Housing Benefit and the Landlords from Hell

After watching Dispatches: Landlords from Hell on channel four last night, I realised I needed a quick update to my last blog – The Real Changes to Housing Benefit.

In that I wrote that new limits to Housing Benefit introduced last year make private renting very difficult to those on benefits, with cities like Middlesborough and Cambridge having limits so low that few properties are affordable. However I also wrote that the government claimed by decreasing the amount of Housing Benefit available, landlords would lower their rents accordingly and the problem would be solved.

This documentary sadly showed that instead of lowering rent on liveable properties, a number of landlords simply allow cheaper properties, still affordable on Housing Benefit, to fall into a state of disrepair dangerous to health, (with damp, mould, structural damage, boarded up windows, damaged walls and floors) knowing that their tenants cannot afford to move anywhere nicer.

The matter of Housing Benefit limits was not really touched upon, but one tenant mentioned that Housing Benefit would not cover the £550 a month needed to live somewhere less dangerous. Without further explanation of that and with many people believing that the £400 a week cap is the only limit to Housing Benefit, this must have been confusing. If any confused people have ended up on this blog, then please have a look at The Real Changes to Housing Benefit, where I explain the actual, unreported limits that have been imposed on Housing Benefit.

A few links for more information

http://www.rman.co.uk/article_landlords-from-hell-to-spark-new-calls-for-licensing-4756.html

Shelter

A podcast of the program is available here

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The Real Changes to Housing Benefit

In Autumn 2010, the newspapers were full of stories about a new cap on Housing Benefit (HB), we were told that from now on no one would be given more than £400 pounds a week to spend on rent.

The public, on the whole, were indifferent, after all £400 is a lot of money for a week’s worth of rent and if you don’t live in London it sounds ridiculous. Then Boris Johnson stormed out of his office to declare that the cap would cause “Kosovo-style social cleansing” because those on benefits would no longer be able to live in the richest parts of London. The public were still uninterested, after all why should people claiming benefits be allowed to live where those who are working cannot afford to live?

I just found it all very odd, why would Johnson, a man not known for his compassion towards benefit claimants, be defending them? And why defend them over a new rule that sounds moderately reasonable while ignoring a number of other quite unpleasant changes?

Since finding out more I have come to suspect (perhaps unfairly) that Johnson’s outburst was a clever piece of misdirection, a way of drawing attention away from the real story, because I believe the new Housing Benefit limits are a serious problem, but not because of the £400 cap he shouted about:

  • The £400 cap was not the only limit placed on housing benefit, it is actually the highest and arguably the least concerning.
  • It is not only large families living in rich areas of London, like Westminster, that have a Housing Benefit limit. Every borough in London, every council in England and Wales has one, there are limits on those living alone, those living with friends and those with families.
  •  The limits go down as low as £43 a week for one person sharing in Sunderland, £95 for a 3 bedroom house in West Pennine or £126 for a 4 bedroom house in Hull.

The Basics

Who claims housing benefit? Anyone on Jobseekers, Income Support, Incapacity Benefit or ESA can claim Housing Benefit, plus anyone earning wages too low to cover rent. Asylum Seekers, students and anyone not actually paying rent (eg living for free with family) are not eligible. So essentially claimants include the long term ill, those who are permanently or temporarily disabled, the unemployed and the low waged.

What is LHA?

  • LHA stands for Local Housing Allowance and was brought in by the labour government in 2008 as a new way of calculating the amount of Housing Benefit allowed for those renting privately.
  • It involved limits on the number of bedrooms available per adult/child – 1 bedroom per adult, unless in a couple, 1 bedroom for any 2 children the same sex under 16, 1 bedroom for any 2 children regardless of sex under ten.
  • It divided Britain into areas and had rent limits that varied depending on the average private rents in that area.

What changes occurred in April 2011? From here

  • Previously LHA was placed at a level so that in each area (district or borough) about 50% of all properties were affordable to those on Housing Benefit. From this point on only 30% would be available. This is called the 30th Percentile.
  • Claimants could no longer claim for more than 4 bedrooms.
  • Although LHAs varied depending on the area these amounts could no longer go above maximum weekly rates. These were: £250 a week for a one bedroom property, £290 for a two bedroom property, £340 for a three bedroom property, £400 for a four bedroom property.

The government’s proposed changes were harsh, especially for those who were settled in their homes, had children or severe disabilities that would make moving difficult, and had moved into those homes under the 50% rule, but now found them not covered by LHA. However I can see the argument that long term this will save the country money, especially for non-Keynesians who believe that an economic crisis should be dealt with by making cuts. (Personally, I disagree, more on that here.)

The focus of this blog is not whether these changes are fair or not, but whether they were adhered to:

Is at least 30% of housing available across England and Wales to those claiming HB under the new LHA guidelines?

To answer this question I found out the LHA rate for a number of local authorities, used the rates for 2 bedroom and 4 bedroom properties (for simplicity) and then used an estate agent comparison site (rightmove.co.uk) to see what percentage of properties to rent were available for each area.

Websites and information used:

  • The LHA rents map, allows search by local authority. Figures for LHA tend to vary from one government site to another, but this site seemed to have the most reliable figures (after phoning some councils to check) so I used these for my data. Under each area there are maps which I used to ascertain a more detailed view of the LHA.
  • Estate agent comparison site, I used this site because it had the greatest flexibility when making searches, allowing me to search by boroughs, districts and towns for properties with 2 or 4 bedrooms.
  • Government site about LHA changes, this site helpfully shows all local authorities and their proposed LHA changes on one page, less helpfully some of the LHA rates are wrong. I used this to get a general idea, but didn’t use the figures in my calculations.

Other notes:

  • Scotland isn’t yet part of the new LHA system and the 30th Percentile won’t be brought in until October. Here is a list of the proposed LHA figures for Scotland. All of Wales and England have the new LHA limits, I’m just focussing on them for this blog.
  • The number of houses available for rent is liable to change from day to day. All figures in this blog were collected between the 16th and the 23rd of May 2011. I’ll probably do a follow up blog in the future, which may be useful when looking for patterns of availability.
  • When talking about two, three or four bedroom properties (eg £400 per week for a four bedroom house) this may be accommodation for a large family, but it may also be claimed in part for an adult sharing with other adults (eg one person on benefit receives £100 for his share of the £400 rent, while the other three adults do not receive HB).
  • In the charts below there is the category “Shared Accommodation Rate”, this is for people who are renting one room only and do not have a joint contract with housemates for the whole property. This amount is usually a significant amount lower than a one bedroom flat and roughly the same as the one third share of a three bedroom property (although this can vary quite a lot from area to area). Until recently people under 25 could only claim the Shared accommodation Rate, but in April 2011 this rule was extended to anyone under 35.

LONDON

Table to Show LHA Limits for London (£ per week)

Note: for each London borough there are often two, even three different rates, the ones I’ve shown are the highest rates, usually for the inner part of each borough. I will focus more on the different rates later, for the moment, to stop this blog getting wild and unweildy, I will use the highest rates.

I have put the boroughs in order of the rates, lowest to highest, I did this because what struck me with these figures is how similar they all are, out of 33 boroughs only Hillingdon and Hounslow have unique rates. Looking at a map of the boroughs, I realised that this is because the rates have not been worked out by boroughs at all, but according to areas – inner South London, outer West London and so on. More on this later.

Expensive London

Table to show the number of properties with rent less than LHA compared with all properties and the percentage that can be afforded with LHA:

I decided to focus first on four of the eight boroughs of London that have the maximum caps (£126.92 for shared accomodation, £400 for a four bedroom property and so on). The 8 are: Islington, Hackney, Tower Hamlets, Camden, City of Westminster, Kensington, Hammersmith, City of London.

People not living in London have felt understandibly indignant that Housing Benefit can pay for expensive areas of London, however while City of Westminster and Camden are certainly rich areas that few people could afford, Hackney and Islington aren’t, many poor people live there (site to show rich and poor boroughs).

The overall percentage of houses available in this sample are Kensington – 0.3%, Islington – 1.9%, Hackney – 10.6% and Tower Hamlets – 12.65%, none of these is even close to a 30% availability. Clearly the maximum caps make living in Kensington AND Islington almost impossible, but even poorer Hackney is largely out of reach to those on benefits.

Inner South East London

Bromley, Croydon, Greenwich, Lambeth, Lewisham and Southwark are all defined (in part) as ‘inner South East London’ and have the same LHA rates, but while these areas are all close together they are all quite different and I was curious to see how it easy it was to rent in each borough using the same rates.

Table to show the number of properties with rent less than LHA, compared with all properties and the percentage that can be afforded with LHA:

So in Lewisham and Croydon the availability is well above 30%, while in Southwark and Lambeth availability is less than 3%. While Southwark and Lambeth are close to the city centre, Southwark includes places like Peckham and Camberwell, hardly expensive zones where only the rich can live.

To simplify this investigation, I used only one set of LHA rates, but most London boroughs are divided into two: ‘inner’ and ‘outer’. For the table above I used only the higher rates which usually corresponded to the ‘inner London’ area. However looking at the map of Bromley divided into inner and outer, it seemed that the majority of Bromley was in the outer section. Concerned that my figures would be misleading, I did a quick search for properties for two areas definitely in the outer area, Bromley (the town, not the borough) and Beckenham, using the outer figures. The results give a very different  view.

In Bromley only 7 out of 98 two bedroom properties were available (7%) and 1 out of 32 four bedrooms (3%); in Beckenham 2 out of 63 (3%) two bedroom properties and none of the 12 four bedroom properties (0%).

