Archives For General Welfare

As we release our two part interview of 4 asylum seekers’ experiences in the UK we bring you some facts about asylum, a system in the UK which is severely distorted through a mainstream media lens, resulting in mistaken prejudice about some of the most vulnerable people in the country.

– 2003 Press Complaints Commission guidance ruled that the phrase “illegal asylum seeker” is inaccurate.

– There is no such thing as an ‘illegal’ or ‘bogus’ asylum seeker. Under international law, anyone has the right to apply for asylum in any country that has signed the 1951 Convention and to remain there until the authorities have assessed their claim.

– Charities have made complaints for over a decade to the PCC on what has been agreed as widespread inaccurate coverage.

“Media outlets often inflate or speculate about numbers of asylum seekers, refugees and immigrants. Newspaper and TV images play into the dominant stereotype of the young dangerous man breaking into Britain and threatening ‘our’ communities. 31 percent of headlines and 53 percent of text about asylum across all newspapers has negative connotations. Language used to describe immigration is highly hostile across all newspaper types, with ‘illegal’ and ‘bogus’ the most commonly used terms to describe immigrants and asylum seekers.

“In addition to mis-reporting, there is also ‘over-reporting’. In 2002, for example, 25 percent of Daily Mail and 24 percent of Daily Express articles were about asylum.”

Chitra Nagarajan,  How Politicians and The Media Made Us Hate Immigrants, 20 September 2013

Image: Tell It Like It Is - Refugee Council

(Following facts taken from Refugee Council report: ‘Tell It Like It Is: The Truth About Asylum’)

POOR COUNTRIES – NOT THE UK – LOOK AFTER MOST OF THE WORLD’S REFUGEES

– The UK is home to just over 1% of the world’s refugees – out of more than 15 million worldwide. (UNHCR Global Trends 2012)

 – Over 509,000 refugees have fled the conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo, including about 52,000 during 2012. Only 205 of these people applied for asylum in the UK in 2012. (UNHCR Global Trends 2012 & Home Office quarterly statistical summary, asylum statistics 2012)

 – About 80% of the world’s refugees live in developing countries, often in camps. Africa, Asia, and the Middle East between them host more than three quarters of the world’s refugees. Europe looks after just 16%. (UNHCR Global Trends 2011)

The likelihood that a refugee will be recognised as being in need of asylum depends on the country where they apply. In the UK in 2012, 30% of the people who applied for asylum were granted it. In some countries, such as Switzerland and Finland, over 70% of applications succeed. (UNHCR Statistical Yearbook 2010)

 – The UK asylum system is strictly controlled and complex. It is very difficult to get asylum. The process is extremely tough and the majority of people’s claims are turned down. (Home Office statistics from 2006-2012)

 – A high number of initial decisions made by the Home Office on asylum cases are wrong. In 2012, the courts overturned 27% of negative decisions after they were appealed. (Home Office asylum statistics fourth quarter 2012)

 – There is a particular problem with decisions on women’s claims. A 2011 study found 50% of negative decisions were overturned by the courts. (Asylum Aid, Unsustainable: The quality of initial decision-making in women’s asylum claims 2011)

 – Asylum seekers do not come to the UK to claim benefits. In fact, most know nothing about welfare benefits before they arrive and had no expectation that they would receive financial support. (Refugee Council, Chance or Choice? Understanding why asylum seekers come to the UK, 2010)

 – Many asylum seekers live in poverty and many families are not able to pay for the basics such as clothing, powdered milk and nappies. (The Children’s Society Briefing highlighting the gap between asylum support and mainstream benefits 2012)

 – Almost all asylum seekers are not allowed to work and are forced to rely on state support – this can be as little as £5 a day to live on. Asylum seekers are not entitled to council housing. The accommodation allocated to them is not paid for by the local council. Some asylum seekers, and those who have been refused asylum, are not entitled to any form of financial support and are forced into homelessness. This includes heavily pregnant women.

  Asylum seeking women who are destitute are vulnerable to violence in the UK. More than a fifth of the women accessing our therapeutic services had experienced sexual violence in this country. (Refugee Council, The experiences of refugee women in the UK, 2012)

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by Emil Ghaffar

Free Milk is a “community run social space”, that was established in early October 2014. The founders of Free Milk established a space where members of the public can voluntarily learn, share and enjoy. It has housed public speakers, debates, poetry and experimental film all in the domain of politics and alternative ideology.

Free from any hierarchical structure, it is a collective and is subject to a flux of change in the people who run Free Milk. It is a pocket within our society where we all have autonomy. A place that elevates one from their sense of helplessness as it allows us to discover the true potential of our compassion and solidarity.

Image: Free Milk Facebook

Image: Free Milk Facebook

It is kept alive by the squatters who live there. One of the squatters highlighted how we are deprived of real communal spaces and how essential they are for our collective psyche. Our sense of community is incredibly important, especially today when we are experiencing an “epidemic of loneliness” and the public are increasingly feeling alienated from politics and ultimately themselves.

It runs purely on donation from the public such as money they make from home brewed ale or fundraiser gigs/parties which span from punk, post punk to drum&bass and reggae.  These are always intimate, refreshing evenings. Everyone seems to be walking around with a sense of awe about them as they cannot believe a place like this exists in the midst of the mundane.

The ethos of the place is powerful. Self-sustainability and equality is the core of Free Milk’s message -“It is a right to exist and have access to basic human needs”. It is a birth right that we should have free and ready access to food, water, shelter, education and love. All of these are provided by Free Milk to everyone.

The homeless are in need of this especially and this is why Free Milk runs classes for the homeless on the subject of how to stay safe, build shelter and stay strong. These classes are open to everyone because everyone has the right to know such things.  One of the squatters told me how shelter is everywhere, it’s just a matter of understanding how to find and build it.

His girlfriend and himself got into this way of life when they decided to “live off the land” in the countryside to resume our mutualistic relationship with nature. After experiencing this liberating way of life, they never went back to the life of material “luxury”. “We realised how easy it is to get back in touch with nature and break free from the consumerist trance imposed on us!”

We increasingly seem to be detached from our surroundings. Many of us being caught up in the  bureaucracy of life, forgetting the importance of loving one another and how to love oneself. Free Milk’s aim is to inspire people to release themselves from our claustrophobic monoculture and realise the power within.

Whilst talking to the squatters, I was approached by a man I had recognized from around the streets, begging for spare change. He told me how Free Milk had changed his life, making him realise that he can live independently from money.” I can tell you I’m free”, he told me, “The word home, is subjective. To me home is in the heart of others”. Maybe all we really need is human compassion and the necessities in life.

Members proudly partake in “skipping”, which is a term (that has risen throughout the media) to describe a human simply taking food that is waste to another. The food gained from skipping and donation is used in the open kitchen and cooks up a colourful mix n match gourmet feast! Free Milk works collectively with Food Cycle to provide cooked meals for everyone but mainly the homeless.

Despite it intuitively feeling a natural, morally sound activity, the government deemed it illegal. The government stated that it is illegal to take something that someone or something legally owns and supermarkets legally own their waste. Therefore it is seen as “immoral”. But clearly the true crime here is that a third of the world’s food goes to waste as 1bn people go hungry. This is a clear insight to the fallacious nature of our capitalist system which derogates us from our human nature. We are dehumanised by the corporations we subscribe to, as their capitalist nature advocates individualism and extends the gap in equality. Free Milk reminds us that we must abandon this ideology and reclaim our world. A world that is less circumscribed by the fear and greed.

