I work for the DWP as a Universal Credit case manager – and what I’ve seen is shocking

I see so much suffering on a daily basis. Case managers like me are well-trained to deal with any claimants threatening suicide, simply because it’s become such a frequent occurrence 

I work with many compassionate and thoughtful employees, who try their hardest every day to help vulnerable claimants. However, we can only act within the remit of strict guidelines which don’t offer us the flexibility we sometimes need to prevent unnecessary suffering.

The problem is compounded by employees’ lack of knowledge about the Universal Credit regulations which can have an especially devastating impact on care leavers, the disabled and those with mental health conditions. It is not uncommon for charities and support workers to inform case managers – the ones whose job it is to asses people for Universal Credit and other benefits – of the law, rather than the other way round.

Full-time case managers on average handle in the region of 300 claims each. We recently started a new way of working whereby tasks are prioritised in a “trigger” approach, meaning we often only have time to look at the highest risk cases. Payments and “payment blockers” are the first priority but many case managers struggle to make it past these on a daily basis. Claimants are told that they must fill out an online “Universal Credit journal” about their job searches and keep it up-to-date in order to release the benefit – their “work coach” is the person who’s supposed to keep in touch with them about those notes. But in reality, claimants are putting important journal messages about jobs and interviews online all the time, and the case managers and work coaches can’t reply. Each employee has dozens of other unseen journal messages they simply don’t have enough time to address.

Many of my colleagues feel out of their depth with the quantity of claims they manage, resulting in a vast amount of crucial work never being completed until claimants contact us when their payments are inevitably paid incorrectly or not at all.

We’re so understaffed that case managers going on holiday can have a significant impact on claimants. These claimants are completely neglected, sometimes for many weeks, as colleagues are told to only send out payments for the people they manage themselves. In other words, if the person who’s looking after your Universal Credit payment takes some annual leave, you could be left penniless by accident.

Earlier this year, the DWP said it would cut 750 jobs, partly by closing 27 back-office buildings. My office is merging with another local office, leading to dozens of newly trained employees on temporary contracts being told that their contracts will not be renewed. To most of us this makes no sense considering the amount of claims we already have to manage. How are we supposed to cope?

Across the DWP and in every department, understaffing is chronic. We have to refer many of our decisions about extra payments and claims to “decision makers” higher up the chain – which means the decision makers then get overloaded with work. It’s common to see payments being delayed for three weeks while they’re in a queue for a decision maker to sign off.

Similarly it may take three weeks for earnings disputes to be resolved. This is where the amount a claimant has received through employment differs to what HMRC has sent to us. Because your take-home pay from your job can be deducted off your benefits, this causes huge financial hardship if the numbers are incorrect. The claimants are always quick to provide payslip and bank statement evidence, but decisions on these disputes are usually lengthy so they end up with long delays anyway as their cases lie in a pile waiting to be looked at.

One of the principles we’re told is central to case management is that claimants are entirely responsible for their own claim. The system alerts us when deadlines have been missed, allowing us to cruelly close claims and stop that person receiving any money. Tens of thousands of very vulnerable people have their lifeline switched off with a click. Although we are told to provide vulnerable claimants with more support, perhaps by reminding them that they should be doing something, normally we have very little to go by as we sit behind a computer screen and have never met them.

I see so much suffering on a daily basis. Case managers like me are well trained to deal with any claimants threatening suicide, either by phone or by journal message, simply because it’s such a frequent occurrence (and recurrence). It is often that we have to tell claimants the state cannot support them further at all – even if they have weeks till their next payment and have young children to feed. Proactive case managers signpost these claimants to charities and food banks, who have had to fill the gap.

Being a case manager means that turning away those in abject poverty is a part of the job. Those who have worked in Universal Credit since the early days have become hardened, having dealt with thousands of vulnerable people. It’s very difficult to tell claimants, “I’m sorry but we can’t give you anymore”, even if we know that children will suffer in hunger for weeks. But we have no choice.

Claimants who state that they are facing eviction are a penny a dozen. We are told that legal proceedings can take months so a claimant is “never really facing eviction”. That’s how we’re told to justify it.

