Around 300 people took part in the Tyne and Wear May Day March and Rally in Newcastle on Saturday.
The event coincided with the 125th anniversary of the very first workers’ international May Day celebrations.
Back in 1890, the international demand was for an eight-hour maximum to the working day. This call united workers in the United States, Britain, France, Belgium, Germany, Austria and many other countries.
One of the organisers of the Tyneside event, Martin Levy, said:
“There’s a lot of people on zero hours contracts today who would love to get the chance to work eight hours.”
“The march is as relevant today as it was 125 years ago. It’s very important as a statement of the principles of the Trade Union and Labour movement – solidarity, fighting inequality and fighting for social justice.
“These issues don’t just go away.”
Speakers at the event included Christine Payne, general secretary of actors’ union Equity; Ian Mearns, Labour’s candidate for the Gateshead constituency at the forthcoming general election and Andrew Murray, chief of staff of Unite the Union and deputy president of the Stop the War Coalition.
Professor Manuel Hassassian, Palestinian Ambassador to the United Kingdom, had been due to speak but had to cancel at the last minute.
His place on the platform was taken by Ann Schofield of the Tyneside Palestinian Solidarity Campaign.
Those taking part assembled at Princess Square then walked along Northumberland Street and then past St Thomas’s Church towards Exhibition Park, where the rally was held.
Music on the march was provided by the Backworth Colliery Band, while local musicians DrumDin (OK) and The Backyard Rhythm Orchestra performed at the rally.
Mr Levy added:
“This 125th anniversary of the very first workers’ May Day was an opportunity to make clear our opposition to austerity and privatisation, and to express solidarity with all those struggling for a better world, particularly the people of Palestine.”
Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 02 May 2015
This article was written by Amelia Gentleman, for The Guardian on Thursday 1st January 2015
George Osborne says the coverage of looming new spending cuts has been “hyperbolic”, but away from Downing Street there is a strong consensus that the cumulative effect of five years of austerity will make the next wave of cuts, in 2015, very painful.
Four more years of austerity is “a price that works for our country”, Osborne said as he outlined his strategy. The Institute for Fiscal Studies responded by warning that “colossal” cuts to the state would take total government spending to its lowest level as a proportion of national income since before the second world war. By the end of the process, “the role and shape of the state will have changed beyond recognition”, the think tank said. So far, £35bn has been cut; the plan is to cut a further £55bn by 2019.
If the chancellor remains in post after the general election, Britain will find itself halfway through a nine-year stretch of spending cuts, with the Conservatives determined to shrink and redefine the role of the state. The Liberal Democrats say the Conservative policy is aimed at creating “a smaller state, with many more cuts to come”, giving Britain “austerity for ever”; 2015 will be a pivotal year in the race to reshape the nature of the state.
> Would that be the same Liberal Democrats who are part of the coalition that is making these changes to society ? Sorry, Lib Dems, don’t start wringing your hands now – you won’t get rid of the blood on them that way.
Even if they lose, difficult spending cuts look inevitable. Labour is also committed to ending the deficit, in 2017-18, provided the state of the economy allows it.
For many publicly funded services and organisations, 2015 will be the year when their chances of survival become clear. There is an enormous range in the size and the function of services under threat, which makes tracking the scale of the cuts challenging.
Here are just four examples – from the large scale to the tiny, of services that are set to go this year.
In June, the Independent Living Fund, which provides funding for around 18,000 disabled people to work and live in the community, will be wound down. In Liverpool, there will be a decision in early 2015 over whether the council will close a possible 23 out of the city’s 26 Sure Start centres. On a smaller scale, organisations including the Islington Centre for Refugees and Migrants, in north London, which supports around 150 refugees and asylum seekers, providing English classes, faces closure because of cuts to education budgets.
“These are people who come to us on a daily basis who desperately need some kind of support,” project manager Andy Ruiz Palma says. “I would lose my job, but I am more worried about the clients. There is nowhere else for them to go.”
In Ealing, west London, parents are campaigning to save the lollipop crossing role, done for the past 20 years by Eileen Rowles, and now at risk of being discontinued because of council spending cuts.
The Office for Budget Responsibility said in December that the chancellor’s plans would mean one million further government job losses by 2020 (a total fall from early 2011 of 1.3 million), representing a 20% fall in headcount.
