Saturday, August 31, 2013

TUC uncovers £67,000 pensions postcode lottery

A woman in her late 40s from East Dorset can expect to receive £67,000 more in state pension when she retires, compared to a women of the same age living in Corby, due to a widening gap in life expectancies and a rising state pension age, according to a new report published today by the TUC.

The report looks at life expectancy projections by gender, occupation and geographical area, and their effect on the amount of state pension people are set to receive. The state pension age is due to rise to 66 between 2018 and 2020 and to 67 between 2026 and 2028.

The research shows that by 2028 a woman living in East Dorset – the area of the UK with the longest post-65 life expectancy for both men and women – can expect to live nine years longer than a woman in Corby (the area with the shortest life expectancy) when they retire. This state pension divide works out at £67,000 over their lifetime. The state pension divide for men living in East Dorset and Manchester (the area with the shortest male post-65 life expectancy) will be £53,000.

This state pension divide will also grow for different types of workers. A female managerial or professional worker retiring in 2028 can expect to live 3.8 years longer than a female manual worker, compared to 2.4 years today. This state pension divide works out at £29,000. The equivalent gap for male manual and professional workers is £23,000, or 3.1 years.

The TUC report also shows that millions of people will receive less state pension, despite having to work for a further two years, because their life expectancy is not keeping pace with the increasing state pension age. People living in poor areas such as Corby, Manchester, Salford and Hull will receive substantially less state pension over their lifetime. A woman in her late 40s in Corby will have to work for two more years before retiring but will receive £12,000 less state pension during her retirement than those retiring in 2016.  A man of a similar age living in Manchester will receive £7,500 less during his retirement.

The lifetime state pension for men, based on a full ‘single-tier’ state pension award, will fall from £147,000 in 2016 (when the single-tier is introduced) to £146,000 in 2028. Women retiring in 2028 will have to work longer in order to receive the same state pension (£164,000) as those retiring in 2016.

The government’s failure to consider persistent inequalities in life expectancy when accelerating the rise in the state pension age, will leave millions far worse off in retirement, says the TUC.

The TUC believes that the government should reverse its decision to raise the state pension age in light of new evidence on life expectancy projections, and instead set up an independent commission to examine inequalities in life expectancy and their effect on people’s retirement incomes.

TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “The government’s decision to accelerate the rise in the state pension age will mean millions of people having to work for longer in order to receive less in retirement.

“There is already a shocking divide in life expectancies across England, and if current trends continue that inequality will get worse in the coming decades. The government’s pension reforms will add to the problem, with people in richer areas receiving more from the state, while those in poorer areas receive less.

“It cannot be right that people living in a wealthy area can receive tens of thousands of pounds more in state pension than someone living in a less well off part of the country, particularly as richer people are likely to have earned more during the career and have a bigger private pension too.

“The government should abandon its plan to raise the state pension age in light of the new evidence on projected life expectancies. It should instead set up an independent commission to examine health inequalities and the impact on people’s expected retirement incomes.”


This small victory over global tyranny cannot be erased

The world has slid into a political abyss. David Cameron, Barack Obama, John Kerry, Hillary Clinton and William Hague have all took turns running point for this three year destablisation effort in Syria -with each, repeating each other’s script, peppered with half-cocked truths, and an endless banquet of cooked-up ‘intelligence’. Each appears to be completely convinced by his/her own highly subjective and wonderfully deceptive version of reality in the Middle East. They bank on public apathy, and the chaos of propaganda, in order to clear their path for more extreme violence, and profits for the top end of the military industrial complex, and for the top end of a predatory banking sector which makes all wars possible. 

Yes, leaders have all been bought and paid for. Yes, the mainstream media has been bought and paid for. But the public has not been bought and paid for yet. In an incredible turn of events on Thursday, the British public set a rare, but clear example of what a functioning democracy can look like by rejecting military aggression. Washington and London political hacks may be too myopic to realise it, but the rest of the world has taken notice, and this small victory over global tyranny cannot be erased. 

Patrick Henningsen


Cameron's wheels falling off. Rebels admit they did it

In a report that is sure to be considered blockbuster news, the rebels told Gavlak, they are responsible for the chemical attack last week.

This news should deflate the accusations, against the Assad regime, coming from the U.S., Britain, and France as well as the Arab League.

Since the chemical attacks last week, the Assad government was immediately blamed. On Monday, Secretary of State John Kerry said: That Assad’s guilt was “a judgment already clear to the world," according to

As a result of Assad's government being blamed for the chemical attacks, five U.S. warships are now stationed off Syria's coast. These destroyers are poised to deliver cruise missiles in a strike that is due to begin any time now. According to the report on Mint Press there have been several interviews conducted with people in Damascus and Ghouta, a suburb of the Syrian capital.

The interviews conducted of residents, rebels and their families in Damascus and Ghouta are painting a different picture of what actually happened. Many believe that rebels received chemical weapons provided through the Saudi intelligence chief, Prince Bandar bin Sultan. It's being reported that these weapons are responsible for last week's gas attack.

The father of a rebel who was killed in what's now being called an accident by many in Ghouta and Damascus said: "My son came to me two weeks ago asking what I thought the weapons were that he had been asked to carry,” said Abu Abdel-Moneim. The father said at least 12 rebels including his son were killed by the chemical weapons.

Allegedly they were killed in the tunnel that was used to store the chemicals. These were provided by a Saudi militant, known as Abu Ayesha. He is said to be leading a fighting battalion in the effort to unseat Assad. The weapon was described as a "tube-like structure" by Abdel-Moneim.

Gavlak reports he was told by rebels that the gas "attack" was the result of rebels mishandling the chemical weapons they acquired from the Saudis. He says in the Mint Press report the following:

"They didn’t tell us what these arms were or how to use them,” complained a female fighter named ‘K.’ “We didn’t know they were chemical weapons. We never imagined they were chemical weapons.”

When Saudi Prince Bandar gives such weapons to people, he must give them to those who know how to handle and use them,” she warned. She, like other Syrians, do not want to use their full names for fear of retribution."

Gavlak continues in his report: "A well-known rebel leader in Ghouta named ‘J’ agreed. “Jabhat al-Nusra militants do not cooperate with other rebels, except with fighting on the ground. They do not share secret information. They merely used some ordinary rebels to carry and operate this material.

