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?
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.”
“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?
There’s more than a little of the piscine about the fact that our Conservative-led has set debt collection agencies onto poor families who have been overpaid tax credit due to errors made by HM Revenue and Customs.
Firstly, the move undermines the principle behind the tax credit system – that it is there to ensure that poorly-paid families may still enjoy a reasonable living standard. Tax credits are paid on an estimate of a person’s – or family’s – income over a tax year and the last Labour government, knowing that small variances could cause problems for Britain’s poorest, set a wide buffer of £25,000 before households had to pay anything back.
By cutting this buffer back to £5,000, the Conservatives have turned this safety net into a trap. Suddenly the tiniest overpayment can push households into a debt spiral, because their low incomes mean it is impossible to pay back what the government has arbitrarily decided they now owe.
And the sharks are circling. Instead of collecting the debt on its own behalf, HMRC has sold it on to around a dozen debt collection agencies who are harassing the families involved with constant telephone calls, mobile phone messages and letters to their homes.
In total, HMRC made 215,144 referrals to debt collectors in 2013-14. Of the working families involved, 118,000 earned less than £5,000 per year.
This takes us to our second area of concern. Remember how the Department for Work and Pensions has been encouraging people – particularly the disabled – to declare themselves as self-employed in order to avoid the hassle and harassment that now go hand in hand with any benefit claim? You know – the refusal of benefits based on arbitrary ‘descriptors’ that were originally devised by a criminal insurance company as a means to minimise payouts, and the constant threat of sanctions that would cut off access to benefits for up to three years unless claimants manage to clear increasingly difficult obstacles.
Both of these circumstances are likely to lead to a verdict of overpayment by HMRC, as the self-employment reported by these people is likely to be fictional, or to provide less than required by the rules – either in terms of hours worked or income earned.
Suddenly their debt is sold to a collection agency and they are suffering government-sponsored harassment, alarm and distress (which is in fact illegal) far beyond anything they received from the DWP; debt collection agencies are not part of the government and, as Dame Anne Begg pointed out in the Independent article on this subject, “The tactics they use to collect the debt are not tactics a government should use.”
Maybe not. So why employ such tactics?
Let’s move on to our third, and final, worry. By setting sharks on the hundreds of thousands of minnows caught in the government’s trawler-net (that was formerly a safety net – and I apologise for the mixed metaphor), the Tory-led administration is creating a handy distraction from the huge, bloated, offshore-banking whales who donate heavily into Conservative Party funds and who are therefore never likely to be pursued for the billions of pounds in unpaid taxes that they owe.
The government has promised to clamp down on tax evasion and avoidance, but ministers would have to be out of their minds to attack the bankers and businesspeople who pay for their bread and butter.
A blue leaflet landed on the mat yesterday, urging me to vote Conservative and offering no less than 11 highlighted reasons for doing so.
There’s no chance of this happening, because I know far too much about the state of the nation to be fooled by what was said. Other people may not be as lucky, so let’s run through these claims.
The front cover proclaims: “A stronger economy at home” – not true. The resurgence claimed by the Tories has still, after a year, failed to bring Britain back up to its pre-crisis peak, and pay levels have been skewed to put the lowest earners 14 per cent worse-off than they were under the last Labour government.
“Renewed respect abroad” – another howler. Our military adventures mean we are seen as America’s lapdog, while our economic efforts mean we are seen as China’s.
“Real change in Europe” – ridiculous. David Cameron has marginalised Britain in Europe. We’ll come to an example of this in a moment.
Inside the leaflet is a page headed “What we have done”, which attempts to muddy the issues by linking Tory policies within the UK with their strategy in Europe. The effect is similar to a town councillor running for a seat on the county council, saying if he is elected he will ensure that an allotment is available for everybody (allotment land is a town council responsibility and nothing to do with county councils).
So, under the heading “What you have told us”, the leaflet proclaims: “Cut the deficit”. Under “What we did” it states: “So we’ve cut the deficit by a third”. This is nothing to do with Europe and also misrepresents the facts. When the Coalition government sidled into power it said it would eliminate the deficit by 2015. This is not going to happen and claiming success in cutting it by a third (partially by scrapping investment schemes that should have been kept) is an insult.
