‘They rely on us to survive’: Senior DWP staff to be sent to front line to prepare for rise in benefit applications amid coronavirus outbreak



Senior staff at the Department for Work and Pensions are being sent into benefit centres to help them cope with a deluge of claims from people who “rely on us to survive”.

Thousands of people in London, Leeds, Sheffield – including managers in policy, finance, communications and analytical posts – have been told they will be sent to “frontline roles”.

They will be “matched” with job centres as they prepare for a flood of benefit applications from people who lose jobs or hours as the coronavirus epidemic spreads.


An email seen by The Independent, sent by the DWP’s permanent secretary Peter Schofield, informs staff they “need to go further and faster to support the increasing numbers of people who are turning to us at their time of need”.

“This is an unparalleled public health emergency, the likes of which we have never seen,” Mr Schofield says – telling staff they will receive “condensed training” to redeploy.

All DWP staff in England will now be categorised as “critical workers”, the message says,“alongside nurses, doctors, firefighters, police”.

It reminds staff that they provide “critical services to our customers who rely on us to survive”.

The many thousands of staff have been told to complete a survey by the end of Monday, to allow them to be “matched” with benefit centres and learn to process new claims.

The new instructions come despite some rules being relaxed to help benefit claimants as the crisis escalates.

Those claiming disability benefits will no longer be required to attend face-to-face assessments, a change that also covers health checks for universal credit.

Employment and support allowance (ESA) will be paid to people unable to work because they are directly affected by COVID-19, or self-isolating, from the first day of sickness, rather than the eighth.

And the ‘minimum income floor’ – an assumed level of earnings – will be temporarily relaxed for self-employed claimants on universal credit affected by Covid-19.

A DWP spokesperson said, earlier this week: “We understand people who are required to stay at home or are infected by coronavirus may need financial support, and quickly.”



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Caroline Dubois wins on senior debut in Tokyo 2020 Olympics qualifying



Lightweight Caroline Dubois won her opening bout of the Boxing Road to Tokyo Olympic qualifying event at the Copper Box Arena on Saturday.

The London-born 19-year-old defeated Ala Staradub of Belarus on points and will next face Rio 2016 bronze medallist Mira Potkonen from Finland in the next round.

Dubois, named BBC Young Sports Personality of the Year in 2019, was making her senior debut after going unbeaten through her youth career.


She said on gbboxing.org.uk: “This is the first fight, which is always the worst one. It was OK, not my best, and, if you ask any of the coaches, they’ll tell you that. I can be much better.”

Dubois, the younger sister of British heavyweight champion Daniel, is looking forward to testing herself against Potkonen.

She said: “To be the best, you’ve got to beat the best. She is obviously a top seed but, at the end of the day, she only has two hands, two legs and one brain, and that’s the same as I have.

“I know exactly what to expect and she knows exactly what to expect of me. It’s going to be a good fight for sure. In her mind she will be thinking that she can’t lose to someone my age.”



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Pro-Trump figures spread coronavirus conspiracy after health expert revealed as sister of senior Mueller probe official



Prominent Trump supporters have claimed coronavirus is being used to undermine the president, after it was revealed that a health official who commented on the outbreak is the sister of former deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein.

Dr Nancy Messonnier, a senior official at the Centre for Disease Control (CDC), said on Tuesday it was likely that an outbreak would occur in the US and warned the American public to “prepare for the expectation that this might be bad.”

“We expect we will see community spread in this country,” Dr Messonnier, the director of the CDC’s National Centre for Immunisation and Respiratory Diseases, said.


“It’s not so much of a question of if this will happen in this country anymore but a question of when this will happen.”

After it was noted that Dr Messonnier is the sister of Mr Rosenstein, who oversaw the Mueller investigation into the president’s alleged ties to Russia, some supporters of Mr Trump have seized on the supposed conspiracy to damage the president.

Rush Limbaugh, a right-wing radio host who was recently awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, drew attention to the family connection, telling his listeners to take the information and “do what you want with it”.

