Category: Neoliberalism

NHS is being ‘protected’ from those who need protecting most by rationing treatment based on eugenic ‘guidelines’

NHS Bevan

 

The National Health Service (NHS) was born on 5 July 1948. It was the first time anywhere in the world that completely free healthcare provision was made available on the basis of citizenship rather than the payment of fees or insurance.

The NHS was founded on the principle of universal healthcare. It upheld the most fundamental principles of human rights: that each life has equal worth, and that we all have a right to life.

In 1946, the new Labour government passed the National Health Service Act. The model they used was based on one used in Tredegar in the 1930s, which was like an early, local version of the NHS. However, the new Minister for Health, Aneurin Bevan, who was MP for Tredegar, had to overcome opposition to the NHS. For example:

  • The British Medical Association (BMA), who feared that doctors employed by the NHS would lose income.
  • Many local authorities and voluntary bodies, which ran hospitals, also objected as they feared they would lose control over them.
  • Winston Churchill and many Conservative MPs thought that the cost of the NHS would be “too great.”

There are now four times fewer beds within the NHS than there were originally. That is despite increasing demand.

The Conservatives know the cost of everything and the value of absolutely nothing.

Tory governments have always been misers with public funds that are for funding public services. They prefer to hand our money out to millionaires.

However, the most fundamental role of government is to keep citizens safe. Without doing that, they have no legitimacy or authority. They have no point.

The role of public services is to protect and support the public who pay for them. As the coronavirus epidemic in the UK peaks over the coming weeks, many of our most vulnerable citizens face being cruelly let down by a government that has failed to ensure our public services are fit for purpose, particularly the NHS. 

Chronic underfunding over the last decade has left us with treatment rationing and situations in medical settings where patients are left for hours on end on trolleys in corridors without adequate care. That was happening long before the coronavirus did the epizootic shuffle through a couple of species to settle, often catastrophically,  in humans.

The government are transmitting irrational adverts asking the public to ‘protect the NHS.’ Yet it is the government that has failed in that endeavour. And systematically failed the British public. The NHS has ceased to be fit for purpose. Not because of any lacking on the part of its hard working front line staff, but because of chronic underfunding.

I’m sure NHS staff appreciate rainbows, applause and a mention from the Queen. I’m also sure they’d appreciate protective gear, extensive coronavirus testing kits, more standard ICU equipment and government funding much more.

This government have pathologised the notion of social safety nets, civilised support, and inverted the purpose of public services with an insidious neoliberal narrative.

It’s absurd, perverse and obscene.

This perverse rhetoric of ‘protecting’ a public service from ‘overuse’ has been with us for over a decade. It’s a way of normalising the dismantling of the services we have paid for.

Imagine the public needing to use a public service… makes you wonder what the Conservatives think they are actually for, if not serving the public. 

Of course, within the neoliberal framework, perverse profit incentives overshadow quality of service and delivery. It’s all about ‘efficiency’ and not quality. Public services have become cash cows: privatisation and profit. Another effect of market fundamentalism is the increasing conditionality of services, and in healthcare settings, the progressive rationing of treatments and cost cutting. 

However, that hasn’t worked out very well to date. It’s become a way of making individuals responsible for being ill and needing healthcare, and for the chronic lack of funding the government are responsible for; an inadequacy which is now being thrown into sharp relief.

The whole point of the NHS was to protect citizens, providing a universal healthcare service to all, ‘from the cradle to the grave’, regardless of someone’s circumstances. It was never intended to treat only the healthiest citizens, while leaving those who are elderly, frail or have expensive ‘underlying conditions’ to simply die.

Rationing treatment for covid-19

Rationing healthcare increased over the last few years, it has become the norm. Now, it has become very clear that treatment for covid-19 is going to be rationed. We have moved a long way from universal health care. 

The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) have already introduced guidelines for establishing treatment ‘ceilings’, based on who they think is likeliest to survive covid-19. However, we have no way of knowing in advance of treatment if someone actually will survive.

Formal guidance says GPs should “proactively complete DNAR (do not resuscitate) forms, in advance of a worsening spread of coronavirus.”

People over 80 years old, and high risk groups are now being contacted about signing the “do not attempt to resuscitate” forms. This approach is firmly embedded in coronavirus planning and provision amid concerns over a lack of intensive care beds during the worsening coronavirus crisis.

Multiple GPs have said they are talking to patients who are older or in very high risk groups about signing “do not attempt to resuscitate” forms in case these patients were to go on to contract the virus. Some practices have also sent out letters to patients requesting they complete the forms, it is understood.

One leader of a primary care network, who asked not to be named, said: “Those in the severe at-risk group and those over 80 are being told they won’t necessarily be admitted to hospital if they catch coronavirus.”

Guidance issued by the Royal College of General Practitioners last week also touched on the issue, saying: “Proactively complete ReSPECT/ DNAR forms and prescribe anticipatory medications in advance of a worsening spread of disease.”

End of life conversations cover prescribing palliative pain relief, so patients aren’t left without the ‘appropriate’ medicines.

It’s understood these conversations are also being had with people living in nursing and care homes.

Jonathan Leach, a practising GP who helped draft the guidance, told Health Service Journal (HSJ) We have a huge role as a college [on this] as we see the volume and type of patients we should be sending into hospital and those we shouldn’t be.”

Type of patient? I wonder if I will be the type of patient that doctors will decide to treat? Or will I simply be left to die at home, because I have comorbid conditions? 

Leach continued: “If covid-19 gets into a care home because residents are mostly vulnerable, we will see a significantly greater number over a shorter period who need this type of [palliative] care. So, part of coping with that is thinking ahead [about having these conversations].”

I always thought that covid-19 gets into any place simply because of its contagion quality, not because of a particular demographic – it doesn’t have any special preferences towards care home residents because they are vulnerable. Vulnerability doesn’t invite more coronavirus infections. That’s why the prime minister, the health and social care secretary and other non-vulnerable ‘clever’ people among the government have also been infected recently. 

Dr Leach called discussing DNARs with people who are not at the end of life but are older or in a high-risk group a “grey area”. He added these decisions “need to be done on a case-by-case basis” but it was “more humane” to do it in advance.

How can leaving someone to die because of deliberately inflicted government funding cuts, based on an artificially constructed ‘type’, be “more humane”? Leach should have met my grandmother, who, in her 90s was probably fitter and more active than he is. Yet she would have conformed to his ‘type’ of patient to be considered for a eugenics by laissez faire approach, based on just her age alone.

Recent guidance issued to hospitals said palliative care conversations with a patient’s family may have to take place remotely, and skilled palliative care teams may not have the capacity to undertake all conversations themselves.

A spokeswoman for the British Medical Association, which also co-drafted the GP work prioritisation document, said: “Considering, and where possible making, specific anticipatory decisions about whether or not to attempt CPR is part of high-quality care for any person who might be approaching the end of life or who might be at risk of cardiorespiratory arrest.”

