Category Archives: Austerity

Broken Britain 14: justice for people given NHS contaminated blood – too little, too late

Over 2400 of the people who were given contaminated blood have died and MP Diana Johnson (below, left) asked for an urgent Commons debate last year.

She had to get six leaders of opposition parties — including the DUP — to sign a letter to Ms May asking for an inquiry before Theresa May finally succumbed to pressure and announced a public inquiry into this 1970s and 80s scandal.

Last year it was recalled here that British haemophiliacs and other victims’ lives were blighted in the 1970s and 1980s by cheap imported US blood products, harvested from inmates and drug addicts. More than 5,000 were infected and went on unknowingly to infect family and friends. It is estimated that over 2.400 have died since then.

At a 1997 independent inquiry into the scandal, Lord Archer of Sandwell said: “By the mid 1970s it was known in medical and government circles that blood products carried a danger of infection… and that commercially manufactured products from the USA were particularly suspect… but the products continued to be imported and used, often with tragic consequences.”

It was decided that victims should die to avoid going over budget


In March 2017 this year a scheme to give the victims of NHS blood contamination ex-gratia payments’ – not to be called compensation – was scaled back under government plans.

Ministers believe the reforms (cutbacks) are necessary because more people are now considered likely to develop serious health issues – and be entitled to higher payouts – pushing the programme as much as £123m over budget.

In April, as he left the Commons, the former health secretary Andy Burnham declared there had been a “criminal cover-up on an industrial scale in the NHS” over contaminated blood and called for a Hillsborough-style inquiry.

Meanwhile the contaminated die apace as this inquiry gets under way, 30 years too late.





Should the Green Party join Corbyn Labour and fight together for social justice and for the planet?

Owen Jones suggests that the Green Party should join Jeremy Corbyn and fight together for social justice and for the planet: “For those attracted to the Green message of a “peaceful political revolution” to end austerity, Corbynism seemed like a natural new home”.

He thinks it is time for the Green Party to join forces with Labour, unite the English and Welsh left under one banner, bring one of the country’s most inspiring politicians into the spotlight and reinvigorate the campaign to save the planet from environmental destruction, adding:

“It’s exactly the arrangement that has existed between Labour and the Co-operative Party for nine decades: indeed, there are 38 MPs who belong to both. Rather than proving the death of green politics, such a pact would give it new life”.

In an act of political sacrifice at the last election, the Green Party stood down candidates across the country to avoid splitting the left-of-centre vote.

A pact could be made, creating the sort of relationship the Co-op Party has with Labour, with dual Labour/Green membership.

There would be Labour/Green MPs just as there are Labour/Co-op MPs today

Significantly more Green MPs would be elected. Climate change would become a genuine political priority. It should also mean Caroline Lucas in the shadow cabinet – and later in government with the environment brief. This would end a pointless division on the British left. Owen Jones continues:

“Lucas herself has been a committed fighter for causes that must be central to Labour’s message. She was right to criticise pre-2015 Labour for failing to challenge the “austerity message”, and has opposed cuts to everything from women’s refuges to schools. Her courage in fighting climate change led to her arrest at an anti-fracking protest in 2013.In many ways, her campaigning zeal echoes that of Corbyn, who she has repeatedly fought alongside. Indeed, it is hardly controversial to point out that Corbyn is closer to Lucas politically than he is to many of his own MPs, and yet absurdly Lucas is a political opponent”.

“Yes, the Green leadership wants Labour to go further – on everything from committing to a shorter working week to more radical taxation. But as someone who agrees with her – that Labour’s offer is not yet radical enough – I believe the Greens’ influence in pushing for greater radicalism would be strengthened, not diluted, in a formal pact”. He ends – after recognising the opposition from some within both parties:

“A red-green alliance is surely overdue. this could be the makings of a formidable political alliance to defeat Toryism and form a government to eradicate social injustice and help save the planet. And surely that prize makes the pain of overcoming partisan differences worthwhile”.


