Tag: welfare

UN extreme poverty and human rights Special Rapporteur to visit UK – call for submissions

 

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The United Nations Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, Professor Philip Alston, will undertake an official visit to the UK and Northern Ireland from 6 to 16 November 2018. His visit will focus, in accordance with his mandate, on the interconnections between poverty and the realisation of human rights in the UK

The Special Rapporteur is an independent expert appointed by the United Nations Human Rights Council. The Human Rights Council is an inter-governmental body within the United Nations system, made up of 47 Member States, responsible for the promotion and protection of all human rights around the world. The United Kingdom is a Member of the Council.

Special Rapporteurs are selected on the basis of their expertise and experience in the area of their mandate, personal integrity, independence and impartiality and objectivity. They are not employed by the United Nations and receive no remuneration for their UN work.

Philip Alston is a Professor of Law at New York University, and he works in the field of international law and international human rights law. He has extensive experience as an independent UN human rights expert. He previously chaired the United Nations Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights for eight years (1991-98) and was United Nations Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary, or Arbitrary Executions (2004-10).

His resume can be found here.

The Special Rapporteur is part of a system of so-called UN Special Procedures, made up of independent experts who regularly undertake country visits around the world to report on human rights issues. The Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights has, since 2014, undertaken country visits to Chile, Romania, Mauritania, China, Saudi Arabia, the United States and Ghana.  Every country is different, and each faces its own human rights challenges. The Special Rapporteur thus adapts his approach in accordance with the specific circumstances of each country.

An overview of visits by all UN Special Procedures to the United Kingdom and other countries since 1998 can be found here.

Visits to a country are based on extensive preparations by the Special Rapporteur and his team and are supported by the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Geneva. They involve extensive study of topics relevant to the issue of poverty and human rights as well as interviews with civil society organizations, experts and affected individuals before a visit.

The visits usually last for about two weeks and include meetings between the Special Rapporteur and government officials, members of the legislature and judiciary, state institutions, civil society organizations, academics, and individuals who have experienced poverty. During his visit the Special Rapporteur will travel to various parts of the UK, but a final decision on his itinerary will not be made until close to the start of the visit.

Media inquiries

Regular updates about the visit to the United Kingdom in November will be posted on the website of the Special Rapporteur and via his Twitter and Facebook pages.

On the last day of the visit, November 16, 2018, the Special Rapporteur will hold a press conference in London where he will present a statement regarding his initial findings. He will subsequently submit a final report which he will present to the Human Rights Council in Geneva in 2019.

Media inquiries may be directed to Patricia Varela (pvarela@ohchr.org) and Christiaan van Veen (cvv221@nyu.edu).

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Call for written submissions

The Special Rapporteur would like to invite all interested individuals and organizations in the United Kingdom working on issues related to poverty and human rights, including representatives of civil society organizations, experts and academics, to provide input for the preparation of his visit to the United Kingdom in November 2018.

Submissions can be sent to srextremepoverty@ohchr.org until Friday 14 September at 18:00 GMT.

Please note that the Special Rapporteur is also open to receiving input via browser-based encrypted email. Please contact the Special Rapporteur and his team via the email address above about how to further communicate via encrypted email.

Submissions are limited to a maximum of 2,500 words. However, additional reports, academic studies, evidence and other types of background materials can be attached as an annex to the submission.

All input will be treated confidentially by the Special Rapporteur and his team and for the sole purpose of preparing for the country visit. 

If you would like your written submission to be published on the website of the Special Rapporteur, please explicitly indicate this is in your submission.

While all submissions are welcome and the questions below are by no means meant to be exhaustive, it would be greatly appreciated if the submissions can focus on one or more of the following thematic issues:

A. GENERAL

(1) What is the definition of poverty and extreme poverty that your organization employs in the context of the United Kingdom and to what extent do official definitions used by the state adequately encompass poverty in all its dimensions?

(2) What is your view on the current official measurement of poverty by the government, what are the shortcomings of the current measurement and what alternatives would be feasible?

(3) What are the most significant human rights violations that people living in poverty and extreme poverty in the United Kingdom experience? Please exemplify by referring to specific cases and relevant norms of international human rights law.

(4) Could you specify how poverty and extreme poverty in the United Kingdom intersect with civil and political rights issues (such as for example the right to political participation or the right to equality before the law)? Please exemplify by referring to specific cases and relevant norms of international human rights law.

(5) Could you specify how poverty and extreme poverty in the United Kingdom intersect with economic and social rights issues (such as the right to education or the right to health care)? Please exemplify by referring to specific cases and relevant norms of international human rights law.

(6) Which areas of the United Kingdom should the Special Rapporteur visit in light of the poverty and human rights situation in those locations?

(7) Which individuals and organizations should the Special Rapporteur meet with during his country visit to the United Kingdom?

B. AUSTERITY

Since 2010, successive governments have engaged in fiscal consolidation, the process of reducing the amount of fiscal deficit of the United Kingdom. This process is popularly referred to as ‘austerity’ or ‘budget cutting’.

(8) To what extent has austerity been necessary given the fiscal outlook of the United Kingdom in the last decade?

(9) Have austerity measures implemented by the government taken adequate account of the impact on vulnerable groups and reflected efforts to minimize negative effects for those groups and individuals?

(10) What have the effects of austerity been on poverty (and inequality) levels in the United Kingdom in the last decade?

(11) Have the human rights of individuals experiencing poverty been affected by austerity measures?

(12) How have local governments been affected by austerity measures in the last decades? If possible, please specify the impact on public services such as police and fire departments, public libraries, and the administration of the welfare system by local authorities.

(13) What alternatives to austerity might have been considered by governments in the last decade?  Could any such alternatives have had a more positive impact on poverty (and inequality) levels in the United Kingdom?

(14) What are the potential implications of Brexit on austerity measures in the coming years?

C. UNIVERSAL CREDIT

Universal Credit, which was first announced in 2010, is a key element of welfare reform in the United Kingdom.  Its stated aims are to simplify and streamline the benefits system for claimants and administrators, to improve work incentives, to tackle poverty and to reduce fraud and error. The Special Rapporteur is interested in learning more about Universal Credit, including its impact on poverty in the United Kingdom and on the human rights of those living in poverty. Below are some of the questions the Special Rapporteur has in that regard:

(15) To what extent has the Universal Credit been able to achieve the goals identified above?

