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.
It could only happen in Britain. In the US, by contrast, a so-called Freedom Act (though it is far from that) has just been passed. It will at least partially curb the power of government to collect bulk data on the lives of its citizens. The Cameron government however is doing the opposite and is determined this time to push through the snoopers’ charter which it failed to get in the last Parliament and which MI5/GCHQ have been aching to get on the statute book ever since the Twin Towers of 2001. This would not only give ever greater powers of mass surveillance to the police and secret services, it is also intended to prohibit server encryption which makes surveillance more difficult. This is a complete contradiction of the Snowden revelations. These exposed industrial-scale eavesdropping by State bureaucracies which had been proceeding secretly and without a shred of accountability ever since 2006, and without Snowden would probably have been proceeding unhindered to this very day. Read more “The securocrats in MI5 and GCHQ are now going flat out to get their uncontrolled snoopers’ charter” »
Osborne is now mooting an emergency budget within the next few weeks to lay the foundations for the £30bn fiscal consolidation (aka cuts) to be announced in the autumn spending review. It is made up of £12bn welfare cuts, £13bn reductions in departmental expenditure (aka cuts in public services), and £5bn in tax avoidance measures. What is not immediately apparent is that, if the NHS, schools and overseas aid budgets continue to be ring-fenced, the cutbacks in unprotected and sensitive expenditure like defence and the police will have to be as high as 18%.
The cuts will be at least as large as in the last parliament, though much harder to implement after more obvious cuts have been made, and would bring the cuts to a full third in Whitehall budgets between 2010 and 2020. The Tories will loftily dismiss these difficulties as ‘efficiency savings’, though if that were true they would have been made long before now. So it’s not just that large parts of the ‘Tory programme are uncosted, it’s rather that they will be extremely difficult to implement – indeed so hard that if they were implemented, they would slow down the economy so much that Osborne’s deficit reduction targets will move out of reach. This will produce an extraordinary paradox. Read more “If Osborne makes £30bn cuts as promised, he can’t achieve his deficit reduction targets” »
We have always known that PFI was a con trick (i) to take construction and management costs of hospitals and other public buildings offline so they don’t appear in the national accounts, and (ii) to secure the extremely lucrative privatisation of yet another public service at taxpayers’ expense. But the evidence of how the new outsourced authorities manipulated this fiddle has not hitherto been made so blatantly transparent as in the latest case to come to light. Six months ago the Treasury approved a PFI for the £360m Midland Metropolitan hospital in Birmingham. As a result the Sandwell and West Birmingham Hospitals Trust will be forced to pay out £18m for 30 years, i.e. £540m in total – an extremely bad deal for taxpayers. So how was it ever justified in the first place? Answer: the NHS Trust Development Authority, that is the hospital’s regulator, opined that “income growth assumptions are significant”. With the NHS in its near-bankrupt state plus the intention to move care out of hospitals over time, this is not just a heroic assumption, it’s fantasy. Read more “The killer argument against PFI” »
Immigration has now become toxic in British politics for well-understood reasons – excessive pressure on public services, concentration of immigrant communities in ghettos, lack of integration, etc. But it is not till now that the truth is finally coming out about the almost unbelievable incompetence of the Home Office in the mismanagement of this problem, most of it under Theresa May’s current stewardship. The Tories made it a big deal in 2010 that they would reduce immigration figures below 100,000 in this Parliament, but the number for this year has risen to 260,000 – a bigger missed target even than Osborne’s missed target for the budget deficit which he pledged would be a mere £40bn this year, but is actually £100bn. Read more “Home Office gives UK citizenship to murderer” »
The report published today by the Church of England, H.M. proxy Opposition and including representation from all the main political parties, delivers a hefty body blow against a government which a week ago told us that, if they won the election, they would take the country back to the Britain of the 1930s. Even before we get there, the revelations in the report about Britain today are bad enough and already make grim reading. In the last 18 months 835,000 individuals were sanctioned (i.e had their benefit stopped and therefore were left penniless for at least 4 weeks, often for trivial reasons). A high proportion of them were sanctioned twice, which meant they were deprived of all income for 13 weeks. This is, unsurprisingly, the main cause for the huge proliferation of food banks, of which there are now over 500. When asked to explain this, the Tory business minister, one of Osborne’s acolytes, made the fatuous remark that it was “because more people know about them”. He then added that “the truth is that poverty is coming down” when in fact the truth is it’s rising fast. He also referred to the growing number in jobs and that that was the “single best way” out of poverty, blithely ignorant that there are now more working households in poverty than those dependent on benefit. Read more “Church of England report nails Tories for explosion of poverty and hunger” »
The news for nuclear gets worse every day. The latest news today is that the Hinkley Point C nuclear plant in Somerset, the government’s flagship nuclear project is near the point of collapse. After Ed Davey, the LibDem secretary of state (there was a time before they joined the government in 2010 that the LibDems were solidly against nuclear) waved through the most expensive power station in history, and then the EU Commission suspiciously decided that the huge financial concessions (bribes?) offered to EDF did not mysteriously constitute an illegal state aid, it now looks as though Areva, the French designer of the reactor and the only company that can provide the equipment, is in a state of free fall. Areva was already building two reactors, one at Olkiluoto in Finland and the other at Flamanville in France. Both have been a disaster, massively behind schedule and over budget. As a result Areva has been forced to suspend all its profit predictions and its shares have crashed nearly a quarter. Can Hinkley Point C survive? If not, the government’s whole energy policy is in deep trouble. Read more “Nuclear is turning out badly all round: why is the government clinging to it?” »
It’s not often I disagree with my colleague Tom Watson MP, but on the issue of Woolf being forced out of the chairmanship of the child sex abuse inquiry after a string of damning revelations I think he’s got it wrong. “Labour should not go after May”, he’s reported as saying. Of course he’s right that what matters now is to find a positive replacement, It has to be someone who (i) has knowledge and experience of child abuse issues, which Woolf did not, (ii) has the forensic skills of a High Court judge, which Woolf also lacked, (iii) is manifestly without any Establishment and Home Office connections, which Woolf manifestly did have, and (iv) commands the confidence of the survivors and victims groups, which again Woolf clearly didn’t. But to ignore the Home Office’s deep and dishonourable collusion in trying to fix the chairmanship of this inquiry in order to cover up the charge of organised abuse by prominent politicians and officials, and to suggest we simply move on, would be a serious mistake. Read more “Woolf’s enforced resignation exposes Establishment & Home Office stitch-up” »
The security services are getting desperate. Over the last 4 years they, and their political figurehead May, have tried time and time again to push mass surveillance through Parliament. Whenever a security scare arises or a trial of alleged terrorists or belated arrests over a drugs scandal, the cry is always foisted on the public that what we need is a comprehensive snoopers’ charter which will record all the communications of all the citizens in the UK. No mention of the fact that they have already been doing this for over a decade through GCHQ’s Tempora and Bullrun programmes as Snowden revealed, and what they desperately want now is to legitimize their illegal activities. No mention that they already infiltrating our smartphones via the Dreamy Smurf programme which can turn them on even when we’ve switched them off. No mention that Nosey Smurf can turn on the microphone in a mobile remotely to listen in to our conversations, nor of Tracker Smurf which can track our location in real time. Read more “Despite Snowden May won’t take no for any answer over mass surveillance” »