Tag Archives: government

Tory criticism of UN report on UK social housing policies

You would be hard pressed to have missed the controversy that Raquel Rolnik, UN special rapporteur on adequate housing, seems to have caused on her mission to examine the effects of the bedroom tax on the people of the UK.

Grant Shapps, chairman of the Conservative Party (or ‘Michael Green’, or whatever he is calling himself today) made assertions on the morning of 11th September that:

  • Raquel wasn’t invited by the government;
  • she didn’t visit government offices;
  • and she did not use the proper terms for government policies.

These points were proved wrong by the afternoon in Raquel Rolnik’s press statement.  In no uncertain terms.

I have been following the detail of the “tax” since the beginning; I have read her report (linked above); I have heard  the governments petulant response. Far be it from me to call Right Honourable Members of Parliament liars, or even to accuse them of untruths. But let’s look at the UN statement.

Uninvited?

At the top of her report, Raquel says, “From 29 August to 11 September 2013, I undertook an official visit to the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland at the invitation of the Government.”

Round One: Raquel (of the UN).

Ignored Government?

Straight away the report say, “I wish to start this statement by expressing my gratitude to the various Government Departments, for the cooperation and hospitality extended to us during the organization and throughout the development of this fact-finding visit. ”

Pretty clear. But just incase you were still in any doubt:

“I have had the opportunity to meet with numerous Government officials, including some Ministers. In England I met with the Department for Communities and Local Government, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the Ministry of Justice, the Department of Work and Pensions, the Homes and Communities Agency, the Department for International Development and the Manchester City Council. I also met with officials from the Department of Housing and Regeneration from the Welsh Government.

“In Scotland, I met with the Scottish Government, including the Housing Services and Regeneration, the Housing Supply, the Homelessness and Equality Policy Departments; and with the Scottish National Housing authorities and Planning and Architecture Division. In Northern Ireland, I had the opportunity to meet with the Department for Social Development, and with the Northern Ireland Housing Executive.”

Round Two: Raquel (of the UN). Not looking as if the government are being all that honest so far. So now on to:

Proper Terms?

Of all the criticism of their housing policy, this seems to be the one that riles them the most. It goes something along the lines of, “It’s not called the bedroom tax! It’s called the ‘Under occupancy penalty’ (sometimes they say it’s a charge or reduction.) We didn’t call it a tax, so it’s not a tax!” An so on, ad hominem.

Firstly, let’s look at the direct point: did she use the ‘correct terms’?

“Especially worrisome in this package is the so-called “bedroom tax”, or the spare bedroom under occupancy penalty.”

So, she did use the term ‘bedroom tax’! Hang on though, she prefaces it with “so-called” and then goes on to use its Government sanctioned name. (It get’s petty doesn’t it when the government dismiss your criticism because you use the wrong name, even if it is politically charged name.) Shapps’ complaint to the UN secretary general will come to nothing because he doesn’t have a leg to stand on.

Now for the detail of what this policy is regardless of its name.
The amounts of so-called “subsidy” removed from a persons benefit are not negligible to those on benefit, as it in many cases it amounts to a reduction of around 35% of what is a very small income.

Shockingly, the Government policy seems to be about efficient reallocation of housing resource on a national scale, moving people and families around like a theoretical big puzzle to be solved with zero regard for family, social or community ties, responsibilities, suitability, job availability, and children’s education, together with the upheaval caused and the Scarce provision of small properties at affordable rents.

The policy treats people inhumanly on every level possible. She is right to point out that the basic human right to affordable shelter “is not at any cost” – the cost being that which I outlined above – and the government has a duty under human rights laws not to retrograde its provisions in meeting the law, but to seek ways to always improve.

Let’s be clear. A right under law isn’t self entitlement, it is a right. And all have a right to affordable shelter, something that doesnt exist in this country. Society through the structures of the rule of law and government must always make sure those less well off are looked after as right, and not as charity, for it we are all peers, and should be dignified with rights as opposed to begging or being left destitute.

However, one thing remains true, and no amount of government bluster and spite can alter basic logic.

A penalty that is unavoidable by most is a tax by any other name.

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.

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

Dreadful ‘benefits’ system upsets MPs lifestyle on the state

Lord Freud, the minister for welfare reform

Lord Fraud has said that the benefits system available to MPs was “dreadful” and hindered MPs from “having a lifestyle” on the state.

