactive legislation introduced to bring it in line with the law.

It now seems it has been abandoned altogether, with an announcement from the DWP today of a new scheme involving ‘a hit squad of specialist advisers’ based in Jobcentres.  It seems that the floundering welfare-to-work companies in charge of the Work Programme are no longer to be trusted with those who have been unemployed for over two years.

Workfare is still likely to be involved in the scheme, with threats of Mandatory Work Activity for participants – four weeks workfare as opposed to six months.  This scaling back is almost certainly down to the huge resistance to workfare which has forced most of the UK’s best known charities to withdraw and refuse to provide further placements.

According to the skiving Employment Minister Mark Hoban, claimants on the latest scheme will also be forced to sign up for Universal Jobmatch – the bodged government job-seeking website riddled with spam and scam vacancies.  The DWP warn that these claimants will also be required to tick the box allowing Jobcentre staff to spy on their accounts – a move of dubious legality under data protection laws.

Hoban is threatening that the new scheme will be tough, intensive and uncompromising.  Yet with Jobcentres already creaking under the strain of the DWP’s ever more hare-brained schemes, it seems hard to imagine how Jobcentre staff will find the time to provide daily intensive support to over half a million people.

One thing that can be guaranteed is that whatever they do won’t work.  From Tony Blair’s New Deal to Iain Duncan Smith’s bungled Work Programme, not one of these measures has come even close to the aim of ending long term unemployment.  Despite the toughest ever welfare reforms, unemployment has risen over the last three months and long term unemployment continues to soar.

And whilst government ministers insist that unemployment is caused by unemployed people, then billions more will be poured down the drain to do little more than harass, impoverish and stigmatise those unable to find a job.

The Void

Work Programme Leavers Face More Misery, Bullying and Sanctions, New Government Press Release..

Just announced Press Release, 31 May 2013
Work Programme leavers will be targeted by a hit squad (Note: as in ready to hit people) of specialist advisers as part of a tough approach to get them into a job.
Up to 5 specialist advisers will be based in individual Jobcentres dedicated to working with people not in sustained work after 2 years on the Work Programme.
Claimants will be given an end-of-term report from their Work Programme provider (Note, just like school!)  assessing what progress they have made and their ongoing needs, to inform their new adviser before facing the toughest Jobcentre regime to help them find work. (Note: be afraid, be very afraid!)
At their first appointment they will have to agree a binding (Note: as in Bondage)  back-to-work plan laying out what they are required to do.
Minister for Employment Mark Hoban said:
The Work Programme is getting some of the hardest to help claimants into work despite a tough economic climate.
We always knew that there would be some who would require further support after the Work Programme, which is why we’re introducing this intensive and uncompromising regime.
We’ll be stepping up the pressure on claimants, who will be expected to attend the Jobcentre more frequently, with rigorous monitoring to ensure they are doing everything they can to find work.
Claimants will be expected to be on a training scheme, Mandatory Work Activity placement or intensive work preparation within days of finishing on the Work Programme – losing their benefit if they fail to comply.
An extra £30m will be available to pay for extra training and specialist help to prepare them for work, for instance counselling for people dependent on drug and alcohol.
Claimants will also have to attend the Jobcentre far more frequently than other jobseekers, with weekly signing on being routine and some people being required to meet their adviser every day.
The advisers, who will be focused on working with those returning from the Work Programme, will take a tough approach to monitoring (note, a licence for bullying)  whether claimants are sticking to their plan with anyone failing to participate losing their benefits.
The programme comes after Jobcentres involved in a trailblazer found that claimants targeted by an intensive approach were much less likely to stay on benefit.
Every Work Programme returner will also be required to register with Universal Jobmatch to aid work search and job matching and to allow their adviser to check their work search activity online.
The tough sanctions regime will see anyone failing to comply with mandatory activity lose benefit for 4 weeks for a first failure, with penalties of up to 3 years for serial offenders (Note: Just like criminals!).
The intensive support will last for 6 months, and will be used for all Jobseeker’s Allowance claimants returning from the Work Programme who need more intensive support.
The Work Programme

The Work Programme was launched in June 2011 and is aimed at those at risk of long-term unemployment. Providers are paid according to results to get people into work, with extra incentives to support the hardest to help.

The Work Programme has already helped more than 207,000 people off benefits and into a job (Note: very few out of 3 million unemployed and ‘help’ is a weasel word that covers anybody who got a job with or without any aid whatsoever).

Our research report on the Jobcentre Trailblazer includes evidence of positive impacts on a range of employability factors, and statistics published alongside the report show evidence of a positive effect on off-flows of 5 to 7 percentage points compared to the control group of Jobcentre Plus Offer. (Note: who on earth trusts ‘their’ ‘ research’?)

New sanctions regime (Note: they just love sanctions)

The new sanctions regime referred to above came into force on Monday 22 October 2012. Under the new regime there are 3 levels of sanctions:
  • low
  • intermediate
  • high

Low level

Low level sanctions are for failures to undertake specific action as required by a Jobcentre Plus adviser. The sanction for such failures will be one month for a first and 3 months for second and subsequent failures‪.

Intermediate level

Intermediate level sanctions are for failures to actively seek and be available for work. This leads to disentitlement; if the individual makes a new claim then no benefit is payable for up to one month for a first such failure, and 3 months for second and subsequent failures.

Highest level

Highest level sanctions are for failures to comply with the most important job seeking requirements, such as refusing to accept a reasonable job offer, or leaving employment voluntarily without good reason.
Currently claimants face a sanction of anywhere between 1 week and 6 months. The revised sanctions will be for a fixed period that will increase for those who have a history of failing to meet their requirements: 3 months for a first failure, rising to 6 months for a second failure (within a year of the previous failure), and 3 years for a third sanction.
So we can look forward to  more bullying from hectoring ‘advisers’, more people pushed into destitution, and absolutely no solution to mass unemployment.

