It’s you, Conservative government. Please stop.

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It’s you, Conservative government.  Please stop.

By julijuxtaposed – first posted 7.10.15

Please, Conservative Government, stop putting Britain’s people down.  It is fatuous, unpatriotic and downright rude.  You are our government; our leaders and representatives.  You are privileged to hold the highest offices of public service.  Why do you disrespect us so easily?  Don’t you like us?  Are we embarrassing you?  Why do you keep speaking at us and about us as though we were the ones who are letting you down?

Stop selectively comparing us to other countries and other people to bully us and mask your inadequacies.  This inferiority complex is yours.  It is insulting and becoming tiresome to hear you carping on with your political envy.  If their peoples work longer, earn less and have fewer rights, then that is not a competition I wish to enter.  In fact, I would prefer that you openly disapproved of such economies.  But stop, too, this flippantly pitting of our regions, counties and cities against each other.  Stop expediently pointing generalised and judgemental fingers at people.  And, please, stop expecting us to be grateful for your mean-spirited crumbs.  It is our bread that you are eating.

And stop peddling paranoia to the xenophobes and stop perpetuating scarcity myths over resources that you are squandering.  We do not lack the means but that you lack the political will.  We do not lack compassion but you lack integrity.   We do not lack aspiration; we do not lack gumption and we do not lack self-respect but that you would strip us of dignity and decent opportunity.  We do not lack social cohesion but that you keep fostering fear, division and discontent.

Who is in charge of our country’s finances?  Who is formulating our country’s policies?  Who is devising our country’s laws?  YOU.  Who has been in charge for the last five years?  YOU.  Who, in that time, didn’t build enough housing; didn’t train sufficient doctors, nurses, teachers…?  Who has denigrated and undermined public service?  YOU.  Who has introduced welfare reforms without first creating an economy in which this is justifiable?  YOU.  Who perpetuates a socio-economic system that requires the exploitation of your own citizens?  YOU.  Who makes blanket policies based on simplistic and insulting stereotypes?  YOU.  Who is blithely building on and recreating the same conditions that got us into such a fix in the first place?  YOU.  Who has bent over backwards to accommodate the hyperbole of bigots and Chicken Littles?  YOU.  Who governs by dubious moral whim?  YOU.  Who gambols greedily around on the world stage like an oversized and untrained puppy, begging to join in, no matter the recklessness and disingenuousness of the cause?  YOU.

Who is ignorantly and wickedly cutting away at the very heart and soul of Britain?  YOU.

Who is the biggest threat to the security of our isles, our economy and our families?  YOU.

YOU.  YOU.  YOU.

You are the Government.  You are responsible for the tone, content and quality of your narrative and you are responsible for the consequences of your governance.  What we really lack is the practical wisdom, maturity and the competent service of an honourable leadership.  Change your attitude and behaviour.  Stop.  Turn around or get out of our way.

A brief history of social security and the reintroduction of eugenics by stealth

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A brief history of social security and the reintroduction of eugenics by stealth

From KittySJones, previously published here

Introduction

Our welfare state arose as a social security safety net – founded on an assurance that as a civilised and democratic society we value the well-being and health of every citizen.

There was a cross-party political consensus that such provision was in the best interests of the nation as a whole at a time when we were collectively spirited enough to ensure that no one should be homeless or starving in modern Britain.

As such, welfare is a fundamental part of the UK’s development –  our progress – the basic idea of improving people’s lives was at the heart of the welfare state and more broadly, it  reflects the evolution of European democratic and rights-based societies.

Not a handout

Now the UK “social security” system is anything but. It has regressed to reflect the philosophy underpinning the 1834 Poor Law, to  become a system of punishments aimed at the poorest and most marginalised social groups. The Poor Law principle of less eligibility – which served as a deterrence to poor people claiming  poor relief is embodied in the Conservative claim of Making work pay: benefits have been reduced to make the lowest paid, insecure employment a more appealing option than claiming benefits. (See: Conservatism in a nutshell.)

The draconian benefit sanctions are about depriving people of their lifeline benefits because they have allegedly failed to comply in some way with increasingly stringent welfare conditionality – which is aimed at enforcing compliance, “behaviour change” and achieving reductions in welfare expenditure rather than supporting people claiming benefits and helping them to find work.

Removing a person’s means of meeting basic survival needs presents significant barriers to that person finding work. If we can’t meet our basic needs, we cannot be motivated or “incentivised” to do anything but struggle for survival.

maslow

Maslow’s hierarchy of Needs

Such a political aim of “behaviour change” is founded entirely on assumptions and moral judgements about why people are unemployed or underpaid. And of course serious concerns have arisen because sanctions have tended to be extremely discriminatory. Young people, women with childcare responsibilities, people with learning disabilities, people with mental illnesses and disabled people are particularly vulnerable as a consequence of the rigid conditionality criteria.

Frankly, such an approach to welfare seems to be cruelly designed to exclude those people who need support the most. Not only does the current government fail to recognise socio-economic causes of poverty, poor wages, underemployment and unemployment because of political decision-making – preferring to blame individuals for economic misfortune – it also fails to recognise the detrimental wider social and economic implications of penalising poor people for the conservative engineering of a steeply hierarchical society.

As a government that values social inequality, and regards it as necessary for economic growth, insolvency and poverty for some is intrinsic to the Conservative ideological script and drives policy decisions, yet the Tories insist that individuals shape their own economic misfortunes.

