Tag Archives: government

Ombudsmen watchers and academia

Dear Dr Creutzfeldt

I have found your report of last December Critics of the ombudsman system: understanding and engaging online citizen activists regarding ombudsman watchers and would like to comment on it.

I am someone who has had many poor experiences of different ombudsmen over a long period.

I have several grave concerns with the study:

(i) It is taken on by an institution seen as much part of the establishment as the ombudsmen themselves – namely, Oxford University.

(ii) Your colleague is a former ombudsman employee

(iii) You “partner” with the PHSO, one of the most criticised ombudsmen

(iv) You had public money from a government funded council to look at government funded bodies; the Economic and Social Research Council has government staff (as well as business people) on its board, both of whose interests are vested in the status quo of ombudsmen

(v) You had to find watchers who were willing to attend a workshop – this may be seen as even a trap and many ombudsman whistleblowers would be wary of coming, especially given the above. Those who run watchers websites are a small proportion of those contributing to them or reading them, so this doesn’t feel very representative.

(vi) Your report is full of statements like “one said…”, “some felt…” – never anything substantial or specific. No cases and facts are mentioned.

 

(vii) Your remit was for the ombudsmen to understand how these groups work so that they can be “managed” and effectively, it’s implied, not allow them to interfere with the status quo, or “legitimacy”(para 2, p3).

 

Some comments on the summaries provided:

You summarise that the watchers “raise lack of clear themes”, yet in the same piece, note how detailed the watchers are in their ideas for ombudsman reform.

The watchers sites are full of details of cases and therefore strong first hand evidence of what is going wrong. Ombudsmen are a big part of so called just and equal society, publicly funded, so their abject failure should be of very great concern and a cause for immediate action.

I quote from p11 of your summary:

“Individual issues and unrealistic expectations. One participant (from a

scheme whose ombudsman watcher did not attend the workshop described

above) said there were no themes arising from the website concerned with his

organisation because it was focused on the personal experience of a single

individual. He said that as a result of the very individual nature of the criticisms

and the fact that these related to historic practices, there was little scope for

learning lessons in relation to possible service improvements.”

 

Why was this person’s views allowed to be recorded and take up half this section when they didn’t attend? Nothing here is substantiated. Of course the motivation to set up such sites is likely to be from personal experience; the high counts of hits shows that these resonate with a large number. What is the keenness to undermine the individual?

Perhaps the academic/social science aspect does not recognise individual experience, but it is that experience which is most poignant – the very real distress, suffering, anger, frustration, sense of not being heard, that there is no accountability and justice – is the heart of the problems that complainants have with ombudsman and with individuals have large organisations generally. The lack of humanity is one of the biggest criticisms.

That the ombudsmen felt that the effects of the watchers is ‘slight’ is really to be expected – it is in their interests to proclaim that these watchers do not do them any real damage.

‘Unrealistic expectations’ is a somewhat angering and again ironic response to the millions of people over a couple of decades who come to ombudsmen as the only reasonable way to fight their corner. They leave, some time later, with great frustration and disappointment.

As ombudsmen’s cases consist of individuals and small groups against large organisations, it is understandable that the people seek a champion. It seems that what actually is in place is a supporter of the large body that they have complained about.

I have known cases to be elongated which cause danger and even demise. I have seen one such case thrown out by an ombudsman for “insufficient suffering”!

I would like to ask if the researchers are aware of what it is like to bring a case to an ombudsman, the way the complaint process works, the responses of the ombudsman staff. The obtuseness or deliberate deflection and dishonesty is beyond belief. At every stage, the complainant is disadvantaged, controlled and kept at bay. I’d even say it’s deliberate dehumanising and demotivating.

Of course those who have not felt justice and closure will be unhappy, and yet you seem to agree that this somehow dilutes and disqualifies these complainants – who are the increasing majority.

This all seems to be missing from your study.

In your summary you took care to say “again this is not to suggest agreement with [the watchers’ critique” – implying, as throughout the piece, a greater solidarity with the ombudsmen.