As six types of benefit are now combined into one Universal Credit payment, any deductions for take-home pay will have an effect on the entire sum, when at other times they might have retained their housing benefit, for instance, but lost their jobseekers’ allowance. Many claimants in work now find that they are hundreds of pounds worse off per month, to their shock, after a six week wait. At this point they will contact us, stating that the total amount must be wrong. Unfortunately we have to explain to them that this is all we can give them.

One part of my job involves spending time answering calls from across the country. Many of these people are at the lowest point of their lives.

Often the call involves telling them that we can’t pay them anything else, even if they are genuinely penniless and will be for weeks. Many claimants react in anger; others break down in tears. It’s only minutes until we’re dealing with the next caller – and the last caller is quickly forgotten.

James L Johnson is a pseudonym

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Homeless man asks judge to send him to prison for his birthday

‘His is a very sad case, but there is no easy solution’ – NOT with the Tories in power is there an easy solution!

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A homeless man asked to be sent to prison, he pleaded with a judge to jail him so he could “wake up on his birthday somewhere warm”.

Bradley Grimes had been given a four-month suspended prison sentence for breaching anti-social behaviour orders (ASBOs) by sleeping in shop doorways. The 23-year-old asked the court to activate the sentence and take him off the streets.

He was taken into care as a seven-year-old, diagnosed with autism, and found to have a brain tumour believed to be caused by years of neglect, Teesside Crown Court heard.

A social worker told the court: “His is a very sad case, but there is no easy solution. “At least in prison he will wake up on his birthday somewhere warm and he will be fed.” Grimes turned up at court a day early with three bags of belongings in the hope of being jailed.

He admitted breaching the suspended sentence by contravening further ASBOs.
Aisha Wadoodi, defending, said: “He is currently homeless and has asked me for the suspended sentence to be activated. “The only reason he is asking for that is that he finds himself in an impossible situation in that he has no home.”

She told the judge Grimes had “fallen through the care system”. Judge Simon Bourne-Arton QC adjourned for sentencing on 9 October and remanded Grimes in custody, meaning he spent his birthday on Monday behind bars.

The judge requested an updated pre-sentence report and pledged to take a person interest in Grimes’s future. “If I give him a short sentence he will be out again, back as before,” he said.

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Grenfell Tower fire is a ‘crime’ that should topple the government, says Fire Brigade Union chief

Firefighters union could boycott official inquiry if seen as a ‘pointless stitch-up’

grenfell
The head of the Fire Brigades Union has described the Grenfell Tower disaster as a “crime” that should topple the government amid warnings over a boycott of the national inquiry.

FBU chief Matt Wrack said the tower block fire was a “national political scandal” and called for ministers to be hauled before the inquiry to answer questions about why regulations were cut.

The union will walk away from the official inquiry if it is seen by survivors and firefighters as a “pointless stitch up”, Mr Wrack warned.

Grenfell fire ‘direct consequence of privatisation’, says Diane Abbott

Speaking at a fringe event at the Labourconference, he said: “To me, Grenfell Tower was an atrocity.

“You struggle to find words to describe it when 80 people die in their own homes, not through war, not through terrorism but through some other crime, in my view.

“A crime where people have to be held to account.”

Political decisions to alter safety and inspection regimes created a culture where the fire could occur, he claimed.

Mr Wrack said: “For me it is a national political scandal. It is the sort of scandal on which governments should fall, by the way.

“Any genuine inquiry wouldn’t just be asking firefighters to come and give evidence, as they will. They would be asking government ministers.

“They would be instructing government ministers to come and give evidence and be cross-examined about what decision they took, who gave them the advice, why did they take advice and not that advice and who signed off the change in the regulations.”

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Mr Wrack said: “I’ll say this, if actually we conclude and if representatives of the residents and the survivors and the bereaved conclude that the whole thing is a pointless stitch-up, then actually we may conclude that we are going to walk away and boycott that inquiry if that’s the conclusion we reach.

“I hope it doesn’t happen but I think we need to tell the inquiry people that that’s where we stand.”

The union leader also cast doubt on the ability of fire services to cope with a similar disaster as some cities only had a handful of firefighter on duty at night, despite having tower blocks that failed fire safety tests.

