Archives For June 2014

1) Rebekah Brooks walks free, Andy Coulson faces jail, David Cameron desperate to limit reputation damage 

Astoundingly, Rebekah Brooks, former editor of the infamous News Of The World, walked free from court, escaping all charges, despite extensive evidence of industrial scale phone hacking across News International newspapers.

Image: The Guardian

Image: The Guardian

Andy Coulson on the other hand, faced jail for his part in the scandal, with evidence that Coulson continued to be paid by News Interational after his departure and during his employment by Cameron. PM David Cameron was forced to apologise for his appointment of Coulson as his spin doctor, despite the fact the PM was warned repeatedly against hiring Coulson. Cameron was reprimanded however, for speaking out against Coulson during the trial, which could have jeopardised the 8 month long case, costing millions of pounds.

Cameron called Coulson a liar before the decisions were handed down. On BBC Question Time, Conservative MP Anna Soubry claimed that Cameron had never called Coulson a friend, which is a complete lie. Cameron said Coulson was a ‘close friend’ and this attempt to remove himself from his actions should not be tolerated.

Read more about this story here.

2) Wonga sends out thousands of fake letters from fake law firms to threaten customers

Between October 2008 and November 2010, Wonga, a company with only a few dozen staff, sent out 45,000 threatening letters from fake law firms threatening to take action against customers.

Though reluctant at first, the Metropolitan police did a u-turn on committing a criminal investigation, following public outrage that the matter was not being taken seriously.

Image: Periscopix

Image: Periscopix

Wonga released a statement admitting they were a smaller company then, though refrained from mentioning whether the management knew anything about the letters. Though one could wonder how 45,000 letters could leave an office of 31 (excluding the IT dept) and it was all some sort of initiative taken on by workers which was not known by management. Maybe they had a rogue reporter letter writer, eh?

Read more about this story here.

3) ‘Cries for help’ found sewn into Primark clothing

Primark is beginning an investigation into it’s own stores and supply chains after three ‘cries for help’ were found by shoppers sewn into garments.

Two of the tags read ‘Forced to work exhausting hours’ and “Degrading sweatshop conditions.”

Image: Daily Star

Image: Daily Star

 

Primark has batted off allegations of bad working conditions for workers abroad, and say they have a strict code of ethics.

Though, it does not seem appropriate for Primark to investigate themselves, as they will want to limit reputation damage and their interests are in the profit of the business. They have also already said they believe the labels are a hoax.

Read more about this story here.

4) Protestors mock Tesco with fake price tags about the Living Wage

Living Wage protestors have targeted Tesco stores by changing price tags on shelves to read the below:

 

Image: The Mirror

Image: The Mirror

 

Tags end with “‘Wow! £1.39billion pre tax profits in the six months to August 24 2013.’

Stefan Baskerville, Citizens UK organiser, said

“Working with ShareAction we are calling on Tesco to consider how implementation of the Living Wage could help tackle in-work poverty for their lowest paid staff.

“The Living Wage is a robust calculation that reflects the real cost of living, rewarding a hard day’s work with a fair day’s pay.”

The protests come before the Tesco annual general meeting, and with the previous Primark story coming to light, it seems the issues to do with low pay and working conditions cannot be ignored.

Read more about this story here.

5) Tory MPs demand early break up of coalition

Senior Tory backbenchers have demanded the early break up of the Conservative and Lib Dem coalition following reports that Conservatives could lose up to 12 seats to UKIP at the next election, forcing them to fall short of winning a majority.

The Bow Group who put forward the estimates have pushed MPs to put forward proposals to break up before the 2015 Election, saying that the Conservative party needs to make drastic moves on policy of immigration and Europe if it is stand a chance next year, and these issues are where the coalition strongly differ.

It should also be noted that the Conservative party have won by a lesser and lesser majority at each election over the last 3 decades, with the election in 2010 forcing them into a coalition to gain any power. The membership of the Tory party has also halved since they came to power.

Read more about this story here.

6) Labour backs trespass laws on fracking, says Energy Minister

Energy Minister Michael Fallon said that the Labour Party has confirmed it will back new trespass laws on fracking which allow shale gas companies to frack under homes without permission, despite public feeling going against the laws.

“A recent YouGov survey of 1,898 people found that 74% opposed the controversial move, which underpins efforts to drive a “shale gas revolution” that could see fracking across swathes of the UK.

“More than 45,000 people around the country have already joined legal moves to block energy companies from fracking under their properties, but a change to the trespass laws could allow companies to explore for shale gas without needing their permission.”

Click Green, June 2014

Image: BBC - Gas test Well

Image: BBC – Gas test Well

Read more about this story here.

by Kam Sandhu @KamBass

A must watch on the distribution of wealth from the High Pay Centre.

Find out more at inequalitybriefing.org

Guest Blog by Charlotte Hamilton

A recent article by Simon Biggs and Helen Kimberley in the journal, ‘Social Policy and Society’ that has got me thinking – are we entering a new phase of ageism?

Ageism is traditionally associated with treating the older population separately from the rest of the population. This includes denying older people the same level of choice expected at other stages of life. An example of this was the approach taken to work and retirement; having a compulsory retirement age didn’t allow older people flexibility and choice over their working lives. Efforts in recent years have begun to address this phase of ageism alongside an increasing focus on population ageing.

