What have young people done to Osborne to deserve such contempt? | Polly Toynbee | Comment is free | The Guardian

I was going to write about the devastating impact that Osborne’s budget will have on young people but instead urge you to read Polly’s take on it all as she expresses far better exactly what I wanted to say.

Why are the young caught in the cross-hairs of this government? That will mystify future social historians. Most societies talk of them as “our future”, to be nurtured and encouraged, but in yesterday’s budget, yet again they were pursued in a special vendetta of dislike, bordering on disgust.

via What have young people done to Osborne to deserve such contempt? | Polly Toynbee | Comment is free | The Guardian.

What have young people done to Osborne to deserve such contempt? | Polly Toynbee | Comment is free | The Guardian

Mark Blyth on austerity

After Osborne’s announcement today this is definately worth another look…the hangover of austerity is not going to be felt the same across the income distribution…perhaps we should all be tweeting the following to Osborne?

@George_Osborne watch and learn – Mark Blyth on Austerity: http://youtu.be/go2bVGi0ReE

Big Society – is this the real thing?

When I helped to paint my community centre, giving up a day’s holiday, I did so because I believed it for a good cause. I believe in contributing for the benefit of my community but is this ‘Big Society’?

Cameron’s Big Society was launched back in July 2010 and had two essential components – volunteerism and localism. His vision was for a dramatic redistribution of power ‘from the elite in Whitehall to the man and woman in the street.’

The Big Society rhetoric provided Tory politicians the opportunity to present a small government ideology with the promise of continuing services through the community sector. It promised to put communities in control but the reality is that they have not benefited in real terms, nor has the wider community.

Cameron’s Big Society is nothing more than a subterfuge for cuts and the continuation of a Thatcherite attack on the state. The notion that the private sector was ever going to step in and replace the hundreds of thousands of jobs culled in the public sector, when in the depths of a recession the banks were not lending, was a pipe dream.

Cameron continually disputed this charge, arguing that the concept of Big Society was ‘not about trying to save money, but about trying to have a bigger, better society.’, a claim contradicted by the Communities Secretary with Pickles publicly boasting that ‘big society was about getting more for less’.

A poll published in The Independent in 2011 found only 21 per cent of people disagreed with the view that ‘The government’s ‘big society’ was merely a cover for spending cuts.’ By the time the Big Society concept had celebrated its first birthday, and although it had been through four relaunches, 78 per cent of voters did not know what the ‘Big Society’ was meant to be. Those that did have some understanding saw it ‘as a recipe for abandonment’.

It is hard not to see Cameron’s Big Society as the big con it really is.

It was launched without any insight into how the voluntary sector worked and the costs involved. Plenty of community spirited people might be willing to work for nothing for the benefit of society but they certainly won’t want to or could not afford to incur costs to do so.

As government inspired council cuts continue to take their toll on us all, the voluntary sector has also been heavily hit. This is a bit that Cameron appeared to forget to think through. The delivery mechanisms for his ‘Big Society’ need funding and when local authorities are having their funding grants cut by huge amounts, then the voluntary sector projects cannot sustain themselves. Many have already disappeared.

The Big Society was supposed to make us all want to volunteer our time for the betterment of society. In reality, the funding cuts imposed by the Tory led government have deprived hundreds of thousands of volunteering opportunities. But it doesn’t stop there.

Behind all the talk of localising power, enabling and volunteering, the Tory vision of the ‘Big Society’ is very clear. Cameron’s pet project is built on the underlying intention of sacking hundreds of thousands of professionally trained public sector workers and to instead provide vital services on the cheap with volunteers. There is a clear difference between services provided by qualified and trained workers and those provided by community minded volunteers. Those of us who can give up some time to help with community projects do so knowing that we are doing ‘our bit’. There is a clear difference and this is the real crux of the issue. This is the reality of Cameron’s Big Society.

A big society, a fairer society… whatever it is called is about one clear notion.  It is not about replacing workers with volunteers, it is about volunteering to work. We must all be mindful of this difference and not fall into the trap laid down by those proponents of Cameron’s ideology.


Tory rhetoric on poverty = Lies and Myths

The tough on poverty, tough on the causes of poverty rhetoric adopted by the Tory led government has successfully perpetuated untruths about those in poverty and despite being challenged by many on the Left has framed a perception of idleness for those claiming benefits.

The behaviour of our Tory led government is down right shameful, but in reality, any challenge to it is put down to the Left attacking the Right, and the government has continued to perpetuate these lies aided and abetted by its right wing press.

It is not just the voices of the Left that seem to have been ignored by our current government. Churches from all four nations of the UK, representing 1 million people published a major report in February that showed how evidence and statistics had been misused, misrepresented and manipulated to create myths that blamed and stigmatised the most vulnerable in our society.

