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Labour’s Policies on Social Security and Workers’ Rights: Pillars of a Sound Manifesto.

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Image result for labour manifesto 2017

 

Many people have commented, and will comment, and, who on earth  knows? will comment defavourably  on Labour’s policies .

Two areas stick out to me on this very sound Manifesto (full text here).

Both because they affect our people and because they are just.

Poverty in Britain is rising due to the Conservatives’ attempts to balance the books on the backs of the poorest. They have slashed social security over the last seven years, leaving more people in poverty, subject to a punitive sanctions regime, and reliant on food banks.

Labour will act immediately to end the worst excesses of the Conservative government’s changes. We will:

  • Scrap the punitive sanctions regime
  • Scrap the Bedroom Tax
  • Reinstate Housing Benefit for under-21s
  • Scrap cuts to Bereavement Support Payment.
  • The cuts to work allowances in Universal Credit (UC), and the decision to limit tax credit and UC payments to the first two children in a family, are an attack on low-income families and will increase child poverty. Labour will reform and redesign UC, ending six-week delays in payment and the ‘rape clause’.

With nearly four million children currently living in poverty, the majority in working families, we will commit to tackle child poverty with a new Child Poverty Strategy.

The Tories have completely failed on their promise of making work pay and on tackling the barriers to work faced by people with disabilities.

Labour supports a social model of disability. People may have a condition or an impairment but they are disabled by society. We need to remove the barriers in society that restrict opportunities.

A FAIR DEAL AT WORK

Work should provide people with security and fulfilment. But for too many people work is insecure and does not make ends meet.

The Conservatives boast about the recovery of employment, but our labour market is failing. Real-terms pay is still lower than before the crash, and jobs are increasingly low skilled and insecure.

A Labour government will invest in enforcement through a new Ministry of Labour, and empower workers and their trade unions – because we are stronger when we stand together.

So we will review the rules on union recognition so that more workers have the security of a union.

RIGHTS AT WORK

The next Labour government will bring in a 20-point plan for security and equality at work:

Give all workers equal rights from day one, whether part-time or full-time, temporary or permanent – so that working conditions are not driven down.
Ban zero hours contracts – so that every worker gets a guaranteed number of hours each week.
Legislate to ensure that any employer wishing to recruit labour from abroad does not undercut workers at home – because it causes divisions when one workforce is used against another.
Repeal the Trade Union Act and roll out sectoral collective bargaining – because the most effective way to maintain good rights at work is collectively through a union.
Guarantee trade unions a right to access workplaces – so that unions can speak to members and potential members.
Propose four new public holidays – bringing our country together to mark our four national patron saints’ days. These will be additional to statutory holiday entitlement so that workers in Britain get the same proper breaks as in other countries.
Raise the Minimum Wage to the level of the Living Wage (expected to be at least £10 per hour by 2020) – for all workers aged 18 or over, so that work pays.
End the Public Sector Pay Cap – because public sector workers deserve a pay rise after years of falling wages.

 

 

Written by Andrew Coates

May 16, 2017 at 1:23 pm

Undoing New Labour’s Legacy: Start with Welfare ‘Reform’.

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Image result for Welfare reform tony Blair

Blair’s Welfare Legacy.

Before people get bogged down in the rows over the Labour leadership election, it’s perhaps better to look again at some of the policy legacies of New Labour which need challenging.

This is not just economic strategy (the acceptance of austerity post 2009), foreign policy, or internal party organisation.

It’s bedrock issues about the ‘Third Way’, a politics “in favour of growth, entrepreneurship, enterprise and wealth creation but it is also in favour of greater social justice and it sees the state playing a major role in bringing this about” (Anthony Giddens).

A key aspect of the Third Way, for both Blair and Brown, was reform of the Welfare State.

