Posts Tagged ‘‘The Violence of Austerity’’

Is the End of Debtfare Forced Labour?

September 28, 2020

In his chapter ‘The Violence of the Debtfare State’ in Vickie Cooper and David Whyte, eds., The Violence of Austerity (London: Pluto Press 2017), David Ellis uses the term ‘debtfare’ to describe the dismantling of state welfare provision and its replacement by debt and credit. And I’m starting to wonder how far this can go before something like debt slavery arises. The Romans abolished debt slavery, but the punishment for debt was addictio, forced labour. People are being forced into mountains of debt through poverty created by austerity and the removal of living wages and proper unemployment and disability benefits. Students are also mired in it through tuition fees which now may amount to tens of thousands of pounds.

I am therefore left wondering at what point the various banks and other organisations offering credit will stop it and start demanding their money back or some other form of repayment. Clearly if people remain in debt, they can’t repay the money. The alternatives seem to be either that the banks keep on giving them credit in the hope that they’ll be able to repay something, or else write it off as a loss. But if the number of people in irrecoverable debt hits millions, what happens? If the levels of indebtedness actually starts to harm the banks and the other organisations, will they turn to the state to demand some kind of forced labour in order to make good their profits?

I’ve already pointed out the similarity of the workfare schemes to the forced labour systems of Stalin’s Russia. Stalin used slave labour from the gulags to industrialise the Soviet Union. Business managers would give the KGB lists of the kind of workers their enterprise needed, and the KGB would then have those with the appropriate skills and qualifications accused of anti-Soviet crimes and arrested. The workfare scheme now used to punish the unemployed doesn’t teach anybody any new skills, nor does it allow them to find employment. Indeed the stats a while ago showed that people on workfare were less likely to get a job than if they were left to their own initiative. But workfare does supply cheap, state-subsidised labour to the scheme’s backers and the parties’ business donors, like the supermarkets.

So if the number of people in grievous, irrecoverable debt, will the government simply write them off and let them starve to death, as so many disabled people have done already thanks to false assessments under the Work Capability Tests? Or will they decide they can still make some money for business by pressing them into compulsory labour in order to work their way out of it, as in the Roman system?

I’m not saying this will happen or even that it’s likely. But I do wonder if it’s a possibility.

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.

 

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

January 25, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Reply to Argument that It’s the Poor’s Own Fault They Can’t Afford Food

January 25, 2020

We’ve all heard the arguments from the Tories and their lapdogs in the press denying the reality of hunger and starvation here in the UK. Tories like Edwina Currie, amongst others, have told us that people aren’t really desperate when they go to food banks. It’s just that’s free food. Or else they can’t cook properly, or when they do eat, they choose expensive meals that they can’t afford. Now there are some individuals, to which this does apply. But it is by no means the complete picture for everyone suffering ‘food poverty’. The real causes of people going to food banks or otherwise going hungry are benefit cuts and wage stagnation. Incomes now lag behind inflation, so that many people are simply unable to afford basic food items. Rebecca O’Connell and Laura Hamilton make this very clear in their chapter, ‘Hunger and Food Poverty’, in Cooper’s and Whyte’s The Violence of Austerity. They write

Reports of rising food poverty and food bank use have largely been ignored or dismissed by the UK government, with politicians suggesting that supply is fuelling demand and blaming the poor for lacking budgeting skills, making poor food ‘choices’ and being unable to cook. In contrast to government discourse, however, research shows that the cost of food relative to disposable income (affordability) is crucial and that in the wake of the financial crisis and the subsequent policies of economic austerity, the affordability of food was severely reduced. (p. 95).

I’ve put this up because this is an argument we have heard again and again. And it’s an argument you can bet the Tories will repeat ad nauseam. But it’s garbage. And it is going to need refuting again and again with passages like the above.

This Tory lie cannot be attacked and refuted too often.

Tories Promised Fat Profits to Fracking Companies While Others Starved

January 25, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Obscene! Absolutely obscene!

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

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

 

Trump’s Climate Denial Is a Danger to Post-Brexit Britain

January 23, 2020

Yesterday Mike put up a piece reporting and commenting on Trump’s denunciation of Green activists at the Davos summit. He called them ‘prophets of doom’, who were trying to dominate, control and transform the lives of everyone in the world, and announced that he would not change his country’s high carbon economy. He would, though, sign up for planting, restoring and conserving a trillion trees.

This didn’t impress Greta Thunberg, who was also there. Mike quotes her as saying

“Our house is still on fire. Your inaction is fuelling the flames by the hour, and we are telling you to act as if you loved your children above all else,” she said.

“You say: ‘We won’t let you down. Don’t be so pessimistic.’ And then, silence.”

And she asked: “What will you tell your children was the reason to fail and leave them facing… climate chaos that you knowingly brought upon them? That it seemed so bad for the economy that we decided to resign the idea of securing future living conditions without even trying?”

