Unravelling PIP (Personal Independence Payment)

NOTE: THIS IS WORK IN PROGRESS, AND WILL BE UPDATED REGULARLY OVER THE NEXT FEW WEEKS

PIP is the new Government “pension” for people who are disabled, and replaces the Disability Living Allowance (DLA), from which disabled people pay for any extra costs that arise from their disability.

The change from DLA to  PIP has not been handled well by politicians with the result that there has been a lot of controversy about it, and the change has been viewed with dread by most disabled people who are or will have to claim it.

In the following pages we try to analyse a real assessment of a PIP application. We hope that this will help people who have not yet applied, or who are having trouble understanding the decision made afterwards.We also include criticisms of the process, the forms used and the assessments carried out, which we hope will help officials improve the process.

For the people who depend on this type of payment, this is far too important not to try and make it work.

About his case study

Disability has many forms, and no claimant of PIP is typical. The subject of this case study is described as “severely disabled” and his disabilities include both learning and physical disabilities, a mix which would challenge any system designed to test his qualification for PIP. In some cases it appears that the severity of his disability exceeds levels foreseen by those who designed the assessment. The difference between reality and the model used by the designers means that answers given to some questions may be misleading.

The subject was assessed as qualifying for PIP, which is not surprising as he had previously been assessed as qualifying for DLA  perpetually. He is a relative of the author

Description of client before assessment. (He is still the same)

Client has severe Downs syndrome, and Autism. He also suffers from asymmetric gait, poor muscle tone and nystagmus. He is registered as partially sighted, and has been prescribed deaf aids in both ears. Because of his behaviour and low levels of stamina he has been supplied with a wheel chair.

the RNIB say: –

“Nystagmus is constant uncontrolled movement of the eyes. The movements are usually side to side but can also be up and down or in a circular motion. Most people with Nystagmus have reduced vision.

When visual pathways or parts of the brain that control this movement don’t develop properly or get damaged later in life, eye movements can become poorly controlled causing Nystagmus.”

His education was entirely in SLD (Severe Learning Difficulties) schools. And he has been assessed as having a mental age of “up to 3”.

Severe Learning Difficulty (SLD): Pupils with severe learning difficulties have significant intellectual or cognitive impairments. This has a major effect on their ability to participate in the school curriculum without support. They may also have difficulties in mobility and co-ordination, communication and perception and the acquisition of self-help skills. Pupils with severe learning difficulties will need support in all areas of the curriculum. They may also require teaching of self-help, independence and social skills. Some pupils may use sign and symbols but most will be able to hold simple conversations. Their attainments may be within the upper P scale range (P4-P8) for much of their school careers (that is below level 1 of the National Curriculum).
(Further information about P scales can be found in Supporting the Target Setting Process, DfES Guidance March 2001. Ref: DfEE 0065/2001)


If a pupil is working at P1i-P3ii in English, then using reading, writing, speaking or
listening performance descriptors would not normally be appropriate. If a pupil is working
above P3ii in English, then separate performance descriptors (P4-P8) can be given in
reading, writing, speaking or listening and an overall English performance descriptor
is not expected.

He has had constant antibiotic resistant ear infections for several years, and reacts violently to pain. In the past, this has extended to pulling water pipes off walls, causing flooding, breakage of furniture etc. Water has flowed through the main fuse box when he overflowed a sink. He has blown light bulbs by obsessively playing with light switches. For the last year, he has been spitting compulsively and frequently at all times when he is awake. Social services have assessed him as needing two care assistants at any time that he leaves the home. Car journeys can often be exciting as James tries to communicate with the driver by grabbing their arms, or the controls. He also passes lose bits of shopping etc. For this reason, he always has two adults with him on car journeys, and we also use a specially made safety seat belt clip to make sure that he stays in his seat. (The clip was made by the Cerebra innovation Centre at Swansea University, and can be pulled off in emergency, while blocking the normal release mechanism.)

Downs syndrome is a complex genetic disorder (also described as a trisomy on chromosome 21). This means that every nucleated cell (all those except red blood cells) of his body is affected. In spite of recent advances in genetic science, there are no new treatments for Downs syndrome, and Government policy seems to be to encourage terminations of pregnancy once tests have confirmed a Downs diagnosis. Client was born before any such tests were reliable.

Wikipedia says: –

Down syndrome (DS or DNS), also known as trisomy 21, is a genetic disorder caused by the presence of all or part of a third copy of chromosome 21. It is typically associated with physical growth delays, characteristic facial features and mild to moderate intellectual disability.

The direct effect of the third strand of DNA, is that the genes under it cannot be expressed properly, resulting in cells that have a missing function. This reduces the abilities of the person who’s genes are masked in this way. From the severity of his disablement it seems likely that the client has a “long” trisomy which is masking many genes, including those responsibly for site, hearing, nasal sinus formation, muscle tone, gait, learning etc.

Client can neither read, write nor speak, and has no sense of danger, cannot see approaching vehicles, and in unfamiliar places cannot tell the difference between floor tiles and steps. In the past, we have found him standing on a first-floor window ledge quite happily waving off some visitors without any sense that this was unusual. He couldn’t see or fear the drop. In public places, he might walk up to random strangers and hug them (when he is well) if he is ill, he might grab at whatever body part is nearest and pinch hard. On one supermarket trip, a few months ago he got overwhelmed by the crowds and lay down on the floor spitting at the food shelves and wouldn’t stop until he had been manhandled out of the shop, upon which he rapidly calmed down. Since then we have found that the security of a wheelchair helps him.

He needs help to dress in the morning. He has to be given his medicines as he does not know what they are, cannot distinguish one from another, does not like the feel of them in his mouth, cannot count them, and unless made to drink will often chew medicines designed to be swallowed and vice versa. Until he is in the right mood, perhaps an hour after the due time he will spit any medication out. Breakfast can take over an hour even with constant help. Other meals are the same, he often refuses to take his first mouthful until after everyone else has completely finished their meal, whether he is served with everyone else or in a separate room. Persuasion of any kind is counter-productive, and all foods and drinks are treated in the same way. His diet has been assessed as OK by a nutritionist who has monitored his diet over a couple of weeks, and rings periodically to check how he is doing.

He tries to help with household tasks with his helpers, but making his bed (with two helpers) can take over an hour, peeling a potato might take an hour using a special peeler, and with constant prompting. Outside, (with helpers) he will pick up sticks if he thinks that the weather is suitable, but it might take an hour to fill one wheelbarrow, or he might lose interest after a few seconds and insist on returning indoors. His poor stamina limits the time he can spend on any outside task, and the speed that he can walk. His asymmetric gate means that he never runs or jumps. He cannot be left on his own outside as – without realising it, or the danger he could potentially be in – he will get lost.

How he was assessed for the Department of Work and Pensions: –

A low score means that he is fully able. A high score that he cannot perform at the target level.

The scores are as recorded on the PIP.7006 letter

Test (scored out of) PIP score Based on this information
Preparing Food (8) 4
  • Special appliances? :  not applicable
  • Do you need help? Yes

Extra information “I cannot cook at all. Someone prepares all my meals for me. Cooking would be unsafe as I have no awareness of danger. I don’t understand how to use a microwave. I can’t boil a kettle. I can’t use sharp knives to cut things up. Had not finished peeling one potato with a special peeler after half an hour. Can sometimes butter toast that someone else has cooked.

Eating and Drinking (10) 4
  • Do you use an aid or appliance? No.
  • Use a feeding tube? No
  • Do you need help to eat and drink? Yes.

Extra Information: I have some food cut up as I choke. Someone has to be with me in case I choke. I take an hour to eat a plate of dinner. Our speech therapist has drawn up guidelines for eating and drinking after several events when Heimlich manoeuvre was necessary. Cannot eat rice etc as they are choking hazards.

Managing your treatments (8) 1
  • Do you need to use an aid appliance: Yes
  • Do you need help: Yes

Extra information: I cannot take any medication on my own.

I do not like swallowing my tablets so I can be very awkward when taking them. All my medication is given to me at the correct times by my parents or carers.

Blood sugar monitor

Washing and bathing (8) 2
  • Aids and appliances: Yes
  • Do you need another person to help you: Yes

Extra information: I have to have my bath run for me. I use grab rails to get in and out. I need someone to tell me where to wash, or do it for me. I cannot be left on my own. I need someone to clean my teeth for me, and to shave me. I can’t cut my finger and toe nails, as I cannot control scissors. I have a wet room upstairs, though I prefer to use the bath, but this is used if I have an accident or am sick at night. A podiatrist cuts my toe nails at home.

Managing your toilet needs (8) 0
  • Incontinence: No
  • Do you need help: Yes

Extra Information: I quite often need help to clean myself. About three times a week I wet my cloths by accident when I am on the toilet. I also have leakage from my bowels on occasions. My carers use a lot of baby wipes to clean me as I spread it up my back when I am trying to wipe myself. About 4 times a year I get a urinary infection, but I cannot tell anyone, so it often takes  few days before anyone realizes.

