Category Archives: Social care

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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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’.

The ugly face of Tory callousness exposed

With the world’s biggest refugee crisis since 1945, it is perhaps predictable that the Tories’ reflex response is to sensationalise the issue, lie about the facts, and pull up the drawbridge.   May kicks it off with the falsehood that the vast majority of migrants to Europe are Africans motivated by economic self-interest, when in fact 62% reaching Europe by boat this year were escaping persecution from Syria, Eritrea and Afghanistan.   Foreign secretary Hammond portrayed them as marauders risking the collapse of European civilisation, when in fact the number of migrants who have arrived so far this year is precisely 0.027% of Europe’s total population.   Cameron himself described them as a swarm intent of getting welfare benefits, when in fact the number of migrants reaching Calais of those arriving in Europe this year is just 1% and each asylum seeker in Britain gets a measly £36.95 a week to live on, only just over £5 a day, and is not allowed to work to supplement this sum.

Nor has Britain taken anything like its fair share of refugees under the vindictive and callous standards of the Tories.   Last year 25,870 people sought asylum in the UK, but only 10,050 were accepted.   Germany took 97,275, France 68,500, Sweden 39,905 and Italy 35,180.   Calculated as a proportion to population size, Britain comes even lower.   Calculated on 2015 rates, Britain has been even meaner in its reception of asylum seekers than impoverished Greece!   Against the hysteria the government has generated, you would scarcely believe it that the number of refugees in the UK has actually fallen by over 75,000 in the last 4 years.

Then there is the deeply unsavoury Tory involvement in trafficked workers debt-bonded and forced to work in slavery conditions that has just come to light.   Noble Foods, the UK’s largest egg company, used labour provided by DJ Houghton, a gangmaster operation run by Darrell Houghton and Jacqueline Judge at Maidstone, Kent, and its chairman has been a major Tory party donor and lent Cameron a helicopter for the election.   The Lithuanian workers were held in overcrowded accommodation riddled with bedbugs and fleas, denied sleep and toilet breaks, and had their pay repeatedly withheld while Lithuanian supervisors acted as the Houghtons’ enforcers intimidating the workers with fighting dogs and threatening them with instant eviction if they complained.   So much for Cameron’s promise earlier this month to tackle modern slavery in Britain.

Now that the election is safely out of the way, other Tory acts of harshness and vindictiveness have started to trickle out.   They have shelved their manifesto commitment to cap care costs for the elderly in order to save £100m (out of a deficit still stuck at £90bn), on top of cutting by a quarter of a million the number of elderly and disabled persons receiving social care at all.   They have concealed till now that 1 in 6 of all job seekers are hit by benefit sanctions even though the independent social security advisory committee, chaired by the ex-permanent secretary of DWP, have made the case that there is no certain evidence that sanctions actually work in forcing people back into work, but they do cause hunger and impoverishment.

 

Tory welfare reform is pure political mischief, but at least 124 of us voted against it

It is extraordinary that the Labour party could have got itself into such a muddle over welfare reform (which is Tory-speak for crippling welfare cutbacks) when Osborne’s sole motive for this bill, which had its second reading today, is to create divisions within Labour and label it as the party of shirkers.   The bill is awful.   Despite some useful provisions on apprenticeships, it ignores the plight of children in low income working households, removes the concept of child poverty from the statute book, increases the number of children living in poverty, worsens work incentives for people with below average incomes, and cuts the incomes of sick and disabled people.   The attempt of the interim leadership to square all this with Labour’s need to get on-side with public opinion, repeatedly corrupted by Osborne and the Tory tabloids ranting against the poor and jobless, predictably got the worst of both worlds – a split party and an unconvincing compromise presented to the electorate.
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The NHS may yet sink the Tories

The NHS is deteriorating fast, faster and more seriously than many of the public yet realise.  Nearly half a million patients waited more than 4 hours in A&E for treatment, referral or discharge in the last quarter of 2014, half as many again as in the previous quarter and the worst performance for over a decade.   In December 2014 there were 113,000 patients waiting longer than 18 weeks for treatment, a 30% increase over the year before.   The cancer care waiting time target – within 62 days of referral from a GP – has now been missed for 3 consecutive quarters.   Delayed discharges from hospital rose sharply to more than 5,000 per day in November 2014, 20% more than the previous year.   Cuts to local authority adult social care of £4.6bn are behind this bed-blocking  as 400,000 fewer elderly people get home care than 5 years ago – a false economy if ever there was one.
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NHS charges are certain if Tories win election