Worse, the Conservatives are prepared to leave people without a basic means of support – one that the public have paid for themselves.

Austerity – which is aimed at the poorest members of society – has served to increase inequality, and since the Tory welfare “reforms,” we have seen a re-emergence of absolute poverty. Up until recently, our welfare system ensured that everyone could meet their basic survival needs. That no longer is the case.

A brief history of welfare

A welfare state is founded on the idea that  government plays a key role in ensuring the protection and promotion of the economic and social well-being of its citizens. It is based on the principles of equality of opportunity, equitable distribution of wealth, and both political and social responsibility for those unable to avail themselves of the minimal provisions for well-being.

It was recognised that people experienced periods of economic difficulty because of structural constraints such as unemployment and recession, through no fault of their own. It was also recognised that poor health and disability may happen to anyone through no fault of their own.

The welfare state arose in the UK during the post-war period, and following the Great Depression, for numerous reasons, most of these were informed by research carried out into the causes of poverty, its effects on individuals and more broadly, on the UK economy. There were also political reasons for the Conservatives and Liberals supporting the poorer citizens – the newly enfranchised working class.

Charles Booth in London and Sebohm Rowntree in York carried out the first serious studies of poverty and its causes. They both discovered that the causes were casual labour, low pay, unemployment, illness and old age – not laziness, fecklessness, drunkenness and gambling, as previously assumed. The poverty studies raised awareness of the extent of poverty in Britain and the myriad social problems it caused.

The Boer war of 1899-1902 highlighted the general poor state of health of the nation. One out of every three volunteers failed the army medical due to malnutrition, other illnesses due to poor diet and very poor living conditions. The military informed the government at the time of the shockingly poor physical condition of many of those conscripted.

It was realised that the effects of poverty were potentially damaging to  the whole of society. Health problems and infectious disease – rife in the overcrowded slums – could affect rich and poor alike. It was recognised that the economy suffered if large numbers of people were too poor to buy goods and social problems such as exploitation, debt, crime, prostitution and drunkenness were a direct result of poverty, and not the cause of it.

The discovery of  widespread poor health as a consequence of poverty raised concerns about Britain’s future ability to compete with new industrial nations such as Germany and the USA. National efficiency would only increase if the health and welfare of the population improved.

The growth of the Labour Party and Trade Unionism presented a threat to the Liberals and the Conservatives. The new working class voters were turning to these organizations to improve their lives. The traditionally laissez faire Liberals recognised this and supported the idea of government help for the working class.

Back to the present: welfare is no longer about welfare

The current Conservative government has taken a distinctly behaviourist turn – a form of psychopolitics which essentially reduces explanations of poverty to the personal – blaming poor people for poverty and unemployed people for unemployment, formulating policies that are about making people change their behaviour, based on a simplistic “cause and effect” approach. The government nudges and we are expected to comply. Increasing the use of benefit sanctions is one policy consequence of this psychopolitical approach.

Of course this brand of psychopolitics is all about the government assuming the fallibility of the population and the infallibility of the government when it comes to decision-making and behaviours.

Although Cameron claims that “Nudge” draws on a “paternalistic libertarian” philosophy, any government that acts upon a population, by reducing liberties, choices and by imposing behavioural modification without public consent – expecting people to change their behaviours and choices unwittingly to fit with what the state deems “right,” rather than reflecting public needs via democratic engagement and a genuine dialogue, is actually authoritarian.

As I’ve said elsewhere, welfare has been redefined: it is pre-occupied with assumptions about and modification and monitoring of the behaviour and character of recipients, rather than with the alleviation of poverty and ensuring economic and social well-being.

Eugenics by stealth

Further intention of directing behavioural change is at the heart of policies that restrict welfare support such as tax credits to two children. The Conservatives have recently announced plans to cut welfare payments for larger families. Whilst this might not go as far as imposing limits on the birth of children for poor people, it does effectively amount to a two-child policy.

A two-child policy is defined as a government-imposed limit of two children allowed per family or the payment of government subsidies only to the first two children.

Of course this is justified using a Conservative ideologically driven scapegoating narrative of the feckless family, misbehaving and caught up in a self-imposed culture of dependence on welfare.

This restriction in support for children of larger families, however, significantly impacts on the autonomy of families, and their freedom to make decisions about their family life. Benefit rules purposefully aimed at reducing family size rarely come without repercussions.

It’s worth remembering that David Cameron ruled out cuts to tax credits before the election when asked during interviews. Tax credit rates weren’t actually cut in the recent Budget—although they were frozen and so will likely lose some of their value over the next four years because of inflation.

Some elements were scrapped, and of course some entitlements were restricted. But either way a pre-election promise not to cut child tax credits sits very uneasily with what was announced in the budget.

Iain Duncan Smith said last year that limiting child benefit to the first two children in a family is “well worth considering” and “could save a significant amount of money.” The idea was being examined by the Conservatives, despite previously being vetoed by Downing Street because of fears that it could alienate parents. Asked about the idea on the BBC’s Sunday Politics programme, Duncan Smith said:

I think it’s well worth looking at,” he said. “It’s something if we decide to do it we’ll announce out. But it does save significant money and also it helps behavioural change.

Firstly, this is a clear indication of the Tories’ underpinning eugenicist designs – exercising control over the reproduction of the poor, albeit by stealth. It also reflects the underpinning belief that poverty somehow arises because of faulty individual choices, rather than faulty political decision-making and ideologically driven socio-economic policies.