Dressing and undressing (8) 2
  • Do you need aids: Yes
  • Do you need help: Yes

Extra information: My parents or carers get out my cloths, but sometimes I refuse to put them on, and then they dress me. I can’t do up buttons. I can’t lace up shoes, although that is what the hospital podiatrist has recommended. I wear Velcro fastening shoes, but if a strap becomes unthreaded then I need help to put it back. I mostly like to wear Jogging bottoms, but I also like a shirt and tie. I will often change my shirt two or three times a day, but need help each time to do up buttons etc. I discard clothes all over the house.

Communicating (12) 8
  • Aids: Yes
  • Help: Yes

Extra information: I have hearing aids, but cannot wear them as I have constant ear infections. I have a communication book, and an i-pad with communication software, but I generally use it just to look at pictures, not to say what I want to do. I get very frustrated when people don’t understand what I want and will grab them, or cough or spit in their faces. I will also pick up things and throw them. I can do some basic signs to communicate some of my needs such as toilet, drink, cake, banana. About twice a week I use my voice to say a word. Mostly I hum, mutter or scream.

Reading (8) 4
  • Aids: No
  • Help: Yes

Extra information: I cannot read or write. I recognize some signs and symbols in my communication book I need glasses but refuse to wear them as they don’t help very much as I have nystagmus. I am registered as partially sighted.

Mixing with other people (8) 4
  • Help: Yes
  • Do you find it difficult: Yes

Extra information: When I go out I need 2- 1 as I may behave inappropriately. I will go up to strangers and grab them or give them a hug. I also lie down in strange places if I feel uncomfortable, such as the aisles of shops, pavements etc. I there are a lot of people in my house I go to my bedroom, otherwise I get very agitated. I can sit still, sometimes for example, at a meeting with social services, but I don’t know what is going on and get fed up and either leave or start picking up and throwing things.

Making Budgeting decisions(6) 4
  • Help on prices? : Yes
  • Help manage budget? : Yes

Extra Information: When I go into a shop I will pick up anything that is shiny or sparkles and want it. I have no idea of money. If it is appropriate my carer might buy it for me. I could not handle money as it is meaningless to me.

TOTAL 33

Comment on scoring system: Apart from the inaccuracies of assessment, this score is statistically meaningless as the total available score for Eating and Drinking, Communicating, and Budgeting have a different base. The different scores appear to relate to skills that are considered basic and those that are considered advanced. To be statistically correct, and to avoid confusion, basic and advanced skills should be treated separately.

Comment on actual scores. Many scores (especially “Managing your treatments ” and “preparing food”) do not seem to relate to the information given.) Perhaps the following, might explain why the client was continually offered credit cards before the banks crashed: –

“How can someone who cannot  read, write or speak and who cannot count be 33% good at making budgeting decisions?”

Mobility

Test (scored out of) PIP score Based on this information
Planning and following a journey (12) 12
  • Do you need help to plan a familiar route? : Yes
  • Do you need help to get to somewhere you know well? : Yes
  • Are you unable to go out because of anxiety?:  Sometimes

Extra Information: Sometimes I ask (by pointing to a picture) to go somewhere. I need 2 people to go with me. In the car I need 2 people because otherwise I will grab the driver to communicate. Often I refuse to go out and lie on the floor. I cannot follow a route without another person. I use a wheelchair in shops otherwise I sit on the floor. I cannot see or hear cars coming and trip on steps or pavements as I have no depth perception.

Moving around (12) 4
  • Distance: It varies.
  • Appliance : No
  • Wheelchair: Sometimes

Extra Information: I cannot go out on my own. Most days I get tired easily and will sit/lie down – anywhere. When going out involves walking I take my wheelchair which my carers push. I get out of the wheelchair when I have had enough sitting down. I need constant supervision as I cannot see dangers, I have no depth perception, kerbs are a problem. Downs syndrome, Autism, Severe learning disabilities, asymmetric gait makes me unsteady. Blood sugar levels make me tire easily. I also have low blood pressure. Kerbs, paving slabs, unfamiliar stairs and steps are all hazards to me and cause me trip or stumble. Nystagmus means that I cannot see oncoming traffic or pedestrians.

TOTAL 16

Comment on scoring system: Planning a journey seems like an advanced skill compared to Moving Around, so it is odd that planning comes first.

It is not clear how the “Distance you can walk” is interpreted, or even why it is there (for this client at least) as there is no guarantee that he would ever get to any destination, no matter how close. The question suggests that the designer of the form only thought about physical disabilities such as suffered by amputees or people who have paralysed legs. Asthmatics may be able to walk miles on good days, and not be able to go anywhere on bad days, as their problem is entirely due to the oxygenation of the blood and has nothing  to do with their basic ability to walk, but for many people asthma can be totally debilitating for a good part of the year.People with learning difficulties are yet are another case, where they may be able to walk , but only in random directions, and never getting to a destination without someone to guide them. The question does not allow for people whose disability is a combination of these types.

Comment on actual scores. Planning a journey: Certainly client could not plan a journey.

Moving Around :  Client has functional legs and arms, but low stamina, asthma, asymmetric gait, and mental incapacity for directed action. He can move around in the home and for very short familiar journeys in the garden. But even so all these journeys have a random element, partly caused by poor stamina and partly by his inability to concentrate on achieving any particular aim. In essence, most of his movement is non functional, unless he is directed by a carer. Carers are also needed to protect him from all kinds of dangers from the most trivial to the most obvious and dramatic.

Q15: Additional information

Client has severe learning difficulties and needs constant supervision day and night. He often does not sleep until 1:00am although he usually asks to go to bed before 10:00pm. He then rearranges his room and strips the bed, flicks switches on and off, and gives blood curdling screams. Rescuers are often, but not always, met with a big grin. He starts screaming again at about 6:30am, but then sleeps until 8:00am. Sometimes the screams are genuine and he is in great pain. He is very stubborn and hates taking medications, although he will usually take his routine inhalers. In the last 18months he has lost weight going from 9stone 8pounds to 6 stone 9pounds. He is being monitored by a dietician at the Hospital. He is having high energy/protein drinks to increase his weight. He has constant help from the Severe Behavioural Difficulties specialist at the County Community Learning Disabilities Team, and the Consultant Psychiatrist attached to the team. He has had a CT scan to try to identify the cause of his current problems and it was discovered that his sinuses were not formed properly at birth and were blocked and severely infected. (He is now 33 years old!) He is awaiting exploratory surgery to cure the problem. He is also awaiting an appointment for restorative dentistry.

Client has 2 adult carers by day and night. He cannot be left alone for more than a few minutes.

He enjoys going out to familiar situations, and with his carers, was “volunteering” at a bowling alley, cleaning balls etc. but this has had to stop because of his constant spitting. If he stops spitting, we hope he can return. He goes to Pembroke college Equine Studies department for a half day a week course, and in the summer, he spends the afternoon carriage driving for the disabled.

He likes music, but very loud, otherwise he cannot hear it.

He has to have his blood sugar checked at intervals as it has gone so low that he fainted. He has low blood pressure.

Q15 Additional information (continued)

Q2A Autism diagnosed 2005.

The phenomenon of combined Down’s Syndrome and Autism is a relatively recent  discovery, since when it is thought that the Autism develops between the ages of three and seven, but the following list (compiled by The Down Syndrome-Autism Connection) describes many of the client’s behaviours: –

Does not orient to people, —Is non-verbal, makes unusual vocalizations, says words , without actual communicative intent, repetitive speech, Stops using speech, signs or other means of communication, Seems happiest playing alone, Exhibits inappropriate laughing or giggling, Lacks imaginative play, prefers repetitive play with objects, Insists on sameness and routine, has great difficulty with transitions —Has difficulty understanding gestures and does not use gestures to communicate, e.g. pointing, Shows no real fear of dangers, Appears to be insensitive to pain, May not want to cuddle or hug, —Has eating problems– limited foods, textures, etc., —Has sleep problems, —Exhibits repetitive motions – flapping, twirling, tics, rocking, head, shaking, spinning, twisting the hands at the wrist, Exhibits sustained odd play and inappropriate attachment to objects, —Exhibits self-stimulating behaviours (“stimming”), Has meltdowns

Comment: During his “volunteering schemes” the team (client plus carers) are suppose to achieve the same work rate as a normal worker, though in practice the carers do most of the work. However volunteering does provide vital socialisation, and a little “work experience”. Without carers it would be impossible for client to take part in schemes like this.

He strongly objects to most of the medicine regime, and will not take morning medicines from anyone who is in the house before he has his breakfast (This may be 2 hours after he has got out of bed even if offered within minutes of getting dressed.) Generally he will take medicine from anyone coming into the house for the first time in 24 hours between 60 to 90 minutes after getting up – who, it does not matter.

Section 4 -What to do now

Tell us about any help you would need if you have to go to a face-to-face consultation: –

Client would need at least 2 carers with him. It would be extremely distressing for him to attend (please contact Social Worker regarding this) Stairs would be a problem.