Next line: “Create more jobs” – “So we’ve helped businesses create more than 1.6 million new jobs”. If the economy was running properly, this number of new jobs would have created a huge boost for the economy – far more than we’ve seen. The problem is that these jobs are too low-paid to make a difference. It is working-class people who lift the economy because they spend more of their income, pushing money through the system. When they don’t have money to spend because they are struggling to cope on pay grades that mock their efforts, less money goes through the system and the economy stutters.
“Cut tax” – “So we’ve given an average income tax cut of £700 to 25 million people, taking 2.7 million people out of tax altogether”. Remove the £100,000-per-year tax cut for those with extremely high incomes and this average drops dramatically. Add in the extra money people are having to spend because of cuts or caps on in-work and unemployment benefits and people like you are £2,000 worse-offper year.
“Cap welfare” – “So we’ve capped welfare – no out-of-work household can now claim more than the average family earns in a week”. The welfare cap is a sensible idea done in a silly way. If it had been set at an average family’s income – just over £31,000 per year – it would be fair, but almost nobody would have been affected, so the Tories set it at £26,000 per year, purely to knock more people off-benefit and show that it worked – and they thought we wouldn’t notice. Silly Tories!
“Control immigration” – at last we come to something that is relevant to the European election! – “So we’ve taken all the action we can under the current EU agreements to fix our immigration system and limited migrants’ access to benefits”. In fact – as noted in this blog previously – very few of the actions taken by the current UK (not European) government are new. The limited access to benefits was enshrined in UK law already, but they don’t want you to know that.
“Cut the cost of Europe” – “So we’ve cut the EU budget, saving British taxpayers £8.15 billion”. Impossible without the co-operation of other EU member states. They are claiming credit for something that would not have happened if other EU countries had not also wanted it.Naughty Tories!
“No to British taxpayers bailing out the Euro” – “So we’ve taken the UK out of Eurozone bailouts”. This is the only measure in the entire flier that anyone in their right mind can support. The UK was never part of the Euro so there was never any reason for us to support it financially. Any other UK political party would have taken the same action so this is no credit to the Tories.
Finally: “Defend Britain’s interests” – “So we vetoed a new EU Fiscal Treaty because it didn’t guarantee a level playing field for British business”. This relates back to the cover boast about “Real change in Europe”. David Cameron made a laughing-stock of both himself and the United Kingdom with his silly veto, because the other 26 countries involved in the treaty simply carried on regardless, leaving us out in the cold. That isn’t “Real change in Europe”; that’s really being shut out of EU decisions.
This Tory leaflet is an insult to your intelligence. It claims success where the Tories have failed, and calls for you to support people who have intentionally inflicted harm upon you.
And you’ll notice there’s no mention of the elephant in the room: The Conservative Party supports the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership that will push conditions of employment down to a lowest-common-denominator level that will devastate workers’ health and livelihoods while also locking the privatisation of the National Health Service into an agreement that will make it an international criminal offence to reverse the changes. Here in Wales, many of us rely on cross-border treatment and this will hit us hard.
Anyone supporting the Conservatives on the basis of this flier would have to be ignorant or insane.
One last thing: Minutes after the Tory flier arrived, I went out to my car and found a plastic bag filled with what appeared to be excrement had been left on the windscreen. I can’t blame this on the leafleters (although local Tories certainly know who I am and what my car looks like) but it did make me question the quality of their local campaign.
Mr Os-bean: As Ed Miliband gave his response to the Budget, George Osborne had a gormless smile on his face that made him look like Mr Bean. This is not him – but it’s the closest image I could find at short notice. [Image as credited]
If a Conservative government is returned to office after the 2015 election, there will be yet more spending cuts and service cuts afflicting hard-working, low-paid families.
That was the message for most people in George Osborne’s latest attempt at a Budget speech today.
