As part of the government’s plan to extract £12bn from social security benefits, IDS has announced his latest target is “the disability employment gap”. According to analysis of official ONS figures, this represents the difference between the number of disabled people who are in employment (48%) and the figure for the general population (73%). The implication is that IDS expects the same proportion of disabled people to work as those who are able-bodied! Just what does he believe disability means? There is a long and aggravated Tory history behind this latest announcement, beginning with Thatcher’s attempt to conceal the true unemployment figures by switching applicants en masse to the category of disability and making them subject to incapacity benefit rather than unemployment benefit.
This legerdemain was prompted by unemployment spiking at 3.1 million in 1986. It led to 1.6 million claimants being badged as incapacitated rather than jobless. As soon as the unemployment crisis passed, the Tory government changed course and did all it could to cut back the numbers who could be classified as disabled. The Blair continued the action, but did not get far. The really big cutbacks only took off with the Cameron government which took on the big French IT firm, Atos, to carry out ‘work capability assessments’ on a systematic and relentless basis to force disabled persons back to work by declaring they were fit to work and therefore if they failed to get work they would be liable to loss of benefit for anything between 4 weeks and 3 years. This infamous system generated massive complaints, but the government carried on regardless.
The objections were mainly that the examinations by Atos were often perfunctory and the questions asked largely irrelevant, and leaks from DWP staff indicated that the government had set targets for the removal of claimants from the benefit lists. DWP of course denied this, but that can be taken with a pinch of salt from a department so desperate to conceal the truth as to now being found out using invented stories from fictional claimants, not just once but at least twice, to pretend that benefit sanctions were actually positive and beneficial! In fact the Information Commissioner has now overruled attempts by DWP to withhold statistics of the number of claimants of incapacity benefit and employment and support allowance who died after being declared fit for work and then had their benefits stopped. DWP then said it had always intended to publish these figures! It seems impossible for a government department to stoop any lower than these constant lies, subterfuges and chicaneries, and since they are all politically driven IDS, if he had any integrity, ought to resign. But of course he won’t.
It could only happen in Britain. In the US, by contrast, a so-called Freedom Act (though it is far from that) has just been passed. It will at least partially curb the power of government to collect bulk data on the lives of its citizens. The Cameron government however is doing the opposite and is determined this time to push through the snoopers’ charter which it failed to get in the last Parliament and which MI5/GCHQ have been aching to get on the statute book ever since the Twin Towers of 2001. This would not only give ever greater powers of mass surveillance to the police and secret services, it is also intended to prohibit server encryption which makes surveillance more difficult. This is a complete contradiction of the Snowden revelations. These exposed industrial-scale eavesdropping by State bureaucracies which had been proceeding secretly and without a shred of accountability ever since 2006, and without Snowden would probably have been proceeding unhindered to this very day. Read more “The securocrats in MI5 and GCHQ are now going flat out to get their uncontrolled snoopers’ charter” »
The Tory propaganda machine is spectacularly successful at disseminating lies. It has very successfully embedded it into the nation’s consciousness that the last Labour government caused all the ‘economic mess’ as though it had nothing to do with the bankers or the international recession. It has got it into people’s minds that Labour was profligate and can’t be trusted with the nation’s finances when the economic record says the opposite: in Labour’s 11 years (1997-2008) before the crash the budget deficit was never larger than 3.3% of GDP, whilst the Thatcher-Major governments racked up deficits bigger than this in 10 out of their 18 years, so which was the spendthrift party? It has got people to believe that cutting the deficit takes precedence over every other aspect of policy, as though expanding the economy, creating well-paid jobs, boosting investment, and raising household incomes was not much more important, and would actually generate the bigger government tax receipts to pay down the deficit much faster. Read more “Tories promise good times are coming when they intend 5 more years of deepening austerity” »
So today the Independent Police Complaints Commission has cleared armed police officers of any wrongdoing over the killing of Mark Duggan over 3 years ago, following an inquest verdict of lawful killing a year ago. However the police officer who fired the fatal shots refused to be interviewed by the IPCC; why could he not be compelled to answer questions? A week ago it was decided that no further action would be taken after the child sex abuse victims in Rochdale were repeatedly let down by police officers, one of whom retired to escape prosecution; why is retirement allowed to preempt prosecution?
