Blog Archives

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.”

 

 

 

o

Advertisements

Black Monday: how can government sentence the poor and disabled to increased hardship?

How can MPs earning more than double the national average – plus allowances, directorships and expenses – find it in their heart to vote to sentence the poor and disabled (without influence) to increased hardship?

The relatively prosperous look on aghast as support for those who have least is cut but the prosperous are voted tax breaks and other concessions. How far will this government be allowed to go?

It is no coincidence that around the country groups are gathering to promote showings of the latest Ken Loach film and citing his Question Time video clip:  

ken-loach

A Bournville reader points out that “the tragedy is that (the long-term homeless) are going to be joined by many more who have had a home. See what is going to come into play with effect from Monday 7th November” and sends a link to an article about a cut in housing benefit from Nov 7th.

He asks: “Where are all these extra homeless people and families to go? And at what cost?” 

Tomorrow more than 100,000 households will be materially worse off. Some households will lose as much as £115 a week.

The idea of tightening their belt and reducing household spending assumes that energy and food are expendable luxuries.

tighten-belt-cropThose hit by the cap will soon be in arrears. Either their landlord, social or private, absorbs the cost of the arrears, or – more likely – the tenant is evicted.

In the Guardian, Aditya Chakrabortty stresses the costs of the lost income, the long-term psychological harm to tenants, the deteriorating health of households in temporary accommodation and the exorbitant cost of temporary accommodation for those evicted.

Every day in England and Wales, 170 tenants are evicted.

homeless-textEvictions have increased by 53% in the past five years. Around 80% of these are carried out by social landlords, and a further 20% by private landlords.

The new reduced benefit cap: how it works and who it affects – the facts and figures – are given here and in the BBC programme, right.

Those who are being swayed by the PM’s rhetoric should look at her previous actions in office as Minister for Women and Equality, when her edicts downgraded the provision for carers, children in need and vulnerable people. She:

  • suspended the registration scheme for carers of children and vulnerable people.
  • scrapped the former Labour Government’s proposed “go orders” scheme to protect women from domestic violence by banning abusers from the victim’s home.
  • closed the previous Government’s “ContactPoint” database of 11 million under-18-year olds designed to protect children in the wake of the Victoria Climbié child abuse scandal and
  • removed a clause from the Equality Act which would have required public bodies to consider how they can reduce socio-economic inequalities when making decisions about spending and services.

Welfare payments are designed to act as a safety net to stop people in the fifth-richest economy in the world being hungry or homeless.

Where will the cuts inflicted on the poorest end, and wherever is Ms May’s compassionate conservatism in action?

 

 

 

Can we learn from Syriza, despite the jeers of the ‘narrow-minded, unimaginative, and arrogant European bureaucracy’?

Eurozone officials recently had to call off a visit by bailout inspectors to Athens, after Greek authorities objected to a trip similar to previous audits by the “troika” — the trio of creditor institutions (IMF, EC, ECB).

left unity syrizaSeventy people in Birmingham, including a delegation from the Spanish Podemos, came to a Left Unity meeting to hear Marina Prentoulis of Syriza speak about the situation that the new anti-austerity government is facing in Greece.

Even though – as LSE economist, Francesco Caselli writes in the FT – collecting taxes is central to any attempt to rebuild the Greek government’s ability to secure revenues meeting the needs of an industrialised economy, EC uncivil servants were said to have “laughed out loud” and described the Greek proposal to combat value added tax evasion as “quite hilarious, if it were not so tragic”. Caselli comments:

prof francesco caselli”Greece is at the mercy of a narrow-minded, unimaginative, and arrogant European bureaucracy ignorant of local culture and history and incapable of recognising truly creative, promising, innovative ideas that might help Greece out of its horrendous predicament”.

“Anyone with the slightest experience of life in countries where value added tax is routinely flouted (a category that clearly does not include the officials in question) knows that no matter how sternly the government promises fines and punishments for the evaders, nothing will change until the deeply ingrained culture of tacit acquiescence by customers is broken”.

Caselli mentions two successful measures which yielded large tax receipts and, “perhaps more importantly, did much to shatter the culture of passive acquiescence”:

  • In the 1990s Italy fined customers who left a shop without a receipt,
  • and Argentina exchanged receipts for lottery tickets.

He adds: “It is a fair bet that eurozone officials would have laughed out loud if confronted with such ideas. Far better to carry on destroying the economy and living standards with the current litany of cuts in employment, social transfers and social services”.

2015 election – 1

In 2015, people turned their backs on mainstream political parties, disillusioned by successive governments legislating in the interests of big business instead of those who had elected them.

The first sign of revolt came in August 2013 when parliament, reflecting the overwhelming public opposition, voted against military action in Syria – for the first time not prioritising the relationship with the United States. Many had seen the Ken Loach film and been inspired by its account of the stable economy achieved in five years by a war-impoverished nation.

The wild card? New voters had entered politics in large numbers – deprived and angry – mobilised by an energetic eighteen year old. 

BEN JACKSONBen Jackson was one of the 300,000 youngsters in Britain who had grown up in households where no-one in the family had ever worked since his grandmother’s generation in the ‘60s.

In his region alone, by 2013, there were children under the age of sixteen living in 171,000 households where nobody worked.

copec coverThe support network available to his parents’ generation had been dispersed to different areas during the ‘60s demolition of the back-to-back houses where they lived, some splendidly renovated and overseen by Copec housing, and people from other areas came in to occupy the flats which replaced the houses.

His first ‘official’ set-back

Ben passed the grammar school entrance examination – a remarkable feat in his school. A number of other children from various schools were also just over the borderline but there were only two places available so King Edward’s admissions officer phoned Ben’s headmaster asking his opinion of the boy. No support was given – the lad had disagreed with the head once too often; he said firmly – and with some satisfaction – “Ben would stick out like a sore thumb at grammar school” . . . payback. The place was given to another boy.

Though he was not told of this transaction, being well aware of his own ability, Ben felt instinctively that he had not been given his fair due, and the seeds of anger and resentment were sown.

He began to register the plight of people in the area where he lived.

workless households 2 graph

He saw the boredom, the lack of purpose, the addiction to antidepressants, alcohol, tobacco and illegal drugs and started to meet the few who were politically active in the mainstream parties and then Respect, the Socialist Workers’ Party and the Co-operative Party. The liveliness and dedication of the SWP attracted him, but he eventually left after finding that he was expected to accept their policies unquestioningly. His enthusiasm for the policies of the Co-operative Party waned when he saw that their radical conference resolutions – passed with large majorities by members – were ignored by the party hierarchy and did not feature in the official manifesto.

russell brand 2Then came the outburst from Russell Brand – whom Ben had formerly discounted as an attention-seeking degenerate – expressing the anger and disillusionment of masses of people in the same way as Ben later learnt to do with his help.

And one day, by chance, Ben saw a way of making a real political difference.

.