Mile-wide: Mr Miliband explained his idea to bridge the gulf between the public and the Prime Minister to Andrew Marr.
Ed Miliband engaged in a particularly compelling piece of kite-flying today (July 27) – he put out the idea that the public should have their own version of Prime Minister’s Questions.
Speaking to Andrew Marr, he said such an event would “bridge the ‘mile-wide’ gulf between what people want and what they get from Prime Minister’s Questions”, which has been vilified in recent years for uncivilised displays of tribal hostility between political parties and their leaders (David Cameron being the worst offender) and nicknamed ‘Wednesday Shouty Time’.
“I think what we need is a public question time where regularly the prime minister submits himself or herself to questioning from members of the public in the Palace of Westminster on Wednesdays,” said Mr Miliband.
“At the moment there are a few inches of glass that separates the public in the gallery from the House of Commons but there is a gulf a mile wide between the kind of politics people want and what Prime Minister’s Questions offers.”
What would you ask David Cameron?
Would you demand a straight answer to the question that has dogged the Department for Work and Pensions for almost three years, now – “How many people are your ‘welfare reform’ policies responsible for killing?”
Would you ask him why his government, which came into office claiming it would be the most “transparent” administration ever, has progressively denied more and more important information to the public?
Would you ask him whether he thinks it is right for a Prime Minister to knowingly attempt to mislead the public, as he himself has done repeatedly over the privatisation of the National Health Service, the benefit cap, the bedroom tax, food banks, fracking…? The list is as long as you want to make it.
What about his policies on austerity? Would you ask him why his government of millionaires insists on inflicting deprivation on the poor when the only economic policy that has worked involved investment in the system, rather than taking money away?
His government’s part-privatisation of the Royal Mail was a total cack-handed disaster that has cost the nation £1 billion and put our mail in the hands of hedge funds. Would you ask him why he is so doggedly determined to stick to privatisation policies that push up prices and diminish quality of service. Isn’t it time some of these private companies were re-nationalised – the energy firms being prime examples?
Would you want to know why his government has passed so many laws to restrict our freedoms – of speech, of association, of access to justice – and why it intends to pass more, ending the government’s acknowledgement that we have internationally-agreed human rights and restricting us to a ‘Bill of Rights’ dictated by his government, and tying us to restrictive lowest-common-denominator employment conditions laid down according to the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, a grubby little deal that the EU and USA were trying to sign in secret until the whistle was blown on it?
Evil eyes: Esther McVey seems to get a perverse thrill from pretending her government’s policies are helping people; it is more likely they are driving the needy to despair and suicide.
Note to Iain Duncan Smith: It is not a good idea to try to inspire confidence in a £multi-billion “money pit” disaster by wheeling out Esther McVey to lie about it.
The woman dubbed “Fester McVile” by some commentators has accumulated a reputation so bad that the only way she can hide the metaphorical stink from the public is by associating with …Smith himself, in whose stench she seems almost fragrant. But not quite.
This is a woman who has lied to the public that it is impossible to carry out a cumulative assessment of the impact on the sick and disabled of the Coalition’s ‘final solution’ changes to the benefit system.
This is the woman who, in the face of public unrest about the prevalence of zero-hours contracts, announced that Job Centre advisors will now be able to force the unemployed into taking this exploitative work.
She has previously misled Parliament over the loophole in Bedroom Tax legislation that meant the government had removed Housing Benefit from thousands of people who were exempt from the measure – including Stephanie Bottrill, whose suicide has been attributed to the pressure of having to survive on less because of the tax. Asked how many people had been affected by the loophole, McVey played it down by claiming she did not know the answer, while other ministers suggested between 3,000 and 5,000. In fact, from Freedom of Information requests to which just one-third of councils responded, 16,000 cases were revealed.
Mark Hoban stood in for McVey to trot out the lie that independent reviews of the Work Capability Assessment had identified areas of improvement on which the government was acting. In fact, out of 25 recommendations in the Year One review alone, almost two-thirds were not fully and successfully implemented.
In a debate on food banks, McVey’s lies came thick and fast: She accused the previous Labour government of a “whirl of living beyond our means” that “had to come to a stop” without ever pausing to admit that it was Tory-voting bankers who had been living beyond their means, who caused the crash, and who are still living beyond their means today, because her corporatist (thank you, Zac Goldsmith) Conservative government has protected them.
