Author: Kitty S Jones

I’m a political activist with a strong interest in human rights. I’m also a strongly principled socialist. Much of my campaign work is in support of people with disability. I am also disabled: I have an autoimmune illness called lupus, with a sometimes life-threatening complication – a bleeding disorder called thrombocytopenia. Sometimes I long to go back to being the person I was before 2010. The Coalition claimed that the last government left a “mess”, but I remember being very well-sheltered from the consequences of the global banking crisis by the last government – enough to flourish and be myself. Now many of us are finding that our potential as human beings is being damaged and stifled because we are essentially focused on a struggle to survive, at a time of austerity cuts and welfare “reforms”. Maslow was right about basic needs and motivation: it’s impossible to achieve and fulfil our potential if we cannot meet our most fundamental survival needs adequately. What kind of government inflicts a framework of punishment via its policies on disadvantaged citizens? This is a government that tells us with a straight face that taking income from poor people will "incentivise" and "help" them into work. I have yet to hear of a case when a poor person was relieved of their poverty by being made even more poor. The Tories like hierarchical ranking in terms status and human worth. They like to decide who is “deserving” and “undeserving” of political consideration and inclusion. They like to impose an artificial framework of previously debunked Social Darwinism: a Tory rhetoric of division, where some people matter more than others. How do we, as conscientious campaigners, help the wider public see that there are no divisions based on some moral measurement, or character-type: there are simply people struggling and suffering in poverty, who are being dehumanised by a callous, vindictive Tory government that believes, and always has, that the only token of our human worth is wealth? Governments and all parties on the right have a terrible tradition of scapegoating those least able to fight back, blaming the powerless for all of the shortcomings of right-wing policies. The media have been complicit in this process, making “others” responsible for the consequences of Tory-led policies, yet these cruelly dehumanised social groups are the targeted casualties of those policies. I set up, and administrate support groups for ill and disabled people, those going through the disability benefits process, and provide support for many people being adversely affected by the terrible, cruel and distressing consequences of the Governments’ draconian “reforms”. In such bleak times, we tend to find that the only thing we really have of value is each other. It’s always worth remembering that none of us are alone. I don’t write because I enjoy it: most of the topics I post are depressing to research, and there’s an element of constantly having to face and reflect the relentless worst of current socio-political events. Nor do I get paid for articles and I’m not remotely famous. I’m an ordinary, struggling disabled person. But I am accurate, insightful and reflective, I can research and I can analyse. I write because I feel I must. To reflect what is happening, and to try and raise public awareness of the impact of Tory policies, especially on the most vulnerable and poorest citizens. Because we need this to change. All of us, regardless of whether or not you are currently affected by cuts, because the persecution and harm currently being inflicted on others taints us all as a society. I feel that the mainstream media has become increasingly unreliable over the past five years, reflecting a triumph for the dominant narrative of ultra social conservatism and neoliberalism. We certainly need to challenge this and re-frame the presented debates, too. The media tend to set the agenda and establish priorities, which often divert us from much more pressing social issues. Independent bloggers have a role as witnesses; recording events and experiences, gathering evidence, insights and truths that are accessible to as many people and organisations as possible. We have an undemocratic media and a government that reflect the interests of a minority – the wealthy and powerful 1%. We must constantly challenge that. Authoritarian Governments arise and flourish when a population disengages from political processes, and becomes passive, conformist and alienated from fundamental decision-making. I’m not a writer that aims for being popular or one that seeks agreement from an audience. But I do hope that my work finds resonance with people reading it. I’ve been labelled “controversial” on more than one occasion, and a “scaremonger.” But regardless of agreement, if any of my work inspires critical thinking, and invites reasoned debate, well, that’s good enough for me. “To remain silent and indifferent is the greatest sin of all” – Elie Wiesel I write to raise awareness, share information and to inspire and promote positive change where I can. I’ve never been able to be indifferent. We need to unite in the face of a government that is purposefully sowing seeds of division. Every human life has equal worth. We all deserve dignity and democratic inclusion. If we want to see positive social change, we also have to be the change we want to see. That means treating each other with equal respect and moving out of the Tory framework of ranks, counts and social taxonomy. We have to rebuild solidarity in the face of deliberate political attempts to undermine it. Divide and rule was always a Tory strategy. We need to fight back. This is an authoritarian government that is hell-bent on destroying all of the gains of our post-war settlement: dismantling the institutions, public services, civil rights and eroding the democratic norms that made the UK a developed, civilised and civilising country. Like many others, I do what I can, when I can, and in my own way. This blog is one way of reaching people. Please help me to reach more by sharing posts. Thanks. Kitty, 2012

Emily Thornberry’s letter about the Integrity Initiative’s propaganda initiative

I recently wrote an article related to the tweet above, about the covert government-funded unit which has been systematically and strategically attacking the official opposition, seriously undermining democracy in the UK.  

Last month (5 November), Anonymous Europe obtained a large number of documents relating to the activities of the ‘Integrity Initiative’ project, which was launched back in autumn, 2015. The project is funded by the British government and has been established by the Institute for Statecraft.

It’s perhaps unsurprising that the hack has had zero substantive coverage in the UK, US or European press since a number of journalists were also implicated in playing a role to fulfil the project’s aims, but it was picked up by Russian media. 

The Institute for Statecraft is affiliated with the NATO HQ Public Diplomacy Division and the Home Office-funded ‘Prevent’ programme, among other things. Statecraft’s Security Economics director, Dr Shima D Keene, collaborated with John A. S. Ardis on a paper about information warfare. Anonymous published the documents, which have unearthed the massive UK-led psyop to create a ‘large-scale information secret service’ in Europe, the US and Canada.

The declared goal of the project is to “counteract Russian propaganda” and Moscow’s hybrid warfare (a military strategy that employs political warfare and blends conventional warfare, ‘irregular’ warfare and cyberwarfare with other influencing methods, such as fake news, diplomacy, lawfare and foreign electoral intervention). 

The Integrity Initiative consists of representatives of political, military, academic and journalistic communities with the think tank in London at the head of it.

On 26 November, Integrity Initiative published a statement on the Russian media coverage of the hack. In it they said:

“The Integrity Initiative was set up in autumn 2015 by The Institute for Statecraft in cooperation with the Free University of Brussels (VUB) to bring to the attention of politicians, policy-makers, opinion leaders and other interested parties the threat posed by Russia to democratic institutions in the United Kingdom, across Europe and North America.”

“The Integrity Initiative aims to unite people who understand the threat, in order to provide a coordinated Western response to Russian disinformation and other elements of hybrid warfare.”

In the wake of the leaks, which also detail Government grant applications, the Foreign Office have been forced to confirm they provided massive funding to the Integrity Initiative.

In response to a parliamentary question by Chris Williamson, Europe Minister Alan Duncan said: “In financial year 2017-18, the FCO funded the Institute for Statecraft’s Integrity Initiative £296,500.

“This financial year, the FCO are funding a further £1,961,000. Both have been funded through grant agreements.” 

Apparently, the Institute launched the Integrity Initiative in 2015 to “defend democracy against disinformation.” However, the evidence uncovered strongly suggests that it’s rather more of an attempt to defend disinformation against democracy.   

In the Commons yesterday, Emily Thornberry asked Alan Duncan why taxpayers money had been used by the so-called ‘Integrity Initiative’ to disseminate political attacks [on Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour Party] from its Twitter site.

Duncan insisted that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) funding did not support the Integrity Initiative’s Twitter operation, which raises some interesting questions. See Thornberry’s letter demanding answers below:


I’m very much looking forward to the response.


 

I don’t make any money from my work. I am disabled because of illness and have a very limited income. But you can help by making a donation to help me continue to research and write informative, insightful and independent articles, and to provide support to others. The smallest amount is much appreciated – thank you. 

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About the government’s claims on ‘real wages’ being ‘the highest since 2011’…

Firstly, the graph does not show what Raab is claiming. The graph does show that after 8 years of Conservative government, real wages are lower than when the coalition took office. In fact they are lower now than they were during the Great Global Recession in 2008. This shows an appalling and shameful record.

After the global recession in 2008, consumer prices rose faster than the average wage, so the real value of wages fell. They continued to fall until 2014.

The average real wage is now actually lower than it was ten years ago.

Following the recession in 2008, average wages fell almost consistently in real terms until mid-2014. From 2014 to 2016, inflation was low and wages increased, though they’re still not back to their pre-recession levels. Now, inflation has caught up again, and real wages are levelling off a little.

Analysis by the Office for National Statistics showed that in 2014, average earnings for full-time workers grew by only 0.1%. However, the average earnings of full-time workers who had been in their job for more than a year rose by 4.1%.

So although the drop in average earnings tells us something important about the economy overall, it’s not the same as what’s happened to everybody working in the UK.

For example, the level of wages is different depending on where you live in the UK. No region’s average full-time weekly earnings is above its 2009 level.

Wages are highest in London, and the population there has also seen the biggest falls in earned income. The average full-time employee in London earned £655 a week in 2017; down from £700 in real-terms in 2009.

The smallest fall was seen in Northern Ireland, where in 2017 the average full-time weekly wage was £504 a week, down from £522 in real terms in 2009. 

People working for the public sector, such as in the NHS, state schools or the civil service, have seen pay growth being restricted in recent years as a matter of policy.

Public sector pay has grown more slowly than private sector pay for the past four years – though recently it has started to catch up, as the caps have recently started to be lifted.

But the private sector suffered large falls in pay during the post-recession years. 

To understand changes to peoples’ incomes we need to also consider tax and benefit changes as well.

Working households’ average income after taxes and benefits has fallen in real terms, from £35,100 in 2008/09 to £34,500 in 2016/17. That has been calculated by adding income to cash social security and then subtracting direct tax (e.g. income and council tax) and indirect taxes (e.g. VAT) for households where at least one person earns income from employment or self-employment. But that doesn’t include some losses such as the bedroom tax. 

The poorest fifth of households paid the most, as a proportion of their disposable income, on indirect taxes – 29.7% compared with 14.6% paid by the richest fifth of households.

Furthermore, the effects of taxes and benefits (ETB) data from the Office for National Statistics’s (ONS’s) Living Costs and Food Survey (LCF), are from a small, voluntary sample survey on which these data are calculated which comprises of around just 5,000 private households in the UK.

The ONS say themselves that the sample tends not to include the very poorest and the very wealthiest citizens. That means there is under-reporting at the top and bottom of the income distribution as well as non-response error (see The effects of taxes and benefits upon household income Quality and Methodology Information report for further details of the sources of error.

That is likely to distort the view of the extent of income inequality.

It’s also worth looking at some comparison at an international level, too.

Oh dear.

When citizens use a public service, it’s viewed as a ‘payment in kind’

‘Benefits in kind’ – education and healthcare, for example – are also added to the final amount of income that citizens are estimated to have. However, this distorts the calculation of average income levels. Citizens pay taxes and so contribute towards paying for these services, and the poorest citizens are likeliest to rely on them rather more than the wealthiest citizens.

This means that in effect, poorer citizens using public services appear to be better off than they actually are, since using public services does not increase incomes. In fact the smaller the income that citizens have, the more likely it is that they will need to use public services. That does not make them any wealthier than they are.

Consequently, the ratio of income of the richest fifth to the poorest fifth appears to fall from twelve to one, to five to one. The inclusion of indirect taxes (for example, alcohol duties, Value Added Tax (VAT) and so on) and benefits in kind (for example, education, National Health Service) further reduces this ratio to less than four to one. 

