I agree with The Daily Mail: Name us and shame us!

Mark Littlewood, former darling of the Liberal Democrats and now the director general at the Institute of Economical Affairs (a free market think tank that has as much to do with thoughtfully applied economic theory as a McSalad has to do with healthy eating) has written today in The Daily Mail that he believes that George Osborne should publish the names of every welfare recipient in the country, along with how much money they are receiving, and the duration of the time they are receiving welfare payments. He believes that this would help to reduce the government’s welfare spending budget.

He’s a funny little man this Littlewood, the sort of person who stops donating money to third world children the second the government increases their foreign aid budget. The sort of person who expects a personal thank you from benefit recipients and updates about the steps they are making to improve their lives. A peculiar stance for an ostensibly libertarian chap, but nobody really expects consistency from shills and blatantly provocative media whores; you’d be as well expecting a prostitute dressed as a french maid to know a damn thing about getting stubborn stains out of the carpet.

Mark Littlewood just buys a new carpet.

Mark Littlewood just buys a new carpet.

Outrage, I suppose, is what he intended to create with his poorly-argumented Daily Mail OP. The funny thing is, I find myself agreeing with Littlewood, I think it would be fantastic if such information was made public (don’t worry, it can’t and won’t be, Littlewood’s suggestion is entirely unfeasible). Over 50% of the public are net beneficiaries of the state. Far more people receive benefits than The Daily Mail would have its readership believe. Indeed, a very large proportion of its readership will be on some form of state benefit, whether that be Income Support, Jobseekers Allowance, Employment Support Allowance, Tax Credits, State Pension or a whole host of other named benefits that are available.

If the actual figures were made public, for the first time many people receiving benefits would see that they are part of a massive crowd, a throng if you will, of individuals who have all, for one reason or another, found themselves struggling and requiring assistance. Each and every individual who was publicly named would be experiencing a simmering anger at the way they had been treated in having their personal financial affairs made public, and for the very first time would have a list of potential allies in their hometown – with each potential ally also feeling this simmering anger, and no longer being inhibited by the social expectation to pretend to the outside world that they are not receiving state support. Instantly a crowd of people with not much left to lose (one can’t attempt to “keep up appearances” when one’s financial matters are out on display for all to see) would appear, seemingly out of nowhere.

And this is why the assistance you receive from the state will not be made public. But Littlewood can rest assured that if his idea was implemented and actually came to fruition; a whole bunch of jolly jobseekers would be round his place to personally update him on the steps they are taking to improve their situation.

I wonder if he’d put out cake?

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Daily Mail’s Martyr Charbecks was Pub Landlady in 2011

dungoofdAs everybody following the Daily Mail/Charbecks saga will be aware, yesterday Nina Charbecks made contact with the good folks at Black Triangle (who kindly cross-posted my blog entry “More Daily Mail Disability Deception” on 14/01/12), demanding that my stories about her be deleted, and threatening her solicitor and the police on us all. Nothing happened though… I do hope everybody enjoys this one!

Last week The Mail ran a story about Nina Charbecks, claiming that she works four jobs/35 hours per week, and is £400 a month worse off than she would be if she received disability benefit:

“A woman returned to work after ten years on benefits despite it making her £400 poorer a month…

…The mother of two had been receiving around £1,260 a month from income support, housing benefit, council tax benefit and payments related to her rheumatoid arthritis.

‘I went back to work because I don’t want to be a burden,’ she said. ‘There are times when I don’t want to get out of bed because my legs hurt or it’s dark and I want to sleep.

‘But when you’re at work and talking to people it’s all worth it. I was entitled to what I consider to be a lot of money and there was no incentive to look at a job that pays minimum wage.

‘I got into a rut and began thinking I wouldn’t be able to work again. The longer you’re on benefits the harder the cycle is to break. It’s creating a lazy generation.’

Miss Charbecks was diagnosed with arthritis when she was 16 but worked in a string of pubs until being put on disability benefit in 2000.”

Anybody reading the passages above would be forgiven for coming to the conclusion that Ms Nina Charbecks has not worked for ten years. She has though, she was the landlady of a pub called The Wildman in Norwich up until mid-2011.

