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?
[Image: David Symonds for The Guardian, in February this year.]
Britain has returned to prosperity, with the economy finally nudging beyond its pre-crisis peak, according to official figures.
Well, that’s a relief, isn’t it? Next time you’re in the supermarket looking for bargains or mark-downs because you can’t afford the kind of groceries you had in 2008, you can at least console yourself that we’re all doing better than we were back then.
The hundreds of thousands of poor souls who have to scrape by on handouts from food banks will, no doubt, be bolstered by the knowledge that Britain is back on its feet.
And the relatives of those who did not survive Iain Duncan Smith’s brutal purge of benefit claimants can be comforted by the thought that they did not die in vain.
NO! Of course not! Gross domestic product might be up 3.1 per cent on last year but it’s got nothing to do with most of the population! In real terms, you’re £1,600 per year worse-off!
The Conservatives who have been running the economy since 2010 have re-balanced it, just as they said they would – but they lied about the way it would be re-balanced and as a result the money is going to the people who least deserve it; the super-rich and the bankers who caused the crash in the first place.
You can be sure that the mainstream media won’t be telling you that, though.
Even some of the figures they are prepare to use are enough to cast doubt on the whole process. The UK economy is forecast to be the fastest-growing among the G7 developed nations according to the IMF (as reported by the BBC) – but our export growth since 2010 puts us below all but one of the other G7 nations, according to Ed Balls in The Guardian.
“Since most international trade is in goods and not in services, once the proportion of the economy devoted to producing internationally tradable goods drops below about 15 per cent, it becomes more and more difficult to combine a reasonable rate of growth and full employment with a sustainable balance of payments position,” he writes.
“In the UK, the proportion of GDP coming from manufacturing is now barely above 10 per cent. Hardly surprising then that we have not had a foreign trade surplus balance since 1982 – over thirty years ago – while our share of world trade which was 10.7 per cent in 1950 had fallen by 2012 to no more than 2.6 per cent.”
All of this seems to be good business sense. It also runs contrary to successive governments’ economic policies for the past 35 years, ever since the neoliberal government of Margaret Thatcher took over in 1979.
As this blog has explained, Thatcher and her buddies Nicholas Ridley and Keith Joseph were determined to undermine the confidence then enjoyed by the people who actually worked for a living, because it was harming the ability of the idle rich – shareholders, bosses… bankers – to increase their own undeserved profits; improvements in working-class living standards were holding back their greed.
In order to hammer the workers back into the Stone Age, they deliberately destroyed the UK’s manufacturing and exporting capability and blamed it on the unions.
That is why we have had a foreign trade deficit since 1982. That is why our share of world trade is less than one-third of what it was in 1950 (under a Labour government, notice). That is why unemployment has rocketed, even though the true level goes unrecognised as governments have rigged the figures to suit themselves.
(The current wheeze has the government failing to count as unemployed anyone on Universal Credit, anyone on Workfare/Mandatory Work Activity and anyone who whose benefit has been sanctioned – among many other groups – for example.)
You may wish to argue that the economy is fine – after all, that’s what everybody is saying, including the Office for National Statistics.
Not according to Mr Mills: “The current improvement in our economic performance, based on buttressing consumer confidence by boosting asset values fuelled by yet more borrowing, is all to unlikely to last.”
(He means the housing bubble created by George Osborne’s ‘Help to Buy’ scheme will burst soon, and then the economy will be right up the creek because the whole edifice is based on more borrowing at a time when Osborne has been claiming he is paying down the deficit.)
Ed Balls has got the right idea – at least, on the face of it. In his Guardian article he states: “We are not going to deliver a balanced, investment-led recovery that benefits all working people with the same old Tory economics,” and he’s right.
“Hoping tax cuts at the very top will trickle down, a race to the bottom on wages, Treasury opposition to a proper industrial strategy, and flirting with exit from the European Union cannot be the right prescription for Britain.” Right again – although our contract with Europe must be renegotiated and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership agreement would be a disaster for the UK if we signed it.
But none of that affects you, does it? It’s all too far away, controlled by people we’ve never met. That’s why Balls focuses on what a Labour government would do for ordinary people: “expanding free childcare, introducing a lower 10p starting rate of tax, raising the minimum wage and ending the exploitative use of zero-hours contracts. We need to create more good jobs and ensure young people have the skills they need to succeed.”
And how do the people respond to these workmanlike proposals?
“You intend to continue the Tories’ destructive ‘austerity’ policies.”
“The economy isn’t fixed but you broke it.”
There was one comment suggesting that all the main parties are the same now, which – it has been suggested – was what Lynton Crosby told David Cameron to spread if he wanted to win the next election.
Very few of the comments under the Guardian piece have anything to do with what Balls actually wrote; they harp on about New Labour’s record (erroneously), they conflate Labour’s vow not to increase borrowing with an imaginary plan to continue Tory austerity policies… in fact they do all they can to discredit him.
