Category Archives: Cuts

Broken Britain 21: our divided society

Aditya Chakrabortty focusses on the ‘vast disconnect between elite authority and lived experience, central to what’s broken in Britain today’ – the ‘gap’ which widened as independent working class self-help initiatives were replaced by the ‘hand of the state’ (Mount) creating ’a new feudalism’ and from two searing analyses of our divided society (Jones).

He asks:

  • “Why is a stalemate among 650 MPs a matter for such concern, yet the slow, grinding extinction of mining communities and light-industrial suburbsis passed over in silence?
  • “Why does May’s wretched career cover the first 16 pages of a Sunday paper while a Torbay woman told by her council that she can “manage being homeless”, and even sleeping rough, is granted a few inches downpage in a few of the worthies?”
  • Is “the death sentence handed to stretches of the country and the vindictive spending cuts imposed by the former chancellor George Osborne, a large part of why Britain voted for Brexit in the first place?”

He continues:

“We have economic policymakers who can’t grasp how the economy has changed, elected politicians who share hardly anything in common with their own voters . . . Over a decade from the banking crash, the failings of our economic policymaking need little elaboration. the basic language of economic policy makes less and less sense.

“Growth no longer brings prosperity; you can work your socks off and still not earn a living. Yet still councils and governments across the UK will spend billions on rail lines, and use taxpayers’ money to bribe passing billionaire investors, all in the name of growth and jobs.”

A University College London study published last year shows that  the parliamentary Labour party became more “careerist” under Tony Blair – and also grew increasingly fond of slashing welfare. Social security was not something that ‘professionalised MPs’ or their circle had ever had to rely on, so ‘why not attack scroungers and win a few swing voters?’

The trend continues: Channel 4 News found that over half of the MPs elected in 2017 had come from backgrounds in politics, law, or business and finance and more came from finance alone than from social work, the military, engineering and farming put together.

This narrowing has a direct influence on our law-making and political class and Chakrabortty comments: “We now have economic policymakers who can’t grasp how the economy has changed, elected politicians who share hardly anything in common with their own voters”.

He concludes that this is what a real democratic crisis looks like: failed policies forced down the throats of a public. Institution after institution failing to legislate, reflect or report on the very people who pay for them to exist. And until it is acknowledged, Britain will be stuck, seething with resentment, in a political quagmire.

 

 

 

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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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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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Surprised? Rich and poor in England receive different levels of service from the NHS

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Frequently reported differences in health outcomes are generally ascribed to factors beyond the control of the health service, such as unhealthy lifestyles or poor living conditions. However, research has disclosed that there is a difference in the level of service received by poorer communities.

Though the NHS’s funding formula is designed to provide more money to the neediest areas, an FT article reported last week that – according to data analysed by the Nuffield Trust for the Financial Timessome poorer communities being “left behind” when accessing GP services.

Sarah Neville, Global Pharmaceuticals Editor, summarising the data, reports that rich and poor people in England receive different standards of care from the UK’s universal free health service.

Despite the higher burden of ill health in lower socio-economic groups, there are markedly fewer GPs per head in poorer areas of England than in richer areas

There was an average of 1,869 patients on GP lists for each doctor in the most affluent clinical commissioning groups, compared with 2,125 in the most deprived, according to Nuffield researchers. One in seven people in the poorest areas was unable to get a GP appointment, compared with one in 10 in the richest areas.

As GPs act as the crucial “gatekeeper” to other health services, a delay in seeing a doctor can lead to delays in securing other appropriate treatment. Emergency admissions were nearly 30% higher in the most deprived fifth of CCGs, compared with the least deprived fifth, which could point to delays in securing — or seeking — the right treatment. (See references to Sandwell here)

Nigel Edwards, chief executive of the Nuffield Trust, said that the new analysis showed there were “concerning discrepancies between the standards of care rich and poor receive from some NHS services”.

NHS England, “more medical treatment isn’t by itself the only answer”:

“ (T)he NHS long-term plan will be setting out new action to tackle inequalities including in access to primary care. But with the root cause of ill health lying in factors such as diet, smoking and exercise, income security, housing, air pollution and social connection, more medical treatment isn’t by itself the only answer.”

