Category Archives: Austerity

A Scandinavian challenge to the FT’s rejection of Corbyn’s social democracy

Britain needs ‘a more conventional social democratic project’ according to a recent article by the FT editorial board – not Jeremy Corbyn’s radical ‘socialist’ programme.

The board rejects the claim by Jeremy Corbyn’s ‘media outriders’ that his programme aims to bring the country into line with the rest of Europe and is akin to German or Scandinavian social democracy. But Jonas Fossli Gjersø, (left) a Scandinavian who has spent more than a decade living in Britain, writes:

“From his style to his policies Mr Corbyn would, in Norway, be an unremarkably mainstream, run-of-the-mill social-democrat . . . his domestic policies are largely identical with the Norwegian Labour Party manifesto . . . Yet, here in the United Kingdom a politician who makes similar policy-proposals, indeed those that form the very bedrock of the Nordic-model, is brandished as an extremist of the hard-left and a danger to society”.

Modern social democratic thinking

Professor Richard Hoefer, in his essay in “Social Welfare Policy and Politics” 2013, writes: “Modern social democracy is characterised by a commitment to policies aimed at curbing inequality, oppression of underprivileged groups and poverty”.

Jeremy Corbyn would agree with this, and with Thomas Meyer and Lewis Hinchman, who add that social democracy includes support for universally accessible public services like care for the elderly, childcare, education, health care and workers’ compensation. They comment: “Libertarian democracies are “defective” in failing to protect their citizens adequately against social, economic, and environmental risks that only collective action can obviate. Ultimately, social democracy provides both a fairer and a more stable social order.”

Jonas Fossli Gjersø sees the British media’s portrayal of Corbyn as ‘verging on the realm of character assassination (media collage) rather than objective analysis and journalism’.

He suggests that the Nordic model would be a useful benchmark for Britain to move towards and thinks it possible that we are witnessing the social-democratic mirror image of the Thatcherisation process today in Britain, ‘with a prevailing wind from the left rather than the right’.

 

 

 

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DSEI arms exhibition protestors call for government spending on peace, adequate public services and addressing climate change

Extinction Rebellion demonstrators, who used a signature XR boat to block access to the DSEI arms fair  to be held in the Excel Centre in Royal Albert Way said that war creates devastating environmental damage and with a warming climate leading to more extreme weather and causing more failed harvests and droughts, as food and water runs out, we can expect more conflict and a much bigger refugee crisis. They added:

“The UK has to own up to its part in creating these global problems, take real leadership in reducing warming and conflict, and create deliberative democracies which can solve this emergency.”

West Ham MP Lyn Brown said: “The DSEI arms fair causes a massive inconvenience for local residents every two years, from the added traffic and security it always requires. Added to the inconvenience to local people, the arms fair also piles an unwanted and unneeded burden on our local public services, like our police, ambulances, hospitals and transport, all already massively overstretched due to nine long years of Tory austerity cuts. Despite asking questions in Parliament for months, the Government haven’t been able to reassure me that we won’t be seeking to sell weapons to regimes that abuse human rights or are killing innocents in places like Yemen. I’m proud to stand with the Newham residents who are raising their voices against the arms fair this year, and I hope that together we can stop the DSEI from returning to our borough in 2021.”

Demonstrators advocated that instead of helping to promote and subsidise the sales of armaments, government should be creating an emergency budget:

  • to bring down emissions and increase biodiversity,
  • to transfer jobs from the arms industry into the sustainable economy now
  • to stop fuelling conflict around the world
  • and instead support ‘peace diplomacy’.

Extinction Rebellion’s Liam Geary Baulch said: “We envision a world where people have a right to a future and a right to live in peace with a home, food, and water – all things that are put at risk by fuelling conflict and the climate and ecological emergency around the world.

 

 

 

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A reader comments. “The FT seems to be taking the prospect of a Labour government seriously”

Over the next week, the Financial Times will be examining the impact of a prospective Corbyn government on the UK economy as memories of the financial crisis have reinforced the public’s perception of a system rigged against them – despite the ongoing exposures of the excesses of the financial services industry.

