Recent Fight the cuts Articles
So I’m in a bar, speaking to this friend of mine, who we’ll call Bill.
Bill’s a defence lawyer in Glasgow, deals with shoplifters, sticky-fingered junkies and pavement boxers, that kind of thing. He’s telling me about Mr S, who he’s just finished defending against a charge of fraudulent benefits claims.
“Mr S is in his fifties”, Bill says. ”He’s an engineer, worked in the same factory since he was nineteen. Two years ago, boom, firm goes into administration and lays off the entire workforce. Suddenly, it’s unemployment. Mr S gets Jobseeker’s Allowance, but it’s a shitty way to live. He’s still trying to pay off his mortgage, two kids to look after, and nobody anywhere wants to hire a fifty-four year old engineer…”
“Sucks to be him” I say.
“Sure does. So one day, Mr S shows up at the Job Centre. The guy behind the desk says, we’ve been looking at your case, and you’ve claimed six hundred and fifty quid that you aren’t entitled to”.
“Over two years?” I ask, doing a quick calculation. ”My God, he’s been ripping us all off for more than six quid a week”.
Bill nods. ”Yeah, the guy’s a regular Ronnie Biggs. So Mr S says it was an accident, that he ticked the wrong box, says the form was long and confusing”.
“Did you believe him?” I ask, thinking back to my own fortnight on the dole. I had to fill in a form the size of a novella and I got the princely sum of eight quid, and no job offers… And that was in 1999, the salad days by comparison.
“Hell,” Bill says, “The sheriff believed him, not that it did him any good. I’ve seen those forms. You need a degree in fucking advanced mathematics to work those things out. Mr S is all like I’ve worked for every penny I’ve ever earned and I’ve never stolen nothing from anyone and all that shit”.
“Is it true?”.
“Who knows? Who cares? Not me, not the clerks, especially not the sheriff. Intentional, unintentional, it’s all the same. So anyway, the DWP are having this big crackdown on benefit cheats, and they’re not interested in Mr S’s offer to pay them back. Pay them with what, the money they’re giving him?”
“We couldn’t have that”.
“No, heaven forfend. Doesn’t matter whether he meant it, doesn’t matter whether he ripped off five hundred quid or fifty thousand. Here he is sitting in a room with a sheriff, some lawyers and a pack of twitchy junkies and wham, conviction, there you go. Guy never had a chance of getting off with it, really”.
“Bad luck for Mr S”, I say. ”I hope he gets a job soon. Imagine having to go back to the Jobcentre to grovel for change to the same guys that poled you up the backside like that”.
“Well, if he was struggling to get a job before, he sure isn’t going to find it any easier now that he’s got a criminal conviction for dishonesty. You have to declare that to potential employers, you know”.
I whistled. ”Man, that’s harsh. Does the government know this kind of thing is going on?”
Bill gave me a funny look, like I’d asked where babies come from. ”Mate, I told you – the government is pushing this crackdown so hard it’s a wonder their arms don’t burst out of their sockets”.
I gave that some thought. ”I wonder what Iain Duncan Smith thinks about folk like Mr S”, I said.
“Hell, I bet he stays up all night long worrying about those motherfuckers”, Bill said, draining his pint. ”I bet their plight just breaks his heart”.
“Iain Duncan Smith has a heart?”
“I fucking hope so, or there’ll be nothing for the vampire hunters to drive a wooden stake through… Same again?”
I finished my pint. ”Of course,” I said.
Yesterday’s speech by Ed Miliband on social security reform was positive.
First of all, there was the reference to child poverty. I was in the audience, and my key question for this speech was whether he was going to drop Labour’s historic commitment to ending child poverty as some have demanded.
He began by accepting the fact that this goal has become much more difficult and the target of ending child poverty may have to be put back from the original deadline of 2020. Denying this would rightly have been criticised, after all, the current government’s policies will increase the number of children in poverty by 400,000 by 2015/16.
But he didn’t use this as an excuse to walk away from the commitment:
But I still think we can make progress if everyone pulls their weight.
And there was a real commitment to tackling working poverty. Part of his strategy for bringing down the costs of social security to raise the incomes of low paid workers. He talked of “an economy that works for working people” – a phrase I think we’ll hear more of over the next two years.
That’s why the union response has been so positive, with Len McCluskey highlighting the commitment “to action on demeaning, insecure work and a drive to embed the living wage” and Paul Kenny picking up on “stopping abuse of zero hours contacts, preventing exploitation of temporary workers and outlawing recruitment only from abroad.”