Your summary spoke of ways that the watchers misunderstand the ombudsmen, yet it is far easier to level the opposite critique at this study, which discovers more about the people and workings of these groups. I note you speak of the “ombudsman community” – telling – but not of the watchers’ groups as a community.

Also, watchers are endeavouring to make grassroots changes as well as information and solidarity for the public; they are aiming for reform from outside, not within the ombudsman system, so that questions the rationale of the workshops.

I note this is one part of a three year funded project closing this year.

ADR is often not “alternative dispute resolution” for there is no sense of resolving for the individual, only an unsatisfying ending made by the other side. Those who attempt judicial review find further fault there – and those problems again lead back to ombudsmen.

This could’ve been an opportunity for change and scrutiny, but it really says little and feels on the side of the ombudsmen. I would like to ask that the remainder of your project and further research utilises the opportunity to reform and for a fairer society, not a reinforcement of the already unpalatable status quo.

Please note that this is an open letter.

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Ombudsman Watchers

This is one of the matters that the aforementioned Healing With the Masters don’t address: bureaucratic injustice.

The British grassroots websites about the wrongs of ombudsmen receive many hits. I’m sad that the one I named in the title, which focusses on the Public Services and Local Government Ombudsman (LGO), is no longer running, but the site and its related blog remain for now.

There is also one about the Financial Ombudsman (FOS) who claims over 120,000 hits.

I have experience of ombudsmen’s shortcomings myself and note that the ones protecting (yes I think that is the right word) the establishment’s favourite things – law, finance, and government – are the worst to deal with. I’ve noted over time that they allow less cases and that if they do investigate yours, they will not come out in your favour.

The CEO of the FOS told me that they often displease both sides.

However, I think that ombudsmen are not independent, as they are meant to be. They are not publically accountable or equal between the individual citizen complainant and the corporation they complain about.

Most of us use the ombudsman because there’s not really another option; once you’ve exhausted the company’s own complaints procedure – easily done – this is the only path open. I think many firms tell customers to use the ombudsman because they know that nothing will happen. If we’re unhappy with their handling, the Ombudsman glibly suggest we can go to court, but much of the time our situations do not merit the heaviness and expense of judicial review.

It leaves us with a sense of frustration, unfairness, crushed hope, of not being heard, of lack of justice in an increasingly unaccountable administration .

That is because:

Ombudsmen ask for a quick turn round from individuals – 5-10 days, but can disappear for months taking to the other side.

The Local Government Ombudsman makes you apply online by filling in specific boxes and can only upload one document, which is meant to be the other side’s final response. (Note, no forwarding emails or your summary of the whole case which would give a better picture). They give no email contact details until someone has provisionally reviewed your case. That means that they’ve gone to the other side and got all their information but without fully hearing yours. And they’re incredibly rude – and thick.

I have frequently had cause to wonder about the comprehension of ombudsman staff. I’ve sent back a complaint summary 4 times because it misrepresented me and would damage my case. The way they address matters and what they leave out shows they are both blinkered, lacking in intelligence beyond the machines they work for, and guided by unknown principles.

The ombudsman systems feels like being asked your opinion in a survey which will largely be ignored. It’s a show for stats, lipservice to democratic transparency and voices.

The ombudsman “services” – all with gov.uk web addresses, even the ones that scrutinises the government – can take up to two years, even when the issue is something urgent as having home your home at risk, or no income.

I would welcome comments from those that also have had problems – we are many – and like the film of the same name released tonight, we can unite to be heard.

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Creative Maladjustment Week

This is based on a Martin Luther King speech who said “Here is a list of horrible things in our world which I’m glad to be maladjusted to, and I won’t be changing that”. He resisted being “normal” as officially defined (especially by psychiatry) and said we need a new group to improve our world, the creatively maladjusted. This international week celebrates that spirit, and here’s its website.