That does not present an accurate picture regarding income distribution. The poorest fifth of households received relatively larger amounts of ‘benefits in kind’ in 2017. This however, is not income. Nor is it a ‘gift’, since most people have paid into the Treasury and contributed council tax towards the services that they may need to use.

It’s almost like charging people twice for public services, which is utterly disgraceful. It would be very interesting to see the calculation of UK income distribution without this political cheat, that makes it look as though the poorest citizens are rather better off than they actually are. 

Finally, its worth remembering that despite their claims, the Conservatives inherited an economy that had escaped the impact of the global crash, and was out of recession by the last quarter of 2009. By 2011, the Conservatives put us back in recession. It’s what Conservatives do. Thatcher and Major both created recession in the UK, as did Cameron’s government. Despite pledging to keep our triple A level international Fitch and Moody credit ratings – another thing the Tories inherited – Obsorne lost them. Then in 2016, the UK was stripped of its last AAA rating as credit agency – Standard & Poor’s –  who warned of the economic, fiscal and constitutional risks the country now faces as a result of the EU referendum result.

The two-notch downgrade came with a warning that S&P could slash its rating again. It described the result of the vote as “a seminal event” that would “lead to a less predictable stable and effective policy framework in the UK”.

Yet the Conservatives claim they are the party of ‘economic competence’. You just have to laugh at that. 

Image result for a big labour boy osborne kittysjones

I’ll leave you with this comment, which made me chuckle:

 


I don’t make any money from my work. But you can help me by making a donation to help me continue to research and write informative, insightful and independent articles, and to provide support to others. The smallest amount is much appreciated – thank you.

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Authoritarian UK government is funding military grade psyops to smear and calumniate HM’s opposition

psyops

From the government’s ALLIED JOINT DOCTRINE FOR PSYCHOLOGICAL OPERATIONS WITH UK NATIONAL ELEMENTS, SEPTEMBER 2014 .

On page X of the document, it says: “NATO definition of PSYOPS. Allied Administrative Publication (AAP)-06 defines psychological operations as: planned activities using methods of communication and other means directed at approved audiences in order to influence perceptions, attitudes and behaviour,affecting the achievement of political and military objectives.”

On page IX, this footnote – The term information strategy (its concept and definition) is not yet endorsed through official NATO policy. Its use here [in the UK], however, reflects current thinking on this subject and is coherent with current policy and doctrine initiatives in areas such as the effects-based approach, strategic communications and information operations.” 

Nudging democracy

The British government is financing a large-scale network that influences political and public opinion in Europe using psyops. A substantial part of it is designed to attack the left, and to promote anti-Russian rhetoric.

Psychological operations (PSYOP) are operations to convey selected information and indicators to audiences to manage perceptions, to influence their emotions, motives, and objective reasoning, and ultimately the behaviours of organizations, groups, and individuals.

Government plans to monitor and influence internet communications, and covertly infiltrate online communities in order to sow dissension and disseminate false information, have long been the source of speculation.

In June 2015, NSA files published by Glenn Greenwald revealed details of the JTRIG group at British intelligence agency GCHQ covertly manipulating online communities. This is in line with JTRIG’s goal: to “destroy, deny, degrade [and] disrupt” enemies by “discrediting” them, planting misinformation and shutting down their communications.

Harvard Law Professor Cass Sunstein, [co-author of “Nudge”], a close political adviser and the White House’s former head of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, wrote a highly controversial paper in 2008 proposing that the US government employ teams of covert agents and pseudo-independent advocates to “cognitively infiltrate” online groups and websites, as well as other activist groups.

Sunstein also proposed sending covert agents into “chat rooms, online social networks, or even real-space groups” which spread what he views as false and damaging “conspiracy theories” about the government. Ironically, the very same Sunstein was recently named by Obama to serve as a member of the NSA review panel created by the White House, one that – while disputing key NSA claims – proceeded to propose many cosmetic reforms to the agency’s powers (most of which were ignored by the President who appointed them).

But the GCHQ documents are the first to prove that a major western government is using some of the most controversial techniques to disseminate deception online and harm the reputations of targets. Under the tactics they use, the state is deliberately spreading lies on the internet about whichever individuals it targets, including the use of what GCHQ itself calls “false flag operations” and emails to people’s families and friends.

Who would possibly trust a government to exercise these powers at all, let alone do so in secret, with virtually no oversight, and outside of any cognizable legal framework?

Now, inevitably, some politicians and academics have reacted with fury to news that a covert Government-funded unit has been systematically and strategically attacking the official opposition in Parliament, and seriously undermining democracy in the UK.  

Last month (5 November), Anonymous Europe obtained a large number of documents relating to the activities of the ‘Integrity Initiative’ project, which was launched back in autumn, 2015. The project is funded by the British government and has been established by the Institute for Statecraft.

It’s perhaps unsurprising that the hack has had zero substantive coverage in the UK, US or European press, but it was picked up by Russian media. 

The Institute for Statecraft is affiliated with the NATO HQ Public Diplomacy Division and the Home Office-funded ‘Prevent’ programme, among other things. Statecraft’s Security Economics director, Dr Shima D Keene, collaborated with John A. S. Ardis on a paper about information warfareAnonymous published the documents, which have unearthed the massive UK-led psyop to create a ‘large-scale information secret service’ in Europe, the US and Canada.

The declared goal of the project is to “counteract Russian propaganda” and Moscow’s hybrid warfare (a military strategy that employs political warfare and blends conventional warfare, ‘irregular’ warfare and cyberwarfare with other influencing methods, such as fake news, diplomacy, lawfare and foreign electoral intervention). 

The Integrity Initiative consists of representatives of political, military, academic and journalistic communities with the think tank in London at the head of it.

On 26 November, Integrity Initiative published a statement on the Russian media coverage of the hack. In it they said:

“The Integrity Initiative was set up in autumn 2015 by The Institute for Statecraft in cooperation with the Free University of Brussels (VUB) to bring to the attention of politicians, policy-makers, opinion leaders and other interested parties the threat posed by Russia to democratic institutions in the United Kingdom, across Europe and North America.”

“The Integrity Initiative aims to unite people who understand the threat, in order to provide a coordinated Western response to Russian disinformation and other elements of hybrid warfare.”

The documents included in the leak comprised of a handbook, funding information and lists of people organised by ‘cluster’.

iukcluster1

According to the handbook, Integrity Initiative aims to:

“Bring to the attention of politicians, policy-makers, opinion leaders and other interested parties the threat posed by Russia to democratic institutions in the United Kingdom, across Europe and North America.”

And it achieves this by organising  a network of clusters acress Europe and North America, which are made up of:

“[…] people who understand the threat posed to Western nations by a flood of disinformation.”

Integrity Initiative claim they have developed a network of people who operate to counter Russia’s ‘disinformation’. This may includes interference in the appointment of someone to a government position, using Twitter attacks to prevent the appointment of Colonel Pedro Baños as director of Spain’s Department of Homeland Security, for example. Yet the same network frequently accuse Russia of ‘meddling’ in the political affairs of other countries, and of being antidemocratic. 

In addition to personel from the Integrity Initiative’s  parent organisation – The Institute for Statecraft – there are people representing  think tanks like DEMOS, RUSI, hedge fund interests, Henry Jackson Society, European Council on Foreign Relations, and Chatham House, as well as from the Ministry of Defence, which includes the EU Joint Headquarters at Northwood, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, as well as several journalists.

uk journos

For example, Andy Pryce, the Foreign Office Head of Counter Disinformation and Media Development, Ben Bradshaw MP,  Sir Andrew Wood, former British ambassador to Russia, and a founder of Orbis Business Intelligence, the privatised British intelligence operation which also features Christopher Steele, the author of the Trump ‘dodgy dossier’.

It’s interesting that the old trick – slurring British Labour politicians with Russian/communist links – is back in fashion. The fake Zinoviev letter was traced back to British Intelligence services.

With recent declarations by leading Blairites and several Tory figures such as Michael Fallon, who claimed that Labour now represents a ‘security threat to you and your family’, Corbyn faced a media disinformation campaign of truly staggering proportions, and the allegations of ties to Russia played a significant part.

Corbyn reasonably called for de-escalation and de-militarisation in the Russia-Ukraine conflict on several occasions in the past year as a means to achieving a political solution. He has also called for ‘dialogue’. Some may deem that ‘idealistic’, perhaps, but not completely crazy. Russia is, after all a major nuclear  state. Personally I prefer his diplomatic approach to the aggressive posturing of the government.

Quite frankly, the Sun, Daily Mail and other right wing propaganda rags have managed two quire remarkable things from this farrago. The first is to make Jeremy Corbyn look better than before. The second is to justify his calls for press regulation.

It turns out that Ben Nimmo, a “senior fellow” at the Institute for Statecraft, co-authored an article with Jonathan Eyal of the Royal United Services Institute alleged that TV news channel RT broadcast “systematic bias in favour of Corbyn” when he first stood for the Labour leadership. 

The article went on to say the motivation for this was “most likely to be executing the interests of the government which funds it.” Nimmo was also quoted in the Sun newspaper saying Russia was “supporting Corbyn against his opponents both in the Labour Party and outside it.”

Of course the newspaper used this to support its conspiracy theory that “a twisted Russian cyber campaign which has backed Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn is aiming to sow division across the UK.” 

The crafty state institute

The Institute for Statecraft was set up, and is currently led by Chris Donnelly  (who, prior to his joining NATO in 1989, was for 20 years at the Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst) and Daniel Lafayeedney (whose military service, legal background and career as an entrepreneur have led him to an “understanding of the importance of the link between business and national security.”) They are supported by a Board of Trustees, Board of Advisers, an Operations Staff, a Strategic Development Team and an extensive network of like minded Fellows, associates and researchers.

Defending disinformation against democracy

The Integrity Initiative’s Orwellian slogan is ‘Defending Democracy Against Disinformation’. On its About page it claims: “We are not a government body but we do work with government departments and agencies who share our aims.” 

The UK defines strategic communication (StratCom) as: “advancing national interests by using all Defence means of communication to influence the attitudes and behaviours of people. It is an MOD-level function that seeks to align words, images and actions by taking direction and guidance from the National Security Council and developing a Strategic Communication Actions and Effects Framework to guide targeting and planning activities.”

“Info Ops is a staff function that analyzes, plans, assesses and integrates information activities to create desired effects on the will, understanding and capability of adversaries, potential adversaries and North Atlantic Council (NAC) approved audiences in support of Alliance mission objectives. PSYOPS, along with other capabilities,
will be coordinated through Info Ops processes guided by the information strategy and within NATO’s StratCom approach.”

The UK defines target audience analysis (TAA) as: “the systematic study of people to enhance understanding and identify accessibility, vulnerability, and susceptibility to behavioural and attitudinal influence.”

In the document dump on November 5, the Anonymous group exposed the UK-based Integrity Initiative’.  The main stated objective is counter-terrorism, and “to provide a coordinated Western response to Russian disinformation and other elements of hybrid warfare.” The Institute for Statecraft is affiliated with the NATO HQ Public Diplomacy Division and the Home Office-funded ‘Prevent’ programme, so objectivity is, of course, at the forefront of their work… 

However, the secret UK Government-funded propaganda unit based in Scotland has also been running a campaign on social media, using posts attacking Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour Party. 

The Institute for Statecraft appears to be a small charity operating from an old Victorian mill in Fife. But the explosive leaked documents, which have been passed to the Sunday Mail, reveal the organisation’s Integrity Initiative is funded with £2million of Foreign Office cash and run by military intelligence specialists.