Read his article here:






ATOS, remarkable for assessments that harm the most vulnerable, changes its name

Work capability assessments, introduced under the last Labour government, were first carried out by Atos, which had a £100 million a year contract in 2012 – and later earned much more. The firm made a £42million profit in 2010 and paid its chief executive Keith Wilman £800,000, a 22% pay rise on the previous year. Since then other providers, including Capita and Maximus, have also been making these assessments. For several years there has been evidence from a wide range of sources that they are not being carried out efficiently. A few examples follow:

2014: the British Medical Association called for an end to a system harming the most vulnerable in our society

Doctors backed a motion at the annual BMA conference in 2012 stating that Atos’s assessments were “inadequate” and “have little regard to the nature or complexity of the needs of long-term sick and disabled persons.

In their evidence to the Fifth Independent Review of the Work Capability Assessment (2014), the BMA repeated its 2012 call for government to end it “with immediate effect and replace it with a rigorous and safe system that does not cause avoidable harm to the weakest and most vulnerable in our society”.

2015: An academic paper, published in the BMJ’s Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health in which examined 149 English council areas, found that nearly 600 suicides in England may be associated with the government’s “fit-for-work” tests.

Oxford and Liverpool researchers looked at three years’ data and also found the Work Capability Assessments could be linked to a rise in mental health problems. The BBC reported in 2015 that the study found the areas with most WCAs showed the sharpest increases.

2016: The UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities found that UK welfare reforms have led to “grave and systematic violations” of disabled people’s rights.

Changes to benefits “disproportionately affected” disabled people, the UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) found. The 2016 investigation was launched after receiving evidence from disability organisations about an “alleged adverse impact” of government reforms on disabled people. UN committee members visited London, Manchester, Birmingham, Cardiff, Edinburgh and Belfast in October 2015 to identify any gaps in human rights protection for disabled people. As part of its inquiry, the CRPD also looked at a range of recent welfare reforms and legislation including the Welfare Reform Act 2012, Care Act 2014, and Welfare Reform and Work Act 2016.

The BBC reported the UN inquiry’s conclusion that changes made to housing benefits and criteria for parts of the Personal Independence Payment, combined with a narrowing of social care criteria and the closure of the Independent Living Fund, “hindered disabled people’s right to live independently and be included in the community”.

Work and Pensions Secretary Damian Green rejected the UN report’s findings, but it has now been announced that after a high court ruling on 2017 regulations, introducing criteria which discriminated against those with impaired mental health, decisions on personal independence payments will be reviewed.

2017: Directors and other officers of the Department of Work and Pensions receive new year’s honours for services to ‘welfare reform’, as a reader draws attention to an undated article in the Dorset Eye, by Douglas James, listing 82 people who have died or committed suicide soon after dealings with agencies such as ATOS and the government’s Department of Work and Pensions. A search was made for news of the first five on the Dorset Eye list and links to fuller accounts were added. Most of the people were aged 30-40.  

2018: Private Eye 1462 reported in January that despite long-drawn-out resistance from the DWP, Atos and Capita, the Information Commissioner’s Office has now ruled that the DWP must reveal monthly reports These include details of complaints against assessors, the length of time taken by t-assessments and how many fail – i.e. are overturned on appeal.

In December the Commons Work & Pensions Select Committee report revealed that:

  • it had heard disturbing evidence,
  • accounts of medical assessments range from frustrating to gruelling,
  • there were remarkably high, if slowly improving, levels of unacceptable reports,
  • not one doctor had been involved in the assessments and
  • Capita’s own auditing found that at points in the contract almost 60% of its reports were “unacceptable”.

MP Tom Brake speaks out:

“Many constituents are in despair when they contact me after an inaccurate report. Reports of face-to-face assessments need to be unbiased, fair and above all accurate. It was important to flag up these discrepancies directly with ATOS. The Government need to ensure that assessments are recorded to prevent alarming inaccuracies. I will continue to put pressure on the Government to reform the current system. At the moment too many people have lost faith in the system.”


Last resort: after many disastrous years – like Windscale nuclear reactor station – in June Atos Healthcare announced changes to its name – but not its practice.    





Sprinklers for parliament but not for tower blocks

Inside Housing reports that the government has approved upgrades to parliament, including sprinklers, despite turning down requests from councils for cash to fund fire safety works on tower blocks.