That decision – choosing who is and who is not going to be given CPR-  isn’t ‘care’, high quality or otherwise. 

The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence’s (NICE) role more generally is to improve outcomes for people using the NHS and other public health and social care services.

Yet the NICE guidelines concerning treatment provision for covid-19 are founded on a distinctly eugenic rationale: ensuring the ‘survival of the fittest’ only. 

The guidance for the NHS on which coronavirus patients should receive intensive care treatment has heightened fears among disability campaigners that many disabled people will be refused life-saving treatment if they are admitted to hospital.

The guidance, which originates from NICE, says that all adult covid-19 patients should be assessed for “frailty” when admitted to hospital, and that “comorbidities and underlying health conditions should be ‘taken into account’.”

In other words, those who need it most will be the most likely to be denied treatment, based on a fundamentally discriminatory scoring system.

The guidance is in gross violation of the Equality Act, as it will result in discriminatory health care provision and violate the fundamental universal right to life, on the basis of protected characteristics; in particular, those of age and disability. 

The guideline says: “the risks and benefits and likely outcomes should be discussed with patients, carers or advocates and families using decision support tools (where available) so that they can make informed decisions about their treatment wherever possible.

“For patients with confirmed COVID-19, the guideline says decisions about admission to critical care should be made on the basis of medical benefit, taking into account the likelihood that the person will recover to an outcome that is acceptable to them and within a period of time consistent with the diagnosis.”

The Clinical Frailty Scale: NICE’s cold, callous categories of ‘types’ – ‘they’ and ‘these people’: 

Clinical-Failty-Scale
Profound discrimination and human rights violations are deeply embedded in the NICE covid-19 treatment guidelines. The NHS are offering a limited treatment plan, in advance, for those of us considered ‘frail’.

It’s worth noting that China didn’t leave elderly people or those with comorbid conditions to die without trying to save them. In fact some were saved through the sheer persistence of doctors. 

Young and healthy people also die of covid-19. We have no way of knowing in advance if someone will respond to treatment, unless we try it. Ismail Mohamed Abdulwahab is the youngest person in the UK, to date, at just 13 years old, to die of covid-19, without his family around him in hospital. And Luca Di Nicola, who was just 19 was also healthy previously. Neither had underlying conditions.

Even when doctors are reasonably sure someone will die, sometimes they don’t

In 2017, I had flu. Within just four days of the start of my symptoms, I ended up with advanced pneumonia and was in septic shock when I arrived at A&E. My prognosis was very poor. At one point I was having chemicals pumped into me to try and raise my blood pressure from off the floor. In the end a doctor decided to try a ‘last resort’ vasopressor (to raise blood pressure and prevent organ failure) called methylene blue, which is injected very slowly (it’s called a ‘slow injection’), because the chemical is dangerous if it accumulates in one spot.

Septic shock happens when a person’s blood pressure drops so low that organs are starved of oxygen, leading to sequential organ failure. If it can’t be remedied quickly, people die because of injured organs. It’s one of the key causes of death in people who are critically ill with covid-19.

But in my case, it worked. OK, so it turned my urine green for days, but here I am, still.

However, if I become critically ill with covid-19, my comorbid conditions will mean I am most likely going to be among those who reach a ‘ceiling’ of treatment, if the NHS is overwhelmed. One of the key reasons people die of covid-19 is because it causes severe pneumonia and sepsis. Deciding who may survive those conditions is difficult in advance of treatment. Yet the NICE guidelines show very clearly that those decisions have already been made. 

Eugenics in practice

A GP practice in Wales sent out a letter which recommended patients with serious illnesses complete “do not resuscitate” forms in case their health deteriorated after contracting coronavirus. Llynfi surgery, in Maesteg near Port Talbot, wrote to a “small number” of patients on Friday to ask them to complete a “DNACPR” – do not attempt cardiopulmonary resuscitation – form to ensure that emergency services would not be called if they contracted covid-19 and their health deteriorated.

do not rescusitate

The letter says: “This is a very difficult letter for the practice to write to you,” stating that people with illnesses such as incurable cancer, motor neurone disease and pulmonary fibrosis were at a much greater risk from the virus.

I have pulmonary fibrosis. I have to say the letter is probably rather more difficult to receive and read than it was to write. 

“We would therefore like to complete a DNACPR form for you which we can share … which will mean that in the event of a sudden deterioration in your condition because [of] Covid infection or disease progression the emergency services will not be called and resuscitation attempts to restart your heart or breathing will not be attempted,” it continued.

“Completing a DNACPR will have several benefits,” the letter continues.
“1/ your GP and more importantly your friends and family will know not to call 999.

 2/ scarce ambulance resources can be targeted to the young and fit who have a greater   chance.”

“The risk of transmitting the virus to friends, family and emergency responders from CPR … is very high. By having a DNACPR form in place you protect your family … [and] emergency responders from this additional risk.”

The letter said that in an “ideal situation” doctors would have had this conversation in person with vulnerable patients but had written to them instead “due to fears they are carrying the virus and were asymptomatic”.

“We will not abandon you,” it said. “But we need to be frank and realistic.”

But the letter makes it very clear that some people’s lives are valued rather more than others. Abandoning those people considered ‘frail’ is exactly what the guidance issued by the Royal College of General Practitioners and NICE outline and this GP surgery are intending to put that into practice. 

The GP surgery said the letter originated from Cwm Taf Morgannwg University Health Board, which then clarified the recommendation that vulnerable patients complete DNACPR forms was “not a health board requirement.”

“A letter was recently sent out from Llynfi surgery to a small number of patients,” a spokesperson said. “This was not a health board communication.

“The surgery have been made aware that the letter has caused upset to some of the patients who received it. This was not their intent and they apologise for any distress caused. Staff at the surgery are speaking to those patients who received the letter to apologise directly and answer any concerns they may have.”

The letter went viral on social media and one person said a nurse practitioner had recently visited her father, who is receiving palliative care, to also request he sign a DNACPR form.

The NHS currently has 8,175 ventilators and has said it needs 30,000 more to deal with an expected peak of covid-19 patients, while the health service is reportedly attempting to increase its intensive care capacity sevenfold amid fears the full effect of the pandemic could be overwhelming.

There is a lack of personal protective equipment across the NHS despite renewed efforts to provide ambulance crews, GP surgeries and hospitals with the masks, visors, gloves and aprons that help prevent coronavirus transmission. At least three healthcare workers have already died from the virus.

Doctors in the UK must consult with patients or their families if they decide that resuscitation would not be effective or that complications would result in more pain. Families can seek a second opinion but apparently, the decision is ultimately a “medical judgment” to be made by a doctor.

Based on the damning guidelines issued by the Royal College of General Practitioners and NICE .

So the ‘collateral damage’ due to years of Tory governments systematically underfunding the NHS is an uncivilised denial of medical support for those who need it most, based on a distinctly eugenic logic.

