There are few ways for the people to claw back some degree of power in this sham democracy.
The right to peaceful protest and the ability to boycott companies and institutions we object to, for now, remain inside the law. And whilst the state attempts to cover up it’s gravest secrets, we still have some right to know what those in power are actually doing via the Freedom of Information act.
But the recent actions of employment minister Chris Grayling reveal even these small freedoms are held in contempt by this toff Government.
Back in January Frank Zola made a Freedom of Information request concerning the Government’s Mandatory Work Activity (MWA) scheme. MWA is a system of punishment for unemployed people who are deemed by Jobcentre advisors to be not trying hard enough to find work. Claimants can be sent on a four week sentence of unpaid work, similar to a mid level Community Service punishment, or face being stripped of vital benefits. The DWP’s own research reveals that the scheme has been a dismal and expensive failure. Despite this, Chris Grayling this week announced plans to massively extend the scheme.
The Freedom of Information request asked the DWP for details of where people are actually being sent to undertake unpaid work. Previously information of this type had been provided by the Department and even published on the DWP website. When the workfare row blew up earlier in the year, these documents disappeared and the DWP began refusing to reveal details of MWA, or any other workfare providers. This was despite David Cameron boasting at the same time that Airbus and Centre Parcs had recently joined the Work Experience scheme. It was clear even then that the Government are only to happy to provide this type of information when it suits them.
The DWP invoked Section 43 of the Freedom of Information act saying that to reveal the information may “potentially damage the commercial interests of organisations providing work placements and inhibit or limit the ability of the Department to obtain the best services to help people make the transition into work.”
This decision appears to have been made after the DWP decided that if they told the truth about who was using workfare then people might exercise their right to peaceful protest or boycott the companies concerned. They may even say mean things on twitter about them.
Mr Zola correctly referred the DWP to the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO), who are responsible for ensuring government departments remain within the law when rejecting FOI requests. The investigation is still ongoing however a second request, to view all correspondence between the DWP and the ICO, has recently been granted. The correspondence reveals the staggering arrogance of the DWP in this matter and proves that this attitude has come direct from the minister responsible himself, Chris Grayling.
The ICO wrote to the department confirming that they accepted the matter should be placed under investigation and asking the DWP to justify their decision. They also pointed out that the ICO does not take into account ‘speculative arguments’ about how such information might prejudice the interests of third parties (meaning the companies profiting from forced labour).
The DWP start to wriggle furiously, asking for a 10 day extension to provide the justification for their decision. A stark response comes from the ICO:
It’s almost as if the DWP simply rejected the original request out of hand without carrying out the proper procedures. Despite this the ICO grants the exception.
Eventually the DWP gets round to writing back with their justification for not providing information which they had previously declared it was in the public interest for people to know. The DWP claim that since that time they have been made aware of several ‘internet campaigns’ aimed at encouraging “people to boycott companies and organisations which have links to the Government’s work programmes”.
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