Posts Tagged TaxPayers’ Alliance

A punny reply from the TaxPayers’ Alliance

A couple of days ago, Primly Stable commented on the post from last month about the false claims that the NHS was buying loaves of bread for £32 a piece, pointing out that The Express had issued a retraction of the story (though it remains available online), and Tabloid Watch followed this up with an excellent post pointing out that The Sun had quietly deleted the story too.

At Tabloid Watch’s suggestion, I emailed Emma Boon of the TaxPayers’ Alliance, who was quoted by a number of papers (including The Mail and The Telegraph) as saying

“It smacks of incompetence that the Welsh NHS is paying so much more for these goods than they are available for in the shops.

“The cost per unit prices are way above supermarket prices for gluten-free products in some cases which is really worrying.”

“This doesn’t look like taxpayers are getting value for money.”

to ask if she or the TPA would be retracting the comments, and whether the TPA would remove the claim from their website. Here, in full, is her reply:

Thank you for your e-mail. £2.82 is still an awful lot of dough for a loaf. A cursory glance around my local supermarket or online reveals gluten free loaves are sold for much less.

Whichever way you slice it I stand by every word of my comment.

Best,

Emma

The reply may not have addressed any of my concerns (for one thing, the claim that the NHS spends £32 on bread is still up on the TPA website), but those are some excellent puns, I’m sure you’ll agree. I’d say Boon should consider writing for a tabloid in her spare time, but judging by how often she and the rest of the TaxPayers’ Alliance are quoted in the papers, it seems a little redundant.

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The Sun lies about disability benefits, what a shock

GOT hay fever? Why not throw a sickie?

Even better, take the rest of your working life off.

Well, this is going to go well.

New figures show that under Labour the state was happy to pay your way, no questions asked.

Those claiming Disability Living Allowance soared from 2.1million in 2000 to 3.1million last year. The annual cost is now £12billion.

So, 3.1 million have “taken the rest of their working lives off” on Disability Living Allowance, and the state is “paying their way”? Well, no.

Disability Living Allowance is a supplementary payment, given to people with disabilities, which helps cover their care and mobility costs – in The Sun‘s case, they seem to be talking solely about the part of the DLA that covers care, since that’s where the 3.1 million figure comes from. There are different levels of DLA, depending on how severe the disability is, but even in the most severe case – someone who requires 24 hour care – the recipient would only get £73.60 a week, or about £3,800 a year, and on average, people only receive about £46.30 a week, or £2,400 a year (and 500,000 of that 3.1 million get nothing at all). No-one has “taken the rest of their working lives off” to live on £2,400 a year.

Incidentally, that part about the annual cost being £12 billion does seem to be including the cost of mobility allowance as well – the cost of the care part of the DLA is only £6.4 billion a year. It sounds like a lot, but like I say, it only actually works out at about £46 per person per week – not very much at all when you think about the cost of a private carer, or the earnings lost by a friend or family member who takes time off work to provide care.

Clearly The Sun must realise this – they complain that “Many of those handed up to £73.60 a week are laid low with ailments such as “alcohol abuse” or allergies“, clearly hoping that we won’t realise that £73.60 is not all that much money. There maybe people on DLA because of alcohol abuse or allergies, but in that case, it will be because their condition is so serious that they need part-or-full-time care. To qualify for even the lowest rate, you need to be either physically unable to cook for yourself or require care for part of the day. That’s more than just “someone who cannot get out of bed because their hangover is so bad“.

The Sun also says that “The vast majority of claimants have never been medically assessed“, which also isn’t true. Most people aren’t assessed by the Department of Work and Pensions, true, but in order to qualify for DLA, you need to have been diagnosed by your doctor. Everyone who is on DLA was assessed by their doctor.

Now at last the Government plans to order regular assessments to weed out the workshy.

It should make the economy look healthier by a few billion pounds a year.

That’s something not to be sneezed at.

Unpaid carers are worth about £87 billion to the economy per year, by reducing the strain on the NHS. Making it even harder for them is hardly going to make the economy any healthier.