For countries with ageing populations and concerns of the ‘burden’ this will have on the taxpayer, governments seem to have taken a two-pronged approach to their social policies. 1) Older people who are in need of care and support should receive this in the community and, for the most part, are paying for this themselves. 2) Older people who are active should be involved in work, or work-like (such as volunteering), activities. Both of these approaches are ways to reduce the taxpayer’s bill and the authors focus on the issues around the second.

Governments are introducing policies to encourage people to work for longer (such as rising minimum retirement ages and abolishing a compulsory retirement age) and advocate volunteering or work in older age. In doing so they are reshaping the notion of retirement. The authors argue that work and volunteering activities are now linked to being valued in society in older age and are concerned that there is a lack of debate around the assumption that work in later life is a good thing for all.

By linking work to ‘success’ in later life, governments are failing to acknowledge differences across the adult life course. There is evidence to suggest that attitudes, values and priorities change with ageing, yet social policies are not allowing people to have both different and valued social roles across the adult life course. Equally, advocating one way of being valued in older age does not adequately account for the diversity amongst older people, in terms of possible contributions, individual values and capabilities.

Image: The Times

Image: The Times

Are we entering a new phase of ageism?

The authors raise key questions in relation to this in order to critique current governments’ approaches to an ageing population. Governments are developing policies that are making work crucial to being a valued member of society across all adults, regardless of age. Working into older age will suit some older people, and policies should be in place to enable older people to work if they so choose. However not all older people will want to work and policies should recognise this too.

Crucially, it appears that governments’ eagerness to encourage work in later life is ignoring differences across the life course and diversity amongst older people. Is it ageist to ignore differences where there is evidence to suggest that differences exist? This one-size-fits-all approach is stifling the potential for older people to make different, and equally valued, contributions to society.

Previously, ageism was limiting what older people were allowed to do compared to the rest of the adult population. The authors raise the question of
whether we are now risking entering a new phase of ageism through heavily emphasising continuity across the adult life course. Current policy approaches are failing to embrace the positive differences that come with ageing, the diversity amongst older people and the different ways that people can contribute to society. Whereas traditional ageism denied older people choice over extending their working lives, we may now be risking a new phase of ageism by denying older people the choice of doing anything else.

Where next?

If policies to encourage work in older age are inappropriate for all older people, where can social policies go from here? The authors suggest three
key areas for development. 1) Embrace difference across the life course and diversity. 2) View the contributions of older people with a life course approach; it shouldn’t just be about what older people are doing now but what they have contributed over their adult life. 3) Crucially, governments should recognise that an ageing population is a new challenge for social policy and, rather than focus on one strategy, be open to new solutions as they arise.

Biggs and Kimberley’s article presents careful arguments for broadening the range of social policies put in place in response to an ageing population. The article encourages debate and I hope I have too, for me the key question is – do the social policies focusing on work in older age risk us entering a new phase of ageism?

*This blog post is based on the ideas raised in the following journal article: Biggs, S. and Kimberley, H. (2013) Adult Ageing and Social Policy: New Risks to Identity. Social Policy and Society, 12 (2): 287-297

 Charlotte Hamilton 

PhD Student, Social Policy Research Unit,University of York.

Yesterday, as Andy Coulson faced jail, Rebekah Brooks walked free, having been found guilty of no charges for phone hacking at News International despite damning evidence dating back over years. 

Image: The Guardian

Image: The Guardian

Far from killing the flame between far-too-powerful media moguls and our government, our elected continue to harness relationships and even take tactics from the News International handbook.

The government is actively making moves to shut down debates that disagree, highlight or attack their reforms and policies, regardless of how damaging this silencing can be.

On the other hand, alliances with media that support and push news the government likes are still very much alive, demonstrating that Leveson did not bring about its end.

The Guardian

 

“News International last night criticized ‘selective and misleading journalism’ by the Guardian Newspaper and rebutted allegations that reporters on the News of The World engaged in widespread hacking into celebrities’ mobile phones’

The Times, 11 July 2009

The Guardian is “inaccurate, selective and purposely misleading”

News of The World, 12 July 2009

Image: Press Gazette

Image: Press Gazette

Richard Caseby was the editor of The Sun and The Sunday Times, both owned by Rupert Murdoch, before taking up his position in one of the most senior government communications posts for the DWP earlier this year.

“Why is it that the national newspaper which devotes the most coverage to welfare reform reports on it with such pinpoint inaccuracy?

“Is it ineptitude or ideology? Is it the innumeracy of its journalists? Day after day, Alan Rusbridger’s Guardian gets it’s facts wrong.”

Sound familiar? 

These are Caseby’s words from a post last month where he attacked The Guardian, suggesting it should not be allowed to sign up to the new Independent Press Standards Organisation – a body formed as a result of Leveson, because of inaccuracies over benefits and welfare reforms.

Having given evidence at Leveson, Caseby still feels there is a score to settle with the paper that helped bring the revelation of phone hacking, and government, police and media corruption to light.

It is also laughable that as a communications spin doctor for the DWP, Caseby could attack the Guardian for inaccuracy when Iain Duncan Smith has been reprimanded several times for mis-use of statistics by the UK stats authority.

Whilst he mentioned The Guardian had released the longest correction in history, he failed to mention that this referred to the fact The Guardian reported the messages in Milly Dowler’s phone had been deleted by The News of The World. They had not been deleted, but had been intercepted.