Mr Wrack said: “In Grenfell Tower, the London Fire Brigade sent 60-odd fire engines and 250 firefighters and then another 250 later.

“There is not another fire service in the UK that could provide that level of response.

“Plymouth has tower blocks that failed the tests.

“They have night duties where they have 18 firefighters on duty in Plymouth so clearly they could not respond on the scale the response was provided in London.”

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Iain Duncan Smith a Social Justice Warrior! He’s Taking the Piss!

Iain Duncan Smith’s Centre for Social Justice drops the ball with latest report

The Centre’s attempt to address Britain’s productivity gap contains a glaring and ideologically motivated omission with its failure to consider the role of unions

 

As the minister who brought in the Universal Credit and sowed misery among people with disabilities, there are millions of people who would see Iain Duncan Smith’s attempt to portray himself as a warrior for social justices as a bad joke.

However, while saying so involves being much fairer to him than he ever was to those who felt the impact of his policies while at the Department for Work & Pensions, the Centre for Social Justice he chairs has on occasion put out some moderately interesting ideas.

Its latest missive “The Great British Break Through” – did it really need the cheap attempt to hang off the coat-tails of The Great British Bake Off? – argues that the potential of the bottom 20 per cent of workers is being wasted, a situation it describes as “shameful” and a major contributor to the desultory productivity that constrains economic growth, not to mention wages, in the UK

“The message in this report is simple; investing in transport infrastructure, digital networks and technical skills is important, but unless you target policy to support the least advantaged in society, we cannot return productivity growth to pre-crisis levels,” says Mr Duncan Smith.

Who could disagree with that? Or with ideas such as rethinking professional and technical education to make it work better, and doing more to support further education (FE) colleges, for long seen as being the unloved stepchild of the British education system.

A call for greater investment? Give that man a hand!

However, when it comes to the report’s prescriptions for what ails UK plc, and its most disadvantaged people in particular, it’s hard to escape the fact that the report has a glaring blind spot. It fails to pay regard to the role modern trade unions could, and do play, in enhancing productivity, wages, and the life chances of those at the bottom of the workplace pile.

The Independent says IDS thinks bosses should be “killing” their workers. And it’s not far wrong

Research by the former Department for Trade & Industry in 2007, for example, found that union representatives saved up to 616,000 productive working days that might otherwise have been lost through work related injury.

Collective bargaining leads to improved wages, which also leads to improved productivity. There is a reason many employers – like the Centre – have adopted the voluntary National Living Wage, set by the Living Wage Foundation, and become accredited Living Wage employers. Paying it, as opposed to the Government’s lower minimum wage, leads to lower rates of absenteeism, and better quality, more productive work.

Iain Duncan Smith shafts claimants in Universal Credit scandal

Unionised workplaces lead to better wages, better quality work.

They can also assist with training: Analysis from Labour Force Survey revealed that in 2013 the training rate for union members was 70 per cent higher than the rate for non-union members (38.9 per cent and 22.9 per cent respectively). There are many more stats like that you can find if you care to look.

Which is rather the point.  Why does the Centre’s report pay so little heed to this? Could it be the same sort of ideological motivation that led it to gush about the Thatcherite economic revolution while paying little heed to the social injustice that flowed from it? It does at least recognise that its de-industrialisation damaged the North disproportionately, and that an overall rise incomes and productivity served to mask the problems of that part of the country.

The Tories have found a new way to strip disabled people of their independence

There are other gaps. The call for investment in further education is well made. But part of the reason it is necessary to make the point is the neglect of the Government Mr Duncan Smith was once a part of.

As University and College Union general secretary Sally Hunt notes, whilst businesses need to ensure their workers fulfil their potential, the government must ensure the sector is properly resourced if it is to play a role in doing that.

It also increasingly costs money if individuals want to up skill by calling upon its services. That’s fine if you have it, not so easy if you don’t, and the people Mr Duncan Smith says he wants to help usually don’t have it.

Ken Loach gave ‘callous’ Tories both barrels in his BAFTA speech, and right-whingers can’t handle it

The problems that his Centre identifies are real: While Britain’s high levels of employment are welcome, and  policymakers should seek to sustain them, it clearly is failing the bottom 20 per cent of its workers. Even if (as the report suggests) we switch to new ways of measuring productivity, it wouldn’t change the fact that this country’s is lousy, as is its record on investment.

