Posts Tagged ‘Work Capability Tests’

End Workfare Now! Part 1

June 20, 2017

This is the text of another pamphlet I wrote a year or so ago against the highly exploitative workfare industry. As the pamphlet explains, workfare, or ‘welfare to work’, is the system that provides industry with cheap, unemployed temporary labour under the guise of getting the jobless back into work by giving them work experience. If the unemployed person refuses, he or she is thrown off benefit.

These temporary jobs go nowhere, and it’s been proven that the unemployed are actually far better off looking for jobs on their own than using workfare. And it’s very similar to other systems of supposed voluntary work and forced labour, such as the labour colonies set up in Britain in 1905, the Reichsarbeitsdienst in Nazi Germany, and the use of forced labour against the ‘arbeitscheu’ – the ‘workshy’, as well as the compulsory manual labour required of all citizens in Mao’s china during the Cultural Revolution, and the Gulags in Stalin’s Russia.

Mike over at Vox Political has blogged against it, so has Johnny Void and the Angry Yorkshireman of Another Angry Voice, and many other left-wing bloggers. It’s another squalid policy which New Labour and the Tories took over from Reagan and Bill Clinton.

Jeremy Corbyn has promised to get rid of the work capability tests. I hope also that under him, the Labour party will also get rid of this vile policy, so that big corporations like Poundland and supermarkets like Tesco’s will have to take on workers and pay them a decent wage, rather than exploiting desperate and jobless workers supplied by the Thatcherite corporate state.

End Workfare Now!

Workfare is one of the most exploitative aspects of the contemporary assault on the welfare state and the unemployed. It was advocated in the 1980s by the Republicans under Ronald Reagan in America, and in Britain by Thatcher’s Conservatives. In 1979 the Tory party ranted about the need to ‘restore the will to work’. Geoffrey Howe, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, declared that ‘The Government and the vast majority of the British people want hard work and initiative to be properly rewarded and are vexed by disincentives to work’. At its heart is the attitude that the unemployed should be forced to work for their benefits, as otherwise they are getting ‘something for nothing’. Very many bloggers and activists for the poor and unemployed, including Vox Political, Johnny Void, Another Angry Voice, and myself have denounced it as another form of slavery. It’s used to provide state-subsidised, cheap labour for big business and charities, including influential Tory donors like Sainsbury’s. And at times it crosses the line into true slavery. Under the sanctions system, an unemployed person is still required to perform workfare, even if the jobcentre has sanctioned them, so that they are not receiving benefits. Workfare recipients – or victims – have no control over where they are allocated or what jobs they do. The government was challenged in the courts by a geology graduate, who was forced to work in Poundland. The young woman stated that she did not object to performing unpaid work. She, however, had wanted to work in a museum, and if memory serves me correctly, had indeed got a place at one. She was, however, unable to take up her unpaid position there because of the Jobcentre’s insistence she labour for Poundland instead. A young man also sued the government, after he was sanctioned for his refusal to do 30 hours a week unpaid labour for six months for the Community Action Programme. The High and Appeal Courts ruled in the young people’s favour. They judged that the government had indeed acted illegally, as the law did not contain any stipulations for when and how such work was to be performed.

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

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

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

David Cameron, unsurprisingly, was also a fan of the Wisconsin system, and wanted to introduce it over here. In 2007 he made a speech to the Tory faithful at the party conference, proclaiming ‘We will say to people that if you are offered a job and it’s a fair job and one that you can do and you refuse it, you shouldn’t get any welfare.’ This became part of Coalition policy towards the unemployed when they took power after the 2010 elections.’ Two years later, in 2012, Boris Johnson, speaking as mayor of London, declared that he was going to use EU money from the Social Fund to force young adults between 18 and 24 to perform 13 weeks of labour without pay if they were unemployed. In June that year David Cameron also declared that there was a need to end ‘the nonsense of paying people more to stay at home than to get a job – and finally making sure that work really pays. Ed Miliband’s Labour party also joined in. Liam Byrne, the Shadow Secretary for Work and Pensions, declared that

