Tag: David Cameron

London solicitor linked to Panama Papers fined £45,000 with further £40,000 costs

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A law firm partner is facing an £85,000 bill for failing to excercise adequate due diligence to check the background of his clients, following a disciplinary hearing centering around the huge data leak from former Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca.

London solicitor, Khalid Mohammed Sharif, partner at the Westminster private client company Child & Child, has been fined £45,000 by the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT). Costs of £40,000 were also imposed.

According to the SDT findings, Sharif’s failings led to a “large amount of money being laundered” and his “culpability was high”. However, the tribunal noted that he co-operated with the investigation and had voluntarily reported himself to the Solicitors Regulation Authority.

The tribunal representative also said that Sharif “failed to take any or any adequate steps to ascertain from publicly available information” and that the fine was an “appropriate and proportionate sanction in all the circumstances.”

Under the current rules and legislation concerning money laundering, (regulation 14 of The Money Laundering Regulations 2007) any person connected with senior political officials should be considered as a politically exposed person (PEP) and simple due diligence should have ensured that this protocol was followed.

Sharif claimed that the two women had no political connections. But, according to the published outcome, Sharif admitted that he failed to take adequate steps to check this, when even an internet search may have identified them as PEPs.

The solicitor, admitted to the roll of solictors in 2005, also admitted to not undertaking enhanced customer due diligence even though he had not met the clients. Sharif was the company’s money laundering reporting officer (MLRO).

The judgement said: “The respondent was wholly culpable for his misconduct. Further, he was the MLRO at the firm. This should have heightened his sense of his obligations, and his awareness of the risks.”

Sharif’s clients were not identified in the ruling but have been reported to be two daughters of the president of Azerbaijan. The women Leyla and Arzu Aliyeva – the daughters of President Ilham Aliyev – set up a secret offshore company to help manage their multimillion-pound property portfolio in Britain. The firm, Exaltation Limited, was based in the tax haven of the British Virgin Islands. The properties were worth nearly £60m.  

Although contracts were exchanged in 2015, the deal failed. Again, when completing the source of funds for the reported £14 million worth of deposits, the PEP status was still not recognised by the lawyer.

It has been alleged that the clients were also the owners of a British Virgin Islands company that was set up by Mossack Fonseca, the law firm from which sensitive information was stolen during the Panama Paper data breach. The list of failures to ascertain the PEP credentials of the clients has culminated in the conclusive verdict from the Tribunal.

However, while the Tribunal viewed the potential of money laundering through property to be extremely serious, the SDT also conceded that the misconduct “was not so serious that the protection of the public and the protection of the reputation of the profession required him to be removed from practice.”

Details of the offshore company emerged in April 2016 following the Panama Papers leak. Child & Child had instructed Mossack Fonseca to incorporate the company.

The Panama Papers are an unprecedented leak of 11.5m files from the database of the world’s fourth biggest offshore law firm and corporate service provider (Mossack Fonseca.) The records were obtained from an anonymous source by the German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung, which shared them with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ). The ICIJ then shared them with a large network of international partners, including the Guardian and the BBC.

Reporters found that some of the Mossack Fonseca shell corporations were used for illegal purposes, including fraud, money laundering, tax evasion, and evading international sanctions.

The documents reveal the myriad ways in which the wealthy – including some public officials – can exploit secretive offshore tax regimes. Twelve national leaders are among 143 politicians exposed, as well as their families and close associates from around the world known to have been using offshore tax havens.  The leaked files identified 61 family members and associates of prime ministers, presidents and kings, and members of their families, including Margaret Thatcher’s son, Mark Thatcher.

In a 2013 letter, unearthed by the Financial Times to the then president of the European Council, Herman Van Rompuy, from the then Prime Minister of the UK David Cameron said that offshore trusts should not automatically be subject to the same transparency requirements as shell companies. Cameron’s personal involvement in the EU-wide debate emerged as he continued to face questions about his family’s connections to Blairmore Holdings Inc, the offshore trust set up by his late father, the existence of which was revealed in leaked papers from the database of  Mossack Fonseca. 

While no standard official definition exists, the International Monetary Fund describes an offshore financial centre, or tax haven, as a jurisdiction whose banking infrastructure primarily provides services to people or businesses who do not live there, requires little or no disclosure of information when doing business, and offers low taxes.

Tax havens are one of the key engines of the rise in global inequality. Oxfam blamed tax havens in its 2016 annual report on income inequality for much of the widening gap between rich and poor. “Tax havens are at the core of a global system that allows large corporations and wealthy individuals to avoid paying their fair share,” said Raymond C. Offenheiser, president of Oxfam America, “depriving governments, rich and poor, of the resources they need to provide vital public services and tackle rising inequality.”

It’s widely known that the world’s super-wealthy have taken advantage of lax tax rules to siphon off at trillions of pounds, from their home countries’ economies and hoard it abroad – and the offshore drain involves a sum larger than the entire American economy. The sheer scale of hidden assets held by the mega-rich also strongly suggests that standard measures of inequality, which tend to rely on surveys of household income or wealth in individual countries, radically underestimate the true level of inequality – the gap between rich and poor.

It also strongly suggests that the Conservatives are radically overestimating the value of their hero ‘wealth generators’ and their contribution to the UK economy, along with their strange neoliberal theory of ‘trickle down’. Then again, perhaps these are justification narratives to prop up the immoral financial habits of a wealthy and powerful elite.  

Mossack and Fonseca were detained February 8, 2017 on money-laundering chargesIn March 2018, Mossack Fonseca announced that it would cease operations at the end of March due to “irreversible damage” to their image as a direct result of the Panama Papers.

 


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Successful Appeals Against Disability Assessments – It’s As If There’s Something Wrong With The System

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Source: the Independent, written by James Moor.

It’s rapidly becoming clear that Prime Minister Theresa May’s bold pledge to create a Britain that works for everyone should have an asterisk attached to facilitate the addition of “except for those pesky people with disabilities, can’t we pack them off somewhere else?”

In recent days the Government’s plan to cut people with serious mental health conditions out of eligibility for personal independent payments has justifiably come under sustained fire. 

However, the attitude problem displayed by both May’s administration, and that of her predecessor David Cameron, goes beyond that, as a delve into the latest statistics demonstrates.

What they show is that the number of appeals against decisions made by the DWP on the basis of assessments made by the private, profit driven contractors working on its behalf is increasing at a similar speed to that at which Lewis Hamilton exits Silverstone corners. 

They show that there were 60,600 Social Security & Child Support appeals between October and December 2016, an increase of 47 per cent. Even Lewis might think twice about acceleration like that. 

Some 85 per cent of those appeals were accounted for by the Personal Independence Payment (PIP) and the Employment & Support Allowance (ESA).