Bravo Ian Duncan Smith: future generations will certainly remember you.

Westminster Council Plot Homelessness Strategy Based On Enforcement


Against a backdrop of soaring street homelessness, the London Borough of Westminster is planning a policy of enforcement to force those with nowhere to go but the streets out of the borough.

The Tory run flagship council have published a consultation ‘Rough Sleeping Strategy’ in which they reveal the shocking fact that 1500 new rough sleepers arrived in Westminster in the financial year 2011/12.
This number is only likely to rise as the cuts to housing benefits take effect and huge swathes of London become unaffordable for those on low incomes.  Westminster Council’s answer to this is not to challenge the vicious cuts or to invest in more housing, but to send the message that “rough sleeping on the streets of Westminster is, quite simply, not an option”.

It is unclear at this stage whether the council will attempt to resurrect plans to ban rough sleeping in the borough, along with soup runs which they claim encourage people to stay on the streets.  Two years ago the council tried to do exactly this – with the shameful connivance of some homelessness charities -  until a storm of protest forced them to back down.  This wasn’t enough for the poverty pimps at Thamesreach and other large homelessness charities who are still lobbying against soup runs in central London.

Those same charities will be interested to learn that Westminster are to replace their dogged loyalty by introducing the same kind of payment by results contracts that have caused such expensive chaos for the floundering Work Programme.

The borough also intends to make more use of volunteers, quite possibly replacing paid support staff with unpaid workers.  Homelessness charities like The Salvation Army, who have been so supportive of workfare, may yet see their staff laid off and replaced with unemployed people forced to work for free.
On the question of the future of soup runs in Westminster, the borough’s  strategy is vague, although one of the stated key priorities is to: “Reduce the number of reasons for rough sleepers to come to, or remain on, the streets of Westminster”.

The Council are clear in their intentions for those who arrive in the borough and are unable to secure a roof over their heads.  In a move reminiscent of medieval laws aimed at stopping vagrancy, Westminster insist that when “workers are dealing with individuals new to the streets, the message will be one of reconnection to their home community”.

This would seem to apply to both UK born street homeless people and those from Eastern Europe in a policy that can roughly be summarised as ‘send ‘em back’.

With no new legislation or bye-laws being openly proposed by Westminster Council (and it is early days)  it is unclear how exactly they plan to make one of the richest areas of the world a no go area for the destitute.
The final section in the document on enforcement gives a hint of their plans.  As well as a crack down on beggars, the council is planning to crack down on “unacceptable behaviour associated with rough sleeping”.

This includes, according to the council, drug use, litter and street drinking.  Rough sleeping ‘hot spots’ in the borough, where people sleep in groups for safety, will be targeted.  It seems that Westminster’s approach is likely to be one of harassment rather than direct enforcement, with council busy-bodies, volunteers and police ganging up to drive homeless people from the borough.  A recent raid on rough sleepers in Ilford, in which sleeping bags and food were seized by police, gives a chilling example of how this enforcement may look in practice.

The raft of cuts to housing benefits could mean unprecedented homelessness in the UK.  As London authorities know only too well, homeless people often flock to city centres for the scant resources that might be available.  Whilst this strategy leaves as many questions as it does answers, it is clear that those who find themselves on the streets of  central London are to face a desperate time at the hands of Westminster Council.

Read the Westminster Draft Rough Sleeping Strategy (PDF)

The Void

A Blind Widow, a Disabled Dad and a Rape Victim – The ‘Scroungers’ Facing Eviction over Bedroom Tax Arrears

Reblogged from Scriptonite Daily:


More than 25,000 people applied for the ‘discretionary housing payment’ to help pay their rent this month, as the Bedroom Tax kicked in.  This compares to just 5,700 applications in the same month last year. Notices of eviction are being issued up and down the country.  Caught up in these figures were a blind widow, a disabled dad and a rape victim. It is time to put a human face on the statistical failure of the Bedroom Tax.

The Blind Widow


Helen Sockell, 56, (pictured above) has lived in her Kilmarnock home for 25 years.  Her husband John died in 2005 and their son Andrew died, aged just 24 in the same year.  She is blind and now lives alone, supported by a full time carer.

She has no way to find the additional £33 a fortnight that the Bedroom Tax has added to her costs and so has run up arrears of £117.  She has now received letters from her council threatening court action and eviction.  The letter also warns that Helen will face court costs of £350-£1500 on top of her debt.
Helen, speaking to The Mirror, said:

“I’ve been summoned for a meeting with the council but I don’t know what I can tell them…After having my housing benefit cut because of the bedroom tax, there’s no way I can afford to pay them what they want.”
The Mirror also spoke to Helen’s niece Claire Cunningham who stated:

“My aunt is blind and being evicted would be one of the most traumatic and distressing things that could happen to her…This situation is terrible – it’s beyond our worst nightmare…She’s settled in the house and although it’s not completely modified to her needs, she knows her way around it…If she’s evicted and put somewhere else, she’ll have to start that whole process all over again. Not only is that unsafe but it is unacceptable.”

Anyone with a sense of common decency would condemn any piece of legislation which led to a blind widow being threatened with eviction.  Helen’s story is devastating, but sadly, not an isolated incident.

The Disabled Dad


Richard Rourke is a disabled widower from Whitwell, Derbyshire.  He is a wheelchair user living in a three bed home.  His daughter suffers a rare form of muscular dystrophy and needs a room when she returns home from University at weekends and holidays.  The third room is a box room used to store essential equipment, including a hoist for lifting him, a power chair and shower seat.

The government classes Richard Rourke as having two spare rooms, and for this he has seen his housing benefit cut by 25%.  He cannot afford to pay the additional £100 a month, is now building up rent arrears and faces the threat of eviction.

Richard is one of ten disabled people who have launched a legal challenge against Work and Pensions Minister Iain Duncan Smith’s Bedroom Tax on the grounds it is discriminatory.  Of the 660,000 households hit by the new regulations, 420,000 contain a disabled person.

