Poor vs poorer

The Conservative party have launched this advert in 60 areas.

Tory scrounger ad

It reads

Who do you think this government should be giving more support to?

Hardworking families…

Or people who won’t work?

Compare that to the recent findings of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation.

We undertook concerted, intensive fieldwork in very deprived neighbourhoods of Glasgow and Middlesbrough but we were unable to locate any families with three generations who had never worked.

If we cannot find a ‘culture of worklessness’ here, amongst these extreme cases of very long-term unemployed families, we are unlikely to find it anywhere.

Even worse, the adverts lead to a statement at the Conservative web site which tries to present benefit rises with inflation as unfair by pointing out that wages have not risen as much. Two questions are asked:

Should benefits increase more than wages?

Do you think it’s fair that people can claim more in benefits that the average family earns through going to work?

There is a text box to enter your own comments but it is limited to 300 characters which makes it very difficult to say much at all. Here is what I wrote:

I object; your questions are loaded. Benefits must rise in line with with the cost of living but wages must rise dramatically to stop exploiting workers. Austerity is an ideological choice and is destroying our country. Stop pitting poor against poorer in the hope that we won’t notice your crimes.

In my opinion this campaign is a disgusting attack on the poorest people in our society and it is aimed at pitting poor people against poorer people by vilifying unemployed people and presenting a false dichotomy that we can only help one group. It tries to incite resentment among people who are not paid enough against people who receive even less. This campaign is furthering that favourite Tory lie of deserving and undeserving poor. It is utterly disgusting.

 

 

 

No alcohol or tobacco

“No alcohol or tobacco”

That’s what you get printed on vouchers for emergency food supplies  from Co-op and Tesco given out by a charity where I live. And now, it seems, it could apply to all benefits paid to “120,000 problem families” if Iain Duncan Smith has his way. According to The Telegraph:

Iain Duncan Smith has asked his officials to see if so-called ‘problem’ families should receive their welfare payments on smart cards, rather than in cash.

The cards would only be able to pay for “priority” items such as food, housing, clothing, education and health care.

The Work and Pensions secretary wants to stop parents who are alcoholics or who are on drugs from using welfare payments to fuel their addictions.

The team of civil servants in his department have been asked to come up with proposals by the end of this month.

We can find the government’s definition of these 120,000 “problem families” in an article from The Independent back in June:

Under government criteria, a troubled family is one that meets five out of seven criteria: having a low income, no one in the family who is working, poor housing, parents who have no qualifications, where the mother has a mental health problem, one parent has a long-standing illness or disability, and where the family is unable to afford basics, including food and clothes.

There are many problems with this definition but it can be summarised thusly:

“So basically anyone without the good manners to be born healthy, rich and privileged.” – @IamMrJ

The Problems

Leaving aside for a moment the morality of dictating what people can buy, the first problem I can see with this scheme is that it will favour big businesses and supermarkets and leave small local shops and markets by the wayside. There will be costs involved in accepting these payment cards which small shops will be unlikely to be able to afford, as well, I’m sure, as checks to make sure that shops honour the restrictions . Street markets are usually cash only which would bar people from getting cheap local fresh fruit and vegetables too.

The second problem is related; because of barriers to accepting the smart cards or to restrictions on what can be purchased people will be barred from shopping around for cheaper food and some will be prevented from purchasing specialist items that are required for their health but are not prescribed or considered by government to be necessary.

The third problem, and possibly the biggest problem I see is that sick or disabled people often have no choice in where they shop. The limited ability to travel or to carry things can mean that the nearest shop is the only one they can use. If small shops are not able to accept these cards then there may be no other source of food open to these people.

https://twitter.com/Spoonydoc/status/257067504952803328

Many sick or disabled people order their shopping over the internet; in fact this is often a requirement since care plans have written internet shopping in so as to cut costs of providing carers for shopping trips. This will probably be less of a problem since supermarkets will accept cards but the question remains as to whether or not they will accept them over the internet.

Breaking Addiction

If the idea of this scheme is as reported, to stop feeding addiction, then it will be pointless anyway. Addiction is powerful and removing funds doesn’t mean that people won’t be addicted any more. If someone is dependant on nicotine or alcohol then providing benefits on a restricted smart card will not prevent them from obtaining these things if they have to. It will lead to a black market – to bartering of valuable items for cigarettes and alcohol, or to selling of benefit funds for much less than the real value resulting in less money for the benefit recipient. It could well lead to theft to feed the addiction. It will certainly drive some into prostitution. Drug dependency drives people to desperate measures and they won’t always be rational.

Pleasure and Entertainment

Finally we must ask why society deems it acceptable to tell those who are least fortunate that they must not have any pleasures or enjoyment. It seems that those who must rely on benefits are resented and even envied for what they have. Some is illogical; for example Motability cars are not a luxury, they are required for people who cannot walk to get to medical appointments or to go shopping and the cars are leased not given. Internet connections may be the only way that some people can shop, communicate, pay bills, claim benefits or get support and yet some people still think that an internet connection is a luxury that those on benefits should not have. People who have TVs and perhaps TV subscriptions are resented, but for those who are forced to stay in the home by illness or have no funds to go out it may be the only thing to occupy their time. Should these people be forced to sit and stare at the wall for the rest of their lives? We seem to have broken the concept of national insurance. When a person who has worked and paid their dues becomes unemployed or unable to work and receives benefits they are resented for claiming benefits that they have been paying for while working. Must they too give up all pleasure in their lives? We can be certain that restrictions along these lines will exacerbate or even cause mental health problems.

