Archive for the ‘Welfare State’ Category
Last night Enrico Tortolano, spoke on neo-liberal economics and politics to a public meeting at he UNITE offices held by the Ipswich People’s Assembly Against Austerity.
Up to 30 people turned up her brother Tortolano, who has worked on human rights with social movements in Latin America, and now is a research officer for the PCS union as well as writing for Tribune.
Enrico gave a talk of great clarity on how the wealthy have established free-market economics as the foundation of state policy in many countries. Everybody is told to be ‘self-reliant’ as taxes are lowered for the well-off and all forms of redistribution are undermined. We have, Tortolano said, crept back to pre-First World War levels of inequality.
In Britain attacks on welfare and privatising the state were being pushed through as part of what Naomi Klein called the “shock doctrine”. That is, taking advantage of a crisis to push through extreme free-market ideas.
He noted that the first to apply this method had been Augusto Pinochet , the Chilean dictator.
The recently deceased Margaret Thatcher had admired the leader of the Chilean coup, which had left thousands of left opponents dead and many more imprisoned and tortured.
From annual get-togethers in Davos (Switzerland), to thousands of ‘think-tanks’ and sympathetic media, their message has been relayed by all the main political parties in the West.
British politics seem to be restricted to the limits set by the ‘orthodox’ free-market economics.
The People’s Assembly, Tortalano said, offered a real opportunity for the left to unite and to put forward a different economic and political strategy. Ultimately the threat to the planet’s resources from the market would affect everybody.
The audience, which included trade unionists, local Labour councillors, library campaigners, and activists from the Green and socialist parties, joined in a fruitful discussion on this talk.
It was suggested that the People’s Assembly should take up the issue of low pay (very important in Ipswich), of the Bedroom Tax, and the fight against the wave of further cuts in public spending that will affect council (above all County Council) services in the coming months.
The Secretary of the Trades Council, Teresa Mackay pointed out that 80% of the cuts were still to come.
It was argued that the People’s Assembly needs a constructive and a positive message. It was not enough to just fight neoliberal economics and the hatred of the poor and migrant workers stirred up by the Liberal-Tory Coalition.
The left has to offer a democratic and egalitarian way of creating institutions for equality and collective need.
A co-ordinator will organise E-Mail contacts for the Ipswich People’s Assembly.
Transport will be available from Ipswich to take people to the London Assembly.
In the coming weeks we will be organising a campaign locally to draw attention to the links between Primark and other retail outlets and the terrible deaths of garment workers in Bangladesh.
As an activist said, “The numbers of the dead just keep rising.”
Mr 3,5%, Ian Duncan Smith.
The BBC has just reported on the dismal failure of the Work Programme,
Official figures showed only 3.53% of people found a job for six months or more – missing the 5.5% target.
Ministers said it was “early days” and the programme was succeeding in getting people off benefits and into work.
The figures, which cover the 13 months from June 2011 to July 2012, showed 3.53% of people were still in employment six months after joining the Work Programme.
The Department for Work and Pensions had told providers they should get 5.5% of people on the programme into sustained employment.
Faced with this poor result Employment minister Mark Hoban took a stand of stout denial.
He said: “It’s still early days, but already thousands of lives are being transformed.”
Indeed they have.
Hundreds and hundreds of posts and comments on Ipswich Unemployed Action have described the incompetence, the bullying, the downright cheating, used by companies operating the Work Programme.
For those on the Programme their lives are have changed – for the worse.
The New Statesman comments,
But by any measure (including the government’s), this is a bad start for what David Cameron hailed as “the biggest back-to-work programme since the 1930s”.
Meanwhile the rats are leaving the sinking ship.
We learn that as as from 31 October this year David Blunkett is no longer an adviser for A4E.
What Money Can’t Buy. Michael Sandel. The Moral Limits of Markets. Allen Lane. 2012.
Conservative MP, Ben Gummer (Ipswich), believes that owning a business should give you an extra vote in municipal elections. Local councillors too often “cannot read a balance sheet”. Towns and cities need to be run by those who can. Following the City of London there should be special electoral privileges given to companies and their owners. This would help councils face economic reality.
