Posts Tagged ‘Benefit Sanctions’

Labour to End Tory Persecution of Sick, Disabled and Poor

May 16, 2017

This is excellent news for anyone on a low income, or who suffers from a long term sickness or is or cares for a disabled person. And it’s going to send the Tories, the Blairites and the parasites in the private insurance industry, who recommended the current high persecutory disability policies, absolutely incandescent with fury.

Mike over on his blog has reported that Labour have made the following promises in their manifesto:

* to scrap the work capability assessments and Personal Independence Payment assessments.

* to stop the endless reassessments of people with severe long term conditions.

* Scrapping sanctions.

* Scrapping the bedroom tax.

* Increasing ESA for people in the work-related activity group, and reversing the cuts in UC LCW.

* Uprating carers allowance.

* reinstating housing benefit for young people under 21.

* Reversing the cuts to the bereavement support payments.

* Reviewing the cuts to work allowances in Universal Credit.

* Reviewing the decision to limit tax credits and Universal Credit to the first two children in a family. Which is, as Mike points out, the Rape Clause. This odious piece of legislation was defended in Scotland by an equally odious piece of work, Ruth Davidson, the leader of the Tories up there.

Mike states

The Labour Party manifesto, released today (May 16) has confirmed what we all saw in the leaked version last week – a bonfire of the cruel legislation that has led to the deaths of thousands upon thousands of vulnerable people.

But remember – this is only what Labour would do, if elected back into office on June 8.

With the mass media lining up to attack Labour over any slightest quibble, that will be hard to achieve.

So please make sure all 12 million sick and disabled people, and all of the unemployed and under-employed get to see this.

He also applauds Labour’s promises to end the way the Jobcentre staff and the benefit system itself demonises those with disabilities and the unemployed, so that it becomes more supportive and enabling.

He gives due credit to Debbie Abrahams, Labour’s Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary, saying that this confirms what he has known about her, that she is a woman of strong professional integrity, who will act on her promises.

Mike concludes

If YOU have a long-term illness or disability, this is all the reason you need to vote Labour on June 8. If you don’t, but know somebody who does, please share this information with them.

See: http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2017/05/16/confirmed-labour-will-end-tory-persecution-of-the-sick-disabled-and-poor/#comments

I agree with Mike on just about every line of this. And I won’t be remotely surprised when the Tories and their lapdogs in the press and media go absolutely insane at this.

It is a direct reversal of the welfare policies introduced by Blair and the Tories, at the behest of American private healthcare firms and insurers. The wretched work capability tests were recommended by John Lo Cascio, the head honcho of the American insurance fraudster, Unum. This was based on bogus science, that has now been comprehensively refuted. I’ve reblogged material from Johnny Void and Kitty S. Jones and many, many others over the years, which provide a very detailed critique which absolutely demolishes its pretension to scientific fact. But still the Tories tout it.

And Labour’s pledge to stop the demonization of the sick and poor is a direct attack on one of the fundamental principles of Thatcherism: that those dependant on welfare payments, the sick, disabled and unemployed, must be humiliated as much as possible, in order to deter them from becoming a burden to the taxpayer. Meaning the rich, who must be given tax breaks and corporate subsidies at every opportunity.

It’s called the principle of Less Eligibility, and it was the reason why the workhouses were such places of degradation and misery. But Thatcher celebrated it as one of her ‘Victorian values’, which she really wanted to call ‘Victorian virtues’, but her spin doctors wouldn’t let her.

Like the Tories, the Blairites are Thatcherites, who adopted her vicious, spiteful and punitive attitude to poverty.

This is also a comprehensive rebuttal to the refrain you also hear from Tory voters when the work disability assessments are criticised: no, they’re not going to vote Labour, ’cause Labour introduced them.

Well, they can’t use that excuse now, because Labour’s committed to scrapping them.

This will be bitterly resented by the Tory press, not just because it is a strong attack on decades of Tory policies, but because newspapers like the Torygraph make their money from advertising, and are afraid to do anything that will offend their advertisers. The Torygraph is particularly sensitive to this, as they’ve been spiking stories that would offend their advertisers. It was the reason one of the columnists, Peter Oborne, walked out and very publicly denounced them in the rest of the media, including Channel 4, a few years ago. As the Torygraph seems determined to lock itself into a death spiral of continuing cuts and sackings in order to maintain its share price, while its readership plummets, I’m not remotely worried if these policies help put another boot into the Tory paper.

And, of course, it’s going to inflame the already fevered tempers over at the Daily Mail massively. The Heil has been one of the papers that has been at the very forefront of demonising people on disability benefit as scroungers. Mike has shown that the true statistics for benefit fraud is 0.7 per cent – a vanishingly small amount. But thanks to the Tories and the lies of the press, the British public believe that it’s 27 per cent.

And the rich, who have been pushing for these policies so they can enjoy ever greater profits and tax breaks are afraid.

How else can you explain today’s headline in the I, which screams that Labour intends a ‘tax grab on the rich’. The term ‘tax grab’ seems to show a little panic on the part of the editor, no doubt on behalf of the Russian oligarch who owns the paper.

So don’t be deceived by the lies and hysterical denunciations of these policies. Unlike the rubbish spouted by May, these are sincerely meant, and if implemented will lead to a better, fairer, and healthier Britain.

Because the destruction of the sanctions regime and the work capability tests will stop people dying. Look at Stilloak’s website and the site Atos Miracles to see how many have died in poverty, misery and starvation due to these vile and evil policies.

So please vote Labour on May 8.