The rate at which the decisions made by the DWP on the basis of information supplied by the Government’s contractors – Capita and Atos – are overturned is also increasing. 

People started taking notice when it was running at 50 per cent. Now close to two thirds of appeals in the case of the PIP (65 per cent) are successful. The figure is higher still when it comes to ESA (68 per cent). 

I’m given to understand that the people who sit on tribunals have been asked to keep June clear, in an attempt to reduce a growing backlog. So forget about an early summer holiday. 

Needless to say, these people have to be paid, which puts extra cost into the system at a time when the Government says it’s trying to save money. 

Simply applying for either benefit causes a great deal of stress to people with disabilities. Having to go to appeal only exacerbates that. Applicants find themselves in the middle of a process that is humiliating and dehumanising.

That process also seems to throw up scandals with alarming regularity. Channel Four, for example, infamously filmed a Capita assessor saying a claimant had a “disability known as being fat”. Another claimed to have filled out forms before even seeing clients amid pressure to get as many done as quickly as possible. 

Other scandals have involved people with weeks or months to live being told they’re fit for work in the case of ESA, which is paid to people whose fitness to do so is impacted by medical conditions and disabilities. 

Set against that backdrop, is it any wonder that there has been so much criticism of the process, and so many successful appeals? 

If the assessment process worked effectively, and as it should, the number should be limited, and you wouldn’t expect such a large majority to be successful.

Ken Butler, welfare rights advisor at Disability Rights UK, says he is “very worried for all those disabled people who get turned down for benefits and don’t have the time or energy to challenge poor decisions made by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP)”. 

He adds: “We’d advise all claimants to get benefits advice and, if they are turned down, to use the independent appeals process.”

Butler says that the high success rate of appeals clearly demonstrates that there is something wrong with the system. 

Unless, of course, the system, also savagely criticised by the United Nations, was deliberately set up to be this way. 

Before you suggest that is me indulging in a conspiracy theory, take a moment to think about this. If you make something difficult, stressful and painful, if you litter it with traps, and take the view that everyone getting involved in it is a dirty scrounger until proven otherwise, a lot of people will get put off and won’t apply. Still more won’t appeal when turned down, saving the Government money it can use for things like millionaires tax cuts. 

Dealing with a disability presents enough of a challenge as it is, without having to get to grips with a state that operates in a manner that would have impressed some of George Orwell’s darker characters. Would anyone be terribly surprised to find O’Brien working as a civil servant in the DWP?

The cynicism on display is breathtaking, if my assessment is correct. Alternatively, the situation I’ve discussed could simply have been created by a toxic mix of bureaucratic callousness and incompetence. 

The net effect is the same regardless, which is why there will be peals of bitter laughter emanating from Britain’s disabled community every time those words of Theresa May’s are trotted out. 

You’d be able to hear them if it weren’t for the fact that so many people with disabilities are now trapped in their own homes.  

Government rebuked again for misusing statisics – this time on homelessness

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Liberal Democrat peer, Baroness Rosalind Grender, has submitted a formal complaint to the UK Statistics Authority about the government’s misuse of homelessness statistics in press notices and parliamentary debates.

In a letter responding to her concerns, Ed Humpherson, the Authority’s director general, said he agreed with her complaint. He described the Department’s use of the figures as “disappointing” and that it was “potentially misleading” to the public.

It’s not the first time the government has been reprimanded officially, for trying to mislead the public. Who could forget David Cameron being rebuked by the statistics watchdog over national debt claims – The PM said the government was “paying down Britain’s debts” in a political broadcast, even though the debt was rising (and continues to increase).

Then there was Iain Duncan Smith’s unforgettable misuse of benefit statistics – he was rebuked by Office for National Statistics (ONS) for his claim that 8,000 people moved into work as a result of the benefit cap which was found to be “unsupported by the official statistics.” 

Later in that same month, Duncan Smith also drew criticism and a reprimand for claiming around 1 million people have been “stuck on benefits” for at least three of the last four years “despite being judged capable of preparing or looking for work”. However, the figures cited also included single mothers, people who were seriously ill, and people awaiting assessment.

Anyone would think that the Conservatives are trying to hide the damaging consequences of their draconian policies. (See: The DWP mortality statistics: facts, values and Conservative concept control.) 

The UK Statistics Authority disputed figures announced by the Department for Communities and Local Government, which claimed last year that homelessness had been more than halved since 2003.

However, the government’s claim was based on a very narrow statutory definition of homelessness which included only those who authorities are obliged to help. The number did not take into account homeless people who were given assistance under other schemes.The overall number of people facing homelessness has not dropped. The government also did not explicitly include the statutory homelessness definition in parliamentary debates in the House of commons and Lords, or in press releases.

A spokesperson for the Department for Communities and Local Government said: “We’re aware of the issue raised and have taken steps to make sure this does not arise in future.”

Baroness Grender welcomed the finding saying that the Government “has been caught out playing a numbers game, rather than accepting there is a problem, and getting on with the important work of finding solutions”.  

“It is time to stop spinning the statistics and start solving the problem,” she said.

 

Looks like my list from 2014  – A list of official rebukes for Tory lies – needs updating.

 

Related

Government backs new law to prevent people made homeless through government laws from becoming homeless

Labour Party To Refer Groundless Iain Duncan Smith Claim To Statistics Watchdog Again

 


 

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Government welfare policies are ‘historically obsolete’ say researchers

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Historical research shows that the National Health Service (NHS) and welfare state are fundamental to a healthy, productive economy.

The government has been accused of following a “historically obsolete” welfare strategy by a team of Cambridge University researchers.  

Research by Simon Szreter, Ann Louise Kinmonth, Natasha M Kriznik, and Michael P Kelly also supports the work of campaigners, charities and other academics raising their concerns about the harmful social and economic impacts of the Conservatives’ austerity measures. These include the draconian welfare “reforms” and the consequences of the increasing privatisation of and political under-investment in the NHS from 2012 onwards. 

In an article published on Friday in The Lancet, titled  Health and welfare as a burden on the state? The dangers of forgetting history, the group of academics criticised Conservative austerity policies, which were instituted by David Cameron and George Osborne’s and continued by Theresa May and her chancellor Philip Hammond. The researchers point out that investment in welfare has always been crucial for Britain’s economic success.

The Conservatives have frequently claimed that welfare provision isn’t “sustainable”. Welfare support has been reduced so much that many people have been unable to meet even their most basic needs. Food and fuel poverty have significantly increased over the past four years, for example. We have witnessed the return of absolute poverty in the UK, something we haven’t seen since before the inception of the welfare state, until now. Social security is also harshly conditional, with punishment regimes and psycho-compulsion embedded in the diminishing “support” being offered. The emphasis has shifted from “support” to managing and enforcing poor citizen’s compliance and conformity.