London Overview

I’m aware that these figures are a bit confusing, so decided to focus on something simple. Using the areas that divide up the rates (eg Outer South London, Outer West London, Outer North East London) I investigated 34 towns in the areas not already covered (the North and South West) and then checked how many properties were available for relevant LHAs for 2 and 4 bedroom properties. The complete table of information can be found here under ‘Availability in London Towns’.

The government promised that each town would have at least 30% availability, but the following pie chart shows the number of towns with less than that in red, and the number with more in blue.

And this pie chart shows more exactly how many properties were available.

Three quarters of the towns I looked at have less than 20% availability, a third have less than ten.

BRITAIN

Next I looked at fifty-nine districts in England and Wales out of a total of 428. I ignored any districts that had more than one set of LHA rates and any that only had a few houses to rent.

Table to show LHA per week, per district and the number of properties that can be rented by those on benefit compared to all properties can be found here.

The districts with the lowest availability are Guildford (0.9%), Wokingham (4.2%), Reigate (5.7%), Middlesbrough (6.7%), Canterbury (6.9%), Exeter (7.2%), York (8.6%) and Cambridge (8.7%).

While the districts with the highest availability are Hastings (66.3%), Hartlepool (42.8%), Blackpool (42.7%), Dudley (40.9%), Cheltenham (40.5%), Kings Lynn (38%), Gateshead (36.6%) and Wakefield (36.5%).

Pie Charts to Show % Availability (Blue = districts that meet the promised 30th Percentile)

These pie charts show that the districts in England and Wales that actually meet the government’s 30th Percentile rule make up less than a quarter of all the districts investigated. About as many areas have less than 10% of houses that can be rented by people claiming Housing Benefit.

The Newspapers

There has been little national press coverage of the actual changes to Local Housing Allowance, however, in October last year The Guardian and The Mail both wrote about a government report showing the average of how much the LHA would fall short of covering rent in each district.

Guardian report here.

The government report here.

The report shows that claimants will be affected in almost every district in England and Wales. Understandably the shortfall is highest for 5 bedroom properties, since LHA no longer covers for them. For most other properties the average seems to fall between £10 and £20 a week, which is quite drastic for those on Jobseekers who only get £50.95 a week if under 25 and £64.30 if over (ESA and Incapacity Benefit are not much higher, they vary, but are usually below £100).

The Daily Mail responded to these figures with:

End this housing benefits hysteria: Figures demolish claims that cities will be ‘cleansed’ of the poor, say ministers

“The official figures seen by the Mail show that 32 per cent of housing benefit claimants – 297,100 people – will be completely unaffected by the reforms, and 65 per cent will face a shortfall of less than £20.”

And at the bottom of the page

“IN CASE YOU’D FORGOTTEN THE FAMILIES MILKING THE SYSTEM”

Accompanied by pictures from six front page stories about families claiming Housing Benefit while living in expensive houses.

A year and half’s worth of angry stories about people claiming large amounts of Housing Benefit and Boris Johnson making hysterical comments about Kosovo have given the public quite a distorted view about the Housing Benefit situation.

Here’s a few Daily mail comments, cherry picked to show how the press reports of this story have misled some people.

(I say cherry picked because even on the comments section of The Daily Mail, not all people were supportive of the changes to LHA). I haven’t included the names of these commenters, but have stated where they write from when relevant. Most comments were made in October 2010 when the story was being reported and not all the details about the changes to LHA had come to light, however from speaking to people about this and looking around on the Internet, most are no better informed now than they were then.

 “£400 a week for rent – just for being out of work? My son is on a minimum wage (under £13000 a year) and he can only afford a bedsit at £300 a month out of his wages. That is all he can afford with working for a living……………..and the terminally workshy are still being given £400 a week for their accomodation???? My sons taxes are helping pay for this ‘expected lifestyle’ for the unemployed, while he himself has to make do. This is exactly what David Cameron is looking to put right………..the sooner the better. BRING IT ON!” (Yorkshire)

Assuming Angela’s son is living somewhere in Yorkshire and is under 35, his £300 a month would not be covered by Housing Benefit. He could claim only the shared accommodation rate, which in Leeds is £255 a month, in Bradford £207 a month and in York £270 a month. From here.

“How on earth can it be wrong to try and reduce housing benefit modestly when it will still be at £20,000 pa. On the south coast in Southampton you can rent a very nice three bedroom family home in a very nice area near the town centre for £800 pm and this example is repeated accross the country, I totally agree with this proposal. Everyone SEEMS to agree for the need for cuts but then object to every suggestion as to where the cuts will be made. Get real!”

The benefit cap in Southampton is £750 a month for a three bedroom property.

“I fully applaud Mr Cameron in taking a tough line with regards to this, why should the taxpayer be burdened with this.. £400 a week is still a hell of alot of money. For that amount of money you could easily rent a 5 bed room house in an affluent part of Cheshire – something i can only dream of as Mr Cameron points out.”

No five bedroom house could be claimed on Housing Benefit. I’m not sure what he considers an affluent part of Cheshire, but I’ll take Nantwich as an example. In Nantwich the limit for a four bedroom property is £162 per week. There are 15 four bedroom properties to rent there at the moment, of those only one costs less than £162 pw.

“Be steadfast,and resolute Cameron…….it is an absolute disgrace that huge sums of taxpayers money are being used to subsidise people who have no right in most cases of occupying expensive property. I live in a modest semi that I bought eighteen years ago.It was certainly NOT what i would have wanted to live in-but it was all that I could afford. I hate having neighbours,and I wish I could afford to live in a country lane with none…….but I can’t.. Nobody subsidises me to go and live in my country lane…….why is there such a thing as housing benefit anyway ?? The simple fact of life is that if you can’t afford something-you can’t have it.” (Southport)

In Southport the LHA is £144.23 per week for  four bedrooms and £136.93 for three. None of the 11 four bedroom properties can be rented for that amount, of the three bedroom properties only 2 out of 26 are covered by LHA.

“There should be a second cap based on the number of bedrooms, and it should be assumed that married adults and children of the same sex will always sleep in a double bedroom. It is ridiculous that the taxpayer is funding separate bedrooms for every member of a family.”

There is, it is and they don’t.

“I’d love to live the village where I grew up, but hey we CAN’T AFFORD TO! so, we don’t! we had to move away, we work hard for our money and to look after our house and children – £400 a WEEK? something HAS got to change! for a start why should people be “entitled ” to live in a house if they don’t earn it? surely the provision should be for warm shelter – a modest flat would fit that bill – I’m not talking slum conditions, but space isn’t luxury a lot of working people can’t afford either! should be capped at £800 per month for a family – move where you can rent for that level £400 a week is sickening!”

I found this an interesting idea and did a quick count, out of 136 districts in Britain 88 have a LHA of £800 a month and that’s for a four bedroom house, a family of six would only be allowed a three bedroom place and, aside from London, most areas have an LHA for a three bedroom place well below £800.

Aside from a few comments which simply call for the death or exile of all those claiming benefits, or those who don’t believe that a society should care for its most vulnerable members, most Daily Mail readers are asking for limits that are more lenient than the ones put in place – unfortunately due to the unreliability of information they are not aware of this.

Conclusion

Is at least 30% of housing available across England and Wales to those claiming HB under the new LHA guidelines?

No. Only a quarter of areas looked at meet the 30th Percentile rule.

It is still early days with these changes to the LHA, for the moment only new claims are affected, so most people on Housing Benefit will not be aware of the changes until early 2012. The government states that it expects landlords to lower their rents to accommodate their tenants and thereby bring down the cost of renting and perhaps this will happen.

If not, I am concerned for the short term situation where a large number of vulnerable people, often already in crisis, have to leave not only their homes, but also the town/city they live in.

I can’t really speculate about the long term situation until I understand more about why some areas fall so far below the 30th Percentile. Maybe it is due to unpredictability in the renting market, maybe due to flaws in the LHA system, or maybe (as some have declared) there is a disturbing intention to clear benefit claimants out of certain areas of Britain and create a more divided nation, if so then it may not be Kosovo-style social cleansing wrong, but it is still very wrong.

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TUC March For The Alternative (26th March, London)

Click on pictures to enlarge.

For full information as to why the march was happening, how the cuts are harmful and unevenly distributed and how they are more likely to damage the economy than save it, look here:

http://falseeconomy.org.uk/

http://www.ukuncut.org.uk/about/cuts

The march was peaceful, joyful and enormous. I have no idea how many people attended, certainly it seemed that there was an impossible number, it felt that the whole of London had been taken over. There was a fantastic variety of people too: families, OAPs, students and anarchists all walking together.

There was an incredible amount of noise and jollity on the march, people blew whistles, banged drums, a massive stereo was propelled through the streets by cyslists, even the police were smiling.

When we passed through Picadilly mid afternoon, there was already some damage done to buildings. The attacks were very focussed, on Star Bucks rather than Pret a Manger and done by groups very obviously separate to the main march.

The Con/Dem Nation

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The Killing (Forbrydelsen)

I haven’t found any reviews that capture what I think is good about the Danish detective series The Killing (Forbrydelsen) currently showing on BBC4, so I’m going to write my own.

The reason I’m watching The Killing is because a few weeks ago I was ranting to a friend about how brilliant-yet-flawed characters (eg Fitz from Cracker, Sherlock Homes, House) are rarely female. There are plenty of obnoxious-yet-right, ugly/nasty-yet-lovable male characters, but females usually have to be nice and polite; they can be capable but never genius, logical but usually proved wrong. Plus main female characters should also be ethereally waif-like and perfectly pretty at all times and it’s difficult believe a woman is driven and obsessed if you know she must have to disappear to the toilets every hour to check her  makeup. I also told my friend that I believed this trend was getting worse rather than better. A few weeks after the conversation the same friend told me to watch The Killing, I did and it was great (thank you friend).

