Posts Tagged ‘Food Banks’

Rishi Sunak Goes Social Credit

July 6, 2020

Zelo Street put up another piece yesterday showing the glaring hypocrisy of the Tory party and their lapdog press. According to the Absurder, the Resolution Foundation had been in talks with chancellor Rishi Sunak to give everyone in Britain vouchers to spend in shops and businesses. Adults would receive vouchers worth £500, while children would get half the amount, £250. Sunak was being urged to accept the scheme as it would stimulate the economy, which has been badly hit by the lockdown. The Tory papers the Heil and the Scum also reported this, and thought it was a great idea.

This contrasts very strongly with their attitude last May, when Jeremy Corbyn also floated the idea of giving the British people free money in UBI – Universal Basic Income. The Scum claimed that if everyone was given £70 a week, then this would raise the welfare bill from £188 billion to £288 billion a year. The Heil reported that when the scheme was tried out in Finland, it made people happier but didn’t improve employment levels and would prove ‘unsustainable’.

But it isn’t just Finland that is experimenting with UBI. It was introduced in Spain a few weeks ago as Mike reported on his blog. Spain is a poorer country than Britain, but their willingness to try it contradicts the government’s excuse for not doing so, which is that Britain can’t afford it.

But now Rishi Sunak is considering it, and the Tory papers are praising him for it, whereas they vilified Corbyn. Zelo Street commented

‘Clearly, since May last year, a “free money” handout has stopped being a ghastly socialist aberration, and is now an excellent wheeze. Cos Rishi will be doing it.

The press will do anything to flog more papers. Including a little socialism.’

https://zelo-street.blogspot.com/2020/07/government-handouts-yeah-but-no-but.html

Of course, the reason the right-wing press are supporting Sunak whereas they condemned Corbyn, is because the two men have very different reasons for recommending it. In Corbyn’s case it was a desire to help empower ordinary people and stop the poverty the Tories have inflicted on them through low wages, job insecurity and the murderous system of benefit cuts and sanctions. The Tories, by contrast, heartily despise the poor. In the interest of maintaining healthy profits, they have always pursued low wages and punishing the poor, the sick, the disabled and the unemployed with minimal state welfare provision. This is now for many people below the amount needed to keep body and soul together. Where it is available at all, that is. That’s if people are able to get it after waiting five weeks for their first payment, and not getting sanctioned for the flimsiest excuse. This is all done to reduce the tax bill for the 1 per cent. Those able to work must be kept poor and desperate so that they will accept any job and won’t be able to demand higher wages. As for the long-term unemployed and the disabled, they are biologically inferior ‘useless eaters’, exactly as the Nazis viewed them, who should be allowed to starve to death.

Sunak’s motive for embracing UBI is so that the proles can spend it, thus keeping businesses afloat and maintaining or boosting profits. It’s socialism for the rich, as modern corporatism has been described. Just as welfare benefits are cut or completely removed for working people and the poor, so corporatism rewards business, and particularly big business, through a system of subsidies and tax breaks. It’s why one book attacking this system was titled Take the Rich Off Welfare.

Sunak’s version of UBI also harks back to a similar scheme founded in the 1920s by the British officer, Major C.H. Douglas. Aware of the widespread poverty of his day, Douglas argued that it was ‘poverty in the midst of plenty’. The goods were available to satisfy people’s needs, but they were unable to afford them. He therefore recommended that the government should issue vouchers to solve this problem and enable people to buy the goods they desperately needed.

The idea has never really taken off. It was included among the policies Oswald Mosley adopted for his New Party after it split from Labour in the late ’20s and early ’30s. There was also a Social Credit party in British Columbia in Canada, though I believe that’s an extreme right-wing, anti-immigrant party for Anglophone Whites which doesn’t actually support the Social Credit economic policy.

I’ve also seen something extremely similar to Social Credit used as the basis for an SF story. In Frederick Pohl 1950’s novella, ‘The Midas Plague’, the poor are bombarded with expensive goods and services which they must use and consume. They are punished if they don’t. As a result, in terms of material conditions the position of rich and poor is reversed: the poor live opulent lives, while the rich, who have to own their own possessions, live much more austerely. The whole point of this is to keep the economy booming and industry expanding.

We haven’t yet got to that point, and I don’t we ever will, if only because the wealthy ruling class, on whose behalf the Tories govern, are so against letting the poor get anything for free. Even when they need and deserve it. But unemployment is set to increase due to automation in the workplace. It’s been forecast that over the next 20 years about a 1/3 of jobs will be lost. 21st century Britain, and indeed much of the rest of the Developed World, could look like Judge Dredd’s MegaCity 1, where over 95 per cent of the population is unemployed and lives on welfare.

If that ever happens, then the government will need to implement something like Social Credit in order to give people both enough to live on and support business and industry.

Not that Sunak need go that far just yet. One of the reasons F.D. Roosevelt introduced state unemployment insurance for Americans as part of his New Deal was also to support industry. He, and liberal and socialist economists in Britain realized that if you give people money to support themselves during a recession, they will spend their way out of it. Both the poor, the unemployed and industry benefits. We could do the same now, by giving people a genuine living wage, raising unemployment and other benefits up to a level so that people can actually live on them and abolish the five-week waiting period and the sanctions system so that people don’t have to rely on food banks to save them from starvation.

But this would contradict the Tories’ favoured policies of keeping working people and the poor hungry and desperate.