Crucially, the researchers, who are based at St John’s College are opposing the idea that welfare and health spending is a “burden” on the country’s economy, arguing instead that economic prosperity is intrinsically tied to an adequate level of welfare provision.

Simon Szreter is a Professor of History and Public Policy at Cambridge’s Faculty of History. He writes: “The interests of the poor and the wealthy are not mutually opposed in a zero-sum game. Investment in policies that develop human and social capital will underpin economic opportunities and security for the whole population.”

The report also states: “The narrow view that spending on the National Health Service and social care is largely a burden on the economy is blind to the large national return to prosperity that comes from all citizens benefiting from a true sense of social security.”

The authors continue: “There are signs that Theresa May subscribes to the same historically obsolete view.

Despite her inaugural statement as Prime Minister, her Chancellor’s autumn statement signals continuing austerity with further cuts inflicted on the poor and their children, the vulnerable, and infirm older people.””

To support their position, the researchers point to the period of economic growth the UK experienced following the post-war settlement – including the development of the welfare state and the NHS, something which they argue also brought about greater equality, with the rich-poor divide falling to an all-time low during the 1970s.

Drawing on recent historical research, they also trace the origins of the British welfare state to reforms to the Poor Laws introduced under Elizabeth I in 1598 and 1601, and claim that investment in supporting the poorest citizens has always gone hand in hand with economic growth.

The report establishes an interesting and useful historical context, following the effect of welfare provision on the nation’s economic prosperity prior to the creation of the modern health and welfare apparatus and institutions that we are familiar with today, arguing that the concept of a British welfare state can be traced back to the reign of Elizabeth I. There are also parallels drawn in the report between the perceived problem of the “idle poor” during the Victorian era and the contemporary political narratives that intentionally label benefit claimants as “scroungers” who allegedly benefit unduly at the expense of “hard-working families”.

Many of us have drawn the same parallels over the past four years. In my  some of my own work, three years ago, I also compared the 1834 Poor Law Amendment Act – particularly the principle of less eligibility with the Conservative’s recent punitive and regressive approach to “making work pay”, which is about reducing social security provision, rather than raising national wages. Basically the idea behind both ideas is that any support given to people out of work needs to be punitive, and much less than the poorest wages of those in the lowest paid employment. That tends to drive wages down, as people who are desperate to survive have little bargaining power, and are more likely to be forced to work for much less, because employers can exploit a desperate reserve army of labour.

The Poor Law Amendment Act of 1834 is largely remembered through its connection to the punitive workhouses that were infamously instituted across Victorian Britain.

The researchers argue that, though the 1834 Act was passed out of “concerns” that the welfare system was being abused and was an unduly heavy burden on taxpayers, there isn’t any evidence that it had much an economic benefit. They also point out that Britain’s growth actually fell behind that of rival nations after 1870, only recovering in the 1950s, following the post-war settlement

Simon Szreter said: “We are arguing from history that there needs to be an end to this idea of setting economic growth in opposition to the goal of welfare provision. A healthy society needs both, and the suggestion of history is that they seem to feed each other.”

 

proper Blond

 


 

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Conservative social security policy is not founded on rational analysis and evidence

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Recently I wrote an article about the new benefit cap which parodied Conservative ideology, traditional class prejudices and subsequent justification narratives for their welfare “reforms”, likening the latter to nineteenth century character divination – phrenology in particular. Sometimes, it’s easier to highlight the ridiculous by simply ridiculing it.

A lot of my work is themed around serious and rational critique of Conservative shortcomings when it comes to the whole process of policy-making and research, from the theories” that inform the process, to the ideologically-driven impacts and narrow neoliberal aims and outcomes, which have led to some catastrophic social consequences. This is because austerity has been aimed exclusively at those citizens who had the very least to start off with. Sick and disabled people have been systematically and disproportionately targeted for cuts to their support.

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I’ve written previously about the government’s increasing use of secondary legislation to push through controversial and highly partisan policies without an adequate degree of parliamentary scrutiny and debate. The public are entirely excluded from this process. This is one way that the Conservatives have been getting away with highly prejudiced, ideologically-driven policies that have not been analysed in terms of safeguarding citizens, impact, compatibility with our international human rights obligations and are neither adequately justified nor evidenced. 

The Strathclyde review and Conservative authoritarianism

Secondary legislation is unamendable and is allocated 90 minutes debate in the Commons at best, by the Conservatives. Secondary legislation in the form of Statutory Instruments was only ever intended for non-controversial and small tidying up legislative measures. A Tory aide admitted that the government are trying to get as much unpopular legislation in through the secondary route as possible. But this has been very evident anyway. The government is intent on dismantling any inconvenient piece of the constitution.

In a democracy there is always a responsibility and need to ensure additional checks and balances against incumbent governments and for extending opportunities to review and improve the quality of legislation. There is always a need to broaden the political participation and democratic inclusion of particular groups in society; to explore ways by which under-represented groups may be identified and included in political decision-making processes.

Statutory Instruments are the principal form in which delegated legislation is made, and are intended to be used for simple, non-controversial measures, in contrast to more complex items of primary legislation (known as Bills.) The opposition has frequently complained that the government uses Statutory Instruments to pass complex and controversial legislation which should have been subject to full Parliamentary scrutiny. Universal credit, the legal aid and tax credit cuts are clear examples of the misuse of secondary legislation, each with far-reaching and detrimental socioeconomic consequences for many people.

The steep rise in the use of Statutory Instruments since 2010 is an indication of how the Conservatives are politically managing pre-legislative scrutiny, stifling healthy debate, curtailing opposition, and side-stepping essential democratic transparency and accountability. It’s also an indication that much Conservative legislation is ideologically-driven rather than needs-driven: the use of secondary legislation as a means of avoiding scrutiny demonstrates that the government are aware that much of their planned programme won’t stand up to close Parliamentary examination and rational debate.

Lord Strathclyde was asked in October last year by David Cameron to undertake a “rapid review” that considered how to secure the decisive role of the House of Commons in relation to its primacy on financial matters and secondary legislation. Of course, Strathclyde’s report was published by the Government on the 17 December, 2015, which marked the final sitting of Parliament before Christmas. Nonetheless the media did actually cover the contents of the report and some of the implications of the recommendations made.

Strathclyde concluded in his report that the House of Lords should be permitted to ask the Commons to “think again” when a disagreement on proposed legislation exists, but should not be allowed to veto. MPs would ultimately make a decision on whether a measure is passed into law. The review focuses in particular on the relationship between the Commons and the Lords, in relation to the former’s primacy on financial matters and secondary legislation.

