Tag: #OBR

Universal Discredit

Philip Alston, UN special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, travelled across the country to examine the impact of austerity. He came to Newcastle, visiting a West End foodbank, among other places. He concluded that Universal Credit and other ‘reforms’ are “entrenching high levels of poverty and inflicting unnecessary misery.” According to his research, 14 million people – a fifth of the population – live in poverty. Four million of these are more than 50% below the poverty line, and 1.5 million are destitute, unable to afford basics essentials. Alston said: “In the fifth richest country in the world, this is not just a disgrace, but a social calamity and an economic disaster, all rolled into one.” 

Universal Credit has been designed to change the relationship between the state and citizens. It is about altering the public’s expectations of the role of government. It is about deepening targeted austerity. It is also about cutting social security and dismantling the welfare state. 

The one-off £10 payment, which was designed to be an extra boost to families over the festive period, has been axed under Universal Credit, which demonstrates very well what kind of “mean spirited” intentions went into the design of system. I rang the Department for Work and Pensions press office to confirm this and it was affirmed that the cut has happened. A spokesperson said: “Universal Credit claimants have never received a one-off December payment, but many disabled people on Universal Credit will be better off on average by £100 month than when they received Employment and Support Allowance (ESA).”

Yesterday, someone I know through social media sent me a copy of a notice they got when they logged onto the Universal Credit system. It said: Image may contain: text

So, if an employer pays his employees early in December due to the Christmas holiday period or pays a Christmas bonus, people may well receive a reduced Universal Credit payment in December or none at all. This is due the fact that the unadaptable system cannot cope with people being paid twice in one assessment period, even though it isn’t an additional payment, it is simply an early payment. 

Judicial reviews

The controversial Universal Credit programme is to undergo another legal challenge at the High Court in London, as evidence mounts further that the new social security system will leave thousands of people already on low incomes significantly worse off. Four women are taking the government to court because of this reason.

This is the second judicial review of Universal Credit. It follows the High Court’s finding in June that the Universal Credit system was unlawfully discriminating against severely disabled people. Those who had qualified for the support component of income-related Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) are also eligible for a disability premium.  However, as a result of the abolition of both the severe disability premium (SDP) and enhanced disability premium (EDP) under Universal Credit rules, according to the disability charity, Scope, the cut to the disability income guarantee will see disabled people lose as much as £395 a month

The high court judge ruled that the Department for Work and Pensions unlawfully discriminated against two severely disabled men who both saw their benefits dramatically reduced when they moved Local Authority – one of them because of the bedroom tax – and were required to claim Universal Credit. The court found that the implementation of Universal Credit and the absence of any ‘top up’ payments for this vulnerable group as compared to others constitutes discrimination contrary to the European Convention on Human Rights.

Since the court case, Esther McVey, then Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, announced that no severely disabled person in receipt of the SDP will be made to move onto Universal Credit until transitional protection is in place. She also committed to compensating those like the two claimants who have lost out on their disability premium because they had to claim Universal Credit.

Yet despite this, Secretary of State for Work and Pensions has sought permission to appeal, maintaining that there was “nothing unlawful” with the way the claimants were treated.

The second judicial review comes amid mounting concern over Universal Credit, which academics have described as a “complicated, dysfunctional and punitive” system pushing people into debt and rent arrears. 

Last week it emerged that more than half of people denied Universal Credit were found to be entitled to it when their cases were investigated, prompting fresh demands for the national rollout of the new system to be halted. It’s something of an irony, given that Universal Credit was introduced in 2013 with the stated intention of bringing “fairness and simplicity” to Britain’s social security system.

Now, four plaintiffs say the flaw, which relates to the way Universal Credit monthly payments are calculated, disproportionately affects working parents with children and leaves claimants with a “dramatically fluctuating income” and unable to budget from month to month.

In one case uncovered by the Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) reported by The Guardian, a family’s monthly payment swung from £1,185 to zero, making budgeting impossible. One of the women has said that as well as being irrational, the payment system is also discriminatory as it disproportionately affects single parents, who are predominantly female. Last month, MP Frank Field said the system was driving some women in his constituency into sex work in a bid to avoid absolute poverty.

A single mother says she was forced to turn down a promotion and use a food bank after issues with the assessment period for the new benefit system made it “impossible to budget”.  

She said: “I invested £40,000 in higher education studies so that I could become an occupational therapist and it’s great that I’ve got my degree but I have had to put my career hopes on hold because of Universal Credit.  

“I had to go to a food bank and I took out an advance that I am still paying back. I took two jobs – as a PA and a waitress – which I could do without the education I invested in but which had paydays which don’t clash with my assessment period. I wanted to become free of welfare through my chosen profession but Universal Credit is holding me back from that.” 

Although she had originally wanted a healthcare job, which was relevant to her degree and would move her nearer earnings that would eventually take her out of the social security system altogether, she found that the NHS and other health organisations mostly paid salaries at the end of the working month so she would face the same assessment period trap. 

She left the council and initially took two part time jobs, and she now has one part time job.

Her solicitor, Carla Clarke of Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG), said: “Universal Credit is promoted as a benefit that ‘incentivises’ work but in practice its rigid assessment period system undercuts that claim. 

“Our clients have been left repeatedly without money for family essentials simply because of the date of their paydays.

“One of them, for example, did her utmost to find a workaround but ultimately had to decline a promotion in a job with good prospects when her then contract came to an end just to escape the trap.

“We say that the DWP’s refusal to alter our clients’ assessment period dates to avoid this problem discriminates against working parents – one of the two groups who are entitled to a work allowance – as well as being irrational and undermining one of the stated purposes of universal credit – to make sure that ‘work always pays’.”

CPAG argues that the DWP refusal to alter Woods’ assessment period dates to avoid the problem discriminated against working parents – one of the two groups who are entitled to a work allowance – as well as being “irrational and undermining.” 

Clarke added “This is a fundamental defect in Universal Credit and an injustice to hard-working parents and their children that must be put right for our clients and everyone else affected”.

Another of the women involved in the court case is paid by her employer on the last working day of each month. However, the Universal Credit assessment periods run from the last day of each month, meaning that if she is paid before the last day of the month she is assessed as having been paid twice that month.

Lawyers from the legal firm supporting  Johnson at LeighDay, say: “This has resulted in her receiving fluctuating Universal Credit payments throughout the year, making it very hard to budget from one month to the next.”

They add: “It has also caused her to be around £500 worse off annually due to the fact that she is entitled to ‘work allowance’ as a parent.

“The work allowance is a disregard of £198 per month of a parent’s monthly earnings so in months where she is treated as having no earned income, she loses the whole benefit of the work allowance. In months where she is treated as having double income, she does not receive any extra work allowance.”

Legal aid for social security appeals is almost entirely gone. People adversely affected by unfair decisions are effectively being denied support in accessing justice. It’s difficult to see this as anything other than a planned and coordinated attack on people’s most basic human and democratic rights. 

Universal Credit increases and extends the risk of domestic abuse

Couples who live together are required to make a single household claim for Universal Credit. Their individual entitlements are calculated—based on household income—and combined into a single payment, paid into one account only. In December 2017, 55,000 couple households, including 40,000 with dependent children, were claiming Universal Credit. Once it is fully rolled out, around 2.9 million couple households will claim it. MPs have warned that Universal Credit increases the risk of allowing domestic abusers to exert financial control over victims. 

A critical report by the Work and Pensions committee in August said the way Universal Credit is paid per household means that perpetrators could too easily take control of the entire budget, leaving vulnerable women and their children dependent on an abusive partner to survive. Frank Field, Labour chair of the committee, said: “This is not the 1950s. Men and women work independently, pay taxes as individuals, and should each have an independent income.

“Not only does Universal Credit’s single household payment bear no relation to the world of work, it is out of step with modern life and turns back the clock on decades of hard-won equality for women.”

He added “The government must acknowledge the increased risk of harm to claimants living with domestic abuse it creates by breaching that basic principle, and take the necessary steps to reduce it.”

Ministers were urged by the committee to consider overhauling the system so payments are automatically split between couples, as victims face “great danger” if they request their own payments under current rules.

The report said: “Universal Credit currently only allows claims to be split between partners in ‘exceptional circumstances’.

“The DWP itself recognises the risk that requesting such an arrangement poses to survivors. The perpetrator will realise the survivor has requested the split when their own payments fall, potentially putting them in great danger.

“In light of this risk, many survivors simply will not request a split.”

The committee also suggested the main carer of children should automatically receive the whole payment, while officials explore ways to develop a split payment scheme. JobCentres must set aside private rooms for vulnerable claimants and appoint a domestic violence specialist to deal with specific claims, the report also said.

Katie Ghose, chief executive of Women’s Aid, said: “We have long been warning that Universal Credit risks making the domestic abuse worse for survivors and putting an additional barrier in the way of them escaping the abuse.

“That’s why we welcome the committee’s report and urge the government to take action to make Universal Credit safe for survivors.

“We know from our work with survivors that abusers will exploit single household payments, yet applying for a split payment can also be dangerous. If the abuser finds out that a survivor has made an application, she may be at further risk.”

Domestic abuse is hugely complex, and the training Work Coaches currently receive leaves them ill-equipped to perform this vital function. Under Universal Credit, claimants living with domestic abuse can face seeing their entire monthly income—including money meant for their children—go into their abusive partner’s account. There is no guarantee that any of the money they need to live or care for their children will reach them. That risks them remaining dependent on their abusive partner and making it much harder for them to leave, should the opportunity present itself.

Yet the Scottish Parliament has passed legislation which requires the Scottish Government to introduce split payments by default.

Universal Credit is perpetuating gender inequality – an issue that the Equality and Human Rights Commission have also raised concerns about. If money is paid into an abuser’s account, that compromises a woman’s financial autonomy. Their recent report recommends:

  • offering Universal Credit as single payments to individuals rather than joint payments to avoid exacerbating financial abuse for women experiencing domestic violence
  • reconsidering the ‘spare room subsidy’ regulations which discriminate against survivors of domestic abuse who have safe rooms.

But the government justifies the policy by claiming that few couples manage their finances separately. They argue that paying one benefit into a single bank account means families can make decisions about their household finances without government interference. However, this assessment ignores the realities of women trapped in controlling relationships.

Two child policy – regarding children as a commodity, and some say, eugenics by stealth

This policy restricts support through means-tested family benefits to two children only and affects the child tax credit payable for all third or subsequent children born after April 2017 and all new claims for Universal Credit, whenever they were born. In doing so, the two-child policy breaks the fundamental link between need and the provision of minimum support and implies that some children, by virtue of their birth order, are less deserving of support. It is a very large direct cut to the living standards of the poorest families of up to £2780 per child, per year.

In 2015/16 — the latest year for which data is available — 27 per cent of households with children had more than two children, representing more than 1 in 3 children in poverty (after housing costs). The risk of poverty is already 39 per cent for households (after housing costs) with three or more children compared with 26 per cent for one- and 27 per cent for two-child families. The most recent statistics reveal that during the first year of operation, 59% of the 73,500 families who lost financial support for a third child were in work. Nine per cent of UK claimant households with three or more children were affected.

A number of groups in the population are particularly likely to be hard hit by the policy, including Orthodox Jews, Pakistani and Bangladeshi families, and Roman Catholics. It will also hit large families bereaved by the loss of  a parent, divorced families, and all large families falling upon hard times and needing to claim means-tested support.

Originally there were no intentions to make exceptions to the two-child policy, but the government was forced to make concessions for, among others, third and subsequent children under kinship care and those conceived as a result of rape — which in itself forces highly sensitive disclosure. A number of women’s rights and rape support organisations have raised serious concerns about the third-party evidence model for the rape/coercion exception and the risk that women claiming this exception will be exposed to further trauma and gross breaches of privacy.

The so-called rape clause has been condemned by campaigners, who say it is outrageous that a woman must account for the circumstances of her rape to qualify for support. The SNP MP Alison Thewliss called it “one of the most inhumane and barbaric policies ever to emanate from Whitehall”.

A government spokesperson said: “The policy to provide support in child tax credit and universal credit for a maximum of two children ensures people on benefits have to make the same financial choices as those supporting themselves solely through work.

The rationale for the two-child limit was to reduce the deficit by £1.36 billion per year by 2020/21. But the government also sought to justify it on the basis that they are hoping to ‘change behaviours’ — hoping to ‘encourage parents to reflect carefully on their readiness to support an additional child’. Yet, the savings to be made from the policy are quite modest in the context of the austerity cuts of £27 billion per year since 2010.

The rollout of Universal Credit will increase the number of families affected. All new claims for the benefit after February 2019 will have the child element restricted to two children in a family, even if they were born before the policy was introduced.

The government estimated 640,000 families will lose support as a direct result of the proposed changes. The Children’s Society estimate that the total loss of a child element plus the family element of child tax credit will mean that a family with three children will lose up to £3,325 per year. A family with four children will lose up to £6100. Troublingly, disabled children will also be affected by this measure on top of the major cuts in children’s disability support through Universal Credit.

Jamie Grier, the development director at the welfare advice charity Turn2us, has spoken out about mothers in low income families faced with the agonising choice of terminating wanted pregnancies already, because of their financial circumstances.

Alison Garnham, the chief executive of Child PovertyAction Group, said: “An estimated one in six UK children will be living in a family affected by the two-child limit once the policy has had its full impact. It’s a pernicious, poverty-producing policy.”

The Institute for Fiscal Studies has projected that 600,000 more children will live in absolute child poverty by 2020/21 compared with 2015/16 — all of them in families with three or more children. The absolute child poverty rate is to increase over that period from 15.1 per cent to 18.3 per cent. The two-child limit accounts for around a third of this impact. Absolute poverty is when people can’t meet one or more of their basic survival needs.

The policy is extremely likely to contravene human rights treaties to which the UK is a signatory, including those relating to women’s reproductive rights and protection from religious and gender-based discrimination contrary to Article 16 of the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women.

