Arguments that every Liberal Democrat would do well to hear

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By Jim Grundy

Look, you and I are not going to agree; probably not even on the time of day. You think you’re noble…. I think that you’re facilitating the nastiest, most regressive administration in post-war history. And most people agree with me by the way …

Ah, but there was no choice, you claim. Think of the economic crisis, you say.

In 1945 the country was in a far, far, far worse economic state than it was in 2010 (when the national debt was lower than Labour inherited in 1997 – really, yes, really).  And yet, Labour created a universal welfare state, the National Health Service and built hundreds of thousands of much needed new homes. All this was done because it was needed and it also helped stimulate the economy. You are now doing the polar opposite and for no better reason than you either want to or don’t care to do anything different because it would upset your Tory chums.

You seem to think we’re engaged in a jolly little debate, one that is somehow concerned only about hurt feelings and politicians attacking each other. Many times I – and others – have tried to point out that your support for the Tories – or at least your wholly ineffective ‘opposition’ to them – is having appalling consequences to the lives of people across the country. You can’t deal with that and bring it back time after time to how noble you Lib Dems have been and how hurt you’ve been by attacks by those who think you’ve betrayed the country by supporting the Tories (‘cos that’s what you do when you vote for them all the time). I’m struggling to think of anything more pathetic.

You ask what was the alternative? Simple. You should have allowed the Tories to form a minority administration and support them or oppose them according to the issue. Yes, that might have led to an election before now – what’s wrong with that (oh, but you fixed that, didn’t you with your changes to confidence motions and five-year fixed term parliaments – odd, you haven’t addressed that)? That way you might have protected yourselves against the charge of being nothing more than opportunists; of abandoning any kind of principle in pursuit of power. You didn’t. And, you know, there’s been one or two indications from the electorate that they don’t share your perception of Lib Dem honour. Have you noticed that?

You bound yourselves to the Tories so tightly that they know you daren’t do anything other than support them or face anihilation at the polls. But you still might have the chance to ditch Clegg and co., pretend it was all a horrible mistake and go to the nation and seek the people’s verdict. You’re afraid of that, though, aren’t you? You know how much you are hated, ok, mistrusted – but that isn’t a badge of honour; it is not a symbol of suffering in a higher cause; and I think you know that, for all your protestations.

The Lib Dems are finished. Your party will fragment, its support drain away, as it has done every time you’ve got into bed with the Tories. I don’t need to tell you the history of your own party – or do I?

What has been done has been done. Don’t for the sake of any kind of credibility that you might seek to hold on to pretend it was done for a noble cause.

You have not the slightest idea of my background. I’ll give you a clue – I’m a socialist. Clegg and his ilk (and they are found in lots of different groups) are in it for themselves. Not for any party; they’re not hide-bound either, you see. They’re tribal in a different way – their own tribe comes first, even when it has only one member.

I don’t know you either. One thing I do know, however, and that it’s far easier to fool someone, than to persuade them that they have been fooled. I think you’ve been fooled. What you describe as pragmatism, I call the betrayal of the ordinary working people of this country on the basis of an appearance on TV and a lie that there is no choice.

You might describe as noble putting up with the abuse that has been poured upon Clegg and co. I call it wholly predictable and understandable – and, yes, deserved. There are precedents. What is happening now has happened before. You might wish to believe that you are not ‘pinned down’ by anything but you are indeed a prisoner, of events, of your Tory captors, of one of the biggest deceits every perpetrated upon the British people. So don’t feel wounded when things come back to bite you – and don’t be surprised if some of the biters are Tories either. You don’t think they’re grateful to you for your ‘self-sacrifice’, do you? No, they’re laughing at you. They hold you in nothing but contempt – and you know that, don’t you?

I am not appealing to you or anyone else to accept without qualification everything that any party stands for – or what you believe it stands for – but for principle. A good start is that the most vulnerable should not suffer at the same time as the wealthiest are benefiting from the policies implemented by any government. And I am sure you must accept that the rich are indeed getting richer and the poor are indeed getting very much poorer, not by accident but by design. How else can you explain a tax cut for the better off and a hike in taxes, accompanied by a cut in pay and benefits, for the worst off?

If you or anyone else doesn’t understand the very real suffering that many people are being subjected to is all too real – and to dismiss that as ‘collateral damage’ is just unacceptable – then you won’t understand why there is genuine anger at what is being done – and who to blame for it. And it is being done by those with no electoral mandate whatsoever to act in the manner they are doing.

“Fairness” & “Progressive” were two words repeated time and again in the early days of the Coalition and, even, “we’re all in it together”. No-one seems to be saying that now. Does anyone need to explain to you why that might be the case?

How about investing in growth, rather than paying to prop up failure for a start? Have you not seen the latest (record) borrowing figures? Who had heard of the national debt before 2008? (Despite Gordon Brown paying such a large slab of it off during his time as Chancellor. Odd that so few people seem to know about that, isn’t it?)

