Archives For January 2014

A great idea put forward by Jayne Linney to help people through assessments and meetings for ESA/DLA. She is offering on-line training to pass on skills to support those facing daunting & stressful assessments. A potentially invaluable project to those that need help.

jaynelinney

As many of you are aware from the original post, I am the founding director of Disability Enabling and Empowerment Project (Leic’s) (DEAEP); this project came about from a discussion I had with my daughter and my best friend (both disabled) regarding how we three would manage to get through the ESA/DLA assessments and other such troubling appointments, without the mutual support of each other.

Currently we have written all the paperwork necessary to run a 10 week part time course, and have been desperately trying to find a venue to pilot this in Leicester, thanks to Unite community this is likely to start mid April ; we’re also investigating how we could offer the same as an on-line course. The course will be free for anyone willing to then, pass on the skills by supporting others through the trials of assessment or other similar stressful situations.

Like everything else…

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Clive Peedell, co-leader of the National Health Action Party explains in the following video what is happening to our NHS, beyond any doubt. The NHAP are a single issue party – focusing solely on the protection of our National Health Service against the privatisation and top down re-organisation currently taking place.

The NHAP is mainly made up of doctors, nurses and medical professionals, but wants everyone to join and become aware of the biggest changes to the NHS it’s history – changes which are threatening it’s future.

The question is not whether the NHS is being privatised. It is. Parts already have been. It is being sold off in contracts worth billions as we speak, to companies such as Virgin Care, who’s sole goal is profit, at the expense of care, standards and public health. In Surrey, Virgin care have taken over a £450m contract to provide health services, and the differences are clear:

Since Virgin took it over from the NHS, patients have had to wait up to three weeks for an appointment instead of three days, three GPs have been reduced to one, and three nurses cut to one part-time nurse. And while the company boasts about the surgery’s opening hours, often there are no clinicians present, just an open empty building. Locals complain that Virgin has “brought Third World medical standards to Kings Heath.

Alex Nunns, Liberal Conspiracy

Over £5 billion worth of contracts to run or manage clinical NHS services have been advertised since relaxation on NHS competition laws were passed in Section 75, in April 2013, under this government. 70% of these contracts have gone to commercial companies.

The NHS is one of the best health services in the world, and has been for a long time.

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But the government have been working hard to dirty it’s name and push propaganda that suggests it is not working, that it is failing patients and is costing too much. However, the most detrimental and damaging actions have been the cuts to services and funding – which are leaving hospitals and clinics understaffed, and privatisation has meant that companies are now able to pick and choose and bid for the areas in the NHS which are most profitable – leaving the NHS to deal with the more difficult and expensive areas at public expense. Where the government has caused the NHS to suffer because of government actions, the NHS is then blamed for subsequent problems.

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Image: @UnnamedInsider

The coalition promised not to privatise the NHS and have proceeded to live out one of the biggest lies in politics. Part of the reason they could not be truthful is because the NHS is close to all of our hearts, and is seen and deservedly known as one of the greatest achievements of any society. So now we need to act to protect it.

This video explains all you need to know:

Find out more about the NHAP at their website here.

‘The NHS will last as long as there are folk left with the faith to fight for it’

 Aneurin Bevan meeting NHS patients in 1948

“The NHS is the one of the single greatest achievements of any civilisation, ever, anywhere in the history of the world.”

Rufus Hound

The Student Assembly Against Austerity is organising a week of action from 3rd February against a proposed sell off of  student loans to private companies who are able to charge more interest and make profit.

Image: Student Assembly Against Austerity

Image: Student Assembly Against Austerity

 

The Student Assembly Website says:

“The government is planning to sell off the student loan book to private companies. In order to make the student loan book more profitable, a secret report for the government (written by Rothschild Bank) has proposed retrospectively increasing the cap of interest on student loan repayments or scrapping it all together. This essentially means a retrospective hike in tuition fees.

The government is planning to complete the sell off by 2015. It could happen sooner.”

50 campuses are already involved and they have the support of the NUS (National Union of Students).

The Assembly aim to build a broad coalition against the privatisation of student debt, and urge more people to get involved.

 

Find out more here and look out for more information on RealFare next week.

George Osborne announced earlier this month that he would support the suggestion of the Low Pay Commission to raise the minimum wage in the UK to £7 from it’s current £6.31. Should the move go ahead, we will see the wage instated around Autumn bringing it in line with inflation for 2015, and catching up three years earlier than expected.

The Telegraph

The Telegraph

This signals an 11% increase and there have been some warnings about potential detrimental effects on SMEs (small and medium enterprises), should the move go ahead. In fact, any raise in the minimum wage, particularly during the recession, has seen a strong backlash from businesses of all sizes.