 FT: “A Corbyn government promises a genuine revolution in the British economy”

It looks at the plans already announced, describing them as “breathtaking in scope”. These include:

  • the nationalisation of rail, water, mail and electricity distribution companies,
  • significantly higher taxes on the rich,
  • the transfer of 10% of shares in every big company to workers (with a maximum annual £500 dividend,
  • reform of tenant rights, including a “right to buy” for private tenants,
  • borrowing to fund public investment.
  • a four-day week,
  • pay caps on executives,
  • an end to City bonuses,
  • a universal basic income,
  • £250bn to fund a National Investment Bank to build 1m social homes,
  • an increase in the minimum wage,
  • higher income tax for those earning over £80,000,
  • a new “excessive pay levy”,
  • a £5bn-a-year financial transactions tax,
  • a corporation tax rise from 19p to 26p in the pound,
  • the break-up of the Big Four auditors,
  • a ban on all share options and golden handshakes,
  • curbs on the voting rights of short-term shareholders,
  • the public naming of all workers on over £150,000 a year,
  • the nationalisation of parts of the struggling steel industry,
  • opposition to the Trident nuclear deterrent and
  • delisting of companies that fail to meet environmental criteria from the London Stock Exchange.

Thatcherism reversed

Mr Corbyn’s supporters see rebalancing of control from shareholders, landlords and other vested interests to workers, consumers and tenants, “reorienting an economy that works for those at the top but not for the young, the unemployed or those struggling on zero-hours contracts” as “fairness”. But to political opponents, high-earners, business owners, investors and landlords, it is alarming.

On September 1st, the FT declared: “A Corbyn government is no longer a remote prospect. With UK politics scrambled by Brexit, the landscape is unrecognisable”.

Lord David Willetts, a former Conservative cabinet minister who now chairs the Resolution Foundation think-tank, comments: “Brexit is so radical and such a massive gamble, breaking a 40-year trading arrangement, that it’s hard for Tories to say to people ‘don’t gamble on Labour”. They just think: ‘who’s the gambler?’”

Brexit as an opportunity: in his speech to the 2018 Labour conference, Shadow Chancellor John Donnell noted: “The greater the mess we inherit, the more radical we have to be.” 

Lord Bob Kerslake, former head of the civil service, who is helping Labour to prepare for government, believes Labour’s manifesto pledges are indeed ‘radical’ but can be delivered. He realises that there are questions about how much of the Corbyn-McDonnell policy platform can be carried out if there is a minority government and stresses the need to make significant progress on it in a first term.

As the FT wrote:Polling data show that voters currently evince little enthusiasm for a Corbyn government. And yet the existential shock of Brexit, combined with his appeal to younger voters and families fatigued by nearly a decade of austerity, could still deliver the unexpected”. 

 

 

 

 

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Broken Britain 22: 2014 tax law – lowest income households lose, bailiffs gain

 

Britain’s lowest-income households were exempt from council tax until 2014, when the law changed, bringing 1.4m households into the council tax net, with some jobseekers and the disabled required to pay bills amounting to 10% of their benefits income, according to the National Audit Office report, Financial sustainability of local authorities 2018, (Money Advice Trust note 67)

The Money Advice Trust charity points out that between 2011/12 and 2017/18, central government funding for local authorities fell by an estimated 49% in real terms – leaving councils increasingly reliant on council tax and business rates to fund local services, according to data obtained through its Freedom of Information requests. Its 2018 report A Decade in Debt gives detailed analysis of many kinds of private debt, with a chapter on council tax arrears.

Council tax collection privatised

With most councils lacking the staff to collect arrears the money themselves, more than 2.3m debts were referred to companies like Dukes bailiffs, a “provider of ethical and efficient enforcement services across the UK”, who sponsored the 2019 Local Authority Civil Enforcement Forum’s conference.

According to the Financial Times, the Institute for Fiscal Studies reports that almost a fifth of single parents who would formerly have paid no council tax are now in debt. No link was given and a search led to the IFS 2004 report which made seven references to the deot problenms of single parents.

Hansard, the official government record, in answering questions on ‘rogue bailiffs’ refers to a September 2018 YouGov poll which found that more than one in three people contacted by bailiffs in the last two years had been subject to harmful behaviour, such as threatening to break into homes.

Money UK gives information on debt collection

An article on the subject in the Mirror reports that the Commons Treasury Com­­mittee says bailiffs work­ing for nat­­ional and local government are “worst in class” for aggressive tactics.

