Why we must oppose the Coalition’s Mandatory National IDs and Biometric Systems

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The UK Government have started to roll out mandatory Biometric Global ID Cards. These will trace, track and store our information directly, wherever we go. This is now being implemented by the UK Border Agency. If you applied for a residence permit in a category that did not require you to enrol your biometric information and your application is granted on or after 1 December 2012 you must now apply for a biometric residence permit. Mandatory national ID cards violate essential civil liberties. They increase the power of authorities to reduce your freedoms to those granted by the card.

The Communications Data Bill (the Snooper’s Charter) never made it through the legislative process, yet the Secretary of State for the Home Department was asked by Dominic Raab how much her Department currently remunerates (a) telephone companies, (b)  internet service providers and (c) others annually for data storage; and what estimate she has made of such figures if the draft Communications Data Bill was passed.

The answer provided was: “the total estimated payment to the communications industry for these purposes by the Home Office for the fiscal year 2012-13 is £15 million. 80% of this expenditure is through a pilot project established by the Home Office to ensure value for money and auditing of payments to industry. Under this pilot, a subset of providers are reimbursed directly by the Home Office, with the money then recharged to operational agencies”.

In June 2013 the Snowden leaks revealed that GCHQ has access to the transatlantic cables that carry the world’s communications and is intercepting and processing billions of communications every day and sharing the information with the US.

This includes recordings of phone calls, the content of email messages, entries on social media sites and the history of an internet user’s access to websites. All without public knowledge and consent. This is not the kind of behaviour one would expect from Governments in western democracies.

The project – Tempora – has been in existence since the beginning of 2012. The leaks also suggest that the US authorities have similarly breath-taking and direct access to global communications via the world’s biggest internet companies. This secretive programme is known as PRISM and reports strongly suggest that the UK also accesses this data.

So it appears those who failed to make the case for the Draft have already smuggled in a more intrusive Snoopers’ Charter for blanket surveillance through the back door.

The Communications Capabilities Development Programme (CCDP) is a Coalition initiative to create a ubiquitous mass surveillance scheme for the United Kingdom. It would involve the logging of every telephone call, email and text message between every inhabitant of the UK, (but would not record the actual content of these emails) and is intended to extend beyond the realms of conventional telecommunications media to log communications within social networking platforms such as Twitter and Facebook. It is an initiative of the Office for Security and Counter-Terrorism at the Home Office, whose Director is Charles Farr. It has been pursued since the 2010 Coalition Strategic Defence and Security Review.

Freedom of expression and privacy are two sides of the same coin – and we need both for full participation in democratic society. Surveillance techniques that prevent individuals remaining anonymous when producing or accessing information both infringe privacy and have a stifling effect on free expression. 

Systems of identification that employ automatic recognition of individuals’ faces, fingerprints, or irises are gaining ground globally. Biometric ID systems are increasingly being deployed at international border checkpoints, by Governments seeking to implement national ID schemes, and by private sector agents. Yet as biometric data is collected from more and more individuals, privacy concerns about the use of this technology are also attracting much attention.

The Coalition have certainly changed the relationship between the citizen and state: privacy experts have sounded the alarm that the national database would further usher in the era of “Big Brother”, as David Kravets from Wired Magazine has suggested.

It seems that the State wants to take a clear authoritarian role using the principle of permission for basic freedoms and civil rights: it’s nothing short of a tyrannical attempt to catalogue the population.

Mandatory nationwide identification systems have been implemented in a number of other countries including Argentina, Belgium, Colombia, Germany, Italy, Peru and Spain. Whilst these schemes many vary by country, individuals are typically assigned an ID number, which is used for a broad range of identification purposes. Large amounts of personal data such as name, date of birth, place of birth, gender, eye colour, height, current address, photograph, and other information is linked to this ID number and stored in a centralised database.

The French Constitutional Council ruled that their new law proposing the introduction of a new biometric ID for French citizens was unconstitutional. In many countries, such as Argentina, national ID regimes are adopted during military or identified authoritarian regimes. And this ought to trigger alarm bells.

Supporters argue that biometric identifiers are an efficient way to accurately identify people, biometrics are costly, prone to error, and present extreme risks to privacy and individual freedom. Once biometric data is captured, it frequently flows between Governmental and private sector users. Companies have developed biometric systems to control access to places, products and services. Citizens can be asked for a thumbprint to access e-Government services or enter a room in a corporate headquarters. Geo-location tracking, video surveillance and facial recognition software built on top of large biometrics collections can further enable pervasive surveillance systems.

Following 9/11, many Governments began collecting, storing and using biometrics identifiers in national IDs. Authorities justified these initiatives by arguing that biometric identification and authentication helps secure borders, verify employment and immigration, prosecute criminals, and combat identity fraud and terrorism. Despite this global trend, the citizens of many countries have successfully opposed biometric national ID schemes including Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom, under the previous Labour Government, abandoned the pursuit of the initiative because of the widespread criticisms presented.

National ID is required for employment, people may be fired and their   employer fined if they fail to present the necessary papers. People without ID cards can be denied the right to purchase property, open a bank account or receive Government benefits. National identity systems present difficult choices about who can request to see an ID card and for what purpose.

Mandatory IDs significantly expand police powers. Police with the authority to demand ID are invariably granted the power to detain people who cannot produce one. Many countries lack legal safeguards to prevent abuse of this power. And as we know, some states simply refuse to implement those safeguards, should they be in place, in any event.

National ID systems have been used historically to discriminate against people on the basis of race, ethnicity, religion and political views. The use of national IDs to enforce immigration laws invites discrimination that targets minorities. There is little evidence to support the argument that national IDs reduce crime. Instead, these systems create incentives for identity theft and widespread use of false identities by criminals. And we know that the administration of ID programs is most often outsourced to unaccountable companies. Private sector security threat models assume that at any one time, one per cent of company employees are willing to sell or trade confidential information for personal gain. I suspect that percentage to be much higher.

80 civil liberties organisations have asked the Council of Europe in 2011 to investigate whether National ID biometrics laws in Europe comply with the Council of Europe Privacy Treaty and the European Convention on Human Rights. We need to refuse to let states collect massive amounts of biometric data without due regard to privacy rights.

With the international community still reeling from the revelations of mass surveillance sparked by Edward Snowden’s leaks, much of the discussion of internet issues is focused on how to protect human rights, in particular privacy, in the digital age. The widespread surveillance scandal has now reached the United Nation’s Human Rights Council, which opened its 24th session last week to a multitude of questions about privacy and spying, many of them were targeted at the United States and United Kingdom. That’s perhaps not surprising, since UN representatives were among those listed as being monitored by the NSA and GCHQ.

Human rights lawyer Navi Pillay, who is also the UN’s High Commissioner for Human Rights, has urged all countries to “ensure that adequate safeguards are in place to prevent security agency overreach and to protect the right to privacy and other human rights”.

The launch of International Principles on the Application of Human Rights to Communications Surveillance follows landmark report from the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the right to Freedom of Opinion and Expression, which details the widespread use of state surveillance of communications, stating that such surveillance severely undermines citizens’ ability to enjoy a private life, freely express themselves and enjoy their other fundamental human rights. And recently, again the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Nivay Pillay, emphasised the importance of applying human right standards and democratic safeguards to surveillance and law enforcement activities.

The High Commissioner presented a report on the safety of journalists, which contains an overview of the situation facing journalists and identifies good practices that could assist in creating a safe and enabling environment in which journalists are able to freely exercise their profession. The report highlighted the attacks that online journalists face, such as illegal hacking of their accounts, monitoring of their online activities, arbitrary arrest and detention, and the blocking of websites that contain information critical of the authorities.