We were very curious about these arms. And unfortunately, some of the fighters handled the weapons improperly and set off the explosions, ‘J’ said."

The humanitarian agency, Doctors Without Borders, reported that around 355 people had died from what was believed to be a neurotoxic agent. They reportedly treated 3,600 people with symptoms of, frothing at the mouth, respiratory distress, convulsions and blurry vision.

According to the report dozens of rebels said they were receiving salaries from the Saudis.

It's said that Bandar was educated in the U.S. both military and collegiate. He is also said to have "served as a highly influential Saudi Ambassador to the U.S., and the CIA totally loves this guy."

Prince Bandar's intelligence agency is said to have been the first to bring allegations that Assad's regime used Sarin gas in Feb.

This story is from journalist Dale Gavlak who has written articles for the Associated Press, NPR and BBC. He is a Middle Eastern journalist, his articles also appear on the Mint Press News, which is affiliated with AP.


Pathetic fightback from rumbled British 'Intelligence' Committee

Chemical Hallucinations 
By William Bowles

I think it’s true to say that the days of creating ‘dodgy dossiers‘(pdf)[1] are now over, at least if the latest ‘dodgy report’ is anything to go by. Put out by the UK’s Joint Intelligence Committee, it purports to offer proof that Assad gassed his own people. But aside from the fact that it offers not a shred of proof, it’s also amateurish and clearly put together in a panic.

We…have a limited but growing body of intelligence which supports the judgement that the regime was responsible for the attacks and that they were conducted to help clear the Opposition from strategic parts of Damascus. Some of this intelligence is highly sensitive but you have had access to it all. – UK Joint Intelligence Organisation, 29 August 2013

The ‘intelligence’ report (pdf) is short, barely two pages of text and short not only in size, it’s also short of any real content that backs up the mantra,’Assad, the brutal dictator did it’. Not a single fact is presented. Here are are the relevant ‘proofs’ offered by the JIC’s report:

JIC assessment of 27 August on Reported Chemical Weapons use in Damascus 

A chemical attack occurred in Damascus on the morning of 21 August, resulting in at least 350 fatalities. It is not possible for the opposition to have carried out a CW attack on this scale. The regime has used CW on a smaller scale on at least 14 occasions in the past. There is some intelligence to suggest regime culpability in this attackThese factors make it highly likely that the Syrian regime was responsible.

Run this past me again? “It is not possible for the opposition to have carried out a CW attack on this scale”, ergo, it must have been Assad. This is evidence? It’s a pathetic, not to say ludicrous attempt and obviously hastily assembled from thin air. Aside from anything else, it’s just not true, there is definitive proof that the ‘rebels’ had sarin gas.

Turkey finds sarin gas in homes of suspected Syrian Islamists – reports Turkish security forces found a 2kg cylinder with sarin gas after searching the homes of Syrian militants from the Al-Qaeda linked Al-Nusra Front who were previously detained, Turkish media reports. The gas was reportedly going to be used in a bomb. – ‘Turkey finds sarin gas in homes of suspected Syrian Islamists’ – reports’,  – RT, 31 May 2013

Then the ‘report’ resorts to using the numerous videos to be found on Youtube as somehow proof that Assad used toxic gas on its citizens but again the videos don’t show who did it, how could they?

Extensive video footage attributed to the attack in eastern Damascus (which we assess would be very difficult to falsify) is consistent with the use of a nerve agent, such as sarin, and is not consistent with the use of blister or riot control agents. – JIC Report

This ‘report’ is pure hokum. After you take away all the padding which constitutes 90% of the document, there’s nothing left except the allegation that because the ‘rebels’ couldn’t have done it, it had to be Assad.

I suspect that the political class here (and in the US) really didn’t expect to have so much trouble convincing people to support more Anglo-Saxon slaughter and got caught off-guard as it were, hence the paucity of the document, rushed out in a few days and aside from an alleged Syrian Army conversation (see below), nothing at all to work with.

Ok, I think I’ve dispensed with the disinfo put out by the UK Cabinet Office, it doesn’t amount to much. But I suppose the time constraints imposed by Cameron jumping the gun, all gung ho to kill some more ‘rag-heads’, forced the Empire’s hand.


Friday, August 30, 2013

Stop The War. Act. It's only delayed, not yet halted

By Kevin  Ovenden

For many, especially those hundreds of  thousands of us who marched against the
Iraq war in 2003, the question recurs:  can we do anything about this impending
disaster? []

UK: National Demonstration: No  Attack on Syria

By Stop the  War

National Demonstration: assemble  Saturday 31 August, 12 noon, Temple Place, London. []

TAP - the vote in the Commons is not enough.  The US is still rolling out its huge military strength and war is going ahead.  All that's been achieved so far is a delay of a few days.

Cameron's arrogance and dilemma

For over 18 months Cameron and William Hague have tried to play the hard men over Syria, calling for greater action at international gatherings and threatening Damascus with other people's F-16s. Now, the old Etonian's arrogance has made Britain a weak link in the shaky FUKUS chain.

At the start of this week Cameron was strutting the airwaves pressing for immediate bombing. By Thursday he had been forced into a tactical retreat - though the intention to press ahead is clear. Washington too rowed back a little to give Cameron, facing potential parliamentary defeat, a lifeline.

Officials mooted that the date for bombing could be pushed back to the middle of next week. If anyone thinks they are in control of events, consider that on that timescale US and British planes will be bombing a Russian ally just as Obama and Cameron sit down in St Petersburg at the G20 summit, hosted by Putin.

The call for restraint by the UN's Ban Ki-moon hardened Labour's opposition to the government. On Wednesday it went from reluctant support for the government to tabling its own amendment in the parliamentary debate on Thursday. That amendment placed significant obstacles in the path to military action. But it said only that the UN Security Council must be allowed to consider and vote on the weapons inspectors' report, not that a Security Council authorisation was necessary before Labour would support action.

Nevertheless, Labour MPs and others report that they are swayed by both the deep divisions in the political class and state structures over action and by the mounting public opposition. Diane Abbott's political stock soared sharply when she said she would resign from the Labour frontbench if the party rushed into war.
The emergency demonstration called by Stop the War in London on Wednesday drew 1,000 people, extremely significant at short notice and in the bank holiday week.