And there was the commitment to a Job Guarantee for young people unemployed over a year and over-25s unemployed over two years. This is a real job, built on the lessons learned from the Future Jobs Fund. This is a long-standing TUC priority and it was great to see the re-affirmation of Labour’s plans to introduce and extend this embodiment of reciprocity.
And, talking of reciprocity and TUC priorities, there was the emphasis on revitalising the contributory principle. There were times in the last twenty years when it felt as if the trade union movement was the only institution that still felt that National Insurance was part of the solution, not part of the problem.
I know from talking to Labour politicians that Kate Bell and Declan Gaffney’s report on Making a Contribution, published as part of our series of Touchstone pamphlets, has helped in the development of Labour thinking on social security reform. Of course, there’s still a great deal of work to be done to take this from being a bright idea to a detailed plan for renewal, but the promise to look for ways to show that society values workers’ contribution is real.
And finally there was the language of the speech – this was a “One Nation Plan for Social Security Reform” and it was nice to hear the term “social security” being rehabilitated by a leading politician.
Ever since we imported the American habit of calling the benefit system “welfare” we seem to have moved closer and closer to American attitudes too. Mr Miliband made quite a few references to the “welfare state” or the “welfare system”, but the Labour leadership seems to have returned to talking about social security and benefits – I hope they keep it up!
There is no evidence that offering universal pensioner benefits preserves support for universal benefits more broadly. Basically, people support benefits they get, but not other types of benefits such as for the unemployed or low paid.
Indeed, hurrah for evidence-based policy.
Here’s more evidence, from HMRC’s 2010-11 review of the take up of Child Benefit, Child Tax Credit ad Working Tax Credit:
The central estimate of the Child Benefit take-up rate in 2010-11 is 96 per cent.
The central estimate of the Child Tax Credit caseload take-up rate in 2010-11 is 83 per cent.
The central estimate of the Working Tax Credit caseload take-up rate in 2010-11 is 64 per cent.
That is, take up be families who are eligible for benefits are much lower when they are mean tested, and even lower when that means testing becomes complex.
Then there’s Free School Meals
More than a quarter of children entitled to free school meals take a packed lunch instead because they fear being stigmatised, according to a study by the Institute for Social and Economic Research.
The idea, then, that a means testing policy for winter fuel targeted at the richest pensioners will end up just affecting the richest pensioners is fanciful; the much greater effect will be on pensioners who, for whatever reason or set of reasons, don’t feel able to submit themselves to the means-testing process.
It is also reasonable to conjecture that there will be a negative correlation between vulnerability/poverty and take up.
Of course, in a more socially just we wouldn’t need winter fuel allowances at all, because fuel would be affordable to the poorest, but given where we are it is highly irresponsible for Labour to be signing up to policy which may result directly in cold, dead pensioners.
But cold, dead pensioners aside, the continuing distance in the Labour party between policymaking and the reality of policy implementation – of the type which brought us the Lord Freud Welfare to Work Narnia in 2008 – continues to be a disappointment.
This was the kind of thing that wasn’t supposed to happen after the Refounding Labour process, because policy was supposed to become grounded in the experience of those implementing that policy and those living with its consequences.
Another sign of the times is the debate about how much people on benefits need to spend on food. The BBC says you can have “a healthy diet on £15 a week”.
Of course, most of us could take a holiday to poverty and get by for a day or two or even a week or two. Polly Toynbee is spot on about this, it’s the grinding effect that makes poverty different – the longer it lasts, the fewer resources you have and the more difficult it is to cope with an emergency or unexpected bill.
Just as important, the longer it lasts, the greyer life becomes, the more depressing. No wonder many people in long-term poverty are desperate to hang on to whatever “luxuries” they still have; lectures about this from the comfortable are beneath contempt.
It was George Orwell who had the clearest insight about the politics of poverty in the 1930s. In The Road to Wigan Pier, he imagined what would happen if the millions on the dole did actually cut their spending in the way the Daily Mail and Conservative MPs would still like.
Orwell had experienced French food culture at first hand and thought that the English could learn lessons about making food go further. But in the end that was irrelevant: people on benefits don’t have a hard time because they lack the skills to make the most of their benefits, their benefits are deliberately set at a level where most people will find it hard to cope.
This isn’t a conscious policy of forcing malnutrition on millions of fellow-citizens, it’s the inevitable result of a political conversation dominated by the obsession that the poor may be putting one over on the rest of us.