She accused Labour of trying to keep food banks as “its little secret”, forcing Labour’s Jim Cunningham to remind us all that food banks were set up by churches to help refugees who were waiting for their asylum status to be confirmed – not as a support system for British citizens, as they have become under the Coalition’s failed regime.
She said the Coalition government was brought in to “solve the mess that Labour got us in”, which is not true – it was born from a backroom deal between two of the most unscrupulous party leaders of recent times, in order to ensure they and their friends could get their noses into the money trough (oh yes, there’s plenty of money around – but this government is keeping it away from you).
She said the Coalition had got more people into work than ever before – without commenting on the fact that the jobs are part-time, zero-hours, self-employed contracts that benefit the employers but exploit the workers and in fact propel them towards poverty.
She lied to Parliament, claiming that children are three times more likely to be in poverty if they are in a workless household. In fact, according to the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, in-work poverty has now outstripped that suffered by those in workless and retired households; children are more likely to be in poverty if their parents have jobs.
She attacked Labour for allowing five million people to be on out-of-work benefits, with two million children in workless households – but under her government the number of households suffering in-work poverty has risen to eight million (by 2008 standards), while workless or retired households in poverty have risen to total 6.3 million.
She claimed that 60,000 people were likely to use a food bank this year – but Labour’s Paul Murphy pointed out that 60,000 people will use food banks this year in Wales alone. The actual figure for the whole of the UK is 500,000.
She said the Coalition’s tax cuts had given people an extra £700 per year, without recognising that the real-terms drop in wages and rise in the cost of living means people will be £1,600 a year worse-off when the next general election takes place, tax cuts included. She said stopping fuel price increases meant families were £300 better-off, which is nonsense. Families cannot become better off because something has not happened; it’s like saying I’m better off because the roof of my house hasn’t fallen in and squashed me.
Her talents won exactly the recognition they deserved when her Wikipedia entry was altered to describe her as “the Assistant Grim Reaper for Disabled People since 2012, second only to Iain Duncan Smith. She was previously a television presenter and businesswoman before deciding to branch out into professional lying and helping disabled people into the grave.”
In her food bank speech, she also said the government had brought in Universal Credit to ensure that three million people become better-off. There’s just one problem with that system – it doesn’t work.
The victim: Raquel Rolnik, the United Nations’ expert Special Rapporteur on Housing is once again the victim of a baseless Daily Mail smear piece.
Yet again, the Daily Heil has been using the tactics of its best friend Adolf Hitler – the ‘Big Lie’ – to attack a United Nations official whose job is to point out that Coalition government policies are harming the innocent poor.
The Flail‘s tone was Nurembergian – and almost entirely fact-free – as it denounced ‘Brazil Nut’ Raquel Rolnik for imaginary crimes against Iain Duncan Smith’s benefit cuts – the homicidal, if not genocidal, measures that are driving hundreds of thousands of people into destitution and despair.
You see, the Fail is fine with destitution and despair for the poor – its readers are all rich middle- or upper-class housewives who pass their days spending their husbands’ vast fortunes (this is not entirely true, but is exactly the sort of generalisation you can expect from that paper. If you are a Mail reader, it isn’t such fun when you’re the victim, is it?) and gossiping.
The news story is that a group of United Nations poverty ambassadors has written a 22-page letter pointing out that cuts to social security benefits introduced by Iain Duncan Smith and enforced by his Department for Work and Pensions on behalf of the Coalition government may constitute a breach of the UK’s international treaty obligations to the poor.
The letter states: “The package of austerity measures enacted could amount to retrogressive measures prohibited under the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, ratified in 1974.”
Among the benefit changes it highlights are alterations to housing benefit, council tax benefit, working age benefits and the bedroom tax and the benefits cap – which everybody agrees would be a good idea if it had been limited to a reasonable amount, rather than one at which the Conservative-led Coalition could throw people into hardship.
The Mail‘s report pays little attention to the facts, lavishing far more space on Mrs Rolnik herself. It said she had been nicknamed the ‘Brazil Nut’, which she had – by the Daily Mail; and went on to attempt to cast doubt on her authority as special rapporteur on housing and those of fellow UN ambassadors Maria Magdalena Sepulveda Carmona, special rapporteur on extreme poverty; and Olivier De Schutter, the special rapporteur on the right to food.
These are experts in their field who have been engaged by the United Nations – a higher-ranking legal authority than the UK – to investigate government policies, but that’s not good enough for the Mail.
It prefers to get its opinions from tupenny-ha’penny Tory thinktanks.
