Benefits and BMWs

The Sunday Times has decided to be outraged about people on benefits getting BMW cars. The headline they ran with was State hands out BMWs to ‘disabled’ (Paywall link) and it was plastered across the front page.

Unfortunately there are so many errors in the article that even the headline is plain wrong. To start with, the state does not “hand out” any cars to “the disabled”. Disabled people or the long term sick may get the higher rate mobility component of Disability Living Allowance to provide for their travel needs, and it can be spent as the recipient chooses but usually goes towards cars, wheelchairs, scooters, trains, buses, taxis and more. There is a charity scheme called Motability, and if a person wishes, they can pay the mobility component of their DLA to the Motability scheme in return for a car.

The state has not handed anyone a car, people have received the benefits to which they are entitled, and chosen to spend their money on a car.

The Motobility scheme works on the basis of leasing a new car out, and then selling it at the end of three years. (This works out cheaper than buying second hand cars and paying for their maintenance, and is more reliable and safer.) Motability has a set budget and any extra cost over the standard amount has to be covered by the user of the car – for example if the car has been driven more than the expected distance, there will be a mileage fee when the car is handed back. If someone wants a more expensive car to start with then they can pay the difference in cost so that Motability does not lose money. Some people pay a few hundred pounds extra to get a car more suitable for their medical condition, such as a car with a higher seat for people that struggle getting in and out of the car, or find low seating painful. These people often borrow at their own expense to pay the difference in cost. A BMW can be had through Motability for an extra fee in the same way that a slightly higher model Citroen could be. It’s just that there is a big difference in the size of that extra fee.

To get a BMW on Motability costs the end user at least £1,399 extra, and it is a fee, not a deposit.

It should be noted that DLA is not an out of work benefit, it is paid to everyone that has a qualifying disability, regardless of their work status or income. People that are still in work, especially if in a high powered job, or that have savings, might be able to afford the extra fee. Whether that is right or wrong is a different argument, but no fraud has been committed as DLA was intended to cover the extra cost of disability when working as much as when not.

The Sunday Times also talked about people using the car without the owner present. Some of the the points they made were true, but they missed that the car may be used on behalf of the sick or disabled person or for their benefit. That means that a carer could drive the car to go shopping to buy food for the owner of the car, completely within the rules. Of course they can’t use the owner’s blue badge or park in a disabled parking space, since they can walk across the car park.

Someone else can use a Motability car on behalf of the owner without them present.

The Sunday Times highlighted two cases of fraud in an attempt to back up their argument. One was someone whose health had improved but who had not informed the DWP and had gone back to work as a boxer, and the other was someone that was using his wife’s car to make deliveries as a courier. Benefit fraud levels are incredibly low, but with millions of people involved, even 0.5% means that a few people committing fraud can be found. Highlighting two cases without telling the reader how small a minority commit fraud is highly misleading. It should also be noted that while the boxer who didn’t inform anyone of his improvement was committing benefit fraud, the person driving his wife’s car was not. He was breaking the rules of the motability scheme and driving a car without paying the vehicle excise duty. (Which is waived for people receiving higher rate mobility component of DLA.) He had not defrauded the government out of any DLA benefit money.

The whole article has the same tone that we are becoming used to from mainstream newspapers. The implication that everyone on benefits is a scrounger. The article mentions that 123,000 people receive DLA for back pain, as though back pain is a simple thing or is somehow less worthy of support. (It covers scoliosis, degenerative spinal conditions, botched surgery resulting in nerve damage or paralysis.) Even the use of quotes around the word disabled in the headline is used to imply quite strongly that these people are not really disabled. I refuse to believe that the ‘journalists’ (see what I did there?) are that ignorant or don’t understand DLA and Motability. There is a clear agenda in this article to smear these people and create outrage. It is not acceptable and an apology must be given. I urge you to complain to the Press Complaints Commission about the factual innacuracies in their article, as I will be doing.

Cross posted at Where’s the Benefit?

Response to the attack on DLA in today’s papers

Several papers have run with a story today about Disability Living Allowance, the numbers of people receiving it and what they receive it for. Unfortunately that coverage has been highly negative and has largely complained about the increase in people claiming DLA (from 2.2 million to 3.2 million – The Telegraph) and about DLA being paid out for back pain, addiction, and mental health problems. Interestingly, the papers all cite “new figures” but give no indication of where they came from. As far as I can tell there has been no new press release from the DWP on this subject.

