Tag: Philip Hammond

The budget will not alleviate inequality, poverty and hardship that government policies have created

Watch Jeremy Corbyn’s excellent response to the budget, while facing the braying, sneering, smirking government. 

Hammond is economical with copies of the Budget 

The Labour party have accused the chancellor Philip Hammond of breaking the ministerial code after opposition parties were not given a copy of the budget in advance. The code states that when a minister makes a statement to MPs in the Commons “a copy of the text of an oral statement should usually be shown to the opposition shortly before it is made”. The rules are that 15 copies and associated documents should be sent to the chief whip’s office at least 45 minutes before a statement. The government have frequently flouted these rules, prefering to follow the rampant authoritarianism protocol of avoiding scrutiny, transparency and above all, democratic accountability

However, a Treasury source claims that there was ‘no official rule’ that other parties should get an early look at budget measures. “We did not do anything differently from what we have been doing for the past 20 years,” the source said. I half expected him to add that the Ministerial Code isn’t really a code, but more a kind of ‘loose guideline’. 

The opposition is said to be considering a formal complaint. 

Austerity has not ended

Jeremy Corbyn accused the government of a U-turn on Theresa May’s party conference pledge that austerity was over. Hammond told MPs that austerity was “coming to an end”. The Labour leader replied: “The prime minister pledged austerity is over. This is a broken promises budget. What we’ve heard today are half measures and quick fixes while austerity grinds on.”

The Labour party also criticised income tax cuts, which it said would favour the better off and said there were no guarantees that government departments would not face further cuts. The Resolution Foundation have also concluded the same. 

Government rattles the Office for Budget Responsibility

The Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR), whose role, unsuprisingly, is to scrutinise the budget are also disgruntled because the government only handed over the final Budget policy measures on 25 October, a day late. This means the OBR hasn’t been able to check that the government’s sums actually add up.

The precise changes to universal credit came too late for the OBR to assess them properly, too. The budget red book says that the roll-out of universal credit is now scheduled to end in December 2023. It says:

In response to feedback on universal credit, the implementation schedule has been updated: it will begin in July 2019, as planned, but will end in December 2023.

But until recently, as this House of Commons library briefing (pdf) reveals, the roll-out was due to end in March 2023.

Officially the government says that, if the UK had to leave the EU with no deal, it could manage. But the OBR doesn’t share this view:

A disorderly one [Brexit] could have severe short-term implications for the economy, the exchange rate, asset prices and the public finances. The scale would be very hard to predict, given the lack of precedent.

The Press Association (PA) reports that the Labour leader said eight years of austerity has “damaged our economy” and delayed the recovery, adding the government has not abandoned the policy despite the chancellor’s latest spending pledges. The PA says:

Leading the response to the budget, Corbyn also said the proposals announced will “not undo the damage done” by the squeeze on spending.

He told the Commons: “The prime minister pledged austerity was over – this is a broken promise budget.

“What we’ve heard today are half measures and quick fixes while austerity grinds on.

“And far from people’s hard work and sacrifices having paid off, as the chancellor claims, this government has frittered it away in ideological tax cuts to the richest in our society.”

Corbyn added: “The government claims austerity has worked so now they can end it.

“That is absolutely the opposite of the truth – austerity needs to end because it has failed.”

Corbyn later said the “precious” NHS is a “thermometer of the wellbeing of our society”, adding: “But the illness is austerity – cuts to social care, failure to invest in housing and slashing of real social security.

“It has one inevitable consequence – people’s health has got worse and demands on the National Health Service have increased.”

Corbyn also condemned the “horrific and vile antisemitic and racist attack” in Pittsburgh, noting: “We stand together with those under threat from the far-right, wherever it may be, anywhere on this planet.”

The Labour leader criticised pay levels for public sector workers, adding: “Every public sector worker deserves a decent pay rise, but 60% of teachers are not getting it – neither are the police nor the Government’s own civil service workers.”

The economy is also being damaged by a “shambolic Brexit”, Corbyn added.”

Elements of the budget have revealed a Conservative party in ideological retreat. One of Jeremy Corbyn’s greatest achievements as leader of the opposition is the undermining of the neoliberal hegemony and his presentation of an alternative narrative and economic strategy. Personally I am glad that neocon neoliberal Francis Fukuyama didn’t get the last word after all. 