For 40 years, it is now alleged, investigations into a high-level paedophile ring in Westminster were halted and evidence suppressed to protect senior MPs and police officers. For a decade industrial-scale phone-hacking at the News of the World was brushed aside by the police for fear of Murdoch. Still no-one has been held to account for the illegal shooting of Jean-Charles Menezes in July 2005, or for the calculated deception used by undercover police officers against environmental activists, or even for the Hillsborough disaster in which 96 football fans died because of policing errors. But of course it’s not just the police. Read more “Corruption, secrecy, non-accountability are rampant in Britain: how that should be put right” »
It was originally assumed that blacklisting was a secret tool used by construction companies – Balfour Beatty, Costain, McAlpine, Skanska, Carillion, Kier and over 30 others – to keep out people they didn’t want. To achieve this the euphemistically named Consulting Association over 16 years (1993-2009) complied a database on thousands of construction workers who were denied a job if it was reported that they were trade union activists or had expressed concern about health and safety standards or had simply been the victims of derogatory gossip, thus destroying their livelihood for sometimes 30 or more years for reasons kept secret for the worker himself. This scandal may finally be exposed in the High Court this year, though nearly half of the 3,213 persons with Consulting Association files on them have still not yet been traced. But the latest evidence now emerging indicates two other sinister trends: the extensive involvement of the police and security services and the inclusion on the blacklists of several persons in public life who have had no connection whatever with the construction industry. Read more “How far did blacklisting extend outside construction?” »
Whistle-blowers are worth their weight in gold, though governments certainly don’t think so. Some of the most important things we’ve learnt about the nature of the societies we live in have come exclusively from whistle-blowers, without whose help the democratic holding of governments to account in critical areas of policy would have been impossible. The Wikileaks release of classified diplomatic and military data, mass surveillance of Western populations, systemic tax evasion via establishment banks, the MPs’ expenses scam, and now the leaking of hundreds of dossiers and cables from the world’s major intelligence services – let alone dozens of smaller leaks by principled individuals scandalised by the behaviour of superiors – have all exposed a shocking misconduct by State institutions which would have gone unaddressed but for the bravery of a few honest persons who are then rewarded for their pains by being hounded out of a job, threatened, and even prosecuted. Read more “Whistleblowers tell us more about the bad underside of the State than Parliaments ever do” »
The launch last week of the press industry-backed press regulator is a farce, but one that the media moguls are determined to run for all it’s worth. This is press industry-driven self-regulation again in all but name. The press industry is one of the three biggest powers in the State, along with the finance industry and big corporate business, and all three will do anything to reject and avoid regulation since they refuse to accept even the slightest limitation on their own power. The almighty row over telephone/mobile hacking however left the press tycoons in a quandary since it is illegal and it was gradually uncovered that it had been occurring on a vast scale. Resistance to Leveson’s entirely fair and balanced reforms was therefore difficult when he proposed ensuring genuine accountability but without in any way inhibiting freedom of expression. Leveson did not demur from the principle of self-regulation, but insisted that it should have to meet clearly defined basic standards and that this process should be seen by a modest body which was manifestly independent of the industry. Read more “IPSO is a device by Murdoch, Mail & Telegraph to distract from real press accountability” »
What we already know is damning enough. The UK went to war over Iraq because Bush wanted British support, and at the Crawford summit in April 2002, 11 months before the war started, Blair in effect committed to providing that, though the exact terms of that surrender to Bush still remain secret. The rationale for war however was not easy to find. Bush initially favoured saying Saddam Hussein was somehow involved in the 9/11 attack, but there was no evidence for that whatsoever. So B;air settled on finding proof of large-scale activity by Iraq in WMD. However, since the UN inspectors left in 1998, the evidence was almost non-existent. The case put together for the ‘dodgy dossier’ in September 2002 was deeply flawed. The inventory of chemical and biological weapon parts which Blair presented to the Commons was weapons ‘unaccounted for’ after the first Gulf War 12 years before, but they were presented as weapons currently possessed by Saddam. The 45-minute claim referred to battlefield nuclear weapons, but when it was reported (perhaps on deliberate advice) as a much wider threat, no attempt was made to correct the mistake. Read more “So what is Chilcot going to tell us that we don’t already know?” »
The news that Chilcot has surrendered to the civil service establishment in not publishing the full evidence about the Iraq War is as depressing as it was predictable. He was told by Gus O”Donnell, the head of the civil service in 2011, that there was no way he could publish all the evidence that he and his Inquiry members had seen, the implication being that the most revealing and controversial parts of the evidence had to be kept firmly hidden under lock and key. What he should have done of course, on grounds of the need for full accountability in the national interest, was to defy the dead hand of the civil service suppression of the truth and published the full evidence ‘without fear or favour’, or at least published it all in redacted form (i.e. blacked out) so that we would all know the extent of the crucial evidence being withheld. Alternatively, if Blair is now saying he’s not responsible for the blockage, he could publish it himself. But of course you cannot believe a word Blair now says, especially when his own interests are threatened, and the subliminal line being put about that the blockage is all the fault of the Americans simply won’t wash. Read more “What exactly is Blair so terrified about us finding out on Iraq?” »