Perhaps, there would be no need for this correction, had the news organisation Caseby worked for engaged in the dark arts and criminal hacking. Indeed, there would be no IPSO formed as a result of a Leveson inquiry either.

And of course, there is this connection to the Murdoch media. Isn’t there some clear conflict of interest in allowing a government spokesperson, who previously held senior positions at the media groups accused of phone hacking, to smear the papers that helped bring the story to light?

In fact, this is the very practice taken straight from The News of The World’s own black-book, as reported in ‘Dial M for Murdoch’ by Tom Watson and Martin Hickman, where it is explained that anyone who was involved in revealing the truth about the NI media organisation’s practices was threatened with smear campaigns, followed by private investigators (in order to find something to discredit them) and rumours were actively begun about them. Refusing these figures the gift of power through jobs in government is the very lesson that should have been learned from the phone hacking trial. Yet, instead, our government seems to have taken it upon themselves to use these tactics for their own benefit, to discredit those who challenge them in order to shut down the debate.

Just as NI attempted to smear the reputations of those gathering evidence against them, our government is now attempting to smear those speaking out against their policies. Caseby is an example of how the relationship between the government and Murdoch media still remains in tact. Here are some examples of how they are extending this tactic to other groups.

Trussell Trust

“News International attacked from every direction. At the end of July, it’s solicitors Farrer & Co wrote to Mark Lewis threatening him with an injunction if he represented any more phone hacking victims, on the grounds that he was privy to sensitive information from earlier cases……Lewis paraphrased the letter as saying: “You knew too much, please don’t act against us or we well bring the whole weight of the organisation down on you.”

Intimidating Parliament, Dial M For Murdoch

 

In December 2013, Minister for Work and Pensions Iain Duncan Smith accused the Trussell Trust of scaremongering following the release of new statistics on the number of people turning to food banks for help. Last year, 1 million people used a food bank, a number which has increased more than ten-fold in the years since the coalition came to power.

The Trussell Trust kept record of why each user was referred or required help from a food bank, and the main reason given was benefit delays or welfare reforms.

Iain Duncan Smith then accused the Christian voluntary group of being a ‘political organisation’ and stated that he didn’t believe that food bank usage increased because of welfare reforms.

It has now been reported that last year, a warning was given to Chris Mould, Director of Trussell Trust, from an aide to Iain Duncan Smith, where Mould was told the “government might shut you down.” A month later the DWP altered food bank vouchers so they no longer reported the reason for need – an attempt to hide whether people were becoming impoverished due to the welfare system. Mould highlighted that the food banks could no longer tell who was most in need of help.

people-helped-stats

This is an attempt to shut down the debate on poverty and the government involvement in rising poverty. The Trussell Trust reported on the reasons given to them by food bank users, and were told they are a political organisation for doing so. The government should be made aware of the effect of some of the biggest changes in welfare history, but it seems if they do not like the answer, they attempt to bring the source of that information into disrepute or hide information altogether. This despite the contrasting record of the Trussell Trust in motivation and use of statistics in comparison to the Minister for Work and Pensions’ own department.

It is also very similar to the actions undertaken by the staff at the infamous News of The World when someone knew too much, or brought stories or evidence against them. The response was always to discredit them, undermine them or at least muddy the argument somehow.

Oxfam

“In April [2010], in the run up to the general election, the Independent had run an advertising campaign with the slogan: “Rupert Murdoch won’t decide this election. You will.” Furious at the reference to Murdoch’s power (or perhaps angered by the suggestion that he would not decide the election), James Murdoch and Rebekah Brooks strode into the Independent’s offices in Kensington High Street on 21 April, walked briskly through the newsroom towards Kelner (who knew them socially through his second home in the Cotowolds) and shouted: “What the fuck are you playing at?”

A Murder, Dial M for Murdoch

 

Image: Oxfam

Image: Oxfam

The other week, Conor Burns, Conservative MP for Bournemouth West, attacked Oxfam when they tweeted out a poster (above) as part of their new campaign suggesting that ‘The Perfect Storm’ was being created for poverty and use of food banks by welfare reforms, benefit cuts, unemployment, zero hour contracts and childcare costs.

Burns called for an investigation by the Charity Commission saying the campaign was ‘overtly political and aimed at the policies of the current government.’

A Charity Commission spokeswoman noted they had received a complaint and said that it is worth remembering that charities are often the best placed to report and campaign on the experiences and problems of their users.

Ben Phillips, Oxfam’s campaigns and policy director said:

“We have a duty to draw attention to the hardship suffered by poor people we work with in the UK.”

“Fighting poverty should not be a party political issue. Successive governments have presided over a tide of rising inequality and created a situation where food banks and other providers provided 20 million meals last year to people who could not afford to feed themselves.

“This is an unacceptable situation in one of the world’s largest economies and politicians of all stripes have a responsibility to tackle it.”

This is again an attempt to shut down debate on poverty and the cost of living crisis. If a government’s policies are conducive to more poverty, then the fault is at the hands of the government and this should be highlighted. Perhaps Burns needs to look at why he thinks reporting on poverty and his own government’s policies seem so inextricably linked. Those falling into poverty should not have their voice jeopordised or shouted down because it makes the government look bad. The help of charities like Oxfam in raising these issues is also important, as they often represent people from the most marginalised sectors of society, who may struggle to have their say otherwise, much to the benefit of the damaging policies the charity is campaigning on.