Over the last couple of years, the government have imported policy ideas and adopted rhetoric from the Labour party to use as strategic window dressing. Hammond announced an end to the government signing off on much-loathed private finance initiative contracts – something Corbyn had already promised. As a former Treasury advisor noted:

Originally introduced by John Major, and continued under New Labour, PFIs are essentially a way for the state to finance and then look after new infrastructure. The traditional way for the government to build a new piece of infrastructure, such as a hospital, a school, or a new road bypass, was to raise the money in taxes, or borrow it from the bond markets, and then pay builders to deliver the project. After that, the public sector would own the asset. 

The theoretical justification for Private Finance Initiatives (PFI) is that the private sector is more efficient at delivering and managing infrastructure projects than civil servants. PFI also supposedly transfers the financial risk of a construction project over-running from the public to the private sector. However earlier this year, the National Audit Office (NAO), released a new report which highlighted a lack of evidence that PFIs offer value for money for taxpayers.

The report followed the collapse of the construction and services firm Carillion which has shone a bright spotlight on the flawed process of  state contracting and outsourcing.

According to the Treasury data there are 716  PFI projects (of which 686 are operational) with a capital value of just under £60bn. Of this total the Department of Health was responsible for £13bn, the Ministry of Defence £9.5bn and the Department of Education £8.6bn.

Hammond pledged a tax crackdown with a UK “digital services tax”, aimed only at multimillion companies rather than startup businesses. On universal credit, the government attempted to neutralise the toxic issues with an extra £1bn to ‘ease issues with its rollout.’

But Hammond’s generous tax cuts to the very wealthiest households indicate that this is still very much a government for the few, not the many. 

Alison Garnham, chief executive of the Child Poverty Action Group, commented:

The work allowance increase is unequivocally good news for families receiving universal credit but a bigger salvage operation is still needed for the benefit. And bringing forward higher tax allowances – which will cost much more than the universal credit change – will mainly benefit the richest half of the population. We look forward to hearing more detail on how the secretary of state will use the extra £1bn to ease the migration of people on existing benefits to universal credit.

This is crunch time for universal credit. We hope the chancellor’s positive announcements on work allowances will be followed by a pause in the roll-out to allow for a fundamental review of its design and, crucially, for a commitment to restoring all the money that’s been taken out of universal credit.

Final comment:

 


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Wealthiest tenth of households are ‘overwhelmingly’ the biggest beneficiaries of Hammond’s budget tax cuts

Image result for Philip hammond rewards for the wealthy

The Resolution Foundation is a non-partisan think tank that works to improve the living standards of those in Britain on low to middle incomes.

The foundation’s initial comments on Hammond’s budget: 

The big print giveth and the small print taketh away.

Torsten Bell, director of the Resolution Foundation, says about the budget:

“In today’s budget, the chancellor has significantly eased – but not ended – austerity for public services. However, tough times are far from over.

The chancellor has set out plans to spend almost all of a very significant fiscal windfall on extra spending for the NHS, bringing to a close the era of falling overall public service spending. But unprotected departments are still on course for spending cuts into the 2020s – averaging 3% between 2019 and 2023.

The chancellor has also delivered a welcome boost to [‘hard working’] families on universal credit worth £630 a year.” 

Tomorrow the Resolution Foundation and the Institute for Fiscal Studies will both be publishing detailed assessments of the budget. I will be scrutinising these and commenting on them.

Jeremy Corbyn’s verdict:


My work is unfunded and I don’t make any money from it. This is a pay as you like site. If you wish you can support me by making a one-off donation or a monthly contribution. This will help me continue to research and write independent, insightful and informative articles, and to continue to support others.

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Philip Hammond shamefully claims UK productivity rates low because more disabled people are in work

Philip Hammond has been roundly criticised following comments he made to the Treasury Select Committee, suggesting that falling productivity rates in the UK workforce was due to more disabled people being in work.

Giving evidence to the Commons Treasury Select Committee concerning the Budget, the Chancellor said: “It is almost certainly the case that by increasing participation in the workforce, including far higher levels of participation by marginal groups and very high levels of engagement in the workforce, for example of disabled people – something we should be extremely proud of – may have had an impact on overall productivity measurements.”

He added :“It may have collateral impact on measured productivity performance.”

These comments betray a political mindset that is underpinned by the idea that disabled people are somehow a ‘burden’ on the economy, either in work or out of it. Conservative ministers such as David Freud and Philip Davies among others have suggested that disabled people should work for less than the minimum wage, implying that their labour is somehow worth less than that of others.  

Labour MP John Mann, a Committee member, said the Chancellor’s comments were “appalling” and later tweeted: “Chancellor just linked low productivity growth to the labour market and specified the increased employment of disabled people.

“My experience of employing disabled people is that they are brilliant employees. The chancellor’s comments are ignorant.”