It would also discriminate against groups with a conscientious objection to contraception and abortion, or for whom large families are a central tenet of faith, in breach of Article 14 of the European Convention on Human Rights. Furthermore, it fails to give primary consideration to the best interest of the child in contravention of Article 3(1) of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. 

The UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights raised a specific concern about the effect of cuts to social security on the standard of living enjoyed by families with two or more children in the Concluding Observations of its recent review of the UK’s compliance with the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. The policy is going to be challenged in the courts on discrimination grounds and may well reach the Supreme Court and European Court of Justice. 

Context and policy intent

Universal credit is the controversal reform of the social security system, rolling together six so-called “legacy” benefits (including unemployment benefit, employment and tax credits and housing benefit) into one benefit paid monthly to claimants, to “make work pay.”

However, at a time of stagnant wages and ever-increasing living costs, the government slogan ‘making work pay’ is certainly not about a national wage increase. It’s rather more about neoliberal supply-side ideology.  Supply-side policies include the promotion of greater competition in labour markets, through the removal of what are deemed ‘restrictive practices’, and labour market rigidities, such as the protection of employment and workers’ rights. For example, as part of  neoliberal supply-side reforms in the 1980s, trade union powers were greatly reduced by a series of measures including limiting workers’ ability to call a strike, and by enforcing secret ballots of union members prior to strike action. More recently the Conservatives have again made substantial legislative changes that undermine the role of trade unions.

Deregulation and privatisation of state industry and services are also components of supply-side economics. Supply-side measures have a negative effect on the distribution of income. For example, lower taxes rates for the wealthiest, lower wages for workers, reduced union power, and privatisation have all contributed to a widening of the gap between rich and poor citizens. Universal Credit facilitates a supply-side labour market, it coerces people into accepting low paid, insecure work. Any work.

People claiming Universal Credit do not get a say in the kind of work they take on. If people don’t comply with Universal Credit conditionality they are generally sanctioned. This entails a loss of welfare support for between four weeks and up to a maximum of three years for refusing to take a job or prescribed community work. 

Some economists argue that a lack of bargaining power because union membership has been in long term decline – is leading to fewer widespread agreements on earnings increases, which has served to  keep wages stagnant. A lack of employee confidence and certainty following the recession and fears, then, over job losses has also led to fewer demands for rises.

Given that collective bargaining has been politically undermined, it is particularly outrageous that the government has introduced sanctions for those on low pay and in work, for a failure to single handedly negotiate better pay or an increase in working  hours with their employer. 

Perhaps we should ask “making work pay” for whom?

It’s interesting that the government have outlined what Universal Credit means for employers, indicating the intent behind the policy is not about mitigating poverty. It’s about employers “having access to a more flexible and responsive workforce, which can help your business with the challenges of filling vacancies.

“Universal Credit payments automatically adjust each month based on the real time PAYE information you report to HMRC, so it’s important that you report this information accurately and on time.”

The ‘business friendly’ government says “Universal Credit increases the financial incentive of work and provides employers like you with a more flexible workforce.”

So while employers are promised a workforce that will accept more, in terms of conditions, rates of pay and job security, the same workforce is being set up to fail when trying to negotiate more pay and longer hours by the government’s ‘business friendly’ deregulation. And failure can mean facing having their Universal Credit cut via sanctions.

It does go on to say on the site that “Jobcentre Plus work coaches will encourage claimants to discuss with their employers how they can increase their chances of earning more. This could be by improving their skills which may help them to take on more responsibilities. You may find your employees asking for more hours or for help with building their skills. You can play a role in this – helping your business become more productive.”

So, employers “can” but workers “must”, despite the substantial imbalance of power, made worse by the fact that workers are being coerced into “flexibility”. That invariably means lowering their expectations of employers and of the conditions of their employment.

The publicly stated aim of Universal Credit, for which there was orginally general support across the political divide, was to simplify the welfare system, making it more “efficient” and easy to access at a single claim point. Despite these claims, many have complained that Universal Credit is bafflingly complex, unreliable and difficult to manage, particularly if you are without internet access, and that Universal Credit staff are often poorly trained. The combination of these problems is leaving people in precarious and very vulnerable circumstances.

For families and lone parents in particular, there are barriers to taking short term low paid work, as continuity of income and availability of childcare are key priorities for parents.

The Conservatives have also claimed that the new benefit will provide incentives for people to work rather than stay on benefits. Perhaps it’s worth noting that only 34% of people claiming state welfare are of working age, the majority – 66% – are people of pension age.

The government say “It is intended that by introducing a single in-work and out-of-work benefit, previous barriers to employment such as taking up temporary employment or fewer hours are removed, therefore making it easier for claimants to take up any work and changing claimant perceptions of work and welfare, and their employment behaviours, at an individual and household level.”

The Conservatives go on to claim that employment levels are at a record high, because Universal Credit is “working”. Some 80% of men are in work, the joint highest employment rate since 1991. And over 70% of women are in work, the highest employment rate since records began in 1971. But that increase is down, partly, to state pension age changes which mean fewer women are retiring between the ages of 60 and 65. 

However, as I have indicated, the structure of the employment market also matters. Zero hours contracts and hyper-flexible employment might be welcomed by some for the options they offer, but they work against collective bargaining agreements on earnings, keeping wages low. And low wages, not lack of incentives, are the reason why people need welfare support. The trade union wage gap, the difference in earnings of union members compared with non-members, is 16.9% in the public sector and 7.1% in the private sector (which employs well over 80% of people). There cannot be any genuine economic ‘bounce back’ until the UK’s decade-long stagnation in wages ends.

Universal Credit was supposedly intended as a payment to help people with living costs. It’s for those on a low income or out of work. As of February this year, the number of people on Universal Credit was 770 thousand. Of these people 300 thousand were in employment. The intention embedded in the design of Universal Credit to force up to a million low-paid workers to seek more hours or move to higher-paid jobs, under threat of financial sanctions (in-work conditionality), is another ticking bomb.

It is being introduced in stages across the country.  People claiming Universal Credit receive a single monthly household payment, paid into a bank account in the same way as a monthly salary; support with housing costs will usually go direct to the person claiming as part of their monthly payment. 

People will usually make a claim for Universal Credit online, during which initial claim verification will take place. This entails people providing evidence of their identity. However, there have been some problems highighted with the government’s verification framework. 

MP for Liverpool Walton, Dan Carden, called on the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) to postpone the roll-out of Universal Credit in his constituency until after Christmas and highlighted an issue with people having to pay out for a driving licence as one of many administrative problems with the new system.

In a letter to the secretary of state, Amber Rudd MP, Carden said: “We have families experiencing poverty on an unprecedented scale and now facing further avoidable hardship in the run up to Christmas. 

“I have now been informed that job centres across Liverpool are advancing payments to my constituents to obtain provisional driving licences for the purposes of identification and then deducting the cost from their benefits.

“Constituents are also having to pay for postal orders, passport photographs and postage, just to obtain provisional licences.”

He explained that the DVLA says there is a five-week wait for provisional licences, and highlighted the delays before the first payments are made when someone is transferred on to Universal Credit.

The controversial benefit is being rolled out in many parts of Liverpool this week. Carden added: “Continuing with this roll-out will leave many of the most vulnerable families in Liverpool Walton destitute by Christmas and I am therefore asking you to intervene as a matter of urgency.”

Rudd’s response was to say Carden was ‘scaremongering’, and she denied that ID was needed to claim Universal Credit. However, it seems she failed to bother checking her own government’s web site for advice and evidence. The site which outlines how to claim Universal Credit  completely contradicts Rudd’s claims, it says on the government’s site:

Amber rudd lies 1

Amber rudd lies 2

When people apply for Universal Credit they are asked to verify their identity online via the GOV.Verify service. 

To do so, you need either;

  • A valid UK driving license
  • A valid UK passport.

On the government document it says “Universal Credit cannot be paid to a claimant whose identity has not been verified. Failure to provide identity documentation means that there is no valid claim.”

Of course this creates significant problems for those without the required documents. Their Universal Credit claim cannot go ‘live’ without conforming to the ID verification framework. People generally can’t get an advance because their claim isn’t live. Once they’ve received their new ID document, (takes around 6-8 weeks usually), it’s then a further 5 weeks (at least) until their first Universal Credit payment. That’s a very long time to go without support that is intended to meet people’s most basic living needs: food, fuel and shelter. 

According to the government web site, you can only apply for an advance on your first payment if you have already verified your identity. It says:

You can apply for an advance payment in your online account or through your Jobcentre Plus work coach.

You’ll need to:

  • explain why you need an advance
  • verify your identity (you do this online when you submit your Universal Credit claim or at your first Jobcentre Plus interview)
  • provide bank account details for the advance (talk to your work coach if you cannot open an account.)

The claim date is the date that a claimant completes this process and submits their claim. After making a claim, an initial interview will take place with the claimant, where the eligibility for Universal Credit will be confirmed and the claimant will accept a Claimant Commitment. Failure to comply with the Commitment without ‘good reason’ will result in a sanction. What constitutes a ‘good reason’ unfortunately varies from area to area and even among advisors in the same building. One of the many criticisms of welfare sanctions is how arbitrary they are. Universal Credit is a far stricter regime than the previous ones, and indications are that people are being sanctioned more frequently.

The Universal Credit project was passed through legislation in 2011 under the patronage of its loudest champion, former secretary of state for work and pensions Iain Duncan Smith. The plan was to roll it out across the UK by 2017. However, a series of management failures, expensive IT blunders and design faults mean it has fallen at least five years behind schedule.

Under the current schedule it will be fully implemented to include about 7 million claimants by 2022-23, when it is estimated that it will account for around £63bn of spending. A substantial proportion of that is due to administration blunders. Earlier this year, the National Audit Office said “The benefits that it set out to achieve through Universal Credit, such as increased employment and lower administration costs, are unlikely to be achieved.”

The administrative cost of every Universal Credit claim is an eye-watering £699 per case against an ultimate target of just £173, others in the field are calling to stop this utter shambles now and reconsider all options. 

The Department is seriously criticised for “a lack of regard in failing to understand the hardship faced by some claimants”. Forget normal Whitehall tact, here are eight years of unrelenting failure, ploughing on despite alarms as costs rose to £2bn. One of the most urgent needs is to restore the £23bn that George Osborne cut from the budget, which is due to cause a record 37% of children in poverty by 2022, according to the Institute for Fiscal Studies. That’s likely to be a conservative estimate.

Despite a few minor changes, such as shortening the waiting period by a week, huge underlying problems remain with Universal Credit. Multibillion-pound cuts to work allowances imposed by the former chancellor have left it hollowed out. According to the Resolution Foundation thinktank, Universal Credit will leave about 2.5 million low-income working households more than £1,000 a year worse off. Reversing those cuts requires a political decision, not more tinkering around the edges and technical fixes.

Universal Credit is paid monthly, in arrears, so people have to wait one calendar month from the date they submitted their application before their first UC payment is made. This is called the assessment period. People then have to wait up to seven days for the payment to reach your bank account. That is of course providing everything goes right. 

So far, the ‘customer’ experience of Universal Credit for too many people (and other stakeholders, such as landlords) has been utterly dismal. Critics argue that Treasury cuts to the benefit mean it is now far less likely to incentivise people to move into work, or to work more hours – what the Conservatives call ‘in-work progression’. As a result of cuts, Universal Credit is significantly less generous than originally intended, leaving many claimants worse off when they move on to it than they were while claiming legacy benefits. Added to that are design flaws and administrative glitches that put poorer claimants especially at heightened risk of hunger, debt and rent arrears, ill-health and homelessness. 

Their report is intended to help the Council and partners to further develop the approach to supporting those affected by current and future welfare reforms. 

It builds on Sheffield Hallam University research published in March 2016 which suggested that welfare reforms have cost the city’s economy the equivalent of £157M per year, set to rise to £292M per year by 2020. Liverpool City Council has had a 58% cut in central government funding since 2010 and has to find another £90M in savings by 2020, is having to use around £7M of those reduced funds to help with rent top ups and crisis payments.

Liverpool Food People are part of a food insecurity sub group that reports into The Mayoral Action Group on Fairness and Tackling Poverty – food has been identified as one of the basic needs – and a recommendation within the report is that action to address food poverty and fuel poverty is coordinated across the city and that research is carried out on the level of food insecurity (both moderate and severe) across the city. 

New research conducted for Gateshead council concludes that Universal credit has become a serious threat to public health after the study revealed that the stress of coping with the new benefits system had so profoundly affected peoples’ mental health that some considered suicide.

The researchers found overwhelmingly negative experiences among vulnerable citizens claiming Universal Credit, including high levels of anxiety and depression, as well as physical problems and social isolation, all of which was exacerbated by hunger and destitution.

The Gateshead study comes as the United Nation’s special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, Philip Alston, prepares to publish a report of the impact of Conservative austerity in the UK. Alston has been collecting evidence and testimonies on the effects of the welfare reforms, council funding cuts, and Universal Credit during a two-week visit of the UK. 

This research is highly likely to raise fresh calls for the system’s rollout to be halted, or at the very least, paused to attempt to fix the fundamental design flaws and ensure adequate protections are in place for the most vulnerable people claiming it.

Approximately 750,000 chronically ill and disabled claimants are expected to transfer on to Universal Credit from 2019. Yet earlier this year, the first legal challenge against Universal Credit found that the government unlawfully discriminated against two men with severe disabilities who were required to claim the new benefit after moving into new local authority areas. Both saw their benefits dramatically reduced when they moved to a different Local Authority and were required to claim Universal Credit instead of Employment and Support Allowance.

The study findings are yet another indication of how unfit for purpose Universal Credit is. Six of the participants in the study reported that claiming Universal Credit had made them so depressed that they considered taking their own lives. The lead researcher, Mandy Cheetham, said the participant interviews were so distressing she undertook a suicide prevention course midway through the study.

