Archive for the ‘Disability’ Category

Is Boris Planning to Force Poor to Take Out Loans instead of Unemployment Benefit?

January 25, 2020

I realise that this may strike some people as a somewhat petty and ill-tempered overreaction to a passing comment someone made, but it’s been annoying me ever since I heard it. And I’m afraid, if it’s true, it could mean further devastating cuts to our already underfunded and dysfunctional welfare state. And it is also a revealing insight into the mean-spirited, jealous mindset of the working class Tory voter.

I was on the bus coming home yesterday when I happened to overhear the conversation from the couple on the seats immediately behind me. From the tone of their voices and their conversation, it seems they were an older couple. The man talked about how families no longer properly looked after their elderly relatives, except in places like Scotland. He said, quite rightly, that retired people also stimulated the economy by going out and having meals or a cup of coffee. That didn’t annoy me at all. What did – and it made so furious I was tempted to turn around and put the old fellow right – was his comment immediately before those. He announced that he agreed with Boris Johnson that workers like brickies – at least, that’s what I think he said – shouldn’t be given benefit when they were unemployed. They should have to take out a loan. He then went on to explain that he’d worked for a certain time without claiming his holidays. Then he was laid off. When he tried to sign on, however, he was told that by the clerk that they had received information about him which meant that he wouldn’t get any money for three weeks. Since then, he said, he always took his holidays.

I don’t know if this remark of Johnson’s is true, or where it was reported. It might be garbled rubbish, or it might be solid fact as reported by the Scum or some other Tory rag. But if it’s true, then it’s dangerous.

It should immediately be apparent how weak the man’s own argument is. Builders, like other workers, contribute to their unemployment benefit through National Insurance and their taxes. They therefore have every right to claim such benefit when they’re unemployed. The fact that the man complaining about it wasn’t is unfortunately, but irrelevant. From the sound of it, when he was laid off he was paid in lieu of the annual leave he didn’t take, and this amounted to three weeks’ worth of money. Or at least, that’s what the Jobcentre was informed or chose to assume.

This country is also suffering under a mountain of debt. The book The Violence of Austerity has an entire chapter devoted to the ‘violence of debtfare’. This debt, from student loans for education, payday loans, mortgages and so on, is not only keeping people poor, in some cases the repayments are actually making them unable to pay for necessities like food and heating. The very last thing this country needs is for more of it. But this is what this gentleman thought Johnson was advocating, and with which he agreed.

I remember the Social Fund and the way it operated in the Benefits Agency in the 1990s. Thatcher’s and Major’s governments decided to replace the system of grants that had been in place to allow claimants to buy certain necessities with a system of loans. It’s not a scheme that worked well. Some long term claimants, I’m sure, would have been better served with grants, not least because the loan system meant that money was deducted from benefit that was already supposed to be the minimum an individual could live on. The current system of loans in the welfare system has exacerbated this, so that with the repayments some people have notoriously been left with only a few pounds to last them the week. But Johnson and this idiot believe that this is acceptable.

I am also disgusted by the attitude behind these comments, though not surprised. When I was at school I remember reading letters in the local paper, The Evening Post as it then was, by people of a certain age supporting Thatcher’s cuts to unemployment and other benefits. The attitude there was that they had never had the benefit of state aid in their youth, and so the younger generation shouldn’t either. And the same attitude and argument crops up again and again whenever the Tories announce yet another round of cuts. I also think that part of the problem is that some of those with this attitude still believe that suitable work is available for everyone, somehow. They’ve benefited from the period between the Second World War and the Thatcher’s election as Prime Minister, when the government was committed to a policy of full employment. And even after that policy was abandoned, there was still the illusion of plenty of employment opportunities. I can remember trying to tell one of my co-workers how difficult I had found it to get a job after graduating university. There didn’t seem to be anything to fit my qualifications. This was also at a time when jobs were so scarce, that there were so many applicants for particular jobs that frequently prospective employers didn’t even inform you if you had been unsuccessful. But nevertheless, my coworkers were sceptical, saying ‘There are plenty of jobs in the paper’. This man clearly assumed that anyone who was laid off would find themselves new work in a relatively short space of time. But that’s no longer guaranteed.

But it’s through such selfishness and the resentment of a certain section of the working class to anyone they feel is getting more state benefits than they are, which the Tories are using to generate support for their welfare cuts.

There is no other justification. The benefit cuts and consequent tax cuts to the rich haven’t boosted the economy. Even right-wing economists now deny that trickledown – the process by which the wealth accrued to the high earners would pass down through society to those at the bottom – works or that it was even a major part of neoliberal economics in the first place. And so they try to justify their cuts with spurious morality.

And to do this, they play on the worst parts of human nature. They encourage a resentment of those they brand less deserving – Blacks and Asians, the disabled, the unemployed, and the poor in a vicious strategy of ‘divide and rule’. And the logic is used to cut benefits to their supporters. I’m sure this man would have been outraged if someone told him that his pension would now be stopped for short periods, during which he would have to take out loans. Much of the Tories’ voting constituency is over 50, and so they have been reluctant to cut their benefits and pensions. This has happened nonetheless. Austerity has already claimed the lives of thousands of senior citizens.

But this will get worse, so long as the Tories are able to utilise that selfishness, fear and resentment to turn the working class and other marginalised groups against themselves. In the end, under the Tories, they will all lose.