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Discussion

The PIP assessments must be a nightmare for assessors who do not have very extensive expertise in all the forms of disability that are relevant, and I have almost as much sympathy for them as for those who may be inadequately assessed at the end of the process. However, while the assessors can go home at the end of the process with lives that are virtually unchanged by it. Those who received the wrong assessment may be put in grave danger, because of subsequent withdrawal of resources that are essential to life.

The following table enlarges on the PIP questions. The comments are an attempt to work towards identifying the vital questions that were not asked in the PIP process. They are also an attempt to identify areas of knowledge that PIP assessors should have before making this type of assessment.  They need more work, and I hope to add to this in the next few days.

Test (scored out of) PIP score  
Preparing Food (8) 4 He has no concept of food preparation, He does not know why or how food needs preparation.
Eating and Drinking (10) 4 For the client this is the major task of the day. Physically, he can feed himself liquid or soft food, but does not have the manual dexterity to manipulate a knife and fork to cut harder or tougher items. (Even spaghetti must be cut up for him, because although he can cut through it, he cannot understand that if he cuts a strand in half he needs a second cut to make the spaghetti a manageable size.) He cannot cope with other types of food manipulation methods – such as twirling on a fork, or chop sticks. In a “medieval banquet” he even refused to eat cooked food with his fingers, and would not eat until he had been given a knife and fork. At times the physical characteristics of the food (even “favourite items”) are unpleasant in his mouth and he will violently spit it out. The spat items landing 6 ft or more from him. This might first happen with the first mouthful, or half way through a meal. Sometimes he might clear a plate of the same food and ask for more.

Some foods, like mashed potato build up in the top of his mouth (he has a “high dome”) causing him to gag and panic. Rice and similar foods can stick in his throat, blocking his airways and result in the need for rapid performance of the Heimlich manoeuvre (abdominal thrust)

Managing your treatments (8) 1 Client’s list of (10 different ) medicines was supplied with the original form. Client has no idea what medicines are for, cannot read the instructions, and cannot count out the tablets or extract medicines from the jars. He does know that liquids poured into his ears provide transient comfort, and asks for them at any time of day when his ears are particularly painful. He does not know the difference between an antibiotic ear drop and olive oil and could not safely use either the glass olive oil ear dropper or the antibiotic sprays. His asthma inhalers are a familiar routine, and while he accepts them with good grace in the morning is often resistant at night when he is tired.

He is normally very resistant to tablets or capsules given aurally, and it may take an hour or more of appropriate persuasion before he begins to take his solid medicines. He is better at taking things like liquid painkillers that are flavoured for use by children, but even so may spit them out. This makes it dangerous to use penicillin type antibiotics in liquid form as several family members are allergic to penicillin. At present he will resist taking his morning medicines until someone new comes to the house. It does not matter who, as the successful carer one day may have failed the previous day.

Washing and bathing (8) 2 He does not like washing, and gets very stressed with the routine. He has smashed up a clothes-horse and laundry basket on separate occasions in the last couple of years. His evening bath is part of his routine. He may ask for it in the morning – several times. After tea, he really wants it, but we have to run the water for him as putting in the plug or turning the taps are beyond him. We must also put in the correct dose of “Oilatum” which he needs as part of his treatment against skin complaints including psoriasis. He will get into the bath in his own time – often an hour after it was first run, although at other times he may become very agitated by any delay. We have to keep checking the water temperature. Once in, he is usually out very quickly unless we stand over him and try to persuade or help him to wash. At others, he will enjoy a soak even when the water has returned to room temperature. When he gets out of the bath he will often put on his pyjamas without drying, so again we have to stand over him, and persuade or help him to dry. At every stage, we must test to see whether persuasion or helping is going to work. A wrong decision can end in total non-cooperation or a violent response. Neither is directed at us personally, but either can last an hour and can result in personal injury even if  only because we try to lift a passive “client” from an awkward position or one in which he might hurt himself or others. (There is not usually the option of persuading him to move to a more suitable position first!)
Managing your toilet needs (8) 0 He does not go to the toilet when he gets up, and may hold on until midday. He will often react violently to persuasion to use the toilet.

When he needs to go to the toilet he needs to go straight away. He cannot cope with public toilets on his own, so often two of us need to squeeze into a normal WC, when disabled toilets are occupied or not available. He cannot use a urinal, and prefers to sit to urinate. He does not understand that others need privacy.

In disabled toilets, he is fascinated by all the extra facilities, grab handles, disposal bins and emergency chords. (When at a play scheme, years ago, he accidentally called the fire brigade by pushing the glass in an attempt to play with the switch underneath. The noise – and personal associations – of the alarm bells ringing, proved extremely traumatic for one of his friends who was present.)

At home, he can often use the toilet on his own, but even then, may urinate over the rim of the toilet, wetting his clothes. If his faeces are soft, or he has diarrhoea he cannot clean himself, and often he drags faecal material up his back as far as his shoulder blades. If help is not immediately available a lot of it lands up all over the floor, toilet seat, the tank and the wall around the toilet roll holder, and of course can be trodden all over the room and elsewhere.

Dressing and undressing (8) 2 He is usually helped to dress when he gets up. If not, he often chooses inappropriate clothing or puts clothing on back to front or inside out. He cannot cope with buckles, buttons or cords that need tying. He cannot recognise the heal of his sock, and may pull it half way up his calf, or put the sock on back to front. If a button fronted shirt is put away with only the top button done up he will put it on with the whole collar, still done up behind his head, and will carry on even though the shirt must be very tight under his arms and not covering most of his chest.

He cannot regulate his body temperature so that it is important that he wears appropriate clothing, but he does not know whether he is hot or cold. Often he would chose the opposite clothes to those he needs. He also finds it difficult to assess outside weather conditions or whether he needs a sweater or coat. If he is dry inside, he does not understand that he needs a coat to go outside into the rain. If not reminded, he would go outside in his socks without shoes of any kind. He does not like wearing safety hats to ride his tricycle, although he recognises it as part of the routine. He will ride without it if he thinks that no one has noticed. He cannot do up the safety hat straps without help.

He does not like the feel of wet clothes and will try to change many times a day, even if only a single drop of water has touched his clothes, resulting in a tiny wet patch only a few millimetres across. When he chooses clothes, he will empty many items on the floor or throw them round the room. Some may end up in random places throughout the house. Once the chosen items are on he will often need help to turn them right way out, or do them up.

He often brings pyjamas downstairs at odd times of day, and leave them around the house. At bed time, he will not remember where any of them are, and will go upstairs to fetch yet another pair, but may go and find yet more, before he has his bath.

Communicating (12) 8 He can neither read, write, count or speak. (The hearing of Downs people is different from the rest of us. While learning phonics, typical children can recognise about 6 sequential parts of each sound, and mentally add these sounds together to build up a phonic sound putting several phonic sounds together to build up a word. People with Downs syndrome hear only four sequential parts of a phonic and so confuse different phonics which makes it difficult to hear words or convert what they hear to speech or writing.) While high achieving Downs people can get over most of this difficulty, the problem increases with the length of the trisomy on chromosome 21 and other complications. This is a case of someone who is severely handicapped (low achieving), and who is also deaf, and with constant ear infections. He can hear conversation as if it is coming through a double-glazed window, and often imitates the sound when he “hums” to himself. He finds speech comforting, but largely meaningless.

He can point at things he wants, or things that he thinks represent the type of thing that he wants. Sometimes when he points at an object or symbol it is not clear whether he wants that thing, or whether he is opening a conversation about something else. Sometimes he is just breaking the silence and announcing his presence.

It is not always obvious when he is offered a choice of two things and points at one, that that is the one that he wants. He might point at it because he likes the colour, or some other feature of it, but he really wants to eat / play with / wear the other.

Client is a good communicator (of his most basic needs and wants) with people who know him, and are used to these complications. But others might find it difficult to understand him.

He is good at recognising emotions in others and is a sympathetic nurse /carer to those he knows, and as far as he is able. At times his efforts at comforting his patient may be overenthusiastic, though very well meant.

Reading (8) 4 Client cannot read. See above note on phonics. Nystagmus and short sight are also problems.

.

While I am engaged in this project we are learning about the PIP process all the time. I have already commented on the different scoring base for each question but I have discovered something even more shocking.

We already know that the maximum possible score varies for each question, (e.g. The maximum score for preparing food is 8 points, while Eating and Drinking is 10, presumably because the loss of the ability to feed oneself is more important than the loss of ability to cook. While it is reasonable that there is a hierarchy to the assessment system, the grouping of questions without regard to the hierarchy, so that adjacent questions are given different weights is bound to cause confusion, and one wonders whether anyone has proof read the forms, or if they have what was the motive for allowing them to be used in this confusing manner. Conventionally the questions would all be marked to the same base, and then a properly explained correction applied further down the “report form”, or the questions would be divided up into “basic skills” and “advanced skills”.