(16) What has the impact of Universal Credit been on poverty and the lives of the poor in the United Kingdom until now? It would be helpful to also distinguish the specific impact of Universal Credit on specific groups, including for example children, persons with disabilities, women and other groups which may be more vulnerable on the basis of their identity and circumstances.

(17) Claimants apply for Universal Credit online. What has been the impact of Universal Credit being a ‘digital-only benefit’ on the ability of potential claimants to apply for this benefit? How does this relate to broadband internet access in the UK and the so-called ‘digital divide’? What is the role of public libraries and Jobcentres in enabling access to broadband internet for those applying for Universal Credit and have these public services been adequate for the purpose?

(18) What has the impact been of various forms of ‘welfare conditionality’ in the context of Universal Credit in terms of ‘incentivizing’ work?

(19) To what extent has the introduction of Universal Credit reduced the incidence of fraud and error in the welfare system?

D. NEW TECHNOLOGIES IN THE WELFARE SYSTEM

The Special Rapporteur is interested in learning more about the impact of new technologies including the use of ‘big data’, artificial intelligence, algorithms and automated decision-making processes on the human rights of those living in poverty in the United Kingdom, especially in terms of the functioning of the welfare system. Below are some of the questions the Special Rapporteur has in that regard:

(20) What use does the national government, as well devolved governments and local governments, make of such new technologies in the context of decision-making in the welfare system? A recent report by the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee on ‘Algorithms in decision-making’ (May 2018) concluded that the central government does not currently produce, publish or maintain a list of algorithms it uses for public purposes, despite the fact that some of the new technologies that are employed, for example in welfare fraud and error investigations, can may have major negative human rights implications, especially for the poor. The Special Rapporteur is especially interested in learning more about concrete examples of the use of such new technologies by governments in the welfare system.

(21) What is the relevant regulatory framework for the use by government of such new technologies, especially in the context of the welfare system, and are there any shortcomings in the current legal framework?

(22) Which government agencies and departments are responsible for and have oversight over the use of new technologies by governments in the UK, especially in the context of the welfare system? Are their respective responsibilities clearly defined and delineated and are they able to effectively perform their responsibilities?

(23) What are the relevant policies of the central government vis-à-vis the use of these new technologies by the government, including especially in the context of the welfare system, and do these policies take into account the potential impact of the use of these technologies on the human rights of those living in poverty?

(24) What are the potential human rights issues faced by individuals living in poverty as a result of the use of new technologies in the UK welfare system?

E. CHILD POVERTY

(25) What is the extent of child poverty in the United Kingdom, and how has it evolved over the last decade?

(26) What are the implications of child poverty for the rights enumerated in the Convention on the Rights of the Child?

(27) What are the main causes of child poverty in the United Kingdom, what have been the main government responses, and how effective have they been?

F. ‘BREXIT’

(28) What are the potential implications of Brexit for the situation of those living in poverty in the United Kingdom?

(29) What are the potential implications of Brexit in terms of protecting the human rights of low-income groups and of persons living in poverty?

(30) To what extent does government planning for Brexit explicitly address the issues arising under questions 28 and 29 above?

SUBMISSIONS RECEIVED

I shall publish my own submission in due course.

 

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Human rights are universal. That is the point of them.



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Worklessness is not a trait: why blaming and shaming is not a solution – Mireia Borrell-Porta

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The recent controversy around the book The Welfare Trait is part of a long-standing debate on whether poverty is caused by structure or behaviour, writes Mireia Borrell-Porta, a Postdoctoral Researcher at the Department of Social Policy and Intervention at the University of Oxford.

Here, she offers her own reading of the book and explains why claiming benefits is not simply a question of personality; instead, a number of other factors – including structural economic and environmental – need to be taken into account.

Mireia also cites my own article – Adam Perkins, Conservative narratives and neuroliberalism  – and like me, she draws a parallel with Adam Perkins’s basic antiwelfarist proposition and the New Right supremicist thinking of Charles Murray.

She says: “‘The Welfare Trait’ by Adam Perkins is currently the subject of controversial debate on mainstream and social media. Having been praised (albeit with some nuances) by the Adam Smith Institute and the Spectator, it has been criticised by The Equality Trust and the Guardian among others. The book’s main argument is that welfare benefits are a ‘production line of unfit children’, and that the welfare state is gradually making new generations ‘resistant to employment.’  This is the result of two phenomena, according to Perkins. First, benefits have the effect of increasing childbirth in workless households more than in working ones. Second, individuals with ‘employment-resistant’ personalities are over-represented among welfare claimants, who then pass these ‘inconvenient traits’ on to their children, making them also less likely to work.”

Mireia goes on to say: “Perkins’ argument is also reminiscent of American conservativism from the mid-1970s. A prominent voice at the time was that of political scientist Charles Murray who, concerned with the fact that poverty in the 1970s did not decline and even rose slightly, grew convinced that the culprits were the decline of the husband-wife family and the drop in work levels among the poor. These trends, he argued, were to be traced to a shift in behaviour on the part of individuals who suffered from poverty. He suggested that individuals are generally rational and make their decisions on work and having children depending on the economic incentives of the time. By increasing or decreasing benefits, the welfare state affects such incentives.

In his later writings, personal character was added to these explanations, leading to his claims that the welfare state not only generated perverse incentives, but also enabled certain people to behave as they ‘naturally’ wanted to behave (i.e. allowing them not to work if they did not want to). Personal character was therefore relevant, and at the same time welfare incentives could have a long-term (detrimental) effect on them. His solution was radical: abolish poverty programmes.”

She concludes: “Anyone studying the relationship between behaviour, character or personality and employment should take these variables into account before claiming that ‘the welfare state becomes a production line for damaged kids’. Because, with parental and children behaviour being influenced by the amount of financial resources in a household, the reasonable approach is not to decrease the level of benefits, as Perkins suggests; this is a case for increasing them.”

You can read this excellent artice in full on the LSE site.