Score! Football Marcus Rashford Gets Government to Provide Free School Meals During Holidays

June 19, 2020

Kudos and respect to Marcus Rashford, the Manchester United and England footballer, for managing to get Boris Johnson to supply free school meals during the summer holidays. Rashford had written an open letter to our comedy Prime Minister urging him not to end the current scheme of supplying vouchers for school meals to families, who otherwise could not afford to feed them at lunch time. Rashford was interviewed on BBC news, where he remembered having used food banks and free school meals when he was a child. He also raised £20 million to help poor families avoid starvation and other problems with the charity FareShare.

Johnson, as your typical Tory, initially refused. He said instead that he was going to make £63 million available to local authorities to help the poor obtain food and other necessities. But this is only a fraction of the £115 million that would be spent on free school dinners. Robert Halfon, a senior Tory, also broke ranks to argue that, under Johnson’s scheme, the money would never reach those who needed it because it was too bureaucratic. Johnson also tried palming Rashford and his supporters off with another scheme, in which the government would spend £9 million on holiday activities and feeding 50,000 needy sprogs. This is 1.67 per cent of the three million or so children going hungry thanks to the government’s wages freeze and destruction of the welfare state.

Mike one of his articles about this has put up a number of Tweets from people decrying Johnson’s miserly, spiteful attempts to stop children continuing to receive school meals. One of them is from Damo, who pointed out that the government can find £150 billion to help out big business, but can’t find £115 million for hungry children.

Ghoul Johnson spits on footballer’s school meals plea – he wants millions of children to STARVE

Finally, after realizing just what a public relations disaster this was, Johnson gave in. Rashford duly Tweeted his appreciation of the support he had received from the British public. But as Mike reminds us, Johnson only finally conceded to grant the meal because the campaign was led by a celebrity. Mike concluded

England in 2020 is a place where the government deliberately tries to harm its citizens…

… and where it only gives anything back in fear of harmful publicity from a campaign by a highly-visible public figure. If Joe Bloggs from a small village had run this campaign, your children would be skin and bone by September.

See: https://voxpoliticalonline.com/2020/06/16/tories-cave-in-to-rashfords-school-meals-campaign-with-scheme-for-holidays/

And where was Starmer during all this? 

As far as I am aware, Starmer said and did precious little. I think he might have made some approving, supportive comment after Rashford won his victory, but that’s it. And it’s not good enough from the head of the Labour Party.

But what do you expect? Starmer’s a Blairite, and Tony Blair’s entire strategy was to take over Tory policies in an attempt to appeal to their voters, while assuring them and the Tory media that he could do it better than they could. Meanwhile the British working class was expected to continue to support him out of traditional tribal loyalty and the fact that they had nowhere else to go. This resulted in Labour losing many of its members, to the point where even though he lost the elections, Corbyn had far more people voting for him than Blair did.

The result is that Starmer is dragging us back to the situation of the late 90s and first years of this century, when a genuine left-wing opposition fighting for working people and traditional Labour issues, was left to organisations outside the political parties. Organisations like Disabled People Against Cuts, who fight for proper welfare support for the disabled, anti-austerity groups and campaigns to save the NHS from privatisation. They’re doing what Starmer should be doing and conspicuously isn’t, afraid he might offend all those Tory voters he wants to support him. As against a real Labour leader like Jeremy Corbyn.

Marcus Rashford deserves full plaudits for his work to get deprived kids proper meals.

And Johnson and Starmer, for their initial lack of support for the scheme, are nothing but a disgrace.

 

Fabian Blueprint for a Socialist Britain

June 11, 2020

Sidney and Beatrice Webb, with an introduction by Samuel H. Beer, A Constitution for the Socialist Commonwealth of Great Britain (Cambridge: London School of Economics/ Cambridge University Press 1975).

I got this through the post yesterday, having ordered it a month or so ago. The Webbs were two of the founding members of the Fabian Society, the others including George Bernard Shaw and H.G. Wells. The idea of the NHS goes back to their minority report on the nation’s health published in the years before or round about the First World War. First published in 1920, this is their proposal for a socialist Britain.

The blurb for it on the front flap runs

The Constitution for a Socialist Commonwealth is a book that helps us understand the ‘mind of the Webbs’. Of all their works, it is the most general in scope – Beatrice called it a ‘summing up’ – and it does much to reveal the ideology of the great partnership. And since the mind of the Webbs was also the mind (though not the heart) of British socialism, an appreciation of this ideology, considered not only with regard to its confusions and blinds spots, but also its insights and intellectual sensitivities, helps one understand the Labour Party and what is still sometimes called ‘the Movement’.

But the book also has a broader importance. The problems that prompted the Webbs to write it still plague Great Britain and other, advanced societies. In 1920, the year of its publication, the modern democratic state was being sharply confronted by a syndicalist challenge based on the rising economic power of organised producers’ groups. Hardly less serious were the political difficulties of giving substance to parliamentary and popular control int eh face of growing bureaucratisation and a mass electorate. With regard to both sorts of problems, the Webbs were often prescient in their perceptions and sensible in their proposals. They concentrate on economic and political problems that are still only imperfectly understood by students of society and have by no means been mastered by the institutions of the welfare state and managed economy.

After Beer’s introduction, the book has the following chapters, which deal with the topics below.

Introduction

The Dictatorship of the Capitalist – The Manifold Character of Democracy.

The book is split into two sections. Part 1, ‘A Survey of the Ground’, contains

Chapter 1 – Democracies of Consumers

Voluntary Democracies of Consumers – Obligatory Associations of Consumers – The Relative Advantages of Voluntary and Obligatory Associations of Consumers – The Economic and Social Functions of Associations of Consumers.