So it casts doubt. The letter is from ‘ambassadors’ and follows an ‘investigation’, according to the Mail, because putting those words in that way casts doubt upon their validity.
Mrs Rolnik was brought up as a Marxist, the Mail states – as if that has anything to do with her findings. And the report claims she should leave the UK alone and concentrate on problems in her own country, where millions of people live in shanty towns – even though the writer, ‘Jason Groves’, should know perfectly well that her job involves just that.
He clearly doesn’t want you to see her comments on housing in Brazil, prior to the football World Cup which is being held there at the moment: “We expected that the champion of many football cups would use this opportunity to show the world it is also a champion of the right to housing, in particular for people living in poverty, but the information I have received shows otherwise.”
She had received allegations of evictions without due process or in breach of international human rights standards, cases in which residents and citizens had not been consulted and were barred from to participation in decisions that had a grave impact on their standard of living. Concerns had also been expressed about very low compensation that might lead to the creation of new “informal settlements” (shanty towns) with inadequate living conditions or greater rates of homelessness.
“Authorities should avoid at all costs any negative impacts on then human rights of the individuals and communities, especially the most vulnerable… [and] should ensure that their actions, and those of third parties involved in the organization of the events, contribute to the creation of a stable housing market and have a long term positive impact in the residents of the cities where events take place.”
So critics who think she has ignored issues in her home country are wrong.
That’s a bit of a blow to the Mail‘s credibility, isn’t it?
The measures criticised by Mrs Rolnik and her colleagues were brought in “to tackle the huge budget deficit left by Labour”, according to the Mail. Again, this is wrong. The Coalition government has made no real effort to tackle the budget deficit which was necessitated when Labour saved our banking system, the threat having been created by Tory-supporting bankers whose greed put their firms into overwhelming debt. Look at the annual deficit for the last financial year; it is still well above £100 billion. If you agree that the cuts were to bring the deficit down, you have swallowed a lie.
Iain Duncan Smith, the man this blog describes as ‘RTU’ (standing for ‘Returned To Unit’ in tribute to his failed Army career) is reportedly furious at this intervention from the United Nations, which has a duty to intervene if governments of member countries descend into criminality, as has happened with the UK (here’s just one example).
According to the Mail, he said: “They talk down our country, criticising the action we’ve taken to get control of the public finances and create a fairer more prosperous Britain. They simply do not have a clue – and we will not be taking lessons from a group of unelected commentators who can’t get their facts straight.”
You see, not only has this been going on ever since the Coalition government established welfare-to-work in its current form –
Not only have government ministers and backbenchers been lying to you about the payouts given to the profit-driven privately-owned provider companies –
Not only have these companies been sucking down on your hard-earned taxpayer cash as though they had done something to earn it –
But the people they were supposed to be helping – people who have been forced into ever-greater poverty by the benefit uprating cap, arbitrary and unfair benefit sanctions, the bedroom tax, the £26,000 cap on benefits for families, the imposition of council tax on even the poorest households (in England at least), the stress of continual reassessment (if they are ESA claimants in the work-related activity group), the humiliation of having to visit food banks and who knows what else…
The people who are desperate to get any kind of paying job, despite the fact that zero-hours contracts could make them worse-off than unemployment, due to the effect on in-work benefits, despite the fact that those in-work benefits are also being squeezed hard, and despite the fact that there are at least five jobseekers for every job that becomes available…
These are the people that government ministers, backbenchers and the right-wing press keep victimising with their endless attacks on “skivers”, “scroungers”, the “feckless”, the “idle” and the “lazy”!
If I was unemployed and my MP had been caught slagging me off while praising these good-for-nothing so-called work programme ‘providers’, I would make it my business to bring them before the public, lock them into some medieval stocks and pelt them with rotten vegetables. Public humiliation is the least they should get for this continual insult to common decency.
But wait! There’s more.
It turns out that, not only are these work programme providers a bunch of lazy good-for-nothing parasites, but many of them are also a bunch of foreigners who’ve come to the UK to take our jobs!
Ingeus is Australian. G4S is part-Danish. Maximus is American.
It seems that all the politically-fuelled and media-driven anger against immigration into the UK from the rest of the European Union and beyond may be designed to distract us all from the fact that foreign firms are immigrating here to take government jobs that should be yours, and to steal your tax money.
Nobody can say they’ve earned it, after all.
But let us not be unfair. It would be wrong to concentrate on welfare-to-work providers when all of government is riddled with foreign interlopers.