In a three-day hearing at the High Court, lawyers for the ten are asking the court to rule that the Bedroom Tax breaches Article 14 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which protects against discrimination.

They also argue that Iain Duncan Smith has failed to comply with his duty to public equality under the 2010 Equality Act.

As inspiring as it is that these disabled people are mounting a fight back, one can’t help but despair at the necessity for them to occupy their time and energy battling the very department that should be supporting them. The DWP now appears to exist to penalise the jobless, the old, the disabled and the poor, when its chief role is to support and enable them to live independent lives.

The Rape Victim


It is not only disabled people who are launching a legal challenge against the Bedroom Tax on grounds of discrimination; a victim of rape, assault, harassment and stalking is taking the government to court as well.
According to Inside Housing, the plaintiff instigated judicial review proceedings against Iain Duncan Smith and his Department of Work and Pensions in the High Court last Friday.

Known only as ‘A’ to protect her identity, she has a specially adapted home with a panic room.  The police adapted her property because her life was at risk from an ex-partner with a history of serious violence. The home has a ‘panic space’ and a specialist ‘sanctuary system’, which includes reinforced doors, electric alarms and alarms linked to the police station. As their home is classed as a three bedroom property, the government deems them as having a ‘spare room’ and has cut 14% of their Housing Benefit.
Rebekah Carrier, a member of ‘A’s legal team says:

“Our client’s life is at risk and she is terrified.  She lives in a property which has been specially adapted by the police, at great expense, to protect her and her child. It is ridiculous that she is now being told she must move to another property (where she will not have any of these protections) or else take in a lodger…She is a vulnerable single parent who has been a victim of rape and assault. The secretary of state cannot seriously suggest that it is appropriate for her to take a stranger into her home.”

The DWP response was this: ‘We are confident that these measures are lawful and they do not discriminate against any groups.’

The Bedroom Tax is Cruel and it won’t Work


The fallout from this horrendous assault on our most vulnerable people is only in its second month, and we are already reaping the whirlwind.

Applications for the Discretionary Housing Payment fund (rent payment assistance) have risen almost five fold in the last month:
  • Nottingham City Council has dealt with 223 applications for financial help, a fourfold increase on April last year.
  • Derby has seen applications from 420 households this month, that’s almost as many as the whole of last year.
  • Leicester has seen applications from 327 households – six times as many as April 2012.
The government insists that there are one and a half million ‘spare rooms’ across England and Wales and 250,000 families living in homes that are too small for their needs.

Given the complete lack of clarity about what constitutes a spare room, one must take the governments estimates with a pinch of salt.

Furthermore, it says nothing of where the available properties are, how suitable they are for the families involved.  And finally, it says nothing of why we have the housing shortage – but simply leads people to the assumption that it is poor distribution, rather than supply.

It is decades of defunct housing policy that has left the UK with a housing shortage crisis. The UK is building 100,000 homes a year less than it needs to in order to meet requirements. The National Housing Federation issued a report last year which showed Housing Benefit has doubled in recent years as a direct result of an astronomical increase in housing costs.  The report shows an 86% rise in housing benefit claims by working families, with 10,000 new claims coming in per month.  House prices are now 300% higher (in real terms) than in 1959 – if the price of a dozen eggs had risen as quickly, they would now cost £19. Rents across the UK have risen by an average of 37% in the UK in just the last three years.

None of this is addressed by the Bedroom Tax.  It simply penalises the victims. It is yet another cruel, failed policy from a cruel, failed government.

UPDATE: Helen Sockell has been told she will not be evicted, after head of local council visits her following the press campaign. It works!

Take Action

Leeds Council has suggested residents tackle the Bedroom Tax by reclassifying their bedrooms as ‘non-specific rooms’

Join the 38 Degrees Campaign to Stop the Bedroom Tax

Government spends £37m fighting benefit cut appeals


Ministers spent £37 million in just eight months defending a torrent of appeals against decisions to strip people of benefits.
The flood came after the Government made people claiming Employment and Support Allowance take a work capability assessment to see if they were able to get a job.

But new official figures show between April and December last year, the Government faced 163,250 appeals from individuals who lost benefits after taking the test. In total, 140,495 went on to be fought out at a tribunal, with the Government winning 57 per cent — 80,305 cases, while 59,493 claimants won their appeals.

Harrow West Labour MP Gareth  Thomas said the high number of successful appeals exposed flaws in assessment. “The system is clearly not working as it stands… vulnerable people are caused immense distress by having their application refused only to then win it on appeal,” he said. “Considerable resources are being taken up which could be used to target the small number of people genuinely undertaking benefit fraud, rather than those legitimately entitled to support.”

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Half a million Britons using food banks. What kind of country is this becoming?

Let's not mess about: a skyrocketing number of people simply cannot afford to eat, thanks to deliberate government policy

Food banks 
A report warns of 'destitution, hardship and hunger on a large scale'.
Photograph: Christopher Thomond for the Guardian
Let no one say we didn't see it coming. Half a million people are now accustomed to using food banks, and according to a report by Oxfam and Church Action on Poverty, the UK is now facing "destitution, hardship and hunger on a large scale". Whether this news will achieve the impact it deserves is currently unclear: it doesn't quite feel like it, which only underlines how inured the media seems to have become to rising poverty, and how easily the government seems to be getting off the hook. Yet the facts are obvious enough: "Food aid" is something firmly built into our national life, the supposed safety net of social security is getting more threadbare by the month – and the question demands to be asked, not for reasons of melodrama, but hard political fact: what kind of country is Britain becoming?