The key problem is that Statutory Instruments (SI) are being over-used and are under-scrutinised in the Commons. SIs have become a major form of law-making activity in the UK. In 2015, the UK Parliament passed 34 Acts, whilst 1,999 Statutory Instruments were made. (In fact, 2015 has been a relatively light year for SIs: in 2013 and 2014, 3,292 and 3,486 SIs were made.)

The government ensure they have a majority on any SI committee and MPs are chosen by Whips. The Hansard Society estimate that SIs currently account for as much as 80 per cent of the Government legislation that impacts citizens. However, they are given substantially less Parliamentary time than Bills, enabling government to push through their ideologically designed legislative programme with very little scrutiny, exacerbating a lack of democratic transparency and accountability of the Executive (the government). 

Further presented justification for grotesquely unfair policies from the Conservatives is based on a claim that “we have a clear mandate to do this.” The concept of a government having a legitimate mandate to govern via the fair winning of a democratic election is a central component of representative democracy. However, new governments who attempt to introduce policies that they did not make explicit and public during an election campaign are said to not have a legitimate mandate to implement such policies. 

In order to keep his promises on further future tax cuts for higher earners, George Osborne made even more cuts to public services, public sector pay and the social security safety net that are so deep they will severely damage both the economy and potentially, the fabric of our society. The Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) have criticised Osborne’s proposed tax credit cuts, because it is “at odds” with wider Conservative stated aims to “support hardworking families”.

Research conducted by the IFS calculated that only around quarter of money take from families through tax credit cuts would be returned by the new National “Living Wage”.Tax credits are payments made by the government to people on lower incomes, most of whom are in work. 

Cameron effectively ruled out cutting the benefit before the election, telling a voter’s Question Time that he “rejected” proposals to cut tax credits and did not want to do so. The cuts are part of £12bn cuts to the social security budget that the government is to make – the details of which the Conservatives refused to announce before the election.

However, in an unprecedented move, the Conservatives have threatened a constitutional “showdown”, and have refused to engage in dialogue with peers that want kill off the proposed Tory cuts. The government warned the House of Lords it would trigger a full-scale constitutional crisis by pressing ahead with their plans. 

The review by Lord Strathclyde, commissioned by a rancorous and retaliatory Cameron followed the delay and subsequently effective defeat of government tax credit legislation in the House of Lords, and it has, of course, recommended curtailing the powers of Upper House. 

Strathclyde proposed that the House of Commons is given the final say over secondary legislation (in particular, Statutory Instruments), which are, as previously stated, frequently being used for political manoeuvring to edit the details of Acts, and ensure rules, regulations and even changes to legal definitions are made by ministerial order, rather than by the rather more open and democratic process of primary legislation: it’s being used as a way of bypassing Parliamentary scrutiny. 

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The view from the Social Security Advisory Committee

More recently, the Chair of the Social Security Advisory Committee (SSAC) has also concluded that “pressure from the Treasury” resulted in welfare changes being pushed through parliament “without meaningful analysis of impact or interactions with other parts of the benefit system.” He also raises the same issues that I previously have regarding the government’s increased use of secondary legislation.

In a very damning report on how the government develops welfare policies, SSAC Chair Paul Gray says top-down pressure from the former chancellor, Osborne, to meet Budget deadlines meant legislation was being rushed without proper analysis or scrutiny.

In a foreword to the report, Gray writes: “On the basis that primary legislation was to be debated in some detail in Parliament, the Government was not required to bring the majority of these provisions to SSAC.

Consequently, the amount of secondary legislation presented to us in the first few months of the reporting year was lighter than usual.

By contrast from September onwards a number of sets of regulations were presented to us for scrutiny – most with their origins in the Chancellor of the Exchequer’s Budget proposals for reducing benefit expenditure.”

He goes on to say: “The Committee has observed that legislation required to deliver policies announced by the Chancellor during his Budget or autumn statements is often developed at pace to meet challenging deadlines set by HM Treasury.

This has regularly resulted in secondary legislation being presented to us without meaningful analysis of impact or interactions with other parts of the benefit system.

The absence of evidence underpinning some of the Government’s policy choices has been a significant concern to us over the past year, and we hope that the Government will adjust this aspect of its approach to policy-making in the coming year.”

He added: “The committee has noted in the past the absence of analytical material on the cumulative impact of welfare reforms.”

Gray also draws attention in particular to tax credit changes proposed in the summer budget highlighting “the lack of available evidence to support the policy changes being presented to us”.

Gray concludes: “There can be no question that this committee is hampered in its role of scrutinising proposed changes in cases where the supporting explanatory material and evidence is scant.”

It’s a point I have made myself many many times. However, unlike the government, I do tend to include evidence and analysis in my ongoing critique of Conservative policies.

The ideological drive to dismantle the welfare state

Despite the relentless Conservative attacks on social security since 2010, (which is funded by the citizens that it supports when they experience hardships), Theresa May will not rule out delivering yet more brutal welfare cuts if the economy suffers a downturn because of Britain exiting the EU. The prime minister refused to offer any guarantees that she will spare struggling families if Whitehall savings are needed in the coming months. 

May has made it clear there will be no end to Tory austerity, she said: “What I’m clear about is we’re going to continue as we have done in Government over the last six years – ensuring that we’re a country that can live within our means.”

I’m just wondering how awarding millionaires £107,000 each per year in the form of a “tax break” in 2012 at the same time as introducing the radical cuts to social security can possibly be construed as an act that ensures “a country that can live within our means.” It seems to me that the Conservatives want to completely dismantle our welfare state, along with all the other gains of our social settlement (social housing, the NHS, legal aid and public services) but fear public opposition.

So rather than be honest about their intention, the Conservatives have chosen to stigmatise people needing welfare support to disperse public sympathy, to create scapegoats and generate moral panic. The public gradually come to accept the anti-welfare narrative as “fact”, despite the lack of evidence and analysis. Moral and rational boundaries will be pushed, prejudice will advance stage by stage. The incremental cuts will continue until there is nothing left to cut.

Earlier this year, the chancellor was forced to try and defend his decision to use the cuts in disability benefits to fund tax breaks for the wealthy. Controversially, the cuts benefitted the top 7% of earners. The Chancellor raised the threshold at which people start paying 40p tax, in a move that saw many wealthier people pulled out of the higher rate of income tax. 

Osborne callously claimed that the Conservative government was “increasing spending on disabled people”, he said: “Controlling welfare bills is part of what you need to do if you’re a secure country confronting the problems in the world.” It was an utterly ludicrous comment.

The cuts to ESA and PIP show an intended substantial reduction on government spending to essential support for disabled people.