Edit: The Express’s coverage is more or less the same, but with TPA quotes and the added bonus that they express incredulity that people with back pain might have trouble moving around. WHO’D HAVE THOUGHT?

(The Sun discards its “Sun Says” columns each day. I’ve preserved this one beneath the fold)

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Sex lives of the potato lesbians (and everyone else)

Apologies for the title.

“Nosey council chiefs were accused of losing the plot yesterday after applicants for allotments were quizzed about their sex lives”, says the Express today. “A survey attached to the application form asks would-be gardeners about their race, religion and sexual orientation.” Note to “Daily Express Reporter” – sexual orientation ≠ sex life. Knowing whether someone is gay or bisexual or straight tells you no more about their sex life than whether they’re single or in a relationship. Anyway.

City of Lincoln Council bosses are also keen to know if they think lesbians should be allowed allotments, too.

Really? The council was unsure whether or not lesbians should be allowed allotments? Ok, fair enough, if that was true that might be a legitimately scandalous story, though not for the reasons the Express thinks. Of course, it’s not. As ever, none of this story actually holds up to scrutiny.

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Isn’t the TPA railing against “pointless non-jobs” rather hypocritical?

The papers aren’t even trying any more. Once upon a time, they might at least pretend they weren’t simply churning out TaxPayers’ Alliance press releases; today’s articles “Council EU jobs cost £41m” (Express) and “Councils spend £41million a year on non-jobs” (Telegraph) however are utterly shameless about it.

First things first: the TaxPayers’ Alliance report (eurgh, I guess I should link to it) found the cost of all “unnecessary” jobs – in other words, any job Richard Littlejohn might disapprove of – was £41 million. That’s not just European Officers, but Diversity Officers, Political Advisers and Climate Change Officers* too.

The report contradicts itself several times: the TPA point to the fact that different councils employ different numbers of staff as an indication of waste – “the disparities across councils are evidence that the hiring of specific staff is not necessary” – only to later state “As proponents of localism, the TaxPayers’ Alliance believes that local authorities should be granted as much freedom as possible to make decisions that benefit local taxpayers. This will inevitably mean that councils will pursue different policy objectives“. So councils should have as much freedom as they like as long as they only use that freedom to do exactly what the TPA wants?

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Express says dealing with complaints “a waste of money”

The Daily Express finds it risible that the BBC  has a guide telling staff how to deal with complaints. Actually, it’s not the BBC at all, but an entirely independent company subcontracted to run a call centre for TV Licensing, but apparently they’re basically the same thing so whatever. It’s not really a guide to dealing with complaints either, but a general guide for call centre staff, which mentions complaints among the many things they may have to deal with.

Anyway, a guide for dealing with complaints! How bizarre! Of course, we all know the Daily Express never has to deal with complaints ever, so they’re entirely justified attacking the BBC about this.

The Daily Express claims that “Much of the advice in the 964-page book appears to state the blindingly obvious – including warning staff that the words “idiots”, “shambles” or “useless” may mean people are unhappy.”

Well, you can read the book online (warning, massive page) at What Do They Know? (a site which collects Freedom of Information requests) and in fact, much of the advice in the book explains the finer legal points of TV licences – how diplomatic immunity affects TV licensing, for instance* – and a good chunk more of it explains the codes used on the call centre’s various computer systems. Only two pages – 238 and 239 – explain how to recognise a complaint, and do so only for the sake of bookkeeping , so the call centre staff know whether or not they should log a call as a complaint or just a combatively worded question.

The Express also claims “It also includes prepared answers to regular objections to programmes considered offensive“, which since this is a TV Licensing call centre guide, not the BBC complaints department one, seems a bit odd. In fact, there is only a single mention in the whole book of offensive programming: the hypothetical complaint “The BBC is producing poor programmes, some are offensive. I am only going to pay a proportion of the fee“**. Still, never content with attacking the BBC on one front, the Express can’t resist going for the old “The BBC is offensive and out of touch” comment too.