The BMA rightly raises the spectre of the NHS being subject to charges for medical treatment after the election.   This has become a real threat as a result of Tory policy over the last 5 years – partly from the unprecedented imposition of £20bn cuts amounting to nearly a fifth of the entire NHS budget, and partly as a result from a third or more of hospital trusts now being in deficit and a growing minority being cast into actual bankruptcy.   All three political parties deny they have any such plans, and of course it would be politically suicidal if they did anything else.   But are they all credible?   The Tories have hugely increased charging for social care by imposing 40% cuts in the social care of the elderly and disabled.   They have expanded private dental care to such a degree in cost and coverage that DIY dental first aid kit is now growing fast – one estimate now by DenTek, one of the biggest sellers of kits, claims there are already a quarter of a million users.   And there are other reasons too why charging is very likely to be Tory policy after the election.

The Tories are now deploying the same tactic over the NHS that they’ve already applied over the Welfare State as a whole.   Create a deficit and then argue there’s no alternative but to pay it off either by cutting benefits, reducing services or imposing charges.   It’s no accident the government’s budget deficit has come down at a glacial pace and is still stuck at £92bn.   That suits the Tories very well because it provides the perfect excuse to make further huge cuts, notably the additional £12bn Osborne has promised for the next parliament.   Similarly, they would never dare charging £10 for a visit to the doctor – the most likely first element in a new charging system- if they hadn’t first deliberately generated the huge current NHS deficit by paying for the NHS merely in nominal terms, i.e. without taking account of inflation, let alone the higher than inflation annual costs of a rising elderly population and fast rising drug and medical technology prices.

The Tories have therefore landed a charge bombshell on the NHS.   The forecast £30bn gap in the NHS budget by 2020 is to be filled by £22bn efficiency savings (i.e. cuts) plus £8bn of extra annual funding from the Treasury (i.e. an increase in privatisation and outsourcing).   The real answer to the plight of the NHS is two-fold.   End Osborne’s lethal policy of contracting the economy in favour of steady expansion to generate sustainable growth, real jobs, higher incomes, and increased government tax receipts to pay off the deficit faster.   Second, in that very different context end any further cuts to the NHS and recognise that higher public spending on the NHS is justified when the health service in the UK absorbs only 8% of GDP compared with 10-11% in Germany and France and 17% in the US.

Osborne budget: focus on further impossible service cuts kept hidden

Osborne’s last budget in a week’s time will proclaim the usual fanfare of ‘long-term economic plan’ brilliantly succeeding, if not quite Bush’s ‘Mission Accomplished’.    Forget that the deficit today is touching £100bn, not the £37bn Osborne predicted in 2010 – any private sector director who got his sums that wildly wrong would be sacked on the spot.   Forget that Osborne has been forced to borrow above £200bn more during this parliament than he planned at the outset, thus increasing the deficit rather than closing it.   Forget that his cuts ensured the weakest recovery in modern history, a feeble income-less recovery that is already fading.   What really matters is not the last-minute lollipop giveaways, but what the budget reveals that 5 more years of Osbornism would inflict on British society.
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Labour must outline a new settlement for public services

The future of public services is at a watershed in this election.   The independent Resolution Foundation has calculated that Tory plans to balance the deficit by 2018 mean £37bn more cuts still to come.   The stark truth of that means a cut in local government spending of no less than 42% between 2010-18, nearly halving the services that councils are able to provide.   The public service jobs lost as a result will almost certainly reach beyond a million.   What Labour should therefore be arguing for is a new settlement for public services, including higher taxes on the very rich, writing off some of the debts created by the financial crisis, and more financial freedom for local authorities to set council tax and to borrow.   Councils should be enabled to set higher council tax bands for higher-value properties and business rates, as well as to levy small local taxes such as a tourism tax.
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This government is more class-ridden than Thatcher

Today’s report that the government has exempted developers who turn an empty building into private housing from having to build further affordable housing not only gives super-rich investors like the Abu Dhabi investment fund a free windfall of hundreds of millions of pounds, it also deprives some of the poorest families of the affordable housing they desperately need.   Under Thatcher social renting declined by 990,000, under Major by 226,000, and under Blair by 726,000 (according to Savills Residential Property Research).   It is now at the lowest level ever relative to demand since there are 1.4 million households on council waiting lists plus a further 80,000 homeless in temporary accommodation.   Now to shut off the flow of affordable housing further, grossly inadequate as it already was, and to give the green light to big foreign investors (when there are already more than 2 million foreign owners of property in Britain today) is gratuitously denying decent housing to hundreds of thousands of poor families cooped up in cold, damp, leaking, or inadequate housing for several years to come.   The same government that imposed the bedroom tax, but screams blue murder against the mansion tax.
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