The main character is a detective called Sarah Lund, she investigates just one murder throughout the first series, that of Nanna Birk Larson, a nineteen year old girl. Lund is not quite Fitz, but she is definitely brilliant; intuitive, quick thinking, seeing details that others miss, and definitely flawed. She’s a fairly crap mother, girlfriend and work colleague, but this is because she has such intensity of purpose and passion for her job that the rest of life tends to get trampled. She doesn’t care about career advancement, she cares about getting the bad guy, and the rules and sensibilities of others are largely irrelevant. To use a cliché: she’s a maverick, she breaks the rules, but she gets the job done.

Just to make clear, I don’t think that this is a particularly good way to be or that all women should be like this, just as I don’t think men should try to be like Fitz, but there is a joy in watching a powerful, brilliant character with true, obsessive passion for her work. TV is about escapism and fantasy and I get little joy from watching bland, well-behaved women being mediocre. Lund is fabulous. However, she is just part of what makes this series unique, here are some other things…

The pacing is all wrong

Only when watching this did I really notice how predictable the pace of other detective shows is. On CSISS (CSI Style Shows, most recent UK shows seem to follow a similar formula, perhaps because CSI is so popular) and much of TV and film there is a distinct pattern to events. Things don’t happen in the same order each time, but with the use of camera angles, style of acting, music and so on, it is always clear what type of scene you are watching and roughly what will happen in it, for example:

  • the build up – sinister music, not much talking, characters looking concerned or being distracted – always leads to a scary event
  • investigation – furrowed brows, characters keep asking each other questions, often a montage of clue collecting
  • quirky exchanges between characters – often while standing next to brutally murdered victim, but during a time of relative calm and inactivity
  • personal conversations – either soft focus ‘concern’ scene or soft focus flirty scene, usually take place on route to somewhere important or over a microscope

The Killing doesn’t use that pacing at all, it ignores convention. Sometimes things happen without any build up, and others just happen without having a relevance to the plot, eg:

  • Lund knocks over a coffee cup, she picks it up
  • Test results get lost and have to be redone
  • An entire scene is set up to look like a main character is going to be attacked, but never is

The effect of this is that the viewer never knows when things are going to happen and what things are important, so there is a genuine sense of surprise and an insidious tension; after all if there is no logic to when bad things happen, they might happen at anytime so you can’t prepare yourself for the emotional changes and have to pay greater attention.  It also makes the settings seem far more realistic, the slightly dingy offices where drinks get spilt and things change without warning are much more familiar to me than the ordered, shiny, never-stumble worlds of CSISS.

The subtlety of the characters

Having an investigation that stretches out over twenty episodes means that we properly get to know the characters. Not in a ‘aha! You thought he was the good guy, but really he’s a killer!’ way, but in a ‘see how complex humans are? they change depending on situation’ way.

The murdered girl’s father (Theis) is a case in a point. A large man who doesn’t often speak, he can illicit absolute sympathy at some times, but then fear at others. His size can seem reassuring, terrifying or tragic depending on what is happening and what he is feeling. He doesn’t fit into any TV character category that I recognise so I can’t dismiss him as a type (or trope), instead I find myself judging him in the way I would judge a real person.

Lund’s detective partner (Jan Meyer) is in some ways a stereotype – the resentful, less talented one – but again there are other subtleties to his character, we can understand why he feels the way he does and he sometimes gets to be the hero – unlike the stereotype who will always get it wrong.

The acting

Watching The Killing I have realised that usually TV characters only have ten or so facial expressions between them. Some of these are:

  • the macho sneer (often accompanied by a rude shoulder-bump)
  • aesthetic thoughtfulness with furrowed brow
  • the irrational-yet-sexy anger
  • the raised eyebrow smirk (often while making a quip during a crisis)
  • the soft focus faux-empathy

I don’t think I have seen any of these facial expressions in real life, when I am deep in thought I usually look a bit vacant and if I ever shoulder-bumped a colleague I think they’d be seriously miffed. The Killing doesn’t seem to use these, it uses more complex expressions that I recognise from reality and therefore identify with much more.

There is also a subtlety to the acting that causes the viewer to constantly try to analyse what the character might be thinking and feeling – for example,

  • Lund’s very controlled and often insincere expressions as she tries to placate her colleague and family, it is clear that she doesn’t use facial expressions to show what she is thinking, but what she wants others to think she is thinking. She makes most TV characters look a bit simple.
  • The murdered girl’s mother (Pernille) who has a constantly bewildered and distracted face as she repeatedly fails to come to terms with what has happened to her child. Her evident shock and undramatic horror as she tries to carry on with the practicalities of life are heartbreaking, unlike CSISS when bereaved parents are shown being tearful in a few scenes and then gone and forgotten.

Again it is the fact that The Killing is closer to reality than to TV life that enables the viewer to feel more empathy with characters and be more affected by the events.

Appearance

Some of the characters are good looking, others are less so, however this doesn’t really seem to matter because the attractiveness of characters isn’t ever mentioned and a character’s importance and goodness is not determined by their looks. The actors wear makeup, but they don’t have that plastic, unreal, lineless skin that women on CSISS do, their faces move. Lund’s face has pores and sometimes her hair is greasy. Plus her clothes are the kind you would want to wear if you were chasing a killer – shoes you can run in, jeans and jumpers, sometimes she wears the same clothes for days on end.

Conclusion

I think all these differences come not only from time and care taken in making the series, but also due to a respect for the viewer. To watch this you need to concentrate, to have patience, to think. Most British and US TV at the moment seem to assume that the viewer is lazy, inattentive and in constant need of eye candy, unfortunately the more TV is created like this the more viewers will become lazy and inattentive (why pay full attention when you know what is about to happen?), jarred by any physical imperfections and confused by occurances that do not fit the usual patterns.

The Killing is being remade by the US which is interesting. Often when successful programmes are remade in another country, the very things that made those programmes different and successful in the first place are ignored. With The Killing I think the success comes from the fact it simply doesn’t look like television, the characters are not copies of other TV characters, they are copies of real people, the plot does not unfold in the manner of TV plots but more awkwardly, closer to the way events unfold in real life; as a result it isn’t throwaway like most TV. I am curious to see if the US remake realises this and uses it or ignores it and creates another CSISS that looks and acts just like TV usually does.

Note: The Killing (Forbrydelsen) is currently available on BBC iplayer here http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b00z1yqz/The_Killing_Episode_12/

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Are we solving the UK Debt Crisis?

I started researching a blog about the current recession in the UK, wanting to understand whether we really had a debt crisis and whether carrying out massive cuts to public spending was the best way of dealing with it.

Then somebody sent me this link

http://falseeconomy.org.uk/

Which contained all the information I was searching for, laid out clearly and calmly, like I was hoping to do and with expert opinions and information about campaigns happening all over the UK, which I probably wouldn’t have been able to do at all.

Anyone alarmed, curious, angry or confused about the cuts and the debt crisis should have a read. It shows that debt is not a new thing and that the current debt is not particularly drastic and perfectly normal in a recession. It explains why cuts to public spending are not a good solution and how the poor are being made to carry the weight of the recession far more than the rich.

Here is another straightforward explanation. It gives examples of how public spending encourages economic growth, so cutting it in a recession is counterproductive.

http://www.pcs.org.uk/en/campaigns/campaign-resources/there-is-an-alternative-the-case-against-cuts-in-public-spending.cfm

What both these sites show beautifully is that making public spending cuts as an antidote to our National debt is illogical and is not supported by our economic history. In the first part of the century our national debt was up to 250% of our GDP (it is currently only 50%) and to counteract that there was a huge increase in public spending, the welfare state and the NHS were introduced, plus widespread nationalisation, at the same time our debt dropped incredibly quickly until it was down to 50% in the seventies.

The red lines show the introduction of the welfare state in 1945 and NHS in 1948. This is very much a simplification of the economic situation, but hopefully it does show that high national debt and large public spending do not automatically lead to an increase in economic problems.

The Shock Doctrine?

One possible reason behind the government cuts is that the government is pursuing the Chicago School of Economics method, this involves privatisation of all state run companies, ending free healthcare, education and welfare and removing all barriers to trade. In order to bring in such extreme changes, a climate of fear and confusion has to be created. The Shock Doctrine by Naomi Kline explains this method and how it has been used in a number of countries, resulting in mass unemployment and poverty, plus a few people becoming very rich.

The book is excellent, if alarming. In particular, the situation created in Canada stands out as having possible similarity to the recent events in the UK: In 1993 it was declared that Canada was experiencing a Debt Crisis so severe that within two years the money would run out and the country would be plunged into recession.

“The only solution we were told was to radically cut spending on such programs such as unemployment insurance and healthcare”

These cuts were made, but…

“Two years after the deficit hysteria, the investigative journalist Linda McQuaig definitively exposed that a sense of crisis had been carefully stoked and manipulated by a handful of think tanks funded by the largest banks and corporations in Canada”

And the reason…

“…a major campaign was afoot to push the government to lower taxes by cutting spending on social programs such as health and education. Since these programs are supported by an overwhelming majority of Canadians, the only way the cuts could be justified was if the alternative was national economic collapse – a full blown crisis”

Here is a site for The Shock Doctrine

And here is one protesting against the use of the Shock Doctrine method in the UK

This is a mini-blog. Hopefully, I will post more on this subject later. Until then I welcome any additional information, either in support or disagreement with what I have posted. Please email me with any thoughts, analysis, websites or blogs on the subject, thank you.

Posted in Politics | Tagged , , ,

Do We Allow Power to Corrupt?