In the area of unemployment it was important to equip people with the means to compete on the labour, ‘global’  market, to ‘encourage’ them to  so in return for benefits. There would be no rights to social security  without ‘obligations’. That is to follow what the out-of-work were obliged to do what the state, or rather the private companies and Third Sector bodies contracted to ‘train’ them, told them they needed to do. In other words, the state claimed rights over the unemployed.

In January 1998 Tony Blair, Prime Minister, outlined the basis for the approach (Independent).

The reform of our welfare state is not to betray our core principles of social justice and solidarity. It is to make them live, breathe and work again for the modern age. Over the last 18 years we have become two nations – one trapped on benefits, the other paying for them. One nation in growing poverty, shut out from society’s mainstream, the other watching social security spending rise and rise, until it costs more than health, education, law and order and employment put together.

“When I look at the welfare state, I don’t see a pathway out of poverty, a route into work or a gateway to dignity in retirement. I see a dead end for too many people. I do not believe this is how Attlee or Beveridge intended things to be. I want to clear the way to a new system. Long-term, thought-out, principled reform is the way forward.

Case for Welfare Reform.

This was one of the 5 Pillars of Blair’s government repeated in 2002.

A welfare state based on rights and responsibility where we gave opportunity to people on benefit to get into work; but demanded responsibility in return; where we came down hard on crime; but offered ways out to those committing crime..

These were the schemes to “Get people into work” introduced by New Labour, under Blair, and then, Gordon Brown,

The New Deal (renamed Flexible New Deal from October 2009) was a workfare programme introduced in the United Kingdom by the first New Labour government in 1998, initially funded by a one-off £5 billion windfall tax on privatised utility companies.[1] The stated purpose was to reduce unemployment by providing training, subsidised employment and voluntary work to the unemployed. Spending on the New Deal was £1.3 billion in 2001.

The New Deal was a cornerstone of New Labour and devised mainly by LSE Professor Richard Layard, who has since been elevated to the House of Lords as a Labour peer. It was based on similar workfare models in Sweden, which Layard has spent much of his academic career studying.

The schemes were delivered by private companies and the ‘voluntary sector’.

After some ‘training’ and endless ‘job search’ (sitting in a room with a computer endlessly applying for posts) most people were sent on ‘placements’ in companies, the public and charitable sector. This was nominally set at 30 hours a week, but in many cases the hours went to a full 40.

They were (initially) given an extra £15 a week on top of their dole, and their travel expenses. It would be needless to add that this meant their work was paid well under anything approaching the minimum wage. There were none of the labour rights given to the employed, and obviously cases of bullying and exploitation were quickly signaled. A more common result was that some people proved ‘unsuitable’ for placements, or, in some cases, simply did not turn up for their placement.

Many examples of work experience were much more positive, but it was extremely rare for anybody to find a job in the place where they were sent, or for it to help directly anybody getting work. Indeed some felt that the fact that you had participated in the scheme functioned on your CV  as a mark against you. It became part of the way people were trapped in a “dead end”.

We have a lot recently about ‘sanctions‘ against claimants. These happened under the New Deal for, amongst others, the reasons just given.

Well this, during the New Deal,  was the position under New Labour (2009) just before the Coalition (2010) came to power.

So, we are always hearing about the millions of people who New Deal has supposedly helped get such jobseekers back in to work off benefits. You have also heard about how poorly New Deal participants are treated and perhaps you have your own experiences to back up this, but Ipswich Unemployed Action can reveal that over 679,820 sanctions have been awarded to lucky New Deal participants since the year 2000.

Here is one case study of the system worked (2010).