Here’s what I am proud to be maladjusted to:

– Benefits claimant hating, as incited by media and certain political parties; the belief that your worth comes from how much taxable income you generate

– Banks that can create theoretical money and make actual debts to chase you for, even or especially when you’re poor, and cause global crises that others both suffer and pay for

– a health system that’s as much about supply and demand and control as it really is about wellness, and which sees other forms of healing – often older and more universal – as a threat to be derided and blocked; a system that can make decisions on your behalf for ‘your good’ which affect your life and body and mind

– a world where governments and corporations try to own and control people and pry and don’t treat people as people and where other forms of life are only given value by what they profit other humans

– a world where we have judgment and fear, not acceptance, towards those who are different from us, whether that be due to nationhood, skin colour, beliefs, sexuality, gender, bodily ability

– a world where we are disseminated to and encouraged to ridicule or silence those who don’t agree with and expose and question the beliefs that those in control would like us to absorb

– a world of secrecy and control of the few, often masquerading as a people led open advanced society

– invasive customs control based on exaggerated threats; wars on terror justified through fear but which really have some hidden benefit for the few whilst causing more terror for those who we claim to protect

And campaigns to glorify and justify war, past and present

You know my flags by now – justice and liberty for all! And most important – Love.

Here is a big wave of them along with all those other CMs!

 

 

 

 

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No axes, no strikes – listen to Hegel

I am very much opposed to the cuts that the government are attempting to put into place.

But I am also opposed to the response and remedy to them.

I am nonplussed as to why a general strike is being proposed. You will make those suffer whom you have pledged to support. Striking is like hostage taking: make a third party suffer so much that the first will do what you demand. Without food, energy, water, money, or even able to enjoy anything as it will all be closed down – how will any one benefit?! Some may even die in your attempts to save them.

I have just heard a speech asking for strong leadership – and then talk of trade unions. Trade Unions are not the alternative government, any more than a military leadership. It was the trade unions dictation that caused Thatcherism to rise.

I am not happy to be seen standing with those that cheer at her death. While I shed no tears for Margaret this week, I will not be rejoicing at an old, ill woman’s demise. I think the Independent’s editorial this week was spot on – that we should be using our energies in far more positive ways, to stop her legacy continuing, not to denigrate her.

I am against party politics, in that councils and governments should not be comprised of ruling parties all adhering to a group agenda who choose their cabinets, not the people. Our current voting system makes it hard for independents to get in, when we need more of these. It also means wasting too much energy on being elected before any good can be done. The low percentage of voting turn out is because many feel parties are too similar – yes, even the Greens.

Though I am for a system which champions the poor, not I do not want a reverse of the current system. Otherwise we are in for a history that is a game of ping pong between right and left, rich and poor.

We should embrace all people as part of our society, and not shun our opposite. Rich people can be philanthropists and finance good projects. They are not all bankers and toffs, but people in arts and sports, and some of those give pleasure and important contributions to the world. I am not for making enemies of the rich or Tories. Nor am I for a remedy which supports only one ‘class’ and type of person – hence I am not for those for the ‘workers’ only, making narrowly defined labour our raison d’etre and mode of worth.

Hegel the philosopher spoke of thesis, antithesis and synthesis. We have had enough of theses and antitheses; we now need to move towards synthesis, in peaceful, ethical way.

My suggestion is to lobby those who would implement the cuts (eg your local council and landlord associations), and also other bodies who many left wing extremists demonise – the house of Lords and the Royal family. If you think they are not in touch with ordinary people – and you’d be surprised, I think – make sure they are. They have more influence than we are led to believe – let them use it for good.

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Further thoughts on forced labour for claimants

After reading today’s Observer (not my usual paper but more me than most others) I feel I should repost this, as further workfare for jobseekers is being proposed. I’m interested that the Observer‘s view is that it’s a backlash against government reforms not working. Hardly a logical one!

And I’d also like to comment on what I think of employers who are taking on staff without paying them. You don’t need me to spell that out, do you?

https://elspethr.wordpress.com/2012/03/29/eco-echo/ – a response to an article in favour of this practice.

See also my thoughts on “Hatred of Housing benefit claimants” and “Government gripes”

 

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Government gripes

What does Royal Mail think it will achieve by raising the price of postage so? If it is already struggling to compete how will this assist it? In my experience delivery is slow and often inaccurate – misdelivered items are regular. In times of cuts, passing one’s own struggles onto the public is immoral and also does not make business sense. it is claimed that too many of us are using other methods to transport things and that RM are not viable – so how is making a radical price increase going to help?