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

This was echoed by Ed Balls, who said

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

Forced Labour for the Unemployed in History

Standing traces the antecedents of workfare back to the English poor law of 1536 and the French Ordonnance de Moulins of twenty years later, which obliged unemployed vagabonds to accept any job that was offered them. He states that the direct ancestor is the 1834 Poor Law Amendment Act, the infamous legislation that, under the notion of ‘less eligibility’, stipulated that those receiving support were to be incarcerated in the workhouse, where conditions were deliberately made much harsher in order to deter people from seeking state
support, rather than paid work. This attitude is also reflected in contemporary attitudes that, in order to ‘make work pay’, have demanded that welfare support should be much less than that received for paid work. This has meant that welfare payments have become progressively less as the various measure to make the labour market more flexible – like zero hours contracts – drove down wages. The workhouse system was supplemented in 1905 by the Unemployed Workmen Act, supported, amongst others, by Winston Churchill. This directed unemployed young men into labour, so that they should not be ‘idle’ and be ‘under control’. Nor were leading members of the early Labour party averse to the use of force. Sidney and Beatrice Webb, two of the founders of the Fabian Society, were also in favour of sending the unemployed to ‘labour colonies’, chillingly close to the forced labour camps which became such as feature of the Nazi and Communist regimes. Weimar Germany in the 1920s and ’30s also developed a system of voluntary work to deal with the problems of mass unemployment. This was taken over by the Nazis and became compulsory for all Germans from 19-25 as the Reicharbeitsdienst, or Imperial Labour Service It was mainly used to supply labour for German agriculature. Because of its universal nature, the Reicharbeitsdienst had no stigma attached to it, and indeed was seen as part of the new, classless Germany that was being created by Hitler. In a speech to the Service’s workers, Hitler declared that there would be no leader, who had not worked his way up through their ranks. Much harsher was the Nazi’s treatment of the serially unemployed. They were declared arbeitscheu – the German word, which forms the basis of the English ‘workshy’. These individuals were sent to the concentration camps, where they were identified with a special badge on their pyjamas, just like those marking out Jews, gay men, Socialists and trade unionists, and so on.

Liam Byrne also harked back to the Webbs to support his argument for workfare as Labour party policy. He stated

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

The Workfare Scheme

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

This has created immense fear among the unemployed and disabled. Standing quotes one man with cerebral palsy, who was so afraid of being sanctioned for not performing the mandatory work, that he felt physically sick. Mental health professionals – psychiatrists and psychologists, have also released reports attacking the detrimental effect the stress of these tests are having on the mentally ill. So far they have estimated that upwards of a quarter of a million people with mental health problems such as depression and anxiety have had their condition made worse – sometimes very much worse – through the stress of taking these tests.

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

More on the Government Falsification of the Figures for the Deaths from Grenfell Tower

June 19, 2017

Mike has this evening put up another piece about the figures for the number of people, who have died in the Grenfell Tower fire. The Met police have now said that the number of people believed to have been killed is 79. Mike reasons from this that there are a further 382 still missing, as the block had 600 residents. 65 were rescued, and 74 are in hospital.

There is an appeal for residents who are well, but who have not yet made themselves known to the authorities to come forward.

However, as Mike points out in his article, many people are convinced that the authorities are deliberately underestimating the fatalities. He has a video in the post, where people say that they have seen many more bodies than have been officially counted.

http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2017/06/19/grenfell-tower-death-toll-up-to-79-with-382-still-missing-or-are-they/

In an earlier post, Mike suggested that a true estimate of the number of people, as suggested by EvolvePolitics, might be given by taking the total number of residents and subtracting the numbers for those, who had been rescued and were in hospital. At the time EvolvePolitics tweeted this, it was believed thirty people had been officially declared dead, so the probably figure for the numbers of people killed in the blaze is 461.

One of the people posting about this on social media, Gemma-Fox-Official, claimed that she had been told by two of the firefighters who tackled this inferno, that there were many more bodies recovered than have been officially acknowledged. According to her, they said it was three tents full of them. The firefighters informed her, she says, that they were ordered to count only those people who physically died in the building. If they leaped from it, and fell to their deaths, they were not counted in the official death toll.

http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2017/06/19/evidence-mounts-against-the-authorities-over-the-grenfell-tower-disaster-strong-language/

If this is true, then it’s truly revolting. It means that, in order to keep power, the Tories are once again lying about the numbers their policies have killed. It’s frankly another denial of justice.

These rumours may well be wrong, but considering the way the Tories have massively denied and then falsified other mortality statistics – such as for the number of disabled people, who have died after being found fit and well by Atos, they are all too plausible.

Does the ‘I’ Really Believe People Hate May Because of her Gender?

June 7, 2017

On the front page of the I, the paper boasted that it had an article by novelist Philippa Gregory on the eight prejudices that have historically been levelled against women rulers.

Is this supposed to imply that opponents of Theresa May are motivated solely by sexism?

It wouldn’t surprise me. After all, the paper gave a lot of support to the various female Blairites, who claimed that voting for Jeremy Corbyn and not for his female rivals in the Labour leadership elections was very, very sexist indeed. Despite the fact that Corbyn had far better policies for women, while the Harriet Harman and Angela Eagle had all been Blairite neoliberals, who had backed the failed economic and social policies that have actively harmed women.

If this is what the newspaper intends, then I have got news for them.

May’s gender is completely irrelevant to me.

I would loathe and despair her, even if she was a bloke called Terry. Just as I despised her male predecessors, the unfunny comedy double act David Cameron and Nick Clegg.

I despise May because she has

* Cut and done everything she could to privatise the NHS, running it into the ground.

