Saturday, March 23, 2013

Sanctions league tables and retroactive laws

Just days after helping the Tory led government rush through a bunch of retrospective rule changes aimed at undermining the rule of law, denying reimbursement to thousands of people unlawfully stripped of their benefits and saving Iain Duncan Smith's political career, the Labour party decided to go on the offensive and criticise the Coalition government over leaked DWP documents referring to league tables for the number of claimants sanctioned (having their benefits withheld). Tory ministers such as Mark Hoban and Iain Duncan Smith have repeatedly made statements to parliament and to the public that there are no league tables.

Here's a link to the leaked letter.

The most damning parts refer directly to the existence of league tables for sanctions, and demonstrate that these targets are imposed by senior DWP managers:
"As you can see Walthamstow are 95th in the league table out of only 109 ... Our district manager is not pleased … because senior managers are under pressure to improve our office output and move up the league he has to apply some pressure downwards." She continues: "Guys, we really need to up the game here. The 5% target is one thing – the fact that we are seeing over 300 people a week and only submitting six of them for possible doubts is simply not quite credible."
There are five utterly damning elements to the letter.
  • Despite being repeatedly denied by Tory ministers, sanctions league tables clearly exist.
  • Despite being repeatedly denied by DWP officials, sanctions targets tables clearly exist.
  • Very senior DWP staff are aware of these league tables and targets.
  • Very senior DWP staff have been pushing the targets.
  • Ordinary staff and management have been threatened with disciplinary action (PIP) for not sanctioning enough unemployed people.
Just two days before the leaked document came to light the employment minister Mark Hoban claimed in parliament that there were no league tables, here's what he said:
"There are no league tables in place. We do not set targets for sanctions. I have made that point in previous discussions."
This statement leaves us with only two options:
Either Hoban is aware of the league tables and targets and has repeatedly lied to Parliament and the public alike.
Or
Mark Hoban is so lazy and incompetent that he doesn't have the faintest idea what senior managers within his own department are up to.
That Mark Hoban and Iain Duncan Smith are incompetent liars is absolutely clear from the workfare debacle. Here's a breakdown of some of the lies and distortions Iain Duncan Smith used in a BBC interview the weekend after his workfare schemes were declared unlawful by the Court of Appeals.

What is less clear is why, at the behest of the shadow DWP minister Liam Byrne, the Labour Leader Ed Miliband desperately tried to force his MPs into supporting the Tory retrospective lawmaking exercise two days before these damning documents came to light. Why on earth did Miliband allow Iain Duncan Smith and Mark Hoban to rush their absurd retroactive laws through parliament as "emergency legislation" and why on earth did he try to force Labour MPs to abstain from the vote in order to allow this rotten bill to pass virtually unchallenged.

Their justification narrtive is that this bill would have passed anyway, and by abstaining they got some "important concessions" is absolute nonsense of the highest order. Had Ed said no to rushing the bill through a virtually empty chamber in just one day as "emergency legislation", the debate would have gone on for weeks, allowing Labour to repeatedly slam Iain Duncan Smith for his brazen incompetence and clearly set out their own alternatives. OK the government would have probably managed to get the legislation through in the end (with the help of the spineless Lib-Dems), but they would have had to take an enormous bruising to do it.

Instead of giving the popular campaign against retroactive laws time to pick up some real momentum (like the grassroots campaign against the backdoor privatisation of the NHS), Labour simply allowed the Tories to rush through their retroactive laws.

Labour had Iain Duncan Smith pinned against the ropes, battered, bloodied and bruised, fighting for his political career, (largely due to his own blundering incompetence) yet for some reason they decided to leave him be and set about punching themselves repeatedly in the face instead.

The only Labour MPs that come out of this with any credit at all are the 40 or so that defied the Labour whip and voted against this rotten legislation, especially John McDonnell who led the opposition to the bill and Ian Mears who resigned from his Labour shadow cabinet position to vote against the Tory led government. You can see the names of the 36 Labour rebels and the 16 other MPs (SNP, Plaid Cymru, DUP, Green party & Alliance party) that voted against the third and final reading this revolting exercise retroactive lawmaking here.

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