It seems impossible now for the government to avoid a second parliamentary vote before bombing, and its own motion on Thursday in effect conceded that.

These are not trivial parliamentary games. They are the actual working out of the impasse of the government's position. They mean that MPs who were expecting to be sunning themselves this weekend will now be in Britain subject to intense, contradictory pressures.

They mean that what was meant to be a lightening strike on Syria this week is now prolonged even before it begins. A question that was of concern for only a minority in Britain is now at the centre of national politics and life - should we support Cameron, should we bomb or not bomb, can we do anything about it.

A major public debate has erupted way beyond the circles and social media that we as activists use to talk with one another. The debate is open. Our opponents are an out of touch government that is inflicting deep social suffering on millions of people, most of whom declare that they are alienated from the official political parties.

The government is a coalition. Its majority depends on Lib Dem MPs, many of whom owe their seats to the anti-war posture the party took in 2003. They are particularly vulnerable to pressure, which in this instance means public opinion marshalled and concentrated into action and political engagement.

There are serious divisions in the Tory ranks too - usually reflective of foreign policy and military establishment concerns. Nevertheless, a move by anti-war MP Jeremy Corbyn and others of the left earlier this year to force the government to declare that it would seek parliamentary approval for any strike on Syria succeeded in winning support from Tory rebels.

A principled mass movement acting intelligently can drive a wedge deeper into the Tory ranks as well as stiffen the position of Labour MPs.

Mass movement - unity of purpose

Action now can make a difference. It requires taking the clear anti-war arguments which Stop the War is promoting and which are voiced by many others, including the Daily Mirror, deep into British society. All movements need activists, but we cannot simply be a movement of activists. We have to aim to be a mass movement of people who can be stirred by this question.

The fact that figures such as Peter Hain MP who supported the Iraq war are now strongly against bombing Syria is an indication that our anti-war argument can reach into new and broad layers. That feeling needs to be focused through public protest and through inundating MPs in order to tip the balance. There are many forms of action. Over the coming days the job is to hone them to a single point that will be felt in parliament and the government as they mull how to proceed.

There is every chance that we can play a big role in shifting the debate. What if we do not and they manage to press ahead anyway? Well, our efforts will have been far from futile.

First, whatever the blithe talk of a limited three day bombing with no fallout, the truth is that there will be major repercussions throughout the Middle East if they do go ahead. The only question is how great they will be. They will certainly mark a new phase in which the pressure for further action will intensify and with it the necessity of a strong, united movement of opposition, as well as solidarity with genuine progressive forces in the region.

Second, this is not about something happening far away to other people. It is about the direction of politics and society in Britain. The outcome of the next days and weeks will impact on the scale of opposition to the Coalition's assaults on the mass of people at home.

A government weakened by defeat of its foreign policy, or even by its curtailment, is going to find it harder to deal with the protests in defence of the NHS, the strikes by public sector workers and the developing social resistance to its austerity policies.

Many of us have supported Stop the War or taken part in its mobilisations over the years. Quite naturally there has been ebb and flow, reflecting events and the possibility at any one time of achieving results. We've also had many healthy debates as the disaster of Western policy in the Middle East and the War on Terror has unfolded.

Now is a time to throw ourselves fully into this upswing of the movement - inundating MPs, taking to the streets on Saturday, getting ourselves into the media - mainstream, new and social - everywhere persuading friends, colleagues and family that we need to take a stand, and that by doing so we can make a difference.
Kevin Ovenden, 29 August 2013

Tenant slashes wrist in housing office over bedroom tax

TORMENTED former miner attempted suicide in front of staff because he couldn't cope with running up rent arrears as a result of the hated tax.

Lawrence after his arms were bandaged
Lawrence after his arms were bandaged

A MAN driven to despair by the bedroom tax attempted suicide in a council housing office yesterday.

Staff looked on in horror as tormented Lawrence Keane slit his wrists in a reception area after asking for help with rent arrears he had run up as a result of the hated tax.

The vulnerable 58-year-old said: “I stood up and asked them if they wanted my blood because that’s all I had left to give. I started hacking at both my arms.”

Former miner Lawrence made the suicide bid at Lochgelly Community Centre in Fife at 9am.

After cutting his arms, he stood with his arms at his side, letting blood drip on to the floor.

He was treated at Victoria Infirmary in Kirkcaldy and released.

Lawrence, who suffers from severe depression and anxiety attacks, fought back tears as he told how the bedroom tax and rent arrears pushed him over the edge.

Surrounded by his family, he said: “I got a letter from the council last week and I have stayed inside for 10 days worrying about it.

“It told me I owed a lot of money and that my rent was going up £28 a fortnight because I had an empty room in my flat.

“I didn’t know what to do. I was getting more and more angry and stressed about it. I woke, got a vegetable knife and went to the community centre.”

Lawrence, who has a grown-up son, was speaking with the full support of his furious family.

In the letter, Lawrence was told he owes Fife Council £399 and that his rent for his two-bedroom flat has increased because he lives alone.

Like many others, he just can’t afford to pay the bedroom tax.

Fridge is almost empty
Fridge is almost empty
Lawrence is on disability allowance and receives a small miner’s pension. Once he’s paid his utility bills, he has very little left to live on.

He has lived alone in his ground-floor flat for 14 years. He has few possessions and his tiny home is sparsely decorated and furnished.

He rarely drinks and “treats himself” to a roll-up cigarette and a small bottle of beer “every now and again”.
When our reporter visited, Lawrence’s fridge was virtually empty.

He didn’t even have tea bags or milk to make a hot drink.

Last night, his brother Michael, 60, and sister-in-law Harriet, 57, said the bedroom tax and welfare cuts were hitting vulnerable people the hardest.

Michael said: “We support Lawrence as best as we can. I don’t know what I would have done if he’d succeeded in his suicide attempt.

“The extra rent he was asked to pay was the final straw. He was so stressed he couldn’t even tell us about it.
“We’ve been trying to get him help for weeks – medically, psychologically and through the council – but no one has really listened.

“How many Lawrences will it take for the Government to realise how dangerous and unfair the bedroom tax is?”

Harriet added: “We asked the council to move him to a single-bedroom bungalow but they haven’t.
“They now hit him with this new rent demand.

“The bedroom tax targets the weakest in society. Lawrence and other vulnerable people like him are just names and numbers on a computer screen.”