Marsha de Cordova, Labour’s shadow minister for disabilities, said: “Shocking that Philip Hammond is trying to blame disabled people for low productivity!

“Disabled people contribute enormously and disability employment gap has barely changed since productivity started to stall. Disgusting scapegoating!”

Labour’s Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary, Debbie Abrahams MP, said Hammond’s comments were “disgraceful” and called on the Chancellor to apologise:

“It is disgraceful that Philip Hammond is scapegoating disabled people for a productivity crisis created by the Conservatives’ failed economic policies”, she said.

“This is coming from a Government that has forced disabled people to pay the price of their failed austerity agenda, including by cutting measures that help disabled people into the workforce and scrapping their own manifesto commitment on halving the disability employment gap.

“We should be increasing disabled people’s access to employment, not denigrating their contributions.

“The Chancellor should apologise immediately.”

Anna Bird, director of policy and research at disability charity Scope, said: “These comments are totally unacceptable and derogatory.

“They fundamentally undermine the Government’s policy to get more disabled people into work, and the ambition set out by the Prime Minister just a week ago.

“The Chancellor must urgently withdraw them and offer a full apology.”

In their recent response to The Future of Work, Health and Disability consultation, which ran last year, the Government say that they will increase the numbers of disabled people in employment by a million by 2027. The Conservatives claim that they want to ensure disabled people ‘fulfil their potential.’ They claim that work is a ‘health outcome’ and employment is linked with better health in order to justify the raft of policies that has left many disabled people without adequate lifeline support for the past few years.

Hammond’s comments make a mockery of the whole rationale behind the government’s approach to disabled people’s welfare and justification of the severe cuts in their lifeline support. Many disabled people have been forced by the state to work because they suddenly found themselves no longer eligible for financial support. This is because of the re-written state assessment processes, which are specifically designed to cut costs. This has caused distress and harm to many disabled and ill people, at a time when they are very vulnerable.

For example, last year I wrote a harrowing article about a man with a serious lung condition, hernia and he also developed depression and anxiety, who was passed as ‘fit for work’ by ‘independent’ and state-contracted ‘healthcare professionals’. His doctor was told by a manager at Birkenhead job centre to stop issuing ‘fit notes’ (another Orwellian language shift by the government, to describe sick notes). The letter said:

‘We have decided your patient is capable of work from and including January 10, 2016.

This means you do not have to give your patient more medical certificates for employment and support allowance purposes unless they appeal against this decision.’

The doctor obliged and the patient died. He clearly wasn’t ‘fit for work.’ 

James Harrison was very worried that his ill-health interfered with his obligation to comply with the inflexible and harsh conditions attached to his eligibility for basic welfare support and that this would lead to sanctions – the withdrawal of his lifeline support and only income, which was calculated to meet his most basic survival needs only. What an absolutely appalling situation for the state to put someone in when they are so ill.

It’s difficult to understand why a so-called civilised, developed and very wealthy nation would place some citizens’ lives at risk in this way. James isn’t an isolated case. There are many more people that have been distressed and harmed by the consequences of the Conservative’s disciplinarian approach to ‘welfare’ policies.

The Government has already faced a damning United Nations inquiry into their systematic failure to observe and uphold the basic human rights of disabled people.

The correlation claimed by the Government regarding health and work most likely arises because of a faulty inferential leap of convenience on their part. Again, this claim has been used to justify cuts to support for disabled people. The correlation arises because people aren’t in employment when they are simply too ill to work.

This said, being out of work has become very bad for people’s health, because welfare has been reduced to the point where it cannot adequately cover the costs of people’s most fundamental and basic survival needs any more. It was originally designed to cover only essentials. It stands to reason that if it has been reduced, people won’t be able to afford necessities any more. Many people in work are also facing severe difficulties in meeting their basic physical needs, because of the drop in real wages over recent years and increasing employment insecurity, coupled with rising living costs. Living standards have plummeted which will invariably impact on peoples’ health, in work or out. Work is failing to provide sufficient income, and that is getting worse. There is a well-established correlation between mental and physical wellbeing, and financial hardship.

The Conservatives also claim that people taking long term sick leave has a detrimental impact on the economy and productivity, costing UK employers and the Treasury millions. 

It seems the Government is struggling to produce a coherent and consistent rationale for their increasingly draconian policies aimed at pushing disabled people into work and more generally, in getting their ‘facts’ straight.

It’s about time conservative ministers stopped their expedient scapegoating of ill and disabled people.