Abuse of access to money and power

“To save time I just shouted to our lawyer across the room: ‘Hey Tom, how many fingers will this cost if we nick it all?” Tom flicked five fingers at me: £50,000 maximum damages. Well worth a front page and two spreads inside. We got the Mail at about 7pm and set about excavating every word. …At about 9pm we got another fax from the Mail legal team, issuing dire warnings about our ‘flagrant breach of copyright’…We laughed again.”

Wapping’s News Factory, Dial M for Murdoch

 

This example of the ability of the NOTW to breach laws at will as they could easily stomach the costs is similar to the way our government has set about appealing decisions that have been won by people as they have access to an endless amount of money, time and determination whilst ordinary people, particularly those at the sharp end of austerity measures, do not have access to these means.

The government has taken advantage of this on many occasions.

Last year, when five families took the Secretary of State to court to exempt disabled children and families from the bedroom tax, the government delayed changing the law as much as possible despite David Cameron publicly announcing that these exemptions existed.

The government then tried to put the legal fees on the shoulders of the families, as a mother of one of the claimants explained after the hearing.

“I am relieved that at last the position for families like mine is clear and that following the court’s decision in July the government have finally changed the rules which would have had such a terrible effect on families like mine. My son needs his own bedroom because of his serious health problems. Without that bedroom, we were told he would have to go into residential care. I m sure that everyone can understand what heartbreak such a situation would cause any mother. We have been very disappointed by the way that the government have behaved throughout our case, but delighted that at last the position is clear. We will continue with our appeal, because at the moment the government has an order for legal costs against us, which seems ridiculous to me, given that we won our case and that the rules have now been changed as a result. However, we are so happy that the real battle is over.”

 

Similarly Jeremy Hunt has repeatedly appealed against decisions on the downgrading of Lewisham Hospital. Lewisham is a well-run and much loved hospital, yet Hunt was determined to downgrade it to offset the costs of a failing hospital nearby.

“A long-running battle over NHS services in south-east London reached the court of appeal as the health secretary, Jeremy Hunt, tried to overthrow a judge’s ruling that his attempts to downgrade A&E and maternity services at Lewisham hospital broke the law.”

The Guardian, 2013

In a reversal of the situation, over half a million sickness benefit appeals have been overturned for claimants – a figure that was hidden by the DWP. Forcing ill claimants to prove their illnesses at assessments and again at appeals is tantamount to the neglect of dignity, care and provision for our most vulnerable. Meanwhile, the DWP claimed a million sickness benefit claimants were found ‘fit to work’ – hmmm mis-information and a cover up, who could they have learned that off.

Further, the government have acted to stop people seeking justice altogether through abuse of their power as lawmakers to push through changes to the judicial review. We spoke to Criminal Barrister Mike Goold last year about it:

“And another thing, the judicial review is a means by which people can challenge the decisions of executives of the government and any executive bodies. So that can be anything from being evicted from a council house owned by the government, immigration decisions, decisions to be refused asylum, these things can be challenged by judicial review. And the government have, if you’re being quite cynical about this, and I certainly am, the government have an incentive to stop people if they can, because it’s the way people challenge unjust government decisions.”

 

—————————

Lessons do not seem to have been learned from Leveson. Or if they have, they seem to be the ones that are used to mis-lead us. Conflict of interest continues, and in the run up to the General Election I imagine we will see more examples of attempts to shut down the opposing debate.

What is clear, is that government is determined to continue with their course of action, despite how damaging this is for the public at risk. It seems they are more concerned with silencing and threatening their opponents than creating a system that works.

by Kam Sandhu @KamBass

By Thomas Barlow

In an age of increasing fuel bills,lack of transparency in government and business and climate change, we believe we need to reclaim the power. We need to take back local control of our energy, food production and decision making.

The government believes we should be making a dash for gas to provide for our energy needs – and fracking is a big part of this.

However, communities can provide their own energy – cutting fuel bills and taking power out of the hands of big energy companies – whilst at the same time putting the brakes on climate change.

How?  By building renewable energy locally (and creating energy efficiency), which will create jobs and bring communities together to take control of decisions that affect us.

What is the Dash For Gas?

The old power stations are dying out.  They are soon to be replaced. and they.  The government wants to replace them with gas based power stations which last for about 30 years, instead of renewables. This will leave us increasingly dependent on foreign gas supplies and the use of fracking.

What does this mean?

For the country:  not only will we ruin any chance of hitting our emissions targets, but we will be handing control of our fuel bills to the big 6 energy companies who have increased bills 20% year on year.

For communities:  more than 10,000 extra winter deaths have occurred the past three winters, due to rising fuel bills forcing pensioners choosing between eating and heating their homes.

What is fracking?

Fracking is an unconventional form of gas extraction that involves drilling into shale and pumping millions of gallons of chemical water into the ground to flush gas out.

It has been linked with severe health issues and a potentially disastrous impact on the environment.

Additionally, fracking is likely to cause house price drops of 25%, damage agriculture massively because of water loss, and affect tourism and small business negatively.

Reclaim The Power is a collective of people bound by the common belief that we should not make a panicked dash for gas.

Energy Democracy

Groups like the Carbon Co-op encourage groups of people to bulk buy their energy from renewable sources they create, and to insulate their homes and make energy savings.

When people come together to do this, they find not only do they save lots of cash, but they have control of their own energy and are not dictated to by government or big business.

