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It was Tony Benn’s 5th and most important question for the powerful, and likely a huge factor in voting apathy – How do we get rid of government? 

With a record of 70 broken pledges and counting, including increasing transparency, tackling youth unemployment, greener energy (Vote Blue, Go Less Green), the coalition have shown that governments are currently free to run roughshod over promises and proceed with any plan they wish.

But, if governments are not accountable to the public, we are not living in a democracy.

Image: London 24

Image: London 24

 

Some may bemoan the non-voters in Thursday’s 33.8% turnout, but when you note that the government we have (you know, the one that no one voted for) have reneged on all but a sorry handful of their election promises and yet are allowed to continue with impunity, I can’t blame them.

There should be ways to rid ourselves of a government. A system of accountability that keeps the political party in power in fear of exploiting votes that got them in.

If politicians thought they would be pulled from power when reversing on election promises, perhaps we’d see less flamboyant, but more honest pledges. Perhaps the PR machine would be less well adjusted to maintain the pantomime. I’m sure at least, we’d see more votes.

Not that politicians are interested in all that. There seems to be an enjoyment taken from the disaffected, under-served majority. Have you heard the new plans the government are undertaking to engage some of that whopping 66%? No, neither have I. Even for those that do vote, there’s a purgatory of mind-boggling strategic voting that no one knows the rules to. Pushing us to opt for a party you think might win rather than the one you want, frantically making compromises on our basic values before we’ve reached the ballot box. Democracy, circa 2014.

RFM - Government Transparency?

Creating conditions as opposed to unabashed free reign would be a restoration in the power of the collective public, undermining Westminster egos, ulterior motives and hidden agendas. If we want a government that works for us, this is a huge part of getting it.

It would also take some power from corporations, who at present gift change from bottomless bank balances, lobby and stuff influence-buying backhanders into the pockets of our decision makers. You need only type the words ‘white collar crime’ into Google to see the rollicking, sordid bed shared by politicians and millionaires.

Indeed, political impunity seems to extend to the fact that cabinets and MPs don’t even have to come close to representing us. I mean, what can we really expect when our government is vastly staffed with the same 1% of people that have continued siphoning wealth and resources whilst austerity rings out across the rest of us.

Perhaps if there was a conditionality to being in power, some of these people wouldn’t be our candidates.

by Kam Sandhu @KamBass

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Media: Burying Bad News

kamsandhu —  November 28, 2013 — Leave a comment

The other week, it was revealed that the Conservative party wiped all speeches, press releases and information on pre-election promises from their website, and also from the rest of the wider Internet. This can only be perceived as a move to delete evidence of broken promises and remove some ability to hold the party to account.

Delete_550

Image: The Blue Guerilla

Removing and minimising the release of ‘bad news’ has long been a tactic used across the board by political parties to censor the public knowledge of damage and corruption within government. And, while the deletion of years of speeches and promises from the Internet is a much bolder and damning move by the Conservative party, ‘burying bad news’ has been an ongoing stunt for years, creating smokescreens to hide negative results and reports, to speed through unpopular and controversial laws and moves, and to ensure the public are unaware of damaging and failing policies. The control of the news agenda has been practiced by politicians for some time now, in a world where PR aids the control of people, the release of news is a carefully planned strategy, which ultimately aims to ensure the public have little or no idea of the true failings of government.

The art of this tactic was honed by ‘The Grid’ – a meticulous, detailed diary of events and forward planning used by government. Announcements would be labeled as either ‘good news’ or ‘bad news,’ and slotted into play where they would be most complimentary for government.

Bad news would be released on busy days, ideally coinciding with other big announcements and distractions, in the shape of major sporting or global events, news about the Royal Family, the deaths of the very famous, Christmas and so on. Good news would be released on slow news days, and usually consisted of more investment in public services or new social schemes.

Image: BBC News

Image: BBC News

A prime example of this thinking is the Jo Moore scandal of 2001. On September 11th, as millions of people watched on in shock at the terrorist attack of the Twin Towers in New York, Jo Moore, a Labour Aide, sent a memo out saying: “It is now a very good day to get out anything we want to bury. Councillors expenses?”

The news Moore referred to was a minor change in Councillor pensions.

Unfortunately for Moore, the memo was leaked and outrage ensued. Rev David Smith, whose cousin died in the attack said in an interview with the BBC:

“This is basically burying bad news of a fairly insignificant kind under the bodies of 6,500 people. That is very, very bad for our nation.”

Despite the reaction to this type of news management, burying bad news continues to remain a basic strategy of government. For the coalition, the continued attacks and failures of policy affecting the disabled, benefit claimants, the young and the unemployed have called for huge censorships and restrictions on information which in some way or another, bury bad news. Here are some examples of the coalition’s attempts to smokescreen failures of it’s biggest policies:

Image: The Daily Mail

Image: The Daily Mail

1. Mid-Term Review – 70 broken pledges without any “fanfare”

In January of this year, Cameron was bracing himself for the mid-term review. Cameron had announced in December 2012 that he would provide the public with an audit and report of all targets and whether they had been missed or not.