* Cut and done everything she could to privatise the education system.

* Maintained the current system of tuition fees, which are loading students with mountains of debt.

* Carried on with Cameron and Clegg’s policies of massive welfare cuts, including the Bedroom tax and the humiliating and murderous Work Capability Tests, which have thrown thousands off benefits and into misery and starvation.

* Cut the numbers of police, armed services, border guards and other services back so that Britain was left dangerously vulnerable. A policy that ultimately allowed the Manchester and London terrorists to commit their horrendous crimes.

* Lied about her intention to put British workers in the boardroom, while she’s done just about everything in her power to get rid of workers’ rights.

* Her policies have also resulted in stagnant wages and maintained high levels of unemployment, to the point where most of the people on benefit are those ‘hard-working’ folk she and the Tories have patronised with their condescending rhetoric.

* Shown that she is completely incompetent to negotiate a fair deal for Brexit, which will enable British firms and other organisations contact with the EU and access to their markets.

* Done everything in her power to support the erosion of our precious civil liberties begun by Major, Blair, Cameron and Clegg. This means the massive expansion of the surveillance state and the malignant system of secret courts, in which you may be tried without knowing the crime, the evidence against you, who your accuser is, and behind closed doors. Like Nazi Germany and the Stalinist Soviet Union.

* Cut taxes for the rich, while transferring the burden to the poor. Which, incidentally, was one of the reasons behind the French Revolution.

* Repealed legislation protecting our environment, so she can sell off Britain’s forests and trash our green and pleasant land with fracking for the profit of her friends in the oil industry.

* Supported Tory policies that have, instead of drawing the peoples of our great island nation together, have instead caused even further division by supporting islamophobia, fear and resentment of immigrants, and general racial intolerance.

* Not that she’s simply worked up racial intolerance. She and the Tory press have also done their utmost to whip up prejudice against the disabled to justify cuts in their benefits. The result has been a massive increase in hate crime against people with disabilities.

* Carried on with policies which will result in the break-up of the United Kingdom after three hundred years in the case of Scotland and England, and two hundred in the case of Britain and Northern Ireland.

The ‘Celtic Fringe’ – Scotland, Wales and Ulster don’t want Brexit. The Welsh and Scots Nationalist leaders want their nations and Ulster to be part of the Brexit negotiations. And all of the Northern Irish parties want to keep the open border with Eire. But all this is in jeopardy through May’s high-handed attitude to the nations, and her determination to promote only ‘Leave’ supporters to manage Britain’s departure from the EU.

And I could probably carry with more. Much more.

This is why I despise Theresa May and want her voted out, along with the party that chose her and has done so much serious harm to this country and its people for seven years.

I therefore urge everyone to vote Labour tomorrow to get her and them thrown out.

Vox Political: Tories Lie about Labour as Set to Lose Overall Majority in Parliament

May 31, 2017

As I’ve mentioned in a post earlier today, the Heil and Torygraph are spreading more lies about Labour. This time they’re claiming that Labour has drawn up ‘secret plans’ to let in millions of unskilled immigrants after Brexit. And the Mail Online has put up another piece, claiming that Labour will impose a ‘garden tax’.

As you would expect, this is all rubbish and fake news from the two newspapers that hate and fear Corbyn the most. It was the Fail and the Torygraph that were pushing the most the smear that Corbyn was a ‘Trotskyite’. As for drumming up fears of a mass influx of foreigners, well, no surprise there either then. Both papers have been ranting about uncontrolled immigration and ‘unassimilable foreigners’ since the 1960s. Several of the hacks, who’ve written for the Mail, such as Simon Heffer, even contributed chapters celebrating the centenary of Enoch Powell.

Although it’s not being put in such crude, racist language, we’re back to the old smear of ‘If you want a n***er for a neighbour, vote Labour’. And many people in modern Britain do live in multiethnic areas, and get on perfectly well with people of different ethnicities and skin colour, thank you very much. And many White older folk appreciate the respect given to the elderly in other cultures, such as amongst Asians.

Of course, the Mail should be very careful when trying to stir up fears of mass immigration. This brings back painful memories of the 1930s, when the newspaper screamed its support of Oswald Mosley and the British Union of Fascists with the notorious headline, ‘Hurrah for the Blackshirts’. It was avowedly pro-Hitler, supported the Nazi regime and published tirades warning the country of the supposed threat from Jewish immigration. That is, from people fleeing unimaginable persecution in Germany and eastern Europe. Just as it now attacks the refugees from the Middle East fleeing the chaos and terror western imperialism has inflicted on their native countries.

Mike over at Vox Political has put up a piece showing why the Tories have gone back to playing the race card: they’re set to lose their overall majority in parliament by 16 seats. At the moment they’re set to win 310 seats, Labour 257, the SNP 50, Lib Dems 10, the Greens and ‘Northern Irish’ 1 each, and other parties 18.