Beeb wildlife presenter Chris Packham also made a speech about the climate emergency at the BAFTA’s, warning that unless we act to solve the environmental crisis, future generations may look on Trump, Jair Bolsonaro of Brazil, Vladimir Putin and Australia’s Scott Morrison in the same way as mass murderers like Hitler, Stalin and Pol Pot, because of the millions killed through climate change.

Mike also makes the point that while the world’s leaders are doing nothing about climate change, Boris is moving closer to a trade deal with Trump, one that will also make him deny the danger. Mike states that our clown of a prime minister has missed opportunities to make a difference, and asks if he will sell us down the river again for the sake of a few American dollars.

See: https://voxpoliticalonline.com/2020/01/22/trumps-prophets-of-doom-speech-suggests-the-uk-should-not-enter-trade-deal-with-him/

The answer is yes, yes, he will. And it’s for the same reasons Trump and the rest of the Republican party are denying climate change: powerful corporate interests. The Republicans received very generous campaign funding from big industrialists like the Koch brothers and the other heads of the fossil fuel industry. These big businessmen also sponsor fake grassroots organisations and biased scientific think thanks in order to lobby against and discredit climate research and laws to protect the environment. The results have been disastrous. Since he took power, Trump has gutted the environmental protection agency and forbidden it from publishing anything supporting climate change or environmental decline in America. Koch money has seen universities close down proper climate and environmental research and their replacement with laboratories and organisations funded by the brothers and others in the fossil future industry. These present as fact the false information they want the public to hear: that climate change isn’t occurring, and the coal and oil industries ain’t wrecking the landscape. But these industries are. There are a whole sections of the Louisiana swamps that is heavily polluted by oil. The oil pipeline through indigenous people’s land in Idaho that made the news a few years ago was opposed because the indigenous people of the area feared that there would be spillages that would pollute the water they use for drinking and which nourishes their wildlife. They were right to do so. There have been a large number of similar spillages, which have not garnered so much media attention, which have similarly contaminated vast acreages of land. And then there’s the whole fracking industry, and the damage that has also caused the water table in areas where it has been allowed.

These are the industries funding Trump’s campaign. They’re part of the reason why there were right-wing jokers all over the internet yesterday sniggering at Trump’s put down of Thunberg. Trump and his supporters really do believe that environmentalists are some kind of crazy apocalyptic cult with totalitarian aims. There’s a section of the American right that really does believe Green activists are real, literal Nazis, because the Nazis were also environmentally concerned. And the corporate interests sponsoring Trump are the same industries that want to get a piece of our economy and industries.

The Tories have already shown that they are little concerned about the environment. They have strongly promoted fracking in this country, and the book The Violence of Austerity contains a chapter detailing the Tories’ attacks on the environment and Green protest groups. David Cameron’s boast that his would be the greenest government ever vanished the moment his put his foot across the threshold of Number 10.

If Boris makes a Brexit trade deal with Trump, it will mean that our precious ‘green and pleasant land’ is under threat from highly polluting, environmentally destructive industries. It will mean further reductions in funding for renewable energy in favour of oil, gas and coal, attempts in this country to discredit and silence respectable, mainstream climate research and scientists in favour of corporate-sponsored pseudoscience. And there will be further laws and state violence against environmental protesters.

Trump’s climate denial is a threat to the British environment, industry, the health of its people, democracy and science. But Boris depends on him for any kind of successful trade deal.

He will sell out and wreck this country and its people for those dollars offered by Trump and his corporate backers.

The Tory Attacks on Health and Safety Legislation Is Causing Carnage

January 21, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

They state

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Austerity and Prison Violence

January 15, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

UK Police Targeting Non-Violent Protest Groups as Terrorists

January 11, 2020

Mike this morning has put up a piece about the police in the south-east of England placing Extinction Rebellion on a list of extremist organisations and ideologies, which should be reported to the authorities running the Prevent programme. This comes from the Guardian, which states that the environmental activist group is included in a 12 page document, Safeguarding Young People and Adults from Ideological Extremism along with Islamism and neo-Nazism. This is, of course, of concern because Extinction Rebellion are actually non-violent, unlike Nazis and Islamists. I think they’re included because of their tactics of direct action. They deliberately try to stop and block traffic. This is an immense pain, and I don’t blame the commuters, who tried to pull one of them off a train they’d stopped to give him a beating, although I don’t approve of them wanting to beat him up. But Extinction Rebellion not violent, and don’t deserve to be treated as terrorists.

See: https://voxpoliticalonline.com/2020/01/10/terrorism-police-listed-extinction-rebellion-as-extremist-why-does-boris-johnson-get-off-the-hook/

But Extinction Rebellion aren’t alone. There is a chapter in The Violence of Austerity by Rizwaan Sabir, ‘Policing Anti-Austerity through the ‘War on Terror’, on the way anti-austerity activists are viewed almost as terrorist groups by an increasingly militarised police. Sabir tells how he obtained copies of the City of London’s police’s ‘Terrorism/extremism communique’ and similar documents through a Freedom of Information request after the communique had appeared on the net in 2011. These documents included UK Uncut, Occupy London and a number of other, peaceful groups, alongside al-Qaeda and the Columbian rebel group, FARC. One of the terrorist attacks the police believed were being planned was a ‘yoga and mediation flashmob’ by the group, Wake Up London.