Minister looking at making it harder for sick and disabled to claim benefits [From 2013]

However, when compared to the recent document put out by the Institute for Public Policy Research’s Commission for Economic Justice, which called for sweeping economic reform, the Centre’s effort at fixing what ails UK plc is narrow, and focused on being what Mr Duncan Smith would regard as being politically, or at least ideologically, correct.

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My sister is expecting to lose her job because of her disability, but it’s not like she can turn to the DWP for help

Colleagues have joked about her body, told her to get someone to take her to the toilet and accused her of exaggerating her disability

At her assessment, which was done by Capita on behalf of the DWP, they mentioned PIP, a weekly payment for those living with a disability Corbis
Over the past few years I have watched my intelligent, thoughtful, hard-working, funny younger sister be gradually beaten down by the system. Following a car accident it was discovered she had a rare form of cancer. Two surgeries in quick succession robbed her of the front half of her core muscles, her navel and some bladder control. Rather than pity herself for the things she could no longer do, she focused on rebuilding what she could and being able to return to her employer of nine years. Her view being that she was alive, could walk, could work, and thus luckier than many others.
The hospital said nothing about potential financial assistance for aids to support her disability at home and the workplace. My sister’s experience is not unique. She first became aware of what help might be available when she was evaluated by an occupational health assessor before returning to work.

The occupational health assessor said adjustments could be paid for with a grant to the employer from the DWP’s Access to Work (ATW) scheme. At her ATW assessment, which was done by Capita on behalf of the DWP, they mentioned PIP, a weekly payment for those living with a disability. She applied for PIP (having been disabled for 10 months already) and was told she needed to be assessed first. Explaining she’d already been assessed by the DWP, she was told “that was an ATW you need a PIP assessment”. The provider of PIP assessments? The exact same company: Capita.
Returning to work was little better. It helped to occupy her brain but the £60m+ turnover company were slow to make adjustments, and made it clear that they would only do what they considered reasonable and delayed her return. Colleagues have joked about her body; told her to get someone to take her to the toilet and accused her of exaggerating her disability. Except for scarring and the missing navel it’s all internal. The accusation of exaggeration is inaccurate – her medical in/out-patient visits are at 228 and counting.

Almost 80 per cent of disabled people’s health ‘has worsen under PIP’

She has complained, raised a grievance, involved workplace relations organisation Acas and is going to tribunal. The prohibitive legal costs mean she’ll have to represent herself. Her expectation is that she will be forced out of her job this year with little prospect of another. A long-standing employer, even with grants, who aims to be “an employer of choice” is reluctant to make changes – what hope does she have with another employer?
The fundamental issue with disability support is the complicated, disjointed way it is managed by the DWP and companies deciding what is reasonable. The Government needs to simplify it.

The DWP need to cut out the expensive middlemen (I’m looking at Capita) and establish an assessor at hospitals. Medical professionals can then refer their patients to them at the point they become disabled.

This person would have immediate access to relevant medical details, with the ability to arrange one appropriate assessment for PIP and any workplace. If we implemented this, the individual wouldn’t suffer any significant loss of assistance because they wouldn’t have to jump through so many administrative hoops.
On top of that it should be made compulsory that employers should have a proportion of disabled staff. The Government shouldn’t allow companies to decide what is reasonable. Like any voluntary code of conduct, a company will avoid expense they deem “unnecessary”.
If the DWP would like some assistance with overhauling this terrible system I can recommend someone familiar with it. 

And add me to that list – Govt Newspeak

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Government spends four times more subsidising private housing than building affordable homes

Study shows 79 per cent of total housing budget is spent on higher-cost homes

The Government is spending four times as much – some £32bn – subsidising private housing as it is building affordable homes for low income families, a report has revealed.

The study showed 79 per cent of the total housing budget is currently spent on higher-cost homes for sale, including through the controversial Help to Buy scheme, but just 21 per cent, around £8bn, goes to affordable homes for rent.

The annual review carried out by the Chartered Institute of Housing (CIH) exposes a significant shift away from programmes that lead to new homes being built.