Look at the Treasury, where the ‘Big Four’ accountancy firms have been re-writing tax law to suit their tax-avoiding corporate clients for the last few years. They are Deloitte (American), PriceWaterhouseCoopers (part-American), Ernst & Young (part-American) and KPMG (Dutch).
And then there is the huge, criminal, foreign firm that has been advising the Department for Work and Pensions on ways to privatise the welfare state since the mid-1990s – a firm so controversial that there is currently a moratorium on the mention of its name in the national mainstream media. It is an American insurance giant called Unum.
The best that can be said of these five corporations is that – at least to the best of our knowledge – they do work for a living.
“This particular Secretary of State, along with his Department, is pushing people through [the] cracks and hoping that the rest of the country will not notice that they have disappeared.” – Glenda Jackson MP, June 30, 2014.
If the man this blog likes to call RTU (Returned To Unit) thought he would be able to show that his behaviour had improved, he was sorely mistaken – as the comment above illustrates.
It is vital that this information reaches the general public despite the apparent news blackout, in the mainstream media, of any disparaging information about Duncan Smith or his DWP.
But we were discussing the debate as a trial. Let us first look at the evidence in favour of the government.
There. That was illuminating, wasn’t it?
Seriously, the government benches were unable to put up a single supportable point against the mountain of evidence put forward by Labour.
Iain Duncan Smith, the Secretary-in-a-State, resorted yet again to his favourite tactic – and one for which he should have been sacked as an MP long ago – lying to Parliament. He accused Labour of leaving behind a “shambles” – in fact the economy had begun to improve under intelligent guidance from Alistair Darling. “The economy was at breaking point,” he said – in fact the British economy cannot break; it simply doesn’t work that way. His claim that “We were burdened with the largest deficit in peacetime history” is only supportable in money terms, and then only because inflation means the pound is worth so much less than it was in, say, the 1940s – or for the entire century between 1750 and 1850. He called yesterday’s debate “a cynical nugget of short-term policy to put to the unions,” but the evidence below renders that completely irrelevant.
He said complaints about long delivery times for benefits were “out of date” – a common excuse. He’ll do the same in a few months, when the same complaint is raised again.
“Universal Credit is rolling out to the timescale I set last year,” he insisted – but we all know that it has been ‘reset’ (whatever that means) by the government’s Major Projects Authority.
He said there had been four independent reviews of the work capability assessment for Employment and Support Allowance, with more than 50 recommendations by Sir Malcolm Harrington accepted by the government. This was a lie. We know that almost two-thirds of the 25 recommendations he made in his first review were not fully or successfully implemented.
He said appeals against ESA decisions “are down by just under 90 per cent” – but we know that this is because of the government’s unfair and prejudicial mandatory reconsideration scheme – and that the DWP was bringing in a new provider to carry out work capability assessments. Then he had to admit that this provider has not yet been chosen! And the backlog of claims mounts up.
He tried to justify his hugely expensive botched IT schemes by pointing at a Labour scheme for the Child Support Agency that wasted hundreds of millions less than his Universal Credit, without acknowledging the obvious flaw in his argument: If he knew about this mistake, why is he repeating it?
Conservative Mark Harper said Labour opposed the Tories’ most popular scheme – the benefit cap. That was a lie. Labour supported the cap, but would have set it at a higher level. We know that the Coalition government could not do this because it would not, then, have made the huge savings they predicted.
Now, the evidence against.
First up is Rachel Reeves, shadow secretary of state for work and pensions: “After £612 million being spent, including £131 million written off or ‘written down’, the introduction of Universal Credit is now years behind schedule with no clear plan for how, when, or whether full implementation will be achievable or represent value for money.
“Over 700,000 people are still waiting for a Work Capability Assessment, and… projected spending on Employment and Support Allowance has risen by £800 million since December… The Government [is] still not able to tell us which provider will replace Atos.
“Personal Independence Payment delays have created uncertainty, stress and financial costs for disabled people and additional budgetary pressures for Government… Desperate people, many of whom have been working and paying into the system for years or decades and are now struck by disability or illness, waiting six months or more for help from the Department for Work and Pensions.
“The Work Programme has failed to meet its targets, the unfair bedroom tax risks costing more than it saves, and other DWP programmes are performing poorly or in disarray.
“Spending on housing benefit for people who are in work has gone up by more than 60 per cent, reflecting the fact that more people are in low-paid or insecure work and are unable to make ends meet, even though they may be working all the hours God sends.
