Category Archives: Poverty

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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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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Broken Britain 15: “Cruel, rigid bureaucracy has replaced common sense in this country”

So writes Peter Hitchens, summarising the unease felt by many in his recent article. He was focussing on the events leading up to the anger felt about the treatment of the ‘Windrush generation’, regarded now ‘by most of us . . .  as something pretty close to family’.

He speaks of ‘the real lesson of the wretched treatment of longstanding British subjects who have been deprived of medical service, threatened with deportation and generally destroyed and trampled on by callous officials . . . deprived of the most basic freedoms and of entitlements they have earned by long years of working and taxpaying.’

After tracing the political trend from New Labour measures to Theresa May’s ‘Go Home’ lorries trundling around London’ he describes increasing ‘tough’ measures as a London liberal’s idea of what might please the despised voters.

Frankly it’s hard to see how the capital could function without foreign nannies, cleaners and gardeners

In a 2009 article, Andrew Neather reviewing the New Labour policies, ‘laced with scorn for working-class people worried about the immigration revolution’, said:

‘The results in London, and especially for middle-class Londoners, have been highly positive. It’s not simply a question of foreign nannies, cleaners and gardeners – although frankly it’s hard to see how the capital could function without them. Their place certainly wouldn’t be taken by unemployed BNP voters from Barking or Burnley.’

The post-Brexit plight of EU nationals

Last year there were reports about the post-Brexit plight of EU nationals who experienced the bureaucratic maladministration and occasional cruelty from which the country’s poorest have suffered for decades.

Universal Credit system

The most recent example, reported in The Financial Times, referred to the rollout of Britain’s “Universal Credit” benefits system, challenged by more than 120 MPs saying that delayed payments are leaving poor households exposed.

Food and heating

Recently Professor Prem Sikka tweeted about 21st century Britain: He linked to a BBC report about a separate survey for the Living Wage Foundation which says that a third of working parents on low incomes have regularly gone without meals, because of a lack of money. Around a half of those families have also fallen behind with household bills.

It also quoted Citizens Advice findings that as many as 140,000 households are going without power, as they cannot afford to top up their prepayment meters. The survey conducted by Citizens Advice found, “most households that cannot afford to put money in the meter contain either children or someone with a long-term health condition. Some people are left in cold houses, or without hot water”.

Sure Start

The Coalition and later Conservative governments’ cuts largely dismantled the Sure Start network, created by Labour to support families in the early years of their children’s development.

Youth Work

Unison has been working on this for some time – its 2016 report, A Future at Risk, found that £387m had been cut since the Tories took power. That’s over 600 youth centres and 140,000 places for young people.

People with disability

One of many austerity measures reported here is the cuts to school transport for disabled children. This, and many more examples of ‘cruel, rigid bureaucracy, may be seen on the website Disability United.

Sikka summarised: “Poorest families are going without food or power. Wealth is concentrated in relatively few hands and governments shower tax cuts on corporations and wealthy elites. Inequitable distribution of income/wealth is a recipe for social instability”.

 

 

 

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British-American democracy hijacked: Professor Luis Suarez-Villa

Professor Luis Suarez-Villa (Social Ecology and of Planning, Policy and Design at the University of California, Irvine) wrote in the FT recently:

American democracy was hijacked long ago by money and powerful interests, turning it into what amounts to a system of legalised corruption.

Lobbying, political action committees (super-pacs), myriad forms of campaign contributions and patronage are at the core of this phenomenon.

By comparison, the so-called Russian meddling in the 2016 election seems amateurish at best, and perhaps (more seriously) a way for the political establishment to divert the attention of the American people from the real problems of a corrupt system of public governance, whose patrons and beneficiaries want the rest of the world to think it is democratic.

A review of his book Corporate Power, Oligopolies, and the Crisis of the State (2015) expands his argument:

“The largest, wealthiest corporations have gained unprecedented power and influence in contemporary life.

“From cradle to grave the decisions made by these entities have an enormous impact on how we live and work, what we eat, our physical and psychological health, what we know or believe, whom we elect, and how we deal with one another and with the natural world around us.

“At the same time, government seems ever more subservient to the power of these oligopolies, providing numerous forms of corporate welfare—tax breaks, subsidies, guarantees, and bailouts—while neglecting the most basic needs of the population.

“In Corporate Power, Oligopolies, and the Crisis of the State, Luis Suarez-Villa employs a multidisciplinary perspective to provide unprecedented documentation of a growing crisis of governance, marked by a massive transfer of risk from the private sector to the state, skyrocketing debt, great inequality and economic insecurity, along with an alignment of the interests of politicians and a new, minuscule but immensely wealthy and influential corporate elite.

“Thanks to this dysfunctional environment, Suarez-Villa argues, stagnation and a vanishing public trust have become the hallmarks of our time”.

His charges apply just as accurately to the British scene: British democracy has also been hijacked by money and powerful interests, turning it into what amounts to a system of legalised corruption.

 

 

Emeritus Professor Luis Suarez-Villa is the author of several other books, including Globalization and Technocapitalism: The Political Economy of Corporate Power and Technological Domination and Technocapitalism: A Critical Perspective on Technological Innovation and Corporatism.

 

 

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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.

 

 

 

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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 http://uk.businessinsider.com/gus-odonnell-focus-on-wellbeing-to-counter-populism-2016-12

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?”

 

 

 

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Broken Britain 12: rising homelessness? Retaliatory evictions?

