Lies, Damned Lies and Tory Jobless Statistics

Misleading statistics for the dole queue.

Misleading statistics for the dole queue.

I see from the excellent Vox Political blog that a row has broken out over claims  by Conservative Central Office of big reductions in the number of jobless claiming benefit under the last coalition government.

The BBC reports a row over the way Essex Tory MPs are presenting falls in unemployment figures. The row concentrates on them using the claimant count. ( Jobseekers Allowance only) rather than the number of people seeking work who are not on benefit. This makes a huge difference to the numbers unemployed in constituencies.

Central Office defended their stance by saying : “This  (questions surrounding the use of JSA figures) is nonsense. This unemployment measure is provided by the independent House of Commons Library – and for constituencies they are the most up to date and most reliable numbers to use.They are used by MPs and candidates across the country, regardless of political party.”

However as readers of this blog will know this is not the true and accurate picture because since Iain Duncan Smith, the work and pensions secretary, introduced universal credit – those transferred from JSA and still on the dole  were no longer counted in the JSA figures. So where there are jobcentres already implementing universal credit in constituencies these figures were  much less.

So it is rather outrageous for Tory Central Office to quote the very House of Commons reports that reveal this as the correct interpretation of the claimant count particularly if they only use JSA..

The very latest statistics available have for the first time started showing both but the situation is a mess as this report  from the Commons library covering unemployment in February 2015 shows. For the first time it does try to show those on Universal Credit and those on JSA who are the dole – adding about 27,900 to the JSA total.

As  the report says : “From April 2013, some unemployed people attending certain jobcentres are claiming Universal Credit rather than JSA. Consequently, simply looking at the number of JSA claimants in the areas affected may not give an accurate reflection of the number of people looking for work. At the national level, the effect of Universal Credit on the total claimant count remains minor.”

But given the distortion between those on the dole in the prosperous South and less prosperous North these figures are still significant. In the North West of England it accounts for another 25,000 on the dole. In London it is just 400.

To make matters worse trying to breakdown accurate figures for the long-term employed and by age group is impossible at the moment. The figures are just not available.

As the report says: “Data on the number of Universal Credit claimants who are out-of-work by age are currently not published at the constituency level. However, data are available on JSA claimants by age.
In constituencies where Universal Credit has been introduced, the number of JSA claimants may not reflect the actual number of unemployed claimants in a particular age group.”

It adds: “Similarly, data on the number of Universal Credit claimants who are out-of-work by duration of claim are currently not published at the constituency level.”

So beware of false claims and people quoting official House of Commons documents to back them up. They are not necessarily giving the full picture.

Boris Johnson’s unlucky dirty tricks on the No 13 bus

The Number 13 bus - not to be used by Boris for a dirty tricks! Pictire Credit: Commons

The Number 13 bus – not to be used by Boris for a dirty tricks! Picture Credit: Commons

Is there no desperate act a politician will stoop if his mate could lose his seat on may 7? Well Boris Johnson is prepared to do it to save Mike Freer, his Tory colleague standing for Finchley and Golders Green even it means telling porkies in the seat that once returned Margaret Thatcher and has a large Jewish vote.

Threatened according to another Tory peer and now eminence gris of the pollsters, Lord Ashcroft, with losing his seat to Labour’s Sarah Sackman on May 7, Boris thought he could perform a minor miracle and save a much loved bus route,the number 13 from Golders Green to Aldwych and swing the vote.

Unfortunately for him his success turned out to be a lie – because he has no power to do so particularly under the purdah rules in a General Election which forbids politicians ( and Boris is of course a Parliamentary candidate elsewhere) from taking controversial decisions for electoral gains.

This didn’t stop Mike Freer – see below – posing with Boris on his website announcing he had saved the Number 13.

As he says on his website:

” London Mayor, Boris Johnson, has today announced that the Number 13 Bus from Golders Green to Aldwych has been retained. The Mayor’s announcement follows a long-running campaign by Mike Freer to save the much loved service. Mike raised the issue of the 13 bus during the Mayor’s visit to Golders Green last week.