The cuts continue to be ridiculous and eating at those who need the money most. Housing benefit claimants are slashed each year without warning as a kind of warped anniversary present. Just because one has been claiming for a time does not mean you can magically waft in more money at the government’s behest. It’s still a system where it makes claimants worse off for working. These moves are going to make some homeless and make those with a home in very unsuitable living situations. It also passes on the shortfall to landlords, some of whom might do very well for doing very little, but the people really responsible for this so called deficit are not in any way taking any of the strain. They’ve no idea about being poor and now the quite well off are also struggling financially. The Guardian reported that East Cheshire council is paying over £200,000 per year to its top two council leaders – one of whom is off sick. Paying them a more suitable salary would mean alot of people on benefits (as well as all the other axed services and needs) could be paid. Leaders don’t understand the anguish and fear and the spiral they are putting onto people. Or are they like Scrooge, hoping the poorest will just die in the gutter?

We shouldn’t let them.

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Forced Work Experience

I was really sorry when one person used her “ethical business” blogpost in an alternative local magazine as a platform to comment on an unrelated matter. She conflates the benefits of work experience, which she extols, with the government moves to force people on benefits into doing unpaid work.

Her views, especially given the magazine, are old fashioned and disappointing: she sees going to work as learning ‘proper behaviours’ and about bowing to employer expectations – she is an employer. It reminds me of arriving at the bank in Mary Poppins. There’s an implication that these “proper behaviours” are about subservience and conformity, something again I did not expect to have implicitly endorsed in this rag whose echoes are of an ecological, not Torylogical nature.

What the many critics of the government benefit reforms mind is the forced, unpaid labour (which is a form of slavery) which little understands that people and business work best when they are linked by people’s passions and abilities. Few of these schemes are going to put those who aren’t working in a place that helps them find truly suitable paying work – this is about cutting the welfare bill and resocialising claimants to the system.  Why do we believe our value comes from earning and often from something that’s hard and unpleasant, a grind to be endured and whose end is welcomed? Why do we view those who do what they love as lucky at best, or to be scorned as idealistic wasters?

I know a business coach who said to me that for her work, that you love is the only kind there is.

Our problems stem from misplaced values systems and imbalanced power.

I believe that unemployment would be largely solved if everyone got paid for what they do, rather than be made to find employment doing something else. Hence the push towards voluntary work and squeezing out of the welfare system is completely nonsensical and negative. And it is exploitation, not experience.

I would counsel a return to that magazine’s roots – for those who want a better world, often looking to alternative ideologies and spiritualities, and dare to believe that the status quo is not the only or often the best way.

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Hatred of housing benefit claimants

I am incensed by another example of irresponsible, crowd whipping reporting from my local rag. Archant owns most local rags in England now, and has been behind other thoughtlessness in the same group of papers about overweight campaigns (see next blog) and got a man reburgled due to describing his home in such detail and the ripeness of the opportunity at his secluded, treasure ridden abode. Mostly I find the headlines so incendiary in their mix of rustic low brow and propaganda that I rarely read it. I could give other examples from around the country, including the way that this journalism monopoliser treats its staff.

A front page headline of a multiple million pound housing benefit overpayment is designed to make those not in the welfare system angry, saying that the overpayment is not only caused by deliberate fraud but those who fail their responsibility to tell the council of changes of circumstances. Reading on – as far as I could bear – it is clearly meant to couple this large figure with all the anger the public feels about the recession and the cuts in Britain. It lists other local amenities being lost due to the cuts, as if it is housing benefit claimants’ fault, saying that the council’s announcement has come against a ‘backdrop’ of all the other suffering.

I would like to remind what that backdrop really is. It’s worldwide greed and disproportionate power and wealth, forgetting what it really is to be human. Our governments and banking systems, along with others, are the manifestation of this.

The next day, the sister paper also carried an article. It revealed that it had (mis)used the freedom of information act to find this out.