But on Monday 7th January, the information was not released as expected.  On Tuesday, Cameron’s adviser Patrick Rock was seen carrying a document warning of “unfavorable coverage” over the “broken pledges” and insisted that the report could be published later that week without any “fanfare.”

In all, there were around 70 broken pledges including ones on criminal justice, pensions and the number of special advisers employed by government. The number of special advisers, responsible for the spin and PR of the coalition, had increased, demonstrating the continuing obsession with media manipulation and news agenda. Hardly the “transparent” government Cameron had promised.

Read more about this story here.

2. Youth Unemployment

The coalition set aside £1bn for the ‘Youth Contract’ to deal with youth unemployment. It offered subsidy to employers for taking on under 25s and amounted to £2275 for a six month job start.

Money was set aside for 160,000 contracts, but in May of this year only 21,000 had been applied for. Just over 2,000 of these had reached the full six month grant.

It was clear the Youth Contract had failed to deal with the huge problem of youth unemployment, with figures estimating that a third of unemployed youth had been unemployed for over 12 months. 15% had been unemployed for over 24 months, the worst rates since 1994.

Instead of releasing this news, the coalition held tight to the damning figures for months and refused to put them in the public domain. They buried and avoided the reaction to the failure of policy by simple refusal of release. Most likely, this extreme course of action was undertaken because of the sensitivity of the issue as well as the low figures. Long-term unemployment can have long-lasting and hugely damaging effects on young people. Many have warned of a ‘lost generation’as youth unemployment continues to top 1m. The World Health Organisation say that it is a health time bomb.

Still, it seems the Conservatives have adapted their plans for the next election; removing all benefits from the under 25s. How touching.

3. ATOS testing

ATOS testing has undoubtedly been one of the greatest disasters of the last few years, and yet the government have continued to ply the French Healthcare company with money and contracts reaching over £3bn worth in 2012.

ATOS won the £184m contract to be the sole provider of the Work Capability Assessments. Yet, the grounds on which this contract was won was fraudulent, as ATOS only went on to provide one seventh of the 740 promised testing centres. This meant sick and disabled people had to travel for miles to get to the centres and even these were sometimes inappropriate for certain conditions and disabilities.

The Department for Work and Pensions withheld this information for some time, until revealing it in response to a Freedom of Information Act lodged by the Disability News Service.

Unfortunately, the plight of ATOS testing did not stop there, as thousands of appeals, many upheld, were brought against ATOS decisions. Many sick and disabled people up and down the country were voicing the anxiety, humiliation and injustice they faced with the WCA.

An audit followed, which unsurprisingly returned some ugly results exposing an “unacceptable reduction” in the quality of ATOS reporting of disabled people’s eligibility for benefits – news that would surely harm the government’s decision to allow ATOS to continue administering tests.

And then came the news of the Royal Baby. As the Duchess of Cambridge went into Labour, the DWP released the report which called for supervision and training for all ATOS advisers. ATOS testing had clearly caused unnecessary and undue stress to thousands of sick and disabled people up and down the country at the taxpayer’s expense, and this report highlighted how untrained and unable staff were to make decisions on the support disabled people required.

But TV news and the papers were full of updates on the birth of a new Royal, and this provided the smokescreen to mask the ill treatment of our nation’s vulnerable. The DWP did respond to some who suggested they employed tactical news management, insisting they had made the news as “public as possible.”

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The coalition have done a lot to avoid the redress for failing policy. In these examples alone, we are not given a true representation of the continuing youth unemployment problems, the treatment of the sick and disabled and all policies implemented by the coalition. We have a right to know what the government are doing, and whether it is working. Restriction of this information is harmful to the people in need of help from policy, government and society.

Still, it is clear these are well honed tactics, and they grow ever bolder in lies, as Cameron purports to grant us a transparent government with audits of work, yet all the while the role of spin doctors continue and grow to present us with a maturing PR stunt.

We can never have a government that will solve our social problems, whilst we have one that seeks to disguise them. A government obsessed with media manipulation, spin and PR is one that will never be obsessed with serving the public the truth.

by Kam Sandhu @KamBass

Jad Adams is a journalist and broadcaster and Chair of the Nightwatch homeless charity in Croydon. Following his talk for BBC Radio 4’s Four Thought on how homelessness has been monetised (which you can listen to or read through Jad’s website here), we caught up with him to talk about the problems with government policy, attitudes and what we need to do to help the homeless….

Jad Adams image: Radio Times

Jad Adams image: Radio Times

You work with Nightwatch, a homeless charity based in Croydon. Could you tell us a bit about what you do? 