“More than five million people — 20 per cent of the workforce — are paid less than the living wage. Furthermore, 1.5 million people are on zero-hours contracts and 1.4 million people are working part time who want to work full time.
“This… is about the young woman diagnosed with a life-limiting illness who has waited six months for any help with her living costs. It is about the disabled man whose payments have been stopped because he did not attend an interview to which he was never invited.
“The Government are wasting more and more taxpayers’ money on poorly planned and disastrously managed projects, and are allowing in-work benefits to spiral because of their failure to tackle the low pay and insecurity that are adding billions of pounds to the benefits bill.
“The Government are careless with the contributions that people make to the system, callous about the consequences of their incompetence for the most vulnerable, and too arrogant to admit mistakes and engage seriously with the task of sorting out their own mess.
“What this Government have now totally failed to do is to remember the human impact, often on people in vulnerable circumstances, of this catalogue of chaos. Behind the bureaucratic language and spreadsheets showing backlogs and overspends are people in need who are being let down and mistreated, and taxpayers who can ill afford the mismanagement and waste of their money.
“To fail to deliver on one policy might be considered unfortunate; to miss one’s targets on two has to be judged careless; but to make such a complete mess of every single initiative the Secretary of State has attempted requires a special gift. It is something like a Midas touch: everything he touches turns into a total shambles.
“Meanwhile, the Secretary of State will spew out dodgy statistics, rant and rave about Labour’s record, say “on time and on budget” until he is blue in the face and, in typical Tory style, blame the staff for everything that goes wrong.”
Julie Hilling (Labour) provides this: “The Government do not know what they are talking about… They talk about the number of jobs being created, but they do not know how many of them are on zero-hours contracts or how many are on Government schemes or how many have been transferred from the public sector.”
Stephen Doughty (Labour/Co-op): “another stark indictment of their policies is the massive increase in food banks across this country.”
Helen Jones (Labour): “When I asked how many people in my constituency had been waiting more than six months or three months for medical assessments for personal independence payment, the Government told me that the figures were not available. In other words, they are not only incompetent; they do not know how incompetent they are!”
Sheila Gilmore (Labour): “Although the problems with Atos were known about—and it is now being suggested that they had been known about for some time—a contract was given to that organisation for PIP. Was due diligence carried out before the new contract was issued?”
Gordon Marsden (Labour): “Many of my constituents have been caught by the double whammy of delays involving, first, the disability living allowance and now PIP. They have waited long periods for a resolution, but because a decision is being reconsidered, their Motability — the lifeline that has enabled them to get out of their homes — has been taken away before that decision has been made. Is that not a horrendous indictment of the Government?”
Emily Thornberry (Labour): “I have been making freedom of information requests.. in relation to mandatory reconsiderations. When people get their work capability assessment, and it has failed, before they can appeal there has to be a mandatory reconsideration. The Department does not know how many cases have been overturned, how many claimants have been left without any money and how long the longest period is for reconsideration. It cannot answer a single one of those questions under a freedom of information request.”
Natascha Engel (Labour): “The welfare state is designed as a safety net to catch people who absolutely cannot help themselves… That safety net is being withdrawn under this government, which is certainly pushing some of my constituents into destitution.”
There was much more, including the devastating speech by Glenda Jackson, partly in response to Natascha Engels’ comments, that is reproduced in the video clip above.
The vote – for the House of Commons to recognise that the DWP was in chaos and disarray – was lost (of course). A government with a majority will never lose such a vote.
But once again, the debate was won by the opposition. They had all the facts; all the government had were lies and fantasies.
By now, one suspects we all know somebody who has died as a result of Coalition government polices on welfare (or, preferably, social security). Two such deaths have been reported in the Comment columns of Vox Political since the weekend, and it is only Tuesday.
That is why it is vital that this information reaches the general public despite the apparent news blackout, in the mainstream media, of any disparaging information about Duncan Smith or his DWP.
Share it with your friends, use parts of it in letters to your local papers or radio stations, even mentioning it in conversation will help if the other person isn’t aware of the facts.
Don’t let it be suppressed.
You don’t want to do Iain Duncan Smith’s work for him, do you?
Fraud: This man wants you to believe DWP austerity measures are succeeding, in order to win votes at next year’s general election. They aren’t. He is a liar.
