The Conservative government’s policies risk systematically stripping children of their rights, a report for the United Nations has found.
An assessment by the four children’s commissioners of the UK, the first full-scale review for seven years, called on the government to reconsider its deep welfare cuts, voiced “serious concerns” about children being denied access to justice in the courts, and called on ministers to rethink plans to repeal the Human Rights Act.
The commissioners, representing each of the constituent nations of the UK, conducted their review of the state of children’s policies as part of evidence they will present on Wednesday to the UN revealing how much progress has been made under the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
Many of the government’s decisions are questioned by the report as being in breach of the convention, which has been ratified by the UK. England’s children’s commissioner, Anne Longfield, said:
“We are finding and highlighting that much of the country’s laws and policies defaults away from the view of the child. That’s in breach of the treaty. What we found again and again was that the best interest of the child is not taken into account.”
In particular there are continuing concerns over the issues of abuse and the impact on children – with 25% of children in the UK exposed to domestic abuse between adults in their homes at some point in childhood. Studies reveal that in family courts “many of the youngest and most vulnerable children are currently not heard”.
Perhaps the most shocking finding is the rise of peer-on-peer domestic abuse among young people. Commissioners say that almost two thirds of “contact sexual abuse of children was perpetrated by other children”.
Longfield said that “over the next five years it will be the case that there will be an enormous number of children through the court system and we need to reflect the need to engage and listen to them in a way that is not happening now”.
The commissioners argue the government’s plans to “break the formal link between British courts and the European Court of Human Rights” by scrapping the Human Rights Act is a backwards step.
Green Party Media Release:
Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne’s plans for a two year benefits freeze will once again penalise the most vulnerable in our society, says the Green Party, the only Westminster party committed to transforming the economy so that it works for the common good, not just the 1%.
“It is obvious our current economic model, as inexplicably praised by the Chancellor today, has failed. Tackling the deficit by ruthlessly targeting the poor and vulnerable is not what constitutes an economic recovery.
“We should acknowledge that we are a wealthy economy that can afford to pay decent benefits to everyone who needs them, as a decent, humane society should. That must be paid for by rich individuals and multinational companies paying their way – something that this government has notably failed to enforce.”
Responding to news that a future Conservative government would freeze working-age benefits and make further public spending cuts of £25bn, Molly Scott Cato MEP said:
“Public debt is greater now than when the Tories came to office, demonstrating that public spending and welfare cuts have failed spectacularly in tackling the deficit. The truth is, austerity provides an excuse to punish the poorest in society, which is not only morally indefensible, it is also a false economy.
“Policies like the bedroom tax just push more people into the private rented sector which then costs the public more in housing benefit. Likewise, the increasing levels of poverty and inequality under the Coalition government impact on health and so pile more costs onto the health service. Greens believe in positive alternatives to austerity that would tackle the misery of poverty and address inequality; policies such as a citizens income, rent controls and a massive home insulation programme.”
Since the May 22 European elections, the Green Party has announced a string of progressive economic policies, which would deliver real change for the common good.
The Green Party’s 2015 General Election manifesto will include a Wealth Tax, and plans to deliver a £10 minimum wage for all by 2020, a Living Wage for all immediately, and a People’s Constitutional Convention to deliver meaningful constitutional and electoral reform.
The latest YouGov results for the Sunday Times have the Greens and Liberal Democrats both at 6% in voting intention.
Source – Welfare News Service, 29 Sept 2014
Still the Enemy Within is a unique insight into one of Britain’s most dramatic struggles, the 1984-85 Miners’ Strike. No experts. No politicians. Thirty years on, this is the raw first-hand experience of those who lived through the UK’s longest strike. Follow the highs and lows of that life-changing year.
In 1984, a conservative government under Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher declared war on the unions, taking on the strongest in the country, the National Union of Mineworkers. Following a secret plan, the government began announcing the closure of coal mines, threatening not just an industry but whole communities and a way of life.
Against all the forces the government could throw at them, 160 000 coal miners took up the fight and became part of a battle that would change the course of history.
