Category: Neoliberalism

A few billionaires own more wealth than 4.6 billion people, says report ahead of Davos

Bootstraps

The age of endless growth in prosperity for everyone is now a distant memory of a rather more hopeful era. Despite what the government tells us, inequality is growing. And this is damaging to the economy, and to ordinary citizens who are struggling to get by on ever-diminishing incomes and ever-rising living costs. It’s highly unlikely that Brexit will help matters, too

Rising inequality coincided with a profound shift in economic policy throughout much of the developed nations of the world – neoliberalism. Political parties got elected from the end of the seventies by promising to cut tax rates, ‘free up’ markets, and reduce government intervention in the economy. The change was most pronounced in Britain and the United States, after Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan took office. But it also occurred to varying degrees in Continental Europe, Canada, Australia, and Japan. 

Those countries with largest tax cuts also experienced the biggest increases in inequality, and losses in public welfare and social cohesion.. However, neoliberals’ prevailing view of inequality is that it isn’t a bad thing because it ‘spurs’ people to work harder and become more self-reliant and self-disciplined.

However, people in poverty are increasingly likely to be in working families, which indicates that poverty isn’t caused by people being lazy, undisciplined and unmotivated.

The myth of meritocracy is also used to justify inequality.  Boris Johnson and Charles Murray, among others, have argued that wealth is linked with having a higher IQ. However, roughly a third of rich people inherit their wealth, so that cannot be linked to their own personal qualities, talents or achievements.

There is also the problem with defining ‘skills’and ‘talent’ worthy of merit. One person’s idea of talent is another person’s idea of Simon Cowell. 

The authors of a paper called Talent vs Luck: the role of randomness in success and failure, say “The largely dominant meritocratic paradigm of highly competitive Western cultures is rooted on the belief that success is due mainly, if not exclusively, to personal qualities such as talent, intelligence, skills, efforts or risk taking. Sometimes, we are willing to admit that a certain degree of luck could also play a role in achieving significant material success.

But, as a matter of fact, it is rather common to underestimate the importance of external forces in individual successful stories.”

The authors conclude, rather depressingly that: “The maximum success never coincides with the maximum talent, and vice-versa.”

Although the researchers outline the role of luck and randomness in how some people become very wealthy, they have overlooked the role that neoliberal policies play in redistributing public wealth towards the already wealthy.

The team who undertook this study, led by Alessandro Pluchino, also concluded that an important factor in their model was an element of fortune and misfortune that can make or break the individuals’ success.

This is one good reason why we need a robust social security system. Because no-one is immune from periods of hardship and misfortune: an accident or illness, the loss of a job, and a range of other circumstances can leave us facing poverty. No-one ‘deserves’ to be hungry, homeless and poor.

The ‘Inequality Turn’ in the 1980s is one of the most distinctive aspects of contemporary political economy. It isn’t likely that people suddenly became less ‘deserving’ of a decent standard of living, given the radical change in economic ideology and subsequent shift in socio-economic organisation. It’s rather more likely that the political choices of neoliberal policy over that time have resulted in the growth of inequality.

The neoliberal shift has led to the world’s billionaires having more wealth than 4.6 billion people and the world’s richest 1% own more than double the wealth of 6.9 billion people. There are just 2,153 billionaires. 

Those are the latest figures on global inequality from a report released on Monday ahead of an annual meeting of global elites in the mountain resort of Davos-Klosters, Switzerland. The report by the international aid organisation Oxfam states that the number of billionaires has doubled in the last decade.

As at least some of the world’s 2,153 billionaires attend the World Economic Forum this week, others will be working to communicate another message: the complicity of the global elite in wealth inequality.

“Our broken economies are lining the pockets of billionaires and big business at the expense of ordinary men and women. No wonder people are starting to question whether billionaires should even exist,” said Amitabh Behar, the CEO of Oxfam India who will be present at Davos.

“[Inequality is at the] heart of fractures and social conflicts all over the world, and no one is fooled,” said Pauline Leclère, Oxfam France’s senior campaigner for tax justice and inequalities.

“Inequality is not someone’s ‘fate’. It is the result of social and fiscal policy that reduces the participation of the wealthy [through taxes] and weakens funding for public services.”

Leclère said this is the message that Oxfam will be trying to deliver at Davos.

The charity  has released its annual report ahead of the famous economic meeting to address mounting inequality since 2014. 

The 2008 financial crisis saw the rich get richer. In 2012, the top 10% of earners took home 50% of all income. That’s the highest percentage in the last 100 years, according to a studyby economists Emmanuel Saez and Thomas Piketty. 

If you want to know how that happened, you need to simply compare and contrast Conservative neoliberal policies: those aimed at wealthy people have tended to reward them with money, simply for having money, while the poorest citizens have been ‘incentivised’ to be less poor by being financially sanctioned.

This language of ‘incentives’ has been used to engineer a massive shift of public wealth from the poorest to the wealthiest. For example, the social security cuts to disabled people’s support happened at the same time as a generous tax cut to the UK’s wealthiest citizens. While the government imposed austerity on everyone else, they handed out £170,000 each per year to the millionaires in the form of a generous tax cut. 

According to government opinion and rationale, wealthy people require wealth to ‘incentivise’ them to be wealthy, whereas poor people require less money to somehow punish them out of their poverty. 

I don’t think the current government are in a position of power because of their coherence, honesty, talent and intelligence.

I think they are in government because of their ruthless pursuit of insulting the intelligence of others. And succeeding to do so.

Boris Johnson making a tenuous and tedious link between IQ, talent, competition and the inevitability and essential nature of inequality.

Gender inequality

This year, Oxfam examined the gender divide as well, highlighting that men worldwide own 50% more wealth than women due to a “sexist and unfair economic system”.

The 22 richest men in the world have more wealth than all the women in Africa, according to the report.

Women are much more likely to work in sectors that are more insecure and less valued economically, the Oxfam said.

They do more than 75% of unpaid care work and make up two-thirds of the “care workforce” in nursery and domestic jobs.

“Women and girls are among those who benefit least from today’s economic system,” said Behar.

Overall, their conclusions on inequality remain unchanged.

“Unfortunately, the organisation’s conclusion is the same. Inequality continues to rise in extreme proportions,” Leclère told Euronews, adding that inequality is bad for economies.

The director of the International Monetary Fund said at a conference in Washington DC last week that although inequality between countries was decreasing, inside many high-income countries, inequality is growing.

“The gap between rich and poor can’t be resolved without deliberate inequality-busting policies, and too few governments are committed to these,” said Behar.

Though members of civil society say they’re looking to receive concrete results from Davos, they know it’s an uphill battle.

Leclère says NGO members aren’t “fooled” by the events’ big, lofty political speeches. “We’re waiting for them to follow up with action.”

I can’t see that happening any time soon.

The remedy for an inclusive economy and society

77 years ago, the Beveridge Report identified five social evils: squalor, ignorance, want, idleness, and disease. We had thought we had eradicated these injustices from society for virtually everyone in the advanced economies with the development of social security, education, housing and health services combined with a growing and inclusive economy offering full employment.

What’s the point of a government of a wealthy nation if it cannot ensure citizens have food, fuel and shelter – fundamental survival requirements? And even worse, one that thinks it is somehow acceptable to punish citizens who need welfare support by withdrawing the means of meeting survival needs by sanctioning them for ‘non-compliance’.