The depute leader of the council where Lawrence lives yesterday agreed that the bedroom tax is wrong.
David Ross said of Lawrence’s suicide bid: “This was a very distressing incident. Our thoughts are with the person and we will be providing all the support we can in the days ahead.

“It would be wrong to comment on any individual’s personal circumstances.We respect their right to confidentiality.

“What we can say is that we are seeing an increasing number of people facing serious financial worries, many of which are caused by welfare reform.

“We’re doing all we can to support them.”

The Fife Council boss added: “I believe many of these reforms are fundamentally wrong, especially the bedroom tax hitting many of the poorest and most vulnerable Fifers.

“Although Fife Council’s approach to discretionary housing payments is oneof the most generous in Scotland, the funding available and the regulations set by the Department for Work and Pensions that the council is forced to work under, are inadequate to deal with the level of need and the harsh effects of welfare reform.

“I firmly believe that the Government should scrap these so-called reforms and the insidious bedroom tax now before more people are driven to such desperate acts as happened today in Lochgelly.”

Daily Record

These disability deniers have no incentive to do the right thing

Reblogged from Vox Political:

Despair: How can you get the government to do the right thing when the rules mean it doesn't have to?
Despair: How can you get the government to do the right thing when the rules mean it doesn’t have to?

Those of you who read the comments on this blog will be familiar with Nick. He’s a gentleman who has been ill for a very long time. The effects of his illness are readily apparent just by looking at him – he describes himself as having the appearance of an inmate in a Japanese POW camp during World War Two.

The Department of Work and Pensions still wanted to tell him he was able to seek work; they only stopped trying to cut his benefits because his MP intervened.

This is how he describes the attitude of the Coalition government: “David Cameron … is not to be trusted as he has a way of killing people in a very barbaric way, the way of silence, in the privacy of one’s home, to have a letter dropped on them to place that person in a deliberate panic, knowing and hoping it kills them.”

Elsewhere, he states: “I myself have lost all my many online friends bar one… over the past three years – all dead at the hands of the DWP.”

Now this government department is doing its best to starve the life out of Mrs Mike, it seems.

She received a letter yesterday that makes absolutely no sense at all, to anyone with sense. Attend:

“Please allow us to apologise for the lack of communication you have received regarding the changes in your benefit. As per normal procedure, you should have received a letter and phone call some weeks ago to prepare you for the end of your contribution based ESA claim. An invitation to claim income related ESA should then have been sent out. A fault on your claim meant that our processing section did not receive a prompt to contact you to explain the changes to contribution based ESA eligibility.”

Our first reaction to that was: Not our problem. The “fault” on our claim would be one that was created at the DWP, by DWP employees, and is entirely the responsibility of the DWP. But who suffers for it? We do.

“I can see that you have an ongoing appeal against being placed in the Work Related Activities Group of ESA. I cannot see an outcome to the appeal as of yet. Once an outcome has been reached, we will contact you. If successful, you will be placed in the Support Group of ESA.”

The letter goes on to contradict itself, revealing that a decision-maker examined the appeal – in April – and determined that another work capability assessment would be necessary to find out whether Mrs Mike is less able to work now than she was in July last year.

We were not told about this decision. We have not been notified about any new WCA. And now we are confused – are we supposed to be claiming income-related ESA, or waiting for the results of the appeal – an appeal which has been ongoing for nearly half a year now – in case Mrs Mike gets put into the support group. And how is she supposed to live until then – on roots and berries?

“Please be aware that we receive a very high volume of appeals; due to the volume, it is not possible to resolve each appeal as quickly as we or our ESA claimants would like. However, please be assured that your appeal is ongoing and you will be contacted when we have an outcome. In your case, our Decision Maker has stated that we will need to know the outcome of your next medical assessment before we can progress your appeal.”

Yes, we are indeed aware that the DWP receives a very high volume of appeals – 255,084 between January and March. The cost of these appeals to the taxpayer totalled £66 million between 2012-13 – and that it is losing them in increasing numbers. This is because Atos assessors and DWP decision-makers have been making decisions that are not only wrong according to the law but harmful to the lives of those affected. Do I really need to quote the 73-deaths-per-week figure that we all know and loathe – and that we all believe has inflated to even more horrific levels since it was first released? We don’t know because the DWP – again – is refusing to release the figures it holds.

“When you were migrated across to ESA from Incapacity Benefit, you attended a medical for ESA reassessment. The outcome of this was that you were to be placed in the Work Related Activities Group for a period of 12 months, effective from 21.06.12. It is for this reason that you were sent an ESA50 form in May this year; you were due for your 12month review, as stated when your claim was migrated from IB to ESA.”

This is what we deduced when we received the form – which arrived with no explanatory letter. We completed it and sent it back very quickly and had heard nothing about it since. It would be logical to expect a response, or indeed a decision, before a benefit claim expired, but we’re dealing with the DWP here, whose agents seem to think they are a law unto themselves.

Note the two inaccuracies: Mrs Mike’s ESA started on August 14 last year, and the Work Capability Assessment is not a medical check and should not, in any circumstances, be described as one. It is a tick-box assessment to determine whether a claimant is capable of performing any work that may be used by the DWP as an excuse to close their claim. Nothing more.

“Your completed ESA50 has been received by ATOS; we are currently waiting for them to set a date for your new medical assessment. You will be contacted when this date has been set.”

Oh, so the fault lies with Atos, does it? That’s nice to know. In the meantime, what are we supposed to be using to pay the bills?

And has anyone noticed that we now have a choice between combinations of three ongoing matters: We can make a new claim for income-related ESA; we can wait for a decision on our appeal, which requires another work capability assessment; and/or we can wait for Atos to pull its finger out of whichever bodily orifice is appropriate and arrange a WCA in relation to the 12-month review, which is also awaiting a decision – all after the claim period has ended!

Will we have to attend two work capability assessments? That seems to be what’s implied, although nothing in the letter clarifies this.

“I have referred your letter of complaint to our Complaints Resolution Manager, for their response. I do appreciate that you have not experienced the level of communication or customer care that we seek to provide.

“Hopefully this answers your queries.”

How has this answered any queries? All it has done is create more questions!

“Once you have completed and returned the enclosed ESA3 form, we will be able to reassess your claim and consider income related ESA.

