by Martin Odoni First posted 3rd September 2015
There are numerous aspects of the varied British reactions to the Syrian Refugee Crisis deserving of castigation, from the latest example of UK Independence Party foaming-mouth stupidity and intolerance, blaming the death-by-drowning of a child on the parents (how easily people of a right-leaning disposition find a case for saying that when people are in terrible trouble, it must be their own fault), to Philip Davies crassly labelling compassion for the victims of the war as being ‘trendy‘, to George Osborne rather redundantly pointing out that, in a sense, the forces of Islamic State of Iraq and Levant are what caused the death of Aylan Kurdi (great point, Gideon! So obviously we should insist ISIL take in the refugees while we launch rockets at al-Qaryatayn. Right? Is that what Gideon is saying? Actually, I really have no idea what he is saying).
The truth is, though, that plenty of others up and down the country have offered their thoughts on this ignorant mixture of excuses for sitting-on-hands, and there is little I can say that will not already have been said.
Instead, I want to focus more narrowly on the words of our ‘wannabe-Tony-Blair-clone‘ Prime Minister, David Cameron, and put them into a wider context of his conduct in office. Yesterday, Cameron said that he did not want Britain to take in any more Syrian refugees. Now his stance has softened somewhat since then, in a way that suggests rather maddeningly that he is simply following the crowd, and one that has been worded somewhat ambiguously; the declaration “we will fulfil our moral responsibilities” is hardly specific.
My concern here is that Cameron’s stance on Syria seems disturbingly volatile at times, and what is most disturbing is perhaps which proposed action in Syria most piques his enthusiasm; it always seems to be violence, rather than rescue, that he finds appealing. I hope he does not imagine the people of this country are so stupid that they might forget that almost exactly two years ago, he took a motion to Parliament requesting military action against the regime of Bashar al-Assad. His enthusiasm for war as he spoke in that debate seemed almost fervent. By contrast, this week he has argued that taking in refugees is not a solution to the crisis, and that only stabilising and bringing peace to Syria and the wider region can offer that.
This is both a strawman argument – no one is suggesting that taking in refugees is a solution to the crisis as a whole, it is just a way of keeping Syrian people alive until such a solution can be found – and the diametric opposite of his stance two years ago; unless you genuinely believe that you can bomb a country into peace and stability, that is. His enthusiasm for a military ‘solution’ was such that, despite being voted down in the House of Commons, he ended up secretly authorising it anyway (a corrupt move that has seriously jeopardised Parliament’s credibility and should have made his position untenable). But this week, his reluctance to get involved in the actual ‘rescuing-the-Syrian-people’ part of rescuing Syrian people smacks of the mindset of a casual thrill-seeker i.e. he only wants action that causes lots of exciting bright flashes of light and loud banging noises.
Admittedly, the target two years ago was the Assad regime, whereas this time the ‘enemy’, to use a simplistic shorthand, would be ISIL. But does that really make a difference? Either way, Cameron needed to see a picture of a dead child in order to grasp the true horror of what is happening to the fleeing Syrians, and so to find the same enthusiasm for mercy as he had previously shown for malevolence.
Rather than saving some people, he would like to kill others. It does not look like he has the right priorities.
On a related note: –
Last night, I decided to put several photos of the tragic Aylan Kurdi up on social media. This was not a decision I made lightly, because I knew the proliferation of the picture, which had already gone viral across Twitter and Facebook, was bound to have an intrusive, even voyeuristic, overtone at a time of grief.
But in the end, despite having little taste for doing so, I went ahead, because I felt that there was a point that simply had to be driven home to a lot of very selfish people in Britain, and only by having the pictures as widely available as possible can that point get across; –
Quite simply, the refugee crisis on the Mediterranean has become a humanitarian disaster in its own right, rather than just an offshoot of the Syrian Civil War, and yet wide numbers of people around the UK are still buying into the preposterous ‘they’re-lazy-foreigners-here-to-live-off-our-Welfare-State’ narrative (as though people would ship their families hundreds of miles in cramped, top-heavy fishing boats just to get about a hundred pounds per fortnight). The greedy, self-satisfied people who cling to this ridiculous view – arrived at largely by projecting their own sociopathic tendencies onto the rest of the human race – need to understand precisely the terrible risks the refugees are having to take, and the scale of the horror they are trying to escape from in doing so. The photos of little Aylan, one of twelve victims to drown off the coast of Turkey when their boat sank, are perhaps the only evidence strong enough to break through this stubborn thick-headedness. While I – and I am sure most others who have shared the pictures – would not wish to exploit the death of a young child, the widened awareness of the crisis could equally be seen as a way of sifting some good from what happened to him. Given the photos appear to have swayed Cameron’s attitude somewhat, their proliferation does appear to have had a positive effect.
The Flawed Policy of “Right to Buy”
By James Grundy
Yesterday, the Tories announced plans to extend the ‘Right to Buy’ to housing associations. In the middle of a housing crisis, when 1.8m households are stuck on council waiting lists, the Tories want to get rid of what social housing remains.
It is so crazy that even the Daily Telegraph referred to it as “economically illiterate and morally wrong.” 
In Hucknall we are building the first council homes for 30 years. At a time when there are around 2,500 households in the town on the council’s waiting list, the Tory solution is not to help to address that but to actively make it worse. And, cheeky beggars, they want the tax payer to pay for the privilege!
The National Housing Federation (the representative body for housing associations) estimates that the extension of the ‘Right to Buy’ (‘cos it’s ‘Wrong to Rent’ – from a council or housing association at least) would cost £5.8bn – some say £20bn. 