How did we regress to become a state where absolute poverty is once again visible and widespread, and where inequality is everywhere? Absolute poverty is when people cannot meet the costs of basic survival needs, such as for food, shelter and heating. Inequality causes lower economic growth and reduces efficiency, as a lack of opportunity means that the most valuable asset in the economy – citizens – cannot reach their full potential, and so cannot fully contribute and benefit.  

Maslow

Maslow’s hierarchy of human needs

Breaking with the Keynesian model in western Europe and north America in the early postwar decades, the UK and US returned to an earlier, ‘classical’ presumption that, left alone, markets arrive at ‘optimal’ economic equilibria and the state should therefore withdraw from ‘social steering’. The neoliberal era has not only seen the soaring away of top incomes at the expense of those in the lower reaches of the income hierarchy but has also itself been thrown into question by the financial crash of 2008, which no neoclassical economist anticipated.

What would help to reduce inequality?

A good starting point for the UK government would be ensuring:

  • quality, long term employment jobs and fair wages
  • housing everyone can afford
  • health care and support when people need it
  • education for the future
  • a progressive and redistributive tax and transfer system that promotes fairness
  • reversing the legislation that disempowered trade unions, leading to the decline of trade-union membership and collective-bargaining rights
  • secure income in retirement.

These measures would reverse some of the damage that successive neoliberal governments have done to the UK’s social safety nets, resulting in a shift away from democratic norms and the balance of power and wealth.

Prof Alston, an independent expert in human rights law, spent nearly two weeks travelling in Britain and Northern Ireland and received more than 300 written submissions for his report about inequality and poverty in the UK.

He concluded: “The bottom line is that much of the glue that has held British society together since the Second World War has been deliberately removed and replaced with a harsh and uncaring ethos.”

Alston is absolutely right. The Conservatives from Thatcher onwards have steadily dismantled the social gains of our post war democratic settlement: the NHS, social security, legal aid, social housing and trade unions have been under a vicious onslaught of oppressive Conservative policies for many decades. Our public services are being sold off. Privatisation is about a few people making a big profit, which invariably comes at the expense of the quality of services delivered. Companies making ‘efficiency savings’ by cutting costs, restricting services and hiring fewer and less qualified, less expensive staff.  The public ends up paying private contractors rather more, than public providers, too.

The Australian professor, who is based at New York University, said government policies had led to the “systematic immiseration [economic impoverishment]” of a significant part of the UK population, meaning they had continually put people further into poverty.

“Some observers might conclude that the DWP had been tasked with “designing a digital and sanitised version of the 19th Century workhouse, made infamous by Charles Dickens”, he said.

The UN report cites independent experts saying that 14 million people in the UK – a fifth of the population – live in poverty, according to a new measure that takes into account costs such as housing and childcare.

Alston said the cause was the government’s “ideological” decision to dismantle the social safety net and focus on work as the solution to poverty, something that many of us have also observed over the past decade.

“UK standards of well-being have descended precipitately in a remarkably short period of time, as a result of deliberate policy choices made when many other options were available,” he said.

Alston raises a fundamental question – is the government, and the country, comfortable with the society that we’ve become?

He outlines the normalisation of food banks, rising levels of homelessness and child poverty, steep cuts to benefits and policing, and severe restrictions on legal aid. All of these political decisions make life considerably more difficult for millions of people.

In Professor Alston’s view, these are the unequivocal consequences of deliberate, calculated political decisions. I agree. 

Despite the government’s focus on work and record levels of employment, and their glib promise of ‘making work pay’, about 60% of people in poverty are in families where someone works. 

Alston notes that this, along with welfare cuts, has created a “highly combustible situation that will have dire consequences” in an extended economic downturn.

facade welfare

Read more: Davos 2020: everything you need to know about the World Economic Forum

 

Related

Welfare sanctions can’t possibly “incentivise” people to work

 


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BBC, the IFS, neoliberalism, Keynesianism and political dishonesty about economics

Absolutely.

The BBC is under pressure to examine its impartiality standard. 

In this context, it was interesting to note that last night on BBC’s Question Time, it was claimed that neither the government’s nor the Labour party’s spending plans “stand up to scrutiny.” It was implied that both the Conservatives AND the Labour party were “misleading” the public. This is simply not true.

Whether the BBC failed to do some research on this issue, or whether this was a deliberate conflation of the two main parties as a result of an inbuilt bias, it points to an ongoing fundamental failure of the broadcaster to serve the public interest and deliver balanced and impartial commentary.

Yesterday in the Institute of Fiscal Study’s (IFS) analysis of the three major parties’ manifestos, it was conceded that Labour’s “vision is of a state not so dissimilar to those seen in many other successful western European economies”.  Furthermore, under a Labour government, public spending would be at a lower share of national income than Germany and many other European countries.

The BBC’s headline reporting, claiming that both Labour’s and the Conservative’s spending plans were “not credible”, does not acknowledge the IFS’s broader and more important message, following the initial analysis: that the UK faces a fundamental choice about its future direction. 

IFS director, Paul Johnson, noted that the Conservatives were offering “more of the same”(austerity) and that “there is little to say about Conservative proposals” since “they believe most aspects of public policy are just fine as they are”.

In contrast, Johnson argued that Labour has “vast ambition” and that it wants to “change everything” – but he did question whether this was achievable in the short term. That’s his job. 

It’s worth noting, however, that Labour’s economic modeling is a big shift away from neoliberalism. With a strong element of ‘mixed economy thinking’, Labour’s manifesto embraces Keynesianism, the model upon which are post-war democratic settlement was based – which gave rise to the creation of the NHS, the welfare state, legal aid, social housing among many other social gains. As such, it is difficult to judge this within a dominant neoliberal framework, since the fundamental ideological premises of the two models are poles apart.

For some context, it’s well worth reading George Monbiot’s excellent article: Neoliberalism – the ideology at the root of all our problems.

Economist John Maynard Keynes was writing at the time of the Great Depression during the 1930s, he sought to understand what went wrong. Keynes disagreed with the classical liberal model – laissez faire – in which governments did not intervene in the economy in the event of recession. Instead he advocated for increased government expenditures and lower taxes to stimulate demand and pull the global economy out of the depression. This approach also led to policies which emphasised the welfare of ordinary citizens as a priority.

Keynes

While Keynesian theory allows for increased government spending during recessionary times, it also calls for government restraint in a rapidly growing economy. This prevents the increase in demand that spurs inflation. It also forces the government to cut deficits and save for the next ‘down cycle’ in the economy.

The BBC’s coverage of the initial IFS report 

The BBC presented cherry-picked comments from the IFS’ initial verdict of party manifestos, and excluded any analysis from economists and academics.

To clarify, the IFS specifically criticised the Labour party’s planned increases to public investment, arguing that the public sector currently lacks the capacity to “ramp up that much, that fast”. As it stands.

That does not suggest the Labour party have been dishonest at all. 

But more importantly, the IFS appears to have accepted the central argument that Labour makes: that increasing spending and investment has a multiplier effect that would boost economic growth. This is a sharp shift away from the neoliberal framework that was put in place by Margaret Thatcher, which had a central strategy of austerity and low public spending. 