One part of the potential solution to those concerns will be officially launched this Friday in a Human Rights Council side-meeting on digital privacy hosted by concerned countries: the International Principles on the Application of Human Rights to Communications Surveillance.

Amnesty International also submitted a written statement on impact of surveillance on human rights, as did a group of 14 South Korean NGOs though the Korean Progressive Network “Jinbonet”. These efforts build on the joint civil society statement at the last session of the Human Rights Council, in the aftermath of revelations of the NSA’s PRISM program. The statement, which attracted support of over 300 human rights organisations and individuals, called for means to ensure more systematic attention by the UN to internet related human rights violations.

We really don’t want to see the UK, in cahoots with the US, regarded as having started a race to the bottom of privacy standards: a race too many other countries will be happy to join. The greatest risk to the internet in the international arena at the moment lies in the formation of an unholy alliance between countries who are already seeking excuses to spy and censor the net and those, like the United States, who have previously argued against such practices, but are now having to defend their own surveillance excesses using similar language.

Government mandated biometric systems are invasive, costly, and damage the right to privacy and free expression. They violate the potential for anonymity, which is crucial for whistle-blowers, investigators, journalists, and political dissidents.

National ID cards and the databases that lie behind them comprise the cornerstone of Government surveillance systems that creates risks to privacy and anonymity. The requirement to produce identity cards on demand habituates citizens into participating in their own surveillance and ultimately, social control.

We are seeing a rise of constraints placed on the global population (such as use of  repressive tactics against any political opponents and a prohibition of anti-regime activity – often subtle in nature, such as trojan horse types of legislation) by overly bureaucratic authoritarian regimes. We no longer have a vibrant and full democracy, as we are seeing an increasing deprivation of civil liberties, and little tolerance for meaningful opposition. Liberal democracies are founded on certain principles such as the rule of law, an independent judiciary, and we are certainly seeing a shift away from this here in the UK.

The private sphere is the part of our social life in which individuals enjoy a degree of authority, unhampered by interventions from Governmental or other institutions. Examples of the private sphere are our family, relationships and our home. There has been an increasing intrusion by Government into the private domain, (the bedroom tax is a good example of this, since it affects our family sleeping arrangements and significantly reduces the choice of home we are permitted to live in) whilst at the same time, our participation in the public domain of work, business, politics and ideas is being repressed.

The publication of mass surveillance revelations by the Guardian’s Glenn Greenwald has had reverberations around the world. The UK government has moved toward confrontation with the news organisation by forcing the destruction of hard drives that contained documents leaked by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden. The recent developments around the detention of David Miranda and the seizure of material he was carrying under Section 7 of the Terrorism Act has raised concerns over press freedom. But many of us know that the press here has not been unbiased and “free” for some time now.

Free speech as a constitutional principle must be inviolable. As a person that closely follows events in Parliament, and I base much of my work on Hansard records, I know that media representation of challenges to the Government and portrayals of the opposition are NOT free from bias, and Government interference. Not that some Minsters hide the fact that they openly interfere – Iain Duncan Smith accused Stephanie Flanders of “peeing all over British industry” with her coverage of employment figures, that contradicted his own, which led to the Tories closely monitoring BBC for “left wing bias” ahead of party conference season.

Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states:

“Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; the right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media regardless of frontiers”.

These international standards of freedom of expression are no longer being met. Our liberties are certainly being steadily eroded by an authoritarian Government.

And we must not be become silent and complicit.

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With many thanks to His Excellency Sir Kurt Alleyne, the International Human Rights Commission Ambassador for United Kingdom and Northern Ireland, for flagging up this issue, and for subsequent discussion. 

Further reading:

UN’s High Commissioner for Human Rights, publicly defined the right to electronic privacy and freedom from surveillance as a human right.

International Principles on the Application of Human Rights to Communications Surveillance

New Israeli Biometric Database Pilot Scheme

In the US –The Immigration Reform Bill – Prodding Forth Real ID, an INTERNATIONAL Biometric ID

David Miranda, schedule 7 and the danger that all reporters now face

Smashing of Guardian hard drives over Snowden story ‘sinister’, says Amnesty

It’s Left-wing prats who are defending our freedoms: “The British degree of trust in their security agencies startles many other countries (like Germany and the US) where liberty is taken less for granted. An editor of the US National Review wrote last week of those “who steadfastly refuse to express anxiety unless they can actually hear jackboots”. Note: once you hear the jackboots, it’s too late.”

Belgacom Attack: Britain’s GCHQ Hacked Belgian Telecoms Firm

“Operation Socialist” Hack

BBC Newsnight exclusive interview with journalist Glenn Greenwald on Edward Snowden, the PRISM revelations and mass surveillance

 

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Many thanks to Robert Livingstone for his brilliant pictures

Atos Minister Hoban forced to rethink by vigorous systematic critique from Spartacus

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Originally published by Michael Meacher on September 11th, 2013 here.

 

Yesterday’s meeting with Mark Hoban, the Work Capability Assessment (WCA) Minister, presented him with a systematic catalogue of all the main weaknesses, faults and failures of the whole WCA process. He was told in no uncertain terms that under the Evidence-Based Review new descriptors are needed now since not one single more person should have to go through a test with descriptors biased against them. He was told he must ensure that GPs can provide evidence and are not allowed to refuse, and that this evidence must be taken fully into account before considering a WCA.

 

He was told that there must be mental health champions in every centre (not less than half as at present), that every assessment should be recorded, that assessment phase payments must continue throughout mandatory reconsideration, and that new centres must replace the 29 centres still inaccessible. He was also told that 3-9 month reassessment periods were frankly absurd. And he was told that a person undergoing a WCA must be able to score under both physical and cognitive descriptors again since separating them was clearly unworkable.

Hoban listened attentively, though his replies to some of these points seemed rather unconvincing, which on several occasions he was not allowed to get away with by Sue Marsh, who led for Spartacus and argued the case passionately. It was also put to him that many of the disability groups wanted outright abolition of the WCA, though he waived that aside. Nevertheless it was made clear to him that the current WCA format was universally regarded as fundamentally at fault, and he did let slip in an unintended aside that the government’s ‘current relationship with Atos was not very good’, by which of course he meant there was a thundering great row going on behind the scenes.

At the end of the 45 minute meeting Hoban was asked to agree to another early meeting if the disability community could come together to produce an alternative to the WCA. He responded by arguing that it would have to be very robust and meet a high bar in terms of performance, but he certainly didn’t reject the idea out of hand.

Significantly, today MPs were invited to undergo a mock WCA themselves at the House of Commons where they were put through the type of questioning and demands for evidence used in WCAs in order to determine whether they scored enough to be fit to be an MP. Quite a number of MPs attended, but the great majority (including me) failed miserably to get anywhere near scoring the number of points necessary.   It did make MPs, and certainly me, a lot more aware of what it is like to be subject to this kind of ordeal which, not to put too fine a point on it, is set up to make you fail.

Jobseekers are being coerced into experimental drug trials dressed up as “job opportunities”

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In December last year, David Cameron announced that it was: simply a waste to have a health service like the NHS and not use the data it generatedLet me be clear, this does not threaten privacy”, he reassured us, “it doesn’t mean anyone can look at your health records, but it does mean using anonymous data to make new medical breakthroughs”.