First of all I want to address the rise in claimants. There are many reasons for this, but the claims process has definitely not got easier. A large part of the reason is simply more awareness of eligibility for the benefit. In the early days of DLA far less people knew that they could claim it. Another reason for the increase is that medical science has advanced, and we are now able to diagnose and name many more health conditions than before. Once these problems have been recognised, people are more likely to apply for help in dealing with them.

The statements made in The Sun, The Telegraph, the Daily Mail and particularly in the Daily Express appear to be highly misleading. Here are some of the statements made from the Daily Express.

“Between May 2000 and May 2010 the overall number of people being paid Disability Living Allowance soared from­ ­2.1million to 3.1million.”

All of these people have had to go through the existing highly rigourous and extremely difficult application process, including a 50 page form, letters from doctors and specialists, and an examination by a doctor on behalf of the DWP. No one without a crippling disability or illness would have received DLA, and in fact many more that could claim have not done so through lack of awareness or through fear of the process.

“The benefit is designed to help disabled people who cannot walk, have difficulty walking or need help getting around.”

This is true, but not the whole truth. DLA has two components, mobility and care. It pays for wheelchairs, scooters and cars, walking sticks, taxi costs for those that cannot drive, and also pays for the expense of getting someone to care, lost income, pays for more food that a disabled person can actually access, e.g. pre-prepared meals or ready peeled and chopped vegetables.

“Yet, astonishingly, the number of people claiming DLA for back pain shot up by more than 80 per cent during the decade.”

There are several problems with this one. First of all, DWP doctors often write “Back pain” as a simple summary for much more complex problems. One person that I spoke to was claiming for Hypermobility type EDS, Dural Ecstasia, rib impingement and nerve damage in hips affecting legs. This means she suffers frequent dislocations, has blinding headaches, can’t move her legs properly, severe pain in hips and… has mild back-ache. The doctor wrote down “Back pain.”

Secondly, many problems with the back seriously affect ability to walk. Crumbling spine, missing vertebrae, fused vertebrae, damaged discs and  trapped sciatic nerves can all prevent a person from walking or make walking intensely painful.

“Furthermore, there was a 250 per cent increase in those getting the benefit for drug and alcohol abuse.”

That favourite of the tabloid newspapers, drugs and alcohol. In many of these cases, drugs and alcohol is a secondary problem and addiction or use of them is a result of a primary health problem. Where NHS medicine is inadequate to treat pain, desperate people may turn to cannabis or drink.  Some of these cases, therefore, might well be misreported as addiction rather than the original problem, or addiction might have become a bigger problem than the original health conditions. I believe it is unfair to look down on these cases as undeserving of help. Someone also commented “I volunteer at a charity, most of whose clients are poly-addicted. Many of them *do* get DLA, but not for the /addiction/ but for, inter alia, collapsed veins, Hep C, HIV, renal failure etc.  Most of them either use street drugs or have a methadone regime, which is meant to wean them off heroin. Alcohol is used either as a replacement when heroin is too expensive/crap quality or because they are street drinkers: the street drinkers along with heroin addicts, are often given diagnoses of severe chronic depression.”

“There was also a 200 per cent rise in the number of people claiming for allergies over the same period.”

There has been a massive increase in allergies full stop. Is it so surprising that people need help with them? We are not given any indication of the actual numbers claiming for allergies, but I suspect the numbers of people so severely affected as to have care needs or mobility problems is low. For example, 1,000 people increasing to 3,000 people would be a 200% increase, but would still only represent a tiny part of the cost of DLA.

“Figures unveiled by the Daily Express earlier this year showed that 19,400 alcoholics and drug addicts claim the mobility component of DLA, which is meant for the severely physically disabled. It also goes to 30,900 people with asthma and 128,300 with back pain.”

I am astonished at the inability of the writer to make the connection between these conditions and severe disability. Drugs and alcohol is given as the primary reason for the claim, but there could be one or many more other health problems that are not reported in the summary, and there could be severe disability as a result of drugs and alcohol. There is also a serious mistake or an outright lie here; DLA is also NOT just for the physically disabled, it covers mental health conditions too if those conditions cause care or mobility needs.