The IFS concluded that Labour’s plans, surprisingly, could boost output by £22bn, returning about half that in tax – vastly more than the £5bn assumed by Labour’s own plans. The institute say Labour’s manifesto should be seen as “a long-term prospectus for change rather than a realistic deliverable plan for a five-year parliament”.  This statement somewhat mitigates the early concern regarding the achievability of Labour’s plans in the short term.

The public and governments commonly overestimate what can be done in two years, but underestimate what can be achieved in 10. Under a Labour government, Britain would be a radically different country at the end of the 2020s than at the beginning. Under the Conservatives, nothing at all would change. Austerity would stifle growth and entrench inequality further. 

In fact the Director of the IFS said that, under Tory plans, spending on public services apart from healthcare would still be 14% lower by 2023/24 than it was in 2010/11.

Despite this, he said the Conservatives were continuing to “pretend that tax rises will never be needed to secure decent public services” – and said a pledge from the party not to raise income tax, national insurance or VAT over the next five years was “ill-advised”.

“It is highly likely that the Conservatives would end up spending more than their manifesto implies, and thus taxing or borrowing more,” Johnson added.

Many economists believe that fundamental change and investment is now needed to enable the economy to gain the required momentum to escape the stagnation in which it has been trapped for a decade. As the IFS said yesterday, the choice could not be starker. The Conservatives are only offering the UK more of the same. 

163 economists and academics wrote to the Financial Times, in support of the Labour Party’s manifesto. The economists signed a public letter offering broad support for its proposals for higher public investment to kick start growth and raise productivity. The letter lamented Britain’s poor economic performance of the past decade, and called for “a serious injection of public investment” and said Britain would benefit from greater state involvement in national economic management.

“It seems clear to us that the Labour party has not only understood the deep problems we face, but has devised serious proposals for dealing with them. We believe it deserves to form the next government,” the letter said. 

This support from economists for Labour’s proposals comes as a boost for the party at a time when the Conservatives, who have led the government since 2010, are attacking the party’s manifesto as “likely to cause an economic crisis within months.”

However, the Conservatives inherited an economy that had been taken out of recession caused by the global crash, by the last quarter of 2009. The Conservatives caused another UK recession in 2011. Furthermore, it was the Conservative government that presided over the loss of  the UK’s Fitch and Moody’s triple A international credit status. It’s remarkable that the government managed to maintain the deceit of “economic competence” as long as they have, in the face of such blatant mismanagement of UK finances. 

Michael Jacobs, professor of political economy at Sheffield university, who co-ordinated the letter, said it had been “surprisingly easy” to find economists willing to sign. Many know that fundamental change and a shift away from the neoliberal model is essential for the future prosperity of the UK. 

“The easiest thing for academic economists to do is sit on the fence,” he said, adding that “although academics generally do not go out on a limb, most had been willing to say that the UK faced a big choice and that enough of Labour’s programme accords with their own views”. This is a positive endorsement for Labour’s manifesto.

David Blanchflower was one of the signatories, he is tenured economics professor at Dartmouth College, inthe US. Others include Victoria Chick, emeritus professor of economics at University College London; Meghnad Desai, emeritus professor of economics at the London School of Economics; Stephany Griffith-Jones, emeritus professorial fellow at the Institute of Development Studies; and Simon Wren-Lewis, emeritus professor of economics at Merton College, University of Oxford.

The letter challenged the Conservative claim that it had run a “strong economy” since 2010, saying there had been: 

“10 years of near zero productivity growth”, stagnant corporate investment, low wage growth and increasingly strained public services. With business investment having fallen for most of the past two years, the authors said higher public investment would help raise growth and productivity on its own as well as “leverag[ing] private finance attracted by the expectation of higher demand”.

The IFS accepted Labour’s method of boosting the economy via investment. After a lost decade under the Tories, it’s what Britain needs.

The contrasts within the IFS analysis are highlighted by Tom Kibasi, a writer and researcher on politics and economics. Writing in the Guardian, he says:

“The Tories appear to have broken with the political consensus formed after the Brexit referendum: that the public are hungry for change. Their commitment to the status quo is both an enormous political gamble and a rebuke to working people whose wages have been stagnant for a decade, to the sick waiting for NHS treatment, the elderly suffering from a social care crisis, and more than 4 million children living in poverty.

“It is hard to view it as anything but a monument to born-to-rule entitlement: victory is assumed rather than earned. In the face of a social and economic crisis, the Tories will face the electorate with a solemn promise to do nothing.

“Yet the emptiness of the Conservative manifesto should come as no surprise: it is the logical conclusion of a lost decade for Britain. For nearly 10 years now, Conservative thinking has been defined by the presence of absence: an ideological programme of austerity to slash back the state. The IFS confirmed today that austerity was now “baked in” to Tory plans for the future. Where an active state should be, the Tories intend to leave a void.

“As a political project, Brexit merely prolongs the void, with a false promise that all the problems of the present will magically be solved. In truth, there is no substantive problem to which Brexit is the solution; instead, it nourishes and sustains the nothingness. The IFS starkly warned that Johnson’s “die in a ditch” promise to terminate the transition period by the end of 2020 risked doing serious economic damage.

“The impulse to destroy rather than to create has become the hallmark of 40 years of Tory government – wrecking our industrial base and trade unions under Margaret Thatcher, the public realm under David Cameron, and our international relationships under Theresa May and Boris Johnson.

“But perhaps the most revealing aspect of the IFS analysis was the dishonesty of the Conservatives’ stated plans. The IFS points out that the Tories “would end up spending more than their manifesto implies and thus taxing or borrowing more”, with their proposals riddled with uncosted commitments and vague aspirations.

“Perhaps it should be little surprise that the character of the Tory manifesto reflects the man who leads their party.”

After a decade of austerity, many people are conditioned to accept it was somehow ‘necessary’ rather than it being an ideologically driven choice –  one of several political choices. After a decade of austerity, many are incredulous at the idea that the sixth-largest economy in the world could afford to provide a decent standard of living for its people – that things could be better for them.

But they can be so much better.

The power of the austerity argument is, of course, reinforced by the experience of poverty.

Paul Johnson wrote: “The bigger picture with regard to Labour’s plans is that it is planning a much bigger role for the state in the running of the economy. That’s what nationalisations mean and it’s what government spending an extra 2 per cent of national income on capital projects means. The real resources — workers, raw materials, machinery — would be diverted from the private sector to the public.

“The question, then, is not so much how much all this would all cost; rather, it is how confident are we that these resources would be put to better use in public hands than in private.”

The answer is this: public money in public hands profits the public and  is ploughed back into the economy. By contrast, low public spending and investment and privatisation squeeze the public and costs us in a myriad of ways. Private profit takes money out of the economy, leaving a black hole. It drives wages and living standards down. It drives the quality of public services and utilities down, since the profit motive places profit about meeting public needs.

Labour’s manifesto promises a much needed break from the neoliberal model, which has entrenched inequality and fuelled a growth in absolute poverty within our society. As an ideology, neoliberalism in practice has demonstrated a fundamental incompatibility  with human rights and democracy, particularly evident over the last few years, with reports from the United Nations condemning government policies and the devastating impacts these have had on ordinary people, and in particular, on the violation of disabled people’s human rights, and those of the poorest citizens. 