Earlier this year Joris Lammers published a paper

Through five compelling experiments, Lammers has shown that powerful people are more likely to behave immorally but paradoxically less likely to tolerate immorality in other people. Even thinking about the feeling of power can trigger these double standards.

The experiments

For each experiment the participants were first manipulated into feeling either powerful or powerless through role play and suggestion. Some of the experiments involved playing a game with dice in which it was possible to cheat, others involved making series of moral decisions about whether it was ok for other people to break minor laws and whether it was ok for the participant themself to do so.

The results showed that those who felt powerful were far more likely to cheat and allow themselves to break the law, but they were also more judgmental of others doing so. Those who felt powerless reacted in the opposite manner, having higher expectations of themselves than of others.

A fuller account of the experiment

The original publication, costs $35

What is important to note here is that this difference isn’t really anyone’s fault – politicians defrauding their country out of thousands of pounds or starting wars for personal gain, corporations calculating whether it is cheaper to recall a dangerous product or pay compensation, even a boss who blames his staff for his own mistakes – these acts are not a sign of innate evil, they are the automatic effect that power has on the brain. This means there is little point in simply replacing the corrupt, powerful people because as soon as the new people take their place they too will start to see things differently, will start to see themselves as above the law.

In order to combat this it is necessary that the legal system is totally fair and that both the powerless and powerful are seen as equal. The important must be reminded that they do not have special rights.

So in this blog I want to investigate whether the powerful are party to the same legal system as the rest of us.

To narrow down the investigation I have chosen what I believe to be three of the most powerful groups in the UK: the government, the press and corporate power

MP fraudsters and Benefit Fraudsters

In 2009 was the MP expenses scandal, which was

a major political scandal triggered by the leak and subsequent publication by the Telegraph Group in 2009 of expense claims made by members of the United Kingdom Parliament over several years. Public outrage was caused by disclosure of widespread actual and alleged misuse of the permitted allowances and expenses claimed by Members of Parliament (MPs), following failed attempts by parliament to prevent disclosure under Freedom of Information legislation. The scandal aroused widespread anger among the UK public against MPs and a loss of confidence in politics. It resulted in a large number of resignations, sackings, de-selections and retirement announcements, together with public apologies and the repayment of expenses. (Wikipedia)

As a response to this the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority was set up to monitor the actions of MPs. The rules that they imposed were declared as scandalous and vindictive by MPs, although most of the rules would be considered normal by non-MPs, for example having to use public transport before 11pm. It was also decided that MPs would only have 85% of their phone calls paid for, to which former Labour minister Tom Harris said

“[this]so mindbogglingly unfair and ridiculous, you get the impression that Ian Kennedy, its chair, invented it for a joke, just to see how long it took for us to notice”.

One MP said

“We are being treated like benefit claimants. Why don’t they just put up a metal grill?”

I do not believe they are being treated like benefit claimants, but in order to see if politicians are subject to the same laws as the rest of us, I am going to use the governments own guidelines for those who commit benefit fraud and see how the results compare with what actually happened.

Some initial facts

  • The annual salary of an MP is £65,738 as of 1 April 2010
  • Cabinet ministers receive a salary of £134,565 (including MP’s salary of £65,738).
  • MPs can claim allowances to cover, for example, staff costs, travel expenses and the cost of running an office. They cannot claim for luxuries, what constitutes a luxury is clearly defined.
  • Opposition parties get extra money to help them carry out their parliamentary business. This is known as ‘Short Money’.

Details of what expenses are allowed for MPs here

Benefit Fraud Guidelines

The guidelines for benefit fraud are fairly straightforward. For anyone claiming less than £5000 fraudulently a prison sentence is rare, so I will be focussing on MPs who claimed more than that. The sentences for benefit fraud are for “amounts obtained or intended to be obtained”, so any attempt at claiming by an MP is considered serious. Many of the MPs claims are “fraudulent from outset”, but a few involve claiming for a mortgage legally and then paying off the mortgage but still claiming the money, which is “not fraudulent from the outset”.

Regarding the politicians who have promised to pay back some money, while this would be looked on favourably in a court it would not stop fraudulent benefit claimants from going to prison if the amounts were sufficient.

 

£100,000 or more and less than £500,000

£20,000 or more and less than £100,000

Starting point based on: £60,000*

£5,000 or more and less than £20,000

Starting point based on: £12,500*

Fraudulent from the outset and either fraud carried out over a significant period of time or multiple frauds

 

Range:2-4 years custody

Starting point:2 years custody

Range:18 weeks-30 months custody

Starting point:12 weeks custody

Range:Community order (HIGH)-12 months custody

Not fraudulent from the outset and either fraud carried out over a significant period of time or multiple frauds

 

Range:12 months-3 years custody

 

Starting point:15 months custody

Range:12 weeks-18 months custody

 

Starting point:6 weeks custody

Range:Community order (MEDIUM)-26 weeks custody

 

*The “starting point” can be used as an additional guideline for sentencing, so when the money claimed fraudulently is higher than this amount I have used the “starting point” sentence as the minimum.

I’ve stuck to definite, dodgy claims with a final figure, but there are plenty of alleged or less specific claims listed here Wikipedia list of Fraudulent Expenses Claims

Despite all the reporting at the time, there are no comprehensive figures for how much was claimed fraudulently, just a few individual cases. This is because there are, apparently, 458,832 pages of documents and nobody has gone through them all, presumably newspaper reports were based on the few isolated documents that the papers looked at.

The Guardian have made an appeal to the public to help them review all the documents, web page here http://mps-expenses.guardian.co.uk/

The receipts and claims for all MPs Expenses are Here

Factors indicating higher culpability (leading to stiffer sentence):

  • Planning of an offence
  • Offenders operating in groups or gangs
  • ‘Professional offending’
  • High level of profit from the offence
  • An attempt to conceal or dispose of evidence
  • Deliberate targeting of vulnerable
  • Abuse of a position of trust
  • Money is used for frivolous items (eg big TVs, expensive holidays, moats) rather than essentials.
I’ve highlighted the factors that I believe apply with the MPs

Labour:

 

Amount

reason

sentence

Hazel Blears

At least £18,332

(£13,332)

Home flipping, tax avoidance and excessive furniture claims

12 weeks – 12 months in prison

David Milliband

£30,000 smbl

For gardening, decoration and home repairs

18 weeks – 30 months in prison

Keith Vaz

£75,000

Claim for a second home despite living in London

15 months – 30 months in prison

In prison

Margaret Moran

£22,500 (£22,500)

Treating dry rot in a home not used for work

18 weeks – 30 months

In prison

Elliot Morley*

£16,000 (£16,000) nfao

Claimed for 18 months for a mortgage he was no longer paying

6 weeks – 26 weeks custody

 

David Chaytor*

£13,000 (£13,000) nfao

Claimed for a year for a mortgage he was no longer paying

6 weeks – 26 weeks custody

Gerald Kaufman

£14,301 smbl (in three months, presumably much more over the years)

Repairs, apparently, but included a TV costing nearly £9000 (only a TV costing less than £750 is permitted)

12 weeks -12 months in prison

Quentin Davies

£10,000 (£10,000)

Repairs to windows in a second home he did not live in.

Community order – 12 months in prison

Ben Chapman

£15,000 (£0) nfao

For interest repayments on his mortgage that he was no longer paying

6 weeks – 26 weeks in prison

Phil Hope

£37,000 (£41,709) smbl

Expenses for a flat thought to be too small for all the items bought for it

18 weeks – 30 months

 

Conservative

Bill Cash

£15,000

Rent for flat he didn’t live in, gave the money to his daughter

12 weeks – 12 months in prison

David Davis

£10,000 smbl

Home repairs including a portico for £5,700

Community order – 12 months

Jonathan Djanogly

£31,913 smbl

Security gates, gardening, cleaning

18 weeks – 30 months

John Gummer

£9000 smbl

gardening

Community order – 12 months

David Maclean

£20,000

Improvement to his farmhouse, lying about it to avoid tax

18 weeks – 30 months in prison

Anthony Steen

£80,000 smbl

Maintenance to his country home

15 months – 30 months

Brian Binley

£57,000

Rent for a flat that he owned

18 weeks – 30 months

Sir Alan Hazelhurst

£142,119 smbl

Second home allowances for a property that had no mortgage. Incl. £11,771 for gardening over four years

2 – 4 years in prison

The House of Lords

Glenys Thornton, Baroness Thornton

£130,000

Claiming rent for her mother’s house

2 – 4 years in prison

 

*Highlighted names are two of the MPs facing court.
Where it seems that a small part of the claim could be legitimate, I have written “smbl” – some (of the claim) may be legitimate. Where the claim was not fraudulent at outset I have written “nfao” –not fraudulent at outset – and lowered the sentence accordingly. In brackets are the amounts that the MPs paid back.

Using the governments own guidelines I ascertain that if MP fraudsters were benefit fraudsters then at least fifteen of them would be going to prison (many more would be doing community service). However as it is only three MPs and one peer are facing criminal proceedings.

As the expenses are studied more thoroughly more cases of fraud will come to light, it will be interesting to see what, if any, legal proceedings will be carried out.

Summary: Are Members of Parliament subject to the same laws and penalties as the public?

The expenses scandal is probably the closest MPs have ever come to facing real justice, however, the ultimate answer is still,

no

The Media and the Law

The British press are regulated by the Press Complaints Commission (PCC) which is made up of representatives of the major newspaper publishers, this means that the press is essentially self-regulating. The PCC has no legal powers, so if a case is considered serious then it must go to court. According to a recent report (Feb 2010) by the Culture, Media and Sport Committee (appointed by the House of Commons) the PCC is weak and slow to react to misbehaviour by the newspapers, while extreme costs mean that few small papers and fewer members of the public can afford to go to court.