 

An event at Free Milk

An event at Free Milk

 

Despite Free Milk’s activities being deemed illegal, the police have nothing but compassion and support for the social space. According to the squatters, the police recognise that what Free Milk is doing is vital for the surrounding community. That human compassion is an imperative within us and possibly deprivation of this provokes violence and crime into people’s lives. This was the case until recently. On 28th January 2015, the squatters were forced to leave the building due to their presence at the chapel being against the law. Surely the law should accommodate for communites and movements such as Free Milk and advocate the explicit good that they have done for the surrounding area. But the perspective may be considered dangerous to our imperialist oppressors who’s only concern is profit and economic progression, and Free Milk’s message opposes everything capitalism promotes. Free Milk has opened my eyes and the eyes of many to an alternative. We do not need to adopt the model the government has built for us to fit in. Free Milk’s central locus may be absent, but it’s message resonates throughout the people who have experienced it.

The true injustice of the anti-squatting laws is seen within the minorities they attack. Asylum seekers and families are most affected by these laws coinciding with the Legal aid bill receiving increased cuts and rigidity. The law is facile, not seeing that there are 635,127 empty houses in the UK which significantly exceeds the number of homeless people. Clearly, at least the homeless should be entitled to these houses becoming their homes. These spaces have so much potential, just as Free Milk has proved.

Communities like Free Milk keep spreading their knowledge of how we can live independently from the government’s restrictions. But for everyone in the UK to receive the basic necessities in life, which we are all entitled to, a government must cooperate with communities such as Free Milk. Ultimately the public must invest interest and open their minds to the ideology expressed in this truly communal, autonomous space – and other areas free from the constant need to buy, trick or gain from our purses or materialistic insecurities. It shouldn’t and needn’t be so hard to imagine or find. The message is potent and influential but there is solidity in numbers, we need more help at places such as Free Milk and more communities to arise sharing a common purpose.

You can contact Free Milk via their Facebook to get involved.

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” Margaret Mead

Image: Spectator

Image: Spectator

 

For a few decades following the Green Revolution and its conversion of land and fossil fuels into bumper harvests it felt, for wealthy nations at least, that finally there was more than enough food. Hunger seemed far away from the discourse of progress and plenty. The structural violence underpinning the starvation of unseen millions has never disappeared but in Britain, welfare policy and a rapidly industrialising post-war food system combined to fill most bellies. Throughout the seventies and eighties, food culture centred on the diversifying cuisine resulting from migration and travel, as supermarket shelves groaned with ever-increasing choice and the proportion of income people spent on food shrank considerably. Convenience and brand advertising filled screens. But our relationship with food has grown more complex. Today, the media is permeated with food stories. From snacking on the Tube to horse burgers and the cancer-preventing qualities of kale, food matters constantly cook up anxious minds. Concerns over food range from the serious to the silly, be it the impacts of climate change on potato yields or the breakfast cereal café that might just have killed the Hipster.

Forgive me for stating the obvious, but food is something we all need every day to survive. In a few hours’ time, we’ll all be hungry again – food forms a mundane backdrop to every day. It’s also pretty special. The muscles in my typing fingers are moved by energy I got from plants that turned sunlight into stored energy, sandwiched between other foods that were processed and cooked and packaged in a factory many miles and processes away from the places where I bought and ate it. Provisioning is a part of our daily lives – finding time to budget for food, buy it, cook it and clean up after it. Food simmers with social meaning, from the brands we choose to whether we compost the leftovers. We use it to express values, quench desires, show love and make friends.

The meanings we ascribe to food can also express our politics. In our late-capitalist age much ‘food culture’ is based on an imaginary and romanticized yesteryear, a gendered one in which women merrily stirred pots of jam and meat was hauled in by the men after a shotgun-toting walk in the woods. The reality for many has been one of backbreaking labour, often done by women and still a hallmark of daily life for millions: gathering fuel, maintaining fires, pounding grains. The rise of cuisine, as anthropologist Jack Goody argued, accompanied growing class stratification in Europe. The class politics of cooking continue to boil tempers, so that it’s no wonder that Anne Jenkin’s remarks that poor people should eat more porridge met with fury. Not only were her remarks patronizing, but they implied that hunger is a matter of individual competence alone, ignoring the structural barriers to healthy food for all. Shopping, cooking and eating are bound up in the unfair playing field of an industrial corporate food system and unequal access to food. No wonder the media have seized on food stories as markers of societal change.

Reports of ‘food riots’ in 2008 shed light on global price rises [due to food corporation speculation, as this talk explains] but also peoples’ anger at governments’ failure to protect them. In Britain, such rumblings of dissent and a food system in crisis might seem far off when you’re in Tesco stumped by the choice of biscuits…or when you see a supermarket skip brimming with edible food. However, growing evidence about rising hunger levels in the UK and the response of charities have raised important questions about the social justice of our food system, its relationship to labour and economic policy and, critically, the way we view each other.

The figure of the foodbank would come top of my nominations for an emblem of Cameron’s Big Society. As inflation, cuts to services and welfare sanctions place greater pressure on peoples’ budgets for food, energy and shelter (as an All-Parliamentary Inquiry into Hunger recently confirmed), the charitable sector has come out in force to pick up the pieces. That force is never enough. Despite the huge increase in emergency food aid and a proliferation of programmes designed to redirect food waste to feed hungry people, food banks frequently run out of food and are only ever a patchy and temporary solution to those who find themselves reliant on handouts. Peoples’ reasons for visiting food banks are diverse and only ever a short-term option, despite the predictable slew of vitriol in newspaper comment threads slung at foodbank users who spend money on fags or dog food. Hell, if I were unemployed and sanctioned for missing a JobCentre Plus appointment and standing in a foodbank queue in the cold, a rollie might feel like my only act of agency or pleasure.

 

people-helped-stats

 

Mainstream media has painted a largely positive picture of food aid providers as virtuous heroes standing between a coldly retreating state and the deathly embrace of hunger, isolation and social breakdown. The religious ethic of food aid charities such as the Trussell Trust has been variously interpreted as a bum-on-seat agenda for a declining institution or as a manifestation of moral values of kindness, non-judgement and giving in an austere age. Critics argue that such food charity depoliticizes hunger and even sustains the situation by creating an impression that hunger is being ‘managed’ and thus needless of systemic change. They point in warning to North America, where foodbanking has become ‘entrenched’ over several years of institutionalization and corporatization. Food giants such as Kelloggs and Unilever presenting themselves as part of the solution can be seen as part of their attempt to increase their market share, either by enabling their surplus stock to be managed by charities rather than expensively landfilled, or by serving branded breakfast cereals to school children. However, it could be argued that food banks also serve as a mirror to hunger: they present themselves as a short-term and partial but necessary solution and, through their connections with statutory services, act as advocates and flag-markers for where the system is failing individuals (in large numbers).

Growing recognition of high levels of food waste has resulted in attempts to divert ‘surplus’ food to food aid providers, portrayed as a ‘win-win’ solution to food waste and food poverty. Can this be seen as foisting ‘second-rate’ food onto people surplus to labour requirements, rather than enabling them to acquire food in ‘culturally appropriate’ ways? Food waste in such vast quantities represents another symptom of an unjust food system (not to mention an environmental nightmare), but simply diverting it to food charity fails to address the causes of both waste and hunger. Choice and quality are necessarily limited (a trip to the foodbank might result in the kind of grim Ready Steady Cook conundrums cleverly satirised in this microplay ).

