Tag: Oxfam

The neoliberal ideologues lost their fig leaf and so now turn to shoot the messengers

Yet another remarkable Conservative-led backlash against Oxfam’s annual report on global inequality ahead of the opening of the World Economic Forum in Davos was started almost as soon as the charity issued the press release.  The report says that just 42 people hold as much wealth as the 3.7 billion who make up the poorest half of the world’s population. Inequality has widened over last year, with some 82% of the entire world’s money going to just 1% of the population. 

The report says it is “unacceptable and unsustainable” for a tiny minority to accumulate so much wealth while hundreds of millions of people struggled on poverty pay. It called on world leaders to turn rhetoric about inequality into policies to tackle tax evasion and boost the pay of workers. 

Mark Goldring, Oxfam GB chief executive, said: “The concentration of extreme wealth at the top is not a sign of a thriving economy, but a symptom of a system that is failing the millions of hardworking people on poverty wages who make our clothes and grow our food.”

Oxfam has made changes to its wealth calculations as a result of new data from the bank Credit Suisse. Under the revised figures, 42 people hold as much wealth as the 3.7 billion people who make up the poorer half of the world’s population, compared with 61 people last year and 380 in 2009. At the time of last year’s reportOxfam said that eight billionaires held the same wealth as half of the world’s population.

The wealth of billionaires had risen by 13% a year on average in the decade from 2006 to 2015, with the increase of $762bn (the equivalent of £550bn) in 2017  – enough to end extreme poverty seven times over.

The charity also said nine out of ten of the world’s 2,043 dollar billionaires were men.

Goldring went on to say: “For work to be a genuine route out of poverty we need to ensure that ordinary workers receive a living wage and can insist on decent conditions, and that women are not discriminated against. If that means less for the already wealthy then that is a price that we – and they – should be willing to pay.”

An Oxfam survey of 70,000 people in 10 countries, including the UK, showed widespread public support for action to tackle inequality. Nearly two-thirds of people – 72% in the UK – said they want the government to urgently address the income gap between rich and poor in their country.  

The New Right and neoliberals subsequently have advocated policies that aided the accumulation of profits and wealth in fewer hands with the argument that it would promote investment, thereby creating more jobs and more prosperity for all. As neoliberal policies were implemented around the world inequalities in wealth and income increased, there were health inequalities and poverty increased, contradicting neoliberal theories that by increasing the wealth at the top, everyone would become more affluent. Public funds were simply funnelled away into private hands. (See: the Paradise Papers, for example, and A few words about trickle down economics).

Furthermore, it’s become increasingly apparent that neoliberalism, as a totalising free-market ideology, is fundamentally incompatible with democracy and human rights frameworks.

The socioeconomic changes pushed through by the New Right in the US and the UK in the 80s removed constraints on bankers, made finance more important at the expense of manufacturing and reduced the power of unions, making it difficult for employees to secure as big a share of the national economic wealth as they had in previous decades.

The flipside of rising corporate profits and higher rewards for the top 1% of earners was stagnating wages for ordinary citizens against a backdrop of rapidly rising living costs, and of course, a subsequent higher propensity to get into debt.

Let’s not forget that the main factors behind the global economic crisis were ill-conceived and ideologically motivated fiscal and monetary policies, which were aided and abetted by inadequate regulation and a variety of other neoliberal policy ‘mistakes’. We subesequently learned that squeezing the oligarchs – those whose behaviours were responsible for the Great Recession – is seldom the strategy of choice among free market governments. Instead, they look to the less powerful – ordinary citizens – to carry the consequences and burdens of the greed and reckless risk-taking of the financiers. Government’s can’t stay tough on erstwhile cronies, after all.

The oligarchs use their influence to prevent precisely the sorts of reforms that are needed. Responsibility and blame for the recession and the failure of neoliberalism has been re-written: it’s because of the ‘culture of entitlement’, it’s because of the opposition’s previous ‘spendthrift’ policies; ‘it’s because of poor people’s sub-optimal, faulty behaviours’ and ‘cognitive biases’; it’s because of ‘scrounging’ welfare claimants; it’s down to disabled people who are ‘parked’ on welfare; it’s because of immigration which drains our resources: it’s down to ‘inefficient’ public services; it’s because of the ‘bloated’ state. It’s because of anything but what it actually was because of. 

The pre-bust rising delinquencies in US subprime mortgages have all but been forgiven and forgotten. The political solution to catastrophically failing neoliberalism has simply been the application of more aggressive neoliberal policies.

Of course, in a society that celebrates the idea of self interest, greed and accumulating money, it’s easy to infer that the interests of the financial sector are the same as the interests of the country. 

Meanwhile, in the UK, when people were asked what a typical British chief executive earned in comparison with an unskilled worker, people guessed 33 times as much. When asked what the ideal ratio should be, they said 7:1. Oxfam said that FTSE 100 bosses earned on average 120 times more than the average employee.

Goldring said it was time to rethink a global economy in which there was excessive corporate influence on policymaking, erosion of workers’ rights and a relentless drive to minimise costs in order to maximise returns to investors. He is absolutely right. In the wake of the Paradise Papers, the catastrophic collapse of Carillion, which further exposes the neoliberal privatisation ‘efficiency’ myths, the wake of scandals from the likes of G4S, Atos and Maximus,  and Virgin Care. (See also: Doctors bribed with 70-90k salaries to join Maximus and “endorse a political agenda regardless of how it affects patients.). 

Payments to private finance companies where Carillion have a stake, 2017-18 to 2048-49

It’s unsurprising that the neoliberal ideologues are out in force, outraged as their hegemony is crumbling and their fig leaf has been removed. Astroturfing aggressively in an attempt to stigmatise knowledge that is an empirically inconvenience to neoliberal ideologues. The culprits are easily identified because they use the same crib sheet, with comments that are identical almost word for word.