Such policies are not only very regressive, they are offensive, undermining human dignity by treating children as a commodity – something that people can be incentivised to do without.

The tax child credit policy of restricting support to two children seems to be premised on the assumption that it’s the same “faulty” families claiming benefits year in and year out. However, extensive research indicates that people move in and out of poverty – indicating that the causes of poverty are structural rather than arising because of individual psychological or cognitive deficits.

The Joseph Rowntree Foundation published a study that debunked  the notion of a “culture of worklessness” in 2012.  I’ve argued with others more recently that there are methodological weaknesses underlying the Conservative’s regressive positivist/behaviourist theories, especially a failure to scientifically test the permanence or otherwise of an underclass status, and a failure to distinguish between the impact of “personal inadequacy” and socio-economic misfortune.

Back in the 1970s, following his remarks on the cycle of deprivation, Keith Joseph established a large-scale research programme devoted to testing its validity. One of the main findings of the research was that there is no simple continuity of social problems between generations of the sort required for his thesis. At least half of the children born into disadvantaged homes do not repeat the pattern of disadvantage in the next generation.

Despite the fact that continuity of deprivation across generations is by no means inevitable – the theory is not supported by empirical research – the idea of the cycle of “worklessness” has become “common sense.” Clearly, common perceptions of the causes of poverty are (being) misinformed. The individual behaviourist theory of poverty predicts that the same group of people remain in poverty. This doesn’t happen.

However, the structural theory predicts that different people are in poverty over time (and further, that we need to alter the economic structure to make things better). Longitudinal surveys show that impoverished people are not the same people every year. In other words, people move in and out of poverty: it’s a revolving door, as predicted by structural explanations of poverty.

Many families are in work when they plan their children. Job loss, an accident or illness causing disability can happen to anyone at any time. It’s hardly fair to stigmatise and penalise larger families for events that are outside of their control.

Limiting financial support to two children may also have consequences regarding the number of abortions. Abortion should never be an outcome of reductive state policy. By limiting choices available to people already in situations of limited choice – either an increase of poverty for existing children or an abortion, then women may feel they have no choice but to opt for the latter. That is not a free choice, because the state is inflicting a punishment by withdrawing support for those choosing to have more than two children, which will have negative repercussions for all family members.

Many households now consist of step-parents, forming reconstituted or blended families. The welfare system recognises this as assessment of household income rather than people’s marital status is used to inform benefit decisions. The imposition of a two child policy has implications for the future of such types of reconstituted family arrangements.

If one or both adults have two children already, how can it be decided which two children would be eligible for child tax credits?  It’s unfair and cruel to punish families and children by withholding support just because those children have been born or because of when they were born.

And how will residency be decided in the event of parental separation or divorce – by financial considerations rather than the best interests of the child? That flies in the face of our legal framework which is founded on the principle of paramountcy of the needs of the child. I have a background in social work, and I know from experience that it’s often the case that children are not better off residing with the wealthier parent, nor do they always wish to.

Restriction on welfare support for children will directly or indirectly restrict women’s autonomy over their reproduction. It allows the wealthiest minority to continue having babies as they wish, whilst aiming to curtail the poor by disincentivisingbreeding” of the “underclass.” It also imposes a particular model of family life on the rest of the population. Ultimately, this will distort the structure and composition of the population, and it openly discriminates against the children of large families.

People who are in favour of eugenics believe that the quality of a race can be improved by reducing the fertility of “undesirable” groups, or by discouraging reproduction and encouraging the birth rate of “desirable” groups.

Eugenics arose from the social Darwinism and laissez faire economics of the late 19th century, which emphasised competitive individualism, a “survival of the wealthiest” philosophy and sociopolitical rationalisations of inequality.

Eugenics is now considered to be extremely unethical and it was criticised and condemned widely when its role in justification narratives of the Holocaust was revealed.

But that doesn’t mean it has gone away. It’s hardly likely that a government of a so-called first world liberal democracy – and fully signed up member of the European Convention on Human Rights and a signatory also to the United Nations Universal Declaration – will publicly declare their support of eugenics, or their totalitarian tendencies, for that matter, any time soon.

But any government that regards some social groups as “undesirable” and formulates policies to undermine or restrict that group’s reproduction rights is expressing eugenicist values, whether those values are actually named “eugenics” or not. Conservatives are not known for valuing diversity, it has to be said.

Implications of the welfare “reforms”: Human rights

Article 25 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, of which the UK is a signatory, reads:

  1. Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.
  2. Motherhood and childhood are entitled to special care and assistance. All children, whether born in or out of wedlock, shall enjoy the same social protection.

A recent assessment report by the four children’s commissioners of the UK called on the government to reconsider its deep welfare cuts, voiced “serious concerns” about children being denied access to justice in the courts, and called on ministers to rethink plans to repeal the Human Rights Act.

The commissioners, representing each of the constituent nations of the UK, conducted their review of the state of children’s policies as part of evidence they will present to the United Nations.

Many of the government’s policy decisions are questioned in the report as being in breach of the convention, which has been ratified by the UK.

England’s children’s commissioner, Anne Longfield, said:

We are finding and highlighting that much of the country’s laws and policies defaults away from the view of the child. That’s in breach of the treaty. What we found again and again was that the best interest of the child is not taken into account.”

Another worry is the impact of changes to welfare, and ministers’ plan to cut £12bn more from the benefits budget. There are now 4.1m children living in absolute poverty – 500,000 more than there were when David Cameron came to power.