But the new discovery is to do with the scoring on the question about “Managing your treatments (8)”. Although this is scored out of 8 points we are told that no one gets more than 2 points. So someone whose management of medicine is so bad that they are regularly taken to hospital to have their stomach pumped would still be scored in a way that suggests that their ability to handle medicines is 25% that of the ability of a fully qualified doctor! But that is not the worst bit of this wheeze. The qualification for being paid PIP is the total score achieved from all the questions, that is 33 for “daily living” of which you must gain over a certain threshold, say 28 points. But the maximum number of points that you can actually get is only 27 points, so in this scenario everyone fails, however disabled you are.

PROBLEMS IDENTIFIED AND POSSIBLE SOLUTIONS

The form clearly mixes basic and advanced skills which is why several questions are scored differently. This is a simple mistake to make, and is well known to  produce false results as some people will misinterpret the status of particular questions. If the scoring is by humans then they may also make mistakes because of the mixing of basic and advanced skills and the different weight to be giving to each point awarded.(Familiarity with a bad scoring system is no help when scorers are working under pressure.)

It also makes it difficult to interpret the results as people will assume that each question answered has equal weight, when in fact  it does not. People who do not realise how the scoring system works (and this would include many of the most deserving cases among those with learning difficulties or mental health problems) may not appeal when they should, while some who do not qualify may be able beat the system, by  taking advantage of the scoring system.

Some very basic questions were not asked, and this gave rise to invalid answers being given to some of the questions that were asked. For example, if the first question asked for a particular skill is “do you need aids” and the answer is “no”, then the scorer might correctly award no points at all. However if, before the question about needing aids, there had been a question like “do you understand the need for that particular skill”, and the answer was “no”, then the scorer might understand why the question about aids was answered with “no” and full points might be awarded.

It was disgraceful that full points could not be awarded for managing medication, as being unable to do so could be fatal in many cases. Clearly those who cannot administer their own medicines safely must have help. There can be no question about that. It seems that part of the reason  for the dangerous way that points are awarded in this area is that the designers of the form have confused medicine and therapy, and combined them under the heading of medication – an American catch-all expression which is itself fairly meaningless. The authorities should consider separating medicines from therapies, and applying the potential for full points to each. But even here there is likely to be confusion as I know one person who has exhausted all available physiotherapies, but still has to carry out recommend exercises, at their own expense, nearly every day of the week. In the client’s case, no therapies seem to be applicable, although if he did not have congenital learning difficulties, anyone else with his physical problems would also be having treatment almost every day.  And how do dialysis patients fit into the picture?

To solve the problem of form design and scoring, the authorities need to take a serious look at the full range of disabilities that people have. Having done that they then need to decide if it is appropriate to make one form fit all types of disability. It is very difficult to imagine how one form could cover sensory loss, loss of use of limbs and learning difficulty at the same time. But this form seems to cover long term and terminal medical conditions as well.

Having decided on which disabilities are to be covered, then the form needs to be set out as a decision tree, so question 1 must be about the type of disability with a link to appropriate basic questions   for that type of disability. So question one might say “if you have a learning difficulty go to section A”, if sensory impairment “go to section B” etc. Section A might have questions about understanding the need for basic skills, like preparing food, washing etc. Following that there would be questions about aids. In sensory impairment the first question might be “do you have any sight”, “are you registered blind or partially sighted”, and then “do you use aids like sticks, radar, spectacles, or optical spectacles” etc. In that way  officials can build up a verifiable idea of the ability of a claimant that can be cross checked with medical or social service records. IT should allow more genuine claimants to get the help that they need and weed out those who make false claims.etc. With a clearer form and a simpler scoring system, appeals could made on errors of fact, not errors of interpretation.

Later questions can still be about more advanced skills like planning a journey or cooking, perhaps even owning and driving cars, as some very severely disabled people can do fantastic   things if the appropriate treatments and technology are available to help them. Sadly some disabilities have no treatments of technologies to help them, and none appear to be likely, and these are the people who need most help. But most people who are made disabled during their lives, or who are born disabled, suffer a period, often of several years either of intensive treatment, or “waiting until they get used to or grow into it”, and this is a time of great need as well.

People who have genetic disorders will never get well. Technology or gene therapy may help eventually, especially if they are suffering a condition caused by a single gene. But even they are likely to have periods of greater disability between courses of therapy, or when newer technology leap frogs their condition, and the their favoured technology is phased out. Disability, even for those fortunate enough to receive a “cure”  never completely goes away. But many genetically based disabilities that are based on multiple genes will probably never be “cured”, and will rely on many types of technology, that will be unlikely ever to be at the same phase of development at the same time, so that what seems like a great help one week, will be unavailable in a month or a years time. These technologies are expensive to produce, and as markets become saturated, manufacturers lose interest. For the most vulnerable people there is a constant and confusing cycle of technological and commercial advance and retreat, that will make them forever disabled.

 

 

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Response to Question asked by 38Degrees policy questionnaire

I would guess that not many agricultural ecologists were involved in formulating your environment policy – you obviously need more help in this.

Agricultural ecology is obviously a very big and complex subject as it covers almost the whole human interaction with the farmed landscape, and something like 2000 different species in every acre. (Many of these are small animals, fungi, bacteria, virus etc.) Simple solutions, such as you propose are bound to have unexpected results.

But first of all you ban GM crops, probably because of fears about the behaviour of large chemical companies which I share. (Ownership of genes should NEVER have been allowed, and the present gene owning multinationals are demonstrating why!) What you do not seem to realise is that Genetic Modification is one of many breeding techniques. It has the advantages over other techniques in that it is very precise, and can produce crops that can cope with rapidly changing conditions in about 10 years instead of the 30 years of conventional techniques. Faced with climate change, this ability to produce modified crops very quickly, may be crucial to the survival of agriculture in many localities and thence to the well being of humanity. Yes there are potential ecological risks, but in the situations that GM is ideally suited for, it is a question of human survival or a potential extra risk to a local ecosystem that has already been severely disrupted by rapid climate change – and perhaps local environmental disaster.
Whether or not you allow the continued development of GM, the need for crops that can withstand unpredictably changing conditions will continue, and breeders will have to go back to the older techniques of mutagenisis using radiation or mutagens such as sodium azide. While these techniques are potentially dangerous for the personnel who carry them out, they also have the potential to create monsters with severely disturbed genomes and with entirely unpredictable effects on the environment. Of course you could ban these old techniques as well (though scientists breathed a sigh of relief once GM was perfected) but that is no guarantee that the replacement techniques will be any better.

As to pesticide bans, you have to remember that pesticides were originally produced to protect human health, so they are not all bad. AT that time farms were small, and farmers could deal with local outbreaks of disease etc without causing mass environmental problems. It is the current cheap food policies coupled with supermarket distribution systems that have forced farmers to rush for economies of scale, so that spraying huge farms can cause local extinctions. The RSPB’s figure of a 60% decline in farmland bird populations is closely mirrored by the decrease of farm numbers from 300,000 when I did my farm training in 1970, to 100,000 now.
IN the 1970s, in spite of the elimination of some terrible 1950s products following “Silent Spring”, there were several alternative chemicals (or formulations of the same chemicals) available to farmers for almost every crop situation. Since then the numbers of alternative pesticides has decline considerably, and now most farmers have to use the same chemical, at the same time for almost all purposes. This is bound to cause environmental damage as wildlife that is sensitive to the chemical being used has no where to escape to.
This was graphically illustrated when the seed dressing Lindane was banned, leaving farmers (and gardeners) with no alternative but the neo-nicitinoids. Although there is plenty of evidence that wildlife has declined where neo-nicitinoids have been used there is less clear evidence that neo-nicitinoids are actually causing death. IN other words an unpleasant, but “essential” chemical is causing major global problems because of the way that society has chosen to use it, rather then its intrinsic properties. (I do not dispute that it harms some – perhaps many – species, I am just saying that it is not toxic in the conventional sense.)

Pesticides can be described as essential if they protect human health. But most of the time, some plants will grow a bit without pesticides. They might even set some seed. However a farmer, even a hobby farmer, must cover their costs. That means that “some plants surviving ” is not good enough. Many plants must survive in order for the farmer to cover their costs and keep suppliers, the bank manager and the tax man happy. To achieve this fertilizers and some pesticides become essential. Government policy has been to supply food as cheaply as possible, and that means that the prices farmers receive for their produce has been going down, in real terms. And that means that the survival of individual plants is no longer the issue, yield becomes more important, and high yields depend on efficiently control all the yield reducing weeds, pests and diseases. And now supermarkets demand produce that looks perfect, and that means that pests and diseases that do not effect plant survival, and that do not effect plant yield have to be controlled. SO although we know that pesticides can do harm, we continue to make more of them “essential”. That has nothing to do with farmer’s choice, it has to do with the demands that you and I make on farmers.

Cheap food without pesticides is an impossible dream – like a perpetual motion machine. I came into farming having read “Silent Spring” and had (like many others) an ambition to develop a “light touch farming system”. I have spent over 45 years in the industry including 25 years in Agricultural Research, and seen many exciting developments. But as soon as such an ideal looks as if it can be reached then society (you and me) moves the goal posts, and there is only so much that the land can produce without help.