What we need, need desperately, are more homes that people can afford to rent or buy. Changing tenure of any council or housing association property will solve nothing, rather it will only worsen an already appalling problem. How many homes could be built with the money (that they’ve found on the magic money tree – same place as the £8bn for the NHS)?
Rather than an electoral bribe – who can pretend it is anything else? – we need to provide people with places to live and thrive. And today we learn that the Tories want those lucky enough to live in a council property to be threatened with homelessness, scrapping life-time tenancies. 
This will do nothing to deal with the waiting lists but undermine the stability of our local communities. It’s simply insanity. But confirmation that, as far as the Tories are concerned, not being a millionaire is simply a lifestyle choice.
We need – and we will – build more homes that people need desperately. The Tories have overseen a huge increase in the level of homelessness. Only last month it was confirmed that the number of children made homeless had grown by 10,000 in just one year. 
These latest announcements show just how little they care about that.
Government Reviewer Opposed ESA Rollout
In 2008, Labour introduced a new out of work sickness benefit, Employment and Support Allowance, to replace the old Incapacity Benefit.
The new system of application and assessments was much tougher, and politicians originally hoped that up to a million people could be moved from the benefit.
However, by 2010, it was clear there were significant flaws in the process. People with mental health and fluctuating conditions were not being fairly treated and successful appeals against “fit for work” decisions soared to 40%.
Professor Harrington was asked to review the new benefit and make recommendations for improving it. As the election took place in 2010, crucially, only new claimants were being assessed. ESA was yet to be rolled out to the more complicated, and often longer term, Incapacity Benefit claimants, though trials were underway in Burnley and Aberdeen.
Most people claim out of work sickness benefits for short periods – perhaps to get through a sports injury, accident or one off surgery – and stop their claims within 2 years. However, this will always leave a few people with serious, life limiting conditions who will need to claim the benefit for longer periods. Over the years, those claims build up, increasing the proportion who need long term support.
When the coalition came to power in May 2010, they immediately announced that they would go ahead and start to reassess those already claiming Incapacity Benefit.
I could never understand this decision. Why would you take a failing benefit and roll it out to almost 2 million of the most vulnerable claimants? Not only that, but at first, just 25,000 people per month were being assessed, but the government constantly increased and increased the numbers until today, nearly 130,000 assessments are carried out every month.
Why? Why would you rush this group through failing assessments, ever faster, when backlogs kept on increasing, tribunals were overturning 40% of decisions that went to appeal and even legally, courts were starting to judge that the test discriminates against certain groups?
Unless of course you don’t want the tests to be fair. If your aim is to remove a million people from the benefit, perhaps it suits you to make sure that as many of those existing claimants don’t face a fair test? Since 2010, the government have repeatedly delayed improvements to ESA. Out of 25 recommendations made by Professor Harrington in his Yr1 Review, almost two thirds have not been fully and successfully implemented. An “Evidence Based Review” using new descriptors designed by mental health charities and those charities representing people with fluctuating conditions was initially rejected, then taken on, but although results were due in June, still, tests use the old descriptors to decide who qualifies for support. *
The government repeatedly claimed that Professor Harrington had supported the national rollout of incapacity benefit claimants
“Professor Harrington went away and made his recommendations to us, which we accepted in full and have implemented. He told me, “I believe the system is in sufficient shape for you to proceed with incapacity benefit reassessment.” We set ourselves a goal to put his recommendations in place, improve the quality of the process and address many of the issues to which hon. Members have referred today by the end of last May, when the assessments in the incapacity benefit reassessment were to start alongside the existing process of assessing ESA new claimants. We did that, and we started.”
1 Feb 2012 : Column 289WH Hansard Chris Grayling
However, Harrington was clearly an intelligent man who had made thoughtful and intelligent suggestions for improving the assessments. I could never understand why he agreed to put the most vulnerable claimants through a failing test.
So I decided to ask him.
It took me a while to track down his email address, but after pulling lots of strings, I was able to ask him outright.
This was Professor Harrington’s reply :
“To your question:
I NEVER—repeat–NEVER agreed to the IB migration. I would have preferred that it be delayed but by the time I said that, the political die had been cast.
I then said that i would review progress of that during my reviews.
The decision was political .
I could not influence it.
IS THAT CRYSTAL CLEAR?
I’d say it was fairly clear, wouldn’t you?
Ian Duncan-Smith and others took the decision to push nearly 2 million people through a failing test as quickly as they could. Why? Was it so that they could remove as many people as possible from the benefit whether they needed it or not? Surely any failures to improve the test as recommended by Harrington, charities and campaigners couldn’t have been deliberate? Delaying improvements until the IB cohort had been rushed through, the cohort this government and others are convinced are simply “scroungers” and “skivers”?
Instead, as we now see, delays have increased, successful appeals have risen, lives have been lost to the sheer inaccuracy and flawed design of the assessments and the human suffering is now clear for all to see.
To have taken the decision through incompetence is bad enough, but if it was taken deliberately and cynically, I can only hope the responsible ministers will be held to account. Over 200,000 incorrect decisions have since been overturned in law and appeals are taking up to a year to be heard in some areas.
When David Cameron came to power he said :
“The test of a good society is how do you protect the poorest, the most vulnerable, the elderly, the frail.
That’s important in good times, it’s even more important in difficult times. People need to know that if they have me as their Prime Minister and they have a Conservative government, it will be that sort of Prime Minister
Iain Duncan-Smith said :
“I say to those watching today and who are genuinely sick, disabled or are retired. You have nothing to fear.
This government and this party don’t regard caring for the needy as a burden. It is a proud duty to provide financial security to the most vulnerable members of our society and this will not change. This is our contract with the most vulnerable.”
I look forward to them explaining what made them change their minds.