Over the past five years, there has been surprise and relief from politicians that public anger about spending cuts has been relatively muted. Aside from a few annual anti-cuts marches in big cities, Britain has not experienced the waves of protest seen in countries such as Spain. Given that those most affected by the cuts are the most vulnerable and disempowered people in society, it’s perhaps not surprising that the response has been muted.
But that could change in 2015. The next stage of cutbacks is likely to be harder to ignore. The easy decisions have already been made; once the low-hanging fruit has been removed, finding new things to cut gets harder, which means the second half of the austerity era is likely to be much tougher than the first.
By next May, government funding for councils will be 40% lower than it was in 2010; and a further 13% will need to be cut in 2015.
“It is individuals who have paid the price of funding reductions, whether it is through seeing their local library close, roads deteriorate or support for young people or families scaled back. Further reductions without radical reform will have a detrimental impact on people’s quality of life,” the Local Government Association chair, Tony Sparks, says.
The National Audit Office has warned that more than half of councils currently risk falling into serious financial crisis before the end of the decade. Some may struggle to provide services that they are legally obliged to offer, and this may become apparent in 2015 with more legal action by service users.
Nicola Smith, head of economic affairs at the TUC, says:
“The scale of the spending cuts that the chancellor set out in his autumn statement briefing is truly severe. The public sector has already experienced five years of austerity. The consequences for key services that people rely on are severe.”
Osborne has said that if the Conservatives win the election he will want to cut a further £12bn a year from the welfare bill – on top of the £20m-£25m that has already been cut. He proposes freezing working-age benefits for two years, reducing the overall benefit cap from £26,000 to £23,000, and limiting access to housing benefit for people under 21.
Professor John Hills, director of the Centre for Analysis of Social Exclusion at the London School of Economics, says that the impact of further cuts in this area would be very painful.
“Both the political and public belief is that spending on out-of-work benefits is a large share of overall public spending; it is not. Trying to make large savings from what is really a small share of public spending will require increasingly harsh cuts. We have seen this already through things like the bedroom tax, the imposition of council tax on people with very low incomes, and the greatly increased use of sanctioning. To continue to get more savings from that group will require harsher measures.”
Source – Welfare Weekly, 01 Jan 2015
Disastrous economic policies are dividing Britain and destroying hopes of recovery, the leader of the country’s biggest union stated today (Monday 8 September 2014).
Len McCluskey, general secretary of Unite, called for collective bargaining to be reintroduced to arrest the decades long fall in the value of wages, and give workers a fairer share of the wealth they create.
Speaking in the debate on the new economy at the Trades Union Congress in Liverpool, McCluskey said:
“It was a Tory – Benjamin Disraeli – who said that Britain was two nations. He would certainly feel right at home today.
“Workers in our country are today facing the longest drop in their living standards since the 1870s when Disraeli was prime minister. But to be fair to him – he saw the class divisions in Britain as a problem to be solved. His Conservative successor in Number 10 seems to rejoice in them.
“Because every measure David Cameron and George Osborne take is designed to increase the squeeze on workers’ living standards and widen the already scandalous inequality gap.
“David Cameron used to talk of the Big Society. The truth is he’s created Two Societies – a society of Bullingdon Bullies, country suppers with Rebekah Brooks, tax cuts for the rich, a society which is a happy home for the hedge fund managers who fund the Tory party.
“That’s not so much the Big Society, more like the Greedy Pig Society.
“On the other hand there’s a society of people in fear – fear of losing their jobs or their homes, fear of paying the heating bills, fear over the future of the National Health Service, where the government strips away any protection the poorest can still cling to.
“The Tories will tell you that it’s all going to come right – that after six lost years for the economy we will all feel the benefits soon. But the truth is that trickle down has dried up.
“For the first time in anyone’s memory we have an economy which is apparently growing – while living standards for ordinary people are still falling.
“To misquote another famous Tory: ‘Never, in the field of human economics, has so much been produced by so many to the benefit of so few’.
“We need a social rebalancing and only trade unions can deliver that – because all the power is on one side of the negotiating table.
“Most economists now recognise that this is the biggest structural obstacle to sustainable growth in a modern economy.
“Collective bargaining can ensure that workers get back more of the wealth they produce. Trade unions stand for the productive economy and the people who are the real wealth-creators. In Downing Street they represent only the parasites.”
Source: Unite Union Media Release via Welfare News Service, 08 Sept 2014
The number of impoverished households has more than doubled in the 30 years since Margaret Thatcher was Prime Minister, the largest study of deprivation ever conducted in the UK has concluded.