It’s worth reading  Labour’s economic programme isn’t just radical – it’s credible, too, written by Grace Blakeley, who is the New Statesman’s economics commentator and a research fellow at IPPR. 

You can also hear the comments that Fiona Bruce made on Question Time, on political trust and the IFS report, among other things here.

 


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Letter endorsing Jeremy Corbyn signed by key public figures and credible Jewish academics

Corbyn

Media misrepresentations of the Labour party are being used strategically to create left wing folk devils and moral panic

An academic study published by the London School of Economics (LSE) which examined media and communications, specifically Journalistic Representations of Jeremy Corbyn in the British Press: from Watchdog to Attack dog, has shown that enduring, aggressive and non factual political and media attacks on Jeremy Corbyn were designed intentionally in a strategic attempt to thoroughly discredit him as a political actor. However, Corbyn is of course a legitimate democratic actor who is the leader of the main opposition party in British politics. Furthermore, he has presented a credible and increasingly popular alternative to the neoliberal doxa.   

One particularly successful way of neutralising opposition to an ideology is to ensure that only those ideas that are consistent with that ideology saturate the media and are presented as orthodoxy. The Conservative’s election campaigns are always a thoroughly dispiriting and ruthless masterclass in media control.

Communication in the media has been geared towards establishing a dominant paradigm and maintaining an illusion of a consensus. This ultimately serves to reduce democratic choices. Such tactics are nothing less than a political micro-management of your beliefs and are ultimately aimed at nudging your voting decisions and maintaining a profoundly unbalanced, pathological status quo.

Presenting an alternative narrative is difficult because the Tories have not only framed all of the issues to be given public priority – they set and stage-manage the media agenda – they have also dominated the narrative; they constructed and manage the political lexicon and now treat words associated with the Left, such as welfare, like semantic landmines, generating explosions of right-wing scorn, derision and ridicule.

Words like cooperation, inclusion, mutual aid, reciprocity, equality, nationalisation, redistribution – collective values – are simply dismissed as mere anachronisms that need to be stricken from public conversation and exiled from our collective consciousness, whilst all the time enforcing their own bland language of an anti-democratic political doxaThe political manufacturing of a culture of anti-intellectualism extends this aim, too.

Words like competition, market place, small state, efficiency, responsibility and so on, now crowd out any opportunity of even a fleeting glance of another way of socio-economic organisation. They’ve become our ‘common sense’ without our consent. 

Anything presented that contradicts the consensus – a convincing, coherent, viable alternative perspective – is treated to a heavily staged editing via meta-coverage by the media. Anyone would think that the media regards the UK as a one-party state.

This clearly co-ordinated campaign of discrediting the opposition leader began from the moment he became a prominent candidate and ramped up after he was elected as party leader, with a strong mandate. This process of attempted delegitimisation occurred in several ways: 1) through lack of or distortion of voice and media platform; 2) through ridicule, scorn and personal attacks; and 3) through use of the ‘guilt by association’ fallacy, mainly used with tenuous allegations of terrorism and antisemitism.

The LSE study found that 75 per cent of stories about the opposition leader are either distorted or failed to represent his actual views on subjects.

Dr Bart Cammaerts, the research director, described “an overall picture of most newspapers systematically vilifying the leader of the biggest opposition party, assassinating his character, ridiculing his personality and delegitimising his ideas and politics”.

The report also says“Denying such an important political actor a voice or distorting his views and ideas through the exercise of mediated power is highly problematic.”

Many of us have written at length about the oppressive, authoritarian-styled narratives in the media and the political circumstances in which they have arisen, as independent journalists. The language use itself  on the right warrants study – the left community has been stereotyped and stigmatised with labels such as “cult”, “Marxists” (which has undergone a politically engineered semantic shift, now being used as an insult), “rabble”, “dogs”, “Stalinists”, “Trots”, extremists”, “hard left” and so on. 

This language has been widely and purposely used to create folk devils and moral panic. It is the process of arousing social concern over an issue which may be constructed – usually seen as the work of moral entrepreneurs and the mass media, but it is also a tactic used widely by politicians on the right of the spectrum.

Some moral panics become embedded long-term in standard political discourse, such as enduring right wing McCarthyist values and longstanding concerns about “Reds under the beds” and about terrorism. (See also my article about the Zinoviev letter). 

We have seen a lot of high profile media commentaries from the Conservative Jewish community which has also resulted in the marginalisation of left leaning Jewish voices. We have also witnessed the media narratives of neoliberals (from  Conservatives, Liberal Democrats and the faction of so-called moderates within the Labour party) that have attempted to portray an illusion of consensus, from a strategic communications crib sheet. 

Allegations made were purposely conflated in the media, with a narrative of ‘guilt by association’ – a commonly used propaganda technique. But allegations can often be founded on malice and until a fair investigation, where evidence is provided, allegations are simply claims made against someone. These have been made very often in the media, often without including a right to reply. 

A letter published in the Guardian two days ago was written by a group of celebrities, including people such as Joanna Lumley, claiming they “could not vote for Labour” under the current leadership. But the majority of this small group were utterly disingenuous, as they were known longstanding Conservative or Lib Dem supporters anyway. As an ‘animal rights campaigner’, among other things, Lumley, for example, supports a party that wants to re-introduce fox hunting. 

A Labour party spokesperson said: “It’s extraordinary that several of those who have signed this letter have themselves been accused of antisemitism, Islamophobia and misogyny. It’s less surprising that a number are Conservatives and Lib Dems. 

“We take allegations of antisemitism extremely seriously, we are taking robust action and we are absolutely committed to rooting it out of our party and wider society.”

It’s a pity many of the neoliberal commentators have been so caught up in manufacturing allegations against the Labour party that they have failed to notice people are dying because of neoliberal policies.

Disabled people in the UK have experienced harm and serious violations to their fundamental human rights under successive neoliberal governments since 2010. Ordinary citizens are experiencing absolute poverty as a direct consequence of Tory and Liberal Democrat policies. Yet the media is focused on allegations, smears and reducing democratic discourse to vicious political gossip-mongering.

Meanwhile, the Labour party are the only party to have held consultations with people in the disabled community. I was invited to round table discussions at Westminster to discuss Labour’s future social security policies, and I attended a consultation event hosted by Debbie Abrahams which was about embedding equality legislation into subsequent Labour policies for disabled people.

The result is an excellent Labour manifesto for disabled people with disabled people, called Nothing about you without you. 

None of the other political parties have stood up against the oppression we have experienced as a marginalised social group, because of the Conservative and Lib Dem austerity programme, which targeted disabled people disproportionately more than other citizens.  Nor have other parties actively campaigned for disabled people’s human rights, as Labour have. 

Open letter from credible key public figures in support of Jeremy Corbyn

Now, an open letter has been written in full support of Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn which has collected 30 signatories from a wide range of high-profile public figures, including musicians Roger Waters, Brian Eno, Thurston Moore, Kate Tempest, Robert Del Naja and Lowkey, and it also includes respected academics such as David Graeber, Noam Chomsky and Naomi Klein, the NME has revealed.

It’s unlikely to be accommodated by media outlets like the BBC and Guardian, however.

In the new letter, the signatories – also featuring a range of major Jewish authors and public figures – describe Corbyn as a “life-long committed anti-racist” and claim that “no political party or political leader has done more to address [antisemitism] than Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour Party.”