Chapter 2 – Democracies of Producers

The Trade Union Movement – Professional Associations of Brain Workers – The Relative Advantages and Disadvantages of Obligatory and Voluntary Associations of Producers – The Economic and Social Functions of Associations of Producers: (i) Trade Unions; (ii) Professional Associations.

Chapter 3 – Political Democracy

The Structure of British Political Democracy: (a) the King; (b) the House of Lords; (c) the House of Commons and the Cabinet – Cabinet Dictatorship – Hypertrophy – A Vicious Mixture of Functions – the Task of the M.P. – the Failure of the Elector – The Warping of Political Democracy by a Capitalist Environment – Political Parties – The Labour Party – The Success of Political Democracy in general, and of British democracy in particular – The Need for Constitutional Reform.

Part II, ‘The Cooperative Commonwealth of Tomorrow’, begins with another introduction, and then the following chapters.

1 – The National Government

The King – the House of Lords – The National Parliament – the Political Parliament and its Executive – the Social Parliament and its Executive – the Relation between the Political and the Social Parliaments – Devolution as an Alternative Scheme of Reform – The Argument summarised – the Political Complex – The Social Complex – The Protection of the Individual against the Government.

2 – Some Leading Considerations in the Socialisation of Industries and Services

Three Separate Aspects of Economic Man – The Relative Functions of Democracies of Consumers and Democracies of Producers – Democracies of Citizen-Consumers – Democracies of Producers – ownership and Direction – The Participation in Management by the Producers.

3 – The Nationalised Industries and Services

The Abandonment of Ministerial Responsibility – The Differentiation of Control from Administration – The Administrative Machine – District Councils – Works Committees – the Recruitment of the Staff – Discipline Boards – Collective Bargaining – Advisory Committees – The Sphere of the Social Parliament – How the Administration will work – Initiative and Publicity – The Transformation of Authority – Coordinated instead of Chaotic Complexity – The Price of Liberty.

4 – The Reorganisation of Local Government

The Decay of Civic Patriotism – The Chaos in the Constitution and Powers of existing Local Authorities – Areas – The Inefficiency of the ‘Great Unpaid’ – The Principles on which Reconstruction should proceed – The Principle of Neighbourhood – The principle of Differentiation of Neighbourhoods – The principle of Direct Election – The Principle of the General Representatives – The Correspondence of Area and Functions – The Local Government of Tomorrow – The Representation of the Citizen-Consumer – The Local Councillor – Vocational Representation – Committees of Management – Machinery for Collective Bargaining – The Practicability of Vocational Self-Government in Municipal Government – The Industries and Services of Local Authorities – Emulation among Local Authorities – The Federation of Local Authorities – The Relation of Municipal Institutions to the Social and Political Parliaments.

5 – the Sphere of Voluntary Associations of Consumers in the Socialist Commonwealth

The Co-operative Movement – The Limitations of the Cooperative Movement – Constitutional Changes in the Cooperative Movement – Other Voluntary Associations of Consumers – Adult Education – The Future of the Country House – The Extension of Personality – The Problem of the Press – The Safeguarding of the Public Interest.

6 – The Reorganisation of the Vocational World

The Trade Union Movemewnt as the Organ of Revolt against the Capitalist System – The Right of Self-Determination for each Vocation – What Constitutes a Vocation – The Right of Free Enterprise for Socialised Administrations – Vocational Organisation as a Stratified Democracy; (a) How will each Vocation be recruited? (d) The Relative Position of Obligatory and Voluntary Organisation in a Vocation; (e) The Function of Vocational Organisation; (f) Subject Associations; (g) The Development of Professional Ethic; (h) Vocational Administration of Industries and Services; (i) Is there any Place for a National Assembly of Vocational Representatives?

7 – The Transitional Control of Profit-Making Enterprise

The Policy of the National Minimum – The Promotion of Efficiency and the Prevention of Extortion – The Standing Committee on Productivity – The Fixing of Prices – The Method of Expropriation – Taxation – The Relation of Prices to the National Revenue – The continuous Increase in a Socialist Commonwealth of Private Property in Individual Ownership – How Capital will be provided – The Transition and its Dangers- The Spirit of Service – The Need for Knowledge.

I’ve been interested in reading it for a little while, but finally decided to order it after reading in Shaw’s The Intelligent Woman’s Guide to Socialism, Capitalism, Sovietism and Fascism that the Webb’s included an industrial parliament in their proposed constitution. I’d advocated something similar in a pamphlet I’d produced arguing that parliament was dominated by millionaires and managing directors – over 70 per cent of MPs have company directorships – working people should have their own parliamentary chamber.

The book is a century old, and doubtless very dated. It was republished in the 1970s during that decades’ acute trade union unrest and popular dissatisfaction with the corporative system of the management of the economy by the government, private industry and the trade unions. These problems were all supposed to have been swept away with the new, private-enterprise, free market economy introduced by Maggie Thatcher. But the problem of poverty has become more acute. The privatisation of gas, electricity and water has not produced the benefits and investment the Tories believed. In fact electricity bills would be cheaper if they’d remained in state hands. Ditto for the railways. And the continuing privatisation of the NHS is slowly destroying it for the sake of expensive, insurance-financed private medical care that will be disastrous for ordinary working people.

And the growing poverty through stagnant wages and welfare cuts, seen in the growth of food banks, is also partly due to the destruction of trade union power and the exclusion of working people from the management of their companies and industries.