Not because his information is wrong but because they have heard rumours about him that have put them off.
It’s as if people don’t want their situation to improve.
Until we can address that problem – which is one of perception – we’ll keep going around in circles while the exploiters laugh.
Lord Carey: He may be demonstrating the amount of thought he has given to what unscrupulous people will do with his “change of heart”.
A “change of heart” by a former Archbishop of Canterbury over ‘assisted dying’ has dismayed at least one campaigner for the rights of people with disabilities.
Mo Stewart has been researching and reporting what she describes as the “atrocities” against the chronically sick and disabled in the UK for the last four years. She said Lord Carey’s decision to support legislation that would make it legal for people in England and Wales to receive help to end their lives would “play right into the hands of this very, very dangerous government”.
Justifying his change of position, Lord Carey said: “Today we face a central paradox. In strictly observing the sanctity of life, the Church could now actually be promoting anguish and pain, the very opposite of a Christian message of hope.
“The old philosophical certainties have collapsed in the face of the reality of needless suffering.”
The Assisted Dying Bill, tabled by Labour’s Lord Falconer, would apply to people with less than six months to live. Two doctors would have to independently confirm the patient was terminally ill and had reached their own, informed decision to die.
But Mo Stewart warned that the proposed legislation, to be debated in the House of Lords on Friday, would be subject to ‘function creep’, with unscrupulous authorities taking advantage of people with depression in order to relieve themselves of the financial burden of paying for their care.
“If this law is granted, what will be deemed a possibility for the few will, very quickly I fear, become the expected for the many,” she wrote in a letter to Lord Carey which she has kindly provided to Vox Political.
“It’s cheaper to help people to die rather than support them to live.
“There is a catalogue of evidence demonstrating that, in those countries where assisted dying is permitted, very often those taking their own lives are suffering from a clinical depression and leave our world to resist the perception that they are a burden to loved ones.
“I am stunned that you would use your voice to try to permit this to happen in the UK.”
She pointed out that medicine is an inexact science and policy changes such as this could have an enormous detrimental impact: “My own webmaster, who is now desperately ill with possibly only weeks to live, was advised he had less than six months to live over four years ago.
“Until very recently, he still enjoyed a high quality of life with his wife, family and friends; a life that could have been removed four years ago” had the Assisted Dying Bill been law at that time.
“What this debate is demonstrating is the failure of guaranteed high quality palliative care in the UK, that makes those with a life-limiting diagnosis feel that self termination is a reasonable solution,” she warned.
“If palliative care was at the peak of quality and access then there would be no need to ever consider such a Bill for this country, as those who wish to access self termination are usually living in fear of the possible physical suffering they may need to endure. This is a highway to clinical depression when quality of life is deemed to have disappeared with diagnosis.”
He said: “This is not scaremongering. I know of health professionals who are already concerned by the ways in which their clients have suggestions ‘to go to Switzerland’ whispered in their ears by relatives weary of caring for them and exasperated by seeing their inheritances dwindle through care costs.
“I have received letters from both disabled individuals and their carers, deeply concerned by the pressure that Lord Falconer’s bill could put them under if it became law.”
Mo Stewart’s letter concludes: “In the real world, this Bill – if passed – would, I have no doubt, lead to abuses where some were actively persuaded to self terminate for the convenience, and possibly the inheritance, of others.
“It’s really not a very long way away from an assisted dying bill to an assisted suicide bill.”
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.”
Who said it could never happen here? Children are starving on the streets of Britain as the Tory-led Coalition’s hate policies bite ever-more-deeply into the poor [Image: Stoke Sentinel].
British children are sifting through bins left outside houses in search of scraps of food because they are starving, it has been revealed.
But Tories and their supporters in rich London won’t have to look at them – because they are in Labour-held Stoke-on-Trent.
The Stoke Sentinel reported that “Youngsters have been searching through bins in the Hollings Street and Brocksford Street area of Fenton before eating any leftovers.”
It said, “Dozens of hungry families are referred to Fenton’s food bank for help every week.”
What’s really sad about this story is that some of the people interviewed seemed to think the problem was with the mess left behind by these children – youngsters who are, remember, so hungry that they are rooting through rubbish for stale leftovers.
One said: “It’s horrible to see… Some days on the school run we have had to actually cross over the road because there’s so much rubbish on the pavement because of this. Luckily I keep my bins to one side so we haven’t been too badly affected.”
Clearly she is full of the milk of human kindness. According to the newspaper, that person was just 26 years old. Perhaps she should consider growing up.
Police in the area said the matter had been reported to them. What did people think they were going to do – arrest starving children?
Fortunately, Sgt Jason Allport demonstrated that police have the right attitude: “The issue isn’t theft; it’s children going around not having enough clothing and food.
“That issue is really something for social services to look at.”
In fact, it is something for every single citizen of the United Kingdom to look at.
This is the sixth-richest economy in the entire world. It is a land of plenty. Yet people here are happy to allow their neighbours to starve – probably to the point of death.
