Category Archives: Austerity

Rewards for failure: 33 – five government civil servants and an MP

Three of many reasons for Jeremy Corbyn’s popularity are his care for the ‘ordinary person’, his ‘sufficient’ lifestyle and his freedom from the greed which leads many in the political landscape to ‘milk’ the system and promote decisions needed by moneyed interests.

This graphic is about an MP who was, until May 2015, Justice Secretary and Lord Chancellor.

Attitudes to public expenditure

It was retweeted by a friend and in another article Greg Foxsmith neatly summarises: “Grayling is an MP who purports to want to cut public expenditure. However, when it comes to his own public expenditure, Chris likes to get as much of it as he can”. Foxsmith refers readers to the Telegraph for more information. Grayling’s record on cutting access to legal aid and lack of concern about prison suicides adds charges of inhumane conduct to those of greed.

Apart from passing through the revolving door to industry and then returning to aid government’s decision-making process, civil servants feature in the news less frequently than MPs.

Award-winning investigative journalist David Hencke recently re-published information about top bonuses and pay rises for five of the most senior and well paid civil servants at the Department of Work and Pensions over the last two years, which appears in the annual report and accounts of the DWP released last month.

The five civil servants named in Hencke’s article are Sir Robert Devereux, permanent secretary at the Department of Work and Pensions; Neil Couling, director general of universal credit; Jeremy Moore, director of strategy; Mayank Prakash, director general of digital technology and Andrew Rhodes, director of operations. All are responsible in one way or another for the delivery of Universal Credit.

All but Andrew Rhodes are paid more than Theresa May, the PM, but are, nevertheless, receiving bonuses

This, even though their new Universal Credit programme is said to be in chaos – leaving some claimants without money for up to six weeks. MP Kevan Jones (Durham North) has described the bonuses of £10-20,000 as “a reward for failure”, based on its performance in the Newcastle-upon-Tyne pilot project.

Catherine McKinnell, Labour MP for Newcastle North, said: “My office has been deluged with complaints from constituents about a Universal Credit system that is clearly struggling to cope and failing to deliver the support that claimants need in anything like an orderly or timely fashion. She reveals a very sorry picture. The new IT system means people can’t talk to a human. It has a verification process that requires claimants to produce photographic identification such as a passport or driving licence, “which many simply do not possess and certainly cannot afford”. There are numerous examples of Universal Credit claims being shut down before they should be; of documentation being provided to the DWP, at the constituent’s cost, and repeatedly being lost or even destroyed; and of totally conflicting, often incorrect, information being provided to constituents about their claims.” Precisely the case seen repeatedly 20 years ago when the writer was a volunteer in a local night-shelter.

In Civil Service World. Jawad Raza, of the FDA (the First Division Association) which represents the top civil service, said that the suggestion that these civil servants have been rewarded for failure shows a blatant disregard for the facts regarding their pay, and that highly skilled professionals working in challenging circumstances deserve to be adequately remunerated without having their names, faces (and incomes) spread across news pages – as they are in Hencke’s article.

All these pay rises were decided objectively by line managers, but the Department declined to say who these line managers are and which outside organisations and people recommended they should get bonuses. MP Kevan Jones plans to table a Parliamentary Question next month asking for this information.

Hencke ends, “What this shows to me is a growing disconnect between the people at the top – who are computer savvy, have nice centrally heated homes, no problems with bills, can afford expensive holidays, and can’t conceive of anyone not having a passport – designing a system for poor, dispossessed, desperate people without any understanding of how the world works for them.

“It was this disconnect between the elite and the poor in the USA that led to the rise of Donald Trump and I suspect this huge gulf between the Metropolitan elite (of which top Whitehall civil servants are part) and the provincial poor, is in the end going to propel Jeremy Corbyn into Downing Street”.

Will we see a new breed of politicians in such a government? A significant mass?

Many see the need for the number of MPs who have lived for the public good, even using their basic salaries to do this, such as former Coventry MP Dave Nellist, to increase to such an extent that they will be able to transform the country.

Breaking news:

Reminding the public that universities receive benefits from their charitable status and are required to disclose information about the basis on which salaries are calculated, former Labour education minister Andrew Adonis is campaigning for a reduction in the high salaries awarded to university vice-chancellors, which only increased following the introduction of tuition fees.