The report, entitled ‘The lies we tell ourselves: ending comfortable myths about poverty‘ confronted some of the most common myths told about people who are in poverty or in receipt of benefits, and highlights some of the most abused statistics.

13 million people including 3.6 million children live in poverty in the UK today. The report showed how evidence and statistics had been misused, misrepresented and manipulated to create myths that blame and stigmatise those most vulnerable in society. The report disputed many myths and figures quoted in programmes such as ‘Troubled Families’ which it stated “misused for political purposes and sells a story of dysfunctional, anti-social families costing the nation a fortune; a story which makes the existence of poverty far more acceptable to those who are not affected”. Despite the report being sent to every MP and MEP, the government has continued with its blame game.

In a letter sent yesterday to David Cameron, the coalition of churches ask that as prime minister and Leader of the Conservative Party, he ensures that the record is put straight, and that statistics are no longer manipulated in a way which stigmatises the poorest in our society. It asks him to ensure that government ministers cease to say untrue things about those in poverty.

The letter also cites three instances in April where government ministers made statements which were demonstrably untrue. The common thread between these statements was that, in support of the Government’s welfare reforms, benefit claimants were portrayed in a negative light. The letter gives a detailed explanation of the untruths and highlights a tiny proportion of the damaging, stigmatising and misleading news coverage prompted by the statements.

The coalition of churches and charities argue that this apparent pattern of misleading statements and occasional straightforward untruths cannot continue. Saying untrue things which unjustly present sick and disabled people as dishonest and lazy, cannot be acceptable if we are to live in a decent society. 

Our society is not broken…the system is. And blaming those who are victims of this broken system rather than attempting to mend it is shameful.

I was pleased to read Ed’s speech on welfare which recognised that the system needed reform but with a focus on the genuine cost of welfare rather than buying into government rhetoric. 

“If we are going to turn our economy around, protect our NHS, and build a stronger country, we will have to be laser-focused on how we spend every single pound. Social security spending, vital as it is, cannot be exempt from that discipline.

“So we will reduce the cost of failure in the social security system, including the cost of long-term worklessness and the cost of housing benefit.”

Ed also talked about putting decent values at the heart of the system and about controlling spending on social security and how these were not conflicting priorities. His reference to low pay, the need for a living wage, a need for investment in housing and a commitment to a compulsory youth job guarantee. 

Storify overview here.

As Mark Ferguson says, “Ed is getting tough on welfare spending, but he isn’t getting tough on those who struggle to survive on welfare thanks to persistent government failure”.

An admission of mistakes – yes but also a recognition that he’s going to have to make big changes to the British economy to right the structural wrongs that have left too many languishing in dole queues, stuck in poor quality and expensive housing and trapped in poverty. 

Ross McKibbin · Anything but Benevolent: Who benefits? · LRB 25 April 2013

Ross McKibbin presents a must read view of the Tory led government’s hostility to the welfare state and its relentless ideological stereotyping, perpetuated by the right wing press, but that underlines the electoral interest of the Tory Party.

Anything but Benevolent: Who Benefits?

“It seems appropriate that just as the ‘reformed’ welfare state is ushered in, Margaret Thatcher should be ushered out. Appropriate too, that she, whose policies generated so much homelessness, should end her days in the Ritz. There used to be a genre of Labour autobiography with titles like ‘From Crowscaring to Westminster’, ‘From Workshop to War Cabinet’, which expressed something admirable about their subjects. ‘From Grantham to the Ritz’ isn’t quite that. The procession of Tory grandees on TV reminding us how Thatcher saved the economy, rescued the country from the anarchy of the 1970s, restored our faith in Britain etc made depressing viewing since almost none of those things is true, while the acres of newsprint devoted to her career tell us much more about ourselves than they do about her.”  Read more here.

Guest Blog: Zoe Williams – OurWelfareWorks

First published on www.ourwelfareworks.com this blog written by author and Guardian columnist Zoe Williams takes on the ‘Strivers V Scrounger’ myth, arguing that it has been rolled out time and time again, as a way of trying set people against each another to suit a vengeful political narrative about the financial crisis.

Political con artistry – the dark art of division

I know women who no longer work, even though their kids are at school, and they have the whole day. They’re supported by their banker husbands, so you can’t accuse them of being a burden on the state.

Nevertheless, when I think of all that money wasted on their education  – taxpayers’ money, ploughed into universities, into secondary and primary schools – I can’t help thinking that, as a nation, in this period of national near-emergency, we just can’t afford to carry these workshy leeches.

Actually, I don’t know anyone like that. I don’t know any bankers. I see some affluent people around the traps, in the day, without any kids, that could meet this stereotype. She plays into my prejudice against the moneyed, idle Mrs X.  But for precisely that reason, the prejudice emanates from the picture more strongly than the reversal-of-expectation, rich-people-are-also-lazy, perhaps-even-lazier-than-poor trope that I’m aiming for.