Mike comments ““I’ve already had a meeting with TfL and told them they were wrong and when Boris came to Golders Green recently I told him he needed to go back to the drawing board.

The proposals have been dropped and the number 13 is going nowhere. I’m very happy about it. It’s always useful when you can get things done.

“Being an MP you don’t always get your own way but sometimes you can get a result like this. Under Boris’s mayoralty, the number 13 is going nowhere.”

Err Unfortunately not true Mr Freer. That is not the story Transport for London are telling the people as this letter shows:

Dear Stakeholder

We recently consulted on proposals for changes to bus routes along Finchley Road and Abbey Road, which included the replacement of route 13 with alterations to routes 82 and 139. We received over 3000 responses to the consultation which is now closed. However, concerns have been expressed that the consultation has been partially undertaken during the pre-election period which runs until 7th May.

It is therefore our intention not to progress the scheme at this time.  The comments received from this consultation will however be used to inform future bus network planning in the Finchley Road and Abbey Road areas, and any resulting proposals would be subject to further public consultation.

 Yours sincerely

Peter Bradley

Head of Consultation

Transport for London

All that has happened is that Transport for London has already postponed the consultation until after the election – when it will come back again. No doubt Mr Freer hopes he will have been safely re-elected by then and of course will have no interest in any cuts that follow for his constituents.

Child sex abuse : Why Goddard must put the Lord Janner decision at the heart of her inquiry

Lord Janner Image courtesy BBC

Lord Janner
Image courtesy BBC

I was expecting Lord Janner, the former Labour peer, to become the first prominent person to face charges for child sex abuse as a result of a plethora of current police investigations across the United Kingdom. It was quite clear from the attitude of both the Met Police and Leicestershire Police ( and it now appears Northamptonshire as well) that they had uncovered serious allegations against him dating back decades.

So in one sense it was not a surprise that the Crown Prosecution Service statement says that the Labour peer faced numerous charges.

They were following Operation Enamel ( the Leicestershire Police investigation) enough for the CPS to say “the evidential test was passed on the basis that the evidence is sufficient to have warranted charging and prosecuting Lord Janner in relation to the particular charges listed below; these relate to nine individuals:

  • 14 indecent assaults on a male under 16 between 1969 and 1988
  • 2 indecent assaults between 1984 and 1988
  • 4 counts of buggery of a male under 16 between 1972 and 1987
  • 2 counts of buggery between 1977 and 1988.

One of the victims has issued a statement through Leicestershire police. So the decision after four separate medical reports not to prosecute Lord Janner because he has Alzheimer’s Disease and is unfit to plead is devastating for all the survivors of the alleged abuse who will not be able to testify. It also must thoroughly frustrating for Leicestershire Police , who are understandably furious about the decision, after conducting such a thorough and forensic inquiry. It appears in the CPS’s view to have been done too late. There is a full report by my colleagues on the Exaro site.

At the moment we are left with an impasse over a high-profile  and contentious figure. His family can forever say he is innocent of all charges because it will not be tested in a trial. His victims and survivors can claim he is guilty and yet another member of the Establishment to escape justice for hideous crimes.

To make it worse both views are irreconcilable even among people who worked with him. Before this decision I had talked to two people who had closely worked with Lord Janner. One,a journalist, was utterly convinced that he was innocent and could not believe he would  do such a thing. Another,a politician, was highly suspicious about his behaviour with young men ( though he had never been propositioned himself).