“The handout is paid at different rates depending on how the disability affects the claimant. Many get the higher rate of £51.40 a week, which is meant to be paid to those who have the most severe difficulties walking.”

This is loaded emotive language that implies that higher rate claimants should not be eligible, but gives no reason for this implication.

“Under strict new rules, claimants will get a face-to-face assessment to ensure the benefit goes to the people with the greatest need.”

As face to face assessment already happens as part of the application, it is nothing new. Claiming DLA is already incredibly difficult, as I said at the start of this article. The DWP already sends doctors to assess those who are claiming. The new PIP benefits include a test administered by ATOS Origin instead of a doctor sent by the DWP to people’s homes. (The test is seriously flawed, but that is another article.)

“Disability Living Allowance will be replaced by the Personal Independence Payment. It will remain a non-means tested, non-taxable cash benefit paid to disabled people whether they are in or out of work.”

I am glad that they mentioned that DLA is not an out-of-work benefit. DLA is paid to people whether they are working or not. In both cases, there are extra costs incurred through disability, and DLA pays for these. In many cases, DLA allows the recipient to arrange care and transport for themselves, thus saving the local government from having to provide for these needs. DLA also provides support that allows people to work. In many cases, the loss of DLA would mean dropping out of paid employment, new requirements for care provision paid for by the local authorities, or both.

“A source close to the reforms said: “There has been a huge increase in cash payouts for things like back pain over the past decade and too often people are left on benefits without further contact with the department. We are going to bring in a new assessment and ­regular checks to make sure support is getting to those who need it.”

I am worried by this “source close to the reforms.” We are not told where this information has come from, and yet it has appeared in several newspapers at the same time. I have been unable to find a press release that correlates to this information, and therefore I must assume that the figures have been leaked to chosen newspapers with a particular political agenda in mind.

Finally, I should also point out that there are indeed people who are left on DLA without further checks. These are people with missing body parts, permanent deformities, degenerative diseases, and worse. They are NEVER going to get better. They will probably get worse. What point is there in dragging these people through more assessments which will often damage their health further and cause severe stress and worry?

 

Original Stories

The Daily Express: Anger as disability benefit claimants soar by one million

The Sun: Allergic to work

The Telegraph: Numbers paid benefits after claiming to be hyperactive rockets

Daily Mail: Drink and drug addicts on disability benefits soars by 250% in a decade to almost 23,000

Related blog posts

My dad, working through the pain

The benefit claims ordeal

Invisible illness, invisible benefits

Diary of a benefit scrounger: ESA assessments pushing mentally ill to suicide.

Existing on benefits

People on benefits? They’re all scroungers aren’t they?

Compare and contrast

 

 

 

 

 

 

ESA assessments pushing mentally ill to suicide

I wanted to write something about this myself, but Sue Marsh from Diary of a Benefit Scrounger has said it far better than I could and so I repost her article here with her permission.


Isn’t it an awful thing when you know all about something terrible, but at the same time you know you’re at least a year or two ahead of general opinion?

Regular readers will know my endless horror at the system of “assessment” in place to now determine whether or not someone is “Fit for Work”.

Run by ATOS, a private company charged with making impersonal decisions, the system uses a computerised, tick box questionnaire of just 15 questions that take no account of variable conditions, no account of consultant or GP based evidence and no account of pain or most symptoms.

Today, the Chief Executives of the most prominent mental health charities in the country have published an open letter in the Guardian, begging the government to halt the deeply flawed scheme because it is costing lives. They are not advising or asking, they are begging.

They rightly point out that “invisible” illnesses are woefully let down in the current system and this includes not just those with mental health problems, but also those with long term variable illnesses such as MS, heart disease, cancer or bowel disease.

In a recent survey, Mind found that an enormous 95% of respondents don’t think that they will be believed at assessment. Evidence abounds of mentally ill people being found “fit for work” simply because they manage to turn up at the assessment centre dressed and washed.

But the most shocking, disgusting shameful part of the accompanying article comes at the end. In a quote from the government, we are assured that

“In consultation with charities including Mind, Professor Harrington is now looking at the way mental health is assessed in the work capability assessment and we look forward to receiving his recommendations later this year.”