Cameron often inadvertently signposts the coming of a diabolical lie with the phrase “let me be clear”, as we know. We also know that so-called anonymisation of data offers no protection at all to identities and personal details. Campaigners described the plan as an “unprecedented threat” to confidentiality, Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt says, rather worryingly, that it will be a boon to research.

It’s common knowledge that many Coalition MPs and Peers are heavily financially invested in pharmaceutical and health care companiesOver 200 parliamentarians have recent past or present financial links with, and vested interests in companies involved in healthcare and all were allowed to vote on the Health and Social Care Bill. The Tories have normalised corruption and made it almost entirely legal. Our democracy and civic life are now profoundly compromised as a result of corporate and financial power colonising the State, and vice versa.

The Health and Social Care Bill, 2012, has a telling insertThe Secretary of State’s duty as to research, which is: “In exercising functions in relation to the health service, the Secretary of State must promote – (a) research on matters relevant to the health service, and (b) the use in the health service of evidence obtained from research”.

And also very worryingly: (1) The National Patient Safety Agency is abolished. (2) The National Patient Safety Agency (Establishment and Constitution) Order 2001 (S.I. 2001/1743) is revoked. (3) In section 13 of the NHS Redress Act 2006 (scheme authority’s duties of co-operation), omit subsection (2)

So we must ponder just how coincidental it is that Jobseekers are now being coerced into experimental drug trials, or risk benefit sanctions, as the trials are being dressed up as “job opportunities”.

People claiming Jobseekers Allowance while searching for new employment are being forced to accept ever-worsening working conditions or to join exploitative Government work programmes in desperate attempts to survive, as our civilised social safety nets and lifeline benefits are being torn away by a draconian and authoritarian Government.

The rising number of unemployed and underemployed citizens of the UK are having their desperation to survive exploited, enticed into zero hour contracts, workfare and now, clinical trials. My revulsion at this Government is at an all time absolute. It is surely time for the UK public to say enough is enough.

Jobseekers using the Government’s new job website – the Universal JobMatch – have been receiving multiple messages from the service inviting them to apply for jobs, only to find that these “employment opportunities” are actually clinical trials.

JC1                                 Please click on screen capture image to enlarge.

Mr Chris Morgan wrote to Scriptonite Daily, he was the first to flag up this concern. He said:

I was dumbfounded, shocked and so angry that my government would send me on clinical trials…I didn’t think I’d be put out to pasture this early in my life, to go and become a lab rat”.

Chris lives with his partner and two children aged 9 and 11, and has been seeking work since losing his role in Health and Safety for retail giant Marks and Spencers in November 2012.  He had been with the company for five years before being dismissed. He has subscribed to Universal JobMatch in the hopes of finding employment.

He logged on this morning to find five jobs recommended to him by the Government’s online job service. He said that he has been left feeling “sick to my stomach” after realising the Government considers participation in a clinical trial for £100 a day as his best current option of “employment”.JC2                                               Click on screenshot to enlarge

My UK job site lists: “Paid Clinical Trials – Permanent – to earn over £100 a day

There are more listed “jobs” listed here. Posted on the site by Covance. (Please see footnote for more information).

Chris is now concerned that by declining this recommendation he would be considered as turning down an “employment opportunity” and therefore stand to lose his “eligibility to claim social security.”

Here, we are seeing the development of a distinctly anti-welfare system which vigorously and absolutely exploits the most vulnerable citizens, and treats anyone unfortunate enough to find themselves unemployed, or inadequately employed, or disabled with utter contempt, stripping them of dignity. People are now expected to work for free, move out of their home if their children have a bedroom each, rely on charities for food, whilst Government ministers such as Michael Gove and Iain Duncan Smith claim with an utter poverty of moral responsibility that it’s all their own fault.

Most of us learned from history – the Victorian era and the Poor Law Reform – that poverty is NOT caused by the poor, but rather, by reckless Governments, their draconian ideology and poor economic decision-making. The punitive Poor Law Reform Act was based on the same claims of “making work pay” as the current Government’s welfare reforms are.

Tory “facts” are seen through a lens of pre-conceptions and ideology. The Joseph Rowntree Foundation choose to study poverty. Cynical Iain Duncan Smith simply changes the definition of itWhat kind of society is this where poor people risk prosecution if they scavenge in bins for scraps, and now, where they are being forced into trialing experimetal drugs, under the threat of sanctions and subsequent starvation and destitution if they refuse.

I had some dialogue earlier with the International Human Rights Commission about this matter of serious concern, because of implications for the Human Rights of jobseekers.

Sir-Kurt Alleyne, International Human Rights Commission Ambassador for the United Kingdom and Northern Ireland stated:

I am greatly concerned that the Coalition Government have felt it’s justified to place Clinical Trial “Test Subjects” among persons Universal JobMatch (Job Searches). These are highly contentious and are in fact at times openly a direct risk to health and have been known to lead to irreversible negative health implications. As many are highly aware, refusing work will cause the DWP to Sanction a persons Claim. To offer any such positions to persons indicates that the government ministers responsible for authorizing this have felt that those desperate to find employment will place themselves in harms way to satisfy quotas required that enable a person to receive benefits such as Job Seekers Allowance ( JSA )”.

Sir Kurt Alleyne has called upon His Excellency World Chairman Amb Dr-Shahid Amin Khan, Ihrc Hq and the High Commissioner for the Commonwealth of Countries Ambassador, John G Raciti, and asked that support be given in these matters as a matter of duty in protecting Commonwealth Citizens, due to the:

“further serious implications being levied against Benefit Claimants. This furthers the already unacceptable manner in which persons are being treated and is unacceptable. This is forcing people to become test subjects if they cannot find suitable other employment on grounds DWP will in fact be able to Sanction a Claim for ‘Refusing Employment'”.

Sir-Kurt Alleyne further stated:

At this time I fully believe that use should be made of the request from UN Special Rapporteur Ms. Rolnik. Whilst undertaking her recent Fact Finding Mission relating to Bedroom Tax which she is reportedly going to recommend its immediate removal, she has provided contact detail so matters relating to ESA, WCA, IC, SDA and other similar matters can be sent too her. I believe this should be fully utilized”.

An initial contact memorandum is to be written this morning. John H Ractiti said that the problem needs assessing [in terms of the full context] and solutions offered to help ease the pressure on millions of people, and tens of thousands of families within the Commonwealth.

At this point in time discussion about these concerns and strategic planning for support networks also to be sourced and introduce is taking place. This morning I will write to the shadow Cabinet to inform them of these very serious and extremely worrying developments.

Our Human Rights are a precious and valuable safeguard against the horrors of exploitation and persecution. They arose in response to the atrocities committed during the War and the Holocaust. The International Community sought to define the rights and freedoms necessary to secure the dignity and worth of each individual. Ratified by the United Kingdom, one of the first countries to do so, in 1951, those Human Rights originally established in the Universal Declaration have been steadily eroded since the Coalition gained Office. There’s a clear link between high levels of inequality and failure of Government’s to recognise human rights, and to implement them in policies.

Economic, social and cultural rights are recognised and protected in international and regional human rights instruments. Member states have a legal obligation to respect, protect and fulfil economic, social and cultural rights and are expected to take “progressive action” towards their fulfilment. The right to an adequate standard of living. However, the Government’s welfare “reforms” clearly violate this fundamental human right, and we are seeing a significant and substantial increase in economic discrimination and exploitation of the most vulnerable social groups.