Read the full letter below:

“To the Editor:

“The coming UK election is indeed a landmark and monumental one as signatories to a recent letter attest. However, we are outraged that Jeremy Corbyn, a life-long committed anti-racist, is being smeared as an anti-semite by people who should know better. Antisemitism is a problem within society and is present within all political parties and movements, including Labour. It must be confronted and rooted out at every turn. No political party or political leader has done more to address this problem than Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour Party. In the last two years, the speed of investigations has increased fourfold, staffing committed to dealing with the issue has doubled, legal experts have been drafted, and rules changed to expedite sanctions. But the prevailing evidence speaks for itself: Labour’s political opponents and much of the media have trivialised and weaponised this issue for ideological ends.

“Progressives around the world are looking to this election and to the Labour Party as a beacon of hope in the struggle against emergent far-right nationalism, xenophobia and racism in much of the democratic world. It has never been more important that voters are made aware of the truth of what the Labour Party under Jeremy Corbyn stands for: the eradication of all racism, including antisemitism, wherever it rears its ugly head.”

The text concludes with the full list of signatories, listed below:

Noam Chomsky
Naomi Klein
Yanis Varoufakis
Brian Eno
Rob Delaney
Angela Davis
Steve Coogan
Alexei Sayle
Maxine Peake
Roger Waters
Jason Hickel
Francesca Martinez
Lowkey
David Adler
Raoul Martinez
Miriam Margolyes
Massive Attack
Vivienne Westwood
Thurston Moore (Sonic Youth)
John Keane
Michael Mansfield QC
Adjoa Andoh
Mike Leigh
Michael Rosen
Robert Cohen
Mark Ruffalo
Amir Amirani
Mark Rylance
Caryl Churchill
Kate Tempest
Jocelyn Pool
David Graeber (London School of Economics)

Des Freedman (Goldsmiths, University of London)
Justin Schlosberg (Birkbeck, University of London)

I know who are established credible and conscientious voices, and who I will be taking seriously on 12 December.


Related

Watch what Jewish people think about Jeremy Corbyn:


 


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Luciana Berger is an utterly bewildering, incoherent neoliberal hypocrite

Luciana Berger is being reminded of her past insincerities and current hypocrisy by her Liverpool Wavertree constituents following her controversial and undemocratic move to join the neolib dems.

She was elected as a Labour Co-op MP.  Despite saying she had no intention of joining the Neoliberal Democrats back in June,  and strongly denying the media reports of her intentions, Berger has joined the party.

Her dizzying inconsistency is very worrying.

On 21 March, 2015, she said:

“You can’t trust the Lib Dems, no matter what they say.”

And: “Lib Dem attempts to differentiate themselves from the Tories aren’t worth the paper they’re written on. Even the Lib Dem’s man in the Treasury Danny Alexander admits the Tories’ record is their own.

“The Lib Dems broke their central election promises and cannot be trusted. Rather than delivering fair taxes they hiked VAT, and rather than abolishing tuition fees they trebled them. The Lib Dems have been part of a government which imposed the bedroom tax while cutting taxes for millionaires.

The election remains a choice between a Tory plan which is failing working families and Labour’s better plan which will put working families first and save our NHS.”

Just 6.5% of Wavertree constituents voted for the Liberal Democrats. Around 12% voted  Conservative. Almost 80% voted Labour. The vast majority voted for a Labour MP and Labour policies.

Furthermore, there is already a neolib dem candidate for Wavertree – Richard Kemp.

Yet Berger has the cheek to call the Tories “undemocratic”. They are.

But so are the Neolib Dems. And so is Berger. She was elected as a Labour MP.  Now she’s not. But she believes she’s entitled to remain the MP for Wavertree, elected on a manifesto she no longer endorses and supports. A mere 6.5% of her constituents would possibly support her policy approach now. Whatever that is, Berger seems to bend like a blade of grass in the wind.

She seems to have conveniently forgotten her previous blogs and social media posts. She has also seemingly forgotten that the Neolib Dems propped up the Tory austerity programme, endorsed the referendum (agreed in the Coalition’s document of governance), tripled university fees, endorsed the health and social care bill, endorsed the welfare ‘reforms’ and violated the human rights of ill and disabled people, among the many draconian measures drawn up in the coalition.

clegg
It’s thought that this referendum pledge poster is from 2008. 

I remember when people commonly called Tony Blair’s New Labour “two cheeks of the same Tory a*se”

The remnants of that ideological school demonstrate the basic truth of that so well.

Neoliberalism has failed the majority of people. It’s hurt those citizens who have the very least and hugely profited those who already had the most. Austerity is a central plank of neoliberal economic policy, along with privatisation of public services. It is clear that policies that are prompted by neoliberal ideology are incompatible with democracy and human rights. General Pinochet demonstrated that only too well.

The public would not choose neoliberal policies if those wealthy and powerful groups promoting and imposing them were frank about what they entail.

Administering neoliberal policies requires an authoritarian government.

Berger has demonstrated that she already knows this.

Berger

 


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Why is the UK so unequal?

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The US and UK share an ideology of ‘free-market’ fundamentalism and competitive individualism. More widely called ‘neoliberalism’ these ideas were introduced, respectively, on both sides of the Atlantic by Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher. 

Earlier this year, Angus Deaton, professor of economics at Princeton University and a Nobel laureate, launched a five-year review on the subject of inequality. Sir Angus, who is teaming up with the Institute for Fiscal Studies, with funding from the Nuffield Foundation, a charity, intends the review to be the “most comprehensive scientific analysis of inequalities yet attempted”, examining not just the gaps between the rich and poor, but also differences in health outcomes, political power and economic opportunities in British society and across the world.

It will attempt to answer which inequalities are beneficial, providing “incentives” for people to strive harder, and which should be stamped out because they are derived from luck or cronyism and, according to Sir Angus, “make a mockery of democracy”.

Personally, I have some major issues with the neoliberal language of “incentives.” In its crudest formulation this entails providing the conditions for the market sector to produce growth, and accepting that this will somehow result in inequality, and then relying on some vague mechanism of redistribution of some portion of this growth to help repair the inequality that has resulted from its production. Over the last decade, we have witnessed those ‘safety net’ mechanisms being dismantled, leaving a large proportion of society with dwindling resources, while a few people have become obscenely wealthy. The language of “incentives” implies that it is human behaviour and not market fundamentalism, that creates growing inequality.

But that isn’t true. Neoliberalism has failed the majority of citizens horribly, the evidence of which is stifling both the UK economy  and our potential as a society. There are a few beneficiaries, who, curiously enough, are working flat out to promote the failing system of economic and social organisation that was ushered in by the Thatcher administration, while viciously attacking any ideas that oppose their dogma and challenge their stack of vested interests.

The Deaton review starts from the premise that not all inequalities are bad. Deaton and the IFS also believe that inequalities based on luck or rigging the system are far worse than those based on the skills of individuals: “If working people are losing out because corporate governance is set up to favour shareholders over workers, or because the decline in unions has favoured capital over labour and is undermining the wages of workers at the expense of shareholders and corporate executives, then we need to change the rules,” Deaton said.