In 2010-11 the Government contributed £2.5bn to the Affordable Homes Programme but by 2015/16 that had fallen to just £285m.

In total, the amount of public money going to help housing associations build new homes has dropped from £3.8bn in 2010-11 to £1.3bn last year.

It comes after the most recent data showed that Conservative ministers have completely stopped funding new social housing, which is 30-40 per cent cheaper than affordable housing.

The new report is published on the day the independent Grenfell Tower Inquiry is set to begin, and also coincides with the three-month anniversary of the fire, in which at least 80 people died.

Government ministers have received criticism for not investing enough money in building and maintaining homes for people on low incomes.

The CIH report reveals that the number of affordable homes being built with Government money has fallen by 50 per cent since 2010, from 56,000 to 28,000.

Instead, money has been diverted to help middle- and high-income households get on the housing ladder. For example, around £5bn of loans have been given to buyers via the Help to Buy Scheme established by George Osborne in 2013.

The CIH called for a shift in spending to help people on lower incomes afford homes.

Its chief executive, Terrie Alafat, said: “People on lower incomes are finding it increasingly difficult to make ends meet as they experience the impact of stagnant wages, rising inflation and welfare reform cuts. These factors and the shift towards ‘affordable rent’ all mean that housing is becoming increasingly unaffordable in many parts of the country.

“We know we need to build more homes to get to grips with our national housing crisis – our UK Housing Review briefing highlights that annual supply remains at least 30,000 homes short of household growth. But it’s not just about building more homes; it’s about building more affordable homes for people on lower incomes. The Government needs to take an urgent look at rebalancing the housing budget and investing more in genuinely affordable homes for rent.

“The November Budget gives the Government a golden opportunity to rebalance investment away from the private sector towards affordable housing without having to increase its overall commitment to housing.”

Social housing resident reveals ‘segregation’ in luxury developments

Critics say that, because affordable homes can cost up to 80 per cent of market value, they are not affordable for millions of people on low incomes.

However, Conservative ministers have prioritised building affordable homes over social homes.

As a result, since 2010 the number of new social homes has plummeted by 97 per cent, from almost 37,000 in 2010 to just over 1,100 last year.

Ministers have also prioritised the building of “starter homes”, properties for sale at a 20 per cent discount.

Responding to the report, Labour accused government ministers of “washing their hands” of responsibility for building affordable homes.

John Healey, the Shadow Housing Secretary, said: “Affordable housebuilding is at a 24-year low as Conservative ministers have washed their hands of any responsibility to build the homes families on ordinary incomes need.

“Ministers have tried to hide their failure to build more affordable homes by branding more homes as ‘affordable’. The Conservative definition of ‘affordable housing’ now includes homes close to full market rent and those on sale for up to £450,000.

”Public concern about housing is around the highest level for 40 years. Millions of families are struggling with high housing costs. Faced with this, ministers have turned their back on the way they can help most: by building low-cost homes to rent and buy.

“Phillip Hammond must use the Autumn Budget to reverse the damage his Government have done in the last seven years and back Labour’s plans to build thousands more genuinely affordable homes.”

The CIH called for more investment to maintain existing social homes – a need it said had been exposed by the Grenfell disaster. It said the Decent Homes Standard, which is used to measure whether a property is of an acceptable quality, has not been updated for ten years and that funding for helping landlords to maintain their properties has been scrapped.

“Essentially, investment in the existing social stock has been left for landlords to finance from rents, while government has been cutting their rental income and will continue to do so for another two years”, the report said.

The Department for Communities and Local Government has been approached for comment.

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The Tories’ vindictive and expensive fight to deprive disabled people of benefits is a national disgrace

One multiple sclerosis sufferer lost her amazingly generous personal independence payment of £87 per month because she was able to squeeze someone’s

If a genie popped out of a lamp one night while I was setting about it with the Brasso and offered one wish in the field of political reform, it would be this. “Henceforth, the government must explain itself to a bright seven-year-old. If after 15 minutes the kid is scratching her head muttering, “But that’s just silly” or “Why are you being so horrid?” the policy is instantly revoked.

