Thursday 27 November 2014

Marking time

Right, I'm back.  Sorry about the hiatus.  What has been going on in my absence?

On the A4e front, very little.  There is no news about the fraud trial, which surely should have finished by now.  But FE Week reports that the £17m London prison education (OLASS) contract, which A4e gave 3 months notice of handing back in August, will continue in A4e's hands until the new year, because the Skills Funding Agency can't find any college willing to take it on.  This seems to back up A4e's claim that the contract was no longer viable.  The prison system is in such a mess that prisoners are being shifted around too often to make education possible.  

On the wider subject of "welfare", I don't need to detail the antics of Iain Duncan Smith.  He was on Radio 4's Today programme on Tuesday, setting out the new timetable for Universal Credit.  Mishal Hussein, who interviewed him, raised the obvious points about missed targets and wasted money.  Now for IDS, that is not how the BBC should behave.  The interviewer should just listen respectfully to whatever fantasies he chooses to spout.  I feared for Hussein at the time.  And sure enough, the next day IDS was reported to have lodged a complaint about her being "negative".  At the same time the National Audit Office warned that any further delays in UC would be hugely costly.  It said that there were no contingency plans to deal with delays.

There's a report in the Independent today about single parents being wrongly threatened with sanctions, or having those sanctions imposed.  I was struck by the blatant lie in the DWP's response: "Sanctions are a necessary part of the benefits system but they are only used as a last resort for a tiny minority who don’t follow the rules and hardship payments are available if people need them.”  This is utterly dishonest propaganda.  But then, if the man at the top of the department is a fantasist it's going to permeate the whole organisation.

Thursday 6 November 2014

Sanctions and lies

The Work & Pensions Select Committee has launched its inquiry into benefit sanctions, something which owes a lot to the tireless pressure of Debbie Abrahams MP.  But if you read its terms of reference (here) you notice some important things missing.  First there's the actual process of sanctioning; the automatic stoppage of money which can't be reversed if it's found to be a mistake.  This is crucial to expose the lie that sanctions are only ever used as a last resort.  And then there's the question of arbitrary sanctions applied by JC or WP staff just because they feel like it or have targets to meet.  The inquiry must hear from victims and whistle-blowers or it's pointless.  The page makes it clear that they can't investigate individual cases, but don't let that stop you if you want to submit evidence.

It gets wearisome to report on Iain Duncan Smith's character and lies.  He knows that he is untouchable and his arrogance has grown to monstrous proportions - as has his rudeness.  There was an incident this week in the House of Commons which demonstrated what one MP called his boorishness.  He had remarked that Rachel Reeves MP, his Labour shadow, "couldn't be bothered" to turn up to vote in a particular debate.  She raised a point of order demanding an apology; he had no knowledge, she said, of why she wasn't there.  IDS showed his contempt by saying something about her being in Rochester (for the by-election).  Reeves denied this and repeated her demand for an apology.  She didn't get one, of course.  This wretched man just smirked.

Then there were the "angry scenes" described in the Mirror at the Work & Pensions Select Committee's hearing yesterday.  Now, I missed this part of IDS's "evidence".  I'd stuck it out for an hour, but couldn't bear any more.  So I didn't hear Debbie Abrahams' ask him about the numbers not included in the unemployment figures because they were sanctioned.  According to an Oxford University study this figure could be as high as 500,000.  IDS's response was that this was "ludicrous".  Ms Abrahams said, "People have died after being sanctioned, Minister."  The response?  "No, I don't agree with that."  The last line of the Mirror's story is, "A DWP spokesman dismissed the study, saying 'It looks to be partially based on unreliable data.'"

This disgusting man and his disgusting department put out a press release today which claims: "More than 12,000 households have made the choice to move into work or stop claiming Housing Benefit because of the benefit cap".  He's been warned about this before; it's a complete falsification of the data.  But the London Evening Standard allows him space to amplify this claim, with the arrogance of the seriously deluded.

Ironically, the Public Accounts Committee reported today on the "scandalous" failure of the Work Programme to help ESA claimants.  The Independent covers this.  It also ends with a meaningless quote from "a DWP spokesman".  I do wish papers would stop giving space to this person.

Nothing is going to change.  And if there is a Conservative majority next May it will get much, much worse.