On one page, the opinion is clearly against cuts and for caring and being humane. Yet on another, we get this contradictory message. The council is quoted to say that most people on HB actually need it, but the last word of the article makes clear what the paper and journalist thinks – that our council’s deficit is due to wasted welfare.

It is actually evil to lay such problems at the feet of those too poor to be able to pay their own way in a society of ever rising costs and make them the scapegoat. Estate agents forever pushing prices up, insurance companies making legally sanctioned money through fear, large newspaper groups who buy up independents, and councils who not only unquestioningly conformed to the cuts they were given from their capital but have implemented them in a thoughtless and underhand way – these would be fairer groups to cast aspersions on.

I would also like to inform – without causing personal embarrassment or scrutiny for those concerned – that this particular council is 6-7 weeks behind with housing benefit changes of circumstances. It then freezes the money whilst it investigates, leaving many claimants in the high risk of getting evicted. I found one who actually had been, due to the severe underpayment due to the council not making a change of circs in the opposite direction. In April, HB cuts were brought in nationally and without warning to individuals that meant most claimants are now not having their full rent covered. Yet claimants are meant to declare and lose any extra money they earn.

Is it any wonder if some claimants do not declare? Honesty should never make one worse off, and neither should working.

The problem is also that in a target driven office with the fear of job loss that claims are not being handled properly and that is why overpayments occur. More staff, better treated and with less pressure would alleviate this.

People on welfare are among the very vulnerable most affected by cuts, while council chiefs earn high salaries and government ministers who have no idea about what it’s like to be on low or no income make emotive statements and making cutting – in all ways – decisions affecting these people’s lives. (I have already the response of a chief minister about this matter, most unsatisfactory).

This same council has been one of the worst I’ve lived under, failing to deal with many aspects of its role, including regularly missing bin collections – one of its most simple functions.

I wrote before about Welfare here (https://elspethr.wordpress.com/2011/10/08/the-truth-about-benefits) and it remains something I care about, as does our right to speak out without being silenced or punished and our right to remaining private.

This is also a call for responsible journalism who should be a voice for the people, not a right wing rag to incite anger against those who need support.

Strangely enough, this leads nicely into my post on Dickens…

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V for Vendetta

I watched this film as a political act at the weekend, not realising that Occupy protesters worldwide were wearing masks from the film.

I have always admired this film, not for its action sequences or because it’s cool, but because it has an important message of solidarity and hope to the people, and reminds governments that they are here to serve us, and that they will not last if they subjugate us and terrify us. The tag line is:
People should not be afraid of their governments
Governments should be afraid of their people

Believing that, I ironically felt fear to post this – hence the delay after Guy Fawkes night – because I do not feel free to express my views without reprisal. But that is not what this country is about or should be about.

Like the Occupy movement, I don’t believe in violence, at all (read my next post on poppies and war). Unlike V, I don’t want to harm even the people who have caused harm and who are the leaders (not that we in this country have any equivalent to Sutler et al anyway). Yet I hear that in America, police are searching homes for V masks; and that in London they forced a protester to demask. And I hate how the internet is at once a voice and also an easier way to have that voice traced and silenced.

My favourite moment of the film is when, having no response from their leaders, the army makes its own choice and decides to stand down. Note that the crowd does not prise the weapons from the military and use them, but peacefully walks past.

I was gutted to see the Houses of Parliament explode when I first watched this film as they are my favourite buildings in the world, and I love all they stand for about my country’s history. A corrupt inhabitant does not mean the building has to go. Since first seeing this, I have visited Scotland’s parliament (see http://hubpages.com/hub/Scottish-Parliament) and been very inspired by the ethos behind this national symbol.

It’s made me think what Westminster’s says: built in a style of a bombastic, violent war hungry king who treated women badly, at a time of colonising other countries, of imperialism, of business men becoming rich, of classism, whilst prisons, asylums and workhouses controlled and institutionalised the poor.
Or I can see that Tudor gothic as a symbol of times when women ruled: Anne Boleyn who I with others see as the woman behind England’s reformation, a step away from corruption and the courage to stand alone; Elizabeth I, who is credited with greater tolerance; and the next woman on the throne, Victoria, another popular and famous monarch, times of great achievement and moving forward, heralding new ages.