Their only concern is that they shouldn’t have to see it.
If I was living in Stoke, I would be ashamed to share the streets with people who think like that.
If I had voted for the political parties that have inflicted this misery on our nation, I would be ashamed of what I had done.
But you can be sure that David Cameron isn’t ashamed.
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?
The numbers speak for themselves: Under ‘Adequacy of safety-net benefits’, EVERY SINGLE INCOME GROUP has lost out. While others have suffered a great percentage drop, single working-age people remain the least able to make ends meet.
“How much money do you need for an adequate standard of living?”
That is the question posed every year by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation – and every year the organisation calculates how much people have to earn – taking into account their family circumstances, the changing cost of these essentials and changes to the tax and benefit system – to reach this benchmark.
A lone parent with one child now needs to earn more than £27,100 per year – up from £12,000 in 2008. A couple with two children need to earn more than £20,200 each, compared to £13,900 each in 2008. Single working-age people must now earn more than £16,200, up from £13,500 in 2008;
Despite social and economic change, the list of goods and services different families need to live to an adequate level is very similar to that of the original study in 2008 – but people’s ability to afford them has declined. Overall the cost of a basket of essential items has risen by a massive 28 per cent over six years – much higher than the 19 per cent rise claimed by the official Consumer Price Index – while average wages have increased by just nine per cent and the minimum wage 14 per cent;
Increased tax allowances have eased the pressure somewhat for some households, but the freeze to child benefit and ongoing cuts in tax credits have outweighed this for low-earning families with children.
Out-of-work benefits have fallen further and now provide just 39 per cent of what single, working-age people need to reach a Minimum Income Standard.
On the other hand, pensioner couples who claim all their allowances receive 95 per cent of the amount required.
The bottom line is that the Conservative-led government has been hammering the working poor and people on benefits, while claiming to be helping them. The minimum income necessary for an adequate living standard, according to JRF research, is no less than two-and-a-half-times what people on benefits receive. That is an appalling disparity in the sixth-richest country in the world.
It also creates a danger that more people will look to loan suppliers like the government’s favourite (Wonga) for short-term help – at the cost of going into disastrous long-term debt.
Slow earnings growth and price increases have made all households worse off on average, relative to the MIS, the report has found.
The conclusion is a disaster for the Coalition’s “hardworking” people: “In the past six years the more important determinants of whether low-income households can afford the minimum budget have been the increasing cost of living relative to earnings and benefit cuts for households in and out of work.
“For working families with children, if these cuts continue, the opportunity to reach an acceptable living standard may not improve, even as wages start rising again in real terms.”
A UK artist has created an art installation as a memorial to the suicide victims of welfare reform.
Melanie Cutler contacted Vox Political regarding her piece – ‘Stewardship’ – a few weeks ago, asking, “Do you think I’ll be arrested?”
The response was that it should be unlikely if she informed the media. The artworks have been displayed at the Northampton Degree Show and are currently at the Free Range Exhibition at the Old Truman Brewery building in Brick Lane, London, which ends tomorrow (June 30).
Entry is free and the installation will be located in F Block, B5.
“I have become an artist later on in life,” Melanie told Vox Political. “I was a carer for my son and, a few decades later, my father. I have worked most of my life too, raising three children.
“Only recently, while studying fine art at University I found my health deteriorating. I have a cocktail of conditions – Type 1 diabetes (diagnosed last year), Coeliac disease, asthma, rheumatoid or psoriatic arthritis (currently being investigated), osteoarthritis, psoriasis and a brain tumour (thankfully benign and inactive). I have also lived with depression for almost all my adult life.
“I wanted my work to articulate how I feel about certain issues. In March this year I pitched up in Thurrock, a marginal seat which will be hotly fought-over in the run-up to the next general election. I sat in front of a blank canvas and asked the people of the town to tell me how they felt about welfare reform, the press and the 2015 General Election. I took a team of people to film and photograph the event and to explain to people what the work was about.
‘People of Thurrock’ in the making. Artist Melanie Cutler sits, silenced, while residents of Thurrock write their opinions of ‘welfare reform’ on the canvas.
“Buoyed on by the reaction to ‘People of Thurrock’, I went on to something else I felt was an important issue; I put welfare reform under the microscope and conducted research around this issue. I was struck by the amount of people who, through no fault of their own, seek to end their own lives as they feel they have no other option. My own family has been touched by suicide and one of my own children is on ESA and awaiting an interview with ATOS.”
‘Stewardship’: Each plaque features the name of a ‘welfare reform’ victim and a description of how they died.
‘Stewardship’: This memorial is to Paul Reekie, the Scottish poet and writer who took his own life in 2010. Letters left on his table stated that his Housing Benefit and Incapacity Benefit had been stopped. The poet’s death led to the creation of the Black Triangle Anti-Defamation Campaign in Defence of Disability Rights.
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.