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Landlady in 2011, Daily Mail. Bit different from “worked in string of pubs” until 2000; then letting your audience believe that Ms Charbecks hadn’t worked except for volunteering in the meantime, claiming over a grand every month for ten years. Yes, you never technically said it; but people believed it, and thought worse of other disabled people after you created this fake martyr, Nina Charbecks to put others to shame.

It’s like… it’s like Leveson meant nothing to you lot! Ruddy scoundrels.

More Daily Mail Disability Deception

On 12/01/12 The Daily Mail edited the story they published on the 10th January about Nina Charbecks – who they were calling Ms Friday until Sunday, stellar bit of journalism there – the lady with rheumatoid arthritis who, depending on which day you read the Mail’s piece, is allegedly either £300 or £400 a month worse off for going back to work either four or five jobs; after spending ten or twelve years receiving benefit and choosing not to take up paid employment during that time.

Nina Charbecks

Nina Charbecks

The Mail still refers to Ms Charbecks as a “mother of two” despite their earlier version of the same piece detailing that Ms Charbecks’ children are actually grown adults in their twenties. This is to misdirect people into thinking that Ms Charbecks situation is analagous to that of a disabled parent who has legal responsibility for their children. Ms Charbecks’ two daughters are in fact both engaged with children of their own. I know this because when The Mail printed two different names for the same woman, I had to run my own attempt at a fact-check, and stumbled upon Ms Charbecks’ suprisingly public Facebook profile (as of 14/01/12 it has been made private).

Ms Charbecks in in a long term relationship with her live-in partner Charley. A Facebook picture uploaded for public view in December 2012 by Ms Charbecks shows a lady’s left hand with an engagement ring on it. This would indicate that Ms Charbecks is in a stable relationship.

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The Daily Mail has stated that Ms Charbecks had, at points during her ten year history of continuous unemployment, been the recipient of sums of benefit money totalling up to £1,260 per month; and now her personal income is “just over £800 per month”, and she doesn’t claim income support, housing benefit, council tax benefit or any disability-related benefits.

The Mail has not however bothered to explain that when a couple is considered to be living together as common-law husband and wife, they are treated by the DWP as one unit, and calculations for entitlements take into consideration the earnings and assets of both partners. My sister, for example, didn’t qualify for any benefits when she moved in with her partner last year and was unemployed, as his salary is too high and it is assumed by the powers-that-be that he will be subsidising her lifestyle to the extent that basics will be covered. This same reasoning would be applied to Ms Charbecks’ entitlement calculations now that she lives with Charley.

Nobody with a live-in partner receives out-of-work benefits as a single entity. The £1,260 sum paid directly to Ms Charbecks could only have been paid to her when she was claiming as a single person. If Ms Charbecks’ and Charley’s combined income is lower than £18,023 then they are entitled to working tax credits to make up the sum to a living wage. As they appear to be maintaining a home and several well-groomed dogs in the heart of sleepy rural Norfolk, I hardly think that Charley’s on the breadline forcing Ms Charbecks out to do four jobs while she’s in constant pain, and telling her they’re not going to be on the dole because it’s embarrassing.

This, according to Ms Charbeck, is not her home, it's a holiday home. £800 a month stretches far in Norfolk, eh?

This, according to Ms Charbeck, is not her home, it’s a holiday home. £800 a month stretches quite far in Norfolk, eh?

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So we have a couple now earning enough between them that they aren’t entitled to out-of-work benefits; with one partner in the couple complaining that she used to have more money in her pocket when she was single and getting benefits. The real story here seems to be that since moving in with her partner, Ms Charbecks now has to work through constant agony in order to get any money of her own to spend – so if the couple aren’t earning over £18k between themselves a year, we certainly know whose bank account the tax credits are going into.