“Once you have been seen for your next medical, we will be able to progress your Support Group appeal. If placed in Support Group, it is possible that we will be able to recommence payment of contribution based ESA.”

Aren’t these mutually exclusive? Which do they expect us to do? And - again – how do they expect us to live while we’re doing this and waiting for them to get on with it?

Note that there is no mention that we can apply for a Short Term Benefit Advance while waiting for the DWP to fulfil its responsibilities. Few people know about this and the Department aims to keep it that way. Why’s that, do you think?

It is well-known to the DWP that, along with her physical problems, Mrs Mike suffers from mental health problems and depression. As I write these words, she’s asleep on the sofa where she has been bawling her eyes out for much of the morning, in utter despair at the situation. That’s the same sofa where she spends many days at a time in such agony that she cannot move.

She won’t be another casualty of this institutionalised cruelty, but now I have to be extra vigilant to make sure she doesn’t get low enough to do herself a mischief. That’s an extra burden on me, when I already have my hands full, running the household and trying to find ways to make ends meet (like the Vox Political book, Strong Words and Hard Times*).

Meanwhile, what sanctions have been placed upon the DWP officers who have been working on this case?

None at all.

Everyone knows unemployed people claiming Jobseekers Allowance have to sign a ‘Jobseekers Agreement’ in which they agree to meet stringent conditions in order to receive their benefit. In the same way, people on ESA must report changes in their own circumstances and medical health, in order to allow their benefit to be updated correctly. Both arrangements rely on correct and timely administration by the DWP.

But this is not happening – nor is it likely to happen in the future – because, when you check to find what sanctions may be placed on the DWP for failing to uphold its side of the agreement, what do you find?

None at all.

Of course, responsibility for the policy lies not with those who carry it out but with the policy-maker, in this case the Secretary of State, Iain Something Smith. How much will he pay as a penalty for masterminding this failure of a system that has caused so much agony to so many people – and that is costing the taxpayer so much extra money in legal challenges?

I’ll tell you. It’s exactly the same as the amount of remorse the failed, Returned-To-Unit Army bag-carrier showed when he was challenged about the people his policies have killed:

None at all.

There will be no hope for the sick and disabled of this country until those responsible for their persecution are made to pay the price for it.

*Vox Political: Strong Words and Hard Times may be bought here, here, here, here and here – depending on the format in which you wish to receive it.

Firm didn’t give ‘Atos’ about man's disability

The controversial firm which tells disabled people in the UK if they are fit to work was unable to interview a Tyneside job applicant - because he was in a wheelchair
Jamie Shield, 25, from Wallsend, applied for a job at Atos in IT services, but was told he could not come to the interview as the interview would take place on the sixth floor
Jamie Shield, 25, from Wallsend, applied for a job at Atos in IT services, but was told he could not come to the interview as the interview would take place on the sixth floor

The controversial firm which tells disabled people in the UK if they are fit to work was unable to interview a Tyneside job applicant - because he was in a wheelchair.

Jamie Shield, 25, applied for a position with Atos - paid millions of taxpayers’ money by the Government to carry out employment tests - and was invited for an interview.

But he was told he could not be seen after all because a lift only went to the fifth floor of their Durham office - and they were on the sixth.

A “principal resource specialist” from the company added insult to injury when she wrote to Jamie to apologise - with a spelling mistake.

She told him: “Please except (sic) our apologies but we have no facilities to get a wheelchair to the sixth floor.

“The lift in the building only goes to the fifth floor and with the service desk on the sixth floor we won’t be able to accommodate you.

“Thanks for all your efforts.”

Jamie was staggered at their admission - and the double standards of a firm which promises not to discriminate ‘on the basis of race, religion, colour, sex, age, disability or sexual orientation’.

They had also promised to make ‘reasonable adjustments’ to the applications process for people with disabilities.

Jamie, an applied computing graduate, said: “I have some experience of being knocked back after writing applications where the grounds for not employing me has been hidden or covered up.

“I knew the real reason - my disability - but it was never said.

“That’s why I found it strange that this company should be so open about this.

“They are making decisions on people’s disabilities and benefits every day but cannot interview me for a job because they have no lift.

“It shows real double standards.”

The firm did not offer to carry out the interview at another site, on another floor or at ground level of their offices in Milburngate House, Durham.

Jamie, who graduated from Northumbria University, had applied for a job working on their service desk, which offers technical support to the BBC.

He is currently working in a similar role but on a short term contract, so was disappointed not to be able to at least be interviewed.

Atos has since written to Jamie.

The company told him: “Please take some time to reflect and if you did wish to pursue the offer of an interview with us, I would be delighted to organise.”

But Jamie, of Wallsend, North Tyneside, said: “I feel it would be morally wrong to work there now, unless things drastically change.”

More than four in 10 jobless people with crippling life long illnesses are told by Atos they will get better, and must seek work in Government tests, according to shock figures released by UK charities this week.

Between 2008-11, 13,600 people with serious conditions such as cystic fibrosis and Parkinson’s Disease applied for out of work benefit the Employment Support Allowance.

But according to the research, 45 per cent were told they were able to recover to the point where they could look for work.

Parkinson’s UK said the results of the Work Capability Assesments carried out by Atos ‘defied belief’.
Jamie suffers from neurofibromatosis, a genetic disorder which has left him in a wheelchair due to tumours growing on nerve tissue.

An Atos spokeswoman said: “We apologise unreservedly to Mr Shield, and will be writing to him directly with an explanation of what happened.”


Get appealing the bedroom tax now - a QC gives all 660,000 legitimate cause!

Reblogged from SPeye:

Click to visit the original post
All bedroom tax households should appeal the bedroom tax now - and here's why!!

I have for the last 8 months and more advocated that tenants should appeal against the HB bedroom tax decision and specifically  I have stated that tenants use process or procedural grounds for appeal as opposed to the legal grounds presented directly to the High Court by way of judicial review.

Poverty saps mental capacity to deal with complex tasks, say scientists

Study suggests being preoccupied with money problems is equivalent to loss of 13 IQ points or losing a night's sleep

Derelict housing estate

The strain of poverty may mean people are more likely to make bad decisions that exacerbate their financial problems. Photograph: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

Poor people spend so much mental energy on the immediate problems of paying bills and cutting costs that they are left with less capacity to deal with other complex but important tasks, including education, training or managing their time, suggests research published on Thursday.