There are of course techniques that can reduce the need for pesticides and one of these is crop rotation. In the 1970s I worked on farms that grew many different crops and could practice long rotations. However, since then globalisation has meant that more and more of these crops have been imported, undercutting British farmers, and making it uneconomic to grow these crops any more.

Imports also risk the importation of pests and disease, and we have seen things like Rhizomnia of sugar beet, vine weevil, Dutch Elm Disease and various tree die back disease being brought into this country on imported produce. In livestock farming, foot and mouth and swine vesicular disease are the most famous imports, both of which require significant medical or environmental interventions. Each disease imported will eventually become one for which another pesticide is “essential”.

But we aren’t the only ones importing diseases. Some are being driven this way by climate change. Schmallenberg and blue tongue viruses of sheep and cattle are the most famous animal diseases that need treatment by both insecticides and vaccination. It is expected that the Silver Y moth amongst many others will soon be able to survive British winters and could (based on previous autumn plagues noticed, even by the national press) turn out to be as damaging as locusts, if we cannot find a way of controlling it. (SIlver Y caterpillars feed on almost anything that is green.)

PLEASE think more carefully about your agricultural policy. I am probably old enough for it not to effect me too much, but your and my grandchildren will depend absolutely on us getting things right now.

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Is this Independence Day or Doomsday?

Its 24th June 2016 and we are now a third world country. Out of the EU, without a Prime Minister, and with no plan for the future. The population in general is divided 52:48 on the EU, but the youth vote is mainly in favour of the EU. The pound has crashed the stock market remains closed as I write. Scotland and Northern Ireland have both voted in favour of the EU, and in both countries there are calls for  independence referenda, which would mean the end of the United Kingdom.
Extraordinarily, the regions of the UK that benefited most from the EU have voted against while London, which paid most to the EU has voted to stay. This suggests that people voted on their view of the Westminster Government (which has always neglected the poorer regions), rather than the EU itself. But generally there is a lot of ignorance about the EU, as was demonstrated by someone I heard who asserted that the Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) were un-elected. The Leave and Remain campaigns did very little to educate the public about the EU, or to be specific about what they liked or did not like about it.
The lack of thought by the Leave and Remain campaigners is best illustrated by the reaction of the Leave campaign to the overwhelming evidence presented by the Remain campaign of the economic benefit of the EU. The Leave campaign had no answer and simply shouted “project fear” and refused to discuss the points made. The Remain campaign let them get away with it.
But now we have to survive the aftermath of 24th June (which I would describe as “Doomsday” rather than the Brexiters “Independence day”). The first issue I suppose is whether the pound will survive? If it does not,  the Leave campaign presumably have a plan to crawl into the Dollar or maybe even back to the Eurozone?
But I would hope that the Brexiters have a detailed plan for a soft exit from the EU, and for opening up new markets for our industry. I wonder whether they have enough man power to put their plan into action at the speed required? Actually their panicky letter to Cameron, last night suggests that they had just realised that they did not have a plan.
Now Cameron has called their bluff, and we will have to put up with Johnson who invented the straight Banana and was largely (according to press reports about his staff) an absentee Mayor of London, and Gove who has plans to make the NHS based on Insurance, and who as Minister was criticised by the courts for many of his decisions.

To add to the general air of confusion about the Leave Campaign Boris Johnson is now In a speech this morning) saying that we might not actually leave the EU after all. Does he understand anything at all about politics, referenda, and democratic majorities, let alone the rules of the EU? Why did he campaign to leave? What will those who voted to leave think about that? So Cameron has announced his resignation, Johnson has ruled himself out of the running, Gove is an unlikely candidate for a ministerial post let alone a PM, and there aren’t many alternatives. Perhaps the Theresa May or Ken Clark as care takers, but they were pro-EU. Labour, the Greens and the Lib Dems are not ready for a general election…But the Nationalists and ultra right parties should do OK….

And still no one mentions our new trading partners in NAFTA, MERCOSUR, AEC, ASEAN, and The Cairns Group who might demand political and currency union as the price for trading agreements.

 

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Well its Wednesday 22 June 2016, and the “Great Debate” is now over. We vote tomorrow. So what have we learned? Well, very little really. You would have thought from the leaders on each side that the question being debated was quite trivial. We have heard nothing from the Remain Campaign about how they might try to reform the EU, if they are successful, and nothing from the Leave side about how they might manage the economy if they are successful. We have heard almost nothing about the principles or the history of the EU. In fact, the basis of the debate has been topical trivialities.
So what have the campaigners talked about? Mainly Immigration – a subject that has plagued governments all over the world since history began, and over which none has ever had control. They have also talked about Trade, the EU is after all a trading community, but we have heard absolutely nothing about the dozen or so other trading communities with which we might have to deal, if we step out from the protective shadow of the EU. They have talked about the NHS which has a budget of over £95 Billion, which the Leave campaign claims can be significantly helped by the few £billion of small change left over from the UK’s contribution to the EU, and which will also compensate for the lack of EU staff. And not much else other than abuse.
Whereas the Remain Campaign has sought financial predictions from all sorts of authoritative individuals and organisations, the leave campaign has simply labelled these as “Project Fear” and refused even to discuss them. Its own financial predictions seem to have been picked out of the air, by largely unqualified, or “rogue” commentators. But in fact financial predictions are notoriously hard to get right. They arise from Business budgeting, and depend on the planner including all relevant factors. However, no company accountant or economics professor can predict the effects of natural disasters, civil wars or financial crashes in distant countries, on their budget. The purpose of financial predictions of all kinds is so that at a future date you can more easily see whether the performance of a country or business is in accordance with the plan, or whether you need to change the plan or the system being managed. If we leave the EU, and the predictions by the leave campaign turn out to be wrong, we cannot change the system by returning to the EU. A new strategy will have to be used to make up the deficit, but the leave campaign has not suggested what that might be. In the past a reduction of national income has been balanced by strict incomes policies, exchange controls, and even power cuts.
On a household scale all the financial predictions have been pretty useless, as most of them predict changes that are less than the effect of starting a new job, getting promoted, moving house etc Yes it is nice when a prediction, for what it is worth, suggests that you might be able to do these things earlier, and not so nice when they suggest that you might have to do things later, but the predictions given suggest that you will be able to do better, or alleviate the problems by your own efforts.
There have been accusations that the EU is controlled by unelected officials, but the remain campaign failed to publish the readily available information that the EU has 34,000 civil servants, while the UK (in line with most other countries of similar size has 440,000. (London alone has 79,000.) Above the European Civil Servants (many of whom are British) is the European Parliament which we all elect, the Council of Ministers, where we are represented by the relevant Ministers from our Government, and the Commissioners, who are appointed by our Parliaments. It was a British Commissioner, Roy Jenkins, who reformed the appointed European Assembly and turned it into the elected European Parliament. The debate on democracy in the EU has been sadly failed by both sides.
The EU has also been accused of imposing laws on us, but most relevant laws are debated in the UK Parliament before being enacted in this country. Some EU laws that appear to govern us actually have no relevance to this country as (for example) they apply to crops that cannot grow this far north. But some of the most unpopular regulations have only taken the form that they have because some of our elected representatives failed to even turn up for meetings that could have changed them. And then there is the problem of the difference in interpretation of law arising from our legal system based on case law, compared with the Europeans adherence to a written constitution. We are used to writing a law, and then allowing judges to decide how it should be applied. But in Europe the law itself is interpreted flexibly. This means that we write regulations that adhere closely to the written law, and wait for judges to relax or tighten various parts. In Europe the regulations reflect the spirit and not the letter of the law. Over the years our failure to accommodate these differences has been largely ignored, and it has indeed been left out of this debate as it is apparently considered too complicated for ordinary voters to understand. But if we leave the EU, this problem will continue – perhaps even more strongly when we try to trade with younger democracies.
And what else – we are scraping the barrel now – there was a mention of the formation of a European Army, which is topical because America (especially if Donald Trump becomes US President) is getting more isolationist, and Europe is experiencing pressure from Russia on its eastern borders. But NATO complains that not all EU countries are contributing their fair share, and that being the case it seems very unlikely that there will be enough financial support for a European army. And then you have to think of the effect of the formation of a European army on Russia. If it is additional to NATO, then Russia might see it as a hostile act and react appropriately. If it replaces NATO, then they might see it as something that they can cooperate with in the UN etc. But if NATO is wound up what will America do? If America withdraws completely from European defence, then all of a sudden we would need to consider a full war fighting European Navy and Airforce as well. But it really does seem that there is an awful lot of diplomacy to be completed before we have to worry too much about a significant European Army.

Professor Dougan of Liverpool University gives an excellent review of the main facts here https://www.facebook.com/LiverpoolSchoolofLawandSocialJustice/videos/1043216935715117/

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EU referendum; Wider Issues

EU: In or Out?

 

People ask for facts about the EU, but seem not to consider the wider issues, or the context of the facts that they were interested in.