If Ms Charbecks stops working now, she will not receive that £1,260 for as long as she remains part of a couple. The Mail knows this. They’re banking on their readers being too uninformed to realise that they’re really comparing apples to oranges. As I wrote previously, this misdirection is a lazy effort to prime the readers of the Tory Tabloids into accepting the new Personal Independence Payment to replace Disability Living Allowance this coming April. Perpetual fudger-uppers Atos and TV License enforcers Capita have been tasked by the Tories with cutting the PIP/DLA budget 20% by 2015/16, by putting claimants through the universally maligned “fitness to work” assessments run by “healthcare professionals” (read, not necessarily a doctor/specialist, more likely a physiotherapist or a nurse of some description) whose literal job is to attempt to discredit every GP in the country who has stated that their patient qualifies medically for extra financial assistance in the form of DLA/PIP.

We know this to be true because at the end of veritable streams of bullshit and jobseeker-shaming attributed to Ms Charbecks, this little snippet is crudely bludgeoned in:

“…This put her among the 3.2million Britons who claim the benefit each year, at a cost of £13billion. Around 500,000 claimants are expected to lose the handout in a crackdown.”

They haven’t mentioned which specific benefit they are talking about; but seeing as it’s only DLA that faces a reform and prospective “crackdown” later in the year, I can’t think what else on earth they could be referring to. If we look at the structure of the piece; we can see that they have given us a list of out-of-work benefits Ms Charbecks claimed as a single claimant and given a total sum of the maximum received, talked about how she has less money in her pocket now that she’s part of a couple that doesn’t claim benefits, and then mentioned that one of the set of benefits she received as a single claimant would be facing a crackdown this year.

They would like people to believe that the DLA formed a substantial part of the money Ms Charbecks received whilst unemployed, so that people will feel happier about a “crackdown” occuring. They would like people to think that the DLA contributed to a workshy, “scrounger” mentality. In reality, everybody in the country who is deemed to have the requisite medical symptoms is entitled to DLA. Princes, paupers, Paralympians and even politicians.

DLA/PIP does not contribute to a “workshy” attitude. It is claimed by some of the highest achievers in Britain. And even politicians. Don’t let The Daily Mail get away with these sorts of grotesque and slimy manipulations. Support a fair approach to the discourse about social security.

Disabled people are very fucking valuable!

Pass it on.

UPDATE 14/01/12 – Ms Charbecks has made contact to insist that the story be taken down lest her solicitor get involved. Lulzors. I have changed the article to reflect the reality that the photo taken of a living room is from a holiday home, and is not Ms Charbecks’ usual abode.

UPDATE 15/01/12Nina Charbecks reported to be working as pub landlady in 2011.

Daily Mail Begins Priming Middle England for Next ATOS Onslaught

The Daily Mail published a less-than-responsible piece of journalism yesterday, detailing the apparent struggles of Norfolk resident Nina Friday, a lady with rheumatoid arthritis, who – according to the story published – is working 35 hours a week and is £300 per month worse-off financially than if she were on the disability benefits she was receiving previously.

Nina Friday - disabled, doesn't claim benefits.

Nina Friday – disabled, doesn’t claim benefits.

The Mail is more than happy to describe Ms Friday as being “disabled”; whilst simulataneously showing pictures of her apparently working her poor sore fingers to the bone all the hours God sends her – photographs that would instantly result in Ms Friday being found “fit-for-work” if brought before the WCA team for means-tested disability payments. The Daily Mail has repeatedly insinuated that people found “fit-to-work” by these deeply flawed assessments are not genuinely disabled at all, and are in fact liars and scroungers of the most irksome ilk (though we know that not to be the case).

They also bring Ms Friday’s status as a mother into prominent position, right in the headline – “Disabled Mother” – right after “Putting others to shame” – the clear implication being that Ms Friday puts other disabled mothers to shame somehow. This is just strange, as Ms Friday’s children (at least the ones mentioned) are adults in their early 20s. While it is certainly true that a mother’s work is never done, science would probably agree that generally the bulk of the hard work is when your offspring aren’t legal adults yet. Ms Friday, according to The Mail, was a long-term, out-of-work, benefits claimant for the twelve years between 2000-2012 – for most of the latter part of her daughters’ lives.

