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The Work Agenda: What happened to the leisure society? Rory O’Kelly. Review.

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How Should We Look at Work? 

The Work Agenda: What happened to the leisure society? Rory O’Kelly.

Chartist Free E-Book.

O Laziness, have pity on our long misery! O Laziness, mother of the arts and noble virtues, be thou the balm of human anguish!

Paul Lafrague. The Right to Be Lazy. 1880.

One of the sections of Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the Twentieth Century deals with the justification of colossal salaries and wealth. The media, he observes, is full of stories about business ‘stars’. They are used to indicate how graft and talent are rewarded. There is a “just inequality, based on merit, education, and the social utility of elites.” (1) Everything is slanted to suggest that that the majority of high-earners and the well-off deserve their rewards. Criticisms of pay and bonuses come when these are gained without apparent hard work.

Piketty enjoys pointing out that is impossible it is to demonstrate any connection between effort and reward in the modern economy. The part of social wealth going to Capital, and the well-off, increases regardless of individual cleverness or toil. Much depends on “luck”, the ability of top mangers to fix their own pay, and the influence of the wealthy to press for low taxes. Entrepreneurs, like Bill Gates, turn into rentiers, with more cash as they get older, they live off an initial innovation that was rarely one person’s discovery in the first place. In sum, to those that have, shall be given.

Many accept this case. But there are deeper problems. It is not just that certain kinds of elite work are valued, leaving others – the majority – aside. Why is ‘work’ itself such a self-evident virtue that it makes those not-in-work look as if they are afflicted by vice? O’Kelly begins the excellent and thought-provoking The Work Agenda, by stating, “Work is seen as good in itself and maximising the number of people working and the amount of work done as self-evidently right.”

This assumption looks strange in the light of 1960s (and much later) predictions about automation and the ‘leisure society’. Paul Lafargue looked forward to a time when, thanks to the abundance created by technology, slogging your guts out was not the goal of existence. The 1970s and 1980s saw criticisms of ‘productivism’ and the cult of labour in socialist ideology. André Gorz’s Adieux aux proletariat (1981) took up these ideas. He suggested that in a “post-industrial” society people should control what is produced. They could share work according to need, and wants, with a universal guaranteed income, and more and more free-time. More modestly the French left in the late 1990s thought that the 35 Hour week would be a step in this direction.

Today, however, O’Kelly says, the obsession with the absolute value of ‘work’ blocks people from considering a “rational way of sharing the output of a society across all the members of society.” Many people may well spend time on benefits, over the course of a lifetime. Others, of a whole range of reasons, may be on them for much longer. Structural long-term unemployment is a feature of all Western societies, as is the need to help those who are incapacitated

Instead of recognizing this, and adapting social spending to it, governments, from Tony Blair onwards, have tried to push everybody into work – regardless of their medical condition, the needs of the labour market, and the rights or wishes of those to be pushed in this direction.

Putting the Disabled to Work.

The Work Agenda does not dwell on the ideology of work. Instead it is devoted to how the doctrine is used to undermine the basis of social benefits. This is most obvious from changes to the benefits for the disabled. The idea that ‘work is the best form of welfare’ is applied to the sick (which covers a multitude of diverse categories of people). There is an economic rationale, “Getting people into work is pursued primarily as a way of reducing transfers between working and non-working people; in simple terms: the cost of benefits.”

Fitting square pegs into round holes barely begins to cover the injustices that have resulted from these policies. Known to the general public through the scandals surrounding ATOS, and the ‘assessments’ of those claiming disability benefits, these are part of a much wider picture. O’Kelly’s background in the social security system helps him come to grips with the detail. He clearly knows the operations of what is now the DWP inside out, and uses them to great advantage.

The Work Agenda lays out the history and rationale of the present structure, “The driver behind the Welfare Reform Act 2007 and the creation of Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) was the belief that by changing the definition of incapacity sick or disabled people could be made capable of work.” As he notes, “Until recently the medical situation was taken as an objective starting point to which the benefit system then had to respond. The great change in 2007 was to take the needs of the benefit system as the starting point (my emphasis) and to change clinical definitions to conform to those needs.” This was, as we know, a Labour government, or ‘New Labour’,  that made this turn.

O’Kelly argues (on the basis of close acquaintance with the civil service decision-making) that there never was a time when large numbers of people were classified as medically unfit in order to reduce the unemployment figures. There were always rigorous tests. What has changed is that governments have decided to change their nature.