The closest article comes to actual analysis is another churned out comment from Martin Sinclair of the TaxPayers’ Alliance (of course the TaxPayers’ Alliance commented):

There probably are lots of complaints about the unfair and expensive licence fee but ordinary families would expect that staff can identify an obvious complaint without lengthy guidance and training, at more cost. There might be fewer complaints if the BBC kept costs under control.

I wonder if the TaxPayers’ Alliance was aware that the Daily Express had completely misrepresented the nature of the guide when they churned out that comment? Or that the advice, covering a single sheet of paper in a very large typeface, was hardly lengthy nor costly? Or that the document was actually produced by the outsourcing company Capita, not the BBC itself? Perhaps the TaxPayers’ Alliance has found the key to “keeping costs under control” – don’t waste money looking into a story before shooting your mouth off about it.

* Diplomats are expected to pay the TV licence but if they refuse, or an embassy has unlicensed televisions on its premises, TV Licensing are powerless to do anything about it.

** The suggested reply by the way is masterfully tactful:

The licence fee is not payment for BBC services, it is payment for a legal permission to install and use a television receiver. The full fee prescribed in law is payable regardless of which channels are viewed. We (and the BBC) are not allowed by law to accept any payment other than the prescribed fee for a licence. The BBC do wish to know the views of the public and these can be made to BBC Information, PO Box 1922, Glasgow, G2 3WT.

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TaxPayers’ Alliance or The Sun editorial team – who’s worse?

Two sets of lies and disortions on the same story from The Sun and The Daily Express. Let’s tackle The Sun‘s first, in today’s “The Sun Says” editorial:*

THE Government can’t move fast enough to carry out disability benefit medical checks.

Almost one million workless households are getting large handouts by claiming that every member over 16 is sick, injured or disabled.

That would make us the sickest and most accident-prone country in Europe – which we aren’t.

Really? Let’s have a look at the Europe-wide disability benefits statistics (PDF). The data are a little bit old (2005), but it’s the most recent I could find, and according to DWP statistics (PDF), the number of people on incapacity benefits has dropped slightly between 2005 to 2010 (from 1.83 million to 1.78 million (table 1.2 of the DWP data, p. 11)), so if anything, this data will be an overestimate.

Graph 1.1 of the European data (p. 17) conveniently shows the proportion of the UK population on incapacity benefits compared to all other EU countries. In fact, we’re 8th out of 25 in terms of the proportion of our population on long term disability benefits. True, we’re above (as The Sun would put it, “sicker and more accident-prone than”) Malta, Cyprus, Greece, Estonia, France, Germany and Slovenia, but we’re below Portugal, Latvia, Ireland, Slovakia, Italy, Belgium, Poland, Austria, Luxembourg, Estonia, the Czech Republic, Denmark, the Netherlands, Finland, Lithuania, Sweden and Hungary.

So the entire point of The Sun‘s editorial – that clearly there must be disability benefit fraud going on, since more people are on benefit than in any other European country – is nothing but a lie.

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TaxPayers’ Alliance says jump, Express says ‘How high?’

Red tape

Some very sparkly EU red tape.

Sorry, this is going to be a very dry post today. I mean, unless you enjoy poring over lists of Government regulations in which case this will be your favourite blog post on the entire interweb.

The Express, and only the Express, today leads with “UK’s £10bn bill for EU red tape“. Clearly we’ve been buying a lot of tape.

The typical rent-a-quotes are out in force in this article; Philip Davies MP says:

“The vast majority of businesses don’t have any dealings with the EU. It’s particularly galling that they have to bear the costs of the regulations. When people realise how much the EU costs they will come to the conclusion that we would be better off out.”

The TaxPayers’ Alliance (whoops, wrong link) meanwhile pops in to add:

“The cost of the red tape now exceeds the value of the business it is intended to regulate. It’s sheer madness, and not why we joined in the first place.”

Firstly, if you think the entirety of the British economy is now worth less than £10 billion, you are probably not a reliable source of economic information. Secondly, this article is oddly long on anger, short on facts.

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