Still the Enemy Within tells the story of a group of miners and supporters who were on the frontline of the strike for an entire year. These are the people that the media dubbed ‘Arthur’s Army’ and who Margaret Thatcher called ‘the Enemy Within’. Many of them have never spoken on camera before.
Using interviews and a wealth of rare and never before seen archive, Still the Enemy Within draws together personal experiences – whether they’re tragic, funny or terrifying – to tell the story of the key moments in the strike. It puts the viewer right at the centre of events.
Follow Norman Strike, from devising ingenious ways of getting past police road blocks in a key battleground, Nottingham, to suddenly finding himself a minor celebrity after a mishap on national television; Paul Symonds, from the optimism and excitement of a young man fighting for his future to the tragic death of his best friend on a picket line; Joyce Sheppard, from her life as an ordinary housewife to becoming a political activist and facing violence as huge numbers of police are sent in to Yorkshire villages to break the strike.
They, along with a range of voices from across the country, give a frank, emotional and ultimately inspiring account of ordinary people at the centre of extraordinary events.
From the infamous Battle of Orgreave, where miners found themselves in a brutal confrontation with over five thousand police, to the hardship endured after almost a year on strike – their story is not just one of personal drama but one that raises questions about the very nature of British society.
Still the Enemy Within shatters the mainstream narrative of the Miners’ Strike. It challenges us to look again at Britain’s past and how it shaped the world today, so that in the words of Yorkshire miner Steve Hammil, “we can still seek to do something about the future”.
The film will premiere at the Sheffield Documentary Festival 2014 in June, followed by a screening on the weekend on the Durham Miners Gala, 13th July in the Miners Hall at Redhill, Durham City.
More info – http://the-enemy-within.org.uk/
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
This is a few months old, but well worth reprising…
One of the purported achievements of the Coalition government’s disastrous economic policy of austerity, has been the unemployment figures. Pundits say that at 7.8% (2.51m) they are nothing to shout about but not the disastrous rates seen in states such as Greece (26.9%) or Spain (26.3%). In reality, the unemployment rate is more than double this in many areas, while those in employment are facing ever worsening conditions to retain their non-jobs.
We have the Thatcher government to thank for the majority of the statistical trickery which currently renders the government released unemployment figures redundant. Prior to 1979, the unemployment rate was anyone registered as unemployed, this was converted to a percentage of the total workforce and that was the published unemployment rate. Then some changes came in:
- Redefining Unemployment: originally defined as those ‘registered’ unemployed, changed to only count ‘claimants’ – this obviously reduced the number greatly as many unemployed people do not, for various reasons, claim benefits.
- Cutting Benefit Entitlements: By making changes to the benefit system (who is eligible and not) the government can magic away unemployment numbers by simply removing eligibility for benefits. If the person cannot claim, they are not classed as unemployed.
- Training Schemes & Work Programmes: the conservative government of the 80’s began to double count those in training & work programmes. First, they excluded them from the unemployed figures, then they added them to the total workforce figures – this means that simply by recruiting people into a work programme, the government has reduced the unemployment figures. Prior to Thatcher, these schemes were not counted as employment.
The Thatcher government was able to show a drop in unemployment of 550,000 in July 1986, and 668,000 in 1989 by transferring those unemployed into work programmes. They also kept an average 90,000 unemployed under 18 year olds off the books by making them ineligible to claim benefits.
Sadly, none of these changes have since been reversed, giving the UK public a much skewed view of unemployment and underemployment. If we look at the research prepared by other bodies without such downright deceitful exemptions, we reveal a more realistic picture of the economic woe being meted out across the country.
A study put together by Sheffield University last year set out to establish the real level of unemployment in the UK, given that there has been little change in the published unemployment statistic, we can suppose they still hold relatively true. The study found:
- For Britain as a whole in April 2012, the new figures point to more than 3.4 million unemployed. This compares to just 1.5 million on the claimant count and 2.5 million according to the Labour Force Survey – the government’s two official measures of unemployment. The difference is attributable to extensive hidden unemployment.
