28 April 2011

What's the truth behind the Express' ESA 'outrage'?

April 28th 2011

Just as a bit of light relief from our worries about rampaging migrants who're about to snatch all of our spare jobs or our over-generous welfare benefits, today the Express offers us a chance to refocus our hatred onto that well-known thorn-in-the-side of every upright citizen - the Benefit Scrounger.  

No, don't groan! They've got evidence - really, they have: 

Press Release from the Department for Work and Pensions

Macer Hall, the Express' Political Editor writes:

FRESH outrage over Britain’s sicknote culture erupted last night after new Whitehall figures showed three-quarters of Incapacity Benefit claimants are not entitled to the money.
Nearly half a million people receiving the cash were exposed as being fit for work after undergoing medical tests in a Government crackdown on welfare scroungers.
And a further 428,000 voluntarily dropped their claims before completing the assessments - making a total of around 887 000."
'Fresh outrage......erupted..' ? Not on my TV screen, nor in the sources I've searched, since seeing this headline, in a vain effort to detect any 'outrage' at all other than in the Express.  
I did manage to find a slight hint at outrage in a small piece in the Sun which speaks of 'shock' figures:

"900,000 caught in ‘fit to work’ check

ALMOST 900,000 Brits trying to claim sickness benefit are fit to work, shock figures reveal.

Three out of four were caught out by assessments in a Government crackdown on scroungers.
Ministers said it proved they were right to shake up the welfare system." 

Most articles written after receiving the Press release from the DWP were more balanced and thoughtful.

This morning, disappointingly, the BBC appeared to carry on its website a piece about the DWP's statistics which backed them up and assumed the presumptions to be valid: Benefit Applicants - '75% Fit to Work or Drop Claims' . No attempt here to check the facts or find another point of view.

Later, I found this on the BBC site and heaved a sigh of relief! : Mark Easton's UK. 

Mark Easton

In his Blog for today, The Truth About Sicknote Britain, Mark Easton dismantles systematically the 'case' (if that's not too kind a word to use!) put by the Express:

"According to one screaming tabloid headline today: "Blitz on benefits: 887,000 fiddlers exposed". Echoing stories in many of this morning's papers, the Daily Express says that three-quarters of Incapacity Benefit (IB) claimants are "workshy spongers feigning serious disability". Shocking, if true.
But it isn't true."


"The source for all this is the latest batch of data from the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) on applications for Employment Support Allowance (ESA), a benefit introduced two-and-a-half years ago by the Labour government. Today's figures relate to the period between October 2008 and August 2010 - a time, for the most part of course, when Labour was in power.
The key point, though, it that these are new applicants - people applying to see if they might be eligible for additional financial support."

Mr. Easton goes on to explain the true facts behind the 'shock figures'; true facts which plainly show that those dubbed 'benefit scrounger's are in fact those with genuine disabilities who have been encouraged by the DWP to apply for benefit!

So, not the hate figures we are encouraged to despise by the Express and many of the other right-wing media outlets?

The Express article, Mr. Macer's exhortation to denigrate all new ESA applicants or those attempting to hang on to existing benefit, ends thus:
"Last week, David Cameron acknowledged the growing anger about the number of claimants receiving Incapacity Benefit because of obesity or addiction to alcohol or drugs. Official figures showed that over 81,000 people are on incapacity benefits because they are too fat to work or have drug or drink problems.

More than 20,000 with one of those three problems are among some 900,000 who have been “on the sick” for more than 10 years."

Just on the off chance his readers weren't sufficiently incensed by the disabled....!

26 April 2011

Stafford Hospital: The Inquiry enters a new phase.