As those who believe that 2012 is a special year – other than the Olympics – count down to the dawning of the next new age, what symbol our parliament is for becomes important. I was pleased that V for Vendetta was shown on BBC2 on Saturday, [Britain’s oldest and official TV provider] although I noted one TV guide downplay it as ‘futuristic action fantasy’. My hope is that leaders will watch the film and think where they are taking their country, and before it reaches a V for Vendetta type dictator state, stop and change direction. When I first saw this film, I feared for the leadership and direction of my nation – and now with a new government, I still do. Recent world wide riots and overthrows make this film feel more relevant than ever.

Revolution begins in the heart: what did Wonder Woman do to change the world? (see my summer entry from the TV theme tune). And for that matter, Jesus.

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Contagion

A film with three of my favourite actors in is a treat that I don’t think I’ve ever had before. However it turned out not to be much of a treat. It was just OK, and I agree with the reviews that say that there’s not enough characterisation and that breadth has precedence over depth – which weakens this story.

I didn’t agree with the billings about the disquieting reality of the film. The only chill I got was from an air vent in the cinema,
and the thought of how much control is exerted by authorities, making the crisis worse. I can see the rationale behind quarantine and isolation, but this soon leads to economic problems, and the lack of what creatures most need –  connection.

I can believe that there would be looting – this is the nation that rioted over stocks of Cabbage Patch kids, so the final food and medicine is hardly a surprise.

The film feels like an authorised version where the officials are the good guys. It’s got some grey areas and tries to show a variety of issues (too many) but feels like the end of Source Code where the immorally resuscitated corpse gladly submits to serving America. (Knowing that story is written by an Englishman whose first film was a conspiracy story, I am now suspicious). This was another America speaks for the world movie, although it contains more than one European actor.

It reminded me of the last world war where peers as well as authorities imposed the desired behaviour on citizens, making them feel they let down their nation by not conforming.

I dislike the idea that the outspoken blogger is the villain, when he could have been the saviour. There’s no government cover up or disturbing bio-warfare after all – the movie feels like it has been an advert for wash your hands. The blogger’s critique is shown to finally be as dangerous and corrupt as anything he posts. But it is true that animals are sacrificed in the name of getting us a cure; and that the production of medicines and rare commodities became very lucrative during the times of disease and disaster. The public are controlled and what we know is controlled.

I am also suspicious of the medical world. I am sure many in it are genuine in the quest to make people well and to help, but it crushes anything that challenges it with the support of the legal profession and the government.

Alterative therapies are gaining recognition but have to defer to conventional western medicine to avoid law suits and being closed down.

The film has characters based on the real life Centers for  Disease, who collaborated with the film. Looking on CDC’s website, I’m appalled by the statement under Global Regional Centers for Disease Detection, end of para 1:

“Most importantly, none of these outbreaks became a health threat to the United  States”

The CDC run round the world, intervening (or is that interfering) in other countries, imposing a beast practice (interesting typo, I left that in), and yet saying that their job is well done because no one at home got hurt – as if Americans are more valuable  than Scots or Mexicans.

The CDC site feels very public relations – ‘we work for you 24/7’,’ read our real life stories about why we do what we do….’ it’s all emotive, sensationalist, reading like a party political broadcast. It’s advertising.

Another disturbing quote is:

“The United States had a choice: gamble H1N1 would not kill in high numbers, or work as fast as possible to develop a vaccine and make it available to as many Americans as possible. In fact, there was no choice—the vaccine had to be made and distributed” (italics mine)

But what of the cynical view that vaccines make money?

My thoughts are – why is vaccine the only way to deal with  illness? The film says that it is slow to make vaccines – it took 6 months to control the disease. Methodologically, growing a disease to play with it and see if you can work out how to reverse or nullify it seems a very limited and quite strange way to tackle a problem, yet it is the prevalent if not only method of science.

I am horrified that viruses are created by government paid scientists – how can that ever be justifiable?

Can’t diseases be more than just hygiene related problems – what about a deeper problem?

What would spiritual alternative healers make of this?

What of ancient and native medical wisdom?

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