"I have long argued that the giving of offence, and even hate speech, should be a moral matter but not a matter for the criminal law. That is as true on the football pitch as on the streets. We should always challenge racism. We should also always challenge attacks on liberties in the guise of faux antiracism." Kenan Malik



Posted by Phil Dickens at 17:01

The Daily Mail isn’t known for clarity, honesty, or objectivity. To the point where I have praise the patience of media watch blogs which dissect its bollocks on a nearly daily basis. However, given the current attacks on the disabled, I thought one particular round of bullshit deserved attention.
Nearly 2 MILLION on sickness benefits for years are fit to work
The implication is clear, no? All those bloody scroungers, stealing our tax money, leeching off the state, etc, etc. It’s about time the government cut off the cash flow to these worthless parasites.
Except for the fact that, as ever, the story doesn’t quite match up to the headlines.
Firstly, the implication that we’re talking about cheats or swindlers is nonsense. The main body of Mail’s own piece adds the following caveat; “the first reassessments of those on long-term incapacity benefit found that more than two-thirds of those checked could return to work if they received help.”
That is, they could live a normal life and earn a living despite their disability if they had the right equipment to do so. Examples of such help might be the high rate mobility component of Disability Living Allowance, or the Independent Living Fund, both of which are facing the axe under government austerity measures. When disabled people already face poverty and social isolation, whilst families with disabled dependants are suffering extreme hardship.
Not exactly a situation you’d want to cheat yourself into, is it? But rather than point out that these people could be independent and make a living for themselves with the right support, the Mail chooses to slur them all by implying that they are scroungers and cheats.
And it’s not just these peoples’ situation that is misreported. It’s their numbers too. Two million people across the country are cheats? Not quite [emphasis mine];

Trial re-tests of claimants in Burnley and Aberdeen found 68.6 per cent did not have a valid claim and were unable to prove they were too ill to take a job.

Some 2.6million people are on incapacity benefit or its replacement, employment and support allowance. Most long-term recipients will be reassessed over the next few years.

If the total proportion of invalid claims matches the results from the two trial reassessments, it would mean almost 1.8million people were receiving benefits despite being able to work.

So, in reality, 68.6% of people in just two cities were judged able to work. And, breaking that down further, only “399 people (29.6 per cent) were found to be entirely fit for work,” whilst “526 (39 per cent) will be given help and support so they can begin working again.” Taking the Mail‘s tack of applying this across the whole country, this would in fact mean that 769,600 people (not two million) were fit to work. 1,014,000 need more support in order to live independent lives.

Moreover, the 769,600 who are fit to work are not scroungers either.

Last January, a BBC investigation cited two former Atos doctors who “expressed concerns that the checks are being done too quickly and that the system is biased towards declaring people fit for work.” And they also revealed from a freedom of information request that “there are 8,000 ESA appeals heard every month. This is double the number of the next most appealed benefit, disability living allowance, which has seven times more claimants than ESA.” Lizzie Iron, head of welfare policy at the Citizens Advice Bureau, pointed out that, from this figure, 40 per cent of people who failed the assessment and then appealed won.

Both the TUC and the former President of Appeal Tribunals have also criticised the decision making process from Atos. Because, in short, they are integral to the government’s policy of “attacking the poor in a crude attempt to save money and curb public spending.”

What the Mail is shamelessly touting as proof that everyone who claims benefits is a work-shy huckster is nothing of the sort. It is the latest round of the government’s vicious attack on the most vulnerable. Those who stand opposed to this blatant victimisation need not only to challenge the government, but also the media, more than happy to do their propaganda work for them.



Another complaint to PCC on benefits articles

by Sunny Hundal

February 4, 2011 at 5:54 pm

The online campaigning website Broken of Britain have lodged another complaint to the Press Complaints Commission over its coverage of disability benefits.

Last week the Daily Mail ran an article titled, ‘The great disability benefit free-for-all: Half of claimants are not asked to prove eligibility‘.

But the article was revealed as grossly inaccurate by several bloggers.

