Category Archives: Politics

Mrs Thatcher: My thoughts on the passing of the Iron Lady

She was the Prime Minister of my childhood. She was Mrs Thatcher. Or Maggie. It all depended on the context. But was she certainly a ‘Mrs.’ It felt as stern and cold as she was. Or seemed. Because out of nowhere, she would suddenly exude the vulnerability of a woman, the pride of a mother, and the doting of a wife. Her voice on her Radio 4 Desert Island Discs appearance is unmistakable, distinctive, yet strangely alluring. She used her sexuality, and she knew how to charm.

Yet she failed to charm a nation, at least in the sense of the word ‘charming’, anyway. She managed to be incredibly divisive. Of course, even as a young man, I don’t think I really understood why. Why shouldn’t I believe the mantra of ‘the medicine’ that had to be tough to be kind; the industries that could never survive and inevitably had to go; the unions that needed to be defeated; that the freedom of the individual was sacrosanct?

When she became leader of the Conservative Party, Mrs Thatcher entered the shadow cabinet meeting room, took a book out of her handbag and started waving it about. ‘This’, Thatcher said sternly, ‘is what we believe’, and banged a copy of the Austrian-born economist and philosopher Friedrich von Hayek’s book The Road to Serfdom down on the table. In it, Hayek argues that Western democracies, including the United Kingdom and the United States, have “progressively abandoned that freedom in economic affairs without which personal and political freedom has never existed in the past,” and that the only chance to build a decent world is “to improve the general level of wealth” via the activities of free markets.

Mrs Thatcher admired Hayek greatly, and became friends through correspondence with him. Hayek had, if that is possible, an even more outrageous view of the Pinochet regime. Hayek was not only full of praise for the economic policies of the Pinochet Regime, but also supportive in political terms. He was concerned that Chile, and the Apartheid regime in South Africa too, did not receive a fair coverage from the ‘liberal’ press in Western countries, and suggested in his infamous interview with El Mercurio that a dictator like Pinochet might be a necessary step towards a liberal democracy.

Under the barbed restraints of dictatorship and with the guidance of University of Chicago-trained economists, Pinochet had gouged out nearly every vestige of the public sector, privatizing everything from utilities to the Chilean state pension program. Hayek returned gushing, and wrote Thatcher, urging her to follow Chile’s aggressive model more faithfully.

In her reply, Thatcher explained tersely that “in Britain, with our democratic institutions and the need for a higher degree of consent, some of the measures adopted in Chile are quite unacceptable. Our reform must be in line with our traditions and our Constitution. At times, the process may seem painfully slow.”

http://www.naomiklein.org/shock-doctrine/reviews/new-road-serfdom

In The Downing Street Years, 1995, Mrs Thatcher expands on her philosophy of Individualism. “I was also impressed by the writing of the American theologian and social scientist Michael Novak who put into new and striking language what I had always believed about individuals and communities. Mr Novak stressed the fact that what he called ‘democratic capitalism’ was a moral and social, not just an economic system, that it encouraged a range of virtues … These were important insights which, along with our thinking about the effects of the dependency culture, provided the intellectual basis for my approach to those great questions brought together in political parlance as ‘the quality of life’.”

Hayek also dismissed the idea of ‘Social Justice’ saying that there could be no such thing. Society is made up of individuals, and it is they as agents that have responsibility; Society is not an agent and therefore cannot have responsibility. This belief is ultimately what led Mrs Thatcher to say in her 1987 Interview for “Women’s Own” magazine, “Who is society? There is no such thing! There are individual men and women and there are families and no government can do anything except through people and people look to themselves first.”

Many believe that the policies of Thatcher’s government and her dogged determination to put down the unions at all cost destroyed the north, by destroying mining, steel, ship building and manufacturing industries. She then proceeded to say that the hundreds of thousands, even millions, of people made unemployed by this were responsible for their own situations.

For Thatcher, Hayek and her economic hero Milton Friedman, society and government had no responsibility. She said, “It is not my job, nor the job of any politician to offer people salvation. It is part of my political faith that people must save themselves.

“The encouragement of variety and individual choice, the provision of fair incentives and rewards for skill and hard work… and a belief in the wide distribution of individual private property … they are certainly what I am trying to defend.”

