Category Archives: Inequality
There was an outcry when the Chancellor Philip Hammond unveiled a National Insurance hike for self-employed workers in the Budget – now postponed. Some 4.6 million people, around 15% of the workforce, are now self-employed and data from the Office for National Statistics show that two thirds of new jobs in the UK created in recent years are down to self-employment.
Self employment, often insecure, low-paid, with no access to holidays, sick pay, maternity and paternity leave
Now sometimes known as ‘the precariat’, the self-employed, often work in service industries such as fast food, for security firms on temporary, even zero-hours contracts, or in the so-called ‘gig economy’. The precariat includes many workers who used to have skilled or semi-skilled but relatively well-paid and secure jobs, under-employed graduates, often working in insecure jobs requiring a much lower education level, migrant workers, and people from ethnic minority communities.
Well-informed readers explain that – as long as the self-employed have a contribution record established – they get the standard state retirement pension and older self-employed workers attaining pension age today have, in many cases, some pension accrued as employees for a number of years of their life which the present generation will not have. Benefits the self-employed cannot access relate to holidays, sick pay, maternity and paternity leave.
Earlier this month it was reported that Labour is to convene a summit to develop a new deal for self-employed workers and small businesses to develop Labour’s policy on self-employment. – recognising “that the world of work itself is changing”. John McDonnell, the shadow chancellor, said.
“The labour movement has risen to challenges like this in the past. It was born out of the struggle for decent pay and conditions when new technologies were ripping up existing ways of working . . . We need that same spirit and vision again. So I’ll be convening a summit next month of unions, the self-employed, and small businesses to develop Labour’s policy on self-employment”.
Some have been in the forefront, pressing for such action, including Pat Conaty, David Hookes and – for many years – Guy Standing. Pat writes: “The work of Professor Guy Standing at UCL SOAS and formerly at the ILO for 36 years on the Precariat Charter is superb”. See the links at the foot which include Standing’s 2011 Policy Network article.
Pat Conaty, Alex Bird and Philip Ross produced the Not Alone report that Co-operatives UK and the Wales Co-operative Centre have published with Unity Trust Bank – the trade union bank. It focusses on the needs of people in self-employment who face low income and social and economic insecurity – the ‘self-employed precariat’.
The executive summary records that there are now more self-employed workers than at any time since modern records began. Some 4.6 million people, around 15% of the workforce, are now self-employed and data from the Office for National Statistics show that two thirds of new jobs in the UK created in recent years are down to self-employment.
Many of the self-employed are among the lowest-paid workers in the country; their potential income is eroded by other costs such as agency fees and additional challenges relate to difficulties in not being paid on time and not having the right to a contract.
The report calls for the ‘cousins of the labour movement’ – co-operatives, trade unions and mutual organisations – to come together and help form cohesive institutions to unite the self-employed precariat, as illustrated in the model of a ‘solidarity economy’ partnership.
As Conaty says in correspondence: “God knows something has to be done for zero hour workers, growing ranks of exploited self-employed and those working all hours of the week in the gig economy to make ends meet”.
David Hookes: http://pcwww.liv.ac.uk/~dhookes/IWFA.pdf
In a recent post on this site, economist Martin Wolf (FT) was quoted, reminding readers of the words of Theresa May, the prime minister, in her speech to the Conservative party conference last year: “Our economy should work for everyone, but if your pay has stagnated for several years in a row and fixed items of spending keep going up, it doesn’t feel like it’s working for you.” She earnestly promised that this would change.
He continued: “Was Mrs May’s speech hypocritical? Yes”. (See MP Dawn Butler, 2nd paragraph)
In similar vein, Jenni Russell writes:
“The president’s actions are more important than his words, and they are a betrayal of his voters
“President Trump is brilliant at diversionary tactics, whether tweets, tantrums, or executive orders that may or may not mean anything in practical terms. His speech to Congress was another in his string of conjuror’s illusions.
“Breitbart and the Trump base adored it for its promises to put American workers first, improve their healthcare, incomes and education, cut their taxes, and protect them from danger abroad and immigrants at home. Trump’s liberal critics were momentarily dazzled to find that for at least an hour the president was capable of addressing the nation in a reasonable, conciliatory tone. But we now know that Trump’s public promises and assertions are so full of contradictions that they cannot be taken either literally or seriously.