There were plenty of groan-worthy moments as the part-time chancellor trotted out the Coalition’s catchphrases: “We will fix the roof while the sun is shining” (groan. The job is taking so long, one has to question whether the contractor is Con-ning the client). “We are all in this together” (groan). Oh really?
Benefit spending is to be capped at £119 billion per year, albeit rising with inflation; public sector pay “restraint” will continue for the foreseeable future. This is from the government whose Prime Minister was confirmed, only minutes previously, as having approved 40 per cent pay rises for his special advisors!
Most significant is the fact that Osborne avoided mentioning ordinary working people for most of his speech; this was a budget for businesses, with the benefits reserved for fatcat bosses.
No major advanced economy in the World is growing faster than the UK, said Mr Osborne; more people are in work. This appears to be borne out by current employment figures (although it should be noted that this is due to a vast and questionable boom in self-employment – the number of employees has dropped by 60,000).
Where is the benefit to the British economy? Why has the deficit not been eliminated? Osborne said it stood at £157 billion in the year he came to office, and would be £108 billion this year, but in fact £39 billion was removed due to measures brought in by the previous Labour chancellor, Alistair Darling. He has cut government spending by something like £80 billion so far, but the deficit has dropped by – possibly – £10 billion. Not a good start to his speech.
There will be further investment in high-speed rail, even though there is no way of predicting whether this hugely costly investment in making train journeys 20 minutes faster will create any economic improvement.
There will be money to fund new centres for medical research – but will these be absorbed by private health firms after the public purse has paid for them?
There will be investment in faster extraction of oil from the North Sea – aiming to get as much as possible out before the Scottish referendum, in order to impoverish the Scots if they decide to go for independence?
And there will be investment in low-cost energy (finally killing the highly questionable green agenda) – meaning money for shale gas companies, and to hell with the environmental cost.
All this investment will go into businesses whose main contribution to the Treasury – Corporation Tax – has already dropped by a quarter (from 28 per cent to 21 per cent) and will go down to 20 per cent this year. This is less than the lowest level of Income Tax.
Up go the profits – down go the tax payments. Who benefits?
Council tax in England remains frozen, meaning fewer public services.
The personal tax allowance is to rise, so people may earn £10,500 before paying tax. This is nowhere near enough to offset the massive drop in living standards that has been caused by the Tory-led Coalition. The cost of living has risen for 44 out of the 45 months of this Parliament – for the whole period, if the earnings of high-paid bankers are removed from the calculation.
The threshold for payment of the 40p tax rate is to rise, so fewer people will pay the higher rate.
Savers are to be helped but – again – this is not a boost for the poor. Most working and unemployed families don’t have any spare money to put into the banks. How does it help them to know they would not pay any tax on savings up to £15,000 in an ISA, when they cannot afford to open one?
And there is a new Pensioner Bond for rich senior citizens (poorer pensioners don’t live long enough to benefit).
As Ed Miliband said in his scathing response, the Coalition can afford to give a tax cut of £200,000 per year to bankers who earn £5 million – but can’t afford £250 per year extra for nurses.
Mr Miliband said the Budget speech was more significant in what it hid than in what it actually said.
Working people are suffering under the Bedroom Tax, under cuts to their tax credits, and they are having to visit food banks if they want to eat.
This is a government that gives with one hand, but takes back much more with the other.
And the Conservatives have the bare-faced cheek to call themselves “The Workers’ Party”.
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Cart crash: In line with the theme explored in this article, not only is it likely that George Osborne won’t even have the right vehicle to carry his budget – he’ll probably crash it, too.
Part-time Chancellor Gideon George Osborne will be having another go at delivering a budget next week; while we can all hope he does better than the last four wrecks, experience – and a voodoo poll on the ConservativeHome website – suggests the opposite.
The poll asks readers to prioritise possible policies on a scale of one to 10, where one is “low” and 10 is “high”. The policies themselves?