At heart, Mrs Thatcher was, together with Ronald Reagan, what we now term ‘neo-liberal’. She was responsible for making popular the philosophy of self interest and took no responsibility for her or her government actions. She believed that only the free market could produce wealth and prosperity for the nation, and that by allowing the rich to get richer, we would all benefit as the wealth, in her words echoing the words of Friedman, would literally ‘trickled down’. It is a philosophy in which the existence and operation of a market are valued in themselves, separately from any previous relationship with the production of goods and services, and without any attempt to justify them in terms of their effect on the production of goods and services; and where the operation of a market or market-like structure is seen as an ethic in itself – the profit motive, which is capable of acting as a guide for all human action, and substituting for all previously existing ethical beliefs. [She perhaps had a vested interest: her husband was a multi-millionaire after all.]

She rose to the top despite all that was against her, but she became a product of her own self demons. Former Conservative MP David Mellor said, “She started reforming things that simply didn’t need reforming.” And so continues to this day in the ‘Heir to Thatcher’, PM David Cameron.

I believe that you can be critical without being disrespectful. I dislike everything she stood for philosophically and politically, but yet I find her admirable and alluring. As a person, I respect her death in that way.

But whilst I will not vilify her, I will counter the idea that her actions in government were ‘good’, because I and many feel that they were far from it in many ways. However, I feel the families of the victims of the Hillsborough Disaster will be as restrained about her death as she was about theirs.

Rest in peace, Mrs Thatcher. Maggie. Mother of Mark and Carol.

Author of “120,000 troubled families” admits number simply made up.

I have been following the saga of the “120,000 troubled families” since it was first mentioned in speech by PM David Cameron last May. I first reported here in some detail that  this number and the rational behind it was at best dubious. And finally after some pressure form others in the field,  Louise Casey, the author of the original report in to this, finally admitted that the “120,000 troubled families” number was simply made up.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/society/2013/apr/07/troubled-families-tsar-intervention-resources

Basic standard of living vs. Long-term Incapacity Benefit

Do you earn enough for a basic standard of living?

The Minimum Income Standard for the UK shows how much money people need, so that they can buy things that members of the public think that everyone in the UK should be able to afford. Take the test at the link: http://www.minimumincome.org.uk/

Screen Shot 2013-04-05 at 08.28.42Now compare ‘minimum income standard’ with what someone on long term sickness/disability benefit actually gets. The hypothetical person has no realistic prospect of returning to work in the near future, yet their compensated income isn’t even subsistence income.

But whilst the public may think that someone on a wage should be able to afford these things, you may not. It could be said that they can do without alcohol and they don’t need to spend money on social activities because there are things that can be done for free. Someone can quite rightly claim that clothing isn’t something that has to be purchased every month either, especially if you’re careful with your clothes.

It is often mis represented that the case for higher benefits (in this context) is wanting parity with an earning standard of living. This was an exercise in demonstrating the current wide disparity by showing that £115 per week is the gap at two extremes (within the context). However the figures proposed at minimum working/earning standard of living are not wild or fanciful. The reality for all disabled and long term sickness benefit recipients is that the benefits are barely meeting their needs, let alone even partially their desires.

I think that the debate should be where between the two extremes should the income be set. So what is appropriate substance levels, bearing in mind that the disabled person has no fair reason to be excluded from normal participation in society? Also bearing in mind the difference between an Able bodied job seeker, vs what we are talking about: incapacitated through sickness/health or disability.

For the job seeker, a temporary exclusion from normal participation is acceptable due to the temporary nature of unemployment relative to employment, and the motivation that exists there in; however the long term sick/disabled faces exclusion from participation in cultural activities, or from affording enough variety in food and social activities, and the motivation factor is redundant in this respect.

The disabled or long term incapacitated person will also have generally higher costs of living associated with their incapacity. There also comes a point where all clothes eventually do fall apart, no matter how careful one is, or become tatty/ragged, yet the less than substance existence provides not much leeway for replacement of items clothing or household that break or wear down.

For international comparison, the income for disabled/sickness benefit in UK is 1/4 of that in Canada, and 1/2 of the European average.