The idea that debt is, by definition bad, is a simply wrong. Do you own your own home? If you do or if you know others that do, how many of those people bought those properties with cash? Does that acquisition benefit them or beggar them? Most people believe owning property, having some equity, something to pass on to your children is a good thing. But, for the vast majority of people, that has only been possible by people getting into debt. Are they all in the proverbial? Thought not.

Keynesian economics are not a busted flush. We need a 21st Century New Deal, investment in public works, house-building programmes.  Programmes that will pay for themselves by creating employment, generating greater taxation revenues at the same time as reducing benefits. That has been proven to work. The ‘Future Jobs Fund’, one of the first to be scrapped by the Tories – with Lib Dem help (sorry if you think I’m rubbing it in but it is important to recognise the role of your party in all that has taken place) – has been shown (see links below) to have helped to do precisely that, even though on a scale far smaller than is required. But it was only one scheme. The investment in new housing, the ‘Housing Pledge’, and other schemes were delivering the same goal.

The country’s economic woes were not caused by excessive spending. They were caused by a collapse in receipts from taxation. To argue, as the Tories and Lib Dems have done, that the answer is to cut expenditure has served only to further reduce the government’s income, increasing the national debt, widening the deficit. It is economic insanity – but only if you think the sole agenda is to reduce the debt/deficit. What the Tories are about is to use this argument to justify the kind of cuts, the mass privatisation of everything from the police to the NHS, that you have been persuaded represent pragmatism. That is one huge lie and nothing more.

It’s a simple fact that the Tories hate public services. They believe that providing pensions, care for the elderly, etc., etc. are forms of evil, as is everything unless it provides an opportunity for private companies – those who pay for the Tory party – to make a profit. Have you noticed that no matter how poorly the utilities perform, how bad the trains are, they maintain the mantra that the public sector is inefficient, while the private sector is the ideal to be adopted everywhere?

Face the facts, the country is in a huge mess and those in the biggest mess are those least responsible for it. If people look at the Lib Dems and blame them ‘disproportionately’ for that, all I can say is that you can have no excuse for being surprised. Or for being disliked.

Our problem is that the very word ‘socialist’ has become a pejorative term put in the minds of many by a Tory-dominated media. And then we have the line that “it’s all very good in theory…”.

You seek pluralism but what does that mean? I think it misses the point about what society truly is. When affordable housing is slashed, that doesn’t just hurt those at the bottom. When benefits are cut, the pain isn’t just felt by a few. It damages society fundamentally to see the gap between the richest and the wealthiest grow ever wider.  That is not to speak of a fluffy Nirvana-style ideal, it is based on empirical evidence (see “The Spirit Level” by Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett).

Yes, there are gradations in society but this government represents only 1% of it. The rest are seeing a huge transfer of their wealth into the hands of the 1%. That is reality. The most vicious tribal class war might speak of the ‘Big Society’ but it is there solely to serve the aims of ‘big business’.

If I would say one last thing to you, it is this. What kind of society do you want to live in? Do you think it is right that people can’t afford to live in a decent home? Do you think that it is right for people to be unable to heat their own homes, leading to the deaths of thousands each year? Do you think that healthcare and education are rights, not privileges? Do you think that everyone should contribute to society – and pay their taxes? Put together a whole list of similar questions to yourself without reference to party or politicians. Consider your conclusions and then ask yourself if you can find that vision reflected in this administration.

Put aside the, “well, that would be nice, of course, but it’ll never happen,” kind of thinking. Pessimism is a disease and it blinds people to what can be done. If our ancestors had not dreamt of what they wanted and demanded it, we wouldn’t be having this argument. There would be nothing to fight for because, for example, we’d have no National Health Service to save in the first place.

What we have now – and are in the process of losing – is precious and it was not given to us by a noble elite acting in the public interest. All social progress has been made, not through the beneficence of the strong but won by the collective action of the ‘weak’. And that happened because people recognised that they were as valuable as anyone else, no matter what their background.

As was said in the Putney Debates (which should be required reading for everyone) in 1647:

“I think that the poorest he that is in England hath a life to live, as the greatest he”. That was true then. It’s true now and never let anyone stifle that belief by telling you, “well, of course, in an ideal world….”.

As Shelley wrote, “We are many. They are few!”

Softly, Softly, into Slums: New Law permits Councils to turn Homeless away

Who are these people?  www.lrb.co.uk

Chronically ill lung patient told to ‘get a job’ after benefits axe – This is the face of the swingeing benefit cuts being enforced across Wales and the rest of the country by the UK Government.