It’s just idiots won’t see it, so long as the Tories are able to distract them by a false claim that the benefits system is treating someone else better.

 

Tories Promised Fat Profits to Fracking Companies While Others Starved

January 25, 2020

Donald Trump made his contempt for environmentalists and public concerns about climate change and global warming very clear this week at Davos. He called them ‘prophets of doom’ and frankly denied the existence of global warming. As I pointed out in a previous post, this is not only in line with what the Republican base believes, but also the propaganda of Trump’s corporate sponsors in the fossil fuel industries. Trump has passed legislation to gut the Environmental Protection Agency and prevent it from publishing anything supporting climate change or global warming. The fossil fuel industry, particularly the billionaire Koch brothers, have also set up a network of lobbying and astroturf fake grassroots pressure groups to try and discredit global warming and the other environmental damage by the oil, gas and coal industries. Those same billionaires also use these networks to close down mainstream academic environmental research, and replace them with laboratories funded by themselves, which publish their approved material denying the reality of global warming.

Mike put up a post this week reporting Trump’s anti-environmentalist stance, and saying that this would be a problem for Britain if Boris Johnson is successful and makes a Brexit deal with America.

But the Tories have already shown their contempt for Green politics. Although Dave Cameron promised that his would be the ‘Greenest government ever’ and put a windmill on the roof of his house, that lasted only as long as he could get his foot in Number 10. The moment he won the election, those promises were dropped and the windmill came off his roof. And that wasn’t all. Cameron, like Trump, strongly favoured the petrochemical industries. While his government cut the welfare budget to leave the poor desperate and starving, he cut the tax for the fracking industry so that they could make even bigger projects. Vickie Cooper and David Whyte discuss this in the introduction to their The Violence of Austerity. They write

Indeed, some sectors have been seen as a vehicle for economic recovery and therefore singled out for special treatment. This partly explains the lack of any meaningful regulatory change in the financial sector but also why some high revenue sectors, such as unconventional oil and gas – or ‘fracking’, are being singled out for special treatment… In July 2013 the government announced that the fracking industry would receive a major reduction in its tax burden. Shale gas producers were told that they would be asked to pay just 30 per cent tax on profits compared to 62 per cent normally paid by the oil and gas industry. In response, Andrew Pendleton of UK Friends of the Earth observed:

Promising tax hand-outs to polluting energy firms that threaten our communities and environment, when everyone else is being told to tighten their belts, is a disgrace. (p. 19).

Fracking is particularly contentious, as not only does it pollute the water table but it also causes minor earthquakes. There have been major protests against it throughout the country, particularly against its operations in Lancashire. The Tories just before the election promised a moratorium on it, but did not refuse to stop it completely.

The Tories’ welfare cuts have led to people starving to death, as Mike’s report this morning about the death of Errol Graham. Mr Graham had problems with anxiety, and could not cope with unexpected changes and social situations. He was afraid to go out and could not meet or interact with strangers. Despite this the DWP stopped his ESA, which meant that he lost his housing benefit. He slowly starved to death. When the bailiffs broke down his door to evict him, he weighed only 4 1/2 stone.

Why are we learning about disabled Errol Graham TWO YEARS after the DWP stopped his benefits and he starved to death?

Obscene! Absolutely obscene!

And he isn’t the only one. 130,000 people have died due to austerity. But while the government is content to let people starve to death, it’s prepared to give vast profits to friends in polluting industries. Reading this, I think there’s little doubt that Boris will resume fracking the moment he’s given the opportunity. And that if and when he makes his wretched deal with Trump, it will signal real danger for our precious ‘green and pleasant land’.

This shows the foul pair’s priorities: the world burns, the poor literally starve to death, but they’re fine so long as polluting industries can foul the planet for profit.

 

The Tory Attacks on Health and Safety Legislation Is Causing Carnage

January 21, 2020

Since almost as long as I can remember, the Tories and their lackeys in the press have been attacking health and safety legislation. The common reasons trotted out are that it is an unnecessary burden to employers, binding them with complicated red tape and costs. More recently the authors of Britannia Unchained and similar works have demanded that such legislation protecting people at work should be rolled back in order to make Britain more competitive against countries in the Developing World, whose workers don’t benefit by such protection. The Tories have tried to make this assault popular by making health and safety legislation seem not only cumbrous, interfering and bureaucratic, but also massively overprotective and silly. Remember all those stories from the Heil years ago claiming that, thanks to the ‘Nanny state’, schools were having to make children wear goggles before playing conkers?

The truth is that when health and safety legislation was introduced in the ’70s, it massively cut down on deaths and injuries among working people – and that’s basically why the Tories would like to get rid of it. They want labour to be cheap and easily disposable, and health and safety laws are an obstacle to that. And the chapter by Hilda Palmer and David Whyte in The Violence of Austerity by Whyte and Vickie Cooper shows exactly how devastating in terms of lives and injuries their attacks on the legislation has been. The government watchdog in charge of overseeing the implementation of the legislation, the Health and Safety Executive, has had its funding cut by 47 per cent. The Tories have also threatened to close it down altogether. In 2013 the government launched a review in order to see whether there was still a need for its functions and if it complied with good governance. The number of staff employed at the executive fell from 3,702 in April 2010 to 2,706 in December 2013. Since the Tories came to power, the number of inspections by the Executive has fallen by a third.