As Orwell put it:
If the unemployed learned to be better managers they would be visibly better off, and I fancy it would not be long before the dole was docked correspondingly.
People aren’t hungry because they’re incompetent, they’re hungry because the rest of us think that the possibility they may be getting away with something is more important than hunger.
A longer version of this post is on the Touchstone blog
by Rick B
The community of sick and disabled people behind the WOW petition have now considered the official response given when you pass 10,000 signatures (we are now a third of the way to 100,000) from the Department of Work and Pensions.
Initially, we were shocked at the cursory nature and limited scope of the response. On reflection, we are disappointed and angry.
Our petition calls for a cumulative impact assessment (CIA) of welfare reforms as they affect sick and disabled people. The government says, to paraphrase, that they did not, indeed could not, do a CIA because the changes involved were too numerous and too complex.
The DWP is saying that it embarked upon a programme of changes, which it acknowledges are the biggest changes to welfare in sixty years, without knowing what the effect would be on the most vulnerable people in society.
For a government department the size of the DWP to say that a CIA would have been too difficult is, frankly, risible. It has also been proved to be incorrect by the cross-party think tank Demos, which has carried out its own CIA. Demos has concluded that 3.7million sick and disabled people will be negatively affected by welfare reform, with a total loss of income up to 2018 of £28.3billion.
As Demos is comparatively a small organisation with limited resources, the fact that it was able to do this CIA makes the DWP’s failure to do so remarkable, to say the least.
The issue of a Cumulative Impact Assessment was addressed in the first sentence of the e-petition, but it is the only aspect of the petition that the government has responded to. There is no response to the request for an immediate halt to the Work Capability Assessment, as demanded by the British Medical Association in 2012 because it was harming patients.
Our call for an end to ‘forced work under threat of sanctions for people on disability benefits’ and various other measures, all of which are ignored in the government response.
The response makes clear the government’s total and reckless lack of regard for the health, safety, wellbeing, and human rights of sick and disabled people in the UK. Consequently the Human Rights of sick and disabled people in the UK will be on the agenda for discussion at the Annual General Meeting of Amnesty International on 13/14 April 2013.
For more information and to sign the WOW Petition please go to wowpetition.com
The most sweeping changes to our NHS since its inception were put in place on Monday.
But as the new system grinds into gear the fight continues, including an immediate battle over the competition regulations at the heart of the ‘reforms’. There’s a chance to defeat this core element of the Government’s plans in Parliament this month, and we’re asking supporters to contact MPs and members of the House of Lords to ensure that they act.
When the Procurement, Patient Choice and Competition Regulations under section 75 of the Health and Social Care Act were quietly published in February there was uproar from the public, medical professions and health unions.
They all believed the regulations broke promises Ministers made during the passage of the Act that decisions about whether, when and how to use competition would lie squarely with the new GP commissioners.
Instead they would force services out to competition. The outcry forced the Government to rewrite and a second version was laid in March, coming into effect on 1 April.
So what changed? Some warm words about integration and co-operation were added to the new regulations and some of the most explicit pro-competition wording was removed. But experts agree that the new wording has much the same effect as the previous version.
The key point is the ‘single provider test’ in regulation 5. To award a contract to provide health care services without a competition, commissioners will have to be satisfied that only that provider is capable of delivering that service.
There are lots of sensible reasons why commissioners might not want to put a service out to competition. For instance, they might think the contract is too small to justify the trouble and expense of a competition, or they might want to support a local NHS provider that is already delivering a good service for patients.
But if they can’t be certain there is only one possible provider, they will have to subject the service to competition. As this blog explains, there will often be more than one possible provider, for instance where a town has more than one hospital. Private and voluntary sector providers are likely to claim that they are potential providers too.
The bar is set so high that CCGs will end up feeling that the only way to ‘prove’ there is only one provider is to hold a competition. They are also likely to be nervous that they will face legal challenges from private providers who want to get into the NHS.
Not only will this increase the privatisation of the NHS, it will mean time and money wasted on complicated contracting processes. It will make money for lawyers and management consultants that could be better spent on providing care.
The medical professions are not convinced by the cosmetic changes. The BMA, RCN, RCGP and NHS Clinical Commissioners have all spoken out and 250 doctors have signed an open letter in the British Medical Journal.
Legal advice for 38 degrees by David Lock QC sets the risks out clearly.