“Instead we have to scrutinise the practical consequences of the policies his team is implementing. The effect of these won’t be to transform the lives of the people he swore to champion. They will make the rich much richer at the expense of the middle class and the poor”.
She notes that Trump’s tax plan is overwhelmingly skewed towards the wealthy:
- America’s Tax Policy Centre shows nearly half of the total tax cut will go to the top 1% of taxpayers.
- Almost a quarter will be spent on the richest 0.1%, households that earn above $3.7 million a year.
- The middle fifth of households, earning an average of $65,000, will gain just a thousand dollars.
- Less than 7% of the total cost of tax cuts will be spent on them.
- Because Trump intends to drop tax exemptions for children, some families earning less than $50,000 a year will actually see their taxes rise.
- The budgets for education, childcare and medical research will be slashed by at least 15% per cent.
- Trump proposes to end the state tax, which affects only the top 0.2 per cent of the population.
- His proposed cuts to corporation tax range from 35 to 20%
This surreptitious transfer cannot be what Trump supporters expected
Jenni continues: “Trump’s promise to create jobs through a vast infrastructure plan are equally tilted towards the rich. Investors will be offered tax breaks costing $137 billion to encourage them to invest a trillion dollars in projects that offer potential returns from fees or tolls. And far from bringing jobs to depressed regions, the projects will be skewed towards wealthier areas, because there will be no incentive to invest in areas where there’s no hope of a financial return, like the crumbling roads of the Appalachians”.
Still justified by demonstrably failed trickle down theory
Republicans defend this kind of unbalanced reward as they always have, arguing that the more money individuals keep, the more they will spend and the more everyone will benefit. These policies – in addition to the cuts Trump is demanding to pay for his boom in defence spending – will add huge sums to the deficit and drastically shrink the money available for public programmes. Jenni ends:
“Trump promised to protect his voters but the gulf between what he pledged and what he’s delivering is evident everywhere. His teams are busy dismantling consumer, financial and environmental regulations that prevented ordinary people being fleeced or having their land and water defiled. His supporters stubbornly believe in him but they are being betrayed. There can only be more fear and disillusion to come”.
Meanwhile Wall Street is soaring in anticipation, with the Dow Jones breaking the 21,000 barrier for the first time within hours of the speech. That extra money will overwhelmingly go into the bank accounts of those with the most shares – and the May government now turns from squeezing the disabled to the bereaved, successfully passing drastic cuts in payments for which national insurance contributions had been made and raising probate fees.
*Trumpton and Mayhem: first passing reference made on Our Birmingham website by architect David Heslop, moving towards employee ownership.
Edited extracts from an article by MP Dawn Butler, responding to a claim by Minister Liz Truss
Her message to Theresa May: you delivered a caring speech on the steps of 10 Downing Street, but it is clear that it was nothing more than rhetoric and spin. The few it governs for are certainly not the working class . . .
Rents have sky-rocketed to ridiculous levels, with my constituents, in the worst cases, spending 70% of their wages on rent alone, whilst drivers on modest incomes – who need their car to get to and from work – continue to face misery at the petrol pump. In Brent, we have two very busy foodbanks and several soup and bread kitchens. This 19th century scenario is the sad reality for the working class in 21st century Britain.
Wages for the majority of people have continued to fall in real terms, whilst those at the top have seen their salaries soar
Living conditions in the UK are now at their lowest levels for 60 years, with hundreds of thousands of families relying on food parcels just to get by. Our hospitals are in crisis, hate crime has rocketed and homelessness has doubled.
And to compound the struggle, this government has been cutting services, such as money for pupils, access to justice and policing
This means that when you are being discriminated against at work, you will be less likely to be able to take your employer to court. Tribunal cases have plummeted by 70%. To the government this number represents success, but to me, these are hard-working people who have had the rug pulled from underneath them when it comes to getting proper recompense for their grievances. These are the signs of a government destroying the working conditions and protections of those who need it most.
Nearly one million people are on zero hours contracts which means, from month to month, they are in a panic to know if they can pay their rent on time or at all.
This government is openly deceiving the general public by claiming to be something they’re so clearly not. Whether you call it “alt-facts” or “fake news”, if such untruths are peddled often enough, people soon start to believe it may be true.