It took just two months into a global pandemic to scrape away the thin veneer of civilised democracy, equality principles and our standard of universal human rights.

Once the coronavirus crisis subsides, we must never forget that those of us with ‘underlying’ medical conditions were considered expendable in order to ensure those who generally needed medical intervention the least got it at the expense of others, because of government priorities, which are never about ‘uniting and levelling up’.  

Universal health care was destroyed by the Conservative governments of the last decade, and has been replaced by calculated, cost-cutting eugenic practices based on a deeply ingrained antipathy towards groups with protected characteristics, but in particular, towards those citizens with any degree of frailty.

A doctor in Spain breaks down, as he describes how people over 65 years old with Covid-19 are being sedated and left to die, so that younger people may have priority for treatments and support, such as ventilators.

In the UK, NICE have drawn guidelines that set out who will get priority for treatment for the coronavirus. Not those most in need. Those most likely to survive anyway will have priority access to treatment. Elderly people and those who have underlying conditions will simply have isolation to protect them.

Universal health care and the universal right to life have become conditional. The  universal human rights that were fought hard for and earned are now a distant memory.

The Conservatives have systematically eroded both human rights and universal health care provision. The latter because of deliberate and chronic underfunding.

Scratch the surface of right-wing neoliberal ‘libertarianism’ and there lies a deeply embedded eugenic ideology.

The NICE guidelines have introduced the notion that our society requires triage, not as a last resort, but as a preemptive measure. It seems some people are considered too expensive to save. The NICE document separates human life into blunt categories. In one small group of boxes, there are people deemed to be worth saving. In the others, there are groups of people who, it has been decided, ought to be just left to die.  As cheaply as possible.

What is outlined in the NICE guidelines and clarified in the  and letter from the GP practice is not quite mass murder, but it is a sort of pre-planned, homicide by lack of funding, indifference and laissez faire.

The arguments presented for triage on the basis of ‘frailty’ are arguments from the eugenicist right wing. The fact that those who designed the guidelines think the elderly and the ill are acceptable losses is something we should remember long after the pandemic is over. This tells us the neoliberal obsession with ‘market forces’ was not about human potential or a flourishing society, nor was it about, productivity and abundance, but about something else.

For the high priests of ‘small government’ and market fundamentalism, citizens are expensive, especially if they need regular medical care. And the NHS should provide that care, because WE pay for it. The real drain on our health care is the increasing number of private company ‘providers’  who are draining vital funds into piles of private profits.

The UK will emerge from pandemic with its hierarchy still intact, and its elite shielded from the grim realities and disadvantages that ordinary people face. Those citizens who need things such as public services (perish the thought), well, they will continue to be regarded by the powers that be as ‘life unworthy of life’.

This is a government, lets not forget, that decided initially to run a dangerous, pseudoscientifc experiment on ‘herd immunity’ and ‘behavioural change’. That didn’t work of course. No-one knows if having covid-19 leads to immunity after recovery. Or for how long. Some viruses simply mutate. A good example is H3N2 strains of influenza. My entire family had it over Christmas in 1968. I was very young, and remember my mother said we had “Hong kong ‘flu”.

H3N2 evolved from H2N2 by antigenic shift and caused the Hong Kong Flu pandemic of 1968 and 1969 that killed an estimated one million people worldwide. In 2017, I got it again. It’s a particularly nasty strain that the ‘flu vaccination can’t protect people from, and has become increasingly resistant to antivirals such as Tamiflu. In the years that H3N2 circulates, more people are hospitalised with ‘flu complications. Partly because this virus simply changes itself to dodge defeat. The second time I got it, I ended up with pneumonia and in septic shock, as outlined earlier.

You’d think parasites like viruses would have evolved to find ways of not killing their hosts off. It’s hardly in their best interests after all.

It’s almost the epitome of neoliberal commodificationism and consumerism.

My point is, we simply don’t know if people who have covid-19 are immune afterwards. No-one does.

The NICE guidelines have introduced the notion that our society requires triage,  not as a last resort, but as a preemptive measure. It seems some people are considered of less worth than others, and too expensive to save. 

Now we know that our current government, with it’s apparent ease in sliding towards eugenic solutions, are never going to be the cure for all of our ills.

On a global scale, covid-19 has thrown the evils of neoliberal economic systems – especially embedded inequality, the systematic erosion of fundamental human rights and the fragility of democracy – into sharp relief.

And some governments’ indifference to the lives and deaths of populations.

We must never forget this; the government believe that one life is worth less than another – some lives can so easily be regarded as expendable.

 


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Price hikes of sanitizing gel throws perverse incentives of neoliberalism into sharp relief

sanitizer

Demand for hand sanitizer is surging around the globe as the new coronavirus spreads, prompting retailers to ration supplies and online vendors, despicably, to hike prices. Many high street shops and pharmacies have no stocks left at all.

There are also price hikes on antibacterial hand wash.

The surge in demand has prompted some third-party sellers to inflate their prices on platforms including Amazon and eBay.  In the UK, a Defendol hand gel retailing at £3.49 ($4.46) in stores is being sold for £109.99 on Amazon. 

Neoliberal economies, based on a ‘competitive market place’ model definitely create inequality and ensure the survival of the wealthiest, apparently. Essential goods and services are provided on the sole basis of profit, rather than on human need.

The global mortality rate for Covid-19 is 3.4 percent, according to the World Health Organisation. By comparison, seasonal flu generally kills far fewer than 1 percent of those infected. 93,574 have officially identified as having been infected with the virus, there have been 3,204 deaths that are known to have been caused by COVID-19.

However, some people who died prior to the first case that was identified as being due to the new virus have been found to have died because they also had the virus. There are 39,312 people that we know about with active infections, and 32,540 (83%) of those have mild symptoms, while 6,772 (17%) are seriously or critically ill. We now know that the virus has been spread in communities ‘under the radar’ for around six weeks before the first cases came to the attention of health authorities. Consequently, we don’t know the full extent of the epidemic yet. Or how it will continue.

In circumstances where the majority of humans are desperate to prevent the spread of a virus that has killed people, some see only an opportunity to capitalise on it and make personal profit. People are stockpiling toilet role, which has also pushed up prices. It’s one of the perverse incentives of neoliberalism: profit over human need. 

This is a disgusting manipulation of prices of essential goods that are designed to help prevent disease transmission, based on perverse profiteering motives and greed, in the face of fear and panic on a global scale. That’s despicable, utterly selfish, bordering-on-psychopathic behaviour.

Hand washing with regular soap and water is always your best bet for killing microbes on your hands, but a natural, alcohol-based hand sanitizer that you can make yourself is your next best bet if you are out and about, with no access to hand washing facilities. Although some health professionals are a bit worried that people may not include essential ingredients, others have said that provided people include a 60% (minimum) proof alcohol base in their sanitizer mixture, it will work. 