The report:

http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm200910/cmselect/cmcumeds/362/36202.htm

A few cases taken from the report to show the ineffectiveness of the PCC and the courts:

  • Trafigura
  • The McCanns
  • The Phone hacking affair

Trafigura

In 2006 a ship carrying toxic waste for the oil company Trafigura dumped it illegally in Côte d’Ivoire, one of Africa’s largest seaports. According to a UN report 108,000 people needed medical attention and 15 died as a result. At first executives from the company were jailed, but then $198m was paid in compensation to Côte d’Ivoire and they were released. The company has a turnover of $73 billion, income $440 m.

In 2009, when the BBC and The Guardian tried to report the story, the company’s lawyers threatened to sue and the BBC removed all reference to the event from its websites. A few months later the BBC tried to report on the story again, but was forced to make an apology to Trafigura.

Trafigura was then allowed to take out an injunction stopping the press from reporting about it at all and they tried to stop The Guardian even mentioning the injunctions existence. Eventually the story got out, largely due to interference from the public, using the Internet and websites like Twitter to proliferate the story.

According to the Culture, Media and Sport’s report this was not an isolated incident:

It is clear that a mismatch of resources in a libel action, for example between a large corporation for which money may be no object and a small newpaper or NGO, has already led to a stifling effect on freedom of expression.

The cost of litigation has a direct bearing both on the freedom of expression enjoyed by the press and on the standards of the press. We are aware that there are cases where people wronged by the media are deterred from seeking legal remedy by the combination of cost and risk. We have also heard evidence that journalists and editors sometimes refrain from publishing information for fear of legal action, even where they are sure of their facts, because the costs and risks are too high, and that some wealthy individuals and organisations exploit this fear to intimidate the press. For instance Jeff Edwards, former Chief Crime Correspondent of the Daily Mirror, told us that the newspaper would not publish a story relating to the Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich, even though it was corroborated, as “we do not mess with Abramovich, he is too powerful, he is too litigious”

The price in terms of freedom of expression can be high. The NGO Article 19, in its submission, wrote:      “Costs in defamation cases in the UK have now reached what may, without exaggeration, be called crisis proportions, particularly from the perspective of NGOs. Costs can be crippling, even if one is ultimately successful in winning a case. The pure ‘harassment’ value of defamation cases has been recognised in many countries, where rich and powerful individuals bring cases which have no chance of success, simply to deter potential critics.”

The McCanns

When Madeleine McCann went missing in 2007, while the McCanns were on holiday in Portugal, there was at first a lot of public and press sympathy. The story was very popular and could increase the circulation of a newspaper dramatically (reportedly by 50,000). However to keep up the high level of coverage, new angles on the story had to be found and when the McCanns were named as suspects by the Portuguese police the press turned nasty, using inaccurate information and hearsay to implicate the McCanns, this was not only cruel at a terrible time in their lives, but also potentially damaging to their defense in court. The report says

The PCC Code of Conduct states in paragraph 1a that ‘the Press must take care not to publish inaccurate, misleading or distorted information, including pictures’. In paragraph 1c, it states that ‘the Press, while free to be partisan, must distinguish clearly between comment, conjecture and fact.’ We believe it was obvious as early as May 2007 that a number of newspapers were ignoring these requirements, yet the PCC remained silent. That silence continued even though the coverage remained a matter of public concern through the summer and autumn of that year. It was only in March 2008, after the Express Group settled in the McCanns’ libel case, that the PCC spoke out. By then, as we have seen, hundreds of false and damaging articles about the McCanns and others had been published across a large number of titles. This was an important test of the industry’s ability to regulate itself, and it failed that test.

It is, however, clear that the press acted as a pack, ceaselessly hunting out fresh angles where new information was scarce. Portugal was also a foreign jurisdiction, where contempt of court laws were unclear, and no consideration was given to how reporting might prejudice any future trial. It is our belief that competitive and commercial factors contributed to abysmal standards in the gathering and publishing of news about the McCann case.

We have heard no evidence to suggest that newspapers have taken action on their own account to ensure that the mistakes of the McCann coverage are not repeated in future, much less that editors and journalists responsible for the publication of so many falsehoods have been asked to account for their decisions, or have faced disciplinary action.

The industry’s words and actions suggest a desire to bury the affair without confronting its serious implications – a kind of avoidance which newspapers would criticise mercilessly, and rightly, if it occurred in any other part of society. The PCC, by failing to take firm action, let slip an opportunity to prevent or at least mitigate some of the most damaging aspects of this episode, and in doing so lent credence to the view that it lacks teeth and is slow to challenge the newspaper industry.

The situation with the McCann’s largely came to light because they were able to successfully sue the newspapers. However, there are also a number of lower profile cases (Flat Earth News is very good for information on this) in which the victim of press inaccuracy or lies did not have the funds to take on a large newspaper in the courts.

The Phone Hacking Affair

In 2006 Clive Goodman, the News of the World royal correspondent and two private detectives were jailed for tapping into the private phone messages of the royals. Both the paper and the police claimed that Clive Goodman was working alone and without the knowledge of the NotW.

A Dispatches documentary earlier this year contradicted this, stating that the police had detailed documents referencing up to 6000 victims, from celebrities to members of the public, but chose not to pursue the majority of the cases, focussing only on the phone-tapping of the royals. It was implied in the documentary that the police were actually scared of causing trouble in case the NotW had collected incriminating information about them. A few of members of the labour government interviewed on the programme also seemed intimidated by the paper. The paper’s royal correspondent Clive Goodman was jailed for four months and Andy Coulson, the newspaper’s editor, resigned. Coulson is now David Cameron’s communications director.

The report talks about the scandal, while it is more careful with its accusations it essentially backs up the Dispatches documentary. After interviewing the police and employees at the News of the World it comes to the conclusion that many phones were tapped, Clive Goodman is unlikely to be the only journalist involved and the police’s reasons for not investigating were “inadequate”. It also believes that Clive Goodman and jailed associates were paid off (“we are left with a strong impression that silence has been bought”).

In evidence to us on 14 July Nick Davies gave us his view:

“They prosecuted Steve Whittamore, the private investigator, and three of his colleagues who were involved in the network, gathering information, they came to Blackfriars Crown Court and pleaded guilty, and the judge in the case said, ‘Well, hang on a moment. Where are the news groups? Where are the journalists?’ and the answer to that question is that the Information Commission felt that, if they charged the newspaper groups, they would (a) hire very expensive QCs, which meant that the Information Commissioner’s office would have to do the same, and (b) they would have masses of preliminary hearings with all sorts of complex legal argument and the effect of that would have been to break the Information Commissioner’s office’s legal budget. They simply could not afford to take on Fleet Street, it was too expensive. It was not, as you might think, a political fear, ‘We’re not going to get into a fight with these powerful newspapers’; it was a budgetary thing.

In seeking to discover precisely who knew what among the staff of the News of the World we have questioned a number of present and former executives of News International. Throughout we have repeatedly encountered an unwillingness to provide the detailed information that we sought, claims of ignorance or lack of recall, and deliberate obfuscation. We strongly condemn this behaviour which reinforces the widely held impression that the press generally regard themselves as unaccountable and that News International in particular has sought to conceal the truth about what really occurred.

Summary: Are the press subject to the same laws and penalties as the public?

Again, there is probably more awareness by the public than ever before about the inequalities of power and manipulations by the press (public faith in the newspapers is at an all time low). However, there seems to be a significant number of cases (I have only mentioned a few) in which the law actively protects those who break it, so long as they are rich. Therefore the answer is a definite

no.


Corporate Power vs the Rest of the World

Some illegal and immoral behaviour by UK corporations and the penalties incurred:

  • In October 2000 there were four deaths and 102 injuries caused by the Hatfield Rail Crash. The company Balfour Beatty was thought to be mostly at fault (although Railtrack was also implicated). When sentencing Mr Justice Mackay said it had been responsible for “one of the worst examples of sustained industrial negligence in a high-risk industry I have ever seen”. Balfour Beatty was fined £10million as a result. It has a turnover of over £10billion and last year it made £107 million in profit.
  • Paroxetine (Seroxat, Paxil) was an SSRI antidepressant brought out by GlaxoSmithKline (a UK company) in 1992. GSK carried out a series of trials to see if the drug was effective for use with children suffering from depression and found that the drug performed less well than a placebo and trebled the risk of suicidal thoughts and behaviour. In one study seven of the 93 children who took Seroxat had to be taken to hospital. However GSK misrepresented these findings, pushed the drug to GPs as appropriate for children and paid large amounts of money to well-respected doctors to carry out a series of apparently independent seminars praising the drug. Soon over 7000 children in the UK were on Seroxat. The drug was banned for under eighteens in 2003 after large numbers of children started to self-harm and attempt suicide, some children succeeded in these attempts. It is still used by adults (thought to have had 100 million users worldwide) even though it is believed to cause suicidal and murderous behaviour in a significant number of people and many court cases have been brought against GSK as a result. It is also thought to be extremely addictive and some patients cannot come off it even with medical help. Despite extensive proof that GSK lied about their findings and misled doctors (a Panorama programme in 2007 uncovered many documents and emails) Government Prosecutors decided not to pursue the case to court. Panorama Transcript
  • Also GlaxoSmithKline, it was reported that the company tested new AIDs drugs on babies and young children in an orphan care home in New York, this was discovered in 2004. Because the children were orphans GSK did not need to seek the approval of parents to test the drug. There was not a full investigation of how many children were injured or killed in these experiments and no court case has been filed. Guardian Article
  • According to US government safety inspections made over the past three years, BP, the British oil company are responsible for 97% of all flagrant violations in the refining industry. Most of BPs citations were considered “egregious wilful”. Between 1995 and 2005, BP caused the most deaths in the industry in the US, with 22 fatalities. It has paid out $20,000 in federal and state fines in connection with four of those deaths. BP has a net in come of US $16.58 billion. http://www.publicintegrity.org/articles/entry/2085/
  • Barclays are the largest UK investor in the arms trade. Halifax, Bank of Scotland, HSBC, Lloyds, TSB and Royal Bank of Scotland either hold shares in the Arms trade or lend it money, sadly this is not illegal. However, according to a report by War on Want, most banks are “violating their own corporate social responsibility (CSR) statements.” “HSBC has since 2000 publicly stated its commitment to “avoid certain types of business, such as financing weapons manufacture and sales” and to have had that policy “fully in place” since 2006. However, since 2000 there has been no significant downward trend in HSBC lending to the arms sector. In fact, there was a major rise in HSBC’s lending in 2005.”  The UK government approved sales by UK arms companies in 2006 included Zimbabwe, China, Russia, Afghanistan and Indonesia. War on Want Report