The effects of inequality are not confined to the poor. A growing body of research shows that inequality damages the economy and the social fabric of the whole of society.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) said last year: “Research at the IMF and elsewhere makes it clear that persistent lack of inclusion—defined as broadly shared benefits and opportunities for economic growth—can fray social cohesion and undermine the sustainability of growth itself.” And development experts point out that inequality compromises poverty reduction.

The IMF also say “While some inequality is inevitable in a market-based economic system, excessive inequality can erode social cohesion, lead to political polarization, and ultimately, lower economic growth.” In the Fiscal Monitor, the IMF discussed how fiscal policies can help achieve redistributive objectives.

The Institute for Economic Affairs (IEA), a think tank insisting since the 1950s that free market have an important role in solving economic and social problems, have spearheaded what can best be described as an aggressive right wing and neoliberal astroturfing campaign on Twitter. It’s because they know neoliberal dogma has run out of road. Manic privatisation, small state extremism, austerity and a profit over human need philosophy have shoved and abandoned us in an economic cul-de-sac.

The IEA are braying in response to Oxfam’s modest call for a fairer, progressive tax system and a more inclusive form of capitalism : “Yet again Oxfam gets it wrong on inequality and poverty, “ says Mark Littlewood, for example, who defends the neoliberal go-to trickle down approach, arguing for growing the overall size of the pie instead of quibbling about how it is sliced. He also says: “Higher minimum wages would also likely lead to disappearing jobs, harming the very people Oxfam intend to help.”

trickle-down-theory-the-less-than-elegant-metaphor-that-if-one-11938559

The origins of trickle-down theory: poor people are expected to live on a diet of horse sh*t.

Yet the growth of low paid and insecure employment under neoliberalism has placed an increasing burden on our rapidly shrinking public services and in particular, such exploitative thinking, which places profit over the needs and rights of workers, has placed a drain on our welfare system, with the highest proportion of costs – most benefits – being paid to people in low paid work.

Littlewood fails to make the link between inequality and growing poverty. You’d think that if this approach worked, we would have seen evidence of it over the years since the Thatcher era. Instead, we have witnessed growing inequality and the return of absolute poverty – which is when people cannot meet the costs to fulfil their basic survival needs, such as for fuel, food and shelter. 

The worlds’ wealth and power is increasingly concentrated in fewer and fewer hands, undermining democracy in the process. On the IEA site, Kate Andrews also tries to completely separate inequality from poverty, but fails miserably in her justification of inequality of the grounds of meritocratic dogma. She intentionally overlooks the dynamics of the triangular relationship between distribution, poverty and economic growth. Poverty can be reduced through increases in income, through changes in the distribution of income, or through a combination of both. 

Accumulation by dispossession –  the consequences of privatisation and commodification of public assets, transferring property and wealth from public to private ownership – has been among the most widely criticised and disputed aspects of neoliberalism. It was originally observed and outlined by David Harvey, who says that neoliberal policies in many western nations, from the 1970s to the present day, has resulted in an accumulation and centralisation of wealth and power in the hands of a few by dispossessing the public of their wealth, public services, resources, power and land.

This process of accumulation by dispossession intimately ties growing inequality with increasing poverty, especially in an age of neoliberal austerity, a programme which has targeted the poorest citizens disproportionately.

Increasing the income of poor citizens contributes to the expansion of the economy. Andrews also intentionally disregards the fact that almost everyone pays National Insurance and tax, and that poor people tend to pay proportionally more of their income in tax than very wealthy citizens. That’s if wealthy citizens choose to pay any tax  at all – it’s become increasingly optional, politically, to tax the rich. It’s become increasingly apparent over the last decade that the real economic free-riders are the very wealthy and privileged, not the poorest citizens. Poverty and inequality isn’t ordained by the laws of either economics or physics. It’s the result of hegemonic decision-making, and rigidly institutionalised class advantage and disadvantage.  

This is why big players such as the World Bank, United Nations, World Economic Forum, OECD and IMF have gone about setting twin goals and outlining recommendations that policy needs to simultaneously tackle poverty and inequality in rich as well as poor countries.

I’m just wondering if the Twitter trolls and astroturfers have yet ridiculously accused these institutions and organisations of being ‘Corbynites’ , ‘Marxists’ and of joining or supporting Momentum, as they did Oxfam.

oxfam

The condition that people who champion social justice and object to inequality and poverty must be poor and oppressed, otherwise their proposition must be invalid is a peculiarly right wing one, based on a form of faulty narcissistic reasoning. 

By attempting to shift the debate away from the policy changes that have caused inequality, neoliberals are simply trying to legitimate it without the merit of open and rational scrutiny.

One of the primary characteristics of this type of reasoning is an exaggerated sense of entitlement and resentfulness and outrage of other peoples’. These protagonists are the ultimate meritocrats, just as long as they can define who ‘deserves’ what and who does not. Despite the steadfast ethical values such neoliberal champions loudly profess, they are moral relativists in that what they adamantly deem immoral for others is somehow acceptable for themselves. Furthermore, they are also overly sensitive to any perceived slight, challenge or criticism, regardless of how legitimate it may be. Market competition is one thing, pluralism and a healthy competition of ideas is apparently quite another. 

It’s very telling that any call for a degree of social justice and for protecting the poorest citizens against the worst ravages of capitalism is now dismissed by the right wing free market ideologues as ‘radical’. It betrays their utter indifference to the plight of the inevitable and innocent casualties of the catastrophically failing neoliberal experiment, imposed, regardless of the consequences, from the 1980s to date.

