Tag: Policy

Centre for Welfare Reform calls for citizen convention to develop rights-driven constitutional reform

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Last month, the Centre for Welfare Reform (CWR) launched a new campaign, calling for constitutional reform to combat a political system that serves only the interests of the few.

The CWR, working with a broad alliance of different organisations, is calling for a citizens’ convention in order to develop a better constitution for the UK. The Centre have published an open letter calling for change:

Open Letter on Constitutional Reform: A new settlement between people and government is needed. We need a written constitution.

We, the undersigned, work to bring about a better, fairer society. However we have come to see that our efforts are compromised by an economic and political system that serves only the interests of the few. Every day we see grotesque inequality, poverty wages and rising consumer debt, over-powerful banks and energy companies, a housing crisis, and disregard for environmental standards. Worst of all we see a retreating welfare state that inflicts punitive sanctions on some of our most vulnerable people and communities.

Multiple injustices at home are mirrored by a deeply unethical foreign policy. Rather than promote peace, uphold human rights and democratic norms, our foreign policy is dominated by commercial imperatives which include lucrative arms sales to countries with repressive regimes and abysmal human rights records.

None of these crises can be resolved without reference to basic principles of economic, social and environmental justice and these in turn should not be separate from the legislative principles that guide the work of Parliament.

To make this happen, we need a new settlement between people and government in the form of a written constitution that embeds a comprehensive bill of human rights, including economic, social and environmental rights. It must delimit the power of Parliament by devolving real power to the regions and nations that make up the UK and place local government on an independent legal footing. Only then can ordinary people gain real control over their lives and shape their own future. The people, not Parliament, must be the new sovereign and a written constitution is the means to achieve that.

We therefore call for a Citizens’ Convention on a written constitution as the first step towards this goal.

Anyone wishing to add their support to this campaign can do so by contacting Gavin Barker from the Centre for Welfare Reform.

You can also read Gavin’s excellent article here: Why the UK Needs a Written Constitution

Neoliberalism works to support a politically powerful and influential minority to accumulate wealth by steadily dispossessing the majority of citizens. This has implications for social justice, human rights and democracy. The idea that the market is somehow a neutral mechanism through which the sum of individual choices will lead to progress has been seriously challenged by empirical evidence that demonstrates clearly how neoliberalism has led to social, political and economic regression, as our post- war settlement has been systematically dismantled.

As a researcher and campaigner against austerity, inequality, social injustice and political authoritarianism, and as also, as someone who recognises that neoliberalism is utterly incompatible with democracy and a human rights framework, Politics and Insights welcomes and supports this campaign.  

The current government believes that some people are ‘better than others’, and deserve more wealth. The neoliberal view of a meritocratic society has simply reconstructed the traditional Conservative defence of order, authority and discipline (but only for the poorest citizens) and has simply reimposed their view of a hierarchical ‘natural order.’

The political justification presented for this is the mistaken belief that socioeconomic inequality is desirable, as it somehow ‘incentivises’ people to achieve more. However, historic empirical research indicates that achievement and human potential are stifled when people have to struggle to meet their basic need for food, fuel and shelter. 

We are told that we are free to choose the course of our lives, but the freedom to make decisions outside the narrow narrative of ‘success’ is limited. Furthermore, those who fail are deemed to be ‘losers’ or ‘scroungers’, and defined as a burden on the state.

Neoliberals would have us believe that success depends on individual effort and talents, meaning responsibility lies entirely with the individual and authorities should give people as much freedom as possible to achieve this goal. For those who believe in the myth of unrestricted choice, self-government, self-responsibility, self-discipline and self-management are the mantra. For those who don’t, well there is a team of behavioural economists employed by the Government who are running social experiments without your consent, looking for ways of aligning your behaviour with neolberal outcomes. Choices become choice, our ‘best interests’ are ultimately being defined by the state and a handful of self appointed technocrats and “choice architects”.

Along with the idea that wealthy people are cognitively competent, but the rest of us are not, the freedom of choice we are told we have in the UK is the greatest untruth of our age. Competitive individualism invariably means a few win and many more lose. That is the nature of competition, after all. Inequality is built into the meritocratic script. It’s also built into our laws. Along with growing material inequality, the distribution of power in our society has also never been more unequal in our lifetime. Imposing an economic system that benefits so few requires an authoritarian Government, which, despite its ‘small state’ narrative, has become increasingly intrusive on a personal and psychological level over the last few years. 

The steady retreat of the welfare state that now embodies coercion and punishment, rather than support, inflicting discipline and draconian sanctions on some of our most vulnerable citizens and communities, no longer provides adequate support for citizens who lack the means to meet their basic survival needs. 

Our post-war settlement is being dismantled with stealth and dispatch – the welfare state, the NHS, legal aid and social housing – each of these historic social gains formed the basis of inclusive, civilising and civil institutions that have democratised and civilised our society. Yet public services came about to ensure each and every citizen’s life has equal dignity and worth; that no-one dies prematurely because of absolute poverty or because they have no access to justice, medical care and housing. 

Small state libertarian principles apply only to public services and meeting public need, when it comes to the private interests of the wealthy, the Government shows a remarkable generosity. Apparently wealthy people aren’t ‘incentivised’ by cuts to their income, draconian discipline, and brutal ‘behavioural change’ policies like poor people are claimed to be. Public policy has become an instrument of stigmatisation, social exclusion, outgrouping and increasing marginalisation.    

Othering and outgrouping are politically weaponised and strategic inhumanities designed to misdirect and convince populations suffering the consequences of intentionally targeted austerity, deteriorating standards of living and economic instability – all of which arose because of the actions of a ruling financial class – that the ‘real enemy’ is ‘out there’, that there is an ‘us’ that must be protected from ‘them.’  

It needs to be challenged and we need to change this, because social prejudice undermines the safety, fair treatment, dignity and worth of fellow human beings, on the basis of their characteristics. 

This extremely divisive and dangerous approach to imposing a totalising neoliberal ideology has been amplified by a predominantly right-wing media, who have constructed negative stereotypes – folk devils – from already marginalised groups to generate moral outrage and to desensitise and de-empathise the public to the terrible consequences of harsh neoliberal policies on previously socially protected groups. Stereotyping goes hand in hand with prejudice. 

Given our diverse and multicultural world, it is of great importance to understand ways to reduce social prejudice. In the 1950’s, Gordon Allport – who studied the role of social prejudice in Nazi Germany, leading to the Holocaust –  introduced the intergroup-contact hypothesis. In this view, intergroup contact under positive conditions can reduce social prejudice. The necessary conditions include cooperation towards shared goals, equal status between groups, and the support of Government, local authorities and cultural norms. 

I’m also a strong advocate of prefigurative, participatory democracy. I don’t believe that democracy is just about voting once every five years. It’s also about distributive social justice (concerning the socially just allocation of resources and goods).  

Government policies are expressed political intentions regarding how our society is organised and governed. They have calculated social and economic aims and consequences. In democratic societies, citizens’ accounts of the impacts of policies ought to matter. However, the Government persistently dismiss qualitative accounts from citizens as ‘anecdotal’, refusing to engage in a democratic dialogue.

In the UK, the way that policies are justified is being increasingly detached from their aims and consequences, partly because democratic processes and basic human rights are being disassembled or side-stepped, and partly because the government employs the widespread use of linguistic strategies and techniques of persuasion to intentionally divert us from their aims and the consequences of their ideologically (rather than rationally) driven policies. Furthermore, policies have become increasingly detached from public interests and needs.

I absolutely agree that none of these issues can be resolved without reference to basic principles of economic, social and environmental justice and these in turn should not be separate from the legislative principles that guide the work of Parliament. 

And: “To make this happen, we need a new settlement between people and government in the form of a written constitution that embeds a comprehensive bill of human rights, including economic, social and environmental rights. It must delimit the power of Parliament by devolving real power to the regions and nations that make up the UK and place local government on an independent legal footing.” 

Positive change is long overdue.

Kitty.

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Related

The still face paradigm, the just world fallacy, inequality and the decline of empathy

The importance of citizens’ qualitative accounts in democratic inclusion and political participation

Neoliberalism and corruption: hidden in plain sight

 


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Choice Architecture of a Democratic Politics – Hubert Huzzah


A lot has been written in recent years about the value of Behavioural Economics in nudging the Electorate to do make good choices. A lot less has been achieved in the area of nudging politicians. Politicians are pivotal in society and nudging them will have far greater impact on society than piecemeal and dissipated nudging of Citizens. Indeed the nudging of politicians is not only the most rational and efficient way to achieve positive outcomes for society but also ensure that both politicians and Electorate are of one mind when it comes to being “all in it together”.