‘I’ Newspaper: Public Spending Watchdog Criticises Benefit Sanctions

December 1, 2016

Yesterday’s I newspaper for Wednesday, 30th November, contained a little snippet on its second page reporting that the ‘public spending watchdog’ had attacked benefit sanctions as useless. The report stated

Spending Watchdog Hits Out at Sanctions

Benefit sanctions that plunge claimants into hardship, hunger and depression are being imposed with little evidence that they work, according to a report by the public spending watchdog. It said use of the penalties also varies “substantially” across the country and referral rates have changed over time.

And that was it. It says much about the paper’s bias that, although there was a reasonably long article about the deep health inequalities in Britain, there were also much longer articles praising Theresa May for being a good manager, rather than a leader, and that the Tories had increased their lead over Labour in the polls. Though I’m not actually that worried about the latter either. The victory of the ‘Leave’ campaign and Donald Trump’s election to the White House both show that polls can’t be trusted. As Mike points out, they’re run by Tory companies that have very marked methodological biases. They’re essentially propaganda campaigns, run to tell the proles that, as everyone else is voting Tory, so should you. And the more people realise this, and reject them and their false claims of objectivity, the better.

Harry Ryder on Why He Also Doesn’t Buy Private Eye

September 6, 2016

On Saturday I put up piece about how I hadn’t bought Private Eye last Friday, because once again it was bashing Corbyn for the Blairites. The Eye has published a lot of excellent pieces attacking the privatisation of the NHS, workfare, benefit sanctions and the work capability test, policies that ultimately have their origins in Thatcherism, and which have been supported, if not actually introduced by Tony Blair and New Labour. But the magazine, like the rest of the media, is determined to attack Corbyn and anyone who supports him. Which suggests that Corbyn might just be a bit too serious about reversing Thatcher’s legacy of misery and impoverishment for the magazine’s corporate backers and the comfort of its editor, Ian Hislop.

The post clearly resonated with a lot of people. Ulysses, one of the regular commenters, remarked that it was part of the reason he hadn’t bought a paper for years, preferring to rely on bloggers like Mike over at Vox Political, Johnny Void and myself. Thanks, Ulysses!

Another commenter, Harry Ryder, also posted this comment about his own dissatisfaction with the magazine.

I just can’t buy Private Eye since their attacks on Corbyn. Before that it was my favourite magazine and I’d really look forward to buying it every other Wednesday. Never thought that would come to an end, or that the Eye would take such a stance on the Establishment’s corrupt attempt to remove Corbyn. I mean sure, I would expect them to take the piss out of him, not expecting it to act as a fan sheet, but they seem to be actually waging a campaign against him. They exhibit exactly the same level of indignation against Corbyn as they did against Blair, which is weird because Blair was a corrupt, dodgy, unscrupulous right winger and Corbyn isn’t. All the stunts being pulled by the PLP and NEC at the moment are exactly the sort of things that the Eye used to expose amongst Local Councils and Local Party Organisations writ on a National Scale. Yet for some reason they’re ignoring it, sometimes even cheerleading it.

I always had a strong personal identification with this magazine and so feel kind of personally betrayed by their stance on Corbyn. And yes I am guessing I am far from unique in this so hopefully The Eye will start to feel some pain in their back pocket because of this.

It’s not that I have stopped buying it as a protest. It’s just that I don’t identify with its values any more.

Very many people are feeling the same. I don’t know why the Eye should be so biased against Corbyn, but I can make a few guesses. Firstly, the magazine’s founders were all very establishment. Peter Cook, Willie Rushton, Richard Ingrams and Auberon Waugh were all very middle class and privately educated. So’s Ian Hislop. Waugh had extensive connections to MI5, which may play a part in it as Corbyn was sceptical of British policy in Northern Ireland, and doesn’t share the raging eagerness of the establishment to start a war with Russia, as predicted by a former NATO general in book about how by May next year Putin will have invaded Latvia and we’ll be at war. Having lived through the fear of nuclear Armageddon in the ‘new cold war’ begun in the 1980s by Thatcher and Reagan, I can say categorically that this is an insanely stupid idea. The apparent eagerness of the establishment to start a war can be gauged from the way one of the journos deliberately misreported Corbyn’s comments about the possibility. He stated that Corbyn had said that he wouldn’t defend a NATO ally if it were attacked by Russia. He said no such thing. He made it plain he would defend a fellow NATO country, but would do everything he could to stop it coming to armed conflict first. But clearly, that wasn’t good enough for the journo, who had to lie to give the story the anti-Corbyn spin his corporate masters and editors clearly wanted.

I also suspect that part of this desperation to smear Corbyn is motivated by the need to find advertising revenue. The Observer, which is nominally a left-wing paper, actually has a very wealthy readership, and this was one of the reasons it was so hostile to the Labour Party under Michael Foot in the 1980s. My guess is that the Eye’s readership is similarly better educated and rather more affluent than other groups. All the newspapers are taking hits from the internet and the rise of alternative news sources online, and I think the same might be happening to the Eye. In which case, they’re going to be under the same pressure as other newspapers and magazines to maintain their appeal to advertisers. Following the Second World War, many of the left-wing or radical British papers folded, or became more right-wing, as the cost of running a paper increased, coupled with the difficulty they faced finding advertising. With a few notable exceptions, advertisers didn’t want to appeal to the working class, preferring the social classes with higher disposable income. I think the same process is going on here, including with Private Eye.

The result is that the Eye, which should be treating Corbyn no better or worse than other politicos, has firmly joined the rest of the press in attacking him. And so it’s effectively turn to defending Thatcherism against the politician most determined to overturn it.