A key Lords Committee examined the new regulations and their incisive report (see section C) was critical of the rushed, last-minute policy-making process and the confusion over what the revised regulations mean. The Committee sympathised with the view the regs should be revoked to allow more time for consultation, and have referred them for the ‘special attention’ of the House of Lords.
We’re asking people to contact peers and ask them to give the regulations the scrutiny they deserve by joining the debate on 24 April and supporting the ‘fatal motion’ laid by Labour’s health lead in the Lords, Phil Hunt.
If enough Liberal Democrat and Crossbench peers can be persuaded to support it the motion will scrap the regulations and force the government to think again.
MPs have a part to play too. The equivalent procedure to ‘pray against’ the regs in the Commons is an Early Day Motion signed by the leader of the Opposition. Make sure your MP has signed EDM 1188 to secure a debate there too.
There will be much more to do to protect our NHS from the worst of these reforms over the coming years. But at this point a defeat for these dangerous regulations is vital.
Dear Daily Telegraph,
Yesterday, you published an article by Allison Pearson, (“Mick Philpot, a good reason to cut benefits” 3rd April) based on a press release issued over the Easter weekend by Conservative Central Office. (NB :NOT the DWP who are barred from issuing overtly political and partisan press releases)
Your original story (900,000 choose to come off sickness benefit ahead of tests, 30th March) claimed “828,300 sick or disabled ppl had chosen to drop their claims rather than face new tougher assessments (my italics).
That claim simply isn’t true.
What’s more, it wasn’t true back in April 2011, when the government first made the same false claim.
A little while later, The DWP’s themselves issued figures showing a huge proportion (94%) of claims were dropped because the person got better or went back to work. They dropped their claims because they were honest, not because they were dishonest!!
There is a three month qualifying period for out of work sickness benefits. (ESA/IB)
As you can imagine, most people need a little help to get through a nasty illness or accident at some point in their lives.
Maybe a weekend rugby player who snaps his collar bone resulting in 2 months off work, or the Mum who needs a sudden hysterectomy and time afterwards to heal? This will happen to every last one of us at some point.
But you can’t get help when you really need it any more, in those first terrible weeks of pain and recovery. Now you have to wait 3 months before you can apply. In that time, for all but the most unfortunate, bones and scars will have healed and the person will be back on their feet again.
With no point in continuing the claim, people do the honest thing and let the DWP know they no longer need support.
This information is all in the public domain and all proven by evidence. Yet the government send out a politicised press release over the Easter weekend aimed at mis-leading the public and encouraging an entire nation to mis-trust one of the most vulnerable groups in society.
Worse still, you run the story unquestioningly, repeating claims that had already been proven to be completely untrue.
A longer version of this letter is here.
Iain Duncan’s Smith’s boast today that he could live on £53 a week is perhaps the best example of how removed this cabinet of millionaires is from the experiences of ordinary people.
Go ahead IDS, try it. Try it not just for one week but try it for 52 weeks in a year.
Try living every day and every week just hand-to-mouth. Try living in a state of constant anxiety that a big unexpected bill could completely bankrupt you. Try living in a world where you constantly have to make excuses to friends because you can’t afford going out, and see what state of mind that puts you in. I’ve been there and it was depressing.
The Tories have always believed the vast majority of people people on welfare are lazy and would prefer benefits over work.
Their changes to welfare aren’t driven by compassion (as IDS used to claim), evidence or a genuine attempt to help people.
This is an entirely ideological crusade because none of their policies (from the Bedroom Tax, to Workfare programmes, Universal Credit and disability benefit cuts) are designed to help people.
There are constant setbacks and u-turns because IDS has never cared whether they are driven by evidence or not. Why else would he continue a Workfare programme that wastes money and is less successful than doing nothing? Why else would he penalise disabled people for having a spare room if they’ve got nowhere else to go?
If Iain Duncan Smith was genuinely interested in helping people out of poverty he’d try to understand their concerns, look at how policies affect people and understand the evidence.
There is none of that. There are just attempts to foist ill-thought-out changes on people’s lives in the belief it is best for them. And there is the arrogant belief that it isn’t so difficult being in their shoes.
Let’s see him put his money where his mouth is. If there was any evidence he doesn’t understand reality, this is it.
A little thought, however, reveals that such spending is in fact puny. Let's do the numbers.