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Governments are balancing budgets on the backs of the poor” (John Grisham) 1. State Pensions

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”

WASPIs (Women against state pension inequality) protest outside Parliament. Their aim: to achieve fair transitional arrangements for women born in the 1950s, for whom the state pension age is being raised from 60 to 66 by 2020.Photo: WASPI Campaign/Twitter

A Bournville reader draws attention to an article in Welfare Weekly reporting the findings of a new analysis by the Labour Party which reveals that tens of thousands of Theresa May’s constituents will be adversely affected by her decision to bring forward changes to the state pension age. The state pension age for men and women will be equal at 65 at the end of 2018, before rising to 66 in 2020 and then 67 in 2028. This will then rise again to 68 between 2037 and 2039, meaning those born between 1970 and 1978 will be made to wait an extra year before becoming eligible to claim.

Data obtained by Labour from the House of Commons Library finds that nearly 37 million people in total will be affected, including 56,547 people in Theresa May’s constituency of Maidenhead. 61,753 people who are under the age of 47 will be hit by the changes in Chancellor Philip Hammond’s constituency of Runnymede and Weybridge. 59,290 people will also be affected in the Work and Pension Secretary David Gauke’s constituency of South West Hertfordshire.

A BBC video clip showed that an outline given by MP Guy Opperman (right, Work and Pensions) of government measures to assist older people back into work, including apprenticeships and retraining received a mixed reception.

Labour’s Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary, Debbie Abrahams, said: “Thanks to the Tories increasing the state pension age, 36.9m people will be forced to work longer, at the same time that evidence indicates life expectancy has stalled in some places and is reducing in others.” She called on Tory MPs to “explain to the tens of thousands of people in their constituencies why the burden of Tory austerity is being pushed on them, while corporations and the richest individuals receive tax breaks.”

Abrahams added: “Theresa May should answer her 56,547 constituents, and the 36.9m people across Britain, whose hard-earned retirements are being postponed because of her Government.”

Labour is to begin a “national state pension tour” to draw attention to how many people will be affected and voice their opposition to the policy.

 

 

 

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Broken Britain 6: deprivation, job losses, depression and suicides follow cruel ‘welfare’ legislation

Cuts protest during the last Prime Minister’s Questions session before parliamentary recess. Support given by Labour’s shadow chancellor John McDonnell and Green leaders, Jonathan Bartley and MP Caroline Lucas.

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

In their evidence to the Fifth Independent Review of the Work Capability Assessment (WCA), 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”.

Research by disabilities campaign group found more than 80 cases of suicide directly linked to billions of pounds in benefit cuts. Many other deaths have been indirectly linked to this regime:

  • In 2014, it was reported that David Clapson, a diabetic, had been found dead in his home. His benefits had been cut, he had no food in his stomach and the fridge that stored his insulin was not working because there was no credit on the electricity card.
  • A senior North London coroner spoke out, highlighting his inquest verdict that ‘Mr A’s’ suicide was triggered by a ‘fit for work’ assessment.
  • In 2010 Coroner Tom Osbourne blamed the death of Stephen Carré on a decision by the Department for Work and Pensions that the Employment and Support Allowance claimant, who was clinically depressed, was fit for work following a work capability assessment.
  • The suicides of Michael O’Sullivan and Julia Kelly, were also blamed on the result of work capability assessments by their respective coroners.

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 reports that the study found the areas with most WCAs showed the sharpest increases.

The Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) refused to reveal their peer reviews of suicides linked to the sanctions

Disability rights campaigners, mental health charities and the families of claimants who killed themselves, or died after cuts to benefits, have argued that 49 DWP secret investigations or “peer reviews” into the deaths of claimants should be published.

In April (2016) a decision was made by the First-tier Information Rights Tribunal that, pending any appeal by the DWP or the Information Commissioner’s Office, the government would have to hand over details of the circumstances of 49 deaths concerning claimants on benefits. The DWP was given five weeks to resolve the matter.