The research found that rises in the cost of living mean a full-time job is no longer enough to prevent some people from falling into poverty. One in every six adults in paid work is now defined as “poor“.
Last night the Government’s poverty tsar Frank Field said the study’s stark findings proved the Coalition’s approach to the problem “isn’t working” and called for the leaders of all political parties to make manifesto pledges to reverse the rise.
The Poverty and Social Exclusion project, based on interviews with more than 14,500 people in Britain and Northern Ireland carried out by eight universities and two research agencies, reported:
- More than 500,000 children live in families who cannot afford to feed them properly
- 18 million people cannot afford adequate housing conditions
- 12 million people are too poor to engage in common social activities
- About 5.5 million adults go without essential clothing
The survey showed that the percentage of UK households which lacked “three or more of the basic necessities of life” has increased from 14 per cent in 1983 (around 3 million), to 33 per cent (around 8.7 million) in 2012, despite the size of the economy doubling in that period. Researchers used the “three or more” formula as it is directly comparable with methods used to study poverty and deprivation in 1983.
Academics said the findings dispelled the myth that poverty is caused by a lack of work or by people shirking work. Almost half the “employed poor” were clocking up 40 hours a week in work or more.
Professor David Gordon of the Townsend Centre for International Poverty Research at the University of Bristol, which led the project, funded by the Economic and Social Research Council, said the Government’s strategy of tackling the root causes of poverty had “clearly failed”.
> Arguably, the Government’s strategy has been directed towards increasing the root causes of poverty.
Mr Field, the Labour MP who was tasked by David Cameron to examine poverty in 2010, said the study “sadly emphasises that working doesn’t now eliminate a family’s poverty”.
> Can’t help feeling Field cries crocodile tears… his views on the poor and how to make them suffer even more often seem to rival Iain Duncan Smith‘s.
A DWP spokesman said: “There is strong evidence that incomes have improved over the last 30 years, despite the misleading picture painted by this report. The independent statistics are clear, there are 1.4 million fewer people in poverty since 1998, and under this Government we have successfully protected the poorest from falling behind.”
Unfortunately that spokesman was unnamed.
Read the full story in the Independent
Source – Benefits & Work, 20 June 2014
This article was written by Toby Helm, political editor, for The Observer on Saturday 14th June 2014
The Condition of Britain study by the IPPR thinktank, to be launched by Ed Miliband on Thursday, will also contain proposals to devolve large amounts of power and funding out of Whitehall, including the control of housing benefit to councils, in order to stimulate innovative housing policies and more housebuilding.
The project was set up in February 2013 as part of Labour’s policy review to consider how institutions and policies need to respond to today’s needs – including more childcare and better care for the elderly – within the confines of tight budgets and inevitable further cuts.
A key theme is expected to be that early intervention at every stage of life can prevent society having to continue “paying for the costs of failure”.
> “early intervention at every stage of life” – now isn’t that an ominous phrase ?
The report will argue that a stronger society can be built on the three “pillars” of shared power, contribution (through changes to the national insurance system) and strong institutions. While some proposals, such as a plan to freeze child benefit to fund a network of children’s centres, are likely to be rejected by Miliband, many of its central ideas will be considered by the party’s national policy forum in July.
The report is expected to look at whether benefit payments can be linked more closely to levels of contributions through changes to the national insurance system.
Senior figures believe that Labour must counter the impression that it supports a “something for nothing” benefits system by looking at radical change.
> Oh great – so it’s all about image and trying to appeal to those sectors of the electorate who wouldn’t vote Labour anyway. And once again those at the bottom of the pile will get a kicking… just so Labour look tough, just like the Tories.
Not a single original thought among them, is there ?
Writing on theguardian.com, the chair of the policy review, Jon Cruddas, suggests that such ideas could form a major part of Labour’s manifesto at the 2015 general election.
Looking ahead to the report’s publication, Cruddas says: “It sets out three broad strategies for social renewal: spread power and responsibility to build democracy and strengthen society; foster contribution and reciprocity to re-establish a sense of fairness and justice; and strengthen our shared institutions to help tackle social problems for good. These establish the foundations on which we can build a competitive wealth-creating economy.”
The report will contain proposals for a one-off levy of £450m on Britain’s £180bn consumer credit industry which the IPPR says could create enough affordable lenders to take on Britain’s legal loan sharks.
It says that, as well as a new legal cap on the total cost of credit, Britain needs a new generation of not-for-profit lenders with enough capital to compete with firms like Wonga, Quick Quid and Payday Express.