The Department for Work and Pensions is merrily claiming that more than £13 million allocated to help people who have been hit be the government’s unfair ‘welfare reforms’ via Discretionary Housing Payments has gone unclaimed. Lord Freud wants you to think “recent scare stories about councils running out of money were grossly exaggerated”.
He was – of course – lying through his teeth.
A quick look at the facts reveals that Discretionary Housing Payment was overspent by £3,505,582 during the 2013-14 financial year. That’s two per cent more than the government allocated.
The £13,285,430 underspend quoted in the press release refers to just 240 out of the 380 councils that distribute DHPs. It completely ignores the £16,791,012 overspent by 127 other councils, in order to provide a false figure. The remaining 13 councils spent all of their allocated amounts.
Focus on the regions and the picture gets worse: In Scotland, DHP was overspent by 76 per cent of the amount allocated – £28,700,215 against an allocation of £16,269,675 from the DWP. Scottish councils had to foot the bill for the extra amounts.
Wales spent an extra six per cent – £7,724,176 against an allocation of £7,274,829. Here in Powys, 1,200 of the county’s 8,300 social dwellings were affected by the bedroom tax, with a total annual loss of housing benefit of £800,000. The total DHP funding available was £154,975.
Looking at those figures, it’s amazing the overspend was so small.
It is only in England that a net underspend is recorded – of around £9 million.
So let’s have a look at Lord Fraud’s – sorry, Freud’s – statement that “today’s figures also show that recent scare stories about councils running out of money were grossly exaggerated.”
Grossly exaggerated? The fact is that 127 councils did run out of money – that’s more than one-third of the total.
It would be fairer to say that the scare stories came true.
The press release also states that “around three-quarters of councils also did not apply for a £20 million government top-up fund to help claimants adjust to welfare changes, leaving a further £7.1 million unspent”.
No figures are provided to support this statement.
People will be angry about this – and rightly so.
The BBC has just brought massed complaints down on itself after it chose to ignore a 50,000-strong demonstration against the government’s austerity measures that started outside the Corporation’s front door. Many incensed callers and emailers said they feared the BBC was participating in a conspiracy of silence about the harm being caused to ordinary people.
Now we see the DWP is lying to us about the harm its bedroom tax is doing to ordinary people – including hardworking employees, who make up more than 90 per cent of new housing benefit claimants.
Tory leader David Cameron has been banging the drum for Britishness recently – good for him. It gives us an opportunity to point out that, if there’s one British value that stands out above all the rest, it’s this:
We hate people in authority who try to mislead us.
The study shows that more than £1.6 billion a year will be removed from the Scottish economy, with the biggest losses based in changes to incapacity benefits. The Scottish average loss, per adult of working age, is £460 per year (compared with a British average of £470) but the hardest hit area was impoverished Glasgow Carlton, where adults lost an average of £880 per year.
In affluent St Andrews, the average hit was just £180 per year.
Of course, the cumulative effect will hit the poorest communities much harder – with an average of £460 being taken out of these communities it is not only households that will struggle to make ends meet; as families make cutbacks, local shops and businesses will lose revenue and viability. If they close, then residents will have to travel further for groceries and to find work, meaning extra travel costs will remove even more much-needed cash from their budget.
For a nationwide picture, the EHRC commissioned the National Institute of Economic and Social Research (NIESR) and the consultancy Landman Economics to develop a way of assessing the cumulative impact of “welfare reform”.
The report will be published in the summer, but Landman Economics has already told Disability News Service that the work was “not actually that difficult”.
Why, then have Mark Hoban, Esther McVey and Mike Penning, the current minister for the disabled, all claimed that a cumulative assessment is impossible?
Some might say they have a vested interest in keeping the public ignorant of the true devastation being wreaked on Britain’s most vulnerable people by Coalition austerity policies that will ultimately harm everybody except the very rich.
The day job: Rebecca Evans AM in the more familiar environment of the Assembly debating chamber [Image: ITV].
I wanted to share this with you because, as a constituent and a member of the Labour Party, I’m quite proud of Mid and West Wales Labour AM Rebecca Evans, who spent a week living on an amount equivalent to Jobseekers’ Allowance and discussing ‘welfare reform’ with people who deal with its effects on a day-to-day basis, to find out what it is like.
She wrote an article about her experience for Wales Onlinewhich I am taking the liberty of excerpting here. Over to you, Rebecca:
With the average household in Wales expected to lose 4.1 per cent of their income due to policy changes, support is vital for those living on the poverty line.