That freedom, thanks to renewable energy, is forever.

Real Democracy

This is something we would like to see expand into all areas of life.  Together, we can find solutions to the common problems of life. Everything from community food projects to supporting local business help reclaim power for the community.

What is the camp?

It is a place where the alternatives are showcased, from large communal kitchens to renewable energy media centres, to democratic decision making.

It is also a place for learning, where speakers attend and debates are held, with people with a wide range of expertise attending.  It is a place that aims to allow everyone to have a voice.

This year Reclaim The Power will happen again – 14th August-19th August.  Check the facebook page, or nodashforgas.org.uk, or get in touch with RealFare, for more details.

rtp poster bleed FINAL A3 (1) 2

 

1) Britain’s poor now on par with Eastern Bloc

The poorest fifth of UK households are significantly worse off than the poorest fifth in other Western European countries, according to analysis of Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) data published by the High Pay Centre last week.

High Pay Centre Director Deborah Hargreaves said:

 “These figures suggest we need to be more concerned about inequality and how prosperity is shared, as well as average incomes or aggregate measures like GDP. The fact that the rich are richer in the UK than many other countries hides the fact that the poor are poorer.

“Most people think our living standards in the UK are similar to economies like France and Germany, but being poor in the UK is more like being poor in the former Soviet Bloc than in Western Europe.”

The High Pay Centre analysis also notes that if the UK’s total income of around £1 trillion was divided in the same way as total incomes in Denmark or the Netherlands, 99% of UK households would be better off by around £2,700 per year.

Image: The Huffington Post

Image: The Huffington Post

 

Read more about this story here.

2) Labour announces plans to cut benefits for 18-21 year olds, replacing with means-tested training allowances

Ed Miliband announced Labour’s first plans on cuts to welfare, with a plan that would remove benefits from 100,000 18-21 year olds, replaced instead with a means-tested allowance based on whether the claimant is in training.

The move follows a YouGov poll released last week which found that 78% of the British public felt that the welfare system was unfair and failing to reward those who had contributed to it.

The move is also meant to symbolise Labour’s dedication to welfare reform, apparently tapping in to the need to reward people in a way that is closer to what they pay in. It does however, entirely ignore the fact that opportunities for young people are scarce in a far more insecure and lower-paid environment than the previous generation.

The removal of Jobseeker’s Allowance for those below skills level 3 will affect seven out of 10 young people, and save around £65m.10431489_686788578035740_8042865362329683316_n

Read more about this story here.

3) Royal College of Nurses threaten to unseat MPs who do not support a pay rise for NHS staff

Nursing leaders have pledged that they would work to unseat MPs who do not support a pay rise for NHS staff, at the next election.

Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt has denied frontline health professionals a one percent pay rise across the board, infuriating health unions.

olympic-ceremony-4-a

 

Some have put forward the idea of strike action, Dr Peter Carter, the general secretary of the Royal College of Nursing has suggested that rather than risking patient care through strike action, nurses should pursue “alternative forms of industrial action” at the ballot box.

“There are many MPs on all sides of the House of Commons that have small majorities, some just a few hundred, some even as low as 30 or 40” he told RCN members. “There are about 1,000 nurses in each constituency and if we mobilise ourselves I know many of those MPs will be looking over their shoulders and wondering if they’ll be re-elected at the General Election next year.”

Power to them.

4) Don’t let them tell you that our NHS is failing or needs privatisation. It is the best healthcare system in the world.

An international panel of experts declared that the NHS is the best healthcare system in the world, rating it’s care superior to other countries who spend more. The report ranked the USA as the worst in healthcare provision.

“The United Kingdom ranks first overall, scoring highest on quality, access and efficiency,” the fund’s researchers conclude in their 30-page report. Their findings amount to a huge endorsement of the health service, especially as it spends the second-lowest amount on healthcare among the 11 – just £2,008 per head, less than half the £5,017 in the US. Only New Zealand, with £1,876, spent less.”

Health-overallj

Read more about this story here.

5) DWP caught out as over half a million sickness benefit appeals were won, but figures were hidden from the public

From ilegal:

“DWP ministers said only 9% of ESA decisions were wrong.  Our research reveals the DWP have been quoting from figures which state 151,800 appeals have succeeded.  Our evidence shows the true figure to be at least 567,634 – casting serious doubt over 43% of 1,302,200 ‘fit for work’ decisions.”

“These figures completely negate all of the DWP’s claims that it is getting the majority of its decisions right. Government ministers in conjunction with the DWP’s Press office have been telling us that a million claimants have been found fit for work whereas these figures show that in reality this is only a small part of the true story and that huge numbers have gone on to successfully appeal decisions which were wrong.

“These new figures highlight the dubious practice of using the unchallenged assessment results, which only encourage media sensationalisation, with headlines such as those appearing in the Daily Express in July 2011 stating that ‘75% on sickness benefits were faking’. The same article goes on to say that out of ‘…2.6 million on the sick, 1.9 million could work’ before receiving an endorsement from the Prime Minister with an assurance that his government was “producing a much better system where we put people through their paces and say that if you can work, you should work”.

Read more about this story here.

6) 50,000+ march in People’s Assembly demo against austerity, and BBC fails to report on it again

Thousands took to the streets in London on Saturday against austerity, with speakers including Russell Brand, Owen Jones and Christine Blower. Solidarity reigned supreme as the demonstration brought together a coalition of unions, political parties, activist groups and community leaders. The march also celebrated one year of the People’s Assembly.