And final, all social security will be uprated at 1% for next three years. As the benefits barely cover cost of all essentials, this means a very real drop in income as inflation increases.  Compared to someone on median wage of £21k, someone on the income provided here has currently £96pw. In fixed cash terms, after three years that will be equivalent to £66pw.

The point being: there is very little “fat” left to cut. Literally in some cases!

DWP retrospective law change following court defeat

From JonnyVoid’s Blog:

In a shocking abuse of state power – which could have a chilling impact on the independence of the courts – Iain Duncan Smith is attempting to reverse the impact of a recent Appeal Court judgement by re-writing history.

In the recent workfare case brought by Cait Reilly and Jamieson Wilson, the DWP were found to have unlawfully sanctioned thousands of benefit claims[1].  The court ruled that the legislation upon which forced unpaid work was based was not legal and the information given to claimants did not fully inform them of what would happen it they failed to attend workfare.  Which was that benefits could be stopped, for up to six months.

In other words, the DWP’s bodged information meant many claimants lost significant sums of money through no fault of their own.  The Court of Appeal  ruling meant that unemployed people who had benefit claims stopped or reduced illegally by the DWP could claim that money back.

Or at least it did mean that.  Now the DWP is basically saying tough shit, we’re keeping your money.

In its arguments to justify withholding social security people are due – an average of about £500 per person, £130 million pounds in total – the DWP has stated that:

“If the Department cannot make these retrospective changes, then further reductions in benefits might be required in order to find the money to repay the sanctions”

In short, if the government is made to obey the high court’s ruling, it will inflict collective punishment on those who can least afford it by finding £130 million pounds more in new cuts from the welfare budget.

In response, this is my latest email to my MP:

I am disturbed to hear that the Secretary of State DWP is proposing legislation in response to the Work Programme court ruling that is retrospective in its attempt to avoid breaking the law for which it may have to compensate those sanctioned unlawfully.

It appears that the DWP have decided they are no longer accountable to the laws of the land. What will be the point of taking the Government to court if they can simply change the law on a whim to avoid facing any legal consequences retrospectively? It makes a mockery of our judicial system and democratic accountability.

I am further dismayed by reports the Liam Byrne seems to be backing this retrograde and cynical move. According to the Guardian[2], Labour are looking set support the government in legislating to avoid paying back money ruled legally due to claimants who have had benefits sanctioned.

I find this possibility of this offensive with the disregard to the judicial system that the Government feel they are above law and I do not want you to vote for this undemocratic precedent.

[1] http://www.publicinterestlawyers.co.uk/news_details.php?id=298

[2] http://www.guardian.co.uk/society/2013/mar/15/dwp-law-change-jobseekers-poundland

Urgent petition to halt damaging changes to the work capability assessment #esaSOS

Re-blogged from: http://diaryofabenefitscrounger.blogspot.co.uk/2013/01/esasos.html

#esaSOS: YOUR HELP NEEDED URGENTLY!

On 28 January 2013 the UK government is due to make a set of changes to the Work Capability Assessment (WCA). The WCA is the flawed ‘fitness to work’ test which assesses whether sick and disabled people can get Employment and Support Allowance (ESA): a benefit designed to help and support very unwell or profoundly disabled people into work.

Although these changes have been advertised as small ‘amendments’, they will in fact have a huge impact on the way people’s illnesses and disabilities are assessed. Many vulnerable people’s needs will suddenly be able to be overlooked or ignored, meaning they could end up losing the support they desperately need to manage their conditions.

Hundreds of thousands of sick and disabled people across Britain need your help to fight these changes!

PROBLEM 1: FALSE ASSUMPTIONS

In the fitness to work test, your needs are assessed by a ‘healthcare professional’ employed by the French private company ATOS. This assessor doesn’t just need to look at your current difficulties. For example, they can also imagine how using an aid (e.g. a wheelchair) might improve your ability to work and make a judgement based on that –without even asking your opinion!
However, soon this “imaginary test” will be able to be used for many more aids (including guide dogs and false limbs!). This means that soon thousands more people could be judged as fit to work, without being consulted, on the basis of an “imaginary” aid they don’t own or may not be able to use!