The IPPR launch will be followed later in the summer by Andrew Adonis’s growth review, which will focus on developing the economic potential of cities. Richard Leese, the leader of Manchester city council, will then publish work by his local government innovation taskforce setting out plans to redistribute power across England and reform public services so that they can be tailored better to meet local needs.
Source – Welfare News Service, 15 June 2014
By Jenny Howarth
Her Majesty the Queen has delivered the final speech at the opening of parliament before next year’s general election. A speech that Prime Minister David Cameron and Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg described as ‘bold’.
In a joint statement issued alongside the Queen’s speech, the prime minister and his deputy said: [The coalition was] “still taking bold steps” [to] “take Britain forward to a brighter future”, adding:
Among the measures announced in the speech were:
- A bill implementing reforms to annuities announced in March’s Budget. In future, people will not be required to buy an annuity with their pension savings and will be able to draw their retirement income in one go if they choose
- A separate bill to allow employees to pay into collective pension funds shared with other workers, a move it is hoped will cut costs and encourage saving
- A new state-funded childcare subsidy worth up to £2,000 a year, replacing the existing employer-funded scheme
- A Social Action, Responsibility and Heroism bill offering extra legal protection for people being sued for negligence or breach of duty if they acted heroically or in the public interest
- Curbs on “excessive redundancy payments” for highly-paid public servants
- Tougher penalties for employers who fail to pay the minimum wage and a crackdown on the abuse of zero hours contracts
- Plans for a 5p charge for plastic bags in England as announced at last year’s Lib Dem conference
- Reforms to speed up infrastructure projects, including new freedoms for the Highways Agency and allowing fracking firms to run shale gas pipelines on private land without getting prior permission
- New criminal sentences for those assisting organised crime syndicates, tougher sentence for cyber criminals and tougher powers to seize the assets of crime bosses – and making the possession of written paedophilia a criminal offence
- A modern-day slavery bill with tougher penalties for human trafficking
- Help for pub landlords including a statutory code and a body to adjudicate disputes
- Giving voters the power to trigger by-elections where MPs have committed serious wrong-doing
With polls showing a Labour Party average lead of 6.6%, the speech, written for the Queen by her government highlights how out of touch and removed from reality the coalition government is. With Labour sources for the BBC saying it was “staggering” that the NHS and immigration were not mentioned in the Queen’s Speech.
You would assume that David Cameron would have ensured that this final speech would have contained elements to woo voters. But sadly, it has failed, just as Cameron and his coalition government has failed the people of Britain and here is why:
National Health Service (NHS)
This week in a letter to The Guardian, top health officials including Rob Webster, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, which represents hospitals, and the chairs or chief executives of acute hospital trusts in London, Nottingham, Teeside, Kent, Sheffield, Oxford and elsewhere, warned that the NHS “is at the most challenged time of its existence.”
In a separate article, Rob Webster, speaking to The Telegraph, warned, that if “significant changes” were not made and the “decline” was to continue that:
- Hospital patients would be forced to pay for their meals, bed and even for patient transport.
- Swathes of the country would be left without a GP, because family doctors refuse to work in areas where they cannot keep up with demand.
- Accident & Emergency departments would be increasingly shutting their doors without warning, because they are unable to cope.
- Hospitals would go bust overnight because bills cannot be paid.
- There would be Longer waits for surgery, and increasing numbers of cancelled operations.
With the NHS so critical, it is something that should have been addressed in today’s speech but it would appear that Cameron and his Health Secretary are more determined than ever to place the NHS in private hands.
Work and Pension Secretary Iain Duncan Smith’s (IDS) welfare reforms have been an unmitigated disaster.
His flagship Universal Credit Scheme has been beset with problems, with The Guardian reporting in May this year that The Major Projects Authority (MPA) – responsible for grading its implementation – has said that it has undergone so many fundamental changes that it is “reset” (gone back to drawing board).
In addition, Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) figures, also released in May showed that over half a million ESA claimants are still waiting for the results of their assessment.
Then there is the hated Spare-room subsidy (bedroom tax). In a survey of 183 housing associations (HA), conducted by IPSOS Mori on behalf of the National Housing Federation in February this year, it was found that:
- One in seven of those hit by the bedroom tax has now had a notice of seeking possession issued to them.