In a blog post about working at his local food bank, (he’s also writing a book about freeganism called ‘Waving the banana at Capitalism’), Alex Barnard points out the fraught ethics of filling peoples’ food aid boxes with unsuitable food that will probably end up being wasted anyway. At a food distribution session run by an anarchist refugee support organisation in Glasgow, I noticed the fresh produce get snapped up while the array of Whole Foods desserts and speciality foods got left behind. However, it seems that food waste redistribution charities are being pushed by supermarkets to accept ever greater quantities of short-dated ready meals, rather than being supported in the logistically-heavy work of gleaning ‘imperfect’ farm produce or collecting surplus veg from wholesale markets, which is the food most in demand by community organisations who feed people.

Image: The Guardian

Image: The Guardian

 

The last hundred years saw immense changes in the way food is grown, processed, distributed, sold and eaten. The next hundred years will see more immense changes as climate change continues to bite, technology and energy evolve and populations grow and move. We could simply look out for our own bellies or we could choose to address the massive inequalities in access to food. However, history should have taught us that the road to hell is indeed paved with good intentions. The failed development projects of the late 20th century should remind us that ‘doing good’ may not only obscure diverse interpretations of ‘good’, but can also mask hidden agendas that place the powerless in relationships of dependency and obedience. With this in mind, take another look at the food bank collection in the front of your supermarket and have a think about why hunger is happening, and how we might solve it. Then take a look at the skip out back (mind the barbed wire and security guard). The ‘paradox’ of hunger and waste is alive and well. But it reveals two sides of the same coin – a system of food commodification that denies food freedom for many of us and our neighbours.

By Charlie Spring

by Kam Sandhu @KamBass

1) A JOB NO LONGER GUARANTEES INDEPENDENCE, CHOICE OR A ROUTE OUT OF POVERTY (AND EMPLOYMENT DOESN’T MEAN YOU HAVE TO GET PAID)

Cameron’s motto following election was his vow to ‘make work pay’ – let’s see how he has done so far!

Image: The Guardian

Image: The Guardian

Most people classed as being in poverty are in work!

“For the first time, there are more people in working families living below the poverty line (6.7 million) than in workless and retired families in poverty combined (6.3 million), according to the 2013 annual survey of poverty trends from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation.”

 – Another first for Cameron, as a record of 5m people are stuck on low pay (2014)!

“An extra 250,000 people joined the ranks of the low-paid last year, bringing the total to a new high of 5.2m, according to a report from the Resolution Foundation.

The number of low-paid workers has become a serious problem, said the report, with almost one in four being stuck on that rate for the last five years.

Matthew Whittaker, chief economist for the Resolution Foundation, said that while low pay was likely to be better than no pay at all, being stuck on a low wage “creates not only immediate financial pressures, but can permanently affect people’s career prospects.”

More people in work are becoming dependent on help to get by

“In the past two years, 93% of new people claiming housing benefit have been working.” Apr 2013

If you’re on a workfare scheme (working for free under threat of losing your benefits) you’re counted as ‘in employment!

“The Office of National Statistics confirmed this in response to a parliamentary question.”

Hmmm, maybe that helps explain why there are already more people ‘in employment’ in the UK than ever before….

– The Work Programme has been worse than doing nothing at all. It has been punishing claimants and rewarding private contractors for poor results.

The success rate in the first year for A4E , a private welfare-to-work provider, amounted to 3.5%, below the government’s minimum levels of 5.5%.The government said they expected “that providers will significantly exceed these minimum levels.”

“Effectively, the department was saying that if firms failed to hit these targets, they would actually be making the situation worse than it would have been if they had done nothing.

“So the government wanted to see 5.5 per cent of 18-24-year-olds claiming jobseekers’ allowance in sustained work after the first year. They got 3.4 per cent.

“DWP also wanted long-term jobs for 5.5 per cent of over-25s on jobseekers’ allowance. The actual result was 3.4 per cent.

“And they wanted the same percentage for new claimants of employment and support allowance (ESA) – the payment for some sick and disabled people that replaced incapacity benefit. Only 1.5 per cent of people from this group found sustained work.

“This last figure is especially poor and that is important, because getting people off ESA could be one of the keys to beating long-term unemployment.”

FactCheck, Why the Work Programme isn’t Working – Yet

Claimant cases cited being forced to apply for jobs they were not qualified for or could not get under threat of sanction. We were paying for a company to force unemployed people on poverty benefits to write meaningless applications under threat. Who is benefitting here?

The situation has not got any better in the years since with statistics released in 2014 revealing that the Work Programme had seen a 3% success rate for the 1.5million people referred. Additionally, 5 times as many people were sanctioned as found work. Again, a result that is worse than doing nothing at all. Yet, the entire work programme is projected to cost the public purse between £3 – 5bn in the five years from 2011.

Prevalence of Zero Hour Contracts

The Office For National Statistics revealed that over half of big companies used around 1.4 million zero hour contracts in 2014. While in some cases these are agreeable terms, over the last few years, the desperation of employees has been exploited through the use of zero hour contracts, which are presented as the only option by employers, leaving workers without holiday pay, sick pay and no promise of hours. They have also been used as management tool by companies.

“What we see actually, is that these contracts are being used to disempower the employee. So we’ve seen evidence of really bad management practice where someone is on a zero hour contract, their boss says ‘I want you to work Saturday.’ They might say ‘I can’t’ or ‘I can’t get childcare’ for example, or ‘I would simply rather not’, and they are zeroed down, which is effectively where they’re pushed to very few or no hours in the medium or longer term. So that’s in effect, using these contracts as a management tool, when that’s not what they’re intended for and that’s a great imbalance of power between the employer and the employee.”

Giselle Cory, Resolution Foundation

This open letter by Steve Thomson serves as a heartbreaking example of what this type of contract can do to employees when abused:

AN OPEN LETTER – TO JD WETHERSPOON

I have dined in your establishments many times but I write to inform you that I will never do so again and nor will any of my friends or family.

The reason for this is that my stepson has the misfortune to work in your Thomas Sheraton bar in Stockton and I am now aware of the basis upon which you operate and profit.

He is “employed” on a zero hours basis and earns barely enough to feed himself. Not long after joining your establishment he got into trouble with his rent due to the extremely low wages and was evicted from his home. I blame the basis of his employment with you for this. He now lives 2 miles away from your bar and is obliged to walk this distance to and from work as he does not earn enough to afford public transport. Yesterday my wife was obliged to buy him new shoes as he had worn holes in his existing ones. I think it is appalling that you do not provide your kitchen staff with appropriate footwear. If you feel that this communication is becoming a stream of negative comments then I urge you to read on as I have more to say. This 4 mile round trip trudge is sometimes made to attend a one hour shift. Unbelievable, a day’s work of just ONE HOUR. Furthermore, if he attends expecting a longer shift this is sometimes not the case as he is sent home if trade is slack. He, your employee takes all the risk, you the employer take none. You’ll note that I do not mention his name. This is for fear of reprisals. Before you scoff, let me tell you this: When he first joined you, after two months of working every single weekend he politely enquired if he might have a weekend off. He was given the weekend off but worked no other hours either. A genuine ZERO hours. This was clearly a reprisal and he has never asked for the weekend off again.

The only way he can survive on such grindingly low wages is by getting benefits top ups. In order to do this he must provide pay slips which you do not provide. He is obliged to download them and print them himself and given that he will never be able to afford a computer and printer so long as he works for you, he must go to the library. I put it to you that it takes him more effort to work for you for a pittance than it does me to fulfill a full time job.

Clearly your business model requires that the public purse subsidise your employee’s wages. This to my mind makes your firm and others like you one of the benefit scroungers we hear so much about these days.

Yours sincerely

STEVE THOMPSON

Removal of employment rights 

And to add to all that, Cameron has taken it upon himself to remove employment rights during his term. There’s been his introduction of a tribunal fee for employees who want to take their employer to court, apparently to encourage settlements out of court. Yet, this only harms the already powerless employee, and it “has severely limited access to justice for workers, according to research from the Universities of Bristol and Strathclyde.”