It isn’t possible to discuss growing global poverty without reference to its root causes and that invariably involves some reference to government priorities and policies. In a democracy, scrutiny of the impact of political decision-making and policies on citizens ought to be seen as a fundamental priority, rather than being simply increasingly indolently dismissed by authoritarians as ‘radical’ and ‘marxist’. 

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Osborne criticises the government’s manifesto, while charities are silenced by ‘gagging act’

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George Osborne, the architect of many an omnishambolic budget, has called the Conservative manifesto “the most disastrous in recent history” in a suprisingly critical editorial

The London Evening Standard derided the Tories’ campaign attempt to launch a “personality cult” around the prime minister. Osborne attacked Theresa May’s handling of Brexit as marred by “high-handed British arrogance”.  He said the campaign had “meandered from an abortive attempt to launch a personality cult around May to the self-inflicted wound of the most disastrous manifesto in recent history”.

He has already mocked May’s net migration target as “economically illiterate” and branded Brexit a “historic mistake” since becoming the London paper’s editor.

The editorial then mockingly suggested the current conversation among Downing Street aides would likely be along the lines of: “Honey, I shrunk the poll lead.”

The Evening Standard has also criticised the government’s manifesto meltdown over the  highly unpopular “dementia tax”, saying: “Just four days after the Conservative manifesto proposals on social care were announced, Theresa May has performed an astonishing U-turn, and bowed in the face of a major Tory revolt over plans to increase the amount that elderly homeowners and savers will pay towards their care in old age. 

There will now be a cap on the total care costs that any one individual faces. The details are still sketchy but it is not encouraging that the original proposals were so badly thought through.” 

In another article titled U-turn on social care is neither strong nor stable”, it says: “Current Tory leaders should have been ready to defend their approach. Instead we had a weekend of wobbles that presumably prompted today’s U-turn. The Pensions Secretary Damian Green was unable to answer basic questions in a TV interview about who will lose their fuel payments, and how much extra money will go into social care.

“Either the Government is prepared to remove these payments from millions of pensioners who are not in poverty, and don’t receive pension credit, and spend their substantial savings on social care; or they chicken out, target the tiny percentage of pensioners who are on higher tax rates, save paltry sums and accept the whole manoeuvre is a gimmick. Certainly, if the savings are to pay for a new care cap, then many pensioners will lose their winter fuel payment. This isn’t for consultation after an election — it’s an issue of honesty before an election.”

With the Tories’ poll lead diminishing, Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron has warned that the proposed “dementia tax” would become May’s version of the poll tax which led to Margaret Thatcher’s downfall.

Whilst Osborne is free to speak his mind, it’s an irony that many charities have complained they have been silenced from criticising the Conservative social care plans despite the fact they will be hugely damaging to elderly and disabled people across the country.

One chief executive of a major charity in the social care sector has told the Guardian that they felt “muzzled” by the Transparency of Lobbying, non-Party Campaigning, and Trade Union Administration Bill – a controversial legislation introduced in 2014  which heavily restricts organisations from intervening on policy during an election period.

The charity said May’s decision to means test winter fuel allowance would “inadvertently” result in some of the poorest pensioners in the country losing the support, adding that “will literally cost lives”.

The charity also claimed that the so-called “dementia tax” on social care in the home would stop people who need support from seeking it.

“We are ready to speak out at one minute past midnight on 9 June,” the charity leader added, but stressed they were too afraid to do so now.

Sir Stephen Bubb, who runs the Charity Futures thinktank but previously led Acevo, an umbrella organisation for voluntary organisations, said it was notable how quiet his sector had been about the policy.

He went on to say: “The social care proposals strike at the heart of what charities do but they should be up in arms about them but it hasn’t happened. It is two problems: there is the problem of the so-called “gagging act”, but also the general climate of hostility towards charities means there is a lot of self censorship.” 

“Charities that once would have spoken out are keeping quiet and doing a disservice to their beneficiaries. They need to get a bit of a grip.” 

He cited the example of the Prime Minister hitting out at the British Red Cross after its chief executive claimed his organisation was responding to a “humanitarian crisis” in hospitals and ambulance services.

May accused the organisation of making comments that were “irresponsible and overblown”.

It’s not the only time the Conservatives have tried to gag charities for highlighting the dire impacts of Tory policies. In 2014, MPs reported Oxfam to the Charity Watchdog for campaigning against poverty. I guess the Joseph Rowntree Foundation had better watch it, too. What next, will they be reporting the NSPCC for campaigning for children’s welfare?

'Lifting the lid on austerity Britain reveals a perfect storm - and it's forcing more and more people into poverty' tweeted Oxfam
Lifting the lid on austerity Britain reveals a perfect storm – and it’s forcing more and more people into poverty.

The Oxfam campaign that sent the Conservatives into an indignant rage and to the charity watchdog to complain was an appeal to ALL political parties to address growing poverty. Oxfam cited some of the causes of growing poverty in the UK, identified through research (above).

Tory MP Priti Patel must have felt that the Conservatives are exempt from this appeal, due to being the architects of the policies that have led to a growth in poverty and inequality, when she said: “With this Tweet they have shown their true colours and are now nothing more than a mouthpiece for left wing propaganda.”

I’m wondering when concern for poverty and the welfare of citizens become the sole concern of “the left wing”. That comment alone speaks volumes about the attitudes and prejudices of the Conservatives.

Bubb said: “That was a warning shot. So many charity leaders do feel that if they do speak out there will be some form of comeback on them. The Charity Commission has been notably absent in defending charity rights to campaign – the climate has been hostile to the charity voice.” 

