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Breaking News: Chris Grayling Accused Of Trying To Censor Video Aimed At Helping Disabled People Appeal Benefit Refusals

July 31, 2012

This is shocking.

The minister for employment, Chris Grayling, has been accused of trying to censor a Ministry of Justice courts service information video which sought to help and advise those appealing against decisions to have their disability and sickness benefit taken away.

A string of emails and letters between Grayling and Ministry of Justice civil servants, seen by the Guardian, appear to show that the minister for employment wanted to remove parts of the educational video produced by Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service which gave advice on how be to more successful during the appeals process. Emails sent from the minister’s account complain about the video’s “tone” and “negative comments” towards the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) even though the sections in dispute were agreed to be factually true.

The censorship allegations come after Channel Four’s Dispatches programme on Monday alleged that Atos, the firm involved in medically assessing sickness and disability claims, had developed a target culture to ensure enough people were being taken off benefits.

BBC’s Panorama, also aired on Monday, further questioned Atos’s assessment procedures and found one case where a man died of his serious heart condition just five weeks after the company found him fit to work for the second time.

Hundreds of thousands have appealed against benefit decisions in the past few years and, according to the latest figures, about 30% are successful.

The courts service video, which tells claimants to appear in person if they want to be twice as likely to win their appeal, remains offline and the MoJ appears to have instructed YouTube to pull down all illicitly posted copies because of copyright infringement.

In the original video posting, the senior appeals doctor Jane Parry tells viewers: “Whatever the outcome of your appeal, we hope that you find the appeals process clear, impartial and fair … we will do our very best to help you.”

Complaining about the tone of the video, an email was sent from Grayling’s official ministerial account to MoJ officials on 19 March saying: “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.”

In a series of ensuing emails, which have been redacted by freedom of information officers, Ministry of Justice officials wrote saying they would “temporarily remove the video” while the matter was investigated.

Later that day emails sent from the minister’s account described the video as “offending”, adding: “I raised the things that jumped out as wrong or negative.”

A further email from Grayling’s office reads: “I think for the moment we should wait to see what comments they [Ministry of Justice officials] come back with … it may be that we feel the whole tone of the video is wrong and could not be fixed.”

After the list of complaints from Grayling’s office was sent to the Ministry of Justice, the department’s parliamentary under-secretary, Jonathan Djanogly, wrote in a letter dated 5 April that he would instruct his officials to remove certain sections of the film even though the statements were not factually in dispute and would run a copy of the future script of the courts service video past DWP staff.

When later asked in a parliamentary question on 10 July by the former Labour Treasury minister Stephen Timms why his department had sought to remove the video, Grayling replied: “The department did not direct that the Ministry of Justice video about employment and support allowance appeals be removed from the website YouTube.

“We sought to correct factual inaccuracies within the video which we brought to the attention of MoJ officials who agreed to revise the content of the video.”

After seeing the inter-departmental correspondence Timms told the Guardian that the emails appeared to show Grayling’s answer was wrong, adding that the government was “ignoring the needs of disabled people”.

“Many people are finding they have to appeal against wrong decisions on their disability benefits. With cuts to legal aid, it will be harder in future for them to get help. Now DWP ministers are stopping people even from seeing a video that might help them, produced by the Ministry of Justice. They also appear to have given an incorrect answer to my parliamentary question. This looks like a department that is losing its grip and ignoring the needs of disabled people.”

Neil Bateman from the National Association of Welfare Rights Advisers, who filed the freedom of information request, said the video was typical of public information films produced by the Ministry of Justice but the “parts of the video which Chris Grayling objected to were all parts which claimants would find helpful”.

“There is the strong impression that this was a deliberate attempt to censor the video,” he added.

An MoJ courts service spokesperson said: “We are currently reviewing all the information we provide to SSCS [social security courts service] tribunal users and whether a video is the most effective way of reaching our target audience.”

“We want to ensure that we provide users with the latest, most accurate and useful information. We also need to ensure that the information reflects all the current DWP procedures, including changes they have recently introduced to their decision-making processes.

The spokesperson added that information for users was still available on the Ministry of Justice website and that the review of the video content was still “ongoing”.

A DWP spokesperson stressed that the department’s concerns were about “factual inaccuracies” and “at no point did the department ask for the video to be taken down”.

One Comment leave one →
  1. December 5, 2014 12:14 pm

    This has moved up quite a few gears of late (2014) & Grayling has announced plans to control ‘trolling on social media sites’.
    When you put that together with the recently-passed Data Retention & Internet Provider (“Snooper”) Act that makes it easier to search people`s email accounts & digital devices via their provider, the “Gagging” Bill, which curbs the amount of funds that a union, charity, protest group, business or organisation can spend re: dissenting govt. policy (or face legal action), Theresa May`s proposed (&extremely likely to be made law) Extremist Disruption Orders (ostensibly to curb terrorist usage of social media but again extended to include dissenting with govt. policy, & can result in needing police vetting before any use of social media or public gatherings), legal Secret Courts, the Cons` intent to withdraw from the EU Human Rights Charter…

    Holy sh*t! We`re a police state!

    I strongly suspect the ‘anti-trolling’ measures are designed to remove embarrassing posts from sites like YouTube (“chris grayling is a lying b*****d”-C4 News interview where he`s caught with his pants down – FYI highly recommended viewing!, “IDS` explosive row with James O`Brien”-audio recording of IDS on James O`Brien`s radio show in which Smith comes out with some absolute clangers & nearly erupts into a full-blown argument, IDS on Question Time, various clips & interviews in which Coalition MPs lie their a*ses off on camera, etc), FB & others in the run-up to next years` General Election as a form of damage control.

    Sneaky bastards…time to be shut of `em before V For Vendetta becomes reality

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