The report says: “Universal Credit is not only failing to achieve its stated aim of moving people into employment, it is punishing people to such an extent that the mental health and wellbeing of claimants, their families and of [support] staff is being undermined.”

One participant told the researchers: “When you feel like ‘I can’t feed myself, I can’t pay my electric bill, I can’t pay my rent,’ well, all you can feel is the world collapsing around you. It does a lot of damage, physically and mentally … there were points where I did think about ending my life.”

An armed forces veteran said that helplessness and despair over Universal Credit had triggered insomnia and depression, for which he was taking medication. “Universal Credit was the straw that broke the camel’s back. It really did sort of drag me to a low position where I don’t want to be sort of thrown into again.”

Unsurprisingly, the report concludes that Universal Credit is actively creating poverty and destitution, and says it is not fit for purpose for many people with disabilities, mental illness or chronic health conditions. It calls for a radical overhaul of the system before the next phase of its rollout next year.

Alice Wiseman, the director of public health at Gateshead council, which commissioned the study, said: “I consider Universal Credit, in the context of wider austerity, as a threat to the public’s health.” She said many of her public health colleagues around the country shared her concerns.

Wiseman said that Universal Credit is “seriously undermining” efforts to prevent ill-health in one of the UK’s most deprived areas.

She added “This is not political, this is about the lives of vulnerable people in Gateshead. They are a group that should be protected but they haven’t been.”

The qualitative study focused on those claimants with disabilities, mental illness and long-term health conditions, as well as homeless people, veterans and care leavers.

The respondents found that compared to the legacy benefits, Universal Credit is less accessible, remote, inflexible, demeaning and intrusive. It was less sensitive to claimants’ health and personal circumstances, the researchers said. This heightened peoples’ anxiety, sense of shame, guilt, and feelings of loss of dignity and control.

The Universal Credit system itself was described by those claiming it as dysfunctional and prone to administrative error. People experienced the system as “hostile, punitive and difficult to navigate,” and struggled to cope with payment delays that left them in debt, unable to eat regularly, and reliant on food banks.

The government claimed that people making a new claim are expected to wait five weeks for a first payment. That’s a long time to wait with no money for basic living requirements. However, the average wait for participants on the study was seven and a half weeks, with some waiting as long as three months. Researchers were told of respondents who were so desperate and broke they turned to begging or shoplifting.

Wiseman made a point that many campaigners have made, and said that alongside the human costs, Universal Credit was placing extra burdens on NHS and social care, as well as charities such as food banks. It also affected the wellbeing of advice staff, who reported high stress levels and burnout from dealing with the fallout on those claiming the benefit.

Guy Pilkington, a GP in Newcastle said that the benefits system had always been tough, but under Universal Credit, those claiming faced a higher risk of destitution.

“For me the biggest [change] is the ease with which claimants can fall into a Victorian-style system that allows you to starve. That’s really shocking, and that’s new,” he said.

A spokesperson for the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) said: “This survey of 33 claimants doesn’t match the broader experience of more than 9,000 people receiving Universal Credit in Gateshead, who are taking advantage of its flexibility and personalised support to find work.”

“We have just announced a £4.5bn package of support so people can earn £1,000 more before their credit payment begins to be reduced, and we are providing an additional two weeks’ payments for people being moved from the old system.”

That will still leave people with nothing to live on or to cover their rent for at least three weeks. The study focused on those less likely to be able to work – people with disabilities, mental illness or chronic health conditions. The DWP failed to recognise that this group have different needs and experiences than the broader population, which leave them much more likely to become vulnerable when they cannot meet their needs.

Vulnerable people are suffering great harm and some are dying because of this government’s policies. It is not appropriate to attempt to compare those peoples’ experiences with some larger group who have not died or have not yet experienced those harms. Where is the empirical evidence of these claims, anyway? Where is the DWP’s study report?

Callousness and indifference to the suffering and needs of disadvantaged citizens – disadvantaged because of discriminatory policies – has become so normalised to this government that they no longer see or care how utterly repugnant and dangerous it is.

The DWP are not ‘providing’ anything. Social security is a publicly funded safety net, paid for by the public FOR the public. It’s a reasonable expectation that citizens, most of who have worked and contributed towards welfare provision, should be able to access a system of support when they experience difficulties – that is what social security was designed to provide, so that no one in the UK need to face absolute poverty. It’s supposed to be there so that everyone can meet their basic survival needs.

What people in their time of need find instead is a system that has been redesigned to administer punishments, shame and psychological abuse. What kind of government kicks people hard when they are already down?

Universal Credit was considered the antidote for the Conservative’s ‘welfare dependency’ myth, yet there has never been any empirical evidence to support their claims of the existence of a ‘culture of dependency’ and that’s despite the dogged research conducted by Keith Joseph some years ago, when he made similar claims. He never found any evidence despite trying very hard. Most people move in and out of work, because jobs have become increasingly precarious over the last few years. 

In fact over recent years, an international study of social safety nets from The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Harvard economists categorically refutes the Conservative ‘scrounger’ stereotype and dependency rhetoric.  Gabriel Kreindler, Benjamin Olken and colleagues re-analyzed data from seven randomized experiments evaluating cash programs in poor countries and found “no systematic evidence that cash transfer programmes discourage work.”

The phrase ‘welfare dependency’ diverts us from political class discrimination via policies, increasing inequality, and it serves to disperse public sympathies towards the poorest citizens, normalising the inequality and prejudice embedded in neoliberal ideology and resetting social norm defaults that then permit the state to target protected social groups for further punitive and cost-cutting interventions to ‘incentivise’ them towards ‘behavioural change.’ Outrageously, the behavioural change required by the state is that the public do not use publicly funded welfare services.

Stepping back from this, it becomes clear that the policy driver is ‘small state’, antiwelfarist neoliberal ideology. This is being propped up by pseudoscientific behavioural economic rationalisations. 

There is mounting evidence, according to local authority researchers in Liverpool, for example, that shows the actual effect is the reverse of what was claimed was intended; Universal Credit is harming the very people it was designed to support. It is forcing households into debt, causing severe poverty including to those in work, leaving too many people, including children, facing food insecurity, destitution and eviction. Liverpool council’s welfare reform cumulative impact analysis last year shows that the groups most adversely affected by the Government’s raft of ‘welfare reforms’ are the long-term sick and disabled, families with children, women, young adults and the 40-59 age group who live in social housing. 

Many working households are suffering a shortfall in Housing Benefit, Housing Allowance and a reduction and removal of many other benefits, all set against the backdrop of ever increasing living costs. Poverty disincentives people. 

In recent years welfare conditionality has become conflated with severe financial penalities (sanctions), and has mutated into an ever more stringent, complex, demanding set of often arbitrary requirements, involving frequent and rigid jobcentre appointments, meeting job application targets, providing evidence of job searches and mandatory participation in workfare schemes. The emphasis of welfare provision has shifted from providing support for people seeking employment to increasing conditionality of conduct, enforcing particular patterns of behaviour and monitoring citizen compliance.

Government Statistics tell us that more people get sanctioned under Universal Credit than under the existing legacy benefits system.

Sanctions are “penalties that reduce or terminate welfare payments in cases where claimants are deemed to be out of compliance with  requirements.” They are, in many respects, the neoliberal-paternalist tool of discipline par excellence – the threat that puts a big stick behind coercive welfare programme rules and “incentivises” citizen compliance with a heavily monitoring and supervisory administration. The Conservatives have broadened the scope of behaviours that are subject to sanction, and have widened the application to include previously protected social groups, such as sick and disabled people and lone parents.

There is plenty of evidence that sanctions don’t help people to find work, and that the punitive application of severe financial penalities is having a detrimental and sometimes catastrophic impact on people’s lives. We can see from a growing body of research how sanctions are not working in the way the government claim they intended.

Sanctions, under which people lose benefit payments for between four weeks and three years for “non-compliance”, have come under fire for being unfairpunitive, failing to increase job prospects, and causing hunger, debt and ill-health among jobseekers. And sometimes, even causing death.

However, if people are already needing to claim financial assistance which was designed to meet only very basic needs, such as provision for food, fuel and shelter, then imposing further financial penalities will simply reduce those people to a struggle for basic survival, which will inevitably demotivate them and stifle their potential.

The current government demand an empirical rigour from those presenting criticism of their policy, yet they curiously fail in meeting the same exacting standards that they demand of others. Often, the claim that “no causal link has been established” is used as a way of ensuring that established correlative relationships, (which often do imply causality,) are not investigated further.

Qualitative evidence – case studies, for example – is very often rather undemocratically dismissed as ‘anecdotal,’ or as ‘scaremongering’ which of course stifles further opportunities for research and inquiry.

The Conservative shift in emphasis from structural to psychological explanations of poverty has far-reaching consequences. The partisan reconceptualision of poverty makes it much harder to define and very difficult to measure. Such a conceptual change disconnects poverty from more than a century of detailed empirical and theoretical research, and we are witnessing an increasingly experimental approach to policy-making, aimed at changing the behaviour of individuals, without their consent.

This approach isolates citizens from the broader structural political, economic, sociocultural and reciprocal contexts that invariably influence and shape an individuals’s experiences, meanings, motivations, behaviours and attitudes, causing a problematic duality between context and cognition. It places unfair and unreasonable responsibility on citizens for circumstances which lie outside of their control, such as the socioeconomic consequences of political decision-making.

I want to discuss two further considerations to add to the growing criticism of the extended use of sanctioning, which are related to why sanctions don’t work. One is that imposing such severe financial penalities on people who need social security support to meet their basic needs cannot possibly bring about positive “behaviour change” or incentivise people to find employment, as claimed. This is because of the evidenced and documented broad-ranging negative impacts of financial insecurity and deprivation – particularly food poverty – on human physical health, motivation, behaviour and mental states.

The second related consideration is that “behavioural theories” on which the government rests the case for extending and increasing benefit sanctions are simply inadequate and flawed, having been imported from a limited behavioural economics model (otherwise known as nudge” and libertarian paternalism) which is itself ideologically premised.

Sanctions and workfare arose from and were justified by nudge theory, which is now institutionalised and deeply embedded in Conservative policy-making. Sanctions entail the manipulation of a specific theoretical cognitive bias called loss aversion.

At best, the new “behavioural theories” are merely theoretical  propositions, at a broadly experimental stage, and therefore profoundly limited in terms of scope and academic rigour, as a mechanism of explanation, and in terms of capacity for generating comprehensive, coherent accounts and understanding about human motivation and behaviour.

I reviewed research and explored existing empirical evidence regarding the negative impacts of food poverty on physical health, motivation and mental health. In particular, I focussed on the Minnesota Semistarvation Experiment and linked the study findings with Abraham Maslow’s central idea about cognitive priority, which is embedded in the iconic hierarchy of needs pyramid. Maslow’s central proposition is verified by empirical evidence from the Minnesota Experiment.

The Minnesota Experiment explored the physical impacts of hunger in depth, but also studied the effects on attitude, cognitive and social functioning and the behaviour patterns of those who have experienced semistarvation. The experiment highlighted a marked loss of ambition, self-discipline, motivation and willpower amongst the subjects once food deprivation commenced. There was a marked flattening of affect, and in the absence of other emotions, Doctor Ancel Keys observed the resignation and submission that continual hunger manifests.

The understanding that food deprivation dramatically alters emotions, motivation, personality and that nutrition directly and predictably affects the mind as well as the body is one of the legacies of the experiment.

The experiment highlighted very clearly that there’s a striking sense of immediacy and fixation that arises when there are barriers to fulfiling basic physical needs – human motivation is frozen to meet survival needs, which take precedence over all other needs. This is observed and reflected in both the researcher’s and the subject’s accounts throughout the study. If a person is starving, the desire to obtain food will trump all other goals and dominate the person’s thought processes.

In a nutshell, this means that if people can’t meet their basic survival needs, it is extremely unlikely that they will have either the capability or motivation to meet higher level psychosocial needs, including social obligations and responsibilities to seek work. Abraham Maslow’s humanist account of motivation also highlights the same connection between fundamental motives and immediate situational threats.

maslow's hierarchy of needs

Ancel Keys published a full report about the experiment in 1950. It was a substantial two-volume work titled The Biology of Human Starvation. To this day, it remains the most comprehensive scientific examination of the physical and psychological effects of hunger.

Keys emphasised the dramatic effect that semistarvation has on motivation, mental attitude and personality, and he concluded that democracy and nation building would not be possible in a population that did not have access to sufficient food.

I also explored the link between deprivation and an increased risk of mental illnesses, including schizophrenia, depression, anxiety and substance addiction. Poverty can act as both a causal factor (e.g. stress resulting from poverty triggering depression) and a consequence of mental illness (e.g. schizophrenic symptoms leading to decreased socioeconomic status and prospects).

Poverty is a significant risk factor in a wide range of psychological illnesses. Researchers recently reviewed evidence for the effects of socioeconomic status on three categories: schizophrenia, mood and anxiety disorders and substance abuse. Whilst not a comprehensive list of conditions associated with poverty, the issues raised in these three areas can be generalised, and have clear relevance for policy-makers.

The researchers concluded: “Fundamentally, poverty is an economic issue, not a psychological one. Understanding the psychological processes associated with poverty can improve the efficacy of economically focused reform, but is not a panacea. The proposals suggested here would supplement a focused economic strategy aimed at reducing poverty.” (Source: A review of psychological research into the causes and consequences of poverty – Ben Fell, Miles Hewstone, 2015.)

There is no evidence that keeping benefits at below subsistence level or imposing punitive sanctions ‘incentivises’ people to work and research indicates it is likely to have the opposite effect

Food banks have reported that demand for charity food goes up significantly when Universal Credit is introduced into the local area.