There is some fear that charities face a permanent “chilling effect” after the Electoral Commission said they must declare any work that could be deemed political over the past 12 months to ensure they are not in breach of the Lobbying Act. 

Another senior figure also said charities were too afraid to speak out on the social care proposals. “We are all scared of the lobbying act and thus most of us are not saying much during the election. There was the same problem in the EU referendum – if you criticise the government then you are being “political”.

During the referendum a row broke out after the Charity Commission
issued guidelines that some charities interpreted as preventing them from making pro-EU arguments. 

Head of the organisation, William Shawcross, dismissed the charge by Margaret Hodge MP that his Euroscepticism was to blame for the issuing of the advice from the commission on when charities could intervene on the issue.

Steve Reed, shadow minister for civil society, said the Labour party would scrap the lobbying act because it had “effectively gagged” charities.

Numbers of cases of malnutrition continue to soar in the UK

Minnes

The Office of National Statistics (ONS) have released figures that show 391 people died from malnutrition in 2015. There were 746 hospital admissions for malnutrition in just 12 months. The statistics also show two people in the UK are admitted to hospital with the condition every day in what campaigners have called a “national scandal.” 

Health minister Nicola Blackwood confirmed the numbers in a written answer in Parliament.

More than six people a month perish from starvation in England, which is one of the richest nations in the world.  The UK’s biggest food bank network, the Trussell Trust, provided more than a million three-day food packages over the past year, including 415,866 to children.What is worrying is that people may only have this support for a maximum of three days and have to be referred by a professional, such as a doctor or social worker.

Chairman Chris Mould said: It’s a scandal that people living in the sixth largest economy in the world are going hungry, which is why we’re working to engage the public, other charities and politicians from all parties to find solutions to the underlying causes of food poverty.

Our food banks support many thousands of people in various states of hunger.

Some people have been missing meals for days at a time; others have been unable to afford certain food groups or have sacrificed quality for long periods of time to keep costs down.

This, no doubt, has a negative effect on their health – and for people at the extreme end of the scale it will lead to malnutrition.

Every day we meet families across the UK who are struggling to put enough nutritious food on the table and hear from parents who go without food so their children have enough to eat.”

A Department for Work and Pensions spokeswoman said: “We now have record numbers of people in work and wages rising faster than inflation. 

But we need to go further, which is why we’ve committed to increase the National Living Wage, we’re taking the lowest paid out of income tax and our welfare reforms are ensuring it always pays to work.”

However it seems that “making work pay” is a euphemism for punishing those out of work or those in part-time or low-paid work with absolute poverty. In December 2015, I wrote about research from the Child Poverty Action Group, Oxfam, Church of England and the Trussell Trust which found that failures in the social safety net itself are most often the trigger for food bank referrals.

The report said that while money is tight for many reasons, including bereavement, relationship breakdown, illness or job loss, issues such as sanctions, delays in benefits decisions or payments or being declared “fit for work” led people to turn to food banks for support.

  • Around a third of foodbank users in the sample were waiting for a decision on their benefits – and struggling in the meantime
  • Between 20 and 30% more had their household benefits reduced or stopped because of a sanction

Other factors included loss of income due to the “bedroom tax” or the benefit cap. For between half and two-thirds of the people included in this research, the immediate income crisis was linked to the operation of the benefits system (with problems including waiting for benefit payments, sanctions, or reduction in disability benefits) or tax credit payments.

Amongst this group of people are many that are actually in low-paid work, claiming top-up benefits. The remaining number of people needing support from food banks to meet their most basic need are certainly in work, making a complete mockery of the Department for Work and Pension’s statement.

The research used 40 in-depth interviews with food bank users, data from over 900 users at three food banks around the country, and detailed analysis of nearly 200 clients accessing one food bank in Tower Hamlets. Another academic study said the government’s welfare reformsincluding benefit sanctions and the bedroom tax, are a central factor in the explosion in the numbers of impoverished people turning to charity food banks

The study, part of a three-year investigation into emergency food provision, was carried out by Hannah Lambie-Mumford, a Sheffield University researcher who co-authored a recently published government report into the extent of food aid in the UK.

That report concluded there was insufficient evidence to demonstrate a clear causal link between welfare reform and food bank demand in the UK. This is because the government has refused to make that information available by ensuring the reason for food bank referrals are no longer recorded. But Lambie-Mumford’s study says the rise in demand for charity food is a clear signal “of the inadequacy of both social security provision and the processes by which it is delivered”.

In 2015, more than 2,000 cases of patients with malnutrition were recorded by 43 hospital trusts in a single year.

There were 193 “episodes” of malnutrition in 12 months at Salford Royal NHS Foundation Trust alone, according to new figures.

Freedom of Information (FOI) figures show a rise of 259 between the 43 trusts compared with three years previously.

With the more recent introduction of more stringent in-work conditionality, including the extension of sanctions to those in part-time and low-paid work, the Conservative’s coercive psychopolitical approach to poverty will invariably make it even more difficult for many more to meet their basic survival needs.

At the same time, in 2014,  Community Links published a study called Just about Surviving which revealed that far from encouraging people on benefits to move into work, the draconian welfare cuts have pushed many further from employment. The report said that the state has reduced welfare support to the point where it barely enables people to survive.

Overwhelmingly, the reforms have made people “feel insecure and vulnerable to even small fluctuations in their small income or circumstance; continuing to erode their resilience.”

Furthermore, by forcing people into stressful situations where day-to-day survival becomes a pressing priority, the “reforms” (that are, in reality, simply cuts to people’s benefits), which were hailed by the Conservatives as a system of help and incentives – to “nudge” people into changing their behaviour so that they try harder to find work – are in fact eroding people’s motivation. In other words, the reforms have deincentivised and hindered people looking for employment, achieving the very opposite to the intent claimed by the Tories, to justify their draconian policies.