We’ve lived for so long in a period of growth that I’d forgotten how brazen, how unsophisticated, how jaw-dropping the attempts are, that aim to set people against one another when times are hard and it suits a vengeful political narrative.

Politicians, people in public life, upon whose integrity rests not simply their own reputation, but the reputation of Westminster, will tell you that we have a “benefit culture”, that the low-paid are subsiding the idle unemployed to live in houses better than they themselves can afford.

They’ll tell you that to keep benefits in line with inflation is “unsustainable” even while doing so has steadily driven down unemployment benefit, as a proportion of average income, since the Seventies (wages, most of the time, grow faster than inflation).

They’ll tell you that the unwaged are costing the money, when in fact only three per cent of the bill goes on unemployment, and most housing benefit claims come from people in work, caused not by renters themselves but by the impossible disparity between average rent and average income.

Osborne attempts not just to create a meaningless distinction, between strivers and shirkers (most strivers, obviously, are on benefits as well; most shirkers would love to be strivers, if only some idiot hadn’t broken the economy); the divide wouldn’t help him unless he could pit them against one another, blame the travails of the strivers on the low cunning of the shirkers.

Politicians take such delight when the polls bear out their fabricated prejudices, but they should no more publicly rejoice when people agree with them than a con artist should boast when they’ve parted someone else from their money. What remnants of credibility the political class has left, they are shredding with this dishonesty. People won’t swallow it forever.

You can keep up to date with Zoe via Twitter on @zoesqwilliams


Another Meaningless Speech?

David Cameron said the Queen’s Speech showed the government was “building a society that rewards people who work hard and do the right thing”. He stated that the coalition was “taking tough decisions to help families who work hard and do the right thing”. He said the speech was “packed full of great bills”, giving a strong defence of plans to extend the authorities’ power to access email and online communications. He thinks ” It is about a government taking the tough, long-term decisions to restore our country to strength,”

Ed Miliband states “For a young person looking for work, the speech offers nothing. For a family whose living standards are being squeezed, this speech offers nothing. For the millions of people who think the government isn’t on their side, this speech offers nothing.”

TUC General secretary Brendan Barber said the “incoherent” and “hotchpotch” speech would not create jobs or improve the economy.

My union’s General Secretary Len McCluskey states that on plans to make it easier for firms to sack workers, the government was “wrapping up a real attack on rights at work as good for growth and employment. It is a myth that stripping away employee rights will boost growth or create jobs,” he said. “This is no more than a bad boss’s charter that will make people insecure at work and will feed straight into lower consumer confidence. He thought the speech was “devoid of any hope or ideas of how to get the economy moving”. He said that plans to make it easier to sack people were “delusional” and “Taking away people’s rights in the workplace will create insecurity at work and hit consumer confidence. Along with a reduction in health and safety inspections, it gives a green light to ‘rogue’ employers,” he added.

David Cameron says he is looking after me. After all, I strive. I play by the rules. I work hard. I aspire. So what does the queen’s speech really mean for me?

The answer is very little on the positive side of things. Apart from a threatened attack on my employment rights (nothing new from the Tories), there seems little that really affects the average working person with a family in real time – and is more full of apparent vague promises and references to early day thinking.

One example of this draft thinking is seen with the reference to The House of Lords Reform Bill – not something that the Tories want hurried through but acts as a partly meaty bone (spare rib?) for their Lib Dem lap dogs. Although the background briefing on the bill does not include a timetable for making it happen the Lib Dems insist there has been no watering down of the commitment to shake up the Lords.

With the Lib Dems already having lost the referendum a year ago on shaking up the voting system for elections to the Commons, securing a legacy of permanent constitutional change is massive.

The biggest talk up of the day will be in relation to the Children’s and Families Bill which has the notion of giving parents access to “flexible parental leave”. This apparently will allow mothers and fathers to share child care responsibilities! Sounds almost too good to be true…that’s because it is. They are in reality only referring to maternity leave rather than flexible working hours. This has already shown to be a hot issue within the coalition and specifically refers to the right for parents to request flexible working, including being able to work fewer hours and job share.

And to the dismay of many no even a mention of gay marriage. Like Lords reform, this is an issue that Conservative backbenchers would definitely wish to steer clear from.

So, what did the Queen’s Speech mean for you?


Nick Clegg and David Cameron

It’s absolute Maudless!

I am running low on petrol and I refuse to go on a panic run to;

a) find a garage without a queue
b) find a garage without a queue and that has petrol
c) find a garage without a queue, that has petrol and who hasn’t hiked the price.