The march comes ahead of a 1 million strong strike planned on 10th July for public sector workers against pay freezes – sending a clear message to government that damaging austerity will not be tolerated. And the People’s Assembly plan to stage the biggest demonstration ever seen later this year.

As with the Manchester march against the privatisation of the NHS, where 50-70,000 took to the streets, the BBC turned a blind eye to the demonstration, slipping out a small report late in the evening on their website.

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by Kam Sandhu @KamBass

“I strode into that politician’s office ready to take his vision and weld it to words that would swell the breast and demand action to make that vision a reality.

“What do you want to say” I asked him.

“Oh well, we were rather hoping you would suggest something good,” the politician replied.

“My friends, I was I confess, stunned. I, the speechwriter, was being asked not just to contribute the form but the content. And in asking that I understood that what mattered to the politician was not that I suggest a way to persuade people of a policy the politician believed in, but simply that I say something that was pleasing.

“And that moment, in a nutshell, seemed to capture all that was wrong with modern politics.

“The rhetoric of modern politics is no longer about persuading others of the rightness of one’s position. It is about mobilising sufficient numbers of those who already share our prejudices. It is about getting out the vote.

“Now if the shock of my realisation reflects only my own naivety, it reflects calculated understanding on the part of our politicians. That approach takes advantage of our own psychology and modern technology exacerbates those cognitive biases.

“Research tells us that we experience pleasure when hearing arguments that confirm our existing prejudices.

“Meanwhile, the Internet and Satellite TV offer a multitude of refuges where we may hear only the view that pleasingly accords with our own. And on the rare occasion the disagreeable voices intrude, we can simply block them or un-friend them.

“Against these trends, there is no counter pressure.

“The information resource that is the Internet is frequently more burden than boon. The sheer torrent of information making it impossible to sort the accurate signals from the biased and irrational noise.

“In this world, no politician is incentivised to educate or to persuade people of harsh truths. They all want to be re-elected. If nothing else their salary and pensions depend on it. It’s a cruel jobs market and nobody wants to be flung on it with one night’s warning and a CV that reads simply ‘spent the last 5 years shouting and answering angry letters.’

“So when a politician speaks now, it is not to bridge a divide but to confirm prejudice. It is to rouse his loyal troops to action. Now if you believe, as I do, that however rational it may be as a response to the nature of our current system, a political rhetoric that does not seek to engage but to divide, is not the right way to make decisions, then you agree with me that there is a problem.

“Now it’s no good identifying a problem without at least pretending to offer a solution. So I do. Not so much in the expectation that it will be enacted, but because in thinking about my solution, we might more clearly understand the nature of the problem.”

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The People’s Assembly will march on Saturday from BBC headquarters at 1pm through London to Parliament Square in a united front against austerity, and this is shaping up to be one of their biggest demos yet. With a list of speakers that include Russell Brand, Owen Jones and Christine Blower, and a free festival, the day will be filled with activities and there will be plenty of communities and people to meet.

Demand the alternative on 21st June.

Find out more here.

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by Kam Sandhu @KamBass

There are around 5 million people on social housing waiting lists. 48,000 people are homeless. In 2012/13, house building rates were at their lowest for 100 years. Rents have increased 35% in the last five years and 1 million homes lie empty in the UK. So why is the government not doing anything about the housing crisis?

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Image: Focus E15 Mothers Facebook

The ‘bubble’ of growth taking place in the UK is a FIRE bubble – built on Finance, Insurance and Real Estate.

It is not being created by jobs, widespread spending or increase in trade.

The bubble is instead, for it’s meagre count and vast ineffect on a majority of the country, built largely on rich people buying expensive houses in London. It is unsustainable and does not mean growth for anyone but the already well off, as the have-nots are priced out of housing, either as mortgages or rent.

Any growth is not good growth

We are lead to believe that growth is in and of itself ‘good’ but the factors that are making up a sorry blip in change is actually increasing the wealth gap, increasing poverty and driving further division. It is also wildly unstable and cannot be sustained.

Overseas in America, the same thing is happening, and stock brokers who predicted the 2008 crash, including Warren Buffet are preparing for a plummet in prices.

“We are in a gigantic financial asset bubble,” warns Swiss adviser and fund manager Marc Faber. “It could burst any day.”

Moneynews, June 2014

Growth like this is not helping most people. But the government are keen to keep things as they are.

Why?

We are less than 12 months from a General Election, cue the end of ‘tough’ decision announcements and the beginning of blanket rejoice in the late, inadequate and entirely over-estimated change in the economy.

“We are pointing at a patient on a life support machine and claiming that he is physically well and able. Which as far as I know isn’t something that economists do. It’s something that only ATOS do. 

“But that is what we are doing when we call this a recovery.”

Aditya Chakrabortty, May 2014, Novara Media Podcast

The government would like us to believe they have fixed the economy in the lead up to the national election. And ‘fixed,’ it is.

A ‘fixed’ economy – The strangleholds

More than maintaining things as they are, government actions are increasing the effects of the housing crisis. Here’s how:

Low Building Rates

Building rates last year were the lowest for 100 years, and while the speed of building has picked up in 2014, we are running far behind the required need.

Around a quarter of a million new houses are needed every year, and we struggle to meet even half that.