The report states that people are caught between trying to escape welfare reform through poor employment alternatives and feeling trapped in poverty. They move in and out of low paid work and are extremely susceptible to financial shocks and unprepared for the future.

In 2014, Oxfam’s director of campaigns and policy, Ben Phillips, said: “Britain is becoming a deeply divided nation, with a wealthy elite who are seeing their incomes spiral up, while millions of families are struggling to make ends meet.”

“It’s deeply worrying that these extreme levels of wealth inequality exist in Britain today, where just a handful of people have more money than millions struggling to survive on the breadline.”

Diseases associated with malnutrition, which were very common in the Victorian era in the UK, became rare with the advent of our welfare state and universal healthcare, but they are now making a reappearance because of the rise of numbers of people living in absolute poverty.

NHS statistics indicate that the number of cases of gout and scarlet fever have almost doubled within five years, with a rise in other illnesses such as scurvy, cholera, whooping cough and general malnutrition. People are more susceptible to infectious illness if they are under-nourished.

In 2013/14, more than 86,000 hospital admissions involved patients who were diagnosed with gout – an increase of 78 per cent in five years, and of 16 per cent on the year before. Causes of gout include a lack of vitamin C in the diet of people who are susceptible.

The figures from the Health and Social Care Information Centre (HSCIC) show a 71 per cent increase in hospital admissions among patients suffering from malnutrition – from 3,900 admissions in 2009-10 to 6,690 admissions in 2013-14.

Cases of scarlet fever admitted to hospital doubled, from 403 to 845, while the number of hospital patients found to be suffering from scurvy also rose, with 72 cases in 2009/10 rising to 94 cases last year.

The figures also show a steep rise in cases diagnosed with cholera, a water-borne disease which was extremely prevalent in the 19th century, causing nearly 40,000 deaths.

The new in-work conditionality regime may eventually apply to around one million more people.

The quantity of food being bought in food stores is also decreasing. It doesn’t take a genius to work out that repressed, stagnant wages and RISING living costs will result in reduced sale volumes. Survation’s research in March 2014 indicates that only four out of every ten of UK workers believe that the country’s economy is recovering.

But we know that the bulk of the Tory austerity cuts were aimed at those least able to afford any cut to their income.

We really must challenge the Conservative’s use of words such as “encourage” and “support” and generally deceptive language use in the context of what are, after all, extremely punitive, coercive  policies. The government intends to continue formulating policies which will punish sick and disabled people, unemployed people, the poorest paid, and part-time workers.

Meanwhile, the collective bargaining traditionally afforded us by trade unions has been systematically undermined by successive Conservative governments, showing clearly how the social risks of the labour market are being personalised and redefined as being solely the economic responsibility of individuals rather than the government and profit-driven big business employers.

 

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Related

Welfare sanctions cannot possibly incentivise people to work

The Coalition are creating poverty via their policies

Welfare sanctions make vulnerable reliant on food banks, says YMCA

Study finds Need For Food Banks IS Caused By Welfare Cuts

It’s absolute poverty, not “market competition” that has led to a drop in food sales.

Welfare reforms, food banks, malnutrition and the return of Victorian diseases are not coincidental, Mr Cameron

The politics of punishment and blame: in-work conditionality

 

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UK becomes the first country to face a UN inquiry into disability rights violations

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We ought to be very concerned about the government’s declaration that they intend to withdraw from the European Convention on Human Rights, (ECHR) and to repeal our own Human Rights Act, (HRA). One has to wonder what Cameron’s discomfort with the HRA is. The Act, after all, goes towards protecting the vulnerable from neglect of duty and abuse of power. The rights protected by the HRA are drawn from the 1950 European Convention on Human Rights, which was a way of ensuring that we never again witness the full horrors of the second world war, and overwhelmingly, one of the greatest stains on the conscience of humanity – the Holocaust.

Human Rights establish a simple set of minimum standards of decency for humankind to hold onto for the future. The European Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms was drafted as a lasting legacy of the struggle against fascism and totalitarianism, as well as the atrocities of world war 2.

What kind of government would want those basic protections for citizens overturned?

One that doesn’t value or wish to uphold the universal protection of its citizens. From the State.

Last month, a new report, Dignity and Opportunity for All: Securing the Rights of Disabled People in the Austerity Era – Jane Young is the lead author – exposed the Coalition’s failure to meet its international human rights obligations under both the UN Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities (UNCRPD) and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR).

The report – also published by the Just Fair Coalition, a consortium of 80 national charities including Amnesty International, Save the Children, and Oxfam, says the UK is in clear breach of its legal obligations. Support structures for many disabled people have disappeared or are under threat as local authorities cut social care budgets, whilst cuts to benefits will leave many disabled people without crucial help for daily living.

Jane Campbell, a cross-bench peer who is disabled herself, said: “It is both extremely worrying and deeply sad that the UK – for so long regarded as an international leader in protecting and promoting disabled people’s rights – now risks sleepwalking towards the status of a systematic violator of these same rights.”

The UK government seems to be the first to face such a high-level international inquiry, initiated by the United Nations Committee because of “grave or systemic violations” of the rights of disabled people. That ought to be a source of shame for the Coalition, especially considering that this country was once considered a beacon of human rights, we are (supposedly) a first-world liberal democracy, and a very wealthy nation, yet our government behave like tyrants towards the poorest and some of the most vulnerable citizens of the UK.  As disability specialist, campaigner and first-class human rights activist, Samuel Miller says: “Britain is [now] a retrograde society and a flagrant violator of human rights—especially the rights of the sick and disabled”. 