The Conservative group is supposed to counter Russian online propaganda by forming “clusters” of friendly journalists and “key influencers” throughout Europe who use social media to hit back against disinformation.

On the siteDr Shima D Keene writes: “The new security environment is increasingly spawning a variety of asymmetric threats which require immediate attention. Many of these threats are driven by the desire for economic gain, either as an end in itself, or to assist in achieving an ultimate end. Efforts to tackle the economic aspects of these threats have frequently been neglected or, at best, fragmented. This is particularly the case in the international sphere, allowing our adversary to operate in a benign environment.

“Security Economics is the analysis of the economic aspects of human-induced insecurity, such as terrorism and organised crime.

“The Institute’s Security Economics Programme serves to unite existing knowledge whilst bringing new knowledge to the subject. The multi-disciplinary approach aims to provide new thinking and direction, both strategically and tactically, in order that effective financial warfare strategies can be devised and implemented to tackle the evolving threat environment. Network analysis plays a key part. Activities of the Programme include operational research, policy development, counselling and mentoring in the following subject areas:

  • Threat Finance (Terrorism, Narcotics, Human Trafficking, Proliferation/Weapons of Mass Destruction and Organised Crime)
  • Psychological  Operations/Info Ops/ Influence
  • Financial Counter Insurgency
  • Economic Crime (to include Fraud and Money Laundering)
  • Maritime Piracy (Kidnap and Ransom)
  • Cyber crime and associated Technology
  • Forensic Finance/Financial Intelligence
  • Economic Warfare/ Asymmetric Financial Warfare
  • Counter Terrorist Finance/Anti Money laundering (Legislation/Regulation).

A message from the UK Government-funded organisation promotes an article that states: “Unlike Galloway (former MP George Galloway) Corbyn does not scream conspiracy, he implies it,” while another added: “It’s time for the Corbyn left to confront its Putin problem.”

A further message refers to an “alleged British Corbyn supporter” who “wants to vote for Putin”.

It is not just the Labour leader who has been on the receiving end of online attacks. The party’s strategy and communications director, Seumas Milne, was also targeted.

The Integrity Initiative, whose base at Gateside Mill is near Auchtermuchty, retweeted a newspaper report that said: “Milne is not a spy – that would be beneath him.

“But what he has done, wittingly or unwittingly, is work with the Kremlin agenda.”

Another retweet promoted a journalist who said: “Just as he supports the Russian bombardment of Syria, Seumas Milne supported the Russian slaughter of Afghanistan, which resulted in more than a million deaths.”

The Integrity Initiative has been accused of supporting Ukrainian politicians who oppose Putin – even when they also have suspected far-right links.

Further leaked documents appear to show a Twitter campaign that resulted in a Spanish politician believed to be friendly to the Kremlin being denied a job.

The organisation’s “Spanish cluster” swung into action on hearing that Pedro Banos was to be appointed director of the national security department.

The papers detail how the Integrity Initiative alerted “key influencers” around Europe who launched an online campaign against the politician.

In the wake of the leaks, which also detail Government grant applications, the Foreign Office have been forced to confirm they provided massive funding to the Integrity Initiative.

In response to a parliamentary question by Chris Williamson, Europe Minister Alan Duncan said: “In financial year 2017-18, the FCO funded the Institute for Statecraft’s Integrity Initiative £296,500.

“This financial year, the FCO are funding a further £1,961,000. Both have been funded through grant agreements.” 

Apparently, the Institute launched the Integrity Initiative in 2015 to “defend democracy against disinformation.” However, the evidence uncovered strongly suggests that it’s rather more of an attempt to defend disinformation against democracy.   

Shadow Foreign Secretary Emily Thornberry expressed the party’s justifiable outrage:

“It is one of the cardinal rules of British public life that official resources should not be used for party political purposes. So, it is simply outrageous that the clearly mis-named ‘Integrity Initiative’ – funded by the Foreign Office to the tune of £2.25 million over the past two years – has routinely been using its Twitter feed to disseminate personal attacks and smears against the Leader of the Opposition, the Labour Party and Labour officials.

“And this cannot be dismissed as something outside the Government’s control, given the application for funding agreed by the Foreign Office last year stated explicitly that it would be used in part to expand “the impact of the Integrity Initiative website…and Twitter/social media accounts.

“So the Government must now answer the following questions: why did the Foreign Office allow public money to be spent on attempting to discredit Her Majesty’s Opposition? Did they know this was happening? If not, why not? And if they did, how on earth can they justify it?”

Labour MSP Neil Findlay said: “It would appear that we have a charity registered in Scotland and overseen by the Office of the Scottish Charity Regulator that is funded by the UK Government and is spewing out political attacks on UK politicians, the Labour Party and the Labour movement.

“Such clear political attacks and propaganda shouldn’t be coming from any charity. We need to know why the Foreign Office have been funding it.”

The UK’s links with NATO  psyops are well-established – see Countering propaganda: NATO spearheads use of behavioural change sciencefor example. From the article: “Target Audience Analysis, a scientific application developed by the UK based Behavioural Dynamics Institute, that involves a comprehensive study of audience groups and forms the basis for interventions aimed at reinforcing or changing attitudes and behaviour.”

The UK government openly discusses its policy intents regarding ‘behavioural change’, and instituted the Nudge Unit in 2010 to contribute to their behaviourist policy agenda. The behavioural economists from the Unit have contributed significantly to punitive welfare policy, for example.

The programme entailing the use of behavioural change science for NATO was delivered by the UK-based Strategic Communication Laboratories (SCL Defence), which has worked for the UK Ministry of Defence and the United States’ Department of Defense for a number of years and is the world’s only company licensed to deliver the Behavioural Dynamics process, and a team of Information Warfare experts drawn from seven nations, called IOTA-Global.

David Miller, a professor of political sociology in the School for Policy Studies at the University of Bristol, added: “It’s extraordinary that the Foreign Office would be funding a Scottish charity to counter Russian propaganda which ends up attacking Her Majesty’s opposition and soft-pedalling far-right politicians in the Ukraine.

“People have a right to know how the Government are spending their money, and the views being promoted in their name.”

Tamsin Shaw, an associate professor of philosophy at New York University, has researched the US military’s funding and use of psychological research for use in torture. She says: “The capacity for this science to be used to manipulate emotions is very well established. This is military-funded technology that has been harnessed by a global plutocracy and is being used to sway elections in ways that people can’t even see, don’t even realise is happening to them.”  

It’s about exploiting existing phenomenon like nationalism and then using it to manipulate people at the margins. To have so much data in the hands of a bunch of international plutocrats to do with it what they will is absolutely chilling.

We are in an information war and billionaires are buying up these companies, which are then employed to go to work in the heart of government. That’s a very worrying situation.”

Mass surveillance, data profiling, psychographic profiling and behavioural modification strategies are embedded in the corporate sector and are now very clearly being used in a way that challenges the political canon of liberal democratic societies, where citizens are traditionally defined by principles of self-determination. I’ve spent the past few years writing critically about the neuroliberal turn.

The leaked documents show a funding application to the Foreign Office that details the unit’s work.

Further papers reveal a unit in Lithuania which received overseas funding to “support a new hub/cluster creation and to educate cluster leaders and key people in Vilnius in infowar techniques”.

It’s only over recent years that we are getting a glimpse of new behavioural economics discipline evolving into forms of social control that make the frightful 20th-century totalitarianism regimes seem like a primitive and crude method of governance by comparison. This all-pervasive control is elegant and hidden in plain view. It’s a subtle and stealthy form of totalitarianism. Behavioural science and its various applications as a new “cognitive-military complex” – it originated within intelligence and state security agencies.

BeWorks is one example of a company adopting the nudge approach to strategic communications and marketing, they describe themselves as “The first management consulting firm dedicated to the practice of applying behavioral science to strategy, marketing, operations, and policy challenges”, also “harness the powerful insights of behavioral economics to solve your toughest challenges.”

They work for the government, the energy industry, financial service sector, insurance industry and retail sectors, “helping organisations to embed behavioural economics into their culture”. 

The company says: “The team combines leading academics from the fields of cognitive and social psychology, neuroscience, and marketing with management consulting experts. Our multi-disciplinary expertise allows us to arm our clients with the latest in scientific insights coupled with a strategic business lens”.

They also wrote this article among others: How Science Can Help Get Out the VoteThey claim: Our team of scientists and business experts offers a powerful methodology that analyzes and measurably influences the decisions consumers make”. 

They go on to say “Neuromarketing studies, which measure brain activity and other biological indicators, are another way to gauge true emotional reactions instead of relying on how people say they feel. EEG caps and biometric belts are the most common tools used, though other techniques, ranging from reading facial expressions to measuring tiny differences in reaction time, are also used.”

The consequences of governments acting upon citizens to meet political aims, and to align behaviours with a totalising neoliberal ideology, turns democracy completely on its head. We are left with a form of inverted totalitarianism, or facade democracy, where direct methods of oppression are not required, as citizens are far easier to control and better ‘nudged’ when they continue to believe themselves free and autonomous. 

The Foreign Office have not yet responded to a request for comment.

Related

Controversial GCHQ Unit Engaged in Domestic Law Enforcement, Online Propaganda, Psychology Research Glenn Greenwald and Andrew Fishman

The government hired several murky companies plying the same methods as Cambridge Analytica in their election campaign

From the Zinoviev letter to the Labour party coup – the real enemy within

The revelations about Cambridge Analytica indicate clearly that western governments are subverting democracy

 


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Universal Discredit

Philip Alston, UN special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, travelled across the country to examine the impact of austerity. He came to Newcastle, visiting a West End foodbank, among other places. He concluded that Universal Credit and other ‘reforms’ are “entrenching high levels of poverty and inflicting unnecessary misery.” According to his research, 14 million people – a fifth of the population – live in poverty. Four million of these are more than 50% below the poverty line, and 1.5 million are destitute, unable to afford basics essentials. Alston said: “In the fifth richest country in the world, this is not just a disgrace, but a social calamity and an economic disaster, all rolled into one.” 

Universal Credit has been designed to change the relationship between the state and citizens. It is about altering the public’s expectations of the role of government. It is about deepening targeted austerity. It is also about cutting social security and dismantling the welfare state. 

The one-off £10 payment, which was designed to be an extra boost to families over the festive period, has been axed under Universal Credit, which demonstrates very well what kind of “mean spirited” intentions went into the design of system. I rang the Department for Work and Pensions press office to confirm this and it was affirmed that the cut has happened. A spokesperson said: “Universal Credit claimants have never received a one-off December payment, but many disabled people on Universal Credit will be better off on average by £100 month than when they received Employment and Support Allowance (ESA).”

Yesterday, someone I know through social media sent me a copy of a notice they got when they logged onto the Universal Credit system. It said: Image may contain: text

So, if an employer pays his employees early in December due to the Christmas holiday period or pays a Christmas bonus, people may well receive a reduced Universal Credit payment in December or none at all. This is due the fact that the unadaptable system cannot cope with people being paid twice in one assessment period, even though it isn’t an additional payment, it is simply an early payment. 

Judicial reviews

The controversial Universal Credit programme is to undergo another legal challenge at the High Court in London, as evidence mounts further that the new social security system will leave thousands of people already on low incomes significantly worse off. Four women are taking the government to court because of this reason.