Authoritarians view the rights of the individual, (including those considered to be human rights by the international community), as subject to the needs of the Government. Of course in democracies, Government’s are elected to represent and serve the needs of the population. Democracy is not only about elections. It is also about distributive and social justice. The quality of the democratic process, including transparent and accountable Government and equality before the law, is critical. Façade democracy occurs when liberalisation measures are kept under tight rein by elites who fail to generate political inclusion. See Corporate power has turned Britain into a corrupt state  and also Huge gap between rich and poor in Britain is the same as Nigeria and worse than Ethiopia, UN report reveals.

In the UK, democracy is clearly being deliberately dismantled. It is unacceptable that vulnerable groups are being subjected to such ruthless exploitation at the hands of the Government and their corporate bedfellows. It’s time to be very, very worried. We must fight this unravelling of our civilisation and regression of our hard-earned social development. We really must.

I am suddenly and horribly reminded of Josef Mengele, infamous for performing human experiments on Nazi concentration camp inmates, including children, for which he was called the “Angel of Death”. He was also one of the SS physicians who supervised the selection of arriving transports of prisoners, determining who was to be killed and who was to become a forced laborer.

Godwin’s law has been repealed. The UK Coalition have severely restricted its credible and legitimate scope for application.

We are certainly climbing Allport’s Ladder.

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If you have had any experiences regarding similar exploitative job suggestions, or unfair benefit sanctions, negative experiences with Atos and the WCA and any other issue related to welfare reform, please do share them with the UNHRC.

Raquel Rolnik also wants to know about any experiences you have had involving not being allowed or able to speak out, as is your democratic right. These experiences, for example, may include being stopped from speaking out on the streets at events or meetings, as well as being restrained or curtailed during a protest or demonstration.

I think that the poll tax-styled council tax benefit cuts are also having a dire impact on many people and this would be worth including, too. As would any experience with difficulties accessing legal aid, as that reform also breaches Article 6(1) of the European Convention of Human Rights: the right to a fair trial.

Raquel Rolnik’s email address is: srhousing@ohchr.org

You can also write to:
His Excellency Mr Ban Ki Moon
United Nations Secretary-General
UN Headquarters
First Avenue at 46th Street
New York, NY 10017
USA
E-­mail: sgcentral@un.org

See also: Government wrongs, Human Rights and a call for evidence from Raquel Rolnik

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Footnote
Pharma trial jobs      Pharma 2 
    
Screen shots of Covance advertisement on My Jobs U.

Click to enlarge image.

More examples of Covance advertisements on the Simply Hired UK site, and the experimental drug trials are listed as “jobs and vacancies” here. It is extremely worrying that clinical trials are being described and presented as permanent paid work by the Government’s online job service. It’s not the only time that the Coalition’s Universal Jobmatch website has caused concern. In August, the site advertised six jobs for dancers, table-top dancers, and entertainment dancers, in an American style lap-dancing club in Norwich.

The venue hiring is the Sugar & Spice American table dancing club, which describes itself on its website as offering its customers a “unique experience” that is “compared to the out-dated traditional gentlemen’s or strip club”. As well as offering “main-stage entertainment,” it says it offers “private dances in our basement booths or on one of [our] dance beds from topless to fully nude”.

The adverts on the taxpayer-funded website have been greeted with outrage. Quite properly so. Labour MP Stella Creasy told The Independent  that the Government-endorsed vacancies were “degrading”. She said “No one should be asked to expose themselves in that way or face a sanction [having their benefit stopped].”

People claiming jobseeker’s allowance are required to use the one-year-old site to look for work or can risk losing their benefit. Furthermore, people risk sanctions of up to three years if they are deemed to fail in meeting strict criteria for eligibility, which includes a required amount of job searching, and applications for work. Some posts are “recommended” by job centre plus advisers on the system, and must be followed up. If claimants don’t apply for those recommended posts, they are sanctioned.

I found some further information about the company widely advertising clinical drug trials as “jobs”. In the 1990s, Covance performed studies sponsored by the tobacco industry claiming that even extreme exposure to secondhand smoke was safe for humans. According to the Surgeon General of the United States Public Health Service, second-hand smoke substantially increases the risks of lung cancer and heart disease. Covance internal documents from 2002 discuss a “Philip Morris/Covance Project Team” for studies. At a November 2005 tobacco trade-group conference in Manila, Philippines, Covance’s presentation was entitled: “How Can Covance Support Research and Development Needs of the Tobacco Industry?”

Covance became the subject of controversy following allegations in 2003–2005 by the British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals that non-human primates were being abused in its laboratories in Germany and the United States.

Covance, also known as Hazleton Laboratories in 1989, was also at the centre of a major scandal involving release of a strain of the Ebola virus. In November 1989 at the Hazleton Primate Quarantine Unit in Reston, Virginia, lab monkeys were found to have carried Ebola virus from the Philippines. The U.S. Centres for Disease Control and Prevention intervened to “eradicate” the infected animals, burn the complex down, and avoided a potentially disastrous outbreak.

Afterwards, in February 1990, a number of infected monkeys were shipped to Hazleton facilities in both Virginia and Texas. This strain was also found to be airborne. More Reston ebolavirus infected monkeys were discovered in 1992 in Siena, Italy and at the Texas Hazleton facility again in March 1996. Curiously, the personnel that were infected remained “asymptomatic”, according to reports. But generally, this disease has a high mortality rate.

In June 2005 Covance filed a lawsuit in the United States against People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) and the investigator for fraud, breach of employee contract, and “conspiracy to harm the company’s business by deceitfully infiltrating and videotaping the … facility.” The company filed a parallel lawsuit in England in an attempt to stop PETA showing the tape; the British judge called the footage “highly disturbing,” and ruled that there was a legitimate public interest in the material being shown.

Covance USA – drug tests on primates filmed undercover by PETA

“We can judge the heart of men by their treatment of animals” –  Immanuel Kant.

“The Coalition Government is determined to secure and expand the UK’s position as an international hub for innovation, medical science and research and in the last 12 months has generated more than £1 billion industry and private sector investment. The Prime Minister will use his visit to the US to meet with CEOs and senior figures from leading pharmaceutical companies, including Johnson & Johnson, Baxter, Covance and Pfizer. The meeting will focus on the UK’s life sciences sector and initiatives such a genomics and dementia research”.

A policy advisory group – The Ministerial Industry Strategy Group – is co-chaired by the Secretary of State for Health and the Chairman of the British Pharma Group, and aims to promote a “strong and profitable UK-based bio-pharmaceutical industry capable of sustained research”.

Further reading:
Profit over and above human need  – “The drug companies will get away with whatever they can get away with within the law to look after the interests of their shareholders. But they couldn’t get away with these things were it not for members of my profession being willing to collude with them and put patients in second place”: unfavourable results from medical trials are being withheld, MPs warn

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Thanks to Robert Livingstone for his art work

Government wrongs, Human Rights and a call for evidence from Raquel Rolnik

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My hon. Friend the Member for North Ayrshire and Arran (Katy Clark) mentioned the legality of the Government’s legislation. Let me be clear that our Governments have been condemned by the International Labour Organisation and other international organisations for two decades now because of their trade union legislation.

It is not just about the right to strike; it is about certain basic and fundamental trade union rights. The clause, yet again, imposes further duties that I believe to be completely contrary to ILO (International Labour Organization conventions).

 Yet again, this country will be isolated in the world and condemned for its attack on trade union rights, which are incorporated in all those international statutes and conventions as a basic human right” -John McDonnell.

This was the third day of Parliamentary debate regarding the Transparency of Lobbying, Non-Party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Bill: it breaches human rights, specifically articles 8 and 11 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

An additional concern for me was the lack of transparency and opportunity for pre-legislative scrutiny of this Bill. The Government deliberately withheld details – the Electoral Commission had not see the draft Bill, nor had the Select Committee seen it in full.