- 66% of HA residents hit by the bedroom tax are in rent arrears
- More than a third (38%) reported to be in debt because they were unable to pay the bedroom tax
David Orr, chief executive of the National Housing Federation said:
“If these notices of seeking possession turn into evictions it will be the direct responsibility of those who introduced a measure which is economically incoherent, socially divisive, disruptive of family life and causing real damage to real people. It really can’t be allowed to go on.”
The failure to address welfare reform in today’s speech would indicate that if the Conservatives were to win next year’s election then it is likely it will go on, inflicting more misery to more families.
It is clear, that Cameron is not listening. The recent local and European elections proved that the people of Britain are not happy. Ed Miliband, picked up on this by saying ahead of today’s speech:
“The local and European elections show the depths of discontent with the direction of our country which people increasingly feel does not work for them.
“We need action, we need answers, we need a programme for government equal to the scale of the challenge our country faces.
“We would have a Queen’s Speech with legislation which would make work pay, reform our banks, freeze energy bills and build homes again in Britain. “A Queen’s Speech which signals a new direction for Britain, not one which offers more of the same.”
So what would be in Labour’s first Queen’s speech if they were to win next year?
Mark Ferguson, writing for Labour List, has put together what he thinks would be in it, based on Labours plans so far:
A first year priority, that would mean breaking up banks to create competition in the banking sector – and reforms intended to boost lending and support small businesses.
Make Work Pay bill
Mark Ferguson acknowledges that this one still needs some detail adding to it, which he believes we should get in the months ahead. In short, this bill would see Labour legislating for a higher minimum wage (maybe even a statutory living wage?) and legislating on zero-hours contracts.
Currently Labour is talking about building 200,000 homes a year by 2020. For Mark Ferguson, that’s a little slow, believing that Labour should be aiming to build a million homes over the next parliament with the expectation for Miliband to upgrade Labour’s offer on housing before the election.
However, it is already pretty substantial, and this bill would act on land banks, legislate for new garden cities, crack down on fees for private sector tenants and provide more stable and secure long-term rents for those in the private rented sector.
Nicknamed, the “taking back the high street” bill. This would give communities a say on payday lenders and betting shops on their high streets – thus reducing their volume and growth.
Angela Eagle has stated that Labour would legislate on immigration. Such a bill would seek to stop workers being undercut and ban recruitment agencies from only recruiting from overseas.
A new Scotland bill
This would enshrine the recommendations of Scottish Labour’s Devolution Commission, introducing a form of “Devo-Max” – obviously this is in the event of a No vote in this year’s referendum.
Or perhaps more accurately, the energy prices bill. Labour’s big energy price freeze pledge would be enacted in the first Queen’s Speech
Outlawing discrimination against armed forces bill
This would put discrimination against members of the armed forces on the same footing as other forms of discrimination.
Mark Ferguson, goes onto state the other priorities for Labour in the first year of the next parliament that don’t necessarily need primary legislation, but which would be mentioned in the Queen’s Speech. These include:
- The jobs guarantee,
- The return of the 50p Tax rate
- The abolition of the Bedroom Tax.
Unlike Cameron and his Conservative Party, it is evident, although some may disagree, that Ed Miliband has thought through what the people of Britain need.
> More likely the thinks its the sort of thing people might vote for at this moment in time. Unfortunately, an increasing number of people believe that should Labour win the next election, it’d actually just be a case of neo-liberal policies as usual.
And In case you’re wondering where the NHS fits in, Shadow Health Secretary Andy Burnham has said today that it would be a “joyous moment, when next year, Her Majesty the Queen says: “My Government will repeal the Health & Social Care Act 2012″. Assuming of course that there will be a Labour victory.
With 336 days to go to the general election, the stakes have never been higher. David Cameron has to start listening to the people of Britain, has to axe the bedroom tax, has to curb welfare reform and stop privatizing the NHS. Failure to do so will mean he will be out of a job – not only as prime minister but also as leader of the Conservatives.
Source – Welfare News Service, 04 June 2014
Britain’s richest 1% have accumulated as much wealth as the poorest 55% of the population put together, according to the latest official analysis of who owns the nation’s £9.5tn of property, pensions and financial assets.
In figures that also lay bare the extent of inequality across the north-south divide, the Office for National Statistics said household wealth in the south-east had been rising five times as fast as across the whole country.
The average wealth of households in the southeast had surged to £309,000 at the end of 2012, up 30% since the first wealth report published by the ONS covering 2006-8 – while the average rise in England was only 6%.
But wealth in the north-east had fallen, the only region where it did so, to an average of just under £143,000. In Scotland the figure was £165,500.