The Choice Architecture of Parliament has, for centuries, favoured unaccountable and poor decision-making in isolation from the actual needs and wants of the Electorate. Indeed, women only acquired the right to vote in 1918, voting only became one person one vote in 1948 and the franchise has only been extended to 18 year olds since 1969, in the United Kingdom. Democratic participation has never been the primary aim of Parliament, for reasons that can be understood through a consideration of Behavioural Economics: Parliament is about the allocation and distribution of Power.

Reducing the tyranny of choice.

The sheer number of choices available to politicians is a tyranny.

From expenses for underpants to abstaining from critical votes, the sheer amount of time and energy devoted to Politicians’ choices diminishes political utility. The Electorate can become the Choice Architects of Parliament by democratically limiting alternatives and providing decision support tools.

Traditionally, Parliament has excluded the Electorate from many Parliamentary processes. Indeed with around thirty-five million eligible voters, Parliament can only function by being efficient. The true scale of the tyranny of choice can be expressed, mathematically, and this gives the Choice Architects of Parliament powerful tools to determine how efficient Politicians are being. The exclusion of the Electorate from some Parliamentary processes and admission into others can end the moral hazard and confirmation biases inherent in a closed decision-making group.

Queueing theory has its origins in research by Agner Krarup Erlang when he created models to describe the Copenhagen telephone exchange and has provided such important results as the Queueing Rule Of Thumb, which can be used to determine how many Politicians are required and if a Politician is efficiently making choices. This reduction of the tyranny of choices only begins the radical reform of Parliament by transforming Politicians into fit for purpose Decision Makers whose optimisation of resources for the Electorate is a Public Good. Identifying which Politicians are failing the Electorate in aggregate becomes a simple task of a well designed Randomised Control Trial.

Defaults

A large body of research has shown that, paribus ceteris, Politician are people and choose options that are presented as a default.

The Choice Architects of Parliament will create the defaults of deselection and prosecution for Politicians cause harm to the Electorate. The Precautionary Principle, applied to Legislators will ensure the best choices are available to Parliament at all times.

Historically, the defaults presented to Politicians have been those defaults prepared by Think Tanks, Lobbyists, Consultants and the Civil Service. While there is nothing undemocratic about seeking the advice of Experts, the pool of expertise has diminished in recent years until it has, largely, become an unnecessary barrier to efficiency and a source of largesse for rewarding anchoring biases and bandwagon effects. Fundamentally the Choice Architects of Parliament will minimise the framing effect of these expert consultations which can result in failure by default as the direct outcome of the Dunning-Kruger Effect discovered in a range of notionally independent Think Tanks, Lobbyists and Consultants.

In contrast to genuinely principle based policies, Politicians have come to rely on the self-assembly policies, for which consultations provides defaults and instructions, in the same way that people value furniture that they have assembled themselves. Research has shown that people value a book shelf more if they assemble it themselves than if it is already assembled. The Political Pareidolia of Consultation Defaults will be ended by the Choice Architects of Parliament by evidence based defaults for Politicians.

A simple and enduring evidence based default for Politicians is to be recalled from office should they choose a default purely because it is a default. In evidence based policy, default policies can be randomised in order to ensure that Politicians are not simply choosing the first option on the list. Research at the Department of Work and Pensions has demonstrated that Claimants understand and appreciate the value of sanctions in making good choices and there is no evidence that Politicians are not the same as Claimants. The Sanction Regime will be the Primary Default for Politicians in Policy Formation and no secret will be made of that; because, then, Politicians can make the right and informed choice and, importantly, feed back those choices to Think Tanks, Lobbyists, Consultants and the Civil Service with appropriate behaviours.

Choice over time

Choices where outcomes manifest in the future are influenced by several biases.

Politicians tend to be myopic, preferring present opinion poll or ideological outcomes at the expense of future concrete outcomes for the Electorate. This leads over exploitation of present day resources at the expense of the future. Political projections about the future tend to be inaccurate with uncertainty promoting overestimation of the likelihood of positive outcomes for vanity projects.

The Choice Architects of Parliament have several ways to structure choice architecture to compensate for or reduce these ideological and opinion poll biases. Where Politicians have an uncertain future, they are motivated to overestimate the likelihood of salient or desirable outcomes and the resulting poor choices cascade outwards into the Electorate with consequences that are, generally, unforseen by the Politician. By making all Political Choices by a politician contribute to the future wellbeing of the Politician, Policy will be driven to improve.

The default Sanction Regime is only functionally effective if the Sanctions escalate over time. The current Sanction Regime for Politicians consists of not being elected at the next General Election. There are rare occasions when a Politician resigns inducing a by-election. This is not a Sanction in the same way as a General Election as it is controlled by the Politician. Similarly, being Suspended from the House is a Sanction under the control of the Speaker.

Partitioning options and attributes

The ways in which options and attributes are grouped influence the choices that are made. 

Option partitioning requires division of a budget into categories. The attributes of a category are clumped or divided according to Government Department and Ideology. Politicians have a tendency to claim resources are scarce and allocated equally across categories. By itemising ideologically acceptable attributes and aggregating ideologically undesirable attributes, Politicians managed consumption by managing the number of attributes into types of categorizations.

The Choice Architects of Parliament will undertake a root and branch review of ideological choices and manage Political expectations by recalling Politicians where their ideological categories do not match those of the Electorate. The choice tools available to Politicians will cease to be limited to those provided by Lobbyists and Think Tanks.

Indeed each Individual Lobbyist and Think Tank will cease to be treated as an attribute of Political Life in Parliament and become a Category within the Register of Members’ Interests. Similarly, each Elector will become a Category for each “Elected Representative”. This will ensure that Politicians allocate the scare resources of their time equally across Electorate and Special Interests. The consumption of Lobbying can, therefore, be managed by the Choice Architects of Parliament.

Avoiding attribute overload

Politicians would optimally consider all of a Policy’s attributes when deciding between options. Cognitive constraints, result in weighing attributes in the same way as choices. As a result, The Choice Architects of Parliament will choose to limit the number of attributes of a policy, weighing the cognitive effort required to consider multiple attributes against the value of improved Governance. In order to ensuring cognitive attribute overload does not occur, the number of Politicians will be increased by reducing the size of Constituencies. Thus Politicians will be both more accountable and less prone to attribute overload.

This presents challenges if Politicians ideologically commit to different attributes to the Electorate and so the Choice Architects of Parliament provide tools for sorting, informing and recalling Politicians. The principal means of avoiding attribute overload will become the Political Capability Assessment. Rather than belabouring the difficulties of partitioning attributes and categories, Politicians will be periodically assessed for their suitability by Political Activity Practitioners selected from the General Electorate.

Translating attributes

The presentation of information about attributes reduces the cognitive effort associated with representation and so reduces the failure of Politicians to do as the Electorate instructs. The Choice Architects of Parliament will accomplished this by increasing evaluability and comparability of attributes. The Choice Architects of Parliament will convert commonly used metrics into metrics Politicians are assumed to care about. Such as “Expenses per Majority” and “Lobbyists per Day”. Non-linear metrics will be transformed into linear metrics and evaluative labels will be added to numerical metrics, explicitly calculating consequences such as “Swing to deselection” and “probability of prison”.

The Choice Architects of Parliament

For too long, Politicians have avoided the reality of their situation. In particular, the finances of Parliamentary Politicians has been allowed to drift along making poor choices with poor consequences for Constituents.With the advent of Behavioural Economics it has become clear that something must be done to curb the poor choices of politicians.

Imagine how much easier it would be for a Minister to refrain from sending an aide out to purchase sex aids if all purchases of goods or services by all Politicians were restricted to the use of a Parliamentary Credit Card. By having a Parliamentary Credit Card updating a database in real time, Politicians can make good purchasing decisions and demonstrate their accountability in real time. The Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority would transform from being a bureaucratic nightmare into being a modern and efficient Politicians’ Financial Services Organisation.

Paperwork would be eliminated as transactions would automatically register and enter the public domain through the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority Website. The Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority showing approval or rejection of expense items giving feedback to the Electorate in real time. Rejected items could be annotated quickly to ensure Politicians understand the consequences of their choices.

Politicians have always been accused of using the ambiguity of Parliamentary and Constituency Homes as a source of income. The difficulty of maintaining two dwellings is a common one that can result in suboptimal resource allocation. The resulting problem of spare rooms has been solved for a range of Benefits Claimants by adjusting the level of support available. The same principle, applied to Politicians, has a simple and elegant solution which helps them to avoid attribute overload – both in their own accommodation and in policy formation.

By housing Politicians in the Tower Blocks in and around the precincts of Parliament, the suboptimal resource allocation of resources to accommodation vanishes and Politicians are motivated to ensure the highest standards for accommodation within the constraints provided by the Tenant Management Organisation. By ensuring the Tenant Management Organisation is responsible for providing Tower Block Housing within Local Authority constraints, Politicians can both choose to relieve themselves of poor choices about maintenance and provide a pathfinder for excellence in housing choices over time.