Councils which hoped to install sprinklers following the Grenfell Tower tragedy in June which killed 71 people have received no commitment from government on funding.

Jane Urquhart, portfolio holder for housing at Nottingham City Council, said: “The government has found the resources necessary to install sprinklers in the Houses of Parliament as a sensible fire safety precaution for the safety of those who work and visit there. It does seem strange that, at the same time, the housing minister deems sprinklers in social housing tower blocks not to be essential to ensure the safety of our tenants”. Alison Butler, cabinet member for housing at the council, said:

“Parliament is a historic building and it is a place where people work, but protecting people’s lives and their homes should be a higher priority”.

The Times reports that David Stewart, a Labour MSP for the Highlands and Islands, is bringing in a member’s bill which would place a duty on councils and registered social landlords to fit automatic fire suppression systems in all new social housing. He said that sprinkler systems were so effective at preventing the spread of fires that there had been no instances of multiple fire deaths when a working sprinkler system was in place.

“This simple change in law is a practical step that will save lives. Councils in Angus, Fife and Dundee already install sprinklers into their new developments as standard and I want to see this approach extended.”

As Alison Butler said, protecting people’s lives and their homes should be given  priority.




Will legal and political action deliver justice for WASPIs?

In an earlier post it was noted that “Governments are balancing budgets on the backs of the poor” (John Grisham) 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”.

                                                        Left: hear affected Question Time audience member, no longer well enough to work (17.24 mins) and (right) the prime minister, herself a Waspi woman.

Grahame Morris, MP for Easington, wrote earlier this month:

“Across Britain some 3.8 million women are affected by the increase to the state pension age. Though there is a good deal of sympathy for the aim of equalising the retirement age, what has taken place in practice has been appallingly unjust. Women Against State Pension Inequality (WASPI) agrees with equalisation, but does not agree with the unfair way the changes were implemented – with little or no personal notice (1995/2011 Pension Acts), faster than promised (2011 Pension Act), and no time to make alternative plans”.

Guy Opperman, work and pensions minister with responsibility for financial exclusion, failed to reassure women in their 60s, hit by changes to their pension, by advising them to get a job or take up “extended apprenticeship opportunities”. 

Morris continues:

“Raising the pension age for women, often with little notice and sometimes failing to notify people of the changes at all, is a recipe for disaster.

“Many Waspi women affected by state pension inequality have been working full time and paying national insurance since the age of 15 or 16. In my constituency of Easington, the government’s changes to the state pension age will harm some 4,542 women.

“The OECD has recently ranked Britain’s pensions system as the worst in the developed world – yet the Tories are attempting to deny Waspi women even a basic state pension” . . .

“Excluded from the winter fuel allowance, from the free bus pass and now from the state pension, this generation of women are now in numerous cases having to sell their homes, take on precarious poverty-wage jobs or rely on foodbanks . . .

“The government’s given reason for failing these 3.8 million women is that to give them their pensions would cost as much as £30bn – for six years of pensions.

“Yet research from Landman Economics suggests the cost of helping Waspi women would likely be a more modest £8bn”. Morris lists the wider context:

  • Refurbishing Westminster will cost the taxpayer some £7bn,
  • Britain’s airstrikes in Syria are estimated to reach a cost of around £10bn.
  • Increased privatisation of the national health service is estimated to cost at least an extra £4.5-£10bn each year.
  • There have been billions of pounds of needless tax cuts to the bank levy.

“In this context finding the money for Waspi women seems a sensible price to pay to give these women justice and stop poverty from rising to ever more tragic levels. 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.

Morris: “The prime minister is herself a Waspi woman but I doubt she ever has or ever will be faced with a choice between heating or eating. Yet this doesn’t mean it is too late for the government to do the right thing”.

“The parliamentary ombudsman is currently investigating the Department for Work and Pensions for maladministration, by failing to notify women of the changes to their state pension age. If the ombudsman finds in favour of the Waspi women the government could have to pay compensation to the tune of billions of pounds”

The Labour Party, Liberal Democrats, SNP, Plaid Cymru, the DUP and 50 Tory MPs support the Waspi campaign.