Mireia Borrell-Porta is a Postdoctoral Researcher at the Department of Social Policy and Intervention at the University of Oxford. She completed her PhD at the European Institute at the LSE and holds an MSc in European Political Economy from LSE and a BSc in Economics from Universitat Pompeu Fabra. Mireia’s main research interests focus on the interplay between social norms and economic incentives and their joint impact on individual behaviour. Her areas of interest are social policy, and family policy in particular, and political economy. 

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The myth of meritocracy

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The poverty of responsibility and the politics of blame. Part 3 – the Tories want to repeal the 2010 Child Poverty Act

Essentialising marginalised groups and using stigmatising personality constructs to justify dismantling social security is not “science”, it’s psychopolitics

Antisocial personality and lack of conscientiousness is correlated with bogus anti-welfare research

This is an interesting take on Perkins’s book, (and also references my own work –  Adam Perkins, Conservative narratives and neuroliberalism.)

The article is by sociologist Daniel Nehring: Manufactured Controversy: Adam Perkins, the Psychological Imagination and the Marketing of Scholarship

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Welfare must not be seen as the Treasury’s disposable income

In the 2010 Coalition emergency budget, David Cameron claimed that austerity measures were to be introduced only to reduce the deficit.

Doesn’t anyone else remember that since then, David Cameron stood up at a Lord Mayor’s banquet in London, in front of the financial elite, in November 2013 and ostensibly admitted – and from an ostentatious golden throne, no less – that austerity was not an emergency response to difficult economic events after all, but a permanent disassembling of the state, signalling that he had no intention of resuming public spending once the structural deficit has been eliminated.

Many of us had already recognised that the cuts were ideologically driven. But not enough of us to make a difference in May and to vote and prevent an unforgivable betrayal of future generations. It’s also a grievous betrayal of the previous generations who fought to establish universal suffrage and fought to secure the post-war settlement. Our Social Security, Legal Aid and National Health Service. These are civilising and civilised prerequisites for a fair, human rights-based first world democracy.

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There was another fall in income tax receipts that sent Britain’s deficit
spiralling to £12.1bn in August, the widest shortfall in government funding since 2012. So where is our money going exactly?

For a government whose raison d’etre is deficit reduction, the Conservatives aren’t very good at all. And the rigid emphasis on a series of self-imposed fiscal moving goalposts is distracting the government from the social, moral and democratic obligations it is also expected to uphold.

The Office for National Statistics said low wages and a dip in corporation tax receipts were to blame for the worsening situation, which will put pressure on George Osborne ahead of “tough” expenditure decisions due in November when Whitehall agrees its five-year spending targets.

But if you look at Conservative policies, which are designed to redistribute and privatise public wealth, it’s easy to see why this has happened.

The Conservatives regard the income of the poorest as somehow dispensable – the compensatory and disposable income of the Conservative state. Yet the very mention of raising taxes for the rich is met with shrieks of outrage and threats to leave the country. This is always justified in advance by a fresh mainstream narration of the puritan work ethic and the myth of meritocracy.

What’s yours is mine, what’s mine is my own.

What did the imperturbable chancellor promise before the election? True to Tory form, more of the same: austerity for the poor, more public services cuts, and tax breaks for the wealthiest. No mention of tax credit cuts, though, even when Conservatives were asked directly about those. Several times.

But further cuts to lifeline benefits and public services are surely untenable. Absolute poverty has risen dramatically this past four years, heralding the return of Victorian illnesses that are associated with malnutrition. People have died as a consequence of the welfare “reforms”. Supporting the wealthy has already cost the poorest so very much, yet this callous, indifferent, morally nihilistic government are casually discussing taking even more from those with the very least.

Our welfare state arose as a social security safety net – founded on an assurance that as a civilised and democratic society we value the wellbeing and health of every citizen.

There was a cross-party political consensus that such provision was in the best interests of the nation as a whole at a time when we were collectively spirited enough to ensure that no one should be homeless or starving in modern Britain.

As such, welfare is a fundamental part of the UK’s development –  our progress – the basic idea of improving people’s lives was at the heart of the welfare state and more broadly, it reflects the evolution of European democratic and rights-based societies.

A welfare state is founded on the idea that government plays a key role in ensuring the protection and promotion of the economic and social wellbeing of its citizens. It is based on the principles of equality of opportunity, equitable distribution of wealth, and both political and social responsibility for those unable to avail themselves of the minimal provisions for wellbeing.

It was recognised that people experienced periods of economic difficulty because of structural constraints such as unemployment and recession, through no fault of their own. It was also recognised that poor health and disability may happen to anyone through no fault of their own.

The welfare state arose in the UK during the post-war period, and following the Great Depression, for numerous reasons, most of these were informed by research carried out into the causes of poverty, its effects on individuals and more broadly, on the UK economy. There were also political reasons for the Conservatives and Liberals supporting the poorer citizens – the newly enfranchised working class.

Charles Booth in London and Sebohm Rowntree in York carried out the first serious studies of poverty and its causes. They both discovered that the causes were structural – casual labour, low pay, unemployment, illness and old age – not laziness, fecklessness, drunkenness and gambling, as previously assumed. The poverty studies raised awareness of the extent of poverty in Britain and the myriad social problems that caused it, and that it caused.

The Boer war of 1899-1902 highlighted the general poor state of health of the nation. One out of every three volunteers failed the army medical due to malnutrition, other illnesses due to poor diet and very poor living conditions. The military informed the government at the time of the shockingly poor physical condition of many of those conscripted.

We learned that the effects of poverty were potentially damaging to  the whole of society. Health problems and infectious disease – rife in the overcrowded slums – could affect rich and poor alike. It was recognised that the economy suffered if large numbers of people were too poor to buy goods and social problems such as exploitation, debt, crime, prostitution and drunkenness were a direct result of poverty, and not the cause of it.

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The discovery of  widespread poor health as a consequence of poverty raised concerns about Britain’s future ability to compete with new industrial nations such as Germany and the USA. National efficiency would only increase if the health and welfare of the population improved. It was recognised that welfare is about extending opportunities, not “dependency”.