It gets worse. Even if returning to work may clearly put you at risk, these changes will mean you can still lose your disability benefit – as long as the assessor believes that trying a new therapy or treatment might reduce that risk. There’s no need for evidence that the treatment will help: you will lose support either way, making it much harder to manage if the treatment doesn’t work as hoped – let alone if it ends up making things worse.

Imagine Bert, who suffers from severe schizophrenia, but is found fit to work and made to take behavioural therapy in the hope of improving his condition. He will lose his disability benefit, without the assessor having to look at several vital questions: how hard it would be for Bert to contact a psychiatrist? How long would an NHS appointment take to organize? Are there private options in his area – and could he afford them if so? What if the therapy doesn’t work, or takes a long time to adjust to?

“How individuals are assessed to receive ESA could give rise to large numbers of legal claims being made against them. These changes immediately puts the government at risk of breaching article 9 of the European Convention for the protection of Human Rights, which preserves an individual’s right to ‘thought, conscience and religion’. The new rules provide for an individual to be refused ESA if they do not take any medication or accept an aid which Doctors believe could aid their condition. Essentially, they can impose a financial penalty on individuals who refuse treatment on religious. Given the very recent decision involving the Christian, Nadia Eweida and the court upholding her right to wear a cross – the government is on very rocky ground with these changes.” Chris Fry, Solicitor and Managing Partner at Unity Law www.unity-law.co.uk

If the government’s rule changes go through, people like Bert who are desperate to work will find it nearly impossible to get an accurate assessment, affecting the quality of their support and actively preventing their efforts to get back into work.

PROBLEM 2: SEPARATING PHYSICAL AND MENTAL HEALTH

The government is also trying to change the way people’s conditions are assessed by dividing health problems into two separate boxes: ‘physical’ and ‘mental’. When looking at what tasks people can do, only the ‘physical half’ of the test will apply to those with physical disabilities. The same goes for the effects of treatment: for e.g., if you’re taking mental health medication, only mental health side-effects will be looked at.
This completely fails to understand the way that many disabilities and illnesses can lead toboth physical and mental effects. This is also the case for many common treatments: such as those for schizophrenia, Parkinson’s disease and multiple sclerosis.

Think of Emily, who suffers severe, chronic pain because of nerve damage to her leg. Emily is among the 49% of chronic pain sufferers who also suffer depression as a result of continuous pain. An assessor may see Emily as able to do some work as long as she takes strong painkillers for the rest of her life, meaning she could pass the ‘fitness’ test. Yet the painkillers may not deal with the depression caused by her condition. Painkillers have also often been shown to affect people’s wakefulness and decision-making. So taking the medication may affect Emily’s ability to do a job in a completely new way – yet because these new problems are cognitive, they would not need to be looked at by the assessor when making their decision!

Pretending the effects of illnesses and disabilities can be separated in this way goes against all medical practice. Going even further, and using this method to ignore sick and disabled people’s needs, is at best hopeless policy, and at worst deliberate cruelty. We cannot let the government treat some of the most vulnerable people in British society in this way.

HOW YOU CAN HELP

The main way you can help is by spreading the message about these changes to ESA. The government have tried to sneak them under the radar – the last thing they will want is people talking about them!

Here are some great ways you can raise awareness:

  1. Email your MP (you can search by name or constituency at http://www.parliament.uk/mps-lords-and-offices/mps/);
  2. Share this blog post on twitter (using the hashtag #esaSOS), Facebook and other social media CLICK ON THE BUTTONS BELOW THIS POST TO SHARE ON TWITTER AND FACEBOOK
  3. Email your friends and family a link to this post – or simply talk to them about it!

Again, the main way we can get the government to reconsider is by getting people to talk about the injustice of these changes. So please spread the word as far and wide as you can!

Thank you so much for reading this far. Now let’s make sure these unwanted, damaging benefit changes never see the light of day!

If you want to do more, please sign #WOWpetition and call on the government to think again. Sign here http://wowpetition.com – and ask all of your friends to sign too!
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THE FULL #SPARTACUS PRESS BRIEFING ON THE PROPOSED CHANGES TO ESA CAN BE FOUND HERE: http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/ESAbriefing