How dare they carry on with this until these problems are resolved? How dare they continue to roll out a programme that is costing lives and will claim many more? Why is my blog constantly repeating these points to a society willing to turn away?

Some days I write and I think “Am I the one who’s wrong? Am I the one over-reacting?” and there’s a kind of comfort to that. When the Chief Executives of the nation’s charities are reduced to begging in even stronger terms than I have dared to use, I feel a little desperate.

It’s not just me and http://thebrokenofbritain.blogspot.com/ and the blogosphere and the Guardian shouting about this issue, it’s Scope and Rethink and Mind and even the Professor who designed the system itself.

It must be stopped now, today. These problems must be solved before 1.8 millionmore people are put through this kind of harassment and driven to these levels of despair.

There is clear evidence that Work Capability Assessments for the sick and disabled are costing lives. Please help us to stop it.

** Write to your MP about this by clicking on this link http://www.theyworkforyou.com/ . It will only take two or three minutes, but the Welfare Reform Bill is on the verge of passing through parliament and into the Lords. We simply must stop this and the time-limiting of ESA before it does. The introduction of PIPs as a replacement for DLA must also be halted until further evidence is gathered. If you don’t know what to say, feel free to use anything from my blog – Welfare reform that must not go Ahead is a good summary of the situation.

Beg them. Really plead with them to listen, before it’s too late.

Embarrassed to be me

Sometimes I have to use a walking stick. I walk with a stick because sometimes the pain is too much to put weight on my legs, or my muscles are too weak to hold me up, or I am too dizzy and lack the balance to remain upright. I especially need the stick when I am standing still as without it I can fall over due to all of the above.

I hate my walking stick.

I hate it because it is awkward to use.

I hate it because it prevents me carrying anything with that hand.

I hate it because it stops me holding hands with my wife.

I hate it because it is noisy on the pavement.

I hate it because it allows me to walk further when I should stop and rest.

I hate it because it transfers the pain from my legs to my hands and arms and back.

But most of all, I hate my walking stick because it is a symbol of my weakness. It is a sign to anyone that sees it that I am sick. Weak. I feel self-conscious when I use it, because people look at the stick and judge me. Many of them see a thirty-something man with no visible problems using a walking stick and decide that I don’t need it. Some of them assume that I use a stick in order to look sick to get benefits. (Even when I wasn’t on benefits.) Some of them actually question my use of it, and in the worst case, verbally attack me, even swearing at me.

So I leave my stick at home. That doesn’t work out so well, because what happens is that I walk all the way to the doctor, the pharmacy or the shops without too much of a problem apart from stopping to lean on a wall every so often. Then comes the problem. I get tired. I get pain. I am out, ten minutes walk from home, rapidly losing the ability to stay upright, and I don’t have a walking stick. Having to ask for a chair and stop for a fifteen minute rest in a shop is even more embarrassing than using a walking stick in the first place.

I have got around the problem of not having my walking stick when I need it by using a folding stick which can fit in the (large) pocket of my trenchcoat or in my bag. It’s still a pain to carry around so I don’t always take it, but it’s better than never taking it. I can also surprise people by pulling the stick out of my pocket suddenly and having it click together in a most satisfying way!

Given my embarrassment at using the stick, you can imagine what I think about using a wheelchair. I’ve never used one but the thought fills me with fear. Fear of what people will think, especially if I get out of it occasionally when I have no need to be in it. People do not understand that health problems are variable and that it is possible to need a stick or a chair on some occasions and not others. Or that I could use a wheelchair for a journey but walk around inside the building at the end of it.

I was thinking about all of this again because I have been offered an electric wheelchair that used to belong to a family member. My immediate response is NO NO NO but actually that is stupid of me. There are many times when it would be useful to have one, and there are plenty of occasions when I could actually use it to get around the house. There are times at the moment where I cannot get from the bed to the bathroom or the kitchen, and so I go without food and drink until someone can arrive and help me. I will soon be living several miles from my nearest helper rather than next door, but with an electric wheelchair I could get food and drink several hours earlier than I would otherwise. I might even get more hours in the day because I would start to feel better earlier.

I have to learn not to be embarrassed to be me.