At the same time, the growth of the Labour Party and Trade Unionism presented a threat to the Liberals and the Conservatives. The new working class voters were turning to these organizations to improve their lives. The traditionally laissez-faire Liberals recognised this and supported the idea of government support for the working class.

Yet since 2010, there’s been an unprecedented, historic assault on the very ideal of social security, and it’s sustained and systematic: it didn’t stop with the 2012 welfare cuts.

As I’ve said elsewhere, welfare has been redefined by the Conservatives: it is pre-occupied with assumptions about and modification and monitoring of the behaviour and character of recipients, rather than with the alleviation of poverty and ensuring economic and social well-being.

Policies aimed at restricting support available for families where parents are either unemployed or in low paid work are effectively class contingent policies.

The vast total of around £25bn in benefit cuts already set in motion by the chancellor brings in less than he has freely handed out in personal tax allowances, generous tax breaks, petrol duties and corporation tax cuts. To govern is to make choices. It’s worth noting that the Conservative’s “difficult choices” are resolved by targeting the same social groups, over and over.

Cuts to welfare have been offset by the cost of tax cuts higher up income scale, with no overall contribution to paying down deficit, according to an unsurprising comprehensive study of social policies.

Professor John Hills, director of the London School of Economics (LSE) Centre for Analysis of Social Exclusion, said: “Protection of some of the core parts of the welfare state from the greatest cuts, and initial protection of the value of benefits, meant that those at the bottom, and important services, were initially shielded from the worst effects of the recession.

“But in the second part of the coalition’s period, selective cuts to benefits and to unprotected services have begun to take their toll, leaving the next government … with much greater social policy challenges than the coalition inherited.”

If David Cameron had been honest and declared that his government intended to dismantle our social infrastructure; the welfare state (and yes, that means in-work benefits too), the NHS, legal aid, and to refuse to honour any meaningful legal commitment to human rights, whilst handing out the money generated from this unravelling of our civilising institutions and services, in the form of handsome rewards to feckless millionaires, would he be in office now?

The Tory mantra “Making work pay” is a doublespeak soundbite version of the 1834 Poor Law principle of less eligibility, which is founded on the atrocious idea that poverty is caused by people simply refusing to work, and it can be “cured” if it is made as unbearable as possible. People will work if they are shamed and psychologically coerced. The whole idea of less eligibility is that “workless” people have to be kept in penury to “teach” them value of the work ethic and to discourage others from becoming an “idle pauper.”

But many poor people are in work.

The tax credit cuts proposed by the Conservatives exposed the “shirker” myth for what it is: a lazy, barely coherent narrative – a cover story for an ideologically driven and increasingly irrational government that is happy to reintroduce Dickensian levels of absolute poverty so that a few rich people can increase their wealth. Punishing poor people and creating a desperate class that are prepared to work for next to nothing rather than starve on a grossly inadequate and punitive social security system serves to drive wages down further, reduces working conditions and removes constraint from private sector profit-making.

It serves to dampen down collective bargaining. It changes the relationship between employers and employees, as well as between the state and citizens, turning increasingly desperate, impoverished people into a reserve army of cheap labour.

The welfare “reforms” were never about “making work pay.”

Unless, of course, you ask “for whom, precisely?” 

1379986_541109785958554_2049940708_nCourtesy of Robert Livingstone

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The Tories’ war on welfare has caused untold suffering. Here are three ways we can stop it

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The impact of a Conservative government on Child Poverty – analysis of report by UNICEF

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Graphic from Inequality Briefing

If ever you needed convincing evidence that austerity – which is central to neoliberalism and social conservatism – doesn’t benefit the majority, and that the UK has a system that extends inequality and increases poverty, this is it.

Furthermore, austerity was not imposed as an economic necessary, and there were other choices available to the UK government that were less damaging to the poorest citizens and to the economy.

UNICEF have published a report about the impact of the global economic crisis and its aftermath on children. It runs fron 2007 to 2013, so worryingly, the more recent UK government welfare cuts and the consequences are not yet included in this international analysis.

In the executive summary, the report says:

“For each country, the extent and character of the crisis’s impact on children has been shaped by the depth of the recession, pre-existing economic conditions, the strength of the social safety net and, most importantly, policy responses

Remarkably, amid this unprecedented social crisis, many countries have managed to limit – or even reduce – child poverty. It was by no means inevitable, then, that children would be the most enduring victims of the recession.”

The report goes on to say that those Governments that supported existing public institutions and programmes helped to buffer countless children from the crisis – a strategy that others may consider adopting.

The UK was quite clearly not one such country, and more recently, Iain Duncan Smith has conveniently announced changes to how we measure child poverty, shifting the economic responsibility and moral focus by blaming individuals for circumstances created by socioeconomic constraints and political decisions.

The report says:

“Many countries with higher levels of child vulnerability would have been wise to strengthen their safety nets during the pre-recession period of dynamic economic growth, which was marked by rising disparity and a growing concentration of  wealth.”

In the UK, inequality has grown since the recession because of austerity measures that have been targeted at the poorest households. In fact, the UK is now the most unequal country in the EU, and has even higher levels of inequality than the US.

“The magnitude of change since the recession is worth noting. The absolute number of children living in severe material deprivation in the 30 European countries analysed was 11.1 million in 2012 – 1.6 million more than in 2008

This trend is the result of a net effect that includes substantial decreases (more than 300,000 fewer deprived children in Germany and Poland) and unprecedented increases in four countries (Greece, Italy, Spain and the United Kingdom).”

Almost half of the severely materially deprived children (44 percent) in 2012 lived in three countries: Italy (16 percent), Romania (14 per cent) and the United Kingdom (14 per cent).

The report goes on to say:

“At the start of the recession, not surprisingly, child poverty was lower where public spending on families and children was higher. During the recession, welfare states were expected to increase their public protection spending, and many did. 

In such countries, the health and well-being of citizens, especially those in financial or social need, are safeguarded by grants, unemployment assistance programmes, pensions and other benefits. 

In a recession, these benefits act as counter-cyclical economic stabilizers.”

One of the most striking contrasts in the report was that whilst many other countries increased spending on welfare and essential public services to shelter the most vulnerable citizens from the impact of the global recession, in the UK, the government chose to target those social provisions for all of the austerity cuts.