- An estimated 900,000 unemployed have been diverted onto incapacity benefits. These are men and women with health problems who claim incapacity benefits instead of unemployment benefits. They do not represent fraudulent claims.
- Hidden unemployment is disproportionately concentrated in the weakest local economies, where claimant unemployment is already highest. The effect has been to mask the true scale of labour market disparities between the best and worst parts of the country.
- In the worst affected districts, the real rate of unemployment is often around 15 per cent. Knowsley in Merseyside tops the list with a real rate of unemployment estimated at 16.8 per cent.
- The older industrial areas of the Midlands, the North, Scotland and Wales mostly have the highest rates of unemployment. In large parts of the south of England the rate is still only 3-4 per cent.
- Comparisons with similar data for earlier years shows that Britain was still a long way off full employment before the 2008/9 recession. Full employment is now still further away and the real rate of unemployment is higher than at any time since 1997.
- The report casts serious doubt on the likely impact of the Coalition government’s reforms, notably the Work Programme and Universal Credit, which are founded on the assumption that unemployment can be brought down by encouraging the unemployed to find work. The evidence points to large and continuing shortfalls in job opportunities away from the most prosperous parts of southern England.
One of the more worrying points in the survey is the widening gap between ‘claimant count’ and unemployed , as ever increasing numbers of people fund themselves without a job or eligibility to claim social security. For this expanding pool of people, exploitation beckons.
The government is pressurising people into ever more exploitative work programmes in order to reduce unemployment figures by threatening withdrawal of social security for non-compliance. In 2011, the Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government announced a plan to increase uptake of Workfare (the term given to these schemes) by 100,000. They also made changes to the programme they inherited from New Labour as follows:
1. A jobseeker who leaves a placement after 1 week loses their welfare payments for 6 weeks. If they do this a second time, they lose them for 13 weeks. The third time, three years.
2. Placements can be mandated for up to 30 hours a week for as long as 6 months.
3. The scheme has been opened up so corporations in the private sector can exploit this taxpayer funded, forced labour.
This means that someone who finds themselves unemployed must work up to thirty hours a week, for up to six months at a time, stacking shelves for Tesco or Poundland simply to receive as little as £53 per week, which they are already entitled to as part of the social contract of Britain. Also, Tesco isn’t paying the £53; we are, through our taxes.
Although an interview is supposed to be guaranteed at the end of the term, it is not required that the workfare provider has a vacancy open. An interview for a job that doesn’t exist is no interview at all.
Corporations get free labour, the government gets to massage the unemployment figures (Workfare victims are counted as employed) and the unemployed get shafted.
Anyone doubting this critique would do well to read the findings of the DWP’s own analysis of the performance of their work programmes. These schemes cost the taxpayer £5bn, yet only 1 in 10 people found employment lasting up to 3 months. The figures are even worse for the sick and disabled people forced into the work programmes – only 1 in 20 finding lasting employment.
The picture doesn’t get any rosier for those who have managed to find employment either.
Employers are less likely to provide real jobs than ever. As the market favours the employer, there has been an unprecedented month on month fall in wages through the entire 36 months of the Coalition government, and wages were already falling before they arrived.
On top of hidden unemployment, the UK also has an ever growing problem with underemployment; the case of people unable to find jobs with sufficient hours/pay to meet their needs.
A recent paper by researchers at the University of Stirling revealed that underemployment rose from 6.2% in 2008 to 9.9% in 2012. The rate hit 30% among 16 to 24 year olds.
We have also seen the rise of ‘zero hour’ contracts. Almost unheard of a few years ago, more than a million UK workers are now under these contracts. These contracts have no specified working hours – meaning that an employee is placed on permanent stand by until or unless the employer needs them. While classed as employed, the person has no wage security as they cannot guarantee their pay from one week to the next. They also receive no sick pay, leave or other basic terms and conditions.