Over the next couple of weeks the Stafford hospital inquiry will enter an interesting new phase.
We have heard from the group of patients who undoubtedly suffered poor care, and from the many different groups of people, including the GPs, Hospital board, Scrutiny committees, elected representatives, and patients participation groups,  who “failed to see” anything particularly unusual at Stafford. We have heard from many people from within the hospital about the challenges they faced, at a time of re-organisation and cut backs, and we have heard from the Primary Care Trust and Strategic Health Authority who have the task of monitoring and supporting the health service providers in their area.
Questioning of the PCT and SHA looked at why they “failed” to see the problems in Stafford. There are several parts to this answer. These organisations both underwent major top down re-organisations. Roles were being redefined, relationships with other key organisations were unclear, and key posts vacant. With the systems and staffing they had at the time these organisations saw nothing to make Stafford stand out from the 43 other hospitals that the SHA was managing.
Mortality figures are central to the inquiry. About a third of the questions each day relate to these. I find it interesting that none of this has so far been reported by the press. Maybe this is because it challenges the assumptions that they made. The assumption made by the press, from the release of the Dr Foster figures as a league table in 2007, is that these figures are a true reflection of the quality of care in a hospital.
Stafford and five other hospitals in the SHA’s area all had high mortality rates. The PCT and SHA responded robustly to these figures, but they responded as scientists and as managers. They began by in depth discussions with the hospitals, and by triggering a process for the hospitals to demonstrate that they were managing effectively.
The health service had been shocked by the publication of the Dr Foster league table, because there were major doubts that these figures were sufficiently robust to be used in this way. The PCT and the SHA both triggered a series of investigations to look into the accuracy of the figures.
These investigations showed that poor coding was endemic throughout the NHS, and that correcting the coding would quickly have a dramatic effect on reducing the mortality rate for hospitals as it did straight away with Stafford. Stafford’s figures fell from 127 to 101 immediately, and continued to fall until Stafford shows as the ninth “safest” hospital in the county.  
It is as a result of the investigations into mortality rates that the "league table" which is so loved by the press has now been discontinued, and there a much more sophisticated way of measuring hospital "quality of care".   This for those who are interested in such things involves a clinical dashboard which brings together a whole range of key indicators, and displays them across a range of hospitals. As someone who knows the limitations of most statistical systems, this "richer" approach to monitoring looks much better to me.
What I expect to hear in the next couple of weeks is the Healthcare Commissions defence of its reasons for choosing to single out Stafford Hospital from the 54 hospitals which were identified by the Dr Foster 2007 figures as problematic. I believe that a lot of reference will be made to what they saw in the press and the political imperative to respond to the "public concern" that this indicated.  
The HCC will also get an opportunity to defend itself against the many criticisms we have heard about the conduct of the investigation, and I believe that we will see differences of opinion emerging from within the HCC.
This is an interesting slow burning drama, but it is more than that. We should remember that the major “reforms” that are now threatening the future of the NHS as we know it, have been justified by the “failure” of the PCT and SHA. Maybe it is worth asking the question, what if they did not fail?

Footnote: I have been looking, for the sake of balance, for a really good defence of the proposed health reforms. Just found this which is billed as the best defence we can read.

25 April 2011

Migrants flooding in...well, they might be, anyway...or not...

25th March 2011
"BRITAIN faces a fresh wave of migrants from next Sunday, when rules on benefits are relaxed.

As many as 100,000 people from eastern Europe are expected to head for the UK after May 1, when they will be able to claim up to £250 a week in handouts."

We were due another immigration warning by the Express, that snarling keeper of the nation's gates and borders and inveterate, dogged EU sceptic, and here it is!

You might ask what is so unwarranted about a newspaper delivering a timely warning about the possibility of our benighted welfare system being potentially put under further strain by an influx of foreign migrants from the EU countries? Well, not much if that were all this piece sought to accomplish.

But it is not merely a welcome heads-up. The headline alone suggests that the 'flood' of migrants, salivating at the thought of a generous weekly hand-out of £250, is already underway, threatening to swamp our own impoverished citizens. We see a photo purporting to be:
"Buses arriving at Victoria coach station in London disgorge Polish immigrants seeking work." 

Alison Little, the Express' Deputy Political Editor, quotes the Chairman of MigrationWatch UK, Sir Andrew Green:

“This needs to be watched very carefully. Nobody knows what impact it will have.” 

(a fine example of 'stating the bloomin' obvious'?)

He is particularly concerned about what would happen once similar “transitional controls” on immigrants from Bulgaria and Romania are lifted in two years’ time, with fears that Roma people would race to take advantage.

Immigrants from eight countries – including Poland and Hungary, which joined the European Union in 2004 – will get automatic rights to Jobseeker’s Allowance, housing and council tax benefit. Rules that prohibit eastern bloc migrants from accepting the handouts unless they have worked here continuously for a year must be lifted to comply with EU requirements.

These worries from MigrationWatch, dubbed by Ms Little: 'a monitoring body' are the latest in a long list of issues taken up by this group over a considerable length of time. A quick glance at the organisation's website Home page gives a flavour of the standpoint held by its members.

However, the tenets of MigrationWatch are not universally respected or admired and I include one newspaper article here as an example of many I found when researching the group.The piece mentions and gives examples of many inaccuracies in MigrationWatch's statistics :

"Perhaps it's to be expected that MigrationWatch might play a bit fast and loose with the evidence -- it is a campaign group, after all. But this seems to be becoming a habit: yesterday it published another report, using an even more flawed methodology, to make very strong claims about immigration and youth unemployment. This was duly picked up by the right-wing media -- the Express today repeats this study's claims under the headline "Migrants rob young Britons of jobs", and the Telegraph goes for "13 per cent rise in Neets 'linked to immigration' ".