Although people are understandably cynical when politicians attempt to live life on the breadline, I wanted to raise awareness of the challenges facing welfare claimants and gain a better understanding of how well understood the changes are.
Living off £72.40 for one week, I did not expect to truly experience the day-to-day life of people who rely on welfare support. I was aware that when Monday came around I would step back into my normal routine. But I wanted to experience at least some of the challenges and difficult decisions facing many thousands of people every day.
The Your Benefits are Changing money advice team calculated that the average weekly expenditure for someone living off Jobseeker’s Allowance in my home area of Carmarthenshire leaves just £13.58 for food and essentials once transport costs, utilities, the TV licence, phone bills and the bedroom tax have been paid – which equates to less than £2 a day.
On this income, any trip to the supermarket becomes a stressful task as every single penny matters.
When speaking with job seekers, food bank volunteers, YBAC money advisors and housing association staff and tenants during the week, the message was the same: people are struggling and many have had their lives irrevocably damaged by welfare policies.
The Bedroom Tax has had a serious impact on thousands of people across Wales, and the shortage of suitable housing has only enhanced poverty levels. Brought in as part of the Welfare Reform Act… the policy is estimated to have affected 36,000 tenants in the social housing sector, including 3,500 disabled households. As a direct result… housing association tenants accrued £1.1 million in arrears during the first six months.
Housing associations are rightly concerned that a move to monthly payments will prove incredibly challenging for those on low incomes, leading to an increase in the number of people that turn to emergency food supplies.
A YBAC money advisor told me food poverty levels can be worse for people who live on housing estates because they may only have one shop within walking distance, and that shop may have limited discounts. Food prices have risen by 12 per cent since 2007, so it is no surprise 900,000 people across the UK have turned to food banks in the past year… but the fact that we need food banks in 21st never ceases to be shocking.
The families I met during my week on benefits rely on second hand clothes and goods, and rarely buy anything new – let alone any kind of treats. They try to put aside £20 a week, but unexpected emergencies leave them unable to save.
A YBAC money advisor told me that around a quarter of people seeking advice are actually in work, and that the majority of children in poverty live in a household where one adult works. One mum with a young baby told me that her husband is on a zero-hour contract, meaning that the family can’t plan financially with any certainty.
This smashes the myth that welfare reform is all about supporting the unemployed back to work.
According to the newspaper: “In a speech that will distance the Lib Dems from the controversial tax, Farron condemns what he describes as attacks on the poorer members of society. ‘The onslaught of divisive rhetoric that demonises the poor can never help us to create a fairer society,’ he will tell the Centre for Social Justice. ‘The bedroom tax causes huge social problems and distorts the market – we as a party cannot support this.'”
But the Tax has already been in place for a year and the damage has been immense. Hardly a day goes by without a new report of victimisation. Why didn’t Farron make his move sooner?
Could it be more likely that, with elections on the way, it now seems like a good idea to get on the public’s side?
Back in the autumn, Vox Political wrote: “The tax was really brought in for several reasons: It is partly a reaction against the increase in the Housing Benefit bill to accommodate people with jobs whose wages are below their cost of living – this is due to greed on the part of employers; it is partly intended to clear housing – not for people on any waiting list but as a form of social cleansing, getting the riff-raff out of attractive parts of our towns and cities; and it is also another attempt to spite people on sickness, incapacity or disability benefits, who must either face the extra cost and inconvenience of removing special adaptations to their houses and reinstalling them elsewhere if they are able to move, or must lose the company of carers who use spare bedrooms when they have to stay over, or must pay the tax and live without food or heat, thereby risking their health.”
Nothing has changed since then.
Let’s hope the voters see this pathetic display for what it is.
Vox Political exposes political game-playing
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Standing in the shadow of a giant: Vox Political’s Mike Sivier (front) at ‘Cooper Corner’, with Caerphilly Castle in the background.
Vox Political was relatively quiet yesterday; although I reblogged plenty of articles from other sources, there was no new piece from the site itself because I was in Caerphilly, delivering a speech at a Bedroom Tax protest there.
Caerphilly is the birthplace of the late, great comic Tommy Cooper, and it was in the shadow of his statue that the demonstration took place. I instantly (and privately) named the location ‘Cooper Corner’.
I took the opportunity to lighten proceedings at the start by suggesting that Mr Cooper (albeit in petrified effigy) would be providing the jokes. I held the microphone up towards the statue. “Anything? No? No. I didn’t think so.” Turning back to the crowd I added: “The Bedroom Tax is no laughing matter.” Then I got into the body of the speech:
“I write a small blog called Vox Political. I started it a couple of years ago as an attempt to put in writing what a reasonable, thinking person might have to say about government policies in these years of forced austerity, and politics in general.