The Resolution Foundation recently published a review of ‘Zero Hours’ contracts which found serious issues of the spike in their use:
- Those on ‘Zero Hours’ contracts earn less than half the average wage (£236 vs. £482 per week) of those on proper contracts.
- Workplaces using ‘Zero Hours’ contracts have a higher proportion of staff on low pay(within £1.25 of minimum wage) than those who do not.
These factors have allowed the UK Labour Market in recent years to combine a relatively high level of employment and an unprecedented squeeze on wages.
- Those on ‘Zero Hours’ contracts work 10 hours a week less, on average, than those who are not (21hrs – 31hrs).
- 18% of those on ‘Zero Hours’ contracts are seeking alternative employment or more hours versus 7% of those in ordinary contracts
These factors have contributed to the rise in underemployment in the UK since 2008. An ONS survey last year revealed more than 1 million people had been added to the rank of the underemployed since the 2008 bailout of the banks.
- ‘Zero Hours’ contracts are hitting young people the hardest, with 37% of those on such contracts aged between 16-24.
- ‘Zero Hours’ contracts are more likely to be held by those without a degree, and with a GCSE as their highest level of education.
- Non UK Nationals are 15% more likely to be employed on such a contract than UK Nationals.
It is not difficult to see the advantages of ‘Zero Hours’ contracts to employers – they can achieve maximum flexibility of their workforce, effectively retaining them on a pay as you go basis. It is also clear that in the short term, the government of the day also enjoy the advantage of hiding the true effects of their cut throat economic policies. But the ordinary human being seeking to meet the rising cost of living is losing on all counts.
Between 2008 and 2012, inflation rose 17% according to the Consumer Price Index, while incomes increased just 7% – this translates to a real terms pay cut of 10% for working people. But the Consumer Price Index measurement tracks the rising cost of an imaginary list of products and services that the poorest workers are unlikely to ever buy. The UK Essentials Index however tracks inflation of the bare essentials that would the poorest would buy – and these have risen by an eye watering 33% during the same period. This means that not only is the impact of unemployment hitting the country disproportionately, but underemployment and exploitative employment conditions are too – with the poorest being the worst affected.
There was a piece on the Guardian this morning talking about the triple boost to the UK economy of increased factory output, house prices and car sales, and trumpeting this as a sign of economic recovery.
But what is the point of this increased GDP if it is won at the expense of people wages and livelihoods? Surely, if the inequality in the UK between rich and poor is growing, unemployment is rising, underemployment is rising and wages are falling – this is a recession. It speaks volumes for the broken economic measures of growth at play here that a real world recession for the majority, is applauded as a recovery, when all that is recovered are the profits for transnational corporations and incomes of high earners, most of whom pay little or no contributions in tax.
Boycott Workfare – get involved in the campaign to outlaw workfare
UKUncut – get involved in demanding proper tax contributions from those corporations benefitting from these nightmare employment schemes.
DPAC – Disabled People Against Cuts do extraordinary work highlighting the state’s assault on disabled people. Please support them
Source – BS News, 07 Aug 2013
Unite union has teamed up with Durham Miners’ Association (DMA) to set up a “community hub” centre at the Miners’ Hall in Red Hill, Durham, which they say will become a resource for those most in need of help to deal with cuts, changes in benefits such as the bedroom tax and the tests carried out by ATOS, the company contracted by the Government to carry out the fitness-to-work assessments.
It will also launch a Benefit Buddying scheme, offering peer-to-peer support for those who are most vulnerable and are facing difficulties (which sounds like it might be a good idea), and campaign for welfare rights.
The centre will open two days (Wednesdays and Thursdays, 10:00 – 15:00) with the volunteers also offering support, help to learn new skills and guidance as people search for work.
The official launch is on Friday, November 15, at 2pm.
Dave Hopper, general secretary of the DMA, said: “We have opened the community support centre in partnership with Unite in a response to the vicious attacks on the benefits system brought in by the Con-Dem Government.
“The last Conservative Government decimated our coal industry, now this Government is making the people of the North East suffer all over again.”