HISTORICAL BACKGROUND

I was born shortly after the Second World War, and my early childhood was soaked in the black dread my parents felt at the mention of the “old days” before I was born. At the beginning of the war my parents were students in Cardiff, my father studying medicine and my mother studying to become a teacher. Later she taught in a “Blitz School” in London that had been re-opened to accommodate teenagers who had escaped from their evacuation homes and were now causing trouble in the capital. After that she taught in Great Yarmouth and recalls a Doodlebug flying down the street below the level of the room in which she had her digs. Fortunately, it passed through the town without hitting anything and exploded in a nearby field, but she always remembered what so nearly happened.

My father saw many war related injuries, and in his spare time, acted as an air raid warden, and was strafed by a German bomber as it turned for home after dropping its bombs. But that wasn’t what played on his mind. The University hosted Jewish refugees from (I think) the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra. Dad was interested in their music, and got to know them. Throughout the War they learned of their family members who remained in Austria, from other friends who had managed to escape. This constant drip of awful personal news of friends and relatives, killed or sent one by one, to concentration camps, sapped the strength of both the refugees and their friends. It was made worse by the fact that there was nothing that they could do to protect their friends and relatives who had so far remained free, beyond what they were already doing with civil defence fundraising, delivering materials for NAAFI to camps around the country etc. Some of the students also manned Anti-Aircraft guns and associated equipment. But this great activity seemed feeble compared to the threats that their friends and relatives faced, yet for many, more active service, was not an option. (This awful, miserable, frustration must be what many of today’s refugees from war zones must be experiencing now.)

The EU (and its predecessors) offered a chance to ensure that war would never happen again, that the states of Europe could become so interdependent that they could resolve frictions before they became major rifts. To work there had to be some pooling of sovereignty, but that was a very low price to pay for what people had been through almost every thirty years for many generations. The fact that people throughout Europe and at all levels of society shared a common history, and were interrelated had not protected us from periodic bouts of mass slaughter. We needed something stronger.

And just in case you think that conditions in the 1950s were so different, just remember what happened when Yugoslavia broke up and the regions fought each other between 1991 and 2001. The war crimes trials are still going on. But since 2008 the warring states have been pooling some of their sovereignty to join the EU. Croatia and Macedonia are well on the way to become members, and Montenegro and Serbia are now negotiating.  Whatever the frictions in the area, whatever the rights or wrongs, people who have experienced war do everything that they can to prevent repetition.

The 1950s were the last years of the British Empire. Britain was very heavily in debt due to the borrowings that had helped us survive the war.  The “winds of change” were blowing through our Empire. In return for support in the war we had promised many colonies their independence, and others were actively fighting for theirs. We could no longer afford to suppress rebellious colonies, even if we had wanted to. Our Navy had become distorted by all-out war to convoy protection, protection of beach landings and battle groups designed to engage enemy fleets. We no longer had the peacetime ships for Empire service, or diplomatic duties. The navy needed rebuilding, but we could not afford to do it.  The “Little ships” (fast Motor gunboats and Torpedo boats) that had maintained our dominance in the Channel and North Sea, and which had according to some authorities, had been as important to deterring invasion during the “Battle of Britain” as the Hurricanes and Spitfires of the RAF, were decommissioned.  British manufacturing companies were world leaders in many fields, but as colonies achieved independence they lost guaranteed markets and often a supply of raw materials. There was a desperate need to re orientate manufacturing industries towards suppliers and markets in stable countries that did not require long uncertain transport by sea. Once again Europe seemed to be the answer to our dreams.

The war had tested Scientists and Technologists to the limit. Each Scientific advance by one side was countered by an equal advance on the other. This was not just in armaments, but also in computing, medicine and engine technology, to name just a few areas. Each side was curious about how the other had achieved its advances, and there was a feeling that now peace had been restored there was an exciting opportunity to pool resources across the continent

During the war many British fighters had died in Europe, and families wanted to visit their graves, veterans wanted to visit comrades who had fought in other European Armies, and refugees from Europe who had taken British citizenship wanted to maintain links with their families and pre-war homes.

By 1950 it was clear that Europe no longer dominated world trade. The USA had largely escaped the damage that Europe had suffered due to war. It had also increased its influence by helping the allies against Hitler. As a bankrupt Europe struggled to rebuild, the USA was in a position to take over European markets around the world. European Russia had been invaded and suffered horrendous loss of life and damage to its infrastructure. But with undamaged resources in Asia, a determination that this should never happen again, and a command economy, that could direct labour to rapid rebuilding along modern lines Russia too could push into markets previously dominated by Europe.

However you looked at it, international peace, economy, science, business and personal, a closer relationship with Europe was inevitable. The structures of that relationship were only just being built, and could take a variety of forms from a loose trading union to a new United States of Europe. The first moves towards a new relationship between European countries were made in 1944, by the “low countries”, Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg who formed the Benelux Union. In 1952 this was enlarged and became the basis of the European Coal and Steel Community, with Germany, France and Italy. By 1957 the Coal and Steel Community was beginning to expand its ambitions and became the Common Market by signing the Treaty of Rome.

EFTA – FREE TRADE OR TRADING COMMUNITY?

Britain and other countries wanted a weaker trading union and in 1960 formed the European Free Trade Association (EFTA), but while EFTA nations struggled, those of the Common Market benefitted from a more disciplined organisation and their Gross Domestic Product (GDP) grew at up to 6% a year. When Britain belatedly decided to join the Common Market Charles De Gaulle was president of France, and felt that Britain’s economy was not in a fit state to join. He was also suspicious of Britain’s closer relationship with the USA. Our application for membership was rejected twice.

POLITICS – DEVELOPMENT OF EU STRUCTURES

Sadly, countries like Britain have been so set on opposing any move towards a United States of Europe, that we have forgotten to establish democratic control over the trading association that we had. (Although the European parliament became democratically elected under the British Presidency of Roy Jenkins in June 1979.) The domination of the Commission and the Council of Ministers has meant that the EU sometimes makes decisions that seem dictatorial. But these are because of our failure to reform the structures; not fundamentally because of any empire building motive by European leaders.

But who are we to complain about Empire building anyway? We built – and lost – the greatest global Empire in the last 500 years. If we think of the EU as an empire, then it is the duty of us patriotic British to ensure that it is an empire that works in our favour. Often the aspects of European law that some British people find objectionable are due to over strict interpretation of the law by British Civil Servants in the Ministries in Westminster. Legal experts say that this is partly because we don’t have a written constitution and rely on a strict application of case law, made by judges in real cases based on particular British laws. In contrast the European countries have a written constitution which requires a more flexible interpretation of law to avoid injustice. We have to learn to interpret laws made in Brussels in the same way that our partners do. Once the European law is interpreted into the sort of working documents that our EU partners use it can be written into our own law and gradually modified by case law (where appropriate) as our own laws are. However lazy politicians in this country have failed to understand the problem. Penny pinching politicians have failed to fund a solution that would be acceptable here and in Brussels, and politicians who are in the hands of multinational press barons and currency speculators have used the resulting muddle to create anti EU feeling.

To be fair, the first past the post voting system and political colour of the tabloid press, favours the two parties which are split on Europe. This means that Cabinets have to be shared out between pro and anti-Europe Ministers. When our Governments (of either party) are representing us in The European Council of Ministers they present a vacillating and contradictory impression. It is not surprising that they often fail to win the case for Britain. At the same time as selling us short in the Council of Ministers, our Governments refuse to allow the European Parliament the authority that the term “Parliament” demands.Our politicians, as much as those of other countries vote to keep the European parliament subservient to the Council of Minsiters and the Commission.

Whatever statement a British Minister makes about Europe in Westminster, they are bound to face enthusiastic heckling from both Government and Opposition. Our weakness in Europe is entirely self-inflicted, and has nothing to do with the imagined undemocratic EU. It would help us considerably if we elected a Government that was united in its ambition to reform Europe. The problem is that our democracy has hardly changed since The Great Reform Act of 1832. Yes, no one is excluded from voting, now, and the constituency boundaries have changed a bit. But we have almost as many “safe seats”, held by the same party for decades, as we had “Rotten Boroughs” before 1832, and their existence is almost as sapping of enthusiasm for democracy. Changes in the voting system, may do something to ease out undemocratic “safe seats”, and produce Governments that have clear views on Europe.

WORLD TRADE – OTHER TRADING COMMUNITIES

But the EU is not the only Trading Community in the World. In fact most “developed” countries are already in their local version of the EU, and many of these trading communities are like the EU in that they already have (or are working towards) open internal borders, common currencies etc. the North American Countries (Canada, Mexico and the USA) are in NAFTA – the North American Free Trade Association, most South American countries are in MERCOSUR, the bigger South East Asian countries are in ASEAN, Australia etc are in The Cairns Group, and most African countries are in the African Economic Community (AEC) etc. there are perhaps a dozen similar groupings, and others that follow other patterns, but they all have their own rules. If we leave the EU we might find that any privileged access we have to these markets might change, or tariffs might be imposed.

But what about all the other countries that are not in these Market communities? Well there are one or two big countries like China, Japan, or Afghanistan, (at least they were independent when I last looked, although China and Japan for example are in some form of association with ASEAN and The Cairns Group). And there there are very small or remote Island states, unstable states, or nations like North Korea, which tend to avoid trading with anyone.