Conservatives have tried to force the trade union bill through parliament to silence and, ultimately, destroy trade unions. Why would they want to do this unless they wanted also to destroy the voice of the working class and important workers’ rights? How about the workers’ rights bill? The Tories wouldn’t allow a discussion in parliament of a bill which sought to protect the rights of the working class after Brexit. Features like working 48 hour weeks, holiday pay and maternity and paternity rights are all at risk due to us leaving the EU. The government appear to be running roughshod over them.
Throughout our history in power we have championed the working man and woman in establishing great working class systems, from the NHS to the minimum wage, and all equality legislation, tenets that have now become the fibre that gives our country its unity, fairness and strength. We defended SME businesses, created through a movement of working class men women and trade unions, all with a common goal of helping the many and not just the few.
Dawn Butler is MP for Brent Central
Saturday 4th March
The BBC reported that Jeremy Corbyn called for the government to provide more funding for the health service in next week’s Budget. Speaking to the protesters in Parliament Square, he said: “The NHS is in crisis because of the underfunding in social care and the people not getting the care and support they need. It is not the fault of the staff. It is the fault of a government who have made a political choice.”
The protest organisers say the government’s proposed Sustainability Transformation Plans (STPs) across the NHS in England are a “smokescreen for further cuts” and the “latest instruments of privatisation”. These proposals involve the complete closure of some hospitals and the centralising of some services such as A&E and stroke care on fewer sites.
Deputy chairman of the British Medical Association council Dr David Wrigley said the march was “a cry for help for anyone who uses the NHS” which was “in such a desperate situation. We need to highlight it. As a doctor I see day to day the serious pressures in the NHS due to the funding cuts from the government”.
Saturday 4th March: at 6pm
The Independent featured Ben Bradshaw (former minister) praising Blair and blaming Corbyn’s leadership – ‘the one issue on the doorstep’
Saturday 4th March 11pm (updated 4am on 5th)
“Unlike other politicians who spend weekends with corporate lobbyists &wealthy donors, John McDonnell is out on the street 4 the #OurNHS demo”
Sunday 5th March 4am
The Sunday Express: Corbyn in crisis – and no doubt more will come
Saturday 4th March 11pm (updated 4am on 5th)
The Daily Mail usefully quotes Ken Loach explaining why these particular MPs are disgruntled: “It was their Labour Party, not Corbyn’s, that lost Scotland, lost two elections and has seen Labour’s vote shrink inexorably. Yet they retain a sense of entitlement to lead.”
Strangest of all, the Times and FT (online editions) decide not to mention the demonstration.
The Times online did not carry its usual daily onslaught on Corbyn and the Financial Times online which regularly publishes biassed articles about JC – often by Jim Pickard – has no reference, merely a bland, skimpy article by David Laws: “UK reaches socially acceptable limits of austerity . . . the NHS needs a settlement which allows for rising demand and an ageing population”.
Their carefully selected and daily shown photographs and cartoons of the Labour Party leader are not to be seen? What does this mean?
Sharma and the Agri-Brigade: bureaucrats and white collar workers lacking all essential survival skills, undermine food producers
In England, many organisations ostensibly concerned with the prosperity of farmers hold endless conferences. Analyst Devinder Sharma notes that, in India, agricultural universities, research institutes, public sector units, and other organisations also frequently gather to talk about ways to improve farmers’ income.
He comments sardonically that while the number of seminars/conferences on doubling the farmers’ income have doubled in the past few months, farmers increasingly sink into a cycle of deprivation.
As he points out, in both countries those who talk of allowing markets to provide higher farm incomes are the ones who get assured salary packets every month – we add that in England some are even paid from a levy on farmers.
The British farming press is now pointing out that large numbers of the UK’s 86,000+ family farmers are facing a threat from the government’s new universal credit (UC). If administered as currently designed, it will have a devastating impact on many of the UK’s most economically vulnerable family farms.
Universal credit will be ‘rolled out’ regionally by the DWP to cover the whole of UK by 2022 – calculated on monthly rather than annual income and it will assume that farmers have a “minimum income floor” which assumes that all applicants earn a wage equivalent to the national minimum wage of about £230 a week which is not the case. Private Eye (The Agri Brigade column) comments:
“None of this is remotely appropriate for farmers, and it shows the folly of trying to introduce a single universal form of income support for all.