While expenses and housing are major concerns, the single most important behaviour Politicians engage in is voting in Parliament. Poor voting decisions have serious, long-term outcomes that adversely affect the Electorate. Politicians who have expectations that decisions made in the first year of office will not have an effect in the fifth year of office experience no loss aversion. By following the Precautionary Principle, Politician who make poor voting decisions would have their term of office shortened thus bringing the date of their next election forwards. Sufficient poor voting decisions would trigger an early General Election. This ensures Party Whips are given the opportunity to avoid loss though an early election with motivation to ensure Politicians make good decisions at all stages of a Parliament.

The danger of applying a time tariff to voting decisions is that Politicians will attempt to game the system with poor decisions. In order to ensure Politicians are as motivated as their Party to make good decisions, Randomised Control Trials will be run against each and every vote in Parliament. Politicians are randomly matched against a representative sample of voters from their Constituency and their actual vote. Politicians who are so selected will be obliged to discuss their decision-making during a Political Capability Assessment.

In order to ensure that the Political Capability Assessment is fair and realistic, the Political Activity Practitioners will be selected from the General Electorate and Expertise will be excluded in order to ensure avoidance of The Political Pareidolia of Consultation Defaults. In line with the practices of the Work Capability Assessment process, there will be a rejection rate for all assessments. The rejection rate will be evidenced based on the number of people who voted against the Politician at the last election. The ordeal of appealing against the Political Capability Assessment will focus Politicians on making better decisions and becomes a necessary part of political life.

The Choice Architects of Parliament are in their early days and have little, if any, concrete proposals developed to the state of implementation. Randomised Control Trials have a role to play in the selection and election of Politicians prior to any Parliament. Not only are Politicians going to be more efficient and effective at making decisions they will be making better decisions. The kind of decisions that they can be responsible for. Because they will be held to be responsible and that means there will be consequences for all they do.

 Independent Standards Authority MP costs. Interactive map.

Article by Hubert Huzzah.

 Picture: George Grosz and John Heartfield: “Jederman sein eigner Fussball”, 1919.

 

 

 

 

 

 

A comparison of Labour and Conservative manifestos – CLASS

The Institute For Fiscal Studies (IFS) analysis of the Conservative and Labour manifesto proposals, which shows that both parties will run a surplus by 2019/20 , with Labour having £21 Billion spare. 

The Centre for Labour and Social Studies (CLASS) is a thinktank established in 2012 to act as a centre for left debate and discussion. Originating in the labour movement, CLASS works with a broad coalition of supporters, academics and experts to develop and advance alternative policies. 

CLASS produces briefings, policy papers and think pieces to influence policy development, which spans a field. Projects already underway address issues of growth and the economy, work and pay, housing and equality, security and aspiration, democracy and welfare, amongst many others.

CLASS have produced a comprehensive briefing which  breaks down and compares Labour and Conservative manifesto proposals across policy areas including public services, tax, education, employment and Brexit.

Here is a summary. I recommend you read the full report here.

Brexit

Labour has pledged to focus on jobs and living standards as the first priorities in Brexit negotiations:

 Labour states that leaving the EU with no deal would be the worst possible outcome, and reject it as a possibility.

 Labour has accepted the end of freedom of movement, meaning that the UK will have to leave the single market.

 Labour wants to maintain as many benefits of the single market and customs union as possible.

 Labour will scrap the Conservatives’ Great Repeal Bill, replacing it with an EU Rights and Protections Bill that will protect working rights, consumer rights, equality law and environmental protections.

The Conservatives have made Brexit a central theme in their manifesto, stating that it is the biggest challenge the UK will face in most of our lifetimes.

 The Conservative manifesto maintains that no deal would be better than a bad deal.

 The Conservatives have pledged to scrap freedom of movement as a red line in Brexit negotiations. This means that the UK will leave the single market, which is made clear in the manifesto.

 The Conservative manifesto pledges a deep and special relationship with the EU, but there are no specific details. 

Conclusion: Both Labour and the Conservatives have pledged to accept the referendum result, and both parties voted to trigger Article 50 and start the formal process of leaving the EU.

However, their priorities in Brexit negotiations are different. The Conservatives’ acceptance that no deal is a possibility for Brexit would have huge implications for the UK economy. We welcome Labour’s statement that leaving with no Brexit deal should not be an option.

Immigration

The Labour party has stated that freedom of movement will end post-Brexit, but have not pledged to reduce immigration.

 Labour would guarantee the rights of EU migrants in the UK immediately.

 Labour will not set an arbitrary target on immigration levels to the UK.

 Labour will reintroduce the Migrant Impact Fund, to ensure that increased migration in certain areas does not place a strain on public services. The Conservative party have pledged to end freedom of movement and reduce migration, claiming that when immigration is too high it is difficult to build a cohesive society.

 The Conservatives will not guarantee the rights of EU citizens before Brexit negotiations start.

 Despite missing their immigration targets repeatedly while in government, the Conservatives have again pledged to reduce immigration to the tens of thousands -including students.

Conclusion: Both parties are committing to ending freedom of movement post-Brexit. This could have serious consequences for the UK – 10% of our doctors and 4% of our nurses are from elsewhere in the EU.

It is also concerning to see that students will be included in Conservative immigration numbers. However, while the Conservatives continue to suggest that immigration must be limited, Labour have stated that immigration targets are unhelpful. This is a positive step forward in our national conversation about migration.

Tax and redistribution

Labour pledges to make the taxation system fairer through a combination of increasing existing taxes on the top 5%, new taxes, and tighter rules on existing taxes to crack down on evasion and avoidance. This aims to raise £48.6bn in revenue. Key proposals are as follows:

 Lowering the 45p additional rate threshold to £80k (Top 5%) and reintroducing the 50p rate on earnings above £123k. Raising £6.4bn.

 Excessive Pay Levy: paid by employers directly on salaries over £330k. Raising £1.3bn.1

 Increase corporation tax to 26% in 2020–21 (2011 levels) with a lower rate for companies with annual profits below £300k. Raising £19.4bn.

 Introduce a Robin Hood Tax – a tax of about 0.05% on financial transactions. Raising £26bn.

 A clamp down on tax avoidance. Raising £6.5bn. A £3.9bn allowance has been made for behavioural changes and uncertainty.

The Conservatives have emphasised a low tax economy with a new deal for ordinary people (see our employment section). As could be expected with a low tax focus, their plans are more modest than Labour’s:

 Increase the personal allowance to £12,500 and the higher rate of tax to £50,000 by 2020.

 Cut corporation tax to 17% by 2020.

 Conduct re-evaluations more frequently to prevent large changes.

 Stop tax avoidance and evasion.

Conclusion: Tax is one of the biggest dividing lines between the parties. We welcome Labour’s plan for increased taxes on the rich and bold measures to tackle inequality. We are concerned that the Conservatives plan for a low tax economy would simply mean high earners and corporations gain, while low and middle income earners would see their wages eaten away by inflation.

Investment

Labour announced a £250bn fund for investment in infrastructure – transport, energy systems, telecommunications – scientific research, and housing (to be raised by borrowing). Funds will be targeted at:

 Extending HS2 into Scotland.

 Building Crossrail for the North.

 Investment in new, state-of-the-art low-carbon gas and renewable electricity production.

 Universal superfast broadband by 2022.

 3% of GDP on research and development.

 A goal of 60% of jobs created through investment to be high skilled.

The Conservatives have also proposed an industrial strategy with major investment in infrastructure, skills and research and development. They plan to continue the existing £170bn infrastructure investment plan over the next parliament. A part of this funding will come from borrowing and part is already allocated in the budget.

They aim to:

 Meet OECD average of 2.4% of GDP on research and development.

 Launch a £23bn National Productivity Investment Fund.

Conclusion: Both parties have pledged to invest in infrastructure and skills. Labour’s measures are more ambitious in outlook and funding, and are more clearly costed. CLASS believes that this big and bold idea brings the investment the UK so vitally needs.

Environment

 The Labour party used their manifesto to link the environment to sustainable agricultural industries and flood defences. Their main policies are:

 An end to fracking.

 Championing sustainable farming, food and fishing by investing in and promoting skills, technology, market access and innovation.

 Introduce a new Clean Air Act to deal with illegal levels of air pollution.  Halt the privatisation of public forests.

The Conservative party talked about the environment in the context of business, with relatively little on environmental protections by themselves, arguing for:

 More fracking, hailing the technique as a “revolution”.

 Devise a new “agri-environment system”.

 Produce a 25 year Environment Plan.

 A pledge to be the first generation to leave the environment in a better state than they inherited it.

Conclusion: There are clear dividing lines on the environment, most noticeably regarding fracking, with the Labour party firmly opposed to the industry, and the Conservatives proudly supportive.

There is also the matter of Labour’s greater emphasis on environmental protection and clean air, and lack of Tory attention to these issues. Given this divide, we do not see how a Conservative government would be the one to leave the environment in a better state.

