Category Archives: Poverty and social justice

Corbyn forces the Tories to take him seriously

After all the slurs about unelectability, the Tories have very quickly changed their tune and acknowledged that they are now facing a very real threat that they’ve not encountered for the last 30 years.   At a meeting of the political cabinet last Tuesday they decided to focus on the idea that they offer a better future through lower taxes, a higher minimum wage, more jobs, and better public services, while a left-wing agenda would deliver insecurity through higher spending, higher taxes and more borrowing.   If that is their plan, they have a real fight on their hands since almost all of their claims are downright wrong.

Taxes have been lowered for the top decile and for multi-national corporations, but the severe cutback in tax credits in this next Tuesday’s Finance bill will increase taxes for the bottom third of the population, even after the increase in the personal allowance is taken into account.   The £9 an hour minimum wage, which will not be reached till 2020, is actually unlikely to exceed by much, if at all, the uprating that the minimum will have reached by then.

As to more jobs, there are still 1.8 million people unemployed and the jobless figures are already starting to rise again.   Moreover, the quality of jobs created over the last 2 years has been poor: 40% self-employed on a pittance wage and most of the rest insecure, low-paid, and on zero hours contracts, and even then 11 out of 12 jobs created have been in London or the South-East.   As to better public services, are they serious?   The NHS is being outsourced and privatised strongly against the wishes of the public, education is being made to fit Tory ideology, and legal aid is being drastically pared back.

A left-wing agenda that produced growth and better-paid and more sustainable jobs could be generated at minimal higher spending while interest rates remain at 0.5% which will be for some long time yet.   But it would produce the opposite of what the Tories claim – higher income and greater security than the Tory option of prolonged austerity.   Again a left-wing agenda would certainly increase taxes on the very rich who are holding the country to ransom by their industrial scale tax avoidance, but it would lower taxes on the poorer half of the population.   As to more borrowing, the Tories have a cheek at throwing that at Labour when they themselves are forcing the 13 million households in poverty in the UK, half of them in work, to borrow more because of the £12bn welfare cuts about to be imposed.

 

 

251,417 votes. Wow!

With 4 contestants in the running, to achieve 60% of the leadership vote in the first round is an outright landslide.   Jeremy Corbyn has secured a higher percentage than Blair got in 1994.   Even more significant, Corbyn’s electorate at 554,272 was more than double Blair’s, and no less than 76% of them actually voted, a higher percentage turnout than Blair got.   And another pointer to the overwhelming inspiration that Corbynmania achieved – no less than 160,000 volunteers were recruited to the Corbyn campaign – far, far bigger than in any similar campaign in the past.   This is a seminal day in British politics, marking the coming together of the two great conditions needed for transformational change – radical new ideas and a burgeoning social movement on the scale required to push through major change.

Why did it happen?   The defining moment for today’s denouement was the catastrophic crash of 2008-9, from which 7 years on there is still no sustainable recovery in sight.   It represented the unambiguous bust of the free-wheeling unfettered capitalist business model which had prevailed in the Western economies over the last 3 decades since Thatcher and Reagan.   The essence of this dominant ideology was: leave it all to the markets and let government get out of the way.   It was supposed to be self-regulating and efficient; it was neither.    Worst of all, when it did crash, the Tories imposed all of the pain in remedying it on to the squeezed middle and the battered poorest while letting the bankers, the real perpetrators, off scot-free.   The roiling resentment of the public at this monumental injustice has finally burst out, and Jeremy Corbyn was the right man to articulate this at this moment.

The central demand is for an end to austerity.   Quite apart from the immiseration it has caused, it is the wrong policy for reducing the budget deficit and is being pursued for the wrong reasons (to shrink the State, as Osborne himself has told us).   The right way to cut the deficit is by expanding the economy, creating sustainable well-paid jobs and real sustainable growth, not by contracting the economy, and that steady expansion towards full employment is what Corbyn has made clear he stands for.   Alongside this major revival of British manufacturing industry, which is the only means to pay our way in the world and preserve our living standards, there needs to be tighter regulation of the banks to prevent another crash, a halt to privatisation of our public services, and an end to suppression of the trade unions.   All of those are very powerful reasons why an unprecedented number of people voted for Jeremy Corbyn – ane they were absolutely right!