It’s noted in the report that ministers ignored the UK supreme court when it found the “benefit cap” – the £25,000 limit on welfare that disproportionately affects families with children, and particularly those with a larger number of children – to be in breach of Article 3 of the convention: the best interests of the child are paramount:

 In all actions concerning children, whether undertaken by public or private social welfare institutions, courts of law, administrative authorities or legislative bodies, the best interests of the child shall be a primary consideration.

The United Nation’s Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) applies to all children and young people aged 17 and under. The convention is separated into 54 articles: most give children social, economic, cultural or civil and political rights, while others set out how governments must publicise or implement the convention.

The UK ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) on 16 December 1991. That means the State Party (England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland) now has to make sure that every child has all the rights in the treaty. The treaty means that every child in the UK has been entitled to over 40 specific rights. These include:

Article 1

For the purposes of the present Convention, a child means every human being below the age of eighteen years unless under the law applicable to the child, majority is attained earlier.

Article 2

1. States Parties shall respect and ensure the rights set forth in the present Convention to each child within their jurisdiction without discrimination of any kind, irrespective of the child’s or his or her parent’s or legal guardian’s race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national, ethnic or social origin, property, disability, birth or other status.

2. States Parties shall take all appropriate measures to ensure that the child is protected against all forms of discrimination or punishment on the basis of the status, activities, expressed opinions, or beliefs of the child’s parents, legal guardians, or family members.

Article 3

1. In all actions concerning children, whether undertaken by public or private social welfare institutions, courts of law, administrative authorities or legislative bodies, the best interests of the child shall be a primary consideration.

2. States Parties undertake to ensure the child such protection and care as is necessary for his or her well-being, taking into account the rights and duties of his or her parents, legal guardians, or other individuals legally responsible for him or her, and, to this end, shall take all appropriate legislative and administrative measures.

3. States Parties shall ensure that the institutions, services and facilities responsible for the care or protection of children shall conform with the standards established by competent authorities, particularly in the areas of safety, health, in the number and suitability of their staff, as well as competent supervision.

Article 4

States Parties shall undertake all appropriate legislative, administrative, and other measures for the implementation of the rights recognized in the present Convention. With regard to economic, social and cultural rights, States Parties shall undertake such measures to the maximum extent of their available resources and, where needed, within the framework of international co-operation.

Article 5

States Parties shall respect the responsibilities, rights and duties of parents or, where applicable, the members of the extended family or community as provided for by local custom, legal guardians or other persons legally responsible for the child, to provide, in a manner consistent with the evolving capacities of the child, appropriate direction and guidance in the exercise by the child of the rights recognized in the present Convention.

Article 6

1. States Parties recognize that every child has the inherent right to life.

2. States Parties shall ensure to the maximum extent possible the survival and development of the child.

Article 26

1. States Parties shall recognize for every child the right to benefit from social security, including social insurance, and shall take the necessary measures to achieve the full realization of this right in accordance with their national law.

2. The benefits should, where appropriate, be granted, taking into account the resources and the circumstances of the child and persons having responsibility for the maintenance of the child, as well as any other consideration relevant to an application for benefits made by or on behalf of the child.

Here are the rest of the Convention Articles

The Nordic social democratic model of welfare

Finally, it’s worth noting that sociologist Lane Kenworthy has pointed out that the Nordic welfare experience of the modern social democratic model can:

  1. “promote economic security, expand opportunity, and ensure rising living standards for all . . . while facilitating freedom, flexibility and market dynamism.”
  2. Nordic welfare models include support for a universalist welfare state which is aimed specifically at enhancing individual autonomy, promoting social mobility and ensuring the universal provision of basic human rights, as well as for stabilizing the economy, alongside a commitment to free trade.
  3. The Nordic model is distinguished from other types of welfare states by its emphasis on maximizing labor force participation, promoting gender equality, egalitarian and extensive benefit levels and the large magnitude of income redistribution.
  4. Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz has noted that there is higher social mobility in the Scandinavian countries than in the United States, and argues that Scandinavia is now the land of opportunity that the United States once was. The Nordics cluster at the top of league tables of everything from economic competitiveness to social health to happiness.
  5. They have avoided both southern Europe’s economic sclerosis and America’s extreme inequality. Development theorists have taken to calling successful modernisation “getting to Denmark”.
  6. The Nordics demonstrate very well that it is possible to combine competitive capitalism with a large state: they employ 30% of their workforce in the public sector, compared with an OECD average of 15%. The main lesson to learn from the Nordics is not ideological but practical.
  7. The state is popular not because it is big but because it works. A Norwegian pays tax more willingly than a Californian because he or she has access to decent schools, support when times are difficult and free health care as a result.
  8. Norway ranks among the richest countries in the world. GDP per capita is among the highest in the world.
  9. Norway regards welfare services not as social costs but as fundamental social investment for open innovation and growth.
  10. Innovation should not be an opportunity for a few only. It should be democratised and distributed in order to tackle the causes of growing inequality.

Inequality hampers economic growth.

We can’t afford not to have a welfare state.

See also:

1957929_293215800829475_303676825_oPictures courtesy of Robert Livingstone

How much longer?

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How much longer?

First posted on May 16, 2013

I look to the mainstream media for some honest reporting and perspective – Ha!

I look to the Opposition for some counter-arguments, some persuasive alternatives – Ha!

And I look to the Government – yeah, that body of representatives whose wages we pay to manage our common affairs and interests on our behalf. That bunch of cretins who fought tooth and nail for the chance to be in charge and will no doubt convince themselves to try again in 2015. Ha!