The cognitive deficit of being preoccupied with money problems was equivalent to a loss of 13 IQ points, losing an entire night's sleep or being a chronic alcoholic, according to the study. The authors say this could explain why poorer people are more likely to make mistakes or bad decisions that exacerbate their financial difficulties.

Anandi Mani, a research fellow at the Centre for Competitive Advantage in the Global Economy at the University of Warwick, one of the four authors of the study, said the findings also suggest how small interventions or "nudges" at appropriate moments to help poor people access services and resources could help them break out of the poverty trap. Writing in the journal Science, Mani said previous research has found that poor people use less preventive health care, do not stick to drug regimens, are tardier and less likely to keep appointments, are less productive workers, less attentive parents, and worse managers of their finances. "The question we therefore wanted to address is, is that a cause of poverty or a consequence of poverty?"

She said the team of researchers, which included economists and psychologists in the UK and the US, wanted to test a hypothesis: "The state of worrying where your next meal is going to come from – you have uncertain income or you have more expenses than you can manage and you have to juggle all these things and constantly being pre-occupied about putting out these fires – takes up so much of your mental bandwidth, that you have less in terms of cognitive capacity to deal with things which may not be as urgent as your immediate emergency, but which are, nevertheless, important for your benefit in the medium or longer term."

To test their idea, the team carried out two sets of studies.

In the first they approached around 400 people at random in a shopping mall in New Jersey and asked them to think about how they might solve a financial problem.

Volunteers were given an "easy" scenario, where the cost of a car repair was around $150, and a "hard" scenario, where the repair would cost more like $1,500.

While they thought about this, the volunteers took part in puzzle-based IQ tests and tasks that measured their attention.

The researchers compared the change in performance in the tests for rich and poor people across the two scenarios, with rich and poor defined as being either side of the median US household income of $70,000 per year.

In the second study, the team carried out IQ and attention tests on 464 sugar cane farmers in Tamil Nadu in India during cyclical conditions of relative wealth and poverty. Because of the long crop cycle for sugar cane, farmers tend to be poor just before a harvest and relatively well off a few weeks after the harvest, when they have received their annual crop earnings.

In the shopping mall experiment, rich and poor people performed equally well on the "easy" scenario.

But poorer people performed much worse on the "hard" scenario – their average IQ was 13 points lower when they were thinking about serious financial troubles.

"That's the difference in IQ between a person who is a normal adult versus a chronic alcoholic," said Mani.

"In terms of age, it's like an average 45-year old as opposed to an average 60-year-old. In terms of sleep loss, [the immediate impact of the mall study] is like losing a full night of sleep."

For the Indian farmers there was a similar but smaller effect.

"What we did is look at the same people the month before and the month after the harvest, and what we see is that IQ goes up, cognitive control, or errors, goes way down, and response times go way down," said Sendhil Mullainathan, a professor of economics at Harvard University and a co-author of the study. "The effect here is about two-thirds of the size of the effect found in the mall study – it's at least nine or 10 IQ points, just between these months."Between these two studies, you both see the mechanism at work, and you see that, in the real world, these effects are enormous.In their study, the researchers controlled for possible mitigating factors such as stress, quality of nutrition, available time and also the fact that people can sometimes get better at cognitive tests once they have tried them out a few times.

Mullainathan added that "the results are not suggesting that the poor as people have less cognitive capacity but that anyone experiencing poverty would have less capacity. I realise this is basic but it is such an easy mistake to make in interpreting the conclusion."

Jennifer Wild, a clinical psychologist at the University of Oxford, who was not involved in the study, said the latest results were novel because, previously, researchers "may have thought that environmental conditions, such as lower levels of education, explained the link between poverty and poorer performance on some tasks of intelligence compared to the rich."

She added that a limitation of the study was that the researchers had not studied how the financial questions in the shopping mall scenario had affected the emotional states of the participants. The $1,500 amount in the "hard" scenario may have failed to influence the cognitive processing of participants with higher incomes because it might have been too low to be meaningful to them, she said.

"The figure of $1,500 may have led to anxiety in low income participants, which could have influenced their performance. The study failed to look at affective state. How much anxiety did the imagined scenarios create and were their differences in how anxious high and low income participants felt, which could explain there differences in performance?"

Mani said that the results of the study had implications for policymakers. "When we think of poor people and design policies and programmes to help them, we are only particularly cognizant of the fact that they have less material resources," she said. "I think that programmes don't often appreciate that they're also, precisely because of poverty, a bit challenged in terms of the mental resources and attention that they have. To the extent that we want to make anti-poverty programmes effective, we want to design them in a way that is mindful of that."

This could mean helping poorer high school students fill in application forms for financial aid rather than leaving them to do it by themselves. Rather than assuming that many of the poor are not taking advantage of beneficial schemes through lack of motivation or interest, said Mani, help with "small nudges at the right time and limiting the amount of cognitive load that become barriers to them enrolling in the programme could make a big difference."

Other kinds of help could include sending text reminders to take pills or deposit money for a specific savings goal they have, said Mani. "When they have 20 things that are grabbing their attention, which seem very urgent, to remind them of something that's important at the right time, that's also an effective strategy."


Universal Credit 'claimant commitment': no choice, no law, no money - no appeal

Reblogged from The SKWAWKBOX Blog:

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In just a few short weeks, the new Universal Credit benefit system starts to roll out, albeit more slowly than originally planned (but already in operation in pilot areas). This new benefits system rolls a wide variety of benefits into a single process, including unemployment benefit – and crucially, it extends ‘conditionality’ even to people who are already working, so that penalties can be applied to people for not having enough hours, or if they are not considered to be trying hard enough to get more hours.

The government’s ‘policy aims’ for this new system state that:
Universal Credit is designed to ensure that for people who can, work is still the best route out of poverty and an escape from benefit dependence.  The aim of Universal Credit is to increase labour market participation, reduce worklessness and increase in-work progression.  The conditionality regime will recast the relationship between the citizen and the State from one centred on “entitlement” to one centred on a contractual concept that provides a range of support in return for claimant’s meeting an explicit set of responsibilities, with a sanctions regime to encourage compliance.
A series of Freedom of Information (FOI) responses from the DWP reveals that the new regulations turn the opinion of even junior Jobcentre Plus (JCP) advisers into law, place them in a position of despotic omnipotence over benefit claimants, and turn claimants – even working ones – into helpless chattels shorn of power, choice or recourse if unreasonable expectations are placed on them.