One could start to wonder why the Daily Mail is lionising a mother who spent 12 years out of work claiming disability benefit for a degenerative disease, then promptly within a year of ceasing to claim, found herself fit to work 35 hours a week. They would have to look very closely through the mess of half-truths and outright lies scattered about the piece before they found the key to this particular puzzle. It’s in there, unhelpfully uncapitalised, but it’s in there:


Disability Living Allowance (DLA)

Disability Living Allowance (DLA)

Ms Friday, according to article, is in a relationship with her partner Charley. One can effectively deduce that Charley’s earnings are too high for the couple to qualify for means-tested disability benefits, as The Mail is referring solely to Ms Friday’s money; whereas couples in receipt of means-tested benefits receive those particular benefits jointly, so the Mail would be inaccurate to refer to it as just Ms Friday’s money if that were the case.

But it isn’t. DLA is not means-tested. Millionaires can claim it. Full time students can claim it. A person can claim it irrespective of their partner’s earnings, as long as they have a medically established disability that qualifies them for the extra support. Ms Friday would have qualified for DLA as a person who suffers from rheumatiod arthritis – a condition that can fluctuate and go into remission, but is ultimately a systemic autoimmune disease with a generally not-so-cheery long-term prognosis. With the information The Mail has provided however, it is entirely reasonable to assume that Charley and Ms Friday are too well-off as a couple to be able to receive any further top-ups, as the kids and all possible related benefits (universal or not) have flown the nest.

The maximum amount that a person receiving DLA alone can receive per month is £569. Ms Friday would not currently be entitled to any more benefit for her disability than that, if the Mail’s description of her current financial circumstances is correct. The Mail claims that Ms Friday gets £300 less than that per month – £269, or, £62.07 for… 35 hours of work per week?

This is where the irresponsibilty and misdirection become especially pernicious. The Mail quotes Ms Friday as saying that she has “been told” that she does about 35 hours of work a week. I believe that she does. I don’t however believe that Ms Friday does 35 hours of paid work per week, because the sums do not add up. They have included a website that she runs herself on the list of her five jobs; with no mention as to the time spent on that personal project, and how much it contributes to the 35 hour total given for her worked hours per week. They have not detailed how much of the remaining work (all good, useful stuff) is paid or unpaid. This is important, not because only paid work counts, but because only paid work counts when figuring out whether it is cheaper to be on benefits than in paid work.

This isn’t about any genuine concern for Ms Friday, who could work and claim DLA if she liked, thus rendering the whole dilemma pointless.

This is a very poorly written piece of propaganda designed to prime the readers of the Tory Tabloids into accepting the new, Personal Independence Payment (PIP) as a replacement for DLA – rolling out this April across the country. Now Atos and Capita will be running the same ridiculous, highly contested, maligned-by-medical-professionals-everywhere assessments to see who does and doesn’t qualify – and before a single test has been run by one of their “healthcare professionals”, they’re already aiming for a 20% reduction in the DLA/PIP funding by 2015/16. At least 20% of people found by their GP to have the requisite medical symptoms that should qualify them for DLA/PIP will, the Tories hope, have this extra support cut during this horrible time of economic crisis that disabled people did not cause.

The writer of this piece has used gross misdirection in order to have us believe that DLA payments are higher than the wages a person would earn by working a 35 hour work week, in order to spark the resentment necessary for the public to swallow another round of Atos purges on the sick and disabled. They have tried to make Ms Friday’s story sound as though it is analogous to the stories of those disabled mothers still legally responsible for their children, many of whom are in receipt of means-tested benefits such as ESA, and a substantial proportion of whom do not have resident partners in full time work. Ms Friday’s symptoms clearly do not make active work too much of a problem at this point in time, but it would be dangerous to assume that ‘most cases’ are similar in severity to hers when discussing the overall issue. The Mail has made no nods to such sensitivity, and in doing so has merely shown yet again that its editorial slant lacks social conscience; and that the paper is entirely deserving of the sneers that it so rightfully receives in educated circles.

It’s lies, bollocks and bullshit. Don’t buy it.

UPDATE 13/01/12 – . This piece was taken down by the Mail staff without comment, rewritten and republished on the 12/01/12 The link at the start of my piece has been updated, and will take you to the archived original.

UPDATE 2 13/01/12 – The saga continues…