 


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

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A brief view of the budget

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He’s not very bright our chancellor, is he? Self-employed people face an increase in their National Insurance (NI) contributions as the Chancellor says he wants to “tackle the unfair burden on people in employment”. Presumably he means self employed people are not in employment. Yet they certainly aren’t included in unemployment figures, either. Last time I checked, employment means “the state of having paid work.”

That’s yet another broken manifesto pledge.

Gutto Bebb, Conservative Welsh minister, hit out at the proposals and called on the Government to “apologise.” Iain Duncan Smith added his voice to calls for a rethink of proposed changes to the National Insurance contributions after Hammond suggested that Brexit is responsible for the Government’s tax raid – conveniently mentioning Brexit for the first time regarding his budget. But he later denied that self-employed workers were paying the price for Brexit. Hard to keep up with what passes as the Conservative brand of reasoning and justification. It certainly makes me feel dizzy and nauseous, that’s for sure.

Hammond could have simply reduced the rate of NI that employees pay instead. He’s a bit of a wally. We did have a period of economic growth last year, second to only Germany, apparently. Good old Tories, eh?  Hurrah!

But I wonder who will benefit from that, assuming it’s really a growth in the economy? It won’t be disabled people claiming Personal Independence Payment (PIP) with severe psychological distress who can’t leave the house, that’s for sure. Or those suffering epilepsy, both types of diabetes and blackouts who need support with managing their treatments and monitoring their health conditions.

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A period of Orwellian growth. The economy is currently being propped up by increasing personal debt.  

All of these conditions in fact: Diabetes mellitus (category unknown), Diabetes mellitus Type 1 (insulin dependent), Diabetes mellitus Type 2 (non-insulin dependent), Diabetic neuropathy, Diabetic retinopathy, Disturbances of consciousness – Nonepileptic – Other / type not known, Drop attacks, Generalised seizures (with status epilepticus in last 12 months), Generalised seizures, (without status epilepticus in last 12 months), Narcolepsy, Non epileptic Attack disorder (pseudoseizures), Partial seizures (with status epilepticus in last 12 months), Partial seizures (without status epilepticus in last 12 months), Seizures – unclassified Dizziness – cause not specified, Stokes Adams attacks (cardiovascular syncope), Syncope – Other / type not known.

And these:  Mood disorders – Other / type not known, Psychotic disorders – Other / type not known, Schizophrenia, Schizoaffective disorder, Phobia – Social Panic disorder, Learning disability – Other / type not known, Generalized anxiety disorder, Agoraphobia, Alcohol misuse, Anxiety and depressive disorders – mixed Anxiety disorders – Other / type not known, Autism, Bipolar affective disorder (Hypomania / Mania), Cognitive disorder due to stroke, Cognitive disorders – Other / type not known, Dementia, Depressive disorder, Drug misuse, Stress reaction disorders – Other / type not known, Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), Phobia – Specific Personality disorder, Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD).

What kind of government cuts support for those needing help to manage medication, monitor a health condition, or both?

What kind of government cuts mobility support for people who can’t leave the house alone?

It seems that most people who are actually ill won’t be eligible for PIP. I wonder which people the government have in mind when they say “those in greatest need”?

Oh, it’s the millionaires again. Phew! Silly me.

From the Equality Trust:

pie wealth

The poorest people lose out from the budget yet again, of course. The distribution of wealth won’t change, with many households in the lowest deciles being worse off. The graph above does not show the full extent of the difference between the richest and the rest of society. This is because the top 1% have incomes substantially higher than the rest of those in the top 10%. In 2012, the top 1% had an average income of £253,927 and the top 0.1% had an average income of £919,882.

If you earn a few hundred thousand, you are set to do rather well yet again from another Tory budget. It’s remarkable how those need it least always get the financial “incentive” isn’t it?  Carrots for the fat cats.  It’s the delux model of “incentives”.

Meanwhile those who need it most pay for those who need it least. Poor people get the budget premium “incentive”, which includes standing on the naughty step, and thinking about what you have not done.

The Tories like wielding a stout stick and giving out a good thrashing for those who dare to fall ill. 

And just to clarify, social justice, equality and inclusion are NOT the same thing as work. They should exist independently of someone’s employment status. Otherwise, “inclusion” takes an Orwellian turn to the far right. We know from history that work doesn’t really set us free. People “enjoying the security and dignity of work” does not entail ensuring those who can’t work or who lost their job are utterly insecure, hungry or destitute. 

The government’s “pledge” to increase adult social care funding is being paid for by increases in council tax, some of which will be paid by those previously exempted from council tax because they are sick, disabled or unemployed. Social security was originally calculated to meet only the cost of fuel and food on the assumption that people needing support would be exempt from rent and council tax. That no longer is the case.