NHS and social care

The Labour party has focused on additional funding for the NHS and social care, stating that cuts to NHS and social care budgets by previous Conservative governments have led those services to crisis point.

 Labour has committed to £30bn in extra NHS funding over the next parliament.

 Labour has committed £8bn for social care over the next parliament.

 Labour pledges to guarantee access to NHS treatment within 18 weeks, and that patients will be seen in A&E within 4 hours. The Conservative party manifesto has pledged to increase NHS spending, while proposing new rules for social care costs.

 Conservatives will increase NHS spending by at least £8bn over the next parliament.

 The Conservatives propose ensuring that anyone who needs social care will be able to keep £100,000 of assets.

 People will be able to defer payment on social care until after their death, enabling them to keep their house.

Four days after the Conservative manifesto launch, Theresa May announced that there will be a cap on the amount an individual will pay towards their care, despite the manifesto mentioning no cap and specifying only that no one would be left with less than £100,000 in assets after paying care costs. There has been speculation that a narrowing poll lead led to this announcement, which the Conservatives refuse to describe as a change.

Conclusion: We welcome commitments to properly fund the NHS, but Conservative commitments do not equal the missing funding identified by many campaigners, and their figure is less than a third of Labour’s commitment.

The Conservative social care proposals are also flawed, as people would be likely to pass on their assets to their children to avoid charges. While four in five councils can’t cope with the demand for elderly social care, Labour’s proposals for a big funding boost would be the better option for social care.

Education

The Labour party has pledged to create a National Education Service to reform our education system.

 Labour will reverse cuts to school funding.

 Labour will increase Sure Start funding.

 Labour will create a National Education Service for cradle to grave education, free at the point of use.

 Labour will reduce class sizes to less than 30 for all five, six and seven year olds.

 Labour has pledged to scrap tuition fees and reintroduce maintenance grants.

 Labour has pledged to restore the Education maintenance Allowance (EMA).

 Labour will provide free Further Education, including English lessons. The Conservative party has made pledges to increase school funding and make sure that more children attend good schools.

 The Conservatives have pledged that no school will have their budget cut as a result of the new funding formula.

 The Conservatives will build 100 new free schools a year.

 Conservatives will lift restriction on creating grammar schools.

 Conservatives will open a specialist maths school in every major English city.

 Conservatives will stop universal free school lunches for primary age children, replacing them with free universal breakfasts. The savings will be used for £4bn in schools funding over the next parliament.

Conclusion: Labour’s commitment to reversing school cuts should be welcomed – 99% of schools will have per pupil funding cut by 2020 under current government policy.1 The creation of a national education service for lifelong learning is another welcome proposal, enabling people to retrain in a fast changing jobs market.

However, we were disappointed to see another commitment to new grammar schools from the Conservatives, with a pledge to lift restrictions on the creation of new selective schools. As we have highlighted before, there is no evidence that shows grammar schools increase social mobility – it actually shows the opposite.

Welfare system

The Conservative party state that they have no plans for further radical welfare system reform in the next parliament. The Conservatives will therefore continue to roll out universal credit.

The Labour party has pledged to reform the controversial Universal Credit program. Labour has also pledged to:

 Scrap the bedroom tax.

 Scrap punitive benefit sanctions. 

 Scrap the Work Capability Assessment.

 Scrap cuts to bereavement support.

 Restore housing benefit for under 21s.

Conclusion: After several years of cuts to benefits, and numerous examples of suffering caused by those cuts, it is disappointing to see no changes to the welfare system proposed by the Conservatives. However, we should welcome commitments by Labour to scrap some of the worst features of recent welfare reforms.

Working rights and employment  

Labour released a 20-point plan to increase workers’ rights and provide better security at work. The most important are as follows:

 Give all workers equal rights from day one, whether part-time or temporary.  Ban zero hours contracts.

 Legislate to ensure that recruitment of labour from abroad does not undercut workers at home.

 Repeal the Trade Union Act and roll out sectoral collective bargaining.

 Maximum pay ratios of 20:1 in the public sector and in companies bidding for public contracts.

 Raise the Minimum Wage to the level of the Living Wage (expected to be at least £10 per hour by 2020) – for all workers aged 18 or over.

 End the Public Sector Pay Cap.

 Action on bogus self-employment so the law assumes a worker is an employee unless the employer can prove otherwise.

 Double paid paternity leave to four weeks and increase paternity pay.

The Conservatives have taken a different focus on workers’ rights. Their promises are certainly less ambitious, but there are some positive commitments:

 A statutory right to a year’s unpaid leave to care for a relative.

 EU workers’ rights protected.

 Protection from the gig economy.

 Improve worker representation on boards – watered down from previous commitments to have workers on boards.

 A right to training.

However, the Conservatives have weakened their National Living Wage commitment to meet 60% of the median wage by 2020. With rising inflation, this is likely to cause increased poverty among low earners.

Conclusion: Although this is one of the Conservative party’s more worker friendly manifestos, Labour’s finger is definitely more on the pulse when it comes to workers’ rights. Labour’s manifesto has a real potential to tackle the deep inequality that the UK suffers from.

Inequalities

Labour has pledged a range of measures to reduce equality for several groups. Some of these include:

 Labour will assess future policy for its impact on women.

 Bring offences against LGBT people in line with hate crimes based on race and faith.

 Labour will introduce a requirement for equal pay audits on large employers to tackle the pay gap faced by BME workers.

 Labour would classify British Sign Language as a recognised language.

The Conservative party had a particular focus on disability discrimination.

 A one year national insurance holiday for companies who employ a person with a disability.

 The Conservatives will continue plans to tackle hate crimes against a person based on their sexual orientation, gender identity, disability and religion.

 The Conservatives will review access for disabled people and pledge to work with service providers to reduce any extra costs faced by people with disabilities. 

Conclusion: Labour have proposed concrete policies to help improve equalities in the UK. Although the Conservatives have clearly stated a commitment to people with disabilities, this is in the context of cuts to benefits under a Conservative government which have had a disproportionate impact on people with disabilities.

Housing

The Labour Party has an ambitious goal of council house building and a raft of protections for renters:

 Build 100,000 council and housing association dwellings for every year of the next parliament.

 Build more affordable housing.

 Make three year tenancies the norm.

 Abolish the bedroom tax.

 Inflation capped rent increases, and a ban on letting agent fees.

 New minimum standards introduced for the private rental sector.  Reinstate housing benefit for 18-21 year olds.

 A plan to end rough sleeping within the next Parliament, with 4,000 additional homes for people with a history of rough sleeping.

The Conservative Party is also making bold pledges on house building:

 A promise to deliver on their 2015 manifesto commitment to build a million homes by 2020, and a pledge to built another 500,000 homes by 2022.

 A new generation of fixed-term council housing linked to a new Right to Buy.

 Free up more land for new homes.

 Give housing associations more flexibility to increase their stock.

 Give councils more power to intervene when developers don’t act on planning permissions.

 Look at increasing protections for renters

Conclusion: We are happy to see commitments from both parties to building large numbers of houses, though this does reflect how bad the crisis has become.

We call on both parties to commit to building 200,000 social houses to meet demand. We applaud the multiple new protections for renters from Labour, and are concerned with the lack of firm policy commitments from the Tories.

Pensions

Labour plans bring both strong protections for pensions and a potentially radical shift in pensions policy. Proposals include:

 Keeping the triple lock on pensions, so the state pension rises by 2.5%, inflation, or earnings growth.

 Commission a new review of the pension age, to develop a flexible retirement policy reflecting people’s contributions, the variations in life expectancy and the varying health effects of work.

 The Winter Fuel Allowance and free bus passes will be guaranteed as universal benefits.

 Protect pensions of UK citizens living overseas.

The Conservative proposals broke with the political consensus on pensions and the elderly (See the social care section for more detail on that particular policy). Their commits on pensions are:

 Means testing the winter fuel allowance (potentially affecting 9m pensioners).

 Change to a double lock on pensions, so they go up in line with earnings or inflation, whichever is higher (removing the third 2.5% lock).

 Measures to protect private pensions by increasing punishment for mismanaging schemes.  

Conclusion: We are happy to see commitments from both parties to building large numbers of houses, though this does reflect how bad the crisis has become. We call on both parties to commit to building 200,000 social houses to meet demand.

We applaud the multiple new protections for renters from Labour, and are concerned with the lack of firm policy commitments from the Tories. 

Public services and nationalisation

The Labour party has pledged to prioritise public service over private profit, and stated that prices have risen and services have suffered in privatised industries.

 Renationalise railways by bringing them back into public ownership as franchises expire.

 Renationalise Royal Mail.

 Establish publically owned regional water companies.

The Conservative party have pledged to take action on rip-off bills.

 Pledge to freeze energy bills, a policy that was also in the 2015 Labour manifesto.

 Pledge an independent review into energy costs.