The DWP says that, in 2011-12, working age people got £52.7bn in benefits. Of this, £16.6bn was housing benefit and £2.7bn council tax benefit, so benefit recipients saw £33.4bn. This is 2.2% of GDP, and 5.2% of total government spending.
What fraction of this £33.4bn is spent on drink and ciggies? We can use table A6 of the latest Family Spending tables as a guide. These show that the poorest decile spend an average of £148,80 per week on non-housing. Of this, £2.70 per week (1.8%) goes on alcohol and £3.90 (2.6%) on tobacco and narcotics. If we apply these proportions to the £33.4bn of benefit income, then £606m of those benefits are spent on alcohol and £875m on tobacco.
But the government gets a lot of this money back in VAT and excise duties – about £689m on tobacco and £190m on alcohol. This implies that benefit recipients' spending on tobacco and alcohol costs taxpayers a net £602m. In fact, not even this much, to the extent that brewers and tobacco manufacturers pay tax on their incomes.
This is a tiny sum. It's 0.09% of public spending and 0.04% of GDP. In making an issue of this, Ms Price is enlarging things out of their proper proportion.How unlike her.
What's going on here? Usually, I'd quote C.B.Macpherson, to the effect that there's still a puritan strand in politics which regard poverty as a moral failing and the poor as objects of condemnation. However, considering Ms Price's career, puritanism is hard to discern.
Instead, I suspect what we see with her and with Ukip – and, one could argue, with some who support press regulation whilst favouring social liberalism in other contexts – is asymmetric libertarianism.
People want freedom for themselves whilst seeking to deny it to others; this is why some Ukippers can claim to be libertarian whilst opposing immigration and gay marriage. This debased and egocentric form of libertarianism is more popular than the real thing.
by Bethan Jones
Yesterday I was found guilty in the Oxford Magistrates’ Court of causing “harassment, alarm and distress” following a peaceful and legal political protest in Witney in December. The judge said “I can think of nothing more alarming than the statement that ‘Cameron has blood on his hands’.”
I will continue to say that Cameron has blood on his hands, whenever the opportunity presents itself.
The words that the government and media are using is the indirect part of their attack on disabled people. Disability hate crime, which ranges from comments in the street through vandalism of motability cars up to imprisonment, torture, rape and murder is growing.
I knew about this through hearing and reading stories about the people who are being affected, I also knew that these stories weren’t being given the front page spreads that ‘scrounger’ stories get.
Here’s what happened. On the 30th November David Cameron was booed as he came on stage to turn on the Witney Christmas Lights. There’s a very funny video of him trying to drown out any criticism by awkwardly getting the crowd to cheer everyone from themselves to the Queen.
I find it very weird watching the video, because while this was going on I was being beaten up by the police on the other side of the stage. I have never been so scared.
I held up a placard that said “Cameron has blood on his hands,” and I shouted that “disabled people are dying because of Cameron’s policies.” I didn’t expect that to be a big deal, I only wanted to do my bit to show that we’re not all taken in by the rhetoric that disabled people are ‘scroungers’ and ‘shirkers.’
My face was pushed into the ground, I could feel blood coming from my nose, there was someone putting their whole weight on my back while someone else was stamping on my knees, along with various people grabbing and twisting my limbs. And then the officer on my back moved a knee up onto the back of my neck.
Up until then I’d been shouting “I’m not resisting, I’m cooperating,” trying to ask them to stop, but from the moment I felt someone pressing their body weight into the back of my neck I gave up trying to communicate anything to them, I realised the police officers on top of me either couldn’t or wouldn’t hear me.
Instead I began begging anyone who was nearby to intervene, to tell them to stop. Images flashed into my mind of what could happen. I was in pain, I couldn’t see what was going on, I was crying and bleeding, I couldn’t properly breathe, and I thought that they might leave me seriously injured. I’ve worked supporting people who’ve badly damaged their necks or back, and I can’t believe that any police officer was taught that kneeling on the back of someone’s neck is every an acceptable thing to do.
I didn’t think that it would lead to being beaten up, arrested, held overnight and then taken to court on two ridiculous charges.
The fine and costs come to more than I earn in a month. The judge said that on a whole £700 a month, of course I’d have no trouble paying it back. After rent, travel to work, food and paying off loans I don’t have money left at the end of the month, and my salary is going down soon.
We can listen to the voices of the people who know what’s going on, the people on the front-line of the cuts, and share them with our friends. Calum’s List lists the deaths caused directly by welfare reform.
A longer version of this post is posted to Facebook.
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