New Zealand dame Justice Lowell Goddard pic credit: http://www.teara.govt.nz/

New Zealand dame Justice Lowell Goddard pic credit: http://www.teara.govt.nz/

If the CPS decision cannot be challenged it seems to me the only way for survivors to receive any form of justice is for Lady Goddard to step in and make this a central plank of her judicial inquiry. It has all the messy ingredients of the  current historical child sexual abuse scandal – missed opportunities, failed previous police investigations, a failure by the Crown Prosecution Service itself, and the convenient death or terminal illness of alleged perpetrators just when justice beckons.  A different scandal,involving Grafton Close children’s home in Richmond  the death of  the council’s former children’s home deputy manager,John Stingemore , just before his trial for child sexual abuse at Southwark Crown Court earlier this year, echoes Janner.. Again there were police failures, allegations were not followed up, and charges not made until years after the event.

Only a thorough examination of the entire documentation of the Janner saga and – as it is a judicial inquiry – testimony from people who people involved, including the survivors, social workers, the police, and for that matter Keith Vaz, the chair of the Commons home affairs select committee in the last session of Parliament- and a staunch defender of Janner in the past.

If Goddard fails to do this – it could also be taken up by the Independent People’s Tribunal- which is also now being set up and will provide an alternative voice to the official inquiry.

Justice has to be done and lessons learned. The biggest one involves any current allegations of child sex abuse – justice must not wait until the perpetrators are dead or terminally ill.

Naked Promo: My talk on Blair Inc at Waterstones in Berkhamsted

Blair INCIf you want to find out the story behind  my new book Blair Inc which I co-authored with Francis Beckett and Nick Kochan you can come along to my local branch of Waterstones next Thursday ( April 23) at 7.0pm.

For a modest fee of £3 – which can be claimed back as a discount against a copy – I will attempt to explain how we went about gathering information about the former Prime Minister after he left office in 2007 to the present day.

The book is unusual in that it concentrates entirely on Blair after he left government. It attempts to show how he and his family  became rich and the complex structure he and Cherie set up to hide where the money comes from.

It also includes a critical look at his role as Middle East economic envoy – a job which he may well have to give up according to recent press reports – as little progress has been made.

There is also some interesting findings about  how Blair and Peter Mandelson, once his closest friend, have gone their separate ways to make money through advising foreign entrepreneurs, governments , oligarchs and dictators.

This will be your chance to ask any questions you may have – whether you are an ardent Blairite or believe Blair destroyed his reputation over the war in Iraq.. Some come along – it’s a good time to debate his role in the middle of a general election campaign and a change from all those hustings.

Not Welcome in Budapest: The disabled get a raw deal from Hungary

Entrance to Budapest's ultra modern airport

Entrance to Budapest’s ultra modern airport

One of the worst incidents in the Second World War in Budapest was when Hungarian Fascists stormed the Jewish hospital in 1944 and butchered to death all its sick and disabled patients, and doctors and nurses. It is chronicled  in the excellent Jewish Museum in the City.

While I would not say modern Hungarians are as brutal towards disabled people now, their attitude was still described as ” being in the Middle Ages” by the manager of the Jewish Museum.It shows in a  lack of regard to help even if facilities are provided.

The most outrageous example is the country’s national airport outside Budapest. As you can see it is a modern airport. All airports I have used since my wife had a stroke and lost her mobility provide a decent and efficient service.

But Budapest Airport was different. Like all international airports it has a help line at its entrance but in this case it was worse than useless. When I contacted the people for a wheelchair they said they would assist but only when the person had checked in at the British Airways desk. when I pointed out that this was not normal practice, they said it was standard practice at the airport.

I complained to the Viking River Cruises rep ( we were coming to an end to a very well organised Viking cruise down the Danube from Nuremburg) she was little better. She said it was also the airport’s policy and she could do nothing about it. She then said she had to meet another coach party and left. When I pointed out that this made it very difficult for the disabled to use the airport and wouldn’t want to visit Hungary she suggested they came by train.

We then had to queue up for 30 minutes to get to the check out and if ti had not been for the help of two other kind people on the Viking trip, Polly and Russell Dymock, I would have had to leave my wife stranded. As it was I was able to go away and purloin a chair from  a cafe so at least Margaret could sit down in the queue.