Cameron is also attempting to limit judicial review. If Select Committees are excluded from the legislative process, a case can be challenged under judicial review as that means the legislation is being created on an undemocratic and procedurally unfair basis. Select Committees are part of the constitutional area of law-making, they simply cannot be ignored.

The withholding of key details of drafted Bills from Select Committees means that effective and organised challenging from the opposition is stifled, too. We most certainly have an authoritarian Government that arrived unannounced and unauthorised, one that has very clearly spent some time out of Office spitefully planning an attack on civil society, and the dismantling of the means of redress. The contents of the Lobbying Bill highlight this further.This was a carefully calculated move, and such tactics have become increasingly common since this Government took Office. It would be an enormous mistake, if not academic dishonesty, to pretend that we now live in a first world liberal democracy.

As I have said elsewhere, the purpose of Government in any democracy is to reflect the needs of a population. This Government seems to believe that the population are here to fulfil their own needs, and they are exploiting the vulnerable, stealing lifeline benefits from them – which we have all paid for via taxes – to profit the very wealthy. This is authoritarianism, and not democracy.

The disclosure from the opposition of yet another contravention of our human rights in Government policy-making comes at a time when the United Nations (UN) have found that the welfare reforms are also in breach of international human rights statute.

The bedroom tax constitutes a violation of the human right to adequate housing in several ways. If, for example, the extra payments force tenants to cut down on their spending on food or heating their home. There are already a number of legal challenges to the bedroom tax under way in British courts. In principle the judiciary here takes into account the international human rights legislation because the UK has signed and ratified the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.

The right to adequate housing is recognised in a number of international human rights instruments.

Article 25 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights recognises the right to housing as part of the right to an adequate standard of living. It states that:

Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control”.

Article 11(1) of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) also guarantees the right to housing as part of the right to an adequate standard of living. The UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities CRPD was ratified by the UK on 8th June 2009. With the possible exception of European treaties, the CRPD is the most important international treaty on disability.

The Government welfare “reforms” (cuts) undermine the right to live independently and to be included in the community – Article 19 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. The Joint Parliamentary Committee on Human Rights conducted an enquiry and found that CRPD did not have a significant role in the Coalition development of welfare policy and legislation, as is required by the Convention.

Economic, social and cultural rights are recognised and protected in international and regional human rights instruments. Member states have a legal obligation to respect, protect and fulfil economic, social and cultural rights and are expected to take “progressive action” towards their fulfilment. However, the Government’s welfare “reforms” clearly violate the fundamental human right to an adequate standard of living, and we are seeing a significant and substantial increase in economic discrimination and exploitation of the most vulnerable social groups.

I heard Grant Shapps attempt to trivialise the issue of the Government’s breach of our human rights with their Bedroom Tax policy by pointing out that other countries are breaching human rights. The Government here have breached international human rights standards and law, regardless of whether or not other Governments in the world have done so.

The fact that this Government have been found to infringe upon our fundamental human rights by an independent assessor, using international legal standards didn’t seem to faze him one bit. His response and anger was directed only at the fact that the assessment had happened at all.

People are dying here, many are made homeless, we are seeing a massive increase in food poverty, and people are committing suicide because they are so very desperate. This is because of the Government’s welfare “reforms”. Human suffering, loss of dignity and death may have many facets, but all of them are equally unforgiving, and when imposed by humans on fellow humans, all are equally unforgivable.

Unabashed by this, and the fact that this Government are actually found to be guilty of human rights violations, Shapps made an outrageous and personal attack on UN envoy Raquel Rolnik. The right-wing media have followed in pursuit, using shameful racism and diversionary character assassination techniques to try and discredit Raquel.

Raquel Rolnik, UN special housing rapporteur has made an initial recommendation about a number of issues – all of which have been highlighted by the media, politicians and advocates working on housing related matters, in particular:

(1) the bedroom tax breaches human rights
(2) regulation of the private rent sector is needed, and
(3) social housing stock needs to be increased.

She also expressed concern about the impact of welfare reforms and austerity measures on the most vulnerable and highlighted that she had seen signs retrogression in the enjoyment of the right to adequate housing.

The UN aide also wants the Bedroom Tax to be investigated fully, as the scheme was never piloted and already constitutes an assault on human rights.The Bedroom Tax is an unfair piece of legislation which has disproportionately negative consequences on disabled people, and those already on the lowest incomes and is therefore discriminatory, as outlined in Labour’s Equality Act, 2010.

She said: “If one life is lost because of these reforms it is one too many“.

Raquel has also hit back at the aggressive behaviour and language of the UK Government following her criticisms of the “bedroom tax”, or “spare room subsidy”, which she recommended be immediately suspended in a press release yesterday. Shapps has claimed Ms Rolnik of being “politically biased” but of course UN Officials are apolitical when it comes to applying the LAW, which is the same, regardless of whether or not a person investigating a breach of that law is liked by the Government, our media, and regardless of alleged personal characteristics.

Raquel Rolnik acted within her remit and did meet the members of the Government, despite the Tory chairman’s claims to the contrary. Although Shapp’s complaints about Ms Rolnik’s failure to meet face-to-face with the ministers responsible for welfare and housing – and hence an alleged lack of balance in her statement – seem somewhat ironic and grossly misplaced, given that it was the Government who did not act on her pre-visit request for those meetings.

She also pointed out at a press conference she held yesterday that she was invited by the Government to be here and that she did speak to Government ministers, including David Foster, Eric Pickles, officials from the Department of Work and Pensions, and she had a list of all the meetings.

She has rightly criticised the deplorably aggressive behaviour of the UK Government:

It was the first time a Government has been so aggressive. When I was in the USA, I had a constructive conversation with them accepting some things and arguing with others. They did not react like this.”

Nor did Croatia, Algeria, Maldives, Argentina, United States, Israel, Rwanda, Palestine, Kazakhstan and Indonesia. In none of these countries did she experience the same level of hostility and aggressiveness from the Government, Raquel informs us.

This truly is a Government of bullying authoritarians that shame us internationally, and this lady was a guest in our Country. It’s atrocious that the Government could not extend courtesy, respect and good manners to this UN envoy. The utter disregard the Government showed the findings of this inspection shows the world how little regard our Government has for vulnerable citizens, how little concern they have for their welfare and rights, and that they couldn’t even put up a pretence of “best behaviour” and polite engagement with an international audience.

Raquel Rolnik wants to hear about all of the human rights abuses currently occurring in the UK, particularly those related to the welfare reforms. She is also interested in any experiences involving suppression of a right to free speech and protest. I wrote to the UN Human Rights Council recently about the implications of legal aid reform and also about the Transparency of Lobbying, Non-Party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Bill. Previously I have written about the welfare reforms, and had some discussion with the Commission, who have condemned the whole raft of reforms as “retrogressive”.

At her press conference in London, Raquel Rolink once again criticised the Government regarding the the bedroom tax and the benefit cap, and said that Government are clearly violating our human rights, attacking those who needed the support. She has called for an immediate suspension of the bedroom tax and the benefit cap. She said the bedroom tax was not piloted, either.

She mentioned the personal testimonies of people affected by the bedroom tax, the lack of affordable housing the long waiting lists for social housing. Raquel recognises that people cannot move, and cannot afford to pay moving costs. She acknowledged that people with both mental and physical health conditions were dreadfully affected, and that low income workers are also desperately struggling. She can see that those affected are at substantial risk of their health deteriorating as a consequence of the stressful circumstances raised by the bedroom tax, and she acknowledged that people are dying because of the terrible impact of these measures, and that people cannot afford to eat, and heat their homes in order to pay it and keep a roof over their heads.