Those with physical or mental health problems are less likely to engage with their local authority, according to research by the Money and Mental Health Institute last May. which found that people with poor mental health were three times more likely than the general public to be behind with their council tax payments. A visit from a bailiff can exacerbate psychological distress and cause stress, the MMHPI said, particularly when enforcement agents did not act with care.

Barrie Minney chair of the Local Authority Civil Enforcement Forum (LACEF), explained that bailiffs are sometimes wrongly sent out to people who are financially or mentally vulnerable because of a lack of data sharing between council departments.

Many bailiffs are paid on commission based on the repayments they recover; if they don’t collect, they don’t earn

One of the FT’s case studies is summarised here. When Charley Finlay was recovering from the death of her premature baby she missed her first council tax payment of the year and did not open reminder letters from the council. Because she missed her first payment she became liable for her entire annual tax bill of £300.

Enforcement agents are allowed to charge £75 for sending a letter and £235 for a home visit, further inflating people’s debts.

Her debt increased to over £1,000 once the costs of the bailiff’s letters and visits were added to her debt. She said that the bailiff was at her door constantly, shouting through her letterbox, ringing her all the time and telling her that her children would go into care as she would be imprisoned.

Various efforts are being made to improve practice. These include:

  • LACEF is working with debt charities to build models for early intervention and developing software to help flag up people’s potential vulnerabilities to revenue collection departments. “Otherwise, we can spend a lot of time and money chasing people who cannot afford to pay us,” Mr Minney said. “That is really not ideal.”
  • More than half of the councils are examining new methods of dealing with people on benefits who are in arrears, LACEF’s polling indicates.
  • Local government minister Rishi Sunak vowed in April to engage with charities and debt advice bodies to create a “fairer” collection system.
  • The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government highlighted the need to protect people against “aggressive debt enforcement”, announcing that reforms could include taking individual circumstances into account to give people the necessary time to pay off arrears, improving links between councils and the debt advice sector, and supporting fairer debt intervention
  • CIVEA – the principal trade association representing civil enforcement agencies – is hosting a one-day conference in September to present the industry’s take on the Ministry of Justice report following their recent call for evidence. This will include: the treatment of debtors, the complaints processes and whether further regulation is needed.

Comment from Peter Jennett (Private Eye letter, Jul/Aug 2018):

“Those in power not only tolerate but actively create conditions of increasing poverty, lack of access to education and life chances for large numbers of our population, then blame those affected for their own plight”.

 

 

 

 

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CommonSpace highlights some key sections of the UN report on UK poverty

 

Richard Murphy of Tax Justice, has drawn attention to some key sections of the report by Philip Alston, the UN’s Special Rapporteur (below), highlighted by Scottish think tank CommonSpace.

Dickensian Britain

“It might seem to some observers that the Department of Work and Pensions has been tasked with designing a digital and sanitised version of the nineteenth century workhouse, made infamous by Charles Dickens, rather than seeking to respond creatively and compassionately to the real needs of those facing widespread economic insecurity in an age of deep and rapid transformation brought about by automation, zero-hour contracts and rapidly growing inequality.”

Employment is no escape from poverty

“Almost 60 per cent of those in poverty in the United Kingdom are in families where someone works, and a shocking 2.9 million people are in poverty in families where all adults work full-time. According to the Equalities and Human Rights Commission, 10 per cent of workers over 16 are in insecure employment. And 10 years after the 2008 financial crisis, employees’ median real earnings are, remarkably, still below pre-crisis levels.”

Eat or heat

“People said they had to choose either to eat or heat their homes. Children are showing up at school with empty stomachs, and schools are collecting food and sending it home because teachers know their students will otherwise go hungry. And 2.5 million people in the United Kingdom survive with incomes no more than 10 per cent above the poverty line –just one crisis away from falling into poverty.”

Homeless Britain

“In England, homelessness rose 60 per cent between 2011 and 2017 and rough sleeping rose 165 per cent from 2010 to 2018. The charity Shelter estimates that 320,000 people in Britain are now homeless, and recent research by Crisis suggests that 24,000 people are sleeping rough or on public transportation –more than twice government estimates. Almost 600 people died homeless in England and Wales in 2017 alone, a 24 per cent increase in the past five years.26There were 1.2 million people on the social housing waiting list in 2017, but less than 6,000 homes were built that year.”