 

The Hardest Hit – Videos and links

Today several thousand people rallied in London and marched (or wheeled) on parliament to protest against the way the government is attacking the sick and disabled and ruthlessly cutting their income. The Hardest Hit was organised by charities and campaigners working together to mobilise thousands of disabled people to tell the government that this is not acceptable.

[This post contains several videos which will not show up on a Kindle]

Continue reading “The Hardest Hit – Videos and links”

Work makes you free

"arbeit macht frei" - Work makes you free

 

Something is wrong with people in this country. There seems to be a distinct lack of understanding of the realities of being sick. You and Yours on Radio 4 today discussed “The hardest hit” march which will happen tomorrow.  The opinion of most of the callers seemed to be that there are too many disabled people, that disabled people shouldn’t ever spend money on alcohol or going to the pub, or on driving, but should stay in their homes waiting for death.

Never mind that sick people have worked and paid tax and national insurance. Never mind that with help, they might work again. Opinion amongst You and Yours callers seems to have followed the rhetoric of the government and the tabloids and turned against the sick and disabled.

On of the callers quoted that fact that 36% of applicants for ESA drop out before their medical assessment and asked what that tells us. I know what it tells me. It tells me that the process of applying for benefits is obscenely difficult and stressful for genuinely disabled people. That a 20 page ESA50 form demanding that you write out your symptoms and problems over and over again detailing how it affects you is nearly impossible to face. That the likelihood of being judged fit for work by ATOS and their computer system despite obviously not being so is extremely high and puts people off even trying. That the appeals process is long, tedious, draining, and can make an illness many times more difficult to deal with, even though so many people eventually win on appeal. And don’t forget that some illnesses get better and circumstances change!

The attitude of government of all varieties of party is highly damaging. The last government introduced Employment Support Allowance to replace Incapacity Benefit. Where IB only varied based on length of illness, ESA has two groups, the support Group, and the work related activity group. People on the work related activity group are expected to find work within their limits, and eventually to move to Job Seekers Allowance if they do not. Claimants must undergo a Work Capability Assesment which will decide which group they go in, or declare them fit for work and move them to Job Seekers Allowance. The WCA test is administered by private company ATOS and is largely computer based. Staff at ATOS are given a short time to ask the benefit claimant questions and click keywords on the computer depending on their answer. The claimant is asked to make a number of physical movements, and only their completion or failure is recorded, not the difficulty in performing the task or the effects afterwards. As a result many people are declared fit for work when they are clearly not. A high percentage of those people go on to appeal and overturn that decision.

For new ESA claims from October 2008 to November 2009, the breakdown is:

* Support Group – 6%
* Work Related Activity Group – 14%
* Fit for Work – 39%
* Claim closed before assessment complete – 37%
* Assessment still in progress – 4%

(Taken from http://www.abcofesa.co.uk/board/viewtopic.php?f=2&t=75)

Of course many people won’t appeal, but 40% do, and of those, 70% are found not fit to work after all. Unfortunately, it’s not unheard of for people to die while waiting.

The problem I have with Employment Support Allowance is that it changes the whole meaning of the benefit from “We will look after you” to “Go and get a job.” To the people claiming this, it is a huge challenge. People dealing with overwhelming illness, disability or mental health problems may well want to work eventually, but first they need to get away from these pressures and recover. Even under incapacity benefit there was the notion of “permitted work” where people were able to look for work that might ease them back in to the workforce or simply be therapeutic for them. This was sensible. Starting out with the idea that a sick person should simply find an easier job is not.

It gets worse though; in my doctor’s waiting room I saw this poster.

"Fit Note" poster seen in my doctor's waiting room.

The gist is that the government has changed the name of a sick note to a “fit note” because people shouldn’t ever be signed off work to recover, they should simply make accommodations for their illness and carry on. Or get an easier job. I think everyone realises that in reality sometimes people simply need rest to recover before they start work again.

Many people receiving benefits have worked and paid tax in the past, and with the right support may recover enough to find work again, but this vilifying of them by the government and the tabloids will not achieve that. When government ministers quote fictional and misleading figures about benefit claimants, it is clear that they do not aim to help those people.