And there are many less dramatic cases. Taking statistics from a Health and Safety Report 2009/2010 there are nearly 9000 deaths a year that are known to be caused by work (most of those are cancer deaths due to exposure of carcinogens at work, a few hundred are due to accidents). The report states a further 4000 deaths due to exposure to fumes, chemicals and dust may be work related.

So that’s a suspected 13,000 deaths a year due to dangerous working conditions. Conditions that were often known to be dangerous but for which employers took no precautions to protect their employees.

In 2009/2010 there were 26,061 major injuries at work.

In 2009/10, there were 1033 offences prosecuted in Great Britain by HSE and ORR, and which were heard in that year. Of these, 922 were completed, resulting in 737 convictions (80%). Within the 922 figure, seven offences, two of which resulted in convictions, relate to railways, now enforced by ORR.

http://www.hse.gov.uk/statistics/overall/hssh0910.pdf

The problem when prosecuting companies for corporate manslaughter seem to be:

  • Large companies have expensive lawyers and most member of the public haven’t the money to sue them (even fewer with the recent cuts to legal aid)
  • It is difficult with large corporations to show where the fault is. Often low level management are blamed, prosecuted and sometimes jailed for the specific decisions that led to a death, but executives who orchestrate an environment in which money must come before safety are never found responsible. Because the  environment is never directly challenged, it is never changed.
  • Almost always the legal outcome of a case is a fine, the fine is usually a few thousand, occasionally more. For corporations making billions in profit each year, fines are seen as merely another expense, not a deterrent.
  • Many corporations are international and carry out illegal practices abroad, taking advantage of corrupt or poor governments.

In 2008 The Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act was brought in. It was designed to target the executives of even large corporations, to look at all of the practices of a corporation and supposedly, fines were made potentially limitless.

There has been much talk within law about how this new Act will improve corporate responsibility, but I am sceptical because there are significant limitations to the Act, namely:

  • It is only effective for the UK, if it can be proved that a fatal decision was made outside the UK or if non UK citizens die then nothing can be done.
  • · I have only found one instance of the Act being used, for a small company, the charges against the director have been dropped. News article about Corporate Manslaughter case
  • · The penalty for death is still fines, remedial orders and publicity orders* not jail time.

*Remedial order = sort out faults within the company. Publicity order = tell the public about those faults.

Some sites about the Act:

Government information

Criticism about the Act

Summary: Are corporations and the executives who run them subject to the same laws and penalties as the public?

Thousands have died as a result of illegal and irresponsible work practices, companies are frequently fined a tiny fraction of their profits and only low level management are ever jailed. I hope the new Corporate Manslaughter Act can change this, but as yet there is no sign that it will, so my answer is

no.

Conclusion

There is a lot to be frustrated about with our current legal system, it seems very much biased in favour of those with money and power. However, there have been changes

  • MPs expenses have become subject to the freedom of information act
  • MPs have new rules for their expenses
  • There is awareness and available information about the untrustworthiness of the press
  • The public have more opportunity than ever before to find and exchange their own information
  • There have been changes to the law with regards to corporate manslaughter

Lammers found that the ‘powerful’ participants in his experiments could be stopped from cheating and moral laxity by reminding them that their power was not earned. From this he concluded that the way to ensure the powerful do not become corrupt is to undermine them, remind them of their privileged position. He suggested this could be done through satire, derision or revolution.

If those with power are destined to become corrupt, no matter what their ideals to start with, it is essential that we, the public, make a stand. That we support those who try to expose corruption and that we do not docilely accept the illegal or immoral behaviour of those in power. We must not be quiet, we must never say “Of course politicians/journalists lie” “Of course the courts favour the rich”, instead we need to remain loud, indignant and repetitive when these statements are found to be true, because that is the only way that change will occur, the only way that the powerful will see the error of their ways and start to behave.

Some Useful URLs

Health and Safety

Apply for Freedom of Information

Culture, Media and Sport Reports

War on Want

Seroxat and those it has affected

Mark Thomas

 

MP fraudsters and Benefit Fraudsters

In 2009 was the MP expenses scandal

a major political scandal triggered by the leak and subsequent publication by the Telegraph Group in 2009 of expense claims made by members of the United Kingdom Parliament over several years. Public outrage was caused by disclosure of widespread actual and alleged misuse of the permitted allowances and expenses claimed by Members of Parliament (MPs), following failed attempts by parliament to prevent disclosure under Freedom of Information legislation. The scandal aroused widespread anger among the UK public against MPs and a loss of confidence in politics. It resulted in a large number of resignations, sackings, de-selections and retirement announcements, together with public apologies and the repayment of expenses. (Wikipedia)

As a response to this the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority was set up to monitor the actions of MPs, the rules that they imposed were declared as scandalous and vindictive by MPs, although most of the rules would be considered normal, or luxurious by non-MPs, for example having to use public transport before 11pm. It was also decided that MPs would only have 85% of their phone calls paid for, to which former Labour minister Tom Harris said “[this]so mindbogglingly unfair and ridiculous, you get the impression that Ian Kennedy, its chair, invented it for a joke, just to see how long it took for us to notice”.

One MP said “We are being treated like benefit claimants. Why don’t they just put up a metal grill?”

However, I do not believe they are being treated like benefit claimants, but I would like to demonstrate exactly what would have happened if they were and had been caught defrauding the public to the extent that MPs were caught defrauding the public.

From here:

http://www.parliament.uk/about/faqs/house-of-commons-faqs/members-faq-page2/

Some initial facts:

The annual salary of an MP is £65,738 as of 1 April 2010

Cabinet ministers receive a salary of £134,565 (including MP’s salary of £65,738).

MPs can claim allowances to cover, for example, staff costs, travel expenses and the cost of running an office. They cannot claim for luxuries, what constitutes a luxury is clearly defined.

Opposition parties get extra money to help them carry out their parliamentary business. This is known as ‘Short Money’.

Details of what expenses are allowed are here: http://www.parliament.uk/documents/commons-information-office/M05.pdf

Benefit Fraud Guidelines

The guidelines for benefit fraud are fairly straightforward. For anyone claiming less than £5000 fraudulently a prison sentence is rare, so I will be focussing on MPs who claimed more than that. The sentences for benefit fraud are for “amounts obtained or intended to be obtained”, so any attempt at claiming by an MP is considered serious. I’m not sure that the MPs claims can be considered “professionally planned” more opportunistic, but I do believe most are “fraudulent from the outset”, with benefits, the crime is “not fraudulent from the outset” if a claim is made for a genuine disability or illness that then improves but the claimant continues to collect the money, if an MP claims, for example, money for a mortgage that originally he/she is paying in his/her constituency, but pays off the mortgage but still keeps claiming the money, then this is “not fraudulent from the outset” and has a lesser sentence.

 

£100,000 or more and less than £500,000

£20,000 or more and less than £100,000

Starting point based on: £60,000*

£5,000 or more and less than £20,000

Starting point based on: £12,500*

Fraudulent from the outset and either fraud carried out over a significant period of time or multiple frauds

 

Range:2-4 years custody

Starting point:2 years custody

Range:18 weeks-30 months custody

Starting point:12 weeks custody

Range:Community order (HIGH)-12 months custody

Not fraudulent from the outset and either fraud carried out over a significant period of time or multiple frauds

 

Range:12 months-3 years custody

 

Starting point:15 months custody

Range:12 weeks-18 months custody

 

Starting point:6 weeks custody

Range:Community order (MEDIUM)-26 weeks custody

 

 

 

 

 

*The “starting point” can be used as an additional guideline for sentencing, so when the money claimed fraudulently is higher than this amount I have used the “starting point” sentence as the minimum.

I’ve also stuck to definite, dodgy claims, but there are plenty of alleged claims, listed here http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_expenses_claims_in_the_United_Kingdom_Parliamentary_expenses_scandal Despite all the reporting at the time, there are no comprehensive figures for how much was claimed fraudulently, just a few individual cases. This is because there are, apparently, 458,832 pages of documents and nobody has gone through them all, presumably newspaper reports were based on a fraction of documents. The Guardian have made an appeal to the public to help them review all the documents, web page here http://mps-expenses.guardian.co.uk/

I am working with the figures that are available and to be as accurate as possible I have included both the amount thought to be claimed suspiciously and the amount to be paid back if it exists (in brackets).