In a wealth transfer from the poorest to the very rich, we have witnessed the profits of public services being privatised, but the losses have been socialised – entailing a process of economic enclosure for the wealthiest. The burden of losses have been placed on the poorest social groups and some of our most vulnerable citizens – largely those people who are ill, disabled and elderly. The Conservative’s justification narratives regarding their draconian policies, targeting the poorest social groups, have led to media scapegoating, social outgrouping, persistent political denial of the aims and consequences of policies and reflect a wider process of political disenfranchisement of the poorest citizens, especially sick and disabled people.

That the cuts are ideologically driven, and have nothing whatsoever to do with economic necessity, was demonstrated only too well by the National Audit Office (NAO) report earlier this year. The NAO scrutinises public spending for Parliament and is independent of government. The report indicates how public services are being appropriated for purely private benefit.

The audit report in January concluded that the Department for Work and Pension’s spending on contracts for disability benefit assessments is expected to double in 2016/17 compared with 2014/15. The government’s flagship welfare-cut scheme will be actually spending more money on the assessments conducted by private companies than it is saving in reductions to the benefits bill.

From the report:

£1.6 billion
Estimated cost of contracted-out health and disability assessments over three years, 2015 to 2018

£0.4 billion
Latest expected reduction in annual disability benefit spending.

This summary reflects staggering economic incompetence, a flagrant, politically motivated waste of tax payer’s money and even worse, the higher spending has not created a competent or ethical assessment framework, nor is it improving the lives of sick and disabled people. Some people are dying after being wrongly assessed as “fit for work”and having their lifeline benefits brutally withdrawn. Private companies like Maximus are paid millions from our welfare budget, yet they are certainly not “helping the government” to serve even the most basic needs of sick and disabled people.

However, private companies serve the private needs of a “small state” doctrinaire neoliberal government, and making lots of private profit whilst it does so. The Conservatives are systematically dismantling the UK’s social security system, not because there is an empirically justifiable reason or economic need to do so, but because the government has purely ideological, anticollectivist, antidemocratic, profoundly uncivilising prescriptions and longstanding class-based prejudices.

When the Conservatives say they are going to “tackle poverty”, what they mean is that they intend to rigidly police the poor, rather than alleviate poverty. Meanwhile, the new right’s economic enclosure act – austerity – will continue to impoverish many more. The state will respond to each crisis with more authoritarianism and psychopolitical techniques of persuasion, amplified via the media. And the wealthy and powerful will become wealthier and more powerful.

Unless we collectively fight back.

— 

Related

The Conservative approach to social research – that way madness lies

Cases of malnutrition continue to soar in the UK

Two key studies show that punitive benefit sanctions don’t ‘incentivise’ people to work, as claimed by the government

Benefit Sanctions Can’t Possibly ‘Incentivise’ People To Work – And Here’s Why

 


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The new neoliberal witch prickers and Academics Anonymous

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In February 2015, the characteristically intemperate David Cameron said that the Conservatives are waging an all-out war on mediocrity” in schools. In higher education, there is a drive to quantify the humanities and make them achievement-oriented instead of collaborative and intellectual.

This is a government that has already proposed a retrogressive, enforced segregation of pupils based on ability, setting inclusion policy back at least 30 years. This is also an attack on the very principle of inclusion. Conservative policies have always tended to establish and perpetuate social hierarchies, ranking and outgrouping. 

Neoliberalism has turned our society into one that seems to value only reductionist, deterministic, technocratic and instrumental modes of thought and methods that simply entail quantification and reduction of the diversity of human experiences. The humanities, social sciences and arts have been politically sidelined. Funding is being cut in universities. 

This jeopardises public awareness, stifles debate about issues of social justice and other important sociocultural concerns in education. It devalues subjective experiences, meaning, insight, understanding, interpretation, intention and a wide range of other qualities that make up what it is to be human. It’s a profoundly dehumanising economic framework.

In May, the government’s Higher Education White Paper, Success as a Knowledge Economy, set out a rigidly economistic perspective, stating that “progress is found via choice and competition”, indicating the political aim to complete the process of neoliberalising our universities.

Will Davies describes the awful jargon in the document as “empty sloganeering” and “euphemisms for destruction” in his excellent article for The Sociological Review, in July. He also quotes Andrew McGettigan, who says: 

“This is a document that bristles with resentment towards the established university sector. One wants to ask: why do you hate universities so much? What exactly is the problem? It is sad to imagine the task faced by its anonymous Whitehall authors, almost certainly university-educated, perhaps in their late 20s or 30s with memories of university life still relatively clear.

Perhaps they chose a civil service career over more lucrative alternatives because they’d long been interested in politics or were attracted to the quirks and traditions of public office. The authors of this document would know that what they’ve written is bullshit.”

There’s more than a whiff of technocratic idealism peppered throughout the paper, with phrases like: “perfectly calibrated ‘satisfaction’ and fees, where every ‘incentive’ is ‘aligned’.”

As Stefan Collini has observed:

“It is the application of this [neoliberal market] model to universities that produces the curious spectacle of a right-wing government championing students. Traditionally, of course, students have been understood by such governments, at least from the 1960s onwards, as part of the problem. They “sponged off” society when they weren’t “disrupting” it.

But now, students have come to be regarded as a disruptive force in a different sense, the shock-troops of market forces, storming those bastions of pre-commercial values, the universities. If students will set aside vague, old-fashioned notions of getting an education, and focus instead on finding the least expensive course that will get them the highest-paying job, then the government wants them to know that it will go to bat for them.”

You can see clearly that the government regards universities as some sort of neoliberal sorting mechanism. It’s all part of the regressive positivist service: relentless measurement, rating and monitoring.

As Davies points out, “teaching” has been reduced: it’s just one more euphemism, like “provider” or “stakeholder.” He’s right. “Knowledge” is reduced to the status of commodity. Intelligence becomes private equity. Students are reduced to consumers. They are buying a neoliberal outcome: a possibility of more a comfortable place in a social Darwinist food chain. Pedagogy has been replaced by econometrics. In the government white paper, the word “competition” makes 47 appearances, “critical thinking” just the  one (and only as a “soft skill attractive to employers.”) It seems the humanities, arts and social sciences are missing in action.

The White Paper outlines that “we need to confront the possibility of some institutions choosing (or needing) to exit the market. This is a crucial part of a healthy, competitive and well-functioning market.” Every institution will need “a student protection plan in place to prepare for the event of closure. In other words, it’s a Conservative neoliberal utopia of “creative destruction” through competition, nudging the exit of the “underperforming.” In other words, the Conservatives are telling us here that some universities will have to go. 