Why I Didn’t Buy ‘Private Eye’ Yesterday

September 3, 2016

I regularly buy Private Eye, but for the first time in a very long while, I didn’t buy it. I’ve put up a couple of pieces here talking about the very pronounced anti-Corbyn bias there is in the magazine. The ‘In The Back’ section, and its predecessor, ‘Footnotes’, before that exposed the privatisation of the NHS by the Tories and Blair, along with the sell-off of the buildings owned by the Tax Office, the transformation of the schools into increasingly expensive academies and the privatisation of the Royal Mail. The magazine has also attacked the Work Capability Tests, benefit sanctions and workfare. This has all been excellent, but I’ve found this outweighed in recent weeks by the space it gives the Blairites to smear the Labour leader, with no attack on them. There’s a regular strip, ‘Focus on Fact’, which is supposed to expose the dirty dealings of Corbyn and his supporters. This mostly seems to be a rehash of events 30 years or so ago in the 1980s. There have also been pieces attacking The Canary, and smearing the various YouTubers, who didn’t buy Angela Eagle’s lie about the Corbynists throwing a brick through her constituency office window. The Eye attacked them as ‘conspiracy theorists’.

This fortnight’s issue had on its cover a piece about ‘Traingate’, with a headline about Corbyn lying. Now I might be wrong, and the magazine could have been making a critical comment instead about how Corbyn was maligned by the papers yet again, when they reported Virgin Trains’ claim that there were spaces available for him to sit. But I didn’t think so at the time. It looked to me like another in the magazine’s long list of smears. And so I didn’t buy it. I spent part of the money I’d saved instead on a big bar of chocolate. And very nice that tasted too.

Corbyn’s really our only hope in the Labour party of undoing the harm done by nearly forty years of Thatcherism, and particularly all the evils the magazine has done so much to investigate and expose over the years. But Hislop has decided instead to throw his lot in with the corporatists and profiteers, who oppose him. Some of this might be due to the magazine’s links to MI5 through Auberon Waugh, as described in a piece in Lobster many years ago, ‘Five at Eye’. Corbyn opposes the current military build-up on the borders of Russia and the Ukraine. He also talked to the Republicans in Northern Ireland in an attempt to find a peaceful solution, just as he went to Israel to talk to the Palestinians. All actions which currently undermine British foreign policy, which is pure neoliberal corporate imperialism, not so different from what Hobson described over a century ago in his Imperialism, and by Lenin in Imperialism: The Highest Stage of Capitalism. But this makes him a threat to the British state, and particularly its role in supporting Israel and the ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians. And so no effort is being spared to destroy him, including hit pieces in the Eye.

My refusal to buy Hislop’s dangerously biased magazine yesterday on its own will have absolutely no effect whatsoever. Indeed, the magazine over the years has taken a kind of perverse pride in offending readers. Its letters page over the years has often been filled with angry readers deeply outraged about their treatment of some issue or another, and cancelling their subscriptions. The most notorious example of this was their cover criticising the mixture of hysteria and voyeurism amongst the crowd at Lady Di’s funeral. To balance the negative correspondence, the Eye also prints letters supporting the controversial piece. Again, there was no shortage of them when it came to Di’s funeral.

If enough people stop buying the magazine, it might have some effect even then. All the newspapers’ profit margins are under attack from the rise of the new media and telecommunications generally, and I doubt that Private Eye is an exception. Though even there, I doubt it will do much harm. As I said, the Eye has always taken a kind of pleasure in outraging and alienating its readers. Nevertheless, it might be vulnerable if enough left-wing readers do it. My guess is that despite the magazine and its founders being very middle class establishment, most of its readers are probably left-wing. It ran a piece a few years ago about a proposal in parliament to give a vote in support of the Eye. Very few Tories gave their support; more Lib Dems did, but most of the votes came from the Labour party. Perhaps if enough left-wingers recognise its pro-corporatist Blairite bias and stop buying it, that might nevertheless shake Hislop up a bit.

And then again, perhaps not. But speaking for myself, I decided yesterday I was sick of its lies and smears, and passed over it at the magazine racks. You make your own decisions about supporting the magazine or not.

In Defence of Left-Wing Anger

August 17, 2016

I’ve been meaning to get this off my chest for a little while now. One aspect of the anti-Corbyn Labour MPs that really annoys me is the hypocrisy that comes with their constant playing at being the victims of terrible abuse by Momentum and Jeremy Corbyn. Every so often they make pleas for political discourse and exchange to be made kinder or more genteel, while showing precious little of such qualities themselves. Jess Philips, according to the Groan, is having a panic room installed at her constituency office. But Mike’s already stated that she herself is an abrasive character online. This doesn’t justify any threats against her, but it doesn’t make her quite the innocent victim she claims either.

I’ve reblogged a video several times made by a couple in Angela Eagle’s constituency pointing out that Eagle’s story about the brick being thrown by Jeremy Corbyn supporters through her constituency window is a load of hogwash. It begins with footage of Eagle giving her story to the press. She concludes by saying that ‘We need a kinder, gentler style of politics’, before turning smartly on her heel and marching off, surrounded by her aids. This little piece has infuriated me ever since I’ve seen it. Firstly, it seems more than a little imperious. It’s bit of ‘I, the Great One, am speaking. Mortals listen!’ I also object to it on the grounds that it seems to be trying to deny the fact that her critics and opponents just might have entirely justifiable reasons for their anger. She seems to want to have the kind of exchange where everything is calm and mild. Now this is the kind of exchange I prefer. I honestly don’t like abuse and trolling. But on certain issues, if people do become abusive, it can be because the issue they’re discussing has all too real implications and consequences for them.

And many of the policies enacted by the Blairites have had terrible consequences for Britain as a nation, and specifically for the poor and working class. Let’s go through them.

Firstly, Blair took Britain into an illegal war in Iraq. The country had not threatened us, and at the time we invaded, Saddam Hussein was pretty much a joke to the rest of the Middle East. He was a thug, but he was contained. And the country over which he ruled was relatively prosperous, and with an advanced welfare state and educational system, at least for the region.