These cuts have resulted in an increase in work-related accidents and injuries, although the authors warn that the government’s figures are almost certainly too low. The real figures are almost certainly higher. They write

Typically, the official ‘headline figure’ published by the HSE records between 140 and 240 deaths per year resulting from sudden injury and 13,000 deaths caused by occupational diseases and illnesses. Those figures, however, only reflect a small proportion of total deaths caused by work. The first figure does not include key categories of deaths cause by work. The Hazards Campaign estimates that seven times more deaths are caused by work incidents than the figure official cited by the HSE. HSE figures exclude work-related road traffic deaths, the workplace deaths recorded in other industries that the HSE does not have formal responsibility for, like the maritime and civil aviation industries, or deaths to members of the public killed by a work activity, such as scaffold collapses or train crashes. A more complete estimate would also include suicides attributed to work related stress. There are approximately 6,000 suicides involving working-age people in the UK each year, and a number of those involve workers driven to despair by work-related stress. In Japan, where work-related suicides are officially recognised and compensated, it is estimated that 5 per cent of suicides are work-related. This estimate, if applied to the UK, would amount to roughly 300 people killed through work related strees.

In sum, a more complete figure of workplace deaths caused by sudden injury, which takes into account all of the above exclusions, would amount to between 1,000 and 1,400 deaths every year, or 3-4 deaths per day. (p. 142).

They also argue that the estimated number of deaths from occupational diseases are also probably grossly underestimated once recent academic studies are taken into account. For example, a 2005 study of the causes of occupational and environmental cancer by Richard Clapp estimated that about 8-16 per cent of all cancer deaths came from occupational cancer. If the mid-range figure of 12 per cent is taken as the number of occupational deaths from cancer, the number of people dying through work-related cancer is 18,000 per year.

A 2005 paper in the journal Occupational and Environmental Medicine estimated tath 15-20 per cent of all cases of COPD – chronic obstructive pulmonary disease – could be work related. Which means 6,000 deaths per year. There is also evidence that up to 20 per cent of all deaths from heart disease are related to conditions at work. This figure adds up to 20,000 deaths per year.

A further conservative estimate that diseases in which work can be a contributory cause, such as Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, rheumatoid arthritis and so on comprise a further 6,000 deaths per annum.

They state

All of this adds up to an overall estimate by the Hazards Campaign of up to 50,000 deaths from work-related illness every year – four times the typical HSE estimate of around 13,000 per year. Our contention then, is that the HSE figures grossly underestimate the number of workers whose current working conditions expose them to both the well-known and the newer risk factors, that will produce the workers deaths of the future. (p. 143).

They also make the point that the death toll is still rising, because of toxins to which people may have been exposed to as much as 40 years previously, such as some carcinogens. The EU has estimated that in the 1990s five million workers, or 22 per cent of the working population, were exposed to cancer-causing substances.

They also argue that, thanks to austerity, more workers are suffering under poor working conditions that are damaging their health. These include bullying and harassment, long hours, and the zero hours contracts imposed on 5.5 million workers. The insecurity these contracts cause are linked to stress, heart and circulatory diseases. Workers are also still exposed to dusts and chemicals that cause or contribute to respiratory and heart diseases. They also point to the connection between low paid work and poor safety standards

Low paid work guarantees more than hardship: low pay goes hand in hand with low safety standards. Occupational injuries and diseases such as diabetes and cancer are directly linked to low paid jobs. (p. 144).

They also make the point that the ‘compensation culture’ the Tories have claimed exists is actually a myth. In fact, many workers don’t receive the compensation to which they’re entitled. They write

One of the first moves of the Coalition government, in October 2010, was to appoint Lord Young, a former Cabinet minister under Margaret Thatcher, to deliver ‘a Whitehall-wide review of the operation of health and safety laws and the growth of the compensation culture.’ He found absolutely no evidence of this ‘compensation culture’, citing figures which actually showed a downward trend to legal claims, but still demanded action to deal with ‘red tape’. Indeed, figures obtained by Hazards Magazine show that fewer than one in seven people suffering an occupational injury or disease ever receive compensation. For occupational diseases alone, this drops to just one in twenty-six. For most occupational cancers, there is barely any prospect of compensation at all.  (p. 145).

They also show that the government’s division of work into high and low risk is also highly dubious and has resulted in an increase in deaths at work. It was done by Cameron’s government in order to restrict HSE inspections to those jobs considered high risk. But the low risk category is wide, and includes textiles, clothing, footwear, light engineering, road and air transport and docks, electricity generation and the postal and courier services. Hazards Magazine found that 53 per cent of all deaths at work caused by sudden injury were in the low risk sector. Palmer and Whyte state ‘In other words, the government’s fiscal purge of health and safety enforcement has meant abandoning scrutiny of the workplaces where the majority of deaths occur’. (p. 145).

Palmer and Whyte state that this death toll should be a ‘call to arms. to any government, regardless of its political stance. But instead, despite the ‘glaring’ evidence that the red tape is good for workers, employers and the economy, governments have doubled down and insisted that such legislation is an intolerable nuisance. This has reached the point where the HSE doesn’t even both to ask ‘what’s so wrong with red tape anyway?’ The government’s ideological obsession with red tape means that ‘there is no room for argument or evidence that health and safety legislation doesn’t burden business, while its absence carries a high cost to business, workers and the public purse.’