Atos killed my dad, says boy 13 – The devastated youngster believes the benefits assessors’ decision to deem his dad…

Geriatric and mental health wards threatened by NHS cuts – Telegraph – www.telegraph.co.uk –  – David Cameron faces a growing backlash against NHS cuts and the closure of A&E … 

The modern face of hardship – www.independent.co.uk – More than six million working Britons are living in poverty, according to a repo…

Related post – “We Take Care of Our Own” or What Labour Needs to Remember if it Wants to Win.

Dear Ed Miliband

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Dear Mr Miliband by Prue
I am a member of the Labour Party and am incensed by the injustice which is happening as a result of the Coalition government’s welfare reform legislation. Earlier this year I came to Grays where I heard you speak passionately about solidarity and compassion. It is time for the Labour Party to be more visible and to demonstrate for real that solidarity and compassion are seriously at the heart of Labour Party policy. We hear so much from the current government and the media about benefit fraudsters and scroungers with the implication being that anyone on benefits is abusing the system. Most people who are now finding it difficult to access welfare support are, I believe, decent, honest human beings who by life’s misfortune find themselves in desperate need through sickness, disability or unemployment. Sadly, not only are such individuals being demonised by government and the media but some people led by such wilful attempts at creating division and hate are also joining in. They have forgotten the purpose of the welfare state which is to protect people just like them during times of serious need through, sickness, disability and unemployment. People who have forgotten too that we are all from the richest to the poorest a step away from misfortune. The following is an excerpt from the article from the New Statesman taken from this link (http://www.newstatesman.com/blogs/voices/2012/06/disability-karen-sherlock-sue-marsh)

‘Karen faced all of this as she battled just to survive. Endless pressure, the judgement of society, the fear of destitution, the exhaustion of constant assessments and endless forms. She was one of those who’s ESA was time-limited – and what’s more, it was limited retrospectively, leaving her with just a few months to appeal for long term support. What I want to tell you today is that she was frightened. Terrified in fact. She was terrified of the DWP, almost paralysed by a fear that if she spoke out, they would treat her even more harshly. But she spoke out regardless. She was scared for her future, scared for her family. She had no idea how they would survive when she lost the little support they relied on. Her husband works, cares for a sick wife and they had “done the right thing”. Do you hear me Ian Duncan Smith? David Cameron? Nick Clegg? Ed Miliband? Her family had done the “right thing”, at least in your narrow world of workers and shirkers. Despite her own terror, she tried to tell her country, her peers, her friends – even journalists – what was happening to her and thousands like her, but shocked tuts didn’t save her. Open mouths and disgust didn’t save Karen; they didn’t save my friend. Perhaps no one could have, but those who hold and abuse power could have eased her fear or reassured her that they own words, from the end of her final post on April 29: “We need to be passionate about standing up for our rights, and if we can make enough noise, and get enough people to listen then we can overturn the inhumane changes this parasitic government have made. If nothing else, we do still have hope and our rights on our side.”’

I challenge anyone not to be moved by this article and I challenge you and the Labour Party to start speaking out. Demonising the poor, sick, disabled and unemployed is not worthy of a civilised society and it is time to make ourselves heard. We are at a crossroads and the choices we make now will determine the future. I believed that the Labour party would have the vision to create a fairer society with social justice at its heart and your ‘one nation’ speech demonstrated your verbal commitment. Let those words now become action and a determination to prepare the ground for a fairer society and a Labour Party members can be proud of.

Open Letter to Iain Duncan Smith: “Born too Late!”

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Born too Late! How does that make me a Scrounger?

An Open Letter to Iain Duncan Smith

Dear Mr Smith

On the Andrew Marr Show you spoke of needing to protect Pensioners from Welfare Reform Cuts, which you justified by their lack scope and opportunity to earn and increase their Pensions. I agree with you on this point, however I fail to understand how when you offer empathy for their very situation, you refuse to apply the same to another group of people in often identical situations, Chronically Sick & Disabled people?

I grew up in the 60′s & 70′s and was taught that you go to work and pay ‘your dues’, namely Tax and NI, you live within your means and try to save for a ‘rainy day; this is what I did for over 30 years.

And then I became ill, very ill with something that left me so totally fatigue, my employers, my GP, 3 Consultants , Occupational Health & my family, all worked hard over 3 years to support me arrive at the inevitable conclusion; I had become Disabled through my ill health and could no longer work. That was 3 years ago and since then I have been forced to claim Employment and Support Allowance; and the changes and cuts you and your colleagues have made under the guise of Welfare Reform mean that I now struggle to survive.

Maybe in your world, where you have access to family money, have a well paid job and good health, you would think that having worked for so many years I had managed to save enough money to support myself but, in my world, despite working hard doing the a job you claim to be so valuable ‘Everyone should engage in it’; the savings I did have, after 30 years of paying my stamp in Community Service, were completed depleted within the first 12 months.

I can not comprehend how, you can claim to understand the difficulties people have when they no longer can add to their finances and yet you continue to claim that people claiming out of work benefits are ‘Scroungers’.