According the Trussell Trust, the UK's single biggest organiser of food banks, in 2011-12, the number of people who received at least three days' emergency food was around 130,000. Their own informational material says that in 2012-13, "food banks fed 346,992 people nationwide", and of those who received help, "126,889 were children". Now comes this latest report, and the skyrocketing numbers speak for themselves – as does the mess of factors behind them, and the responsibility of the coalition for pushing up the demand – no, need – for food banks so drastically. While we're here, it may also be worth cutting through the kind of officialspeak used to deal with such things: even the term "food bank" occasionally seems designed to obscure what's actually afoot, which is simple enough. So, let's not mess about: a skyrocketing number of people simply cannot afford to eat, and they have been put in that predicament thanks to deliberate government policy.

We are now starting to see the consequences of George Osborne's move on so-called "welfare uprating", whereby increases in benefits are to be held at 1%, irrespective of inflation (over the last five years, incidentally, the cost of basic foods has risen by 35%). Changes to disability benefits are set to cut the income of about 600,000 people. A new council tax benefit regime has snatched money from vulnerable people's pockets, and the infamous bedroom tax has done its work. In all these cases, the people affected are hit by a straightforward enough problem. If your income comes down, your fixed costs – rent, most utility bills, the cost of a phone, or running a car – stay exactly where they are, and two budgets tend to be cut back.

The first is heating. The second, always, is food. By way of highlighting that straightforward fact, I'll quote from a mother of four I met earlier this year, in Hartlepool, who was facing a cut of at least £16 – and as much as £28 – a week in her family's housing benefit: "We can't cut it from fuel, or electricity, or petrol. So when you lay that budget out over a month, with your council tax and water, and all your bills, there's nowhere else it can come from: the only place we can cut from is our food budget. And we're already having the cheapest food you can buy."

There is another factor in all this, which does not get nearly enough coverage, and which plays a huge role in the rising need for food banks. For some time, it has become increasingly clear that rising numbers of people who need social security are being "sanctioned": having their benefits suddenly cut, or taken away altogether, on the flimsiest of pretexts. Whistleblowers working in job centres have spoken of a "culture change" and the imposition of targets for the numbers of people to be sanctioned, irrespective of the details of their cases. Again, a quote from a cob centre staffer on the frontline speaks volumes: "Most staff go in to work and they're thinking about it from moment one – who am I going to stop [ie sanction] this week?" Note also that job centre staff are now referring people to food banks, as are councils and housing associations.

At the same time, one other chronically overlooked issue further drives people's need for emergency food. A couple of months ago, I spoke to a senior manager at a food bank, who talked at length about modern labour markets, and how the rising number of temporary and insecure jobs – witness the rise of the infamous "zero hours" contract – tends to put people who need emergency food in a grim loop. In, say, January, they may turn up in dire need, take their parcel and go away. Weeks later, they'll apparently find work. But by March or April they'll be back – freshly laid off, hit by a delay in their benefit payments and hungry.

"The explosion in food poverty and the use of food banks is a national disgrace," says this latest report. It is. So too is the spectacle of silver-spooned politicians taking refuge in the language of "scroungers" and "welfare crackdowns"; and, for that matter, ministers demanding further cuts to social security so as to shore up defence spending. Enough, too, of those caricatured claims that hacking away at the benefits system will involve the sacrifice of nothing more than fags and flat-screen TVs, and the idea that hunger is something that happens only to the poor and unfortunate overseas. It's now here: outside everyone's door, gnawing away, ruining lives. Oh, and one other thing: research from the US suggests that the very "food uncertainty" the food bank phenomenon embodies may be a particularly insidious part of the obesity crisis – something you won't hear from any minister, but worth pointing out.

We are at a fork in the road here. One way lies a collective recognition that British society has tumbled somewhere hitherto unimaginable, and it is time to renew our social contract; in the other direction there lie outcomes that, at this rate, may sooner or later explode into social disorder. By all means let's start a conversation about the billions of pounds in housing benefit payments thrown at private landlords, the abject waste of money that is the work programme, and more. But enough of the relentless hacking-back of money used for people's most basic needs. As even the most knuckle-headed members of this wretched government now know, that way lies a world many of us thought we had left behind many, many decades ago.

General Election - 500,000 epetition signatures required

We call upon the Government to undertake the following:

That upon receipt of an epetition with more than 500,000 signatures requesting a General Election; they should:

a) Dissolve Parliament within 30 days of receipt of the petition

b) Hold a General Election within 3 months of the dissolution of Parliament

We believe that this measure will ensure that democracy and accountability are exercised by the people rather than by the political elite.

It will ensure that politicians are more likely to keep to their promises, and govern in the interests of the many, rather than the few.


Grant Shapps Is A Lying Bastard – Now That’s Official

Grant Shapps

Internet con-man and Tory Party chair Grant Shapps has become the second senior Tory to be accused of misusing benefit statistics by the UK Statistics Authority (UKSA)  in just one month.

Iain Duncan Smith was recently subject to a humiliating rebuke from the UK statistics watchdog after lying about the impact of the benefit cap.  Now it’s the turn of former get rich quick scammer Grant Shapps after he claimed that almost one million people had come off sickness and disability benefits rather than undergo the notorious Work Capability Assessment carried out by IT firm Atos.

Shapps’ claim was a shabby attempt to smear those with serious illnesses or disabilities as fraudulent, by attempting to claim hundreds of thousands of people came off benefits rather than face an assessment.  As pointed out by the chair of the UKSA, Andrew Dilnot, the figures Shapps used actually largely related to the number of new claims dropped before an initial assessment between 2008-2013.

Assessments usually do not take place until several months after a person has made an initial claim for out of work sickness and disability benefits ( now called Employment Support Allowance or ESA).  This means large numbers of claimants with short term conditions, such as a broken leg, go back to work before the assessment is complete and therefore end their claims.

The truth is that the number of claims ended before assessment shows that most ESA claimants are honest, and end their claim for benefit when they no longer need it  – the very opposite of what Shapps was attempting to suggest.