I haven’t yet read it, but look forward to doing so because I feel that, despite Tory lies and propaganda and no matter how dated, the Webbs’ proposals and solutions are still acutely relevant and necessary.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Shaw on Imperialism: Exploitation Abroad, Poverty and Unemployment at Home

May 13, 2020

As I may have already said, I’ve been reading George Bernard Shaw’s The Intelligent Woman’s Guide to Socialism, Capitalism, Sovietism and Fascism. It’s a brilliant book, in which the great Fabian playwright attacks and exposes the contradictions, flaws, poverty and inequality in capitalism and argues for a gradual, socialist transformation of society through nationalisation and the equalisation of incomes. Although it was written between 1924 and 1928 some of the topics Shaw covers are still acutely relevant. He argues for the nationalisation of the banks because private bankers have caused massive financial problems and concentrate so much on big business that small businessmen and women suffer through lack of funds. He also shows how the extremely wealthy should have their incomes reduced, because instead of doing anything genuinely productive with their money they simply hoard it. And that means sending it overseas. This is an acute problem now, with the super-rich hoarding their money unspent in offshore tax havens, instead of properly paying their fair share to build up the country’s health service and infrastructure.

Shaw is also acutely critical of imperialism for the same reason. He is not against imperialism per se. Indeed, he states that it would be admirable if we really had taken over the different lands of the empire for the benefit of the indigenous peoples. But we hadn’t. We’d taken them over purely for the enrichment of the capitalists through the exploitation of their non-White inhabitants.

The process, according to Shaw, began with the arrival of a single British trading ship. This was fine on its own, but others also arrived. Soon a trading post was set up, and then the merchants behind the trade demanded the entire country’s annexation. Capitalism preferred to fund socially destructive enterprises, like gin, rather than the socially useful, like lighthouses, which had to be set up and managed by the government. The market for gin had been saturated, and so the capitalists had proceeded to look abroad for more profits for the gin trade. And once a country was conquered and incorporated into the empire, its Black inhabitants were forced into commercial labour unprotected by legislation, like the Factory Acts, that protected British workers.

These overworked, underpaid, exploited colonial workers were able to produce goods that undercut those of domestic, British manufacturers. As a result, British businesses were going bankrupt and British workers laid off, except for those in the service industries for the extremely wealthy. The great mill and factory towns of the north and midlands were declining in favour of places for the genteel rich, like Bournemouth.

Ordinary working people couldn’t starve, as the capitalist class had grudgingly allowed the establishment of the dole following the mass unemployment that followed the First World War. But there weren’t any jobs for them. This was why the British government was encouraging them to emigrate, promising to pay £12 of the £15 fare to Australia if the worker would provide £3 him- or herself.

Now Shaw’s description of the foundation and expansion of the empire is obviously over-simplified, but nevertheless contains more than a grain of truth. Both Fiji and New Zealand were annexed because they had suffered an influx of White settlers through trading ships. The people arguing for their annexation, however, did so because they were opposed to the indigenous peoples’ exploitation. The White settlers in Fiji were aiming to set up a government for Whites with an indigenous king, Cakobau, as puppet ruler to give it a spurious legitimacy. More enlightened colonists therefore persuaded Cadobau and his government to approach Britain and ask for annexation in order to prevent the dispossession and enslavement of indigenous Fijians. In New Zealand the request for annexation was made by Christian ministers, who were afraid that the country would be conquered for Roman Catholicism by France on the one hand, and that the whalers and other traders who had already settled there would destroy and exploit the Maoris through alcohol, prostitution and guns.

And the enslavement and exploitation of the indigenous peoples certainly occurred. Apart from enslavement and dispossession of the Amerindians and then Black Africans in the first phase of British imperialism from the 17th century to the end of the 18th, when the British empire expanded again from the early 19th century onward, it frequently did so under the pretext of destroying the slave trade. However, once we were in possession of those territories, indigenous slavery was frequently tolerated. Moreover, British colonists often used forced labour to build up their plantations and businesses. This occurred around about the time Shaw was writing in Malawi. When slavery was outlawed in the British empire in 1837, the planters replaced it with nominally free indentured Indian labourers, who were worked in conditions so atrocious in the notorious ‘coolie trade’ that it was denounced as ‘a new system of slavery’.

The British government had also been encouraging its poor and unemployed to emigrate to its colonies as well as the US in what historians call social imperialism from about the 1870s onwards.

Reading this passage, however, it struck me that the situation has changed somewhat in the last 90 or so years. Britain is no longer exporting its surplus labour. All the countries around the world now have strict policies regarding emigration, and the developed, White majority countries of Canada, New Zealand and Australia are busy taking in migrants from the developing world, like Britain and the rest of the West.

But the super rich have found a way to surreptitiously go back on their early policy of providing welfare benefits for the unemployed. Through the wretched welfare reforms introduced by Iain Duncan Smith and other Tory scumbags, they’ve torn holes in the welfare safety net with benefit sanctions, fitness to work tests and a five week waiting period. The result is that the unemployed and disabled are starving to death. And those that aren’t are frequently prevented from doing so only through food banks and private charity. This has been changed somewhat with the expansion of welfare payments for workers on furlough and food packages for the vulnerable during the lockdown, but this is intended only to be a temporary measure.

I can remember when globalisation first began in the 1990s. It was supposed to lead to a new era of peace and prosperity as capital moved from country to country to invest in businesses across the globe. But the result for Britain has been mass unemployment. And while developing nations like India have massively profited, it has been at the expense of their own working people, who are now labouring for lower pay and in worse conditions than ever.

The empire has gone to be replaced by the commonwealth. But what Shaw said about it and the exploitation and poverty it caused is true of today’s neoliberal global economy.