It’s hard not to be reminded of this when reading Michael Sandel’s new book. The philosopher notes that “Today, almost everything is up for sale”. In Santa Ana California you can by a “prison cell upgrade” to make your time in goal more comfortable. You can get into a top university by paying, passing ahead of those with better grades.
“Jumping the queue” with cash, for everything from airport immigration control, theatre tickets to medical care, is spreading like wildfire across the USA. These, and other aspects of “marketisation”, from corporations benefiting from ‘insuring’ their employees lives, to rampant advertising and ‘sponsorship’, are part of a world where “everything is up for sale”.
Sandel is less sure-footed about the UK. Here people have, despite the NHS, been able to pay to jump the queue for medical needs; public schools offer a way to buy an education that guarantees far superior access to Universities.
But there are signs that the process is not so different.
Conservative councils, like Barnet, propose offering better services and quicker access to those who can fork out cash. Companies and others have been able to purchase influence over Academy Schools. Now ‘free schools’ are a way for those with the money to get state support for their educational projects, including private firms and religious groups. Payment extends to lesser affairs. To urinate in a Council (though privately run) lavatory in Westminster costs 50 pence, leaving the really poor to piss in the streets.
Markets and Queues.
“Markets and queues – paying and waiting – are two different ways of allocating things…” Sandel writes. There is an “ethic of the queue” It is, ‘First come, first served’. It “ignores privilege, power and “deep pockets”. There is a deep resentment against anybody who refuses to wait her or his turn. It is, one might say, justice as fairness. Read the rest of this entry »
Suffolk’s Libraries general manager Alison Wheeler: Does not Like Criticism.
On Tuesday night we had a meeting of the Suffolk Coalition for Public Services.
High on the agenda was the deepening crisis in Suffolk libraries.
A representative from the library campaigners updated us.
A letter from Alison Wheeler Suffolk’s Libraries general manager was read out – in full.
It was in reply to a statement, published here, by the Coalition and the Ipswich and Direct Trades Council expressing concern about the future of Suffolk libraries.
I am too embarrassed to cite any sections of her letter, which is two pages long.
The gist is this that criticisms of the transfer from a publicly owned service to the Industrial and Provident Society are highly unwelcome.
It is peppered with what may be called, politely, strangulated,and vaguely threatening, language.
We would suggest that in future Alison Wheeler before sending them off, shows copies of her letters to somebody with some basic common sense.
Now the meat.
LIBRARY staff in Suffolk feel “stressed”, “belittled” and “intimidated” a strongly worded letter to their bosses has revealed.
The missive, written by Suffolk County Branch of Unison and addressed to Suffolk Libraries general manager Alison Wheeler, is highly critical of proposals to reorganise the services’ staffing structure.
Union bosses voiced concern that new senior positions would be created while vacancies in front line services remain unfilled and claimed that some proposals would “decimate” parts of the library service.
The Virtuous Poor.
Amongst their ideas, backed by the normal method of giving weight to hard-right schemes, a ‘poll’, is to introduce the Charity inspired system of ‘food vouchers’ in force in the United States.
Brian Wheeler of the BBC reports, (2nd October)
Should claimants be paid vouchers to stop spending on ‘vices’?
Should benefit claimants be prevented from spending the money given to them by the state on alcohol, gambling, cigarettes and other “vices”?
A poll commissioned by think tank Demos suggests most people would support such a move.
This has not met universal approval,
the findings have been met with horror by anti-poverty campaigners, who have questioned whether the British public really feel that way, or whether they have been denied the full facts on poverty by the government and certain newspapers.
Alison Garnham, director of the Child Poverty Action Group, said the poll, in which 59% agreed the government should control what people spend their benefits on, should be taken with a large pinch of salt.
“In the United States in the 1960s, welfare rights campaigners argued for food stamps for certain groups on the basis that some of them were alcohol abusers, but it’s not an argument that ever took traction in the UK because people would find that offensive.