For how much longer do the good people of this country have to bang on about the need for repairs and new infrastructure? I shan’t patronise with a list, for it is endless – and the number of people ready, willing and able to participate in such large and essential projects is also becoming endless. But you don’t need me to explain about the scourge of unemployment, the reasons for underemployment, the plight of our untrained and despondent youth, the complete and utter waste of brain and brawn…

How many times do the good citizens of this country need to suggest the lowering of house prices – both for sale and rent? How many times do we need to explain that the landlords are the rentiers; that the surveyors and mortgage companies determine what a property is worth?

How many people need to be made homeless before it’s acknowledged that there are not enough affordable houses? How much longer will the Government get away with this bedroom tax abomination, given that for many, that bedroom is not an extra room at all and in light of there being no alternative housing for those who would be happy to downsize?

For how much longer are the lucky employers of this country going to have their wages bill subsidised by the government in the form of tax credits? For how much longer will the taxpayers put up with their hard-earned contributions going to this curious and very uncapitalist subsidisation of wages?

When is someone going to say that paying some poor sop a pittance to look after someone else’s kid so the parent can go and work for another pittance is just plain crazy and mostly serves a cold and futile ideology? Where on earth did this obsession come from that every single adult must work in some governmentally recognised capacity for it to even be considered a worthwhile occupation?

When is someone going to tell that Iain Dontcare Smith that a few disabled people aren’t going to save the economy by being made to work at some meaningless job which still requires loads of government subsidy because employers tend to have to be blackmailed into employing them? Whose needs is IDS serving?

When is someone going to ram this empty but plainly loaded “make work pay” phrase up the ivory towers of these disingenuous MPs? We all know it’s not about getting a wage you can live on, but about reducing benefits to a level on which you obviously can’t. Given the magnificent economic incompetence of this Coalition, this is a nasty attitude at best.

But then, when is the good British public going to tell this government that all their welfare reforms are cruel, given the economic climate? That if you want to weed out the genuinely feckless or lazy, you have to provide a climate in which they become self-evident rather than merely accused as such by carping government ministers and high-horsed media stenographers. Apparently “welfare’ shouldn’t be a lifestyle choice” but who is in charge and who hasn’t provided any real alternatives? When will the public ask whose “choice” it actually is?

When will the good people remind this government and media that Brits are perfectly happy to do the jobs immigrants do, that it’s not the nature of the job but the deliberately low wages these jobs come with? When will the public realise that it’s only possible to live on such poor wages when you’re single and prepared to share your accommodation with 20 other people because you imagine and hope that this will be temporary? When will government and media acknowledge that it is policy and slack stewardship which create the climate possible for both immigrants and British citizens to be exploited and undercut in their wages, working conditions and accommodation?

And when, oh when will the good people of this country stop blaming immigrants and Europe for all the ills which plague this nation? When will it realise that Europe doesn’t just hand down some edict which can’t be questioned or modified – that governments are largely free to interpret most EU guidelines in their own ways and that that is exactly what they do. It’s called expedient political gaming when a government claims its hands are tied by Europe.

When are the good people going to tell this government that they know who makes the rules by which HMRC must operate? The likes of Amazon and Google are doing what any business would be sensible to do: maximising their profits and paying out as little in tax and other overheads as they can get away with. Who sets the rules? Who decides what ‘evasion’ is and what is ‘avoidance’?

When are the good people of this country going to rail at the government for its bigotry and ineptitude? When are the rational citizens going to declare war on short-sighted, ignorant, crass and divisive policies?

I’m not looking for answers here. This is just a rant. Like you, I already know what I want most of the solutions to look like.

A Mother’s Work

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A Mother’s Work

First posted on March 24, 2013

This is naturally worded towards the female gender, by virtue of tradition. However, if you are a man with whom any of this resonates, I hope you will consider yourself automatically included where relevant.

A great irony has occurred over the last few decades. Time was that the working mother was frowned upon and her ‘latch-key’ children pitied. Today, societal expectations and governmental policies have instilled a sense of guilt in the woman if she doesn’t want to work while her children are actually children. She is found wanting, accused of not pulling her weight; not showing a good work ethic to her offspring; not contributing to the justification of her monetary worth. Why? Because she makes her children her primary purpose: her occupation – her career? This development is just as insidious and detrimental to the well-being of children, mothers and Community as the spiteful, reverse demonisation of those who worked in the Seventies and Eighties. But for the working mother and particularly the lone parent, her guilt is in the eternal catch-22: that of either spreading herself too thinly, thus feeling inadequate in both spheres of life, or, just as likely, pretty much neglecting one sphere in favour of the pressure from the other.

The accelerating pressures of our lives can have done little to assuage this guilt and yet it has been pushed to one side by the theorists, the Media and consecutive governments who have fallen over themselves to endorse the mythical status of the perfectly accomplished woman: the woman who can do everything and be everything, brilliantly. Really? Isn’t that just crazy talk? I mean: yes, of course women “can have it all” – but surely not all at once? Not successfully?

I’d rather we didn’t insist on mothers being stay-at-home types or force them out to work. One size doesn’t fit all and why would we want it to? That just leads to unhappy, less effective people. And yet this is exactly what our government is achieving. And yet again, it’s the poorest and the least powerful who find themselves without a choice. Yet again the Conservatives, the so-called party of family and strong moral compass, are destroying the very fabric upon which such values are built.