UKIP are set to get no seats at all. So much for the mighty revolution in British politics which Farage was supposed to have unleashed.

Mike’s article also graphically shows why no disabled people should vote for the Tories. The article contains a disturbing video by a disabled woman, Aleesha, of the privations she suffers thanks to the Tory cuts. This lady lives in an unadapted home. She cannot walk, and so must crawl painfully from room to room, even heaving herself up painfully onto the toilet. She states that she has fallen off it several times, and knocked herself out on the bath. She has stopped taking her medicines, or some of them, because she could not afford to pay the prescription charges for the four sets of drugs she needs to take each day. The cuts to her benefit also means that she subsists on milk, and has lost many pounds in weight. This has also exacerbated her eating disorder. She also suffers from incontinence, but again, has no money to pay for the special underwear, and so has suffered from the humiliation of soiling her clothes.

It is disgusting that anyone in Britain in the 21st century should suffer such humiliation and poverty.

And this is being done to give by the Tory party and their paymasters in big business massive tax breaks and a cowed workforce, which is prepared to suffer poverty wages in order to avoid the threat of unemployment. There are 100,000-odd people, who have been saved from starvation only through food banks. There are seven million people living in ‘food insecure’ households. That means that they don’t know where their next meal’s going to come from. It means mothers, who are starving themselves in order to feed their children.

It means 600 disabled people and rising have died in misery and starvation.

By contrast, Labour have promised to repeal the work capability tests, the repeated testing of people with severe illnesses or disabilities, so you won’t have any more amputees asked the moronic question of when they expect their limbs to grow back, and increase carers’ allowance by £30. As well as scrapping the sanctions regime.

As Mike point outs in his article, if you’re disabled or care about disabled people, you’ll love Labour’s manifesto. But if you’re a Tory, you’re going to hate it.

http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2017/05/31/want-to-know-why-the-papers-are-printing-lies-about-labour-policies-heres-the-answer/

Don’t be misled by Tory lies. These reforms have all been costed. And they are not, contra the claims of George Alagaiah and John Pienaar on the Six O’clock News yesterday, going to come from extra taxes on ordinary people.

They’re going to come from the rich.

Which is why the Tories and their lapdogs in the press are going berserk and trying to smear the Labour party with everything they have.

And it’s very clear why the Mail and Telegraph are going to hate it especially. Quite apart from the bitter hatred these papers have for the poor and working people, both are owned by rich tax-dodgers. Viscount Rothermere, who owns the Heil, has non-dom tax status inherited from his father. Despite this, he seems very much domiciled in this country, where he has a stately home. The Torygraph is owned by the weirdo Barclay twins, who have their own private island, Brecqou, in the Channel.

Don’t let these people lie to you.
Don’t let any more people die of starvation, or live in fear of it.
Don’t stand for the poverty and degradation they’re inflicting on the disabled.
And don’t let them keep Britain divided by stirring up hatred against ethnic minorities and immigrants.

Vote Labour June 8th.

Tories Plan to Rob Elderly of their Homes as Plan to Enrich Insurance Companies

May 20, 2017

Gerald Scarfe’s personification of Thatcherite greed. Still going strong under ‘Red Tory’ May.

One of the policies ‘strong and stable’, ‘Red’ Tory May has put forward in her manifesto is that house prices are to be included in calculating the cost of social care for the elderly. Which means that even more people face the prospect of losing their homes in order pay for the care they will need as they grow older. I know people, who are already worried about this. And people are already worried that Tory policies will make them homeless. Mike reports in one of his posts on this matter, how one caller to Nick Ferrari’s show on LBC was desperately afraid that she’d lose her home when her mother died.

http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2017/05/19/at-last-britons-are-uniting-against-theresa-may/

Yesterday Mike put up a piece, based on a social media post by Trish Campbell, which suggested that May had introduced this policy to give more work, and more money, to the insurance companies. She stated that she had read a piece on the Net, by someone, who had been told by a City worker that the Tories had approached the insurance industry months ago with the opportunity of selling more insurance policies. The elderly wouldn’t have to sell their homes to pay for their care, if they took out an insurance policy for it.

Mike has posted the original text and graphic on his blog, as well as transcript provided by one of his commenters if you can’t read it. It runs

“The Conservatives will attempt to soften the blow by promising that pensioners will not have to sell their homes to pay for their care costs while they or a surviving partner are alive. Instead, ‘products will be available’ allowing the elderly to pay by extracting equity from their homes, which will be recovered at a later date when they die or sell their residence.

“I have just seen this post online:

“‘People need to read the small print associated with this because its a lot nastier than it looks.

“I work in the City. The insurance industry was approached by the Government several months ago with the aim of creating a new market for a new product.