On many family farms, where one or two people may work up to 250 acres, there is often no income for up to 10 or even 1 I months in a typical trading year. The sale of a crop of lambs, cattle or grain (or receipt of an EU subsidy) means revenue is raised in just one or two months of the year so the DWP’s assumption of a “basic income floor” each month doesn’t apply. There are also fears that receipts by claimants that rake their income above the basic floor in some months will disrupt entitlement to UC in subsequent months. (And farming losses in some months cannot be offset against a profit in others)”
Shades of the I, Daniel Blake experience:
When the UC administered by the DWP comes into force, skilled hard-working farmers will have to visit unfamiliar Job Centres to register for the benefit. ln addition. They will have to undergo face-to-face interviews over their eligibility for UC and be allocated a work coach to advise them on how to improve their access to better paid employment. Given the difficulties it seems certain many family farms currently claiming tax credits (administered by HMRC) will not apply for universal credit despite their poverty.
An unworkable system
Farming UK reports that a spokesman for the Ulster Farmers Union said: “UC makes it impossible to use prospective incomes or losses, which is often what farmers depend on. The fact that farming is seasonal where there will be long periods of time when a farmer will make a loss in expectation of more profitable times at some other stage during the year. In addition, having to do monthly real-time accounts is an extra burden upon farmers, in an already hard-pressed industry, and to hire someone to prepare these accounts would be an extra expense”.
As the title has it: “bureaucrats and white collar workers lacking all essential survival skills, undermine food producers”.
Steve Beauchampé sends a welcome lead, enabling Labour MP Barry Gardiner to be added to Political Concern’s ‘Admirable politician’ category – the first since May 2014, when MEP Molly Scott Cato was featured as the 7th.
Steve’s link to a Sunday interview on Sky News was accompanied by the comments that “(Gardiner) handles the interview with ease, batting away her questions. I increasingly find him arguably the most impressive member of the Shadow Cabinet”.
As Shadow Secretary for International Trade, Barry Gardiner spoke to Sophy Ridge on her Sunday politics programme about Labour’s difficult week following the Party’s Copeland by-election loss.
He spoke compellingly on Labour’s forcefully expressed parliamentary concerns about new proposals for business rates, funding formulas and disability benefits – later moving on to analyse the divisive effect of Brexit.
This positive news brought to mind that a few hours earlier, listening to the Sunday repeat of Question Time, Labour’s shadow minister for education Angela Rayner was outstanding. She becomes the 9th admirable politician.
She had all the relevant facts at her fingertips and was able to present them in a way which confounded Conservative minister Justine Greening – no mean feat.
The Telegraph reports that some of her Conservative opponents have asked whether she has the qualifications to fulfil her responsibilities as shadow education secretary. “I may not have a degree – but I have a Masters in real life,” she replied.
Her life was, she has said, heading in the wrong direction until: “Labour’s Sure Start centres gave me and my friends, and our children, the support we needed to grow and develop”.
And without the NHS, she proclaims, her son Charlie, who was born prematurely, would not be alive today.
Barry and Angela are some of Jeremy Corbyn’s most able colleagues – towers of strength.
New readers: a search will reveal that in order of date, starting with MEP Molly Scott Cato in 2014, the other admirable politicians featured were John Hemming, Andrew George, Margaret Hodge, Tony Benn, Salma Yacoob and Irish senator David Norris.
The recent by-elections gave cover for the latest government announcement of emergency legislation inflicting further cuts on disabled people – ‘a good day to bury bad news’.
Two tribunals had ruled that the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) should expand the reach of Personal Independence Payment (PIP) – which helps disabled people fund their living costs.
- One ruling found that someone who needed support at home to take medication or monitor a health condition like diabetes would score the same on the benefits criteria as people who needed help with a demanding procedure such as kidney dialysis.
- A second ruling said people who struggled to travel independently because of conditions such as anxiety scored the same as someone who was, for example, blind.
Ministers then swiftly revised the law to deny the increased benefit payments to more than 150,000 people.
A Lib Dem work and pensions spokeswoman said it was outrageous that the government was using the ruling to make matters worse for disabled people: “What makes things even worse is that they have sneaked this announcement out under the cover of [Thursday’s] by-elections.”