The fact-checking site Full Fact pointed out:

The Mail appears to have conflated the proportion of cases that don’t require the collection of ‘additional medical evidence’ with cases that require no evidence and no checks of eligibility. This does not follow when we look at the initial application process. It can hardly be claimed that half of claimants are not asked to prove eligibility since all claimants fill out an application form, although it is not clear what proportion of applications include evidence from a doctor at the initial stage.

Broken of Britain said this week that they would continue complaining to the PCC about the newspaper’s campaign against disabled people, and wanted to “show the Daily Mail that their tirades against disabled people will not be put up with anymore”.

Their complaint to the PCC states:

This claim is not only grossly inaccurate and misleading, but is also a distortion and misrepresentation of the truth. There are no Disability Living Allowance claimants who have never been asked to provide evidence – filling in the long application form is a prerequisite of a successful claim. There are Special Rules for claimants who need their claim processed quickly – in cases of terminal illness, for example – but these rules only apply to 1.2% of the DLA caseload or 37,800 people.

In late January, Broken of Britain lodged a complaint to the Cabinet Office to investigate a transgression of the Ministerial Code by Chris Grayling.

They pointed out:

The title of this press release – Majority of people found fit for work as Government presses ahead with reforms” – is highly misleading. The figures given in the text of the press release are “Fit for Work – 39%”. This is far from being a majority. The first sentence of this statement is also problematic as the emphasis is placed upon “vast majority” and “fit to work”.

The only way to arrive at the “majority” mentioned in the title is to add the figures for those found Fit for Work and those whose claims were closed before the assessment was complete – the suggestion implicit in the opening sentence. However, there is no evidence at all that cases closed before completion of assessment equate to fitness to work, and it is a manipulation of data to do so.

They have also written to the PCC over the Daily Mail and Daily Express coverage of those remarks.

Let’s see if the toothless PCC or the Cabinet Office take these complaints with the seriousness they deserve.


Are The Cuts Necessary? And What Are The Alternatives?

by Chris Edwards in ‘The impact of national budget cuts, tax changes and local reductions in services on disabled people and their families in Norfolk’.

Are the cuts necessary?

The Demos report of 2010 is fairly thorough in its  analysis of benefit changes on disabled people but it includes  the following quote;

“we recognise that the government is facing an unprecedented deficit which needs to be paid off through a series of radical welfare and departmental cuts. We are not, therefore, suggesting that disabled people should be exempt from these cuts – we must as a society all bear the burden of the recovery from recession” (Demos Oct 2010, 16).

We do not agree with this conclusion. The government is facing an unprecedented deficit but it does not follow that we must all bear the burden. The burden was not created by the poorest half of the population – it should not be borne by the poorest  half of the population. As Seamus Milne has put it; “… 2100 promises to be a year of social and economic misery, as the coalition’s cuts and the heaviest costs of the bankers’ crisis are loaded on to the poorest under the slogan “we’re all in this together”” (Guardian, 30 Dec 2010).
In the calendar year 2009, the UK recorded a general government deficit of £159 bn, equivalent to 11% of GDP. This  is high by EU standards but by the same standards the UK has a reasonable debt-GDP ratio. The debt-GDP ratio is also low in UK historical terms being lower than at any time between 1950 and the late 1960s (Irvin et al 2010, 9, 14). Thus the flow is bad; the stock is OK. Nevertheless the running deficit is high and something has to be done, but what is being done is a grave mistake.

As Irvin et al point out, in 2010/11, the debt is 62% of GDP against 177% in 1932 with debt interest payments at 6.3% of public expenditure now, compared with 40% in 1932. Yet we are being told to take the same medicine.

As William Keegan observed in The Observer;

“They (Osborne/Clegg) have effortlessly altered the tenor of the debate from whether there should be drastic cuts at a time of relatively low economic activity to the question of how and where the cuts should be administered” (William Keegan, Observer, 12 Dec 2010).

This is in spite of the fact that at least two-thirds of the increase in the structural deficit is estimated to have been the result of the financial crisis of 2008 (Irvin et al 2010, 11). The cuts as proposed are not necessary and there are other ways of reducing the deficit without risking a double-dip recession and without  causing much greater inequality.