When the minimum wage was first brought in, in 1999, Conservatives opposed it, and economists predicted that it would have a devastating effect on the economy. It didn’t. In fact, it brought stability to the market, and raised living standards for those entering work.

Indeed, it will be SME’s who will struggle most with adapting to the proposed increase, and had the minimum wage increased steadily over time, this jump would be unnecessary and maybe, more adjustable.

Nevertheless, the raise is much needed, and whilst we focus on the effects on business, we also need to understand what the current rate is doing to our economy and those on the minimum wage.

The Resolution Foundation calculates that the minimum wage is around £1,010 lower a year than it was in 2008, in real terms. “That matters because around 1 million adult workers in Britain are paid the minimum wage, while twice that number earn within 50 pence of the minimum wage.”

Resolution Foundation

Resolution Foundation

The pressure put on keeping the minimum wage low and straggling behind inflation against rising living costs has caused the current rising rates of in-work poverty, where families and individuals working full time continue to live below the bread line. In September, in Wales, the number of people in in-work poverty, outnumbered the ones out of work – proof that retaining the current minimum wage will fail to make work pay, increase poverty and de-incentivise work.

Some help has been provided by the state up to now, in the form of Tax Credits for those on low incomes. Working Tax Credits top up the income of those on low pay, however, they have proved in some areas to be a hindrance to increased pay rates for employees.

The WTC was introduced in 2003, to incentivise people into work on low pay. However, research by the LSE found that it was not necessarily effective, as many potential employees wanted to work, and felt devalued in being unable to support themselves without help from the state:

“The recipients’ motivations to work were far more complex and varied than a simple response to a financial incentive. Recipients wanted by and large to work, and often felt good that they could, but sometimes the value they placed on work had little to do with money, or else the jobs they were doing failed to meet their aspirations or undermined their sense of self-worth.

“Professor Dean said: “Although the WTC scheme was generally viewed positively and most of the people we talked to were grateful for the additional income, there were still some important undercurrents of resentment. WTC does not of itself compensate for the injustices or adverse effects of a precarious and inadequately paid work. Paradoxically, hardly any of the people who took part in this research explicitly recognised that schemes like WTC are in effect a subsidy to low paying employers, but a lot of them felt devalued at work or locked in to menial jobs.”

In 2012, £14bn was spent on Working Tax Credits, as they become used more and more by employees of huge chains and not just SMEs. Supermarket chains, retail stores and other global businesses have been able to take advantage of paying below inflation minimum wages, as opposed to what they can afford, and this has contributed to a culture of large businesses relying on the state to pick up part of the bill they should be paying in wages to employees – essentially allowing the state to pay the profits of large businesses. To be more effective, the WTC should have only been offered to help smaller businesses take on employees – concentrating this help to where it is most needed, and this support should be continued where increases in the minimum wage could seriously affect SME’s.

The proposed increase could see a dramatic reduction in spending on Working Tax Credits. Further, the increase in money among the low paid will see further economic mobility, as the low paid spend much larger portions of their pay, and this re-invests into the economy creating growth, rather than those on low pay accumulating debt or being unable to afford to spend more on essentials.

Living wage campaigners have welcomed the proposed increase but remain adamant that there is much work to do to get their suggested rates of £7.65 an hour in the UK, and £8.80 in London – figures calculated on the basic cost of living in the UK.

Image: citizensuk.org

Image: citizensuk.org

Whilst this seems like a huge jump, working towards this incrementally is possible and should be a goal, because for as long as we legislate minimum wages that keep people in poverty, we are legislating poverty and maintaining a section of the population in poverty.

When the minimum wage faces any increase there is alway strong reactions from businesses in the media, and they often do talk to SMEs at this point. However, there is rarely any input or opinion from the large global traders and retailers who keep thousands on the minimum wage, and rely on the state’s help to top up pay. This culture is not one that we can afford, yet remains out of the limelight as SMEs fight the battle when the issue of a raise for the minimum wage comes up. However, it is the abuse of the minimum wage by large companies that has created reliance on the state to this extent, and to get them to pay, we need the minimum wage raised.

In truth, increasing the minimum wage will bring lots of positives to our economy. And, the question that seems to escape media attention most when it comes to this subject, is what we want to work towards in the larger scale of things. As the 7th richest country in the world, shouldn’t we be doing all we can to ensure our minimum wage is one that lifts people out of poverty and can deal with the basic cost of living? And if our current system is one that legislates in-work poverty, then maybe we need some drastic action and a re-think of what our economy should be providing.

Minimum Wage Poverty Image: unisonactive.blogspot.co.uk

Minimum Wage Poverty Image: unisonactive.blogspot.co.uke

by Kam Sandhu @KamBass

1. 85 richest people own nearly half the world’s wealth, say Oxfam

According to new research by the Oxfam charity, the widening wealth gap means that the 85 richest people in the world own as much wealth as the 3.5bn poorest people – half the world’s population.