Image: The Guardian

Image: The Guardian

To add to this, the amount spent on housing benefit has doubled in the last decade to around £24bn as a shortage of council owned property forces social housing tenants to use private landlords who are continuing to push up rent.

Figures released last week, show that 93% of new housing benefit claimants are in work, demonstrating the pressure on wages as rents still soar.

It would be a win-win to create more social housing, giving councils more assets and power to control rents. However, local councils have a tight borrowing cap that should be lifted in favour of creating desperately needed housing as Owen Jones explained in an article for the Independent in 2013:

“Local authorities currently have a tight borrowing cap on them imposed by the Treasury. It urgently needs to be lifted, allowing them to build a new generation of high-quality homes that families can afford to live in. It’s not like borrowing for, say, housing benefit or cutting taxes: it pays for itself as councils gain a new income stream from rents. Indeed, just by falling into line with the borrowing rules of other Western nations, Britain would have an extra £20bn to throw at housing.”

Denial of the cost of living crisis        

Let me repeat an important figure. 93% of NEW housing benefit claimants are in work. The recovery is not happening if an increasing number of people in work cannot afford to live.

During the recession, the government have repeatedly denied the extent of the cost of living crisis, in ways ranging from Michael Gove’s suggestion that food banks are used because poor people don’t know how to manage their money, to the government report to the UN stating welfare reforms were helping the poorest children out of poverty. In fact, it is estimated that 5 million children are being sentenced to a life of poverty as a result of welfare reforms.

Affordability is not affordable

Boris Johnson said the rate of affordability in London is 70-80% of market rent. In a bloated housing crisis, a figure like this which has NOTHING to do with median income, results in affordability meaning little in the way of affordable.

But it does allow politicians to use the term ‘affordable’ in public to look like they are doing something.

This further dilutes argument of the crisis. The meagre minimum affordable housing rates the government promise are not affordable. And they are also, not the minimum, as we saw with the regeneration of the Heygate estate. Southwark council insist on a minimum of 35% affordable housing units in new builds, but when Lend Lease completed the Heygate re-build, their lowest price unit was a one bed flat at £310,000. Instead, they told Southwark Council to build elsewhere:

“None of these 284 homes, currently priced between £350,000 and £1.1m, will be offered at a discount. Instead, Lend Lease has given Southwark £3.5m to spend on social housing elsewhere and will contribute to a new leisure centre.

A report by council officers said Lend Lease baulked at providing social units as this would require a second lobby and lift shaft to separate the two types of resident, adding: “Not doing so would have significant implications on the values of the private residential properties.”

Ian Steadman, November 2013, New Statesman

 

Help To Buy

Could there be a better way to push along a housing crisis than by using the same tactics that lost us all our social housing?

Help to Buy is helping people onto the property ladder in a time of need, but it is temporary and the effect of increased interest rates is yet to be seen as they remain frozen for the time being. But they must go up eventually and now that there is some ‘growth’ that time is coming ever nearer.

Still, ‘Help To Buy’ is conducive to getting a few more votes in the pot before election time from new home owners. But this will do nothing for their children and younger siblings when they want to enter the market.

The Consequences – division, disassociation, displacement

Division

The current maintenance of unsustainable and unstable growth is increasing the wealth gap between rich and poor, increasing rents far quicker than wage increases and as highlighted by Lend Lease themselves, furthering a system of social cleansing which forces out the poor from their areas (as they couldn’t possible share a lift with the new upmarket inhabitants). And the Heygate estate is just one example of the type of cushty sounding ‘regeneration’ taking place all over London and some other parts of the UK.

Image: Lubke.com

Image: Lubke.com

Disassociation

People are becoming disassociated from themselves as a result of the fierce denial by government of the cost of living crisis and the aggressive nature of their ‘scrounger’ rhetoric.

Aditya Chakrabortty noted in his investigation into the housing crisis that people felt they needed to justify or validate themselves for a being in a position that is not their fault, and was tantamount to the strength of the rhetoric which has become part of the public language:

“We met a woman who lives in a flat, one of the old council flats [Wood Berry Downs Estate], and her walls are completely decorated in black mould. She works two jobs, so it was very difficult to pin her down. One of the first things she says upon meeting is “I’m not on Benefits Street. I don’t claim any benefits”…..The pensioner said “I don’t claim any benefits.” She’s on pensions and disabled benefits but that’s it….Turkish guy [we met, said] “I’m not an illegal immigrant. I pay taxes. I work.”

“This regeneration fits into an entire backdrop of these people feeling as though they’ve been dispossessed from their own lives. And not just in terms of their own housing, but in terms of who they are. Who they’re allowed to be when they walk down the street. They MUST either be the victims, or they MUST be the villains. They can’t be anything else.”

Aditya Chakrabortty, May 2014, Novara Media

Another example of this experience is explained in this Vice article about Britain’s Hidden Homeless:

“Homeless people live on the street, beg for small change at cash points and try to flog you a copy of the Big Issue you didn’t want. That’s what I thought before last June, when I became homeless myself, as my family and I got chucked out of our home.

“I don’t fit the stereotype, striding into work every morning with my fur coat, red lipstick and sassitude. I’d also like to think I don’t fit in at the dull, stale hostel I wake up in and walk out of every morning. When I strut into work I’m one person and when I fall asleep in the same bed as my 14-year-old sister every night, I’m an entirely different one. Hidden homelessness is a strange struggle between wanting to seem normal on the outside and dealing with the daily anxieties of living without a home on the inside.”