I’ve made a lot of my own toiletries over the years, because I tend to be sensitive to common additives used in commercially manufactured products. I base my ingredients on scientific research only, rather than the anecdotal evidence that commercial suppliers tend to provide.

Here is what you need to make an effective hand sanitizer:

  • Isopropyl alcohol/’surgical spirit. Needs to be at least 60% proof
  • Aloe vera or lavender gel
  • Add a teaspoon and a half of glycerine, if you have it, as a moisturiser
  • Lavender essential oil geranium or tea tree essential oil, or other essential oils of your choice. Peppermint oil, for example, is quite a powerful antimicrobial, as are rosemary, tea tree and lavender oils. The essential oils are optional, but do improve the smell, if nothing else
  • Half a teaspoon of hydrogen peroxide solution at 3-5%, if you have it. This acts as a preservative, killing any existing bugs in the mixture or container
  • Small 1-2 oz bottle. Both toxin-free plastic squeeze or pump bottles, plastic or glass spray bottles work well. The hand sanitizer mixture is thin enough to be sprayed, though it will come out in more of a stream.

Pour two thirds of a cup full of the alcohol into a bowl. Remember, the alcohol needs to make up at least two thirds of the mixture and must be 60% proof or above. The two key ingredients in this recipe are the alcohol and the gel – and you can also buy lavender gels to use instead of aloe vera, if you prefer. The glycerine is to mitigate the drying effects of the alcohol a little more than the gel alone would do.

You can buy a litre of surgical spirit – 99% proof alcohol – on Amazon for just £6.99, which should last a while. Not ideal if you boycott Amazon, but sometimes, needs must. The price is likely to inflate in the coming weeks.

Add 10 to 15 drops each of tea tree essential oil and lavender essential oil. These two essential oils have natural antibacterial and antiviral properties, and together they smell great. You can use any other essential oils you like. the alcohol, which needs to make up at least two thirds of the mix, is the main ingredient which will kill the family of corona viruses. Other essential oils to consider are geranium (it’s great in combination with lavender, too), jasmine or rose. You can use any that you like. 

Add a third of a cup of the aloe vera or lavender gel. Stir the mixture until it is blended well. Use a funnel to pour the mixture into small 2oz spray bottles or small hand soap containers. You could also re-use shop-bought hand sanitizer containers.

This quick-fix sanitizer does work, and the ingredients have been approved by doctors, and the WHO, provided your mixture contains a minimum 60% proof alcohol. It is effective against the coronavirus family.  The virus is protected by a shell, called an “envelope glycoprotein,” which the alcohol scrambles. It dies pretty quickly once its shell has gone.

Make sure you keep the lid on your bottle closed after use, that way your sanitizer will last for weeks. Alcohol is an excellent preservative, as is the hydrogen peroxide.

Keep out of reach of children and pets.

A little more about essential oils

A group of scientists scattered across the globe are collaborating to find an effective treatment for Covid-19. One potential treatment is an anti-malarial drug called hydroxychloroquine, which is also used to treat some autoimmune conditions, such as lupus. I was prescribed the drug in 2016, and it has helped some of the symptoms of my illness – lupus.

Both chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine – approved and widely used anti-malarials and autoimmune disease drugs – were effective in stopping the virus from spreading in human cells in the lab, researchers reported in a short letter published Feb. 4. in the journal Cell Research. What’s more, both drugs were effective at low concentrations, and neither drug was highly toxic to human cells.

They carry very  few side effects in the short term. Longer term – over longer than five years – both drugs can cause retinopathy in some people. Those of us taking the treatment for autoimmune disease have annual eye checks.

People with underlying autoimmune conditions such as lupus are at risk of complications from the novel coronavirus, because the illness often lowers peoples’ immunity, and many of the treatments are also immune suppressants or steroids, which inhibit the immune system further.

Current advice from rheumatologists is to keep taking your medication, and seek medical advice if you become ill with Covid-19 symptoms. 

Hydroxychlorquine is quite a powerful antiviral and anti-inflammatory agent, which has been used to treat HIV virus, Mers virus, Dengue fever and Zika virus. Many other drugs, and combinations of medicines are being re purposed currently to explore their potential to address the coronavirus outbreak. 

There have been many historical claims made about beneficial qualities of essential oils, which have been largely anecdotal. However, over recent years scientists have trialled some essential oils to see if they can be used as part of a strategy to combat antibiotic-resistant bugs. The NHS has also run many studies of the application of essential oils in healthcare settings, with some positive results..

Tea tree oil was used by soldiers to disinfect wounds during world war 2. It has a broad range antimicrobial activity. Lavender oil also scored quite well in several studies, and it reduces inflammation, as does geranium and a few other essential oils. Other essential oils that are powerfully antimicrobial are: cinnamon, clove, rosemary, wintergreen, white thyme, myrtle, basil, oregano (which even kills the bug that causes botulism), sage and verbena, among others. 

The best two according to combinations of studies, for ‘flu and cold-type viruses are tea tree, which also kills many pneumonia-causing agents, and myrtle, which also kills salmonella and e-coli bugs. White thyme has a very broad range of antimicrobial activity, too. Clove is pretty powerful as an antimicrobial generally. Peppermint, star anise, lemon balm, oregano, ginger, chamomile, thyme, sandalwood and eucalyptus oils have all demonstrated antiviral properties in laboratory tests. Many kill fungi and bacteria too.

However, a word of caution here. Although studies have shown that some essential oils do have antimicrobial properties, hand washing, cough and sneeze etiquette and social distancing are the most effective ways of minimising your risk of getting the coronavirus. But that doesn’t mean that you can’t supplement those methods with using essential oils.

I do. I now use tea tree oil for cleaning minor cuts, as I’m quite prone to infection. Even tiny cuts have resulted in a painful abscess or a rapidly expanding area of redness and inflammation requiring antibiotics. That’s because of my lupus-related immunity problems. 

I use lavender and geranium essential oil with oatmeal in a hand soak or in the bath to treat flare ups of eczema, for example. If you try this, make sure you put the oatmeal in a muslin bag, tied cheesecloth or an old pair of tights, otherwise you will be sat in a bath load of porridge.

Never take essential oils internally, they are used as topical application and for aromatherapy only.

Remember, they are also a ‘complimentary’ medicine. I use a combination of treatments for lupus, including hydroxychloroquine and other prescribed medication from my rheumatologist, along with a  range of essential oils to ease some symptoms and to reduce my risk of infection.

I also wash my hands a lot. I use a hand gel when I can’t access washing facilities while out and about.

Keeping generally as healthy as possible is also important. Good nutrition, hydration, exercise and sufficient sleep may help people stay well.

Lastly, here are some more examples of scientific studies on the antimicrobial actions of essential oils:

Essential Oils as Antimicrobial Agents—Myth or Real Alternative?