“Cut spending further, so that the deficit can be reduced faster”. Clearly this is nonsense. Osborne’s massive spending cuts have, so far, delivered tiny reduction in the national deficit of only £7 billion – from £118 billion to £111 billion. In four years. Clearly, he needs to change his ways.
Other possibilities include cutting the higher rates of tax (or raising the threshold for them) – helping the very rich; extending National Insurance cuts for employers taking on young workers – helping employers; cutting business rates – helping businesspeople; and privatising more state assets, such as roads – helping rich investors and penalising the poor.
Other ideas intended to harm the poor include regionalising public sector pay, extending the freeze on public sector pay rises or cutting public sector pay, lowering the benefit cap to less than the current £26,000 per family and lowering a cap on broader social security spending that is yet to be introduced (it is scheduled for 2015).
All of the measures mentioned in the above two paragraphs will harm the British economy, rather than helping it. If Osborne includes any of them, he will deserve censure (if not prosecution, although it might be hard to find an offence on which to charge him after five years of Tory/Tory Democrat tinkering with the legal system).
By now, dear readers, some of you will be sitting with your blood boiling at this insolent blogger who’s telling you your prized policy ideas won’t work. You’re probably itching to demand what I would do to address the challenge.
I would have examined the economy from a different angle. Let’s look at it metaphorically.
Imagine the British economy is a haulage lorry or, better yet, a horse and cart. Tories are pushing us back towards pre-industrialism so we might as well get used to the idea. Either way, the job in hand is to take provisions to different parts of the locality that will allow the people there to prosper – and return with a share of that prosperity, to be distributed equally for the benefit of everyone.
Firstly, you need fuel. This is where we can prove that Osborne’s austerity is completely useless. How far can a lorry travel with an empty fuel tank? How far will a horse pull a cart if you don’t feed it? Not very far at all.
Then you need to make sure you’re providing the right kind of fuel. A diesel lorry won’t go far on petrol or vegetable oil before it starts to complain; give a horse the wrong kind of food and it will develop who-knows-what kind of digestion-related illness and keel over. This is what happens to an economy that is over-reliant on – for example – a single economy sector such as finance, or an economic ‘bubble’ like the housing growth triggered by Help to Buy (although this scheme could work well with the correct controls, in the same way you can probably keep a horse working with the correct medicine).
The result in both cases – no fuel or wrong fuel – is the same: Your supplies don’t get out to your people and they suffer as a result. The last four years of Tory/Tory Democrat rule has proved this.
In non-metaphorical terms: There must be investment, and it must be the right kind.
Then, of course, there is the question of what you have in the back of your lorry (or on the cart). You must be providing your people with what they need, otherwise there’s no point in making the journey and the fuel/food in which you have invested – in fact, the whole journey – will have been wasted (like Osborne’s last four budget attempts). Your choice of supplies will depend on what your people are doing – what crops they are growing or products they are making – and on whether these can be traded with your neighbours. If they have been misled into producing wares that can’t be traded, what good is that?
Get it right and you’ll be able to make a return trip laden with goods and supplies that will – with a bit of wise distribution and trade – help build up your society, meaning that the load might not be so great on the next trip. This means less fuel/horse feed will be needed and there won’t be as large a load in goods to be redistributed on the return journey (although an expanding economy means there might be farther to travel, so this must be recognised in the amount of fuel to be used).
That’s about as simple a metaphor as I can devise at the moment.
If I had to predict what will happen on Wednesday, though, I would probably expect Osborne to be demanding that we leave the lorry in the garage (or the horse in the yard), and struggle out on foot with all our burdens on our own back.
Not so much “all in it together” as “everyone for themselves” – and that’s how we’ll all be ruined.
Part-time workers who are judged to be doing too little to find full-time work could have their Housing Benefit sanctioned by the government when Universal Credit comes into full force, according to Inside Housing.
The revelation is the latest in a long line of benefit betrayals to be inflicted on the poor by the Coalition government. The new development also means landlords stand to lose out.
The Department for Work and Pensions has confirmed to Inside Housing that under Universal Credit, where a tenant is working less than 35 hours per week at minimum wage and is not eligible for JSA or ESA, then the housing element can be sanctioned instead.