Except instead of encouraging emigration, the Tories and the rich have found ways to starve to death Britain’s surplus workers.

Boris Johnson: Britain’s Chairman Mao

April 29, 2020

Boris Johnson finally returned to work this Monday. As he did so, he gave us the benefit of his thoughts in a speech to the nation. This was at 9 O’clock in the morning, when some people furloughed from work may have been asleep.

Mike was one of those who watched it, and assured those who had slept through it that they weren’t missing much. It was mostly just flannel and platitudes. Johnson did manage to say something sensible. In comparing the current situation to an attack by an assailant, Johnson warned people that although we had got on top of the situation, this was no time to relax the lockdown. Even if you had your attacker on the ground, he was still dangerous and you wouldn’t take your hands off him to allow him back up in case he returned to the attack. It was the same with the lockdown and the virus.

That wasn’t what struck Mike about Johnson’s peroration, however. What he noticed, and which justifiably left Mike outraged, was our clown prime minister’s statement that we were successful in tackling the virus. What? Successful! How? The death toll is at 21,000, excluding those in care homes and at home. We have the worst death toll in Europe, above Italy and Spain, the two countries worse hit. We have our front line medical and care workers dying of this wretched disease because they don’t have the right PPE. They’re going to work in bin bags. And this is because Johnson and his cronies didn’t take the pandemic threat seriously, didn’t want to update the plans and preparations previous administrations had made for such an eventuality, and prioritised Brexit and the economy over actually shutting the country down as soon as possible to save lives. Far more could have been done, especially if Johnson had got off his well-padded, Eton-educated rear end and attended a few more Cobra meetings and actually did some work at weekends.

But the Tories and their fawning media lackeys have been falling over themselves to hail the great man’s return to health and work. Yesterday Zelo Street put up an article comparing this outburst of praise and good wishes for Boris with the official praise and acclamation given by the Chinese to Mao Zedong. Chairman Mao was hailed by his supporters as ‘the great helmsman’, and Johnson too was being lauded by the Tories in similar terms. Zelo Street reproduced a series of Tweets from the Tories stating how wonderful it was to have Boris ‘back at the helm’. Zelo Street did this to make the point that, despite claims to the contrary, this country was capable of a cult of personality similar to Communist dictatorships like North Korea and China.

Precisely, but we’ve seen it before, of course. Thatcher over here and Ronald Reagan in America have cults among their parties which can easily be compared with the Soviet cults of Lenin and Stalin. As for Mao, he was responsible for the Cultural Revolution during which 60 million Chinese died, many of them from famine caused by the party’s failed policies.  In the ten years of their government, the Tories have killed over a hundred thousand people through benefit sanctions and work capability tests, and thrown a quarter of a million people on to food banks to feed themselves. More children are growing up in poverty, homelessness has got worse and a record number of Brits are faced with the choice of whether they eat or heat their homes, ’cause they can’t do both.

And at least 21,000 people have died because of the virus, assisted by Johnson’s mistakes, complacency and sheer, bloody idleness.

So Boris certainly is Britain’s Chairman Mao in cult of personality and in the number of deaths he and his wretched party have caused.

See: https://zelo-street.blogspot.com/2020/04/boris-is-new-mao-zedong.html

This is what Boris Johnson calls winning: the second-worst Covid-19 death rate in the world

 

Despite the Lockdown, Tories Still Enforcing Benefit Sanctions

April 23, 2020

Mike put this story up only a few a hours ago, and its disgusting. According to the DWP, their promise that there would not be any sanctions for three months during the Coronavirus emergency only meant that there wouldn’t be any new sanctions. If you’re already sanctioned, tough – those sanctions are still very much in place.

A young man in his early 20s, Ben, found this out the hard way according to the Mirror. He had been sanctioned earlier this year because he had not found work. He believed, however, the freeze would be lifted during the crisis, like the payment holiday for homeowners and the payments made to support employees furloughed. But this didn’t happen. After waiting a week to go shopping, he received a statement from the DWP’s online portal last Thursday that his family were entitled to a big, fat, round zero. He was directed to take out a hardship loan instead, which he would have to pay back if and when he was given benefit. Mike’s of the opinion that it’s the Tories’ plan to force him, and those like him, further into debt and hardship.

The DWP then issued its clarification to the Mirror, which stated that sanctions imposed before the freeze still continue to apply. As Mike points out, this means that people, who were led to believe that they would be helped in during the crisis, are left to fend for themselves with no money. And it’s especially harsh on the disabled, who may find it difficult coping with sanctions normally.

Fortunately, it has worked out well for Ben, as after the Mirror took up his case, the DWP reinstated his payments and gave him £1,600.

Benefit sanctions have NOT been suspended – as Universal Credit claimant found out the hard way

The Tories began replacing benefits with loans a long time ago. I think it began under John Major, when they set up the Social Fund in the DHSS as it then was. The previous system, I believe, included a series of grants that could be made to the unemployed to purchase necessities that they couldn’t afford. This was replaced by a system of loans. Some of those loans were to give claimants money to tide them over a certain period, for example if they had absolutely no money and still had to wait several days or a week for their benefit cheque. Others were for the desperately poor, who could not afford to buy certain necessities, like cookers. The system meant that those, who were already desperately poor, would be left with even less money if they were forced to take out these loans due to the repayments, which would be deducted from their benefits. Not everyone approved of the Social Fund system, and some Benefits Agency staff privately said that the previous grants system was better.

Since then, the Tories have expanded this scheme into a replacement for welfare, a policy the authors of The Violence of Austerity call ‘debtfare’. There’s an entire chapter on it, and how it is leaving people vulnerable to starvation and homelessness, as well as mental health problems from the stress of worrying about this danger and debt obligations.