When queried, the City of London Police claimed that the document’s title was a mistake and that they did not intend Occupy London to be included as a terrorist organisation. Sabir finds this unconvincing, as the information would have to have been collected by Special Branch and the Counter-Terrorism Department, and they’d done this seven times before. It was less of a mistake than a habit. Furthermore, the City of London police had a project to counter ‘hostile reconnaissance’, Servator. This refers to ‘criminals’, including extreme protest groups, organised crime and terrorists’. He also describes how the police used unlawful terror tactics to harass and intimidate protesters and journalists at Climate Camp’s 2008 protest against a power station in Kent.

He concludes that the use of coercive tactics used against activists and campaigners as counter-terrorism measures is neither new nor unique. The police see such activists as terrorists, and so feel justified in using violence and coercion against them. And the blurring of the boundaries between peaceful activism and terrorism leads the public to become indifferent to the criminalisation of protesters and the militarisation of the police. He concludes

Such policing practices undermine the UK’s purported commitment to human rights processes and its claim that it upholds principles of liberal democracy.

But you can’t really expect otherwise from the Tories.

Tories Pushing Children into Poverty and Stripping Them of Their Rights

January 4, 2020

Yesterday Mike commented on a piece in the Independent, which reported that, thanks to the Tories, Britain had been declared ‘inadequate’ in its protection of children’s right. Britain has now fallen from 11th to 156th place in the global rankings for children’s rights. It’s now in the bottom lowest ten performers after getting the lowest possible score in all six indicators in the Children’s Rights Environment, according to KidsRights Index 2017.

There are serious concerns about structural discrimination in the UK, particularly against Muslims following recent anti-terrorism measure, and against Gypsy and immigrant children.

I’ve already put up some stats on how the Tories’ vile austerity policy has pushed more families and children into ‘food poverty’ – meaning hunger, potential malnutrition and starvation. But the book also worries about the social impact hunger has on people. Families can no longer afford to families and friends around to share a meal, and this is raising concerns that this will also increase the social isolation of the families affected.

Rebecca O’Connell and Laura Hamilton write in their chapter on food poverty in Vickie Cooper’s and David Whyte’s The Violence of Austerity

However, evidence from the PSE UK suggests that 11 per cent of households could not afford to have friends or family around for a meal or drink at least once a month in 2012 compared to 6 per cent in 1999. Furthermore, the proportion who could not afford to have a friend’s child around for tea or snack once a fortnight doubled between 1999 and 2012, from 4 per cent to 8 per cent, representing 1,000,000 children. ~Given that social relationships between children and their peers are an integral aspect of their development and well-being, the consequences are likely to be highly damaging and include increasing social exclusion and societal fragmentation. (p.97)

If ethnic minority families are particularly affected, then this will increase their exclusion and alienation from mainstream society, and could lead to some becoming dangerously radicalised. And their could be a similar effect among poor Whites, who may believe that Black and Asian families are being far better treated because of their colour through positive discrimination policies. Increasing poverty and the removal of anti-discrimination legislation and safeguards is a recipe for increasing racial tension.

Joanna Mack in her chapter on maltreatment and child mortality in the above book also gives the stats on how Britain compares with some of the other European countries: it’s abysmal. She writes

The consequences of such reductions in income is that the UK, which has long had a poor record on child poverty compared to many other nations with similar levels of economic development, has slipped further behind. Eurostat, which gathers comprehensive data from across Europe, reports that in 2014 over 22 per cent of children in the UK lived in deprived households, taken as being unable to afford three or more of a range of household items, compared to 14 per cent in France, around 12 per cent in Germany and a mere 4 per cent in Norway and Sweden. In 2007, before the austerity years, the UK’s rate was 15 per cent well below the EU average – now it is above. (p.87).

She also reports that the increase in child poverty in the UK was of such concern to the UN that it called for the reintroduction of the targets for the reduction of child poverty, which the government had repealed in 2016, and for ‘the provision ‘for clear and accountable mechanisms for the eradication of child poverty’ and the revision of recent benefit reforms.’ (p. 85).

Mike was so angry about this catastrophic reduction in Britain’s status for respecting children’s rights that he urged his readers to tell people who voted Tory about it, and that thanks to their vote, Britain will continue to fail future generations. He also urged them to ask the following questions

And tell them that discrimination against children on racial or religious grounds has been incorporated into the structure of UK society under the Conservatives.

Ask them whether they consider themselves to be racists and, if not, why they support a racist administration.

And if they say they don’t, remind them that prime minister Boris Johnson is a known racist.

Point them to the anti-Semitism in his novel if they want proof beyond his Islamophobic comments and other recent outbursts.

UK plummets from 11th to 156th in global children’s rights rankings. The Tories are responsible

Britain is becoming more racist, and its children poorer, thanks to the Tories. And it’s all so that the 1 per cent, including Bozo, Rees-Mogg and the rest of them, can get richer.