A4e: Reed in Partnership

A4e don’t have premises in Ipswich – they wholly subcontract out to Reed in Partnership who lease space inside Crown House (near Tower Ramparts). Initial comments on A4e/Reed in Partnership:

  • A4e were the biggest New Deal Prime Contractor – in the spotlight for fraud and overcrowding
  • A4e tried to shut down sites giving criticism such as sister site New Deal Scandal (including for reporting their finance director resigned/got demoted after fraud allegations) and also closed the original Watching A4e website
  • Reed in Partnership were the first to deliver New Deal in 1998 – they were caught in a £3 million fraud
  • Looking at past history – A4e and Reed in Partnership seem a good match
  • Reed in Partnership are accused of harassing past participants impersonating the DWP Fraud team (*)
  • Emma Harrison (A4e not the model/actress) has refused to acknowledge or talk about a4e’s failings
  • Reed in Partnership and Reed etc. are also part of the same group yet they are pretty much isolated from each other (no website links to each other etc. or mention about parent company).
  • A4e promised a cafe like environment and a chill-out lounge – neither exist in Ipswich
  • You can’t make a Tea or Coffee – participants are advised to ask staff for one
  • Flexible New Deal participants have to pick FIVE (5) job areas – 2 more than a Jobseeker’s Agreement (3 job areas)
  • Reed in Partnership staff have to have at least 6 months experience in high pressured sales environment
  • Reed in Partnership Ipswich is TOO SMALL – OVERCROWDING – Ofsted apparently have raised concerns – rumours have speculated that someone was sanctioned for being a few minutes late (bus came late) solely because the room was too full for the person to join
  • Reed in Partnership uses profiling – AVOID GIVING TOO MUCH INFORMATION AWAY!
  • Reed in Partnership forces participants to sign a disclaimer giving them the ability to apply for jobs on your behalf etc. and to contact future employers (probably pretending to be DWP)
  • Ask for a 7 journey supersaver card – if you don’t ask you wont get – this is easier then finding the cash to get on the bus and waiting for it to be reimbursed later
  • Reed in Partnership offers “decoy training courses” under various different names such as “JOURNEY” – these wont help you secure employment – waste of time – consists of asking questions about the person next to you, what famous people you would like to meet/have dinner with, and the usual shit (interview modules, CV modules).
  • Reed in Partnership contradicts themselves and will stab you in the back. Advisers have noted about a) travel costs to work b) budgeting the minimum money you require etc. and provided modules in their courses regarding “making sure you are better off, in work” HOWEVER the next moment all participants are TOLD to apply for any job – NMW – few hours from home etc. Seems like they are trying to prepare people for sanctions. Its not fair to advise people not to spend half your wages on travel to and from work, yet the next moment sanction them for 6 months money for refusing a job which matches this entirely.
  • Reed in Partnership have an ongoing legal dispute with Yell (Yellow Pages) – and Flexible New Deal participants are banned from accessing yell.com – rather an important resource for speculative applications. Whether this is an injunction preventing yell being accessed or not is unknown at this stage.

To put it simply, the ‘training’ courses and all the rest were, in many people’s eyes, worthless.

Then there was this: A4e Fraud.

The document A4E doesn’t want you to see. (Left Foot Forward. March 2012).

On Thursday, the website Ipswich Unemployment Action provided a link to an internal A4e document (pdf), that appeared to indicate poor performance on behalf of the embattled welfare-to work company, which has won more than £200million in contracts with the department of work and pensions.

And this,

A4e boss Emma Harrison paid herself £8.6m last year. Nothing unusual for a top banker perhaps. But her company is funded by the government to find jobs for unemployed people. And it’s being investigated for fraud

The article contains this paragraph,

Just lately, you may have seen some of the slightly more negative coverage of Harrison and the company she founded in Sheffield, 21 years ago: A4e (it means “Action For Employment”), who were decisively glued into the heart of the welfare state by New Labour, and have seen their importance increase thanks to the coalition. They specialise in that very modern practice known as “welfare to work”, and their only income in the UK comes from public contracts. The company’s promotional blurb characterises what it does as the simple business of “improving people’s lives”.

And there was this,

When New Labour was in power, A4e forged close links to its ministers. One of A4e’s consultants is David Blunkett, the former work and pensions secretary who advocated private involvement in welfare reform.

Mr Blunkett declares on the register of MPs’ interests that he is paid up to £30,000 a year by A4e. There is no suggestion of impropriety by Mr Blunkett, but he may be embarrassed by the probe.