The rises due to come into force from April will not be sufficient to avoid strapped for cash councils having to make deep cuts to essential services, including road repair, parks, children’s centres, leisure centres and libraries. All of this in a time of “economic growth”. It looks like austerity is to be a permanent feature of Conservative neoliberal policy-making.

For many families who are just about managing, the withdrawal of state support for those who are in low paid work is hardly an incentive to “make work pay”. Of course Hammond has ignored the scandal of in-work poverty. This is one of the other austerity measures that he has chosen to keep. Introducing sanctions for those claiming social security because their employers don’t pay them enough to live on is simply a big bully’s stick, which would be better aimed at exploitative and miserly big business employers. Fancy punishing people because profit driven businesses pay as little as possible. 

It’s all the same peevish and spiteful mentality as “making work pay.” Instead of ensuring workers get a decent rate of pay, like you’d think from the Tory claim, the truly nasty party cut benefits and decided to impose punishing conditions on people who need state support indiscriminately, regardless of the reason, instead.

That’s pure upper class prejudice and malice.

And greed. 

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Meet Brexit, by the way, he’s the big elephant in the room, Mr Hammond


 

I don’t make any money from my work. I am disabled because of illness  and have a very limited income. The budget didn’t do me any favours at all.

But you can help by making a donation to help me continue to research and write informative, insightful and independent articles, and to provide support to others. The smallest amount is much appreciated – thank you.

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Tory MP says PIP should only go to ‘really disabled’ people, not those with anxiety ‘taking pills at home’

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George Freeman, MP for Norfolk and chair of the Prime Minister’s Policy Board, has defended the government’s decision to subvert the judicial system, by disregarding the rulings of two independent tribunals concerning Personal Independence Payment (PIP) for disabled people.

In an interview on Pienaar’s Politics, on BBC 5 Live, Freeman said: 

“These tweaks [new regulations to cut PIP eligibility] are actually about rolling back some bizarre decisions by tribunals that now mean benefits are being given to people who are taking pills at home, who suffer from anxiety”.

He claimed that the “bizarre” upper tribunal rulings meant that “claimants with psychological problems, who are unable to travel without help, should be treated in a similar way to those who are blind.”

He said: “We want to make sure we get the money to the really disabled people who need it.”

He added that both he and the Prime Minister “totally” understood anxiety, and went on to say: “We’ve set out in the mental health strategy how seriously we take it.” 

He said: “Personal Independence Payments reforms were needed to roll back the bizarre decisions of tribunals.” 

Freeman’s controversial comments about people with anxiety “at home taking pills” implies that those with mental health problems are faking their disability. He trivialises the often wide-ranging disabling consequences of mental ill health, and clearly implies that he regards mental illnesses as somehow not “real” disabilities.

His comments contradict the government’s pledge to ensure that mental health and physical health are given a parity of esteem, just months after the Prime Minister pledged to take action to tackle the stigma around mental health problems. 

Yet people with the following mental health conditions are likely to be affected by the reversal of the Independent Tribunal’s ruling on PIP mobility awards – those in particular who suffer “overwhelming psychological distress” when travelling alone:

Mood disorders – Other / type not known, Psychotic disorders – Other / type not known, Schizophrenia, Schizoaffective disorder, Phobia – Social Panic disorder, Learning disability – Other / type not known, Generalized anxiety disorder, Agoraphobia, Alcohol misuse, Anxiety and depressive disorders – mixed Anxiety disorders – Other / type not known, Autism, Bipolar affective disorder (Hypomania / Mania), Cognitive disorder due to stroke, Cognitive disorders – Other / type not known, Dementia, Depressive disorder, Drug misuse, Stress reaction disorders – Other / type not known, Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), Phobia – Specific Personality disorder, Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD).

Note that some of the listed conditions have known physiological causes, too, such as “Cognitive disorder due to stroke”, whereas Agoraphobia, “Stress reaction disorders”, PTDS, some anxiety and depressive disorders, substance use and PTDS, for example, most often arise because of context, circumstances, events and  experiences, whilst the aetiology of some of the other listed conditions is not yet clearly understood by medical experts.

Regardless of the cause of an illness, it is not possible or appropriate to use constructed and arbitrary taxonomies and hierarchical ranks of disability to decide in advance of an assessment how those conditions negatively impact on disabled people’s capacity to live their lives, to perform tasks, their dignity, social inclusion and independence. Freeman’s generalisation was therefore completely inappropriate.