Northern regions lost out after a dramatic rise in stock market values that was grabbed mostly by households in the south east, the ONS figures show.
The situation is likely to have worsened following an 18% surge in house prices over the past year in the south-east and even higher at the top end of the market.
A rush to save among richer households as the recession deepened boosted the nation’s total wealth and ensured Britain’s long-established financial inequality remained in place, with the top 10% laying claim to 44% of household wealth – while the poorest half of the country had only 9%.
Rachael Orr, Oxfam‘s head of poverty in the UK said the figures were a “shocking chapter in a tale of two Britains“.
The charity recently reported that five billionaire families controlled the same wealth as 20% of the population. “It is further evidence of increasing inequality at a time when five rich families have the same wealth as 12 million people,” she said.
“We need our politicians to grasp the nettle and make the narrowing gap between the richest and poorest a top priority. It cannot be right that in Britain today a small elite are getting richer and richer while millions are struggling to make ends meet.”
Duncan Exley, director of the Equality Trust, said: “The grotesque concentration of wealth in the hands of a tiny minority is fracturing our society, weakening our economy and giving disproportionate power to the richest. Unless policymakers adopt a clear goal of reducing the gap between the richest and the rest, they will have to govern an increasingly dysfunctional nation.“
The report comes after French economist Thomas Piketty has ignited international debate about inequality by documenting the rapid accumulation of assets by the top 1% over the four decades since the 1970s.
Britain’s top 1% saw their share of wealth increase slightly in the four years before 2012, grabbing the same share as 54.9% of the population, up from 54.2% in 2008/10.
But the Treasury said the report showed that wealth inequality had remained the same throughout the six years up to 2012 while income inequality had declined to levels last seen in 1986. A spokesperson said the government’s efforts to protect the poorest during the recession had worked.
“The effects of the Great Recession are still being felt which is why we have taken continued action to help hardworking people by cutting income tax and freezing fuel duty.
“And we want to help more people to save for their future or own their own home which is why we are giving people more flexibility over their pensions and introducing Help to Buy. At the same time we have introduced new higher rates of stamp duty on the most expensive homes and done more than any previous government to crack down on tax evasion and avoidance in order to ensure that everyone pays their fair share in tax.”
> If the government executed every poor person in the UK, a government spokesman would then be wheeled out to claim that by killing everyone they had in fact improved the victims lot, since they would no longer have to buy food, heating, housing, etc, thereby making everyone better off.
And dead, of course, but you can’t have everything…
Critics of the wealth report said it failed to capture the huge diversion of wealth to offshore tax havens, which account for trillions of pounds worth of savings.
A series of investigations into offshore tax havens have documented the success of their banks in attracting a steady rise in the savings and financial assets of the richest 1%.
There was also a clear disparity between women and men over who owns the most homes, pensions, cars and stocks and shares. The average value of men’s total pension wealth was nearly twice as high as women’s in 2010/12 – £63,000 compared with £34,800.
The power of the grey pound is highlighted in the report by several measures, including one showing that couples without children, where one person is over and the other under the state pension age, have the highest total wealth at £607,800, up from £452,000 in 2006.
Source – The Guardian, 15 May 2014
By Jenny Howarth
Chancellor George Osborne has delivered his fourth budget. It was clear from his opening gambit – “If you’re a maker, a doer or a saver: this Budget is for you” – that this budget would help the few and not the many. If you were not a ‘hard-worker’, business owner or saver then there would be no point in listening any further.
For Osborne, the budget was an opportunity to say that their long-term economic plan is delivering security for the people of this country. The emphasis was on support for businesses who invest and export, on support for manufacturers, on support for savers or rather making sure “hardworking people keep more of what they earn – and more of what they save” – all aimed towards the central mission: economic security for the people of Britain.
By the end of his 55 minute speech it was very clear that the economic security he spoke of was for the few not the many. He tried to convince people that his budget was for the “makers, doers and savers”, yet it came across as “I’m hoping to gain the over-50 vote”. He promised a budget of “hard truths” which could be implied as “if you think I’m going to help the unemployed, disabled and vulnerable then think again”.
Osborne’s budget was more ‘out of touch with reality’ than ‘hard truths’. He spoke of economic growth, a Britain on the road to recovery, even mentioning the new resilient pound coin to match the resilient economy. However, for thousands of families waking up the morning after the Budget, life is still a struggle. For them the budget was meaningless, doing nothing to improve their desperate situation and here is why.