This assumption that cronyism and damaging activities of the rich have left others in poverty has raised hackles in some free-market circles. Ryan Bourne, economist at the Cato Institute, for example. He says the IFS should be careful not to assume wrongdoing just from data showing rising inequalities, and: “Income inequality, for example, can be increased through entrepreneurs making fortunes off hugely welfare-enhancing new products,” he said. Whether or not this is correct, many UK officials are concerned that the market economy is in danger of becoming rigged against ordinary people.”

Andrew Tyrie, chair of the Competition and Markets Authority, the competition watchdog, admitted earlier this year that the authorities had been “slow” to address shortcomings in competition and rip-offs and would in future “be doing and saying a lot more”.

I have a lot more to say on this topic, too.

I’m planning to produce a series of in depth articles on inequality and growing poverty in the UK. To introduce this series of works, I’ve invited a guest writer, Kenura Medagedara.

Here is Kenura’s article:

Despite having the fifth-largest economy in the world, the United Kingdom is a surprisingly unequal society. It has the fifth-highest income inequality in Europe. The top 20% highest earners earn six times more than the poorest 20%. The top 10% of wealthiest households own five times more wealth than the bottom 50%.

These statistics may not come as such a surprise to some of us. Unfortunately, Britain’s historic class divisions are showing signs of increasing. But why is Britain so unequal, especially compared to other wealthy nations? And what can we do about it? These are the questions I’ll be trying to answer in this article.

The problem of inequality

Before I discuss any of this, I should first explain why inequality is so dangerous. We all know that absolute poverty is bad, as it means that people can’t afford to survive. We also understand that undeserved wealth is problematic, as it gives some people an unfair advantage over others. Did you know, for instance, that the third-wealthiest landowner in Britain, Hugh Grosvenor, amassed his £9 billion fortune entirely through inheritance?

Like I said, most people can see the problems with these two issues. However, (as many of those on the right point out), these issues aren’t intrinsic to inequality. It is possible to conceive of an economy where inequality exists, but the poorest household still has its basic needs met, and measures like inheritance tax can somewhat prevent situations like the one described above. So what’s wrong with inequality?

One of the main problems is inequality of opportunity. In any society, there are a limited number of opportunities available. Big companies only have so many vacancies, top universities only have so many places. Even in a society where absolute poverty doesn’t exist, opportunities for social mobility will still be limited. And these opportunities tend to stay in the hands of the rich. There are a wide range of reasons for this, from subtle ones like poorer students facing more mental stress when applying to university than richer ones as the cost of them failing is significantly higher, to more obvious ones like wealthy people being able to afford additional courses and qualifications to make them more qualified for higher-paying jobs. Either way, economic inequality brings about very unfair circumstances.

Money in politics

Another problem is that of political power. In a democracy, everyone’s voice should be heard equally, through universal suffrage. However, money can significantly increase someone’s political power. For example, they can afford a party membership, giving their party more money to spend on advertising campaigns to win elections. They can also make donations to influence policy decisions. In these ways, the wealthy have an unfair say in politics over the economically disadvantaged. Technically, this could be remedied by certain policies, such as all political parties receiving the same amount of funding from the government, but this seems very implausible, so I’d argue that inequality remains the real issue here.

From a more pragmatic perspective, economic inequality actually hinders economic growth. A 2014 study by the OECD found that the UK’s failure to address inequality meant that its economic growth was six to nine percentage points lower than it could otherwise haven been. This is because, as previously mentioned, people from poorer backgrounds find it harder to get good education opportunities as the rich can use their wealth to give them an unfair advantage. As a result, the poor get low-skilled jobs contributing little to the economy, whilst the rich get high-skilled jobs with relatively little competition, and so are generally not as efficient as they should be. It turns out that reducing inequality actually benefits everyone.

Why is the UK so unequal?

Before we can combat inequality, we first need to understand what causes it. In the UK, one of the main causes is the housing market. Currently, only 64% of all households are owned, compared to 71% in 2003. And this is expected to get worse; the average wage in London is 16 times less than what would be needed for a deposit. A house is normally the most expensive asset someone will own. Britain’s situation has meant that the children of homeowners inherited vast sums of money, giving them a huge advantage over people who weren’t as lucky.

This has allowed them to afford their own property, and buy more assets to generate even more wealth. This makes the rich get exponentially richer, whilst the poor are forced to cope with higher rents due to increased housing demand, reducing their disposable income and effectively making them poorer. As a result, 10% of households own 44% of all wealth, while the poorest 50% of households own just 9%.

Education

But this isn’t the whole story; after all, the UK has a fairly average wealth distribution compared to other OECD nations. Another major source of inequality is the education system. Despite the fact that this is often touted as the ‘great equaliser’, only 21% of children eligible for free school meals go to university, compared to 85% of children from private schools. As a result, those from poorer backgrounds tend to get low-paying jobs, whilst the opposite is true for the wealthy. This ensures that the rich stay rich and the poor stay poor.

One major reason for this contrast is the price of nursery. The average price of full-time nursery in the UK is £242 per week, which is roughly 50% of the average household disposable income. Those on lower incomes will struggle to afford this compared to richer parents. This may explain why economically disadvantaged children even do much worse than their wealthier counterparts in primary school.

Solutions

To solve wealth inequality, the government must reform council tax. This is one of the main reasons why the housing market is in such bad shape. Firstly, this policy is regressive. According to a report by the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR), a household in band A property in London pays almost five times what a band H household would pay as a proportion of property value. Additionally, in 2013 the government simultaneously devolved council tax benefits and cut funding for it, forcing councils to start taxing those on the very lowest incomes. As a result, council tax has greatly contributed to economic inequality.

One possible solution is to exempt those on the lowest incomes from paying council tax. This will somewhat stop the tax from being regressive if poor households simply don’t have to pay it. Another, more long term, solution could be to scrap council tax entirely, and replace it with an annual flat rate tax. This would guarantee that the policy is progressive. According to City Metric, a 0.25% tax would raise the same revenue for London as the current system, but 80% of households will pay less.

To solve the gap in education, one possibility is to make nursery free. In a 2016 report on child well-being in rich countries, UNICEF called for high quality early education and care for children to reduce inequality in education. Making it free would certainly achieve this. In addition to this, British charity Teach First, who work to reduce educational inequality, claim that the government needs to increase the amount of teachers in schools in deprived areas. This will reduce class sizes, which plays a big role in the success of the pupils.

Conclusion

To conclude, economic equality is vital to achieve political equality and equality of opportunity, and also creates more economic growth. Two of the main causes of inequality in the UK are the housing market and the education system, both of which require serious reform if we’re to solve this issue.

Inequality is a very complex problem, and I’m not suggesting that this article has magically solved all of the issues that cause it. However, hopefully more discussion on this topic will eventually give us the answers.

If you enjoyed this article, you may want to check out Kenura’s blog for more analysis of British politics.


 

I don’t make any money from my work. But if you like, you can contribute by making a donation which helps me continue to research and write informative, insightful and independent articles, and to provide support to others going through disability  assessment and appeals. The smallest amount is much appreciated – thank you.

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Sarah Newton lied to parliament and the public about the DWP’s standardised letter to GPs following ‘fit for work’ assessment

newton

Sarah Newton, former minister of state for disabled people. However, it’s very evident that neither she nor her party actually support disabled people. They prefer oppressing them.