FT: Populism is failing, but it is too soon to cheer: tame it and regain control!

The Financial Times’ Philip Stephens focusses on what he calls ‘populism’. He deplores the ‘electoral insurgency’ of the past few years leading to far-left and far-right parties winning significant vote shares across Europe.

After highlighting the failures and inconsistencies of the Trump government and the Brexit negotiations he warns the ‘hardliners’ in Mrs May’s cabinet that their choice is between:

  • swallowing a softer version of Brexit
  • or breaking with the prime minister
  • so risking a general election and a victory for Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party.

Adding “It is just possible that Brexit may prove too difficult to actually happen”

Last year Business Insider reported that the former head of the British civil service, Gus O’Donnell, told an LSE event that politicians need to focus on voters’ feelings of wellbeing to counter the rise of populism and win elections.

Linked to

His Times colleague, Gideon Rachman adds:The belief that the economic system is unjust has stoked the rise of rightwing and leftwing populism across the west”.

He continued by saying that until the shocks of 2008, centrist politicians in the west were able to offer a morally coherent view of the economy: a free-market economy would reward effort and spread opportunity. The creation of the global market system was reducing inequality and poverty across the world.

After the financial crisis, however, the “globalists” (to use a Trumpian term) began to lose the moral arguments and – Rachman continued – the fact that banks were bailed out as living standards stagnated, offended many voters’ idea of natural justice.

Stephens’ advice: centrist parties will win back support only when they separate populist leaders from their supporters — when they recognise that those voting for extremists are not by and large the “deplorables” described by Hillary Clinton and – belatedly – he admits those voters have real grievances — economic, social and cultural and offers a strategy to win back their lost support:

“Map an alternative route for society’s left-behinds”, not to do them justice, but because it is expedient:

Long-discarded notions should be disinterred:

  • progressive taxation,
  • active competition policy
  • and social equity

He ended lamely by asking: “And what, after all, was actually wrong with the social market economy?”





Birmingham Council adopts the government’s austerity agenda: asking the low paid to accept even lower wages

In July, Birmingham City Council reneged on an ACAS-mediated, cabinet-approved agreement between the Unite union and Birmingham’s talented Council Leader, John Clancy, which was to end the seven-week refuse collection dispute.

The well-paid BCC chief executive (right) was seeking to downgrade 106 Grade 3 jobs to a Grade 2, which meant that workers would lose £3,500-5,000 from their already low salaries of around £20,000.

And when BCC reneged on the Unite/Clancy deal, they also issued redundancy notices to the Grade 3 workers. These were later banned in the High Court when Mr Justice Fraser spoke at length about the “extraordinary” and “astonishing” state of affairs at Birmingham City Council with “chaos” between senior personnel. Read more about his reflections here.

Council leader Ian Ward (left) told a BBC reporter: “The cost of the (three month) dispute, yes that’s cost in excess of £6m”.

This ‘new’ version of the original deal (details here), described by union insiders as a ‘total climbdown’, was agreed at a special meeting of the BCC cabinet on Friday.

 ITV reports that yesterday Birmingham bin workers voted to accept the council deal.

So a seven week dispute was allowed to go on for three months, regardless of health and safety implications, losing £6m of ratepayers’ money – and the wrong head rolled.

From ‘Our Birmingham‘,  under another title.




Broken Britain 11: economic apartheid

In last week’s Prime Minister’s Question Time there was a fiery intervention by MP Dennis Skinner who told Theresa May about research showing that the High Speed 2 rail line was going out of its way to stop disruption to “leafy suburbs of the south”:

“[In] the leafy suburbs of the south, the first 140 miles, 30% of it has been dedicated to tunnelling to avoid knocking houses down.

“Yet in the north we are now told that the percentage is only 2% for the whole of the north. “And why? Because HS2 says it’s too costly, knock the houses down.

“Will she arrange for a meeting with people from my area in order to avoid another 30 houses being knocked down in Newtown part of Bolsover.

“Isn’t it high time that this government stopped treating our people like second class citizens?”


Theresa May replied by extolling her government’s service to these second class citizens citing resounding names Northern Powerhouse and Midlands Engines; the reality?