It’s because of the sterling work of people such as Mr Miller that the UN have been made aware of our dire situation, here in the UK. Many of us have contacted the UN and made submissions, detailing the detrimental impacts that punitive Tory policies such as the bedroom tax, other welfare “reforms” (cuts), including the increasing use of benefit sanctions, the Work Capability Assessment, Tory targets for reducing spending and local authority cuts, for example, are having on sick and disabled people.

This is a government who refuse to undertake a cumulative impact assessment of their “reforms” and also continue to dismiss any evidence provided that challenges their own glib and deceitful account as “anecdotal”. Yet we are expected to regard Tory soundbites such as the “culture of entitlement” and the “something for nothing culture”as some sort of empirical evidence that somehow justifies the cruel removal of people’s lifeline benefits and support.

There’s more than one issue here, though it’s plain that the government have no intention of addressing any of the terrible consequences of their draconian policies, and use denial and stigmatising others to deflect attention from their intents. I am reminded of Techniques of Neutralisation – a well known collection of tactics used to justify prejudiced views and discriminatory actions.

Another related and important issue is that people’s qualitative experiences should matter to any decent government, but the Coalition is far more concerned with its persistent attempts at INVALIDATING those experiences, (such attempts to invalidate and exclude the narrative of experiences of previously and presently marginalised people is a hallmark of the oppressive, supremacist condescension of historically powerful and privileged groups) –  denying their victims a voice and remedy. We know that this is not a democratic government that serves its citizens and reflects their needs.

Thanks to the sterling work of Dr Simon J Duffy, from the Centre for Welfare Reform, amongst others, we know that the austerity measures in the UK have disproportionately affected those people with disabilities and their carers. Dr Duffy’s work on the impact of the austerity cuts shows us that:

  • People in poverty are targeted 5 times more than most citizens
  • Disabled people are targeted 9 times more than most citizens
  • People needing social care are targeted 19 times more than most citizens

Yet, this government claims a cumulative impact assessment is “too difficult and costly”, I suggest that they use their considerable publicly donated, tax-collected wealth to fund the work of the Centre for Welfare Reform, who managed to undertake this work without hitting the obstacles the government claims it has. This said, perhaps the findings are the real obstacle that the government are concerned about. Because those findings are damning, and tell us that the welfare “reforms” are NOT “fair” as claimed, and are causing harm, distress, hardships and sometimes, death. The grossly punitive, draconian “reforms” need to be repealed.

The UN Committee has the power to launch an inquiry if it receives “reliable information” that violations have been committed, and as the Labour Government signed up to the protocol in 2009 – the UNCRPD and the international covenant on economic, social and cultural rights – it is legally binding. Many of us have used the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities to send communication and make submissions since 2012.

Austerity measures and welfare “reforms” such as the bedroom tax (which is in itself established by the UN as being a contravention of human rights law) mean the rights of disabled people to independent living, work, and adequate social security have been seriously undermined, causing significant hardship, and sometimes, leading to tragic consequences.

Such investigations are necessarily conducted “confidentially”, so the UNCRPD  has formally refused to confirm or deny that the UK is being investigated. However, a recording has emerged (one hour and twenty five minutes long, watch from one hour and four minutes) of a former CRPD member seemingly revealing that the inquiry has been launched.

Professor Gabor Gombos, who is the co-founder of Voice of Soul, Hungary’s first organisation for ex-users and survivors of Mental Health Institutions, and co-chair of the World Network of Users and Survivors of Psychiatry, can be heard informing the audience that CRPD has “started its first inquiry procedure against the United Kingdom”.

He informs the Sixth International Disability Law Summer School at the National University of Ireland in Galway, June, that inquiries are only used where there are suspicions of “grave” violations of human rights. He says: “Where the issue has been raised and the government did not really make effective actions to fix the situation – it is a very high threshold thing – the violations should really be grave and very systemic.”

Earlier this year, the level of UK benefits paid in pensions, jobseeker’s allowance and incapacity benefits was deemed “manifestly inadequate” because it falls below 40% of the median income of European states, by the Council of Europe in Strasbourg.

The finding in an annual review of the UK’s adherence to the council’s European social charter is likely to provoke a fresh dispute between the government and European legal structures. Iain Duncan Smith, the work and pensions secretary, dismissed it as “lunacy”. Not an open, accountable Minister, or government, then.

The Council of Europe, which has 47 member states, said the conclusions were legally binding in the same way that judgements relating to the European Convention on Human Rights had to be applied by member states.

Aoife Nolan, professor of International Human Rights Law at the University of Nottingham and a trustee of Just Fair said government policies were compromising disabled people’s human rights.

“Not only do these policies cause significant hardship and anxiety, but they also amount to impermissible backward steps in relation to disabled people’s human rights, contrary to the UN human rights framework.”

The report was submitted to the United Nations, which, as I’ve previously outlined in earlier articles here, is in the process of reviewing UK compliance with its obligations to the rights of disabled people.

Last year, Amnesty International condemned the erosion of human rights of disabled people in UK, and the Joint Parliamentary Committee on Human Rights conducted an inquiry into the UK Government’s implementation of Article 19 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities – the right to live independently and to be included in the community. The inquiry, which began in 2011, has received evidence from over 300 witnesses.

The inquiry highlighted just how little awareness, understanding and employment of the Convention there is by the Tory-led Government. Very few of the witnesses made specific reference to the Convention in their presented evidence, despite the inquiry being conducted by the Parliamentary Human Rights Committee, with the terms of reference clearly framing the inquiry as being about Article 19 of the UNCRPD.