The report, “Working For The Few”, highlights the growing economic inequality and it’s effect on “human progress.”

The report said:

“Instead of moving forward together, people are increasingly separated by economic and political power, inevitably heightening social tensions and increasing the risk of societal breakdown.”

Source: Oxfam Image: The Independent

Source: Oxfam Image: The Independent

Read the report here.

Image: The Guardian

Image: The Guardian

2. HSBC forced to retreat on proof policy for customers making withdrawals

HSBC sparked controversy last week as thousands of customers were refused cash withdrawals, fuelling speculation that the bank is in trouble, and another crash may be imminent.

According to a report on the BBC programme Moneybox, customers wanting to withdraw cash sums of over £1,000 were refused or asked for reasons for their withdrawal. One customer, Stephen Cotton, told the programme:

“When we presented them with the withdrawal slip, they declined to give us the money because we could not provide them with a satisfactory explanation for what the money was for. They wanted a letter from the person involved.”

Mr Cotton says the staff refused to tell him how much he could have: “So I wrote out a few slips. I said, ‘Can I have £5,000?’ They said no. I said, ‘Can I have £4,000?’ They said no. And then I wrote one out for £3,000 and they said, ‘OK, we’ll give you that.’ “

He asked if he could return later that day to withdraw another £3,000, but he was told he could not do the same thing twice in one day.”

HSBC argue that they introduced this new policy for customer security, but the customer backlash has forced the bank to withdraw their policy in a statement released this morning:

“Following feedback, we are immediately updating guidance to our customer facing staff to reiterate that it is not mandatory for customers to provide documentary evidence for large cash withdrawals.” 

Still, speculation over the future of HSBC, which has also been exposed for laundering money, assisting terrorists and having an £80bn capitalisation black hole, remains doubtful, with some warning customers to get their money out now.

3. George Osbourne announces plans to raise the minimum wage

Chancellor George Osborne announced plans to raise the minimum wage to £7 an hour for the over 21s, a rate suggested by the Low Pay Commission.
Osborne said the “economy can now afford” to raise the rate, following it’s continuous fall in real terms since 2008, as inflation continues to rise. 

The current minimum wage is set at £6.31 an hour for the over 21s. For 18-20 year olds it is £5.03 and £3.72 for the under 18’s.

Image: The Telegraph

Image: The Telegraph

4. Employment figures celebrated by coalition at PMQ’s, but mask the continuing cost of living crisis

Ahead of PMQ’s last Wednesday, the employment figures gave the coalition something to boast about. Unemployment fell from 7.4% to 7.1% – the sharpest drop since 1997, and the lowest level since 2009.
The figures were certainly positive, but were used by the coalition to sound out the continuing problems of underemployment – where people do not have enough hours, and also the problem of low pay:
 
“Average earnings are up by just 0.9 per cent (as people price themselves into work), leaving them 1.1 per cent below inflation. Those Tories who proclaimed the end of the “cost-of-living crisis” when inflation fell to the Bank’s target rate of 2 per cent have been left looking predictably foolish. After five years of declining real wages, there is still no end in sight to the longest fall in living standards since 1870. So long as that remains the case, Cameron will still struggle to rebut Ed Miliband’s attack lines.”
by Kam Sandhu @KamBass

“I use some metaphors occasionally….To me, I would equate this to interest rate apartheid, where if you’re an insider in the city, you can borrow money at a half a percent and speculate all day long, creating housing that in turn becomes the property of greedy landlords. But if you’re on the other side of the coin, if you’re out there, actually working for a living and you’re short a few bob at the end of the month, you go to Wonga, and you pay 5000% annualised rates of return.

“The poor in this country are told to pick themselves up by their bootstraps and work harder but they’re being asked to do so in an environment where they have these financial predators circling in the interest rate apartheid ghetto. At what point does rhetoric become outright scapegoating, because I notice in this country now, the poor are being increasingly scapegoated as the reason for all of the country’s ills economically, going forward, that it’s the poor’s fault. And we’ve seen this movie before back in the 1930’s, over in Europe, where one group of people is scapegoated for the reason for all these troubles, and then we know where it goes from there.