“It may mean nothing. Might … who knows?” Mr Limbaugh told listeners.

“It’s just in that town, I’m telling you, everything is incestuous. Most of that town is establishment oriented or rooted, which means they despise Trump.”

The radio host has previously falsely claimed coronavirus is simply “the common cold” and suggested the outbreak is being “weaponised” against Mr Trump.

Other right-wing media figures accused Dr Messonnier of undermining the president more directly.

“Rod Rosenstein, as we all know, definitely worked to undermine the Trump administration, which is oddly exactly what his sister is doing by undermining the more logical and calm message the president’s team has issued on the virus,” an article on the website of conservative commentator Wayne Dupree said.

The article went on to suggest the response to coronavirus was “yet another instance of DC swamp creatures using any opportunity to undermine President Trump.”

Joe Hoft, a writer for far-right website The Gateway Pundit, described Dr Messonnier and Mr Rosenstein as “a sick family and horrible people” as he suggested the coronavirus warning was designed to overshadow Mr Trump’s trip to India this week.

Although the president himself has not commented publicly on Dr Messonnier, he has complained about criticism of his administration’s response to the outbreak.

“No matter how well we do … the Democrats talking point is that we are doing badly,” Mr Trump complained on Twitter.

“If the virus disappeared tomorrow, they would say we did a really poor, and even incompetent, job. Not fair, but it is what it is.”

The president has repeatedly attempted to downplay fears about the virus, which has been blamed for a recent stock market slide, and insisted the risk to the US is “very low”.

In reference to Dr Messonnier’s warning, a senior Trump administration official told CNBC on Thursday that the health expert “never should have said that”.

However, some conservatives have defended the official over the warning.

“I’ve heard people jumping on Nancy Messonnier because she told us the truth: that it’s not a matter of if but when,” Tom Cole, a Republican representative for Oklahoma, told reporters.

“Isn’t that what you want to hear instead of some pie in the sky?”



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Senior Tory triggers alarm over failure to commit to key European human rights convention



A senior Tory minister has sparked alarm after failing to offer assurances the UK will remain signed up to a key human rights treaty after Brexit.

Solicitor general Michael Ellis evaded questions over the UK’s future relationship with the European convention on human rights (ECHR) amid concern over whether Boris Johnson intends to water down vital protections.

It comes as Mr Johnson signalled a willingness to take on the judiciary by appointing Suella Braverman as the new attorney general, who previously condemned “unelected, unaccountable” judges.


He is also expected to push through potentially fundamental changes with a new Constitution, Democracy and Rights Commission. No date has been set for this review to begin.

Labour‘s Geraint Davies asked the solicitor general for explicit assurances that the UK would retain its decades-long support for ECHR.

Speaking in the Commons, the Swansea West MP said: “The solicitor general knows that our institutions of liberal democracy—the BBC, the judiciary and the civil service—are under attack. He is planning to water down the Human Rights Act.

“Will he give a solemn undertaking that we will not be withdrawing ​from the European convention on human rights, which was established 62 years ago, with the help of Winston Churchill, and nor will we withdraw from the Council of Europe?”

Mr Ellis replied: “The UK is committed to human rights. The fact is that our EU exit does not change that; the UK will continue to champion human rights, at home and abroad—it is part of who we are as a people.

“We practised human rights before the 1998 Act and we will continue to do so. We are committed to upholding the rule of law.

“The UK is a beacon in this area around the world, and leaving the EU does not change that.”

Mr Davies described the minister’s response as a “deafening silence”, telling The Independent: “The danger it seems to me is that the PM doesn’t recognise the importance of the judiciary and the institutions we have that keep our democracy alive.”

The comments also sparked concern from the SNP’s Joanna Cherry, a senior lawyer, who warned the government was trying to “weaken the rights of citizens” through Brexit.

Ms Cherry, who serves on the Joint Committee for Human Rights, told The Independent: “Membership of the ECHR and recognition of the jurisdiction of the European Court of Human Rights are fundamental guarantees of the rights of every citizen in the UK. 

