Idiocy in the news

Item one

The Daily Express yesterday informed its readers that there are 2,000,000 people claiming Incapacity Benefit who ought not be receiving it.  The methodology by which they arrive at this outlandish figure seems to be more than a little dubious.

They begin by looking at people who were assessed for the new benefit which is replacing Incapacity Benefit, Employment Support Allowance, between October 2008 and December 2009.  Of these people, 68% were rated fit for work, while another 22% were assessed as having health problems but still being capable of some work, making a total of 90% who ought, as the Express believes, be in employment.  The paper then extrapolates from these figures, assuming that the same percentage of people who are in receipt of Incapacity Benefit would fail the assessment for ESA, and that consequently the overwhelming majority of people on IB are receiving their money under false pretences.

This ignores the fact that – contrary to what rabidly right-wing scandal sheets might have you believe – people under the old system weren’t just showered with cash from the Magical Money Tree the moment they uttered the words “I’m feeling a bit peaky”.  In fact, to successfully claim IB you had to be repeatedly assessed as incapable of work by a doctor or nurse.  As a result of this, a proportion of people applying for IB were turned down.  I know this for a fact, since I was once amongst their number, until an appeal tribunal overturned the decision.  This means that the percentage of IB recipients judged capable of work will necessarily be lower than people applying from scratch, because the bulk of the chancers will already have been screened out by the medical assessments for IB.  All of this is common sense, and would be obvious to anyone who had thought about the issue.

It is a matter of some regret that the class of people who have thought about the issue does not seem to include, so far as I can tell, Alison Little, the journalist who wrote the piece in The Express.  Her misunderstanding – assuming it was a misunderstanding – will have had the effect of once again unfairly whipping up public resentment against the genuinely sick and disabled, which does seem to be rather a shame.  It’s a matter of further regret that Ms Little did not seek comments for her article from a broader cross-section of interested parties.

She reports the thoughts of Matthew Elliott of the Taxpayer’s Alliance, Theresa May of the Conservatives, and Jonathan Shaw of Labour, all of whom are in absolute agreement with each other that there is no doubt that many of the people on IB are capable of work.  Had she reached out to some of the people affected, or the organisations that are trying to support them, she might have found that things are not as clear cut as they can appear to be, and that many of those capable of undertaking some work are unable to offer the at-my-desk-come-rain-or-shine reliability that employers prefer.  Only in the weird alternative reality inhabited by politicians and journalists is the failure of employers to offer flexible working arrangements the fault of the people excluded from employment.

Item two

Mr Joseph Ratzinger (whose known aliases include ‘Cardinal Ratzinger’ and ‘His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI’) has attacked the UK’s equality laws.  Well, that’s what all the headline writers are saying.  What he has in fact done is attack laws which seek to extend equality to gay people, while praising the UK for its commitment to equality with respect to every other minority.  The homo-hate does not come as a surprise, but I do note that Mr Ratzinger seems to be rather confused, in all sorts of ways.

For example, the Vatican’s most famous resident would not appear to have heard of a little 16th Century event known as the Reformation.  This was the process that culminated in the overthrow of papal authority, and means that the person who holds Mr Ratzinger’s office no longer has any say in the running of political affairs in the UK.  He can stamp his foot as many times as he likes, but the truth is he is of zero significance.  I am related to dutiful, regularly-worshipping catholics, and even they (grateful users of contraception that they are) ignore pretty much every word that comes out of the pope’s mouth.  They certainly wouldn’t vote on the basis of what he told them, not least because he’s rabidly conservative and they aren’t.  If Mr Ratzinger can’t even carry his own followers with him, what hope has he got of persuading the nation at large?