It is the widespread view amongst activists that New Labour paved the way for the present punitive social security system, the shambles of Workfare (now being abandoned) and full-flown sanction-regime, not to mention the blatant profiteering by private companies now running substantial sections of the welfare state.

A root and branch challenge to this legacy is needed.

Ken Loach Wins Palm D’Or with I, Daniel Blake.

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Palme D’or Triumph for the Daniel Blakes of the Whole World. 

Some good news, at last.

Ken Loach has won the Palme d’or at Cannes for I, Daniel Blake.

“Daniel Blake is a 59-year-old joiner in the North-East of England who falls ill and requires state assistance for disability from the Employment and Support Allowance. While he endeavours to overcome the red tape involved in getting this assistance, he meets single mother Katie who, in order to escape a homeless persons’ hostel, must take up residence in a flat 300 miles (480 km) away.”

France 24 reports,

The 79-year-old Briton attacked the “dangerous project of austerity” as he accepted the festival’s top prize from actor Mel Gibson and Mad Max creator George Miller, who headed this year’s jury. “The world we live in is at a dangerous point right now. We are in the grip of a dangerous project of austerity driven by ideas that we call neo-liberalism that have brought us to near catastrophe,” Loach said, adding: “We must give a message of hope, we must say another world is possible.”

And, he continued, “Necessary”.

Le Monde’s review noted that ‘welfare reform’ forms the heart of the film. That in the UK there is a veritable ‘crusade’ against the disabled, to root out those feigning illness (“la chasse aux tire-au-flanc a pris les allures d’une croisade) in a “néo-victorienne” Britain.

Moi, Daniel Blake n’est pas une satire d’un système absurde. Ken Loach n’est pas un humoriste, c’est un homme en colère, et le parcours de l’ouvrier privé de travail et de ressources est filmé avec une rage d’autant plus impatiente qu’elle est impuissante.

I, Daniel Blake, is not a satire about an absurd system. Ken Loach is not a humourist, he’s full of anger, and the progress a worker without a job, and without assets, is filmed with an indignation that is as exasperated  as it is impotent.

This Blog is not an uncritical admirer of Ken Loach. He is against austerity and for social rights, the cause of the left.  But his more specific politics, which include a lengthy membership of Respect and support for the cultural Boycott of Israel, as well as no known activity against Islamist genociders, or support for the Kurdish people in their fight for dear life against ISIS,  are not always the same as ours.

Nor are all of Loach’s films, for all of their skill and intensity, always as deep as they set out to be.

Of the most recent The Angels’ Share (2012) is amusing but slight tale of Scottish scamps. It is not free, for all its would-be irony, of whatever the Caledonian equivalent of Oirishness is,. The Spirit of ’45 (2013) may seem a strangely uncritical account of the post-war Labour government. Jimmy’s Hall  is a fine story set in the Irish Free state. But it is straining things for this emssage to pass, ” The behaviour of the state’s police is shown and explained to be occurring at a time when Stalin was in full control of the Soviet Union and it is obvious that the state and church are fearful of forces that threaten to destroy them. It is this tension between the ideals of Christianity and the fear of the church and its natural tendency to be reactionary that is the central issue that the film explores.”

It can still be argued that the trio have strong narrative coherence, and, in the case of Jimmy’s Hall, insights into the history of republicans, and the left, in the Irish Free State, and the characters swept up in the struggle for independence, the civil war,  and their fate in in the aftermath, as well as cinematique beauty.

Loach will, nevertheless, be remembered for Poor Cow, Kes, Land and Freedom, and smaller, less technically polished, but robust films such as Raining Stones, Riff Raff and the Navigators, which demonstrate that ‘social realism’ is not always worthy but unwatchable didacticism, and Bread and Roses, which shows politically engaged drama at its best.