Just remember, before the Nazi’s started on the Jews, they went after the disabled people, who were the first victims of Zyklon B gas. The motto over the gates of Nazi concentration camps was “Arbeit Macht Frei” or “Work makes you free.” Our current society seems to see people as human only if they fit a certain ideal in the way that they contribute to society. The sick and the disabled do contribute to society, but not necessarily through paid employment. To the government, sick people do not contribute and are therefore less human. How far does this go? Society teeters on the edge between treating people as human beings each worth something or simply writing off those that are not useful to the rich and powerful. How far is our current society willing to go in writing off the sick and disabled?

 

Cameron spouting tabloid-worthy lines on DLA

Today during Prime Ministers Questions David Cameron once again repeated the line that Disability Living Allowance needs reforming because many people receive it long term without changes. His statement today:

“Everyone on all sides of the house should recognise that DLA does need reform. There are 130,000 people on DLA who have not had a claim revised at all since the benefit was introduced in 1992. There are three quarters of a million people who have had the same claim for ten years and no contact from the department.”

Camerons premise here is absurd. He is appealing to a tabloid mentality in order to push through Personal Independence Payments. DLA is incredibly hard to claim. I know this because I have in the past claimed it myself, for a variable and invisible health condition. I eventually won DLA on appeal after a long battle, and was given it for only two years. At the end of that two years I did not re-apply, because my health had improved slightly and quite honestly, I couldn’t face the claims process again. My father also claims DLA, because he has serious back problems after suffering a prolapsed disc years ago. Following surgery, scar tissue around nerves cause him permanent pain. His spine is deteriorating and he is two inches shorter than he used to be, and has one leg shorter than the other. He has been awarded DLA permanently, and rightly so, because his spine and his leg are never going to re-grow.

The fact is, Personal Independence Payments are a drastic step back in care. Their main aim is to reduce payments. Given that DLA is already so difficult to claim that many people in need can’t face the process, this is a shocking abuse of the sick and disabled. Adding yet more checks, through ATOS, no less, for people that will never get better is simply loading them down with stress that will badly affect their health. The blind are not going to suddenly regain their sight. Amputees will not find their limbs re-appearing. When DLA is awarded permanently it is for a reason.

David Cameron needs to drop these claims which are damaging people more when they are already broken. His statements are irresponsible and misleading, and I think they are deliberately so.

I’m sorry, I forgot.

I’m sorry, I forgot. People that are sick or disabled are supposed to stay miserable as a punishment for being ill. They aren’t allowed any books, games, music, TV, trips or holidays because that might cost the taxpayer money. They must lie in bed staring at the ceiling for the rest of their lives.

Or not.

Someone found my blog today by searching for “should i feel guilty by going to the shops while i am receiving dla”. Someone that I went to school with made a snide comment on Facebook this morning about people who go on holiday while unfit to work.

What is wrong with people? Should illness or disability mean enforced misery as payment for being kept by the state? Is it forbidden for a sick person to stagger to a nearby restaurant or pub if they are having a good day? If they find a bit of extra energy are they not allowed to do the shopping themselves instead of dumping yet another task on their spouse as usually happens?

This attitude, pushed by the tabloids and now by conservative government ministers, is outrageous. Becoming ill cannot mean a complete loss of quality of life, or you might as well just shoot us all now. The welfare system is for everyone whether they have paid tax in the past or not. And most of us have paid tax in the past. Those that haven’t have family that have. What right have the government or society got to renage on the deal? The deal is, we all pay into the system, and when someone has need, the system looks after them. Including leisure pursuits.

Our society disgusts me. People are vilified for simply being sick or disabled. People shout abuse in the street at those using walking sticks or wheelchairs. Those with disabilities don’t dare to push themselves at all, even if their condition varies. Many people are capable of riding a motorbike or mowing the lawn one day but cannot move the next, but if they dare to try anything then they live in fear of a neighbour telling the DWP. (Who don’t understand variable conditions at all.)

All this for a measly 0.5% that are actually faking it. Are you part of the problem? Are you making sick people stressed and setting back their recovery? Are you hurting 99.5% of the sick and disabled because of you unfair prejudice and your sense of entitlement?

Oh, and by the way, DLA is paid to anyone that needs the help, working or not. Of course you shouldn’t feel guilty about going to the shops.

DWP shares disability data but who said they could?