“The Tory government seem determined to use Brexit to weaken the rights of citizens.

“This should worry us all, particularly with the appointment of Suella Braveman as attorney general given her antipathy towards the judiciary and international rights protections.”

The ECHR is an international convention between members of the Council of Europe which is separate to membership of the EU. The UK first ratified the treaty in 1951.

Under the convention, citizens of signatory countries can appeal to the European Court of Human Rights if they feel their rights have been breached.

The UK government passed its own Human Rights Act in 1998 to write ECHR rights into domestic law, allowing people in Britain can appeal to UK courts over breaches of their rights without having to go to Strasbourg.



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Anne Sacoolas: Harry Dunn’s alleged killer a more senior spy than husband, report claims



The mother of teenager Harry Dunn has hit out at the UK government after it was reported his alleged killer had served in the CIA.

The family of the motorcyclist have struggled with both US and UK officials as they push for Anne Sacoolas to stand trial, having been accused of driving on the wrong side of the road when she allegedly collided with the 19-year-old near RAF Craughton in Northamptonshire .

Now Dunn’s mother Charlotte Charles has said the family is “full of anger” following claims Ms Sacoolas, who was able to flee the country after claiming diplomatic immunity due to her husband’s work as an intelligence analyst, was employed as an agent by the CIA.


As first reported by the Mail on Sunday, who cited officials on both side of the Atlantic, Ms Sacoolas is believed to have been more senior in intelligence circles than her husband, but had reportedly not been conducting spy operations in the UK at the time of the incident.

Ms Charles said the claim took her back to the early days following her son’s death when she claims the British government was “trying to kick this all under the carpet”.

The family is understood to have written to the Foreign Office asking for an explanation as to what it knew about Ms Sacoolas’s history with the CIA.

She added: “We are determined to make sure that this never happens to another family again. ”I do not know what the government think they are doing or why they are treating us the way they are.

“It is an absolute scandal and I know [family spokesman Radd Seiger] is calling for a full public inquiry and an action plan from the government.

“We will not rest until Anne Sacoolas is back and we have secured the safety of the nation in so far as so-called diplomats committing crimes here in the UK is concerned.”

Harry Dunn’s family hail ‘huge step’ as US suspect charged over his death

A spokeswoman for the Foreign Office said: “Anne Sacoolas was notified to us as a spouse with no official role.”

Since leaving the country Ms Sacoolas been charged with causing death by dangerous driving – but the US is refusing to extradite the 42-year-old, and last month US secretary of state Mike Pompeo refused to explain why.

On a visit to London the official was asked why he was allowing “a US citizen to run over and kill an English boy and evade justice”, but declined to say what lay behind the decision.

Instead, he said London and Washington were “doing everything we can to make it right” and seeking “a resolution that reflects the tragedy that took place”.

Speaking on Sunday, former foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt said the US should treat the UK like an ally and extradite Ms Sacoolas.

Speaking on Sky News, he said: “I think we just need to ask what would have happened if the boot had been on the other foot, if a British diplomat had been involved in a road accident in the United States where someone had died and had fled on a private plane back to the UK and was evading justice – I don’t think President Trump would stand for that for one second.

“And I would just say to the United States, I’m someone who is the strongest supporter of the special relationship, I think in a very uncertain world the democracies of the world need to stand together, but if we’re going to be in an alliance we need to treat each other like allies and that is not happening.”

Additional reporting by Press Association



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Tony Hall: BBC faces ‘torrid’ time after director general’s departure, senior figures warn



Senior BBC figures have warned of a “torrid” time ahead and a need for new vision at the top following the resignation of director general Tony Hall.

Lord Hall, 68, announced his resignation in an email to staff after seven years in the highest ranking role at one of the world’s leading media services. He will now take over as chair of the National Gallery in London.

“If I followed my heart I would genuinely never want to leave”, he said. “However, I believe that an important part of leadership is putting the interests of the organisation first.”