“I think we have a very different culture. I just don’t think it would be acceptable in the same way,” she told a Demos fringe meeting at the Labour Party conference
Those who will gain financially from the idea are already lobbying hard.
In the United States, people on “food stamps” are given a pre-payment card that they can use to buy food and other essentials – but not luxuries such as alcohol and tobacco.
The introduction of the Universal Credit next year, which will see six work-related benefits rolled up into a single payment, potentially opens the door to a similar system in the UK.
Prime Minister David Cameron has not ruled out exercising more control over how claimants spend their money, although there is no suggestion, so far, that food stamps will be introduced in the UK.
Some, including Mastercard, which sent along a representative to the Demos fringe meeting, are pushing for the combined payment to be loaded on to a pre-paid card.f such a card were to be introduced, explained Matthew Mayo, Mastercard’s head of business development in the UK and Ireland, claimants could be blocked from using online gambling sites, for example, but not from buying booze at a supermarket.
Cards could also be used to incentivise healthy behaviour, he added, and some local authorities are already experimenting with such a policy.n the London borough of Camden, primary school children on free school meals can apply for a “Cool card”, which entitles them to £15 a month worth of activities such as drama tuition, climbing wall and martial arts.
The idea has its supporters in the Labour Party as well as opponents,
Labour MP Debbie Abrahams, an aide to shadow health secretary Andy Burnham, said she backed the idea, in principle, of using pre-paid benefit cards to encourage people to make healthy eating choices by offering discounts on fruit and vegetables, for example.
But she rejected the “obnoxious” suggestion that “feckless” benefit claimants blew all their money on “fags and booze”, instead of feeding their children.
Like Alison Garnham, she feared controlling what benefits are spent on would rob the poor of control over their lives and add to the stigma of being on benefits.
What alarms Labour politicians is that voters appear to have stopped thinking of benefits as social security – something they pay into for use in hard times – but rather as a charity handout to the poor, and that this will fatally undermine the welfare state.
One of the most striking findings of the Demos survey was that 18-24-year-olds were one of the most likely age groups to call for government controls on how benefits are spent.
Speaking on BBC Radio 4′s Today programme, Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary Liam Byrne agreed that a majority of people thought benefit recipients were lazy and did not really want to work.
There are most resolute opponents,
Campaigners like Alison Garnham argue that the public attitudes have been influenced by tabloid caricatures of benefit scroungers when, in fact, the amount paid to out-of-work people had gone down, in real terms, over the past 40 years.
“Six out of ten poor children live with a parent who is working. The reason they are poor is because their parent is a cleaner or a care assistant not because they are a drug addict or an alcoholic,” she told the Demos meeting.
“It’s generally desirable for claimants to have control over their own money, not paid on their behalf to somebody else. So I find myself asking why would the state want to have more power to interfere with how this money is being spent?”
“There will be a small group of people who have trouble budgeting or who are alcoholics, for example, but there is some really good evidence that poor families are very good at budgeting their incomes.”
Demos deputy director Claudia Wood said the think tank would be staging a similar debate in Birmingham next week at the Conservative Party conference, which, she added, might produce a very different response.
Article + comments here
The Daily Telegraph states that the Government says,
“”There are no current plans for the Coalition to introduce vouchers for welfare recipients, but the Prime Minister said there needs to be a public debate on the issue earlier this year.”
- 59% agreed the government should control what people spend universal credit on
- 77% said yes to monitoring people with a substance or gambling addiction and 69% for those with a criminal or anti-social history
- 68% agreed the government should stop all recipients from spending their benefits on gambling
- 54% agreed with the government stopping people spending their benefits on unhealthy items such as cigarettes or alcohol
- 46% opposed benefits being spent on branded goods such as Nike trainers
- 38% backed a ban on buying junk food and 35% on holidays
- Poll was carried out by Populus Data Solutions, based on a survey of 2,052 adults
Comment: The Busy-Bodies behind this idea should be taken to the nearest public stocks.
Claimants will be supplied with rotten Supermarket vegetables and invited to express their views on this proposal.