This has all changed. A quarter of a million Iraqis have died, and the country degenerated into a bloodbath of competing factions. Their economy has been wrecked, and ISIS and related death squads have terrorised its population. Our squaddies have been sent to fight and die, not to keep the world safe, but to produce even greater profits for the oil companies and American multinationals wishing to get their mitts on the country’s appetising state industries. Domestically it reinforced the view of many Muslims that the country was being targeted simply because it was Islamic. So it’s increased more racial and religious friction and intolerance over here. Is the Iraq invasion a good reason for people to get angry. Yes.

Then there’s the privatisation of the NHS. Blair, Brown and the others in New Labour took over the Private Finance Initiative and massively expanded it as official labour policy. They also began to split up the NHS into different commissioning groups, with the intention of creating competition. These commissioning groups were to provide healthcare not only from the NHS, but also from private healthcare companies. Hospitals and doctors surgeries have been taken over by private hospital chains. More than half of all hospital treatment is now commissioned from private healthcare providers. The ‘walk-in’ centres, or polyclinics, that were set up were also intended to be privately run. New Labour took as their care model a private American company, Kaiser Permanente. These policies have been taken over and further extended by the Tories after they won the 2010 election. Now it’s almost set to be totally privatised. Frankly, this makes me absolutely furious.

Let’s take the Work Capability Test. This was adopted by Blair and co. because they uncritically swallowed the Tory rubbish about most disabled people, the long term sick were malingerers and scroungers. They took over a tick-box questionnaire approach to examining people’s health pioneered by Unum, an American health insurance company that was guilty of some of the biggest insurance frauds prosecuted by the American state. The questionnaire used, and its underlying assumptions, are scientific nonsense. The policy is so notorious, that Atos decided to throw in the towel early, and were released from their contract a year before it was due to expire.

But the policy goes on, and it has had terrible real world consequences. Seriously ill people have been thrown off their benefits, and in some cases, have actually starved to death through lack of an income. Those with mental health problems, like anxiety and depression, have become worse, often much worse. As an example of how farcical this is, you consider some of the worst incidents, where people terminally ill in comas have been told they should find a job. Or when an amputee was asked when they expected their limbs to grow back. People are suffering and starving because of this. This isn’t a case of abstract policy, an interesting intellectual puzzle, which has no clear consequences for people’s lives. It makes a different over whether people are actually able to put food on their tables, or have a roof over their head, or can live out their lives with dignity.

It’s the same with the issue of benefit sanctions. Thanks to them, and the flexible employment policies Blair and Brown were so keen to employ, there are about 4.7 million people living in ‘food poverty’ in this country. There are cases where mothers are starving themselves, because it’s the only way they can afford to feed their children. And I can remember an incident I read on one of the other blogs, about how people in one town came to the aid of a young man, after he broke down in tears outside the Jobcentre, because they wouldn’t help him. As with the Work Capability Test, this is an issue that all-too real consequences for millions of people. And when nearly five million are going hungry in the fourth richest country in the world, you bet people have a right to be angry.

You can expand this to include the way the treatment of jobseekers has been deliberately made as humiliating and degrading as possible, with the imposition of workfare, capitalist forced labour brought to you by Sainsbury’s and the myriad other firms using it to cut down on labour costs. This was introduced as part of Margaret Thatcher’s return to ‘Victorian values’, which in this case meant the same values on which the workhouse system was established. The DHSS and the Benefits Agency always had an element of danger with them, because claimants naturally got angry with the state bureaucracy that could deny them money. People are left angry, despairing and furious with their treatment by the Jobcentre. But they also have a right to direct this rage at the politicians, who created the system.

And here New Labour have also shown themselves to be despicable. Cameron introduced workfare, but Ed Miliband ordered his cabinet not to oppose it, in case the Labour party should be seen to be soft on ‘benefit scroungers’ by the Tory press. Again, people have a very definite right to be angry.

I also think part of what makes me angry about Eagle’s behaviour, is her manner. It’s as if she seems to be completely insulated from the grim reality of the suffering New Labour have inflicted. She sounds to me like a bureaucrat or manager, completely obsessed with administering the policies that have been set, and getting irritated because somebody, somewhere, has had the temerity to object to it. I’ve remarked before that many of the Blairites seem to come from affluent, privileged, middle class backgrounds. My guess is that they genuinely don’t appreciate the harm they’re doing, because they’ve never experienced it themselves. They’ve only ever seen these policies from the vantage point of people, who’ve taken on the task of carrying them out. And they find it confusing and intensely infuriating when the masses don’t just accept what’s being done is for their good.

I am not saying that people have a right to abuse politicians or Jobcentre staff, or threaten them, let alone attack them or try to damage their property. I am very definitely against all of that. But people do have a right to be enraged at what has been done to them by the Thatcherites, both in the Tories and in New Labour.

And anger, as John Lydon sang, is an energy.

The gaol should now be to use this anger, this resentment against an unfair and deliberately cruel and exploitative system, to argue, research, expose and organise and keep the pressure on relentlessly to overturn these policies.