The Trussell Trust has expressed concern that, given the links between Universal Credit, financial hardship, and foodbank use, the next stage of the roll out could lead to further increased financial need and more demand for foodbanks. Their report uses referral data from Trussell Trust foodbank vouchers to examine the impact of Universal Credit on foodbank use. Their key findings were:

  1. On average, 12 months after rollout, foodbanks see at least a 52% increase in demand, compared to 13% in areas with Universal Credit for 3 months or less. This increase cannot be attributed to randomness and exists even after accounting for seasonal and other variations. 
  2. Benefit transitions, most likely due to people moving onto Universal Credit, are increasingly accounting for more referrals and are likely driving up need in areas of full Universal Credit rollout. Waiting for the first payment is a key cause, while for many, simply the act of moving over to a new system is causing serious hardship.

The Trussell Trust says that poor administration, the long wait for the first payment, and repayments for loans and debts are driving some people into severe financial need. This is particularly acute for families with dependent children and disabled people.

Ministers still claim that evidence from early official trials shows people claiming Universal Credit were more likely to get a job. However, the Office for Budgetary Responsibility (OBR) has said there remains insufficient evidence for this claim. Other researchers have found that the low benefit amounts coupled with rigid conditionality and sanctions profoundly disincentivise people to find work or progress in work. Evidence supports the latter proposition. 

But the government simply responds by labelling researchers and campaigners as ‘scaremongers’ and continues to deny the well-evidenced and documented experiences of citizens which demonstrate that Universal Credit is harmful, creating distress and entrenching inequality and absolute poverty.

 


 

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Universal Credit is set to cost billions more than legacy benefits, says government’s spending watchdog

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Despite the widespread concerns about the financial hardships that Universal Credit has created for many people , the government’s official spending watchdog says that the Conservative’s flagship policy will, nonetheless, cost the UK billions more than the legacy benefits system over the next five years. 

In its response to the Autumn Budget, the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) changed its previous prediction in March 2018 that the government’s controversial welfare overhaul will save public money. Instead, the OBR now forecasts that Universal Credit will cost ‘the taxpayer’ £7.1bn more than the current system between 2019/20 and 2023/24.

That amount also includes new funding for the programme announced by chancellor Philip Hammond on Monday in response to the serious concerns raised by MPs about the impact Universal Credit is having on people.

However, the OBR added that even without these measures, which include an extra £1bn for transition support and a £1.7bn-a-year plan to raise the work allowance threshold for some claimants, Universal Credit would have a net cost of £1.9bn over the next five years.

Perhaps an analysis of the costs of the administrative and delivery framework would be useful. 

The OBR say: “On a pre-measures basis UC is now projected to be more expensive than the legacy system would have been from 2019-20 to 2022-23, having been less expensive (i.e. generating a net saving to the Exchequer) in our March forecast. This reflects many changes, some down to revising key assumptions that can now be tested against outturn data relating to the 1 million or so cases now on UC.” 

In its Economic and Fiscal Outlook based on the Autumn Budget, the OBR said: “Our pre-measures forecast revisions were sufficiently large to push our estimate of the effect of [Universal Credit] on welfare spending from a net saving to a net cost in most years – the first time that it has been shown as a net cost on average since our March 2015 forecast.”

The watchdog added :“Once Budget measures are factored in, the marginal cost moves significantly higher.”

The high cost of Universal Credit indicates that the political motivation behind this radical reform is purely ideological, rather than being based on any economic necessity. ‘Making work pay’ is about punishment and discipline – ultimately it is about driving people into any work available, regardless of job security and conditions, regardless of whether the wages meet the costs of living.

Meanwhile in work poverty is growing significantly. Deregulated, supply side labour market policies drive wages down. Reducing welfare support creates a desperate reserve army of labour who have absolutely no collective bargaining powers to improve work conditions. 

Other comments of interest include: “The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) is subject to ongoing legal challenges. We asked the Government whether there is a detailed central list of ongoing DWP legal challenges and the likelihood of losing them, and why it takes a different approach to recording these DWP contingent liabilities than it does to tax-related legal challenges recorded in HMRC’s departmental accounts.

“The Treasury stated that it is working to improve the reporting and managing of DWP’s legal cases in accordance with steps set out in its 2018 Managing Fiscal Risks report.”

The OBR report also confirms that disabled people in receipt of severe disability premia will not be moved onto Universal Credit until provision is made to ensure the premia are integrated to ensure people on legacy benefits such as Employment and Support Allowance are not left worse off through migration or through a change of circumstance that means a new claim has to be made. This follows a court ruling that the loss of disability premia is unlawfully discriminatory. 

The court defeat for the government indicates once again how unfit for purpose Universal Credit is. Rather than being the ‘simplified’ system as promised, the administration of the welfare provision has become subject to a series of post hoc amendments because of the original model’s incorporated and systemic abuse of people’s human rights and violation of equality legislation. These are being uncovered by ongoing legal challenges.

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Osborne finally admits he lied and that Labour did not cause the recession

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In the weeks after he took office, George Osborne justified his austerity programme by claiming that Britain was on “the brink of bankruptcy”. He told the Conservative conference in October 2010: “The good news is that we are in government after 13 years of a disastrous Labour administration that brought our country to the brink of bankrutcy.” 

The Conservatives have constantly tried to portray the Labour party as less than competent with the economy, and more recently the government made facetious jibes about “magic money trees” being required to fund Labour’s promising anti-austerity manifesto, which backfired. In fact the Conservatives have even claimed, rather ludicrously, that the opposition is “dangerous”. 

However, back in 2012, Robert Chote, head of the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) formally rebuked Osborne for his intentionally misleading “misinformation” and dismissed with scorn the “danger of insolvency” myth that has been endlessly perpetuated by the Conservatives.

It’s worth remembering that the Conservatives’ historic record with the economy isn’t a good one. Margaret Thatcher presided over a deep recession because of her authoritarian introduction of neoliberal policies, regardless of the social costs. Her only solution to an increasingly damaged economy was more neoliberalism. John Major also presided over a recession, and who could forget “Black Wednesday“. 

The global recession of 2007/8 would have happened regardless of which political party was in office in the UK. Osborne had also committed to matching Labour’s spending plans, but he later criticised them.

The financial crash process was started by the neoliberal Thatcher/Reagan administrations with the deregulation of the finance sector. We were out of recession in the UK by the last quarter of 2009. By 2011, the Conservatives fiscal policy of austerity put us back in recession. 

It’s good to see Osborne finally concede that there was no basis for his ridiculous claims in 2010, in a recent interview with Andrew Neil, for The Spectator‘s Coffee House Shots (12 October).

It follows that there was absolutely no justification for the Conservatives’ incredibly harsh and damaging neoliberal austerity programme.

You can listen to the full interview with George Osborne and Andrew Neil by clicking here.

 


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Department for Work and Pensions Recruits Staff To Reduce ESA And PIP Appeal Success Rates

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Legal Aid funding became unavailable for welfare cases at First Tier tribunal in April 2013, because of the Conservative-led Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 (LASPO). This included Legal Aid for appealing all benefit decisions. Legal Aid at Second Tier tribunal may be available if the case is about a point of law. Political lip service was paid to the legal human rights implications regarding the violation to the right to a fair trial (Article 6 of the ECHR), equal access to justice , and the Act provided that funding may be granted on a case-by-case basis where the failure to provide legal aid would be a breach of the individual’s rights under the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) or the rights of the individual to the provision of legal services that are enforceable European Union rights.

The Lord Chancellor’s Exceptional Funding Guidance (Non-Inquests) clarified that in determining whether Article 6 ECHR would be breached, it has to be shown that the failure to grant funding would mean that bringing the case would be “practically impossible or lead to an obvious unfairness in proceedings” (para 63). But Ministry of Justice figures showed that from 1 April 2013 to 31 December 2013, of the 1,083 applications determined, funding was granted in only 35 cases (3% of cases). This indicates that the criteria are being applied in an intentionally “overly restrictive manner” and, in the case of welfare benefits, all 11 applications were refused: Exceptional Case Funding Statistics – April 2013 to March 2014

Considering this in a context that includes the introduction of the Mandatory Review, in 2013, and in light of more recent events, I think it’s fair to say that the Conservatives have shown they are determined to take away money that provides essential support from disabled people in particular, one way or another, no matter how much it costs to do so.

Many thanks to Benefits and Work for the following information:

The Department for Work and Pensions has been given £22 million to recruit presenting officers in an effort to reduce the number of claimants winning their personal independence payment (PIP) and employment and support allowance (ESA) appeals.

The Office for Budget Responsibility’s (OBR) “Economic and Fiscal Outlook” document lists the following amount:

“£22 million to DWP to recruit presenting officers across 2016-17 to 2017-18 to support the department in personal independent payments and employment and support allowance tribunals.”

Buzzfeed is reporting that the money will pay for 180 new presenting officers.

The number of PIP appeals is expected to skyrocket over the coming two years as the forced move from DLA to PIP takes place.

In addition, the proportion of successful PIP appeals has increased with every quarter since the benefit was introduced. PIP claimants won in 60% of cases from July to September 2015, up from 56% in the previous quarter.

58% of ESA cases are also won by the claimant.

The DWP is also concerned by the way that tribunal judges have been interpreting the very badly drafted PIP legislation in favour of claimants. In particular, the widening of what counts as aids and appliances for PIP activities by judges is what led to the disastrous attempt to change the point scores for PIP.

In theory, presenting officers should act a s a ‘friend of the court’, helping judges to reach a fair decision. In reality, they will be sent by the DWP to try to discredit claimants and argue as forcibly as possible for the DWP’s interpretation of the law to be accepted.

Attending an appeal tribunal is likely to be an even more gruelling process for claimants over the next few years.

Update

Recovery In The Bin is a mental health social justice group, who are fundraising to help train 16 volunteers to support people with mental health difficulties before and up to ESA/ PIP tribunals. They say:

“Here’s what we’re doing about it

We have asked Welfare trainer Tom Messere, author of the Big Book of Benefits, if he would train 20 volunteers in the basics that they will support people up to these tribunals to give them a bit more of a fighting chance. And whilst we have Tom at our disposal we are also we will be training the volunteers to help fill out the often complex and confusing forms, so that less have to go to tribunal in the first place. The training will be on ESA and PIP, form filling, getting any available medical and informal evidence correctly pitched (what the person needs to ask for), possible calls, key pointers for accompanying, and up to tribunals.

You can join us

We are hoping you can donate to help pay for the training, the venue, transport and accommodation for Tom, and as we are recruiting volunteers, many on low incomes themselves, and as we will need to have representatives in as many places as we can (sorry, we wish we could provide for everywhere) then we are trying to raise as much help for their travel as well.

As such we are looking to raise £2250.”

 

You can support Recovery In The Bin in their aim to provide support for people who need to fight at tribunal for their ESA and PIP award, and donate here

Conservatives plan stealth raid on in-work benefits and the long-term phasing out of child benefit

 

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Picture courtesy of Tina Millis

The respected Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) has warned in a recent Green budget report that George Osborne’s plan to achieve a budget surplus will result in 500,000 families losing child benefit and tens of thousands having to pay a higher tax rate. More than half a million families will be stripped of child benefit over the next five years under a series of “stealth” tax raids by the Chancellor to help “balance the books.” Fuel duty will also need to be be significantly raised over the next five years or Osborne will face a £3billion black hole in his surplus plans.

Currently those earning £50,000 will lose some benefit and those earning £60,000 or more lose it all. Eventually, the report concluded, even those earning modest wages and paying the basic rate of tax will start to lose their child benefit entitlement.

The authors of the report concluded that Mr Osborne’s tax plans “lack any coherent principle” and called for more transparency, adding: “If the desire is for these tax rates to apply to a greater fraction of individuals than is currently the case, it would be better for politicians to state this clearly, rather than achieving the outcome through stealth using fiscal drag.”

Osborne’s promise to deliver a budget surplus from 2019-20 is “risky” and could have a long-term impact on the UK because the Government refuse to borrow money to fund large-scale infrastructure projects, despite low inflation.

Total public spending, excluding health, will be at its lowest level since 1948 as a proportion of national income.

The authors said: “If continued indefinitely, child benefit would be received by fewer and fewer families over time.

“But if this is the government’s intention, it would again be better to state this clearly rather than achieving it by stealth.”

Tim Loughton, a former Conservative education minister, branded the IFS findings a “double whammy” for families who are already paying the 40p higher rate of income tax.

He said: “This was inevitable. It inevitably means more and more families suffer a double whammy of having to pay higher rate tax because of the freezing of the threshold and losing out on all or most of their child benefit at the same time.

“This is hardly helpful for hardworking families trying to do the right thing for their children – if you don’t index up the rates and if you have very complicated formula that doesn’t accurately reflect household income … it’s a double unfairness.”

The Treasury has declined to comment on the IFS criticism of the Office of Responsible Budget (OBR) charter, which Osborne has committed to. But a spokesperson has said: “There may be bumpy times ahead – so here in the UK we must stick to the plan that’s cutting the deficit.”

That will invariably mean further austerity cuts. Up until recently austerity targeted those claiming out of work benefits, particularly those who are unemployed because they are sick and disabled. But increasingly, austerity is being aimed at those in low paid or part-time work, and the middle classes are set to lose further income, under the Conservative plans, too.

Despite being a party that claims to support “hard-working families,” the Conservatives have nonetheless made several attempts to undermine the income security of a signifant proportion of that group of citizens recently. Their proposed tax credit cuts, designed to creep through parliament in the form of secondary legislation, which tends to exempt it from meaningful debate and amendment in the Commons, was halted only because the House of Lords have been paying attention to the game.