Ms Neville concludes that the findings raise questions about how well the 70-year-old National Health Service is meeting its founding principles of equity. They increase pressure on the NHS to outline plans to reduce health inequalities when it publishes its long-awaited spending plan next month.

 

 

Universal credit is NOT an incentive to work for the single able-bodied: 63p of every pound earned is clawed back

Focussing on undue delays causing hardship, highlighted on this site, The Times and the FT in 2017 asked ‘is universal credit – to date – a disaster?’

The FT today says “Universal credit is a plum example of how not to reform public services. The theory was broadly sound: the simplicity and real time data of the universal credit would ensure people were always better off in work. The reality, however, has proved calamitous”.

Conservative and Labour politicians, such as Jacob Rees-Mogg, Johnny Mercer, Gordon Brown and Frank Field, are now demanding that the government reconsiders the national rollout.

John Major has warned that UC could lead to a repeat of the poll tax debacle of the early 1990s, which saw riots against the then Conservative government.

A reader with a postgraduate degree was asked to look at these sections on a government-recommended benefits calculations site:

Work allowance for Universal Credit (Ed: able-bodied & childless need not apply)

If you/and or your partner are in paid work, you might be able to earn a certain amount before your Universal Credit is affected, this is called the work allowance. Your work allowance will depend on whether you are single or part of a couple and whether your Universal Credit includes amounts for housing costs, children and/or limited capability for work. The table below shows the different levels of monthly work allowance.

Universal Credit earnings taper rate

The Universal Credit earnings taper is a reduction to your Universal Credit based on your earned income. The taper rate sets the amount of benefits a claimant loses for each pound they earn. The earnings taper rate is currently 63%. This means for every pound you earn over your work allowance your Universal Credit will be reduced by 63 pence. To work out the earnings taper that applies to your award:

  1. Take your total monthly earnings figure after tax, National Insurance and relevant pension contributions have been taken off
  2. Deduct your monthly work allowance, which is the amount you can earn without your benefit being affected (if you are eligible for one)
  3. Apply the taper rate by multiplying the remaining earnings by 0.63

This is the amount that will be taken from your Universal Credit maximum amount when calculating your award.

Even the post-graduate reader found these instructions ‘far from simple’ and in no way producing a simpler and more effective system.

Esther McVey, the work and pensions secretary in charge of the scheme, confirmed last week that families will be poorer under UC. She did not deny reports that millions of families could be up to £200 a month worse off when it is fully rolled out.

The chairman of the Commons work and pensions select committee has described the project – running well behind schedule – as a “shambles, leaving a trail of destruction” and in its assessment this year, the National Audit Office doubted whether the system would ever deliver value for money.

Last year Leigh Richards commented on last November’s news: “ Even Scrooge might have balked at Universal Credit”.

The current Universal Credit system is NOT ‘fit for purpose’

 

 

 

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A final nail in the coffin of successive governments’ love affair with PFI?

Keep Our NHS Public Birmingham (KONP) says, “It looks like we’ve won our campaign for a publicly-funded (non-PFI) Midland  Metropolitan Hospital in Smethwick/West Birmingham!”

The construction of the Midland Metropolitan Hospital in Smethwick collapsed after Carillion crashed spectacularly in Jan 2018 leaving the hospital half built. Then the bankers behind the ‘private finance initiative’ pulled the plug on the deal.

KONP Birmingham immediately organised a protest outside the hospital site demanding that the Treasury, health ministers and the Government should fully fund the hospital and run it properly under government and NHS control! Supporters included Birmingham TUC (BTUC), Unite the Union West Midlands, Unite the Community Birmingham, West Midlands Pensioners Convention and Birmingham Against the Cuts.

A month later, the Sandwell and West Birmingham Hospitals Trust Board voted to tell the Government that the only viable option for the completion was direct government funding, a full vindication of the KONP Birmingham campaign argument.

The Government and Hospital Trust has now reached an agreement to finish construction work with the Government providing funding for the remainder of the building work at Midland Metropolitan Hospital – which will see the new hospital built by 2022.