Guy Standing’s Arguments against Workfare: Part 1

August 8, 2016

Workfare is one of the most exploitative aspects of the contemporary assault on the welfare state and the unemployed. It was advocated in the 1980s by the Republicans under Ronald Reagan in America, and in Britain by Thatcher’s Conservatives. At its heart is the attitude that the unemployed should be forced to work for their benefits, as otherwise they are getting ‘something for nothing’. Very many bloggers and activists for the poor and unemployed, including Mike over at Vox Political, Johnny Void, the Angry Yorkshireman, and myself have denounced it as another form of slavery. It’s used to provide state-subsidised, cheap labour for big business and charities, including influential Tory donors like Sainsbury’s. And at times it crosses the line into true slavery. Under the sanctions system, an unemployed person is still required to perform workfare, even if the jobcentre has sanctioned them, so that they are not receiving benefits. Workfare recipients – or victims – have no control over where they are allocated or what jobs they do. The government was challenged in the courts by a geology graduate, who was forced to work in Poundland. The young woman stated that she did not object to performing unpaid work. She, however, had wanted to work in a museum, and if memory serves me correctly, had indeed got a place at one. She was, however, unable to take up her unpaid position there because of the Jobcentre’s insistence she labour for Poundland instead. A young man also sued the government, after he was sanctioned for his refusal to do 30 hours a week unpaid labour for six months for the Community Action Programme. The High and Appeal Courts ruled in the young people’s favour. They judged that the government had indeed acted illegally, as the law did not contain any stipulations for when and how such work was to be performed.

Iain Duncan Smith, the notorious head of the Department of Work and Pensions, was outraged. He called the decision ‘rubbish’ and said, ‘There are a group of people out there who think they are too good for this kind of stuff .. People who think it is their right take benefit and do nothing for it – those days are over.’ This is rich coming from IDS, who was taking over a million pounds in farm subsidies from the EU. Eventually, Smith got sick of the criticism he was taking for the government’s welfare policies, and flounced off early in 2016 moaning about how unfair it all was that he should get the blame, when the notorious Work Capability Tests inflicted on the elderly and disabled were introduced by New labour.

They are in no sense free workers, and it similarly makes a nonsense of the pretense that this somehow constitutes ‘voluntary work’, as this has been presented by the government and some of the participating charities.

The political scientist Guy Standing is also extremely critical of workfare in his book, A Precariat Charter, demanding its abolition and making a series of solid arguments against it. He states that it was first introduced in America by the Republicans in Wisconsin, and then expanded nationally to the rest of the US by Bill Clinton in his Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act. It was part of his campaign to ‘end welfare as we know it’. Single parents receiving social assistance were required to take low-paying jobs after two years. Legislation was also passed barring people from receiving welfare payments for more than five years in their entire lives.

David Cameron, unsurprisingly, was also a fan of the Wisconsin system, and wanted to introduce it over here. In 2007 he made a speech to the Tory faithful at the party conference, proclaiming ‘We will say to people that if you are offered a job and it’s a fair job and one that you can do and you refuse it, you shouldn’t get any welfare.’ This became part of Coalition policy towards the unemployed when they took power after the 2010 elections. Two years later, in 2012, Boris Johnson, speaking as mayor of London, declared that he was going to use EU money from the Social Fund to force young adults between 18 and 24 to perform 13 weeks of labour without pay if they were unemployed.

Ed Miliband’s Labour party also joined in. Liam Byrne, the Shadow Secretary for Work and Pensions, declared that

Labour would ensure that no adult will be able to live on the dole for over two years and no young person for over a year. They will be offered a real job with real training, real prospects and real responsibility … People would have to take this responsibility or lose benefits.

This was echoed by Ed Balls, who said

A One Nation approach to welfare reform means government has a responsibility to help people into work and support for those who cannot. But those who can work must be required to take up jobs or lose benefits as such – no ifs or buts.

Standing traces the antecedents of workfare back to the English poor law of 1536 and the French Ordonnance de Moulins of twenty years later, which obliged unemployed vagabonds to accept any job that was offered them. He states that the direct ancestor is the 1834 Poor Law Amendment Act, the infamous legislation that, under the notion of ‘less eligibility’, stipulated that those receiving support were to be incarcerated in the workhouse, where conditions were deliberately made much harsher in order to deter people from seeking state support, rather than paid work. This attitude is also reflected in contemporary attitudes that, in order to ‘make work pay’, have demanded that welfare support should be much less than that received for paid work. This has meant that welfare payments have become progressively less as the various measure to make the labour market more flexible – like zero hours contracts – drove down wages. The workhouse system was supplemented in 1905 by the Unemployed Workmen Act, supported, amongst others, by Winston Churchill. This directed unemployed young men into labour, so that they should not be ‘idle’ and be ‘under control’. Nor were leading members of the early Labour party averse to the use of force. Sidney and Beatrice Webb, two of the founders of the Fabian Society, were also in favour of sending the unemployed to ‘labour colonies’, chillingly close to the forced labour camps which became such as feature of the Nazi and Communist regimes. Liam Byrne also harked back to the Webbs to support his argument for workfare as Labour party policy. He stated

If you go back to the Webb report, they were proposing detention colonies for people refusing to take work … All the way through our history there has been an insistence on the responsibility to work if you can. Labour shouldn’t be any different now. We have always been the party of the responsibility to work as well.

The result of this is that many unemployed people have been placed on the Mandatory Work Activity – MWA – scheme, which requires them to perform four weeks of unpaid work for a particular company, organisation or charity. The scheme also includes the disabled. Those now judged capable of performing some work are placed in the Work-Related Activity group, and required perform some unpaid labour in order to gain ‘experience’. If they do not do so, they may lose up to 70 per cent of their benefits.

This has created immense fear among the unemployed and disabled. Standing quotes one man with cerebral palsy, who was so afraid of being sanctioned for not performing the mandatory work, that he felt physically sick.

The system also affects those in low-paid part-time jobs or on zero hours contracts. These must prove that they are looking for more working hours or a better paid job. If they do not do so, they may lose benefits or tax credits. In 2013 the Tory-Lib Dem government made it even harder for people to claim tax credits by raising the number of working hours a week, for which tax credits could not be claimed, from 16 to 24.