The government hasn’t addressed the reasons for smoking and drinking either, and it’s not just about addiction. Smoking is an appetite suppressant  When food is expensive and income is so low parents often buy food for their children while smoking to mitigate their own hunger pangs. Alcohol is a pain killer and a sedative; like it or not for some people despite all of our medical advances alcohol may be the only way that they can have a few pain-free hours or relax enough to go to sleep.

Nanny State

Others have said this better than me:

https://twitter.com/DickMandrake/status/257065327022718976

https://twitter.com/DocHackenbush/status/257064611390562304

https://twitter.com/DocHackenbush/status/257065034595827712

 

I shall end with this. Another extremely worrying element of this is what the cards would pay for:

“education and health care”

Now why would we need to pay for those?

 

120,000 troubled families could be legally banned from spending benefits on alcohol and tobacco [Telegraph]

Problem families told – ‘Stop blaming others’ [The Independent]

“Anti-capitalist extremists” – how insulting can Grayling get?

I heard yesterday that Chris Grayling had said that people protesting against work placement schemes were “anti-capitalist extremists.” I know I was offended by that, so I hunted it down on BBC iPlayer to see what he actually said. I’ve transcribed most of it here. Skip past the quote if you just want to read the worst parts and my response.

Employment minister Chris Grayling:

This is actually a protection for employers. If you’re a small business, somebody comes to do work experience, you buy them a uniform, you arrange mentoring support for them in the organisation, and then a couple of weeks later they don’t bother to turn up, erm, we’ve got to be very careful before we say there are no circumstances in which anybody will face any consequences for messing around on the scheme. But let’s be clear, it’s a voluntary scheme, you choose which sector you get work experience, you have time when you start with a work experience placement to change your mind and leave with no consequences. So, you know, this is not about manacling  young people, dragging them into tesco, doing forced labour, it’s a positive scheme which is oversubscribed. […]

Let’s have a sensible discussion, not in the face of, I mean what we’re getting at the moment, let’s be clear about this, what we’ve seen in the last few days, is a campaign that’s been run on the internet, by a small group of extremists, who are not the customers of any of these organisations, who are trying to completely misrepresent what is happening, and fortunately now I think we’ve got a bank of support that’s included today the independent newspaper which is not noted as a friend for the government […] right through to the other end of things, you know, columnists in the mail, Richard Littlejohn, you know, not naturally bedfellows with the Independent newspaper, but they’re all saying this is a good scheme. We’ve got to stand by it, we’ve got to protect it, providing short-term work experience placements for young people that is working and helping them get into jobs that is a good thing and I’m having none of this small group of anti-capitalist extremists who are driving an…[Presenter: But Tesco are not anti-capitalist extremists, they’ve heard the protests and they think they’ve got a point, Argos, apparently they’re meeting you next week, they think protesters have got a point. There’s nothing wrong with changing your mind when you’ve got it wrong.]

Well, I’m not changing my mind in a hurry in the face of instant headlines. I’m quite happy to discuss things but I’m not responding on the hoof  to this campaign, it’s a disgraceful campaign against big companies that are doing the right thing.

Chris Grayling: minister for combustible undergarments
Image by @DocHackenbush

Let me highlight just a few things that Grayling said here.

“you buy them a uniform, you arrange mentoring support for them in the organisation, and then a couple of weeks later they don’t bother to turn up, erm, we’ve got to be very careful before we say there are no circumstances in which anybody will face any consequences for messing around on the scheme.”

I can see that you don’t want people dropping out and costing employers, I don’t agree with punishment for that, but point taken.

“you have time when you start with a work experience placement to change your mind and leave with no consequences.”

Hang on… doesn’t that happen after the employer has bought a uniform and arranged mentoring? And I think that’s an admission that after that initial time, dropping out leads to an extremely harsh punishment of losing all income for at least four weeks.

“But let’s be clear, it’s a voluntary scheme, you choose which sector you get work experience”

No, mostly people get put into particular sectors by the Job Centre advisor either because of previous work history, or because that’s all they deem the jobseeker fit for.

“what we’ve seen in the last few days, is a campaign that’s been run on the internet,”

Most campaigns are run on the internet now, what’s your point? For some of us it’s the only way.

“by a small group of extremists,”

WHAT?

“who are not the customers of any of these organisations,”

Bullshit. Everyone buys food somewhere. Plenty of the people complaining shop at Tesco, although possibly not any more.

“who are trying to completely misrepresent what is happening”

This government minister is lying his head off, and WE are the one’s who are misrepresenting it?!

I think we’ve got a bank of support […] you know, columnists in the mail, Richard Littlejohn

Littlejohn is not exactly known for his tact, judgement or taste and in my experience it is best to take completely the opposite line to that taken by him.

“I’m having none of this small group of anti-capitalist extremists”

Grayling has NO evidence for his claim, and in fact labelling someone an extremist is so outrageous that I can’t even imagine how he got to that conclusion. Extremist is a word used about suicide bombers, people that flip out and shoot everyone they know, people that blow up aircraft. For someone in government to label someone an extremist just because they have a different view is ridiculous and must be curbed before any more dangerous comparisons are made.

“it’s a disgraceful campaign”

Did you get that? Telling the government that they are wrong is now “disgraceful.”

Chris Grayling, YOU are disgraceful. Your spin, your belittling language, your dismissal of objections even as you face making changes to keep your providers on board, your lies about how voluntary the scheme is, those are disgraceful.

 

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.

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