Antimicrobial Properties of Plant Essential Oils against Human Pathogens and Their Mode of Action: An Updated Review

Protective essential oil attenuates influenza virus infection: An in vitro study in MDCK cells

Commercial Essential Oils as Potential Antimicrobials to Treat Skin Diseases

In Vitro Activity of Essential Oils Against Gram-Positive and Gram-Negative Clinical Isolates, Including Carbapenem-Resistant Enterobacteriaceae

Antibacterial, antifungal, and antiviral effects of three essential oil blends

Evaluation of chemical and antiviral properties of essential oils from South American plants

Inactivation of Airborne Influenza Virus by Tea Tree and Eucalyptus Oils

In vitro antiviral activity of fifteen plant extracts against avian infectious bronchitis virus (veterinary research)

Always wash your hands frequently, use cough and sneeze etiquette – cough or sneeze into a tissue and throw it in a bin, or use the crook of your elbow to contain your sneeze or cough- to avoid spreading any infection. 

Keep others safe and stay safe yourselves.


 

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Meet the multimillionaire who thinks homeless people should sleep in wheelie bins

Wheelie_bins_homeless_people_TRIANGLENEWS_12JPG

Multimillionaire Peter Dawe (pictured above), who ran as the Brexit Party candidate in the General Election, has ‘crafted a pod’ out of two wheelie bins that he hopes will somehow alleviate the problem of rough sleeping. 

Dawe fashioned what he called a ‘sleep pod’ out of two red wheelie bins, which turn on a hinge to create enough room for someone to lie down in. The entrepreneur, who picked up 1.9% of the votes when he ran in the General Election in Cambridge last year, says the ‘invention’ costs just £100. He has dozens of companies and projects listed on his website, and he believes the ‘invention’ could have a global impact.

2 Wheelie_bins_homeless_people_TRIANGLENEWS_9JPG

Dawe spending 10 minutes in his wheelie bin ‘pod’

“I saw on the telly rough sleepers complaining they had been kicked and pissed upon,” he explained.

“Lying on the street in a sleeping bag, you are very vulnerable.”

He added that it was something of a ‘Marmite’ idea: “some people think it’s genius, others are actually horrified.”

“It’s denigrating to be rough sleeping – end of story.

“I think it is more comfortable and more secure sleeping in a sleep pod, rather than being huddled in a wet sleeping bag being kicked.

“I’m not solving homelessness or the rough sleeper problem, I’m just mitigating it or giving them the opportunity to.

“I try not to make any presumptions, and in my view no one should either.”

Dawe came up with the idea after building a prototype for a single person car, also from a bin.

When asked if he had slept inside the bins, Dawe said he’d spent ten minutes laid down in them. He said he “got inside a bin and discovered how comfortable it was.”

He also suggested that the ‘product’ could be used as a storage space for clothes and other items in the day time. However, when Dawe took two of his ‘prototypes’ to a local homeless shelter in Cambridge, curiously, no volunteers came forward to try it out. I really can’t imagine why…

The ‘invention’ has unsurprisingly attracted some derision and horror on social media. The Mirror’s ‘Real Britain’ columnist. Ros Wynne Jones, said: “I recently interviewed someone who had been homeless and forced to sleep in a bin during bad weather, and it was the only bit of their whole awful story where they cried, because it was so utterly humiliating to have to say it out loud.”

Matthew Taylor said “This is possibly one of the worst and most demeaning inventions I’ve ever seen.

“Bear in mind that you could buy a cheap tent for that price and it might actually work to sleep in.

Graeme Stewart said: “People genuinely think shipping containers for the homeless are a great idea.

“Well this is next level stuff.

“I don’t know whether to laugh in disbelief or cry.”

I think the shipping containers are a poor solution, too, but as a temporary option, a significantly better idea than the outrageous wheelie bin ‘pod’.

Last year a homeless man, Russell Lane, was forced to  sleep in a wheelie bin, and he died after he was crushed by a rubbish truck. He had graduated from college with health and social care qualification just months before he died. His legs were severely crushed after the empty bin he was sleeping in was emptied into the lorry. He died of an infection and ruptured artery in his leg. 

Before that, in 2009, a homeless man was crushed to death in the bin lorry, after he had fallen asleep in a wheelie bin. Raymond Pickering was living rough in and around Nottingham and fell asleep in a large commercial wheelie bin, the city’s coroner’s court was told.

But, on the morning of May 15, the bin was emptied with him inside and he was crushed to death before his body was found hours later at Biffa’s waste-management site in Colwick.

In 2012, a homeless man was horrifically crushed to death after the wheelie bin he had fallen asleep in was emptied into a compacter lorry. He died of catastrophic head injuries. Twenty people have died in the last 10 years after being accidentally thrown into trucks, according to the Waste Industry Safety and Health organisation.

The remains of Matthew Symonds were found in a waste recycling plant in Bristol in 2014. He had taken refuge underneath some cardboard in a bin in Swindon bin after being refused entry to a homeless shelter, and was tipped into a compacter lorry as he slept.

Between 2010 and 2018 the official estimated number of people sleeping on the streets rose by 165% across the UK to around 4,677. The ‘unofficial’ figure is likely to be much higher.

Unite’s national officer Matt Draper said: “Peter Dawe’s idea is dangerous and grossly offensive. Our members who work in the refuse sector already have to check bins to prevent people being crushed to death in the back of lorries. Encouraging more people to seek shelter in bins is extremely irresponsible. 

“This idea would do nothing to address the shameful rise in homelessness Britain has experienced in recent years and would only further stigmatise individuals who are in desperate need of help.” 

For right wing, very wealthy entrepreneurs like Peter Dawe, the idea that homeless people should have adequately funded and effective support services and access to a social security system that ensures everyone in the UK can meet the costs of their basic survival requirements – for food fuel and shelter – rather than having a draconian system imposed on them which is creating absolute poverty and destitution seems to have never crossed their mind. 

 


More people, like you, are reading and supporting independent, investigative and in particular, public interest journalism, than ever before.

I don’t make any money from my research and writing, and want to ensure my work remains accessible to all.

I have engaged with the most critical issues of our time – from the often devastating impact of almost a decade of Conservative policies and growing, widespread inequality to the influence of big tech on our lives. At a time when factual information is a necessity, I believe that each of us, around the world, deserves access to accurate reporting with integrity and the norms of democracy at its heart.

My work is absolutely free from commercial and political interference and not influenced one iota by billionaire media barons.  I have worked hard to give a voice to those less heard, I have explored where others turn away, and always rigorously challenge those in power, holding them to account. 

I hope you will consider supporting me today, or whenever you can. As independent writers, we will all need your support to keep delivering quality research and journalism that’s open and independent.

Every reader’s contribution, however big or small, is so valuable and helps keep me going.  Thanks.