Then Ms Little enlists support for her argument from the Conservative MP Mr. Philip Davies, 
 well known for his fervent and oft voiced wish to see Great Britain leave the EU altogether :

"Conservative MP Philip Davies said it was impossible to say how many more people would come to Britain, but experience suggested numbers would rise."

(again, stating the obvious!)

He added: “Our welfare bill is too expensive supporting people in this country. We can’t afford to subsidise people from the rest of the EU as well.

“It’s another kick in the teeth for taxpayers and another example of why we would be better off out of the EU.

“Experience suggests that we will get the lion’s share of these people, partly because of the generosity of our welfare system. Whatever the reason, it is going to be EU-initiated picking of our pockets.”

Who wouldn't be alarmed at the idea of hundreds of thousands of potential thieves and scroungers scattering around the country uncounted and unaccountable?

There is a valid argument to be had about immigration, especially in these straitened times and discussion is often better informed when enhanced by accurate statistics and good  evidence as in this article by Dr Eoin Clarke in his 'Green Benches' Blog.

Using a sensationalist headline as does Ms Little's article today, serves no purpose other than to reignite public fear and indignation . It isn't yet happening, it may not happen at all. 

But if the public can be frightened into believing that it will and that the ensuing disaster was caused by our belonging to the EU, so much the better. After all, as Ms Little candidly admits:

"News of the immigration wave will fuel the Daily Express’s crusade for Britain to quit the EU."
In other words, pick at a scab often enough and the wound never heals. The danger is, as we watch the antics of the EDL in towns and cities around the country, the wound may become infected....

The press don't see what is happening in my dining room now.

I woke up this morning to find my husband sitting up in bed drawing a spider-gram.
I asked to take a look, and find that it relates to the boxes he has spent the holiday sorting out in the dining room.
These boxes represent different aspects of his 30 year career in public service. Many of my husband’s colleagues have already gone. This job has already been changed completely by the cuts, and may yet disappear entirely.
The boxes are in my dining room because the remaining staff have just moved into one temporary office, and are waiting to move into another, in a move that will still feel temporary.  
It is a valuable job, something that is essential if we believe in good life opportunities and social mobility. Something the Government had plans for, but is now being put aside, because the money has been needed urgently to plug a more urgent public relations disaster facing them right now.
The arms on the spider-gram represent what is happening in my husband’s head now, as he tries to clarify which aspects of his thirty years of knowledge he values, and which aspects may still be required.
He is doing this exercise, not because anyone has asked him to do so. There is no clear guidance anymore, but because he personally needs to know.
I had not at first noticed all of this going on, because I was up in the study writing an account of the impact of the last reorganisation of the health service in 2006. The information comes from the evidence to the Stafford Hospital inquiry in the two weeks before Easter, and it shows the way in which a botched top down re-organisation, in which staff received little support or guidance, impacted on the individuals caught up in this, and on the quality of service they were able to give.
I was also in the middle of writing a letter to Andrew Lansley, to warn him to avoid the huge pitfalls that his planned top down re-organisation is already opening up.  
My eyes had been focused on the Stafford story and the NHS. I had not really seen what was happening in my dining room.
The fragmentation of the public services that we value is happening very quietly all around us, in my dining room and in the minds of many thousands of public servants.
This is a quiet disaster; the material that will make up the Public Inquiries of the future.
#pressreform  has tended to focus on things that the press do that they should not be doing. There is also the worrying fact that the press seems unable to see big things that happen quietly.

18 April 2011

Nudge, nudge, wink wink...

Headlines from 18th April 2011

The article  (istyosty link), by James Chapman, which accompanies these headlines appears authoritative, concerned and, superficially at least, convincing. 

It tells of work done on behalf of Ian Duncan Smith's Department for Work and Pensions by the think tank The Centre for Social Justice, set up at the behest of Mr. Duncan by Mark Forman, the ex Senior Deputy Treasurer of the Conservative Party. The press release for this 'study' is here.

The press release describes The Centre for Social Justice as 'independent'. One might suggest that Mr. Forman is in no way an independent Chairman!
A closer look at the background and political persuasion of personnel who make up this think tank is fascinating. It's website is here.

The full report was published in April 2011 and is entitled :
History and Family: Setting the Records Straight.
                 A Rebuttal To the British Academy Pamphlet Happy Families?