The report says:

“Since 2010, the United Kingdom has implemented a series of cuts that have reduced the real value and coverage of child benefits and tax credits for families withchildren. In 2013, a cap was imposed on the total benefits a household can receive, mainly affecting a small number of large families with high housing costs, while housing benefits were cut (the so-called ‘bedroom tax’), affecting large numbers of social tenants.”

It’s clear that the impacts and aftershocks of the global recession were not shared equally in our society, and the austerity measures have only made things worse for those most affected – the poorest. One emerging certainty from this report is that economic indicators alone do not reveal the complexity of social reality.

The report recommends that governments increase investment in social protection policies and programmes that can reduce poverty, enhance social resilience in children and support economic development in an efficient, costeffective way.

Such measures include guaranteeing basic incomes for families, and a child rights impact assessment as strategy for political decision-making in the best interests of children.

Last year, I wrote that the government’s Children’s Commissioner for England published a report criticising the Coalition’s austerity policies, which have reduced the incomes of the poorest families by up to 10 percent since 2010.

The Children’s Commissioner said that the increasing inequality which has resulted from the cuts, and in particular, the welfare reforms, means that Britain is now in breach of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, which protects children from the adverse effects of government economic measures.

It therefore comes as no surprise that the current government is planning to repeal our Human Rights Act and replace it with an alternative Bill of Rights. That will mean that  human rights will no longer be absolute – they will be subject to stipulations and caveats. The government will establish a threshold below which Convention rights will not be engaged, allowing UK courts to strike out what are deemed “trivial cases”.

During their last term, the Conservatives contravened the Human Rights of disabled people, women and children. It’s clear that we have a government that regards the rights and wellbeing of most of the population as an inconvenience to be brushed aside.

You can read the UNICEF report in full here.

(Non -discrimination): The Convention applies to all children, whatever their race, religion or abilities; whatever they think or say, whatever type of family they come from. It doesn’t matter where children live, what language they speak, what their parents do, whether they are boys or girls, what their culture is, whether they have a disability or whether they are rich or poor. No child should be treated unfairly on any basis.

Article 3

(Best interests of the child): The best interests of children must be the primary concern in making decisions that may affect them. All adults should do what is best for children. When adults make decisions, they should think about how their decisions will affect children. This particularly applies to budget, policy and law makers.

Article 26

(Social security): Children – either through their guardians or directly – have the right to help from the government if they are poor or in need.

Article 27

(Adequate standard of living): Children have the right to a standard of living that is good enough to meet their physical and mental needs. Governments should help families and guardians who can not afford to provide this, particularly with regard to food, clothing and housing.

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A brief history of social security and the reintroduction of eugenics by stealth

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Introduction

Our welfare state arose as a social security safety net – founded on an assurance that as a civilised and democratic society we value the well-being and health of every citizen.

There was a cross-party political consensus that such provision was in the best interests of the nation as a whole at a time when we were collectively spirited enough to ensure that no one should be homeless or starving in modern Britain.

As such, welfare is a fundamental part of the UK’s development –  our progress – the basic idea of improving people’s lives was at the heart of the welfare state and more broadly, it reflects the evolution of European democratic and rights-based societies.

Now the UK “social security” system is anything but. It has regressed to reflect the philosophy underpinning the 1834 Poor Law, to  become a system of punishments aimed at the poorest and most marginalised social groups. The Poor Law principle of less eligibility – which served as a deterrence to poor people claiming poor relief is embodied in the Conservative claim of Making work pay: benefits have been reduced to make the lowest paid, insecure employment a more appealing option than claiming benefits.

Unemployed people have absolutely no bargaining power or choice regarding their work conditions and pay. They are coerced by the state to apply for any work available. This also negatively impacts on collective bargaining more widely, the creation of a desperate reserve army of labor serves to drive wages down further. (See: Conservatism in a nutshell.)

The draconian benefit sanctions are about depriving people of their lifeline benefits because they have allegedly failed to comply in some way with increasingly stringent welfare conditionality – which is aimed at enforcing compliance, “behaviour change” and achieving reductions in welfare expenditure rather than supporting people claiming benefits and helping them to find work.

Removing a person’s means of meeting basic survival needs presents significant barriers to that person finding work. If we can’t meet our basic needs, we cannot be motivated or “incentivised” to do anything but struggle for survival.

Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.

 

Such a political aim of “behaviour change” is founded entirely on assumptions and moral judgements about why people are unemployed or underpaid. And of course serious concerns have arisen because sanctions have tended to be extremely discriminatory. Young people, women with childcare responsibilities, people with learning disabilities, people with mental illnesses and disabled people are particularly vulnerable as a consequence of the rigid conditionality criteria.

Frankly, such an approach to welfare seems to be cruelly designed to exclude those people who need support the most. Not only does the current government fail to recognise socio-economic causes of poverty, poor wages, underemployment and unemployment because of political decision-making – preferring to blame individuals for economic misfortune – it also fails to recognise the detrimental wider social and economic implications of penalising poor people for the conservative engineering of a steeply hierarchical society.

As a government that values social inequality, and regards it as necessary for economic growth, insolvency and poverty for some is intrinsic to the Conservative ideological script and drives policy decisions, yet the Tories insist that individuals shape their own economic misfortunes.

Worse, the Conservatives are prepared to leave people without a basic means of support – one that the public have paid for themselves.

Austerity – which is aimed at the poorest members of society – has served to increase inequality, and since the Tory welfare “reforms,” we have seen a re-emergence of absolute poverty. Up until recently, our welfare system ensured that everyone could meet their basic survival needs. That no longer is the case.

A brief history of welfare

A welfare state is founded on the idea that  government plays a key role in ensuring the protection and promotion of the economic and social well-being of its citizens. It is based on the principles of equality of opportunity, equitable distribution of wealth, and both political and social responsibility for those unable to avail themselves of the minimal provisions for well-being.

It was recognised that people experienced periods of economic difficulty because of structural constraints such as unemployment and recession, through no fault of their own. It was also recognised that poor health and disability may happen to anyone through no fault of their own.