But I think that’s the point. You degrade, humiliate and impoverish the poor, following Thatcher’s ‘Victorian value’ of less eligibility, so that they will do anything not to have to take up state aid. It also benefits the employers by giving them a cowed, fearful workforce, which will put up with poor wages, terrible conditions, few employment rights and insecure contracts, simply to avoid the humiliation and starvation inflicted by the DWP.

This crisis and the necessary lockdown have pushed many more Brits into poverty. We’ve already seen mass sackings, when some employers decided that rather than apply for the government’s payment of 80 per cent of their employees wages during the lockdown, they’d rather sack them instead. This would have surprised no-one, who actually knew how rapacious some business people can be. It did, however, shock the Beeb’s political editor, Laura Kuenssberg. This either shows how massively naive she is in some ways, with a very idealised notion of capitalism completely at odds with what it’s like for many people. Or it shows just how insulated she is as part of an extremely affluent, metropolitan media set. Way back when Cameron was inhabiting 10 Downing Street, it was revealed just how many leading members of the lamestream media lived in his home village of Chipping Norton in the Cotswolds. And while 80 per cent of people’s wages may sound generous, it means that those, who are paid far less than the living wage and who therefore find it a struggle to cope normally, are forced even further into poverty.

The many people made unemployed and forced to rely on jobseeker’s allowance will not have magically found work by the time the lockdown is lifted. They will still be faced by the sanctions system, so there will be even more people reliant on charity and food banks, and more people forced onto the streets. Perhaps Laura Kuenssberg will be astonished by that as well. The Tories won’t, as it’s what they’re aiming for. But they will hide it from the rest of us so people keep voting for them, deluded into believing that the ranks of the unemployed has magically come down through the invocation ‘market forces’ and ‘personal responsibility’.

The sanctions system is an abomination. It should be ended now, not merely given a rest during this crisis.

 

Captain Moore’s Fundraising Is an Indictment as well as an Achievement

April 17, 2020

There was praise and celebrations across the country and, indeed, some others, yesterday at the news that Captain Tom Moore had succeeded in raising £15 million for the NHS by doing laps around his garden, all at the grand old age of 99. It’s an inspiring feat, for which Captain Moore rightly deserves the all the praise he received. The army also did their bit by providing him with a guard of honour as he did his laps.

But Mike also put up a provocative piece yesterday, which while also celebrating Captain Moore, also pointedly argues that his fundraising feat is also an indictment and distraction. It’s an indictment of the way the Tories have kept the NHS underfunded. And it’s also a distraction from the Tories catastrophic mishandling of this crisis. It keeps attention away from crucial issues, such as:

The Tories were told to buy equipment, including for ventilators and PPE, after the Health Service’s preparedness for a pandemic was tested in 2016. They didn’t.

We need mass testing to combat the epidemic, but the Tories have so far only managed 35,000 a day, and that’s reluctantly.

The disease chiefly affects those at the bottom of society, which is why ethnic minorities are disproportionately likely to suffer from it.

Mike asks why no-one in the mainstream media is asking why the Tories aren’t funding the NHS properly. And he concludes that as poor people are more likely to die than the very rich, the Tories will keep on distracting us until they decide that enough of us have died.

Cpt Tom Moore hasn’t really been found fit for work – but his fundraising shows the NHS isn’t either

These are excellent points.

The fact that no one is asking why the NHS is so underfunded is a terrifying demonstration of the way 40 years of Thatcherism has normalised charity work standing in for state provision. Thatcher wanted to dismantle the welfare state completely, including privatising the NHS. She was only prevented by doing so by a massive cabinet revolt, but since then the Tories and Blue Labour – the Blairites – have been privatising the NHS by stealth. One of the reasons Thatcher wanted to abolish the welfare state, apart from the fact that she saw it as supporting idlers – a view which she also shared with the Nazis, who called such people ‘asocial’ – was because she thought it discouraged traditional charity. If the welfare state was dismantled, the poor would not suffer, or at least, the deserving poor wouldn’t, because human generosity lead people to give more to charity. Over the other side of the Pond, former Democratic president Bill Clinton expressed this in a speech in which he said there couldn’t be a government programme for every issue, and so turned instead to private charity. And where Clinton led, Blair followed, trying to transform the Labour party into a slightly more liberal version of the Tories in the same way that Clinton had taken over much of the free market, anti-welfare ideology of the Republicans in the US. He was also profoundly influenced by Thatcher, who reciprocated, calling him her greatest achievement.

Later on, however, it appears that Thatcher realised her views about private charity were wrong. It doesn’t work like that, and is no substitute for state provision. People have not become more generous. In America, it must be recognised that religious Conservatives are, on average, more generous donors to charity than secular liberals. But charity simply isn’t able to alleviate poverty and deal with issues such as lack of proper healthcare, homelessness and so on as state action in the economy and proper welfare provision. But governments have carried on as though it was.

Thus we have continued fundraising drives for hospitals and other parts of the health service. Schools are also expected to raise part of their budgets through private fundraising by teachers and parents. And a 99 year old man has had to raise money that the government should have provided anyway as a matter of course. To which you can add that now millions of people are being kept from starvation by private charity – food banks – instead of getting the money they need to live, eat, heat their homes and clothe themselves and their families from the welfare state.