Blair is living in a state of deluded denial

There never was a truer example of ‘when you’re in a hole, stop digging’.   His article in the Observer today is a gift to his opponents, but it does even more damage to himself.   He reveals himself as increasingly deserted even his previous closest followers, an utterly broken man watching everything he stood for swept away before his eyes.   He has gone from opposition to delusion, from hysteria to denial.   But what is perhaps most disturbing of all is that he can’t, as he himself candidly admits, understand why the Corbyn earthquake is happening.   He just blankly refuses to acknowledge the passionate resentment which he and New Labour created by laying the foundations for the financial crash of 2008-9 and making the squeezed middle and brutally punished poor pay for it, by taking Britain without any constitutional approval into an illegal was with Iraq, by introducing into politics the hated regime of spin and manipulation , by indulging now his squalid lust for money-making, and by clearly having no more overriding desire than to strut the world with Bush.

He describes his opponents as trapped “in their own hermetically sealed bubble”, when that applies exactly to himself.   If what he says were really true, why has the Labour electorate swelled to over 600,000, 50% larger than he managed even at the height of his pomp when so many were glad to be rid of the Tories on 1st May 1997?   Why is he so unfeeling and unapologetic about aligning the New Labour alongside the Tories in pursuit of austerity from 2010 onwards, especially since Osborne’s policy (to shrink the State) has been so dramatically unsuccessful in reducing the deficit?   Why did he urge the Blairites to support the government’s welfare bill which opposed every tenet of the real Labour Party?   Why did he push for privatisation of the NHS and other public services?   Why did his acolyte Mandelson say “New Labour is “relaxed at people becoming filthy rich”, and proved it by letting inequality balloon to even highe heights than under Thatcher?

So after doing all those things, how does he expect Labour members and the country to treat him?   After a 20-year temp;orary iruption of hi-jacking the party down a route utterly alien to its founders, in order to ingratiate himself with corporate and financial leaders on their terms, how can he imagine that anyone wants him back?   He has a lot to learn, less egoism, more humility.

Parliament should have power to force Duncan Smith to resign over WCA deaths

The report that in just over 2 years up to  February last year no less than 2,380 disabled claimants died within 2 weeks of being assessed as fit for work and then having their benefit either reduced or stopped altogether, is beyond shocking.   It is arguably the most damning statistic yet of the sheer callousness and brutality of this government towards the most helpless victims in our society.   But there are further profound issues behind this dreadful story.   The most important issues are holding to account those who are responsible for this utter tragedy and even more important still, the power to stop this lethal policy in its tracks.   On both there is at present a vacuum.

Iain Duncan Smith by any measure of integrity ought to resign, but he almost certainly won’t.   And Parliament should have the power to trigger an immediate emergency debate, in this case demanding the policy be suspended until there had been a rapid inquiry into the work capability assessment with recommendations (if that is the result) that the policy be stopped or drastically changed, and the government if it lost the vote should be obliged within (say) 3 months to implement the recommendations in full.   Neither of these power currently exists, and it would require an almighty change in the whole process of government accountability for these powers to be granted, or rather forcibly extracted from the Westminster establishment.   A few of us however are laying plans for a Commission on Parliamentary Democracy and Constitutional Reform to bring this about.

There is another ugly side to this story.   Some of us have been demanding these figures for a very long time.   I myself initiated a debate in the House 3 years ago in response to the death of a constituent in just these circumstances.   The DWP refused in answer to PQs to give the figures, almost certainly at the instigation of IDS.   It is highly significant that we only now know the figures as a result of a Freedom of Information request which the DWP rejected, but the Information Commissioner to his credit overruled that block.   The DWP then had the gall to argue that they had always intended to publish the figures anyway!   Moreover the Information Commissioner’s ruling was delivered in April, and still it has taken the DWP 4 months to implement it, no doubt waiting till the dog days of August to release the information to try to ensure its minimum impact.

This is a terrible shameful example, not only of human cruelty to the severely disadvantaged, but of the complete breakdown in morality of the Cameron/Osborne/IDS government.   We now need that Commission on Parliamentary Democracy very badly.

Osborne’s giveaways come back to haunt him

Following Osborne’s triumphant releasing of pensioners to unlock their annuity contracts to spend how they will, there were many siren voices raised that that risked exposing many vulnerable elderly people to crooks and scammers selling dud investment projects as the road to riches.   The results have turned out even worse than feared.   City of London police are now having to wage a huge campaign against the use of some of the Square Mile’s most prestigious addresses as a cover for scams purporting to sell overseas land for investment as well as wine, diamonds, etc.   Police say such scams cost mostly elderly and vulnerable people at least £1.7bn last year, with fraudsters typically returning to their victims a second timein the guise of ‘asset recovery specialists’ who pursue lost money for a fee.
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The hypocrisy of the Tories as the workers’ party: making it impossible to strike