For another example, there’s Mr Ratzinger’s reference to the idea of ‘the natural law’, which is what’s apparently infringed by not letting good catholic folk trample the gays underfoot like the verminous scum we so obviously are.  Well , I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but the phrase ‘natural law’ is a tautology.  The concept of the law is a wholly abstract one, invented by humans.  Like other abstract concepts – god, for example – it has no existence outside the minds of human beings.  The law isn’t ‘natural’, it’s a product of our culture and society, which is how it can change over time.  I understand this idea – that things can change – is one that religious fundamentalists like Ratzinger struggle with, but the days when a pope could derail the cause of freedom are long gone.  Even ultra-catholic Spain is giving rights to gay people now.  Ratzinger has lost, he just hasn’t realised it yet.

Anyway, for the benefit of Mr Ratzinger, and other people who struggle to cope with the intellectual demands of the modern world, let me try to set out the situation as clearly as I can:

  • You have an absolute right to believe whatever you want;
  • You have a right to live your life in accordance with your beliefs, provided you don’t harm anyone else;
  • You have an absolute right to talk and write publicly about your beliefs, and to try and persuade others to share them;
  • You have a right to criticise those who do not share your beliefs, or who live their life in a manner with which you disagree, provided you do not do so in a way calculated to incite hatred.

On the other hand, there are rights that you do not have:

  • You do not have the right to impose your beliefs on others;
  • You do not have the right to force others to live their lives as though they shared your beliefs;
  • You do not have the right to veto the granting of rights;
  • You do not have the right to insist that your ideas are worthy of enhanced respect or extra deference simply because they are religious in nature, or because they were once deferred to.

The ‘aggressively secular society’ Mr Ratzinger complains about is not really aggressive, neither is it hostile to religion.  It is keen to treat religious ideas, and religious people, with the same respect that it treats all ideas, and every person.  All it seeks to do is roll back the special significance accorded to religious ideas, and to curtail religion’s efforts to control the lives of non-believers.  Mr Ratzinger’s UK representatives have the right to tell homosexuals we are sick perverts damned to an eternity in hell, they just can’t insist that we shouldn’t have our human rights.  In the same way, I can loudly announce my opinion that the pope is a nasty-minded, aggressive little bigot, but that doesn’t mean I can insist that his human rights should be withheld.  There’s a name for this state of affairs – it’s called equality.  Only in the weird alternative reality inhabited by religious fundamentalists does equality mean religious folk get to say what’s allowed, and everyone else gets to suffer in silence.

It would appear that rage can cut through my insomniac brain-fog, which is good to know.  I guess John Lydon was right

Anger is an energy, anger is an energy, anger is an energy…

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7 Responses to Idiocy in the news

  1. Kate says:

    Of the 68% of claimants who ‘fail’ the assessment for ESA, a large proportion (around 30%) failed to attend either the medical or appeal which meant they were immediately struck off and shunted on to JSA with no further assistance.
    If someone has a mental-health (or other) difficulty, it’s not difficult to imagine why they might not want to/be capable of turning up without some proper support (such as an advice worker).
    I’ve been to a few as a rep. and I can tell you – they’re ruthless and condescending, even contravening the goverment guidance on how to conduct a medical.
    The majority of our clients fail at the first hurdle (despite having been sectioned, attempted suicide, experienced acute psychosis etc.) but frequently win the appeal. They do their upmost to deter you at every stage.
    I received a DWP bulletin today about the new proceedure for sick notes/med certificates. Doctors will now be expected to describe what a claimant CAN do and the likely steps s/he would be capable of taking to find work – plus a rough timescale for that – rather than stating their diagnosis/symptoms/treatment.
    By April this year, there should be a mental-health-coordinator in every JC+ to assist JSA claimants with ‘mild to moderate’ mental health problems. In theory this seems like a reasonable proposal but I imagine the reality will be somewhat dissappointing. I’ll let you know (I have to sign-on soon and I’m mad as a box of frogs, so they say!).
    I’m not even going to look at the Express article. I fear it would be bad for my health!
    K.x

  2. Okay, setting aside the fact that churches are exempt from having to treat people legally so their scaremongering is just that, I didn’t quite know how to respond to this quote from the Times:

    “Catholics warned that they could be forced to admit women to the priesthood.”

