Electric Deception

I know that Top Gear only has two kinds of review; serious reviews of fantastically fast cars, or making an utter mockery of themselves and everything else. I watch and like Top Gear for that very reason. I don’t like cars much; I like the comedy and the messing around. And I know that Clarkson has to keep up his appearance of generally hating any effort to halt climate change. As you would expect, electric cars don’t come across very well on this show. Historically electric cars have been small and weedy, AND they are less harmful to the environment. Of course they aren’t going to like them.

So I know that it is pointless to write this criticism, but I can’t not write it. Not for the first time, their dislike has gone beyond entertainment and into the realms of lying to their viewers to seriously damage the take-up of electric cars.

The review was introduced and for the most part presented as a serious review. Introduced in a typical Top Gear fashion:

“Now the fact is that the electric car is very much with us. You can actually go into a dealership and simply buy one. But the big question is, should you? What are the pitfalls, what are the advantages?”

“To find out, James and I decided to do a sensible test. No cocking about, no catching fire, no Richard Hammond.”

The cars tested were the Nissan Leaf and the Peugot iOn. At the start of the review we were treated to genuine comments on the cars, which came across well.

When it came to price, it was correctly pointed out that both cars cost roughly twice as much as equivalent petrol driven cars. What was not mentioned was the fact that taking into account the vast difference in fuel prices, the electric cars would be far more economical over the lifetime of the car.

Even worse, Clarkson was very wrong about the cost of charging. The most expensive daytime electricity is provided to those that use “Economy 7” meters, where off-peak (overnight) electricity is very cheap indeed at about 5 pence per unit, but peak electricity is correspondingly more expensive.  Assuming that a completely flat battery would be charged purely on peak time electricity, it would cost about £2.50. (Source: LlewBlog) Clarkson stated that it could cost £8.30. I challenge Top Gear to tell us exactly how it could cost that much. Anyway, for the most part, people will drive their cars in the day and charge up overnight, at an approximate cost of £1.50.

It should also be noted that for the most part electric cars will need far less maintenance than cars with combustion engines as they have far fewer moving parts. They will however need replacement batteries after between three and ten years.

The review actually went wrong as soon as the choice of test was made: a trip to the seaside. Electric cars are limited by their batteries. The cars being tested have a range of about 100 miles, and take up to about 12 hours to recharge from empty. This is a widely known problem, fully acknowledged by the manufacturers. These cars are not intended for long distance trips. What they are perfectly suited for is the school run, shopping trips, and commuting to work within 30 miles or so, and then recharging the batteries overnight. And this isn’t as big a limitation as it sounds, since the manufacturers have done their research and most journeys are of this short range category. By setting the task of a long distance day trip, Top Gear have immediately taken the cars far outside of their intended use. Perhaps this would be acceptable if they said as much, but they didn’t. And it isn’t possible that Clarkson or May or the producers don’t know what they have done there.

At the current time, cars like those tested are ideal for people that commute to work in them, perhaps in the next town, that use their car for shopping and for getting around locally. It will quickly become a habit to plug the car in on arrival at home, charge it up on cheap off-peak electricity, then unplug it in the morning before setting off. In the rare event of a longer distance journey, fast chargers are beginning to appear at motorway service stations and so the car can be recharged in a half hour break in the journey. At the moment the use of charging points away from home requires planning, and no one is denying it. In the same way that people plan to stop at a filling station when they know their journey is longer than the range of their petrol car, people will have to plan to stop at a charging station for long journeys in their electric car. That the Top Gear team did not plan their journey appropriately shows a deliberate effort to mislead.

Top Gear are allowed to dislike electric cars. They are allowed to think that hydrogen powered cars are better. (They aren’t, but that’s just my opinion.) But they are misleading their viewers. They:

  • Did not properly compare the lifetime costs, only the purchase price
  • Mislead over the cost of charging
  • Did not test the cars in their intended use, nor state that they were not using the car as intended
  • Deliberately did not plan their long journey around a charging stop, despite knowing the range of the cars
This is on top of all the other occasions when they have deliberately mislead about the capabilities of electric cars, including the episode in which they faked an empty battery on a Tesla car, for which they are currently being sued.

Fuck you

If you think that employers don’t exploit workers, then FUCK YOU.