Now it might seem reasonable – and it’s repeated often enough – to assert that there are large numbers of people who “choose” not to work. But in the case of invalidity benefits there is a simple way of determining this: medical advice. Present legislation is designed to alter the character of this criterion. Instead even ill people can be judged “capable” of working – according to a fairly loose test of what being able to carry out basic tasks is, including those even those objectively unwell can do. This O’Kelly says, means. “Effectively moving sick people into employment without improving their health”. This process is “likely simply to transfer the costs of sickness from the benefit system to statutory sick pay and private sick pay schemes.”

The problem then is not that ATOS is a particularly venal organisation – though opinions might differ on this after the company’s dissembling and bleating about being harassed. It is the changed nature of the tests for incapacity that drives the injustices that they have caused.

A persistent case is that mental troubles are rarely easily definable according to a check-list of questions and a short interview with an assessor. There are plenty of other not always ‘visible’ illnesses. As the pamphlet indicates, “It is a striking fact that the classes of people whom the government is most anxious to take off benefits for incapacity overlap very largely with those whom no rational employer (in either the public or the private sector) would want to take on.” As somebody who has sat, during various employment courses, with people with very serious mental-health issues, and others with deep health problems, we might equally ask why they are obliged to take these “preparation for work” training schemes.

Back to First Principles.

Returning to question the principles he began with, O’Kelly makes the observation that “Work (i.e. paid work) is essentially economic activity; the creation of goods and services. It is not a form of welfare, it is not a form of therapy and it is not a punishment. It can of course be used in any of these ways, rather as a stiletto heel can be used to hammer a nail into a wall. It does not do the job very well, however, and it is not very good for the shoe either.”

The work agenda is used, in effect, to “Micro-manage the lives of the poor”. Not only the disabled on what is now the Personal Independence Payment (PIP), but anybody on benefits,

are now subjected to close surveillance over their lives. This erodes personal autonomy, and increases dependency. The DWP, and private companies gaining rent from public contracts, are entrusted with the power to grossly interfere in people’s lives. They claim rights over claimants. They have fewer and fewer responsibilities to them.

For those “success stories” who get off benefits, O’Kelly notes, “The present system does also however offer scope for giving notional employment (or self-employment) to people who are able to do very little and who will continue to get the great bulk of their income through the benefit system whether nominally ‘employed’ or not. Some of these people will get psychological benefits from ‘working’; for others the effect will be the reverse.”

It might be suggested, as O’Kelly does, that the Ministers in charge of these policies have little experience of the world of ordinary work themselves. More insidious is the influence of the welfare-to-work industry. They influence policy to an undue degree, essentially with their claims to propel people into the – self evidently good – world of work. That claimants dislike them and that they are unable to meet the demands of their contracts (notoriously over the Work Programme) and capable of dissembling about their operations, is ignored.

In the meantime few people question the absolute value of this “work”, or why so many people spend their lives in low-paid, insecure, unrewarding employment. Or why those with Capital get so much more, including a slice of the revenue of those obliged to claim benefits – forced onto the welfare-to-work schemes run with the profits of wealthy private contractors foremost in mind. The culmination of this process will come when claimants will, as the Help to Work programme intends, have to work for their benefits. (2)

*******

(1) Page 419 Capital in the Twenty-first Century. Thomas Piketty. Harvard University Press. 2014.

(2) Picketty suggests that some free marketers propose the following “Instead of holding public debt via their financial investments, the wealthiest European households would becomes the direct owners of schools, hospitals, police stations, and so on. Everyone else would then have to pay rent to use these assets and continue to produce the associated public services.”(Page 541 – 2 Op cit). This is in effect happening in the United Kingdom, beginning with PFI. The welfare-to-work industry in effect is given a chunk of the welfare state and everybody’s taxes are used to pay rent to the owners of their enterprises.

You can read The Work Agenda as a free E-Book by clicking here.

Don’t Defend the Big Issue: John Bird is no friend of the Unemployed and Backs Workfare.

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Workfare Backing Bird at the launch of a Big Society initiative 

The Big Issue claims that its mission is this,

The Big Issue offers people who are homeless the opportunity to earn their own money; a livelihood.

Now its founder, John Bird (MBE) faces a challenge.