Guy Standing’s Arguments against Workfare: Part 3

August 8, 2016

In addition to demolishing the government’s arguments in favour of workfare, Standing also provides a series of further arguments against it. These are that the jobs created through workfare aren’t real jobs; workfare is unjust in its treatment of the unemployed; it stops the unemployed actually looking for jobs for themselves; it lowers their income over their lifetime; it also acts to keep wages down; it keeps the people, who should be working at those jobs out of work; it’s a dangerous extension of the power of the state; and finally, it’s a gigantic scam which only benefits the welfare-to-work firms.

Workfare and Real Jobs

According to the ideas of the market economy developed by the pioneer of free trade, the 18th century philosopher Adam Smith, workfare jobs don’t actually constitute real jobs. Smith believed that the market would actually produce higher wages to entice people into performing unpleasant jobs. On this reasoning, if workfare jobs were real jobs, then they would have a definite economic value. They would be created through the operation of the market, and the workers in them would also be paid proper wages for performing them.

There are also moral problems in the definition of what constitutes a ‘real job’ that someone on workfare should have to perform. If it is defined as one paying the minimum wage, then workfare is immoral as it puts downward pressure on the wages and conditions of the people already performing those jobs, forcing them into poverty. If those ‘real jobs’ are defined as those which are dirty, dangerous, undignified or stigmatizing, and so unpopular, they would have the opposite effect of what the advocates of workfare claim – that they are encouraging people to find work.

The solution for progressive is to make the labour market act like it is supposed to act, rather than it actually does in practice. Adam Smith was quite wrong about wages adjusting upwards for unpopular jobs in a market economy. The wages provided for work should match both supply and demand, and people should not be made into commodities as workers. They should have enough economic support to be able to refuse jobs they don’t want. Instead of assuming that people need to be forced to work, there should be the presumption instead that most people actually do. It is arbitrary and ultimately demeaning for all concerned to try to identify people who are somehow ‘undeserving’. Genuine supporters of equality should want the wages in unpleasant jobs to rise, until there is a genuine supply of willing labour.

Workfare Is Unjust

Workfare unfairly penalises the unemployed. For example, in 2011 the ConDem government made the conditions imposed on benefit claimants and the penalties for avoidance under the Labour government’s New Deal even more stringent. Those performing workfare were required to work for up to thirty hours a week for 28 days. The work performed was to be that which benefited the community. Taken as wages, this meant that claimants were working at a rate of £2.50 an hour, well below the minimum wage. If they turned the job down, or didn’t complete the course of mandatory labour, they had their benefits sanctioned for three months. This was increased to six if they repeated the ‘transgression’. This is unjust, because no-one else in society is expected to work for the minimum wage except convicts in prison.

It’s also unjust in that it makes the economically insecure even more so, and takes away the way long-accepted social right to refuse to work. At the same time, it gives power over the unemployed to the state’s bureaucrats and the private outsourcing companies. Also, forced labour is offensive against human dignity and does not lead to increased person development.

Workfare Stops People Looking for Jobs

Spending thirty hours a week on workfare actually cuts down on the available time the unemployed are able to spend looking for work. P.A. Gregg, in their book Job Guarantee: Evidence and Design (Bristol: Bristol University Centre for Market and Public Organisation 2009) actually found that because of this, workfare actually stopped people from getting jobs.

Lowering Incomes over Life

Workfare is also unjust, as instead of giving people the ability to acquire a career, or jobs leading to one, it may instead lower their long-term income by keeping them in a series of low-paid, temporary work. People should have the right to decide for themselves which jobs to take and what they should do when it affects their long term prospects. If the state instead forces them to take a certain course, then it should also be required to compensate them if the course demanded is the wrong one.

Workfare Keeps Wages Low

By forcing people to take low-paid jobs, and making this a threat to force other workers also to take jobs that pay less than they would otherwise take, workfare leads to lower wages. The Labour Party in the UK declared that it was in favour of a ‘national living wage’ above the minimum. However, it then contradicted this intention by stating that those performing workfare would do so at the minimum wage. The Labour party may have meant this to stop those on workfare competing with those in paid employment, though MPs like Liam Byrne have shown themselves to be every bit as spiteful and punitive in their treatment of the unemployed as the Tories. In any case, this policy still puts on pressure to force wages downwards.

For there to be a genuine living wage, politicians should increase and strengthen the ability of the unemployed to bargain for higher wages. It is only when workers really have an effective ability to bargain that employers are either forced to pay a living wage, or decide that the job is unnecessary and the potential productivity too low. Standing concludes from this that ‘The reality is that the utilitarian mindset does not care about the precariat’.

Workfare Labour Replaces Genuine Workers

If the jobs performed under workfare were genuine and productive, it would be unfair to workers in those jobs, and to the short-term unemployed, as the government-subsidized labourers supplied under workfare would replace existing workers, or stop them hiring other unemployed people. In 2011 Tesco collaborated with the Jobcentres to create 3,000 unpaid placements for those on workfare, who would work for the company for four weeks. Homebase and Asda were also keen to use such unpaid labour. As was Poundland, which also announced that it was taking on benefit claimants, though it denied that this would affect their existing recruiting activity. Whatever those companies said, clearly their use of cheap workfare labour was replacing paid workers and stopping the unemployed from getting permanent jobs with those companies.

Guy Standing’s Arguments against Workfare: Part 4

August 8, 2016

Workfare Extends State Power

When the High and Appeal Courts upheld the challenge to performing mandatory workfare by the geology graduate, who objected to having to work in Poundland, and a young chap, who had been sanctioned for refusing it, the Condem government responded by rushing through emergency legislation making the refusal to perform workfare punishable by sanctions. The procedure in which the legislation was rushed through parliament was supposed to be use only in national emergencies. The legislation further contravened accepted notions of justice, in that it acted retrospectively. That is, it punished actions committed before the laws against them had been passed, an idea that strikes at the very notion of justice enshrined across the world in human rights laws. The Labour party, which should have opposed this motion, didn’t. They abstained, and members of the Shadow Cabinet were told that if they voted against the motion, they would have to resign. This demonstrates just how deeply workfare had become embedded as the official ideology of the state and the main parties.