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DWP accused of altering disability assessment reports to cut or end successful claims

gail

Pictured: Gail Ward, who was told that she did not qualify for Personal Independence Payment, despite living with a rare and potentially life-threatening heart condition – Prinzmetal’s angina – attacks can occur even when she is resting. She also had other health problems. Remarkably, Gail was told by the DWP that she doesn’t qualify for PIP. She won her appeal after waiting 15 months for her case to be heard at a social security tribunal.

It has been claimed that officials within the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) have edited or removed thousands of work capability assessment reports submitted by privately contracted healthcare professionals.

It’s alleged that officials reduced qualifying points awarded during face-to-face assessments, delivered by ‘independent’ private firms, and in some cases disposed of the reports entirely.  

The Daily Record reports that during the last year paperwork was altered or amended in around 1,840 cases, while a further 460 applications were branded ‘unacceptable’ and simply binned.

In 2018, I raised concerns that the DWP were quietly editing people’s assessment reports for Personal Independence Payment (PIP) and Employment and Support Allowance (ESA), to reduce or end claims for disability support. I reported that a man with multiple sclerosis and mental ill health lost his PIP award after his original assessment report was dishonestly edited during a DWP ‘audit.’

Officials had clearly tampered with the assessor’s original report. The man only discovered the ‘audited’ version of his health assessment report when he asked for copies to make an appeal. He had been in receipt of the basic level of support for two years when he was summoned to be re-assessed for PIP, which is non-means tested and designed to help with the extra cost of living with debilitating conditions.

The original assessment document said the man, has “regular specialist input”. The ‘audited’ version says he does not. The report outlines the patient’s MS, depression and anxiety and tells of his difficulties with tasks including cooking, dressing and washing. The nurse noted his clothes were dirty and his top inside-out. The ‘auditor’ had removed the second point.

The ‘auditor’ changed a part which said the man needed supervision or prompting to wash or bathe, and a section on preparing food. The original said he “needs prompting” but the ‘audited’ version said he could prepare and cook a simple meal himself. In every section of the report where the man scored points towards his PIP award, the ‘auditor’ had reduced his score to zero, without contacting him to ask for information. This tampering with the original report was done without informing the claimant, and therefore without giving him an opportunity to clarify the original report or challenge the altered version of his account. 

He was accidentally sent ‘before and after’ audit copies of his assessment, highlighting the DWP editing designed to trivialise the impact of his medical conditions on his day to day living circumstances, and to remove points for his award eligibility. 

The Daily Record reports than an estimated 11,760 assessment reports were secretly graded by DWP officials as acceptable, unacceptable, or amended.

DWP officials graded around 980 health assessments per month, with up to 200 of these being amended every month, while 20 to 50 were deemed “unacceptable” and rejected outright.

However, the number of amended reports is likely to be much higher because the DWP only publishes data from Independent Assessment Service forms (formerly known as Atos).

The Daily Record also says that 33,670 assessments in total were audited from two private companies contracted by the DWP to carry of disability assessments for PIP. 

SNP MP Marion Fellows commented: “It is concerning that thousands of health reports are being tampered with each year by people who weren’t even present for the assessment.

“There must be a complete halt to audits and an inquiry into the UK Government’s rigged health assessments.

“DWP auditors, who aren’t present during assessments, should not be able to mandate changes which could bear heavily on peoples’ lives.

“Changes should not be made by so-called health professionals who didn’t even carry out the original assessment. This is a clear injustice that must be corrected.

“People have spoken to me about how they feel they are degraded in their assessments.

“For the whole process to be a sham and for the assessment to be undermined by auditors is infuriating.”

The DWP said: “We are absolutely committed to ensuring people receive the support they are entitled to.

“That is why assessments are carried out by qualified health professionals and we continue to work with them to ensure quality is continuously improving.

“Sometimes assessment reports are returned to providers to ensure we have as much information as possible to reach an accurate decision.”

That’s clearly untrue. Information is most often actually removed at ‘audit’ by the DWP.  And inaccurate decisions are unacceptably high. The high success rate of claimant appeals indicates that clearly, something is seriously wrong with the system.

Last year, around two thirds of cases heard at tribunal in Great Britain found in favour of the claimant. In Northern Ireland, the figure was around 54% in 2018-19. The rise in the percentage of successful appeals came despite a drop in the overall number of cases being heard at court.

This raises concerns about the overall quality of decision-making in the DWP – both on PIP and ESA, in the apparent push to remove support unlawfully from as many disabled people as possible in the name of austerity.

The hostile environment

The introduction of mandatory reconsiderations in 2013 and cuts to legal aid have deterred many people from appealing. Mandatory Reconsideration don’t seem to function as a genuine check to ensure the original decision is fair and accurate, instead it is an administrative hurdle for claimants to clear, leaving them without any support while the DWP review the original decision. Furthermore, there were targets in place for DWP decision-makers to uphold around 80% of the original DWP decisions.

The DWP have claimed that the largest single reason for the high success rate of those claimants appealing DWP disability benefit adverse decisions. However, the Department has failed to explain why it takes until the appeal stage for evidence to come to light. In almost half of cases the “new evidence” presented was oral (not medical) evidence from claimants, which arose most often during the appeal process. It is difficult to understand why this information was not, or could not have been elicited and reported by the assessor.

The DWP’s attempt at explanation does not absolve the Department of responsibility. It certainly fails to address or explain how a target for upholding original decisions is compatible with ensuring that questionable reports are thoroughly investigated, and clearly flawed, inaccurate decisions identified and corrected.

Government guidelines for assessments are aimed at invalidating disabled peoples’  accounts of their experiences of illness and disability

The government produced guidelines that says assessors must look for ‘inconsistencies’ in disabled people’s accounts. Assessors are told: “All evidence must be interpreted and evaluated using medical reasoning, considering the circumstances of the case and the expected impact on the claimant’s daily living and/or mobility. When weighing up the evidence, it is important to highlight any contradictions and any evidence that does not sufficiently reflect the claimant’s health condition or impairment or the effect on their daily life.”.

This means that rather than focusing on written medical evidence and verbal evidence provided by the claimant, the assessor is looking for any evidence that may be used to discredit the claimant’s account of their disability from the start. 

Disabled peoples’ benefits assessments are carried out on behalf of the Department for Work and Pensions by the private contractors Capita, the Independent Assessment Services (formerly called Atos) and Maximus. However, it is the DWP that makes the decisions regarding a person’s eligibility for social security support.

The government guidance document for PIP assessments (section 3.4 onwards) says that “audit processes are in place for auditing the quality of assessments through:

• DWP Lot-wide audit (random sample); and
The provider – Approval-related audit (for trainees).

And: “Audit has a central role in ensuring that decisions on benefit entitlement, taken by DWP, are correct. It supports this by confirming that independent Health Professional advice complies with the required standards and that it is clear and medically reasonable. It also provides assurance that any approach to assessment and opinion given is consistent so that, irrespective of where or by whom the assessment is carried out, claimants with conditions that have the same functional effect will ultimately receive the same benefit outcome.”