Beginning his career as a trainee reporter in Belfast, he leaves as the fourth director general to have steered the BBC in the 21st century – and only the second to have been able to choose his own time of departure without being forced by public outcry.

By many he will be seen as the man who took on the task of cleaning up the broadcaster’s image after his predecessor, George Entwhistle, saw his tenure engulfed by Jimmy Savile’s abuse and ultimately ended by a Newsnight report which indirectly and incorrectly implicated Lord McAlpine in a child sexual exploitation scandal.

Under Lord Hall’s tenure has suffered its own controversies a string of female staffers demanded equal pay compared to their male counterparts after the broadcaster was forced to publish the salaries of its top talent.

Most recently Sarah Montague, the former Today programme presenter, revealed that she had agreed a £400,000 settlement in a pay dispute.

Last week Samira Ahmed won an employment tribunal against the BBC when she claimed she was underpaid by a reported £700,000 for hosting audience feedback show Newswatch compared with Jeremy Vine’s salary for Points of View.

Carrie Grace, the broadcaster’s former China correspondent who resigned after being paid £100,000 less than male counterparts serving similar roles, wrote on Twitter that the “BBC Commander on the bridge must steer by the values. Tony has many strengths but also made mistakes … The BBC needs more vision, firm steering and true grit than ever”.

John Simpson, a veteran newscaster of 50 years, said “I’m sorry Tony Hall is leaving the BBC.  He’s been a steadying force & a good friend.  The next few years will be pretty torrid for the BBC, and it may well not survive past 2027 in any recognisable form”.

Lord Hall’s exit also comes after repeated threats from the Conservative Party to alter the BBC’s funding structure – with the potential scrapping of the licence fee threatened by many in the party including Boris Johnson.

During his electoral campaign, after being publicly shamed for his response to a sick child forced to sleep on a hospital floor, Mr Johnson took aim at the funding system. “The system of funding out of effectively a general tax bears reflection”, he said, “How long can you justify a system whereby everybody who has a TV has to pay to fund a particular set of TV and radio channels?”

While the BBC’s charter, which sets out its plan for the future, is secure until 2027, it remains up for review in 2022. Meanwhile next year the government will be able to select a chairperson to oversee the broadcaster’s board.

The BBC has made hundreds of millions of pounds-worth of cutbacks in recent years in response to political pressure.



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Queen summons senior royals to crisis meeting to resolve Harry and Meghan’s future



The Queen has summoned senior royals including the Duke of Sussex to a crisis meeting in a bid resolve Prince Harry and Meghan’s future roles in the family.

The head of state will be joined at her private Norfolk estate of Sandringham by her successors Prince Charles and Prince William on Monday for a crunch meeting to decide the “next steps” after the Sussexes announced they were stepping back from royal duties.

It will be the first time the four will have met since the issue engulfed the royal family, and it is thought Charles will be travelling from Birkhall in Scotland, William from his Kensington Palace apartment, and Harry from Frogmore Cottage near Windsor Castle.


Before them will be a range of options, and it is likely the royals will try to come to some agreement before the meeting ends to stop the immediate crisis causing lasting damage to the monarchy.

 

It comes amid reports Duke and Duchess of Sussex flown their pet dogs to Canada, prompting speculation the couple plan to set up their permanent home in North America.

The two dogs said to have travelled out with Harry and Meghan in November for a six-week break and are not thought to have returned to Britain.

Meghan brought her beagle Guy when she moved to the UK to live with Harry, and the couple are also said to have a black Labrador.

A black Labrador was seen in the grounds of the property at which the couple stayed in Vancouver Island during their holiday, according to the Daily Mail.

The Duchess returned to Canada shortly after the couple’s bombshell decision to step back from royal duties was made public on Wednesday.

Asked about the dogs being flown to the Commonwealth country, a spokeswoman for the couple declined to comment.

The development comes as the Queen pushes courtiers to clarify Prince Harry and Meghan’s future roles as members of the royal family within days.