This means that when some rag like the Heil, the Depress, or the Scum claims that health and safety legislation is unnecessary, costly and stifling business, they are lying. And lying to defend an attitude to workplace safety that is murderously dangerous to working people.

But then, as the disabled have found, Tory responsibility for mass injury and death is nothing new.

 

 

Architect of Soviet Terror Loathed Himself for His Crimes. What About the Tories for Theirs?

January 20, 2020

Bhaskar Sankara’s book, The Socialist Manifesto, contains a very interesting quote in its chapter on the rise of Soviet communism and its transformation into the brutal, repressive, murderous state under Stalin. It’s from Felix Dzherzinsky, the founder of the Soviet secret police after the Russian Revolution. Dzherzinsky became so disgusted with himself for all the tens of thousands of people he’d had arrested, tortured and murdered that he declared, ‘I have so much blood on my hands that I don’t deserve to live’. Unfortunately, this didn’t prevent the Soviet state from continuing to kill and torture, so that the victims of Stalin’s purges amount to over 30 million.

When can we expect similar remorse from the Tories? Their system of welfare reform, work capability tests and benefit sanctions have resulted in 130,000 deaths at least. When do we get to hear something like Dzherzinsky’s cry from Iain Duncan Smith, Esther McVey and the other grotesques in the DWP? When will we hear expressions of sadness and regret for Maggie’s friendship with General Pinochet, a real Fascist, who also had tens of thousands rounded up, raped and tortured after the overthrow of the democratically elected socialist president Salvador Allende? When are we going to hear Paul Staines, of Guido Fawkes, express contrition for his membership of a Libertarian Tory outfit, that made the head of a central American death squad their guest of honour at one of their annual dinners?

We aren’t. Not ever. Because the Tory party will not, not even personally, feel sorrow for its complicity in death and terror, not even in private.

It will just hide it, and carry on lying to people that it stands for freedom and humanity while continuing to support mass death.

 

Austerity and Prison Violence

January 15, 2020

A week or so ago Mike put up a piece reporting and commenting on the death of a disabled man in prison. From what I remember, like many such instances the man’s own special needs had been ignored and he was actually in prison for a minor offence. At least, one that should not merit his murder. Mike connected this to the Tories’ ongoing campaign of mass murder against the disabled.

In fact, violence, including self-harm, has risen massive in British jails since the Tories launched their wretched austerity. Joe Sim has authored an entire chapter on it in Vickie Cooper’s and David Whyte’s The Violence of Austerity. Sim has his own particular view of the crisis. He considers that prison violence hasn’t itself been created by austerity. It’s always been there, and is part of society’s brutal maltreatment of the poor and marginalised. But it has been massively intensified by the Tories’ cuts.

The stats are horrifying. Between 2011 and 2016, sexual assaults almost doubled. In 2014-15 there were over 400 serious incidents requiring the intervention of the specialist National Tactical Response Group, In 2015 an average of 160 fires were started each month. Self-harm rose by 40 per cent in two years, so that in 2015, 32,313 incidents were recorded.

321 died in the year to June 2016, an increase of 30 per cent on the previous year. 105 of these were self-inflicted, a rise of 28 per cent. Deaths by natural causes rose by 26 per cent to 186. Between January 2010 and December 2016, 1637 prisoners died, 542 of which were self-inflicted.

In 2015-15 there were nearly 5000 assaults and acts of violence against the different groups of people working in prisons. These included 423 on prison officers below the rank of principal officer, 828 on nursing auxiliaries and assistants, 640 on nurses, 535 on care workers, and 423 on welfare and housing associate professionals.

Sim states that to many commentators, including the media, Prison Officers’ Association and mainstream politicians, the cause of this increased violence are the cuts to the prison budget. These amounted to £900 million between 2011 and 2015, or 24 per cent of its overall budget. The Prison Reform Trust said that it was

[n]o mystery that violence, self-harm and suicide rise when you overcrowd prisons, reduce staff by almost one third, cut time out of cell and purposeful activity. The backdrop is a more punitive climate, increased injustice and uncertainty which have sucked hope out of the system for prisoners and staff.

I’m not disputing that very many of those incarcerated are guilty of the most heinous offences, and fully deserve their incarceration and punishment. But it is very clear that austerity has resulted in a massive deterioration in conditions which fueling violence in prisons against staff and prisoners. There’s obviously a long and complicated debate about the purposes of prison – to punish, reform, or even both – but it is clear that neither staff nor prisoners deserve the maltreatment and violence the cuts have generated.

This isn’t reformative. It isn’t proper punishment. It is carnage.

But the Tories just love killing and death when it’s directed against the poor and powerless.

Sargon of Gasbag Blames Plato for SJWs

January 13, 2020

Okay, I know, I shouldn’t have done it, but I did. I watched another of Sargon of Akkad’s wretched videos. In my defence I can only say that it is important to understand the ideas of the right and extreme right, and what they’re telling people about the left. And some of Sargon’s ideas are so bizarre that there’s a kind of weird fascination about them. Sargon is, of course, the nom de internet of Carl Benjamin, the Sage of Swindon, who broke UKIP by joining it. The scourge of Communists, feminists and anti-racist activists put up a video in which he claimed that the ancient Greek philosopher Plato was responsible for Social Justice Warriors. That’s the term the right sneeringly uses to refer to all the above, or even simply anyone who believes that the poor, unemployed, disabled and the working class are getting an increasingly raw deal and that the government should do something about it.