According to the New Statesman between: “March 2011 and May 2012, just 19,700 (somewhat short of Shapps’s “nearly a million) abandoned their claims prior to a work capability assessment in the period to May 2012″

It’s hardly surprising that Grant Shapps – a man who made his money running a string of spam websites under a false name – should be caught fibbing.  But what is even more telling is why he is fibbing.

Against a backdrop of disabled people facing soaring hate crime, Shapps is trying to whip up the mob by misusing figures which he claims proves most sick and disabled claimants are fraudsters like him.  Claimants who may have the most severe disabilities, life threatening or terminal illnesses like cancer or serious and complex mental health conditions. Claimants who are already having their lives plunged into chaos by the other changes to benefits such as the bedroom tax and council tax benefit reform.

It is not enough for Shapps and his Government to strip away what little financial security many sick and disabled people have with heartless and needless cuts.  He also seems to want claimants falsely labelled as criminals in not just the gutter press but also in the streets.

Download the letter from the UKSA  (PDF)

The Void

The Dirt Book: How the sexual abuse of children is used for political gain

In 1995, the BBC showed a Michael Cockerell documentary called Westminster’s Secret Service about the role of the chief whip, whose task it is to ensure MPs attend important debates and vote as the party leadership desires. It was revealed that the chief whip kept a little black ‘dirt book’ which contained information about MPs, and this was used as a method of political control.

Tim Fortescue, who was Ted Heath’s chief whip from 1970-73, said:
For anyone with any sense, who was in trouble, would come to the whips and tell them the truth, and say now, I’m in a jam, can you help? It might be debt, it might be…..erm……erm, a scandal involving small boys, or any kind of scandal in which, erm er, a member seemed likely to be mixed up in, they’d come and ask if we could help and if we could, we did. And we would do everything we can because we would store up brownie points……., and if I mean, that sounds a pretty, pretty nasty reason, but it’s one of the reasons because if we could get a chap out of trouble then, he will do as we ask forever more.

In short, the chief whip would cover up any scandal, even if it involved “small boys”, child sexual abuse, child rape, whatever you want to call it. They wouldn’t report the crime to the police, although they may use their contacts with the police to make sure to make sure the matter went no further. This means that a paedophile would be the ideal candidate for promotion within the party, easily blackmailed and bought, loyalty and discretion guaranteed.
An example of how the dirt book may have been used is the case of Sir Peter Morrison, who was Conservative MP for Chester from 1974-1992, as well as being Margaret Thatcher’s Parliamentary Private Secretary. Morrison has been linked to a notorious paedophile ring that sexually abused children in North Wales care homes. Chris House, who worked as reporter for the Daily Mirror, twice received tip-offs about Morrison being caught abusing underage boys which resulted in just a police caution, but libel threats stopped the newspaper from running the story. Peter Connew, the former editor of the Sunday Mirror, said “such was the hush-up that nobody could get hold of a log of the arrest”.

Edwina Currie, who was a Conservative MP at the time, said “Peter Morrison has become the PM’s PPS. Now he’s what they call ‘a noted pederast’,’ with a liking for young boys; he admitted as much to Norman Tebbitt when he became deputy chairman of the party, but added, ‘However, I’m very discreet’ – and he must be!”

It seems possible that Morrison was given the job of PPS precisely because he was a paedophile; the party had ‘dirt’ on him so they could rely on his loyalty. Morrison was an alcoholic, famously incompetent, and often found asleep at his desk, so I can’t think of any other reasons for his promotion to PPS. Not a thought was given to the poor children who he abused, and nobody in his party went to the police to stop him committing these crimes. Edwina Currie was quite happy to save this ‘gossip’ about child rape to boost her book sales.

If an MP’s ‘indiscretions’ became too public to cover up, they were demoted or exiled to an obscure position. Mike Hames, who was head of Scotland Yard’s Obscene Publications Branch, talked of a raid on a brothel during which a man in pinstriped suit announced that he a cabinet minister. “That was before the end of Communism and, through a politician friend, I informed the PM, Mrs Thatcher. I noticed that the man, a junior minister, was quietly dropped later in a reshuffle.” 

Elm Guest House would have been well known to Margaret Thatcher, having been raided by 60 police and then covered up by the DPP and the Attorney General, who stopped the press from reporting on it. It is thought that at least 7 Conservative MPs were visitors to the paedophile brothel. Were any of these MPs later promoted to ministerial positions?

Ted Heath is credited with introducing the dirt book:
The most significant changes in the role of the whips appear to have taken place during the
late 1950s and early 1960s. Heath as chief whip from 1956 to 1959 brought a new professionalism to the job; he was the first holder of that position to routinely attend cabinet meetings,although neither he nor his successors have been full cabinet members. More significant was the way he systematically gathered information about every member of the party, and developed the art of using this to maximum advantage. He was after all responsible for piloting the Conservative party through the Suez crisis and its turbulent aftermath. When Edward Short became Wilson’s chief whip in 1964 he found that it ‘had been the practice to keep a “dirt book” in which unsavoury personal items about members were recorded’, and he immediately ordered this to be discontinued. It is probable that such stories arose simply out of the thoroughness with which Heath and his successors had gathered information. Heath himself explained his professionalism: ‘I acted on the principle that the more you know about the people you ae speaking for, and the more they know about you and what you are being asked to do, the better.’

(extract from ‘Churchill to Major: The British Prime Ministership Since 1945′ by
Donald Shell)
So the chief whip would proactively look for ‘dirt’ on MPs, not just wait for them to get into trouble. This might explain how the child abuse campaigner Geoffrey Dickens MP was so quickly exposed for having an extra-marital affair after he named the paedophile diplomat Sir Peter Hayman.

Benefits Reform Statistics Used By Grant Shapps Were Inaccurate

In a Sunday Telegraph article from March, Shapps is quoted saying: "nearly 900,000 people who were on incapacity benefit dropped their claim to the payments, rather than undergo a tough medical test."