Last month and previously, I reported about the controversial issues raised by the Department for Work and Pensions’ standard ESA65B GP’s letter template, which was only relatively recently placed on the government site, following a series of probing Parliamentary Written Questions instigated by Emma Dent Coad, addressed to the minister of state for disabled people. Her responses to the questions were repetitive, vague, unevidenced and did not address the questions raised. 

Campaigners and MPs have called for the Department for Work and Pensions’ (DWP) amended letter to GPs to be scrapped after it emerged that ill and disabled people appealing against unfair work capability assessment (WCA) decisions were left in near destitution after their GPs refused to provide further ‘fit notes’, because they were instructed that they did not need to by DWP officials.

It emerged that ministers ordered changes to the standard-issue letter to remove references that made it clear to GPs they may have to issue a medical statement if their patient wished to appeal against a WCA decision. The DWP claims this was not intended to dissuade GPs from issuing fit notes. 

However, it’s highly unlikely that government ministers ordered the amendment to the letter for another purpose, as there are none. This was a calculated strategy to deter people from appealing DWP decisions, by leaving them in severe financial hardship.

The mandatory review was also introduced for similar reasons, since people are left without any income while the DWP reviews its decision, a process which can take longer than six weeks.  

Those people who challenge WCA decisions are entitled to continue to receive employment and support allowance (ESA) at basic rate, worth £73.10 a week while they await their appeal hearing, but to do so they must obtain fit notes from their GPs to provide evidence that they are too ill to work.

They must also first await the outcome of a mandatory review before submitting their appeal. Before a claimant may lodge an appeal, they must first ask the DWP to ‘reconsider’ their original decision. There is no limit on how long the DWP may take to reconsider the original decision about their award. 

The DWP has a stated target of upholding 80% of their original decisions, so the majority of people then have to appeal following the review outcome, since the . The law says that the claimant may claim basic rate ESA following mandatory review if they wish to proceed with an appeal.

So the misleading change to the template letter routinely sent from the DWP to GPs has led to people who have lodged an appeal against an unfair decision being stopped from claiming basic rate ESA while awaiting the appeal hearing. This prevents many low-income disabled people from accessing any financial support while they wait for months on end to go to tribunal. Furthermore, we know that catastrophically inaccurate decisions following the assessments within the DWP are pretty much the norm. Nationally, 72% of people who appeal against their work capability assessment decision are successful.

Entitlement to ESA pending appeal is enshrined in the ESA Regulations to cover the whole of the period leading up the hearing. It is also possible to have the payment backdated to cover the Mandatory Review waiting period too – it can take over six weeks for the DWP to review their original decision, over which time people are left without welfare support.

ESA pending appeal is not paid automatically – people usually have to ask for it, and must provide fit notes from their GP, presenting these along with their appeal acknowledgment letter from the Tribunal Courts to their local Job Centre. The Job Centre should report back to the DWP who will arrange for ESA pending appeal to be paid.

From last year, then minister for disabled people, Sarah Newton, responded to one of several Written Questions from Emma Dent Coad, saying: “The ESA65B letter is issued to GPs in every case where an Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) claimant has been found ‘fit for work’. This process was built into the IT system as part of the introduction of ESA in October 2008.

That is partly untrue, since the original wording has been amended. 

Newton went on to say: “Following a Ministerial requirement by the Cabinet Secretary, which was endorsed by the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, the content of the ESA65B letter has been improved in order to explain to GPs the type of support customers can expect to receive from their local Jobcentre, and to ask GPs to encourage customers in their efforts to return to work.” [My emphasis]. 

The decision to change the letter template was made without any scrutiny from or consultation with parliament or the public.

The standard template letter, titled Help us support your patient to return to or start work says: “We assessed [Title] [First name] [Surname] on and decided that [select] is capable of doing some work, but this might not be the same type of work [select] may have done before.

“We know most people are better off in work, so we are encouraging [Title] [First name] [Surname] to find out what type of work [select] may be able to do with [select] health condition or disability through focused support at [select] local Jobcentre Plus.

“In the course of any further consultations with [Title] [First name] [Surname] we hope you will also encourage [select] in [select] efforts to return to, or start, work

“Please do not give [Title] [First name] [Surname] any more fit notes relating to [select] disability/health condition for ESA purposes.

Newton responded to one of several Written Questions from Emma Dent Coad, saying: “The ESA65B letter is issued to GPs in every case where an ESA claimant has been found ‘fit for work’. This process was built into the IT system as part of the introduction of ESA in October 2008. 

“Following a Ministerial requirement by the Cabinet Secretary, which was endorsed by the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, the content of the ESA65B letter has been improved in order to explain to GPs the type of support customers can expect to receive from their local Jobcentre, and to ask GPs to encourage customers in their efforts to return to work.” [My emphasis]. 

Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, the chair of the Royal College of GPs (RCGP), said the lack of clarity over when GPs should issue fit notes could put patients’ finances and health at risk. “No GP wants that, and it only serves to threaten the long-standing trust that patients have in their family doctor.”

Until 2017 the standard letter advised GPs that if their patient appealed against the WCA decision they must continue to provide fit notes.

However, on (undisclosed) ministerial orders, the letter now states that GPs “do not need to provide any more fit notes for ESA purposes”. It does not mention the possibility that the patient may appeal, or that a fit note is needed for the patient to obtain ESA payments until the appeal is heard.

Frank Field, the chair of the work and pensions select committee, also raised the issue with Newton back in January. Newton replied that the wording was amended “to make the letter simpler and clearer”, adding that DWP communications were intended to be “clear, understandable and fit for purpose”.

The purpose appears to be to deter people from appealing unfair DWP decisions concerning the loss of their social security disability award.

Field replied that the wording was “not having the desired effect”, and urged her to revise it to make clear ESA claimants on appeal were entitled to fit notes. “This simple step could greatly ease the stress and worry that people who are awaiting an appeal experience.”

Newton told Field: “We are committed to ensuring our communication is clear, which is why the wording of this letter was cleared by both the British Medical Association and the Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP). However, we will of course consider feedback when revising the letter.”  Newton tends to stick to a script in her responses, though. She told Emma Coad Dent exactly the same thing, almost word for word last year, in her response to a Written Question.

As I commented in a previous article, it was extremely unclear on what basis the RCGP agreed to the new wording as the change was agreed at a DWP stakeholder meeting for which, according to Newton, there are no formal minutes.

Newton confirmed this in the correspondence between herself and Field, as well as in her responses to Emma Coad Dent’s long series of Written Questions on this issue.

Firstly, on 16 May, last year, Newton says: “The Cabinet Secretary first issued the requirement to revise the ESA65B letter in November 2014.

“The wording of the ESA65B was changed to emphasise the benefits of work and to ask GPs to encourage their patients in their efforts to return to some form of work.”

Then, according to Newton: “The British Medical Association and the Royal College of General Practitioners agreed to the revised wording of the ESA65B on 4 August 2016.” 

However, in June last year, she also said, in response to a Written Question from Emma Dent Coad: “DWP’s Legal Service cleared the revised wording on 29 July 2016 and the then Secretary of State for Work and Pensions subsequently authorised the changes.”

Yet when asked in November last year what written evidence her Department holds on the British Medical Association and Royal College of General Practitioners agreement to the revised wording of the ESA65B letters sent to claimants’ GPs when they fail the work capability assessment, she replied: “There is no written evidence relating to the agreement obtained from the British Medical Association and the Royal College of General Practitioners on the revised wording of the ESA65B letter.