This is the second judicial review of Universal Credit. It follows the High Court’s finding in June that the Universal Credit system was unlawfully discriminating against severely disabled people. Those who had qualified for the support component of income-related Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) are also eligible for a disability premium.  However, as a result of the abolition of both the severe disability premium (SDP) and enhanced disability premium (EDP) under Universal Credit rules, according to the disability charity, Scope, the cut to the disability income guarantee will see disabled people lose as much as £395 a month

The high court judge ruled that the Department for Work and Pensions unlawfully discriminated against two severely disabled men who both saw their benefits dramatically reduced when they moved Local Authority – one of them because of the bedroom tax – and were required to claim Universal Credit. The court found that the implementation of Universal Credit and the absence of any ‘top up’ payments for this vulnerable group as compared to others constitutes discrimination contrary to the European Convention on Human Rights.

Since the court case, Esther McVey, then Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, announced that no severely disabled person in receipt of the SDP will be made to move onto Universal Credit until transitional protection is in place. She also committed to compensating those like the two claimants who have lost out on their disability premium because they had to claim Universal Credit.

Yet despite this, Secretary of State for Work and Pensions has sought permission to appeal, maintaining that there was “nothing unlawful” with the way the claimants were treated.

The second judicial review comes amid mounting concern over Universal Credit, which academics have described as a “complicated, dysfunctional and punitive” system pushing people into debt and rent arrears. 

Last week it emerged that more than half of people denied Universal Credit were found to be entitled to it when their cases were investigated, prompting fresh demands for the national rollout of the new system to be halted. It’s something of an irony, given that Universal Credit was introduced in 2013 with the stated intention of bringing “fairness and simplicity” to Britain’s social security system.

Now, four plaintiffs say the flaw, which relates to the way Universal Credit monthly payments are calculated, disproportionately affects working parents with children and leaves claimants with a “dramatically fluctuating income” and unable to budget from month to month.

In one case uncovered by the Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) reported by The Guardian, a family’s monthly payment swung from £1,185 to zero, making budgeting impossible. One of the women has said that as well as being irrational, the payment system is also discriminatory as it disproportionately affects single parents, who are predominantly female. Last month, MP Frank Field said the system was driving some women in his constituency into sex work in a bid to avoid absolute poverty.

A single mother says she was forced to turn down a promotion and use a food bank after issues with the assessment period for the new benefit system made it “impossible to budget”.  

She said: “I invested £40,000 in higher education studies so that I could become an occupational therapist and it’s great that I’ve got my degree but I have had to put my career hopes on hold because of Universal Credit.  

“I had to go to a food bank and I took out an advance that I am still paying back. I took two jobs – as a PA and a waitress – which I could do without the education I invested in but which had paydays which don’t clash with my assessment period. I wanted to become free of welfare through my chosen profession but Universal Credit is holding me back from that.” 

Although she had originally wanted a healthcare job, which was relevant to her degree and would move her nearer earnings that would eventually take her out of the social security system altogether, she found that the NHS and other health organisations mostly paid salaries at the end of the working month so she would face the same assessment period trap. 

She left the council and initially took two part time jobs, and she now has one part time job.

Her solicitor, Carla Clarke of Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG), said: “Universal Credit is promoted as a benefit that ‘incentivises’ work but in practice its rigid assessment period system undercuts that claim. 

“Our clients have been left repeatedly without money for family essentials simply because of the date of their paydays.

“One of them, for example, did her utmost to find a workaround but ultimately had to decline a promotion in a job with good prospects when her then contract came to an end just to escape the trap.

“We say that the DWP’s refusal to alter our clients’ assessment period dates to avoid this problem discriminates against working parents – one of the two groups who are entitled to a work allowance – as well as being irrational and undermining one of the stated purposes of universal credit – to make sure that ‘work always pays’.”

CPAG argues that the DWP refusal to alter Woods’ assessment period dates to avoid the problem discriminated against working parents – one of the two groups who are entitled to a work allowance – as well as being “irrational and undermining.” 

Clarke added “This is a fundamental defect in Universal Credit and an injustice to hard-working parents and their children that must be put right for our clients and everyone else affected”.

Another of the women involved in the court case is paid by her employer on the last working day of each month. However, the Universal Credit assessment periods run from the last day of each month, meaning that if she is paid before the last day of the month she is assessed as having been paid twice that month.

Lawyers from the legal firm supporting  Johnson at LeighDay, say: “This has resulted in her receiving fluctuating Universal Credit payments throughout the year, making it very hard to budget from one month to the next.”

They add: “It has also caused her to be around £500 worse off annually due to the fact that she is entitled to ‘work allowance’ as a parent.

“The work allowance is a disregard of £198 per month of a parent’s monthly earnings so in months where she is treated as having no earned income, she loses the whole benefit of the work allowance. In months where she is treated as having double income, she does not receive any extra work allowance.”

Legal aid for social security appeals is almost entirely gone. People adversely affected by unfair decisions are effectively being denied support in accessing justice. It’s difficult to see this as anything other than a planned and coordinated attack on people’s most basic human and democratic rights. 

Universal Credit increases and extends the risk of domestic abuse

Couples who live together are required to make a single household claim for Universal Credit. Their individual entitlements are calculated—based on household income—and combined into a single payment, paid into one account only. In December 2017, 55,000 couple households, including 40,000 with dependent children, were claiming Universal Credit. Once it is fully rolled out, around 2.9 million couple households will claim it. MPs have warned that Universal Credit increases the risk of allowing domestic abusers to exert financial control over victims. 

A critical report by the Work and Pensions committee in August said the way Universal Credit is paid per household means that perpetrators could too easily take control of the entire budget, leaving vulnerable women and their children dependent on an abusive partner to survive. Frank Field, Labour chair of the committee, said: “This is not the 1950s. Men and women work independently, pay taxes as individuals, and should each have an independent income.

“Not only does Universal Credit’s single household payment bear no relation to the world of work, it is out of step with modern life and turns back the clock on decades of hard-won equality for women.”

He added “The government must acknowledge the increased risk of harm to claimants living with domestic abuse it creates by breaching that basic principle, and take the necessary steps to reduce it.”

Ministers were urged by the committee to consider overhauling the system so payments are automatically split between couples, as victims face “great danger” if they request their own payments under current rules.

The report said: “Universal Credit currently only allows claims to be split between partners in ‘exceptional circumstances’.

“The DWP itself recognises the risk that requesting such an arrangement poses to survivors. The perpetrator will realise the survivor has requested the split when their own payments fall, potentially putting them in great danger.

“In light of this risk, many survivors simply will not request a split.”

The committee also suggested the main carer of children should automatically receive the whole payment, while officials explore ways to develop a split payment scheme. JobCentres must set aside private rooms for vulnerable claimants and appoint a domestic violence specialist to deal with specific claims, the report also said.

Katie Ghose, chief executive of Women’s Aid, said: “We have long been warning that Universal Credit risks making the domestic abuse worse for survivors and putting an additional barrier in the way of them escaping the abuse.

“That’s why we welcome the committee’s report and urge the government to take action to make Universal Credit safe for survivors.

“We know from our work with survivors that abusers will exploit single household payments, yet applying for a split payment can also be dangerous. If the abuser finds out that a survivor has made an application, she may be at further risk.”

Domestic abuse is hugely complex, and the training Work Coaches currently receive leaves them ill-equipped to perform this vital function. Under Universal Credit, claimants living with domestic abuse can face seeing their entire monthly income—including money meant for their children—go into their abusive partner’s account. There is no guarantee that any of the money they need to live or care for their children will reach them. That risks them remaining dependent on their abusive partner and making it much harder for them to leave, should the opportunity present itself.

Yet the Scottish Parliament has passed legislation which requires the Scottish Government to introduce split payments by default.

Universal Credit is perpetuating gender inequality – an issue that the Equality and Human Rights Commission have also raised concerns about. If money is paid into an abuser’s account, that compromises a woman’s financial autonomy. Their recent report recommends:

  • offering Universal Credit as single payments to individuals rather than joint payments to avoid exacerbating financial abuse for women experiencing domestic violence
  • reconsidering the ‘spare room subsidy’ regulations which discriminate against survivors of domestic abuse who have safe rooms.

But the government justifies the policy by claiming that few couples manage their finances separately. They argue that paying one benefit into a single bank account means families can make decisions about their household finances without government interference. However, this assessment ignores the realities of women trapped in controlling relationships.

Two child policy – regarding children as a commodity, and some say, eugenics by stealth

This policy restricts support through means-tested family benefits to two children only and affects the child tax credit payable for all third or subsequent children born after April 2017 and all new claims for Universal Credit, whenever they were born. In doing so, the two-child policy breaks the fundamental link between need and the provision of minimum support and implies that some children, by virtue of their birth order, are less deserving of support. It is a very large direct cut to the living standards of the poorest families of up to £2780 per child, per year.

In 2015/16 — the latest year for which data is available — 27 per cent of households with children had more than two children, representing more than 1 in 3 children in poverty (after housing costs). The risk of poverty is already 39 per cent for households (after housing costs) with three or more children compared with 26 per cent for one- and 27 per cent for two-child families. The most recent statistics reveal that during the first year of operation, 59% of the 73,500 families who lost financial support for a third child were in work. Nine per cent of UK claimant households with three or more children were affected.

A number of groups in the population are particularly likely to be hard hit by the policy, including Orthodox Jews, Pakistani and Bangladeshi families, and Roman Catholics. It will also hit large families bereaved by the loss of  a parent, divorced families, and all large families falling upon hard times and needing to claim means-tested support.

Originally there were no intentions to make exceptions to the two-child policy, but the government was forced to make concessions for, among others, third and subsequent children under kinship care and those conceived as a result of rape — which in itself forces highly sensitive disclosure. A number of women’s rights and rape support organisations have raised serious concerns about the third-party evidence model for the rape/coercion exception and the risk that women claiming this exception will be exposed to further trauma and gross breaches of privacy.

The so-called rape clause has been condemned by campaigners, who say it is outrageous that a woman must account for the circumstances of her rape to qualify for support. The SNP MP Alison Thewliss called it “one of the most inhumane and barbaric policies ever to emanate from Whitehall”.

A government spokesperson said: “The policy to provide support in child tax credit and universal credit for a maximum of two children ensures people on benefits have to make the same financial choices as those supporting themselves solely through work.

The rationale for the two-child limit was to reduce the deficit by £1.36 billion per year by 2020/21. But the government also sought to justify it on the basis that they are hoping to ‘change behaviours’ — hoping to ‘encourage parents to reflect carefully on their readiness to support an additional child’. Yet, the savings to be made from the policy are quite modest in the context of the austerity cuts of £27 billion per year since 2010.

The rollout of Universal Credit will increase the number of families affected. All new claims for the benefit after February 2019 will have the child element restricted to two children in a family, even if they were born before the policy was introduced.

The government estimated 640,000 families will lose support as a direct result of the proposed changes. The Children’s Society estimate that the total loss of a child element plus the family element of child tax credit will mean that a family with three children will lose up to £3,325 per year. A family with four children will lose up to £6100. Troublingly, disabled children will also be affected by this measure on top of the major cuts in children’s disability support through Universal Credit.

Jamie Grier, the development director at the welfare advice charity Turn2us, has spoken out about mothers in low income families faced with the agonising choice of terminating wanted pregnancies already, because of their financial circumstances.

Alison Garnham, the chief executive of Child PovertyAction Group, said: “An estimated one in six UK children will be living in a family affected by the two-child limit once the policy has had its full impact. It’s a pernicious, poverty-producing policy.”

The Institute for Fiscal Studies has projected that 600,000 more children will live in absolute child poverty by 2020/21 compared with 2015/16 — all of them in families with three or more children. The absolute child poverty rate is to increase over that period from 15.1 per cent to 18.3 per cent. The two-child limit accounts for around a third of this impact. Absolute poverty is when people can’t meet one or more of their basic survival needs.