It continues: "This is a new figure, nearly a million people have come off incapacity benefit... before going for the test. They take themselves off."

However the UK Statistics Authority said the Tory chairman had "conflated" figures to get that total.

The figure of nearly one million Shapps quoted was in fact the number of new applicants to Employment and Support Allowance who had dropped claims between October 2008 and May 2012. They had not been awarded ESA.

The actual number people who were on incapacity benefit who dropped their claim to the payments was 20,000.

UKSA chair Andrew Dilnot, responding to MP Sheila Gilmore's enquiry, said: "Having reviewed the article and the relevant figures, we have concluded that these statements appear to conflate official statistics relating to new claimants of the ESA with official statistics on recipients of the incapacity benefit (IB) who are being migrated across to the ESA."

He goes on to answer Ms Gilmore's further inquiry over why so many new applicants dropped their claims, questioning Shapps' claim that applications for ESA were dropped because of the government's 'tough new test.'

Huffington Post

Next we’ll be saying the poor don’t need to eat

At last there’s some cheery news about the economy. One section is booming, which is the thriving business of food banks. The number of people using them, on account of being too poor to afford food, has trebled in the past year to 500,000. When Fred Goodwin hears there are banks increasing their turnover this much, he’ll launch a takeover bid, hoping to double the share price before causing them to collapse, at which point he’ll award himself a bonus of five million packets of garlic sausage.

Oxfam says “changes to the benefit system are the most common reasons for people using food banks”, but the Department for Work and Pensions disagrees, saying the benefits system leaves “no one having to struggle to meet their basic needs”. And that must be true, as long as you don’t include food as a basic need.

In fact, it shows how out of control the benefits system has become, when so many claimants are wasting it on frivolities such as food. People on benefits will have to learn to live on goods that are cheaper than food, such as early morning walks, a sense of humour or particles of light.

Iain Duncan Smith might also tell them he has a £2m Tudor house, and some of the furniture in that place has been around for 300 years and not needed a single plate of food in all that time, so it shows it can be done.

The Government also seems to be suggesting there is no link between the changes in the benefit system and the rising numbers at food banks. So there must be some other reason. Maybe there was an episode of River Cottage in which Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall makes a supper out of a tin of soup and baked beans, saying: “And the ingredients absolutely have to be from a food bank, as the proximity to despair gives them that exquisite fruity tang.”

Or there was an A A Gill review of a food bank that went: “One scarcely had time to cleanse the palate of the most succulent tuna chunks in brine, aspirational and yet mischievous in its piscine intent, when one fell upon the truly celestial virtues of a Müller vanilla yoghurt, served with ultimate panache by a volunteer from Oxfam in the angelic setting of a car park round the back of Lidl.”

Their popularity has grown so much that the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food said the Government “now accepts them as the norm, which they absolutely should not be”. Maybe that’s the plan, to make food banks so common we accept that many people are too poor to afford food, as part of our culture.

Every few weeks on Come Dine with Me, one of the contestants will say: “I’m going for a starter of Heinz tomato soup, and then we’ll have a little break of a day while I wait for my next food bank voucher, and for the main course I’m going to serve whatever soup they’ve got tomorrow.” Then one of the others will say: “The nibbles of a selection of weeds from the park were quite unusual, and the game of turning off the lights to hide from the bailiff was fun so I’m giving him an eight.”

All this takes place in an atmosphere of hostility towards people on benefits, who are supposedly swiping unprecedented sums while spending all day indoors with the blinds down. So the reason for the increase in numbers relying on food banks must be due to a sudden surge in laziness. Over the past year, another 300,000 people have thought: “I can’t be bothered to make my own sandwiches any more. So I’m going to fill in a series of forms to apply for a food bank voucher, proving my low income, queue up at a church hall and get one already made by a volunteer.” It’s the only explanation. For example, there’s Kenny, whose story was told in this paper yesterday. He has a spinal injury that prevents him from working, but still acts as a full-time carer for his even sicker wife. Changes in the benefit system have left him reliant on a food bank. See, it’s just “take take take” with some people, isn’t it?

The story repeated by many claimants is of a change not just in the rules but in the attitude. They’re suspended from benefits regularly, the payments take longer to arrive, and as one disabled woman told me this week: “I now have a dread of any letter that comes recorded delivery, in case it’s a letter to tell me my benefit’s been cut.”

Presumably it’s similar for another claimant, Philip Green, owner of Topshop, whose wife is based in Monaco, thus saving the tycoon’s family hundreds of millions in tax.

Luckily, the Government had a twinge of conscience and chose a different strategy with him. Instead of sending a threatening letter, it invited him to be one of its advisers, on how to cut public spending. And he must be ideal for the job, wandering along the queues at food banks saying: “Now you’ve been given that margarine, why don’t you make it last longer by putting half of it in an offshore account in the Cayman Islands? And put your voucher in your wife’s name, then you’ll be able to get some milk and a banana.”


PASC demands that Government stats are presented "with the whole truth"

In a report on Communicating Statistics released today, Wednesday 29 May 2013, entitled “Not Just True, but Also Fair” the Commons Public Administration Select Committee (PASC) recommends that departmental press officers and government statistics staff should work together much more closely to ensure that press releases give an accurate and meaningful picture of the truth behind the figures.

Report: Communicating statistics: Not just true but also fair (HTML)
Inquiry: Statistics
Public Administration Select Committee

PASC Chairman Bernard Jenkin said:

“In our evidence, we were given examples of where the change in one month’s figures, on say trade, or unemployment, would generate the headline, but where the trend over the year, a far more significant indicator, is ignored. We are expecting statistics officials to insist that press releases tell the true picture.”

The report underlines that to underpin good policy making, statistics must be presented in a fair, accurate way, “unspun”. The Committee says that government statistics press releases do not always give a true and fair picture of the story behind the statistics, sometimes going too far to create a newsworthy headline.