Raquel stated clearly to the representatives from the media that the policies introduced by this Government do contravene our human rights. She then asked for an immediate suspension of the bedroom tax, for more social housing and private rental housing to be built, for rents to be lowered so people can afford to live and the rents to be capped.

Representatives from Atos Miracles asked if Raquel would look at evidence regarding Atos Healthcare and the Work Capability Assessments (WCA) and the Employment Support Allowance (ESA) related deaths. The numbers of the people who have died due to a deterioration in their condition and all of the related suicides within 6 weeks of their ESA claims ending were mentioned. Racquel Rolnik said she would examine all of the welfare changes and welcomed personal stories about the WCA and how it is affecting people.

Therefore Raquel wants to collate accounts from everyone affected, and this evidence will be presented to the United Nations General Council in March. Personal stories will be included in the report she presents.

Raquel was made aware of the Parliamentary debate regarding the Transparency of Lobbying, Non-Party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Bill currently going through parliament. She made it clear that the people of the UK have a democratic right to protest and to freedom of expression, as the Government signed the agreement at the UN Convention to allow this freedom.

The UN will not permit the UK Government to prevent people from speaking out, as is their democratic right. Racquel is interested in any experiences you may have regarding any prevention you have experienced in exercising democratic rights. These experiences, for example, may include being stopped from speaking out on the streets at events or meetings, as well as being restrained or curtailed during a protest or demonstration.

Towards the end of the conference, campaigners handed Racquel two boxes of personal testimonies and accounts amounting to well over 2,000, from people adversely affected by the bedroom tax. She was shocked by the sheer volume of accounts. Raquel said that she will read every single one.

You can email Raquel Rolnik regarding Atos and the WCA and any other issue related to welfare reform. She also wants to know about any experiences that have happened when you have not been allowed or able to speak out, as is your democratic right. I think that the poll tax-styled council tax benefit cuts are also having a dire impact on many people and this would be worth including, too. As would any experience with difficulties accessing legal aid, as that reform also breaches Article 6(1) of the European Convention of Human Rights: the right to a fair trial.

Raquel Rolnik’s email address is: srhousing@ohchr.org

You can also write to:
His Excellency Mr Ban Ki Moon
United Nations Secretary-General
UN Headquarters
First Avenue at 46th Street
New York, NY 10017
USA
E-­mail: sgcentral@un.org

A very BIG well done and thank you to those incredible campaigners that attended the conference, which included Gail Ward, Scar Sugarplum, Paula Peters, Steven Lathwell and Jessica Mccarnun.

Related links:

Amnesty International has condemned the erosion of human rights of disabled people in UK

Briefing on How Cuts Are Targeted – Dr Simon Duffy

The Government considers itself to be above the law.

The Coming Tyranny and the Legal Aid Bill.

The UK Government have got it wrong about our Human Rights.

Update: I have had some discussion with the International Human Rights Commission, and His Excellency Sir Kurt Alleyne has now written to the UN special rapporteur Raquel Rolnik regarding her fact finding mission in relation to the “highly controversial Bedroom Tax”. A request was made that  evidence of matters relating to the welfare reforms more broadly be requested to be included in her final report, and considerable concern was expressed, after “having viewed a number of matters relating to ATOS Healthcare, ESA and the DWP”.

So to verify, experiences of wrongful sanctions are to be included, and as previously stated, experiences of Atos and assessment, council tax benefit cuts, difficulties accessing legal aid, any improper conduct regarding the DWP, any negative impact that any of the reforms have had on your quality of life and well-being, any restrictions regarding free speech and exercising democratic rights to protest.

The final paragraph of the letter really hit me hard, and despite the fact that I have been campaigning to raise awareness of these issues for two years:

At this time I am greatly concerned that the Right to Adequate Housing, the Right to Food, The right to Education, The Right to Health, The Right to Security, The Convention on the Rights of the Child and numerous other matters are being violated. I duly request your further commitment to these matters so they may be addressed and be realigned to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and all Additional / Optional Conventions and Protocols as observed by International Law and Standards”.

H.E. Sir Kurt Alleyne
Ambassador to United Kingdom and Northern Ireland
International Human Rights Commission

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Many thanks to Robert Livingstone for his exceptional work on awareness raising, and his brilliant satirical pictures

The Government Are Feckless, Neglectful and Abusive – My Speech at the TUC 2013 – Jack Monroe

 

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This is an excellent article by Jack Monroe

An article in the Guardian  recently claimed that ‘austerity has been hijacked by the moralisers’ – and judging by George Osborne’s latest announcement that “austerity works”, it seems they were right. As though it’s all just ‘cosy frugality’, as though we are all just living in a snapshot of a nostalgic poster of post-war Britain. I’m surprised the posters haven’t made a reappearance, unaltered, to back up the chancellors claims.

Eat less bread. Food is a weapon. Your own vegetables all year round. Dig for victory. Home grown food. Make do and mend. Keep calm and carry on.

But there’s nothing cosy and nostalgic about missing days of meals, turning the heating off for two consecutive winters and every bloody day and night in between.

There’s nothing cosy and nostalgic about unscrewing the light bulbs so you can’t accidentally turn them on, or selling your son’s shoes, or drinking the formula milk that the food bank gave you because there’s nothing else. If that’s cosy frugality, the moralisers and apologisers ought to try it. For a month. Or six. Or 18.

Turn off the fridge, because it’s empty anyway. Sell anything you can see lying around that you might get more than a quid for. Walk everywhere in the pouring rain, in your only pair of shoes, with a soaking wet and sobbing toddler old trailing behind you. Drag that toddler into every pub and shop in unreasonable walking distance and ask them if they have any job vacancies. Try not to go red as the girl behind the counter appraises your tatty jumper and dirty jeans before telling you that they have no jobs available. “For you”, you add in your head, and you drag that toddler home, still soaking, still unemployed, to not-quite dry out in your freezing cold flat.

Put two jumpers on that you’ll wear all week, to keep washing to a minimum. You sit at home in your coat anyway, and nobody’s there to notice.

Drag yourself to the cooker to pour some tinned tomatoes over some cold pasta, and try not to hurl it across the room in frustration when your toddler tells you he doesn’t want it: “I want something else, Mummy.” But there isn’t anything else. But aren’t we supposed to just keep calm and carry on?

You get up the next morning and give your child one of the last Weetabix, mashed with a little water, with a glass of tap water to wash it down with.

“Where’s mummy’s breakfast?” He asks, all big blue eyes and innocent concern. You tell him you aren’t hungry, but you weren’t hungry last night either, and sooner or later he’ll notice that mummy never seems hungry any more.

Hunger hurts. Hunger distresses, and depresses. Admitting that you cannot afford to feed your child is both terrifying and humiliating. Professionals that signpost people to food banks for help often report that they are reluctant to go, because it feels like begging. And my god, it feels like begging.

And you think if you admit to skipping meals, to feeding your child the same cold pasta for nights on end, you think if anyone notices the badly damaged wrists from your recent suicide attempt, that you might lose your son. He might be taken into care. And despite the cold and the despair and the mind raging with doubt and fear and uselessness, there’s a little boy that relies on you to provide his meals – no matter how rubbish they are – and to put his jumper on before he goes to bed at night. So you say you’re fine. But you’re not. You’re full of rain and heartache and anger and it’s starting to seep through the cracks in the kept up appearances. But don’t you just keep calm, and carry on?