Some declared Cameron’s actions as a ‘war’ on workplace rights as he backed proposals to make it easier to sack staff without explanation with a “fire at will” policy (NICE!), as well as changes to redundancy notice periods to a third of what they were, and cap compensations for unfair dismissals.

So Cameron has made the jobs market one stricken with misery, in work poverty, bad conditions and low employee rights (and sometimes no pay at all!) and now he wants as many of us to take part in it as possible. Great!

 

Image: The Telegraph

Image: The Telegraph

 

 2) IF AUTOMATION IS NOT TAKING AWAY JOBS, YOU’RE NOT DOING IT RIGHT 

Checkouts are being replaced up and down the country, removing jobs from people who, in our current system, are then punished for not having a job. The takeover of technology is going to become more commonplace, and we need to move with it. Technological advances can, will and should free us from the tedious and mundane.

Yes, people’s attitudes to work may change, but the UK needs more flexibility as we are currently seeing one section of society work so much they are driven to poor health, and another section who cannot find work and are driven to poverty. John Ashton, a leading UK scientist commented on this last year:

“When you look at the way we lead our lives, the stress that people are under, the pressure on time and sickness absence, [work-related] mental health is clearly a major issue. We should be moving towards a four-day week because the problem we have in the world of work is you’ve got a proportion of the population who are working too hard and a proportion that haven’t got jobs”, Ashton said.”

Further, the New Economics Foundation say that we could all work a 21 hour work week and sustain ourselves to the standards we have now, with extra time for ourselves:

“A ‘normal’ working week of 21 hours could help to address a range of urgent, interlinked problems: overwork, unemployment, over-consumption, high carbon emissions, low well-being, entrenched inequalities, and the lack of time to live sustainably, to care for each other, and simply to enjoy life.”

Cameron says he wants to overtake Germany in the race to ‘full employment.’ 

“Germans work on average around 1413 hours a year – one of the lowest rates in the OECD, and much lower than the average 1776 in other EU countries. This averages out at just under 30 hours a week.

Despite this, Germans are still more productive per head, per hour compared to the UK who work much longer hours (an average of 43 per week).

Germans also have an average of 40 days holiday a year including bank holidays. This is much higher than the European average of 27, and accounts for an extra 2.5 weeks worth of time off.”

The Alts: Why We Need To Talk About Germany

Anyone hear Cameron mention any of this? Working less, with more holidays? No? weird. Anyone would think he wants us to submit to an economy of low pay, bad working conditions, poverty and restricted employment rights just to keep us busy!

The UK also has the highest rates of work related illnesses in the EU. This is only getting worse in environments of low pay and falling working conditions.

We should be talking about initiatives like the Universal Basic Income, which guarantees all of us some basic subsistence to live. And it is very feasible:

“Natalie Bennett, Green Party leader, backs the idea of the Universal Basic Income and has noted that around £7000 a year could be allocated to every UK citizen through the removal of the over-complicated benefits system and staff. The Citizens Income Trust estimate that £10,000 for everyone could be achieved through these measures and adjustments elsewhere.”

Some may decry the UBI as radical policy, but seeing 1 million people use a food bank when we have enough food, seeing homelessness rising when we have enough homes, and witnessing a wealth gap of such disparity that by next year the 1% could have more than the 99%, is surely far more so. Read our article on the Universal Basic Income to find out more.

Image: Basic Income UK

Image: Basic Income UK

 

 3) THE PROBLEM IS NOT JOBS, IT’S WEALTH DISTRIBUTION AND INCOME

There are more people working than ever, but growing numbers of them are in poverty. The problem is pay, but Cameron’s jobs promises always seem to be divorced from mention of this.

Further, Cameron has actively taken part in a shift of money and power away from the poor to the rich. He and his government make choices everyday that say putting people into poverty, into hunger, into destitution is worth it, but cuts to corporate welfare are not even talking points:

“Benefits are what we grudgingly hand the poor; the rich are awarded tax breaks. Cut through the euphemisms and the Treasury accounting, however, and you’re left with two forms of welfare. Except that the hundreds given to people sleeping on the street has been deemed unaffordable. Those millions for $150bn Disney, on the other hand, that’s apparently money well spent –whoever coined the phrase “taking the Mickey” must have worked for HM Revenue.”

Aditya Chakrabortty, Cut benefits? Yes let’s start with our £85bn corporate welfare handout

Cameron and Osborne went to the EU to defend bankers bonuses for the bankers. Iain Duncan Smith went to court to protect the identities of workfare providers.

Cameron’s ‘full employment’ will be nothing less than ‘full exploitation’. At a time when all of us could be working less and having more freedom, Cameron is promising us a world of full employment, in the jobs market he has helped design for our misery. He has worked to grant more power to the powerful, from the powerless. Another term will see this trend continue.

unnamed-1

The Market Society

kamsandhu —  January 22, 2015 — 3 Comments

Following on from ‘The Success of Inequality’, we delve deeper into the effects of ‘The Market Society’…

‘The more things money can buy, the harder it is to be poor’, argues Michael Sandel in this Guardian, Comment is Free video. When money determines access to basic human necessities such as healthcare, education and political voice, inequality becomes far more important. Sandel claims that we have already made some of these destructive financial moves, becoming a ‘market society’ rather than using a ‘market economy’ as a tool.

We are currently seeing a huge transfer of public money and public services go to private hands, but little is said of the true contradictory effect of these moves.

Outsourcing public services and institutions such as the NHS or prisons, or providing cash incentives for short-term results, generally acts to hollow out the true purpose of the service. The nature of the service will tend to mould itself around the new motivation: profit – a motive hammered down through management from shareholders, CEOs and investors. In the following examples we see how this can destroy the purpose of services:

Healthcare

Putting private healthcare companies, who’s only motivation is profit, into the NHS risks the standards of a universal system, fractures it and creates unaccountability.

The NHS is one of the best healthcare systems in the world, but it is under threat.

Part of the reason the NHS is so effective is because the entire system has been run as a complete public service. This allows cohesion between departments, access to cheaper medication and supplies, as it is one large healthcare provider (which means value for money to the taxpayer), and management sees input from doctors and nurses who can focus on providing the best, effective service and have the best knowledge to do this.

Private healthcare firms looking to profit from NHS contracts exchange the priorities from providing the best care to making the most profit. Virgin Healthcare did not exist before NHS contracts came up to tender, demonstrating the lack of background, expertise and track record required to take on these contracts. In 2011/2 Virgin Care won a £450m NHS contract to take over a practice in Surrey:

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

Earlier this month, Hinchingbrooke Hospital became the first hospital declared ‘inadequate’ by the Care Quality Commission in providing care for patients, instead putting patient safety at risk.

The report from the CQC said the hospital was substantially and frequently short-staffed, particularly in the A&E department.

Cutting staff hours is a common trope used by companies to save money. Hinchingbrooke hospital is run by private healthcare company Circle.

RealFare

RealFare

Another reason privatisation of the NHS is ineffective is because it breaks up the system. It causes problems in cohesion and communication with different departments. And perhaps the most telling aspect of privatisation and it’s motives is that companies buy up only the most profitable and easy to run areas of healthcare, leaving the difficult areas to the public purse. So, the taxpayer and the NHS is laden with the difficult and expensive areas of healthcare, whilst seeing all the profitable departments sink rewards into private pockets. The only ones gaining from this transaction are private healthcare investors. The public, the NHS as a whole, staff and public money are all losing out.