Birmingham Against The Cuts (BATC) says: “We believe that the Midland Met fiasco is a final nail in the coffin of successive governments’ love affair with PFI /2”

BATC gives a very cautious welcome for a publicly funded Midland Met Hospital in Smethwick/West B’ham (no PFI!) and expresses its  continuing concerns:

Firstly, there is a delay in starting completion until early summer 2019, partly because the half built hospital was rotting away without any protection for 6 months and an additional £20m worth of work will have to be done from this September.

Additionally, the Hospital’s Trust Board Chief Executive has been dropping in phrases to his announcements such as “making cost improvement programmes above national norms”, “limited reconfigurations”, etc, which reflect the concern in Dr John Lister’s 2016 review (right) of the privately financed hospital published by KONPB and BTUC when the Midland Met was first mooted.

Keep Our NHS Public Birmingham Secretariat will continue campaigning to defend the NHS and BATC will share news of government cuts, the implications and alternatives.

 

 

 

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Media 88: mainstream silent as the Church of England fails to bless the bomb

Survivors of the Nagasaki bomb walk through the destruction as fire rages in the background.

The third clause in the Bishop of Chelmsford’s motion at the General Synod Debate on the UN Treaty to Prohibit Nuclear Weapons:

(c) commit the Church of England to work with its Anglican Communion and ecumenical partners in addressing the regional and international security concerns which drive nations to possess and seek nuclear weapons and to work towards achieving a genuine peace through their elimination.

It was passed 260 for, 26 against, 21 abstentions.

The first six pages of an online search found no reference to this decision in any member of the mainstream media (MSM) secular press. Only one entry – from the Defence Journal – recorded the event.

Will MSM cloak today’s Anglican news with silence?

Political damage is being done by social media’s highlighting of the austerity-excused trials and deprivations of the poorest and most disabled. Today it has been announced that the church is now reaching out ‘primarily to people under 40-years-of-age who have no current connection with a church’ – on pioneering café-style premises in in coastal areas, market towns and outer urban housing estates.

Threatening? If the basic tenets of Christianity are taken to heart, enormous damage will be done to the sales of:

  • armaments,
  • pornography
  • illegal drugs,
  • junk food,
  • many TV programmes,
  • gambling offers
  • and some sections of the film industry.

And the legal profession’s earnings will slump.

President and former General Eisenhower would have approved of the Synod’s decision. He said : “Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together” (farewell address)

 

 

 

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New Fleet Solid Support ships: cash-strapped MoD should look at the total cost-benefit of building in Britain

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Jeremy Corbyn is in Glasgow today, where – reversing New Labour policy – he will call for Navy shipbuilding contracts to stay in the UK.

The contract could lead to over 6,500 jobs in the UK, 1,800 of those in shipyards: “Our proposal would both sustain existing shipbuilding and supply chain jobs and create new ones – right here in Scotland and also across the UK.”

The MOD, which is alleged to have ‘lost controls of costs’, hopes for a cheaper option. Its spokesman added: “We are launching a competition for three new Fleet Solid Support ships this year and strongly encourage British yards to take part”.

“Until the new Fleet Solid Support Ships (FSS) arrive, these hardy veterans must stagger on into the mid-2020s” 

STRN points out that the need for these important ships was first stated in 2015 – and it is feared that the first ship will probably not be ready for sea until around 2025.

The three currently supporting ships supply ammunition, food and spares are “antiques built in the late 1970s and saw action in the Falklands War”. Corbyn warns:

“By refusing to help our industry thrive, the Conservatives are continuing their historic trend of hollowing out and closing down British industry. Over the course of the 1980s under the Tories, 75,000 jobs were lost in UK shipyards, leaving just 32,000 remaining.

“Our shipyards used to produce half of all new ships worldwide. Our current market share is now less than half a per cent. The Tories seem hell-bent on accelerating and deepening this industrial decline.”

SNP MSP for Glasgow Anniesland, Bill Kidd, is sceptical, saying: “Workers on the Clyde and people across Scotland haven’t forgotten Labour’s betrayal of the industry in 2014.

 

 

 

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