If you think it’s ever OK to pay someone less than they need to live on, FUCK YOU.

If you think that the poor only don’t have enough to live on because their aspirations are too high, then FUCK YOU.

If you think that people should expect less out of life in their “relative position” then FUCK YOU.

If you think that anyone should not be entitled to a living wage because they have a TV or a games console, then FUCK YOU.

Basically, if you’re a complete tory arsehole, FUCK YOU.

Listen to my report on ATOS on the Pod Delusion podcast

My recent report “What’s wrong with ATOS” is now featured on the Pod Delusion podcast. It starts about fifteen minutes in. If you can’t use the player embedded here, you can download an MP3 from the podcast’s own website or find it on iTunes instead.

I have previously appeared on Episode 90 with “Government attacking disabled people” and Episode 91 with “Fragile Social Networks.” The Pod Delusion is well worth listening to anyway. As they put it, the Pod Delusion is “A podcast about interesting things, from a staunchly skeptical/rationalist/liberal/a bit lefty point of view.” If you need more convincing, it was recently featured on BBC Click and you can watch the report here.

Mocking Parliament

Quick Version: The Daily Show Global Edition can’t be shown in the UK this week, because it contains footage from parliament in the context of humour and satire. (Long version at New Statesman.)


We can’t mock parliament? What happened to free speech? You know, that human right that has to apply to everybody or it doesn’t work?

Well screw that. Here’s the stuff that can’t be shown. I am not sure if the rules on this apply to internet video and blogs or not, but if it breaks the law, so be it.

And just in case you haven’t seen it, this is my video that might break the law too.

Twisting the facts, printing lies. How the DWP and tabloids are wrong about fit for work stats


Headlines claim that just 1 in 14 are unfit for work. Photo by @opinion8ed_dyke

The headlines today are screaming that a mere 7% of ESA claimants aren’t fit for work. The Daily Mail says that “Benefits Britain marches on: Just one in 14 disability handout applicants are too ill to work” while the BBC claim “Tests claim few benefit claimants unfit to work” These figures are grossly misleading. These actually come from a Department of Work and Pensions press release, 26 July 2011 – Work Programme provides tailored support as latest figures show people are being found fit for work. Those news stories haven’t actually mislead about the contents of the press release too much, the propaganda comes from the DWP. The Express, on the other hand, has gone for “Sick benefits: 75% are faking” which is just an outright lie.

Lets start with the figures from the DWP.

For all new ESA claims from 27th October 2008 to 30th November 2010, the result of the initial WCA is as follows

  • Support Group – 7%
  • Work Related Activity Group – 17%
  • Fit for Work – 39%
  • Claim closed before assessment complete – 36%
  • Assessment still in progress – 1%

These figures are true, but lie by omission. First of all, the figures given are for ALL that start a claim for ESA. As stated, 36% of people that start a claim drop out before they even get to their Work Capability Assessment. Some of these people will drop out because they perhaps shouldn’t have applied in the first place. Some might even have been trying it on and then realised that they would be caught. Some recover enough to find work, some find work that fits around their disabilities. Some, however, drop out because they are so ill that they cannot face the application and testing process. We don’t know, as no records are kept of reasons for dropping out, but I contend that many more than we know drop out because they are too ill to finish the process. Given that 36% of claimants are not tested, we cannot include them in the ‘fit for work’ category. That 7% of claimants is actually 11% of claimants who complete the process.

11% is still a very small number. That still casts 89% of claimants as cheats, doesn’t it? Well no. No it doesn’t. Not unless you are a tabloid writer. You see, 17% of total claimantss – or 26.6% of claimants that finish the process – are put in the Work Related Activity Group. Being put in this group DOES NOT mean that the claimant is fit for work! It means that there may be some job, as yet unknown, that the claimant could possibly manage to do, if they push themselves hard enough,possibly at high cost to their health, IF they receive the right support in terms of information, equipment, services and grants. People in this group must attend six interviews at the Job Centre over the course of a few months to try and determine just what this possible job could be, and the support that would be needed to do it. People in this group STILL RECEIVE ESA.

Adding those two together and leaving out the people that dropped out, that means that 37.5% of people tested were not fit for work. That still leaves 61% that were receiving ESA who were found fit for work. Are they all cheats? No. Here’s why.