The use of secondary legislation has risen at an unprecedented rate, reaching an extraordinary level since 2010, and it’s increased use is to ensure that the Government meet with little scrutiny and challenge in the House of Commons when they attempt to push through controversial and unpopular, ideologically-driven legislation. The Shadow secretary for Work and Pensions, Owen Smith, has pointed out that cuts to benefit in-work entitlements being introduced through Universal Credit mean controversial tax credit reductions have been simply been “rebranded” by the government rather than reversed.

In the Spending Review last November, George Osborne announced that tax credit reforms, which were set to almost halve the income level at which support is withdrawn from £6,420 to £3,850, would not be enacted, an analysis of the changes published by the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) highlighted that cuts to work allowances in Universal Credit, which set the level at which benefits will begin to be withdrawn under the new system, have not been reversed. Furthermore, people claiming Universal Credit needing in-work benefit because of low pay and  part-time hours will be expected to increase their wages and working hours, or controversially, face losing their benefit.

The Chancellor has cut in half the amount people can earn before their working tax credit starts to “taper” (reduce) – down from £6,420 to £3,850 from April 2016. Restrictions to eligibility for child tax credit means that families with more than two children are set to lose a significant amount of weekly income from April 2017. whilst the flat £545 “family element” paid before the amount for each child will also be removed completely. This will affect people in work, the think-tank Resolution Foundation said that working mothers would be worst hit – accounting for 70% of money saved by the Treasury, but overall the cuts will hit those out of work the hardest.

Many of us recognised the Tory “making work pay” mantra for what it was in 2012, when the first welfare “reforms” were pushed through parliament against widespread resistance, on the back of “financial privilege.” It was and always has been a diversion to allow the Conservatives to dismantle our welfare state, and reduce the value of labour, in much the same way as the 1834 Poor Law principle of less eligibility, which fulfilled the same purpose. The Poor Law Committee also wanted to “make work pay.” Since 2012, steadily rising in-work poverty has shown that having a job no longer provides a route out of poverty.

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The IFS report conclusions simply confirm what many of us have suspected since 2012: that the government have a secret long-term aim to completely dismantle the social gains of our post-war settlement: the welfare state, affordable social housing provision, the National Health Service and access to justice through legal aid.

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Picture courtesy of Robert Livingstone

Cuts under Universal Credit are discriminatory and may be illegal

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The Labour Party released details of research last month, showing how new claimant families will get lower in-work benefit entitlements when tax credits are replaced by the Universal Credit benefit system.

Owen Smith, the shadow Work and Pensions secretary, said research commissioned from the House of Commons library shows that next year, thousands of working families will be at least £2,500 a year worse off as a result of the government’s cuts to Universal Credit.

Mr Smith MP, responding to Iain Duncan Smith’s recent claim on the Andrew Marr show that “nobody loses a penny” from cuts to Universal Credit, said:

Iain Duncan Smith is completely wrong to say nobody loses a penny from his cuts to in-work support.

 Cutting Universal Credit raises £100m for the government next year and that money has to come from somewhere.

What the Tories aren’t telling us is that the £100m – and a further £9.5 billion over the next five years – comes from the pockets of low- and middle-income families.

That means those currently on Universal Credit face losses of up to £2,400 come April.

Just like tax credit cuts, working families will be worse off next year and just like those cuts, Labour will fight them at every turn.

Earlier this month, analysis from the independent Office for Budget Responsibility, (OBR) suggested the changes to universal credit announced in the July budget would save the Chancellor close to £3bn by 2019-20.

The Labour Party is taking advice from lawyers about the legality of the benefit cuts under universal credit. Owen Smith, the shadow work and pensions secretary, said it is discriminatory that a single mother working full-time on the minimum wage could be almost £3,000 worse off under universal credit than a mother in precisely the same circumstances on tax credits.

The challenge raises the possibility that the new welfare system could be challenged in court.

Although the Chancellor abandoned plans to cut tax credits affecting millions of working families, in his Autumn Statement, it was due to  pressure from the opposition, because the cuts were rejected by the House of Lords and a number of uneasy Tory backbenchers also raised concerns about the negative impact the cuts would have on working families.

Labour MPs have highlighted that claimants will be substantially worse of claiming Universal Credit, the  in-work benefit payments are much lower.

In his autumn statement speech, the Chancellor said: “The simplest thing to do is not to phase these changes in but to avoid them altogether.” But he added: “Tax credits are being phased out anyway as we introduce universal credit.”

The OBR’s analysis show that by 2021 the changes to Universal Credit will save the Treasury almost as much each year as the controversial tax credits policy would have done.

Mr Smith said:

Those lucky enough to stay on tax credits will be massively better off than those on universal credit … That disparity cannot be fair, it cannot be right and it may not even be legal, and we are seeking advice as to the legality of that move.

Mr Smith also confirmed that a Labour government would reverse cuts to benefits happening under Universal Credit. He said:

We will press for the same reversal for the victims of the universal credit heist that will hit precisely the same Tory and Labour constituents just before the next election.

He made the comments in a debate about the welfare cap, after the government sought approval for a motion that said the breach of Osborne’s own fiscal rules were justified because of the reversal of tax credit cuts.

Junior Work and Pensions minister, Shailesh Vara, has confirmed that on current forecasts the cap will not be met for three years.

Universal Credit is to be rolled out gradually, with about 500,000 people on the new benefit by next April. The government has insisted they will be compensated for lower payments through a special scheme called the flexible support fund.

However, Owen Smith said the only money on offer was a £69m grant for job centre managers to help people who are close to getting into work with costs such as bus fares and new clothing.

He said:

Even if it were permissible to use that money, it is in no way going to make up for the £100m shortfall next year, the £1.2bn shortfall the year after, and certainly not the £3bn shortfall in 2020. It is completely impossible and I fear it is also misleading to the public.

Mr Smith also queried the Chancellor’s absence from the House of Commons during the debate, saying he had “carelessly, ignominiously fallen into his own welfare trap” and “slipped on his own smirk”.

He said:

But inexplicably, he’s not here to account for it. Last spring he was quite definite that he should be. He said: ‘The charter makes clear what will happen if the welfare cap is breached. The chancellor must come to parliament, account for the failure of public expenditure control’”.

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It’s time to end the lie that Labour and Tories are ‘the same’ on austerity – Sunny Hundal & Sue Jones

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It is a claim so ubiquitous that most people repeat it without even having to explain it:

‘there’s hardly any difference between the main political parties’.

It’s a claim the Greens, SNP and UKIP now repeat endlessly without being challenged. It is also a claim exposed as complete falsehood last week.

For all the Chancellor’s giveaways and triumphant rhetoric during the Budget, the most significant change was a capitulation to Labour’s charge that the Tories were cutting spending to 1930s levels. In fact the difference between Labour and Tories – especially on economic matters – is the biggest it has been in over a generation. To claim otherwise is to be ignorant of the facts.

Let’s go over the numbers first. In December last year, Osborne said he would slash government spending until it reached 35.2% of GDP, a level last reached during the 1930s.

Rather than accept the cuts, Labour attacked his plans as “extreme and ideological” and said they would not match Osborne’s race to the bottom.

The difference between Labour and Tory plans on spending is colossal. To cut spending to 35.2%, the IFS said Osborne would have to cut departmental spending by £55bn from 2015 to 2020, over £20bn more than what has been slashed over the last five years. Key government departments would have to cut spending by over 50%, after already being cut to the bone. It would render many of them useless.

Labour plans are significantly different but lost in technical detail, which has allowed many on the left to wrongly claim they are the same. Firstly, they have committed to raising taxes to cut the UK’s £90 billion yearly budget deficit (i.e. the 50p rate, Mansion tax, bankers’ bonus tax, a higher bank levy), while Osborne has pledged to focus on spending cuts rather than tax rises.

More importantly, the Tories plan an overall budget surplus by 2018-19, while Labour has only committed to a current budget surplus in the next parliament. This sounds like a boring technical detail – and in many ways it is – but the practical difference is vast.

It means that while Coalition had planned over £55 Billion in spending cuts, Labour had pledged only to plug potentially a £4 Billion gap – which could even come from tax rises. A difference of Labour and Tory plans of more than £50 Billion is not to be sniffed at (in comparison the entire Scottish Budget of 2014 was £35 Billion).

To claim that Labour and Tory ‘austerity’ is the same, as some on the left have done, isn’t just ludicrous but a bare-faced lie. It illustrates a huge distortion of the facts. Of course, the Greens and SNP have an interest in saying that Labour and Tories are the same, but that doesn’t make it true.

Last week was significant because Osborne was forced into a u-turn on the biggest issue of the past five years. Of course, the press played this down. He retreated, somewhat slightly, from extreme austerity: pledging to cut spending to 36% of GDP rather than 35.2%. This mostly came from the OBR’s projection that spending on debt interest in 2019-20 will be £9bn less than it expected earlier.

But Osborne’s sleight-of-hand had bigger meaning for Labour: now it means they don’t have to make any cuts over the next parliament, as the IFS pointed out. The difference between the two parties is now even more stark.

To the naysayers who still maintain that Labour and Tories are ‘the same’, a bit more explanation is required. Last year Osborne said he would publish a ‘Budget Responsibility Charter’ and test whether Labour would vote for it. It put Labour in a lose-lose position: they would be painted as ‘profligate’ if they didn’t sign up, and painted as signing up to Tory austerity by the left if they did. Neither was true, since signing up was consistent with Labour’s initial plans. Labour decided to avoid Osborne’s trap and he didn’t bother publishing the Charter. It changed nothing.

Furthermore, the claim that Labour has signed up to Tory austerity until 2016 is untrue. As a matter of technicality, Labour cannot reverse plans already put in place for that fiscal year after being elected.

This has always been a somewhat technical debate, obfuscated by many who have an axe to grind. For political and economic reasons, Labour could never be like Syriza, so it has always been ridiculous to hope it could. Plus, it’s easy for the Greens and SNP to make wild claims about rejecting austerity without spelling out how a massive increase in spending required would be funded.

I suspect that most people who have already decided that Labour and Tories are the same won’t ever be convinced. Labour’s plans won’t catch the world on fire, but to claim they are the same as Tory austerity plans is a lie that has finally been laid to rest.

With big thanks to Labourlist author Sunny Hundal.

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Recently, the SNP, Greens, TUSC and other parties on the so-called  left have made the claim that: “Labour voted for austerity.” This is such a blatant lie. The vote, clearly stated on the Hansard record (see 13 Jan 2015: Column 738, Charter for Budget Responsibility), was pertaining strictly to the motion: “That the Charter for Budget Responsibility: Autumn Statement 2014 update, which was laid before this House on 15 December 2014, be approved.”  That isn’t about austerity at all.

The charter sets out that the Office of Budget Responsibility (OBR) will continue to monitor our fiscal rules. As we know, the OBR has written extremely critical economic forecasts and analysis of austerity and the Tory spending cuts, clearly expressing the risks that the Chancellor is running and the scale of the damage his strategy will inflict on what remains of our public services.

Furthermore, austerity and fiscal figures are not mentioned at all in the Charter.

It’s worth noting that whilst Ed Balls challenged Osborne, there was a curious silence from the SNP and the Green Party. It was Ed Balls that challenged Osborne’s outrageous claims regarding “halving the deficit”- such a blatant lie, upon which even the exceedingly Conservative Spectator spluttered contempt. Or any of the other lies, some of which have already earned the Conservatives official rebukes from the Office for National Statistics (ONS). (See “bankruptcy lie” for example, on the hyperlinked article)

Furthermore, it’s about time that some MP’s, including Caroline Lucas, amongst others, recognised that there is a fundamental difference between the meaning of the word budget and the word austerity. Conflating the two for the purpose of politicking is unprincipled and dishonest.

It’s also worth noting from the same debate on the Hansard record:

13 Jan 2015 : Column 746

Caroline Lucas: Does the Chancellor agree with me that with the feeble and inconsistent opposition coming from the Labour Front Bench, there is a very good reason for seeing the SNP, the Greens and Plaid as the real opposition on this issue because we are clear and consistent about the fact that austerity is not working?

Mr Osborne: That shows why we want the hon. Lady’s party in the TV debates.

Yes, I just bet they do, to collaborate with the Tories in attacking and undermining the Labour Party, not the Coalition, who are, after all, the ones responsible for introducing austerity measures. I don’t imagine for a moment that Osborne values further challenges to his outrageous claims of efficacy regarding austerity measures.

What is very evident when you read through this debate, is that Ed Balls and a couple of other Labour MPs presented the ONLY challenges to Osborne on this matter, just to reiterate this important point.

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It’s also worth bearing in mind that Ed Miliband established the International ANTI-austerity Alliance. Back in 2012, Miliband said: “There is a grip of centre-right leadership on Europe which has said there’s only one way forward and that’s austerity, and you’ve got to have a decisive move away from that.(See also: Labour leader Ed Miliband’s anti-austerity alliance will fight for the European dream.)

And why would Miliband be attending ANTI-austerity protests if he supported austerity?

Labour leader Ed Miliband speaks on stage at Hyde Park, during the TUC organised protest against austerity measures in London

Labour leader Ed Miliband speaks on stage to over 150,000 at Hyde Park, during the TUC organised protest against austerity measures in London.

It’s interesting to see the Chicago Tribune’s article: Ed Balls, UK’s anti-austerity finance chief in waiting.  Balls dismissed Osborne as a “downgraded chancellor” after Britain lost its triple-A credit rating.

One of his main charges has been that the government is unfairly spreading the economic pain it deems necessary to fix the economy. Austerity cuts are the burden of the poorest citizens.

Balls says that a decision to cut the top tax rate amounts to an unjustified “tax cut for millionaires”, whilst his party has been scathing of the Conservative “reform” of the welfare system.

A point echoed many times by Ed Miliband, too. Accusing the government of making lower or no income groups pay for the recovery while shielding the rich is a claim which strikes a chord with some voters who view Cameron and his government – many of whom were educated at the same top fee-paying school – as out of touch.