I never thought that at fifty I’d be not only Chronically sick and Disabled, but be struggling to survive, forced to choose whether I heat my Housing Association Flat or I eat. This is my world Mr Smith, I’m unable to work therefore I also have no scope or opportunity to supplement my income through employment but because I’m 16 years too young, you’re content to label me as scrounging. You talked about Fairness, well please tell me how is this fair?

Yours sincerely,

Jayne Linney

The Future Jobs Fund: One of the most ineffective job schemes there’s been?

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The Future Jobs Fund: One of the most ineffective job schemes there’s been?

The Future Jobs Fund (FJF) was an employment subsidy brought in by the last Labour Government at the height of the recession to help tackle youth unemployment. It provided sufficient funds to create 100,000 6 month jobs for long term unemployed 18-24 year olds, paying minimum wage for 25 hours per week.

In September 2009, when the first young people started FJF posts, there were 99,000 18-24 years who had been claiming Job Seeker’s Allowance for over 6 months. When applications for the FJF closed in March 2011, this had fallen to 78,000. Today, 18 months later, there are almost 145,000 18-24 year old long term claimants of Job Seeker’s Allowance (source here). One of the Coalition’s first acts was to scrap the FJF. David Cameron had this to say about the decision:

“The Future Jobs Fund has been one of the most ineffective job schemes there’s been… The really damning evidence is that it’s a six-month programme, but one month after the programme [has finished] half the people that were on it are back on the dole. It failed.”

David Cameron, 17 March 2011

At the point he made that statement, no evaluation had been done on the efficacy of the programme, so there was really no basis for the PM’s pronouncement. To their credit though, the DWP did do an evaluation of the FJF and last week it was published (or sneaked out on a Friday with no press release if you are cynical like me). So now the results are in, was the FJF “one of the most ineffective job schemes there’s been”?

Jonathan Portes has written a very good blog post on the evaluationhere, and his organisation NIESR peer-reviewed DWP’s work on this. He writes:

The bottom line is that the impact of the Future Jobs Fund (FJF) on the chances of participants being employed and/or off benefit was substantial, significant and positive. 2 years after starting the progamme (so long after the programme itself had ended, so the participants were back in the open labour market), participants were 11 percentage points more likely to be in unsubsidised employment.  

This is a very large impact for an active labour market programme (considerably larger than that found for New Deal for Young People, for example) suggesting that the programme had a large and lasting impact on participants’ attachment to and ability to succeed in the labour market. 

The FJF  programme is estimated to result in:

  • a net benefit to participants of approximately £4,000 per participant; 
  • a net benefit to employers of approximately £6,850 per participant; 
  • a net cost to the Exchequer of  approximately £3,100 per participant; 
  • and a net benefit to society of approximately £7,750 per participant.

…we know now; the Prime Minister was wrong.”

Not for the first time then, David Cameron has said something, based on no evidence, only to be subsequently proved wrong. So much for evidence-based policy. Contrast this with the Mandatory Work Activity. A similar evaluation concluded that this programme generated no impact on employment. How did the Government respond to this finding? It extended the programme! Ideology trumps facts again.

Back to the FJF. I had some peripheral involvement in the programme in my local area. The majority of the job placements were with local community and voluntary organisations. It was win win. The organisations were able to increase their capacity (very Big Society!), and the individuals were given a chance to try something new and get into the workplace (in some cases for the first time). The key benefit of FJF was that participants were actually in a job – they were being paid. They felt that someone had finally given them a chance after months of rejection. The increase in their self-confidence should not be underestimated, and this seems to be reflected in the evaluation results. After the 6 months were up, participants were much more capable of securing further work than would otherwise have been the case. You cannot replicate this feeling of self-worth with unemployed work experience placements at Poundland.

The FJF has been replaced by the Work Programme and the Youth Contract. The fact that long term youth unemployment has doubled since the FJF was scrapped, suggests these new programmes are not working.

The FJF showed that government can create jobs, and when it does the private sector and wider society benefit. The FJF was quite a modest programme. We could, and should be much more ambitious. The intervention I favour is the MMT Job Guarantee, which I have tried to outline here.

ThinkLeft says:  This post is particularly relevant in view of the fact that official figures show that only one in 28 unemployed people referred to the government’s welfare-to-work programme has been found a job for six months – failing to meet the government’s target.

An analysis by the Guardian reveals that none of the 18 Work Programme contractors – 15 of which are private companies – managed to get 5.5% of unemployed people referred to the scheme a job for half a year in the 14 months until July 2012, despite the government having spent £435m on the scheme so far.

Related posts:

Why Can’t we have Full Employment? by alittleecon

“Of Course the Government Can Create Jobs!” by alittleecon

Is ‘Austerity’ intended to increase unemployment and suppress wages?