In May, following the successful legal challenge – John Pring v IC & Department of Work & Pensions – the DWP released the peer reviews of these cases but with many key words blacked out (redacted) and a Labour spokesman accused the Government of “rewarding failure” – giving new contracts to Capita and Atos.

The UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities finds that UK welfare reforms have led to “grave and systematic violations” of disabled people’s rights. Work and Pensions Secretary Damian Green rejected the UN report’s findings 

Changes to benefits “disproportionately affected” disabled people, the UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) found. The 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”.

2017 update: continuing the cruel cuts to those on low incomes and generous treatment of those already wealthy 

More than 160,000 people initially denied PIP have had this decision overturned since the benefit launched in 2013, according to DWP figures,

ITV News: the Motability charity, which allows disabled people to pay for specially adapted cars, from their benefits, reports that 900 people a week are having cars, scooters and even motorised wheelchairs taken from them – some losing their jobs as a consequence.

Motability also reports that 51,000 people have been taken off the scheme after a reassessment for personal independence payments (PIP) since it was launched in 2013 – 45% of all cases. 

The benefits budget is being repeatedly cut to pay for the ‘bailouts’ following the banking crisis and people are stripped of disability benefits or having them reduced by half. This is causing pressures which can leave them too sick to work, too poor to support themselves and too tired and frightened to appeal against these damaging decisions.

Even in comfortable ‘middle England’ the number of people who find this victimisation shameful and seek radical political change is growing.

 

 

 

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Broken Britain 5: Martin Wolf annotated. Plus a lesson from Delhi

Extracts with bracketed comments = original text here, may be subject to paywall

In the Financial Times, Wolf asks: “Why has the appeal of populist ideas grown in western countries? Is this a temporary phenomenon?”

He continues: “What, first of all, is a populist?” And answers:

  • The abiding characteristic of populism is its division of the world into a virtuous (powerless) people on the one hand, and corrupt elites . . . on the other.
  • Populists distrust (corrupted) institutions, especially those that constrain the “will of the people”, such as courts, independent media, the bureaucracy and fiscal or monetary rules.
  • Populists reject credentialed experts (funded to serve vested interests). They are also suspicious of free markets and free trade (misnomers – so-called free traders erect tariff barriers whenever they can).
  • Rightwing populists believe certain ethnicities are “the people” and identify foreigners as the enemy. They are economic nationalists (but keen exporters and speculators) and support traditional (discriminatory & inhumane) social values.
  • Populists (left and right) put their trust in charismatic leaders
  • Leftwing populists identify workers as “the people” and (only the uncaring) rich as the enemy. They also believe in state ownership of property (if there were ever to be an honestly run state)

Wolf asks why these sets of ideas have become more potent (because central control, corruption and deprivation is increasing alarmingly). He refers to a Harvard study which considers immigration a cultural shift but argues that it can also be reasonably viewed as an economic one (because it’s cheaper to import subservient low-cost labour than to educate one’s own citizens)

What has changed recently?

“The answer is the financial crisis and consequent economic shocks. These not only had huge costs. They also damaged confidence in — and so the legitimacy of — financial and policymaking elites.

“These emperors turned out to be naked” (Correct).

He thinks that the results of past political follies have still to unfold:

  • The divorce of the UK from the EU remains a process with unfathomable results.
  • So, too, is the election of President Trump. The end of US leadership is a potentially devastating event.
  • Some of the long-term sources of fragility, cultural and economic, including high inequality and low labour force participation of prime-aged workers in the US, are still with us today.
  • The pressures for sustained high immigration continue.
  • The fiscal pressures from ageing are also likely to increase.

Wolf’s remedy the economic anxieties can and must be addressed: we must recognise and address the anger that causes populism. He continues: “populism is an enemy of good government (the status quo) and even of democracy (which has yet to be achieved)”.

Aam Aadmi (the Common Man’s Party) originated in the India Against Corruption (‘anti-graft’) movement. It claimed that the common people of India remain unheard and unseen except when it suits the politicians. It stresses self-governance, community building and decentralisation; advocating government directly accountable to the people instead of higher officials. It was formally launched on 26 November 2012 and won 67 of the 70 seats in the Delhi state assembly elections in 2015.