“This finding is of international importance”, said Oliver Lewis, MDAC Executive Director, “Our experience is that some Governments are of the view that the CRPD is nothing more than a policy nicety, rather than a treaty which sets out legal obligations which governments must fulfil.”

The report is particularly critical of the Minister for Disabled People (Maria Miller, at the time) who told the Committee that the CRPD was “soft law”. The Committee criticised this as “indicative of an approach to the treaty which regards the rights it protects as being of less normative force than those contained in other human rights instruments.” (See the full report.) The Committee’s view is that the CRPD is hard law, not soft law. 

Dr Hywel Francis MP, Chair of the Committee, said: “We are concerned to learn that the right of disabled people to independent living may be at risk through the cumulative impact of current reforms. Even though the UK ratified the UNCPRD in 2009 with cross-party support, the Government is unable to demonstrate that sufficient regard has been paid to the Convention in the development of policy with direct relevance to the lives of disabled people. The right to independent living in UK law may need to be strengthened further, and we call on the Government and other interested organisations to consider the need for a free-standing right to independent living in UK law.”

“The Government is meant to include disabled people in making sure people have their human rights upheld. We are concerned that a part of the Law on treating people equally and fairly (Equality Act section 149) does not say any more that disabled people should be involved. This is a step backwards.”

In other words, the Tory-led Coalition has quietly removed this part of the Equality Act.

The budget of the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC), which was established by the Labour Party when they were drafting this flagship policy, is being reduced by over 60%, its staffing cut by 72%, and its powers restricted by the Coalition. Provisions that are being repealed by the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform (ERR) Bill include the duty on public authorities to have due regard to the need to reduce socio-economic inequalities.

Savage Legal aid cuts from April 2013 have also contributed significantly to creating further barriers to ensuring Equal Rights law protect us, and the Tory-driven Legal Aid Bill also contravenes our right to a fair trial under Article 6(1) of the European Convention on Human Rights.

This is not a coincidental multiple policy timeline, but rather a very coordinated political attack on potential legal challenges at a time when Tory-led severe and devastating multiple welfare and provision cuts have affected disabled people so disproportionately. The changes, which came into effect in April, will hit “the same group of disabled people over and over again”. 

Our political freedoms and human rights must not be subservient to Tory notions of economic success. Democracy is not about the private accumulation of wealth. It is about the wise use of the collective wealth for the common good of the public – that must extend to include ALL of our citizens. And a decent, civilised, democratic society supports its vulnerable members and upholds universal human rights.

We need to ask why our Government refuses to instigate or agree an inquiry into the substantial rise in deaths amongst sick and disabled people, as these deaths are so clearly a correlated consequence of this Government’s policies.

What kind of Government uses the media to scape-goat and stigmatise sick and disabled people, by lying and inventing statistics to “justify” the persecution of our most vulnerable citizens, and the withdrawal of their crucial lifelines and support?

One that does not value those lives, or regard them as having an equal worth with others.

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I’m adding this comment from Samuel Miller, as it highlights his ongoing, excellent, valuable and much appreciated work with the United Nations on our behalf, which is a most welcomed addition to our own ongoing submissions of evidence over the past couple of years:

A superlative piece, which I will bring to the attention of senior UN officials. Ahead of the September meeting of the Human Rights Council (see third paragraph of :-http://mydisabilitystudiesblackboard.blogspot.ca/2014/08/an-inopportune-time.html), I will shortly submit an inquiry request to the CRPD and Human Rights Council, petitioning them to open an investigation into Britain’s benefit-sanctioning regime. (At the request of Jorge Araya, UNCRPD Secretary, I am completing a bibliography of media articles on this subject, with particular focus on inappropriate sanctions.)

You already know my views on this matter: http://twishort.com/1RVfc.

My bibliographic assignment for the UNCRPD Secretary might be an indication that the UN has already opened an investigation into Britain’s benefit-sanctioning regime, but for the sake of certainty I’ll make that request myself.”

And further:  See my letter to High Commissioner, Navi Pillay, below. I included your superb article in my letter, Sue.

Subject: There is an urgent need for a UN investigation into the United Kingdom’s benefit-sanctioning regime

Samuel Miller 

Attachments3:58 PM 

High Commissioner Navi Pillay
Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR)
Palais Wilson
52 rue des Pâquis
CH-1201 Geneva, Switzerland.

Dear Ms. Pillay,

I am a 57-year-old Disability Studies specialist and disability activist from Montreal, Canada who has been communicating frequently and voluntarily, since January 2012, to senior United Nations officials, on the welfare crisis for the United Kingdom’s sick and disabled.

(See attached, and the following:

http://www.twitlonger.com/show/n_1rp0uui,
http://www.twitlonger.com/show/n_1rtnc63,
http://www.twitlonger.com/show/n_1rtvfk5 )
.

It is my understanding that a 22-page letter, pointing out that cuts to social security benefits introduced by Iain Duncan Smith and enforced by his Department for Work and Pensions on behalf of the Coalition government may constitute a breach of the UK’s international treaty obligations to the poor, will also be discussed at a meeting of the UN Human Rights Council in New York, in September. It is signed by Raquel Rolnik, the former UN special rapporteur on adequate housing; Magdalena Sepúlveda Carmona, the former UN special rapporteur on extreme poverty; and Olivier De Schutter, the former UN special rapporteur on the right to food.

Could you please add, as an addendum to that letter, my partial bibliography on Britain’s benefit-sanctioning regime, which is attached below in PDF format. My views can be found on page two; I am extremely concerned about the British government’s soaring use of benefit sanctions, and the evidence from MPs and the Work & Pensions Committee, which provides oversight of the Department for Work and Pensions, is especially compelling and strongly suggests that the government is stitching-up benefit claimants and is involved in a cover-up of that fact. The refusal of the government to agree to the Work & Pensions Committee’s request for an independent inquiry into this matter only compounds suspicion.