The receipts and claims for all MPs are here http://mpsallowances.parliament.uk/mpslordsandoffices/hocallowances/allowances-by-mp/

Factors indicating higher culpability (leading to stiffer sentence)

Planning of an offence

Offenders operating in groups or gangs

‘Professional offending’

High level of profit from the offence

An attempt to conceal or dispose of evidence

Deliberate targeting of vulnerable

Abuse of a position of trust

Whether the money is used for essential items – food, clothing, family needs – or frivolous items – expensive holidays, electrical goods, moats.

 

Regarding the politicians who have promised to pay back some money, while this would be looked on favourably in a court it would not stop fraudulent benefit claimants from going to prison if the amounts were sufficient.

Where it seems that a small part of the claim could be legitimate, I have written “smbl” – some (of the claim) may be legitimate. Where the claim was not fraudulent at outset I have written “nfao” –not fraudulent at outset – and lowered the sentence accordingly.

Labour:

 

Amount

reason

sentence

Hazel Blears

At least £18,332

(£13,332)

Home switching, tax avoidance and excessive furniture claims

12 weeks – 12 months in prison

David Milliband

£30,000 smbl

For gardening, decoration and home repairs

18 weeks – 30 months in prison

Keith Vaz

£75,000

Claim for a second home despite living in London

15 months – 30 months in prison

In prison

Margaret Moran

£22,500 (£22,500)

Treating dry rot in a home not used for work

18 weeks – 30 months

In prison

Elliot Morley

£16,000 (£16,000) nfao

Claimed for 18 months for a mortgage he was no longer paying

6 weeks – 26 weeks custody

 

David Chaytor

£13,000 (£13,000) nfao

Claimed for a year for a mortgage he was no longer paying

6 weeks – 26 weeks custody

 

Gerald Kaufman

£14,301 smbl (in three months, presumably much more over the years)

Repairs, apparently, but included a TV costing nearly £9000 (only a TV costing less than £750 is permitted)

12 weeks -12 months in prison

 

 

 

 

Ben Chapman

£15,000 (£0) nfao

For interest repayments on his mortgage that he was no longer paying

6 weeks – 26 weeks in prison

 

Quentin Davies

£10,000 (£10,000)

Repairs to windows in a second home he did not live in.

Community order – 12 months in prison

Phil Hope

£37,000 (£41,709) smbl

Expenses for a flat thought to be too small for all the items bought for it

18 weeks – 30 months

 

Conservative

Bill Cash

£15,000

Rent for flat he didn’t live in, gave the money to his daughter

12 weeks – 12 months in prison

David Davis

£10,000 smbl

Home repairs including a portico for £5,700

Community order – 12 months

Jonathan Djanogly

£31,913 smbl

Security gates, gardening, cleaning

18 weeks – 30 months

John Gummer

£9000 smbl

gardening

Community order – 12 months

David Maclean

£20,000

Improvement to his farmhouse, lying about it to avoid tax

18 weeks – 30 months in prison

Anthony Steen

£80,000 smbl

Maintenance to his country home

15 months – 30 months

Brian Binley

£57,000

Rent for a flat that he owned

18 weeks – 30 months

Sir Alan Hazelhurst

£142,119 smbl

Second home allowances for a property that had no mortgage. Incl. £11,771 for gardening over four years

2 – 4 years in prison

 

The House of Lords

Glenys Thornton, Baroness Thornton

£130,000

Claiming rent for her mother’s house

2 – 4 years in prison

 

 

 

Highlighted names are two of the MPs facing court.

Only three MPs (and one peer) will face criminal proceedings, however, sentencing guidelines for benefit fraudsters would lead to at least 15 MPs going to prison. There are currently 649 MPs, once their expenses have been examined properly it is likely that more fraud will come to light.

Summary: Are Members of Parliament subject to the same laws as the public? No.

 

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What Has Happened to Welfare?

In October 2008 the labour government introduced a new system of benefits for the sick and disabled called Employment Support Allowance (ESA). The system was designed to tackle the ‘dependency culture’ by weeding out the huge numbers of people they stated were claiming sickness benefits either fraudulently or misguidedly. Within a year a joyous press reported that 90% of new claimants were being rejected for ESA clearly proving that the majority of people claiming to be too sick to work simply weren’t.

So what’s the problem?

  • Well firstly, the ‘crisis’ of sickness benefit fraud is being massively distorted in the press. Benefit fraud is obviously a bad thing, but headlines have spoken of ‘billions’ when less than 1% of all Income Support and Incapacity Benefit was claimed fraudulently, that’s £320million, less than is lost yearly through fraud within central government. This press misrepresentation led to public anger towards some of the most vulnerable members of society.
  • Secondly, and more importantly the majority of the 90% being rejected for ESA are not work shy layabouts at all, but seriously ill people in need of help and incapable of work or jumping through the hoops necessary to claim Job Seekers’ Allowance. Many have ended up relying on their families for survival. Very few newspapers have reported this at all.

This blog is an attempt to combat press distortion with the actual figures involved and to find official reports and personal accounts that give an idea of the distress the new benefit system has caused in the disabled community. I’ve kept the blog as short as possible which meant simplifying many of the problems, URLs for websites with more comprehensive information are given at the end.

Section one: The Effect of the ESA on the Sick

The Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) was introduced to replace the existing benefits for chronically ill and disabled people – Incapacity Benefit (IB) and Income Support (IS). (IS was not specifically for the ill, however if a claimant had a sick note, but not enough N.I. contributions for IB then they were put on Income Support.)

In order to claim Incapacity Benefit a person needed a sick note from their GP (who knew them and their medical history) and to fill out a form which assessed their mobility, mental ability, vision and so on. With new ESA claimants assessment was made by members of ATOS Medical who would meet with a claimant once and fill out the new forms for them on a computer system.

Less than a year after ESA was introduced a jubilant headline appeared in The Telegraph

Up to 90 per cent of sickness benefit claims rejected under new system

Nine out of 10 people applying for sickness benefits in some parts of the country are being told they are fit for work, following the introduction of a new testing regime.

In the article Lord Freud, the Conservatives welfare reform spokesman, said:

These are remarkable figures. The tragedy is that it has taken so long to tighten the system, with the effect that hundreds of thousands of people have been locked into long-term dependency.

…it is encouraging that people are being helped to reach their potential and this was a clear policy intention from the outset as we moved from looking at what people can do, rather than what they can’t

So what’s really happening?

ATOS Medical are a part of ATOS Origin an international information technology corporation who made a profit of over 30 million euros in 2009.

It is generally believed that the government pay ATOS a commission for each claimant rejected, although I couldn’t find any official proof of that I did find a PCS Parliamentary briefing (July 2010 www.politics.co.uk/Microsites2/364840/Graphics/2010Julybrief.DOC ) which states that all ATOS doctors were recently given a bonus of £2000 as a reward for the ‘profits made’. Clearly there is strong incentive for a corporation designed to turn a profit to see that as many people as possible are declared fit for work.

There seem to be two main problems with the reports from ATOS Medical:

1.       They lie. I found many, many accounts by people attempting to claim ESA who told the ATOS Dr. their ability level, or the Dr. saw their ability level, only for the form to be filled out with completely different data. This was not simply happening with borderline cases, but for people with serious, even terminal illnesses.

2.      The new questionnaires were not designed to recognise certain illnesses and the doctors were not well enough informed to make up for this. The most common flaws pointed out were that the forms did not allow for fluctuating illnesses or properly recognise the effect of exhaustion and did not fully comprehend mental illness. What makes these flaws so catastrophic is that every illness fluctuates, every illness is effected by exhaustion. And mental illness, while it can be incredibly debilitating it is not easy to diagnose – a severely mentally ill patient may not even accept that they are ill.

Examples of illnesses/conditions that didn’t show up on the ESA radar: Autism, CFS, AIDs, Multiple Sclerosis, Schizophrenia, Bipolar Disorder and Cancer.

For a more detailed, analytical and official report on the problems with ATOS, Not Working by Citizens Advice Bureau:

www.citizensadvice.org.uk/not_working_march_2010_final.pdf

Our evidence suggests that seriously sick and disabled people are being found ineligible for the benefit, and it is currently not clear what happens to many of these people… We have heard disturbing reports of deteriorating health and serious financial difficulty for clients, as a result of inappropriate ESA decisions.

NOTE: I think the most effective way to show the people affected by the ESA would be to use excerpts from disability/illness forums. While looking for information I discovered almost every illness that has a UK forum has a large number of scared members who have been rejected for ESA or are afraid they will soon be thrown off benefits. These forums are public, but I’m aware that people write on them with a sense of privacy, of writing only for other people in a similar situation, for that reason I am not happy to reproduce their posts here. However, if you want to get more personal accounts than the following then try googling the name of a disease/disability, ‘forum’ and ‘ATOS’.

As it is I am posting some examples of problems people have had with claiming ESA that are either from official documents, impersonal explanations, accounts intended for the public or that have appeared in print.

From The Guardian at http://www.guardian.co.uk/society/joepublic/2010/mar/23/employment-support-allowance-incapacity-benefit

The report cites the example of an engineer in his 50s who had recently undergone a triple bypass for heart disease and was being treated for incurable stomach and liver cancer, who was deemed fit for work. During his assessment he said that he walked daily (as part of his convalescence regime) and that he was able to raise his hands above his head; as a result he was registered ready to start looking for work.

From Not Working

A bureau in the Midlands saw a client who had a genetic kidney disorder and who had had one kidney and part of the other kidney removed. She also had sciatica and spondylosis. She was found not to have limited capability for work. She has since been told that her condition may be terminal.