The area I live in is switching off the analogue TV transmitters in September, and going all digital. The Switchover Help Scheme was set up to make sure that everyone with a TV is able to receive the digital signal, and they have been running TV adverts and posting out letters with this aim. The letters offer to sell a digital receiver and an aerial for £40, and also nag the recipient to reply to confirm whether they wish to do this or not. I have a problem with the letters that I received. Here’s the bottom part of the most recent one:

“We, DSHS Limited, are the data controller for this scheme. So that we know whether you qualify for help, we have received data from a number of public bodies including local authorities, the Veterans Agency and the Department for Work & Pensions, which may, if relevant, include whether you received any disability benefits or if you were registered as blind. We have also contacted TV Licensing to see whether there was a valid TV Licence at your address.

The Switchover Help Scheme is managed, on behalf of DSHS Limited, by Eaga plc. Eaga House, Archbold Terrace, Newcastle upon Tyne, NE2 1DB. Company registration number 3858865.”

Now, correct me if I am wrong, but I see some issues there.

  1. The scheme is being run by a private company, DSHS Limited.
  2. That private company has sub-contracted to another, Eaga plc.
  3. The government, through the DWP, has disclosed information about who has received disability benefits to said private companies.
  4. Local authorities have also sent information to this private company.
  5. TV Licensing (Capita) have given my information to DSHS and Eaga.

I don’t know about you, but I’m pretty pissed off about this. I’m fairly sure that I did not at any point give permission for my local council, the Department of Work and Pensions, or TV Licensing to tell anyone my name and address, what disabilities I may have, or what benefits I might have received. I believe this violates the princicples of the Data Protection Act 1998.

Schedule 1, part 1, section 2 states:

“Personal data shall be obtained only for one or more specified and lawful purposes, and shall not be further processed in any manner incompatible with that purpose or those purposes.”

At no point did anyone specify that information about benefits and disabilities was being collected for the purpose of marketing of digital television receivers.

So all parties involved have transferred my personal information to a third party without my consent, and are processing it in a way that was not specified when the data was collected. Unless someone can tell me why this is within the law I intend to make a complaint to the Information Commissioners Office.

—–ADDENDUM—–

As pointed out in the comments below, this is unfortunately legal as the government passed a law to allow it, the Digital Switchover Disclosure of Information Act 2007.

A head in the sand

I am lucky enough to have an MP that is very communicative. He not only responds quickly to letters, but he also treats email as real communication, and *gasp* even responds to constituents on Twitter. When my wife was being kept from working by an inexplicably delayed CRB check, he intervened and the certificate was here within two days.

Unfortunately the luck ends there. He seems to be blind to any evidence of what the governments ruthless cuts will do to people.  This conversation followed my suggestion that he read the One Month Before Heartbreak blog which is full of real people writing about how the the proposed changes to the benefit system will affect them. Full text after the screenshots.

The full text of that conversation
My original tweet: I urge @peterjluff – and everyone else – to look at http://j.mp/gQRnKz where there are stories of many people that will suffer due to cuts.
I was retweeted (message passed on to followers) by Nemesis Republic:
RT @latentexistence: I urge @peterjluff – and everyone else – to look at http://j.mp/gQRnKz stories of many peoplewill suffer due to cuts
Peter Luff replied to her:
@PeterJLuff: @NemesisRepublic But the alternative (letting country continue slide to bankruptcy with biggest deficit of any major country) is much worse
Apricot muffins commented:
@PeterJLuff I find this statement reprehensible. The disabled among us deserve every protection their country can give them, deficit or not
Which led to this response by Peter Luff:
@apricotmuffins And they will get that protection; what I find reprehensible are the scare stories

And there you have it. Talking about real disabled people in fear for their incomes, their care, their wheelchairs, is a scare story. Talking about our defecit, which isn’t anywhere near the problem that we have been told it is, is not.

In case you thought this is misinterpreting his views, here is another example.

The text of that:

Me: @PeterJLuff I’m afraid I just see savage cuts that are hurting the poor and vulnerable. Where is the social responsibility?
Peter Luff: @latentexistence Well I guess I won’t persuade you, but I see something completely different, with the vulnerable protected.

—-Addendum—-

It transpires that Peter Luff is the patron of the local ME support group. As an invisible disease, ME is one of the most difficult diseases to get help for. I intend to ask Mr Luff how he can reconcile his view that the vulnerable are supported with his experiences with this group.