In 2013, it was the coalition government’s treatment of the NHS as a business that lead to criticisms from the influential medical journal, The Lancet:

“Reading headlines last week, such as ‘Struggling A&E units to get £500m bailout’ and ‘NHS managers to get price comparison website’, one might be forgiven for thinking that the current coalition government views the NHS as a failing bank or business,” it said.

“This stance is one of the most cynical, and at the same time cunning, ways by which the government abdicates all responsibilities for running a healthcare system that has patient care and safety at its heart.”

 

If you want examples of private healthcare systems to compare, look no further than America. A country which spends the most on healthcare, and yet has the worst standards and results among wealthy countries.

Image: Leftfootforward

Image: Leftfootforward

 

Clive Peedell, National Health Action Party: “The American Medical Profession lost public support faster than any other group during the rapid commercialisation of their healthcare system in the 70’s and 80’s. They lost huge public support because they were putting money before patients.
“When the patient comes in, they say ‘well you need this procedure’. They make money. So if there’s a borderline decision whether someone actually needs a procedure or doesn’t, [for] all those borderline decisions, they’ll give that treatment.
“Now prostate cancer, I manage prostate cancer. If you go and see a prostate surgeon in America, you get a prostatectomy. If you see a radiation oncologist, you’ll get radiotherapy. So it depends who you see and what treatement. In the UK we have careful discussion in our meetings. We all do what’s best for the patient, we give the patient a choice in terms of what treatment they want to have.”
Max Keiser : “So if I go to Kings Cross station and I accidentally get on the wrong train, the conductor doesn’t bother whether I’m on the wrong train or not. They’re gonna stamp my ticket. Similarly, you’re saying in the healthcare system, if I happen to wander into the wrong department in the hospital, they’ll just give me whatever procedure they’re doing over there in the hospital. They don’t really care what the situation is at all. They’ve got money to make, they’ve got quotas to meet…”
Clive Peedell: “If you’ve got the money in the United States, you can get very good care. It’s a system that’s got islands of excellence in a sea of misery because for 50 million uninsured people, it’s a disaster.”

Outsourcing work programmes

As part of coalition welfare reforms, A4E, a for-profit welfare-to-work company were contracted in at taxpayer’s expense to help jobseekers into work. Cameron promised a revolution in welfare to work programmes and quickly made A4E chairwoman, Emma Harrison, the family tsar. Cameron promised that those stuck in long term unemployment would see the greatest support and results.

However, one year into the Work Programme and the initial results from A4E were grim reading. Over 94,000 people were attached to A4E work programmes. Of these, 3,400 had successful outcomes with employment lasting longer than three months. The cost to the taxpayer for these 3,400 outcomes was £46m. That’s around £13,500 per person in work.

The success rate for A4E amounted to 3.5%, below the government’s minimum levels of 5.5%.The government said they expected “that providers will significantly exceed these minimum levels”.

“Effectively, the department was saying that if firms failed to hit these targets, they would actually be making the situation worse than it would have been if they had done nothing.

“So the government wanted to see 5.5 per cent of 18-24-year-olds claiming jobseekers’ allowance in sustained work after the first year. They got 3.4 per cent.

“DWP also wanted long-term jobs for 5.5 per cent of over-25s on jobseekers’ allowance. The actual result was 3.4 per cent.

“And they wanted the same percentage for new claimants of employment and support allowance (ESA) – the payment for some sick and disabled people that replaced incapacity benefit. Only 1.5 per cent of people from this group found sustained work.

“This last figure is especially poor and that is important, because getting people off ESA could be one of the keys to beating long-term unemployment.”

FactCheck, Why the Work Programme isn’t Working – Yet

It wasn’t long before whistleblowers and ‘customers’ (as they are called when being sent to A4E, rather than jobseekers) were speaking out about the problems with the provider. Staff were plied with hundreds of cases, leading them to deal with their ‘Top 10’ that month to hit targets and secure income, leaving those harder to help without support and at the bottom of the pile. When the focus is on income rather than providing the best support, ‘easier’ cases were quicker to deal with. Claimants who found work on their own were also cashed in on by providers. This is a subject touched upon by the jobcentre advisor we interviewed last year:

“I am unable to emphasise enough what a massive con and waste of taxpayer’s money this is. Daily, I speak to those poor souls on this mad scheme and many who have returned after a 2 year stint. How journalists have not scooped this, I do not know.  The payment by results contract is an incentive to do nothing. Look at it like this; you are a private company paid to get people into work. You have a financial investment. Who do you invest that money in? Mr Jones who is highly educated and has only recently been made redundant? Or Mr Simpson who has been out of work for years and needs everything from numeracy and literacy training to PC skills? Mr Jones may only need a £50 interview suit or most likely no intervention at all – he will find work on his own. Bingo! The Government will pay you £2,500 if he starts work and stays there for 6 months. You could invest a hell of a lot of your staff resources and profits in getting Mr Simpson to a job ready state, but it’s a huge gamble. You get a higher reward but your losses are higher if he doesn’t find work. Private companies do not like this kind of risk. This is why it is now without question that Work Programme providers ‘park’ the harder to help customers. I have seen this relentlessly for the past couple of years and I do not think anyone could deny this is what happens. I ask customers what the WP is doing for them and they tell me they are lucky if they get a phone call every few months. But, if this person finds a job on his own (which does happen) the WP provider could get £12,000+.”

Interview with a Jobcentre Advisor , RealFare

Other claimant cases cited being forced to apply for jobs they were not qualified for or could not get under threat of sanction. We were paying for a company to force unemployed people on poverty benefits to write meaningless applications under threat. Who is benefitting here?

The situation has not got any better in the years since with statistics released in 2014 revealing that the Work Programme had seen a 3% success rate for the 1.5million people referred. Additionally, 5 times as many people were sanctioned as found work. Again, a result that is worse than doing nothing at all. Yet, the entire work programme is projected to cost the public purse between £3 – 5bn in the five years from 2011.

Those that this work programme revolution was meant to help, the long-term unemployed, are undesirable and risky ‘investments’, and thus are neglected in the system purported to serve them. Arguably, the work programme is pushing them further away from work and support, whilst those able to find work on their own are cynically cashed in on by a company.

Simply adding a cash incentive for private companies to provide a service that requires support and long term goals, does not solve the problem. It merely moulds the shape of the service to the area that provides quickest, highest return because the goal of a profit driven company is profit. Under pressure, the bottom line comes first.

Political Voice

Who does our government represent? Who do they work for?

Adding financial leeway and incentives through donations (as above with Paul Ruddock and the NHS) is seeing parts of our society being sold to those who are not providing the greatest social good or service but whoever rubs shoulders with and stuffs the pockets of our politicians. Indeed, sometimes those who participate in the very ‘cancer eating our democracy’ (Richard Murphy’s view of tax evasion and avoidance), are held in the highest regard. Gary Barlow made a donation to the Conservative Party and was then put forward for an OBE by David Cameron. Barlow also took part in a tax avoidance scheme with bandmates. Tax avoidance and evasion is estimated to cost the economy over £100bn and rising. Enough to pay off the deficit. But Gary Barlow is rewarded, defended even, by our PM.

Companies also gain access to politicians through lobbying, a manipulative trick costing millions, seen as an investment by companies in exchange for political sway and favourable concern in policy. Further still, these lobbying meetings are a secret.

‘Whoever you vote for, big business gets in’ 

Pleasing business interests seems high on the list of all the main political parties. And while the language of profit and business infiltrates all aspects of our political sphere, we neglect to realise or debate the problems with this design. As Sandel notes, this sees us becoming a ‘market society’ as opposed to using a ‘market economy’ as a tool. This is why we have a housing crisis which is intent on building more luxury housing, likely to stay empty for months at a time, whilst our social housing waiting list continues to grow into the millions. A market society does not seek the route to creating a better society for all, but a more profitable climate for itself, and therefore the very nature of this as a basis for a political system is severely flawed.