Iain Duncan Smith has said the magazine sold by the homeless, the Big Issue, is being used by immigrants to claim benefits.”

Following a speech on welfare policy in Berlin, Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith was quoted in the Times newspaper as having referred to the Big Issue magazine while discussing the issue of benefit tourism.

Mr Duncan Smith praised the magazine, saying it was “a brilliant idea by a brilliant individual, who himself was homeless.”

However he added: “But actually what is happening progressively, more and more, is people mostly from southern and eastern Europe have actually ended up being Big Issue sellers and they claim, as self-employed, immediately, tax credits.”

The government also said the new earnings threshold would “help ensure that benefits only go to those who are genuinely working”, and that it was being introduced “as part of the government’s long-term plan to cap welfare and reduce immigration.”

Of the 3,500 vendors currently registered by the Big Issue, 25 per cent are Romanian or Roma, 66 per cent British and the remainder other nationalities.

But the Big Issue says that the average weekly earnings of its vendors are currently £47.10 – well below the minimum earnings threshold to qualify for in-work benefits.

Defending himself founder of the Big Issue said,

The Big Issue was set up to lift people into work and reduce the chance of people in need ever to resort to wrong doing. By giving people a hand-up rather than a hand-out it is providing a real and ongoing cost saving for the taxpayer.”  Channel Four.

Before anybody starts defending the Big Issue remember this.

Here is the reason unemployed activists loath it from the bottom of their hearts,

The best way to defend the benefit system is to remove the rotten part of it. The part that takes able-bodied people and turns them into kids waiting around for the arrival of their pocket money.

And with 85% of our prison system full of people from a workless background, you can see that these kids can get into trouble.

Since 1991 when I set up The Big Issue I have tried to get people back working rather than begging or wrongdoing.

I believe that work, any kind of work, is better than hanging around waiting for something to drop into your lap. As an ex-offender, beggar, rough sleeper and heavy drinker, I can say that it isn’t much of a life.

Yet many well-intentioned liberally minded people defend the right of people to live an often defeated life. A life where their health and mental wellbeing is destroyed. Simply because we give people a handout rather than a hand up.

I have stood against the growing use of benefits that stop people building a life for themselves. Why is it that the amount of people who are on benefit who get to our top colleges is less than 1%? How is it that many of the children whose families are trapped on benefit do poorly at school?

Why? Because benefit does not help them. It is dressed up to look like a social support system but is in fact like a big brick wall built around people who desperately need support to get out of poverty.

The benefit system needs to change. It cannot be an endless alternative to work. It has to come with strings attached. People on benefit must help people in the community who need our help – the old, the disabled and the needy.

So Bird is in favour of Workfare.

He is also in favour of his own nice littler earner.

On television  Bird went so far as to suggest that he was helping stop criminality (that is, amongst Roma migrants) by giving them work.

One might ask what that has to do with homelessness.

Some people think that the main objective of the Big Issue is to sustain its own business.

This is this individual’s political background,

A member of the Workers Revolutionary Party in the 1970s,  in March 2007 he announced his intention to stand for election to the post of Mayor of London as an independent candidate.  In May 2007 he unveiled his election manifesto for the 2008 poll.

In October 2007 he announced that he had decided not to stand for election, and was instead going to launch a movement that was “going to try and do what the CND did over the bomb, but over social injustice.”

In December 2007 he agreed with Westminster Council who declared that they were opposed to the presence of soup kitchens on the streets of London. He said:

We have to stop supplying people with the means of being emergency refugees on the streets… no one has ever got off the streets simply because they’ve been fed a good bowl of soup.[9]

In 2010 he helped to launch the writers website abctales.com

In the early 21st century, Bird became a Social Enterprise Ambassador. Social enterprises use a business to address a social or environmental need. The Social Enterprise Ambassadors programme is led by the Social Enterprise Coalition and is supported by the Office of the Third Sector, part of the UK government’s Cabinet Office.

Bird revealed in 2010 “My guilty secret is that I’m really a working class Tory. There, I’ve said it. I’d love to be a liberal because they’re the nice people but it’s really hard work – I can’t swallow their gullibility and I think their ideas are stupid. I’d love to be someone who wanders around in a kind of Utopian paradise seeing only the good in everybody but I just can’t. I support capital punishment for a start. I know this will destroy my reputation among middle-class liberals but I’m 64 now and I should be able to breathe a bit. Wearing the corsetry of liberalism means that every now and then you have to take it off. Wikipedia.