Anti-intellectualism

Michael Gove’s assertion that “people in this country have had enough of experts” indicates a virulent authoritarian strain of anti-intellectualism, marking the triumph of the irrational over the rational, prejudice over theoretical framework and hypothesis, and techniques of persuasion over empirical evidence. It’s prevalent in political discourse. Reactionary anti-expert sentiments arise most often whenever political dogma is exposed and challenged by experts and research evidence. What we are left with is the tyranny of ideology and the political anecdote. In this context the only objective truths that matters are the (almost supernatural) “market forces,” power and money. 

It’s crucial that there is an organised challenge to the corporate managerialists who have seized universities and subverted their purpose, transforming them into homogenous, subdued, and above all, controversy-free, managed enclosures.

Intellectuals should play a role in informing opinion and shaping debate, but those who have the most to contribute, especially to political debates and to shaping policy, come from those departments that are now on the danger list in many universities. This is partly because they don’t bring in huge amounts of money in research grants.

The government prefers a technocratic approach to public policy, founded on a pseudo-intellectualism that is concerned only with the escalating illogic of neoliberalism and narrow, dehumanising economic outcomes. Social psychology and public policy are replaced with private, cost-effective, experience-shrinking nudge, the diversity of the social sciences and any democratic dialogue with the public are increasingly submerged because of a prejudice for Conservative neo-positivism in social research and a narrow instrumentalist approach to economic outcomes, for example. These simply serve to fuel the circulatory, self-confirming neoliberal idiom of belief from within.

“Fascism combats […] not intelligence, but intellectualism  which is  a sickness of the intellect […] not a consequence of its abuse, because the intellect cannot be used too much. It derives from the false belief that one can segregate oneself from life.” – Giovanni Gentile, addressing a Congress of Fascist Culture, Bologna, 30 March 1925

Authoritarians (including fascists) often use anti-intellectual propaganda and public sentiment to oppress political dissent. It’s used to maintain political stability and a rigid social order. During the 1970s in Cambodia under the rule of Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge, people were killed simply for being academics or even for merely wearing glasses (as it suggested literacy) in the Killing Fields.

In the Spanish Civil War and the following dictatorship, General Francisco Franco’s civilian repression, the White Terror campaign, killed an estimated 200,000 civilians, heavily targeting writers, artists, teachers and professors. In Brazil, the liberational and radical educator, Paulo Freire, was first imprisoned, then exiled for “being ignorant”,  he was an “international subversive” and a “traitor to Christ and the people of Brazil” according to the organisers of the coup d’ Etat.

O
n 16 November, 1989, the Jesuit rector of the Universidad Centroamericana in El Salvador, the Rev. Ignacio Ellacuría, was dragged from his bed in the middle of the night and shot point-blank in his garden by an elite military squad. Five other Jesuit priests and educators, along with their housekeeper and her daughter, were ordered to lie face down on the lawn and were brutally executed.

The Rev. Ignacio Martín-Baró was a liberational social psychologist whose research focused on the psychic conditions of living in a context of structural violence. The Rev. Segundo Montes taught anthropology with a view to the effects of social stratification and the displaced victims of the civil war. The Rev. Amando López Quintana was the chairman of the philosophy department but worked weekends as a parish priest and championed a mass-literacy campaign, like Paulo Freire. This is because literacy was a prerequisite for voting. These were rare heroes, champions of liberation, equality and social justice, who died because their beliefs and practices challenged the established order and power structure.

Those who value education really should read Freire’s Pedagogy Of The Oppressed.

Here in the UK, we are witnessing a different, much less directly brutal kind of political silencing. It’s more of a psychic war. There is a diminishment of critical thought and counter-narrative, involving the undermining of intellectual standards within learning and public discourse which tends to trivialise meaningful information, culture and academic standards. Such a “dumbing down” disguises the intellectual complexity of issues, controversies, perspectives in a debate and arguments presented, reducing controversy to oversimplistic soundbites, at the expense of factual accuracy, meaningful depth and rationality.

It’s difficult to see how the government can make any claim to “extending choices” for students in such a repressive and ever-shrinking context.

There is diminishing political support for the arts, cultural studies, literature, social sciences, politics, philosophy and history in a neoliberal context. Yet many of these subjects incubate fertile and radical critique and conceptually frame crucial public debates. Radical voices are being silenced, alternative narratives are being erased, intellectuals are being ostracised. In a functioning democracy, scrutiny, critique and debate regarding the state is essential. Without these, we become at best a managed democracy; its mechanisms and processes a mere facade.

Being Conservative with the truth

“Anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that ‘my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge'”.  Issac Asimov 

 Anti-intellectualism has always performed a strategic Conservative ideological function – which is to shield the status quo from systematic criticism. 

Edmund Burke, the philosophical founder of modern Conservatism, favoured an anti-intellectualism which succeeded as a strategy of deterrence against radicalism; it became  the basis of a hegemonic strategy for the British elite establishment to strengthen and maintain their position. It’s been on the Conservative ideological cheat sheet ever since.

Burke’s ideology of anti-theory and “common sense” has been enormously successful. It’s become somewhat ingrained in our national character, yet his plea and his deep suspicion of theory and the abstract was nothing more than part of his philosophical defence of the ruling order. If anything, the last five years ought to have taught those of us with a commitment to progressive politics that we should steer well clear of sloganised rhetoric and the discourse of “common sense,” with its empty but glittering generalities. 

Of course Burke was a leading skeptic with respect to democracy. Although he admitted that theoretically, in “some cases” it might be desirable, he insisted a democratic government in Britain in his day would not only be inept, but also (strangely) oppressive. He opposed democracy for a couple of basic reasons. Firstly, he believed that government required a degree of intelligence, skill and knowledge of the sort that occurred rarely among the public. So, he was certainly an elitist on more than one level.

Secondly, he thought that if they had the vote, common people had “dangerous and angry passions” that could be aroused easily by demagoguery; he feared that the authoritarian impulses that could be harnessed by these passions would undermine the cherished traditions of Conservatism and established religion, leading to revolution and confiscation of property. Historically, the Conservatives have managed to make political dissent seem alien to the national psyche. The steep power and privilege structure in the UK is almost invisible to us, and difficult to question, precisely because it has become so normalised. Similarly, more recently, neoliberalism has become a doxa; it’s presented as a fait accompli – as common sense; the only possible way of political, social and economic organisation.

Justine Greening meet Paulo Friere. You know you really should.

Freire recognised that emphasis on individual characteristics are a result of social relations, and to view such individualistically de-emphasises the role of social structure and is responsible for the incorrect attribution of sociopolitical problems to the individual. Liberation education and psychology address this by re-orienting the focus from an individualistic to a social one. Using this framework, the behaviour of oppressed people is conceptualised not through intra-psychic processes, but as a result of an alienating environment.