My circumstances were not unique to me. The Oxfam report – Walking The Breadline, published in June this year, states that half a million people in the UK rely on food banks. Yet the Government puts their fingers in their ears, blaming feckless parenting and scroungers. Half a million feckless parents. Half a million scroungers. They claim that there is no link between cuts to welfare and the growing demand for food banks.

Lord Freud claims that people ‘turn up for free food’ – painting a picture of people waltzing in and topping up the Ocado delivery with a few battered fruits and some dented tins of tomatoes. Such comments display a complete disconnect from reality. You can’t just ‘turn up’ to a food bank. You need to be referred – by a childcare professional, a health visitor, social services or similar agency. Someone needs to recognise that your household is at serious risk of going hungry if they don’t intervene. And intervention is a feared word. So people become adept at pretending they don’t need help.

Michael Gove blames child poverty and hunger on reckless parenting – with no acknowledgement to the fact that many people using food banks are doing so because of benefit delays, sanctions, low income, and unemployment. No acknowledgement that many people who use food banks are IN WORK. What sort of a society do we live in where people who go out to work to support their families, need emergency food handouts?

Many parents tell of going to bed hungry themselves in order to feed their children. Gove would call that reckless parenting. And they repeat, they bleat, that food bank use has nothing to do with welfare cuts.

So here’s a figure.:

Since April 2013, and the introduction of the Bedroom Tax, food bank use in the UK has increased 175%.

The number one reason cited for food bank referral is cuts or delays to benefits, including sanctions and Bedroom Tax.

And while food banks are meeting a real and desperate need for half a million families in the UK, surely the responsibility for feeding the poorest and most vulnerable lies with the Government, not with charity? Isn’t that the entire point of the welfare state?

So in terms of feckless parenting, it is the state that is sending its children to school, to bed and to work hungry.

By cutting welfare lifelines, the state is the abusive parent.

By casting around to blame anyone else, by ignoring the cold hard face of true poverty in the UK, it is the state that is feckless.

By refusing to tackle poverty at its root, it is the government that is being neglectful.

But until they change housing benefit to monthly payments in line with people’s rent and mortgage payments, until they commit to a living wage legislation that is not age discriminatory, until they reinstate the crisis loan, revoke the bedroom tax – we need to carry on talking about it. Get angry. Get noisy. Use the collective voice of 6million union members to lobby and campaign and not stop until children are not going to bed hungry any more.

As Desmond Tutu said – there comes a point where we need to stop just pulling people out of the river. We need to go upstream and find out why they’re falling in.

Jack Monroe at the TUC, 9th September 2013.

Further reading:

The Poverty of Responsibility and the Politics of Blame

Quantitative Data on Poverty from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation.

According the the Tories, economic terrorism is the new humanism.

Poverty and Patrimony – the Evil Legacy of the Tories.

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Thanks to Robert Livingstone for his brilliant art work

UN housing investigator’s report exposes Shapps’ lies

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The British Government refuses to conduct a cumulative impact assessment of its welfare reforms on the grounds that it is too difficult to do – that the changes are too complicated.Yet the DWP has the unmitigated gall to demand “actual hard research and data” from Ms. Raquel Rolnik, UN Special Rapporteur for adequate housing, who is calling for the bedroom tax to be abolished.They have missed a fundamental point: it’s truly remarkable that Tories loudly attribute the capacity for moral agency to other people – everyone else in fact – people claiming benefits, for example, formulating sanctions and “assessments” to both shape and question the morality of the poor constantly, or demanding more and more “evidence” from anyone that challenges, yet the Tories think they stand outside of any obligation to morality themselves.
It’s always someone else’s responsibility, never theirs. Any claim to value-freedom in decision-making, in any case, does not and cannot exempt the Government from their obligation to International Human Rights Law, moral responsibility, or justify their utter moral indifference  to the plight of the vulnerable.
The purpose of Government in any democracy is to reflect the needs of a population. This Government seems to believe that the population are here to fulfil their own needs, and they are exploiting the vulnerable, stealing lifeline benefits from them – which  we have all paid for via taxes – to profit the very wealthy. This is authoritarianism, and not democracy.
This morning I heard Grant Shapps attempt to trivialise the issue of the Government’s breach of our Human Rights by pointing out that other countries are breaching Human Rights. The Government here have breached International Human Rights standards and law, regardless of whether or not other Governments in the world have done so.
People are dying here, made homeless, we are seeing a massive increase in food poverty, and people are committing suicide because they are so desperate. Human suffering, loss of dignity and death may have many facets, but all of them are equally unforgiving, and when imposed by humans on fellow humans, all are equally unforgivable.
This Government have consistently breached the Human Rights of the sick and disabled. It’s about time something was done about it.

Kitty S Jones.

Brilliant article by Mike Sivier:
UN housing investigator’s report exposes Shapps’ lies.
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Thanks to Robert Livingstone for his art work

The Government considers itself to be above the law.

The Government says that Atos offices are totally accessible and very fair ….

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…but then this Government says an awful lot that’s utter twaddle, as we know only too well. For example, despite the Tory claim that the Work Capability Assessment has been “refined and improved” we note with bitter disappointment that the recommendations of the former Harrington reviews have not been implemented at all. The struggle against a grossly unfair assessment process continues, and this is despite the ruling of a recent judiciary review, also ignored by the authoritarians in Office. (Please see appendix for the FOI response regarding a Request for Internal Review.)

The Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) are surely in contempt of court – because they have not amended their policies on mental health and the Work Capability Assessment (WCA), despite the judicial review and subsequent upper tribunal decision regarding the application of the Equality Act. Permission was granted to bring a claim for judicial review earlier this year (May) against the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions to challenge the operation of the WCA. In granting permission the judge stated:

I consider that it is reasonably arguable that the reasonable adjustments required by the Equality Act 2010 include the early obtaining of independent medical evidence where the documents submitted with the claim show that the claimant suffers from mental health problems and that this has not been done, or at least not done on a sufficiently widespread basis”.

The WCA is grossly unfair on many levels, but this judicial review focussed on one specific issue – that of gathering supporting evidence. Under the current system, no matter how ill you may be, you are responsible for pro-actively gathering your own medical evidence and sending it to the DWP. If you fail to do this, it simply won’t be looked at.

It is unreasonable to expect people with mental health problems, learning disabilities or autism to be able to navigate the often complex processes in being assessed and getting the evidence to ensure this is done fairly and properly. The judges rightly ruled that the DWP had not done enough to make sure this crucial evidence was collected and taken into account, and therefore had failed in its duties to make reasonable adjustments under the Equality Act 2010.

The court held that the WCA process disadvantages people with mental health problems because they have greater difficulty than others in explaining to the Atos assessor how their condition affects their fitness to work. The solution is for Atos and the DWP to seek evidence from the claimant’s doctors and others in the community that know what they can do. But the DWP have consistently refused to take this step.

A three-judge upper tribunal panel ruled that the DWP had failed to make reasonable adjustments under Labour’s Equality Act, and it was a landmark ruling, hailed as a significant victory by mental health charities.

The ruling was triggered by the judicial review and launched by two individuals with mental health problems, who argued that WCA was unfair to them because it required them to understand and be able to explain the nature of their condition to the people conducting the assessment, when they had insufficient awareness of their difficulties to do so.