Free trade as promoted a couple of centuries ago by people like Disraeli, is really a thing of the past. It has been relegated to a concept used in text books. The fact is that countries that have common borders, or which are only a short sea route away from each other have much more similarities then those that are on the other side of the world. Whereas we might need to set standards for winter coats, such things would be unheard of for countries in the tropics.

I have just remembered going round a factory in Birmingham in the 1970s, that exported agricultural hand tools to what had been the British Empire. They really had an amazing range, and tools designed to do the same job were very different when designed for different markets. The most spectacular differences were in digging spades for Africa, where special versions had been designed for both Pygmy and Zulu communities, the Zulu spades being about three times the size of any others I had ever seen. But the size represented not just the height of the users, but also the type of soil that they would be digging, so the long handled Zulu spade was also quite wide as they dug in loose sandy soils, while the shorter Pygmy spades were designed for working heavier rain forest soils between tree roots. Whereas it would obviously make sense for the African Economic Community (AEC), to set standards for digging spades that allowed for these extreme differences, it would not make sense for the same variation in standard to be included in an EU standard. However, I am sure that with its long tradition of manufacture for Africa, the Birmingham company would have no  problem adapting to any new AEC standard. The problem would come for a new company hoping to break into that market. They might have to change their manufacturing process to comply with the AEC standard.

Setting standards within a trading group makes it easy for manufacturers to make things that everyone, living where the standards apply, will want and most importantly will pay for. If there are no standards you might find that your product fails to meet the needs of people living  in part of the region you wish to sell to. When trading communities set standards they help manufacturers and consumers in their region  discuss important points and come to agreement about how those points will be met, before manufactures invest in the production facilities.

COMPLAINTS AGAINST THE EU

Those who campaign for Brexit say that the President of the United States would not accept instructions from the EU, forgetting that the United States is a Union of about 50 nominally independent states, each with their own legislature, who have surrendered part of their sovereignty to Washington. When the American President changes the law, he acts in a way that the President of the EU cannot yet do. When the government in Washington changes a law they do so in the same way as the Council of Ministers in Brussels. Most Federal laws can be modified by state governments. Those who think that the American system is better than the European system need to make the Council of Ministers an elected body like the USA Senate and the European Parliament should become like the House of Representatives, and reign in the Commission so that it acts as a civil service advising parliament and helping put laws into action.  Given time, this will probably happen anyway.

Another of the complaints against Europe is the size of the budget, but when he was still Mayor of London, Boris Johnson (Budget of Greater London £11 Billion) complained of the £20billion EU budget one week, and asked the government for a cool £30billion the next week for Crossrail2 – a branch railway line – in London.  In the 2016 Budget the Government announced plans for a Greater Lincolnshire which was expected to increase the local economy by £8billion. One of the Navy’s new aircraft carriers will be built for a budgeted £3billion, but its aircraft could cost twice as much. We have 2 such aircraft carriers. The UK spends £153billion on pensions, £147 billion on healthcare, £110 billion on Welfare £90 billion on Education, £45billion on defence, and £230 billion on everything else. In these terms the spending on the EU is not very great. It is less than 2.5% of total UK Government spending. In the 2016 UK budget the smallest allocation of funds to a Government Department was £24Billion to Industry, agriculture and employment. (Strange that. Just think, we all work and eat, and yet less is spent on our jobs and food then is spent on “Cross Rail 2” (which most of us will never see) or on Defence which we all pray will never become a necessity!)

Rank UK Government spending based on 2016 budget Annual Cost

 £ Billion

1 Social Protection 240
2 Health 145
3 Education 102
4 Other expenditure 49
5 Debt Interest 39
6 Defence 46
7 Public order and Safety 34
8 Housing and Environment 34
9 Personal Social Services 30
10 Transport 29
11 Industry Agriculture and Employment 24
12 EU Gross contribution 20

 

The EU is also accused of being bureaucratic, employing too many civil servants, but to put this into perspective it actually employs just under 34,000 people (of all grades, temporary and full time.) In contrast the UK employs 440,000 civil servants. Surprisingly it is difficult to make international comparisons, because for example (I think) the huge number of French Civil Servants probably also includes the employees of Renault/ Peugeot /Citroen etc. Italy claims to have the largest number of Civil Servants in Europe, though the figure it gives is only about 100,000. Germany has two types of civil servants. However, the UK Regions comparison include figures calculated on the same basis as each other, which I must assume are comparable to the method use by the EU, The following table is the best that I can do, with the resources I have, to illustrate the relative staffing level of the EU.

Number of Civil Servants
France 5,000,000 (Approx)
Spain 3,000,000 (Approx)
UK (total) 440,000
Germany 430,000(Approx)
Greater London 79,000
North West England
South West England
Scotland 44,000
South East England 43,120
EU (Total employees of EU Commission in Europe) 34,000
Yorkshire and Humberside 33,400
Wales 31,000
West Midlands
North East England
East of England 24,200
East Midlands
Over seas
Northern Ireland 3520

Source of international stats: – various including EU Commission website

Source of UK stats: – https://www.ons.gov.uk/employmentandlabourmarket/peopleinwork/publicsectorpersonnel/bulletins/civilservicestatistics/2015-10-08

 

But in spite of its small size, we get a lot back from our contribution to Europe. To start with there are the huge UK refund, and Agricultural subsidies that help keep UK famers in business while selling food to the supermarkets at less than the cost of production. (That business model would never be allowed in any other industry, but politicians fear that they would not be elected if we had to pay the full cost of food, and did not have surplus cash to spend on all the luxuries which industry needs to sell us.) As the UK Government shows absolutely no interest in addressing the huge imbalance of power in the commercial food chain, many of us would starve without EU Farm subsidies. The mere fact that subsidies keep many farms in business with a variety of different management styles, does more for species diversity in the UK that any of the “environmental” legislation. At the very least, think of all those boundaries between farms that get grubbed out when farms are merged. And then there is the regional aid, on which Wales, Cornwall, and other poorer regions of England depend. The UK Government has already declared that in the event of a Brexit this aid will not be replaced. So if you live more than 200 miles from London, it is very likely that you will be considerably worse off outside the EU.

About 1/3 of the UK is eligible for aid from the EU, and over the last decade the regions shown below have received aid. This is not a complete list, but the areas shown include the homes of over 8 ½ million people. Most of these areas have been wealthy in my lifetime, but represent lack of proper investment after local industries have collapsed. The industries that have gone are tin and china clay extraction, fisheries, coal and steel, docks and ship building, the automotive industries, the potteries and the shoe industry. In these areas the average income has fallen far enough to cause concern in other countries in the EU. While there is plenty of housing in these areas, a skilled workforce in settled communities, and brownfield sites which could be turned into factories and workshops for local industries the UK government has chosen to do the bare minimum. The 8 ½ million people (and many more that I haven’t included) who have benefitted from EU aid are unlikely to receive any more aid from the UK government than they have in the past, and face a future of unemployment in their present homes, or homeless employment in London.

Area Population
Cornwall and Isles of Scilly 502,077
West Wales and the Valleys 1,854,674
Highlands and Islands 369,400
Northern Ireland 1,685,266
Barnsley, Doncaster, Rotheram and part Sheffield 979,704
Wirral 208,090
East Merseyside, Liverpool, Sefton 1,093,376
Part of Plymouth 149,991
Part Devon County Council 7,389
Part Kent 142,748
Part Luton 117,723
Part Befordshire 23,271
Part Inner E London 44,510
Part Outer London E and NE 81,649
Coventry 252,011
Part of Birmingham 158,497
Part of Solihull 45,759
Part of Worcestershire 6,925
Part Dudley and Sandwell 47,696
Part Walsall and Wolverhampton 81,893
Part Staffordshire 20,937
Part Stoke on Trent 58,747
Part E Derbyshire 159,648
Part S and W Derbyshire 159,747
Part Nottingham 31,096
Part Nottinghamshire 275,487
Etc Etc
Etc Etc
Etc Etc
Total of figures shown 8,558,311

Source: –  http://ec.europa.eu/competition/state_aid/regional_aid/2007_2013/n673_06_united_kingdom_en.pdf

Each side in the debate claims that following their course of action could make each household anything up to about £3,000 better or worse off. Most of the claims made suggest a smaller sum. Nevertheless, at first site these claims sound impressive, but in fact they represent no more than, getting a promotion, moving house, having a child, being made redundant or any number of other normal life  events. Paying that much extra is not a good thing, but most of us will cope with changes in our income on that sort of level.

Defence is a great rallying cry for the Vote Leave brigade, who say that NATO is more important to European Peace than the EU. However, they forget that for most of the time that we have been members of the EU, France was not a member of NATO. Most of the Eastern EU states were members of the Warsaw Pact, and were yet to join the EU.  The best that one can say is that the strong ties between Western European Nations through their membership of the EU the UN and NATO etc, together helped them maintain peace between each other and the Warsaw Pact. It is important that all these organisations are MULTI-national. We are safer in groups of nations than when we rely on the kind of bi-lateral agreements that lead to the First World War. In 1914 most European Countries had bi-lateral agreements to defend each other, if attacked. But in the event, the chain of agreements meant that countries were forced to defend a partner from an attack by another country which the first had also agreed to defend. The simple bi-lateral approach was not fit for the purpose of maintaining peace then, and won’t be now.