 Nobody should defend this self-promoting right-wing  charlatan. 

Written by Andrew Coates

June 6, 2014 at 10:54 am

Hate on the Dole: George Osborne to Make Unemployed “pick up littter.”

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‘Community Service’ Osborne’s Solution to Mass Unemployment.

The Daily Mail exults, “Benefits will be stripped from the long-term jobless unless they work full time picking up litter, removing graffiti or preparing meals for the elderly.”

“George Osborne will today announce details of the US-style ‘work for the dole’ programme, starting within six months and affecting 200,000 welfare claimants.”

The Independent reports the crucail details.

200,000 people a year who have claimed jobseeker’s allowance for three years will lose benefits unless they take up one of three options after two years on the Work Programme:

  • Thirty hours a week for six months of community work such as making meals for the elderly, cleaning up litter and graffiti or charity work, plus 10 hours of “job search activity”.
  • Daily attendance at a jobcentre  to search for work instead of a  brief interview once a fortnight.
  • A mandatory intensive regime for claimants with underlying problems such as mental health, drug addiction or illiteracy.

Although the benefit sanctions will be controversial, the Tories regard the “work for dole” scheme as an example of “tough love” and insist their aim is to help the jobless back into work.

We note,

Statistics released by the DWP today show that the performance of the Work Programme – which was already achieving less than doing nothing at all – is steadily getting worse.

By June 2013 a lower percentage of people who had been on the scheme for one full year had found a job which lasted at least 6 months  – known as a sustained job outcome – than in the previous two months.  In April 2013 14% of claimants who had been on the scheme for one year had found sustained jobs, by June this had dropped to 13%.*

Boycott Workfare  rightly compares the plans to the punishments given out to those who have broken the law.

Unemployed people and campaigners have condemned George Osborne’s announcement that long-term unemployed people will be forced to work unpaid or face losing their social security as a criminalisation of unemployed people.

The maximum community sentence that a judge can hand out is for 300 hours, but claimants on six-month workfare schemes are already being forced to work without pay for 780 hours. The four-week Mandatory Work Activity scheme is already the equivalent of a medium level community service order that a person might receive if they were found guilty of drink driving or assault.

When a similar scheme was introduced in the US, thousands of jobs in the Parks Department were lost in New York alone – to be replaced with forced unpaid workers. Similar case studies have emerged in the UK, where workfare placements are already taking place in hospitals, council offices, charities and businesses.

What is the record of previous workfare schemes?

A pilot has already been tried.

Boycott Workfare commented on the results,

The preliminary results are from the trailblazer pilot, which tested CAP along with Ongoing Case Management (OCM) – “a more intensive a more intensive offer of flexible and personalised adviser-based support, as well as a set of mandatory activities, delivered by Jobcentre Plus through increased adviser interventions for six months”. These two schemes were tested with a control group continuing on standard job centre plus, and participants randomly assigned to the schemes.

Fifteen to 18 per cent in each programme strand had entered paid employment, become self-employed or were waiting to start work at the time of the survey, six to seven months after starting on the trailblazer. These job outcomes did not vary significantly between programme strands, nor did the types of jobs entered, take-home pay and hours worked.

For participants on OCM, those who reported receiving more personalised support to their individual needs were significantly more likely to be in work at the end of the programme. However, for CAP participants, neither attending a placement nor receiving jobsearch support were significantly associated with a job outcome around the end of the programme.

The majority of participants reported being in receipt of JSA at the time of the survey. DWP statistics published alongside this report found statistically significantly lower levels of benefit receipt for both CAP and OCM participants compared to the control group about six months after starting the programme.

The degrading sight of the Chancellor of the Exchequer announcing, with glee, that the out-of-work will have to clean the streets, wash the walls of scribblings, and cook for the old, awaits us today.

His Minister of Work and Pensions, Ian Duncan Smith, is said to be devout Catholic.

Not doubt that played something in the decision to make life hell on earth for the unemployed.

Important Update.

Johnny Void points out how the hard right Policy Exchange has manufactured statistical support for Workfare.

“The general public’s opinions on workfare have been grossly distorted by the nature of the questions asked in this survey.”