It seems clear that the government is determined that it should be able to take income away from everyone who is not being properly paid by their employer. Does this seem fair to you?
Under the present system, Housing Benefit is paid direct to landlords, meaning sanctions against tenants can only be applied to out-of-work benefits like Jobseekers’ Allowance or Employment and Support Allowance. The aim is to use Universal Credit to spread the threat of sanctions so that it covers people in low-paid work as well. Would you consider any government that did this to be standing up “for hardworking people”?
The article quotes a DWP spokesperson who said: “It is only right that people claiming benefits should be aware that not sticking to the rules can have a consequence.”
This, of course, assumes that a person is breaking the rules if their employer refuses to improve their working conditions… but we know that the government has altered working conditions to ensure that employers are under no pressure to do so; the benefit cap, and the one per cent limit on the annual uprating of benefits have ensured that people without jobs will become continually worse-off, so those who are in work cannot demand pay increases for fear of being handed their P45s and told that someone else will do their job for less.
Are these the actions of a government that believes we are “all in it together”?
If anybody thinks they can find justification for this behaviour, please get in touch.
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Iain Duncan Smith and everybody else associated with this scam should be facing charges and the possibility of imprisonment, rather than re-election next year.
Let’s be honest about this: The government hasn’t messed up by omitting Universal Credit claimants from the official unemployment benefit claimant count – the Department for Work and Pensions messed up by admitting this had happened.
It means we may be looking at a long-term attempt to defraud the electorate. The plan seems clear: When the general election finally takes place next year, Iain Duncan Smith would have claimed that his policies have been a brilliant success in creating jobs and cutting down the number of people claiming benefits.
If people are convinced that the DWP has succeeded in cutting the amount of money being paid out in benefits – the burden on the taxpayer – then they are more likely to vote for the Conservatives. Electoral victory means more money for everybody involved – what’s known as a pecuniary advantage.
But the claim has been made by deception. Obtaining a pecuniary advantage by deception is the dictionary definition of criminal fraud.
There can be no doubt that the omission was deliberate. When it comes to fiddling the official figures, the DWP has ‘form’ going back for years. Look at the lies about the benefit cap pushing people into work; the way people on ESA were encouraged to say they were self-employed and claim tax credits – even though this is not permitted and they were racking up a huge overpayment.
Look at the abuses of the sanction system; look at the abuses of the IB/ESA work capability assessment; look at the number of successful appeals against the DWP that have been kept out of official figures.
The claimant count, which provides the headline unemployment figure, is the number of people claiming Jobseekers’ Allowance every month – and has been for many years.
But Iain Duncan Smith’s flagship (if the ship was the Titanic) Universal Credit is up and running – on an extremely limited basis – in certain pilot areas of the country, and people without a job in those areas should be included in the claimant count.
This has not happened. It is possible that this is yet another oversight by Mr Duncan Smith, the government’s top bungler (indeed, he was recently voted favourite cabinet minister by ConservativeHome, so he must be doing something right, and the thing he does most often is make mistakes).
Mr Duncan Smith himself would disagree, however. He has claimed repeatedly and vehemently that his department does not make mistakes with statistics; that everything done on his watch has been justified and that everybody at the DWP is entirely competent.
So we must accept that there was a decision to keep Universal Credit claimants out of the claimant count, meaning that there was a decision to make it seem there are fewer people unemployed than is actually the case.
This seems to be supported by the complaint from the Office for National Statistics, which publishes unemployment figures. The wording runs as follows: “The DWP have not been able to supply ONS with this information in a way that has allowed its inclusion within the Claimant Count [italics mine], resulting in the exclusion of UC claims from this measure.”
This implies that the DWP is perfectly capable of supplying the figures in a manageable way but has deliberately done otherwise.
Further indication that DWP officials knew exactly what they were doing comes from a spokeswoman’s response to this affair, published in the Daily Mirror: “We have been fully transparent in publishing the number of people claiming Universal Credit.