The policy is extremely likely to contravene human rights treaties to which the UK is a signatory, including those relating to women’s reproductive rights and protection from religious and gender-based discrimination contrary to Article 16 of the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women.

It would also discriminate against groups with a conscientious objection to contraception and abortion, or for whom large families are a central tenet of faith, in breach of Article 14 of the European Convention on Human Rights. Furthermore, it fails to give primary consideration to the best interest of the child in contravention of Article 3(1) of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. 

The UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights raised a specific concern about the effect of cuts to social security on the standard of living enjoyed by families with two or more children in the Concluding Observations of its recent review of the UK’s compliance with the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. The policy is going to be challenged in the courts on discrimination grounds and may well reach the Supreme Court and European Court of Justice. 

Context and policy intent

Universal credit is the controversal reform of the social security system, rolling together six so-called “legacy” benefits (including unemployment benefit, employment and tax credits and housing benefit) into one benefit paid monthly to claimants, to “make work pay.”

However, at a time of stagnant wages and ever-increasing living costs, the government slogan ‘making work pay’ is certainly not about a national wage increase. It’s rather more about neoliberal supply-side ideology.  Supply-side policies include the promotion of greater competition in labour markets, through the removal of what are deemed ‘restrictive practices’, and labour market rigidities, such as the protection of employment and workers’ rights. For example, as part of  neoliberal supply-side reforms in the 1980s, trade union powers were greatly reduced by a series of measures including limiting workers’ ability to call a strike, and by enforcing secret ballots of union members prior to strike action. More recently the Conservatives have again made substantial legislative changes that undermine the role of trade unions.

Deregulation and privatisation of state industry and services are also components of supply-side economics. Supply-side measures have a negative effect on the distribution of income. For example, lower taxes rates for the wealthiest, lower wages for workers, reduced union power, and privatisation have all contributed to a widening of the gap between rich and poor citizens. Universal Credit facilitates a supply-side labour market, it coerces people into accepting low paid, insecure work. Any work.

People claiming Universal Credit do not get a say in the kind of work they take on. If people don’t comply with Universal Credit conditionality they are generally sanctioned. This entails a loss of welfare support for between four weeks and up to a maximum of three years for refusing to take a job or prescribed community work. 

Some economists argue that a lack of bargaining power because union membership has been in long term decline – is leading to fewer widespread agreements on earnings increases, which has served to  keep wages stagnant. A lack of employee confidence and certainty following the recession and fears, then, over job losses has also led to fewer demands for rises.

Given that collective bargaining has been politically undermined, it is particularly outrageous that the government has introduced sanctions for those on low pay and in work, for a failure to single handedly negotiate better pay or an increase in working  hours with their employer. 

Perhaps we should ask “making work pay” for whom?

It’s interesting that the government have outlined what Universal Credit means for employers, indicating the intent behind the policy is not about mitigating poverty. It’s about employers “having access to a more flexible and responsive workforce, which can help your business with the challenges of filling vacancies.

“Universal Credit payments automatically adjust each month based on the real time PAYE information you report to HMRC, so it’s important that you report this information accurately and on time.”

The ‘business friendly’ government says “Universal Credit increases the financial incentive of work and provides employers like you with a more flexible workforce.”

So while employers are promised a workforce that will accept more, in terms of conditions, rates of pay and job security, the same workforce is being set up to fail when trying to negotiate more pay and longer hours by the government’s ‘business friendly’ deregulation. And failure can mean facing having their Universal Credit cut via sanctions.

It does go on to say on the site that “Jobcentre Plus work coaches will encourage claimants to discuss with their employers how they can increase their chances of earning more. This could be by improving their skills which may help them to take on more responsibilities. You may find your employees asking for more hours or for help with building their skills. You can play a role in this – helping your business become more productive.”

So, employers “can” but workers “must”, despite the substantial imbalance of power, made worse by the fact that workers are being coerced into “flexibility”. That invariably means lowering their expectations of employers and of the conditions of their employment.

The publicly stated aim of Universal Credit, for which there was orginally general support across the political divide, was to simplify the welfare system, making it more “efficient” and easy to access at a single claim point. Despite these claims, many have complained that Universal Credit is bafflingly complex, unreliable and difficult to manage, particularly if you are without internet access, and that Universal Credit staff are often poorly trained. The combination of these problems is leaving people in precarious and very vulnerable circumstances.

For families and lone parents in particular, there are barriers to taking short term low paid work, as continuity of income and availability of childcare are key priorities for parents.

The Conservatives have also claimed that the new benefit will provide incentives for people to work rather than stay on benefits. Perhaps it’s worth noting that only 34% of people claiming state welfare are of working age, the majority – 66% – are people of pension age.

The government say “It is intended that by introducing a single in-work and out-of-work benefit, previous barriers to employment such as taking up temporary employment or fewer hours are removed, therefore making it easier for claimants to take up any work and changing claimant perceptions of work and welfare, and their employment behaviours, at an individual and household level.”

The Conservatives go on to claim that employment levels are at a record high, because Universal Credit is “working”. Some 80% of men are in work, the joint highest employment rate since 1991. And over 70% of women are in work, the highest employment rate since records began in 1971. But that increase is down, partly, to state pension age changes which mean fewer women are retiring between the ages of 60 and 65. 

However, as I have indicated, the structure of the employment market also matters. Zero hours contracts and hyper-flexible employment might be welcomed by some for the options they offer, but they work against collective bargaining agreements on earnings, keeping wages low. And low wages, not lack of incentives, are the reason why people need welfare support. The trade union wage gap, the difference in earnings of union members compared with non-members, is 16.9% in the public sector and 7.1% in the private sector (which employs well over 80% of people). There cannot be any genuine economic ‘bounce back’ until the UK’s decade-long stagnation in wages ends.

Universal Credit was supposedly intended as a payment to help people with living costs. It’s for those on a low income or out of work. As of February this year, the number of people on Universal Credit was 770 thousand. Of these people 300 thousand were in employment. The intention embedded in the design of Universal Credit to force up to a million low-paid workers to seek more hours or move to higher-paid jobs, under threat of financial sanctions (in-work conditionality), is another ticking bomb.

It is being introduced in stages across the country.  People claiming Universal Credit receive a single monthly household payment, paid into a bank account in the same way as a monthly salary; support with housing costs will usually go direct to the person claiming as part of their monthly payment. 

People will usually make a claim for Universal Credit online, during which initial claim verification will take place. This entails people providing evidence of their identity. However, there have been some problems highighted with the government’s verification framework. 

MP for Liverpool Walton, Dan Carden, called on the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) to postpone the roll-out of Universal Credit in his constituency until after Christmas and highlighted an issue with people having to pay out for a driving licence as one of many administrative problems with the new system.

In a letter to the secretary of state, Amber Rudd MP, Carden said: “We have families experiencing poverty on an unprecedented scale and now facing further avoidable hardship in the run up to Christmas. 

“I have now been informed that job centres across Liverpool are advancing payments to my constituents to obtain provisional driving licences for the purposes of identification and then deducting the cost from their benefits.

“Constituents are also having to pay for postal orders, passport photographs and postage, just to obtain provisional licences.”

He explained that the DVLA says there is a five-week wait for provisional licences, and highlighted the delays before the first payments are made when someone is transferred on to Universal Credit.

The controversial benefit is being rolled out in many parts of Liverpool this week. Carden added: “Continuing with this roll-out will leave many of the most vulnerable families in Liverpool Walton destitute by Christmas and I am therefore asking you to intervene as a matter of urgency.”

Rudd’s response was to say Carden was ‘scaremongering’, and she denied that ID was needed to claim Universal Credit. However, it seems she failed to bother checking her own government’s web site for advice and evidence. The site which outlines how to claim Universal Credit  completely contradicts Rudd’s claims, it says on the government’s site:

Amber rudd lies 1

Amber rudd lies 2

When people apply for Universal Credit they are asked to verify their identity online via the GOV.Verify service. 

To do so, you need either;

  • A valid UK driving license
  • A valid UK passport.

On the government document it says “Universal Credit cannot be paid to a claimant whose identity has not been verified. Failure to provide identity documentation means that there is no valid claim.”

Of course this creates significant problems for those without the required documents. Their Universal Credit claim cannot go ‘live’ without conforming to the ID verification framework. People generally can’t get an advance because their claim isn’t live. Once they’ve received their new ID document, (takes around 6-8 weeks usually), it’s then a further 5 weeks (at least) until their first Universal Credit payment. That’s a very long time to go without support that is intended to meet people’s most basic living needs: food, fuel and shelter. 

According to the government web site, you can only apply for an advance on your first payment if you have already verified your identity. It says:

You can apply for an advance payment in your online account or through your Jobcentre Plus work coach.

You’ll need to:

  • explain why you need an advance
  • verify your identity (you do this online when you submit your Universal Credit claim or at your first Jobcentre Plus interview)
  • provide bank account details for the advance (talk to your work coach if you cannot open an account.)

The claim date is the date that a claimant completes this process and submits their claim. After making a claim, an initial interview will take place with the claimant, where the eligibility for Universal Credit will be confirmed and the claimant will accept a Claimant Commitment. Failure to comply with the Commitment without ‘good reason’ will result in a sanction. What constitutes a ‘good reason’ unfortunately varies from area to area and even among advisors in the same building. One of the many criticisms of welfare sanctions is how arbitrary they are. Universal Credit is a far stricter regime than the previous ones, and indications are that people are being sanctioned more frequently.

The Universal Credit project was passed through legislation in 2011 under the patronage of its loudest champion, former secretary of state for work and pensions Iain Duncan Smith. The plan was to roll it out across the UK by 2017. However, a series of management failures, expensive IT blunders and design faults mean it has fallen at least five years behind schedule.

Under the current schedule it will be fully implemented to include about 7 million claimants by 2022-23, when it is estimated that it will account for around £63bn of spending. A substantial proportion of that is due to administration blunders. Earlier this year, the National Audit Office said “The benefits that it set out to achieve through Universal Credit, such as increased employment and lower administration costs, are unlikely to be achieved.”

The administrative cost of every Universal Credit claim is an eye-watering £699 per case against an ultimate target of just £173, others in the field are calling to stop this utter shambles now and reconsider all options. 

The Department is seriously criticised for “a lack of regard in failing to understand the hardship faced by some claimants”. Forget normal Whitehall tact, here are eight years of unrelenting failure, ploughing on despite alarms as costs rose to £2bn. One of the most urgent needs is to restore the £23bn that George Osborne cut from the budget, which is due to cause a record 37% of children in poverty by 2022, according to the Institute for Fiscal Studies. That’s likely to be a conservative estimate.

Despite a few minor changes, such as shortening the waiting period by a week, huge underlying problems remain with Universal Credit. Multibillion-pound cuts to work allowances imposed by the former chancellor have left it hollowed out. According to the Resolution Foundation thinktank, Universal Credit will leave about 2.5 million low-income working households more than £1,000 a year worse off. Reversing those cuts requires a political decision, not more tinkering around the edges and technical fixes.

Universal Credit is paid monthly, in arrears, so people have to wait one calendar month from the date they submitted their application before their first UC payment is made. This is called the assessment period. People then have to wait up to seven days for the payment to reach your bank account. That is of course providing everything goes right. 