* The TUC said (26 September 2013),

Work Programme is still failing to help vulnerable people, says TUC

Commenting on figures published today (Thursday) by the Department for Work and Pensions on the government’s Work Programme, TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said:

‘Despite the official spin, the Work Programme is still failing to deliver for many jobseekers.

‘Just one person in 25 is able to find a proper job after a year on the scheme, and disabled people have seen virtually no benefit since its introduction. Although there has been an increase in placements for those on those on the dole these improvements are starting to tail off.

‘The government is obsessed with punishing those out of work, rather than helping them find jobs. The best way to get to grips with our unemployment crisis would be to offer a jobs guarantee for anyone out of work for at least a year.’

Written by Andrew Coates

September 30, 2013 at 10:34 am

Blue Labour Comes Back and Wants (more) Welfare ‘Reform’.

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Not for Blue Labour.

Radio Four last night examined Blue Labour’s plans for welfare reform (You can hear it here. Transcript here).

Mukul Devichand opened with this,

These voices are the gurus of a new circle at the top of the Labour Party. They’re highly influential: in charge of writing the policies for Labour’s next manifesto and crafting Ed Miliband’s key speeches. And if you thought Labour would simply tinker around the edges of welfare, and reverse some of the cuts, you’d be rrong if this group had its way. Labour long ago jettisoned the idea that the central government could run industry. In this week’s Analysis, we’ll explore how this group also wants the central state to walk away from a top down model of welfare.

Following this Maurice Glasman opined, “The state is necessary, but as a external administrative neutral force it undermines relationships. It can undermine humanity.”

If that is an indication of the quality of New Labour thought we socialists on the dole can rest easy in our beds, till late afternoon if we wish.

The state is a relationship that can undermine humanity, might have been a more coherent idea.

But we let this pass.

Sir Robin Wales, Mayor of Newham then took another step backwards.

Here are his thoughts on the Welfare state,

I think the problem has been we forgot what it was originally set up for. It cuts people’s legs off. It rewards people the more need they can demonstrate. It does things for people and that’s a mistake. So for example on housing, if you come in and say, “I’m homeless, I’m in need,” we’ve rewarded in the past, we’ve rewarded people. The more need they have, the more likely it is we’ll support them. So you’ve got to show, you’ve got to prove that you can’t do things. That’s the wrong way to do it.

Perhaps Sir Robin has found a way of abolishing need.

Apparently so,

He began by stating,

The Soviets learned in 89 that it didn’t work. We still think we should run things centrally and we’re one of the most centralised states and a democratic state in Europe. It’s nuts. We need to do more in terms of pushing power and responsibility and opportunities down locally, and I’d argue that if we’re going to make the welfare state work there needs to be a much stronger local element where the community and the values of the community can be put to work. You cannot put something that meets an individual’s needs, you cannot structure that from the centre.

As Devichand wryly observed, the Soviets are not around to answer back.

He by contrast has set up Workplace, a local alternative to Job Centres,

The government’s Work Programme is a disaster, and it’s a disaster because it’s designed by civil servants to be run nationally and you don’t start with the employers. We go to the employers and say could we present people to you who are job ready, who are the right people you want? And the result is that not only do we get five thousand people into work; half of them are long-term unemployed, a large number are young people.

The Work Programme is in fact thoroughly decentralised.

It is delivered, in scores of different ways, by private providers, mostly companies, but including ‘social enterprises’ and charities.

This is the result of extensive lobbying by these providers (who’ve become the ‘unemployment business’) as first encouraged by David Blunkett, closely linked to one company (he served on its Board after setting the system up), A4E).

The system is unemployment business driven and nobody knows exactly what they’re going to get.

It is also news that Workplace is unique in going to employers, since that is exactly what all Work Programme providers do.

The root problem is deeper and simpler: there is not the work for the unemployed to be fitted into.

To test the success of Newham’s scheme we got people saying that they agreed that graft should be rewarded and skivers left out. This was not ,

a gathering of the local chambers of commerce; it was a crowd of the recently unemployed in East London, albeit hand-picked for us by Newham Council….

We are reaching the realm where the inhabitants of  Cloud Cuckoo Land go to get away from their mundane lives.

It is a sad indication of the ‘debate’ set up by Blue Labour that it was up to the Fabian Society General Secretary,   Andrew Harrop,  to talk some sense.

That the reasons why welfare is ‘centralised’ (that, is we all have the same rights and benefits are aligned to need) is that Beveridge,

wanted a uniform, consistent system, so that it was based on your citizenship rather than more arbitrary factors, and there’s still a lot of truth in that insight.