 Pledge the largest investment in railways since the Victorian era and extra capacity to tackle overcrowding.

Conclusion: Labour have made it clear that privatisation of public services, all natural monopolies, has not worked. We should welcome the commitment to nationalise industries to make them accountable to the public who use them, and with the aim of reducing prices.

The Conservatives have made no pledges on nationalisation, but have promised rail investment. It is unlikely that investment alone could tackle the issues facing our railways. 

 

 


Related

What Labour achieved

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Theresa May euphemizes savage cuts to PIP when confronted by an angry disabled person demanding democratic accountability

Theresa May

The prime minister has been avoiding confrontation with real citizens and voters so far, and has simply concerned herself with a series of stage-managed media appearances featuring Conservative supporters.

However, Theresa May faced a series of difficult questions after she was confronted by a furious voter over cuts to disability benefits while she was campaigning in Abingdon, Oxfordshire.

Cathy Mohan, who has learning difficulties, challenged the Prime Minister over Conservative cuts, which meant she lost her carer. She also asked about how others had been affected as the Disability Living Allowance (DLA) is replaced by the new cost cutting Personal Independence Payment (PIP). She told the PM that she has been forced to live on £100 a month in benefits after being denied essential support with the extra costs of coping with a learning disability.

In the footage captured by Channel 5 News, the voter demanded tht the government return to the DLA payments system, explaining that she couldn’t survive on the PIP scheme that has replaced it. 

Suprisingly, The Express also ran the story, although it was interesting to note the language use and interpretation to describe the exchange, with the Prime Minister “replying”, “saying”, “concluding” and Cathy “continuing her tirade” and “her rant“. Anyone would think that the Express journalist wanted to portray this citizen demanding democratic inclusion as unreasonable. 

Cathy simply asked: “Theresa, are you going to help people with learning difficulties? 

It’s good to see the Prime Minister being held democratically accountable for once by a real member of the public with a real life account of the devastating impacts of Tory austerity cuts, which have fallen disproportionately on those with the very least, and those who are among our most vulnerable citizens. 

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You can see Cathy angrily and bravely confronting the Prime Minister here

Cathy says “I’m being serious, I want you to do something for us.”

 May replied: “We’ve got a lot of plans for people with mental health in particular…”

But absolutely furious with being fobbed off,  Cathy swiftly interrupted the Prime Minister and continued: “And learning difficulties? 

Because I’ve got mild learning disabilities and I haven’t got a carer at the moment, and I’m angry.

I would like somebody to help me because I can’t do everything I want to do.

I’m talking about everybody not just me, for everybody who’s got mental health and anybody who’s got learning disabilities.

I want them not to have their money taken away from them, and being crippled.

They just took it all away from me,” she said.

She added: “The fat cats keep the money and us lot get nothing.”

It’s true that the vulture capitalist private companies undertaking disability assessments take millions from the public purse to deliver pseudo-medical assessments that are specifically designed to make it unlikely that your claim will be successful, regardless of how ill and disabled you are. 

An audit report concluded that the Department for Work and Pension’s spending on contracts for disability benefit assessments is expected to double in 2016/17 compared with 2014/15. The government’s flagship welfare-cutting scheme will be actually spending more money on the assessments themselves than it is saving in reductions to the benefits bill – as Frances Ryan pointed out in the Guardian, it’s the political equivalent of burning bundles of £50 notes.

The report also states that only half of all the doctors and nurses hired by Maximus – the US outsourcing company brought in by the Department for Work and Pensions to carry out the assessments – had even completed their training.

The NAO report summarises:

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

£0.4 billion
Latest expected reduction in annual disability benefit spending

13%
Proportion of ESA and PIP targets met for assessment report quality meeting contractual standard (September 2014 to August 2015).

See: Doctors bribed with 70-90k salaries to join Maximus and “endorse a political agenda regardless of how it affects patients.”

May responded by using trite and meaningless sloganised reassurances: “The government is “particularly focused on those who are most in need”.

“Focusing on those most in need” is a Conservative euphemism for cutting lifeline support for those who need it, by a series of incremental restrictions to the eligibility criteria for PIP.

The criteria for receiving PIP has recently been restricted by the Conservatives, leading to more than 160,000 vulnerable people being denied the additional financial help that they once received.

May continued: What I can do is ensure that we’re giving more help to people with mental health and learning disabilities.

We want to ensure when we look at the help we’re giving to people with any disability that particularly we focus on those who are most in need.”

PIP is a non means tested benefit for people with a long-term health condition or impairment, whether physical, sensory, mental, cognitive, intellectual, or any combination of these. It is an essential financial support towards the extra costs that ill and disabled people face, to help them lead as full, active and independent lives as possible, including staying in work. 

Before 2010, policies that entailed cutting lifeline support for disabled people and those with serious illnesses were unthinkable. Now, systematically dismantling social security for those citizens who need support the most has become the political norm.

Any social security policy that is implemented with the expressed aim of “targeting those most in need” and is implemented to replace a policy that is deemed “unsustainable” is invariably about cost cutting, aimed at reducing the eligibility criteria for entitlement. The government were explicit in their statement about the original policy intent behind PIP. However, what it is that defines those “most in need” involves ever-shrinking, constantly redefined categories, pitched at an ever-shifting political goalpost.

Two independent tribunals have ruled that the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) should expand the scope and eligibility criteria of PIP, which helps both in-work and out-of work disabled people fund their additional living costs. 

Following a court ruling in favour of disabled people, the government rushed in an “urgent change” to the law to prevent many people with mental health conditions being awarded the mobility component of PIP. Without any parliamentary debate. The court held that people  with conditions such as severe anxiety can qualify for the enhanced rate of the mobility component, on the basis of problems with “planning and following a journey”, or “going out”.  The new regulations were rushed in without any dialogue with the Social Security Advisory Committee, too, via statutory instrument. 

The government’s new regulations will reverse the recent ruling and means that people with mental health conditions such as severe anxiety who can go outdoors, even if they need to have someone with them, are much less likely to get an award of even the standard rate of the PIP mobility component. The new regulations also make changes to the way that the descriptors relating to taking medication are interpreted, again in response to a ruling by a tribunal in favour of disabled people.

The first tribunal said more points should be available in the “mobility” element for people who suffer “overwhelming psychological distress” when travelling alone. The second tribunal recommended more points in the “daily living” element for people who need help to take medication and monitor a health condition. 

The DWP warned that it would cost £3.7bn extra by 2022 to implement the court rulings. The government have responded by formulating an extremely authoritarian “emergency legislation” to stop the legal changes that the upper tribunals had ruled on from happening. From 16 March the law was changed, without any democratic conversation with disabled people and related organisations, or debate in parliament, so that the phrase “For reasons other than psychological distress will be added to the start of descriptors c, d and f in relation to “Planning and following journeys”on the PIP form.

It’s worth noting that the Coalition Government enshrined in law a “commitment” to parity of esteem for mental and physical health in the Health and Social Care Act 2012. In January 2014 it published the policy paper Closing the Gap: priorities for essential change in mental health (Department of Health, 2014), which sets out 25 priorities for change in how children and adults with mental health problems are supported and cared for.

The limiting changes to PIP legislation certainly does not reflect that commitment.  

Let us not forget that last year, the United Nations’ highly critical report confirmed that the UK government has systematically violated the human rights of disabled people.

And let us not forget that this government dismissed the findings of the inquiry and each of the major concerns raised, calling it “offensive”.

It’s rather more offensive that a government of one of the wealthiest so-called democratic nations in the world chooses to disregard its human rights obligations towards disabled people, often leaving them without lifeline support and with devastating consequences, whilst gifting millionaires and rogue multinationals with tax payers money.

Image result for disabled people's rights uk


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Theresa May’s Vapid Vision for a One-Party State – William Davies

The following article is written in part by William Davies and published in The New York Times, on May 11, 2017.

LONDON — Britain today confronts a variety of deep, even existential, uncertainties. The terms of its exit from the European Union, the country’s long-term economic prospects and Scotland’s future within the United Kingdom are all in the balance. In contrast to these unknowns, the outcome of the general election on June 8 already feels concrete: The Conservatives, consistently between 17 percent and 20 percent ahead in the polls, are on course for a landslide victory.

In calling this election (despite promises not to) and in her campaigning for it, Prime Minister Theresa May is exploiting this contrast. The Conservatives are being presented as a new type of “people’s party,” under which everyone can huddle to stay safe from the multiple storms that are brewing. Mrs. May and her party are treating this election as too important to be reduced to political divides. With no explanation of how, she claims that “every single vote for me and Conservative candidates will be a vote that strengthens my hand in the negotiations for Brexit.”

This is where Mrs. May’s strategy and rhetoric become disconcerting. Ever since she took over from David Cameron last summer, she has spoken as if Britain is a nation harmoniously united, aside from the divisive forces of party politics and liberal elites seeking to thwart the “will of the people.” The first part of this is simply untrue: Forty-eight percent of the public voted to remain in the European Union, while the other 52 percent held various ideas of what leaving could or should mean in practice.