….Speaking of scroungers, like George Osborne, you have a situation, where the housing market crashed essentially in 2008, 2009 as part of the credit crunch. The scroungers in this case would be the big banks in this country and the housing developers who were sitting on bonds that were collateralised by mortgages. They were sold. Hundreds of billions of pounds of these mortgage-backed securities are sitting on their balance sheets. If these mortgages were allowed to trade at the fair market price, based on true supply and demand, then all four of the big banks would have been insolvent.…They went scrounging to the government and said ‘we need you to take all of our crap mortgages and to put it on the balance sheet of the Bank of England, in exchange for fresh pounds that we’ll put on our balance sheets and we’ll say we’re solvent’. So in other words, the option of this aristocratic class is to simply take all this bad debt, wherever they make a mistake, swap it for good stuff at the Bank of England and declare themselves solvent. So, if the same option were available to council estates around Britain, using the same technique, they would be able to take all of their Wonga debt and they would go to George Osbourne, they would go to Mark Carney, the Bank of England and say ‘you take my Wonga debt….I want a fresh treasury bill in pounds’. Why is this, again, this is interest rate apartheid, why do the scroungers in the city of London get to have this option of money at a half a percent, whereas everybody else is paying these extortionary rates and they don’t have that relationship. Why is the Bank of England only serving a few people, why isn’t it serving the country as a whole?”

Max Keiser, Keiser Report Aug 2013

Watch the full video here.

Image: Crowdfundinseider

On Monday 6 January, there was a half day protest outside the Old Bailey and across other criminal courts in the country, as barristers walked out for the first time in their history against £220m proposed cuts to legal aid. The media reacted accordingly, with the right wing press branding protesters ‘the most privileged picket line ever’, focusing on images of a ‘lady barrister clutching a £1,100 Mulberry bag’.

Image: The Daily Mail  Caption reads: Privileged: Barrister Charlotte Hole (front row, second left) clutches a £1,100 Mulberry bag during yesterday's action. She was among thousands of barristers across the UK to stage a protest against legal aid cuts

Image: The Daily Mail
Caption reads: Privileged: Barrister Charlotte Hole (front row, second left) clutches a £1,100 Mulberry bag during yesterday’s action. She was among thousands of barristers across the UK to stage a protest against legal aid cuts

But these cuts are dramatically changing the profession, resulting in the sea change of barristers walking out of courts for the first time ever to protest. So what are some of the reasons young barristers are starting to make a stand by taking direct action? Firstly, the cuts in legal aid will result in an already elitist profession becoming even more difficult to access for the less wealthy in society.

This is not helped the profession being traditionally ‘posh’ and privileged, making barristers a difficult group to feel compassionate for. But the effects of cuts will result in even more unequal access to the profession, as despite an increase in diversity in terms of inclusivity to ethnic minorities and females, there is still a large proportion of barristers from wealthy, privately educated backgrounds.

This is compounded by the increasing costs associated with going to law school, for example to study the law ‘conversion’ course to become a barrister (the BPTC – Bar Professional Training Course) costs £16,500 for a one year course. This is on top of a tripled student debt. Additionally, to become a barrister you have to join one of the 4 ‘Inns’ and sign up to 12 formal dinners, which as well as the need to build up your CV through lots of volunteer or ‘Pro bono’ work, can be extremely costly.

The process of becoming a barrister is hard to navigate without being well educated.  For example, following the completion of the BPTC (bar training course) you must apply for a two year Pupillage. But not only is the application stage time consuming, examples of interviews at barristers’ chambers include being asked to use the scenario of a newly formed country, arguing which are the top 15 laws which should be enacted first. Interviewees were then asked to rank these on the spot in importance, a tough process for any graduate.

Justice Alliance Logo - The Justice Alliance organised the protest on 6th January

Justice Alliance Logo – The Justice Alliance organised the protest on 6th January

The cuts in legal aid will affect clients being able to access barristers as less will take on legal aid cases because not only is it a costly, difficult profession to get into, but the end result is a profession with less pay and decreased benefits ultimately leading to less barristers and more potential miscarriages of justice.

This is due in part to the cuts in fees for barristers taking on legal aid (particularly criminal). Case fees face a 30% cut, hitting the criminal legal aid system particularly badly.

This leads to a problem for the profession, as less young people want to take on legal aid cases due to the lack of pay.

So what is the future of the profession looking like for young, aspiring barristers? A tough slog, no more Mulberrys on the picket line, instead an increasingly elitist profession, which can only be accessed by the most wealthy students, well-educated enough to navigate themselves around the pupillage system and wealthy enough to amass the voluntary work packed CV needed to gain a ‘pupillage’ place. Secondly, the cuts in legal aid will undoubtedly also have an impact on the profession, with less barristers being able to take on legal aid cases meaning more people representing themselves. This, in turn will not only change the profession, but also lead to an increase in miscarriages of justice.

But, Justice Alliance promises more protests to come, let’s hope barristers who for the first time ever rose up for justice and what legal aid started for, are inspired to fight on.

By @HorlickSFH

How Wealth Is Divided

kamsandhu —  January 20, 2014 — Leave a comment
Source: Oxfam Image: The Independent

Source: Oxfam Image: The Independent