Sargon’s Libertarianism

For Sargon, anyone who believes in government intervention and in greater equality for women, ethnic minorities are working people is a Communist. But it’s the definition of Communism as used by the American right, which means anyone with vaguely left-wing views. Barack Obama was actually very moderate in his policies. He’s since come out and said that he considers himself a moderate Republican. But that didn’t stop his right-wing opponents attacking him as an evil Maoist Communist, as well as an atheist Muslim Nazi. Sargon himself is a ‘classical liberal’, which means that he’s a Libertarian who looks back to the early 19th century when governments followed the economic doctrine of laisser faire, so that people could work 18 hours per day in factories or the mines before dying of disease or starvation in a cellar or garret in an overcrowded slum. But Sargon, like all Libertarians and Conservatives, believes that if private industry is released from the chains of government bureaucracy, it will somehow magically produce economic expansion and wealth for all. Even though we’ve Tory privatisation and neoliberalism for forty years, the Conservatives have been in power for the past ten, the economy is collapsing and people are being forced in homelessness, debt and starvation. Most weirdly, Sargon somehow continues to believe he’s on the left. He’s a moderate, you see, unlike the far-right SJWs.

Plato and Aristotle

And he blames Plato for the far left on account of the ancient Greek philosopher’s highly authoritarian political views and his theory of forms. Plato believed that beyond this material world there was another, perfect world of ideal forms, of which the entities in this world were only imperfect shadows. For example, these ideal forms included animals, so that there was an ideal cat, of which real, material cats were imperfect copies. But there were also abstract concepts like justice and beauty, in which the beings in this world also participated and reflected. A beautiful woman, for example, was a woman who corresponded to the perfect ideal of beauty in the intelligible world. SJWs were intolerant, because they were idealists. They had impossibly high ideals of justice, and this made them intolerant. Just as Plato himself was intolerant in his idea of the perfect state, which he wrote down in his Republic and Laws. Plato himself believed that government should be left to enlightened absolute monarchs, and his idea of a perfect state is definitely totalitarian. Sargon’s right about that.

Sargon, however, champions Aristotle, because he believed in ‘the republic of virtue’ and democracy. And it was at this point that I stopped watching, because there’s only so much right-wing idiocy you can take. It can sound plausible, but a moment’s reflection is all it needs to show that it’s all nonsense, and Sargon knows less about SJWs, Marxism and Aristotle than he thinks he does.

Aristotlean Democracy Different from Today’s

Let’s deal firstly with the idea that Aristotle is a democrat. He isn’t, or rather, not in the modern sense. He’s not a totalitarian like Plato, but he believed that the only people, who should have a vote and a share of government in his ideal democracy were leisured gentlemen, who didn’t need to work and therefore had the time, education and money to devote themselves to politics. He makes this very clear in his Politics, where he states categorically that artisans and other working people should very definitely be kept away from politics and from mixing with the gentlemen of political class. So firmly did he believe this the he argued the two classes should have two separate forums. And Aristotle, like Plato, also believed in the world of intelligible forms. Which means that if idealism makes someone intolerant, then, by Sargon’s argument, he should also attack Aristotle as intolerant.

Marxism, Communism, Postmodernism and the New Left

Sargon is also, of course, spectacularly wrong about Communism. He uses it to mean anyone, who has what he considers to be extreme left-wing views. But Communism also has a very distinct meaning in that it referred to those versions of Marxism practiced in the former Communist bloc and the parties outside it that followed these forms of Marxist dogma. In the USSR and the European Communist countries, this meant Lenin’s formulation of Marxism; in China, Mao’s. But at the time there were other forms of Marxism that were far more democratic. Karl Kautsky, the leader of the Austrian Marxists, believed that industries should be socialised and taken over by the state when they became monopolies, and that socialism could only be achieved through democracy. He was bitterly hostile to the Soviet dictatorship.

Marxism certainly is an element in some forms of contemporary radicalism, such as postmodernism and Cultural Studies. But this is the Marxism of the New Left, which emerged in the 1960s. The New Left attempted to revitalise Marxism through a return to Hegelianism. As far as I can tell, it was Trotskyite, rather than Communist, although both refer to radical Marxism. But Postmodernism was also strongly influenced by structural linguistics, Freudian psychology and Nietzsche. And, at least in the 1990s, it rejected class politics, which are an essential part of orthodox Marxism.

Modern Feminists and Anti-Racists Not Necessarily Marxists

It’s also problematic how much contemporary anti-racism and feminism owes to Marxism. Some of the Black rights and anti-colonialist movements of the 20th century were influenced by Marx to a greater or lesser extent. But I doubt that the mass of anti-racist or feminist activists in this country have read Marx. For them, it almost certainly has more immediate causes in their experience of being treated as less than and denied opportunities open to White males. One of the landmark cases in British feminism was the strike by women workers at Dagenham in the early ’70s. But I doubt they were interested in creating a Communist utopia. They simply wanted to be paid the same as the men. And as for utopianism, while that does exist among the real extreme left, such as anarchists, communists and Trotskyites, for most people left-wing activism simply means realising that things are badly wrong now, and wishing to change it for the better. But as the books on left-wing organisation and activism I’ve read have argued, that means simply trying to make things a little better, and realising an absolutely perfect society is unachievable. That’s also the point of view Marxists like the economist Bernard Wolf.