We need a political sphere that acknowledges this.

Our current politics does not. Instead, we are witnessing the metamorphosis that seeks to empty our creative and social systems of their value and replace them with business jargon and the financialisation of every human and their needs. A case in point being the appointment of Sajid Javid; a man who was vice-chairman of a bank at 25 and has a history of financial employment has become, you guessed it, Minister for Culture.

Our political system has come to reflect the image of those it serves. Two thirds of the cabinet are millionaires and most of our MPs come from private schools which are attended by 7% of the population. As the gap between rich and poor increases, politicians become more removed from the realities of the lives of the 99%, and their diaries reflect their interests as such.

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by Kam Sandhu @KamBass

The Success of Inequality

kamsandhu —  January 20, 2015 — 5 Comments

‘The prosecution, political prostitution, the more money you pay, the further away solution’ says Lauryn Hill, in the incredibly pertinent ‘Mystery of Iniquity‘, where Hill describes a morally bankrupt system, from the setting of a courtroom. We are taught to believe we have a democracy. That money should not buy you greater access or a better chance at justice, or the manipulation of a judicial decision, and yet we also quietly accept that court cases are expensive, especially if you want to get a ‘good lawyer.’

The US, where Hill is based, has 5% of the world’s population, and 25% of the world’s prison population. A fact that cannot be separated from the private prison system in America: a system which profits from the incarceration of human beings. Pursuing profit above all else is enshrined in law for corporations. The ‘success’ of the private prison business and it’s power in politics sees guarantees from states for high-occupancy rates of over 90% in contracts.

Similarly, here in the UK, public services and democratic institutions are lead by profit. Our public services are being sold to political party donors. Business interests are top priority, and their access to our politicians has become norm.

We are sold the idea that what finds profit is acceptable, regardless of it’s moral compliance. This narrative is incredibly useful to the handful of those who now own half the world’s wealth. Alternately, it is wildly destructive for the rest of the world’s population. And yet, we see ourselves submitting to an economy that has come to control society for the very few.

Imiage: ici.ca

“It’s a myth that we’re a fair society. We have to take that needle out of our arms” – Reverend Sekou, In Ferguson

We’ve been given ‘villains’ to chastise as evil; the poor, the foreigner, the terrorist. Meanwhile success is embodied in the institutions in our society as the old, rich, white man, in suits, in high-flying jobs, in the city. They are unrelentingly the shape of our politicians, businessmen, bankers and financiers. These are the leaders in our democracy, while the brown faces from lands with no big city scapes, and different attire are the ‘rogues’, ‘strange’, ‘undemocratic’, ‘violent’, ‘in need of liberation’.

I highlight this to demonstrate the ways in which we internalise and justify the image of ‘our’ leaders, as intrinsically good and democratic. In 2013, a poll showed that 59% of Britons thought that less than 10,000 Iraqis had died from the invasion that begun in 2003By 2013, it is estimated this figure was actually half a million10,000 people were killed in Iraq in 2013 alone. This internalised imagery of ‘good’ works to minimise understanding of destructive acts performed by these leaders.

Similarly, austerity has been a successful propaganda exercise which replaces bankers and financiers on the pedestal while ordinary folk live out the consequences of their greed and control.

“If you look back to 2008, the stories on BBC News, all over the papers, the banks were suddenly crooks. When Northern Rock collapsed, the banks were crooks, they were all exposed. The Guardian was full of tombstones of copy about how the banks were rotten from the inside. It was the story.

A glimpse. That story ended after about three months and it was turned around, that it wasn’t really the bankers, but it all came down to a national debt and a controlled narrative was there and it’s called austerity and that debt had to be paid off. Why? Why did it have to be paid off?

So we saw this glimpse of the truth of this massive criminality……all the rotten architecture had collapsed…almost collapsed. Banks were nationalised. Banks were nationalised with no conditions. The consciousness of how this happened which was there, for I suppose about six months, was, thanks to a very effective propaganda system, was shifted. That it wasn’t the banks’ fault, it was our fault.”

John Pilger on the ABC of Media Power

Austerity in fact provides the cover to siphon wealth, resources and exploit the public at large, while they are braced to expect a blow. While those 83 own half the world’s wealth, the UK is seeing it’s new industry take shape in the form of food banks, with reports of malnutrition amongst the nation’s poorest. The following Adam Curtis video comments on this extraction of money..

 

We are taught to cradle and aggrandize this image of suited men in skyscrapers, in big important meetings, in big important cities. This image is given further adoration from the complexity and confusion of the language that surrounds it, carefully constructed to minimise public understanding of the psychopathic criminality involved.

Benefit fraud? Scroungers on the sponge.

We are littered with ways, colloquial and indignant, to describe the ‘villains’ we are presented with. But what of the Libor scandal?  Sub-prime mortgages? Fraudulent rating agencies? The Forex scandal? Much more elaborate financial jargon. No colloquial pseudonyms offered up by countless front pages (we rarely see these examples of huge corruption on the front page). No new ‘wealth porn’ genre on TV programming.

The irony and deception being that this is where the true scandal lies. This is where greed manifests above the law on a grotesque scale. The financial terrorism, which has resulted in the manipulation of trillions of dollars of transactions in the Libor scandal alone, has seen no one jailed.

Austerity is seeing us as a society slave-like in conditions of low pay and in-work poverty, fed divisive rhetoric all to serve the very few that really benefit from this system.

The truth is that the image of the city, suits and skyscrapers has come to represent a far more violent circus, but our minds have not caught up. We are rebutted with daily propaganda and internalisation of this as ‘good’.

When the pursuit of greed and self-interest becomes the determination of success, it creates a legal system that supports it and a culture that celebrates it.

‘I’m just doing my job’

We are taught that it is a ‘cut throat’, ‘dog eat dog’ world without ‘stopping to think whether anyone has actually ever seen a dog eat another dog’, in the words of Nicodemus Reuben, a friend and poet.

These ever present, soulless proverbs run alongside the narrative that we are a democratic and equal society. They encourage  individualism, distrust and acceptability of pursuing money at any cost. We promote ourselves and our society as moral with intrinsic moral values and yet are mentally prepared in doublethink from youth to enter an economy and ultimately a world, with no moral boundary and no personal responsibility. We may say ‘it’s just my job’, ‘I’m just doing what I am told,’ and this justification is used for occupations which vary by several orders of magnitude from soldiers to the lobbyists fighting against climate change regulation to profit from a few more years of plundering the earth’s resources.

We are taught to accept and believe in this playing field where corruption, self-interest and greed is not only allowed and present, but celebrated. These parameters are set for our entire work life which plays no small part in how we live.

“One of the delusions promoted by our society is the idea that great destructiveness is most often rooted in great cruelty and hatred. In reality, evil is not merely banal, it if often free of any sense of being evil – there may be no sense of moral responsibility for suffering at all.

….Normally, the implicit assumption is that signing a contract and being paid to do a job absolves us of all further moral responsibility. We have an agreement to do as we are told – an ostensibly innocuous act. If the people with whom we made this agreement then choose to send us to incinerate  and dismember civilians, that is their moral responsibility, not ours.

..in our society exactly this self-surrender is promoted and affirmed by the fact it is demanded of us by every corporaton that ’employs’ us (like a tool), requiring us to sign our agreement to strict terms and conditions, and by the fact that huge costs are imposed on those of us unwilling to be ‘team players.’ We are trained to see this as ‘just the way the world is’ – something to be accepted rather than thought about.”