In closing, I would be most appreciative if the Human Rights Council and the OHCHR would open an investigation into this matter. This article (https://kittysjones.wordpress.com/2014/08/16/uk-becomes-the-first-country-to-face-a-un-inquiry-into-disability-rights-violations/) is very worthy of your—and their—attention, as well.

I wish to congratulate you on your tenure as High Commissioner, and wish you every success in your future endeavors.

Warm regards

Samuel Miller

 

14533697838_dffcc736f2_o (1)

Pictures courtesy of  Robert Livingstone 

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The last Labour government introduced a host of measures to strengthen the rights of our most vulnerable groups – in particular they protected the rights of disabled people. They formulated the Human Rights Act 1998. They passed the Disability Discrimination Act 2005, introduced the Equality Act 2010, formed the Equality and Human Rights Commission, and, in 2009, the Labour government signed the United Nations convention on the rights of persons with disabilities.

The few successful cases we have seen brought against the Tories are down to these Labour laws. We mustn’t lose sight of that. And I’ve every faith that a Labour government will address the gross injustices extended by the draconian of this government, using the existing laws, and their currently proposed policy of prosecuting people for hate speech against the vulnerable.

 


I don’t make any money from my work and I am not funded. I am disabled because of illness and struggle to get by. But you can help me continue to research and write informative, insightful and independent articles, and to provide support to others, by making a donation. The smallest amount is much appreciated – thank you.

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An email to authoritarian Tory MPs Charlie Elphicke, Priti Patel and Conor Burns

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 I sent the following email to Tory MPs Charlie Elphicke, Priti Patel and Conor Burns, with a copy sent to Charities Commission.

The email has evidence hyperlinked throughout in a bid to spare me the standardised Tory bullshit avalanche in response: 

Dear Charlie Elphicke, Priti Patel and Conor Burns,

I write to complain about your extremely authoritarian and oppressive treatment of the charity Oxfam.

First of all, I must point out that it is impossible to discuss poverty without reference to its root cause and that invariably involves reference to government policies. I am particularly disgusted by the way you have diverted attention away from the real issue raised – the rise of cases of absolute poverty. 

Oxfam are not alone in their concern about the rise of absolute poverty. Medical experts recently wrote an open letter to David Cameron condemning the rise in food poverty under this government, stating that families “are not earning enough money to meet their most basic nutritional needs” and that “the welfare system is increasingly failing to provide a robust line of defence against hunger.” 

Many charities have said that the UK government has violated the Human Right to food.  Article 11(1) of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) recognises the right of everyone to an adequate standard of living, including adequate food, clothing and housing. The UK has signed and ratified, and in so doing is legally bound by the ICESCR, in particular, the human right to adequate food. 

According to the Just Fair Consortium report, welfare reforms, benefit delays and the cost of living crisis have pushed an unprecedented number of people into a state of hunger, malnutrition and food insecurity in the UK. New research by Oxfam has revealed the extent of poverty amongst British children, with poor families taking drastic measures to survive. 

What kind of government is concerned only about stifling critical discussion of its policies and not at all about the plight of the citizens it is meant to serve? This is a government that attempts to discredit and invalidate the accounts of people’s experience of the suffering that is directly caused by this government. By blaming the victims and by trying to smear and dismiss anyone that champions the rights of vulnerable citizens. 

Priti Patel said: “With this Tweet they have shown their true colours and are now nothing more than a mouthpiece for left wing propaganda.”

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.

Mr Burns has written to the Charities Commission requesting an investigation into the “overtly political attack” on “the policies of the current Government.” However, he failed to mention this government’s overtly and cowardly economic attack on the most vulnerable citizens. I believe Oxfam has behaved responsibly, honourably, and with good conscience. It is the Tory-led government that have behaved disgracefully. We have a government that provides disproportionate and growing returns to the already wealthy, whilst imposing austerity cuts on the very poorest people. That is very clearly evidenced in their policies, the aims of which are clear when we examine who is carrying the burden of austerity. It is largely the poorest social groups and especially disabled people.

How can the government possibly claim Oxfam’s observations are “biased” when inequality is so fundamental to their own ideology, and when social inequalities and poverty are extended and perpetuated by all of their policies. The Tories have no right to be indignant about research findings regarding the poverty they have caused, and to complain about the genuine concern Oxfam expressed about those politically damning findings, when those findings are so patently true. I don’t believe that Oxfam have shown “bias” at all. I do believe that punitive Conservative policies are based on traditional class-based Tory prejudices, however. 

The truth is the truth, whether conservative MPs like it or not. Tory “facts” are both constructed and seen through a lens of pre-conceptions and ideology. Oxfam and the Joseph Rowntree Foundation choose to study poverty. Cynical Tories, such as Iain Duncan Smith simply change the definition of it. But changing the narrative can never edit people’s experience of  grinding poverty and their consequent suffering. Or disguise the causes.

So where is your concern for those vulnerable and increasingly impoverished citizens – the ones you are meant to serve? You didn’t even entertain the idea that there’s a problem, choosing instead to dismiss a respectable charity as “lefties”. Have you any idea how utterly callous, irrelevant AND ludicrous that comment was?

Or how obviously oppressive your actions are for reporting a charity for merely carrying out awareness-raising campaign work?

And before you spin me the poppycock line about inequality being ‘lower’ under this government, I already know about the methodological problems with the measurement method you purposely use, so spare me: https://kittysjones.wordpress.com/2014/06/09/camerons-gini-and-the-hidden-hierarchy-of-worth/

Yours sincerely
Ms S Jones, MA (Hons)