The welfare state arose in the UK during the post-war period, and following the Great Depression, for numerous reasons, most of these were informed by research carried out into the causes of poverty, its effects on individuals and more broadly, on the UK economy. There were also political reasons for the Conservatives and Liberals supporting the poorer citizens – the newly enfranchised working class.

Charles Booth in London and Sebohm Rowntree in York carried out the first serious studies of poverty and its causes. They both discovered that the causes were casual labour, low pay, unemployment, illness and old age – not laziness, fecklessness, drunkenness and gambling, as previously assumed. The poverty studies raised awareness of the extent of poverty in Britain and the myriad social problems it caused.

The Boer war of 1899-1902 highlighted the general poor state of health of the nation. One out of every three volunteers failed the army medical due to malnutrition, other illnesses due to poor diet and very poor living conditions. The military informed the government at the time of the shockingly poor physical condition of many of those conscripted.

It was realised that the effects of poverty were potentially damaging to  the whole of society. Health problems and infectious disease – rife in the overcrowded slums – could affect rich and poor alike. It was recognised that the economy suffered if large numbers of people were too poor to buy goods and social problems such as exploitation, debt, crime, prostitution and drunkenness were a direct result of poverty, and not the cause of it.

The discovery of  widespread poor health as a consequence of poverty raised concerns about Britain’s future ability to compete with new industrial nations such as Germany and the USA. National efficiency would only increase if the health and welfare of the population improved.

The growth of the Labour Party and Trade Unionism presented a threat to the Liberals and the Conservatives. The new working class voters were turning to these organizations to improve their lives. The traditionally laissez-faire Liberals recognised this and supported the idea of government help for the working class.

Back to the present: welfare is no longer about welfare

The current Conservative government has taken a distinctly behaviourist turn – a form of psychopolitics which essentially reduces explanations of poverty to the personal – blaming poor people for poverty and unemployed people for unemployment, formulating policies that are about making people change their behaviour, based on a simplistic “cause and effect” approach. The government nudges and we are expected to comply. Increasing the use of benefit sanctions is one policy consequence of this psychopolitical approach.

Of course this brand of psychopolitics is all about the government assuming the fallibility of the population and the infallibility of the government when it comes to decision-making and behaviours.

Although Cameron claims that “Nudge” draws on a “paternalistic libertarian” philosophy, any government that acts upon a population, by reducing liberties, choices and by imposing behavioural modification without public consent – expecting people to change their behaviours and choices unwittingly to fit with what the state deems “right,” rather than reflecting public needs via democratic engagement and a genuine dialogue, is actually authoritarian.

As I’ve said elsewhere, welfare has been redefined: it is pre-occupied with assumptions about and modification and monitoring of the behaviour and character of recipients, rather than with the alleviation of poverty and ensuring economic and social well-being.

Eugenics by stealth

Further intention of directing behavioural change is at the heart of policies that restrict welfare support such as tax credits to two children. The Conservatives have recently announced plans to cut welfare payments for larger families. Whilst this might not go as far as imposing limits on the birth of children for poor people, it does effectively amount to a two-child policy.

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

Of course this is justified using a Conservative ideologically driven scapegoating narrative of the feckless family, misbehaving and caught up in a self-imposed culture of dependence on welfare.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Back in the 1970s, following his remarks on the cycle of deprivation, Keith Joseph established a large-scale research programme devoted to testing its validity. One of the main findings of the research was that there is no simple continuity of social problems between generations of the sort required for his thesis. At least half of the children born into disadvantaged homes do not repeat the pattern of disadvantage in the next generation.

Despite the fact that continuity of deprivation across generations is by no means inevitable – the theory is not supported by empirical research – the idea of the cycle of “worklessness” has become “common sense.” Clearly, common perceptions of the causes of poverty are (being) misinformed. The individual behaviourist theory of poverty predicts that the same group of people remain in poverty. This doesn’t happen.

However, the structural theory predicts that different people are in poverty over time (and further, that we need to alter the economic structure to make things better). Longitudinal surveys show that impoverished people are not the same people every year. In other words, people move in and out of poverty: it’s a revolving door, as predicted by structural explanations of poverty.

Many families are in work when they plan their children. Job loss, an accident or illness causing disability, can happen to anyone at any time. It’s hardly fair to stigmatise and penalise larger families for events that are outside of their control.

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

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

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

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

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

People who are in favour of eugenics believe that the quality of a race can be improved by reducing the fertility of “undesirable” groups, or by discouraging reproduction and encouraging the birth rate of “desirable” groups.

Eugenics arose from the social Darwinism and laissez-faire economics of the late 19th century, which emphasised competitive individualism, a “survival of the wealthiest” philosophy and sociopolitical rationalisations of inequality.

Eugenics is now considered to be extremely unethical and it was criticised and condemned widely when its role in justification narratives of the Holocaust was revealed.

But that doesn’t mean it has gone away. It’s hardly likely that a government of a so-called first world liberal democracy – and fully signed up member of the European Convention on Human Rights and a signatory also to the United Nations Universal Declaration – will publicly declare their support of eugenics, or their totalitarian tendencies, for that matter, any time soon.

But any government that regards some social groups as “undesirable” and formulates policies to undermine or restrict that group’s reproduction rights is expressing eugenicist values, whether those values are overtly expressed as “eugenics” or not.

Conservatives are not known for valuing diversity, it has to be said.

Implications of the welfare “reforms”: Human rights

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

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

A recent assessment report by the four children’s commissioners of the UK called on the government to reconsider its deep welfare cuts, voiced “serious concerns” about children being denied access to justice in the courts, and called on ministers to rethink plans to repeal the Human Rights Act.

The commissioners, representing each of the constituent nations of the UK, conducted their review of the state of children’s policies as part of evidence they will present to the United Nations.

Many of the government’s policy decisions are questioned in the report as being in breach of the convention, which has been ratified by the UK.

England’s children’s commissioner, Anne Longfield, said:

“We are finding and highlighting that much of the country’s laws and policies defaults away from the view of the child. That’s in breach of the treaty. What we found again and again was that the best interest of the child is not taken into account.”