That said by tackling head-on the effects of the ‘reform’ of the British Welfare state I, Daniel Blake, hits at a sensitive nerve, and, frankly, righteous indignation is an emotion that’s widely shared about this. Its tale of people pushed from pillar to post,  has been compared to Loach’s exposee of homelessness in the 1966 television play Cathy Come Home ,

The Minister in charge of the system of oppression bearing down on Daniel Blake, Iain Duncan Smith, is now a leading Brexit campaigner.

Appropriately Loach stands on the other side of the European Referendum debate,  the solution is ultimately voting to stay. “we need to “make alliances with other European left movements”.

The film is a worthy successor to last year’s winner, the riveting, Dheepan,directed by Jacques Audiard.

Sivadhasan is a Tamil Tiger soldier during the last days of the Sri Lankan Civil War. After the armed conflict resolves, his side loses and he is forced to move to a refugee camp. There he decides to move to France to take a fresh chance at life. However, in order to secure political asylum, he requires a convincing cover story. He is given the passport of a dead man, Dheepan, and pairs with people he barely knows posing as his family. Along with his supposed wife, Yalini and his supposed 9-year-old daughter, Illayaal, they get on a ship bound for Paris. Upon arrival, he lands a job as a resident caretaker and starts building a new life in a housing project in Le Pré-Saint-Gervais, a northeastern suburb of Paris, which turns out to be another conflict zone for him.

I saw Dheepan only a few weeks ago.

One hopes that Loach’s picture will not take so long to get to our screens.

 

Written by Andrew Coates

May 23, 2016 at 11:10 am

Suffolk People’s Assembly: Defend Our Unions Public Meeting.

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On Tuesday up to 60 people came to Ipswich Library Lecture room to the Suffolk People’s Assembly meeting, “Defend our Unions and Right to Resist Austerity.”

Speakers represented many different aspects of the Trade union and anti-cuts movement.

Dave Smith, a Founder Member of Blacklist Support Group, spoke on employers who witch-hunted activists out of jobs. Drawing on his experience in the building trade he outlined the long-standing campaign against the practice, and the recent actions against Crossrail and private contractors for public services.

Donna Guthrie of Joint Chair Black Activists Rising Against Cuts (BARAC) talked of their grass-roots campaigning in London’s East End. In Newham they had struck deep roots in the community, from many different ethnic backgrounds. They were campaigning against cuts in social housing, and issues such as the abuse of police powers.

Kevin Courtney, Deputy General Secretary, National Union of Teachers, said,

I’m Proud that NUT was in at the beginning of People’s Assembly and to share this platform today.

Why is the NUT is involved?

Well firstly because Teachers can’t separate themselves from the rest of working people. But perhaps more importantly because many of the children we teach see the worst effects of the austerity agenda. And it is the most vulnerable hit hardest.

Kevin described the attacks on the education system, spearheaded by Michael Gove.

How do we offer an alternative?

Kevin stated,

The Peoples Assembly shows the characteristics we need for the fight back – unity, broad base, looking for activity, something for everyone to do and contribute to And we do see very successful mobilisations all over the country – against cuts and closures in the health service, against the bedroom tax and evictions, against schools being forced into academy status.

Bill Bowring, the International Secretary of Haldane Society of Socialist Lawyers, and Colchester based, congratulated Suffolk People’s Assembly on its work. He listed more reasons to offer an alternative to the Liberal-Conservative government’s policies. He said that reducing legal aid, a pillar of the post-war settlement, was part of the same weakening of social rights as attacks on the NHS and education.

Roy Humphries FBU Secretary Suffolk Fire Brigades Union, spoke on the government’s plans to reduce their pension rights and raise the age of retirement to an unsustainable limit.

He described how their battles were far from over and thanked members of the local labour movement, in particular Ipswich Trades Council, who had supported their protests.