Freeman’s comments signposted the Conservative’s “deserving” and “undeserving” narrative, implying that some disabled people are faking their illnesses. However, disabled people do not “cheat” the social security system: the system has been redesigned by the government to cheat disabled people.

Criticism

Despite some scathing comments and challenges from the opposition, Freeman maintains: “My point was that these PIP reforms are partly about rolling back some frankly bizarre decisions in tribunals which have seen money that should go to the most disabled spent on people with really much less urgent conditions.”

The chief executive of Scope, Mark Atkinson. said: “It is unhelpful to make crude distinctions between those with physical impairments and mental health issues because the kind of impairment someone has is not a good indicator of the costs they will face.

Many disabled people will be now be anxiously waiting to hear as to whether or not these tighter rules will affect their current PIP award.

The government must offer clarity and reassurance that these new measures will not negatively affect the financial support that disabled people receive now or in the future, and that they stand by their commitment to making no further changes to disability benefits in this Parliament.”

Debbie Abrahams MP, Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary has also responded to the comments by Freeman. She said:

“Mr Freeman must immediately apologise for the comments he made regarding sick and disabled people.

Freeman dismissed the needs of people with mental health conditions saying support should go to “really disabled people” rather than those who are “taking pills at home, who suffer from anxiety.

Not only does this fly in the face of the commitment to ‘parity of esteem’ for people with mental health conditions, but it directly contradicts Theresa May’s comments on mental health and two recent tribunal judgements.”

The Shadow Chancellor, John McDonnell, has called on Philip Hammond not to go ahead with the £3.7bn worth of cuts to PIP which will hit 160,000 disabled people.

The announcement about the two controversial regulations to be imposed without any parliamentary scrutiny and debate, and without any democratic dialogue with disabled people, was sneaked out last week by the government. It will mean 160,000 disabled people are likely to see a loss in their income as a direct effect of the changes made by the government to how PIP is awarded.

 McDonnell said

“Theresa May has used the cover of the by-elections to sneak out this announcement hurting so many vulnerable disabled people.

His is a return to the worst politics of spin that so tarnished our politics for so long. It is an act of immense bad faith. She is degrading politics and demeaning the role of Prime Minister.

Next week the Tories will make out that the economy and the public finances are doing better, however, they are planning to go ahead with a £3.7 billion cut to the disabled.

This time last year when the economy and public finances were not doing as well, and the then Chancellor George Osborne tried to cut PIP, Labour stopped him. And in his u-turn he claimed that he could “absorb” the cost of reversing this cut.

Hammond can’t hide from these PIP cuts in his Budget. He needs to explain why he can’t absorb them like his predecessor while he is still going ahead with tax giveaways to the very wealthiest in our country.”

But cutting PIP may cost more than it will save. 

PIP is an in-work benefit as well as being accessible to disabled people out of work. Cutting PIP will invariably mean that some disabled people can no longer remain sufficiently independent to work. Many have lost their higher mobility rate component when they were reassessed for PIP after claiming Disability Living Allowance (DLA), and as a consequence, have lost their motability vehicles – which includes wheelchairs as well as specially adapted cars –  leaving many completely housebound and unable to work. 

The Conservative claim that “the government is committed to supporting the most vulnerable” doesn’t stand up to scrutiny, given the Conservative’s policy record, including cruelly scrapping the Independent Living Fund, which has had a hugely negative impact on those trying their best to lead independent and dignified lives, and the Access To Work funding has been severely cut, this is also a fund that helps people and employers to cover the extra living costs arising due to disabilities that might present barriers to work.

The mental-physical illness distinction is a false dichotomy

It’s not appropriate to dichotomise mental and physical illness, as they are not clearly distinct. Most people would probably recognise that trauma, anxiety and stress can exacerbate illnesses that have a clear physiological basis. However, illnesses that have clearly defined “physical” symptoms can often also cause mental illness. Depression resulting from dealing with chronic pain and adapting to progressive illness and increasing disability is one example of the overlap between the physical and mental dimensions of illness.

I have lupus, which is an autoimmune illness that potentially progressively damages the joints, tendons, muscles, nerves, skin, eyes, blood cells, capacity to fight infections, heart, lungs, kidneys, stomach and liver. And the brain.

Most people with lupus complain of severe headaches, cognitive dysfunction, short-term memory loss and often, coordination difficulties. However, some suffer from depression and anxiety as a direct consequence of inflammatory changes in the brain, and some people also experience mood disorders.  Other forms of neuropsychiatric lupus include psychosis, seizures, stroke and vascular dementia, chorea and cerebrovascular disease. There is often no clear boundary between the mental and physical symptoms of illness.