Daisy May Hudson, May 2014, Vice

As austerity and cuts deepen and extend into the lives and finances of a growing number of people, who may at once have been able to get by or survive, the denial of the cost of living crisis as well as the suggestion that poverty is some personal failure rather than quite rigorous engineering in policy, more people are facing homelessness and poverty that wouldn’t once ‘fit the bill’. As the government continue to deny this crisis is happening and tell us that we are out of the recession, these people increasingly don’t know where to put themselves physically and mentally, and the government are making no provisions to help. The good times are here for political discourse until the election whether you like it or not.

Displacement

Uprooting communities and dispersing them to other places across the UK can be severely damaging to people’s health, particularly when you note that the long-term unemployed, the old and the disabled make up a huge part of these communities. As we saw with the bedroom tax, this is often most costly to the most vulnerable.

Mental health problems will soar as well as increases in isolation and withdrawal. Forcing people already on the fringes of society, to leave the places they know, where their families reside and where they have built a routine and contacts is a dangerous and under-reported problem that continues as we speak.

———————

A fierce maintenance of public face and PR means that the housing crisis is deepening, and will continue to do so at peril, as the unsustainable housing boom gets free reign in the run up to the General Election 2015.

We are now even seeing desperate attempts to suggest that the people desperately in need of homes as a result of this, don’t exist.

New policies to remove people from social housing waiting lists don’t stop them needing homes. And anti-homeless spikes don’t stop people being homeless. But image is greater than need to a government in the run up to the election. Despite how fatal this is for our housing needs.

1) ‘The Sun’s free copy sees backlash and a potential fine, and Ed Miliband apologises for endorsement

‘The Sun’ circulated 22 million free copies of it’s paper last week with the front page headline ‘This Is Our England,’ as a commemorative  World Cup edition.

But it was not a war reception from the public with thousands of people burning the paper, sending it back, or putting up posters to tell Royal Mail not to deliver the tabloid to their address.

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Further, David Cameron, Nick Clegg and Ed Miliband posed with the paper as an endorsement, which saw fierce criticism from the public against the tabloid’s history, proprietorship and bias.

Miliband later apologised, though he was the only one. Having said previously, that he would ‘stand up to Murdoch,’ this PR faux pas may have cost him.

Also, the paper forgot to print some legally required details on the paper, which could see them paying up to £50 per copy, or £1.1bn in total for this mistake. It would take 3.5 years for the paper to claw the money back in sales.

Read more about this story here.

 

ATOS fined £30m for Work Capability Assessment errors

In an exclusive report, The Londoner was told that ATOS, the French healthcare company on government contract to supply fit-to-work testing, has been fined £30million for errors in it’s delivery of the assessments.

The company has already announced that they are exiting the contract early, due to huge failures exposed by thousands of people attending theassessments, but details of this pay off were kept secret up until now to avoid further embarrassment for the company.

Read more about this story here.

2) Boris’ water cannons are being phased out in Germany amid safety concerns

The water cannons secured by Boris Johnson, are being phased out in Germany (where Boris is buying them from), amid concerns over their safety.

“The “WaWe 9” vehicle, produced by Ziegler Group and colloquially known as “Mammoth” or “Goliath” among German police, was first, introduced in 1982. It is named after the 9,000 litres it can hold in its tank, which it can spray as far as 65 metres at 18 litres a second – though some reports claim the machines can easily be adjusted to double the water pressure.”

Image: Revolution News

Image: Revolution News

The water cannons are two decades old, and first raised concerns in 1985, when activist Günter Sare died after being stunned and run over by a WaWe 9.

An investigation into Sare’s death revealed several flaws in the design of WaWe 9, which contributed to the death.

Germany is seeking to replace the cannons with newer models, explaining why Boris Johnson was able to bag three of them for around £30,000 each – much cheaper than the £1m it costs for new cannon models.

Kerry-anne Mendoza, author of the brilliant ScriptoniteDaily has begun a crowdfund for a People’s Cannon, which you can donate to here.

Read more about this story here.

3) Focus E15 mothers target abandoned houses in protest for decent homes

The excellent Focus E15 mothers targeted local abandoned housing, covering them in posters and photos which said “This family needs a home, this home needs a family.”

Focus E15 mothers will march on July 5th for decent homes for all.

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All photos from Focus E15 mothers facebook page.

4) Farage could face jail for undeclared donations of £205,000

Action is being considered against UKIP leader Nigel Farage after it was found that donations worth £205,000 were undeclared to the electoral commission, breaking electoral law.

The donations, dating back from 2001, made by party supporter John Longhurst were declared to the European Parliamentary register but Farage failed to tell the British Electoral Commission. Donations should be declared within 30 days.

A UKIP spokesperson said “Mr Farage was surprised to learn that the Electoral Commission thought it should be informed as well, as this did not accord with the professional advice he had received at the time.”

Read more about this story here.

5) Salma Yaqoob confronts Iain Duncan Smith on Question Time

Despite the presence of the Minister for Work and Pensions on BBC Question Time last week, welfare and employment played a small role in the discussion. However, Salma Yaqoob, from Birmingham’s Stop The War campaign, did confront Iain Duncan Smith and the ‘scrounger’ rhetoric he has previously relied on.