P. 173, Guardians Of Power, Media Lens – David Edwards, David Cromwell

 

This system now only serves a very few. The rest of us locked into the belief that if we were more competitive, made better choices or tried harder, we could be up there too. It is this belief and the submission to this dysfunctional economy that enables control of us as the 99%.

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“The 1% is 1%. The 99% cannot all fit in the 1%

 

“The whole point of these inequalities is that if you run a society where  you tell people if you work hard enough, if you try hard enough, if you get to the very top you’ll be okay. But if you just miss the very top, if you get to the bottom of the top 10% you’ll have an insecure pension, you’ll have to worry about your old age, your health service might not be well provided, that is an unfair situation.

 

“You cannot all get in, or in  fact anywhere near the top 1%. A happy society is not one  where the 1% have done okay, and you tell everyone that’s what they should be aiming for.”

In this economy, insecurity is accelerating for us all. We are left unsure about access to basic human needs – housing, education, healthcare. The negative effect on the mental health of our society accelerates along with this insecurity.

We can have better security, and a society that meets our basic needs. This would provide a better society, mentally and physically, for us all. We already have many of the resources, enough rooms to house people, enough food to feed them, but this system encourages the distribution of resources to flow to the top 1% regardless of the deprivation for those at the bottom, and regardless that there is plenty for us all. There are examples of these societies already, where the welfare of the public at large is put first. But we also need to do away with the images of success that propagate this system of poisonous inequality.

by Kam Sandhu @KamBass

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Sign up for updates via info@realfare.co.uk

 

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“While Cameron insists that he occupies the centre ground of British politics, that he shares our burdens and feels our pain, he has quietly been plotting with banks and businesses to engineer the greatest transfer of wealth from the poor and middle to the ultra-rich that this country has seen in a century.

“At the moment tax law ensures that companies based here, with branches in other countries, don’t get taxed twice on the same money. They have to pay only the difference between our rate and that of the other country. If, for example, Dirty Oil plc pays 10% corporation tax on its profits in Oblivia, then shifts the money over here, it should pay a further 18% in the UK, to match our rate of 28%. But under the new proposals, companies will pay nothing at all in this country on money made by their foreign branches.

“Foreign means anywhere. If these proposals go ahead, the UK will be only the second country in the world to allow money that has passed through tax havens to remain untaxed when it gets here. The other is Switzerland. The exemption applies solely to “large and medium companies”: it is not available for smaller firms. The government says it expects “large financial services companies to make the greatest use of the exemption regime”. The main beneficiaries, in other words, will be the banks.

“But that’s not the end of it. While big business will be exempt from tax on its foreign branch earnings, it will, amazingly, still be able to claim the expense of funding its foreign branches against tax it pays in the UK. No other country does this. The new measures will, as we already know, accompany a rapid reduction in the official rate of corporation tax: from 28% to 24% by 2014. This, a Treasury minister has boasted, will be the lowest rate “of any major western economy”. By the time this government is done, we’ll be lucky if the banks and corporations pay anything at all. In the Sunday Telegraph, David Cameron said: “What I want is tax revenue from the banks into the exchequer, so we can help rebuild this economy.” He’s doing just the opposite.”

George Monbiot, 2011

Read the full referenced article on George Monbiot’s website

By Tomas Davidson

Ever more regularly I hear phrases like “austerity”, “rationalisation” and “deficit” bandied about in social parlance, a backdrop for pub conversations, the soundtrack to staff room lunch hours, but rarely do I pay it much attention. In fact, apart from some ill-informed lambasting of our financial system (normally after a few ales) I barely even think about it.

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I can no longer disregard these terms as abstract notions, small-scale concerns that bubble around quietly in my subconscious but must recognise them for what they are; real threats to the lives and liberties of the most vulnerable in our society. I know this because I know what is going to happen to the Citizens Advice Bureau.

I was a volunteer and employee of the Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB) in Manchester for 3 years. This is a service that supports 30,000 people every year, day in and day out. Over the course of my time there I was amazed by the commitment and compassion shown by its volunteers and staff and watched CAB help countless people perilously perched on the verge of disaster be pulled back from the brink through hard work and a seemingly bottomless wealth of knowledge. Benefit appeals, homelessness applications, unfair dismissal claims, debt advice, these are all the normal affairs and narrowly averted disasters that occur inside the CAB offices every single day.

The latest austerity measures, however, are set to toll the death knell for the Citizens Advice Bureau in Manchester. Manchester City Council are proposing cuts to advice services of 50-75%. This, on top of the removal of the majority of legal aid contracts, will be one wound too many for the charity.

If the proposals go ahead, the already stretched service will face total dissolution. The three remaining bureaus in Manchester will be forced to close, the city wide telephone advice service will go dead and the outreach services will stop. Redundancies will abound.

Apart from the tragedy of losing these skilled workers, whose many years of experience in the advice sector will be discarded and who may soon have a very personal need for the kind of advice they were trained to give, who will be the real victims of austerity? As always, it will be the most vulnerable and misrepresented who will pay the price. With the last bastion spent these people must now unravel the complex entanglement of the benefit system alone. They must advise themselves when their houses are to be repossessed or when bailiffs come knocking, lying about their statutory powers. Bills will pile up, appeals will go un-submitted and employees will be subjugated.

So what have I learnt about “austerity”, “rationalisation” and “deficit”? Extreme spending cuts are for the best right? The only way to drag the country out of a black hole of debt? Call me cynical but in a nation where household disposable income fell for everyone but the richest 5th of households this year, where the rates of tax continues to be slashed for the top 1%, where the proportion of GDP going to the state will be the lowest in western Europe by 2015 (lower than even the US); I have to question the mentality behind removing the provision of advice and dissolving a charity symbolic of our right to question the authority of the administration. A charity which attempts to champion social recourse.

In my opinion CAB are being shut down by jargon. Language is being used to tell a powerful political story that convinces us that spending cuts are a necessary evil, used to excuse social injustice, and to justify deprivation and despair. Shut down people’s means of expressing their dissatisfaction and you effectively silence them.

“Austerity”, “rationalisation” and “deficit” – it’s a gagging order.

Please sign this and make our voices heard.

This is the name of the talk held by the High Pay Centre last week. We have previously shared their brilliant work and along with this event, they also released a booklet with insightful essays that we suggest you read – you can download them here. 

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The talk began with Professor John Kay highlighting the stark reality of how entrenched the heavy and unfair hand of business in our government has come to be accepted:

“Prof Kay cited a case in the US in the 1870’s where a lobbyist had been hired by a company that subsequently refused to pay him as they didn’t like the outcome. The lobbyist sued the company.The case went to the Supreme court that took the view that lobbying was so repugnant, the contract was unenforceable.

“He contrasted this with a decision by the US Supreme court in 2010 that took the view that lobbying was protected by free speech.”

We are given a mantra day in, day out that business interests are somehow the interests of us all. That paying bank managers more is what we must do to ‘keep the talent’ that has overseen the corrupt architechture of the banks, with full impunity. So much so, that further damage is allowed, further corrupt practice, further lives ruined by the allowance of these interests to oversee the ‘solutions.’