Freire advocated authentic dialogue-based learning, where the role of the student shifts from object to active, critical subject. Freire heavily endorsed students’ ability to think critically about their education situation, this way of thinking allows them to recognise connections between their individual problems and experiences and the social contexts in which they are embedded.

Realising one’s consciousness is the first step of praxis, which is defined as the power and know-how to take action against oppression, whilst stressing the importance of liberating education. Praxis involves engaging in a cycle of theory, application, evaluation, reflection, and then referring back to theory. Social transformation is possible through praxis at the collective level.

The key concept of liberation education and psychology is concientización: critical consciousness – a recognition of the intrinsic connectedness of the person’s experience and the sociopolitical structure. Freire believed education to be a political act that could not be divorced from pedagogy. Freire defined this as a main tenet of his critical “Pedagogy of the Oppressed.” Teachers and students must become aware of the politics that surround education. The way students are taught and what they are taught serves a political agenda. Teachers themselves have political notions that they bring into the classroom.

Freire attacked what he called the “banking” concept of education, in which the student was viewed as a passive participant – empty accounts to be “filled” by the teacher. He notes that “it transforms students into receiving objects. It attempts to control thinking and action, leads men and women to adjust to the world, and inhibits their creative power.” 

In 1999, PAULO, a National Training Organisation named in honour of Freire, was established in the United Kingdom. This agency was approved by the New Labour Government to represent some 300,000 community-based education practitioners working across the UK (myself included). It was a platform also, perhaps surprisingly, for Blair’s re-democratising democracy programme, based on a dialogic democracy, and a recognition of the centrality of life politics.

PAULO was given formal responsibility for setting the occupational training standards for people working in this field, and was based on a revolutionary anarchist/Marxist model of critical education. Even outside of that political context, Freire’s collective works, and especially Pedagogy of the Oppressedhas huge value and merit as a direction for an approach to teaching which is based on self awareness, community awareness, political awareness, responsibility, critical thinking, creativity, dialogue and social solidarity, and not on manipulation and oppression.

The Tories, however, are unrelentingly authoritarian, and this is reflected in their notions of “education”, which are: “Raising standards (through “setting” and taking those segregated off record: the “disappeared”)… and restoring discipline – so our children can compete with the world’s best and enjoy a better future.”

So nothing at all there about developing human potential, personal development, social development or even building the fundamental capacity for critical thinking.

A person who has not had opportunities to think critically about social and political reality, but simply accepts it is thereby participating in the world in a way that has been organised and designed for him/her by others.

If being human means exercising choice and freedom, then such uncritical, passive acceptance means being less than human.

But Tories prefer us that way. They don’t like to extend equal opportunities.

Meet the new professional witch prickers

The following letter was originally published in the Guardian on 8 August, 2014. It describes the high and dry wind that blew in metricised competition, a mythology of pure instrumentalism, to be administered by a billowing, neologistic managerial bureaucracy

Dear leaders,

I address you as “leaders” because, for some reason (perhaps manager comes too close to rhyming with janitor for your liking), you’ve increasingly taken to styling yourselves in this way. How grand. How imposing. How spurious.

Leaders are followed. The capacity and willingness to drive people along with the use of the pitchfork of threatened redundancy or the flaming torch of disciplinary action does not make a leader and the mere fact that you so brazenly call yourselves leaders is evidence of the malaise that prompts me to write.

For the record, if you’re not Alexander, Napoleon, Monty or the modern equivalent you’re not really a leader. Be neither managers nor leaders. Be provosts, masters, principals, vice-chancellors, rectors, deans, registrars, bursars. How quaint. How medieval. How refreshing.

Some problems

I know you think I ought to feel insignificant, as a mere teaching and research drone. My saying any of this is, of course, in forlorn hope. You listen to us all, and ignore us all: very egalitarian; very democratic.

Dictators (elected or not) always ignore everyone who’s not a member of the ruling clique. You’re not collegial just because you go around addressing people as colleagues all the time. Actually, there’s an inverse relationship. The more you say it, the more you show that you don’t really believe it. You simply want secure fiefdoms for the members of your cliques at the expense of making others into vassals with even fewer rights than hitherto.

Everything is directed towards that end. You break your own rules and make it up as you go along to suit yourselves. There is no genuine collegiality, no trust, no sense of equality in a republic of ideas.

So, whether you’re elected leaders (as in older universities such as mine) or appointed, your currency is the same: ill-conceived change to entrench the interests of your cliques and for the sake of being seen to do something. It’s a simple truth, but lost on people who “lead”, that all progress requires change but not all change constitutes progress. There is such a thing as change for the worse and that’s what you’re presiding over. Take three examples:

  • Instead of standing up for the idea of the university against the league tablers you prefer riding the tail of that tiger – taking the credit when an institution’s on the up and making sure we catch the blame when it’s falling.
  • Seemingly, there’s never enough money… except when there’s more for new administrative staff: courtiers for the ruling clique.
  • And, of course, there’s money to pay for rebranding. (But don’t you realise that the only thing any branding consultant ever sells is him- or herself? They persuade the shallow-minded to think in their terms and sell the idea that they can unerringly influence others as well.)

Some solutions

1) Defend what we do against governments and other external interests with vigour and courage.

2) Don’t change for the sake of being seen to do something and don’t confuse change with progress.

3) Accept that the university is a community made up of all those who serve it, not your plaything; nobody can be sacrificed in your name.

4) Stay involved, but don’t interfere. (Although there’s more science in scientology than management science.)

5) Trust academics to do good work. (Almost all of them do.)

6) Favour principles, not rules, but follow the rules you have and stop letting power win over truth and reason.

7) Remember that culture trumps system.

8) Stop thinking and speaking in the terms given by the deadly triumvirate: pseudo-intellectuals, neo-liberals and technofuturists.

9) Never again use the word strategy: with whom are you at war?

10) Stop calling people colleagues until you’ve learned to mean it.

Yours,

Homo Academicus

PS. I’m sorry if I’ve written this in something too much like English for your liking, not enough “going forwards”, “high level vision statements” and so forth, but I still use words to reveal, not to obscure.

PPS. Are you remotely troubled that so many academics are resorting to anonymous writing/blogging to say these things?

Ren? Magritte, Golconde, 1953, Restored by Shimon D. Yanowitz, 2009  øðä îàâøéè, âåì÷åðã, 1953, øñèåøöéä ò"é ùîòåï éðåáéõ, 2009

Golconda – René Magritte

This anonymous academic is a professor in the arts and has taught in universities and colleges in Scotland, England and Ireland.