The Committee says the ways that statistics are presented can be a challenge even for expert users. The lay user is left confused and disengaged. The Office for National Statistics website makes figures hard to find and statistics are often presented in a confusing way, for example, in formats which are not easily understandable.

Other recommendations include –

The UK Statistics Authority should work proactively to bring together and clearly present key statistics, from various sources, around common themes or events, such as elections and referendums, as well as broader topics such as the labour market and economic trends.
The ONS website must be improved. Government statisticians should work much more closely with different kinds of users in order to present statistics in ways which meet their different needs.
The Committee says the Statistics Authority should find more creative ways of communicating statistics, for example, through interactive guides. This should be in addition to the publication of more raw data in machine-readable format for experts who want the full results, not just the edited highlights presented in releases for a mass audience.
In addition to the many routinely-produced statistics, government statisticians produce thousands of pieces of data on demand, known as “ad hoc statistics”. This is positive, but more of this kind of data should be published proactively, rather than simply in reaction to requests.

Bernard Jenkin MP, Chairman of the Committee, added:

“Politicians tend to promote the statistics that best present their case. Finding the whole truth about government statistics is not always easy, and it should be. The numbers may be perfectly true but the act of selecting certain numbers distorts the true picture. This is important when those numbers are being used to justify a particular policy, a particular apportioning of resources. In some cases, spinning reduces the story behind the statistics to such an extent that the picture is no longer true.

“The UK Statistics Authority and the Government Statistics Service have a special obligation to act as an antidote to the famous dictum that ‘there are lies, damn lies, and statistics’. Where the Chair of the Statistics Authority judges that there has been misuse of official statistics, we support his independence and his right to intervene. This is an important part of the role of the UK Statistics Authority, to monitor the use and abuse of official statistics.

“Government statisticians need to do a lot more to fulfil the important role they play in explaining statistics as clearly and helpfully as possible. Wider and deeper improvements are still needed to the presentation and explanation of government statistics if public trust in them, and therefore in public policy, is to be earned and kept.”

Parliament uk

Bedroom Tax Breaches Human Rights says expert

The Scottish Commission on Human Rights' Professor Alan Miller told Holyrood's welfare reform committee that he had no doubt the bedroom tax breached article eight of the European Charter on Human Rights, which prohibits unnecessary "interference" with a person's home, and arguably article three, which prohibits "inhuman or degrading treatment.
The head of Scotland's human rights watchdog appeared lost for words today as he recounted the bedroom tax's impact before MSPs.

The Scottish Commission on Human Rights' Professor Alan Miller told Holyrood's welfare reform committee that he was shocked even to discuss the scheme, calling it a matter of "human dignity."

Since April, those in council homes or renting from housing associations have lost up to 24 per cent of their housing benefit where their home has been deemed "under-occupied."

More than 660,000 households are expected to fall into arrears, losing an average £728 a year - the equivalent of six weeks' worth of payments.

Yet councils and housing associations have warned they simply have nowhere for tenants to go to, with barely 100,000 one-bedroom properties available across all of Britain.

Already several people committing suicides have left notes saying they sought to avoid homelessness and destitution under the policy.

Prof Miller said he was in no doubt the bedroom tax breached article eight of the European Charter on Human Rights, which prohibits unnecessary "interference" with a person's home, and arguably article three, which prohibits "inhuman or degrading treatment.

"That is, there should be evidence given as to what other measures were considered and why they were rejected," he said.

But successive governments had refused to "constitutionalise" the charter in order to make compliance a requirement for any new legislation.

Instead the coalition had introduced the bedroom tax's legislation wiwth merely a single sentence saying any assessment was unnecessary.

"A box was ticked to say 'no impact on human rights'," he said, after a pause.

Professor Miller added that the Con-Dem approach to welfare went "against human dignity and the reality of life in the UK.

"The bedroom tax is one of the most compelling human rights issues in Scotland.

"It's not something we should be sitting round the table talking about in this day and age," he said.

The committee's deputy convener Jamie Hepburn MSP said the professor's comments showed the need for a Scottish constitution in the event of independence.

"Despite 90 per cent of Scottish MPs voting against this tax, it has still been imposed - and these welfare changes are stigmatising people and hitting our most vulnerable the hardest."

"As he said - we shouldn't be in this place," Mr Hepburn said.

Source; Morning Star

Disability Deaths: European courts have their priorities wrong. Why aren’t they stopping them?

The villain of the piece: Iain Duncan Smith drives all of the government's policies that discriminate against the sick or disabled. Others have memorably noted that his idea of helping them is to kick away their walking-sticks to see how far they can crawl.
The villain of the piece: Iain Duncan Smith drives all of the government’s policies that discriminate against the sick or disabled. Others have memorably noted that his idea of helping them is to kick away their walking-sticks to see how far they can crawl.

The UK Coalition government is to face trial by the European Court of Justice over an alleged failure to correctly assess the benefits EU migrants are entitled to claim. This is very laudable, but begs the question:

When are the European courts going to address the Coalition’s transgressions against its own citizens?

I refer, of course, to the continuing scandal of Employment and Support Allowance, the disability benefit that isn’t (according to the government’s plans for another so-called benefit, Universal Credit).

Vox readers are, by now, well aware that the so-called “work capability assessment” that allegedly determines whether a person is entitled to the benefit or is fit for work is in fact a sham, run by a French Information Technology company (Atos), using a computerised, tick-box assessment system that is based on a scheme that earned the American insurance company that devised it (Unum) a criminal record, because its sole intention was to prevent as many people as possible from fitting the criteria necessary to win a claim.

The application of this assessment system has led to an average of 73 deaths every week. This means that, between the moment I woke up this morning and the time I’m writing this (around midday), at least two more people are likely to have died – either because their condition has worsened due to the strain of the assessment procedure, or through suicide; their mental health was not strong enough and they decided to give up, rather than fight for what should be theirs by right as UK citizens.