Prime Minister Theresa May of Britain speaks at the Dhamecha Lohana Centre in Harrow, England, on Monday. CreditPool photo by Stefan Rousseau

 

Mrs. May’s idea that her opponents are merely playing self-interested political “games” is a classic populist trope, one that suggests that constitutional democracy is really an obstacle standing between people and leader. The prime minister’s rhetoric since calling the general election has implied that the best outcome for “the national interest” would be to eradicate opposition altogether, whether that be in the news media, Parliament or the judiciary. For various reasons (not least the rise of the Scottish National Party) it is virtually impossible to imagine the Labour Party achieving a parliamentary majority ever again, as Mrs. May well knows. To put all this another way, the main purpose of this election is to destroy two-party politics as Britain has known it since 1945. 

One way in which Mrs. May has aggressively pursued this outcome is in her unusual framing of the choice before the British electorate. We are used to politicians presenting policy proposals and promises to the public. Of course, in practice this involves spin doctors seeking to cast their party’s policies in the best light, news outlets twisting the message depending on their political biases and many voters turning away in disgust because they don’t believe a word politicians say. That’s the routine.

The Labour Party, despite occasional populist swipes at the news media, has been sticking roughly to this script. There is a certain irony in this, seeing as Labour, under the socialist leadership of Jeremy Corbyn, has become viewed by many pundits and voters as an implausible party of government. But Labour has nevertheless been regularly putting out clear and reasonably worked-out policy proposals since the election was announced on April 18.

By contrast, Mrs. May has made scarcely any statements regarding policy. Her speeches and campaign literature are peppered with the slogan “strong and stable leadership,” a phrase she then recites on the few occasions that she takes questions from journalists or members of the public. The very basis on which she is asking to be trusted and to be elected seems different from an ordinary policy platform. From a leader of a party still in thrall to Margaret Thatcher, Mrs. May’s virtual silence on the economy is astonishing. The decision to vote Conservative is not to be based on knowledge of what a Conservative government will do — nobody has much of a clue about anything right now — but because of the desperate need for “strong and stable leadership.”

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May doesn’t speak to us in the recognisable language of a first world liberal democracy. She loathes our proud heritage of human rights. Her inauthentic glittering generalities, delivered robot-style, mask an underlying ideological narrative of scorched earth neoliberal policies, the details of which she refuses to share with us.

That said, it isn’t terribly surprising. If the votes in the general election were to be cast on the strength of public policies, rather than wedge issues and cringeworthy dog whistling slogans, then the Labour party will most certainly win. The Conservatives have left a blaze trail of antisocial policies, which the public have thus far been slow to register. A win for the Conservatives in June will be regarded as an endorsement for the party to finish dismantling the social gains of our post-war settlement: legal aid, welfare, the NHS, social housing and a genuine democracy.

May’s has previously stated her support for a Bill of Rights, one that doesn’t “bind the hands of parliament”. The Conservatives still intend to try and repeal our existing Human Rights Act. This is very worrying, since human rights were designed originally to protect citizens from authoritarian governments like this one. 

The Conservatives have already taken away legal aid, which is so clearly contrary to the very principle of equality under the law. In fact they have turned legal aid into an instrument of discrimination. The government has also tried to dismantle another vital legal protection  – judicial review – which has been used to stop them from abusing political power on several occasions.

The years immediately after the second world war marked a turning point in the history of human rights, as the world reeled in horror at the rise of fascism and the Nazi concentration camps, there came an important realisation that although fundamental rights should be respected as a matter of course, without formal protection, human rights concepts are of little use and consolation to those facing persecution.

So in response to the atrocities committed during the war, the international community sought to define the rights and freedoms necessary to secure the dignity and worth of each and every individual. In 1948 the newly formed United Nations adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), one of the most important agreements in world history.

Democracy is one of the universal core values and principles of the United Nations. Respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms and the principle of holding periodic and genuine elections by universal suffrage are essential elements of democracy. These values are embodied in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and further developed in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights which enshrines a host of political rights and civil liberties underpinning meaningful democracies.

Human rights, democracy and the rule of law are core values of the European Union, too. Embedded in its founding treaty, they were reinforced when the EU adopted the Charter of Fundamental Rights in 2000, and strengthened still further when the Charter became legally binding with the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty in 2009.

A legally binding human rights framework must be applied universally, and implemented without the “interpretation” and interference from individual governments. Furthermore, the State must fund the means of contract enforcement and free and fair trial legal costs, for those who cannot afford it.

If the State fails to fulfil this contingent function, then citizens simply cease to be free.

Image result for Pinochet propaganda

Pinochet claimed that Chile needed a “strong and stable leadership”, following his coup d’état. He went on to become adept at using his power to kill his political opponents – the “saboteurs”.

Government policies are expressed political intentions, regarding how our society is organised and governed. They have calculated social and economic aims and consequences.

How policies are justified is being increasingly detached from their aims and consequences, partly because democratic processes and basic human rights are being disassembled or side-stepped, and partly because the government employs the widespread use of propaganda to intentionally divert us from their aims and the consequences of their ideologically (rather than rationally) driven policies. Furthermore, policies have become increasingly detached from public interests and needs.

No wonder the Prime Minister chooses not to discuss Conservative policies and future policy proposals. 

Opposition and a plurality of perspectives are essential to a democracy. To dismiss anyone with a different view as a “saboteur” is to speak the language of tyranny. This translates as “democracy is sabotaging May’s government.”


“In a way, the world-view of the Party imposed itself most successfully on people incapable of understanding it. They could be made to accept the most flagrant violations of reality, because they never fully grasped the enormity of what was demanded of them, and were not sufficiently interested in public events to notice what was happening.”
George Orwell, Nineteen Eighty-Four.

The primary purpose of propaganda, for Orwell, is to eliminate individual thought and expression. In using euphemisms and metaphors, for example, which one does not create by him or herself, an individual neither creates his/her thoughts nor chooses his/her words; the process of thinking is completely eliminated.

Hannah Arendt wrote Origins of Totalitarianism during the 1940s, a period following on from the atrocities of world war two. Her research raises some fundamental questions about how tyranny can arise and also, the most dangerous forms of political scapegoating and dehumanisation, and the horrific inhumanity to which it can lead. Arendt’s analysis of propaganda and the function of intentional state lies seems particularly relevant here and now in the UK.  

Arendt explained that in Nazi Germany, the opposition was poorly equipped to fight the state because they didn’t understood either the purpose of propaganda or the language of totalitarianism.

The language reveals an intent. So, for example, when the Nazis formulated propaganda about the Jewish community, the opposition would focus on the lack of truth content, and meticulously fact-check the statements made, revealing them to be lies. 

However, Arendt goes on to explain that the propaganda was never intended to be a statement of fact, it was meant to be an outline of intention. 

The Tory creation of socioeconomic scapegoats, involving vicious stigmatisation of vulnerable social groups, particularly endorsed by the mainstream media, is simply a means of manipulating public perceptions and securing public acceptance of the increasingly punitive and repressive basis of the Conservatives’ welfare “reforms”, and the steady stripping away of essential state support and lifeline provision. That the othering rhetoric appeared in the media – the deliberate political act of spoiling and stigmatising a group identity – signaled the government’s intentions towards those groups that were targeted. 

The linguistic downgrading of human life requires dehumanising metaphors: a dehumanising socio-political system using a dehumanising language, and it is becoming familiar and pervasive: it has seeped almost unnoticed into our lives. 

The political construction of social problems also marks an era of increasing state control of citizens with behaviour modification techniques, (under the guise of paternalistic libertarianism) all of which are a part of the process of restricting access rights to welfare provision.

The mainstream media has been complicit in the process of constructing deviant welfare stereotypes – folk devils – and in generating moral outrage that is primarily emotive, rather than having any basis in rationality, from the public.

McGill University political philosophy professor, Jacob T. Levy says “The great analysts of truth and language in politics [including] George Orwell, Hannah Arendt, Vaclav Havel – can help us recognize this kind of lie for what it is…. Saying something obviously untrue, and making your subordinates repeat it with a straight face in their own voice, is a particularly startling display of power over them. Sometimes – often – a leader with authoritarian tendencies will lie in order to make others repeat his lie both as a way to demonstrate and strengthen his power over them.It’s something that was endemic to totalitarianism.”

Arendt and others recognised, writes Levy, that “being made to repeat an obvious lie makes it clear that you’re powerless.” She also recognized the function of an avalanche of lies to render a populace powerless to resist, the phenomenon we now refer to asgaslighting”:

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“The Party told you to reject the evidence of your eyes and ears. It was their final, most essential command… And if all others accepted the lie which the Party imposed – if all records told the same tale – then the lie passed into history and became truth.”  George Orwell, Nineteen eighty-four.