“This arrangement is a culmination of those discussions. You wont have to sell your house PROVIDED that you purchase an insurance product to cover your social care. The “premiums” would be recovered from the equity after the house has been sold and the Insurance company will have a lien on the house and can force a sale if it wants to. So your offspring cant keep it on the market for long in order to get the best price.

“The real kicker in this is that in order to encourage the industry to market these products the government guaranteed that there would be no cap on the premiums.

“This was in some ways “atonement” for Osborne’s destruction of the highly lucrative annuities market. This means that the premiums could be up to (and including) the entire remaining equity in the property after the government has taken its cut. Companies will be falling over themselves to get their snouts in this trough.

“In short your offspring and relatives could get absolutely nothing from your estate.

“If you buy one of these products you need to read the small print very very carefully indeed because there will be some real dogs on the market.

“I suspect that this is another financial scandal waiting to happen, but by the time it does May will be long gone.’”

Mike concludes his piece by wonder if Unum had something to do with it.

http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2017/05/19/now-it-makes-sense-dementia-tax-is-an-insurance-scam/

Well, this doesn’t seem at all unlikely. The work capability tests, that have seen tens of thousands thrown off benefit, and hundreds of severely sick and disabled people die in misery and starvation – see Stilloak’s blog and the site, Atos Miracles – were introduced at the behest of American fraudster Unum, and its chief, John Lo Cascio. And other insurance companies have also been very strongly involved in the privatisation of the NHS.

And I can remember the Financial Times reporting, way back in the 1990s, a scheme by the Tories and the insurance companies to launch special insurance schemes at workers to cover them if they were made redundant.

This is how the Tories and their backers in big business and the financial sector see poverty – not as something that should be removed, but as an excellent business opportunity. And so they are doing their best to cause more anxiety, to make people’s financial situation even more precarious, in order to make their friends and paymasters in the City even richer.

Till, like the figure above, they puke money.

Don’t let them do this. Don’t let them rob you of your house, to pay for your elderly relatives care – care that they’ve worked for and paid for through their national insurance contributions and tax.

Vote Labour on June 8.

Guardian Documentary on Disability Rights Caravan in Bolivia

May 6, 2017

This video by the Guardian was recommended by one of the many great commenters on this blog. It’s a 30-minute long film about a caravan of disabled people and their carers in Bolivia. The protesters were marching to claim the £70 a month pension disabled people have been promised by Evo Morales government. The blurb for the video runs

People with disabilities are among the most discriminated against in Bolivia. Fed up with being ignored, a group of them march across the Andes to the seat of the government in La Paz, asking to speak to President Evo Morales. They are met with riot police, barricades, teargas and water cannon

Headed by determined leaders, including Rose Mery, Marcelo, Feliza and Miguel, the protesters camp on the streets a block away from the main plaza near the government palace. For the first time in Bolivia’s history, police erect 3m-high barricades, station tanks and hundreds of riot officers to stop the protesters in wheelchairs from entering the plaza.

Violent confrontations flare up between police and the protesters, with officers using pepper spray and water cannon. The government refuses to discuss their request for a pension of $70 a month and the protesters suspend themselves from the city’s bridges in their wheelchairs.

After following the protesters on the march, film-makers Violeta Ayala, Dan Fallshaw and Fernando Barbosa gain intimate access to their camp, including up-close scenes of regular violent reactions from the police. The film-makers and other journalists are also threatened. For three months the activists with disabilities attempt to speak to the president but face criticism from the state’s official news outlets.

As public pressure grows, can Rose Mery and her fellow protesters win their fight?

There’s also links to a piece, which followed up what happened afterwards, and to where people can share their experiences of being a disability campaigner.

https://www.theguardian.com/world/ng-interactive/2017/may/05/fighting-for-a-pension-disability-rights-protesters-in-bolivia-face-barricades

This is a deeply moving video. Many of the protesters are in wheelchairs. It states that they spent 30 days in Cochabamba protesting, then 35 days on the road to tackle the government in La Paz. Their sojourn in the country’s capital lasted at least another ten days.

They wanted to entire Murillo Plaza, but find when they get there that the way is blocked by riot police in full body armour, with shields and tear gas. In subsequent confrontations, the rozzers use water cannon on them. The protesters try several times to break through the security cordon. When this fails, they settled down in tents and shelters. At one stage they are so desperate that a woman in a wheelchair, Rose Mery, has herself hoisted into the air from a bridge.

A government spokesman appears on television to denounce them, claiming that they are trying to destabilise the government. One of the men protesting states very clearly that they aren’t politicians. If they were, he says, they’d be better politicians than those in power.

Eventually they managed to get a meeting with the employment minister, who flatly refuses to discuss the pension. The protesters are naturally disgusted. As a reaction to this, they cover themselves with rubbish, chanting that ‘Evo! Evo! Evo treats us as rubbish!’ Later, they strip down to their underpants. Then one night a car smashes through a group of 12 of the protesters, injuring eight and killing two. One of the victims is an eight-year old girl, whose mother is killed and the child herself put into a coma.