“Nightwatch is a voluntary organisation, all run by volunteers, which operates only in Croydon. We were set up in 1976. I’m the Chair of that organisation. We’ve got about 130 volunteers. We go out every evening and we also help people with other things like re-settling former homeless people into new accommodation and helping people with working clothes like steel-toe capped boots, because you can’t even walk onto a building site and ask for work without protective clothing, so we supply them with that protective clothing. Nightwatch has been going since 1979, I’ve been chair of the organisation since 1992.”

What sort of problems do the homeless people you deal with have? Is it just the stereotype of drug addicts and so on? What are the reasons some of the people you’ve met have ended up on the streets? 

“There are substance abuse issues with some people, but far from being the majority of them. Probably half the people we see at the moment are Eastern European, and if I look at the other section of people I see what they have in common normally, is something like an institutional background. Very often they were in children’s homes, they were in prisons, in mental institutions, they’ve been in the armed services. So very often, institutions are the main factor rather than substance abuse.

 “So while some are drinkers it’s not the majority by any means, and the most common psychological problems for homeless people is not alcoholism, it’s depression.”

“There are always some who are addicted and I often help re-settle former addicts who have been through treatment programmes. And there’s more drinking in the homeless community than there is in the general community. There are always a small number of homeless people who are drunk and very noisy, so sometimes, the public get the idea that all homeless people are drunk and noisy, and that’s not actually the case, it’s just that the ones that are the most visible are also the most drunk. So while some are drinkers it’s not the majority by any means, and the most common psychological problems for homeless people is not alcoholism, it’s depression.”

Are there many ex-servicemen on the streets?  

“The Ministry of Defence and the serviceman’s charities have really smartened up on this in the last ten years, and the reason, a rather cynical reason I think, is that we were involved in a couple of unpopular wars and the government didn’t want the men coming back from those wars to then become homeless because it would reflect badly on the government. I think that’s partly why, but I also think there’s been a recognition of the needs of ex-service people. So things have been better over the last few years. It’s one of the success stories, really. I used to see veterans of certainly the second world war, and the Korean war, and gulf war one which was 1991, and the falklands war which was 1982, and I saw people who were veterans of those wars. I haven’t yet seen any from Iraq or Afghanistan.”

What drew you to wanting to help the homeless? 

“That’s a very good question and if I knew the answer to it I would probably know myself better than I actually do. I don’t why some people choose some things and not others. I mean I am concerned about animal cruelty but I have never been a member of an animal charity. I have a friend who fosters mentally handicapped kids, I would never think of doing that. I’m glad someone does but it’s not in my nature to do that. I know people who would never want to be engaged with the homeless community but it has always felt to me to be right for me, something that I wish to do.”

What are the problems with people’s attitudes towards the homeless and government attitudes and policies?

“I think the public are very positive indeed towards homeless people. In fact, they’re so positive that some people pretend to be homeless in order to benefit from the generosity of the public. People who have got somewhere to live and aren’t badly off will sit with a card saying ‘homeless and hungry’ and people give them money. They can only do that sort of scam because people are so concerned about homelessness and are committed to wanting to end homelessness. There really aren’t that many people anymore that blame the homeless for their own condition, which used to be what people would say. ‘They want to be like that,’ they would say, ‘they want to sleep in doorways or their lifestyle pre-disposes them to do that’. So the public don’t particularly feel that way, they realise that people are victims of circumstances. They would like to help, they don’t know exactly what to do, but they would like to help.  Or they think that the government should help. But it’s very unclear to the public what you would do with a problem like homelessness.

 “I think the hostels said you’ve got to come either all the way into the system and you’ve got to sign up for housing benefit and we’ll process you though the hostel or if you don’t want to play, just stay outside.”

“The last government was generally positive towards homelessness but I think they have been lead by some of the big homeless charities to put all their efforts into hostels. And I can’t see hostels being the answer because there’s too many homeless people and not enough hostels and also hostels just aren’t good enough. They are not a solution to the problem of homelessness. They can be a kind of halfway house between street homelessness and prison. So in effect, you’re going into a hostel which has got lots of rules and you’re going to be in there for an indefinite amount of time. That’s what very often happens to people who get into the hostel system.”

Nightwatch Logo

Nightwatch Logo

You say big homeless charities have influenced the government, how so? 

“The government wanted to do something about homelessness very reasonably, and it was when homelessness was quite low. We hadn’t had a lot of Eastern Europeans coming in at that time, and the government was told that homelessness could be eradicated by the end of 2012, at least in London. And that clearly did not happen. The target of ending homelessness was nowhere near reach.

“So clearly we ought to say, ‘Oh right, it was a gallant effort but that was the wrong policy, let’s do something different.’ And no one seems to be saying that. I didn’t like to criticize the policy at the time because at least they were trying and some people indeed were helped. I can’t say that no one was ever helped by the policy of ‘No One Left Out’ but clearly that wasn’t a success, and we ought to be looking at other ways to help homeless people, other ways of getting people part-way into the system. Because I think the hostels said you’ve got to come either all the way into the system and you’ve got to sign up for housing benefit and we’ll process you though the hostel or if you don’t want to play, just stay outside.

“The charities had stopped looking at themselves as primarily charitable organisations and had started seeing themselves as businesses, that had to maintain a certain level of supply and a certain level of money running through in order to maintain their career structures and premises and so on.”

“I would much rather go to homeless shelters, where people can enter at will. They can refer themselves, they don’t have to be referred by some professional, which aren’t reliant on the stream of housing benefit, which is so difficult to get anyway. But once you’ve got it, it’s difficult to get out of.

“There were some specialist operations. There was some attempts to help people with substance abuse problems for example. Notably, the Westminster Drug Project has been very good in this field. But there was an awful lot of filling up hostels just for the sake of filling them up, in order to make sure the money supply continued to run through the charity. The charities had stopped looking at themselves as primarily charitable organisations and had started seeing themselves as businesses, that had to maintain a certain level of supply and a certain level of money running through in order to maintain their career structures and premises and so on.”

Why did that happen?

“I think that happens because that’s what organisations do. They get ossified. When you start pumping money into an organisation, it realises it wants to get bigger and get more money, and own more property and do more things and bid for more contracts and compete with other people that are doing the same things. That’s the way organisations work and it’s certainly the way they work in commercial fields, but I don’t think they should be working that way in the charitable field.”

 

by Kam Sandhu @KamBass
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Both the left and right in British politics are obsessed with economic outcomes.  The impact of a policy – whether it is a tax cut, tax rise, welfare reform or a free school meal – is almost exclusively evaluated and argued over in terms of its economic effect.  Will it make people better off? Who are the winners and losers?

We often seem to forget that policies have other effects too.  Extending free school meals, for example, will not just give parents more income, but more time.  In schools, it might give a stronger sense of togetherness amongst pupils (less us versus them).  For policy-makers, it will make it easier to improve children’s nutrition.

The same is true of welfare reform.  The research that more or often than not makes the headlines is that which prices up the impact of a new policy.  The IFS are masters at this.  A policy is judged as a success if it happens to put an extra fiver in someone’s wallet.

Yet we cannot understand the true impact of a policy without considering a broader range of outcomes.  And this is the case most poignantly in the area of welfare, where the most disadvantaged and vulnerable people in society have been subjected the most powerful policy changes.  Welfare reforms have made many people poorer, that’s true.  But the wider costs go way beyond tightened purse strings.

We got a sense of these costs this week, with new research in the BMJ showing a rise in suicide associated with the global recession.  My own research focuses on the health and well-being impact of unemployment and the ways in which welfare reforms alter the nature of experienced worklessness.

My findings are somewhat complex to untangle.  In some instances, moving people to welfare-to-work schemes appears to improve well-being.  But there are many caveats here: this only appears to hold for younger people and for people on specific types of programmes.  Unsurprisingly, there is no well-being benefit to the Work Programme.

However, there is one solid finding I encounter time and time again: people who are put on welfare-to-work schemes have significantly higher anxiety than other unemployed people.  The graph below (using data from the Annual Population Survey) shows that unemployed people have an anxiety score of 6.42 (the higher the score, the lower anxiety).  This, as we would expect, is lower than those in work, students or the retired.  However, people on welfare-to-work schemes have much higher anxiety than the unemployed (6.25).

AnxietyDS

Further, this relationship holds even when we look at different types of welfare-to-work participants.  The evidence shows that the kind of welfare-to-work participant who benefits most from these schemes tend to be young, male, poorly educated and enrolled on a scheme that gives demonstrable training or work experience, as opposed to the Work Programme.  However, even these types of participants have similar levels of anxiety to the unemployed.

This evidence leads to a worrying conclusion – welfare-to-work (and potentially welfare reform in general) – leads to an increase in anxiety amongst the unemployed.  Why this might be is an avenue for future research.  The evidence on welfare-to-work is mixed – for certain types of people, and for certain types of wellbeing, some kinds of welfare-to-work programmes appear to be positive.

However, for most participants – regardless of age, qualification level and gender – welfare-to-work appears to increase anxiety.  This is a potent reminder that the costs of welfare reform cannot – and should not – be measured in economic terms.  They go way beyond what can be counted in pounds sterling.

 Daniel Sage

@djsage86

The Labour Party Conference is in full swing in Brighton, and the speeches, promises and plans made during the 4 day event will define Labour and their success or failure in the next general election. 

bbc.co.uk

Image: bbc.co.uk

So, what do we need from government?

There are several issues that need to be at the forefront of any manifesto (if we are to begin to resolve some of the deep-seated problems affecting people at the moment), and they include:

Raising Living Standards

Rising food and energy prices combined with pay cuts and freezes, have forced many to struggle from month to month – also creating a pay day loan boom-time. Families are around £1500 a year worse off since the coalition came to power. For those on the minimum wage, any rises have remained below inflation, meaning the rise actually feels like a pay-cut.

The rise in zero hour contracts, part-time or under-employment and temporary work has meant that job security is suffering, and employers have at times, taken advantage of jobseekers’ desperation to find work by putting staff on less stable contracts that can leave employees without sick or holiday pay or regular and reliable amounts of income.

Whilst the government have been celebrating some recovery in the economy, the TUC have reported that 77% of new job creation since 2010 has been for wages of less than £7.95 an hour.

“Just over one in five net new employee jobs created since June 2010 have been in the highly paid computer programming, consultancy and related services industries, where the average hourly wage is £18.40. In the middle paid industries, which account for nearly three quarters of the UK workforce and where the average is between £7.95 and £17.40 per hour, there has been no net job creation since June 2010.”

This means that the recovery is largely a low pay recovery so far. This could be limiting for career prospects, salary increases and progression, as the pressure and opportunities of the ‘recovery’ are keeping wages low.

More housing and cheaper rent

We need to build more houses. This policy needs to be at the heart of any manifesto worth considering. The current government’s failure to invest in enough new housing – which would not only allow the housing benefit spend to reduce with increased control over rent and social housing stock, but would also create jobs and stimulate growth – can only mean they are satisfied with the increases in house prices, which are becoming ever further out of reach for most people who are on stifled wages and reduced incomes.

The current rate of building has been increased, but is still not enough to cater for the 250,000 extra homes we need each year. The ‘bedroom tax,’ which was supposedly meant to free up larger houses to help the 2 million on social housing waiting lists, has only pushed people into debt and further poverty, as the lack of one and two bedroom accommodation means that those who need or are willing to move, have no where to go.

Rising rent prices have also made it almost impossible for people to save – forcing them to be stuck in rented accommodation, whilst wealthy investors buy up more property and raise rent prices. The cycle needs to be broken, and rent caps could play a role. The rent cap may be radical, but the inflation of rent prices is more destructive and is currently allowing private landlords to maintain ‘Generation Rent’ in a position where there is no other option.

Change in attitude towards welfare and greater support for those in need

The government rhetoric of ‘scroungers’ and ‘skivers’ has been forced down the throats of the voting public thanks to the equally divisive media, who are more than happy to repeat the vitriole and place the blame and anger of a banker’s crisis on society’s most vulnerable.

We need to stop this. The rhetoric has played a part in the increase of disability hate crime, it has fractured our society and it has forced those in most need to feel like they cannot ask for help. Poverty porn has become a new genre of TV entertainment, divides between communitites have been pushed deeper, immigrants have been villified with the government’s own campaigns harking back to time of racist slurs. Fit-to-work tests have humiliated the sick and disabled and caused a climate of fear and sanctions have rocketed, being used unsparingly to leave people without enough money to live.

The policies of the coalition government towards welfare and benefits has been one focused on punishment and suspicion, putting care and support further down the list. Now we need policy that will support people, and play an effective role in giving people independence and better opportunities to work with flexibility.

So what have Labour promised so far?

During the Labour Conference so far, policy promises have included:

– Building 400,000 houses

– Strengthening the minimum wage

– Extra help with childcare (free childcare for 3-4 year-olds increased from 15 hours per week to 25 hours)

– Scrapping the ‘bedroom tax’

– Sacking ATOS

– Increasing the offence of disability hate crime

– A Universal Credit Rescue Committee

Image: Belfast Telegraph

Image: Belfast Telegraph

 

The conference continues today, so there is more to come. Of course, there are many reasons to be cynical about policies (as Ellen Clifford said,It was New Labour that introduced ATOS to this country. That’s something disabled people aren’t going to forget for a long time”). However, these policies are a huge step in the right direction, and it is good to see that Labour has taken bold steps against the coalition government and right wing press, in favour of helping those struggling the most.

But there is work yet to do. Labour need to promise to remove the damaging policies within the system, and not just the face of them. Many will be glad to see the back of ATOS, but the new testing and support systems should ensure that the sick and disabled are not put though such neglectful experiences again. Scrapping the ‘bedroom tax’ is wonderful news, but those now in debt because of it, need to have that struck off.

It seems that Labour have begun to listen, but to ensure we leave these dark days behind us under a Labour government or any other, campaigners, voters and those affected need to keep shouting, to ensure the new policies and attitudes carry these voices through to the agenda, and are not blighted by the shadows of the current ones.

by Kam Sandhu @KamBass

On 29th September, the People’s Assembly against austerity, along with the support of every major trade union and campaign group, have called for a mass demonstration at the Tory Party Conference in Manchester to Save Our NHS.

The government are trying to dismantle the NHS, and there are already surgeries being sold off to companies such as VirginCare. The government deny it, but privatisation is already happening. So we need to act now.

Find out more about the demonstration and transport links through the People’s Assembly site here.

“£20 billion of cuts, 7,000 fewer nurses, longer waiting times in wards and A&E, queues and patients suffering. Is this really the NHS we want?

The NHS has helped us for generations, but now it needs your help.”

The Crown Prosecution Service have announced that they will push for increased penalties for benefit fraud, with maximum sentences reaching ten years in jail. In a sudden move, Keir Starmer, Head of the Crown Prosecution Service apparently said that society was “hurting as a result of people taking advantage of the benefit system, and he would crack down on perpetrators.”

However, benefit fraud is NOT increasing which makes this move far more dubious and unnecessary. This story has once again inflamed a public slamming of benefit claimants, and the hard line will certainly have an effect on the voting public.

Image: Join Public Issues

Image: Joint Public IssuesTeam

Fraud currently accounts for 0.9% of benefits expenditure, equalling £1.2bn.

1.2% of benefit expenditure is paid out in overpayment error by the claimant or by the DWP. Thus, more money would be saved if the DWP ensured that all claims were simply paid correctly, but there seems to be no hard line taken against this.

The Joint Public Issues Team believe that a quarter of media coverage of welfare refers to fraud. Earlier this year, a TUC poll revealed that members of the public thought 27% of the welfare budget was lost to fraud, when it actually stands at 0.9%. The press bombardment of welfare ‘moral panic’ has implied that there is a real culture of fraud and criminality amongst benefit claimants – ultimately turning the public opinion against them. Taking a hard line against the faux-criminal persona put upon claimants, could provide a strong political move by government as we edge closer to the election period. And the press have relayed the message to the extent that the public believe in this charade.

The press, the government and Keir Starmer QC have failed to supply the facts above. They have failed to mention how rare benefit fraud is. They have failed to mention that the figure for benefit fraud is dwarfed by the figure for unclaimed benefits, which stands, according to the DWP, somewhere between £7.5bn – £12bn.

This figure is further dwarfed by the amount lost to tax avoidance and tax evasion. Yet, the CPS has taken no such ‘hard line’ here. HM Revenue and Customs estimate the amount lost to tax avoidance and evasion at £32bn. The European Union estimate £95bn.

In the below graph, the fraud figures from the DWP of £1.2bn have been added to the HMRC figures for Working Tax Credit and child benefit fraud (equalling £870m – rounding to a total of £2bn):

Image: Fact Check C4

Image: Fact Check Blog – Channel 4

The move to increase the penalty for those committing benefit fraud is a prejudiced attack on the poor. Because CEOs, bankers and companies walk free of penalties for money fraud worth millions and sometimes billions, but the government want us to see benefit claimants found guilty of committing fraud for tens, hundreds, thousands of pounds as dangerous and as criminally punishable as violent offenders, rapists and murderers, who are likely to receive similar or less severe jail terms.

Richard Murphy, author and manager of the blog Tax Research, commented on the new laws:

“Tax fraud is now subject to maybe 400 prosecutions a year. The penalties are small. But ten years is being threatened for benefit fraud. The publicity, the sentences and the messaging is all disproportionate and the allocation of resources is all wrong.

“Tax evasion is the cancer really causing a crisis in the UK, undermining fair competition, destroying trust, eroding professional standards, fuelling austerity, driving misery and denying our children a future. But it’s benefit fraud that is picked on. That’s warped logic if ever there was evidence of such thinking.”

There must be punishment for breaking the law – few would disagree. But when a law is changed to persecute and punish an entire section of society, whilst another group are immune from the same laws, it is a smear against our justice system. And when the PR of party politics runs over into the laws and punishment of society, we are reaching a very worrying stage indeed.

by Kam Sandhu @KamBass
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1) UN Special Rapporteur in housing calls for ‘bedroom tax’  spare room subsidy to be suspended in the name of human rights

Raquel Rolnik was invited here by government as part of their obligation with the UN, to investigate the availability of adequate housing, and its surrounding policies. Ahead of a report due to be released next year, Rolnik sent out a press release calling on the government to suspend the so-called ‘bedroom tax.’

What ensued was a harsh attack by Grant Shapps – the Conservative party chairman, attempting to denounce Rolnik’s findings as ‘biased.’Shapps called Rolnik a ‘woman from Brazil’ highlighting that the housing problems in Rolnik’s native land were far worse and therefore, she could not comment on housing in the UK. Shapps also wrote a strongly worded letter to the UN, claiming that Rolnik was not invited to the UK, and that her report should be investigated.

Image: Twitter.com

Image: Twitter.com

Rolnik hit back in an interview with Inside Housing, where she said that she not experienced such aggression from a government before, despite her previous missions including “Croatia, Algeria, Maldives, Argentina, United States, Israel, Rwanda, Palestine, Kazakhstan and Indonesia.” Rolnik also highlighted that the spare room subsidy was merely a part of the investigation and elsewhere she had been very positive about UK housing.

Rolnik is continuing her investigation, and for many campaigners, she is providing some hope in rectifying the problems caused by the ‘bedroom tax.’

Read more about this story here.

2) Woman with cerebral palsy told by ATOS she may be fit to work in six months, and her disability ‘expected to improve’

Amy Jones, 24, was can now expect re-assessments every six months and a possible loss of her Employment Support Allowance (ESA) after a fit to work test suggested that her incurable and debilitating condition – cerebral palsy, could improve.

Image: The Huffington Post

Image: The Huffington Post

Amy said:

“It even says in black and white in my medical reports from the hospital that my CP is becoming increasingly disabling.

“There is nothing in my reports to suggest that my CP is improving or becoming less painful or anything like that.”

Amy requested a copy of the ATOS report after being told she would need to be re-assessed for Income Support. The DWP said they could not comment on individual cases.

Read more about this story here.

3) Liberal Democrats will push for minimum wage rise

Business Secretary Vince Cable will approach the Low Pay Commission and ask them to restore the minimum wage to its real value, which is thought to have fallen 10-12% since 2008.

The plans come amid concerns that the economic recovery is not raising living standards, and will demonstrate a government focus on dealing with this in the run up to the election.

In an interview with the Guardian, Vince Cable said:

“We cannot go on for ever in a low pay and low productivity world in which all we can say to workers is ‘you have got to take a wage cut to keep your job’.”

Vince Cable Image: The Telegraph Photo credit should read: Carl Court/PA Wire

Vince Cable Image: The Telegraph Photo credit: Carl Court/PA Wire

Read more about this story here.

4) Michael Gove insulted food bank users, say Labour

Labour MPs branded Michael Gove as “insulting” and “out of touch” following his comments on food bank users.

The Education Secretary said that food bank users often had themselves to blame as “they are not best able to manage their finances,” before promising better support to deal with the rising number of food bank users.

Labour MP, Steve McCabe said:

“Families forced to go to food banks should not be stigmatised by secretaries of state. The spiralling number of food banks across Britain should be a mark of shame for this government.”

 by Kam Sandhu @KamBass
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Research by the Resolution Foundation has found that government plans to offer up extra childcare support will benefit higher earners, but leave lower income families worse off.

In the budget earlier this year, the government announced new plans and a £1bn investment to help parents get back into work with extra childcare support. 600,000 families under the Universal Credit scheme will benefit from extra help, as well as 2.5 million higher earners benefitting through childcare support vouchers worth £1200 a year.

Image: The Guardian

Image: The Guardian

However, in a report called ‘All Work And No Pay’, the Resolution Foundation has found that the plans still may not benefit those on the lowest incomes, who also face the biggest barriers in getting into work. If one parent is already in full time low income work, and the other parent chooses to work, the childcare benefits do not provide as much help as for second parent in a higher earning family.

Using a comparison of a low income family and a higher earning family, the research said:

“A part-time cleaner with two children in childcare and working 25 hours a week would be £7 a week worse off than if she didn’t work at all while a part-time teacher with the same hours and childcare arrangements would be £57 a week better off under the Government’s new proposals to help working families with the costs of childcare.

“Higher earning families in universal credit will have 85 per cent of their childcare costs paid, while lower earning families will be able to recover only 70 per cent.”

Changes in benefits and income when a second lower income earner goes into full time work means that work does not pay. As families on low income wages may not meet the £10,000 threshold for paying tax, they must incur more of their childcare costs. Also, increasing hours means that low income families may become eligible for less, with some potentially losing out on thousands a year if the second earner is full time at 40 hours.

The research does highlight that lower income families are better off under Universal Credit if the second earner works 16 hours or less. But a shift from part time to full time will leave families working to pay, in contrast with the aims of government to encourage work, and making work pay.

Below are the comparisons of income with increasing hours for the two families described above, demonstrating the problems facing lower income earners should they choose to work more:

Screen shot 2013-08-24 at 17.25.29

Screen shot 2013-08-24 at 17.26.30As the government open up the policies to consultation, the Resolution Foundation suggest that some amendments need to be made to the policies. While the added help for parents is welcomed, to achieve the government’s aims, they must ensure that work does pay for those facing the biggest barriers and challenges in entering the jobs market.

The Resolution Foundation has suggested that the 85% support should be offered to all families under universal credit, not just higher earners. This would require extra funding of £200m, which could be recovered by lowering the cap for claiming the £1200 childcare vouchers. These vouchers will be available to anyone not under universal credit, earning up to £300,000 a household (£150,000 each parent). By lowering this cap, the Resolution Foundation suggests it will be easier to help those worst off, and ensure the £1bn investment does make work pay, adding that the 900,000 families under Universal Credit that would not otherwise be eligible, will also benefit.

Resolution Foundation

resolutionfoundation.org

by Kam Sandhu @KamBass
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Media: The ‘Failing’ NHS

kamsandhu —  August 21, 2013 — 5 Comments

Media and the coalition have embarked on a campaign to insist the NHS is a failing system, while the reforms the government have brought in pose the biggest threat to the wellbeing of the service.

NHS logo

NHS logo

On 5th July, as the NHS was celebrating it’s 65th birthday – 65 years of caring and providing for the entire nation where there is need or emergency, David Cameron announced in an article in The Sun that he loved the NHS, but also, that he needed to tackle the ‘deep’ problems the service faces.

Cue the tabloid torrent of supporting and wholly negative copy, suggesting that NHS staff take too many days off sick, they are careless with funding, the shock of team bonding days that cost hundreds of thousands, the overstretched A&E, the waiting lists reaching record highs because these heartless, callous and selfish NHS staff on frozen wages, who have spent years training in the science of how to look after people are obviously hopeless.

Little mention however of the impact the reforms have had on services. The five year high of waiting lists and crisis of A&E cannot have been helped by the reduction in nursing posts since the coalition came to power.

Of course there are problems with the NHS, and there is always the ability to improve it, but these problems can only be added to when the government implement expensive and unproven schemes which are both over-stretching services and doomed to fail, such as the 111 helpline – which is in turn used as another pawn in the portrayal of a failing NHS.

This also halts the ability of government and practitioners to tend to the real problems in the service, instead scrambling to minimise the destruction of the latest reform or government idea.

But it seems the government do have a real plan for the NHS, and they are working rapidly towards it – privatisation. If you’ve listened to the voices of David Cameron and Nick Clegg on this, you may think it’s not happening, as they both repeatedly assure “We will not privatise the NHS“, but the huge contracts that have changed hands in the last year speak for themselves. Unfortunately, privatisation is already here.

Again, this has somehow escaped the attention of the apparently NHS-obsessed tabloids, but at the end of July, shortly after Cameron’s pledge to challenge the problems of the NHS, bids were opened to the biggest health contract yet, worth between £700m – £1.1bn to “provide health services including end-of-life care for older people in Cambridgeshire and Peterborough.”

This follows the £450m contract given to Virgin Care at the end of last year to provide health services across Surrey. Whilst Virgin is a worldwide giant known for its planes, trains and broadband, the Virgin Care company did not exist before March 2012, but it is now considering bidding for further contracts, as are the cuddly Serco.

The argument from supporters of privatisation is that it will drive competition and will also see investment from other companies. But, unfortunately, evidence shows that companies looking for profit will only do what they do best – make money;

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

Yet, these experiences are rarely found in the pages of tabloids or even BBC news.

But amidst the sometimes outrageous attacks on the NHS in the media, including this article by Neil Hamilton – who’s opening gambit is “The NHS is a more effective killing machine than the Taliban”, someone finally broke the trend to remind politicians that the NHS is not a business.

An editorial in the influential journal, The Lancet, said of the recent government announcements to provide a bailout for A&E and an introduction of a price comparison website:

“One might be forgiven for thinking that the current Coalition Government views the NHS as a failing bank or business.

“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 health-care system that has patient care and safety at its heart.

“Rather it expects the system, and in it each trust for itself, to be efficient, cost saving, and financially successful or else it is deemed a failing enterprise.

“Doctors, nurses, and health workers are readily blamed for the quality of care they provide within these constraints.”

The NHS should not be treated like a business. It is a service that provides a huge benefit to all who live here, in the form of care and medical assistance. It’s inclusivity holds the value of life high for every person. Not to mention the great pride it is held with for many Britons. Who else would put their health service in their Olympic opening ceremony?

This portrayal of the NHS in the media and by politicians is being used to ease along a privatisation plan. A two-tier system with private health care next to free – where one life is valued more than the other – just as Ella Harman, a baby who died five days after her birth, suffered when the consultant obstetrician was called away to perform a caesarean. Ella’s parents assumed the caesarean must have been an emergency, as it caused the consultant to leave for forty minutes during Ella’s birth. However, six years later, after a Freedom of Information request, it was found that the only caesarean performed that day was not an emergency, but a requested caesarean section on a private patient.

This is the shape of a privatised NHS.

The media will continue to churn out it’s negative spin on the NHS as the government aims to push further with it’s own agenda. But what the media really don’t want you to know is that we still have one of the best health care services in the world. Fact.

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by Kam Sandhu @KamBass
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