Kitty S Jones.


 

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A democratic message from Jeremy Corbyn – contribute to Labour policies

Prefigurative, inclusive, participatory democracy in action. We must be the change we want to see.

The Conservatives don’t really do public consultations in any meaningful sense. But they are an essential part of a functioning democracy. Our current government took an authoritarian turn, prefering to impose policies that act upon people as if they are passive objects, rather than including us in decision-making, as autonomous human subjects. The Conservatives have no consideration for democracy, rights, the law and importantly, public needs.

Have your say in shaping the Labour Party’s policy agenda. It matters. 

Kitty.

jeremy-corbyn
I had the following email from Jeremy Corbyn on 17 March:

Subject: Help us write our policies for the challenges ahead of us.

Dear Sue,

Last year I said that I wanted us to reconnect with our values and our people, so we can rebuild and transform Britain, for the many, not just the few.

To do this we need to hear from you, our members, to harness your views, passions and expertise. 

At conference I set out ten pledges outlining my priorities. I asked Labour’s National Policy Forum to build on this work, to develop Labour’s thinking in these and other key areas.

Today we are launching eight new consultation documents on key issues we’d like your opinions on:  

Find out more and get involved.

The consultation period runs until Wednesday, 31 May 2017. I hope that you, other members and local parties will take the opportunity to read the documents and send in your comments and ideas.

The more people that get involved, the stronger and better our policy making process is.

The best and easiest way to send in your ideas and join the discussion is via our online home of policy making:

www.policyforum.labour.org.uk.

(You’ll need to register an account or use your Labour Login). 

By standing up for what we believe in; by engaging people as we develop our policies; and by building a policy platform together, we can deliver our vision of a more just and better Britain.

Yours,

Jeremy Corbyn MP
Leader of the Labour Party

 

Remember: You will need to use your new Labour Login to sign in to the consultation

We’ve been in touch to let you know your log in to some systems is changing – this is so we can get to a point where you just have to use one password and user name to access all Labour systems.

If you have signed-up for My Labour, you will already have a Labour Login and will be able to use these details to sign-in. If not, you will need to create a Labour Login.

Government guidelines for PIP assessment: a political redefinition of the word ‘objective’

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Thousands of disabled people have already lost their specialist Motability vehicles because of Conservative PIP cuts and many more are likely to be affected.

Personal Independence Payment is a non means tested benefit for people with a long-term health condition or impairment, whether physical, sensory, mental, cognitive, intellectual, or any combination of these. It is an essential financial support towards the extra costs that ill and disabled people face, to help them lead as full, active and independent lives as possible.

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) have issued a guidance document for providers carrying out assessments for Personal Independence Payment (PIP), which was updated last month. It can be found here: PIP Assessment Guide.

The DWP Chief Medical Officer states that this is a supplementary guidance, in addition to “the contract documents agreed with providers as part of the commercial process, providing guidance for health professionals [HPs] carrying out assessment activity and for those responsible for putting in place and delivering processes to ensure the quality of assessments.”

Words like “fair”, “quality”,  “support”, “reform” and even “objective” have been given a very subjective, highly specific Conservative semantic make-over, to signpost and reference a distinctive underpinning ideology, and to align them with neoliberal and New Right anti-welfare discourse and outcomes, over the last five years.

There is some preemptive dodging of criticism and patronising get-out clauses in the document, for example: “It must be remembered that some of the information may not be readily understood by those who are not trained and experienced HPs.”

This comment is indicative of the lack of transparency in the terms, conditions and process of assessments, and how they are generally carried out. It also emphasises the professional gap between the “health professional” employed by the state to carry out the “functional capacity” assessments in the context of a neoliberal welfare state, and medical health professionals, whose wider work is generally not directly linked to the politically defined conditionality of welfare support.

If you fundamentally disagree with any of the approach outlined in the content of the document, or the policy, it’s because you “fail to comprehend it”, simply because you haven’t trained as a HP. 

I had no idea that HPs are the only people who can work out policy outcomes and who recognise government cuts, small state ideology and general cost-cutting measures for what they are, despite the thumping Orwellian semantic shifts and language use that is all about techniques of neutralisation (where the rhetoric used obscures or “neutralises” the negative aims and harmful consequences of the policy.)

Firstly, the HPs are not so much “health professionals”, but rather, “re-trained disability analysts.” Their role entails assessing the impact of illness and disability on the “functional capacity” of individuals in direct relation to justification or refusal of a PIP award only. Furthermore, it is the decision of the HP to “determine whether any additional evidence needs to be gathered from health or other professionals supporting the claimant.”

Often at the appeal stage, it turns out HPs frequently decide not to ask for further evidence.  The DWP must take all medical evidence into account when making a decision about PIP claims. Yet the DWP say: “In many cases, appeals are granted because further medical evidence is provided.” 

However, neither HPs nor the DWP decision-makers contact people’s GP or other professionals for more information about their health condition very often. This indicates that people are having to go to court, often waiting months for their appeal to be heard, because of deliberately under-informed, poorly evidenced DWP decisions. 

Furthermore, it says in the government guidance to GPs:  “Your patient should complete the forms to support their [PIP] claim using information that they have to hand, and should not ask you for information to help them do this, or to complete the forms yourself.” 

It seems that the DWP are determined to continue making ill-informed, medically unevidenced decisions as long as they can get away with it. 

The ‘functional’ assessment

From the document: “The assessment for PIP looks at an individual’s ability to carry out a series of key everyday activities. The assessment considers the impact of a claimant’s health condition or impairment on their functional ability rather than focusing on a particular diagnosis. Benefit will not be paid on the basis of having a particular health condition or impairment but on the impact of the health condition or impairment on the claimant’s everyday life.”

This process of assessment, however, is a very speculative one, with inferences drawn from seemingly unrelated questions and assumed circumstances, such as “do you have a pet?” This translates into “can bend from the waist to feed a cat/dog” on the HP’s report to the DWP.

During examination, people are asked to perform a series of movements, and inferences are drawn from these regarding the performance of day to day tasks. The movements bear no resemblance to ordinary day to day tasks, nor do they take into account the use of aids and adaptations that people may use to carry out daily tasks.

Furthermore, the person being assessed isn’t presented with the assumptions drawn from the examination and questions, which means they are not provided with an opportunity to verify any claim made by the HP, or to say if they can manage to feed their pet “reliably, safely and consistently”, or if their family have to feed the animal for much of the time. 

From the document: “The HP should check the consistency of what is being said by using different approaches, asking questions in different ways or coming back to a previous point. When considering inconsistencies, HPs should bear in mind that some claimants may have no insight into their condition, for example claimants with cognitive or developmental impairments.”

I know of a lady who wore a gold locket. It was simply assumed at her assessment that despite her extremely arthritic fingers, and information about her pain and the lack of movement in her hands from her GP, that she had sufficient dexterity to fasten and unfasten the clasp. Had she been asked, she would have informed the HP that she never took the locket off, even in the shower. 

This approach – “checking for inconsistencies” by using indirect questioning and assumption is NOT “objective”. It is a calculated strategy to justify a starting point of disbelief and skepticism regarding the accounts provided by ill and disabled people about the impact of their conditions and disabilities on their day-to-day living. As such, it frames the entire assessment process, weighting it towards evidence gathering to justify refusing awards, rather than being “objective”.

It’s simply a method based on side-stepping and discounting people’s own accounts and experiences of their disability, and any medical evidence submitted to verify that.

This approach is also mirrored in the Work Capability Assessment, reflecting Conservative cynicism and prejudice towards sick and disabled people. (See: What you need to know about Atos Assessments – it provides a good overview from a whistle-blower of how responses to seemingly casual observations and apparently conversational questions are re-translated into “inconsistencies” which are then used to justify refusing a claim.)

The introduction of PIP was framed by New Right anti-welfarism

Secondly, “PIP is replacing Disability Living Allowance (DLA), which has become outdated and unsustainable. The introduction of PIP will ensure the benefit is more fairly targeted at those who face the greatest barriers, by introducing a simpler, fairer, more transparent and more objective assessment, carried out by health professionals” [All boldings mine].

In other words, PIP is aimed at cutting welfare costs and support for people who would previously have been eligible for Disability Living Allowance (DLA). We are told that it’s no longer possible as a society to support all disabled people who need help with the additional costs that they face simply because they are ill and disabled, so the government propose to establish those “with the greatest need” by using a more stringent assessment process, which is claimed to be fair and more “objective”.

A recent review led the government to conclude that PIP “doesn’t currently fulfil the original policy intent”, which was to cut costs and “target” the benefit to “those with the greatest need.” That originally meant a narrowing of eligibility criteria for people formerly claiming Disability Living Allowance, increasing the number of reassessments required, and limiting the number of successful claims.