So far, the ‘customer’ experience of Universal Credit for too many people (and other stakeholders, such as landlords) has been utterly dismal. Critics argue that Treasury cuts to the benefit mean it is now far less likely to incentivise people to move into work, or to work more hours – what the Conservatives call ‘in-work progression’. As a result of cuts, Universal Credit is significantly less generous than originally intended, leaving many claimants worse off when they move on to it than they were while claiming legacy benefits. Added to that are design flaws and administrative glitches that put poorer claimants especially at heightened risk of hunger, debt and rent arrears, ill-health and homelessness. 

Their report is intended to help the Council and partners to further develop the approach to supporting those affected by current and future welfare reforms. 

It builds on Sheffield Hallam University research published in March 2016 which suggested that welfare reforms have cost the city’s economy the equivalent of £157M per year, set to rise to £292M per year by 2020. Liverpool City Council has had a 58% cut in central government funding since 2010 and has to find another £90M in savings by 2020, is having to use around £7M of those reduced funds to help with rent top ups and crisis payments.

Liverpool Food People are part of a food insecurity sub group that reports into The Mayoral Action Group on Fairness and Tackling Poverty – food has been identified as one of the basic needs – and a recommendation within the report is that action to address food poverty and fuel poverty is coordinated across the city and that research is carried out on the level of food insecurity (both moderate and severe) across the city. 

New research conducted for Gateshead council concludes that Universal credit has become a serious threat to public health after the study revealed that the stress of coping with the new benefits system had so profoundly affected peoples’ mental health that some considered suicide.

The researchers found overwhelmingly negative experiences among vulnerable citizens claiming Universal Credit, including high levels of anxiety and depression, as well as physical problems and social isolation, all of which was exacerbated by hunger and destitution.

The Gateshead study comes as the United Nation’s special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, Philip Alston, prepares to publish a report of the impact of Conservative austerity in the UK. Alston has been collecting evidence and testimonies on the effects of the welfare reforms, council funding cuts, and Universal Credit during a two-week visit of the UK. 

This research is highly likely to raise fresh calls for the system’s rollout to be halted, or at the very least, paused to attempt to fix the fundamental design flaws and ensure adequate protections are in place for the most vulnerable people claiming it.

Approximately 750,000 chronically ill and disabled claimants are expected to transfer on to Universal Credit from 2019. Yet earlier this year, the first legal challenge against Universal Credit found that the government unlawfully discriminated against two men with severe disabilities who were required to claim the new benefit after moving into new local authority areas. Both saw their benefits dramatically reduced when they moved to a different Local Authority and were required to claim Universal Credit instead of Employment and Support Allowance.

The study findings are yet another indication of how unfit for purpose Universal Credit is. Six of the participants in the study reported that claiming Universal Credit had made them so depressed that they considered taking their own lives. The lead researcher, Mandy Cheetham, said the participant interviews were so distressing she undertook a suicide prevention course midway through the study.

The report says: “Universal Credit is not only failing to achieve its stated aim of moving people into employment, it is punishing people to such an extent that the mental health and wellbeing of claimants, their families and of [support] staff is being undermined.”

One participant told the researchers: “When you feel like ‘I can’t feed myself, I can’t pay my electric bill, I can’t pay my rent,’ well, all you can feel is the world collapsing around you. It does a lot of damage, physically and mentally … there were points where I did think about ending my life.”

An armed forces veteran said that helplessness and despair over Universal Credit had triggered insomnia and depression, for which he was taking medication. “Universal Credit was the straw that broke the camel’s back. It really did sort of drag me to a low position where I don’t want to be sort of thrown into again.”

Unsurprisingly, the report concludes that Universal Credit is actively creating poverty and destitution, and says it is not fit for purpose for many people with disabilities, mental illness or chronic health conditions. It calls for a radical overhaul of the system before the next phase of its rollout next year.

Alice Wiseman, the director of public health at Gateshead council, which commissioned the study, said: “I consider Universal Credit, in the context of wider austerity, as a threat to the public’s health.” She said many of her public health colleagues around the country shared her concerns.

Wiseman said that Universal Credit is “seriously undermining” efforts to prevent ill-health in one of the UK’s most deprived areas.

She added “This is not political, this is about the lives of vulnerable people in Gateshead. They are a group that should be protected but they haven’t been.”

The qualitative study focused on those claimants with disabilities, mental illness and long-term health conditions, as well as homeless people, veterans and care leavers.

The respondents found that compared to the legacy benefits, Universal Credit is less accessible, remote, inflexible, demeaning and intrusive. It was less sensitive to claimants’ health and personal circumstances, the researchers said. This heightened peoples’ anxiety, sense of shame, guilt, and feelings of loss of dignity and control.

The Universal Credit system itself was described by those claiming it as dysfunctional and prone to administrative error. People experienced the system as “hostile, punitive and difficult to navigate,” and struggled to cope with payment delays that left them in debt, unable to eat regularly, and reliant on food banks.

The government claimed that people making a new claim are expected to wait five weeks for a first payment. That’s a long time to wait with no money for basic living requirements. However, the average wait for participants on the study was seven and a half weeks, with some waiting as long as three months. Researchers were told of respondents who were so desperate and broke they turned to begging or shoplifting.

Wiseman made a point that many campaigners have made, and said that alongside the human costs, Universal Credit was placing extra burdens on NHS and social care, as well as charities such as food banks. It also affected the wellbeing of advice staff, who reported high stress levels and burnout from dealing with the fallout on those claiming the benefit.

Guy Pilkington, a GP in Newcastle said that the benefits system had always been tough, but under Universal Credit, those claiming faced a higher risk of destitution.

“For me the biggest [change] is the ease with which claimants can fall into a Victorian-style system that allows you to starve. That’s really shocking, and that’s new,” he said.

A spokesperson for the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) said: “This survey of 33 claimants doesn’t match the broader experience of more than 9,000 people receiving Universal Credit in Gateshead, who are taking advantage of its flexibility and personalised support to find work.”

“We have just announced a £4.5bn package of support so people can earn £1,000 more before their credit payment begins to be reduced, and we are providing an additional two weeks’ payments for people being moved from the old system.”

That will still leave people with nothing to live on or to cover their rent for at least three weeks. The study focused on those less likely to be able to work – people with disabilities, mental illness or chronic health conditions. The DWP failed to recognise that this group have different needs and experiences than the broader population, which leave them much more likely to become vulnerable when they cannot meet their needs.

Vulnerable people are suffering great harm and some are dying because of this government’s policies. It is not appropriate to attempt to compare those peoples’ experiences with some larger group who have not died or have not yet experienced those harms. Where is the empirical evidence of these claims, anyway? Where is the DWP’s study report?

Callousness and indifference to the suffering and needs of disadvantaged citizens – disadvantaged because of discriminatory policies – has become so normalised to this government that they no longer see or care how utterly repugnant and dangerous it is.

The DWP are not ‘providing’ anything. Social security is a publicly funded safety net, paid for by the public FOR the public. It’s a reasonable expectation that citizens, most of who have worked and contributed towards welfare provision, should be able to access a system of support when they experience difficulties – that is what social security was designed to provide, so that no one in the UK need to face absolute poverty. It’s supposed to be there so that everyone can meet their basic survival needs.

What people in their time of need find instead is a system that has been redesigned to administer punishments, shame and psychological abuse. What kind of government kicks people hard when they are already down?

Universal Credit was considered the antidote for the Conservative’s ‘welfare dependency’ myth, yet there has never been any empirical evidence to support their claims of the existence of a ‘culture of dependency’ and that’s despite the dogged research conducted by Keith Joseph some years ago, when he made similar claims. He never found any evidence despite trying very hard. Most people move in and out of work, because jobs have become increasingly precarious over the last few years. 

In fact over recent years, an international study of social safety nets from The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Harvard economists categorically refutes the Conservative ‘scrounger’ stereotype and dependency rhetoric.  Gabriel Kreindler, Benjamin Olken and colleagues re-analyzed data from seven randomized experiments evaluating cash programs in poor countries and found “no systematic evidence that cash transfer programmes discourage work.”

The phrase ‘welfare dependency’ diverts us from political class discrimination via policies, increasing inequality, and it serves to disperse public sympathies towards the poorest citizens, normalising the inequality and prejudice embedded in neoliberal ideology and resetting social norm defaults that then permit the state to target protected social groups for further punitive and cost-cutting interventions to ‘incentivise’ them towards ‘behavioural change.’ Outrageously, the behavioural change required by the state is that the public do not use publicly funded welfare services.

Stepping back from this, it becomes clear that the policy driver is ‘small state’, antiwelfarist neoliberal ideology. This is being propped up by pseudoscientific behavioural economic rationalisations. 

There is mounting evidence, according to local authority researchers in Liverpool, for example, that shows the actual effect is the reverse of what was claimed was intended; Universal Credit is harming the very people it was designed to support. It is forcing households into debt, causing severe poverty including to those in work, leaving too many people, including children, facing food insecurity, destitution and eviction. Liverpool council’s welfare reform cumulative impact analysis last year shows that the groups most adversely affected by the Government’s raft of ‘welfare reforms’ are the long-term sick and disabled, families with children, women, young adults and the 40-59 age group who live in social housing. 

Many working households are suffering a shortfall in Housing Benefit, Housing Allowance and a reduction and removal of many other benefits, all set against the backdrop of ever increasing living costs. Poverty disincentives people. 

In recent years welfare conditionality has become conflated with severe financial penalities (sanctions), and has mutated into an ever more stringent, complex, demanding set of often arbitrary requirements, involving frequent and rigid jobcentre appointments, meeting job application targets, providing evidence of job searches and mandatory participation in workfare schemes. The emphasis of welfare provision has shifted from providing support for people seeking employment to increasing conditionality of conduct, enforcing particular patterns of behaviour and monitoring citizen compliance.

Government Statistics tell us that more people get sanctioned under Universal Credit than under the existing legacy benefits system.

Sanctions are “penalties that reduce or terminate welfare payments in cases where claimants are deemed to be out of compliance with  requirements.” They are, in many respects, the neoliberal-paternalist tool of discipline par excellence – the threat that puts a big stick behind coercive welfare programme rules and “incentivises” citizen compliance with a heavily monitoring and supervisory administration. The Conservatives have broadened the scope of behaviours that are subject to sanction, and have widened the application to include previously protected social groups, such as sick and disabled people and lone parents.

There is plenty of evidence that sanctions don’t help people to find work, and that the punitive application of severe financial penalities is having a detrimental and sometimes catastrophic impact on people’s lives. We can see from a growing body of research how sanctions are not working in the way the government claim they intended.

Sanctions, under which people lose benefit payments for between four weeks and three years for “non-compliance”, have come under fire for being unfairpunitive, failing to increase job prospects, and causing hunger, debt and ill-health among jobseekers. And sometimes, even causing death.

However, if people are already needing to claim financial assistance which was designed to meet only very basic needs, such as provision for food, fuel and shelter, then imposing further financial penalities will simply reduce those people to a struggle for basic survival, which will inevitably demotivate them and stifle their potential.

The current government demand an empirical rigour from those presenting criticism of their policy, yet they curiously fail in meeting the same exacting standards that they demand of others. Often, the claim that “no causal link has been established” is used as a way of ensuring that established correlative relationships, (which often do imply causality,) are not investigated further.

Qualitative evidence – case studies, for example – is very often rather undemocratically dismissed as ‘anecdotal,’ or as ‘scaremongering’ which of course stifles further opportunities for research and inquiry.