The disappearing safety net

“The Special Rapporteur heard time and again about important public programmes being pared down, the loss of institutions that previously protected vulnerable people, social care services at a breaking point, and local government and devolved administrations stretched far too thin. Considering the significant resources available in the country and the sustained and widespread cuts to social support, which have resulted in significantly worse outcomes, the policies pursued since 2010 amount to retrogressive measures in clear violation of the country’s human rights obligations.”

Ideological, not economic

“The ideological rather than economic motivation for the cutbacks is demonstrated by the fact that the United Kingdom spends £78 billion per year to reduce or alleviate poverty, quite apart from the cost of benefits; £1 in every £5 spent on public services goes to repair what poverty has done to people’s lives.40Cuts to preventive services mean that needs go unmet and people in crisis are pushed toward services that cannot turn them away but cost far more, like emergency rooms and expensive temporary housing.”

Harm done by Universal Credit

“The Special Rapporteur heard countless stories of severe hardships suffered under UC. These reports are corroborated by an increasing body of research that suggests UC is being implemented in ways that negatively impact claimants’ mental health, finances and work prospects. Where UC has fully rolled out, food bank demand has increased, a link belatedly acknowledged by the Work and Pensions Secretary in February 2019.”

Sanctions regime

“One of the key features of UC involves the imposition of strict conditions enforced by draconian sanctions for even minor infringements. As the system grows older, some penalties will last years. The Special Rapporteur reviewed seemingly endless evidence illustrating the harsh and arbitrary nature of some sanctions, as well as the devastating effects of losing access to benefits for weeks or months at a time.”

Women and poverty

“Given the structural disadvantages faced by women, it is particularly disturbing that so many policy changes since 2010 have taken a greater toll on them. Changes to tax and benefit policies made since May 2010 will by 2021–2022 have reduced support for women far more than for men. Reductions in social care services translate to an increased burden on primary caregivers, who are disproportionately women. Under UC, single payments to an entire household, which are the default arrangement, can entrench problematic and often gendered interpersonal dynamics, including by giving control of payments to a financially or physically abusive partner.”

 

The ‘Report of the Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights on his visit to the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland’ may be read in full here.

 

 

 

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Government faces a judicial review about short-changing 1950s women

In an earlier post Political Concern reported that 2.6 million women born in the 1950s will ‘lose out’ because of changes to pension law: “while corporations and the richest individuals receive tax breaks.

“Governments are balancing budgets on the backs of the poor”- (lawyer/novelist John Grisham)

Waspi, a UK-wide organisation with many local groups, is campaigning against the way in which the state pension age for men and women was equalised, whilst supporting the principle of equality.

One, the Chorley Supporters Group, is denouncing the government who arbitrarily told them to work for several extra years before they can claim their state pensions, causing them to lose income and peace of mind and obliging many to continue to work at a time of life when caring duties increase and energy levels start to fall. Read more in the Lancashire Evening Post.

Writing to the Financial Times they say: “It is about time the spotlight was turned on this government, which has effectively stolen the security net of millions of women by raising the state pension age far quicker than planned, with no personal notification”.

On the BBC’s World at One programme one of many testimonies was given:

Stella Taylor: “I was born in 1955, I had worked all of my life and, when I became unwell at just about the age of 58 I then discovered, quite accidentally, that my State Pension, which I was expecting to receive at 60, had been moved six whole years to sixty-six. And, like so many women in this movement, we were just aghast. We thought there must be a mistake. Had I received my pension at sixty, when I had expected to, I wouldn’t have been wealthy by anybody’s standards, but I wouldn’t have been in the depths of poverty that I now am. At the moment, because I am still unable to work due to ill health, I receive seventy three pounds and ten pence per week in Employment Support Allowance. Living, and paying all your household bills, out of that £73 a week is impossible. There are times when I have needed to use my local food bank because I haven’t been able to afford groceries.” More testimonies here. 

On February 10ththe BBC reported the warning of Amber Rudd, the pensions secretary, which should be extended to her own department:

”If you chronically mismanage a pension scheme . . . we’re coming for you.”

