The Week According to Sean Dilley

Broadcaster and general nuisance Sean Dilley gives his take on the week in politics.

It may shock many readers to learn that more than £13 billion of taxpayer's money is spent on sickness and incapacity benefits for people of working age, as pointed out by minister for disabled people Mike Penning this week.

A cynic might suggest that simplistic figures such as these are designed to shock – but an independent report carried out by occupational physician Dr Paul Litchfield has highlighted concerns about the way in which work capability assessments – instrumental in decisions about employment and support allowance – are taking place.

The laudable claim of the government is to ensure that the system no longer writes anyone off and offers disabled people the tools needed to secure employment. Trouble is, Dr Litchfield's report has expressed concern that dignity and respect are major areas of failure and the current system is too confrontational. It's a far cry from the caring-sharing plan eloquently made by Iain Duncan Smith and Co.

Gob-smackingly, the academic's report found that assessors are "inferring" answers from disabled people that were "not provided" by them. I've spoken to amputees who had to remove their prosthetic limbs and deaf people who had unqualified individuals test their disability by shouting "can you hear me" rather than being assessed by specialist physicians as originally envisaged.

It's one thing to offer a leg up and bit of tough love. It's another to patronise, insult and offend.

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Inappropriate pose of the week goes to our very own prime minister David Cameron for his 'selfie' with Danish counterpart Helle Thorning-Schmidt and president Obama at Nelson Mandela's memorial service.

It was funeral faux pas that would have had Coogan's Alan Partridge cringing by the coffin with embarrassment, but the Tory leader was hardly contrite. He told a packed PMQs he thought he was just being "polite" to the Kinnock family by posing with the pair at this sad occasion.

I suppose since the two world leaders seem incapable of refusing grossly offensive requests on an international day of remembrance –  for fear of upsetting the Kinnock clan – we should be grateful that Ms Thorning-Schmidt didn't ask them to dance a jig around the birdie song. But whatever his defence of the indefensible, the PM probably regretted his smartphone smooging the 'mourning' after.

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Dirty politics and a discredited pay and expenses system was the defining legacy of the last parliament, with all three main party leaders signing up to a cleaner system of 'new politics' to tackle the inequity of MPs setting their own pay.

This is why the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (Ipsa) was set up to do the job for them: to repair parliament's reputation and implement a fair package of pay would tackle the unacceptable nod-and-a-wink system of dodgy expense claims which had been tacitly supported by successive governments and opposition party leaderships over the years. It was a system which was supposed to be above politics.

So what is it about the concept of MPs' pay and conditions being independent of parliament that so many MPs, journalists and members of the public seem to struggle with?

Earlier this week, I sparred with the sagacious Jonathan Vernon Smith on BBC Three Counties radio who understandably sought to play devil's advocate. In probably my most enjoyable on-air slot of the week, the mid-morning show host argued that if MPs failed to hand back the 11% increase to the exchequer, they were in effect "awarding themselves" a pay rise.

"You're dancing on the head of a needle" I told him, as I explained that Ipsa have independently reviewed MPs pay and conditions and they've come to the conclusion that we don't pay our parliamentarians enough by way of salary – but crucially we do pay them pensions that are too generous and out of line with the rest of the public sector.

Take a listen

So while MPs salaries are due to rise to £74,000, Ipsa have slammed claims by Number 10 that reforms will increase the cost of politics – insisting they'll claw back £4.6 million in pensions and restrict some expenses and business costs and it won't cost the taxpayer a single extra penny.

Will Ed Balls, David Cameron and every other politician who has been hectoring Ipsa now apologise for trying to politicise the independent review?

No? Oh well.

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The PM's been sent to the naughty corner by a crown court judge this week after a moment of legal lunacy in which he commented on the criminal trial involving celebrity chef Nigella Lawson.

Robin Johnson said it was a "matter of regret" when public office holders comment on ongoing court proceedings, but I thought I'd be helpful and translate this into layman's speak.

 

What the judge really meant was: "You're a very naughty boy and if you were Sally Bercow, or anyone other than the prime minister, you'd probably be in a lot of trouble now young man. But since you're the attorney general's boss, we may have to let you off."