Polly Toynbee pointed out that if we decentralise welfare  in the way Blue Labour want

 In the end you might get some councils who say actually we care more about our municipal flowerbeds.

This is not a joke.

A percentage of  Council Tax benefit has been made payable by those on benefits and  decentralised under the Liberal-Tory Coalition.

Those in Liberal or Tory areas can pay twice or event three times what you pay in Labour ones. Poor areas have high charges, rich right-wing ones, despite their reserves, still shift the burden as far as they can onto those on the Dole.

Toynbee later observes,

I think Labour MPs know so well, they are so rooted in their own communities, many of which are very poor, what can’t be done. They know very well that you can’t take money away from the very weakest and very poorest and they won’t let it happen. So I’m pretty confident that this will end up being a creative policy with a lot of good ideas, that it will spark all sorts of things off, but don’t let’s imagine it’s a new 1945 settlement.

A creative policy?

The Analysis programme  did not go far into this.

But the rest of Blue Labour’s ideas, about contributive benefits, are equally askew. They would create a gap between sections of the unemployed. They would (and are) be hard and expensive to administer.

Countries that operate these schemes , like France, have had to introduce minimum levels of benefit to all, regardless of contribution, and still suffer from continual deficit crises in their systems.

The Living Wage is equally no panacea for low pay. With rents still rising, and the inflation rate on goods that the less well-off buy going up, it does not mean the good life for all.

Jeremy Cliffe, of the free-market Economist concludes,

The Attlee government, Labour’s perhaps most venerated and mythologised government, set in place a Welfare State which involved the benevolent state pulling levers, transferring wealth from those that had it to those that didn’t, and this involves moving on quite dramatically from that. And I think there are many in the labour movement, perhaps understandably those who have worked in the Welfare State, who see their constituents dependent on support in various forms from the Welfare State, those who are close to the trade Union Movement which is obviously rooted in the last fifty or so years of British political economy who are not comfortable with this.

Dropping the reference to the “benevolent state” (Cliffe just couldn’t resist saying that, could he? Still who can deny that  a 1st Class Degree from Oxford teaches you things) and what do we have at fault?

That there is a “transfer of wealth“.

Is this something Blue Labour is against?

Clamp Down on Poor Drinkers: Protest and Revive the Skeleton Army!

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Better a Country Free than a County Sober!

The BBC says,

Ministers are to unveil plans later for a minimum price for alcohol in England and Wales as part of a drive to tackle problem drinking.

The Home Office is expected to publish a consultation on the proposal, which was first put forward in the government’s alcohol strategy in March.

A price of 40p per unit was suggested at the time.

But pressure has been mounting on ministers to follow Scotland’s lead, where 50p has been proposed.

The aim of a minimum price would be to alter the cost of heavily discounted drinks sold in shops and supermarkets. It is not expected to affect the price of drinks in pubs.

The Times predicted a 45p per unit minimum would be set and it said this would raise the price for the average can of beer or cider to £1.12.

According to the NHS website the average can of 4.5% strength lager contains around two units of alcohol, while a small glass of wine contains 1.5 units.

This will affect one group: poor drinkers.

Let us ignore all the ‘medical’ concern about alcohol and binge-drinking.

This is not true. Earlier this year this was published

There has been a long-term downward trend in the proportion of adults alcohol intake, as in 1998 75% of men and 59% of women drank in the week prior to report’s survey compared to 68% of men and 54% of women in 2010. Furthermore, the average weekly alcohol consumption for all adults was 15.9 units for men and 7.6 units for women and  26% of men reported drinking more than 21 units in a typical week. For women, 17% reported drinking more than 14 units in a typical week

The measure is all about cracking down on “”drunken mayhem” on Britain’s streets.

Or, to put more clearly, about dealing with the rabble.

In recent months Ipswich – apparently a ‘model’ for what could become the norm across the country – has ‘encouraged’ (a visit from the rozzers) off-licences not to sell super-strength lager and white cider.

There has been a hysterical campaign in the local media about street drinkers sipping tinnies of Special Brew and Frosty Jack near the centre of town.

The Council, and all local political parties, have joined in.

To cite a recent story from the Ipswich Star,

As the war on cheap super-strength alcohol is stepped up in Ipswich, a Star investigation has illustrated the size of the task facing the authorities.

Reducing the Strength

The Reducing the Strength campaign was launched in the town in September.

The campaign aims to stop the sale of cheap super-strength beer, lager and cider from off-licensed premises.

The campaign is a joint initiative between Suffolk Police, NHS Suffolk, Ipswich Borough Council, Suffolk County Council and the East of England Co-Operative Society.

Reducing the Strength asks off-licence owners to voluntarily remove super-strength products from their stores.

Yesterday police began rewarding shops which have signed up to the Reducing the Strength initiative, aimed at ridding Suffolk’s county town of the scourge of ultra-potent beers and ciders.

But high-alcohol beverages are still easily found in Ipswich.The Star was able to buy a three- litre bottle of cider – costing just £3.99 and containing more alcohol than the weekly recommended allowance for a man – within minutes of trying.

The 7.5 per cent proof Frosty Jacks cider contains 22.5 units – more than health experts’ 21-unit limit for men.

The cost per unit of 17p is less than a third of the 50p limit which prime minister David Cameron wants to impose.

Now there is a problem with street drinkers in Ipswich, as in many towns and cities across the country.

Why has it grown?

Policies of successive governments, known as ‘neo-liberalism’, or the free for all – for business – have excluded many people from the labour Market.

The Dole these days is only given to those who satisfy an increasingly rigorous set of criteria, turn up to bogus ‘employment’ schemes (3,5% success rate), and have their lives under constant surveillance.

Many, in the words of my mate Neil, say “fuck it, and go and drink cider in the park”.

Alcohol is only one of their choices.

Most mix the booze with even cheaper tranquilizers (Temazepam), and, frankly, any drug going.

The Left and Alcohol.

Some on the left agree with this clamp-down on poor drinkers.

Some cite the Scottish experience of raising prices. They claim it has been needed because they are particularly afflicted.

In Ken Loach’s The Angel’s Share there is a scene in that land where out-of-their-brains  youngsters snaffle down a 3 litre bottle of Frosty Jack.

You can see this round here every day. I have left my gaff at 9 in the morning and seen people swigging Tenants Super at the end of the street.

This will not go away if the cost is raised. The hard-core  will just beg and, possibly, shop-lift more.

But what is really behind the thinking of those on the left calling for the less well off to cut down on drinking?

In Britain there was a strong teetotaler movement inside the late Victorian and Edwardian labour movement.

Henry Hyndman though not a non-drinker (he liked his Bordeaux vintages) frowned on the workers imbibing strong drink. He once wanted to snatch a bottle of whisky away from SDF members playing cards on a post-Party meeting train.

Against this prejudice Robert Blatchford  felt obliged to make a defence of moderate drinking in his popular Merrie England (1894).

The ILP initially  made it policy for members to sign the non-drinking ‘pledge’ .

I can’t imagine my Whisky drinking Scottish ILP forebears liking that.

The policy  lasted precisely a year.

Today we see people on the left who have given up changing the world and prefer to try to change (that is cajole) people.

Their attitude is often the same as Hyndman.

They can drink fine wines, good quality real ale, and cider.

But the rabble in the streets need ‘reforming’.

The Anarchist journal Now or Never replies,

With heavy drinking increasingly attacked by the Government and media, Tug Wilson suggests we look to history for guidance, and that it is once again time for drunkards everywhere to march under the banner of the Skeleton Army.

During the late 19th Century the recently formed Salvation Army were taking their message of virtuous clean living to the streets of Britain, deliberately targeting drunks, gamblers, prostitutes and other ‘undesirables’.  The Salvation Army’s unconventional approach was abrasive to both the Christian establishment and many of those they were preaching to.  In choosing to attack popular working class pastimes, they whipped up a violent grassroots reaction and their provocative style of disseminating their message often resulted in public disturbances.  Towards the end of 1881 in Weston-Super-Mare a rag-tag bunch of libertines, drunkards, publicans and brothel-keepers began an organised opposition to the Salvation Army; the Skeleton Army.  Very soon Skeleton Armies started appearing throughout the country.

The present anti-alcohol  lobby is the modern temperance movement.

This measure is ill-intentioned, ill-conceived and will be ill-executed.

Join the new Skeleton army!

As Kevin has commented (below) I shall add this further example of hypocrisy, which I cut-and-pasted from his Blog,