The Conservative shift in emphasis from structural to psychological explanations of poverty has far-reaching consequences. The partisan reconceptualision of poverty makes it much harder to define and very difficult to measure. Such a conceptual change disconnects poverty from more than a century of detailed empirical and theoretical research, and we are witnessing an increasingly experimental approach to policy-making, aimed at changing the behaviour of individuals, without their consent.

This approach isolates citizens from the broader structural political, economic, sociocultural and reciprocal contexts that invariably influence and shape an individuals’s experiences, meanings, motivations, behaviours and attitudes, causing a problematic duality between context and cognition. It places unfair and unreasonable responsibility on citizens for circumstances which lie outside of their control, such as the socioeconomic consequences of political decision-making.

I want to discuss two further considerations to add to the growing criticism of the extended use of sanctioning, which are related to why sanctions don’t work. One is that imposing such severe financial penalities on people who need social security support to meet their basic needs cannot possibly bring about positive “behaviour change” or incentivise people to find employment, as claimed. This is because of the evidenced and documented broad-ranging negative impacts of financial insecurity and deprivation – particularly food poverty – on human physical health, motivation, behaviour and mental states.

The second related consideration is that “behavioural theories” on which the government rests the case for extending and increasing benefit sanctions are simply inadequate and flawed, having been imported from a limited behavioural economics model (otherwise known as nudge” and libertarian paternalism) which is itself ideologically premised.

Sanctions and workfare arose from and were justified by nudge theory, which is now institutionalised and deeply embedded in Conservative policy-making. Sanctions entail the manipulation of a specific theoretical cognitive bias called loss aversion.

At best, the new “behavioural theories” are merely theoretical  propositions, at a broadly experimental stage, and therefore profoundly limited in terms of scope and academic rigour, as a mechanism of explanation, and in terms of capacity for generating comprehensive, coherent accounts and understanding about human motivation and behaviour.

I reviewed research and explored existing empirical evidence regarding the negative impacts of food poverty on physical health, motivation and mental health. In particular, I focussed on the Minnesota Semistarvation Experiment and linked the study findings with Abraham Maslow’s central idea about cognitive priority, which is embedded in the iconic hierarchy of needs pyramid. Maslow’s central proposition is verified by empirical evidence from the Minnesota Experiment.

The Minnesota Experiment explored the physical impacts of hunger in depth, but also studied the effects on attitude, cognitive and social functioning and the behaviour patterns of those who have experienced semistarvation. The experiment highlighted a marked loss of ambition, self-discipline, motivation and willpower amongst the subjects once food deprivation commenced. There was a marked flattening of affect, and in the absence of other emotions, Doctor Ancel Keys observed the resignation and submission that continual hunger manifests.

The understanding that food deprivation dramatically alters emotions, motivation, personality and that nutrition directly and predictably affects the mind as well as the body is one of the legacies of the experiment.

The experiment highlighted very clearly that there’s a striking sense of immediacy and fixation that arises when there are barriers to fulfiling basic physical needs – human motivation is frozen to meet survival needs, which take precedence over all other needs. This is observed and reflected in both the researcher’s and the subject’s accounts throughout the study. If a person is starving, the desire to obtain food will trump all other goals and dominate the person’s thought processes.

In a nutshell, this means that if people can’t meet their basic survival needs, it is extremely unlikely that they will have either the capability or motivation to meet higher level psychosocial needs, including social obligations and responsibilities to seek work. Abraham Maslow’s humanist account of motivation also highlights the same connection between fundamental motives and immediate situational threats.

maslow's hierarchy of needs

Ancel Keys published a full report about the experiment in 1950. It was a substantial two-volume work titled The Biology of Human Starvation. To this day, it remains the most comprehensive scientific examination of the physical and psychological effects of hunger.

Keys emphasised the dramatic effect that semistarvation has on motivation, mental attitude and personality, and he concluded that democracy and nation building would not be possible in a population that did not have access to sufficient food.

I also explored the link between deprivation and an increased risk of mental illnesses, including schizophrenia, depression, anxiety and substance addiction. Poverty can act as both a causal factor (e.g. stress resulting from poverty triggering depression) and a consequence of mental illness (e.g. schizophrenic symptoms leading to decreased socioeconomic status and prospects).

Poverty is a significant risk factor in a wide range of psychological illnesses. Researchers recently reviewed evidence for the effects of socioeconomic status on three categories: schizophrenia, mood and anxiety disorders and substance abuse. Whilst not a comprehensive list of conditions associated with poverty, the issues raised in these three areas can be generalised, and have clear relevance for policy-makers.

The researchers concluded: “Fundamentally, poverty is an economic issue, not a psychological one. Understanding the psychological processes associated with poverty can improve the efficacy of economically focused reform, but is not a panacea. The proposals suggested here would supplement a focused economic strategy aimed at reducing poverty.” (Source: A review of psychological research into the causes and consequences of poverty – Ben Fell, Miles Hewstone, 2015.)

There is no evidence that keeping benefits at below subsistence level or imposing punitive sanctions ‘incentivises’ people to work and research indicates it is likely to have the opposite effect

Food banks have reported that demand for charity food goes up significantly when Universal Credit is introduced into the local area.

The Trussell Trust has expressed concern that, given the links between Universal Credit, financial hardship, and foodbank use, the next stage of the roll out could lead to further increased financial need and more demand for foodbanks. Their report uses referral data from Trussell Trust foodbank vouchers to examine the impact of Universal Credit on foodbank use. Their key findings were:

  1. On average, 12 months after rollout, foodbanks see at least a 52% increase in demand, compared to 13% in areas with Universal Credit for 3 months or less. This increase cannot be attributed to randomness and exists even after accounting for seasonal and other variations. 
  2. Benefit transitions, most likely due to people moving onto Universal Credit, are increasingly accounting for more referrals and are likely driving up need in areas of full Universal Credit rollout. Waiting for the first payment is a key cause, while for many, simply the act of moving over to a new system is causing serious hardship.

The Trussell Trust says that poor administration, the long wait for the first payment, and repayments for loans and debts are driving some people into severe financial need. This is particularly acute for families with dependent children and disabled people.

Ministers still claim that evidence from early official trials shows people claiming Universal Credit were more likely to get a job. However, the Office for Budgetary Responsibility (OBR) has said there remains insufficient evidence for this claim. Other researchers have found that the low benefit amounts coupled with rigid conditionality and sanctions profoundly disincentivise people to find work or progress in work. Evidence supports the latter proposition. 

But the government simply responds by labelling researchers and campaigners as ‘scaremongers’ and continues to deny the well-evidenced and documented experiences of citizens which demonstrate that Universal Credit is harmful, creating distress and entrenching inequality and absolute poverty.

 


 

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Amber Rudd is either telling deplorable lies or she is disgracefully ignorant of her own department’s policies

Image result for amber rudd

People claiming Universal Credit have been told by the Department for Work and Pensions to apply for provisional driving licences to use as a form of ID, with the costs being taken from their benefits, an MP has said. 

Liverpool Walton MP, Dan Carden, called on the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) to postpone the roll-out of Universal Credit in his constituency until after Christmas and highlighted the issue with people having to pay out for a driving licence as one of many administrative problems with the new system.

In a letter to the secretary of state, Amber Rudd MP, Carden said: “We have families experiencing poverty on an unprecedented scale and now facing further avoidable hardship in the run up to Christmas. 

“I have now been informed that job centres across Liverpool are advancing payments to my constituents to obtain provisional driving licences for the purposes of identification and then deducting the cost from their benefits.

“Constituents are also having to pay for postal orders, passport photographs and postage, just to obtain provisional licences.”

He explained that the DVLA says there is a five-week wait for provisional licences, and highlighted the delays before the first payments are made when someone is transferred on to Universal Credit.

The controversial new benefit is claimed to simplify the system and it is being rolled out in many parts of Liverpool this week. Carden added: “Continuing with this roll-out will leave many of the most vulnerable families in Liverpool Walton destitute by Christmas and I am therefore asking you to intervene as a matter of urgency.”

In response to the letter, a DWP spokeswoman told Sky News: “Having ID is not a requirement for those making a Universal Credit claim but it does make the process easier.

“If customers don’t have any ID we can reimburse the cost if they choose to apply for a passport, driving licence or long birth certificates.”

Amber Rudd, the secretary of state for work and pensions, responded with a denial, as follows:

However, it seems Rudd failed to bother checking her own government’s web site for advice and evidence, which outlines how to claim Universal Credit.

Completely contradicting Rudd’s claims, it says on the government’s site:

Amber rudd lies 1

Amber rudd lies 2

So Rudd is either woefully ignorant of the policies that her own department is implementing, or she is telling lies. Either way, it’s utterly deplorable that she labelled the opposition ‘scaremongers’ for simply raising legitimate concerns about a cruel, unfit for purpose, out of touch policy. 

When people apply for Universal Credit they are asked to verify their identity online via the GOV.Verify service. 

To do so, you need either;

  • A valid UK driving license
  • A valid UK passport.

Of course this creates problems for those without the documents. The Universal Credit claim cannot go ‘live’ without conforming to the ID verification framework. People generally can’t get an advance because their claim isn’t live. Once they’ve received their new ID document, (takes around 6-8 weeks usually), it’s then a further 5 weeks (at least) until their first universal credit payment.

According to the government web site, you can only apply for an advance on your first payment if you have already verified your identity. It says:

You can apply for an advance payment in your online account or through your Jobcentre Plus work coach.

You’ll need to:

  • explain why you need an advance
  • verify your identity (you do this online when you submit your Universal Credit claim or at your first Jobcentre Plus interview)
  • provide bank account details for the advance (talk to your work coach if you cannot open an account.)

It seems that the “terrific” job coaches are not applying rules consistently, leading to a post code lottery concerning the verification requirements for claims. 

The Verify framework:

This particular response from Rudd has become a deplorable, standardised and authoritarian tactic of repressing legitimate criticism for the Conservatives, however. Other Tory ministers who have habitually used the term ‘scaremonger’ as a gaslighting technique include Sarah Newton and David Gauke among others. 

Gaslighting is a persistent manipulation and attempted brainwashing technique where the abuser manipulates narratives and/or situations repeatedly in an attempt to trick people into distrusting their own perceptions and experiences. Gaslighting is an insidious form of psychological abuse. It is not the kind of behaviour that one would expect from a government minister in a democratic society.

This kind of being somewhat Conservative with the truth may also be seen as a technique of neutralisation.

These techniques are used to switch off the conscience of both the perpetrator and their audience when someone plans or has already done something that causes distress and  harm to others.

The idea of techniques of neutralisation was first proposed by David Matza and Gresham Sykes during their work on Edwin Sutherland’s Differential Association in the 1950s. Matza and Sykes were working on juvenile delinquency, they theorised that the same techniques could be found throughout society and published their ideas in Delinquency and Drift, 1964.

They identified the following psychological techniques by which, they believed, delinquents justified their illegitimate actions, and Alexander Alverez further identified these methods used at a socio-political level in Nazi Germany to justify” the Holocaust:

1. Denial of responsibility. The offender(s) will propose that they were victims of circumstance or were forced into situations beyond their control.

2. Denial of harm and injury. The offender insists that their actions did not cause any harm or damage.

3. Denial of the victim. The offender believes that the victim deserved whatever action the offender committed. Or they may claim that there isn’t a victim.

4. Condemnation of the condemners. The offenders maintain that those who condemn their offence are doing so purely out of spite, ‘scaremongering’ or they are shifting the blame from themselves unfairly. 

5. Appeal to higher loyalties. The offender suggests that his or her offence was for the ‘greater good’, with long term consequences that would justify their actions, such as protection of a social group/nation, or benefits to the economy/ social group/nation.