The Utopianism of Libertarians and Conservatives

If anyone does believe in a perfect system, however, it’s Sargon and the Conservatives/Libertarians. They really do seem to believe that capitalism is a perfect system, and if people are poor, then it’s their own fault. It reminds me of the 19th century Tories, who talked endlessly about the perfection of the British constitution without thinking that anything could or should be done about the mass poverty around them. Sargon and his allies are thus rather like Dr. Pangloss, the character in Voltaire’s Candide, who believed that all was for the best, in this, the best of all possible worlds. Except in their formulation, all is for the best in capitalism, the best of all possible economic systems.

But capitalism is not perfect. Unregulated, it creates mass poverty, and this has always spurred left-wing activists and reformers to try to tackle it. This includes liberals as well as Marxists. But Sargon doesn’t understand that, and so he thinks that those dissatisfied with capitalism can only be radical Marxists.

He’s wrong, but this view is very influential, and used by the right to discredit everyone on the left. And so, daft as it is, it needs to be fought.

 

 

Hunger and Starvation in Tory Britain

January 2, 2020

The Tory governments that came in after David Cameron’s victory in the 2010 election have caused massive poverty up and down Britain. Thanks to austerity, welfare benefits have been cut, wages kept low and workers placed on exploitative contracts, like zero hours contracts, which deny them sick pay, paid holidays and other rights. An ever increasing number of people are unable to pay for food, with the disabled and unemployed forced to use food banks to keep body and soul together after being found fit for work, sanctioned, or simply because they have to wait weeks before their first benefits payment. Vickie Cooper’s and David Whyte’s The Violence of Austerity gives some statistics on rising ‘food poverty’, and they’re horrifying.

In the chapter ‘Hunger and Food Poverty’, Rebecca O’Connell and Laura Hamilton state

Emergency food provision has been used as an indicator of the scale of food poverty in the UK. As the Fabian Commission on Food and Poverty noted in 2015, the Trussell Trust, the largest emergency food provider, ‘has seen the number of people referred for emergency food rise by 38 per cent in the last year’. Oxfam and Church Action on Poverty calculate that 20,247,042 meals were given to ‘people in food poverty’ in 2013/14.’ While these are shocking statistics, they are likely to underestimate the numbers in food poverty in Britain; not all people who are hungry go to food banks and not all food banks collect data in a systematic way. The Poverty and Social Exclusion UK (PSE UK) 2012 study found that the proportion of households unable to afford two adult meals a day in 2012 stood 3 per cent, ‘back to levels found thirty years earlier having to dropped to negligible levels in the intervening period.’ In addition, well over half a million children live in families who cannot afford to fee them properly, that is, provide at least one of the following three meals a day; fresh fruit and vegetables every day; or meat, fish or a vegetarian equivalent at least once a day. If many parents were not cutting back on their own food intake to protect their children, the number would be much higher… (pp.94-5).

Analysis by the UK government’s Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs shows that falling incomes and rising living costs mean that food is now over 20 per cent less affordable for the poorest 10 per cent of people in the UK compared to 2003. In 2012, when the proportion of the household budget spent on food peaked in the UK, those in the lowest income decile spent 22 per cent more on food than in 2007 and purchased 5.7 per cent less, buying significantly fewer portions of fruit and vegetables than previously. Further, the number of UK adults who have reported being unable to afford meat, fish or vegetarian equivalent every other day (a measure of adequate protein in the diet) has increased between 2004 and 2012, that is, in the context of economic austerity and rising food prices. The PSE UK study noted above found that the proportion of adults going without meat or equivalent every second day  because they could not afford it rose from 2 per cent in 1999 to 5 per cent in 2012. In addition, 3 per cent of children went without adequate protein and the same proportion did not eat fresh fruit or vegetables every day because their families could not afford it. Reduced affordability of food therefore generally leads to a reduction in nutrient quality of food consumed and, in a growing number of cases, to hunger and reliance on emergency food provision. (pp.95-6).

This is a crisis of enormous proportions, and it is going to get worse. Much worse. Boris will continue and expand the policies forcing people into such desperate poverty. But yesterday the wretched Tory press were telling the world that he would bring in a golden age of prosperity. Which he will, for the profiteers at the top of the corporate ladder and the hedge fund managers that contribute so handsomely to Tory coffers.

But to pay for that, the rest of the country will be forced into grinding poverty. While the newspapers lie to them that there’s not alternative and they’re richer than ever before.