Julia Unwin, Chief Executive of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation said:
“This is a Budget for the people who already have, not for the people who need to benefit most from the return to growth. It is a lost opportunity for the 13 million people in poverty who need active intervention to tackle the structural barriers that keep them in poverty”. Adding, “People on low incomes are unlikely to see the welcome benefits of growth unless there is targeted help with household and housing costs, with child care and with the nature of jobs and training. The expense and inefficiency of high levels of poverty continue to put a drag on growth”.
A view shared by other charities. William Higham, Save the Children’s director of UK poverty, said:
“The Budget was a missed opportunity to address the needs of families that are struggling to pay their food bill and children whose parents cannot afford to pay for uniforms and school trips”.
It is for these reasons, George Osborne’s fourth budget was a budget for the few. It failed to address the fact that living standards are falling – despite the 2010 Manifesto promising “An economy where…[people’s] standard of living…rises steadily and sustainably”. It failed to help the 350 000 reliant on food banks or the 400 000 disabled people paying bedroom tax. His “resilient pound for a resilient economy” ignores the fact that working people are £1600 worse off.
Osborne may believe that increasing personal tax to £10 500 will help improve living standards but whilst it lifts three million out of taxation, it does nothing for the many families who depend on housing benefit to top up the little wage they get. “The vast majority of this will be deducted from their benefits – giving with one hand while taking with the other”, says Matthew Reed, Chief Executive of The Children’s Society.
Matthew Reed’s comment raises another important point – benefits. Osborne had nothing to say on this except to announce a cap on the welfare budget. This will see Tax credits and housing benefit limited to £119.5bn in a bid to cut the deficit. Critics say that this limit to benefit claims over the next four years will hit disabled people and the low paid without tackling the underlying causes of Britain’s growing social security bill.
Whilst it may appear to be political suicide by Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls saying Labour will vote for the cap, it is not. According to Jonathan Portes, director of the National Institute for Economic and Social Research (NIESR), the cap was simply a “gesture” and served no purpose other than to kick the “problem of spending cuts into the next parliament”.
For Portes it was “meaningless” to put a number on the cap without having policies in place to deliver it or to state how the cuts would be achieved. Adding that the charter would commit MPs to renewing the cap each year. “As Parliament already votes on measures to change social security budgets, this charter will not make much difference”.
It would appear that Osborne’s welfare cap charter is not new but something that already exists. It could be argued that whilst Labour is voting for it, there is plenty scope to amend the limit and bring in policies that would help not hit. Moreover, the question that needs to be asked is would a successive conservative government do that or would they continue with their long-term economic plan that they insist is bringing security to the people of Britain.
For now it would appear they are committed to helping the few, committed to bringing security to the hard-workers, business owners and savers. Alison Garnham, Chief Executive of Child Poverty Action Group, says:
“Today’s Budget tries to lock-in austerity for millions of low-paid families, poor children, carer’s and disabled people. Announcing a cap for social security spending without a plan to address the root causes of low pay, high rents and high childcare costs, simply forces the most vulnerable in society to pay the price for inaction”.
Source – Welfare News Service, 20 March 2014
Red Clydeside collection: http://gdl.cdlr.strath.ac.uk/redclyde/
This leaflet comes from the Glasgow Digital Library, a fabulous mine of information and collection of resources for teaching. It must date to around 1933-34, when the Left was campaigning vigorously against what became the 1934 Unemployment Act. The National Government introduced the Act in order to restructure poor relief and bring unemployment benefits under central control. It also contained a clause which combined the old poor law requirement of the ‘work test’ with existing powers to compel claimants to undertake training.
The campaign against the Bill was enormous, and the historian Neil Evans describes it as the most-discussed piece of legislation in inter-war Britain. Most of the agitation was led by the Labour Left (including the Independent Labour Party) and the Communist Party. But others were involved as well.
This flyer was published by a group calling itself the Workers’ Open Forum, a Glasgow-based network…
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> A masterful summing-up of the UK today…
Scaremongering and celebrity obsession ensures the true picture of life in the UK remains forever obscured, writes Joyce McMillan
It’s never a good idea to fly into a rage in a public place; but there it was, a provocation so absurd and extreme that fury seemed the only sensible response. It was a magazine cover, lovingly displayed in a shop in central Edinburgh a few weeks ago; on it was a picture of Kate Middleton, the Duchess of Cambridge, with a caption that read, “Not only the woman of the year, but the woman of the century.”