Two of the leaders, Marcelo and Feliz, are forced to leave the camp in fear of their lives. Another man, Miguel, is hospitalised with urinary problems.

The protesters are deeply cynical about the lies spread by the government. They are not impressed with the claim that they have access to free healthcare. One of the speakers also chillingly describes how his sister tried to find a doctor to ‘put him out of his misery’. It’s the kind of forced euthanasia that was adopted as state policy in Nazi Germany.

The group includes people of both European and indigenous heritage. Bolivia is a Roman Catholic country, and one of the protesters carries a cross.

Although conditions are clearly much harsher in Bolivia as a developing nation, many disabled people and their carers and friends will recognise similar attitudes. Our government is similarly killing disabled people through denying them the benefits they are owed through the very stringent and fraudulent attitude of the assessors and others setting the Work Capability Tests. Under these, seriously ill people, including those in comas, have been unfairly and ludicrously judged ‘fit for work’. Mike also described in his blog how one disabled person, an amputee, was asked by the DWP when she expected her limbs to grow back. This attitude also extends to people, whose health problems don’t show, like those suffering depression and anxiety. Their condition has been made much worse by the stress of these tests. And just as outrageously, people with depression, who have confessed to thoughts of suicide, have been asked why they haven’t done it.

The Bolivian protesters state they feel powerless against a government that has the media and police on its side.

The feeling is shared by many disabled people and their carers in Britain. The Beeb and the other TV stations have frequently not covered demos here against austerity. And thanks to the government’s campaign of lies, stigmatising all disabled people as fraudsters, hate crime against the disabled has risen by a monstrous 413 per cent.

And just as the Bolivian politicos hide themselves away from protesters, so have the idiots and tyrants running the DWP. Remember Ian Duncan Smith? He repeatedly refused to give evidence before the Parliamentary Work and Pensions Committee investigating benefit deaths. When he finally did attend, he turned up surrounded with armed police. Just in case he was going to be attacked by all the disabled people on the public balcony.

Other examples of aIDS’ military-style courage, sorry, craven cowardice includes him leaving Tory meetings early so he won’t have to meet any protesters, and hiding in hotel laundry bins.

Bolivia is a poor country, but I don’t think it will be long before the working people of this country are forced into a similar level of poverty. The Tory authors of the book, Britannia Unchained, argued that British working people should also put up with lower wages, poorer working conditions, longer hours and greater job insecurity, in order to compete with the peoples of the Developing World. Who are similarly being made poorer and more desperate by their politicos, following the same neoliberal tosh. Meanwhile, the capitalist class – the financiers and proprietors – get richer.

All over the world working people, the poor and the disabled, are being attacked, demonised and maltreated by their government. We need to stand in solidarity with them, wherever they are, for a better world for all of us.

Books on the Criminal Psychology of Tony Blair

April 10, 2017

Looking through the politics section of one of the secondhand bookshops in Cheltenham the other day, I also found two books arguing that Tony Blair was malign and psychologically unfit for office. One was by the Old Labour MP, Leo Abse, the other by the founder of the SDP and now Lib Dem, Dr David Owen. Abse’s book, the Politics of Perversion, used psychoanalytic theory to argue that Blair had the ruthless psychology of a clinical pervert. Owen’s book, the Hubris of Power, argued that Bush and Blair had spent so long in power, that they had become arrogant, believing they could get away with anything, no matter how unjust or despicable.

I only casually flicked through them, but just looking at Blair’s single-minded promotion of the Iraq Invasion, which in turn involved peddling lies, deceit and the persecution of dissenting officials – to the point where one of them, Dr David Kelly, took his own life – strongly bears this out. Wood in his book The Case against Blair, which argues that the former Labour leader should be prosecuted for war crimes for his role in the Iraq invasion, in one chapter compares Blair to Hitler. Both could be charming, a trait that in Hitler’s case masked his utter ruthlessness and which seemed to do the same in Blair’s case. I realise it’s a case of Godwin’s Law, but it is warranted. Blair’s participation in the Iraq invasion has also resulted in horrific crimes against humanity. And many clinical psychopaths can be extremely charming as they manipulate those around them without scruple or conscience.

Owen points out in his book that Bush and Blair aren’t the only leaders to be overwhelmed by power and a sense of their own importance. Indeed not. Maggie Thatcher also had the utter conviction that she was right and above criticism, whatever horror she and her government committed. And if she, Bush and Blair became intoxicated with power, you wonder what Owen thinks of the present incumbent of the White House. Trump is, after all, a massive megalomaniac who insists that everything he’s doing is ‘the best ever’, and insults, mocks and threatens anyone, who dares to say otherwise.