What are the alternatives?

There were and still are alternatives to the spending cuts. Irvin et al 2010 suggest the following;

•  a 50% tax rate on gross income above £100,000 a year (at present it is 50% on £150,000 or more) – this would raise £2.3 bn

•  uncap National Insurance Contributions (NICs) so that they are paid  at 11% all the way up the income scale  – this would raise £9.1 bn

•  introduce minimum tax rates for certain levels of gross income – this would raise £14.9 bn

•  increase the tax payable (higher multipliers) for houses in Council tax bands E to H – this would raise a further £4.2 bn

•  minimise personal and corporate tax avoidance by requiring tax havens to disclose information fully and by changing the definition of tax residence – this would raise a further £10 bn. In the Coalition Government’s agreement it was stated that “The parties agree that tackling tax avoidance is essential for then new government, and that all efforts will be made to do so, including detailed development of Liberal Democrat proposals” (Con-Lib May 2010, 3).

•  introduce a financial transactions tax at a rate of 0.1% applicable to all sterling transactions – this would raise a
minimum of £4.2 bn and a maximum of £34 bn (assume £10 bn).

Such reforms would mean that there would be no need for spending cuts since the above comes to a total of £50.7 billion extra revenue for the Treasury15 and compares with the Coalition’s proposed mixture of cuts and tax rises of £40 bn. in 2011/12.  Irvin et al’s proposals come to a similar reduction with  their suggested restoration of the 10% tax band (£11.3 mn) offset by a suggested cut in heavy military goods (such as Trident) bringing the net effect back to about £40 bn. (Irvin et al 2010, table 1).

This pattern of tax changes is far less likely to cause a double-dip recession than the present mix of spending cuts and tax rises. It is also fairer and would go some way to reversing the inequality trend in the British economy.                   One indication of increasing inequality is the increase in the ratio of the income of the richest quintile to that of the poorest. This has risen from 5.3 in 1994/95 to 6.0 in 2008/09 (HBAI 2010, 25). Over the last decade, the poorest tenth of the population have, on average, seen a fall in their real incomes after deducting housing costs.  In other words, after adjusting for inflation, their incomes are slightly lower than a decade ago (poverty.org website accessed on 15 Dec 2010)

Similarly, Stewart Lansley has highlighted the reduction in the share of wages in the UK’s GDP since the late 1970s and, over the same period, a growing inequality within earnings (Lansley August 2010, figures 1 and 3). As a result, to maintain living standards, households faced with a declining wage share have become increasingly indebted. The personal debt/income ratio has risen from 45% in 1980 to 157% in 2007 (Lansley Aug 2010, 4).

There is, Lansley also claims, a link between inequality, financial instability and economic cycles. He states that;

“The role of inequality in fuelling financial instability has long been recognised. Keynes made it clear that because of the lower marginal propensity to consume of the rich and their propensity for speculation, wealth inequality increases the risk of financial instability and economic collapse. In his book, The Great Crash 1929, J K Galbraith identified the ‘bad distribution of income’ and its impact on the pattern of demand as the first of five factors causing the crash and the great depression” (Lansley Aug 2010, 5).

As Galbraith put it; “The rich cannot buy great quantities of bread. If they are to dispose of what they receive, it must be on luxuries or by way of investment in new plants and new projects. Both investment and luxury spending are subject, inevitability, to more erratic influences and to wider fluctuations than the bread and rent outlays of the £25-week workman” (Galbraith 1992, 194, 195).

Therefore the argument is that reducing the deficit by measures which increase equality is likely to lead to greater economic stability. The measures set out by Irvin et al are  just such measures whereas the measures taken by the Con-Lib government are likely to have the opposite effect.

This bias of the Con-Lib government is, perhaps, not surprising given that 16 of the 23 members of the Cabinet are  multimillionaires. But perhaps that’s too much of an instrumentalist view.


NCODP response to Norfolk County Council Consultation

NCODP response to Norfolk County Council ‘Big Conversation’ Consultation

You can read more about NCODP’s Campaign Against the Cuts at www.campaignagainstcuts.org.uk