After pointing out that a freedom of information request has revealed recent research findings that the government reneged on their contributions to the national insurance fund over many years and redirected that money towards paying off the national debt, the Chorley Supporters Group asks:

“How government can expect other public or private institutions in this country to play fair with pension funds when it is not doing so itself”.

On February 11th, the government published a research briefing on the legislation increasing the State Pension age for women born in the 1950s. up

This unexpected rise in the state pension age will now “save” the Treasury an estimated £8bn by impoverishing 1950s women.

MP Grahame Morris pointed out that the Labour Party, Liberal Democrats, SNP, Plaid Cymru, the DUP and 50 Conservative MPs support the Waspi campaign.

He added that Landman Economics’ report gives the figure of £8bn savings to government and suggests that this sum should be seen in the wider context of current or planned government finance. Some examples follow: (Ed: links added):

FT Adviser reports that SNP MP Mhairi Black earlier pointed out that the National Insurance Fund is projected to have a substantial surplus at the end of 2017 to 2018 and the HMRC’s report confirms that the National Insurance Fund balance at 31 March 2018 was £24.2 billion and is expected to increase in the following year.

Morris ends: “In this context, finding the money for Waspi women seems a sensible price to pay to give these women justice . . . We know and we can see that it isn’t equal, it isn’t fair and it isn’t justifiable – it’s driving down the incomes and the quality of life of countless women”.

Next June the government faces a judicial review in the High Court to determine whether these recent increases to women’s state pension age are lawful and the Chorley Supporters Group, Chrissie Fuller, Jane Morwood, Betty Ann Tucker, Riley Ann Rochester, Beverley Cordwell, Lea Butler and Lesley Kirkham end by warning that they will not rest until justice is done.

 

 

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If the economy ‘tanks’ post-Brexit, will shopping mall and carpark revenues be enough to compensate for government cuts?

 “Years of chronic underfunding have left local government ‘on life support’ “

123 of England’s 353 councils sent information to the 2019 State of Local Government Finance survey, conducted by the Local Government Information Unit and Municipal Journal. Chris Tighe (possible paywall) reports that Jonathan Carr-West, chief executive of the LGIU, has warned of a future in which care for the elderly and for vulnerable children could be funded from shopping centre investments and car parks – “a significant risk if the economy ‘tanks’ “.

Survey findings include:

  • More than half of English councils will eat into their reserves.
  • Four out of five are investing in commercial developments to supplement their revenue this year to compensate for central government funding cuts.
  • Nearly half of the local authorities are planning to cut services.
  • Most will raise council tax this year and increase charges to stay afloat.
  • A quarter said planned cuts to services in the coming year would be noticed by the public.
  • 10 local authorities said they were concerned they would be unable to deliver the legal minimum service for residents.
  • Last year, Northamptonshire county council was given special permission to sell its head office and rent it back after running out of money.
  • Several other authorities have warned they are close to collapse.
  • 8 in 10 senior council decision makers believed the current system for council funding was unsustainable.
  • 82% were considering commercialising council services to raise extra money
  • and 57% wanted to sell council assets.
  • Children’s services and education were the top immediate financial pressures, for the second year running.
  • Adult social care is still under severe strain

Four out of five English councils are investing in commercial developments to supplement their revenue this year to compensate for central government funding cuts.

The government’s annual funding settlement for local authorities, outlined in December, assumed that every council in England would implement the maximum 4.99% council tax increase, including 2% ringfenced for adult social care, in 2019-20. Analysts say that would add around £80 to the annual average bill for a Band D, mid-market, home — currently £1,671. An additional £24 can be added to the charge to fund the local police force.

But the Local Government Association said the tax rise would not be enough to prevent service and job cuts after eight years of austerity. It said councils would have lost almost 60% of their central government funding between 2010 and 2020 and face an overall funding gap of £3.2bn in 2019/20.

Jonathan Carr-West warned: “In the future, care for the elderly and vulnerable children could be funded from shopping centre investments and car parks, which carries significant risk if the economy tanks.” This year’s government spending review would, the survey warned, be “make or break” for vital local services.