The next generation are the future, the continuum of the human race and your children are your personal legacy. Could there really be any task more worthy or vital? Now, I don’t think it’s wrong to work just because you have children: this isn’t about denigrating working mothers; but neither is it inaccurate to see your parenting as highly valuable work. Wanting to be the default carer and guide for your own children is most certainly notsomething to be ashamed of. After all, they’re not called dependants for nothing. If it doesn’t matter who raises them; if it isn’t healthier to have diversity; if the mother doesn’t know her child best, we might as well just grow them in anonymous incubators, stamp them with a code and send them off to processing plants.

As I’ve written, previously:

Where is the sense in a society that forces single parents out to work for such low wages that they still require top-up benefits so that someone else, who may not be your idea of a suitable surrogate parent and who may not even like the job, can also be paid a pittance to look after your children? The same society which frets about family breakdown, quality time, modern pressures, neglected kids…

[‘Welfare Reform Scapegoats’ http://julijuxtaposed.wordpress.com/2013/02/02/welfare-reform-needs-scapegoats/ ]

I wonder… Wouldn’t that pittance of a wage be better offered directly to the primary care-giver as a modest stipend for not needing all this bitty but generic and expensive childcare? It would give lone parents and low-waged couples, a viable option. It would say that we value not just the child, but the parent too. And the childcare business that survived would probably be of a better, more personal quality. It’s short-sighted to view this as something for nothing. It is not. Society complains constantly about its breakdown; about the poverty that initiates and exacerbates its ills, only to resist the most obvious solution and go for yet another false economy. It’s hang-wringing followed by pettiness, followed by some complicated new policy which is ineffective and always costs more than its budget, followed by more hand-wringing. Well, perhaps some things are worth throwing money at because, at the very least, the alternatives are unthinkable. If it could just be accepted that the Hearth Stone is as essential to Humanity as good planetary stewardship is to Earth’s ecosystem – that would at least be a good start.

Dear Ed Balls WorkFare doesn’t Work!

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First posted on January 4, 2013

Dear Ed Balls WorkFare doesn’t Work!

by Jayne Linney

Dear Ed Balls MP

Following your announcement of Labour’s plan to tackle unemployment, I’m asking you to think!

I’m not an economist, a Politician, a journalist  & nor do I belong to any ‘thinktank’, I’m someone who has worked within and around various WorkFare schemes since the 80′s, and that I believe qualifies me an opinion.

The basic problem with most of these scheme was they were time limited Government subsidised projects with the real recipients being the Companies, who benefited from cheap labour. The ‘employees’ generally only received basic pay and training for their role, little or no support once placed, and rarely anything more that enabled them to do something other than return to the Job Centre to sign on,  again, once their time is up.

I can see no difference with this and your plans other than Labour has this time adopted the Conservative ideology of Mandating attendance, thus buying into the toxic rhetoric that somehow it is the fault of the jobless people for being unemployed and not the responsibility of Government to create Jobs!

As a Labour member I am appalled that the Party has decided to perpetuate myth that unemployment is the problem of the unemployed; NO, it’s the problem of the Government and Labour would serve it’s members better by acting in opposition to the vile, immoral tactics of the Coalition, rather than merely repackaging Failing and Failed Policies.

So before you go ahead with this please ask yourself How does demonising Millions of People and depriving them of gainful employment fit into One Nation?

Yours without anticipation of a reply

The Unnatural Death of Affordable Housing

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The Unnatural Death of Affordable Housing?

By Jim Grundy

Many years ago one Tory councillor said to me that it was about time that there was a political debate about whether the market should be left to meet all housing needs in future. At the time, this was so absurd a suggestion that it was laughed off. Now it is government policy and few people are laughing. (Probably not even the individual who said it, who was forced from office for fiddling his expenses.)

This Government has stopped developing new affordable housing. Yes, it calls its new programme ‘Affordable Rent’ [1] but if ever there was a better example of Orwellian newspeak I’ve yet to hear it. You see, the Tories define ‘Affordable Rent’ as 80% of local market rents. But with private rents wholly unregulated, these are soaring way beyond the ability of millions to pay half of those levels let alone four-fifths of the price.

The Tories have abandoned those in housing need to the whims of the market and then blamed them for the rising cost of housing benefit. The reality is that 10,000 new claims for housing benefit are being made by working households every month. 

I’ll repeat that: 10,000! [2] They’re obviously not striving enough.

But, not content to rest on their laurels, the Tories – with Liberal Democrat backing – are about to introduce Welfare Reform and a number of other goodies that have major implications for our housing market and those unable to get the taxpayer to pay for their stables.

Take Universal Credit, for example, which is due to be phased in from next year.

Housing Benefit, currently paid directly to the housing association or council, will be paid together with any other benefits received by the household, in one lump sum and paid directly to the tenants. Obviously this involves ‘savings’ too and the Chartered Institute of Housing found that 400,000 low paid working families will indeed be worse off as a result [3]. Even leaving aside the cuts involved, paying housing benefit directly to people already struggling to make ends meet, many with poor money management skills, some in the hands of pay day lenders, is a recipe for chaos.

Scare-mongering by a ‘nannying leftie’ not prepared to allow people to stand on their own two feet and take control of their lives? That line has been used to defend the Government’s plans and there might be some justification for it had not the impact of direct payment already been demonstrated for all to see.