Another worry is the impact of changes to welfare, and ministers’ plan to cut £12bn more from the benefits budget. There are now 4.1m children living in absolute poverty – 500,000 more than there were when David Cameron came to power.

It’s noted in the report that ministers ignored the UK supreme court when it found the “benefit cap” – the £25,000 limit on welfare that disproportionately affects families with children, and particularly those with a larger number of children – to be in breach of Article 3 of the convention – the best interests of the child are paramount:

“In all actions concerning children, whether undertaken by public or private social welfare institutions, courts of law, administrative authorities or legislative bodies, the best interests of the child shall be a primary consideration.”

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

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

Article 1

For the purposes of the present Convention, a child means every human being below the age of eighteen years unless under the law applicable to the child, majority is attained earlier.

Article 2

1. States Parties shall respect and ensure the rights set forth in the present Convention to each child within their jurisdiction without discrimination of any kind, irrespective of the child’s or his or her parent’s or legal guardian’s race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national, ethnic or social origin, property, disability, birth or other status.

2. States Parties shall take all appropriate measures to ensure that the child is protected against all forms of discrimination or punishment on the basis of the status, activities, expressed opinions, or beliefs of the child’s parents, legal guardians, or family members.

Article 3

1. In all actions concerning children, whether undertaken by public or private social welfare institutions, courts of law, administrative authorities or legislative bodies, the best interests of the child shall be a primary consideration.

2. States Parties undertake to ensure the child such protection and care as is necessary for his or her well-being, taking into account the rights and duties of his or her parents, legal guardians, or other individuals legally responsible for him or her, and, to this end, shall take all appropriate legislative and administrative measures.

3. States Parties shall ensure that the institutions, services and facilities responsible for the care or protection of children shall conform with the standards established by competent authorities, particularly in the areas of safety, health, in the number and suitability of their staff, as well as competent supervision.

Article 4

States Parties shall undertake all appropriate legislative, administrative, and other measures for the implementation of the rights recognized in the present Convention. With regard to economic, social and cultural rights, States Parties shall undertake such measures to the maximum extent of their available resources and, where needed, within the framework of international co-operation.

Article 5

States Parties shall respect the responsibilities, rights and duties of parents or, where applicable, the members of the extended family or community as provided for by local custom, legal guardians or other persons legally responsible for the child, to provide, in a manner consistent with the evolving capacities of the child, appropriate direction and guidance in the exercise by the child of the rights recognized in the present Convention.

Article 6

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

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

Article 26

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

2. The benefits should, where appropriate, be granted, taking into account the resources and the circumstances of the child and persons having responsibility for the maintenance of the child, as well as any other consideration relevant to an application for benefits made by or on behalf of the child.

Here are the rest of the Convention Articles

The Nordic social democratic model of welfare

Finally, it’s worth noting, as sociologist Lane Kenworthy has pointed out, that the Nordic welfare experience of the modern social democratic model can:

“promote economic security, expand opportunity, and ensure rising living standards for all . . . while facilitating freedom, flexibility and market dynamism.”

Nordic welfare models include support for a universalist welfare state which is aimed specifically at enhancing individual autonomy, promoting social mobility and ensuring the universal provision of basic human rights, as well as for stabilizing the economy, alongside a commitment to free trade.

The Nordic model is distinguished from other types of welfare states by its emphasis on maximizing labor force participation, promoting gender equality, egalitarian and extensive benefit levels and the large magnitude of income redistribution.

Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz has noted that there is higher social mobility in the Scandinavian countries than in the United States, and argues that Scandinavia is now the land of opportunity that the United States once was. The Nordics cluster at the top of league tables of everything from economic competitiveness to social health to happiness.

They have avoided both southern Europe’s economic sclerosis and America’s extreme inequality. Development theorists have taken to calling successful modernisation “getting to Denmark”.

The Nordics demonstrate very well that it is possible to combine competitive capitalism with a large state: they employ 30% of their workforce in the public sector, compared with an OECD average of 15%. The main lesson to learn from the Nordics is not ideological but practical.

The state is popular not because it is big but because it works. A Norwegian pays tax more willingly than a Californian because he or she has access to decent schools, support when times are difficult and free health care as a result.

Norway ranks among the richest countries in the world. GDP per capita is among the highest in the world.

Norway regards welfare services not as social costs but as fundamental social investment for open innovation and growth.

Innovation should not be an opportunity for a few only. It should be democratised and distributed in order to tackle the causes of growing inequality.

Inequality hampers economic growth.

We can’t afford not to have a welfare state.

See also:

Children’s Commissioner warns that UK is now in breach of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child

Human rights are the bedrock of democracy, which the Tories have imperiled.

Welfare reforms break UN convention

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

The government refuse to carry out a cumulative impact assessment of welfare “reforms”. Again.

Suicides reach a ten year high and are linked with welfare “reforms”

The poverty of responsibility and the politics of blame. Part 3 – the Tories want to repeal the 2010 Child Poverty Act

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Pictures courtesy of Robert Livingstone

Budget 2015: cuts to make Daily Mail readers wince, but not just yet

9686687899_74d73c6216_oPicture courtesy of Robert Livingstone.

Article by Michael Kitson, University of Cambridge

George Osborne is preparing to deliver the first Tory budget since 1996. He will proclaim the success of the government’s “long-term economic plan” and will use this as a platform to launch a radical reduction of welfare expenditure. But repeatedly extolling the success of your long-term economic plan does not mean that you have one. And an economy that in the first quarter was growing at a sluggish annual rate of 2.2% per head – after a deep and protracted recession – is not an indicator of sustained economic revival.

There are two main components of the government’s economic plan. First, to decrease the budget deficit and eventually move it to surplus – with the fiscal burden being borne by cuts in government spending. Second, to reduce the size of the state in the British economy. This is not an “economic plan”, it is a political agenda based on a doctrine of faith.

The focus on fiscal austerity has meant that monetary policy (interest rates and quantitative easing) has been the main stimulant to the economy. Thus, private sector debt is considered good and desirable whereas public sector debt is bad and harmful.

