Sunday, 8 July 2012

The on-off video

The Ministry of Justice publishes several public information videos on YouTube - topics include how to be a witness, what happens at an Employment Tribunal and so on.  It's the sort of neutral and useful information you'd expect to see.  In March they uploaded a short video showing what happens at a Tribunal hearing Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) appeals. 

Obviously the DWP didn't like this - by demystifying the process, it was likely to encourage appellants to attend the Tribunal and thus increase their chances of success.  So on 19th March Chris Grayling MP, DWP Minister responsible for ESA sent an email to the Ministry of Justice objecting to the content.

I obtained the email using the Freedom of Information Act.  Here it is:

“From: Minister for Employment [mailto:MINISTER.EMPLOYMENT@DWP.GSI.GOV.UK]
Sent: 19 March 2012 14:32
Cc: Minister for Employment
Subject: Youtube video about appeals

Afternoon, our attention has been drawn to a video on your official youtube channel that talks about making an appeal on Employment and Support Allowance:

Specific concerns are:

• The line that the claimant may not have had a chance to talk to someone since the decision was made - our new processes ensure that Jobcentre Plus will have spoken to the claimant to ensure they understand what the decision is, why it’s been made and what they can do next;

• It says the claimant will have received a medical examination - the Work Capability Assessment is not a medical examination, if the word medical must be used we’d be OK with medical assessment, but would prefer something like “an assessment of your capability for work”;

• It mentions bringing additional evidence to the tribunal - again, our new processes are trying to ensure that new medical evidence doesn’t just go to the tribunal but instead gets to JCP first so we can undertake a reconsideration;

• It notes that JCP doesn’t normally send anyone to a tribunal - while this is true both because of cost and because the evidence suggests it makes no difference to the tribunal decision, it does feel quite a negative comment. The appearance of a presenting officer or not doesn’t reflect how important we feel the tribunal is or the claimant’s case is; and

• A couple of times it’s noted that a claimant is twice as likely to win their appeal if they turn up in person - again this is broadly true, but doesn’t help to reduce the opinion that it isn’t the facts of the case that are important, but the turning up in front of a tribunal and pleading their case.

Can we discuss what we might be able to do? ”

So basically, Grayling objected to various comments which would encourage people to participate in the hearing.  His objection to "medical examination" is perverse - not only is the phrase used in the law, but it's also used by ATOS and DWP in their letters to people.

He also wanted people to not send in evidnce to the Tribunal - this would put people at a huge disadvantage and the rationale that DWP should see it is misleading because all evidence sent in advance is copied to all parties, including DWP and if they had the courtesy to actually attend Tribunal hearings, they'd get to see evidence handed in at the hearing.  And as we all know, even when they have seen compelling evidence, the DWP still ignore it.

Anyway, having had this information released, by coincidence (?) the video re-appeared on YouTube the same day I received the information.  This then led to over 9,000 views as word got out on the disability and advice networks - Grayling's attempt to censor the video just increased the level of interest in it.  Curiously, the Ministry of Justice denied that any information exists about the video!

Having had such a surge in interest, the video was again taken offline by the Ministry of Justice.  "Mystery of Justice" might be a better description.

I have fired off another Freedom of Information request, but this will take weeks.  In the meantime, various people made copies of the video and you can view it on Youtube by searching here.

So far over 5,000 people have since seen it.

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