The Work Capability Assessment takes place at the end of the assessment phase of the claim. That means the test can take place up to 14 weeks after the person started to claim ESA. 14 weeks is a long time, and it should also be noted that people are often sick for a long time before they even apply for ESA, either on Statutory Sick Pay for 28 weeks, or just unaware that they can claim. Those people could easily have been sick for 9 months before being tested. 9 months is long enough for people to recover or start recovering from many health issues, and so these people would have been correctly being given ESA while unable to work. Health issues change, and finding these people fit for work now would be correct, but does not invalidate their claim in the previous months. I think if the WCA correctly finds someone capable of work after many months of illness but heading towards recovery, this is usually a good thing.

Assuming that changes in health conditions account for a chunk of that 61%, let’s say a third, that still leaves the rest. Here’s the thing. The accuracy of the testing process has been found to be wrong, broken, inadequate, however you want to put it, by MPs, a house of commons select committee, many disability rights charities, and many many individuals and activists. Even a person involved in designing the test has said that it is not fit for purpose.

33% of people found fit for work between October 2008 and August 2009 appealed against that decision. 40% of those overturned that decision and were awarded ESA. That’s 27,500 people who were provably found fit for work when they were not. Many more people did not appeal, for many of the same reasons that may have caused people to drop out of the claims process.

Today the Commons Select Committee on the Migration from Incapacity Benefits to Employment Support Allowance released its 6th Report – The Role Of Incapacity Benefit Reassessment In Helping Claimants Into Employment. Among other things, that report criticised media coverage and stated that government had a duty to take more care when engaging with media.

5.  Sections of the media routinely use pejorative language, such as “work-shy” or “scrounger”, when referring to incapacity benefit claimants. We strongly deprecate this and believe that it is irresponsible and inaccurate. The duty on the state to provide adequate support through the benefits system for people who are unable to work because of a serious health condition or illness is a fundamental principle of British society. Portraying the reassessment of incapacity benefit claimants as some sort of scheme to “weed out benefit cheats” shows a fundamental misunderstanding of the Government’s objectives. (Paragraph 40)

6.  Whilst fully accepting that the Government, and this Committee, have no role in determining the nature and content of media coverage, we believe that more care is needed in the way the Government engages with the media and in particular the way in which it releases and provides its commentary on official statistics on the IB reassessment. In the end, the media will choose its own angle, but the Government should take great care with the language it itself uses and take all possible steps to ensure that context is provided when information about IB claimants found fit for work is released, so that unhelpful and inaccurate stories can be shown to have no basis. (Paragraph 41)

I disagree with part of this in that I think that consciously or not, Conservative ministers have an ideological motive to move people off of benefits, portraying them as cheats if necessary, with the help of special advisors. (SPADS.) I believe that ministers and SPADS have been feeding selected information to the press to create a national view that is biased against sick and disabled people that claim benefits, and the press have been only too happy to amplify this.

Related Links

Why won’t ATOS let us record our Work Capability Assessments?

As you will know if you have read my recent blog post “What’s wrong with ATOS“, there is often a large disparity between what is said during a Work Capability Assessment and what ATOS actually reports to the department of work and pensions. The reports take no account of context in answers (“I can do x IF…”) and often fail to note that an action or activity may be possible for a patient, but will have consequences for their health and may not be repeatable. As a result claims are often appealed and ultimately referred to a tribunal.

At that tribunal the patient must demonstrate that the ATOS report is not true for the above reasons.  It is permitted for the patient to be accompanied by a friend to witness the assessment, but an audio recording would be the ideal proof. Unfortunately ATOS have made it nearly impossible for anyone to record their assessment.

Many people have attempted to record their assessment using mobile phones, digital sound recorders or dictaphones. Nearly every time ATOS have halted the assessment and refused to continue while being recorded. On some occasions the patient has relented and stopped recording, on others they have been asked to leave and their report has stated that they did not attend their assessment, resulting in their benefit being stopped.

In a response to a Freedom of Information request made at the end of 2010 the Department of Work and Pensions provided the official guidelines to ATOS staff regarding recording of assessments. The most important parts are quoted here.