It goes on to say: “The DWP Independent Audit Team carries out lot-wide audit, which is an audit of a controlled random sample from across each contract Lot, feeding in to routine performance reporting for DWP.”

Where a report is deemed ‘unacceptable’: “Any changes made to forms should be justified, signed and dated. It should be made clear that any changes are made as a result of audit activity. Where necessary a new report form should be completed.”

The government guidelines also say that: “Any challenge to the reason DWP has returned a case to the Provider for rework must be made via the nominated rework Single Point of Contact (SPOC).”

In the event of a dispute regarding a request for an assessment report to be changed, “the final decision on whether the case requires rework rests with DWP and not the assessor.” 

So ultimately, an official at the DWP who was not present when a person was assessed, may decide that the assessment report is ‘reworked’, and use non-transparent criteria to change the facts established and recorded during the assessment.

This means that the person making the claim has no opportunity to challenge the changes made to ‘reworked’ reports before the decision is made regarding the claim. 

Over the last few years, evidence has mounted that disability benefits are being reduced or removed from people on fabricated grounds. Disability News Service (DNS) has  carried out an investigation into claims of widespread dishonesty in the disability benefit system. The research found more than 250 PIP claimants who have alleged assessors repeatedly lied, ignored written evidence and dishonestly reported the results of physical examinations. It’s a regular occurrence for disabled readers to read the reports of their benefit assessment, and find a statement of their circumstances, an event or comment that never happened.

For example, one person with a serious spinal injury who is wheelchair-bound was baffled by the comment on her assessment report which said she could bend to feed her dog and could take it out for a walk. She said she doesn’t have a dog, and has never had one. 

The government produced guidelines that says assessors must look for ‘inconsistencies’ in disabled people’s accounts. For example, if a person says they lack dexterity in their hands, but they are wearing jewellery, it will simply be assumed that they can open and close the clasp. They won’t be offered an opportunity to clarify that this is the case. 

In my own PIP assessment report in 2017, it said that the HP had to prompt me several times because of my lack of concentration. She also acknowledged that I needed aids to remember to take my medication. Yet the report is riddled with inconsistencies and inaccuracies. It was concluded that there is no evidence that I have any ‘cognitive difficulties’ because I have a degree (from 1996), and worked as a professional – social work (before I became too ill to work in 2010.) 

It was also mentioned that I had a driving licence as further justification for removing a point, but the report failed to mention I have not been able to drive since 2005 because of flicker-induced seizures, even though I made that clear. I therefore lost one point – which meant I was not awarded the enhanced rate. The reasons provided were not justified, since the assessor referred to events and periods of my life when I was not ill and disabled.

As well as widespread allegations of fabricated reports, secret filming has produced claims of a culture of targets, in which assessors are allegedly monitored to ensure they don’t find excessive numbers of disabled people eligible for benefits, and mounting evidence of toxic punitive measures. As one former jobcentre adviser put it when describing her role with benefit claimants, there were “brownie points for cruelty”.

Consequences of the DWP’s hostile environment

The Conservative’s welfare reforms have led to “grave and systematic violations” of disabled people’s rights, a United Nations (UN) inquiry has concludedChanges to social security “disproportionately affected” disabled people, the United Nations Committee on the Rights of Disabled Persons (CRPD) found.

The UK was the first country to be investigated under a UN convention it has been signed up to since 2007.

However, the government said it “strongly refuted” the committee’s findings and its “offensive” view of disability. Many disabled people, charities and campaigners submitted evidence to the United Nations for the inquiry. The government’s response was offensive.

The committee launched an investigation in 2012 after receiving evidence from individuals (I submitted evidence) and disability organisations about an the adverse impact and harm of government reforms on disabled people. The government have refused to act upon the findings and recommendations of the UN report.

Last year, the DWP disclosed that over 21,000 ill and disabled people died waiting for their PIP assessment to be completed, between April 2013 and 30 April 2018.

Sarah Newton, then Minister of State for Disabled People, published the figures on 11 January following a question raised in parliament by Labour MP Madeleine Moon in December: “How many people have died while waiting for their personal independence payment assessment to be completed; and what were the conditions those people died from?”

Newton responded: “All benefit claims can be made under the special rules for people who are terminally ill which will mean that they are fast tracked. These are currently being cleared within 6 working days for new claimants to PIP. The Department would encourage all claimants with a terminal illness to let the department know and to apply using the special rules.

The cause of death of PIP claimants is not collated centrally by the Department.”

Over 3.6 million applications to PIP were made between April 2013 and 30th April 2018. Of these:

  • 4,760 claimants died between their case being referred to, and returned from, an assessment provider;
  • 73,800 claimants died within 6 months of their claim being registered; and
  • 17,070 claimants died after registering but prior to the DWP making a decision on their claim. Details of the claimant’s primary medical condition, where recorded, are in the accompanying spreadsheet.”

The total number of PIP claimants who died was 95,000. But Newton’s response does not indicate at what stage of their claim the 73,800 people, who died within six months of it being registered, were at. Nor does it indicate what those people who did not have terminal or degenerative illnesses died of – including those with mental illness. For example, 270 of those mortalities are listed as having had anxiety and/or depressive disorders as their primary disorder.

Of those who did have terminal illnesses, we need to ask why these people were  cruelly left waiting so long for their assessment, if, as Newton claims, they are ‘fast tracked’ through the claim and assessment process.

Prior to the introduction of PIP, Esther McVey stated that of the initial 560,000 claimants to be reassessed by October 2015, 330,000 of these are targeted to either lose their benefit altogether or see their payments reduced. Of course the ever-shrinking category of “those with the greatest need” simply reflects a government that has made a partisan political decision to cut disabled people’s essential income to fund a financial gift to the wealthiest citizens. There is no justification for this decision, nor is it remotely “fair”, as the government claims. 

We also need to ask how and why McVey had those figures in advance of the assessments taking place.

It’s become very evident since that ‘those in the greatest need’ are not being served by social security.  Disabled people are suffering distress, harm and some are dying as a consequence of government policy. The DWP end disabled people’s support any way they can, it seems. And when they can’t find a reason, they edit the evidence to attempt to justify their brutal and incoherent decision making.

In August 2013, Mark Wood starved to death at his home in Oxfordshire after his ESA was stopped.

David Barr, from Glenrothes, Fife, also died that month, having taken his own life following an assessment that deemed him “fit for work”, resulting in the withdrawal of his ESA. He had a long history of serious mental health problems. 

On 23 September 2013, a father-of-two, Michael O’Sullivan, took his own life at his flat in north London. He had a long history of significant mental ill-health.

In November 2015, Paul Donnachie killed himself at his home in Glasgow. His ESA was stopped in error, but the letter informing him of the DWP’s mistake arrived too late. His body was found when the council came to evict him.