The north struggles to attract high-calibre teachers . . . Its secondary schools have, on average, funding of £1,300 less per pupil than those in London. In April this year the FT reported research findings that schools with the poorest children face much greater cuts per pupil than those with the most affluent children under the government’s proposed funding formula. (Brian Groom FT)

Knowsley and Liverpool are two of the most deprived areas of the country: council spend per head in these areas has been reduced by £400 and £390 respectively. In Wokingham and Elmbridge, two of the wealthiest parts of the country, the corresponding totals are £2.29 and £8.14.

A scheme to compensate councils for the council tax freeze, for example, is calculated on the value of properties in the area, meaning that the higher the value of local homes, the larger the relief package: Surrey gets a vastly bigger pay-off than Teesside. (Tom Crewe, LRB essay)

The local authorities with the highest levels of deprivation and more reliant on central government grants, were relatively worse off. Cuts to the poorest metropolitan districts averaged 28% compared with more affluent authorities (2010-2015). National reviews painted a stark picture of closures and restrictions to services. (Steve Schofield, Conservative austerity and the future of local government)  


Time for change!




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Isn’t it strange that parliamentary sex scandals are obsessing the media?

Isn’t it strange that Michael Fallon’s hand on a knee is made to seem more important than his heading of a department which condones selling arms to Saudi Arabia and assists in killing by air without trial and laying waste to countries in the Middle East?

And so strange that these misconduct allegations loom larger than the impact of government ordained austerity on the health, education and other public services in Britain – on all but the wealthiest.





Brexit – advantage the already rich: John Buchan, Jeremy Corbyn and Private Eye

John Buchan, 1915: Financiers can make big profits on a falling market and it suits their books to set Europe by the ears.

Jeremy Corbyn, March 2017; the Tories’ hard Brexit’ will benefit super rich and hold back millions.

Private Eye, 6.10.17: investors could swoop on cheap assets after Brexit wrecks the British economy


Jeremy Corbyn opened in I News:

When Pret A Manger opened its first sandwich shop in 1986, I doubt many of us would have expected well-known high street chains to end up trying to pay their staff in leftovers. But that’s exactly what’s happened. Last week, Pret had to abandon plans for a work experience scheme paying 16-18 year olds only with food after a public outcry.

A taste of things to come . . .

It was an even faster U-turn than Tory chancellor Philip Hammond’s reversal of an increase in National Insurance for the self-employed – also after an outcry. Both the Hammond and the Pret sagas look like a taste of things to come. The not-so-hidden agenda of hard right Brexiteers, from trade secretary Liam Fox to foreign secretary Boris Johnson, is to create a bargain basement economy for big business.

In 2012, Fox said it is “too difficult to hire and fire” and “intellectually unsustainable to believe that workplace rights should remain untouchable”. Employment rights under threat Now that Article 50 has been triggered, Fox has his chance to sweep away decades of hard-won employment, consumer and environmental rights enshrined in EU law. In fact that’s exactly the direction Theresa May has made clear she intends to go if she can’t get the Brexit deal she wants – and Johnson has said not getting a deal is “perfectly okay”.

The Tories are preparing a Great Repeal Bill as part of the Brexit process, and all the signs are they will try to use it to tip the economic scales even further in favour of their super-rich supporters. They have after all spent the past seven years giving them one tax break after another while imposing austerity on everyone else.

Altogether, on official figures, they will have handed out £73bn in welfare for the wealthy between now and 2022. They have cut inheritance tax, the bank levy, capital gains tax, the top rate of income tax and corporation tax – squeezing or slashing support for the NHS, social care and other vital services.

While the earnings of working people have been held back, executive pay has soared to levels beyond most people’s wildest dreams. The chief executives of the top 100 companies on the London Stock Market were paid on average £5.5m each in 2015 – that’s 183 times average earnings.

The Conservatives justify tax cuts for the richest and big business by saying they will lead to an increase in investment. But there is no evidence of that.

On the contrary, investment in the UK has fallen, leaving us with antiquated infrastructure and uncompetitive industries. The future of our country cannot be left to the free market and the whims of the wealthy.