No-one seemed to find this odd, even though the century has barely begun; no-one was objecting, at least in public, to the idea that the perfect role-model for a generation of young women, struggling to earn more than £7.50 an hour, is a woman whose career suggests that the world is your oyster, so long as you can arrange to be born rich, to marry into the royal family, and to devote all your energy to standing around looking silently pretty in weirdly old-fashioned clothes.
And although the bizarre values of the celebrity magazine that published this cover might seem a far cry from the current debate about the UK economy, and the strange “recovery” it is now experiencing, it seems to me increasingly clear that the nation’s tolerance for the economic policies to which it has been subjected since 2008 is somehow bound up with the hallucinatory extremes of celebrity culture that now pervade our national life, inviting people to empathise not with themselves and those around them, but with the rich and famous.
This week in the House of Commons, the Tory benches could be heard roaring with joy at the news that British economic growth has returned to the heady level of 2.4 per cent a year, and that unemployment has dropped to just over 7 per cent. And when Ed Miliband tried to point out that this “recovery” is not much use to an average British earner whose real income is still £1,600 a year lower than it was in 2008, he was literally shouted down, by Tory MPs hysterical with triumph at the news that their beloved financial sector is once again growing by leaps and bounds, promising ever more lavish times for their friends in the City.
Ed Miliband is in the right of the argument, of course, so far as the current round of statistics are concerned. As a TUC report released on Monday made clear, the current increase in economic activity in Britain is mainly confined to London, with unemployment still actually increasing in the north-east and south-west of England. 80 per cent of the new jobs created since 2010 are in sectors where the average worker earns less than the living wage of around £7.95 an hour. Many of those “in work” are on poverty wages, and are being forced to work part-time or on zero hours contracts.
And astonishingly, the government actually includes in its “in work” figure the large number of people – more than a million, since 2010 – who have been forced to work for nothing, either in unpaid internships, or as part of the government’s own workfare scheme.
The truth about Britain, in 2014, is that ours has become a low-wage, low-output, low-productivity economy, with chronic under-employment and little job security, and with economic growth driven only by increasing household debt; indeed it would be interesting to know what proportion of the current upturn is directly related to the recent development of yet another London property bubble, supported by the government’s generous help-to-buy subsidies to those already on the property ladder.
If this is the real story of what’s happening in the British economy, though – a steady corrosion of ordinary workers’ earnings and benefits as a share of the national wealth, all designed to pay for a deficit almost entirely caused by the banking crash of 2008 and the subsequent bailout – it is not a story that most people have ever heard. The controlling narrative, as we all know, is the one about how the financial crash was caused by excessive public spending and an over-generous benefits system; the one about how we were all “living beyond our means” and have to pay the price; the one about how blaming rich bankers for the crash they caused, or expecting them to change their behaviour, is pointless and immature; the one about how migrants and benefit scroungers are the problem, and attacking them will provide a solution.
And it’s not difficult to grasp how this desperately skewed account of reality – actually false at every point – meshes with a television schedule that ranges neatly from Benefits Street to Strictly Come Dancing, offering viewers first a precisely-chosen group of underclass hate-figures, then a sustained orgy of identification with a series of celebrities; it’s a perfect, instinctive symphony of elite ideology, designed to divide ordinary people against themselves, and so to continue to rule.
All of which is elementary stuff, of course, for any boss class facing troubled times; distract the people by hatemongering and scaremongering, provide enough glitzy distractions and royal events, convince them that economic problems are just symptoms of personal moral failure – and hey presto, you can fool most of the people, almost all of the time.
And this time, too the tiny elite who are now trousering an ever-greater share of the world’s wealth have a peculiarly strong advantage, in that there is almost no organised resistance; just the odd protest, a brief and disparate occupy moment, and a steady thrum of dissent from the beleaguered trade union movement, which is about to become the main victim of the fiercely authoritarian Lobbying Bill currently passing through Westminster.
The idea that there is no alternative to George Osborne’s tired 1980’s neoliberalism may be intellectual and historical nonsense, in other words, disproved by the very breath of history, here in Britain and elsewhere.
Yet unless those of us who oppose his world-view begin to unite, to organise, to start arguing out a more truthful and compelling narrative in every workplace and community on the planet, our chances of challenging this new age of extreme inequality will be slim indeed; as slim as Kate Middleton’s tiny waist, and – in the eyes of a bamboozled generation – not nearly so glamorous, so interesting, or so important.
Source – The Scotsman, 23 Jan 2014