From April, it is reported that new claimants will see a reduction of £29.05 in their entitlement, which will fall to £73.10 a week. This follows on from the cuts that the DWP tried to implement last year, which resulted in Iain Duncan Smith’s resignation.
Liz Sayce from Disability Rights UK said: “We’re not aware of one single disability employment or benefits expert who thinks this particular cut will be an incentive for disabled people to get a job.”
Unfortunately this logic, and a host of scathing comments seen in the Metro won’t pierce the thick skins of affluent legislators and further deprivation will hit the least fortunate in many sectors.
From James Robertson: Newsletter No. 53
Why is the world controlled by people who behave with less benign and positive motives?
Why and by whom are large numbers of people compelled to migrate from their own countries to others, with many of them and their children being drowned on the way?
Why does what we call ‘wealth’ create such wide inequalities and injustice between people,
why does ’wealth’ creation require and result in the destruction of the resources of the planet on which all of us depend for our survival?
Why is so much ‘wealth’ spent on competing to create ‘arms’ with which nations or individuals can damage or destroy one another?
Why do so few of our political and business leaders seem to recognise that our species is facing the possibility of suicide before of the end of the present century?
What should we be doing to avoid that happening?
The whole newsletter – and others – can be read by visiting www.jamesrobertson.com/newsletter.htm.
Wolf: Theresa May’s policies ’make a mockery of her rhetoric’. Are they also provoking ‘generational jihad’?
Martin Wolf (FT) reminds readers of the words of Theresa May, the prime minister, in her speech to the Conservative party conference last year: “Our economy should work for everyone, but if your pay has stagnated for several years in a row and fixed items of spending keep going up, it doesn’t feel like it’s working for you.” She earnestly promised that this would change.
He continues: “Was Mrs May’s speech hypocritical? Yes”.
The work of the increasingly high-profile Resolution Foundation, a charity funded by Resolution, a successful insurance investment firm founded by Clive Cowdery, focusses on low earners and the policy responses required to lift their living standards. Cowdery was knighted in the 2016 New Year Honours for services to children and social mobility
However, Resolution’s new ‘Executive Chair’ is David Willetts, a former Tory minister, described as a pioneer of generational jihad – revealing “a country that is choosing to give priority to the well-off over the poor, and the old over the young” (see https://twitter.com/resfoundation)
Wolf comments that whatever such a country might be, it is not one that, in the prime minister’s own words, acts “to correct unfairness and injustice and put government at the service of ordinary working people”.
Willetts should heed Richard Smerdon (Letters, FT):
As I and many others can testify, millions of ageing men and women in this country are supporting their struggling children (themselves in their 30s and 40s but struggling nevertheless) in a huge variety of ways: childcare, money (in lump sums, guarantees and regular payments) and accommodation. This at a time (since the banking collapse) when returns on one’s savings have been negligible. We’ve been clobbered as well! The mess the government has got itself into over the crass handling of the tax credit issue (reform, yes, but wholesale impoverishment, no) is entirely its own fault, but many pensioners will be bracing themselves to help out yet again — which we do out of love for our children of course — but it seems an unfair additional penalty to pay for government incompetence.
Using the latest forecasts from the Office for Budget Responsibility to project household incomes up to 2020, the picture is one of rising inequality. Wolf asks, “Why is this happening?” He gives several reasons, including the impact of Brexit and the tax and benefit plans inherited and maintained by Mrs May.
Theresa May, as the Resolution Foundation puts it, is “actively choosing to increase inequality”. To those who have, the government has decided to give
The significant cuts in benefits for those of working age, notably the freeze on most benefits in cash terms are being exacerbated by the rising post-referendum prices. Also important are substantial tax cuts for the relatively well-off. FT View (editorial) adds: “By pressing ahead with these inherited policies Theresa May, prime minister, as the Resolution Foundation puts it, is “actively choosing to increase inequality”.
Wolf states: “This outcome makes a mockery of the government’s inclusive rhetoric”.