If you’d like to contribute an anonymous piece about the trials and tribulations of university life, contact claire.shaw@theguardian.com.

 —

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UN to question the Conservatives about the two-child restriction on tax credits

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The government’s decision to limit child tax credits to two children only per family, unless a further child is the result of rape, has been referred to a United Nations human rights panel. 

The government has made an exception to the tax credit limit for children conceived through rape – though what policies will be put in place to process this exemption have yet to be specified.

A formal complaint by the Scottish National Party MP Alison Thewliss to the UN will be examined by its official committee on the rights of the child, before hearings on the impact of the Conservative’s welfare “reforms” next week. A UK government delegation will have to explain how the “reforms” conform to the UN obligations on child poverty. 

The UN has asked the UK government to provide evidence on whether ministers had carried out an impact assessment into how the welfare cuts including the implementation of the benefits cap “and other benefits cuts” would affect children.

In a letter to Alison Thewliss, the UN said it had also asked for information on “the measures being taken to mitigate negative impact of this reform on the enjoyment of the rights of children, particularly those in vulnerable situations”.

The UN committee is expected to deliver its final recommendations to the UK government in early June.

Alison Thewliss.
                                                                   Alison Thewliss.

Thewliss, who held a meeting with the welfare reform minister Lord Freud earlier this week, described the rape clause as “medieval”. She said it “stigmatises mother and child, and risks discriminating against those who may for religious or traditional reasons have larger families.”

Eugenics by stealth

Last year I wrote about the government plans to restrict child tax credit payments to two children in families, with the stated intention of directing behavioural change, so that poor families wouldn’t have more children that they “can afford.” This assumes, of course that family situations remain static, and that people don’t experience downward mobility because of job market insecurity, accident or ill health. The Conservatives had announced plans to cut welfare payments for larger families at that time. Whilst this might not go quite as far as imposing limits on the birth of children for poor people, it does effectively amount to a two-child policy.

A two-child policy is defined as a government-imposed limit of two children allowed per family or the payment of government subsidies only to the first two children. 

The restriction in support for children of larger families significantly impacts on the autonomy of families, and their freedom to make decisions about their family life. Benefit rules purposefully aimed at reducing family size rarely come without repercussions.

It’s worth remembering that David Cameron ruled out cuts to tax credits before the election when asked during interviews. Tax credit rates weren’t actually cut in the recent Budget – although they were frozen and so will likely lose some of their value over the next four years because of inflation.

Some elements were scrapped, and of course some entitlements were restricted. But either way a pre-election promise not to cut child tax credits sits very uneasily with what was announced in the budget.

Iain Duncan Smith said last year that limiting child benefit to the first two children in a family is “well worth considering” and “could save a significant amount of money.” The idea was being examined by the Conservatives, despite previously being vetoed by Downing Street because of fears that it could alienate parents. Asked about the idea on the BBC’s Sunday Politics programme, Duncan Smith said:

“I think it’s well worth looking at,” he said. “It’s something if we decide to do it we’ll announce out. But it does save significant money and also it helps behavioural change.”

Firstly, this is a clear indication of the Tories’ underpinning eugenicist designs – exercising control over the reproduction of the poor, albeit by stealth. It also reflects the underpinning belief that poverty somehow arises because of faulty individual choices, rather than faulty political decision-making and ideologically driven socioeconomic policies.

Such policies are not only very regressive, they are offensive, undermining human dignity by treating children as a commodity – something that people can be incentivised to do without.

Moreover, a policy aimed at restricting support available for families where parents are either unemployed or in low paid work is effectively a class-contingent policy.

The tax child credit policy of restricting support to two children seems to be premised on the assumption that it’s the same “faulty” families claiming benefits year in and year out. However, extensive research indicates that people move in and out of poverty – indicating that the causes of poverty are structural rather than arising because of individual psychological or cognitive deficits.

The Joseph Rowntree Foundation published a study that debunked  the notion of a “culture of worklessness” in 2012.  I’ve argued with others more recently that there are methodological weaknesses underlying the Conservative’s regressive positivist/behaviourist theories, especially a failure to scientifically test the permanence or otherwise of an underclass status, and a failure to distinguish between the impact of “personal inadequacy” and socioeconomic misfortune.

Limiting financial support to two children may also have consequences regarding the number of abortions. Abortion should never be an outcome of reductive state policy. By limiting choices available to people already in situations of limited choice – either an increase of poverty for existing children or an abortion, then women may feel they have no choice but to opt for the latter. That is not a free choice, because the state is inflicting a punishment by withdrawing support for those choosing to have more than two children, which will have negative repercussions for all family members.

Many households now consist of step-parents, forming reconstituted or blended families. The welfare system recognises this as assessment of household income rather than people’s marital status is used to inform benefit decisions. The imposition of a two-child policy has implications for the future of such types of reconstituted family arrangements.

If one or both adults have two children already, how can it be decided which two children would be eligible for child tax credits?  It’s unfair and cruel to punish families and children by withholding support just because those children have been born or because of when they were born. Or because of the circumstances of their birth.

And how will residency be decided in the event of parental separation or divorce – by financial considerations rather than the best interests of the child? That flies in the face of our legal framework which is founded on the principle of paramountcy of the needs of the child. I have a background in social work, and I know from experience that it’s often the case that children are not better off residing with the wealthier parent, nor do they always wish to.

Restriction on welfare support for children will directly or indirectly restrict women’s autonomy over their reproduction. It allows the wealthiest minority to continue having babies as they wish, whilst aiming to curtail the poor by disincentivisingbreeding” of the “underclass.” It also imposes a particular model of family life on the rest of the population. Ultimately, this will distort the structure and composition of the population, and it openly discriminates against the children of large families.

Article 25 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, of which the UK is a signatory, reads:

  1. Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.
  2.  Motherhood and childhood are entitled to special care and assistance. All children, whether born in or out of wedlock, shall enjoy the same social protection.

The United Nation’s Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) applies to all children and young people aged 17 and under. The convention is separated into 54 articles: most give children social, economic, cultural or civil and political rights, while others set out how governments must publicise or implement the convention.

The UK ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) on 16 December 1991. That means the State Party (England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland) now has to make sure that every child benefits from all of the rights in the treaty. The treaty means that every child in the UK has been entitled to over 40 specific rights. These include:

Article 6

1. States Parties recognize that every child has the inherent right to life.

2. States Parties shall ensure to the maximum extent possible the survival and development of the child.

Article 26

1. States Parties shall recognize for every child the right to benefit from social security, including social insurance, and shall take the necessary measures to achieve the full realization of this right in accordance with their national law.

There are other relevant Convention Articles here, which the Conservative’s two-child policy also potentially compromises or violates.

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