She has set a deadline of 72 hours for a conclusion to be reached, according to The TelegraphThe Queen reportedly wants a resolution before Prince Harry’s next public appearance.

The Duke and Duchess of Sussex spent six weeks in North America over Christmas with their eight-month-old son Archie. 

The couple have said they wish to split their time between the UK and Canada in the future and plan to become financially independent.

After the announcement, a spokesperson for Buckingham Palace said: “We understand their desire to take a different approach, but these are complicated issues that will take some time to work through.” 

A friend of Prince Harry and Meghan claimed on Friday the couple felt they were being “driven out” of the royal family, prompting a vehement denial from a palace aide.

Meghan, a promoter of adopting rescue dogs, chose animal welfare charity Mayhew as one of her first patronages.

She has previously said her dogs “mean the absolute world” to her and has referred to them as “my loves” and “my boys”.

Additional reporting by agencies



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Meghan Markle and Prince Harry receive job offers following decision to step down as senior royals



Ever since the Duke and Duchess of Sussex announced their wish to step down as “senior” members of the royal family, speculation has been growing as to how they plan on becoming “financially independent”.

While Meghan previously worked as an actor, starring on American legal drama Suits, Prince Harry served in the army for a decade, rising to the rank of Captain before ending his active service in 2015.

According to training and qualifications site The Knowledge Academy (TKA), the duchess’ CV could result in her achieving an average salary of around £140,000 if she were a civilian, while the duke’s would result in him earning closer to £40,000.


While they may not be entirely serious, a few offers have already been made towards the royal couple regarding potential job prospects as they embark upon creating a “progressive new role” for themselves within the royal family.

Here are some of the job offers that have been put forward to Meghan and Prince Harry following their announcement.

The Daily Show with Trevor Noah


On Wednesday, American talk show The Daily Show, which is hosted by comedian Trevor Noah, tweeted that it was on the lookout for a couple of new employees.

“Prospective applicants must: Speak impeccable English; Be very good at waving; Have attended one or more weddings that involve swords; Have two+ years experience as a member of a Royal Family; Make any castle/manor you own available for work parties,” the tweet read.

Noah later commented on the notion of Meghan and Prince Harry acquiring everyday jobs, explaining that no matter what job the duke obtains, “you realise that he’s still going to be Prince Harry”.

“Can you imagine being his boss when he screws up?” Noah said during a segment on the talk show. “What do you call him in and say?

“’Prince Harry, get in here, your majesty. You blew the Henderson account, my lord, clean out your desk and may God save the Queen.’”

The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills

(Instagram/@sussexroyal)

(@bravoandy comment on @sussexroyal post)

After Meghan and Prince Harry published their statement on Instagram regarding the future of their royal roles, television talk show host Andy Cohen commented underneath offering a job for the Californian-born duchess.

“Open invite for The Duchess to join #RHOBH!!!” he wrote, in reference to reality television show The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills, which he co-produces.

The show’s network, Bravo, also expressed interest in the idea.

Meghan Markle tagline suggestion: Beverly Hills is full of diamonds, but I’m the crown jewel,” the Instagram account for Bravo commented on a post about the duke and duchess.

Surrey Police


On Thursday 9 January, the Twitter account for Surrey Police shared an offer for the duke and duchess to join the force.

“We hear you are looking for a new role where your strong beliefs in public service, and serving the Queen, could be an asset? We’re close to Windsor, and Sussex, and we are recruiting…” the tweet read, including a link to the careers page on the Surrey Police website.

After receiving some criticism with regards to the tweet, a spokesperson for the force defended its recruitment plea.

“We used one of the biggest news stories of the day to get across our recruitment message in a very competitive market,” the spokesperson stated.

“While it might not have been to everyone’s taste, to date it has resulted in more than 600 visits to the recruitment pages of our website.

“We always aim to be innovative on our social media chanels and take on board any comments both positive and negative.”



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Government accidentally publishes home addresses of over 1,000 New Year Honours recipients, including Elton John and senior police



The government accidentally published the home addresses of more than 1,000 New Year Honours recipients.