6. Disengagement and Denial of Humanity is a category that Alverez
added to the techniques formulated by Sykes and Matza because of its special relevance to the Holocaust. Nazi propaganda portrayed Jews and other non-Aryans as subhuman.

A process of social division, scapegoating and dehumanisation was explicitly orchestrated by the government. This also very clearly parallels Gordon Allport’s work on explaining how prejudice arises, how it escalates, often advancing by almost inscrutable degrees, pushing at normative and moral boundaries until the unthinkable becomes tenable. This stage on the scale of social prejudice may ultimately result in genocide.

Any one of these six techniques may serve to encourage violence by neutralising the norms against prejudice and aggression to the extent that when they are all implemented together, as they apparently were under the Nazi regime, a society can seemingly forget its normative rules, moral values and laws in order to engage in wholesale prejudice, discrimination, exclusion of citizens, hatred and ultimately, in genocide.

In accusing citizens and the opposition of ‘scaremongering’, the Conservatives are denying responsibility for the consequences of their policies, denying harm, denying  distress; denying the victims and condemning the condemners.

Meanwhile, for many of us, the government’s approach to social security has become cruel, random, controlling; an unremitting, Orwellian trial. However, no amount of gaslighting or authoritarian ministers using techniques of neutralisation will discredit or deter the growing number of witnesses, nor will those authoritarians negate the lived and collective experiences of those of us undergoing the trials within an intentionally created hostile environment.

 


 

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Labour’s pledge to reinstate legal aid reflects a democratically accountable and trustworthy party

 

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Yesterday I wrote about the Labour party’s plans to reinstate legal aid, so that people who need to challenge social security decision-making may access legal support to do so. A number of people commented that we shouldn’t need legal aid to challenge the government’s welfare policies, as they should be fit for purpose in the first place.

However, I think that is a measure of how very low public expectations of government have sunk. What the Labour party are offering, to date, is a reformed social security system that does not punish the very people it is meant to support. So far their pledges include scrapping the bedroom tax, the Conservative’s sanction regime, the work capability assessment, the personal independent payment assessment, and a ‘root and branch’ review of the welfare system more generally, to ensure it is fair and adequately supportive.

Social security as it stands does not provide enough support to meet the essential costs of living, which has had some recognisable and catastrophic concsequences. The Labour party’s work on welfare is ongoing, and importantly, it is in consultation with disabled people, allied organisations and academics who have researched the woeful and absolutely unacceptable shortcomings of the current system. The consultations have been ongoing, too, indicating a party that is democratically inclusive, responsive, and is genuine in its claim to meet the needs and best interests of the many. 

The Conservatives have turned justice into a commodity for the very wealthy. Legal support is available, provided people can afford it. That unequal access to justice serves as a buttress for social inequality and political oppression.

Furthermore, a government owes its citizens distributive justice, too: fair policies, just laws, effective means to participate in how we are governed, fairly distributed resources and services, and so on. The Conservatives are unable to understand that justice is the application of the law equally to all citizens of the state, and that in democracies, policies are generally regarded as a mechanism for distributive justice, they are not devices for the withdrawal of justice and increasing oppression.

Similarly, human rights are also universal. That is the whole point of them. However, the Conservatives have also made them increasingly conditional, which has exposed some communities and social groups to increasing political discrimination.

Recently, the Bar Council chair said the rule of law is at risk because of such “political folly and expediency.” Andrew Walker QC also said that justice in the UK is at risk because of political decisions that threaten to undermine the independence of the judiciary, underscoring a deep anger coursing through the legal profession.

Walker used his speech to the Annual Bar and Young Bar Conference last month to say: “In truth, in the last decade, we have been following a course that has set its face against justice, by political design, political folly and political expediency.”

He added “Cuts to legal aid represent “a huge threat to access to justice in our country. If we can no longer deliver access to justice of which we can be proud – even worse, if our systems of family and criminal justice start to fail – then our justice and rule of law are at risk.”

The comments reflect widespread, mounting concern about cuts to the legal system and the impact they are having on access to justice.

Referring to they way the justice system in the UK had taken centuries to evolve, Walker said: “Just because something is longstanding does not mean that it, or the people in it, are unbreakable.”

Many of us raised these concerns when the cuts were first proposed by the government. Access to justice is an absolute constitutional principle. It must not be undermined. Access to justice is a fundamental democratic right, and the chaos and failure unfolding across the legal system as the result of cuts should concern everyone who cares about justice.

The Ministry of Justice is under criminal investigation by the Information Commissioner’s Office for having failed to publish its research in full when ordered to, opting instead to publish a short and incomplete summary.  A review of 2012’s Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act (Laspo) is being carried out. But ministers have already delayed far too long in the face of clear evidence that cuts in the family courts have been harmful.

Official figures show that the proportion of litigants with legal representation fell from 60% in 2012 to 33% in the first quarter of last year, and it is not uncommon for one party in a civil case to be represented by a lawyer while the other is not. Last year one senior family court judge, Mr Justice Bodey, described the current position as “shaming”, while Mr Justice Francis said it was remarkable that the parents of Charlie Gard did not qualify for legal aid in their dispute with their son’s doctors.

Meanwhile, the Law Society began a judicial review of cuts to the fees paid to solicitors for legal aid work, while a strike by barristers, which saw more than 100 chambers refuse to take on new cases, was called off in June only after the government came up with additional funds.

Legal aid began in the UK in the 1940s, along with the rest of the welfare state. In the US, a defendant’s entitlement to a lawyer in a criminal case is enshrined in an amendment to the constitution. While the rules in the UK may lack this constitutional underpinning, people should still be entitled to access to justice – including lawyers paid for with legal aid. Without equal access to justice, human rights frameworks are pretty much redundant. 

In a functioning democracy, regardless of what kind of policies a government puts in place, we must have equal access to justice. Legal aid was part of our post war democratic settlement, and the Conservatives have dismantled most of that. Restricting our access to justice was part of a deliberate and coordinated attack on citizens’ most fundamental rights, in an attempt to prevent people holding the government to account for their devastating welfare ‘reforms’ and cuts to the NHS, among other authoritarian changes the government have made to our society. 

A key point is this. Even when we have a rather more fair, balanced and egalitarian government in office, we must always, nonetheless, have access to justice, so that if or when things go wrong, we can hold that administration to account. In pledging to reinstate legal aid, Labour are not only doing the right thing, they are demonstrating a willingness to be held democratically accountable for their policies and their consequences. That must surely inspire a degree of faith and trust.

These are the essential mechanisms of democracy that we seem to have forgotten over the last eight years. We no longer expect government to act in the best interest of citizens.

However, that is not true of all governments.

I am hopeful that the Labour party’s social security policies will be fit for purpose precisely because Labour plan to reinstate legal aid. It shows that they plan to implement policies that comply with human rights frameworks, and are therefore much less likely to face legal challenges in the first place. Legal aid provides ordinary people with an essential democratic safeguard and demonstrates the Labour party are comfortable with being held accountable should the need arise.

These are the key reasons why I welcome this move.

Legal aid is a fundamental right and a crucial safeguard in a democratic society. Without equal access to justice, we simply cease to be free. 

Related

Labour party pledge to reinstate legal aid, restoring equal access to justice

 


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Labour party pledge to reinstate legal aid, restoring equal access to justice

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The Labour party will restore legal aid for people appealing against cuts to social security, such as Universal Credit and Personal Independent Payment, the shadow justice secretary, Richard Burgon, is to announce.

The UN special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, Philip Alston, warned last month that cuts to legal aid meant many could no longer afford “to challenge benefit denials or reductions” and were “thus effectively deprived of their human right to a remedy”. 

Back in 2012, I warned that without equal access to justice, citizens simply cease to be free. I strongly welcome this move from the opposition, in particular because I regard access to justice – a basic human right – as absolutely fundamental to a functioning democracy.

Those seeking to challenge decisions by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) on social security payments, many of which are incorrect and unfair, will be able to gain access to legal advice to help them pursue appeals, Labour has pledged.

Burgon argues that restoring such financial support would encourage the DWP to get decisions right the first time, thereby reducing costs for the Ministry of Justice (MoJ).

More than two-thirds of appeals against DWP decisions on personal independence payments (PIP) and employment support allowance (ESA) are successful, says the Labour party, adding that those decisions have affected thousands of vulnerable people with illnesses, disabilities or in poor health. 

Since the Coalition government’s Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act (Laspo) came into effect in early 2013, the number of people receiving legal aid to challenge benefit decisions has fallen by 99%. The MoJ spends more than £100m a year on tribunals disputing appeals against benefit decisions.

In addition, the DWP has spent more than £100m on PIP and ESA reviews and appeals since October 2015. That means  the state is spending huge amounts of money to get its’ own way in imposing wrongful decisions, while ensuring those affected cannot easily challenge such unjust decision making processes, which become embedded into an increasingly punitive social security system. It’s difficult to regard this as anything other than a politically coordinated attack on the rights of citizens and the welfare state by the Conservatives.

Since the Laspo act came into effect, many expert social security lawyers have left the field because cases were no longer funded. The MoJ has experienced the deepest cuts of any Whitehall department since 2010; its budget is to shrink further over the next two years.

Burgon said: “People should never be expected to navigate a complex appeals process all by themselves. That can force some to give up their claim altogether after a wrong initial decision. Others endure months of stress trying to prepare their own case. It’s bad now but will be even more difficult after universal credit’s rollout.

“Cuts to early legal advice have been a false economy. Ensuring that people are armed with expert legal advice to take on incorrect benefits decisions will not only help people get the benefits they are entitled to, it should make it less likely that flawed decision takes place in the first place, which would be good for the individuals themselves, and help to tackle the tens of millions of pounds spent on administering appeals against flawed decisions.”

Unless, of course, the intention all along was to ensure that the state’s ‘incorrect’ decisions stand. I rather suspect that is so.

The number of people granted legal aid in welfare cases has plummeted from 91,431 in 2012-13 to 478 in 2017-18, according to Legal Aid Agency figures.

A 2010 Citizens Advice report (pdf) concluded that for every £1 of legal aid expenditure on benefits advice, the state potentially saved £8.80.

Labour estimates that to restore early legal advice to pre-Laspo levels for benefits cases would cost £18m a year and help about 90,000 cases.

The party has already pledged to restore legal aid funding for advice in all housing cases, reversing far-reaching cuts imposed by the government five years ago. It has also promised to re-establish early advice entitlements in the family courts and to review the legal aid means tests.

Burgon says “Cuts have left vulnerable people without the legal support they need when faced with a rogue landlord, a difficult family breakup, or Theresa May’s “hostile environment. 

“But of all the cuts to legal aid, the slashing of advice for ill and disabled people unfairly denied their benefits is one of the cruellest. It creates the shameful situation where people are first denied the financial support to which they are legally entitled and then must struggle through a complex appeal without legal advice, causing further stress and anxiety.”

He says that the Labour-initiated Bach commission on access to justice outlined the direction in which the government needs to go. The Conservatives’ review (due before Christmas) should follow its recommendation to boost funding for early legal advice. Instead, however, it’s likely to be ‘another missed opportunity’. 

As Burgon notes, next year marks the 70th anniversary of the Legal Aid and Advice Act of 1949. Too often, legal aid has been treated as the forgotten pillar of the welfare state. Access to health and education are rightly recognised as the right of every citizen. Access to justice should be too.

 

See also: Labour will restore legal aid so all citizens have access to justice – not just the rich


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