Violence and the Conservative Campaign of Hate against the Disabled

December 31, 2019

Mike and the other disability bloggers and campaigners have posted any number of articles about the massive increase in violence towards disabled people. This has its origins in the Conservatives’ vilification of them as welfare cheats or spongers, along with other underprivileged and marginalised groups like asylum seekers, the unemployed and the poor. This connection and the massive rise in hate crimes and violence against both immigrants and the disabled is described by Jon Burnett in his chapter, ‘Austerity and the Production of Hate’ in Vickie Cooper’s and David Whyte’s The Violence of Austerity.  While the attacks on immigrants and the disabled are separate issues and are managed separately, they are linked by an underlying ideology. Burnett writes

Such campaigns are organised separately. But they feed off and into each other. And they are replicated day after day to the point where they have become a routine aspect of popular culture. Both are voyeuristically treated in television programmes like Benefits Street and Immigration Street. Those programmes stem from the same ideological enterprise: to reduce their subjects to objects of ridicule and contempt, turning human struggles into a sneering form of entertainment. (p. 217)

He notes that David Cameron, dubbed by Paxo ‘the worst Prime Minister since Lord North’, explicitly linked migration with the British welfare system. He said that we need immigrants to do work that the welfare system encouraged British people not to do, and that therefore the welfare system needed to be reformed.

Migrants are filling gaps in the labour market left wide open by a welfare system that for years has paid British people not to work. That’s where the blame lies – at the door of our woeful welfare system, and the last government who comprehensively failed to reform it… So immigration and welfare reform are two sides of the same coin. Put simply, we will never control immigration properly unless we tackle welfare dependency. (p. 219).

Burnett states that five years later, this is now Tory orthodoxy. It, and the Tory policies based on it, have reduced immigrants to units of labour denied social rights, while welfare reforms are also reducing British workers into an expendable workforce. Immigration is a separate issue I shall tackle elsewhere. In this piece I’ll just talk about how the Tories’ rhetoric of hate against the disabled has resulted in an horrific increase in violence against them. Burnett writes of this

And when resentment to welfare and free movement is legitimised, hate becomes normalised. As campaign groups, support centres and self-organised networks have repeatedly shown, certain forms of violence have intensified under the rubric of austerity. But they are rarely given official recognition. In a survey published by the Disability Hate Crimes Network in 2015, ‘scrounger rhetoric’ was highlighted in the testimonies of around one in six of 61 disabled people who described themselves being verbally or physically assaulted in disability hate crimes. Six charities in 2012 stated that a narrative of ‘benefit scrounging’ or ‘faking’ was fuelling hostility. Discussing an increase in disability hate crimes coming before the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) between 2008/9 and 2013/14, one of the co-founders of the activist group Disabled People Against the Cuts (DPAC) remarked that the figures were ‘no doubt fuelled by the constant media-fuelled campaign against benefit claimants.’ There were around 62,000 disability-related hate crimes each year in 2012/13 and 2013/14, according to the Crime Survey for England and Wales (CSEW). In 2014/15 the last year for which figures are available, 2508 offences were recorded by the police – and increase of 15 per cent from two years earlier. (pp. 219-20).

There can be absolutely no doubt about it. The Tories are generating a violent hatred against immigrants and the disabled. And Mike’s also right that they aren’t going to make conditions any better. Because they enjoy causing suffering and misery to the poor and disabled.

 

Outrage as Iain Duncan Smith Given Knighthood

December 29, 2019

This is a really sick joke, and shows the absolute contempt the Tories have for the poor, the unemployed and the disabled. Iain Duncan Smith, the architect of the Tories welfare reforms, has been given a knighthood in the New Year’s honours. Smith is the pompous nonentity who was briefly the leader of the Tory party at the beginning of this century before David Cameron took over. It was a period of failure, in which the party utterly failed to challenge Blair’s Labour Party. He was, however, a close ally of his successor, and has also served Boris. He tried to stand up for Johnson when our farcical Prime Minister was denied the lectern in Luxembourg, claiming that the Luxembourgers should be grateful to us because we’d liberated them during the War. But we hadn’t. The Americans had. And under Tweezer he’d also peddled the line that there would be no legal divergence between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK.

But what Smith is most notorious for is mass murder. As head of the Department of Work and Pensions, he was responsible for the welfare reforms, including the Work Capability Assessments and the system of benefit sanctions, that have seen hundreds of thousands denied the welfare payments they need and deserve. He is also responsible for Universal Credit and Personal Independence Payments. UC is supposed to combine all the welfare payment into a single system. It has proven catastrophically flawed, with people waiting weeks or months for their payments, which have been significantly lower than the previous system. Mike in his article about it quotes statistics that some of those on UC are £1,000 a year worse off. But this jumped-up, odious little man boasted that Universal Credit would be as significant in lifting people out of poverty as the ending of slavery in the British Empire in 1837.

The result of IDS’ reforms is that at least 130,000 people have died. The true figures may well be higher, as the DWP has been extremely reluctant to release the true figures, as Mike and other disability campaigners have found. His attempts to get the Department to release them under the Freedom of Information Act were refused, then stonewalled. Finally Smith’s Department released some figures, but interpreted his requested so that they weren’t quite the figures Mike had requested.

As well as the financial hardship there is the feelings of despair and humiliation that his reforms have also inflicted on the poor. Doctors and mental health professionals have reported a rise in depression and suicide. The Tories, naturally, have repeatedly denied that their policies have any connection to people taking their own lives, even when the person left a note explicitly stating that this was why they were.