The list included celebrities such as Elton John as well as some of the country’s most senior police officers and politicians.

The list was briefly posted to a government website, allowing anyone who visited the page to download it as a spreadsheet.


The file contained postcodes and house numbers of nearly every person recognised in the list. It included celebrities such as TV chef Nadiya Hussain and cricketer Ben Stokes, senior politicians including Iain Duncan Smith, as well as senior police officers.

The Cabinet Office said it had referred itself to the Information Commissioner’s Office and would be contacting anyone involved.

“A version of the New Year Honours 2020 list was published in error which contained recipients’ addresses,” a Cabinet Office spokesperson said.

“The information was removed as soon as possible. We apologise to all those affected and are looking into how this happened.

“We have reported the matter to the ICO and are contacting all those affected directly.”

The ICO confirmed it is “making enquiries” in response to the reports of a data breach.

Nearly 1,100 people were celebrated in the New Year Honours list, which included almost all of their addresses, although some – the six people recognised for their service to defence – were redacted.

Silkie Carlo, director of privacy campaign group Big Brother Watch, said: “It’s extremely worrying to see that the government doesn’t have a basic grip on data protection, and that people receiving some of the highest honours have been put at risk because of this.

“It’s a farcical and inexcusable mistake, especially given the new Data Protection Act passed by the government last year – it clearly can’t stick by its rules.”

In July the ICO announced its intention to fine British Airways £183m for a data breach, which will become the largest penalty ever issued by the regulator once the process is completed.

The ICO later handed out an intention to fine the hotel chain Marriott International £99m after it admitted the guest records of around 339 million people had been accessed. 

Additional reporting by the Press Association



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Senior Tory who grabbed female climate protester by throat breached ministerial code, inquiry finds



A former Tory MP who grabbed a female climate change protester around the neck has been found to have breached the ministerial code – five months after Boris Johnson dropped an investigation.

Mark Field was able to quietly leave the Commons at the general election after the incoming prime minister decided a full probe into his behaviour was no longer needed.

Just weeks later, a Cabinet Office inquiry under the code has concluded his manhandling of the Greenpeace activist flouted “the high standards of behaviour expected of ministers”.


Mr Field was caught on camera holding Janet Barker around the throat after she joined a protest that disrupted a black-tie dinner in the City of London.

But Alun Cairns – who was forced to quit as Welsh secretary as the campaign started, after being accused of lying about an aide’s sabotaging of a rape trial – has been cleared of breaching the ministerial code.

He claimed he was unaware of the role played by his former member of staff, Ross England, in the collapse of the trial until after the story broke.

Mr Cairns was accused of “brazenly lying” after BBC Wales said it had obtained a leaked email which suggested he had been made aware of the allegations as early as August last year.

However, the report by Alex Allan, the prime minister’s independent adviser on ministers’ interests, concluded he did not know the details until they become public.

Despite the controversy, Mr Cairns increased his majority in his South Wales seat last week – but has been replaced as Welsh secretary by Simon Hart.

In July, when Mr Johnson sacked Mr Field as a foreign office minister, a No 10 spokesperson said: “Mark Field has now left the government.

“The prime minister considers this issue was a matter for the previous prime minister … as a minister under her appointment.”

In relation to that inquiry, Sir Alex found the departed MP “was justified in intervening” to try to stop Ms Barker at the high-profile dinner.

But he added that “the actions Mr Field took, and the force he used, were not consistent with the high standards of behaviour expected of ministers and with treating Ms Barker with consideration and respect”.

The report concluded: “As such it was a breach of the ministerial code.”

After the incident, Ms Barker said Mr Field had pushed her so hard as they reached the door of the room that she had almost fallen.

Calling for him to take anger management classes, she added: “I want him to think about what he did, why he did it and address his behaviour.”

Mr Field had apologised for his behaviour, while claiming “in the current climate, I felt I needed to act decisively to close down the threat to the safety of those present”.



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