IMHO, as one correspondent often opens, building a stable democracy will require:

  1. proportional representation in which the votes cast reflect the true support for all participating parties and independent candidates;
  2. the attraction of parliamentary candidates with a track record of public service, offering only the national average wage, supplemented by basic London accommodation where needed and travel/secretarial expenses.
  3. and the clear understanding that after election these MPs (and their families) should acquire no shares or non-executive directorships.

And “self-governance, community building and decentralisation; advocating government directly accountable to the people instead of higher officials”.

 

 

 

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Broken Britain 3: ‘strong and stable government’: by the rich, for the rich, at the expense of the rest

Government for Britain’s rich: strong and stable; for its 99%: a crumbling NHS and farming sector, expensive public transport, vanishing libraries and cuts for the young, the poor and the frail .

Those who are ‘just about managing’ live in the only ‘big advanced economy’ in which wages contracted (2007-2015) while the economy expanded, the cost of living rose and multinational profits rocketed.

Pett lists the end goals which would benefit the 99% and the wreckers

As Eisenhower said, we need a humane government which would focus on the well-being of all, not the profits of the few and stop being complicit in slaughter . . .

 

and we should strengthen local/regional economies.

 

Close the global casino and the revolving door between big business and government

and offer all, especially superfluous managers and young commodity traders, socially beneficial work

 

 

 

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Focus on cuts 6: JAM families suffer as bus fares rise

 

 

In 2016, though the price of oil was low, average bus fares rose three times faster than the consumer prices index. The statistics report presented by government for 2015/6 was precise: “Between March 2011 and March 2016, the average annual percentage change in bus fares was 3.8% higher than the average annual rate of inflation (2.3%)”. Families who can’t afford a car can find travelling by bus costs more than taking a taxi.

Theresa May: “We will do everything we can to give you more control over your lives” (first speech as leader)

But reduced central funding means that as many bus services have been ‘axed’ people actually have less control:

  • Without accessible or affordable transport, adults in ‘just about managing’ [JAM] families will be less able to travel to work or to medical and other appointments.
  • Some feel compelled to go into debt to buy cars they wouldn’t need if bus services were reliable and affordable..

Due to government funding cuts, town hall chiefs have announced that councils have been forced to reduce bus services by more than 12% in the past year.

They  are calling on the Government to fully fund the Concessionary Fares scheme, and for the devolution of the £250m Bus Service Operators Grant scheme that refunds some of the fuel duty incurred by operators of registered local bus services. The grant was kept at 81% until April 2012, when it was reduced by 20%. The current payment rate is the lowest ever percentage since the rebate’s inception in the 1960s.

Theresa May: “When it comes to opportunity, we won’t entrench the advantages of the fortunate few, we will do everything we can to help anybody”.

But government actions belied these fine words; her chancellor announced a fuel duty freeze whichhe saidwill cost taxpayers a predicted £850m in the first year alone and really help the ‘fortunate few’ running the largest cars, not the JAM families.

 

 

 

 

 

Elite stranglehold on Britain – unbreakable?

As Steve Beauchampé writes in the Birmingham Press and Political Concern, generations of an elite have ruled this nation (with a few intermissions) for as long as anyone can remember, due to a rigged electoral system.

Their dual achievements:

  • comfortable tax arrangements for the few, a political/corporate nexus which ensures highly paid and nominal duties for all in the inner circle
  • vast military expenditure bestowed on the arms industry, as rising numbers of the population survive in relative poverty, wait in hospital corridors, receive a sub-standard education and depend on handouts to eke out their existence.

Direction of travel

Beauchampé:(The) economy is increasingly kept afloat by the economic support of China . . . The modern high-rise residential blocks that have sprung up throughout the capital may give the impression of a modern, flourishing economy, but look closely and you will see that many are all but empty, whilst homelessness and a reliance on subsistence level housing grows . . . “He notes that surveillance is at an historic high with spy cameras, and even microphones installed in many public places -describing the state’s ability to track the population and follow their activities and conversations as ‘frightening’. . .

The elite stranglehold could be broken

OB’s editor agrees with many that electoral reform is a priority for beneficial change – but even under the rigged ‘first past the post’ system, if the weary mass of people (Brenda of Bristol)  saw the true situation they would vote for the candidate with a credible track record who would be most likely to work for the common good.