How would the Prime Minster explain to that kid why last year the Government wasted a bare minimum, though probably much more, of £39m in legal costs fighting challenges to benefit reductions or denials from the sick and disabled?

What would she tell the little moppet when asked why she wants to take more money from people who have very little and are not well enough to earn more? How would she justify the Government having already paid some £600m to two private firms, Atos and Capita, to do the dirty work for it?

If that strikes you as childishly simplistic, so it should. Since David Cameron came to power in 2010, the abuse of the disabled and ill has been a filthy, indelible stain on not only the Conservatives and their Liberal Democrat enablers, but an apathetic country.

Far from channelling the power of public opinion to correct a hateful aberration, the passage of time has normalised it. Weary familiarity has anaesthetised us to toxic immorality.

We have all read many accounts which straddled the borderline between outlandish auto-satire and vicious cruelty: the letters reassuring rejected applicants of their fitness for work which arrived a tantalising few days after their death; the incapacitatingly depressed effectively told, sometimes apparently by a physiotherapist, that they are fine. Those who can hobble for 20 yards, but not a marathon 50, having mobility vehicles confiscated. Families with an extra bedroom used to store life-preserving medical equipment forced to move; and so on, and on, and on.

One multiplesclerosis sufferer lost her amazingly generous personal independence payment (PIP) of £87 per month because she was able to squeeze someone’s thumb.

Neither the incumbent nor previous PM can use ignorance or lack of imagination as a defence. Just as Cameron knew the ravages of grave disability from caring for his late son, Ivan, May knows the horror of MS. It killed her mother.

Yet while she has done zero for her cherished “just about managing”, she has been busy doing minus for the “not managing at all”. Her government is spending almost twice as much vindictively fighting Employment and Support Allowance applications this year as last. In the first quarter of 2017, judges found that claimants were too ill to work in seven out of 10 cases – an even higher proportion than in the equivalent period of 2016.

Conservative MP accuses mother of disabled child of lying

Anecdotally, the blithe callousness of Atos and Capita assessors seem undimmed. These sad, ignorant, barely trained drones must disregard blatant incapacity to meet targets, and so maximise profits for private firms whose respect for human dignity would grace the management of one of Alabama’s less genteel penitentiaries.

Even if the purpose is solely financial, the effect of the maltreatment radiates beyond robbing the wheelchair-bound to help fund (entirely legal) tax avoidance from the likes of Atos, a French firm which with a sprawling history of paying £0.00 in corporation tax despite its massive UK turnover.

Stigmatising the disabled as crooks, who fake or exaggerate symptoms to defraud the state of almost enough weekly income to buy May and that Arthur Askey husband a Wiener-schnietzel-and-gluwein supper after a merry day’s hiking over an Alp, has encouraged the surge of verbal and physical violence against them.

God willing, in a century or two people will read about this with the stupefaction slavery incites in us now. Even today, it would take some explaining to the smart six-year-old interviewer. “Why don’t you believe them, Auntie Theresa, when they say they can’t work? Why do you think they are lying?”

DWP spends £39m defending decisions to strip benefits

As for her father, he was a hospital chaplain before becoming a vicar, so let’s hope he had more empathy than his daughter. If not, he’ll have been charging round intensive care banging a metal tray, yelling at the old boy flatlining in bed 4 to stop malingering and put in a shift as a porter over on orthopaedics.

I had come to assume that the young Theresa paid no attention to her dad’s work, being too enraptured by fantasies about girlhood hero Geoff Boycott playing the forward defensive to hear a word the Rev Hubert Brasier recited from his Oxfordshire pulpit.

But perhaps that wasn’t it at all. Perhaps she was listening intently, but he used a different version of the Bible to the King James. The Thatcher Bible, presumably, with its celebrated passage about Christ halting his mule during the journey to sneer at the Ephesian lepers.

“And Jesus did come upon a cripple begging beside the road. And lo, He did kick away his staff, saying unto him: ‘Weep not for hunger, and cease thy begging. For though you lay claim to be lame, verily I believe you have lain here contorted and sobbing these days and nights in the hope of cadging a weevil and a crust of bread. Besides, there is a food bank in Jericho but 4,000 cubits hence’” (Book of Tebbit, 2:14-15).

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