The Iraq invasion, which Blair ordered despite a million or so Brits marching against it and the opposition of 100-150 MPs, is doubtless the worst decision Blair made. It has resulted in at least 100,000 Iraqi casualties, the displacement of around 7 million people, and the descent of the region into carnage and civil war.

But this isn’t the only decision that Blair made that has actively harmed people. Domestically, Blair wanted to carry on the Tory project of privatising the NHS. His government set up the Work Capability Tests, which had also been urged on the Tory government by Unum, the American insurance fraudster, and its president, John Lo Cascio. These tests assume that most disabled people seeking government aid are malingerers, and so should be thrown off benefit. The result has been an increasing number of disabled people, who have died through starvation and misery. It was also Blair’s administration, that ended tuition fees, thus saddling millions of British students with thousands of pounds worth of debt.

This does not excuse the Tories from continuing these policies and massively expanding them in their turn, so that the death toll from those thrown off various disability benefits now adds up to several tens of thousands. But it does show that there was a ruthless streak in Blair, which did not care about the harm he caused, so long as he continued to get Tory votes and the approval of the Tory press for carrying out Tory policies.

Abse and Owen were right. And Blair is now trying to get back into politics, by positioning himself as representing the political middle ground. He wasn’t. Blair was a political extremist. The Tories at the time complained that his privatisation of the NHS was far more extreme than they had dared to perform through fear of criticism from Labour. His domestic policies continued the growth in poverty and disease, which began with Thatcher and which have received a massive boost by Cameron, Clegg and May. And his participation of the Iraq invasion destroyed a relatively wealthy, secular Middle Eastern state, with a good welfare state, high status of women, and religious toleration for the benefit of Israeli hawks, Saudi and American oil interests, and American multinationals, keen to loot the country and its natural and biological resources.

Blair’s policies were wicked, and he should not be allowed to return to power, whatever charming mask he’s now adopted to fool people into thinking he is the face of moderation.

The Threatened Return of Tony Blair to British Politics

November 23, 2016

The I newspaper today carried the news that Tony Blair wants to return to British politics. Apparently, the former PM thinks that his reputation is ‘recoverable’. There wasn’t much more to the piece than that, the rest of the small snippet being composed of two other newspapers reactions to this news. One of them quoted Owen Jones, the author of Chavs: The Demonisation of the Working Class, who claimed that without Blair making Britain join Bush’s invasion of Iraq, the Labour party would not be led by Jeremy Corbyn today.

I can see his point. Blair’s participation in an illegal war, which has turned the country into a blood bath, facilitated the rise of Daesh, and led to the deaths of so many brave men and women, simply so the multinationals and the Saudis can loot the country’s oil and other industries, is one of the major reasons why voters became increasingly disenchanted with the Labour party and its Tory leadership. But there were many other reasons besides.

Basically, Blair was responsible for many of the disastrous policies that are gutting our precious health and school systems. They were expanded by Cameron, and are being carried on apace by Theresa May, but Blair was responsible for starting them.

These policies include

* The privatisation of the NHS, with the piecemeal dismantlement of the Health Service into ‘community care groups’, intended to be able to commission private health care companies to provide medical services; the expansion of the Private Finance Initiative, launched by the Tories’ Peter Lilley, which has burden hospitals with massive debts, all for the profit of private companies; deliberate outsourcing of medical services to private healthcare companies; and the establishment of ‘polyclinics’ or walk-in medical centres, again as private firms. Alan Milburn had the goal of reducing the NHS to a kitemark on services provided by private healthcare providers.

* The launch of the disastrous academies. These were set up by Blair as City Academies, and based on an idea Norman Baker rolled out under Thatcher, but which had to be abandoned because even they realised it was rubbish. The academies are monstrously expensive, in many cases costing nearly ten times as much as the budget given to the LEA for all the schools in its catchment area. They are highly selective, and in many cases also extremely discriminatory, using mass expulsions and exclusion to get rid of difficult pupils, or students, who are less able than their fellows, in order to keep their academic ratings artificially high. Despite this, about 80 per cent of them are no better than the LEA schools against which they compete, and the excellent results of the other 20 per cent are no more than you would expect, if each individual state school received £20-£30 million in funding.

* The massive expansion of corporate power into the mechanism of government, with unelected managing directors and company heads being given positions on government committees and quangos.

* Massive backing for the supermarkets, despite these harming local businesses and exploiting their suppliers through highly unfair and manipulative contracts.

* Continuing the Tory policy of deregulating and favouring the financial sector, with the result that all the safeguards that could have prevented the 2008 crash were removed. And that led to the current situation, where ordinary people are being pushed further into poverty, while the bankers are back enjoying massive bonuses and corporate bail-outs.

* The further cutting of the benefits system, including the introduction of the Work Capability Tests, which have seen tens, perhaps hundreds of thousands of disabled people thrown off benefits, declared ‘fit for work’, and left to struggle and die in poverty. Several hundred have so far died as a direct result of being left without an income due to these tests.