Trials of the new arrangements have been held in six pilot areas. In each case between 20-30% of tenants struggled to pay their rent on time [4] and rent arrears have at least doubled [5]. Contrast that with existing levels of rent collection – where I live it is 98.9%. There’s no reason to think that tenants in my part of the world are so radically different from those in the pilot areas. I’m guessing that this time next year we won’t be collecting just shy of 99% of the rent due. And, remember, this is before the introduction of other changes like the Bedroom Tax, cuts to Council Tax Benefit, below inflation ‘increases’ to other benefits and pay, not matched by similar reductions in the cost of fuel, food, etc.

The task facing managers of social housing will be huge. It has already been estimated that 23% of tenants will require assistance to help them adjust to the new system [6]. But the costs of not doing more will be infinitely higher.

This has led to calls for the introduction of Universal Credit to be delayed. The chief executive of the National Housing Federation, David Orr, said recently: “Our research shows that one million social housing residents risk falling into debt if all their benefits are paid to them directly in a single monthly payment and will need extra support to manage their budgets when Universal Credit is phased-in next year. A delay would give time for a full evaluation of the Government’s trials before the system is rolled-out nationally, and enable safety nets to be arranged for the most vulnerable.” [7]

What does this mean? For tenants, a significantly increased risk of losing their home through the accumulation of rent arrears. For landlords – largely unsupported by capital grants – it will mean that many will struggle to get the finance they need to develop new homes that are so desperately needed as their income stream – rents – is undermined.

Recent research estimated that social landlords stand to lose £750m due to Universal Credit and a further £50m arising from the Bedroom Tax [8]. The £800m lost represents nearly double the total Government investment in new housing. That stands at £450m, compared to £3bn in 2009/10 [9]. I wonder what could have happened in between times.

For a government so obsessed with debt it is cruelly ironic that this unwanted, unnecessary change –one that Iain Duncan Smith refused even to publish the business case for [10] – will lead directly to more bad debts, more tenants evicted but fewer new homes being built as lenders will look upon some parts of the sector as a bad risk.

The rise in bad debts doesn’t just affect the development of new housing but the very viability of ‘dozens’ of social landlords, with the research cited previously suggesting that even the smallest organisation stands to lose £750,000 p.a., whilst the very largest could end up with an annual loss of £22m. [11]

Historically, very few social landlords have gone out of business, so this will be very much new territory. Presumably, following other business models, it will lead to more ‘consolidation’ within the sector, as the smaller associations become less and less viable, leaving more and more houses in the hands of fewer and fewer landlords. And that brings with it its own dangers for the very concept of social housing.

As Michael Meacher commented recently, “Social housing landlords generated their largest profit ever last year, a total of £1.4bn on a turnover of £14.2bn, i.e. a return on capital as high as 10%. All the big corporate landlords – L&Q, Guinness, Circle HG, Sanctuary HG, Places for People – made a profit per unit of stock of between £250 and £1,380.” [12]

In times of rising rents and a growing shortage (if that makes sense) of housing, there’s big money to be made by landlords right now; the growth in the private rented sector is evidence of that. And if providing housing for low income households becomes uneconomic then in order to survive a housing association could consider changing its client group and move into the private for profit sector. To whom will those who can’t afford their rents go?

It is being said many times but we are in the middle of a huge housing crisis. Normal advice is when in a hole to stop digging. The Coalition has, instead, hired a digger – not by accident but by deliberate design. The social cost does not bear thinking about. But there’s gold in them there slums.

  1. Inside Housing: Not so affordable rent 
  2. This is Money: National Housing Federation : Benefit doubles- Landlords demand more 
  3.  Inside Housing: Low Income Families lose out under welfare reform 
  4.  24 Dash: Welfare reform puts dozens of housing associations at risk – research 
  5. Housing.org.uk Social Tenants’ Finances 
  6.  Inside Housing : A quarter of tenants need help with universal credit 
  7.  24 Dash: Landlords back MPs call to delay direct payments under Universal Credit 
  8.  24 Dash: Welfare Reform puts dozens of housing associations at rise – research 
  9. Michael Meacher: Social Housing turned into a money spinner 
  10. 24 Dash: IDS refuses to publish Universal Credit Business Case 
  11. PHHSL: The Financial Implications of Welfare Reform for Social Landlords 
  12. Michael Meacher: Social Housing turned into a money spinner 

What Labour and Tories Achieved in Government.

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WHAT LABOUR ACHIEVED WHEN IN GOVERNMENT
By Sue Jones