Jim Kelly, Chair of London & Eastern Region Unite the Union, spoke on  his union’s base in the private sector. He outlined the decline in collective bargaining agreements – the UK is now apparently on a par with only one country, Lithuania, for its low level of these agreements. Jim cited how UNITE had successfully fought back against employers and had, for example,  won bonus for London Bus drivers, and had defended their members. UNITE were beginning to tackle the problems created by the anti-union Gateway port employers.  What was needed were changes to the anti-trade union laws that prevented workers form organising and only a Labour government, he suggested, could do that.

On the Grangemouth dispute Jim pointed out that it was the local membership who had decided on an agreement with a ruthless employers.

In the discussion that followed a member of the SWP attacked the Unite General Secretary Len McCluskey.

Others saw the trade unions in a positive light, as reaching out to people to defend social rights and as advocates of a better society.

The People’s Assembly was mentioned as a way people  draw campaigns and unions together. The previous week Suffolk activists had supported the Disabled People Against the Cuts (DPAC) protest against ATOS. A campaign extending our work on the Living Wage, will be launched for  Fast-Food workers.

At the People’s Assembly National Conference (15 March) Suffolk will be presenting two motions. One opposes  the government’s  policies against migrant workers. The other calls for a national campaign against Workfare and for Charities, social sector and local authorities to have nothing to do with forced labour.

Ipswich Postal workers mentioned their fight to defend their conditions, and the effects of the closure of the local sorting office.

In the pub afterwards activists considered that the meeting had been a success and a help in our efforts to campaign for progressive politics.

Sisters, Brothers! There’s a place for you – in the People’s Assembly!

Suffolk People’s Assembly Against Austerity. A Report.

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The Suffolk People’s Assembly held a very successful meeting on Tuesday night.

Around 150 people crammed into the Co-op Education Centre in Fore Street to hear speakers on “It’s Time to Fight Back’.

People came from Lowestoft, Bury St Edmunds, Saxmundham, and Hadleigh as well as Ipswich and its surroundings.

As  the trade union UNITE noted, “The assembly intends to act as a focal point for a general campaign against the tide of austerity that is hitting the 728,000 people living in this predominately rural county. “

The meeting was organised by trade unionists, and a range of  campaigners from across the county. Many had been active in the Suffolk Coalition for Public Services which had held large demonstrations against the cuts in the region.

The Suffolk People’s Assembly (originally the Ipswich People’s Assembly, formed in April) after the June People’s Assembly Conference in London , attended by 4,000 people.

There were banners from Ipswich and District Trades Council, UNITE, the NUT, the GMB and Disabled People Against Cuts.

Graham White, Suffolk county secretary of the National Union of Teachers (NUT) led off the meeting. he talked of the privatisation of education and the attacks by the Education Minister, Michael Gove, on teachers  Graham called for support for the coming joint NUT/NASUWT strike action.

Teresa McKay, Secretary of Ipswich Trades Council, talked of the way austerity and poverty hit us, particularly women. She backed the Living Wage campaign, and a one-day national protest general strike to oppose government policies.

David Ellesemere, Leader of Ipswich Council Labour Group, began by dissecting  the disaster created by the Liberal-Conservative  Coalition’s economic policies. He cited,  Winston Churchill to back the argument that low wages ended up by making everybody worse off.

David made the Living Wage,calculated as the salary needed for a decent standard of living without tax credits, * the centrepiece of his speech.

He observed that the state was now subsidising bad employers by refusing to introduce this standard. He said that Ipswich Borough Council had brought the Living Wage, and banned zero hour contracts  for their employees. A Suffolk Living Wage Campaign would bring pressure on those companies which refused “A fair day’s pay for a fair day;s work”.

Ipswich Borough Council was proud to announce that it had begun building Council Houses, for the first time in many years.

The Council had, so far, resisted cuts – though the Coalition was now set to introduce centrally imposed  reductions in Ipswich spending.

David’s speech, which took a clear anti-austerity stand,  was well received.

Dianne Holland, Assistant  General Secretary of UNITE, spoke of the broader effects of austerity. We needed an alternative that could grip people’s imaginations and inspire opposition, Unity, People sticking together, was what we need.