A bureau in the South East told us about a client who was a recovering alcoholic with mental health problems. He had twice attempted suicide. During the assessment he became very tearful, so the doctor terminated the interview and told the client not to worry. He was found fit for work. The client’s wife who was present during the test said the report was extremely inaccurate and contained much that the client simply hadn’t said. His consultant psychiatrist agreed with the client about how poor the report was and suggested he complain, but the client was worried about making a complaint. The stress caused by this led him to start drinking again.

A bureau in the South East reported having seen two separate WCA reports where the HCP had recorded that the client watched television all day. In both cases the adviser – who is part of a community mental health team – was aware that the clients did not own a television. In both cases it appears that the HCP made assumptions about what the client did during the day without asking the question.

A client who described difficulty going up stairs, and even more going down, was reported to have had no problem with the stairs. The HCP had stated this in a way that would lead to the assumption that he had observed it to be no problem, but he had not actually observed the client climbing the stairs. The client had had to stop twice on the way up and had even more difficulty going down, but the assumption appears to have been made that because he made it to the assessment room, he had no problem.

From http://www.egovmonitor.com/node/30087

The National Autistic Society (NAS) has found that thousands of adults with autism are being abandoned [by the new benefits] and consigned to a life of financial hardship and even poverty, by this unnecessarily complex and unfair system. Alarmingly, an estimated 100,000 currently live without a job and without essential benefits. Many are thus forced to rely on family and friends for the basic means to live.

From http://www.mssocietyscotland.org.uk/news_and_whats_on/news_whats_on/review_of_esa.html about a report from Citizens Advice Scotland who are calling for an overhaul of a ‘deeply flawedbenefit which they say is causing ‘unnecessary misery and hardship’

As a result, many thousands of seriously sick and disabled people in Scotland have been put under pressure to find work or lose their benefit. Every CAB in Scotland has reported such cases to us, including clients who are suffering from conditions like parkinsons disease, multiple sclerosis, terminal cancer, bi-polar disorder, heart failure, strokes, severe depression, and agorophobia.

From an account by someone with a brain tumour at http://www.whywaitforever.com/dwpatos.html – (also contains some good advice about applying for ESA and some good links at the end for anyone experiencing problems.)

I felt this Kafkaesque process was a unwarranted approach to be used against the dying, the sick, the disabled and their carers. It does additional harm to the patient as the patient is lured into a false belief that, as this is a medical procedure, it will benefit the patient. When realisation eventually dawns, disbelief, disgust and anger are a natural consequence of seeing ill people kicked while they are down…[After the ATOS interview] I was so weak I nearly fainted under the Tube. I was seriously ill for four days. It took weeks to recover my strength because of the actions of Atos Healthcare.

Section two: How Serious is Sickness Benefit Fraud?

I have, I have lost count in this election campaign of the number of people who’ve told me how angry it makes them. One person said to me, ‘I get up at six, I go to work at seven, and I walk past house after house where the curtains are closed and I know that person isn’t going to work, even though they could go to work. Why should I pay my taxes so that someone else can choose to live on welfare?…And within six months of taking office we will set out a new welfare contract that says the first time you refuse a job that you could do you lose a month’s benefit, the second time, three months’ benefit, and then you lose benefit for three years. We cannot go on as we are paying people who could work but who refuse to do so.

David Cameron prime minister 20.04.2010

Statistical notes:

the meaning of billion can vary, in this blog 1000million is a billion.

mostly I have focused on Income Support and Incapacity Benefit since those are the benefits being replaced by Employment Support Allowance. However a claimant does not have to be ill to get Income Support (although there are no figures to show how many are) and there are other benefits that are related to disability, such as carers’ allowance or Disability Living Allowance (DLA).


Government figures 2009/2010 from http://statistics.dwp.gov.uk/asd/asd4/index.php?page=medium_term

Cost in millions
Attendance Allowance 5,108.3
DLA 11,464.2
Bereavement Benefit Below SPA 583.5
Bereavement above SPA 65.3
Carers Allowance 1,499.4
Incapacity 7016.9
Council Tax Benefit 4,698.4
Housing Benefit 19,978.5
Income Support 8,344.2
Winter fuel payments 2,734.8
Jobseekers Allowance 4690.3
Pension Credit 8,228.9
State Pension 66,848.6

Total annual cost of welfare £141.2 billion.

Benefit for the sick and disabled is far from the most expensive welfare we have, that is pensions (I don’t think pensions should be reduced either)

Pie Chart to Show Comparative Cost of Welfare

Estimate of benefit fraud

Pie Chart to Show Fraud Within the Public Sector


In January 2010 the National Fraud Authority produced its annual fraud indicator. In this were the following facts:

  • In 2008-09, the DWP reported fraud losses of £1.1 billion, represents 0.8 per cent of total cost of welfare.
  • Adding together fraud costs of Incapacity Benefit (£70m) and Income Support (£250m), the total is £320million.
  • The same report states,” it is estimated that fraud in central Government amounted to £356 million during 2008.”
  • That report also records national losses due to tax fraud at £15.2 billion. (see also UK tax gap below)

(from http://www.attorneygeneral.gov.uk/nfa/GuidetoInformation/Documents/NFA_fraud_indicator.pdf )

Summary: Considerably more money is lost due to customer and official error than through fraud. Fifteen times as much money is lost through tax fraud than through welfare fraud. Fraud within the government was greater than from those claiming sickness benefits. The amount of money that people should get, and have applied for, but don’t get is more than the cost of Incapacity Benefit and Income Support put together.

And…

  • The size of the UK tax gap (the overall tax gap – the difference between the amount of tax that is due and the amount that is collected, this includes loss due to error and criminal attacks as well as fraud) is estimated to be around £40 billion in 2007-08.
  • The bail out of the banks (the ones who messed up the economy in the first place) was £850 billion.

Section three: How Britain came to hate the sick

For several years newspapers have been printing dramatic stories about people claiming sickness benefits while enjoying lives of luxury and activity (eg life guards, bikers, alligator wrestlers, pole dancers). While these reports may have been true, the frequency with which they are written about makes them appear common, which leads the public to think that they are surrounded by fit, healthy, rich fakers claiming disability. Many disabled or chronically ill people have reported an increase in the hostility towards them from the general public since the newspaper reports started, ” a person appears in court every working day charged with abusing the disabled – often violently” (from http://www.guardian.co.uk/society/2010/jun/14/disability-hate-crime-inquiry-launched ). The truth is that while a pole dancer pleading depression or a life guard claiming he can’t walk may exist, they are extremely rare, in a population of over 60 million you can find a few people to represent almost anything.

From the Daily Mail:

How welfarism is destroying Britain!…It is the welfare state which, more than anything else, has created the culture of incivility, irresponsibility, family breakdown and disorder of which Mr Cameron spoke…it has also provided a myriad of incentives for dishonesty. Of course, some people are genuinely ill, but through Incapacity Benefit, the state is ripped off to the tune of billions of pounds each year by those who are not too disabled to work, but are simply playing the system.

According to government figures (see above) the ‘some’ people who are genuinely ill is over 99% of claimants and it’s not billions that are being ripped off, Incapacity Benefit fraud in 2008 was £70 million.

From The Sun:

TODAY The Sun is declaring war on feckless benefits claimants to slash the £5BILLION wasted in Britain’s shambolic handouts culture.

Hundreds of thousands of scroungers in the UK are robbing hard-working Sun readers of their cash.

They cannot be bothered to find a job or they claim to be sick when they are perfectly capable of work because they prefer to sit at home watching widescreen TVs – paid for by YOU.

The five billion wasted is mostly due to error, not fraud.
From The Telegraph

Wheelchair-bound’ benefits cheat caught dancing

From The Express

BENEFIT CHEATS STILL PROSPER

IT IS one of the biggest mysteries in Britain today: just what does a benefits cheat have to do to get sent to jail?

Actually quite a few cheats get sent to jail, the maximum penalty for benefit fraud is seven years imprisonment, an unlimited fine or both.

The saddest thing is that this misrepresentation by the media has led the poorest and most vulnerable in society to blame each other for the difficulties in Britain.

To quote a few (of many) examples of the public posting on fora and newspaper websites

You lazy scroungers with your pathetic sob stories make me sick.

Nice to see everyones hard earned money is taxed and given to lazy benefit grabbing snobs

The only people complaining about this [the ESA] are the people that are ‘disabled’ but could work. Sick of seeing people in meadowhall with the disabled badges who jump out of their big 4X4s and other new state funded vehicles ready for a shopping trip. Don’t give me any ‘chronic fatigue’ (repetitive lazyness) or depressions.

Some days my knees hurt, some days my neck is stiff, other days my wrists are really sore and it hurts to type. Some days I have a headache, or my tummy hurts a bit. But I just get on with things!

these lazy lay abouts need to get up and do a days work for a change. i have been working since i was 14 to support myself i do not rely on handouts or sicklines. i have had bad gandular fever during my GCSE’s back in 2003 i still got out of my bed.

For more information:

News stories

http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2010/jul/27/benefits-health-test-review

http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2010/jul/27/benefits-health-test-review

http://www.guardian.co.uk/society/joepublic/2010/mar/23/employment-support-allowance-incapacity-benefit

Support

http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=130594916952337&ref=ts

http://www.benefitsandwork.co.uk/

http://www.equalityhumanrights.com/about-us/vision-and-mission/our-business-plan/disability-equality/

http://www.mssociety.org.uk/get_involved/policy_campaigns/key_issues/benefits_and_work/applying_for_esa.html

http://www.disabilityalliance.org/index.htm

Statistics

http://statistics.dwp.gov.uk/asd/index.php?page=intro

http://www.attorneygeneral.gov.uk/nfa/GuidetoInformation/Documents/NFA_fraud_indicator.pdf

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