When we got to the check out they did summon assistance but we still had to walk across the airport to some designed seats for  disabled people – which were being used by able bodied people at the time. the airport has hardly any seats. If my wife had not been recovering her mobility – so she can walk short distances I don’t know what we would have done.

Budapest airport concourse - npote the lack of seats and how far you walk to  check in.

Budapest airport concourse – note the lack of seats and how far you walk to check in.

We also had a bad experience during our visit to the Great Jewish Synagogue in Budapest which does have a disabled toilet. But unfortunately the two women attendants were occupying it as their own rest room and had blocked the entrance with a mop. When I remonstrated about this they just laughed and obviously thought disabled people were joke figures. We complained to the manager of the synagogue and found that this had happened before. She admitted that in general Hungary was living in the Middle Ages in its attitude towards disabled people – and promised the two would be disciplined about it.

We managed to use trams and buses in the city – believe it not, Mr Farage,because Hungary is in the EU , all pensioners from EU countries can travel free on them – and people gave up their seats for her when they saw she was in difficulty.

Frankly it is time Budapest was forced to change its attitude – and the airport to change its policy. Hungary relies on tourism to boost its economy – and big tour operators like Viking could put pressure on the authorities to do so. They should do so They have the clout and should use it. Disabled people deserve dignity and help wherever they are.

A4e: Six jailed in £300,000 fake job fraud scam

A4e: Improving People's lives -and defrauding the government

A4e: Improving People’s lives -and defrauding the government

The scandal that rocked A4e, the private contractor condemned by the Commons Public Accounts Committee, for fiddling the books, hit home this week.

Six people were given jail sentences and another four were given suspended sentences by a judge at  Reading Crown Court.

The BBC reported here yesterday the sentencing by the judge. The scheme as reported earlier on this blog involved mentoring single parents – some of the most vulnerable in society so they could get work. But the £1.3m Aspire programme turned out to be a vehicle for fraud by the staff.

The court was told  staff made up files, forged signatures and falsely claimed they had helped people find jobs, enabling them to hit targets and gain government bonuses.

Judge Angela Morris said there had been a “systematic practice” of compiling bogus files over a “considerable period of time”, behaviour which she described as “appallingly cavalier”.

She said: “No amount of pressure justifies the wholesale fabrication of information in files or the forgery of other people’s signatures on documents, all of which is designed to extract money from the Department of Work and Pensions.”

The roll call of fraudsters are:

  • Charles McDonald, 44, of Derwent Road, Egham, Surrey, pleaded guilty to six counts of forgery and one of conspiracy to commit forgery. He was sentenced to 40 months in prison.
  • Julie Grimes, 52, of Monks Way, Staines, Surrey, pleaded guilty to nine counts of forgery. She was sentenced to 26 months in prison.
  • Nikki Foster, 31, of High Tree Drive, Reading, pleaded guilty to nine counts of forgery, and was jailed for 22 months.
  • Ines Cano-Uribe, 39, of Madrid, Spain, was found guilty of one count of forgery and one of conspiracy to commit forgery. She was jailed for 18 months.
  • Dean Lloyd, 38, of Rochfords, Coffee Hall, Milton Keynes, pleaded guilty to 13 counts of forgery. He was given a 15-month jail sentence.
  • Bindiya Dholiwar, 29, of Reddington Drive, Slough, pleaded guilty to seven counts of forgery, and was jailed for 15 months.
  • Zabar Khalil, 35, of Dolphin Road, Slough, was found guilty of one count of forgery. He was given a 12-month sentence, suspended for two years.
  • Matthew Hannigan-Train, 31, of Westacre Close, Bristol, was found guilty of one count of conspiracy to commit forgery. He received a 12-month sentence, suspended for two years.
  • Hayley Wilson, 27, of Middlesex Drive, Milton Keynes, was found guilty of one count of conspiracy to commit forgery. She was given a 12-month sentence, suspended for two years.
  • Aditi Singh, 32, of Albert Street, Slough, pleaded guilty to two counts of forgery and one count of possessing items to commit fraud, and received a 10-month sentence, suspended for two years.