“As you can probably imagine, this means I knew about the Bedroom Tax, several months before it was actually imposed on us all. I was writing articles warning people against it from October 2012. The trouble was, Vox Political is a small blog that even now has only a few thousand readers a day – and the mainstream media has been almost entirely bought by a political machine with far more funding than I have.
“It is a tax, by the way. You may have heard a lot of nonsense that it isn’t, but consider it this way: a tax is defined as a compulsory contribution to state revenue, levied by the government against a citizen’s person, property or activity, to support government policies.
“It is not a ‘spare-room subsidy’. If anyone in authority tries to tell you you’re having your ‘spare-room subsidy’ removed (or more likely, imposed, they’re so confused about this), just tell them to go and find the Act of Parliament that introduced the ‘spare room subsidy’, using those words. Tell them if they can find it, you’ll pay it – but if they can’t, they must not take any money away from you. They won’t be able to find it because it doesn’t exist.
“It is more accurately described as the ‘State Underoccupation Charge’ – SUC! And it really does suck.
“It sucks money that social housing tenants need for food, heat, water and other necessities out of their pockets and forces them to send it to their landlord instead – either the local council or a social landlord like a housing association. The reasoning behind it has always been that this would encourage people to move, but in fact we know that there is no social accommodation for them to move into. When the Bedroom Tax became law, there was only enough smaller housing to accommodate around 15 per cent of the affected households. It is clearly a trap, designed to make poor people poorer.
“This is why the first advice I put on my blog was for anyone affected by the Bedroom Tax to appeal against it – and I was criticised quite harshly for it, because some people decided such action would mark tenants out as troublemakers and create more problems for them. At the time, I thought it was right to give some of the aggravation back to the people who were foisting this additional burden onto lower-income families; make them work for it, if they want it so badly. As it turns out, I was right to do so, because there are so many loopholes in the legislation that it seems almost anybody could avoid paying!
“Do you think Stephanie Bottrill would have died if she had known that she could successfully appeal against her Bedroom Tax, on the grounds that she had been a social housing tenant since before January 1996 and was therefore exempt? The government spitefully closed that particular loophole earlier this month, but that lady is already dead, due to a lie. Had she been properly informed, she could have successfully fought it off and then taken advice on how to cope with it after the government amendment was brought in.
“There is a case for corporate manslaughter against the Department for Work and Pensions, right there. If tested in court, it seems likely that the way its activities have been managed and organised by senior management – the fact that it foisted the Bedroom Tax, wrongly, on this lady – will be found to have led to her death, in gross breach of its duty of care to those who claim state benefits (in this case, Housing Benefit).
“David Cameron has wasted a great deal of oxygen telling us all that disabled people are not affected by the tax. Perhaps he could explain why a disabled gentleman in my home town was forced to move out of his specially-adapted home, incurring not only the cost of moving but an extra £5,000 for removing the adaptations and installing them into new accommodation? He appealed against Bedroom Tax decision but the result came back after the date when he had to be out of his home. Can you guess what it was? That’s right – he won. I have been trying to get him to take legal action against the council and the government about this as it would be an important test case.
“It includes a study, a utility room, a play room, even an Iain Duncan Smith voodoo doll-making room, if that takes your fancy!
“I was particularly happy to hear that you can have a study as I’ve been writing my blog from the broom cupboard – oh! That’s another room you can have!
“Check the DWP’s online forms. They ask about bedrooms, and then they ask about other rooms. The distinction is clear.”
Then I closed the speech. In retrospect, I should have finished with a few words about the fact that this was the first bit of public speaking I had ever done. I could have given them something along these lines: “I am aware that speech-making is a lucrative sideline for many people, including comedians (although I’m not aware that Mr Cooper ever made any) and also politicians. Perhaps I should use this platform to suggest that, if you know anybody who is considering booking a speaker for a special occasion – society dinner, rugby club social, wedding or party, why not ask them to get in touch with me – instead of Iain Duncan Smith!”
Vox Political stands up in public to make its point
… and we need people to stand up for us.
This independent blog’s only funding comes from readers’ contributions. Without YOUR help, we cannot keep going. You can make a one-off donation here:
Alternatively, you can buy the first Vox Political book, Strong Words and Hard Times in either print or eBook format here: