Tagged: UK government

Benefit Sanctions Regime Must Be Changed – Churches

A group of churches and charities have called on the UK government to hold an urgent independent review into the benefit sanctions regime.

The group argue that the government has failed to heed the recommendation of the Work and Pensions Select Committee, who called for a full independent review of the benefit sanctions system earlier this year.

Dame Anne Begg, who chaired the Committee’s investigation, said:

“The implementation of the present sanction regime is controversial with the government claiming it is effective in helping people into work while many others say sanctions are causing real distress to families and are actually acting as a barrier to participation.”

She added: “If sanctions work as a deterrent, why are so many people still facing multiple sanctions?

“As there are so many questions about the effects on people who have been sanctioned, it is time the government implemented the recommendation of my Select Committee in the last Parliament to carry out a full, independent review of the whole sanction regime.

“Many believe that sanctions are being applied to the wrong people for often trivial reasons and are the cause of the increased use of foodbanks. Only an independent review can get to the truth of what is actually happening so that government policy can be based on evidence and not seen as merely punitive.”

In a 100 day period last year, 346,256 people who were on Jobseeker’s Allowance and 35,554 people on Employment Support Allowance (ESA) were referred for sanctions. These resulted in 175,177 sanctions for Jobseekers and 11,129 for sick and disabled people claiming ESA.

92,558 were blamed on a bureaucratic error.

The call for a review is supported by the Baptist Union of Great Britain, the Church of Scotland, the Church in Wales, the Methodist Church, the United Reformed Church and by charities Church Action on Poverty, Gingerbread and Mind.

Full story :  http://northstar.boards.net/thread/171/benefit-sanctions-regime-changed-churches

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Northumbrian Water – your water rates and which fat cats pocket them

The billionaire owner of Northumbrian Water is at the centre of a documentary being aired on North East screens on Monday (12 Jan) night.

The water company, owned by Hong Kong-based Li Ka-shing, one of the richest men in the world, has made more than £630m profit in the last two years, according to BBC investigations programme Inside Out.

But the firm pays on average less than 10% tax because of a legal tax loophole, the show will claim.

Northumbrian Water told the BBC that the company always acts transparently and within the letter and spirit of the law, adding that it is not in dispute with HM Revenue and Customs on its tax affairs.

But presenter Chris Jackson will tell viewers:

“Northumbrian Water sounds nice and local but when you pay the bill you may be surprised to learn the profits leach away to the other side of the world.”

Mr Li is the richest man in Asia, and 17th richest in the world, with an estimated wealth of £20bn.

He owns Superdrug and the Three mobile network, invests in Spotify and Facebook and has owned Northumbrian Water, which employs 1,600 staff, since 2011. He also runs a charitable foundation.

In terms of his North East assets he ranks alongside Mike Ashley and the Duke of Northumberland – except nobody here has ever heard of him, says Jackson who asks in the show:

“Of all the things he could have bought in the world, why did he buy a slice of the North East?”

Interviewee Professor David Hall of the University of Greenwich, will tell the documentary:

“The UK government provides a regulatory environment which most people think of as protecting the consumer, but its core objective is to ensure that the companies continue to make enough profits so that they want to carry on investing.”

In the last two years, Northumbrian Water has paid less than 10% tax on £630m profits, compared with the 20% standard corporation tax, because it has borrowed £1bn from Mr Li, Jackson will claim in the documentary.

The government has looked at closing the tax loophole – which is completely legal – but decided against it, prompting Labour MP John McDonnell to attack the situation in the House of Commons last year. He said:

“No wonder he’s the world’s ninth richest person. We’re making him the world’s ninth richest person. I think this is a scandal.”

> Earlier the article named him the 17th richest person. Perhaps he’s lost a bit since last year, poor dear. Down to his last few billion.

Mr McDonnell is calling for an independent public inquiry.

Nobody from the government would be interviewed for the programme, but a statement from the Treasury said recent analysis showed that changing the system used by Northumbrian Water would not save money and would undermine the competitiveness of the British economy.

Most utility companies in the UK now have owners dotted across the world, the programme will say.

> Well of course they are – subsequent governments – of all colours – since Thatcher have been obsessed with selling off the family silver to the highest bidder. A process that continues today with the NHS and DWP.

Barbara Leech, from the Consumer Council for Water which represents customers, will appear in the documentary describing how Northumbrian Water – which provides water supplies to the homes of 2.7m people in the North East – is top of the league in terms of satisfaction with services.

The full story can be seen on Inside Out (North East and Cumbria) on BBC1 at 7.30pm on Monday 12 Jan, in an episode which also features a Tyneside surgeon’s dream of building a hospital in India’s slums and a Teesside woman who helped shape modern Iraq. It will also be available on iplayer for 30 days.

Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 12 Jan 2015

DWP Accused Of ‘Breathtaking Arrogance’ Over Work Programme Devolution

> DWP are apparently more important than national governments now…

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has been accused of breaking the “letter and spirit” of the Smith Commission, after it emerged that lucrative Work Programme contracts are to be extended.

The Smith Commission, set up in the wake of the Scottish independence referendum, recommended that control over the Work Programme should be devolved to Holyrood “on expiry of the current commercial arrangements”.

However, it has now emerged the DWP has taken the decision to extend the contracts without the consent of the Scottish Government, despite cross-party agreement powers over the back-to-scheme scheme would be devolved.

Commercial contracts are due to expire in 2016 and this is when the Scottish Government expected powers to be devolved, until they learned yesterday that the contracts are to be extended for a further year.

The Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations (SCVO) said it is “utterly appalled” and “completely dismayed” by the decision, highlighting figures showing only 18% of job seekers find work through the scheme.

The SNP said the decision could leave unemployed Scots stuck with a Work Programme, dubbed ‘workfare’ by opponents, that “simply isn’t working for Scotland” until as late as 2019.

> It simply isn’t working for anyone, anywhere… except the companies with the lucrative contracts, of course.

SNP MSP Linda Fabiani, a member of the Devolution Committee, said: “Westminster’s Work Programme simply isn’t working for Scotland – and the sooner it is devolved, the sooner we can get on with putting this right.

“Tory plans to stand in the way of progress break the letter and spirit of the cross-party Smith Commission agreement. As SCVO make clear, there is ‘no justification’ for this.”

She added:

“The Smith Commission could not have been clearer – devolution of the work programme should happen as soon as the current contracts expire; but instead Westminster is extending the existing contracts.

“The UK Government sought Scotland’s agreement while the Smith process was underway and the Scottish Government is clear it does not agree with the extension.

“Quite why the UK Government thinks it is acceptable to completely ignore the Smith Commission proposals and press ahead with its failed scheme is baffling.

“The UK Government should apologise and immediately reverse this decision”.

Skills Secretary Roseanna Cunningham accused the UK Government of “breathtaking Arrogance” and has written a letter of complaint to Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith.

The ink is barely dry on the Smith recommendations and already the Tories are breaking both its word and its spirit”, she said.

Smith is explicit. Devolution of the work programme should happen as soon as the current contracts expire. Instead of honouring that, within just a couple of days of Smith, they are extending the contracts.

“That is breathtaking arrogance.”

Scottish Secretary Alistair Carmichael said the decision to extend the contracts was taken “long before the Smith Commission was even set up”.

Mr Carmichael said:

“This was a decision that was taken in August, so some of the breathless commentary about this being a dreadful decision that was designed to thwart the will of the Smith commission is not justified because, frankly, this decision was taken long before the Smith commission was even set up.

> If the decision was taken in August, thats a little over three months ago. I know a week is supposed to be a long time in politics, but even so…

In any case, shouldn’t they have held fire until after the Scottish referendum ?

“Although these contracts have been extended from 2016 to 17, this again is an area where the two governments should be sitting down and the Scottish government should be saying to the UK government, ‘we have done some thinking on this. This is what we want to do with our new welfare system, now how can that be represented with the contractual arrangements that you’re putting in place’.

A recent ICM poll shows 63% of Scots want to see full devolution of tax and welfare powers to Holyrood.

Source –  Welfare Weekly, 04 Dec 2014

http://www.welfareweekly.com/dwp-accused-breathtaking-arrogance-work-programme-devolution/

Easington MP’s anger over reports of rail take-over move

Easington Labour MP Grahame Morris and transport unions have reacted with fury to reports that the UK’s only Government-run rail line is to be taken over by a consortium largely owned by the French state.

Mr Morris said the decision to re-privatise the East Coast line was “right-wing Tory dogma being put ahead of the best interests of passengers”.

Edinburgh East Labour MP Sheila Gilmour and the RMT and TSSA unions were also highly critical of the expected decision.

The UK Government has been anxious to return the London to Scotland East Coast main line to the private sector ever since it was taken over from National Express by the Department for Transport in 2009.

But now it is likely that this week’s announcement of a new private franchise will see the line, from next year, being run by joint bidders Eurostar and French transport company Keolis which is 70% owned by state-run French rail company SNCF.

Opponents of the move to re-privatise the East Coast line have pointed out that the public-sector run company has made big returns to the Treasury during its tenure.

Mr Morris said:

“This public-run rail franchise has generated over a billion pounds for the Treasury. If this is what a publicly-run train operating franchise can deliver, at a time when every penny counts, we should be looking at ways to bring privately run railways back into public ownership not the other way round.

“This is right wing Tory dogma being put ahead of the best interests of the service, consideration for passengers and the public finances. The public-run East Coast main line franchise has consistently been the best performing franchise when it comes to passenger and staff satisfaction, fares and profitability. “

Ms Gilmore said:

“Passengers recognise the improvements to services that East Coast have made under public ownership over the last few years. They also appreciate that at present, all profits are retained for the benefit of British passengers and taxpayers.

“But despite calls from Labour for these arrangements to continue in the long term, today we hear that East Coast is set to be privatised just before the next general election.”

She went on:

“Ironically if the contract is awarded to Keolis – which is largely owned by the French government – ticket revenue may well be reinvested in improved services. Unfortunately these will be services between places like Paris and Lyon or Marseille and Monaco, rather than Edinburgh and London.

“A future Labour government would allow a public sector operator to bid for rail contracts, so that passengers and taxpayers always get value for money.”

A win for Eurostar/Keolis would mean disappointment for the other two bidders – FirstGroup and a joint venture between Virgin Trains and transport company Stagecoach.

Before National Express pulled out of the franchise, a previous private operator – GNER – also ceased running the East Coast line after its parent company Sea Containers got into financial difficulties.

Mick Cash, general secretary of the RMT transport union said re-privatising the line was “ludicrous” and a “national disgrace”.

He added:

This is pure industrial vandalism and the strong rumour that the French-state operator is in pole position to mop up this vital, strategic north/south route says it all.

“This Government is happy to have state ownership of our railways as long as it isn’t by the British state, in the interests of the British people.”

Manuel Cortes, leader of the TSSA transport union, said:

“This has got nothing to do with improving services but everything to do with sheer political spite.

“Here we have the best-value franchise, which has returned £1 billion to the taxpayer over the past five years, being sold overseas because it is a public sector success story.

“Rather than allow that to continue, the Tories would rather see it in French hands. They don’t want the voters having the chance to keep it in the public sector by voting Labour in May.”

He went on:

“We are in the absurd position that the country that invented railways, and gave them to the world, is no longer considered by the Tories capable enough to run our own railway firms.

“They prefer French, German and Dutch state railways to run them instead. ‘Anyone but the Brits’ seems to be their vindictive attitude.”

Source –  Newcastle Evening Chronicle,  25 Nov 2014

Campaigner calls for Scottish border to reach the south bank of the Tyne

Scots are heading to the polls later this month to decide on the possibility of independence.

But one Newcastle man thinks the borders of any new country should be redrawn – south of the Tyne.

Andrew Gray, a member of the Green Party, has launched a petition that he hopes could lead to a referendum which could see Newcastle vote to leave England.

While the eyes of the nation have been on Alex Salmond and Alistair Darling, Mr Gray, who lives in Heaton, believes the independence debate should extend beyond the Scottish borders.

Distance from London, tuition fees, the rising cost of social care and the privatisation of the NHS are among a hat-trick of reasons Mr Gray believes Newcastle should join Scotland.

He said:

“Many people in the North East feel distant from our government in Westminster, both economically and politically.

“The Scottish Parliament has proved that different ways of running public services are possible, including an NHS without the internal market, higher education without tuition fees, and, if there’s a yes vote in the referendum, defence without the threat of Trident.

“We therefore call on the UK Government to grant a referendum to all who live north of Hadrian’s Wall, or in Newcastle and North Tyneside council areas.

“We would choose whether to remain in England or to join Scotland.

“We call on the Government to arrange and fund this referendum, and to be bound by the result.”

Dr Alistair Clark, a senior politics lecturer at Newcastle University, said the idea was “interesting” but that Scotland is unlikely to expand.

He said feelings of neglect by Westminster have helped lead to the Scottish independence debate as well as devolved power for Northern Ireland and Wales, and those are shared by the region.

He said:

It’s an interesting idea and obviously there’s a lot of sympathy and shared feeling and a lot of links between Scotland and the North of England.

“The issue that it points to is that the north has not been well-governed from Westminster.”

But he added:

“I do not think anyone has interest in moving the border. I don’t really think Scotland wants to add stacks of territory and I don’t really think England would want to give it up.

“There is no political will behind this and you would need considerable political will to make this move.”

The referendum on Scottish independence is due to take place on September 18.

> Why stop at the north bank of the Tyne ? Extend the Scottish border to the north bank of the Tees !

Source – Newcastle Journal,  01 Sept 2014

Zero Hours Contracts Force Workers To Rely On Food Banks, Says Charity

Highly controversial Zero hours contracts are forcing Scottish workers to turn to food banks and payday lenders, according to a new report from Citizens Advice Scotland (CAS).

The report, ‘Working at the Edge‘, found that the inappropriate use of zero hours contracts by unscrupulous employers is exploiting workers and leaving them with “no hours, no pay and no chance”.

Some employers are now using zero hours for the majority of their staff, the report says, with women representing over half of those workers trapped on the controversial contracts. Young people and pensioners are also greatly affected.

 While Zero hours contracts can be beneficial for some people, such as those seeking casual or seasonal work, but far too often they provide workers with no guarantee of hours and shifts can be cancelled with little or no warning, say CAS.

Workers are frequently denied equal and fair working rights routinely awarded to part-time and full-time staff. The report warns that some employers are using zero-hours as a tool to easily sack staff.

CAS also warns that the misuse of zero hours by some employers is leading to some workers facing bankruptcy and prosecution over unpaid debts.

The report includes a case study of a CAS client on zero hours who only had three days work in a month and was forced to turn to a food bank to feed themselves. The client received a court summons after they found themselves £1,000 into arrears as a direct result of not being given enough hours work to pay debts.

Another case tells the story of a waitress on zero hours who was facing possible bankruptcy, after stacking up a debt of nearly £5,000 to payday lenders, while they waited for their employer to give them more hours work.

CAS policy manager Keith Dryburgh said:

Zero hours contracts (ZHCs) are meant to provide flexibility for employers and workers alike. They are not suitable for everyone, but they can be a useful option for some people — as long as the system is applied fairly.

“However, we see growing evidence that the system is in fact being abused by some employers, who are frankly misusing it to exploit their workers.

“It seems that the flexibility in the system often lies with the employer, not with the worker. And too often workers are left with no hours, no pay, no security and no chance.

“There are 1.4 million people on ZHCs across the UK. They tend to be aged under 25 or over 65. Over half of them are women, and the areas they work in are those like catering, tourism, food and care.

“In highlighting these cases we hope to persuade employers that they should do right by their staff, and also to open a dialogue with government about how to improve the system to make sure this kind of exploitation doesn’t occur.

“We make a number of recommendations in the report, and we want to engage with ministers, unions and others to discuss ways to ensure a fair deal for all workers.

“We also want to get the message to any worker who is on a zero hours contract. You have rights, and we can help you to stand up for them.

“If you are unhappy with your contract or unsure of your rights, contact your local CAB and we will help you with free confidential advice.

“Nobody in 2014 should be in a position where they are working but don’t have the security of an actual income.”

The Scottish Government has previously called on the UK Government to crack down on the use of inappropriate zero hours contracts, by ensuring that workers receive compensation if shifts are cancelled at short notice.

Commenting on the report from Citizens Advice Scotland, SNP MSP Linda Fabiani said:

While the UK government is encouraging the use of zero hours contracts, the Scottish Government has been looking at options available to tackle the issue within its current limited powers.

“As employment policy is reserved to Westminster, this is yet another example of how we can do things differently, and better, with independence.

“Zero hours contracts can be beneficial for some but they are not appropriate for everyone – and are more likely to be offered to women, young people and pensioners. And the growth in the inappropriate use of these contracts is clearly cause for real concern.

“The fact that anyone is forced to rely on food banks in a wealthy country like Scotland is nothing less than a scandal – but that people in employment are now struggling to afford the basics like food is simply unbelievable.

“After a Yes vote we can use the powers of independence to make sure that more people feel the benefits of Scotland’s wealth.

“The establishment of a Fair Work Commission and a commitment to raise the minimum wage at least in line with inflation will help us take action on low pay.”

Source – Welfare News Service,  23 July 2014

http://welfarenewsservice.com/zero-hours-contracts-force-workers-rely-food-banks-says-charity/

UK Government ‘In Denial’ Over Food Banks And Welfare Reforms, Say MSPs

The Welfare Reform Committee in Holyrood has accused the UK Government of being “in denial” over the link between welfare reforms and increasing demand on food banks.

Committee members visited a number of food banks across Scotland and took written evidence from providers including Trussell Trust, Oxfam Scotland and the British Red Cross, as part of an inquiry into the supposed link between benefit changes and food bank usage.

The committee also commissioned research from the Heriot Watt University in Edinburgh.

 According to the Trussell Trust, the demand for food banks has increased by 400% since the UK Government began their relentless attack on social security benefits.

The committee raised concerned that the increased use of benefit sanctions against some of the poorest sections of society is behind the startling rise in food bank usage.

In the year leading up to September 2013, official Government figures show that nearly 900,000 Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA) claimants had their benefit payments cut or stopped completely – the highest figure since JSA was introduced.

22,840 sick and disabled people in receipt of Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) were also sanctioned during this period.

This, in part, has led to MSPs arguing that it is “insulting to suggest” that there is “no robust evidence linking food bank usage to welfare reform”, as suggested by Tory employment minister Esther McVey in a letter to the Scottish Government.

McVey recently postponed a meeting with the committee to discuss the impact of welfare reform in Scotland. This resulted in Labour MSP Ken Macintosh accusing the UK Government of deliberately trying to “avoid answering questions” about the “significant and negative impact the welfare changes have had on some of our most vulnerable”.

Scottish Labour MSP and convener of the committee, Michael McMahon said:

The UK Government can no longer ignore the evidence that their welfare reforms are having a real impact on people’s ability to feed themselves.

“There can be no place for this in a modern, prosperous nation, just as there should be no need for food banks.

“Our evidence showed some low paid workers need to access food banks.

“This makes it even more insulting for them to insist that people using food banks are anything other than in desperate need of help. Help the welfare system should be providing, not charities.

“Allowing this Dickensian model of welfare to take root is simply unacceptable. Ignoring the problem cannot be part of the solution.”

The committee’s Deputy convener and SNP MSP Jamie Hepburn, said:

All our committee members visited food banks across Scotland.

“We were impressed by the professional and respectful way that the volunteers dealt with people who came to them, often in their hour of greatest need.”

Hepburn said that the UK Government needed to “own up to the role it is playing in causing the increase in demand and stop pretending this is simply all about people looking for something for nothing”, and that any such suggestion “insults the vulnerable members of our society using food banks and the volunteers that run them”.

Hepburn slammed the government’s welfare changes for “pushing people to the brink – and often beyond”.

A spokesperson for the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) dismissed the report as not being “based on solid evidence, but on the opinions of those interviewed”, adding:

The truth is that employment is going up, benefits are being paid to claimants more quickly and independent experts tell us that there are fewer people struggling with their food bills compared with a few years ago.

“The Trussell Trust and other foodbanks agree that increased awareness has helped to explain their recent growth.

“We spend £94bn a year on working age benefits and the welfare system provides a safety net that supports millions of people who are on low incomes or unemployed.

“Our reforms will improve the lives of some of the poorest families in our communities by promoting work and helping people to lift themselves out of poverty.”

> Said the DWP spokesperson, as their nose grew another metre…

Source – Welfare News Service,  02 June 2014

http://welfarenewsservice.com/uk-government-denial-food-banks-welfare-reforms-say-msps/

Welfare Reform Impacting On Mental Health, Say SNP

Scottish National Party (SNP)  Press Release:

The Scottish National Party has criticised the UK government for failing benefits claimants with mental health problems.

Speaking in a Westminster Hall debate today [7 May 2014] on Improving the Employment and Support Allowance application process for people with mental health problems, SNP Work and Pensions spokesperson Dr Eilidh Whiteford MP will condemn the UK government’s Work Capability Assessment (WCA) for its shortcomings with regard to people with mental health conditions.

 Concerns have been raised by mental healthcare professionals and representative organisations that WCA doesn’t capture the impact of more serious mental illnesses on a person’s capacity to function in a working environment, and leads to poor decision making.

According to a Freedom of Information request, in 2013, 58% (6 out of 10) ESA claimants hit by sanctions were vulnerable people with a mental health condition or learning difficulty – an increase from 35% of sanctioned claimants in 2009 – indicating that people with mental health problems are being inappropriately sanctioned.

Commenting, Dr Whiteford said:

“The UK government must do more to help some of society’s most vulnerable people.

“I have seen an increasing stream of people with quite serious mental illnesses over the last couple of years who are falling through our now very frayed social safety net because of Welfare Reforms. I’m sure it goes without saying that many people with a mental illness won’t ever need to depend on the benefits system. But some of those with more severe mental illnesses do require support, and some of them are extremely vulnerable.

“A key problem is that too often assessors and decision makers have little or no relevant background information about claimants’ complex medical histories, and too rarely seek input or opinions from claimants’ clinicians.

“A report recently published by the Scottish Association for Mental Health, SAMH, details findings on how the experiences of living in poverty affect peoples’ mental health, and how SAMH service users with mental health problems have been affected by UK government welfare reforms. A truly shocking finding was that 98% of respondents said that welfare reforms were impacting on their mental health, including increased stress and anxiety, while 79% were facing financial impacts such as reduced income.

“In six cases reported to the 2013 survey, SAMH staff had to carry out suicide interventions directly related to the welfare reforms.

“The information is there in black and white, and the UK government cannot continue to ignore it.”

> I’ll bet you anything that they can…

Source – Welfare News Service  08 May 2014

http://welfarenewsservice.com/welfare-reform-impacting-mental-health-say-snp/

State Corruption – The Biggest Threat to Our Liberties

Why It’s Now So Dangerous to Protest by Alison Banville (BSNews Editor)

In early 2011 I wrote a piece for the New Statesman about Mark Kennedy, the undercover policeman who had infiltrated an environmental group even forming a relationship with a female member. I addressed the question some had asked – why would so much time and effort be spent on a bunch of ‘tree-huggers’?:

‘All long-term campaigners on a range of issues – from the environment to the arms trade to animal rights – know, and have known since they began protesting, that the police are not the neutral body they pretend to be, but act on behalf of powerful vested interests: the corporations whose profits they defend and the government that is in bed with those corporations.’

This is the crux of the matter: profits. Nothing can be allowed to threaten them, not least peaceful people who simply want a just world and who are providing ordinary folk with the dangerous example of a life not ruled by the Holy Commandments of ‘consume, comply, conform’. That is why the gentle ‘tree-hugger’ is considered an enemy of the state, and will be treated as such. The state will also employ any and all measures to ensure that peaceful and LEGAL protest becomes a move too costly for any ethically minded person to contemplate.

Below I present the case that the UK government, in collusion with the criminal justice system and the police, has already embarked upon a deeply corrupt, systematic campaign to ensure that eco-activists (and animal rights/arms trade  activists etc) will be too fearful to claim even their most basic civil liberties for fear of the dire consequences others have already experienced:

The case of undercover cop Mark Kennedy’s infiltration of an environmental campaign group has led commentators, including myself, to highlight the worrying way in which the police appear to be defending corporate interests rather than the public’s.

As George Monbiot points out the role of ACPO, the Association of Chief Police Officers, in running the National Public Order Intelligence Unit (NPOIU), which managed Kennedy, should be scrutinized, especially in light of the fact that the former operates as a private limited company so that it is not accountable in any meaningful, democratic way.

It is right that we should question the apparent use of our police as a private protection force for corporations, but there is one sinister development that has been missed in this debate, and that is the subversion of the law in order to specifically convict campaigners participating in activities which threaten corporate profits. What is this subversion? It is the use of the charge of ‘conspiracy’.

Monbiot unwittingly touched on this when he mentioned that twenty of the people Kennedy reported on to his superiors were ‘convicted on the desperate charge of conspiracy to commit aggravated trespass.’ But George was mistaken in thinking that this was simply the result of the police and Crown scrabbling around for any old charge that would secure a guilty verdict – that would have been bad enough. No. This was, in fact, part of a very deliberate and traceable strategy that has been used in recent years to deal with ‘problem’ movements of which this was just the latest example. The ‘conspiracy’ tactic is a weapon, sharpened and wielded in order to weaken those groups most effective in challenging powerful corporations. And what’s more, it has been used successfully against perfectly peaceful campaigners:

Sean Kirtley was jailed for four and a half years in 2008 on a conspiracy charge. He was part of an anti-vivisection campaign against animal research company Sequani. Sean carried out no violent act; he used no intimidation; it was never suggested that he had conducted himself in anything other than a completely peaceful manner at all times and, as far as Sean was aware, he had kept scrupulously within the law. But because he had updated a website with perfectly legal information, and because he had attended wholly legal demonstrations he was convicted of ‘conspiracy to interfere with the contractual relations of an animal research facility’ under Section 145 of the Serious Organized Crime and Police Act (SOCPA). Is that clear? – it was possible in this country for someone who hadn’t actually behaved illegally to be imprisoned for years because his lawful behaviour amounted to a ‘conspiracy’. Ingenious!

There was no outcry about Sean’s sentence because a reporting ban was slapped on the trial – and even if publicity had been allowed well, he’s just one of those ‘extremists’ isn’t he? To hell with justice. During the trial ‘evidence’ was presented to show how Sean and his co-defendants (all of whom were acquitted) had planned (legal) protests – the very act of planning to demonstrate being portrayed as somehow illegal. In fact, a host of totally lawful behaviour was offered to the jury as evidence of conspiracy.

Thankfully, after a campaign to free him, Sean’s sentence was overturned on appeal but he had already lost a year and a half of his life. After release, he reflected on the conspiracy charge saying, ‘the final nail that was hammered into the prosecution’s ‘argument’ was when they could not name anybody that I was supposed to have conspired with, so my conviction was quashed there and then….I did often ponder in those small hours in my various cells in various prisons who I may have conspired with – Jesus? The Holy Ghost? Superman?’

We might also reflect for a moment on the mindset of those who were happy to see Sean rot in jail for four and a half long years.

Footage of people at various legal protests has also been used in other cases to accuse them of being ‘lead conspirators’. In this way, it becomes dangerous to engage in lawful protest for fear of being convicted – which is exactly the point. Because to stifle dissent is the overarching aim here while police and politicians pose as neutral supporters of the right to protest. This is why in the recently collapsed Ratcliffe Power Station case the authorities waited to arrest 114 people in a Nottingham school when they had Kennedy’s information (him being a major architect of the plan) much earlier. Far better to deter a large group from political action than just a few.

Danny Chivers, one of the defendants confirms this  also pointing out it was ‘the biggest pre-emptive environmental protest arrest in British history, and the starting point for a truly bizarre sequence of events involving a ‘conspiracy to commit trespass’’.

Here he nails the importance of the conspiracy aspect adding that ‘while Aggravated Trespass is a minor crime normally dealt with by a magistrate, anything involving Conspiracy has to go in front of a jury at the Crown Court’. This is the appeal of the charge for those employing it – it not only requires that no discernable offence actually be committed, it ensures a longer sentence which, in turn, acts as a deterrent. For the corrupt state fearful of the power of direct action – what’s not to like?

Chivers gives mention too to the draconian bail conditions given to those arrested preventing them from engaging in any LEGAL activities related to their cause. Again, this reflects the tactics tried and tested first on the animal rights movement, and this is significant because the thorough demonization of this latter group has meant there has been a fatal lack of scrutiny of its treatment at the hands of the police and justice system which has allowed individuals such as Kirtley to suffer serious miscarriages of justice. Crucially, it has also emboldened the police in their efforts to apply these same corrupt methods to the environmental movement because, in the eyes of the authorities, the two pose exactly the same threat. To misquote Martin Niemoller’s famous verse:

‘first they came for the animal activists…..’

The gullibility of the public on this issue must be replaced with a vigilance determined to protect the rights of every fellow citizen. Justice is for everyone or it ceases to exist and only an alert and watchful people can protect it, as John Adams knew when he said that ‘liberty cannot be preserved without a general knowledge among the people.’

Because the truth is, a covert game is being played with protest groups in this country which requires that the general population (and media) readily believe the propaganda of establishment voices. This game has absolutely nothing to do with protecting the public and everything to do with protecting corporate profits. It must be exposed because those who are happy to see our legal system subverted and fundamental liberties sacrificed are the real danger to any free and civilised society. And that’s no conspiracy theory.

Source – BS News  18 Feb 2014

http://bsnews.info/state-corruption-biggest-threat-liberties/

Oxfam – UK housing strategy will let the poor fall through the cracks

From April this year, the UK government will cap overall spending on welfare. Chris Johnes (Oxfam) hoped this would encourage government departments to invest in long-term programmes tackling poverty to cut future spending… but the current social housing strategy seems to be aiming for exactly the opposite.

Tackling the high cost of welfare is one of the government’s top priorities. Isn’t it? Both the Prime Minister and the Chancellor have repeatedly said that cutting welfare costs is essential to getting the budget deficit under control. So after freezing many benefits for working age people last year, the government has since decided it will introduce an overall cap on many benefits starting from next financial year.

This should be a spur to government departments to look at ways they can get the welfare bill down. Indeed, our experience as a charity is that the Treasury is interested at looking at how longer term preventative programmes – which help people tackle deep rooted personal problems – can be supported to cut the need for welfare spend in the future. These kinds of preventative spending could include family support, more tailored back to work schemes, expanding the supply of cheaper housing and better vocational education.

However, nobody seems to have told the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG), which seems determined to continue a housing strategy for England that will further push up rents. The strategy – which doesn’t include plans for building new homes for “social rent” (ie genuinely affordable rent) – will also drive up the need for people on low incomes to draw on housing benefit to be able to afford their rent.

The reality is that the current mix of jobs and housing available means that many people in work, especially in the south east, need housing benefit to be able to pay their rent. And the DCLG’s policy is based quite deliberately on allowing the housing benefit bill to rise – it’s not their problem, it’s another department’s budget. However, it could soon become the tenants’ problem in a big way.

If the welfare spending cap is breached, then housing benefit is an obvious target – it’s one of the largest benefits covered by the cap (it costs £24bn per year) – which means the amount of housing benefit available per person could be reduced if overall welfare spend goes too high.

And if people on low incomes will no longer have their rents fully covered, then they will face their household budgets getting even more squeezed and being forced to choose between paying the rent, heating their homes or eating. In other words, severe hardship will be imposed on thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of families because different bits of government failed to work effectively together.

There is, of course, an alternative, as charities have been telling the Treasury and governments in other parts of the UK have been pursuing. This is to put proper investment in genuinely affordable social housing – it may be expensive initially, but its long-term impact on rents will save both government money and human misery in the future.

Source – Chris Johnes, Director, UK Poverty Programme, Oxfam

http://policy-practice.oxfam.org.uk/…m_TW_PandP_BAU