* Privatisation of the prison service. Blair was approached and lobbied by American private prison operators, like Wackenhut, about handing the running of British prisons over to them.

* The passage of further legislation intended to weaken whatever remained of the power of trade unions.

* Oh yes, and the privatisation, or at least the part-privatisation, of the Post Office.

He was also responsible for the further, massive expansion of the surveillance state, secret courts and expanding the length of time prisoners can be held without charge.

I realise that these policies weren’t new. Many of them, like the PFI and the City Academies, were recycled Tory ideas, as were his privatisations, including the NHS, and the welfare reforms, which were deliberately intended to cut welfare support to the unemployed and long-term sick. But Blair did not have a mandate for them, and in opposition had explicitly condemned them. And in fact, Blair 1997 election victory was such that he could have comfortably reversed them with no threat of losing votes to the Tories.

But he didn’t. He carried on with the policies he’d inherited from Thatcher and Major, policies which have been in turn passed on and expanded by Cameron and May. These policies also played no small part in creating the disenfranchisement of large sections of the working class from British politics, and alienating traditional, working class Labour voters as Blair chased the votes of the middle class and rich. And these policies on their own should be enough to make people heartily sick and tired of him. Coupled with his illegal, murderous wars in the Middle East, they present an overwhelming argument against him making a comeback.

Blair possibly believes that if he returns to British politics, his presence will be enough to rally the neoliberal troops in the Labour party, oust Jeremy Corbyn, and make the party ‘electable’, or rather, palatable to Britain’s corrupt, bloated and exploitative establishment again.

Let’s show the vile, corporate warmonger that he’s very, very wrong.

Vox Political: Is Tom Watson Going Phishing?

September 13, 2016

Phishing, as Mike points out, is the scam by which criminals send emails trying to get their victims to reveal personal information, like their computer passwords and card number, so they can steal their money. It looks like Tom Watson, the Deputy Leader of the Labour party, is doing something similar with an email he sent to Mike, and no doubt thousands of other Labour party members, this morning.

The email looks innocuous enough, just Watson asking for members’ opinions on what the party should do. It runs as follows

“During my Deputy Leadership campaign last year, I said that if we organise, mobilise and harness the potential of every single party member, there’s no limit to what we can achieve.

“I also said that it’s not just what you say that matters, it’s what you do, too. Which is why I’m writing to you to today – exactly one year on from the day I was elected Deputy Leader of our party.

“I’ve put together a quick update on the work I’ve been doing over the past twelve months.

“As ever, I’d love to hear from you. If you’d like to send me your comments and feedback on the work I’ve been doing, you’ll find a link in the article.”

Mike observes that if he did tell Watson what he thought the party should do, and how he felt about Watson’s work, he would most likely be suspended from the party. Mike states he might be a bit paranoid here, but it looks like Watson is trying to gauge people’s opinion, so he can have them purged.

He concludes:

I’ll hold off on responding to Tom’s kind offer – just until after the Labour leadership election is over – and I urge any other Labour members to do the same. He can read what we have to say when it won’t do us any harm.

I completely agree with Mike on this issue. The current leadership are doing their best to deny votes to supporters of Jeremy Corbyn on the very flimsiest pretexts. One woman was told she couldn’t vote because she posted a comment on Facebook that brought the Labour party into disrepute. This was her remark that she ‘f***ing loved the Foo Fighters’. How foul language, which is rapidly losing its ability to shock, about her favourite pop band brings the Labour party into disrepute is beyond me. I thought what was far more likely to bring the party into disrepute was its leadership taking us into an illegal war, privatising the health service, cutting welfare benefits and setting up the infamous ‘work capability tests’. Oh yes, and showing themselves fearful and reluctant to challenge Tory policy attacking the poor and unemployed in order to ingratiate themselves with the monstrosities of the Tory press.

But that’s the platform of the Blairite right, which is held to be sound and good because it shows they are ‘responsible’ and appeals to the bigoted and vindictive swing voters they wish to court.

Quite often they’ve suspended or purged someone, without giving them any details at all of the offense that was supposed to damage the party’s reputation. And sometimes when they do, it’s wrong, and they show themselves to be just seeking any old excuse to throw a Corbyn supporter out. Yesterday I posted about another piece put up by Mike, about the suspension of John MacDonald from the party. Mr MacDonald was suspended because of a message he had posted on social media. But he hadn’t posted any message on the date they alleged. He had, however, the day after urged people to vote for Jeremy Corbyn, as he (MacDonald) and Cath Atlee were the last surviving relatives of the great man.

I might be doing Watson an injustice, but I don’t think so. This looks to me like what Mike said it is – a phishing expedition, so Watson can throw out a few more lefties.

Guy Standing’s Arguments against Workfare: Part 1

August 8, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This was echoed by Ed Balls, who said

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

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

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

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

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

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