A ‘claimant commitment’ (CC) is a set of obligations placed on a benefit claimant in terms of actions that must be carried out in looking for work (or more work), the amount of time that must be spent and the results generated. These requirements, as the DWP statement above indicates, are not negligible. For example, as one of the responses states:
A claimant will be expected to devote the same number of hours to work search in accordance with this action plan as we would expect them to be available for work (up to a maximum of 35 hours a week).
This might seem reasonable enough. But as one ex-DWP manager asked her MP:
Is affordability of the work search/preparation taken into account by the Adviser?   The average cost of Job seeking prior to 2012 was around £2-£6 per week assuming no job interviews secured, the Jobseeker visited the Jobcentre once a week to look for work, checked the local press, made 1 or 2 job applications and asked family/friends.  Claimants were not required to pay Council Tax .
£6 a week when you’re on as little as £56 a week in benefits is a huge amount of money. But now claimants can be expected to attend the JCP more than once a week – in fact, as often as the adviser decides is appropriate as part of the CC. Council tax support is far less available, and the price of essentials like food has risen steeply. The costs associated with the activities likely to be involved in a 35-hour work-seeking week are very likely to be (to use the government’s favourite word for NHS hospitals) unsustainable.

Claimants have a right to query the conditions of a CC – but if they refuse to sign it and ask for it to be reviewed, it will merely be looked at by another JCP adviser, not by a more specialised ‘Labour Market Decision Maker’ (LMDM).

As we’re already well aware, the DWP has no qualms about asking JCP advisers to carry out tasks for which they have no qualifications or experience. A decision by an adviser-level JCP employee is perfectly likely not to take into account the full range of circumstances faced by a claimant – and a review by another adviser, who will face his/her own pressure to conform and not to offend a colleague or possibly incur the wrath of a supervisor, in no way guarantees that bad decisions will be overturned.

Especially in a context in which – as we know in spite of government denials – all of the advisers in a JCP are likely to be under pressure to meet covert targets on the number of sanctions the JCP applies.

But surely, if a bad CC isn’t overturned by an adviser the claimant can ask for someone more senior to look at it? You’d think so – at least under any sane government. However, as the 2nd FOI response makes very clear:
There is no right of appeal if a claimant refuses to accept their Claimant Commitment and the requirements that have been set out in it.
Under this new system, a JCP adviser – who might be incompetent, inexperienced, bitter, have a personality clash with the claimant or just simply be having a bad day – is the final arbiter of whether a CC is reasonable and achievable, and even a patently bad decision cannot be appealed for a higher opinion.

And if a claimant refuses to sign?
If the claimant still refuses to accept their Claimant Commitment then he or she will no longer be entitled to claim Universal Credit.
Refuse to sign something that might be realistically unachievable – and receive nothing. Could a more coercive and arbitrary situation be imagined?

If a claimant signs and then fails or refuses to perform one of the CC conditions, the only small ray of hope is that an LMDM might see reason:
if a claimant fails to carry out any of the work related requirements set out in their Claimant Commitment this will be referred to a Decision Maker for consideration of whether a sanction should be applied. If a claimant has good reason for not carrying out a particular work related requirement then a sanction will not be applied.
But this is asking someone to accept a set of conditions knowing they can’t fulfil them – and then put themselves in the hands of a person whose qualifications, motivations, reasonableness and parameters are entirely unknown, in the hope that they’ll agree not to immediately cut off his/her benefits.

That reminds me of something. What was it? Oh, that’s right.

Russian roulette.

As the ex-JCP manager points out, the system is fraught with unknowns and uncertainties. There is nothing in the documentation to indicate:
  • what it means for a JCP adviser to ‘look again’ at a decision
  • what the criteria for assessing a decision are, or how the 2nd adviser will obtain information about the claimant’s circumstances
  • whether there are any firm timescales within which the claimant commitment review must be completed
  • whether the claimant will be interviewed by the 2nd adviser or the decision will be made entirely based on the paperwork
  • whether any additional financial support is available to help claimants meet increased work-search requirements
and I’m sure you can think of other pitfalls and problems.

We’re left with a situation in which it’s perfectly likely that someone will be expected to sign an unrealistic CC – and summarily deprived of all financial support if they refuse. Once coerced into signing this unrealistic commitment, they then face a financial ‘Russian roulette’ where the whim of an unknown person of unknown competence will decide whether a failure to comply was ‘reasonable’.

All with no guarantee, or even likelihood, that the decision will be impartial.

The OECD – hardly a hotbed of socialism or a great friend to the common man or woman – considers impartiality to be very important. In a document titled ‘Administrative Procedures in EU Member States‘, it discussion the need for impartiality:
5. Impartiality
29. The principle of impartiality is structurally weakened in administrative procedures because the Administration is party and judge in the procedure. Therefore it is necessary to establish legal measures to establish the equilibrium between the parties or at least to reduce the likelihood of unfairness. A Minimum of impartiality should be guaranteed. Therefore the withdrawal from the procedure of those Officials who have a personal interest (typical conflict of interest situation) in the outcome of the procedure 8 should be mandatory. Otherwise the administration would incur into abuse of power. Another requirement for impartiality is that any party in the procedure should be entitled to recluse any intervening official suspect of having an interest in the outcome of the procedure or having qualified friendship or enmity or kinship relationships with any of the parties.”
It’s absolutely obvious that advisers working together in a JCP office will often form friendships and a sense of loyalty to one another. It’s only human to find it difficult to judge impartially in those circumstances, and there will be a clear pressure to ‘back up’ one’s colleague, and a fear of upsetting a fellow adviser by overturning a decision.

It will therefore be extremely difficult to find an impartial adviser to judge a request for review – and even an impartial one will be judging based on personal experience and emotion rather than on professional qualifications and clear criteria.