The Tory peer, who (along with 650 other MPs and over 800 peers) is raging against the radical overhaul of the expenses system and IPSA, insisted he understood the necessity of living on expenses. He said: “We’ve got the circumstances now where… people who are paying tax should be prepared to subsidise the lifestyle of those in elected and unelected power – they’ve got least to lose.

“We have, through our new expenses system, created a system which has made MPs and peers reluctant to take risks, such as spending their salary like normal people, so we need to turn that on its head and make the system predictable so that MPs can have TVs, sofas and kitchens without using any of their own income.

“I think we have a dreadful expenses system.”

Lord Fraud dismissed the possibility of taking part in a television documentary which filmed him living without expenses for a week.

“I have thought of the issue,” he said. “The trouble is, it’s a stunt when someone like me does it because you do it for a week. That’s not the point. What would I live on? I mean, come on!”

He added: “I think you don’t have to be the corpse to go to a funeral, we employ ATOS for that.”

I once thought that the Conservative-led coalition was a good thing. Then I opened my eyes.

I apologise if this is a bit of a rambling torrent, but perhaps I need to say: I didn’t always think the way I do now.

I actually believed the Tories back in 2010. I thought the coalition was a good thing. I thought they were the green, socially aware, de-toxified tories. I believed all the stuff they said. Then I started to look in to the figures, and I started to question.

The Tories started using really odd metaphors likening the economy to an indebted family, saying the overdraft was at its limit, or the credit card was run up. I know economics, and these images didn’t make sense. The economy of a sovereign country that has its own central bank and its own currency cannot be likened to family finances. Our debt is mostly money we owe to each other; even more importantly, our income mostly comes from selling things to each other. Your spending is my income, and my spending is your income. We also have historically low interest rates, and I know it’s best to borrow to fix the roof now, than wait until it caves in next year.

I also couldn’t forget recent history. Until 2008, the Tories said they were going to match Labour’s spending plans. We never heard them say Labour were borrowing too much, nor did we even know about this deficit thingy either. I do remember the banks and financiers getting in to trouble with their bundled-debt ratings and Lehman Brother’s collapsing in the US. And then the banks starting to crumble over here and demanding that the tax payer prop them up; we duly did because they were “too big to fail.”

Labour didn’t ruin the economy, financiers / bankers did. These super rich elite pretty much run the economy by commodotising everything, including food and health. Then they create more and more complex derivatives, until they themselves don’t even understand them, and it leads to trillions of pounds worth of loses. They helped pushed wages low so that profits could climb high. They controlled the wealth and in order to for the finance driven version of capitalism to survive, pushed every one further in to debt. Then they took it away. Companies still cannot borrow to invest to grow.

“The boom, not the slump, is the right time for austerity,” declared John Maynard Keynes 75 years ago. The austerity drive in Britain isn’t really about debt and deficits at all; it’s about using deficit panic as an excuse to dismantle social programs. I looked at the countries in Europe that have weathered the economic storm best, and near the top of the list I found big-government nations like Sweden and Austria.

You cannot rely on a free market. The economic experiment of the last 30 years, starting with Thatcher, has been a failure. The bottom 50% of the UK own less than 6% of the wealth, while the top 1% own over 40% of the nations wealth. The link between GDP and wages was severed as long back as the late 80s, yet it took until 2008 to mirror the horrific crash of 1929. Back then the world took control of capitalism and the financiers, but now for the super rich it seems it is business as usual.

Until we take hold of capitalism and keep it under control again, like the post war period up to the mid 70s (read keynes) then we’re just going to get more inequality, which leads to this kind of thing, and a huge gulf between super rich, workers, poor … at present the labourers are increasing in productivity, but wages are being kept low, so profits can become higher, so executives can get richer, and take it all abroad.

The Tories keep saying they are reducing the debt, but the autumn budget we just had will see debt increase from 70% of GDP to near 80% over the next 3 years. They have already spent more than Labour had planned to under their proposals. Can’t people see that the Tories are bare faced liars? “We won’t reorganise the NHS,” resulted in reorganising the NHS! And on it goes.

So, I started to open my eyes to the language of divide-and-rule the Tories were using against the sick, disabled and poor; I saw their broken promises;

And I decided, they stink.