However less we forget the Department for Work and Pensions was severely criticised in a Commons public accounts committee report for failing to conduct checks on what was going on with A4e at the time – and the company was only investigated because whistleblowers came forward about what was going on.

Chris Grayling, then the minister responsible for employment, took no action to investigate further either. As the PAC said at the time in a report  on A4e and other programmes the DWP never looked at whether A4e was ” a fit and proper contractor” to run other programmes.

A4e chief executive Andrew Dutton said  yesterday the company has a “zero-tolerance policy” towards fraud and money had been set aside so “the taxpayer will have lost nothing” from the scam.

Mr Dutton said: “Their claims do not reflect the way this company operates, or the values of our 2,100 staff, whose honesty and integrity are much-valued.”

I remain to be convinced whether the company has truly reformed.

The midnight email that set off the rebellion against Hague’s dirty tactics to dump Bercow

Bercow supporter Julian Lewis. MP for New Forest East, warned colleagues of the plot in this email

Bercow supporter Julian Lewis. MP for New Forest East, warned colleagues of the plot in this email

Once you write a story you often get new information sent to you. Now an MP has sent me the email sent out by Julian Lewis, Conservative MP for New Forest East and a supporter of John Bercow, to hundreds of  MPs at midnight warning them of the ambush that William Hague had set up to get rid of the Speaker.I thought it worth publishing as a little bit of Parliamentary history to go with the earlier story. I see the Spectator has also picked up the email.

Dear Colleague,
At the start of this Parliament, the Procedure Committee undertook an investigation into elections for positions in the House. As part of this, the Committee looked at methods for electing the Speaker and identified two routes: (i) an open ballot as at present, or (ii) a secret ballot.
It was the view of the Committee, in bringing forward its recommendations, that NO CHANGE be made. However, it recognised that there might be an appetite in the House to debate this. Consequently, it made it clear – in two  letters to the Leader of the House, on 7 February 2013 and on 3 February 2015 – that any such debate should take place in prime time “and should not be tucked away on a Thursday”.
Today (Wednesday), at 5.45pm, Conservative colleagues received our first ever notification that, at 10.30am tomorrow, there will be an hour-long Debate “on various Procedure Committee recommendations, including on the re-election of a Speaker”. The notification added that Motions “are in the name of William Hague”.
I understand that one of these Motions will recommend changing the method of re-electing a Speaker from an open ballot to a secret one – despite the fact that only 2 Members of the Procedure Committee have supported this in the past and the Committee as a whole has not recommended any such change.
Astonishingly, even though the notification explicitly referred to the debate being “on various Procedure Committee recommendations”, the first the Chairman of the Procedure Committee, Charles Walker, knew about this Business being tabled by the Leader of the House, was when I told him after reading the notification at about 6.30pm today.
Neither the daily guidance circulated to Conservative Colleagues at 11.48am, nor the Reminder about an “important pre-election meeting of the Parliamentary Party at 10.30am tomorrow”, circulated to colleagues at 11.51am today, made any mention of bringing this controversial matter before the House on the very last day of this Parliament.
Therefore, we find that large numbers of Conservative Colleagues will be attending an important ‘Strategy meeting’ in Portcullis House at the very same time as this highly contentious matter is being debated in the Chamber. The Division Bell will then ring and Colleagues will stream over to the Division Lobbies without any awareness of the issues involved in this so-called “Free Vote”. Instead, they will be likely to support whatever it is the Leader of the House has tabled.
One need not be a particular admirer of the Speaker to realise that this is no way for decent people to behave.
I trust that Members of all parties will not allow themselves to be manipulated in this unworthy fashion, and will make the effort to attend and vote appropriately tomorrow, by rejecting the proposal to re-elect the Speaker secretly rather than openly.
Yours sincerely,
Julian Lewis