“To ensure consistency the Department released these figures alongside the employment statistics. Universal Credit is both an in- and out-of-work benefit so some claimants may be working.”
In that case, the DWP cannot have been “fully transparent”, can it? Transparency would have required the department to separate UC into “in-work” and “out-of-work” claims, and we have no evidence that this has happened. Until it does, neither the ONS nor the rest of us have any way of knowing how many people are unemployed in the UK.
This has been going on for nearly a year, as Universal Credit was rolled out in its first pilot area in April last year. This means that all unemployment statistics since then have been falsified by the DWP and unemployment figures have been higher than claimed.
The Labour Party has tried to paint this as incompetence, but it is wrong to do so.
This was deliberate, premeditated disinformation.
Now the deception has been uncovered, they are unrepentant.
Perhaps someone should remind them that fraud is still a crime.
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Someone’s raiding the pensions piggy-bank: Government changes mean the rich will be subsidised by the poor.
It seems the Conservatives cannot wait to betray their most loyal voting group. If you are a pensioner – beware!
As trailed on Vox Political last November, the Department for Work and Pensions appears to be planning to delete the cold weather payment from its chequebook, along with free bus passes and free TV licences.
We already know that the age at which the state pension will be paid is rising, meaning people will have to continue working for longer before they qualify for the £144/week payment (with a minimum National Insurance record of 30 full years). This is a betrayal of promises made by both the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats in their document ‘The Coalition: Our Programme for Government’.
Because life expectancy depends on where you live and your social class, this means many poorer people will enjoy only three-to-six years of retirement on average, while richer pensioners get 17-20 years of pension payments. That’s right – rich people even get a better deal from the state pension.
Meanwhile, the taxpayer is being asked to fund three-fifths of the pension scheme for members of Parliament, who qualify at the age of 60 after 20 years’ service (or after 15 years if aged between 60 and 65) and receive an average of £353/week (see House of Commons Library SN6283: MPs’ Pension Scheme – 2012 onwards).
MPs (along with civil servants and judges) will receive transitional protection as the pensionable age rises – meaning they won’t lose out. More than 700,000 working women, on the other hand, have received less than two years’ notice of changes that will deprive them of up to £7,500 per year.
He said: “We need maximum flexibility with the cap. Pretty much all existing ringfences will have to disappear.”
Asked if pensioner benefits would be included in the cap, he said: “These are matters which are still under discussion.”
The Benefit Cap was hailed as a hugely popular policy after its introduction last year, but it is now questionable whether pensioners will be quite so enthusiastic.
Including pensioners’ benefits among those that are capped means they may have to be means tested in the future, as the number of pensioners grows – putting pressure on the £200 billion benefits budget.
The Daily Mirror reported that Treasury sources played down this prospect last night, saying the annual spend on pensioner benefits was dwarfed by other payments. This is disingenuous as the annual spend on pensions is more than on all the other benefits combined. Cutting pensioner benefits and forcing people to work longer before they receive their pensions will deprive senior citizens of billions of pounds.
While changes to pensioners’ benefits are still under discussion, changes to the age at which pensions are paid have already become law.
The hypocrisy of MPs in imposing new rules that disadvantage ordinary people while protecting themselves, judges and civil servants has led to the creation of a petition on the 38 Degrees website, calling for the changes to be reversed.
The petition states: “It is discrimination to impose ‘rules’ that disadvantage one group of people more than another. It is against the law to treat someone less favourably than someone else. How can this Government be allowed to get away with this?
“Because of this broken promise those of us affected are now being forced to work longer and wait longer to receive our state pension, which is an entitlement and something to which we have contributed, all of our working lives.
“These changes will also have a detrimental impact upon employment opportunities for young people. The longer we are being forced to work, the fewer jobs there will be for them. Is this an honourable way to treat people?
“The right to retire with financial security, at the age that has been promised throughout our working lives, has been denied.
“This broken promise is unfair, unnecessary and totally unacceptable. Ministers need to do a u-turn on this mean-spirited move and honour their word.”