It is attributed to Professor Rebecca Probert of the University of Warwick about whom we learn:

Professor Rebecca Probert
Rebecca Probert is a Professor at the University ofWarwick, teaching family law
and child law. She has published widely on both modern family law and the
historical development of the law, her most recent books include The Rights and
Wrongs of Royal Marriage: how the law has led to heartbreak, farce and confusion
and why it must be changed (Takeaway, 2011), Cretney and Probert’s Family Law
(Sweet & Maxwell, 7th ed, 2009) and Marriage Law and Practice in the Long
Eighteenth Century: A Reassessment (Cambridge University Press, 2009).

and Dr. Samantha Callan of the Centre for Social Justice, whose brief resume reads:

Dr Samantha Callan
Samantha Callan is recognised as a research and policy expert in the field of family
relationships and work-life integration. She is an honorary research fellow at
Edinburgh University and formerly a research consultant to major UK and
international non-governmental organisations aiming to strengthen family life. In
this capacity she chaired the Family Breakdown Working Group of the Social
Justice Policy Commission and the Family Law Review and Early Years
Commission for the Centre for Social Justice. Prior to joining the CSJ full-time she
was the Family and Society Policy adviser in the Conservative Policy Unit.

One obvious purpose of this report is to show categorically that children brought up by married couples are far more likely to succeed at school and in their lives in general and that children whose parents divorce or who never tie the knot fall at every obstacle. 

However, reading the report, one is struck by the determined effort on the part of its authors to refute and disprove the tenets of the rival report, Happy Families?, published in November 2010 by Professor Pat Thane, mentioned in its title.

In other words, this report from The Centre for Social Justice resembles not so much an erudite, in-depth study of the causes and effects of childhood poverty and disadvantage as the continuation of an argument between two opposing points of view. This report is not convincing in its rigour or conclusions. Much of their evidence is drawn from polls or studies which could be described as 'obscure'.

Ian Duncan Smith's avowed intent is to promote marriage by means of incentives and tax breaks. 

The Daily Mail's journalist, James Chapman,  has based his article almost wholly on the press release and a set of prejudices the newspaper he writes for is well-known to favour. 

His piece uses the data included in the report from The Centre for Social Justice with the addition of the usual emotive and sensationalised expressions one expects when reading such an article in this particular right - leaning tabloid.

Unable to resist nefarious criticism of the record of the Labour Party in this area of Government James Chapman adds a crafty barb:

In its 13 years in power, Labour was accused of undermining the institution of marriage and the UK stands almost alone among European countries in failing to recognise traditional family structures in the tax system.
France, Germany, Denmark and Norway all recognise the role of stay-at-home spouses.

It's when the final paragraph is reached that one is able to discern perhaps the ulterior motive behind the CIJ's report and the apparent endorsement of it by this newspaper:

Today’s report will increase pressure on David Cameron to make good on his commitment to restore the transferable tax allowance for married couples to send a clear signal of support for an important institution.The Prime Minister has pledged to introduce a marriage tax incentive before the end of this Parliament in 2015.

A 'nudge', then, to David Cameron?

16 April 2011

What forms our perception of Stafford Hospital?

After three years of expert reports and press coverage there are reasons why we may still not be seeing what happened at Stafford clearly.

Here is my perception of what happened.

13 April 2011

One Small Step: A correction from the BBC on Stafford Hospital

Over the last two years I have been cutting my teeth on trying to use the BBC complaints process effectively.
This was made necessary because of the persistent and damaging misreporting of the Stafford Hospital Story.

Yesterday I had this. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-birmingham-12328862 If you scroll down to the bottom of the screen you will see that the BBC have now removed the reference to hundreds of deaths and printed a correction.

I have yet to search to find out if they have done this on the dozens of stories printed on Stafford Hospital - or if I still need to press for this.

Having this correction in the BBC will make the next step of getting corrections in the press significantly easier.

After two years of what felt like beating my head against a brick wall, this is real progress.

Thank you BBC. We can get things right together!

8 April 2011

Cheque book journalism albeit in a different guise, and just as unpalatable...

The news has broken this afternoon that News International, has admitted liability in some phone-hacking claims. Some victims will be offered compensation.http://is.gd/00MQKg

What has brought this on ?  Why the sudden offer ?

Neville Thurlbeck, the News of the World’s chief reporter, and Ian Edmondson,  former assistant editor who was recently sacked from News International over phone hacking were questioned earlier this week after presenting themselves at separate London police stations earlier this week. http://is.gd/LUBEqL

But have those arrests prompted this action ?  Well, clearly, it would appear that they've admitted guilt at a late stage in the game whilst all the time Murdoch's News International News of the World has consistently denied phone-hacking. However, it is now saying that after robust internal investigations it has found that indeed phone-hacking did take place.  So the one big questions in my mind is : why didn't the police uncover that phone-hacking was rife all those years ago and even more recently in the autumn of 2010 before this third investigation was set in motion after immense pressure as questions were being asked about the Met's failure to get to the bottom of this issue ? What was Yates playing at ?  The DPP challenged Yates this week http://is.gd/me03pf. Unanswered questions remain...