Welfare-to-Work as Corporate Scam

The private companies administering workfare, such as A4E and Ingeus, have profited immensely from this new, growth industry in unfree labour. They are paid £13,500 for every person they manage to put in a long term job. If the job is only short-term, then they receive only half that amount. There is thus considerable pressure for them to choose only those most likely to obtain long term employment, and thus discriminate against vulnerable minorities, including the disabled. The Employment Related Services Association, the trade body for the welfare-to-work industry, complained that more of the people being referred to these companies were those with disabilities, who had been judged ‘fit for work’ according to the tests imposed for the Employment and Support Allowance awarded to the disabled to help them maintain their independence.

The workfare companies also have wide powers in deciding which ‘work placements’ to put people on, and what counts as ‘community benefit’. The DWP permits them to place workers in private companies if this is considered to benefit those firms’ local communities. For a long time the DWP has refused to publish the information on the allocation of workfare labourers to private firms. The government flatly refused to reveal the identities of the participating firms on the grounds that if they did so, the scheme would fail due to public pressure forcing them to drop out. A list of the firms involved has recently been released after a series of Freedom Of Information Act requests. The two largest workfare contractors also refused to comment, when they were asked if they were forcing the workers contracted to them to work for private companies.

Additionally, many of the private companies administering the scheme are run by, or have links to, politicians, which is symptomatic of the general corporate corruption of parliament and the revolving door between corporations, MPs and senior civil servants. Tomorrow’s People, the charity that became notorious for stranding the workfare labourers it had employed for the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee under London Bridge, where they were forced to sleep, was run by a Conservative peer.

Conclusion: End Workfare Forced Labour

Workfare is thus highly exploitative, and should be banned. It is the thin edge of a wedge leading to the increasing use of force against the poor and unemployed. One staff member from the Citizens’ Advice Bureaux described the situation to Standing thus

The boundaries of the acceptable are being pushed further in the direction of unfree labour. We’ve been here before – breaking stones in return for food during the Irish famine, and similar schemes in 16th & 17th century England, the difference being that technology means peoples’ activity can be monitored more and informal economy lifelines are being pushed further underground. I was talking with a colleague who has picked up growth of prostitution as one means of survival. I don’t know what it would take to break us (society, whatever that means) out of apathy to make protests against what we’re doing to ourselves.

Standing also makes a very apt point, directed at those members of the Left, who refuse to take a stand on it, fearing that it would damage their parties’ chances of winning elections. He states

It is a moralistic policy that should be passionately opposed by every liberal and progressive. If doing so puts political success at risk, so be it. Values matter.

This looks like a dig at Blairite New Labour, which has consistently abstained on the workfare issue instead of firmly opposing it. The Blairites based New Labour’s electoral success on appealing to swing voters, and not challenging Tory policy, except on the grounds that they could administer it more efficiently and were more concerned with social justice. The latter view is particularly specious, as in many cases New Labour went much further in its austerity and privatisation programmes than the Tories. It’s a concern that still motivates the Blairites in their repeated campaigns against the Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn. And it’s not an excuse for failing to tackle this new form of forced labour, a system that is slowly edging towards real slavery.

Pamphlets Written Against NHS Privatisation and Austerity

July 26, 2016

Yesterday I added a new page to this blog giving a few brief details about five pamphlets I’ve written on various subjects. I wrote them to get the information about some of the most pressing issues I’ve discussed on this blog out to a wider readership. I wanted to have something I could physically give to people if they asked for information, such as at demonstrations. They’re only short leaflets, produced on the computer and printer at home, and folded over, but I hope they do the job. They are the following:

Medieval Science Pamplet Pic

The Advancement of Learning: Science in the Middle Ages, A5, 14 pp.
This is based on a talk I gave at Uni, and an article I put up on this blog, to show that, contrary to the received wisdom, the Middle Ages was also a period of great scientific and technical discovery, and that from the 12th century onwards scholars took a positive interest and delight in the scientific endeavour.

Anti-Academy Pamphlet Pic

Academies: Failing Schools for Corporate Profits, A5, 14pp.

This traces the history of academy schools right back to their origins as City Technology Colleges, a Thatcherite policy set up under Kenneth Baker, which was terminated because it was a failure. It was then revived as City Academies by Tony Blair in 2000, before being renamed as just ‘academies’. It argues that they’re a form of educational privatisation, they don’t raise standards, and are taking the country back to a period before the 1944 Education Act that made universal secondary education free and universal.

Anti-NHS Privatisation Pamphlet pic

Don’t Let Cameron Privatise the NHS, A5, 10pp.

This gives a brief history of the governments’ attempts to privatise the NHS gradually from Maggie Thatcher onwards, culminating in Andrew Lansley’s Health and Social Care Act, which threatens to completely privatise it. It also reproduces the arguments against the private healthcare system that Thatcher and Tony Blair wanted to introduce made by Robin Cook in a Fabian pamphlet published in the 1980s. A longer pamphlet on the same subject is also in preparation.

Anti-Work Test Pamphlet pic

Stop the Work Capability Test – Before More People Die, A5, 6pp.

Short leaflet describing the introduction of the Work Capability Test, the flawed models of sickness on which it’s based, and the assumption behind it that most people claiming long term sickness or disability benefit are malingerers. It attacks the commercial interests behind it – it was drawn up on the advice of Unum, an American insurance company that was prosecuted in the Land of the Free for not paying out on its insurance schemes, and was labelled a ‘disability denier’ by the American authorities. This scheme is scientific nonsense, designed to enrich corrupt private corporations and has led to suffering and deaths of the people, who have been thrown off their benefits as a result.