Owen Jones, the keynote speaker, made just such an inspiring speech.

He talked of the politics of hope, opposed to the Government’s efforts to create fear and envy, setting the working poor against the unemployed, the healthy against the disabled, and the stigmatising of migrant workers.

Owen slammed the disability ‘testing’ firm, ATOS, one of many of the government’s welfare ‘reforms’, the bedroom tax, and the fact that people now had to be fed by Food Banks.

Many people react to the decline in living standards and policies designed to foment division, with frustration and anger.

Hope, he said, was as essential to life.

In place of the Government’s politics of hatred Owen offered plans for public housing, for decent wages not tax credits, and for welfare. It was a scandal that rents were so high that the Housing Benefits were going into landlords’ pockets, without helping solve the housing crisis. In their place rent controls and a massive programme of public sector housing were needed instead. Banks, bailed out during the financial disasters of the last few years, should be brought under  public control and used to promote investment. tax avoidance should be stemmed.

The movement, he observed, had a knack for division, into rival  Judean Fronts.

But now we were working together towards common goals.

Owen’s speech ended with a standing ovation from the audience.

There was ample time for debate.

There was concern that over the weekend a  ‘Love Music, Hate Racism’ live music charity event at The Steamboat Tavern on the Waterfront had cancelled by organisers after threats from the English Defence League. Around 11 members of the  EDL had turned up. **

Members of the audience raised issues such the cuts in education locally, Labour Party Policy, the NHS’s use of agency workers. Concerns about the Labour Party’s policies in these areas, and over squatting,  were raised. Women from the National Association of Probation Officers (NAPO) called for people to support their campaign against the service’s sell-off.

One speaker, indicating how the politics of division could be fought,  said that the local UNITE had recently recruited a substantial number of Eastern European Haulage drivers.

Sandy Martin Leader of the Labour Group on Suffolk County Council noted that unlike Ipswich Borough, the Tory-run County employed people on zero-hour contracts. Its privatised services, such as Home-care service exploited workers still further.

After the Assembly people remarked on how heartening they had found the meeting.

Serious follow ups are planned.

The Suffolk Living Wage Campaign will be organised in the coming weeks.

People will be out on the September the 29th NHS demo outside the Tory Conference in Manchester, and the November the 5th Day of Action.

Tuesday was a springboard for a much wider campaign against austerity in Suffolk.

Suffolk People’s Assembly meeting at the Coop Education Centre Ipswich, on September 17th 2003 resolves to:-

* Oppose the Austerity policies being carried out by the Coalition government and develop political and economic  alternatives to them. Read the rest of this entry »

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?

Ipswich Homeless Threat: 800 People’s Lives to be ‘Shaken up’ by Housing Benefit Change.

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Ipswich Tent City Set to Grow.

The new Benefit regime, “universal credit”,  is coming in over the next two years.

It will affect all claimants, but particularly those on Housing Benefits.

Rules will make anyone under the age of 35 unable to stay in independent accommodation.

They will only get money for a room in a shared house.

Anyone with a spare room in a council flat or house will also face sanctions.

The result?

A whole group faces eviction and homelessness.

According to senior Ipswich Borough councillors, Housing Officers in Ipswich estimate that at least 800 people will be affected.

The system will be in chaos.

And that’s before we look at the crisis in funding the government has planned – with 10% of the revenues due to be funded locally, and Council Tax benefit rules changed to penalise poorer councils.

With new rules on voter registration, making it the responsibility of those with a home to sign up rather than the present system when it is an obligation, the poor will be less present in elections to protest at these changes.

It’s estimated that a couple of million people could disappear from the electoral register.

So, more without a roof over their head, and less of a voice for them in politics.

The same Labour Councillor suggests that the Liberal-Tory Coalition should add a property qualification for voting rights.

Just to be on the safe side.

Written by Andrew Coates

October 7, 2011 at 10:44 am