“In accordance with the Answer of 30 May 2018 to Question 146987, agreement on the final wording of the ESA65B was obtained via the regular meetings DWP holds with both organisations.” 

She was being conservative with the truth. In other words, she was telling lies.

Following a series of distressing reports about people dying as they await the result of the Personal Independent Payment (PIP) and ESA assessments, the Work and Pensions select Committee has published the Royal College of GPs’ (RCGP) and the British Medical Association’s (BMA) views on DWPs controversial advice to doctors on “Fit Notes” for people awaiting the outcome of an ESA appeal.

The Committee asked both  organisations (PDF PDF 163 KB)Opens in a new window  (PDF PDF 163 KB)Opens in a new window for their input, following DWP’s repeated claims that they had approved the advice, given in a letter (form, ESA65B) to the GPs of people who have been denied ESA after assessment: PIP and ESA Assessments.

The Committee has described the assessment processes for disability/incapacity benefits as “gruelling” and “error-ridden”, potentially forcing claimants into DWP’s “arduous, protracted” reconsideration and appeals process. People who have been denied ESA at the assessment stage, but who are awaiting the results of their appeal are entitled to an “assessment rate” of ESA, in recognition of the hardship they may endure during the potentially lengthy wait for their appeal.

However, in recent months the Committee has been investigating concerns (PDF PDF 1.41 MB)Opens in a new window that the advice DWP is giving to doctors about the system and process is causing confusion, leading directly to people being left without the lifeline income they are entitled to.

I have reported previously that people have died soon after being declared ‘fit for work’ by the DWP, after the Department have contacted a patients’ doctor without notifying  them, telling the GP not to issue any more ‘fit’ notes. 

Comments from RCGP and BMA

The Department has claimed in response to the Committee (PDF PDF 219 KB)Opens in a new windowthat Agreement on the final wording of the revised ESA65B was obtained via the regular meetings DWP holds” with both the British Medical Association and Royal College of GPs”, (PDF PDF 84 KB)Opens in a new window and that the wording is the outcome of “close and extensive working between DWP, BMA and RCGP.” (PDF PDF 165 KB)Opens in a new window

Both medical professionals’ associations’ have now written to the Committee – and in the case of the RCGP, directly to the Secretary of State (PDF PDF 199 KB)Opens in a new window – expressing their concerns about both DWP’s advice to GPs and its characterisation of their approval or endorsement. The RCGPs said:

“Without a fit note from their GP, claimants who are awaiting the outcome of their appeal will not be able to receive ESA. They would therefore have to seek Universal Credit or Jobseekers Allowance, and subsequently try and meet the work-seeking requirements of those benefits, potentially endangering their health in the process. As such the College is deeply concerned about the potential impact of this on doctors and their relationships with potentially vulnerable patients.”

As the BMA describes in its response to the Committee (PDF PDF 164 KB)Opens in a new window:  

“By way of background the BMA attends meetings with the RCGP and the DWP where information is shared with the aim of improving working practices between the DWP and clinicians. While the BMA may act in an advisory capacity it does not have the authority to clear, approve or otherwise sign off any DWP correspondence or policies and would see this as being clearly outside of our remit…At a meeting with the DWP and RCGP a BMA representative was given sight of the ESA65B amended letter. The BMA considers that sight of this letter was for the purposes of information sharing and did not agree or otherwise sign off the content of the letter.”

The Royal College of GPs put the same point to the Committee (PDF PDF 197 KB)Opens in a new window:

We are aware that the Department claims that ‘The British Medical Association and the Royal College of General Practitioners agreed to the revised wording of the ESA65B on 4 August 2016’. However, there is some ambiguity about what was said in the referenced meeting with the DWP. Since the DWP did not keep any written records of what was said at this meeting [as DWP admits in its latest letter to the Committee (PDF PDF 165 KB)Opens in a new window], we are unable to provide further clarity.”

The RCGP statement continues:

“Since these changes were made, significant evidence has come to light about the negative impact that these changes have had in relation to patient care, leading to some patients being denied fit notes by their doctors. We are concerned that the current wording of ESA65B does not sufficiently clearly indicate that there are circumstances in which GPs may need to continue to issue fit notes for their patients. It is essential that communication with GPs is as clear as possible, to uphold the high levels of trust that exist between GPs and their patients. As a minimum we would want to see the wording of the ESA65B letter urgently changed to its previous wording.”  

This means that ministers have once again mislead both parliament and the public in claiming that both medical professional organisations agreed to the wording of a controversial letter which told GPs not to provide benefits officials with proof that seriously ill patients were unfit for work.

I’ve reported on this particular issue more than once, and highlighted the parliamentary dialogue between Newton, who resigned in March, and the DWP, who have said in separate statements that the document wording “was cleared by both the British Medical Association and the Royal College of General Practitioners”.

Both organisations have now dismissed Newton and the DWPs’ claim. In the letter, the BMA,  said that they did not “clear” the wording, they were simply been shown the letter template during a meeting at the DWP.

When the organisation wrote to Frank Field, Pensions select committee, the letter states categorically that: “The BMA considers that sight of this letter was for the purposes of information sharing and did not agree or otherwise sign off the content of the letter.” 

The RCGP has told work and Pensions secretary Amber Rudd  that the letter “does not clearly indicate that there are exceptions to this wording, including if a claimant is appealing against the decision”. 

The Royal College raised fears that vulnerable patients awaiting the outcome of appeals may further harm their health by trying to meet the requirements of other benefits such as Universal Credit or Jobseeker’s Allowance.

However, a DWP spokesperson told me: “We have regular discussions with the BMA and RCGP to ensure we deliver effective support to disabled people and those with health conditions.

“The wording of this letter was discussed as part of these meetings, as both organisations confirm, as was the release of the final letter.

“Of course we recognise the concerns of GPs which is why we are discussing a revised letter with the BMA and RCGP and have issued clear guidance for GPs in the meantime.”

So, not only did the DWP and Conservative ministers lie and get caught out, they have continued to repeat the lie following its exposure.

Meanwhile citizens who are ill and disabled are left in dangerous situations with unacceptable levels of hardship, and some have died as a consequence, yet the government continues to present and mechanically repeat crib sheeted PR and strategic comms responses to limit the political damage of justified concern and criticism of their cruel, miserly, punitive, discriminatory, robotic neoliberalism and authoritarian policies that target those with the least in any way they can to prevent them from accessing the support that their taxes and National Insurance have contributed to creating. 

When David Cameron said the Conservative party was going to address the ‘culture of entitlement’, and ‘change the relationship between citizens and the state’ this is precisely the kind of underhand, targeted discrimination he had in mind. The ‘low tax, low welfare society’ is one where the wealthiest pay very little tax and the poorest citizens – in work and out – simply go without the means of meeting their most fundamental needs. 

The wider political aim is to systematically dismantle every single welfare and public service and to normalise the brutality of this process by almost inscrutable degrees, by telling lies that attempt to neutralise the serious concerns raised by campaigners, opposition MPs, academics, charities and medical professionals. This method of political gaslighting is much worse than lying, because it is a calculated, deliberate method of psychological manipulation and abuse.

 

 


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