A BBC documentary (Week In, Week Out, May 28, 2013) recently quoted a statistic that claimed people with chronic pain – who are therefore entitled to claim ESA – are twice as likely to die prematurely than those without, so why is the Coalition forcing them through these fake “medical” examinations and then telling them they are fit to work – effectively trying to induce such premature deaths?

That question has been taken to the European courts – and the United Nations’ International Criminal Court. The response, so far, has been breathtakingly disappointing. It seems that they need proof that the UK’s own justice system will not rectify the problem before they will agree to take action.

How much proof do they need?

Within the last couple of weeks, Linda Wootton, a lady who had endured multiple organ transplants due to illness, died – within days of receiving notice that a work capability assessment had found her fit for work and her ESA had been cancelled.

In the same period, a High Court tribunal ruled that the Coalition has broken the law by discriminating against people who are mentally ill. This is exactly the kind of discrimination that causes the suicides. It is something about which the government has been warned – not rarely, but continually and with passion. And what is the government’s response?

It intends to appeal against the decision. It says it has made enough concessions to the mentally ill already.

We know what happens when the government appeals against court decisions. It loses.

And then it changes the law, in order to make its actions legal again.

That is the act of a criminal regime.

But the international courts are still sitting on their thumbs.

By the time I finish posting this article, according to the averages, another ESA claimant will be dead – making three, or thereabouts, since I woke up this morning. If the international courts finally get their act together, examine the mountain of evidence that has built up against the Coalition over the last three years, and find it guilty of corporate manslaughter – or procuring suicide under the Suicide Act 1961 – it will be a tremendous day for the most vulnerable people in the UK.

And make no mistake – the chronically sick and disabled are far more vulnerable than most European migrants.

But one fact will remain: Thousands upon thousands of these vulnerable people will have died, and no court decision will ever bring them back.

ESA isn’t the only benefit system that is failing the British people. Look at Stephanie Bottrill, who committed suicide because she was facing eviction. She couldn’t afford to pay the Coalition’s hated Bedroom Tax.
You see, these aren’t just numbers. They’re people. Thousands and thousands of real people. With real families who are left to mourn the loss.

In the UK, the Coalition and the press have worked hard to create a lack of empathy for these people – calling them scroungers, or skivers, or work-shy. In reality they are nothing of the sort. They are seriously, seriously ill. They are victims of a libellous hate campaign. And they are too sick, and too poor, to mount a challenge against what is happening to them.

Now, I don’t want the Comment column after this article to fill up with hate-speak for Johnny Foreigner. The fact is, the Coalition probably is denying benefits to migrants.

My rationale for suggesting this is the fact that it is denying benefits to the UK’s own citizens, and is perfectly comfortable with letting them die as a result.

So, while I applaud the European Court of Justice for taking this step against the UK government, I must also add this:

Get your priorities right.

Postscript: You know, it isn’t my job to point out these things. There are people in this country who are employed – in fact, there are people in this country who are elected – to do so. Why aren’t these people spending every waking hour campaigning for justice, for their constituents and for the nation as a whole? Why aren’t they fighting the media lies? Where is the opposition to this government criminality?

Post-postscript: Have a look at this article, reporting that the Joint Parliamentary Committee on Human Rights has found the Coalition government in breach of the United Nations’ Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities. Now we have proof that the Coalition is actively discriminating against the disabled, and breaking UN conventions to do it, will the UN, finally, step in?

Oh! I just looked at the time. That’ll be another person dead, then.

Vox Political

More People Poor Than Ever Before As Numbers Claiming Housing Benefit Hit Record Levels


The number of people claiming some form of Housing Benefit has hit record levels giving a true indicator of plummeting living standards and high unemployment.

Housing Benefit (now called Local Housing Allowance) is paid to those in and out of work alike, as well as low income pensioners, those on sickness or disability benefits and lone parents.  In London it has recently been estimated that 44% of housing benefit claimants are in work but on wages which leave them unable to afford to pay the rent .  The only factor taken into account when assessing claims are income and savings, meaning that the number of people on housing benefit gives a good indication of how many people are poor in the UK.

And despite Tory lies about a million new jobs being created, the sad truth is that more people are poor than ever before.  Recently released statistics (PDF)  show that in February 2013 there were 5.08 million recipients of Housing Benefit, up from 4.74 million in May 2010 when this Government weren’t elected.  This is the highest figure since Housing Benefit was introduced in 1983.

The truth is that any job creation which might have taken place has been workfare, low income self-employment, zero hours contracts or part time work, leaving unprecedented numbers of people dependent on some benefits to survive.

The figures also reveal that despite endless propaganda about benefit claimants living in tax payer funded mansions, the average housing benefit entitlement is just £89.30 a week.

Around a quarter of housing benefit recipients are pensioners, a figure which has stayed fairly stable over recent years.  Pensioners are exempt from the recent vicious cuts to housing benefit, however 4 million claimants under pensionable age now face this vital benefit being cut due to the bedroom tax, benefit tax, benefit uprating bill and other measures.

Some of those people will be left with just a few pounds a week after paying the rent, whilst others will be driven from their homes completely.  Almost every working age Housing Benefit claimant has been affected by the cuts.  This means that not only are there more poor people than ever before, but that 4 million of them are now at very real risk of homelessness as incomes shrink and rent rises.  A recent DWP report revealed how many landlords are in the process of evicting housing benefit claimants due to the cuts.

Iain Duncan Smith  boasted over the weekend that he is prepared to make even further cuts to housing benefits, once again raising the spectre of ending the benefit completely for those under 25.  Homelessness is already soaring and the Secretary of State is determined to make the problem even worse.  The UK could look like a very different place in just a few years time as vast numbers of people lose their homes.  The responsibility for that will not just lie with George Osborne and his fucked economy, but with Iain Duncan Smith’s reckless, bodged and brutal attempts at social security reform.

The Void