“100 tenants a day lose homes as rising rents and benefit freeze hit” – The Observer July 2017.

In the same month, a Joseph Rowntree Foundation study attributed 80% of the recent rise in evictions to the “no fault” process under section 21 of the Housing Act 1988.

Two months’ written notice is all that private landlords need to do: they don’t need to give any reason when they ask tenants to leave.

It allows the worst landlords to ignore disrepair – tenants who complain are given notice – a process officially recognised under the name retaliatory eviction’.

Read more about retaliatory eviction’ – the subject of Commons Briefing paper SN07015 by Wendy Wilson – published on June 13, 2017.   

 

Jeremy Corbyn raised the issue forcefully in Wednesday’s Prime Minister’s Questions

His exchange with the Prime Minister may be seen here, courtesy of Steve Walker and the full transcript in Hansard may be seen here.

Mr Corbyn reviewed the government’s record:

  • Homelessness is up by 50% and rough sleeping has doubled. Homelessness and rough sleeping have risen every single year since 2010.
  • Evictions by private landlords have quadrupled since 2010. There is no security in the private rented sector.
  • One-for-one replacement of council housing sold off through the right to buy was promised, but just one in five council homes have been replaced.
  • Hundreds of thousands of people are on housing waiting lists.

Shelter is calling for the introduction of a stable rental contract to become the norm in England.

Campbell Robb, chief executive, said: “With the possibility of eviction with just two months’ notice, and constant worries about when the next rent rise will hit, the current rental market isn’t giving people – particularly families – the stability they need to put down roots. The stable rental contract offers renters a five-year tenancy and gives landlords more confidence in a steady income, all within the existing legal framework”.

Scotland for best practice to date: the Scottish secure tenancy

In Scotland, under Jack McConnell’s Labour government, by an order under section 11 of the 2001 the Housing (Scotland) Act tenants of local authorities, housing associations & tenants who are members of fully mutual co-operative housing associations, from 30 September 2002, became Scottish secure tenants.

Read the excellent terms here. Will a Labour government in this country adopt this Rolls Royce standard model and also introduce a stable rental contract for those in private accommodation? Or will the profit motive win the day?

 

 

 

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Theresa May: “the government wants people to be able to manage their own (universal credit) budgets”

Yet again, the vulnerable suffer. Due to successive governments many now in need have been ill-educated, ill-nourished and under stress because they could not find work.  In similar circumstances Mrs May and few of her colleagues would be managing their budgets well.

The introduction of universally paying housing benefit direct to landlord (stopped in 2008) was extremely helpful to those not able (or willing) to budget. It has been retained under universal credit and actually adds to the problems of landlords and tenants alike.

Quoting from a letter circulated by GAP Property during PMQs, Jeremy Corbyn said: “Will the prime minister pause universal credit so it can be fixed? Or does she think it is right to put thousands of families through Christmas in the trauma of knowing they are about to be evicted because they are in rent arrears because of universal credit?”

GAP Property said the introduction of universal credit would affect the vast majority of its tenants and it needed to take action to avoid a slew of rent arrears, which could put it out of business.

The company’s owner, Guy Piggott, said the letter was not intended to be threatening and he was pleased it had been highlighted by Corbyn at Prime Minister’s Questions on Wednesday.

“We are not planning to throw people out, but the prime minister should read this and recognise the problems . . . the majority of his tenants were on an average household income of about £17,000 a year. “People are already living hand to mouth . . . At best, if they need to wait six weeks to be paid, it will be the end of February before it comes, and by then they might have spent the money they had on feeding their families or heating their homes”.

Paragraphs from a snapshot of the letter:

Piggott said many landlords would soon refuse to take people who were on universal credit. “A lot of landlords are now saying enough is enough”.

Jeremy Corbyn said: “Will the prime minister pause universal credit so it can be fixed? Or does she think it is right to put thousands of families through Christmas in the trauma of knowing they are about to be evicted because they are in rent arrears because of universal credit?”

Mrs May replied that she wanted to “look at the issue of this particular case” but said the government wanted people to be able to manage their own budgets and expressed less than impressive hopes that the government could act next week to cut the six-week wait for payments to five.

 

 

 

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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?”

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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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Broken Britain 9: ‘populism’ is really ‘anti-elitism’ – a backlash due to economic and political inequality

Stephen Latner, an FT reader, reminds columnist Philip Stephens – and a whole range of commentators – that it would be more accurate to describe “populism” as “anti-elitism” and acknowledge that the backlash is not down purely to economic factors but political as well . . .

Philip Stephens had explained that the explanation for a rising sense of grievance and a collapse of trust in the old political order is to be found in the answers to the opinion poll question asking people if they expect a better life for their children:

“Voters are now more likely to answer no than yes. The march to progress, they assume, has ended . . .The pain is made the more acute when a small minority can indeed pass on great power and wealth to their children . . .”

Latner adds that many voted for Brexit because of the perceived elitism of the EU (“an unelected, non-transparent, central bureaucracy”) and sees that new technology – ‘the digital age’ – is ensuring that elitism will come under fire and more centralisation of political power will be seen as elitist and unacceptable.

Stephens supplies the element missing from Latner’s analysis – the added burden of a political elite allied with the wealthiest corporates:

“At its simplest, establishing trust is about behaviour. Today’s elites should ask themselves just when it became acceptable:

  • for politicians to walk straight from public office into the boardroom;
  • for central bank chiefs to sell themselves to US investment banks
  • and for business leaders to pay themselves whatever they pleased”.

 

 

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