A similar point was made a few years ago by one of the American left-wing news sites on YouTube. This was after it was reported that some American teachers were too poor to run cars, but were nevertheless still determined to do their best for their pupils. The media was praising their heartwarming dedication, just as the media yesterday praised Captain Moore’s heartwarming good deed. But the news site argued that such poverty wasn’t heartwarming. Quite the opposite. Dedicated teachers deserved to be paid properly, so that they could afford possessions like cars that everyone else takes for granted.

As for distracting us from the way the government’s repeated failures is killing us, Mike has got a point. During a period of revolutionary ferment, I can’t remember whether it was the 18th or the 19th century, Austria’s chief of police or minister in charge of security was asked if he didn’t think the theatres should be closed. He replied that he wanted them kept open to divert the people away from revolution. And so we have the unedifying spectacle of the press and media encouraging us to praise the great heroes of the medical, care and other workers, who are doing their level best to combat this disease. And all the while the same newspapers have vilified the NHS, junior doctors and other medical staff for resisting Tory NHS reforms and demanding higher pay. It’s particularly disgusting that so many of those, who have lost their lives are members of ethnic minorities that the Tories have done everything they can to smear and deport. One of them came back yesterday with a poem, ‘Will You Still Clap me?’, which pointedly asked whether Brits would still continue to appreciate the contribution BAME people give our society after the crisis is over. It’s clearly struck a nerve, as the head of UKIP denounced it, as has right-wing internet personality Sargon of Gasbag, I mean Akkad.

Mike and Zelo Street have written excellent pieces attacking such hypcrisy, which can be seen at:

‘You Clap For Me Now’ poem highlights hypocrisy of coronavirus response

https://zelo-street.blogspot.com/2020/04/ukip-has-been-reverse-race-card-fail.html

https://zelo-street.blogspot.com/2020/04/stuff-george-cross-pay-up.html

I am not decrying for a single moment Captain Moore’s splendid fundraising effort. He deserves all the praise he gets. But the NHS also deserves to be properly funded, its workers to be properly equipped and paid, and the British people to have a proper welfare state that gives people the right money they needed to support themselves. And they absolutely deserve a far, far better media than the one we now have, which refuses to raise these issues.

As for the Tories, all they deserve is our utter, unreserved contempt.

 

 

 

‘I’ Newspaper: Hard Brexit Could Raise Food Bills by £50

March 13, 2020

Here’s a piece of information that the Tories really don’t want you to know. According to the article ‘Family food bills could rise by up to £50 a week’ by Tom Bawden in Tuesday’s edition of the I, for 10th March 2020, this could be a result of the hard Brexit Boris and his cronies seem to be aiming at. The article runs

A hard Brexit could cost a family of four more than £50 a week more in food bills, with meat, dairy and jam rising most in price, a study has found.

Researchers looked at the effect of leaving the EU with no trade deal and calculated it would push the weekly food shop up by between £20.98 and £50.98.

The increases would come from hefty tariffs on imports and the cost of increased border checks on food coming into the country. A hard Brexit is also expected to push down the value of the pound.

By contrast, a soft Brexit with a comprehensive trade deal would push the food bill up by a much smaller amount – of between £5.80 and £18.17 a week, according to a new study by the University of Warwick, published in the journal BMJ Open.

While a hard Brexit would put considerable extra financial pressure on most British households the impact on poorer households would be far worse.

“Food security in the UK is a topical issue. Over the last five years food bank use has increased by 73 per cent, and this could increase for families who are unable to absorb these increased costs. There could also be reductions in diet quality leading to long-term health problems, ” said Martine Barons, of the University of Warwick.

The research suggested that the price of tea, coffee and cocoa which are typically imported from outside Europe will be least affected by Brexit.

In October, Michael Gove admitted that at least some prices could go up. “Some prices may go up. Other prices will come down,” he told BBC’s Andrew Marr Show.

So more people are going to starve and be forced onto the streets so that Boris, Rees-Mogg and the hedge funds that currently back the Tory party can become even richer. And I’ve seen absolutely no evidence that food prices are going to come down, as Gove says. Though this should surprise no-one: Gove and the Tories are the party of greedy liars.

But don’t worry – Brexit means we’re taking back control. Right up until the moment this country, its health service, industry and farming are bought up by Boris’ friend Trump.

Therese Coffey: Another Tory Minister Who Thinks Food Banks Are Brilliant

January 30, 2020

Yesterday the Canary reported that the Labour MP Zahra Sultana, who called food banks a ‘national disgrace’, wrote to Coffey about the obscene injustice of nurses having to use food banks while fat-cat bosses are rewarded with massive payouts. Sultana was understandably upset that there were now more food banks in the UK than branches of McDonald’s and that the British boss of the fast food firm had received a settlement of £30 million after they had fired him.

She got this bland reply from Coffey:

I visited a similar food bank in my own constituency that has been working together with food redistribution schemes. Marrying the two is a perfect way to try to address the challenges that people face at difficult times in their lives.

Coffey also called the people using food banks ‘customers’, thus giving the misleading the impression that they had some kind of choice over whether or not to be there.

Sultana wasn’t impressed, and neither were other commenters on twitter. She commented

I just asked the Secretary of State for Work & Pensions about the gross injustice of nurses relying on food banks while the rich get richer.

Her response? She called food banks a “perfect way” to meet the challenges of those in poverty.

The Tories are totally out of touch.

The article goes on to report that BristolLive had also said that they’d been told by one volunteer at a food bank that four or five nurses had visited a food bank in one week.

The Canary’s article also criticised Coffey for not mentioning that food banks run by volunteers are supported through donations. They’re there to help poor people struggling to feed themselves and their families because of ten years of Tory austerity, welfare cuts and Universal Credit. And Coffey certainly wasn’t going to tackle the problem of bloated salaries for fat-cat bosses and widening inequality.