Strike action, fox hunting, the BBC, Europe, migrant benefits – never underestimate the Tory capacity to identify things that aren’t problems and then attack them.   The number of days lost to strike action is on average less than a tenth of what it was during the 1980s.   It’s not even as though strikes are constant – and certainly workers themselves are reluctant to strike because they themselves suffer the most – or have an enormous impact on productivity nowadays.   Of far greater impact is the UK’s under-investment in skills, which is something that unions want to work with the government to fix.   But the government’s latest proposals will upset the balance between employers and workers, tilting it much too far in employers’ favour and many of the proposals will make it far harder to resolve disputes fairly.   Yet good employers know that the best way to resolve problems at work is to sit down with workers and talk it through, trying to find a compromise, rather than using statutory power to ride roughshod over workers’ rights to impose authority by default.

Notoriously the bill introduces a 50% turnout ballot threshold in a strike ballot, but it also requires in the case of public services 40% support from all those eligible to vote which is a benchmark required nowhere else in any section of British society – certainly not in the election of the MPs who will be voting for it.   In addition workers will have to give an employer 14 days notice of strike action, and this is more than enough for employers to legally hire another workforce to break the strike, even though these workers may be inexperienced and not properly trained, but expected to cover important roles dealing with the public at short notice.   This blatant one-sided approach is guaranteed to poison the relationship between workers and their managers.

The proposal on opting into the political fund is also wholly one-sided.   It is clearly designed to throttle Labour funding and to make the Labour party bankrupt by cutting off the main source of funds that they have relied on since the 1930s.   It is clearly also aimed at undermining political campaigning by unions on behalf of their members and communities.   It sticks out like a sore thumb however that there are no proposals to force companies to ballot shareholders or place a cap on donations from wealthy people when funding the Tory party.

The Tory proposals may also criminalise peaceful picketing such as when a seventh person joins a picket line.   Is this really how we want to use police time – arresting the seventh nurse on the picket line outside the hospital where they work?   If the Tories were really concerned about improving workplace democracy, they’d commit to on-line balloting, an easy and secure way of letting workers have their say.   But they’re not, and it exposes what an utter sham it is for the Tories to claim to be anything remotely like a workers’ party.

Brown has a nerve to lecture us on economic credibility or winning elections

It is hard to believe that Brown had the gall in his anti-Corbyn diatribe to declare that “the best way of realising our high ideals is to show that we have an alternative in government that is…neither a pale imitation of what the Tories offer nor is the route to being a party of permanent protest, rather than a party of government”.   The prime reason that Labour lost 5 million votes between 1997 and 2010 was, apart from Iraq, the fact that a very large minority of Labour voters did think precisely that – that under the regimes of Blair and Brown Labour was indeed ‘a pale imitation of what the Tories offer’.   It’s also why UKIP gained 4 million votes at the election three months ago because a huge chunk of the electorate had indeed come to the conclusion that ‘they’re all the same’.

Brown was the overseer of deregulated finance, free-wheeling market finance, the introduction of privatisation and outsourcing into health and education, and keeping the unions on a short leash to encourage foreign investment into Britain.   Those were all Tory policies inaugurated by Thatcher which Brown didn’t reverse in any significant way, but actually extended in various ways, particularly in offering huge concessions to the City of London when he hosed down the banks and hedge funds with laudatory hyperbole in his Mansion House speeches to the assembled potentates of finance.   And to give equal encouragement to Big Business, Brown enormously extended the Private Finance Initiative (PFI) which  offered government-guaranteed profits to business for the next 25-40 years at taxpayers’ expense.   This wasn’t a pale imitation of the Tories; it was the epitome of Tory ideology.

And as to Brown lecturing us on winning elections, he was the most unpopular prime minister since the second world war and lost the 2010 election with the lowest Labour vote since 1918.   He was the architect of ‘regulation lite’ (i.e. virtually no regulation) for the banks and finance sector which undoubtedly contributed to the recklessness and arrogance of the banks in all but triggering a global recession.    To that extent Brown’s support for unregulated free-market capitalism was a significant contributory factor in bringing about the biggest financial crash for nearly a century, from which the Labour party and the centre-left parties of Europe have still not recovered.

It is the arrogance of Brown and Blair in assuming that they alone, the Labour establishment, have the unique skills to win elections that actually they have proved rather adept at losing, which is so galling.   Above all they, alongside the Tories,  have insisted on endless austerity as the right way to achieve deficit reduction which is not only incredibly unpopular, but also patently failing to achieve its ostensible goal.   Jeremy Corbyn is far more aligned with what the people of Britain clearly want, while the Blair-Brownites are in a state of denial.   Brown should look to his own record: when in a glasshouse, don’t throw stones.