This is early days in the breaking news and part of the statement is below. No resignations have been announced from News International.   

"We continue to co-operate fully with the Metropolitan Police. It was our discovery and voluntary disclosure of this evidence in January that led to the re-opening of the police investigation..
With that investigation on going, we cannot comment further until its completion."

Hmm...  right....  they're really the good guys then ?!  Why am I smiling ?...

Its been dirty and its been rough.  And basically Murdoch is trying to bring this matter to a close using his cheque book...

But is still smacks of cosiness  - who has dinner with whom ? http://is.gd/kP8CXE
Who goes through the back door of No. 10 rather than being upfront and entering through the front door like all other visitors conveying that there might be a hidden agenda...?  http://is.gd/omfFiq   Who's been paid off already to stay quiet and who's been paying the Police ? http://is.gd/6eMPbB     And who's been having dinner with whom ?  Oh I already asked that didn't I ? And so it goes around... anyone would think they were all friends...

And meanwhile The Camerons are on their jollies in Spain and Nick is in charge !  At least it gives No. 10 a bit of thinking time...  A coincidence?  Will something else explode ?  Let's wait and see..

Tom Watson's thoughts  "The scandal is far from over."

News International to admit some phone-hacking liability!

News of the World to admit phone hacking liability

breaking news
The owner of the News of the World is to admit liability in a number of cases brought against the paper for alleged phone hacking.
News International says it has approached some claimants with an "unreserved apology".
It will also establish a compensation fund, with a view to "dealing with justifiable claims efficiently".
A News of the World reporter and an ex-news editor were arrested earlier this week over the allegations.  BBC NEWS

- - - 
 More here at Peston's Picks Blog (BBC)

James Macintyre
But still they key question remains, about the relationship with and payments to the police from Murdoch press.
- - -

Keir Simmons
News of the World says it has decided to approach some civil litigants in 'phone hacking' cases with 'unreserved apology'.
- - -


- - - 

Apologies for Phone-hacking : News International to Give up the Fight - Politics.co.uk

- - -

News International 'Sorry' For Phone Hacking

News International has offered an unreserved apology and an admission of liability over the News of the World phone hacking allegations.

The global media giant said it had also instructed lawyers to set up a compensation scheme for a number of public figures to deal with "justifiable claims".
The company said the announcement follows an "extensive internal investigation" and disclosures through civil legal cases.
In a statement, News International said "past behaviour" at the newspaper in relation to voicemail interception was "a matter of genuine regret".
It added: "This will begin the process of bringing these cases to a fair resolution with damages appropriate to the extent of the intrusion."
But the company said it would continue to contest cases that it believed were without merit.
News of the World, a Sunday tabloid newspaper, is accused of intercepting the voicemail of a number of public figures during 2004 to 2006.
More follows...
- - -

Minority Thought
Compare this News International statement from 2009 () with this (). What a difference 2 years make.
- - -

John Prescott
The NOTW has now admitted mass criminality. The Gvt should NOT approve Murdoch's bid for BSkyB until all investigations are complete

3 April 2011

The truth will out, eh, Daily Mail/ Mail on Sunday?

Monday March 28th 2011

Less than a week ago, I wrote a piece about the lurid headline in the Daily Mail  which suggested that Gordon Brown had heartlessly ousted a heavily pregnant fellow passenger from her seat on a flight so that he could enjoy the extra luxury.

It was clear from the article itself inside the paper that there was no truth in the headline's assertion, but a long article had been built around this lie which was a lightly veiled personal attack on Gordon Brown and his P.A.

Today's Mail on Sunday carries an apology, more fulsome an apology than this tabloid is wont to proffer, small in size compared to the prominence of the original accusatory front page headline, but an apology nonetheless. (With thanks to @Harryb22 of Twitter for having sharper eyes than mine to find it this morning!)
Mail on Sunday, April 3rd 2011

A small victory for those who would like to see more accountability brought to bear on certain sections of the press to ensure the veracity of what they report.

Pandering to the most undesirable traits of human beings to increase circulation of newspapers is, in the end, a destructive exercise. 

The recent collapse of two newspapers with very questionable ethics, details here: Sports Media Group Suspends Trading is perhaps a warning to the tabloids and the media in general that sensational misrepresentation of people and facts is increasingly not what readers appreciate!