 

 

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A good day to bury bad news: little relief for cash-strapped local government

As the media was focussing on Tuesday’s Brexit vote in the Commons, this morning only subscribers to the New Statesman read about the written statement by the secretary of state for housing, communities and local government, James Brokenshire.

In what the writer, Anoosh Chakelian (right), said is becoming a bleak pattern, the government chose Theresa May’s second attempt to pass her Brexit deal on which to publish its statement on local  government finance.

A reassuringly generous set of dispensations?

The statement by James Brokenshire (left) opens with eight substantial paragraphs detailing increased funding in a wide range of sectors, summarised in the New Statesman:

“As first announced in the Budget, the government is releasing extra chunks of funding for social care and potholes, as well as more money for high streets. The government calculates that its settlement adds up to a rise in core spending power for councils from £45.1bn in 2018-19 to £46.4bn in 2019-20: a 2.8% cash increase. (It has also reiterated the £56.5m across 2018-19 and 2019-20 to help councils prepare for Brexit, which we can’t really count as extra funding as it’s to fill a Brexit-shaped hole.)”

Councils are to be awarded £56.5 million across 2018-19 and 2019-20 to help prepare for EU Exit. It lists “a broad package of measures and confirms that Core Spending Power is forecast to increase from £45.1 billion in 2018-19 to £46.4 billion in 2019-20”.

This information is meaningless to the general public. Are they going only to the 117 largest councils listed here, or should district councils and London boroughs be included? And will they be distributed according to need, population, or other criteria?

Anoosh Chakelian’s verdict: Far from generous. She points out that after eight years of austerity, cash-strapped councils will still face a funding gap of more than £3bn this yearaccording to the Local Government Association.

She adds that the pressure to set legal budgets, with an average 49% drop in real terms spending power since 2010 and rising social care demands, means that councils need substantially more than a 2.8% rise.

Decisions on business rates retention and a fair funding formula for local government have been postponed, despite the planned consultations having taken place and their findings published.

Noting that the long promised green paper on adult social care has not appeared and the funding announced is ’a short-term one-off’, she quotes the head of the National Audit Office, Amyas Morse, who said last March: “Current funding for local authorities is characterised by one-off and short-term fixes, many of which come with centrally driven conditions.”

Though James Brokenshire asserts that this settlement answers calls for additional funding in 2019-20, and paves the way for a more self-sufficient and reinvigorated system of local government, Anoosh Chakelian concludes: “This means councils will continue to operate in a financial void, unable to fund public services properly, while waiting for something to change in the promised Spending Review later this year”.

 

 

 

 

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MPs ask how ‘the other England’ can be strengthened so that fellow citizens are not “pushed into destitution”

A Bournville reader draws attention to an article about Heidi Allen, Conservative MP for South Cambridgeshire, and former Labour MP Frank Field, now a backbencher. They are touring the poorest areas of Leicester Newcastle, Glasgow, Morecambe and Cornwall. Frank Field said they want to know “how the soft underbelly of our society – ‘the other England’ – can be strengthened so that none of our fellow citizens are pushed into destitution”.

Robert Booth, Social Affairs correspondent for the Guardian, reports that their widely publicised inquiry began in London where testimonials from those with first-hand experience of food poverty exposed the barriers that people face in securing support from the government, when faced with extreme life hardships and personal difficulties.

“Unless we blow the lid off it, my lot are not going to listen”

He explains that Heidi Allen had asked Frank Field if he would join her on a tour of the UK to show the government the “other England” shaped by the austerity policies pioneered by Allen’s party. She added: “Unless we blow the lid off it, my lot are not going to listen.” This is not a new concern: in her 2015 maiden speech Heidi Allen gave a detailed criticism of proposed cuts to tax credits, saying, ‘today I can sit on my hands no longer’.

Evidence from Leicester which they will be presenting includes accounts of:

  • an illiterate man sanctioned so often under universal credit that he lives on £5 a week;
  • a man who had sold all but the clothes he was wearing;
  • someone told to walk 44 miles to attend a job interview, despite having had a stroke, to save the state the cost of a £15 bus ticket;
  • a surge in referrals to food banks from 5% since the introduction of universal credit in June, to 29%;
  • an elderly person – after her son, who had suffered a stroke, had been sanctioned 15 times – said, “The system needs more caring people. They are like little Hitlers”;
  • another was expecting the bailiffs to take back her two-bed council house because she was in arrears, including on bedroom tax. Her second bedroom is used by her granddaughter five nights a week, so her son can work, but that doesn’t count – only children qualify’

The bureaucratic struggle to claim benefits is a big problem, carefully and accurately portrayed in Ken Loach’s internationally acclaimed award-winning film, I Daniel Blake (snapshot and link to brief video below). 65% of the most vulnerable people who come to Leicester council for help have never used a computer and don’t have a smart phone or an email address, needed to fill out forms.