All of these people had significant mental health problems, and there are countless others, many whose names are never likely to be known, other than by grieving family and friends. These deaths are inextricably linked to decisions and actions taken by Conservative ministers and senior civil servants from the early days of the 2010 coalition government.

Every one of their deaths could and should have been avoided.

The Disability News Service (DNS) reported more recently that Errol Graham weighed just four-and-a-half stone when his body was found by bailiffs who had knocked down his front door to evict him. He had just a couple of out-of-date tins of fish left in his flat, because the DWP had wrongly stopped his ESA. He starved to death, and his rent support had been stopped as a consequence of his ESA claim being ended. The DWP failed to follow safeguarding rules in their haste to end his claim. He was also denied PIP, which left him without any income whatsoever. 

DWP civil servants had failed to seek further medical evidence from his GP, just as in many other tragic cases that have sparked repeated calls for an independent inquiry into links between the deaths of claimants and the actions and failings of the DWP. The government have consistently refused to acknowledge a correlation between their actions and the death of disabled people, so have no intention of investigating the evidence. 

Assistant coroner Dr Elizabeth Didcock, who heard the inquest, was told that the DWP stopped Graham’s ESA entitlement – and backdated that decision to the previous month – after making two unsuccessful visits to his home to ask why he had not attended a face-to-face work capability assessment (WCA) on 31 August 2017. The inquest heard that it was standard DWP procedure to go ahead with stopping the benefits of a claimant marked on the system as vulnerable after two failed safeguarding visits.

However, the DWP (somehow) managed to stop an ESA payment that had been due to be credited to his bank account on 17 October, the same day officials made the second unsuccessful safeguarding visit.

DWP’s own rules state that it should make both safeguarding visits before stopping the benefits of a vulnerable claimant.

Because Errol lost his ESA entitlement, his housing benefit was also stopped. His family says he had also been found ineligible for PIP. Deprived of all financial support, experiencing significant mental distress and unable or unwilling to seek help, he slowly starved to death. He was 57. His body was discovered on 20 June 2018 when bailiffs arrived at his Nottingham council flat to evict him for non-payment of rent. 

His benefits had been stopped even though he had been receiving incapacity benefit, and then ESA, for many years as a result of enduring mental illness and distress that had led to him being sectioned. Errol was clearly extremely vulnerable.

He had also told the DWP on an ESA form three years earlier that he could not cope with “unexpected changes”, adding: “Upsets my life completely. Feel under threat and upset…”

He added: “Cannot deal with social situations. Keep myself to myself. Do not engage with strangers. Have no social life. Feel anxiety and panic in new situations.”

The assistant coroner said: “There simply is not sufficient evidence as to how he was functioning, however, it is likely that his mental health was poor at this time – he does not appear to be having contact with other people, and he did not seek help from his GP or support agencies as he had done previously.”

She concluded in the narrative verdict, delivered last June, that the “safety net that should surround vulnerable people like Errol in our society had holes within it”.

Those ‘holes’ are a consequence of deliberate, ideologically driven anti-welfare policies. They have intended consequences. The government assumes that people treated unfairly will appeal wrong decisions. Firstly, many people are far too ill to cope with the stress of that process. Secondly, it should never be primarily the role of courts to allocate social security fairly. That is the official role and purpose of the DWP.  However, the government department is clearly failing to fulfil its role. This is because the neoliberal ideology that drives austerity policies is incompatible with the central principles of social security. 

She continued: “He needed the DWP to obtain more evidence [from his GP] at the time his ESA was stopped, to make a more informed decision about him, particularly following the failed safeguarding visits.”

She said that a consultant psychiatrist had told the inquest “that Errol was vulnerable to life stressors” and that it was “likely that this loss of income, and housing, were the final and devastating stressors, that had a significant effect on his mental health”.

But she decided not to write a regulation 28 report demanding changes to DWP’s safeguarding procedures to “prevent future deaths” because the department insisted that it was already completing a review of its safeguarding, which was supposed to finish last autumn.

The DWP had promised her it would “listen to clients and to those representing them, and… ensure that the DWP was focused on support and safety for vulnerable people”.

Dr Didcock insisted that this commitment “must be converted into robust policy and guidance for DWP staff” and that the DWP must ensure that “all evidence that can reasonably be gathered is put together about a client, before a benefit is ceased”.

Disability News Service also highlights that the death of Errol Graham closely mirrors other tragedies caused by the DWP’s repeated refusal to make significant improvements to its safeguarding policies and practices.

Denise McKenna, co-founder of the Mental Health Resistance Network (MHRN), said the network was “absolutely devastated and saddened beyond words to hear of the circumstances surrounding the death of Mr Graham”.

She said: “We are enraged that the DWP continues to treat the lives of people who live with mental distress as disposable.

“This level of cruelty is outside of anything that would happen in a civilised society.

“The fact that Mr Graham had not responded to attempts to contact him following his failure to attend the work capability assessment (WCA) should have raised alarm bells over his safety, but instead the DWP took the opportunity to stop his social security entitlements.”

And there’s the truth: the government have created a hostile environment for disabled people that is heavily weighted towards preventing successful claims, taking its lessons from rogue multinational insurance companies such as Unum, who have systematically employed strategies to pay out insurance only as the last resort, rather than on the basis of need. 

And if the evidence doesn’t suit the politically desired outcome – as outlined by the likes of Esther McVey –  it can always be edited or disposed of by the DWP.

Hostile environment McDonnell

 


More people, like you, are reading and supporting independent, investigative and in particular, public interest journalism, than ever before.

I don’t make any money from my research and writing, and want to ensure my work remains accessible to all.

I have engaged with the most critical issues of our time – from the often devastating impact of almost a decade of Conservative policies and growing, widespread inequality to the influence of big tech on our lives. At a time when factual information is a necessity, I believe that each of us, around the world, deserves access to accurate reporting with integrity and the norms of democracy at its heart.

My work is absolutely free from commercial and political interference and not influenced one iota by billionaire media barons.  I have worked hard to give a voice to those less heard, I have explored where others turn away, and always rigorously challenge those in power, holding them to account. 

I hope you will consider supporting me today, or whenever you can. As independent writers, we will all need your support to keep delivering quality research and journalism that’s open and independent.

Every reader’s contribution, however big or small, is so valuable and helps keep me going.  Thanks.

DonatenowButton

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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More people, like you, are reading and supporting independent, investigative and in particular, public interest journalism, than ever before.

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I have engaged with the most critical issues of our time – the often devastating impact of almost a decade of Conservative policies, widespread inequality to the influence of big tech on our lives. At a time when factual information is a necessity, I believe that each of us, around the world, deserves access to accurate reporting with integrity and the norms of democracy at its heart. 

My editorial independence means I set my own agenda and present my own research and analyisis.  My work is absolutely free from commercial and political interference and not influenced one iota by billionaire media barons.  I have worked hard to give a voice to those less heard, I have explored where others turn away, and always rigorously challenge those in power, holding them to account.

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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.


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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.

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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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