During the 1970s NATO believed that the best policy for keeping us all safe was “Mutually Assured Destruction” (MAD) maintained at very great expense – One source suggests that by the end of the Cold War the US was spending $21,000 per head of the US population on nuclear weapons! The idea was that no one would dare launch a nuclear attack because they would be totally obliterated by a nuclear counter attack. Growing evidence of the effect of the global nuclear winter (that would result from MAD retaliation) was ignored by NATO planners for several decades. However, the “Cold War” was marked by a large number of “proxy” conventional wars (between supporters of the USA and Russia or China) in third world countries. In this century NATO failed to prevent the Russian annexation of Crimea or the incursion into Ukraine. It was negotiations by Merkel and Hollande in Moscow on behalf of the EU that had the biggest influence.

Migration is topical at the moment, and yet compared to the flows of migration predicted when global warming leads to sea level rise (and desertification in the tropics), current migration is almost insignificant. The problem at the moment is the way which we deal with migration, not the fact that it happens. At least if we can’t find ways to absorb migrants now when flows are still relatively low, we will be in a horrendous mess when migration really gets going. Problems caused by migration are said to be the risk of terrorism, pressure on housing and public services, and pressure on employment.

Terrorism is easily answered. Most people who are fleeing terrorism or regimes that employ terror tactics against their citizens, are hardly likely to employ terrorist tactics themselves, especially if they are well treated by their hosts.

Pressure on housing is a problem, mainly because we have not been good at building enough houses in the UK. Housing stock has also been put under pressure by allowing rich people to buy second homes (which then often remain empty for much of the year) and by the existence of buy to let mortgages, which mean people have to rent houses that they might need to buy. We are also very bad at encouraging employment near where people live. So we have ghost towns in the north and west, where there are few jobs, and many businesses in the overcrowded south east that have difficulty finding people to do the work. Migrants, who have no family ties to regions of low employment are free to move to places where there is a demand for work, and are happy to accept poor quality homes as long as they are protected from terrorism, and have a basic minimum of public services.

Incidentally, encouraging employment near people’s homes will also reduce commuting, ease climate change, and in turn help to reduce climate change induced migration. Properly integrated estates where rich, and poor people live together regardless of educational achievement, income, social status etc will provide a far better environment for absorbing migrants than the very large estates of social housing to which migrants are sent at present. Migrants are a mix of all levels of society and in an integrated estate will find it much easier to find local people with common interests than the sort of segregated estates that we build now. We lived for a decade in a private house in the middle of a small council estate, and it was a very nice place to live in – not a bit like the huge “sink estates” that mar many of our major cities. Yes, we had one or two “characters”, but most people whatever their “status” got on with each other, helped each other out, and had novel experiences to share with each other. We could have happily absorbed a few migrants, and already had several people who were born outside the UK, who were part of our “family”.

One of the reasons that we have a lot of migration into this country is that we have sent Government Ministers abroad, actively recruiting people to work in our public services. Famously Enoch Powell as Health Minister toured Asia recruiting people to work in hospitals. (This was about a decade before he started campaigning against (in quite a nasty way) the very people he had recruited.) There have been similar high profile tours to recruit workers for London Transport and (British) Railways. Our public services have relied on migrant labour since the 1950s, and still do. (At least, I knew someone with no railway experience who went for an interview with Rail Track – it was then – on the spur of the moment, and was immediately signed up for a train driving course.) We are still not training enough nurses for the NHS…..

But our public services are under pressure, whether you live in an area of high immigration or not. We live in West Wales, an area of low immigration, and yet if you are not already an NHS patient you might have to travel 50 miles or more for a dental practice with vacancies. (I am fortunate in being registered with an NHS dentist who is Polish, and an excellent dentist and thoroughly nice person.) One of our local maternity wards is threatened with closure leaving expectant Mothers with a trip of 50 miles to the nearest alternative, a journey, which on our roads could take a couple of hours. Our nearest library is 7 miles away, and many local schools are closing or merging. My grand daughters have an 11 mile journey to infants school. At the height of the “recession” when the Coalition Government was boasting about the new jobs it had created,  the nearest new jobs to us were 50 miles away. Anyone on minimum wage would have had to work for 3 days a week just to pay for commuting costs. But the poor quality of public services have nothing to do with the EU. The public services are poor because they are underfunded. And they are underfunded because we have been conned into voting for the politicians who promise the biggest tax cuts. If the Government cuts taxes without finding another method to fund public services then the quality of service is bound to fall. In France and Germany they invest considerably more in their Health Service than we do.

In our area most of the immigrants (apart from my dentist) who I  am aware of work slaughter houses, food processing factories , and the local recycling centres. Not jobs that people normally queue up to do! However, there is also a rash of “car hand wash businesses” which were never here before. Far from being an example of immigrants taking other people’s jobs, this seems to be an example of immigrants inventing a whole new industry. 700 years ago some of my Mother’s ancestors migrated here from Flanders – more or less where Belgium is now. They were weavers, and first moved to Norfolk, where they invented Worsted cloth. Some of the weavers then moved to South Pembrokeshire where they started the Welsh Wool weaving industry. It is to these enterprising weavers that we owe the fact that there are still more sheep in Wales than people! Incidentally one of the foreign team who work in our dental practice came to replace a local dentist who had emigrated to South Africa.

 

The Common Fisheries policy is also controversial. But declining fish stocks is a global phenomenon. The huge Grand Banks Fishery in the North West Atlantic is now only a shadow of what it was in the 1950s, and that has to do as much with American and Canadian fishing policy as global demand or EU policy. Our fishing fleet was also hit by the Icelandic Cod Wars when Iceland decided to claim the fishery to the full extent that it was allowed under international law. Growing demand for fish around Europe lead to the populations of many species going into serious decline, as the scarcity of adult fish meant that boats were catching smaller immature fish that had not yet bred. Something had to be done about that, and so the EU introduced quotas, licencing and protected areas. (Of course the policy of throwing back “over quota” fish, that had already been killed, was madness, but that has now been changed by the EU) All that has helped many fish stocks to recover, though it is early yet to relax the restriction on fishing most species. Indeed, the lessons of the past suggest that we should never go back to the unrestricted fishing that nearly drove so many wonderful species to extinction. Of course the EU could be criticized for the way in which the restrictions were introduced, and in the way other nationalities were allowed to fish in our waters. However much of that criticism should be shared by our politicians who were not active enough in detailed negotiations on fisheries policy and who did not sort out the fundamentals of EU democracy, leaving too much power in the hands of officials and not enough in the parliament. And we should not forget that part of the unhappiness amongst the fishing communities results from better methods of locating and catching shoals of fish, meaning that fewer boats are necessary to catch the same quantity of fish.

The global primary food producing industries (Farming and Fishing) have been largely ignored by politicians as they are so efficient that few people are employed in them, and there are very few votes dependent on these industries. There are many more votes in campaigns against what the public see as “modern methods”. The resulting changes in agricultural or fisheries law have been made by people who are not expert in the industries against which they sign petitions, and often cause more trouble than they solve. In farming each new restriction results in huge problems for smaller farms, especially those that wish to farm their land in the best way their particular fields require, and who don’t wish to be pushed into any particular system. Large farms simply employ more clerks to deal with the paperwork, or buy in yet more land to spread the cost of new equipment required by the new laws. The resulting closure of small farms results in an increasingly uniform environment and consequent loss of wildlife.  Banning pesticides often results in greater use of the remaining chemicals likely to do the same job, and this increases the likelihood of environmental damage. (As happened when Lindane was banned, and everyone (including gardeners trying to protect ornamental nectar plants) had to use neo-nicitinoids and inadvertently killed the beees.) But this chaotic situation is certainly not the fault of the EU, any more than it is the fault of poor education, or single issue campaigns, or those who would rather have lower taxes than properly functioning civil services.

As smaller businesses are forced out, the food industries are increasingly controlled by huge multinational companies, who have become so powerful that they are beyond the control of any individual nation. Our hopes (and the survival of ourselves and our ecosystem) now depend on multinational organisations such as the EU and the UN, but we must be much more active in supporting them. The alternative is a landscape of sterile monoculture increasingly damaged by pollution and erosion. Our seas will become a sterile pond of polluting fish farms and a seabed dredged to death.

As you may have guessed, I am rather in favour of staying in the EU, but am open to other ideas, especially if anyone can give me a really good reason for leaving, backed up by some evidence that leaving will actually help solve the problem.

 

 

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Hello world!

This blog is mainly about things that are important to me, Farming, Agricultural ecology, and the family craft business. We live in Wales, so our country may get a mention, and I am also interested in Politics  etc. ……

I hope that you will find it interesting, and perhaps entertaining. I hope that I wont upset anyone…

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