Business in Government 

Everyday we see our ‘leaders’ bowing to corporate interests. Blair is believed to have once said of his alliance with Murdoch “It is better to be riding the tiger’s back than let it rip your throat out.” Throughout changes in party colours and faces in government, Murdoch has remained a presence in 10 Downing Street. Blair is Godfather to Murdoch’s grandchild, The Chipping Norton Set describe a village of affluent, connected power which include David Cameron, Rebekah Brookes and more. Not forgetting Cameron’s PR man throughout the election and beyond was former editor of the now defunct News of The World, Andy Coulson, who presided as editor during the phone hacking scandal. Indeed, have we ever seen a more successful ‘solution’ for corporate interests than in Leveson? The public are sold the idea of the investigation like no other, that justice will be served, before revealing that Blair advised Brooks to hold a public inquiry as he had done with Chilcot to peter out, to make some noise, but of no real consequence. Blair walked free.  As did Brooks and Murdoch after plenaries of amnesia.

Government decisions are now always made with corporate interests in mind. Murdoch’s power to distort the news with a 40% hold on UK media, is more important than public interest, or indeed, the truth to our politicians. Those funding political parties have sway over our laws and policies. Corporate lobbying is an investment, not an expense – the power given to companies, businesses and billionaires is access to the society we live in, a proven, working system of manipulating laws and motions to the interest of profit – with no interest paid to public feeling or indeed lives.

In the booklet from the High Pay Centre, Luke Hildyard, Deputy Director, describes in the foreword how controlled our politicians have come to be:

“During one meeting with a leading politician we were told that though they found a particular policy convincing, they were not prepared to say so publicly until business leaders do likewise….

Our experience at the High Pay Centre is instructive. Our polling suggests that an overwhelming majority of people support proposals to cap executive pay at a fixed multiple of their lowest paid worker. When I discussed the idea on Sky news – owned by one of the UK’s biggest corporations – the interviewer suggested, probably correctly, that ‘it was never going to happen.’ The Spectator noted no mainstream politician ‘would embrace such a provocatively anti-capitalist measure.’

That the idea of capping executive pay, at say,  a mere 75 times that of their lowest-paid worker is seen as more provocative than pay gaps of that size and larger is perhaps worrying. But the issue with corporate power is less about whether big business is right or wrong about certain policies, than whether it is sustainable for them to exert such influence in the face of public opinion.”

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And this is part of the crux, if it can be assumed that all ‘mainstream politicians’ could not support anti-capitalist measures, or anything that bucks the trend of money flowing to the top, it means we have no real choice (Read 8 Reasons why the UK is not a democracy).

Further, as business controls the leaders who speak about policy, and the media that feeds us information, business has worked hard to instil us with an amnesia that there can be anything other than this system. But there are plenty of alternatives now and in history…

“By the 1940s high rates of taxation deterred people at the top from trying to secure excessive pay rises. What was the point? They would receive only a fraction of the extra money when top tax rates were taken into account. To imagine what it was like, think of what the re-introduction of higher taxation today might mean. A chief executive could receive as little as 10% today on earnings over £500,000 a year, if they could be taxed at 90%. There would therefore be little point in asking for pay rises once you were on £500,000. Double your pay after that, to a nominal £1million a year, and you would receive only an extra £50,000 for all your supposedly additional efforts.”

Danny Dorling, All That Is Solid

This kind of taxation was taking place not so long ago. The fact that we have come so far in the changes to wealth distribution, shows how destructive this path is. Take a look at the news to see the entrenched contradictions of punishment and reward. The week the bedroom tax came in, which of those it affected two thirds were disabled, 96% had nowhere to move to in order to escape the charge, and arrears increased after it’s implementation. Some £14 from a person on between £65-150 a week can mean the difference between eating or heating. That same week, there was a tax cut for the rich, that would in essence eat up any of that money saved through hammering the poor. This is how in favour of business our government and entire system is. The news is littered with these contradictions – particularly during austerity.

The protection of these interests as we have seen in Leveson, in Chilcot, in Teresa May’s inability to find someone to head a child sex abuse inquiry into government who does not have links to those in question, in Priti Patel’s ‘rebellion’ as Conservative MP against plain cigarette packaging when she was an ex-lobbyist for the tobacco industry, in ex-Sun editor Richard Caseby’s lash out at the Guardian for inaccuracies in welfare reporting when his current organisation (a senior communications position at the DWP!) have been publicly reprimanded for manipulation of welfare statistics to push through punishing policy, demonstrate how much a part of the fabric they have come to feel. But they still are working against the public interest.

Image: Shouldwe.org

Image: Shouldwe.org

Last night, BBC Panorama did an investigation into small businesses who were made bankrupt by their banks following the 2008 crash. They did this by manipulating house price valuations and cutting them in half in order to hurry on business owners to sell their assets (despite enjoying good business prior to this) and by bringing in administrators to ‘help’ who would then gain access to business information, and continue administrating for the bank when they demand the business sell up. This shows how free these companies are to manipulate our entire lives for their benefit. And this happens everyday.

Tamasin Cave, from Spinwatch, was also at this HIgh Pay Centre talk. She had worked to instate a lobbying register, to give transparency to the world of corporate lobbying. Unsurprisingly, there is always a way out. A register has been instated but it is shoddy, there is no obligation to record the meetings that would shed light on political affiliations and decisions, and therefore it is of no use.

What the real results of overbearing and insidious corporate interests really mean is a society where these interests are neither punished, nor questioned. They are above the law. As we are choked on the image of potential benefit fraudsters, our entire society is under a heist by the city. The Libor scandal, where the manipulation of inter-bank lending rates affected trillions of pounds of transactions has still seen no one jailed, but the government has introduced an increase to a 10 year maximum penalty for benefit fraudsters to keep us all safe.

“At the very lowest level of housing fraud is someone begging for money for a bed for the night or just for a cup of tea, only to use the money they are given to buy a can of beer…Whether it’s £20 of unwarranted housing benefit claimed, £2000 cash in hand to a builder or a £200,000 bonus secured because your Libor guesses were correct (after having manipulated them with your mates), it is still fraud. It is, however, fraud that increases by several orders of magnitude as you move up the spectrum. It would take millions of acts of homeless people all uttering the same lie to equate to a single lie of a single banker awarded a bonus.”

Danny Dorling, All That Is Solid

by Kam Sandhu @KamBass
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Hestia, a charity delivering supported housing, registered care, domestic violence refuges, community outreach services and day centres across London, today expressed concerns about changes to the welfare system saying that Government reforms are failing vulnerable people – with less and less practical support being available to people in urgent need.

Hestia’s services support adults and children who are in crisis. For example they support people with mental health needs as well as helping 500 victims of domestic abuse every day through the largest number of domestic abuse refuges in the capital.

In responding to the Government’s current consultation on Local Welfare Provision, the charity spoke to staff and service users across its schemes to get a real view of how the removal of Community Care Grants and Crisis Loans, as well as cuts to discretionary funds are having on the most vulnerable in society.

Hestia found that vulnerable people are not being adequately protected by the current system.

A series of case studies found it common that women moving on from domestic abuse refuges would have no access to beds, fridges, cookers, washing machines or other essential household items as they moved into empty and unfurnished accommodation. This situation could remain unresolved for months due to current constraints and delays. The Government proposals could withdraw discretionary support entirely and make the situation even worse.

Patrick Ryan, Chief Executive of Hestia, said:

“From our experience of working with vulnerable people across London every day, we can see that the  previous changes to the welfare system are failing those most in need. We are concerned that further changes and reductions to discretionary support will have devastating effects on the most vulnerable.”

“We already see that discretionary assistance is inadequate to meet the needs of vulnerable people at a time of crisis. For example, we have seen women who are pregnant or with severe physical health needs being denied a bed to sleep in or a cooker to feed themselves for months on end.”

“One service manager stated that of the 290 tenants she supports, around a quarter had made enquiries for financial and practical assistance – and none of these had been successful under the current provision. These setbacks undo much of our work to rebuild people’s lives. The human and financial costs of not providing these essential necessities are much greater than the financial commitment required to do so.”