1. Longest period of sustained low inflation since the 60s.
2. Low mortgage rates.
3. Introduced the National Minimum Wage and raised it to £5.52.
4. Over 14,000 more police in England and Wales.
5. Cut overall crime by 32 per cent.
6. Record levels of literacy and numeracy in schools.
7. Young people achieving some of the best ever results at 14, 16, and 18.
8. Funding for every pupil in England has doubled.
9. Employment is at its highest level ever.
10. Written off up to 100 per cent of debt owed by poorest countries.
11. 85,000 more nurses.
12. 32,000 more doctors.
13. Brought back matrons to hospital wards.
14. Devolved power to the Scottish Parliament.
15. Devolved power to the Welsh Assembly.
16. Dads now get paternity leave of 2 weeks for the first time.
17. NHS Direct offering free convenient patient advice.
18. Gift aid was worth £828 million to charities last year.
19. Restored city-wide government to London.
20. Record number of students in higher education.
21. Child benefit up 26 per cent since 1997.
22. Delivered 2,200 Sure Start Children’s Centres.
23. Introduced the Equality and Human Rights Commission.
24. £200 winter fuel payment to pensioners & up to £300 for over-80s.
25. On course to exceed our Kyoto target for reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
26. Restored devolved government to Northern Ireland.
27. Over 36,000 more teachers in England and 274,000 more support staff and teaching assistants.
28. All full time workers now have a right to 24 days paid holiday.
29. A million pensioners lifted out of poverty.
30. 600,000 children lifted out of relative poverty.
31. Introduced child tax credit giving more money to parents.
32. Scrapped Section 28 and introduced Civil Partnerships.
33. Brought over 1 million social homes up to standard.
34. Inpatient waiting lists down by over half a million since 1997.
35. Banned fox hunting.
36. Cleanest rivers, beaches, drinking water and air since before the industrial revolution.
37. Free TV licences for over-75s.
38. Banned fur farming and the testing of cosmetics on animals.
39. Free breast cancer screening for all women aged between 50-70.
40. Free off peak local bus travel for over-60s.
41. New Deal – helped over 1.8 million people into work.
42. Over 3 million child trust funds have been started.
43. Free eye test for over 60s.
44. More than doubled the number of apprenticeships.
45. Free entry to national museums and galleries.
46. Overseas aid budget more than doubled.
47. Heart disease deaths down by 150,000 and cancer deaths down by 50,000.
48. Cut long-term youth unemployment by 75 per cent.
49. Free nursery places for every three and four-year-olds.
50. Free fruit for most four to six-year-olds at school.
51. Gender recognition Act 2004/5

WHAT THE TORIES/LIB DEMS HAVE ACHIEVED WHILE IN GOVERNMENT
1. Introduced unpaid, unlimited workfare for those deemed too sick or disabled to work by their doctor
2. Scrapped crisis loans for the most vulnerable
3. Severely reduced Legal Aid so that equal, fair access to justice is no longer preserved.
4. Increased VAT ensuring the poorest pay proportionately more in tax. Cut top tax rate to 45% giving millionaires a £40000 pa tax windfall.
5. Legalised state surveillance of all personal internet traffic.
6. Planning to curtail human rights, guaranteed by membership of the EU. That is in their Program for Government, and has been planned from the very start.
7. Introduced charges for Child Support Agency, so that vulnerable single parents have to pay to get maintainance from absent fathers, for their children.

8. Introduced Poll tax, and now are to introduce the same unfair Council Tax Bill, , sneaked in via the Localism Bill. The poorest will pay the most.

9. Sold off the publically owned and publically funded NHS to their sponsors and donors, and to Companies that many of them have financial interests in. Despite promises not to.
10. Sold off most of the Council housing stock, under Thatcher
11. Rationed access to Health Services, to the detriment of patients, Closed A and E’s and the out of hours and walk in surgeries set up by Labour.
12. Halved Support for disabled children
Scrapped the “Youth Premium” for the most profoundly disabled children
13. Closed 250 Sure start centres, 124 of those closed in the first year of the Coalition.
14. Cut housing support for disabled people
15. Reduced contributions based ESA eligibility to just one year. This means many people living in households with other income lose their benefit
16. Cut Council budgets so they can no longer provide social care for some of the most vulnerable people
17. Introduced PIP to replace DLA, with the aim of cutting 500,000 vulnerable people from the figures any assessments
18. Cut all benefit support for sick and disabled people appealing their ESA decisions from April 2013
19. Persistently lied to the public about Work Capability Assessments and failed to address the fact they are unfit for purpose while disabled people suffer and die.
20. Introduced targets – 7 out of 8 ESA claimants to lose their ESA, regardless of their significant illness and disabilities, which has meant even cancer patients have had to go to the job centre to look for work
21. Encouraged hate crime by using the “scrounger” and Nazi “burden on the State” style propaganda in speeches and in the media about the sick and disabled, and the unemployed , fed politicised press releases to the Media
22. Introduced “monitoring” of the BBC, and other media , for “left wing bias”
23. Lied about benefit fraud rates, and failed to apologise when they were rumbled.
24. Closing Remploy factories, throwing over 1500 working disabled people on the scrapheap
25. Fostering a divisive nation by using ideology of hate – low paid workers are set against benefit claimants, for example, in the speech about “making work pay”, which was simply a front for cutting welfare provision.
26. Cut respite care

27. Suggesting in PIP that a sick or disabled person can “bathe” if they can wash above the waist only
28. Re-classified paraplegics as “fully mobile” if they use their wheelchairs too well
29. Lying about Workfare repeatedly to the press
30. Falsifying internet documents and issuing press releases to make workfare look successful when it’s a corrupt sham
31. Reduced employment , workers pay, and workers rights.
32. Fostered a Nation that prioritises profits over basic human needs
33. Generated more wealth for the very wealthy, and forced many others into destitution, bleak poverty and 60% of those using food banks are in work.
34. Given away a billion pounds of our assets in the form of schools, gifted to private corporations, in the name of academies, with the associated half a billion in legal costs paid out of our taxes. Sold off school playing fields.
35. Deliberately sabotaged the economy to profit a few, whilst inflicting austerity,misery and poverty on many many others, because of a Tory ideological drive to dismantle welfare, and any other form of State support.
36. Increased student fees to be 3 times more than they were, despite promises not to. This means that access to higher education is closing off for many ordinary young people.
37. Between 32 and 73 deaths PER WEEK of sick and disabled people as a consequence of “reform”, despite denial that is so, the Government have nonetheless refused to monitor and account for the deaths of those Atos has declared for to work, and those awaiting appeal.