 

 

 

 

North Korea focus? Britain in the dock

As tensions rise over North Korea, Steve Beauchampé writes in the Birmingham Press about the parallels between Britain and North Korea 

Extracts

Generations of an elite have ruled this nation for as long as anyone can remember. Such is their power that if there is dissent it is effectively hidden from us, denied the oxygen of publicity. The Dear Leader and ministers live in numerous large, extravagantly furnished, decorative palaces, enjoying the trappings of vast wealth. Walk the streets of the capital and you will soon see monuments, statues and other references to the Dear Leader, their family and the country’s most heroic military endeavours adorning public squares, streets and buildings.

In recent years the country has taken an increasingly bellicose and belligerent tone, threatening to launch unprovoked attacks on other sovereign states, driving them back into the middle ages and forcing their governments from power in the process. it has been busy developing increasingly sophisticated long range missiles and a nuclear weapons capability designed to strike fear into its enemies and anyone else whom it perceives as a threat, vast military expenditure whilst rising numbers of the population survive in poverty, dependent on daily food handouts to eek out an existence

Its economy is increasingly kept afloat by the economic support of China. The modern high-rise residential blocks that have sprung up throughout the capital may give the impression of a modern, flourishing economy, but look closely and you will see that many are all but empty, whilst homelessness and a reliance on subsistence level housing grows.

Surveillance is at an historic high with spy cameras, and increasingly even microphones, installed in nearly all public places and with the state’s ability to track the population and follow their activities and conversations now at frighteningly sophisticated levels.

Tensions are rising across the border, where the neighbouring government has been pursuing a much more internationalist direction. Indeed, heightened divisions have been evident with most neighbouring countries since last summer, and talk of war with one of them over a territorial dispute briefly surfaced as recently as a fortnight ago.

Yes, welcome to Britain.

 

 

 

 

Focus on cuts – 5: the poorest targetted

A reader from Bournville draws attention to an article by Jules Birch in Inside Housing, a weekly magazine for housing professionals. He focusses on a recent TV Panorama programme about the benefit cap that now leaves thousands of people with 50p a week towards their rent.

He noticed that roughly 95% of tweets with the hashtag #benefitcap (scroll down to April 7) were hostile to the people featured in the programme rather than the policy. The majority of people commenting on Twitter were seeing the undeserving individual instead: the stroppy single mother with a mobile phone and the couple with many children. He notes that exactly the same thing happened with Benefits Street, How to Get a Council House and a Dispatches documentary on the cap last month.

Part of the problem, he believes, lay with the way Panorama framed the issue. As Joe Halewood was quick to point out, the programme and its advance publicity seemed to assume that most people capped are unemployed and on Jobseeker’s Allowance, when in fact just 13% are.

The fact that the vast majority of people capped are either unable to work or not required to work was only raised tentatively halfway through the programme. Most of those capped are lone parents with young children who are not required to look for work, or people on Employment and Support Allowance who do not qualify for an exemption but are still not fit for work.

David Pipe explained the effects in a piece following the Dispatches documentary last month. 7,500 households across 370 local authority areas have lost their housing benefit and are now receiving just 50p a week to pay their rent. The cap leaves a nominal amount for housing benefit or Universal Credit once someone’s benefits total more than £20,000 (£23,000 in London). In effect it is imposed on top of the rest of the benefits system.

The latest budget highlighted cuts for the poorest 18-21-year-olds, who will no longer be entitled to help with their rent through Universal Credit from April 1.

For many, Discretionary Housing Payments (DHPs) are the only thing keeping them in their home and the effect over time will be rising rent arrears and evictions and allocations policies that make it less likely that people on benefits will get a tenancy in the first place. So where and how can the poorest people live? Even people in caravans are being capped, and what will the knock-on costs be in terms of homelessness and the impact on the children?

Meanwhile in Broken Britain, the May government continues the policies of its predecessors and makes decisions which seriously afflict the poorest and greatly benefit the richest: the arms traders, Big Pharma, the privatised utilities, large developers, car manufacturers, private health companies and expensive, inefficient outsourcers – Serco, G4s and Capita.