“Such a request can only be agreed with the prior consent of the HCP, and then only if stringent safeguards are in place to ensure that the recording is complete, accurate and that the facility is available for simultaneous copies to be made available to all parties present. The recording must be made by a professional operator, on equipment of a high standard, properly calibrated by a qualified engineer immediately prior to the recording being made. The equipment must have facility for reproduction so that all parties can retain a copy of the tape. The responsibility for meeting the cost of the above requirement rests with the claimant”

“It is for Atos Healthcare, in conjunction with their legal advisers, to determine the action to be taken in the event of a claimant making an audio or video recording without the prior knowledge and consent of the HCP, or without ensuring that the safeguards defined above are in place”

“If you suspect a customer of trying to film or record an assessment the following action should be taken

Advise the customer that such action is not permitted, explain why not, and ask them to switch the device off. If the customer refuses to comply:

  • The assessment should be suspended
  • Inform your site manager and/or medical manager immediately”

From this it is clear that recording by the patient will not be permitted, will result in the assessment being stopped and might result in legal action by ATOS. What is strange is the circumstances in which they will allow recording. It must be

  • Recorded by a professional operator
  • on professional equipment
  • immediately duplicated in front of ATOS staff
  • paid for by the patient

This is obviously impractical to arrange and priced far out of reach of the patient,  who is receiving Employment and Support Allowance to live on, at approx £60 – £100 per week.

In a court case in June 2008 a judge ruled on a patient who had been denied benefit and lost his appeal after ATOS reported that he did not attend because he attempted to record his assessment.   The judge ruled that he should be allowed to start his assessment process all over again, because he had not been advised that he could arrange for recording of the assessment in stricter circumstances. What is interesting is the other comments by the judge in his findings.

45. The appellant makes a number of good points in this context. He draws attention to the considerable (and probably prohibitive) cost that would be involved for an individual living on benefits in meeting the Department’s restrictive criteria. He rightly points out that those conditions (which include the presence of a qualified engineer) are actually stricter than those in place for police interviews with suspects. He might also have added that the Department’s own protocols for interviewing claimants under caution in the course of benefit fraud investigations do not require the presence of a qualified engineer (although dual-tape machines and sealed tapes are used).

Let me repeat that: ATOS’ requirements are stricter than those for police interviews, and stricter than their own interviews for benefit fraud applications.

So, we get to the really important question. Why do ATOS make it so difficult to record assessments?

There is one relatively good reason. They are worried that a single recording taken by the patient could be digitally altered and then presented before a tribunal as proof. They wish to counter this by having a duplicate recording in their own possession. This does seem a reasonable request, but their chosen methods are over the top and unnecessary.

ATOS also state that “Medical Services view unauthorised and secret recording to be an invasion of privacy.” Now, if this were a private conversation between two friends, that might be the case. But this is not. This is an assessment carried out on behalf of the government and with life-changing consequences for the patient.  It often starts a process which ends up in the legal system. In these circumstances, it is wrong to claim that recording is an invasion of privacy. In an assessment as grave and important as this, are they really saying that the assessor is going to say something which should not be reported, and that he won’t do so when officially being recorded? Because to me, that suggests that they think their staff might be unprofessional in their behaviour.

I think ATOS is clearly wrong to obstruct recording of Work Capability Assessments. At best, this is an uncaring attitude which shows lack of respect for the patient or of any concern over the outcome of their benefit claim. At worst, this is wilful obstruction of justice and a prevention of a proper outcome at a tribunal. There is a simple solution to this. ATOS should allow every patient to record their interview in any way that they wish to, openly so that their staff need have no concerns about privacy. If they are worried about a recording being altered to be used against them, then they should also record every interview themselves. They need not go to the expense of dual recording equipment if they allow patients to make their own recording.

Of course, they won’t do this. ATOS must be fully aware of the failure rate of their assessments and the large number of successful appeals against them. They know that if a large number of recordings were to be made, they would be shown up by the vast contradiction between what is said and what is recorded. They would be shown to be either incompetent or to have an agenda against benefit claimants.

Everything that happened today in 30 seconds

In the absence of anything meaningful from today’s select committee investigations into hacking and corruption, I made this.