Empowering Precariat Pamphlet pic

This briefly discusses Guy Standing’s idea that a new class has arisen, the precariat, and his recommendations for ending their poverty. The precariat are those people, who have become less than citizens, through having the rights taken away through punitive employment legislation and welfare cuts. They are often highly educated individuals, forced to accept work below their educational qualifications, simply to make ends meet. They are trapped in a series of low paid jobs, interspersed with periods of unemployment. This is a result of flexible employment policies, such as zero hours and short term contracts. They are forced into poverty through welfare cuts, benefits sanctions, and workfare. This class also includes migrant workers, who travel around the world in search of work, and find themselves similarly trapped in poverty without the rights of their host nation’s citizens. Standing’s recommendations for ending their poverty include restoring citizenship, giving migrants and the unemployed the same rights as fully employed citizens, and ending the sanctions system, workfare and the work capability tests.

If you’d like any of these pamphlets, go to the page for them and use the contact form there. Or simply get in touch using the comments below, and I’ll get back to you. If you only want a single issue of any of these pamphlets, let me know, and I’ll post it to you free of charge.

Denis Curran, Head of Food Bank Charity, on Hunger due Welfare Sanctions

June 1, 2016

This is another piece I found on Youtube. It’s a charity worker for Loaves and Fishes, a food bank, before the Scots parliament way back in 2014, talking about his work delivering food to the absolutely poverty-stricken, hit by the government’s savage cuts and sheer exploitation by grasping employers. And it’s very powerful and moving stuff.

Mr Curran talks about people traipsing three or four miles from the town centre, just to get something to eat. A mother, who hasn’t eaten for three days, because she’s been trying to feed her children. And then there’s a man, who worked for two hours for a prospective employer, and, unbidden, cleaned up after himself, only to be told that ‘he wasn’t suitable’, and sent home without any pay for the two hours he’d put in. One man he saw had been sanctioned for eleven weeks. That’s eleven weeks without money. He talks about the rise in suicide from sheer desperation by the people hit by the cuts. He also talks about how some official agencies won’t store food, because their employees have left the room in a mess, and they don’t want to encourage it, or they fear cross contamination from the different types of food if they’re put together. Or they want it delivered, but they have to keep within their budgets, so there’s no help for it. Curran also states that he’s a pensioner, who uses two sticks and sometimes he can’t get about. But if he can’t make a delivery for a certain social work agency on a certain day, he’ll get told that he can’t make another delivery until Wednesday, because of the way that agency’s doing things. As a result, the family that needs it haven eaten up till then. He talks about people going to food banks to get baby clothes for a new baby. He states that the government see people on benefits as scroungers and layabouts, when this is not the case, and are penalising them for being poor. He describes how quickly the sanctions legislation was passed. They made the decision on a Thursday, and then five days later, the next Tuesday, it became law. He asks what would happen if MPs were forced to go without pay, their gas, water and electricity cut off, and their fridges emptied, so they were forced to use food banks. Not how they would cope financially, but how it would affect them mentally. He also states that he’s been coming to meetings like this since 1993, and the only thing changes is that he keeps coming to more meetings. And he expects to be coming to another one in 2016. He recalls that he and his wife grew up during the Second World War. And he criticises the government for making us a 21st century society, but with 1930s values. Back during the War they gave you a ration book. Now it’s vouchers for a food bank. ‘What’s the difference, eh?’

It’s powerful, angry stuff, from someone, who is on the frontline of trying to help people keep body and soul together. Mr Curran comes from East Kilbride, and describes how he travels about all over Scotland to deliver his food parcels. Listening to him, this viewer from south of the Border was reminded of Iain Patterson’s fictional Rab C. Nesbit and his acute observations on poverty, society and politics. Nesbit was a benefits’ scrounger, and the show was comedy, but it also took the opportunity to tell some very harsh truths about the attitude of the Jobcentres, smarmy politicians and clergy, who affected concern for the poor, but had little real understanding, as well as other manifestations of pomposity, meanness, stupidity and arrogance.

Unfortunately, this is all real. And its victims aren’t scroungers like Nesbit. And there’s nothing funny about this situation at all.

As for seeing how the MPs would survive mentally if you could off their household supplies, leaving them with only the food bank to rely on, it’s manifestly obvious that they couldn’t cope. And they know it. Thirty years ago when Thatcher started cutting benefits, Geoffrey Dickens was invited by Channel 4 to survive on the dole for a week. He couldn’t. By the end of the week, his water and electricity had been cut off, and the food cupboard was empty. But the Tories have learned their lesson. Unfortunately, what they’ve learned is not to take up such challenges. One Tory MP, it might have someone from IDS’ wretched department, was invited to take part in a similar experiment for television. He turned it down, saying it was just a stunt. He knew he couldn’t survive, and didn’t want to give the opposition and viewing public the opportunity to watch him have to eat his words, ’cause there was precious little else he had left. But that’s the only thing that’s changed. The rhetoric of reproach hasn’t. Mr Curran talks about how ministers accuse the poor of going to food banks because their lazy and scroungers, when the truth is far from that. Unfortunately, that’s exactly what Edwina Currie has been saying, to give one example. When Panorama did a programme on the rise of food banks, she appeared on it to give her view that people were using them simply because they could, and they didn’t represent a rise in real poverty. Well, they are an indication of the grinding poverty and hunger that’s gripping Britain. And Currie’s a disgrace, along with all the other Tories, who claim otherwise, and especially Ian Duncan Smith and Stephen Crabb, Cameron’s heads of the DWP, who are responsible for the implementation of the cuts.