The Canary further reported that the Trussell Trust had stated in April 2019 that food bank use had reached a record high point. Between 1st April 2018 and 31st March the charity had distributed 1.6 million food parcels. This was a rise of 19 per cent from the previous year. About half a million of them were given to children.

Sabine Goodwin, the head of the Independent Food Aid Network, commented that Coffey’s remarks showed how food bank use had been normalised in the UK, and that they were now the fourth emergency service.

The Canary concluded:

The DWP is not fit for purpose. And Coffey’s latest response highlights just how dangerous it truly is.

See: https://www.thecanary.co/trending/2020/01/28/dwp-minister-thinks-foodbanks-are-a-perfect-solution/

This is just the latest scandal in which a Tory minister has made a bland, evasive statement praising food banks and ignoring the underlying problem of the massive suffering the Tories themselves have caused. I think the last one was Jacob Rees-Mogg, who was similarly blasted for his complacency. In fact, food banks and the volunteers who run them are doing an excellent job. I know that two of the great commenters on this blog are involved with those in their communities. That isn’t the point. The point is, they shouldn’t be needed. There should be no benefit sanctions nor false or falsified fitness for work tests throwing people who are too ill or disabled to work off benefits. The unemployed and disabled should be given benefits at a level that allows them to live properly, paid the moment they request and need them. They should not have to wait a few days, let alone five weeks, before receiving a payment. Working people should also be paid a decent wage, so that they also can afford to feed, heat and clothe themselves and their families.

But this is precisely what Tories like Coffey do not want to happen. They are dismantling the welfare state because they wish to relieve high earners – the rich – of the tax burden of supporting the poor. They originally tried justifying this with specious arguments about ‘trickledown’. The money the rich saved would trickle down to the poor as their social superiors opened new businesses, employed more people and paid higher wages. But they don’t actually do any of that. It just stays in their banks accounts, accumulating interest while they boast about how many hundreds of K they’ve trousered. I also believe the Tories actually like food banks because they see them as the British counterpart to the American system of food stamps.

They also have absolutely no problem with rising inequality. In fact, I remember them openly being all for it. Right at the beginning of the Thatcher project in the 1980s, various Tories appeared on BBC documentaries about benefit cuts and wage restraint raving about how wonderful it was. They believed that conditions should be made worse for the poor, as this would encourage them to ‘do well’. Thatcher herself was a fan of the less eligibility system of Victorian poor relief. Like them, she believed conditions should be made as humiliating and oppressive as possible for those on welfare in order to make them get a job as quickly as possible. He successors have weaponised it further, and now see it as a means of culling the sick and poor. 130,000 people have been killed so far by austerity in a campaign described by Mike and other bloggers and welfare commenters and organisations as the genocide of the disabled.

Food banks are not a perfect solution for people people at a difficult point in their lives. They are a severely inadequate attempt to ameliorate some of the worse effects of Tory austerity and welfare cuts. It is great that people are there, trying to do something for the poor.

But it is a glaring disgrace that they should be needed in first place. Coffee is a smooth, smiling dissembler trying to put a good front over utterly disgraceful, murderous Tory policies. She and the wretched government she serves can’t fall soon enough.

New BBC Series Next Week on Universal Credit

January 28, 2020

The BBC is screening a new documentary series next week on Universal Credit. Titled ‘Universal Credit: Inside the Welfare State’, the first installment is on BBC 2, on Tuesday 4th February at 9.00 pm. The blurb for it in the Radio Times runs

In-depth look at the Department of Work and Pensions, Jobcentres and claimants, during the implementation of the biggest change to the benefits system in a generation. This edition focuses of Peckham Jobcentre in south London. Rachel left a 27-year caareer in the NHS to care for her elderly parents. She’s been struggling to pay her rent and bills while paying back an advance she took out while waiting for her first Universal Credit payment. Jobcentre staff member Karen works tirelessly to support claimants but is frustrated that she has to supplement her low earnings with a second job. (p. 86).

An additional piece about the show by David Butcher a few pages earlier, on page 84, also says

There’s a key scene in this first episode of a series about benefits, where the civil servant in charge of Universal Credit, Neil Couling, shows us a whiteboard in the Department for Work and Pensions called the “motherboard”. Among the grids and numbers is a piece of paper stuck on that says, “Pay claimants the right amount of money and on time”. It seems a modest aim but, as Couling tells us, “It has defeated the benefits system for the last 35 years.”

The series helps us understand why. Its strength is that we meet not just those at the top of the benefits bureaucracy but those at the bottom – officials at a Jobcentre in Peckham, south London, known as “work coaches”, and their claimants or “customers”. In their sometimes testy encounters we see how Jobcentres have become a one-stop shop, helping claimants with food bank vouchers, housing and childcare. As unemployed labourer Declan says, unhappily, “It’s like they’ve got a hold of your life.”

I think this programme has been expected. If I recall correctly, there has been some discussion whether it would accurately reflect conditions in the DWP and the misery and despair Universal Credit has inflicted on claimaints. There were fears that it would follow the path set by a similar documentary a few years ago. This was also made with the help of the DWP, but presented a very sanitised view of the Department as government-sanctioned propaganda.

It’s to be hopedthat this will be different from the previous series, and from the ‘poverty porn’ produced by Mentorn Television like ‘Benefits Street’. But considering the massive bias on the BBC news desk against the Labour party and Jeremy Corbyn, and its general bias towards supporting austerity and the Conservatives, that may be too much to expect.