And So It Goes…#658

The point of torture , as Orwell’s character O’Brien  in the novel ” 1984 ” points out  ,” torture.” I don’t for one moment claim that my own precarious economic situation is anything especially worthy of comment or sympathy ( though ,those would be nice ) ,The Department of Work & Pensions whom imposed Sanctions against me for some nebulous ,poorly documented quasi-reason predicated on unsubstantiated ,anecdotal hearsay for my variously ,” not attending ” ,then again ” not  participating  in ” a Mandatory Work Placement would be heinous enough. But no ,hang on there’s a lot more to 21st.century UK bureaucracy and and  their political masters in the Austerity-driven ,vindictive  tyranny than you could possibly accredit. Gleaned from Patrick butler’s column in the Guardian of 9 June 2015 :-

 Last week’s high court judgment which found that the lengthy unnecessary delays in the processing of personal independence payment (Pip) claims were not only unacceptable, but unlawful.

The distress to claimants caused by the Pip disaster – which as successive reportspoint out, was caused by DWP incompetence – was and continues to be appalling and disturbing, pitching tens of thousands of poor, disabled and ill people into, variously, debt, depression, hunger, isolation and homelessness.

Pip, which is replacing disability living allowance (DLA), was expected to be a speedy process, taking two weeks to complete. The new system, however, was not piloted before its 2013 introduction. Both DWP and its private contractors, Atos and Capita, grossly underestimated capacity and demand. The typical waiting time rapidly became 74 days. Tens of thousands of people waited over a year to get the financial support to which they were entitled. Many were forced to turn to loan sharks and food banks to survive. It was, the Commons’ public accounts committee noted last year, “nothing short of a fiasco”.

Was there even a whisper of contrition for this calamity in the wake of the ruling? A sheepish raising of the corporate DWP hand to say “we messed up”? Nope. Nothing. Instead, the disability minister, Justin Tomlinson triumphantly pointed out that the government did not have to pay damages to the two claimants who took it to court (not mentioning the government had to pay all the legal costs), as if it had somehow “won” the case.

Politicians never like admitting they are wrong. But the DWP, which has form in this regard, last week raised the bar in terms of institutional gracelessness. It is difficult to think of any other public organisation that feels so empowered to treat its “customers” with such contempt, or its critics with such disdain.

One could dismiss a call for a corporate “sorry” as meaningless tokenism. But the gesture is not merely a sign of basic human decency: it is an acknowledgment of public accountability and, hopefully, of lessons taken on board. The DWP’s lack of contrition suggests it is not interested in the former, nor open to learning from its mistakes.

The DWP and its private providers eventually have got Pip back on course (at least for now), hiring hundreds more administrative and clinical staff at huge cost to make inroads into the backlog. But don’t assume the Pip fiasco was a one-off error, or an unexpected accident. Rather, it is the latest in a repeating pattern of DWP management failure.

Reforms like Universal Credit, the Work Programme, and incapacity benefit reassessments like Pip, have either stalled,crashed chaotically, or woefully underperformed, each brought low by the same shortcomings.

A recent National Audit Office study pinpointed these precisely: the DWP’s approach, it finds, is too rigid; its policy assumptions tend to be untested and over-optimistic; strategically, it fails to anticipate uncertainty (specifically, the possibility of failure); it neglects to monitor

progress, so does not notice when things go wrong until far too late.

The sequence is this: strategic arrogance, followed by  failure and crisis management, then political denial. How very Soviet. It is no way, you might think, to run the UK’s most ambitious, expensive and complex programme of social reform. Given that its political overseer, Iain Duncan Smith, the Work and Pensions Secretary, has been reappointed to his post, perhaps we should assume the government believes there is no other way.

The risks are immediate. In October the next Pip phase begins. Around 1.5 million DLA recipients start to have their claims reassessed. More prolonged delays will be not just politically explosive, they will scupper projected savings. For the sake of the claimants let’s hope there will be no delays. But we shouldn’t be surprised if there are.



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