In case anyone thinks ‘bloody EU and their bureaucracy’, or wants to write off as a ‘leftie’ opinion that this situation is wrong. The Ombudsman’s office sets out ‘Principles of Administration‘ that make the potential problems very clear:
The Principles of Good Administration

Getting it Right
Public servants do not get it right every time, so there must be a form of redress that is impartial and fair for claimants.
Being customer focused
Public Bodies do not always treat people with sensitivity, bearing in mind their individual needs, and respond flexibly to the circumstances of the case in every instance; doctors for example, can get this wrong at times.
Acting fairly and proportionately
Public bodies do not always deal with people fairly or with respect.

There is no doubt at all that the new UC system completely fails to make available an impartial and fair ‘form of redress’ as outlined by the Ombudsman.

Let’s look at a real-life scenario. The DWP operates a Universal Jobmatch (UJM) system that jobseekers are expected to use to look for jobs – but the UJM system has been shown to be seriously flawed and even a vehicle for various scams. It also contains serious security issues that risk revealing jobseekers’ private information to people who shouldn’t have it.

Jobseekers are frequently pressured to use the system and told that they might be sanctioned if they don’t – but our ex-JCP manager advises me that there is no legal obligation whatever for jobseekers to use it. They can use any available method of jobseeking, online or offline.

Under the UC system, the illegality of a sanction applied for failing to use UJM will become irrelevant. A JCP adviser has no legal right to apply a sanction for not using UJM – but if they do, and a colleague from the same JCP and therefore likely to be similarly ill-informed agrees, then the sanctioned person has no right of appeal.

Yet again the government, via its ludicrously corrupt and vicious Department of Work and Pensions’ is showing a staggering degree of contempt for those in society who need help and support, and a complete disregard for the life and wellbeing of human beings in our society who find themselves in need of that support.
Support which, as the government baldly states, is no longer the ‘entitlement’ it should be in a civilised society, but is instead something for which people are forced to sign unfeasible contracts that merely set them up to have that support snatched away arbitrarily – on the ‘godlike’ whim of JCP advisers of unknown competence and who might well be under pressure to hit sanction targets.
And all, if we’re to believe this lying-if-their-lips-are-moving government, because it’s the best ‘route out of poverty’.
Yeah. Like the best cure for a headache is decapitation.
Many, many people in this country will not survive a 2nd term of this government, or any part of it. And the way the rules are constructed shows that the Tories are ‘perfectly relaxed’ about that.
They want to take us back to the 1920s of soup kitchens, means-testing and stigmatised poverty.
We can’t let them. Please spread the word or this is where we’ll end up again:

It's fraud, Lord Freud.

Reblogged from kittysjones:


Lord Freud on Disability Benefits: 27 words, 4 inaccuracies – a new record?

Posted on 28 August 2013 by 
On 24 June Lord Freud stated to the House of Lords:
“I will set a little bit of context by saying that even in these hard economic times this Government continue to spend around £50 billion a year on disabled people and services to enable those who face the greatest barrier to participate fully in society.
That figure compares well internationally. We spend almost double the OECD average as a percentage of GDP – 2.4%against the OECD average of 1.3%. Only two out of the 34 OECD countries spend more.”   1
The last paragraph should have said:
“That figure compares averagely internationally. We spend 1.16 OECD average as a percentage of GDP—2.9% against the OECD average of 2.6%. Only 10 out of the 34 OECD countries spend more”
You have got to admire the consistency – the last 27 words contain four statistics and four of them are wrong. When speaking about disability benefits Government ministers have consistently abused numbers to make their case – but four inaccuracies within 27 words is surely a record.
Basic numbers wrong
International comparisons of welfare systems can be tricky, but in this case the flaws start long before we get to the difficult bits. The latest OECD numbers on welfare spending are from 2009 pre-dating the Government and its Welfare Reform package. 2.4% of GDP is NOT £50 billion. It was not £50 billion in 2009 or any year to date, or for that matter any year forecast by the OBR, 2.4% of GDP is actually around £35 billion.
The most basic check of the data – verifying that the percentages match up with the actual spending numbers – fails. Any competent statistician would smell a rat and go back and check the numbers. Going back to the numbers shows that £50 billion is a reasonable approximation of what the UK spends on people with disability, but the OECD numbers being used represent only a subset of what is spent on disabled people. It is also the only subset of spending on the disabled which could make the UK system look so generous in an international comparison.
Comparing Countries
Countries arrange their support for disabled people in different ways. A meaningful comparison requires the groups helped to be defined consistently across countries and that all the budgets that provide specific help to them be included. For example some country’s welfare systems will buy you a wheelchair and give you it, some countries will give you the money and you buy a wheelchair. Broadly the same effect but the money comes from different budgets. Most of these different ways of dividing up funding fall into the OECD “incapacity related” data series.2
UK Disability spending compared to other OECD member states. Latest (2009) data.
Using the correct measure of “incapacity related” spending the UK figure is higher at 2.9% of GDP but it does much worse in the subsequent international comparison (see the corrected quotation above). Importantly 2.9% is close to the “around £50 billion” of spending that Lord Freud was talking about, showing we are now comparing the right thing.
True, fair and competent
The corrected statement is not the unequivocal “truth” – no comparison is perfect – but it does paint an informative picture of reality. The figures used by Lord Freud do not – they may be defended as “true” but they are certainly not a fair or informative representation of the real world.
It is important to note that although this all seems a bit technical these issues are not new and people have been working competently with these data for years. The EUROSTAT and OECD databases are specifically designed to aid people getting these comparisons right.
Competence was not applied to this analysis either because none was available but more likely because incompetence gave the answer that was wanted. It is particularly worrying therefore that this inappropriate comparison has been used in a Department of Work and Pensions publication.3
Inaccurate and damaging
The main argument made for reforming the disability benefits is that it is “focusing them on those with most need”. This is a reasonable aim and there is much debate as to if this will be the actual effect which is best discussed elsewhere.
This real debate has been coloured by the Government’s choice to use misleading and inaccurate statistics to paint many disability claimants as cheats 4 and, as here, exaggerate the expense and generosity of the system. This pollutes and undermines any reasonable debate on the issue, as well as insults some of the most vulnerable people in our society.
  1. Column 594 
  2. For a better explanation and more detail on the numbers see 
  3. Making it Happen happen.pdf p2 Section 1.3 
    Briefing on How Cuts Are Targeted – Dr Simon Duffy 
  4. 417174_409187269150807_530516221_n
    Many thanks to Robert Livingstone for his excellent art work