The discussion focused on whether it was reasonable to expect people with mental health problems to seek additional medical evidence in support of their claims from their GPs, or whether the DWP needed to do more on their behalf to ensure that this sort of evidence was collected and taken into account.

Paul Jenkins, CEO of Rethink Mental Illness, said: “This ruling proves once and for all that this cruel and unfair process is unlawful. The judges have independently confirmed what our members have been saying  – the system is discriminating against some of the most ill and vulnerable people in our society, the very people it is meant to support”.

The work capability assessment process is deeply unfair for people with a mental illness – it’s like asking someone in a wheelchair to walk to the assessment centre”.

Directors of charities that backed the case welcomed the judgement, and called on the Government to stop assessing people’s fitness for work under the current system until the issue was resolved.

Natalie Lieven QC, acting for the two anonymous claimants, said it was now a matter of urgency for the DWP to take steps to improve the process for people with mental health problems.

The claimants’ solicitor, Ravi Low-Beer, of the Public Law Project, said: “Today’s ruling confirms what disabled people have been saying for years – although ignored by Tory ministers – that the work capability assessment process is not fit for purpose.

It is in everyone’s interests that the DWP changes course. If they continue to rush people with mental health disabilities through the process as it stands, more ill people will be wrongly refused support, more ill people will suffer a deterioration in their mental health as they try to navigate the appeal system, and more public money will be wasted”.

However, the DWP said it would appeal against the ruling, and stated it did not intend to halt the assessment process.

DWP have further stated – “at this stage and in this judgement, the Upper Tribunal has not found the Department to be in breach of the duties placed on it by the Equality Act. They have asked the Department for further evidence to help determine whether any reasonable adjustments could be made”.

OH YES THEY DID find the Department in breach of the Equality Act. It was found that the WCA actively discriminates against people with mental illness.

The ruling has officially confirmed what many of us knew anyway: that the Government’s current WCA system is about cutting benefits, irrespective of the human cost, to meet their target of callously paring back the Welfare State to set up a Market State in which you either work or get little or nothing.

Whistle-blowers have bravely emerged, such as the Atos doctor, who has been publicly calling the WCA tests “cruel” and the evidence recently given to the Scottish Parliament by an ex-Atos nurse, Joyce Drummond also strongly supports the call to scrap the WCA. Positive changes are  happening at last, and none too soon. But we know that we have an authoritarian Government that has refused to implement the Harrington review recommendations, and is now refusing to abide by a court ruling.

Recently, BBC Wales reported along with others that GPs have been instructed not to write letters to support their patient’s benefit appeals. The Bro Taf local medical committee, representing GPs, says “writing letters stops doctors seeing ill patients” amounting to an “abuse of resources”.

Clearly, if these patients are ill enough to be making a claim for out of work subsistence level and life-line benefits then they are most likely to be some of the most unwell people attending surgeries.

Other GPs are demanding between £25 and £130 for the paperwork to support appeals, Citizens Advice found.

Chief executive Gillian Guy said: “Charging sick and disabled people more than £100 for medical evidence beggars belief. This process is clearly failing”.

A lack of doctor’s evidence makes it harder for people to appeal and many end up losing their benefits.

Yet DWP ministers have had the cheek to blame the staggering 43% Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) appeal rate on claimants not requesting and submitting enough medical evidence. Mark Hoban claims:

What’s happening too often is people are suggesting to claimants ‘oh, just leave the medical evidence until the appeal’ – there’s a shared responsibility here”.

Atos is expected to request evidence from a claimant’s doctor when the claimant is likely to be placed in the Support Group. In theory. The reality is that it rarely happens in practice. For the year up to October 2012, Atos only requested such evidence (using the ESA113 form) in 27.2% of all ESA referrals; 23.8% of these were not returned by GPs.

The House of Commons overturned a recommendation by the House of Lords that supporting evidence be sought in all ESA cases.

The hearsay and snap-shot, tick-box opinion of Atos is based on a one-off set of observations. A GP or consultant can give their expert opinion – their knowledge is based on years of medical training, experience of treating patients in general and experience of treating you in particular. They have the results of multiple examinations and consultations spread over months, not minutes. They have the results of what happens when a particular medicine is given or therapy is tried.

And we know from collectively shared experiences that the reports by Atos assessors are widely known to be inaccurate with omissions, unfounded claims and incorrect recordings.

The British Medical Association said: “We have GPs across the country whose workload is ultimately increasing because of the fundamentally flawed work capability assessment”.

The Opposition have called for the WCA to be scrapped, and have pointed out that the grave health implications to those British citizens left abandoned by the Government when they are most in need of help, and with such high costs to the taxpayer to manage the assessment and appeal process, the Coalition must find a fair, safe and common sense approach to sickness and disability benefits.

We know the Government has set targets to minimise the number of people that can be found incapable of work by Atos. The DWP and Atos Healthcare both gave firm rebuttals to this allegation last year to both Panorama and Dispatches, which aired programs looking into the same issue of sickness benefit. The employment minister then, Chris Grayling, told the BBC that “there are no targets anywhere in the system”. –  although the Government refused to allow the broadcaster to see the full contract it holds with Atos.

But both programs uncovered a system in which assessors would be put on “targeted audit” if they were found to put too many people into the “support group” of ESA, with Dispatches uncovering that only about 12-13% of people should be found unable to do any work at all. Steve Bick, the doctor working undercover in Atos for Dispatches, said that of the eight cases he dealt with before resigning, he was asked by Atos hierarchy to review his decision on four of them. Steve Bicks told us that Atos currently pass 7 out of 8 of us as “fit for work”, regardless of how ill or disabled we are.

It is very reasonable to expect that the Government suspends its relentless reassessment of an average of 11,000 sickness benefit claimants every week until practical changes can be made to the assessment process that protect sick and disabled. The Government also have a legal obligation to do so.

But they have not stopped, they have not listened and they have not been reasonable.

Ever felt like your Government is really out to get you?

Appendix

Freedom of Information Act – Request for Internal Review

Our Reference: IR 519

Thank you for your email dated 14 June 2013 requesting a review of the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) response dated 13th June, reference FoI 2412.

In your email you asked to be provided with information answering the following questions:-

‘I am writing to request an internal review of Department for Work and Pensions’s handling of my FOI request ‘Judicial Review- Equality Act’.

I request a copy of the DWP guidance or internal memos which detail the revised procedures to be followed following the court ruling and directions .. If you have not made any such revisions to the procedures please could you say so.’
 
Please be assured that your request has been given our full consideration and that all aspects of your review were taken fully into account.

The review was conducted by an independent official of the Department, of the relevant grade and authority to carry out such requests. The case has been examined afresh, and guidance has been sought from domain experts to ensure all factors were taken fully into account.

The internal review has determined that the response (FoI 2412) dated 13 June 2013 explained that:

at this stage and in this judgement, the Upper Tribunal has not found the Department to be in breach of the duties placed on it by the Equality act. They have asked the Department for further evidence to help determine whether any reasonable adjustments could be made.

As such, individuals should continue to apply for Employment and Support Allowance and undergo Work Capability Assessments in the normal way. Those currently on Incapacity Benefit will be reassessed as planned. Therefore revised guidance regarding the
assessment of claimants with mental health problems has not been produced and will not be issued to Atos Healthcare at this stage
.’

I therefore find that the original response dated 13 June 2013 was correct and that all the information that the DWP are able to supply to you has been supplied.


If you have any queries about this letter please contact me quoting the reference number
above.
Yours sincerely,

Business Management Team
Health & Disability Assessments (Operations)

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Many thanks to Robert Livingstone for his pictorial brilliance .