 A brief extract from the film – those who have seen it will remember that the computer session becomes far more stressful and eventually – as often happens – aborts for no fault of the ‘client’.

According to Feeding Britain, a charity set up by Field which now includes Allen among its trustees, after housing costs, 41% of children in Leicester – more than 34,000 – are living in poverty. The Leicester South parliamentary constituency was in the poorest 2% of constituencies in the UK in 2018. Over the last two summer holidays, in the most deprived parts of the city, over 15,000 meals were served to almost 1,650 children, using government funds.

In the Leicester Mercury, Leicester South MP Jon Ashworth said after reading the latest research findings: “These shocking statistics show high levels of child poverty in Leicester South. It is clear that the Government is failing working families, and cuts to Universal Credit will make child poverty even worse. It is appalling that since 2010 the number of children living in poverty has reached four million under this Government, and the Government is still maintaining the benefit freeze.”

 

 

 

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Is it ‘a myth’ that the ‘left behind’ have been neglected?

 

Today, Times columnist Clare Foges, a former member of Boris Johnson’s mayoral team and then David Cameron’s speech writer, challenges the narrative that Brexit is down, in large part, to a high-handed and callous establishment’s neglect of the “left behind”, deploring the belief that:

”Those in poor northern constituencies and bleak coastal towns were left trailing in the gold-flecked dust thrown up by the golden chariots that bore the wealthy, the Londoners, the elite onwards — throwing back their heads to laugh heartily and pour some more Bolly down their gullets while failing to give a monkey’s about those in their wake”.

Truly, those in poor northern constituencies and bleak coastal towns were and are left trailing – but the elite do not spend time laughing at them – those people are neglected because they are simply of no interest.

She asserts that the deindustrialised towns have suffered because of globalisation or automation, not because those in government sat on their hands.

But the elite constructed, fostered and continue to be enriched by globalisation and automation – the system which impoverishes many is necessary to their lifestyle. Clare admits that “When you know that you are on the lower rungs of a socio-economic ladder that reaches, at its heights, into the realm of millionaires and sports cars and Maldivian holidays, you may well feel resentful. It must be profoundly demoralising to see swathes of your countrymen and women enjoying seemingly easy success while you struggle”.

She also concedes, “Of course there is serious poverty and inequality in our country, but over the past 20 years in particular governments have tried a thousand different policies to reduce them” but fails to mention the ways – under recent Conservative governments – in which people on low incomes and those in poor health have been harassed, ‘sanctioned’ and deprived of their due allowances, in order to make derisory savings. She adds:

“I don’t deny that the Brexit vote may have been driven in part by resentment. Yet here is the crucial point: just because people have felt cruelly neglected by the powers that be, it doesn’t mean that they actually were . . .  Let us not mistake a failure to revive left-behind areas with wilful neglect. For the most part the much-traduced “establishment” has been well-meaning and hardworking in pursuit of a fairer country.”

Yes, wilful neglect does imply a degree of awareness – the correct term is indifference; ‘left-behind’ people are simply not on the radar of the affluent, preoccupied by “sports cars and Maldivian holidays”. She ends with more burlesque:

“With a more benign and interventionist establishment at the helm, the taxes of rich people could be spread thickly all over the country with no fear that wealth will flee; billions could be borrowed for major infrastructure projects with no damage to our economy; the streets of Grimsby and Oldham would be paved with gold. By giving this impression, we are inviting people to vote for Jeremy Corbyn and his fantasy economics”.

But would those in government circles – who benefit from corporate sinecures, stock exchange speculation and commodity trading – be willing to change the globalised system for one in which government invests in strengthening the economy through regional production and supply chains? Or will they oppose such changes with all their might, to maintain their current privileges?

 

 

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