Health and wellbeing have socioeconomic determinants

Another important consideration is the context in which people live, this also has a significant impact on health and wellbeing. There is an extremely unequal distribution of power and wealth in the UK. There are also corresponding unequal distributions of opportunity, health and psychological wellbeing, inclusion, human rights and citizen freedoms more generally, such as freedom of choice and participation in democracy.

Precarity and anxiety directed by the state through targeted and discriminatory policies at the poorest citizens mediates and maintains a repressive state–citizen power relationship.

There is also an emerging and clear “cognitive” hierarchy: those in positions of power are formulating policies that are premised on a fundamental assumption that poverty happens because of something that poor people don’t do, or that they do “wrong”, and this happens because of cognitive errors and  “wrong” behaviours and attitudes. The assumption, of course, is that the policy decision-makers are more cognitively and behaviourally competent than those they are “nudging” to change their thinking and behaviour.

However, we know that an economic system founded on mythical “market forces, an even more mythical meritocracy – amongst other just-world fallacies – and competitive individualism, which sets citizen groups fighting for increasingly scarce resources, creates just a few “winners”(around 1%) and many more who are dispossessed (99%). 

Policies controversially aimed at “correcting behaviours” are increasingly punitive (benefit sanctions, increased welfare conditionality generally and restrictions on child tax credits are examples of the government’s behaviourist approach) that draw on psychosocial dynamics – imported from techniques of persuasion at the low end of the advertising industry – build and reproduce socioeconomic hierarchies, not only materially, but through dominant discursive practices, and also through inflicting precarity and perpetual anxiety on those people who have the least share of national wealth. 

It’s remarkable that a government that claims “work is beneficial to health” also fail to recognise the impact of neoliberal socioeconomic organisation, prejudiced political narratives and draconian policies, the relationship between growing inequality and increasing poverty, and how this toxic context has a detrimental effect on people’s physical health and psychological wellbeing.

The Conservatives are so busy diverting public attention, and pointing out what they think those people who need mitigation from the worst ravages of neoliberalism are “doing wrong”, they fail to recognise and acknowledge what it is that the government is doing wrong.

When people are attacked, oppressed and controlled psychologically by a so-called democratic government that embeds punishment at the heart of public policies to target the poorest citizens, it’s hardly surprising they become increasingly ill.

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I wrote a longer article about this for Scisco Media, which can be read here: Social security has been redesigned to cheat disabled people

 


 

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Government welfare policies are ‘historically obsolete’ say researchers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

proper Blond

 


 

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Malnutrition, austerity and eugenics.

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

Official figures more recently from the Department of Health reveal that people with malnutrition accounted for 184,528 of days in hospital beds taken up in England taken up last year, a huge rise on 65,048 in 2006-07. The sharp increase is adding to the pressures on hospitals, which are already struggling with record levels of overcrowding and limited resources because of underfunding.

 

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Critics and campaigners have said the upward trend is a result of austerity and rising absolute poverty, deep cutbacks in recent years to meals on wheels services for the elderly and inadequate social care support, especially for older people. 

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

The figures once again directly contradict the glib claim from government ministers that the rise in the use of food banks is linked to the fact that there are now more of them. Ludicrously, millionaire David Freud has claimed that people use food banks just because they provide a  “free good”.  However, research shows that people turn to charity food as a last resort following a crisis such as the loss of a job, the delays and problems accessing social security benefits, and through benefit sanctions. 

People may only be referred to a food bank by a professional such as a social worker or GP. If someone turns up without a voucher, food bank staff put them in touch with relevant local agencies who can assess whether they need a voucher and signpost them to the right services. The number of people receiving emergency food is disproportionate to the number of new food banks opening: following the welfare “reforms”, by 2013, numbers helped by food banks increased by 170% whilst there was only a 76% increase in new food banks opening. 

Over 50% of children living in poverty in the UK are from working households and many of the people helped by food banks are in work, with the rising cost of living combined with no rise in low wages causing many to hit a crisis where they can’t afford to met basic needs such as eating.

Jonathan Ashworth, the shadow health secretary, unearthed the latest figures in a response to a recent parliamentary question submitted to the health minister Nicola Blackwood. He said: 

“These figures paint a grim picture of Britain under the Conservatives. Real poverty is causing vulnerable people, particularly the elderly, to go hungry and undernourished so much so that they end up in hospitalOur research reveals a shocking picture of levels of malnutrition in 21st-century England and the impact it has on our NHS. This is unacceptable in modern Britain.”

In a very wealthy first-world  democracy, it is completely unacceptable that anyone is left hungry, malnourished and in absolute poverty.