Caroline Lucas was born in Malvern to Conservative parents and attended Malvern Girls’ College (which became Malvern St James in 2006), a fee-paying private school. Ed Miliband, on the other hand, went to a comprehensive school.

Polls also show that many voters approve of the government’s drive to rein in welfare costs and the government has demanded that Labour spell out what they would do to fix the economy. They have, but with understandable caution.

Labour’s careful, costed and evidence-based policies include: a Bankers’ Bonus Tax; a Mansion Tax; repeal of the Bedroom Tax; a reversal of the Pension Tax relief that the Tories gifted to millionaires; a reversal of the Tory Tax cut for Hedge Funds; freezing gas and electricity bills for every home a the UK for at least 20 months; the big energy firms will be split up and governed by a new tougher regulator to end overcharging; banning exploitative zero hour contracts; introduction of a living wage (already introduced by some Labour councils); a reversal of the £107,000 tax break that the Tories have given to the millionaires; reintroduction of the 50p tax; scrapping George Osborne’s “Shares for Rights” scheme that has opened up a tax loophole of £1 billion; ensuring Water Companies place the poorest households on a Social Tariff that makes it easier for them to pay their Water Bills; breaking up the banks and separating retail banking from investment banking; introduction of measures to prevent corporate tax avoidance, scrapping the Profit Tax Cut (Corporation Tax) that George Osborne has already announced for 2015 and many more.

These are not austerity measures. They are strongly redistributive policies.

It’s difficult enough opposing the manipulative, lying authoritarian Conservative-led government, without having to constantly counter lies and smears from fringe parties claiming to be on the Left, while propping up the Right simply to gain votes and undermine the only feasible opposition to the Tories, currently.

Shame on them.

Sue Jones

Related

Labour’s fiscal targets mean cuts could end next year – Labourlist

Labour’s fiscal responsibility and caution isn’t austerity, so stop doing Lynton Crosby’s job for him.

The ultimate aim of the “allthesame” lie is division and disempowerment of the Left.

Narxism

Electioneering and grandstanding: how to tell the difference between a moral political party and a moralistic one.

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Pictures courtesy of Robert Livingstone

The BBC expose a chasm between what the Coalition plan to do and what they want to disclose

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“Traditions are not killed by facts” – George Orwell.

The Conservatives are creatures of habit rather than reason. Traditional. That is the why their policies are so stifling and anti-progressive for the majority of us. It’s why Tory policies don’t meet public needs.

There’s always an air of doom and gloom when we have a Tory government, and a largely subdued, depressed, repressed nation, carrying vague and fearful intuitions that something truly catastrophic is just around the corner.

I can remember the anxiety and creeping preternatural fear amongst young people in the eighties, and our transcendent defiance, which we carried like the banners at a Rock Against Racism march, back in the Thatcher era. We always witness the social proliferation of fascist ideals with a Tory government, too. It stems from the finger-pointing divide and rule mantra: it’s them not us, them not us. But history refutes as much as it verifies, and we learned that it’s been the Tories all along.

With a Conservative government, we are always fighting something. Poverty, social injustice: we fight for political recognition of our fundamental rights, which the Tories always circumvent. We fight despair and material hardship, caused by the rising cost of living, low wages, high unemployment and recession that is characteristic of every Tory government.

I think people often mistranslate what that something is. Because Tory rhetoric is all about othering: dividing, atomising of society into bite-sized manageable pieces by amplifying a narrative of sneaking suspicion and hate thy neighbour via the media.

The Tories are and always have been psychocrats. They insidiously intrude into people’s everyday thoughts and try to micro-manage and police them. They use Orwellian-styled rhetoric crowded with words like “market forces”, “meritocracy” “autonomy”, “incentivisation”, “democracy”, “efficient, small state”, and even “freedom”, whilst all the time they are actually extending a brutal, bullying, extremely manipulative, all-pervasive authoritarianism.

The Conservative starting point is control of the media and information. All Conservatives do this, and historically, regardless of which country they govern. (As well as following the hyperlinks (in blue) to British and Canadian media takeovers, also, see the Australian media Tory takeover via Murdoch, from last year: The political empire of the News Corp chairman.)

As we saw earlier this year when the Tories launched an attack on Oxfam, any implied or frank criticism of Conservative policies or discussion of their very often terrible social consequences is stifled, amidst the ludicrous accusations of “politically biased.”

When did concern for poverty and the welfare of citizens become the sole concern of “the left wing”? I think that casually spiteful and dismissive admission of indifference tells us all we need to know about the current government’s priorities. And no amount of right-wing propaganda will hide the fact that poverty and inequality rise under every Tory government. And how is it possible to discuss poverty meaningfully without reference to the policies that cause it? That isn’t “bias”: it’s truthful. Tory policies indicate consistently that when it comes to spending our money, the Tories are very generous towards the wealthy, and worse than parsimonious regarding the rest of us.

Then there are the Tory pre-election promises, all broken and deleted from the internet. And valid criticism of their spinner of Tory yarns and opposition smears, also deleted. This is not a democratic government that values political accountability, nor is it one that is prepared to bear any scrutiny at all.

The Conservatives are attempting to intimidate the BBC (again) into silence regarding its candid commentary regarding the autumn statement made by Osborne, exposing the vast scale of cuts to come for the British public. I’m pleased to see the BBC hitting back, for once, with a robust defence, declaring that: “We’re satisfied our coverage has been fair and balanced and we’ll continue to ask ministers the questions our audience want answered.”

It was BBC assistant political editor Norman Smith’s description of the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) response to the autumn statement document as “the book of the doom” and his suggestion that the UK was heading “back to the land of Road to Wigan Pier” that provoked Osborne’s outrage.

But whilst journalists are hardly unknown for hyperbole, Smith certainly can be cleared of this charge. Because many agree that the figures contained in the OBR blue book are truly remarkable and worry-provoking. Many of us have concluded the same, from the OBR and Institute of Fiscal Studies (IFS) to an army of quietly reflective bloggers, who have collectively anticipated this purely ideological outcome for some time.

The BBC are absolutely right to point out to the public that there will be severe social repercussions as a consequence of the scale of cuts that Osborne is planning, especially given that sixty percent of the cuts are yet to come.

The judgements of the OBR, which Osborne set up, and IFS, were at least as damning as the BBC’s, but it’s worth noting that the Chancellor doesn’t publicly attack either report. Because he can’t.

Instead the Conservatives have accused the BBC of “bias” and “systematic exaggeration,”  David Cameron and George Osborne launched an unprecedented attack on the coverage of the Autumn Statement. However, the Conservatives have been openly policing the media for a while. (See: Tories to closely monitor BBC for left wing bias ahead of party conference season and: Once you hear the jackboots, it’s too late.)

Senior Tory MP Andrew Bridgen suggested there was a risk that unless the BBC was “scrupulously fair” in its reporting, it may “drive voters into the arms of Labour”, adding the threat “and may even find its future funding arrangements affected.”

A blatant threat.

On Thursday, Bridgen wrote to Rona Fairhead, the BBC Trust’s chairperson, to complain “about a pattern of systematic exaggeration in the BBC’s reporting of the Autumn Statement”. It’s not his first complaint about alleged bias, either: he whined when the TUC’s senior economist Duncan Weldon became Newsnight’s new economics correspondent earlier this year.

Mr Bridgen said he wanted “to seek assurances that in the remaining six months until the general election your coverage will demonstrate the impartiality and balance that the public, and indeed the BBC charter, demand”.

He added: “Over the last four years the entire nation has pulled together to achieve something many said could not be done: we are now the fastest growing advanced economy in the developed world. The sacrifices and hard work of the British people are ill-served by pessimistic reporting which obscures our economic success with the language of fear and doom.”

I don’t think this is about “impartiality” or what best serves the British people. This is about the Conservatives not getting their own way, so they resort to bullying and  attempts to discredit people who have simply told the truth.

The Chancellor responded angrily to the references to Orwell’s The Road to Wigan Pier in the Today report on BBC Radio 4. He said: “I would have thought the BBC would have learned from the last four years that its totally hyperbolic coverage of spending cuts has not been matched by what has actually happened. I had all that when I was interviewed four years ago and has the world fallen in? No it has not.”

Well, that all depends George. For many people, the only genuine growth we’ve seen is in poverty, inequality, destitution, hunger, suffering and referrals to foodbanks. And deaths. So yes, for growing numbers, their’ world has fallen in.

A BBC spokesman said the BBC was satisfied that the Today programme’s coverage had been “fair and balanced and we gave the Chancellor plenty of opportunity to respond on the programme.”

And the comments were justified because the Office for Budget Responsibility had itself said that nominal government consumption will fall to its lowest level since 1938, the BBC said.

Both the OBR and IFS said in their responses to the autumn statement that Britain has not seen public spending reduced to this level as a proportion of GDP since the grim days of the 1930s.

The public sector spending cuts over the next five years set out in the autumn statement may force a “fundamental re-imagining of the state,” the Institute for Fiscal Studies said in their report.

The warning from the IFS – Britain’s public spending analysts – came only hours after Osborne had angrily rounded on the BBC, accusing its reporters of “totally hyperbolic” reporting about his spending plans and “conjuring up bogus images of the 1930s depression”.

The IFS confirmed that the scale of cuts to departmental budgets and local government would reduce the role of the state to a point where it would have “changed beyond recognition.” The government’s spending watchdog, the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR), also said yesterday that Osborne’s statement indicated that with the cuts set out in Treasury assumptions, we would see the state reduced to its smallest size relative to GDP for 80 years – since the 1930s.

It was about this era, the Great Depression, against which Orwell set The Road to Wigan Pier, in his account of the bleak living conditions, social injustices, suffering and misery of the working class in the Northwest of England. Norman Smith made an apt comparison.

Scenes from the Jarrow Crusade, 1936, Marchers from Jarrow in the North East of England, walk to London where they will hand in a petition to the House of Commons in a plead for more work as the depression and starvation of the 1930's hits hard

Scenes from the Jarrow Hunger March, 1936, Marchers from Jarrow in the North East of England, walked to London where they handed a petition to the House of Commons in a plead for more work as the depression and starvation of the 1930’s hit hard

Osborne admitted to John Humphrys two hours later, that “difficult” decisions on welfare would include freezing working age benefits for two years and lowering the welfare cap on spending from £26,000 for a family each year on benefits to a maximum of £23,000. But he maintained his glib assurances that the outlook was not as grim as Smith and Humphrys were claiming.

With the cost of living rising sharply year after year, and with the catastrophic consequences of the first wave of welfare “reforms” now clearly evident, it is difficult to envisage how the outlook for the poorest can be deemed anything other than enduringly, grindingly bleak.

If any evidence was needed that the Conservatives fear the political consequences of the cuts to come, the assault on the BBC’s coverage of the autumn statement has certainly provided it. The Conservative responses are strictly about discrediting the BBC as a means of pre-election damage-limitation, and not about the accuracy or “bias” of the reporting, because Osborne had not anticipated that the real consequences of his budget plans would be shared with the public. Most people don’t, after all, read the OBR or IFS forecasts and reports. As it is, Osborne had set out to mislead the public, and was well and truly exposed.

The IFS director, Paul Johnson, said: “The chancellor is right to point out that it has proved possible to implement substantial cuts over this parliament. One cannot just look at the scale of implied cuts going forward and say they are unachievable. But it is surely incumbent upon anyone set on taking the size of the state to its smallest in many generations to tell us what that means.

It’s also worth bearing in mind that Clegg has claimed co-authorship of the budget statement. Clegg’s absence from parliament for the third Wednesday in a row suggests he is farcically trying to distance himself from David Cameron and Osborne in the run-up to the election.

However, he attempted to take credit for the central policies of the statement, including the stamp duty overhaul unveiled by Osborne, when questioned on his LBC 97.3 radio show by Ed Balls, the shadow chancellor.

“Everything in that autumn statement is there because we’ve agreed it and I fully support it,” Clegg said.

The BBC exposed the chasm between what the Tory-led Coalition plan and what they are prepared to disclose and discuss publicly. That’s because of a chasm that exists between Tory ideology and a genuine economic problem-solving approach to policy: Osborne’s autumn budget statement was entirely about political gesturing, designed to divert attention from the sheer extent of social and economic damage  wreaked by five years of strictly ideologically-prompted policy.

This is a Chancellor who rested all of his credibility on paying down the debt and has borrowed more than every Labour government combined.

It must be abundantly clear that the Tory aim of much bigger and destructive cuts after 2015 is not about deficit reduction, but the destruction of the public sector, our services and social safety nets, the undoing of a century of our the hard-won achievements of civil rights movements, and all in favour of greedy, elevated, unbridled market forces.

Conservatism is centred around the preservation of traditional social hierarchy and inequality. Tories see this, erroneously, as an essential element for expanding economic opportunity. But never equal opportunity.

Conservatives think that civilised society requires imposed order, control and clearly defined classes, with each person aware of their rigidly defined “place” in the social order. Conservatism is a gate-keeping exercise geared towards economic discrimination and preventing social mobility for the vast majority.

It is these core beliefs that fuel Osborne’s stubborn adherence to austerity policies, even though it is by now patently obvious that austerity isn’t working for the economy, and for majority of the public. It never will.

942124_214298768721179_2140233912_nThanks to Robert Livingstone for the memes.

Related

Osborne’s Autumn statement reflects the Tory ambition to reduce State provision to rubble

Ed Balls: response to the Autumn Statement

Austerity, socio-economic entropy and being conservative with the truth

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The Coalition have a track record of lying and trying to mislead the public. David Cameron has now been rebuked several times for making false claims: on NHS spending, the rising national debt and the impact of his tax rises and deep spending cuts on economic growth. The Tories invented figures to claim people are now “better off”, but which totally ignored and excluded an account of the impact of significant factors like the rise in VAT, the cost of living, cuts to tax credits and other benefits.