Mary Dejevsky refutes the Resolution assertions (echoed by MSM) that government is prioritising the old over the young
Wolf writes: “The government is giving priority to the well-off and the old over the poor and young”, but Mary points out that the average pensioner still has an income 25% below the average worker, adding: “You wouldn’t guess that from the media”. She points out:
“The state pension is one of the last truly contributory payments. To present it as just another handout and part of a ballooning benefits bill is an invitation to the young to resent the amount spent even more — and to the recipients to feel that they are being patronised. The state pension should be separated from the overall benefits bill forthwith”.
A graph compiled by Aegon Insurance shows that though the income gap has narrowed substantially, working households still have a higher disposable weekly income than pensioner households.
The Foundation’s latest report includes housing costs to back up its announcement that pensioner incomes (most mortgages paid) have overtaken working-age households (paying rent or mortgage charges).
A year after Mary wrote this article, the Western Daily Press reported on a study published in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine
“The elderly are dying from heart attacks and strokes because of the stress of cuts in their pensions, according to new research. Rising mortality rates among over 85s has been linked to reductions in spending on income support for the worst off. The study published in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine suggests some vulnerable older people have paid the ultimate price for austerity measures in England. Almost nine in ten of the 4.6 per cent increase in deaths in 2012 can be explained by the decline in pension credit beneficiaries, say scientists. In England, total spending on Pension Credits, income support payments for low-income pensioners, reduced by 6.5 per cent in 2012”.
Wolf concludes that the UK confronts huge challenges. Not only is productivity stagnant, it must also navigate Brexit: “It is hard to believe wise choices are being made for a country that wishes to secure a better future for its people. It is still harder to believe these are moral choices for a country forced to share out losses imposed by a massive financial crisis and weak subsequent growth” ending:
“The government may be brazenly hypocritical. But it also seems likely to get away with it”.
But the FT editorial adds a stark warning:” There is little chance of Philip Hammond, chancellor, reversing his predecessor’s regressive policies in next month’s Budget. Yet he should keep them under review. If the outlook darkens, a combination of falling living standards and rising inequality would be an extremely dangerous one in today’s febrile (Collins: intense, nervously active) politics”.
In other words: a roused public might rock
the corporate/political boat.
Is British milk doomed because the government is in hock to the supermarkets and the global exim casino?
When will government turn away from wealthy supermarkets and the exim casino traders and play fair with struggling food producers?
Ian Potter, a milk quota trader and administrator of the National Fallen Stock Scheme received the Royal Association of British Dairy Farmers’ Princess Royal Award in 2011, for his outstanding services to the industry and unique role as a disseminator of up-to-date information through his website and regular press articles.
At least once a month, Ian Potter releases news about the dairy industry. February’s account, which has not yet reached the website, is summarised here.
Ian learned from a couple of prominent dairy cow auctioneers that the majority of farmers wanting or needing to exit accept that volatility (aka roller coaster milk prices) is here to stay, and that many are now seriously considering getting out now cow values are higher.
The feeling is that significantly increased herd values will result in some going into early retirement, especially those with no one following on. That last price slump went beyond the feeling among many farmers that quitting was in some way letting the family down.
Many sons and daughters witnessed what their parents went through, and they don’t want to go through it themselves.
At least the farmers involved currently have control of the situation and their destination, rather than waiting for crippling prices to force a decision on them.
Ian urges farmers to think twice as prices rise, ‘knocking on the door of 30ppl’, before bringing in extra cows to their herds. Most dairy farmers have ruthlessly reduced cost and maximised milk from grass and that knowledge and experience should be used to regain lost income and start to build a war chest for the next big downturn.
Ian forecasts, “It will come sooner than you expect, it will hurt, and it could easily be another three-year slump”.
One idea to restore a liquid premium is the recent launch of free range milk and its intriguing idea of a ‘Black Top promise’. An online search revealed video news of the launch of this ‘branding campaign’
Nick Hiscox, the founder of the Free Range Milk Marketing Board, has come up with the idea to tackle plummeting milk prices: putting milk on the shelf that bears the “Enjoy Milk” logo, capped with a black top.
The key feature of the milk is that it is supplied from cows that graze on grass, outside in the summer and housed inside in the winter. The alternative set-up, known as “zero grazing”, is when cows are kept indoors, all year round. This method is used by around 20% of dairy farms in the UK. 700 dairy farmers have joined the scheme and others will do so.
Two of many questions are raised here:
Will this campaign improve the fortunes of the British dairy industry?
When will government take the issue of food security seriously?