This isn’t really everything from the day though; make sure that you are aware of what the government did today to schools


and the NHS


Product review: Trabasack

Trabasack in use on a powerchairIf you watched my film “A short film about pavements” then you will have seen the tray that was on my lap during filming. That tray is called a Trabasack, and it is actually a lap-desk and a bag in one. I have been using an Original Trabasack Curve for a couple of weeks. It consists of a leather feel tray, with a cushioned rim running around it. On the other side there is a bean bag which allows it to sit comfortably on your lap. A zip allows access to the section between the two so that it can be used as a bag.

Since it has two functions, I will address them one at a time. First of all, as a bag. The zip goes nearly all the way around the Trabasack, allowing it to open all the way up if you like. There is one main compartment inside. There is a pocket with a zip on one side, but that contains the bean bag and is not usable for other storage.

Trabasack front showing zip

The actual compartment is smaller than I would like but probably as large as is practical. I was able to store a 10″ netbook computer inside, and had enough space for a few other bits and pieces. Since I am in the habit of carrying all sorts of gadgetry as well as pills and inhalers, my normal choice of bag – a messenger bag – has lots of pockets to keep everything tidy. Unfortunately the Trabasack doesn’t have that. A nice future improvement might be an elastic strap and / or a mesh pocket to keep my netbook charger cable tidy and secure my pills to the sides. Those complaints aside, the bag is perfectly adequate to carry what I need when out, such as wallet, medicines, phone, keys, and netbook.

For carrying, there are several choices. The bag has two handles and can easily carried by hand. It also comes with two long straps and two short straps, and six loops to allow the straps to be attached in various places. Using these straps it can be configured with a shoulder strap or worn as a rucksack. It can also be easily secured when using it in a wheelchair. The two short straps can be looped around the arms or frame of the chair and attached to the side rings of the bag, or a long strap can go all the way around the waist. Either way, it is very secure when used in this way, as demonstrated in my film.

A netbook on a Trabasack
A Trabasack in use holding a netbook

So what is it like as a tray? I would say pretty good. I have been using it indoors to hold my netbook (which otherwise can toast a lap inside 30 seconds) and it does a good job. The beanbag helps it mould to the shape of my lap and sit securely. I have used it both in bed and while sitting on the sofa. It’s also good for a mug of coffee or a plate. I had previously used a wooden tray for this but I always had problems with the sides of the tray digging into my arm because I don’t always have the strength to lift my arm up over the edge when picking up my mug. With the Trabasack this isn’t a problem since it doesn’t have a raised edge on the side facing the person using it. The only reservation I have in using the tray for hot drinks is that I don’t want to spill anything on it.

I actually used the Trabasack as a platform to rest my camera on while filming from my powerchair. It provided a steady surface and the raised edge helped prevent the camera from slipping off during the bumpy bits.

The Trabasack is also available as a smaller Trabasack Mini, and interestingly, both are available in the “Connect” version which has a soft velcro surface to which your possessions can be fixed by sticking velcro hook-tape to them. I didn’t go for this as I don’t really like the idea of sticking anything to my gadgets, but the option will definitely be useful to many.

Overall the Trabasack is pretty good. It’s even more handy if you are a powerchair user, and like me you end up carrying your bag on your lap. (Why don’t powerchairs have bag holders under the seat???) I initially thought that £40 was quite a steep price for it, but given that it serves two functions, and that my messenger bag cost thirty quid on it’s own, that’s actually not bad. If you need further convincing, an extra use that I have discovered for the Trabasack is that it can be used as a handy pillow if I need to take an unscheduled rest while out and only have a floor or a bench!

The Trabasack can be found on their website, www.trabasack.co.uk at a cost of £39.99. If you’re feeling generous you could purchase it via this Amazon link which will give me some commission.

Thank you to Trabasack who provided this product for review.

Inaccessible world

After publishing my film “A short film about pavements” this morning I have already had people suggest that I should not use a wheelchair on those paths because it is not designed for them, that I should rely on family or my local church to take me to where I need to go, that I simply want the government to spend more money that we haven’t got to fix the problem, and that it is bleeding heart socialist to ask for things to be made accessible for everyone.

So what was my point with the video? What do I want?

First of all, accessible buses with low floors. This is a reasonable adaption, and in fact a legal requirement by 2015. Unfortunately it takes time to do, and my local bus companies do not think it a priority to implement on the route that goes through my town.