    Women priests? So scary!

    Currently the scariest example of a Christian sense of entitlement in the news IMO are the American baptists who tried kidnapping children from Haiti and believe they did nothing wrong because it was God’s work.

  3. The Daily Express is a contemptible rag. Worse than the Mail.

    Ratzinger is an idiot, as you say, no-one in the UK gives a flying fuck at a rolling donut about what he thinks. He probably reckons he can tell people what to do like in majority catholic countries like Ireland. I bet being ignored will piss him off.

  4. J. Wibble says:

    In Tom Reynolds’ new book he at one point briefly ponders where exactly the line is drawn between religion and insanity. It’s a very, very fine one, and has a lot to do with context – a friend of mine tells people Jesus spoke to her and that he has messages for her in a book and (depending on their personal adherence) either rejoice or ignore it. I tell people Jesus is talking to me and leaving me messages and I get 10mg of olanzapine thrown at me. Admittedly she said it in a church and I said it in a car park at 4am, but even then many student union Christian groups wait outside the campus club nights at chucking-out time, offering water and “witnessing” to the drunken heathens pouring out of the bar, and I’ve seen them there at 4am myself when emerging utterly gazeboed from said bar.

    Wherever the line is, I’ve never met anyone on either side of it who takes the Express seriously.

  5. Kate says:

    And another thing – The DWP’s active press office is ensuring that some of the stories that relate to the subject of ‘scroungers’ actually GET INTO the red top nasties.
    Sounds conspiritorial, I know, but it’s entirely true. We’re doing what we can in social policy work and so forth but I’m sad to say, presently, it doesn’t seem to be making a dint in the scourge.
    K.x (CAB mental health adviser!)

  6. aethelreadtheunread says:

    Thanks for the comments.

    Kate – I didn’t know that so many of the failed medicals are actually just failures to attend – a third seems like a scarily high proportion to me. That was always a bit of a catch 22 with the IB medical – if you didn’t turn up your benefit was stopped, but if you did turn up then it was taken as evidence of an ability to work – but it sounds like they’ve really gone to town with that idea with ESA. I can easily believe that the DWP are going out of their way to make the process as difficult and stressful as possible, even for people who are genuinely sick. That’s the whole point of the ESA after all – not to support people who are sick, not to try and help people back into work, but just to get the numbers down in answer to muck-raking pieces like the one in the Express.

    I’m really glad that there are people like you who are trying to redress the balance – i’m a huge fan of the CAB, and i think you do great work for your clients. :o)

    almost0surreptitious – the women priests thing i find particularly bizarre since, so far as i’m aware, there’s nothing in the bible which says that priests have to be men. And i agree with you completely about the Haitian children. Obviously it’s turning out that at least some of them weren’t orphans, but even if they were, there might be other family members who could step in to take care of them, or, failing that, at least be around to provide some continuity between their past and present lives. To think that it’s in the best interests of the children to essentially abduct them and raise them in a foreign country is a pretty warped mindview, i think.

    DeeDee Ramona – well, i have to begin by saying that i love the expression ‘give a flying fuck at a rolling donut’. :o) What i find bothersome about Ratzinger’s intervention is that it’s so overtly political, and carefully timed to fit into the election fever. As you say, it will hopefully irritate him that basically no-one has listened, and most of those who have are either outraged by the content of his remarks, or the fact that he’s trying to intervene in politics, or both.

    J Wibble – at my college the only things that used to get handed out after club nights were condoms. Possibly of slightly more use than ‘witness’, i’d have thought. Definitely more fun… ;o)

    It would actually be an interesting research exercise to gather a selection of quotes from a group of people who’ve been defined as mad, and another set of quotes from people who are passionate believers, then mix them up and present them unattributed and separately to a panel of psychiatrists and a panel of religious people. It would be interesting to see how many mad people the religious people thought were holy, and how many religious people the psychiatrists thought were mad. I suspect there’d be a lot of overlap… :o)

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