This makes little economic sense; what is important is the appropriate balance between borrowing to consume and borrowing to invest. In a period of cheap money, it is no surprise that consumers are buying new cars in record numbers (85% of which are manufactured abroad); the problem is that the state is not investing in the infrastructure that the economy needs.

The growth record

The supporters of austerity have argued that the return of economic growth is justification for the policy. This argument is full of holes. The anti-austerity group never argued that the economy would remain in a permanent recession – their concern was that recovery would be delayed and the downturn would cause long-term damage. The normal path for an economy that suffers a shock is that it bounces back with a period of rapid economic growth. The bounce-back has been feeble in the UK and growth has yet to get back to trend.

Furthermore, the most important indicator of prosperity is GDP per capita, and as shown by the red line in the chart below, this is still below the level achieved in 2008. This reflects the UK’s productivity problem. As the liberal economist Paul Krugman observed:

Productivity isn’t everything, but in the long run it is almost everything. A country’s ability to improve its standard of living over time depends almost entirely on its ability to raise its output per worker.

Although it will probably receive a lot of lip service in the budget, there has been no coherent plan to raise productivity in the UK.

ONS, Quarterly National Accounts, Quarter 1 (Jan to Mar) 2015

The retreat of the makers

The UK remains an unbalanced economy: regional disparities have widened since the early 1980s and this process was not halted by the financial crisis. The government has proclaimed that it is putting the power into the “Northern powerhouse”. But regional policy in the UK is piecemeal and parsimonious; and you do not build a powerhouse by postponing infrastructure spending in the North.

Support for industry is another area where soundbites trump substance. The chancellor has called for “a Britain carried aloft by the march of the makers”. But as the chart below shows, although there has been a recovery of the service sector, the manufacturing sector remains smaller than it was before the financial crisis.

The coalition government revived the notion of “industrial policy” to support the manufacturing sector; but this was a Vince Cable initiative which is not being pursued by the current government – which is instead implementing major cuts at the Department for Business, Innovation & Skills, the department responsible for business support and innovation.

ONS, Quarterly National Accounts, Quarter 1 (Jan to Mar) 2015

Of course, it is often argued that manufacturing does not matter any more as we are a service-based economy. Services will continue to provide most of the jobs and most of the output of the economy. Where manufacturing plays a crucial role is as an important source of exports: to help address the deficit that the chancellor rarely talks about – our massive and persistent trade deficit with the rest of the world.

The size of the state

An important part of the long-term political plan is to reduce the size of government – to wield the axe to what the Daily Mail refers to as the “the bloated overweening state. This is a big challenge as the size of the state (as a share of GDP) has increased in all advanced economies since World War II.

This has not been due to some statist plot, but reflects the implications of prosperity. As economies have grown and the standard of living and life expectancy have increased, there has been expanding demand for health, education and pensions. And much of this demand has been met by the state and funded by tax revenue. These are the largest components of government expenditure in the UK; and if the chancellor is serious about reducing the size of the state this is where his axe will have to eventually fall.

Hitting benefit claimants in the meantime is an easy target – and, after all, not many of them are likely to vote Conservative. But large-scale cuts to school budgets, the NHS and state pensions may even make some readers of the Daily Mail wince.

The Conversation

Michael Kitson is University Lecturer in Global Macroeconomics at University of Cambridge.

This article was originally published on The Conversation.
Read the original article.

Lord Bach: Civil Legal Aid – a disaster area?

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Legal aid is a welfare provision for people who could otherwise not afford counsel from the legal system. Legal aid was originally established by the Legal Aid and Advice Act, 1949.

Legal aid is regarded as central in providing access to justice by ensuring equality before the law, the right to counsel and the right to a fair trial. Article 7 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights says that: “All are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to equal protection of the law.”

The United Nations state that this principle is particularly important to minorities and to the poor.

Everyone must be treated equally under the law regardless of their race, gender, national origin, color, ethnicity, religion, disability, or other characteristics, without privilege, discrimination, or bias.

Labour peer Lord Bach has accused the previous of Government of jeopardising social welfare through changes made to legal aid entitlement and has urged ministers to review the legislation.

This article was originally published on PoliticsHome on June 10, reproduced here with thanks:

Part 1 of LASPO has been in force for two years. In that time, many of our most vulnerable citizens have been unable to receive legal advice and assistance to help them with problems in areas of housing, debt, employment, immigration, and welfare benefits. Not only have they been deprived access to justice, but these problems are now being allowed the opportunity to escalate leading to possible greater costs when the state has to intervene. On top of this, eleven law centres have had to close, making it even more difficult for the poorest to get justice, and providers of social welfare law have declined in numbers, as without legal aid, both law centres and solicitors firms have been deprived of a large amount of income.

Two recent reports – one from the House of Commons Justice Select Committee, the other from the Public Accounts Committee – have carefully described the failings of the LASPO Act in convincing terms. The government is yet to indicate when it will respond to these reports. This was legislation which even the Permanent Secretary at Ministry of Justice conceded began without the usual preliminary research being done. It was just a way to save money and damn the consequences. Unfortunately the consequences are deadly serious for citizens, for providers and not least for the reputation of the English legal system.

It is time for a thorough review. My question in the Lords today will urge Ministers to instigate this at once. The ‘exceptional cases’ provision which was supposed to pick up cases that should receive legal aid but couldn’t because of the Act has failed miserably. The Minister of Justice estimate regarding how many exceptional cases there would be has proved laughably high.

Perhaps most disturbing of all is that in those few areas where legal aid is still available under the Act, the take-up has been decreasing.

This is nothing to do with lack of demand for advice. But with people just not knowing that support is still available. The Minister of Justices’ overall savings in this field have also exceeded expectation. Surely it is time to put some of that money back into helping people at a difficult time in their lives?

Social Welfare Law has moved a long way towards being destroyed. It is now time for the government to take stock and begin to restore what was only a few years ago one of the jewels in the crown of English Justice.


Related

Children are being denied justice and their human rights by legal aid cuts

Devastating blow to Grayling as judges halt his legal aid reform

The coming tyranny and the Legal Aid bill

The government’s Legal Aid cuts are leaving vulnerable people with nowhere to turn

7005_494073677328832_658777491_n (1)Pictures courtesy of Robert Livingstone.