Some sense of the despair IDS’ wretched reforms has produced in young people is given by the quotes from them in Emma Bond and Simon Hallworth’s chapter, ‘The Degradation and Humiliation of Young People’ in Vickie Cooper’s and David Whyte’s The Violence of Austerity. ‘Julie’ said

The way that it feels walking into the JobCentre is that you are there to do what you are told to do and that’s it and then you leave. They are not there to actually help you it is just like, you have to do this and if you don’t do this or you won’t get no money. (p. 79).

And ‘Bridget’ described how she felt so low at one point she contemplated suicide.

I am ashamed to admit it but I did feel suicidal at one point. I felt so down after I was made redundant that I felt that there was no point. I had worked really hard at school and I got good grades but for what? I was happy when I got my job, it wasn’t that well paid but it had prospects and a career path – or so the recruitment agency told me – I had my flat and that and I thought I was OK. But when it [the redundancy] happened I felt like I had been hit by a brick wall. I got really down especially when I went to the JobCentre and they would not help me. I felt so depressed. I could not afford my rent. I lost my flat and the few things I had saved up for. I did not know where to turn. I took drugs for the first time in my life – I felt so wretched. I wanted to die. I was too ashamed to tell my parents that I had lost my job. (p. 80).

But IDS, as Zelo Street reminds us, is the man who laughed at a woman talking about her poverty in parliament. He’s also blubbed on television, describing how he met a young woman, who didn’t believe she’d ever have a job. ‘She could have been my daughter!’ he wailed. But this is just crocodile tears. He, like the rest of the Tory party, have no love whatsoever for their victims as the guffaws with Dodgy Dave Cameron in Parliament showed.

Mike in his piece about the wretched man’s ennoblement has put up a large number of Tweets by ordinary people expressing their outrage. One woman, Samanthab, states how rotten the honours system is when it rewards not just IDS, but other creeps and lowlifes, like the sex abusers Jimmy Savile, Stuart Hall and Rolf Harris.

The outrage is so great that one NHS psychiatrist, Dr Mona Kamal Ahmad, has launched an online petition at Change.Org calling for the scumbag’s knighthood to be withdrawn. She describes him as responsible for some of the cruellest welfare reforms this country has ever seen and notes that Britain is the first country the United Nations has investigated for human rights abuses against the disabled. She states clearly that the suffering and impoverishment in Britain today is a direct result of Smith’s welfare reforms.

30,000 people, including myself, have already signed it. If you want to too, go to Mike’s article at: https://voxpoliticalonline.com/2019/12/28/will-you-sign-nhs-doctors-petition-to-stop-iain-duncan-smith-receiving-knighthood/ and follow the links.

See also: https://voxpoliticalonline.com/2019/12/27/chorus-of-derision-greets-announcement-that-iain-duncan-smith-is-to-be-knighted/

https://zelo-street.blogspot.com/2019/12/arise-sir-duncan-cough.html

As Corbyn Helps Out with the Homeless, Johnson Jets Off to Mustique

December 28, 2019

Here’s a story that acutely shows the difference between Jeremy Corbyn and Boris Johnson: how they spend their Christmas hols. Zelo Street reported just before Christmas that the Scum was maligning Corbyn for disrespecting Her Maj. They found out that he wouldn’t be watching the Queen’s Speech on TV, and so threw themselves into another bout of righteous anger. However, the stats apparently show that Corbyn wouldn’t be alone. Something like ninety per cent of Brits don’t watch the Queen’s Speech either. Which means that if the Scum really represents 21st century Britain, 90 per cent of its staff are going to either. So it’s a case of more Tory press hypocrisy.

But Corbyn had good reason not to watch the Queen’s Speech. He does something rather more worthwhile on Christmas Day. He helps out at his local homeless shelter, something he’s done for years. He was also giving presents to underprivileged children.

But what of Johnson? To what worthy cause does this statesman of Churchillian stature – or so he sees himself – devote himself at  the festive season?

The question’s a joke. He doesn’t.

Johnson and his partner, Carrie Symonds, are preparing to jet off to Mustique to see in the New Year. That’s a private island in the Caribbean, home to the extremely rich. Johnson and partner will be staying with the von Bismarck’s, the descendants of 19th century German chancellor, Otto von Bismarck. Jagger has property there, and the island was the holiday destination of such royals as Princess Margaret and the Duke and Duchess of Cornwall.

Zelo Street quoted a number of Tweets from people, who really weren’t impressed with Johnson, and compared him very unfavourably with Jezza. They included

Jeremy Corbyn spent Christmas helping the homeless and giving presents to children. Boris Johnson is flying off to the luxury Caribbean island of Mustique at the hospitality of the Von Bismarck family. Boris is working every day, you see, very hard to get Brexit done … Nothing says ‘man of the people’ quite like Boris Johnson and Carrie Symonds’ £20,000-a-week Caribbean holiday villa … Nothing sticks it to those ‘elites’ like holidaying on a private Caribbean  island after putting a couple of cronies in the House of Lords”.

And the article concluded

‘You voted Bozo to “Get it done”? It was you getting done. And now you all know it.’

Absolutely. Tory scaremongering and hypocrisy stopped people voting for a man, who would have worked tirelessly and genuinely improve the lives of ordinary people. And instead they elected an incompetent, narcissistic hedonist with a hatred of the poor, the disabled, gays and ethnic minorities.

But somehow Johnson is a ‘man of the people’. Which tells you all you need to know about how the Scum and Tory press see us.