Secondly, I would like broken pavements to be repaired and grass, mud and hedges to be kept back from the path. I can put up with a rattly bumpy ride, but where there are holes in the ground that necessitate my 86kg wheelchair being lifted out of after getting stuck, it’s quite reasonable to ask for it to be filled in.

Thirdly, I would like dropped kerbs at corners. In three examples in my film there are corners with no dropped kerbs, some quite new. At best this is negligence, possibly incompetence. These ramps should have been built in to start with. They are not a special requirement for wheelchairs, they are also needed for baby buggies, and people that have difficulty walking, and even just skateboards and roller skates. I’m sure there are more examples. Where corners have been built without dropped kerbs, these need to be fixed. It’s not an optional extra.

Why do I want all this? If we have no money, why shouldn’t I settle for being driven to the doctor, the pharmacy, the supermarket etc by volunteers from my local church, or by family members or friends? Big Society in action?

First of all, there is no guarantee of getting a volunteer. When I make an appointment with the doctor, I can’t check if there will be someone free to take me there a week or a month ahead. I can’t be on the phone to the doctor’s receptionist and the local church at once, arranging a mutually convenient time. And I have no idea if my father will be available to drive me during the working day, a month ahead.

Then there is the fact that it should not be necessary! I have a powerchair, there are buses, there is a walking route that goes where I need to go. (And is used by other people.) I should be able to use all these things.

I don’t have a car. I am too ill to ride my motorbike. I can’t afford the taxi fare at £17 for a round trip. I can’t walk to the bus stop and then walk around town afterwards. I need to take my wheelchair with me unless I’m not walking anywhere and not standing when I get there. Admittedly, I am going to apply for Disability Living Allowance which will help towards travel costs, but DLA is to be replaced by the much harder to get Personal Independence Payments, and that is going to withdraw support from many people on the basis that disabled people no longer need so much help because everything is accessible now. Everything is NOT accessible now.

I don’t want charity. I don’t want embarrassing reliance on other people. I don’t want to have to beg for help, or to feel like I am an inconvenience, or that I am causing problems by dragging my family or friends out of work to take me to places. I should be able to go there myself. I can go there myself. If only the council and the bus company did their jobs.


A Short Film About Pavements

Two weeks ago I went out to take some photos to illustrate a blog post on accessibility  that I was working on. I took my photos, but then I took some video as well. Quite a lot of video. When I got home, the photos were useless but the video was quite interesting and so I changed my plans. Instead of a blog post with photos, I was going to create a short film.

I needed a few more scenes to create my film, and so my wife and I went out a couple of days later and recorded the rest of what we thought we would need. That night I stayed up selecting scenes and stitching it all together in iMovie on an old iMac that I have.

By the morning I had created several minutes of video that I was quite pleased with. It illustrated my point nicely, and had a nice flow to it. It was great, apart from one thing. It was appallingly bad picture quality. That was because it was all shot using a cheap digital stills camera which could only record video at 320×240, a quarter of the resolution of even low definition TV. In addition, the picture was horribly shaky and blurry.

What could I do about it? I didn’t have a better camera. My phone could also record video, but at exactly the same low quality. All was not lost, however. I was ordering a new phone that very week. By a happy coincidence, the phone that I wanted happened to include a full high definition video camera which had received rave reviews. I ordered the phone and waited in high anticipation of its delivery.

New phone in hand, we set out again to spend an afternoon filming. I had cleverly attached a car windscreen mounting kit to my powerchair and arranged it so that the phone camera had a clear shot from in that holder. We shot hours of video. I recorded pieces to camera many times over until it was right. It was repetitious and tedious. However, we eventually finished and returned home. After a brief rest (I was so worn out I couldn’t stay upright) I reviewed the footage that we had shot. It was AWFUL. Mounted on the powerchair, it was so shaky that watching it made me feel like my head was in a blender. Nevertheless, I grabbed what I could out of it and I made it into a rough approximation of the film that I wanted.

Since then we have been out filming several more times, I have spent many many hours editing the results, and there have been several preview showings. I restarted the editing several times, learnt how to use Openshot in Linux and then Movie Maker in Windows, and eventually spent a mammoth 17 hour session producing the final edit and subsequently crippling myself for two days (and more to come) from the effort.

It has all been worth it though. I have finished. And I present to you:

A Short Film About Pavements