The Department of Health figures showed that the number of “bed days” accounted for by someone with a primary or secondary diagnosis of malnutrition rose from 128,361 in 2010-11, the year the coalition came to power, to 184,528 last year – a 61% rise over five years.

The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence classes someone as malnourished if they have a body mass index of less than 18.5, have suffered the unintentional loss of more than 10% of their weight over the last three to six months, or if they have a BMI under 20 and have unintentionally seen their weight drop by more than 5% over the previous three to six months.

The worrying decision by the chancellor, Philip Hammond, not to fund the NHS or social care with any more money in his autumn statement last week will only worsen this already unacceptable situation.

Ashworth said: “The reality is the government have failed this week to both give the NHS and social care the extra investment it needs while also failing to invest in prevention initiatives to foster healthier lifestyles. The cuts to public health budgets along with an emaciated obesity strategy are both utterly misguided.” 

Figures are not available for exactly how many patients accounted for the 184,528 bed days last year, but information supplied to Ashworth by the House of Commons library shows that 57% of the patients were women and that 42% were over-65s.

Worryingly, four out of five people who needed inpatient hospital care because of malnutrition were admitted as an emergency, which suggests their health had deteriorated significantly in the days before they were taken in.

Not enough health and social care professionals have the time or knowledge to correctly identify malnutrition.

Stephen Dalton, the chief executive of the NHS Confederation, which represents hospitals, said: “Our members take malnutrition seriously. Good nutrition is a fundamental human right our citizens can expect, and vulnerable, particularly older, people are most at risk of serious consequences if denied basic compassionate care. At a time of unprecedented demand on health and social care we need to be alert and will take seriously any reliable evidence of basic care not being delivered.”

Time and time again, when challenged and confronted with overwhelming empirical evidence of the harm that their class-contingent austerity policies and welfare “reforms” are inflicting on citizens, the government simply deny any “causal link”. They say that the increase in absolute poverty, malnutrition and hunger, deaths and distress are unrelated to their policies, which they claim to be “working”.

With no sign that the government are going to emerge from behind their basic defence mechanism of collective denial – nor are the Conservatives remotely interested in investigating a clear correlation between their blatant attacks on the poorest citizens via their draconian policies and the terrible hardships people are suffering –  we do have to wonder what the real intention is underpinning such clearly targeted austerity.

Conservative ideology seems to be founded on the hypothesis of an inborn and “natural order” – a society that is based on a human hierarchy of worth. The Conservatives feel justified that they are part of a superior class in society and therefore they have an entitlement to hold power. Their policies don’t include the majority of us in their design or aims. The government are not democratic, they are authoritarians. Conservative policies act upon ordinary citizens and have become increasingly detached from citizen needs.

I was accused of the terrible crime of being an “interfering do-gooder” recently by someone with social Darwinist ideals. I couldn’t understand his ferocity. Then I made a connection, the proverbial penny dropped. Again. I suddenly felt very weary, disgusted and shocked – the recognition froze me. Again

Historically, eugenicists thought that misguided “do-gooders”, by giving poor people help and support, were allowing them to survive “unnaturally”, and were consequently interfering in human “natural selection”, a benign force which they thought was “deselecting” the people with the “weakest” genes and the “moral defectives”.  The Conservatives moralise about people who are poor and their punitive anti-welfare policies indicate plainly that they think that poor people have moral deficits.

The Conservative message that poverty is caused by character or behavioural “defects” and not socioeconomic and political circumstances should have been ringing alarm bells very loudly everywhere. The problem with authoritarian governments is they usually have sufficient power, one way or another, to mute the alarm. The first base of power over public perceptions that all authoritarians build is invariably facilitated by the corporate mass media. 

Austerity, “the national debt”, “a country living within its means”, “hardworking families”, the scrounger/striver rhetoric, “hard choices” and the “culture of entitlement” has all been a smokescreen for eugenic policies.

We cannot find any comfort in the belief that the government are simply neglectful policy makers. The persistent and loud denial regarding the increasingly precarious existence of the poorest citizens – especially disabled people – and the loud refusal to investigate the correlation between austerity policies and social outcomes that are damaging and harmful, and to consider the empirical evidence of humanitarian harm presented by citizens, academics, charities and campaigners, indicates a government that is not ignorant of the consequences, yet has no intention of changing their policies. The Conservatives are appallingly unconcerned about the terrible harm they are inflicting on invididuals and on our society.

 “Eugenic goals are most likely to be attained under another name than eugenics.” – Frederick Osborn

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The art of character divination

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

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