Controversially, the cuts to disability benefits (including the £30 per week cut from those claiming ESA in work related activity group) will fund tax cuts for the most affluent – the top 7% of earners. The chancellor raised the threshold at which people start paying 40p tax, in a move that will probably see many wealthier people pulled out of the higher rate of income tax. Osborne said he wanted to “accelerate progress” towards the Conservative’s manifesto pledge of raising the threshold for the 40p rate to £50,000 in 2020. 

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

Fiona Colegrave, who is chief medical adviser, clinical governance and in charge of training for PIP at Capita, says: “As a disability assessor (DA), you are required to assess objectively how someone’s health conditions affect them and submit a report that is fair, reliable and can be justified with evidence because, if necessary, it may need to be scrutinised through an appeals process.

For these reasons, it is essential we equip DAs with the skills required to manage the assessment process, including: time management; questioning techniques; non-advocacy; collating all available evidence and identifying contradictions; and using an analytical but empathetic approach.

It is important for DAs to establish a rapport with the claimant, so that claimants feel like they have been able to express, in their own words, how their disability affects them and so they know that a DA will produce a report that accurately reflects their functional ability.”

Only “feel like”? Feedback from “claimants” says that DAs do NOT accurately reflect their “functional ability” in reports. And note the reductive use of the word  “claimant” – language use that places the other at a psychological distance from the author and administrators, objectifying them, as if people claiming PIP and other benefits are a homogenous group of people, bound by characteristics rather than circumstances, in a context of political decision-making.

It becomes easier to disassociate from someone you view “objectively” and to distance yourself from the impact of your calculated and target-led decision-making, constrained within a highly political framework. Such an objectification of a person or group of people serves to de-empathise us, which is a key characteristic requirement of neoliberal ideology, embedded in inhumane “small state” policy and extended via administrative (and outsourced, privatised) practices. It leaves us much less likely to relate to the circumstances, emotions or accept the needs and choices of others.

Surely a considerable part of our experience of being objectively diagnosed as ill and/or disabled, in any case, is a person’s subjective experience of it, rather than categories and counts; quantifiable, reductive and speculative statements about how we may perform highly specific tasks.

Quantitative medical evidence is important, because it does often give a general indication of conditions that would entail loss of function. But considering medical evidence isn’t a central part of the assessment process. Whether or not we can perform certain tasks, and inferences drawn from that are the central considerations for PIP eligibility.

Many conditions “fluctuate” – they vary so much that it’s difficult to assess performance of specific tasks consistently. Many conditions become progressively worse at a varied pace, often leaving little scope for a person developing coping strategies and adapting their everyday lives to the changes as they happen, such as a progressive loss of mobility, cognitive impairment, mood changes, anxiety, depression, sleep disruption and other psychological impacts, and the increasing pain and fatigue that they may experience.   

If the process were genuinely “fair, accurate and objective” then there would be no need for mandatory reviews and scrutiny through the appeals process. The introduction of the mandatory review – another layer of bureaucracy and a barrier to justice, where the DWP decide whether their first decision should be changed – has deterred many from appealing wrong decisions.

Those making the decisions about PIP awards are: “trained DWP staff who are familiar with the legislation governing PIP, but who do not have a healthcare background. The HP enables CMs to make fair and accurate decisions by providing impartial, objective and justified advice.

The PIP assessment is geared towards looking for “inconsistencies” in “functional limitations”. For example, if you say you can’t sit unaided for half an hour, but then say that you watch soaps on TV, it will be assumed you sit unaided for at least half an hour to watch TV, and that will be classed as a “discrepancy between the reported need and the actual needs of the claimant.”

The whole assessment is set up and designed to look for “inconsistencies.” In other words, the assessor is looking for any excuse to justify a decision that you are not among those in “greatest need” for a PIP award. The entire process happens within a framework of reducing welfare costs, after all. This makes a mockery of the government’s fondness for using the word “objective.”

What can we do to try to counter the state bias towards political cost-cutting, which is embedded in the assessment process? 

Well, we can use the guidelines and existing legislation to ensure that we are heard clearly. We can also raise awareness that, whilst most ill and disabled people tend to emphasise how well we cope, and remain positive about what we can do independently, and we often tend to understate our needs for support, in assessment situations, that tendency is likely to be used to trivialise the impact of our condition and disabilities on day-to-day “functioning.”

Reliability

The government says in the PIP handbook: “For a descriptor to apply to a claimant, they must be able to reliably complete the activity as described in the descriptor. Reliably means whether they can do so:

 safely – in a manner unlikely to cause harm to themselves or to another person, either during or after completion of the activity

 to an acceptable standard

 repeatedly – as often as is reasonably required, and

 in a reasonable time period – no more than twice as long as the maximum period that a non-disabled person would normally take to complete that activity.” 

If you cannot complete an activity reliably, safely and repeatedly, as outlined, then you must be regarded as unable to complete that task at all.  The reliability criteria are an important key protection for disabled people claiming both PIP and Employment and Support Allowance (ESA).

From the document: “Symptoms such as pain, fatigue and breathlessness should be considered when determining whether an activity can be carried out repeatedly. While these symptoms may not necessarily stop the claimant carrying out the activity in the first instance, they may be an indication that it cannot be done as often as is required.”

And: “The following situations highlight examples where an individual may be considered unable to repeatedly complete a descriptor in the way described due to the impact this would have:

A person who is able to stand and move 20 metres unaided, but is unable to repeat it again that day cannot do it repeatedly as you would reasonably expect people to move 20 metres more than once a day • A person who is able to prepare a meal, but the exhaustion from doing so means they cannot then repeat the activity at subsequent meal times on the same day. This means they cannot complete the activity repeatedly as it is reasonable to expect people to prepare a meal more than once a day.”

This also applies to people with mental health conditions, which may also impact on a person being able to carry out tasks reliably, repeatedly and safely.

Time periods, fluctuations and descriptor choices

The document says: “The impact of most health conditions and disabilities can fluctuate. Taking a view of ability over a longer period of time helps to iron out fluctuations and presents a more coherent picture of disabling effects. The descriptor choice should be based on consideration of a 12-month period.

This should correlate with the Qualifying Period and Prospective Test for the benefit – so in the 3 months before the assessment and in the 9 months after. A scoring descriptor can apply to claimants in an activity where their impairment(s) affect(s) their ability to complete an activity, at some stage of the PIP regulations.

 The following rules apply: If one descriptor in an activity is likely to apply on more than 50% of the days in the 12-month period – the activity can be completed in the way described on more than 50% of days – then that descriptor should be chosen.

If more than one descriptor in an activity is likely to apply on more than 50% of the days in the period, then the descriptor chosen should be the one that is the highest scoring. For example, if D applies on 100% of days and E on 70% of days, E is selected. Where one single descriptor in an activity is likely to not be satisfied on more than 50% of days, but a number of different scoring descriptors in that activity together are likely to be satisfied on more than 50% of days, the descriptor likely to be satisfied for the highest proportion of the time should be selected.

For example if B applies on 20% of days, D on 30% of days and E on 5% of days, D is selected. If someone is awaiting treatment or further intervention, it can be difficult to accurately predict its level of success or whether it will even occur. Descriptor choices should therefore be based on the likely continuing impact of the health condition or disability as if any treatment or further intervention has not occurred.

The timing of the activity should be considered, and whether the claimant can carry out the activity when they need to do it. For example, if taking medication in the morning (such as painkillers) allows the individual to carry out activities reliably when they need to throughout the day, although they would be unable to carry out the activity for part of the day (before they take the painkillers), the individual can still complete the activity reliably when required and therefore should receive the appropriate descriptor.”

Again, “fluctuating conditions” include many mental health conditions.

Risk and safety

“When considering whether an activity can be carried out safely it is important to consider the risk of a serious adverse event occurring. However, the risk that a serious adverse event may occur due to impairments is insufficient – the adverse event has to be likely to occur.”

Even if complex probability calculations were used – and I am certain HPs are unlikely to have been trained to use such formulae – there is no “objective” way of calculating risk of serious “adverse” events over time.

However, it is not such a big inferential leap to recognise that continually cutting essential lifeline support for sick and disabled people will ultimately lead to harm, distress, hardship and other negative consequences for individuals and will have wider social, cultural and economic “adverse” consequences, too.

dpac

“Making work pay” for whom?

See also:

PIP Assessment Guide A DWP guidance document for providers

Personal Independence Payment handbook

Government Toolkit of information for support organisations

Relevant:

PIP and the Tory monologue

Government plans further brutal cuts to disability support

Consultation as government seek to limit disabled people’s eligibility for Personal Independence Payment

Second Independent Review of Personal Independence Payment assessment


 

I don’t make any money from my work. I’m a disabled person with lupus, and I’m stuggling to get by. But you can help by making a donation and enable me to continue to research and write informative, insightful and independent articles, and to provide support to others going through disability benefit assessment processes and appeals. The smallest amount is much appreciated – thank you.

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