Anti-austerity should be clincher of Labour leadership contest

Austerity is the wrong policy on every count.   Over-spending was not the cause of the financial crash,  so austerity is not the right policy for dealing with what did cause it which was the bankers’ arrogance and irresponsibility triggering the global recession.    When the massive bank bail-outs led to huge budget deficits, austerity was the wrong policy to cut the deficits because prolonged contraction of the economy makes deficit reduction far harder to achieve than systematic growth and expansion.   And all that still leaves aside the cruel torture of impoverishment and hopelessness which endless austerity imposes on the innocent victims of the crash whilst letting the guilty perpetrators go free.

In the Labour decade before the crash the average budget deficit was 1.4% of GDP, half the average under Thatcher and Major.  Moreover Labour inherited a national debt from the Tories in 1997 which stood at fractionally under 40%, but reduced it to 36% by 2007.   So there was no Labour over-spend, though there certainly was substantial Tory over-spend.   In neither case however was austerity justified as a counter-measure when the true cause was external and the real motive for its imposition was, and still is, Osborne’s desire to shrink the State rather than primarily to cut the deficit.

The bail-outs did produce a peak budget deficit of £157bn in 2009-10.   The stimulus of Alastair Darling’s last two expansionary budgets cut this by £40bn by the end of 2011, but the Osborne austerity budgets then kicked in which slowed deficit reduction by two-thirds. That’s because continuous contraction of the economy flattens growth which then enforces a slowdown in deficit reduction, which is exactly what happened in 2012-3 and which now seems likely to recur if Osborne imposes his £12bn further cuts in benefits plus another £29bn cuts in public expenditure.

Most wicked of all is the Tory indifference to the merciless battering inflicted on the squeezed middle and the helpless 20% at the bottom of society.   Over 150,000 elderly and disabled persons no longer receive help with washing and dressing because Councils are now so cash-strapped that they can only afford help to those with the most extreme needs or none at all.   Councils now, because they cannot fund alternative accommodation, regularly every day at 700 different locations break the legal requirement that children should not be forced to stay in bed-and-breakfasts or shared hostels for more than 6 weeks at a time.   And to sidestep the opprobrium arising from austerity increasing child poverty, the Tories have cynically changed the definition of poverty to avoid any measure based on lack of money and instead to focus on ‘life chances’.

Cameron-Osborne’s vendetta against the young could prove their downfall

Osborne really has got it in for young people – unless of course they are poised to inherit their grandparents’ £1 million home or will benefit from a higher inheritance tax threshold.   It will be young people who cop it from changes to universal credit that will deduct benefits faster as they earn more.   That will cost 3 million families an average of £1,000 a year according to the IFS.   Altogether some 13 million families, over half the population, will lose an average of £5 a week as a result of extending the freeze in working-age benefits, tax credits and local housing allowance, until 2020.

Then there’s unemployment.   The largest increase between 2008-13 was among 18-24 year olds, with 210,000 more out of work.   The latest figures show nearly half a million 16-24 year olds jobless, an unemployment rate of 13.7%, more than double the national average of 5.5%.   Even if they can find a job, Osborne’s over-hyped ‘national living wage’ won’t apply to those below 25 years of age.    The rate for 18-20 year olds will be a miserly £5.30 an hour, whilst for 16-17 year olds it will be slave rates of £3.87 an hour and and even £3.30 an hour for apprentices.

University fees are ending up putting poorer students into permanent debt.    When fees tripled to £9,000 a year, the maintenance loan was means-tested to target students from poorer families.   More than half a million students in England received the £3,387 maintenance grant last year, costing £1.6bn.   Now this grant is being turned by Osborne’s latest budget into another loan, of up to £8,200 a year.   So student debt will now rise to £51,000 after 3 years.   Unsurprisingly a report by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation has recently found that the largest increases in poverty in the last decade has been among younger adults of working age.

As for housing, anyone aged 18-21 will no longer be automatically able to claim housing benefit under the new rules.   The exclusion of young renters from any State support comes as young earners are increasingly locked out of home ownership as a result of soaring prices.   The average age of a first-time buyer has rocketed from 29 to 38 over the last decade.   Nor is further education a way out.   Further education colleges face some of the biggest cuts in the comprehensive spending review due in the autumn.   Indeed the further education sector, which provides the bulk of the UK’s post-secondary training, faces possible collapse and the loss of the invaluable source of technicians and mechanics.

What have young people done to deserve these successive kicks in the teeth?   In today’s volatile political climate this Tory campaign against the young will surely boomerang against its perpetrators.