The government is committing fraud on a grand scale. The reason for such deceit has nothing to do with public finances or the state of the economy, and everything to do with shrinking the public realm. There is an irreducibly ideological dimension to Tory economics, and by making it sound “scientific” when really, it’s more akin to philosophy or Tory buck passing, they attempt to lend it an air of authority and legitimacy it does not deserve. 

The only thing that unites Tories is wealth, they mostly thrive on creating social divisions. The Tories have used a justification narrative based on a moral entrepreneur approach to scapegoat and vilify vulnerable social groups in order to justify transferring our public wealth to private bank accounts, behind the façade of austerity. What we are witnessing is a governments’ nonchalant adherence to Tory ideology which scripts policies that generate and perpetuate inequality, no matter what the consequences for the most vulnerable. Or the economy.

The Tories peddled the lie that due to Labour’s management of the economy, the UK was “on the brink bankruptcy” and claim the solution to is to cut government spending with a painful programme of austerity cuts. Of course the UK economy was growing in 2010 when the Tories took over and was subsequently plunged back into recession by Osborne’s austerity policies which have meant that the economy has not grown at all under the coalition; and for much of their tenure has been contracting.

Many economists have said consistently that this is the wrong approach. The best solution is to borrow or, better, create money to invest in infrastructure. But what we have instead is Osbornes’ closed economy, with a colossal redistribution of public funds to few private businesses and millionaires, who are sat on our money, whilst the government is steadily removing even more of our public capital through deep cuts. There is no investment in the infrastructure, public services – it’s a framework of increasing and devastating socio-economic entropy.

The Tories seem to think we have forgotten that it was they that lost the Moody’s Investors Service triple A grade, despite pledges to keep it secure. Moody’s credit ratings represent a rank-ordering of creditworthiness, or expected loss.

The Fitch credit rating was also downgraded due to increased borrowing by the Tories, who have borrowed more in 4 years than Labour did in 13. In fact this Tory administration have borrowed more than every single Labour government ever, combined.

The Tories have seized an opportunity to dismantle the institutions they have always hated since the post-war social democratic settlement – institutions of health, welfare, education, culture and human rights which should be provided for all citizens. The Tories attempt to destroy fundamental public support for the health, education and welfare of its people. Offering and inflicting only regressive, punitive policies and devastating cuts, the Tories lie to drag the compliant, conforming and increasingly shell-shocked electorate along as they dismantle our social democracy, our public services, fundamental rights and the very basis of our civilisation.

Whenever this authoritarian government have been challenged and opposed effectively, they simply ignore or edit the law, veto tribunal rulings or invoke archaic government privilege to bypass opposition and to get their own way with unpopular policies, such as The Health and Social Care Bill and the Welfare “Reforms”.

That a government needs to employ such underhanded methods to pass their policy through the legislative process, and justify such policies by lying, and by the malevolent scapegoating of vulnerable sections of society via the media, informs us that those policies are not addressing public needs, and wishes; that they are not democratically motivated or processed and that they reflect a political ideology which does not accommodate social and economic realities, nor is it fitting for a so-called first world liberal democracy that is a signatory to several international human rights charters to witness a government so deceptive and arbitrary in its approach to legitimacy.

Here is catalogue of officially recognised Tory lies used to justify their unjustifiable policies, which have have resulted in official reprimands:

David Cameron rebuked by 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 is actually rising.

“Now that his false claims have been exposed, it’s time the prime minister stopped deliberately misleading people about his economic record” – Rachel Reeves.

Finally Exposed! The Deficit Myth! So, David Cameron When Are You Going to Apologise? David Cameron rebuked over austerity claims – David Cameron has been corrected by the Treasury’s own forecaster over claims that cuts in public spending are not reducing economic growth. The Office for Budget Responsibility told the Prime Minister that it does believe that cutting public spending will reduce economic growth in the short term.

Robert Chote, the head of the OBR, contradicted a claim Mr Cameron made this week in a speech about the economy, in which the Prime Minister said the forecaster does not believe cuts are reducing growth.

In fact, as Mr Chote wrote, the OBR believes that cuts in spending and increases in tax will depress economic activity, meaning lower growth.

OBR head rebukes Osborne: the UK was never at risk of bankruptcy. Office for Budget Responsibility chief Robert Chote dismisses the “danger of insolvency”.

In the weeks after he took office, George Osborne justified his austerity programme by claiming that Britain was on “the brink of bankruptcy”. He told the Conservative conference in October 2010: “The good news is that we are in government after 13 years of a disastrous Labour administration that brought our country to the brink of bankruptcy.”

It was, of course, nonsense.

*Please note the original link to the New Statesman article seems to have curiously vanished. So here is a cached link to the same article: OBR head rebukes Osborne: the UK was never at risk of bankruptcy.

David Cameron rebuked over jobs claim Sir Andrew Dilnot, head of the UK Statistics Authority, the independent statistics regulator, said the prime minister was wrong to say figures showed that more than three-quarters of all new jobs went to British citizens when “official statistics do not show the number of new jobs.”

Cameron was attempting to show in an interview for the Daily Telegraph that the government had reversed a situation in its first few years of office when he claimed most new jobs were taken by migrant workers. The interview was widely interpreted as an attempt to win over Ukip voters who believe most jobs created as Britain’s economy recovers are being snapped up by foreigners.

Following a complaint by Jonathan Portes, head of the National Institute for Economic & Social Research, Dilnot confirmed that neither the original fear that migrants were taking British jobs nor the reversal of this trend were supported by official data.

Employment data collected by the Office for National Statistics relates to jobs in the economy whether or not they are newly created by employers. Dilnot said the relevant figures from the ONS showed the number of migrants in the labour force increased by 400,000 over the last five years, an 18% rise, while the number of UK nationals increased by 3%, or 900,000.

Sir Andrew Dilnot, head of the UK Statistics Authority, the independent statistics regulator, said the prime minister was wrong to say figures showed that more than three-quarters of all new jobs went to British citizens when “official statistics do not show the number of new jobs.”

Information Commissioner Christopher Graham launched a scathing rebuke of the decision to exercise the Government’s veto in a report on the case to Parliament. Blocking the publication of a report into the risks of NHS reforms is a sign that ministers want to downgrade freedom of information laws, a watchdog has warned. Health Secretary Andrew Lansley deployed it to block an Information Tribunal ruling that he should meet Labour demands to disclose the document.

Duncan Smith rebuked by ONS for misuse of benefit statistics – The claim that 8,000 people moved into work as a result of the benefit cap is “unsupported by the official statistics”, says the UK Statistics Authority. In letter to Duncan Smith, Andrew Dilnot writes: “In the manner and form published, the statistics do not comply fully with the principles of the Code of Practice, particularly in respect of accessibility to the sources of data, information about the methodology and quality of the statistics, and the suggestion that the statistics were shared with the media in advance of their publication.”

Another statement by Duncan Smith later in the month also drew criticism and a reprimand. The minister said 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 testing.

Iain Duncan Smith Rebuked Over Immigration Statistics – Iain Duncan Smith and the Department of Work and Pensions have been accused of publishing misleading immigration figures that were “highly vulnerable to misinterpretation”.Figures showing 371,000 immigrants were on benefits were rushed out by ministers with insufficient regard for “weaknesses” in the data, according to the UK Statistics Authority.

In a strongly-worded rebuke to Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith, the head of the UKSA, sir Michael Scholar, condemned the handling of the research, the Press Association reported.

Sir Michael said that despite being “highly vulnerable to misinterpretation”, the claims were given to the media without the safeguards demanded for official statistics and by issuing the figures as a “research paper”, the DWP had bypassed the need to meet the usual code of conduct, he noted.

Grant Shapps rebuked by UK Statistics Authority for misrepresenting benefit figures – Yet another Conservative politician is caught making it up. Grant Shapps has joined his fellow Conservatives in the data hall of shame. In March, the Tory chairman claimed that “nearly a million people” (878,300) on incapacity benefit had dropped their claims, rather than face a new medical assessment for its successor, the employment and support allowance.

The figures, he said, “demonstrate how the welfare system was broken under Labour and why our reforms are so important”. The claim was faithfully reported by the Sunday Telegraph  but as the UK Statistics Authority has now confirmed in its response to Labour MP Sheila Gilmore (see below), it was entirely fabricated.

In his letter to Shapps and Iain Duncan Smith, UKSA chair Andrew Dilnot writes that the figure conflated “official statistics relating to new claimants of the ESA with official statistics on recipients of the incapacity benefit (IB) who are being migrated across to the ESA”. Of the 603,600 incapacity benefit claimants referred for reassessment as part of the introduction of the ESA between March 2011 and May 2012, just 19,700 (somewhat short of Shapps’s “nearly a million) abandoned their claims prior to a work capability assessment in the period to May 2012.

The figure of 878,300 refers to the total of new claims for the ESA closed before medical assessment from October 2008 to May 2012. Thus, Shapps’s suggestion that the 878,300 were pre-existing claimants, who would rather lose their benefits than be exposed as “scroungers”, was entirely wrong.

As significantly, there is no evidence that those who abandoned their claims did so for the reasons ascribed by Shapps.

The chair of the UK Statistics Authority has rebuked shadow home secretary Chris Grayling – the authority have said  he “must take issue” with claims made by the conservatives and  warned the way they use violent crime statistics is “likely to mislead the public” and damage public trust. Mr Grayling has used a comparison between  figures to suggest that the Labour government has presided over a runaway rise in violent crime.

Even colleague Iain Duncan Smith said that such comparisons were “profoundly misleading and London’s Conservative Mayor, Boris Johnson, described Grayings’ claim as “absolute nonsense”. Chris Grayling made a headline-grabbing speech in which he likened life in Britain’s inner cities to that in Baltimore, Maryland, as portrayed in the acclaimed television series The Wire. Alan Johnson, the Home Secretary, remarked: “The connection between The Wire and Chris Grayling’s grasp on the problems of modern Britain is that they are both fictional.”

Treasury rebuked by UK Statistics Authority for inflation leaks – Britain’s statistics watchdog, ordered the Treasury to review its processes after sensitive inflation data this month was sent to 400 unauthorised people 17 hours before its release. Sir Michael warned: “There is a risk of market manipulation if key economic data fall in to the wrong hands before publication.”

Speculation data was leaking into the market ahead of the Office for National Statistics (ONS) announcement has been rife. Market rumours correctly predicted the last two Consumer Price Index inflation releases just before publication – in April and May.

UK Statistics rebukes Government over NHS spending claims – David Cameron famously promised he would cut the deficit, not the NHS. We now have it in black and white: he is cutting the NHS, not the deficit. There could be no clearer evidence of the failure of this Prime Minister and his Government.

“For months, David Cameron’s Government have made misleading boasts about NHS spending, misrepresenting the true financial difficulties he has brought upon the NHS. At the same time they have recently begun to try to distance themselves from these problems which David Cameron has created, trying to shift the blame to the NHS and its staff”Andy Burnham.

The watchdog has called on ministers to correct claims the coalition has made that they increased NHS spending in England. The UK Statistics Authority upheld a complaint by Labour about government claims the NHS budget had increased in real-terms in the past two years.

The watchdog found the best-available Treasury data suggested real-terms health spending was lower in 2011-12 than in 2009-10. The coalition said during its spending review the NHS budget had gone up.

Coalition rebuked again by UK Statistics Authority  – this time on flood defence spending. Andrew Dilnot says a Treasury graph on infrastructure left readers with “a false impression of the relative size of investment between sectors”. George Osborne and the Treasury have been reprimanded for misleading people about the government’s investment in infrastructure. For example, their chart made it look like investment in flood defences was roughly the same as in other areas, when in fact it was a tiny fraction.

Andrew Dilnot rebukes Treasury again over the false presentation of statistics in the National Infrastructure Plan.

The UK Statistics Authority has censured the Department for Education – Sir Michael Wilshaw – appointed by Mr Gove as Ofsted chief inspector – for using uncertain, weak and “problematic” statistics to claim that England’s schools have tumbled down the global rankings – the central justification for Goves’ sweeping school reforms. But now the government’s own statistics watchdog has called into question the figures at the heart of the education secretary’s argument. His verdict will be seen by critics as a blow to Mr Gove’s claim that England has “plummeted in the world rankings” given that the education secretary has been so unequivocal about the figures, arguing that “these are facts from which we cannot hide”.

Senior Conservative ministers have been rebuked for attempting to cover up Government statistics – showing one of their key housing policies is not working. In his ruling, seen by The Independent, the Information Commissioner roundly rejected the argument put forward by DCLG officials and demanded that the information be released.

“The exemptions cited by DCLG require more than the possible inconvenience in responding to queries about disclosures,” he wrote scathingly.

“The Commissioner considers that DCLG has not provided arguments which demonstrate that disclosure would inhibit the free and frank provision of advice or the free and frank exchange of views for the purposes of deliberation.”

He ordered the information be released.

And what did it show? In a short table released to the Labour Party, it showed that the number of people who begin self-build homes had fallen since the depths of the recession in 2009 under Labour from 11,800 to 10,400 in 2011.

Oddly the department claimed it did not hold the statistics for 2012 – despite the fact that more than five months had elapsed since the period covered by the data.

Theresa May rebuked over illegally deported asylum seeker – Rare court order calls on home secretary to find and bring back Turkish national and investigate UK Border Agency conduct.

The home secretary has returned to the high court and asked Mr Justice Lloyd Jones to set aside the order. The request was rejected and May now has to ensure the man is brought back to the UK. It is rare for orders to be granted by the court calling for people who have been forcibly removed from the UK to be returned and even rarer for the home secretary not to comply with them.

Mr Justice Singh stated that he was “very concerned” the government had failed to comply with his order.

In the court documents a senior UK Border Agency official admitted: “It is regrettable that the claimant was removed in spite of a court order preventing removal.”