Maude and Cameron have not assisted in reassuring people that there is no need to go and panic buy…their behaviour has been nothing more than scaremongering.

In a midmorning interview with Sky News, Mr Maude said that people should not be “rushing around in a mad dash”, but confirmed that the Government did want drivers to make plans in case of a strike.

Mr Maude said: “As and when, when it makes sense, a bit of extra fuel in a jerry can in the garage is a sensible precaution to take. We want people to have the chance, at their own time, when it makes sense to them, in their own arrangements, to deal with things in a sensible way.” Sensible…hardly

Cameron, Davey and Penning then did their bit to reinforce the need to panic buy by suggesting that people keep their tanks topped up on a regular basis, and before the Easter break.

Opposition leader Ed Miliband said: “The prime minister is presiding over a shambles on petrol.” He was being generous.

Labour has called on the government to apologise for causing a “shambles on petrol”, as ministers insisted their call for motorists to top up fuel tanks ahead of a possible tanker drivers’ strike was just sensible planning.

He said in a statement: “In a delicate situation which demanded statesmanship, the government showed partisanship. They made a crude decision to play politics with petrol without regard for the consequence.”

Downing Street has said ministers are not embarking on a political operation. However, Conservative party officials distributed leaflets showing that tanker drivers earn up to £47,500, considerably more than a staff sergeant bomb disposal expert in Afghanistan, who earns £35,000.

Tanker drivers work in an increasingly fragmented and pressurised industry where corners are being cut on safety and training in a bid to squeeze profits and win contracts. Drivers face growing job insecurity as a result of the contract ‘merry-go-round’ and a ‘beat the clock’ culture has flourished with drivers forced to meet ever shorter delivery deadlines. Final salary pension schemes have been swapped for inferior money purchase schemes, and some workers are now on their sixth pension in as many years, with 10 to 15 years left to go in the industry.

Let’s be clear, playing politics with their anti-union diatribe is exactly what the Tories are doing.

Same old Tories….

The Tory’s austerity measures are just not working…figures released show there are weaker tax revenues, substantially higher public spending, and growth at only 0.8% rather than the predicted 2.5%. So with unemployment still increasing, youth unemployment at its highest and no plan in Osborne’s budget for growth and more cuts on the way it is only going to get worse.

The LibDems have championed an increase in tax allowances and therefore it is no surprise that they have clung on to this one issue in any discussion relating to the budget as they know that there is little else in this Tory budget that they can be proud of.

They really do not have any credibility left. Osborne’s  ‘Millionaire’s budget’ will only help the privileged. The removal of the 50p tax rate, and no mansion tax or tycoon tax, shows that they really are the same old Tories.

We are ‘all in this together’ – NOT…the Tories have shown their true colours and launched an attack on the pensioners with a stealth tax which will ensure they will be the big losers in this budget. Other losers are families who will face reductions in child benefit with a taper (that will be highly complex to implement) and cuts to working tax credits.

If all this is not bad enough, there is a renewed attack against the working classes and the labour movement with the Tory proposals for regional public sector pay. This attack on national pay bargaining will only help widen the pay gap across the country. Different levels of pay for the same job dependant on which region or county you are in. This drive to press ahead with regional pay will be an economic disaster for the poorest regions of the UK, cementing the North-South divide. Spending power will be drained from these areas, and siphoned off even more rapidly.

This coalition government has received no mandate for this Tory budget. Cameron’s Big Society has been left in the gutter to be replaced by his Big Capitalist Society. Sorry George but this really is a #fail

It’s not what you say but how you tell it!

First he defended what he’d said. Then he said he’d chosen the wrong words.

Justice Secretary Ken Clarke has admitted he got “bogged down” in an argument about different types of rape.

During the controversial radio 5 live interview, Mr Clarke disputed reports that the current average sentence for rape was five years and insisted that “serious rape” attracted a much longer term. His comments caused outcry and the media backlash lasted for several days.

Ken insists that he got bogged down, and suggests that it was not what was said that was wrong but how it was phrased.

He reiterated that “All rape is serious. It’s one of the gravest crimes. My choice of words was wrong and were badly phrased. It’s because I got bogged down in a silly exchange.”

During this “silly exchange”, he heard from a woman telling her story about how the man convicted of her rape, on release, went on and continued to rape more woman.

But Ken still insists that plans to halve sentences for criminals who admit guilt at their first chance to enter a plea after being charged were still being considered.

Labour leader Ed Miliband called on him to step down following his comments  but Ken remains indignant and has said he will not resign.

Ken is one of the many that displays clearly Cameron’s failure to create the modern, metropolitan image of the Conservative Party. Ken’s behind appears to be currently covered but longer term, however, there will be many in government who think its time for him to go.

Sorry Ken…it’s a #fail