Watchdog reprimands Eric Pickles’ department for £217m overdraft – The National Audit Office finding is embarrassing for communities secretary who was praised by chancellor as ‘model of lean government’ – for his ability to impose cuts on struggling councils – he has been reprimanded by the Whitehall spending watchdog for running up an unauthorised departmental overdraft of £217m, the NAO disclosed that the Treasury had imposed a £20,000 fine on his department as a punishment for its poor financial management.

The head of the civil service officially reprimanded David Cameron over the behaviour of his special advisers – following ‘unacceptable’ briefings to journalists, PR Week has learned. Sir Gus O’Donnell was so alarmed at briefings coming out of Government that he wrote a strongly worded letter to the Prime Minister urging him to restrain his aides.

Prime Minister is rebuked  over Liam Fox inquiry, for failing to call in his independent adviser to look at claims that the ministerial code had been breached. Fox resigned after being found guilty of breaching the code in his relations with lobbyist Mr Werritty.

MPs also claim the advisory role itself “lacks independence” after a new candidate was appointed behind closed doors by Mr Cameron.

Office of National Statistics rebukes David Cameron because of his false claim that average waiting time in Accident & Emergency has fallen.

Andrew Dilnot rebukes Cameron regarding the false claim that most new jobs in Britain used to go to foreign workers but now go to British workers.

David Cameron rebuked AGAIN by the Office of National Statistics for the false claim that Britain is “paying down its debts”. The Prime Minister said Britain had been “paying down its debts” during the Tory party conference, Sir Andrew Dilnot, pointed out that, while the deficit has fallen since the Coalition came to power in 2010, debt has risen.

And he noted that he had already rebuked Mr Cameron for making the same claim in a party political broadcast in 2013.

George Osborne rebuked for boasting he halved £1.7bn EU surchargeThe all-party Treasury select committee said: “The suggestion that the £1.7bn bill demanded by the European Union was halved is not supported by published information.”

The committee’s reproach is a blow to Osborne before the general election, when the Tories are expected to come under fire from Eurosceptics inside the party and from Ukip over the size of the UK’s EU contribution.

Finally, Coalition is rebuked by Churches over ‘human cost’ of austerity measures – despite Camerons’ claim that his policies are because of “divine inspiration”

Further evidence – UK Statistics Authority correspondence listcomplaints and responses regarding Tory lies.

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                   Pictures courtesy of Robert Livingstone

Related articles:

The Great Debt Lie and the Myth of the Structural Deficit

The mess we inherited” – some facts with which to fight the Tory Big Lies

Manufacturing consensus: the end of history and the partisan man

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The Tories are not “paying down the debt” as claimed. They are “raising more money for the rich”

Austerity is not being imposed by the Coalition to achieve an economic result. Austerity IS the economic result. In the wake of the global banking crisis, the Tories, aided and abetted by the Liberal Democrats, have opportunistically delivered ideologically driven cuts and mass privatisation.

We also know that the government’s own Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) laid bare an important truth – that any semblance of economic recovery is despite the Coalition and not because of them. Yet the Tories have continued to claim that austerity is “working”. The Chairman of the OBR, Robert Chote said:

“Looking over the forecast as a whole – net trade makes very little contribution and government spending cuts will act as a drag.

The OBR state that any slight economic recovery is in no way because of Osborne and Tory policy, but simply due to the wider global recovery from the global crash. 

The government has drastically cut its spending on everything – including the NHS, and welfare in spite of their ludicrous claims to the contrary, this means that the government has consistently damaged the prospect of any economic recovery. This also demonstrates clearly that Coalition policy is driven by their own ideology rather than a genuine problem-solving approach to the economy. Yes, I know I’ve said all of this before – and so have others – but it’s so important to keep on exposing this Tory lie.

However, I believe that Conservatives really do have a conviction that the “big state” has stymied our society: that the “socialist relic” – our NHS and our Social Security system, which supports the casualties of Tory free markets, have somehow created those casualties. But we know that the competitive, market choice-driven Tory policies create a few haves and many have-nots.

Coalition rhetoric is designed to have us believe there would be no poor if the welfare state didn’t “create” them. If the Coalition must insist on peddling the myth of meritocracy, then surely they must also concede that whilst such a system has some beneficiaries, it also creates situations of insolvency and poverty for others.

Inequality is a fundamental element of the same meritocracy script that neoliberals so often pull from the top pockets of their bespoke suits. It’s the big contradiction in the smug, vehement meritocrat’s competitive individualism narrative. This is why the welfare state came into being, after all – because when we allow such fundamentally competitive economic dogmas to manifest, there are always winners and losers. It’s hardly “fair”, therefore, to leave the casualties of competition facing destitution and starvation, with a hefty, cruel and patronising barrage of calculated psychopolicical scapegoating, politically-directed cultural blamestorming, and a coercive, pathologising and punitive behaviourist approach to the casualities of inbuilt, systemic, inevitable and pre-designated sentences of economic exclusion and poverty.

And that’s before we consider the fact that whenever there is a Conservative-led government, there is no such thing as a “free market”: in reality, all markets are rigged to serve elites.

Political theorist Francis Fukuyama, announced in 1992 that the great ideological battles between “east and west” were over, and that western liberal democracy had triumphed. He was dubbed the “court philosopher of global capitalism” by John Gray. In his book The End of History and the Last Man, Fukuyama wrote:

“At the end of history, it is not necessary that all societies become successful liberal societies, merely that they end their ideological pretensions of representing different and higher forms of human society…..What we are witnessing, is not just the end of the cold war, or a passing of a particular period of postwar history, but the end of history as such: that is, the end point of mankind’s ideological evolution and the universalisation of western liberal democracy as the final form of human government.”

I always saw Fukuyama as an ardent champion of ultra-neoliberalism, and he disguised his neo-conservatism behind apparently benign virtue words and phrases (as part of a propaganda technique called Glittering Generalities), such as “Man’s universal right to freedom.” 

He meant the same sort of self-interested “freedom” as Ayn Rand – “a free mind and a free market are corollaries.” He meant the same kind of implicit Social Darwinist notions long held by Conservatives like Herbert Spencer – where the market rather than evolution decides who is “free,” who survives, and as we know, that’s rigged. Tory ideology does not ever have a utilitarian outcome.

Fukuyama’s ideas have been absorbed culturally, and serve to naturalise the dominance of the Right, and stifle the rationale for critical debate.

Like Marx, Fukuyama drew to some extent on the ideas of Hegel – who defined history as a linear procession of “epochs” – technological progress and the progressive, cumulative resolution of conflict allowed humans to advance from tribal to feudal to industrial society. Fukuyama was determined to send us on an epic detour – Marx informed us the journey ended with communism, but Fukuyama has diverted us to another destination.

I agree with Fukuyama on one point: since the French Revolution, democracy has repeatedly proven to be the fundamentally better system (ethically, politically, economically) than any of the alternatives. However we haven’t witnessed the “triumph of liberal democracy” at all: in the UK, we are seeing the imposition of rampant, unchecked neoliberalism coupled with an unyielding, authoritarian-styled social conservatism, with the safety net of democracy removed.

Fukuyama’s declaration manufactures an impression of global consensus politics but I believe this is far from the truth. I don’t believe this can possibly be the endpoint of humanity’s sociocultural evolution. It doesn’t reflect any global and historical learning or progress.

Jacques Derrida (Specters of Marx (1993) ) said that Fukuyama – and the quick celebrity of his book – is but one symptom of the wider anxiety to ensure the “death of Marx”. He goes on to say:

“For it must be cried out, at a time when some have the audacity to neo-evangelize in the name of the ideal of a liberal democracy that has finally realized itself as the ideal of human history: never have violence, inequality, exclusion, famine, and thus economic oppression affected as many human beings in the history of the earth and of humanity. Instead of singing the advent of the ideal of liberal democracy and of the capitalist market in the euphoria of the end of history, instead of celebrating the ‘end of ideologies’ and the end of the great emancipatory discourses, let us never neglect this obvious macroscopic fact, made up of innumerable singular sites of suffering: no degree of progress allows one to ignore that never before, in absolute figures, have so many men, women and children been subjugated, starved or exterminated on the earth.”

Fukuyama’s work is a celebration of neoliberal hegemony and a neo-conservative endorsement of it. It’s an important work to discuss simply because it has been so widely and tacitly accepted, and because of that, some of the implicit, taken-for-granted assumptions and ramifications need to be made explicit.

I don’t think conviction politics is dead, as claimed by Cameron – he has said that he doesn’t “do isms”, that politics is doing “what works”, “working together in the National interest” and “getting the job done”. But we know he isn’t working to promote a national interest, only an elite one. Cameron may have superficially smoothed recognisable “isms” from Tory ideology, but Nick Clegg has most certainly taken the politics out of politics, and added to the the impression that old polarities no longer pertain –  that all the main parties have shifted to the right.

However, the authoritarian Right’s domination of the ideological landscape, the Liberal Democrat’s complete lack of any partisan engagement and their readiness to compromise with their once political opponents has certainly contributed to popular disaffection with mainstream politics, and a sense of betrayal.

It’s ironic that many of those on the left who mistake divisiveness for a lack of political choice have forgotten the degree of consensus politics between 1945 and 1979, when Labour achieved so much, and manifested what many deem “real” socialist ideals. The Conservatives at that time largely agreed the need for certain basic government policies and changes in government responsibility in the decades after World War II, from which we emerged economically exhausted.

The welfare state, the national health service (NHS), and widespread nationalisation of industry happened at a time of high national debt, because the recommendations of the Beveridge Report were adopted by the Liberal Party, to some extent by the Conservative Party, and then most expansively, by the Labour Party.

It was Thatcher’s government that challenged the then accepted orthodoxy of Keynesian economics – that a fall in national income and rising unemployment should be countered by increased government expenditure to stimulate the economy. There was increasing divergence of economic opinion between the Labour and the Tories, ending the consensus of the previous decades. Thatcher’s policies rested on a strongly free-market monetarist platform aiming to curb inflation by controlling the UK’s money supply, cut government spending, and privatise industry, consensus became an unpopular word.

The Thatcher era also saw a massive under-investment in infrastructure. Inequality increased. The winners included much of the corporate sector and the City, and the losers were much of the public sector and manufacturing. Conservatism: same as it ever was.

Those on the “Narxist” left who claim that there is a consensus – and that the Blair government continued with the tenets of Thatcherism need to take a close look at Blair’s policies, and the important achievements that were underpinned with clear ethical socialist principles: strong themes of equality, human rights, anti-discrimination legislation, and strong programmess of support for the poorest, sick and disabled and most vulnerable citizens. Not bad going for a party that Narxists lazily dubbed “Tory-lite”.

Narxism is founded on simplistic, sloganised references to Marxist orthodoxy, and the claim to “real socialism.” Many Narxists claim that all other political parties are “the same.”

The Narxist “all the samers” tend to think at an unsophisticated populist level, drawing heavily on a frustratingly narrow lexicon of blinding glittering generalities, soundbites and slogans. But we need to analyse and pay heed to what matters and what defines a political party: policies and their impact. Despite New Labour’s shortcomings, if we are truly to learn anything of value and evolve into an effective opposition, presenting alternatives to the Conservative neoliberal doxa, we must also examine the positives: a balanced and even-handed analysis. We won’t progress by fostering further divisions along the longstanding “real socialist”, “left” and “moderate” faultlines.

It’s very clear that it is the Coalition who are continuing Thatcher’s legacy. We know this from the Central Policy Review Staff (CPRS) report, which was encouraged and commissioned by Thatcher and Howe in 1982, which shows a radical, politically toxic plan to dismantle the welfare state, to introduce education vouchers, ending the state funding of higher education, to freeze welfare benefits and to introduce an insurance-based health service, ending free health care provision of the NHS. One of the architects of the report was Lord Wasserman, he is now one of Cameron’s advisors.

New Labour had 13 years to fulfil Thatcher’s legacy – and did not. However, in four short years, the Coalition have gone a considerable way in making manifest Thatcher’s ideological directives. To do this has required the quiet editing and removal of Labour’s policies – such as key elements of Labour’s Equality Act .

The imposed austerity is facilitated by the fact that we have moved away from the equality and rights based society that we were under the last Labour government to become a society based on authoritarianism  and the market-based distribution of power. The only recognisable continuity is between Thatcher’s plans and Cameron’s policies. The intervening Labour government gave us some respite from the cold and brutal minarchism of the Tories.

There was never a greater need for partisan politics. The media, which is most certainly being managed by the authoritarian Tory-led government creates an illusory political “centre ground” – and a manufactured consensus – that does not exist.

Careful scrutiny and comparison of policies indicates this clearly. Yet much propaganda in the media and Tory rhetoric rests on techniques of neutralisation – a deliberately employed psychological method used to direct people to turn off “inner protests”, blur distinctions: it’s a mechanism often used to silence the inclination we have to follow established moral obligations, social norms, as well as recognise our own values and principles. And it’s also used to disguise intentions. Therefore, it’s important to examine political deeds rather than words: policy, and not narratives.

My own partisanship is to fundamental values, moral obligations  and principles, and is certainly none-negotiable. Those include equality, human rights, recognising diversity, justice and fairness, mutual aid, support and cooperation, collective responsibility, amongst others, and the bedrock of all of these values and principles is, of course, democracy.

Democracy exists partly to ensure that the powerful are accountable to the vulnerable. The far-right Coalition have blocked that crucial exchange, and they despise the welfare state, which provides the vulnerable protection from the powerful. They despise human rights.

Conservatives claim that such protection causes vulnerability, yet history has consistently taught us otherwise. The Coalition’s policies are expressions of contempt for the lessons of over a century of social history and administration.

The clocks stopped when the Tories took Office, now we are losing a decade a day.

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Thank you to Robert Livingstone for the pictures. More here