Monthly Archives: October 2012

Disability benefit changes could take £300m out of economy and knock 50,000 out of work

The ‘omnishambles’ that is the Coalition government shambles on. Today’s revelation is that the scrapping of Disability Living Allowance will not only mean that 50,000 disabled people who are in work will have to leave their jobs, but also that this means a loss of £293.3 million in tax receipts to the UK Treasury.

The information is in a report by The Hardest Hit, a collection of 90 disabled peoples’ organisations and charities.

Variables make calculating exact figures impossible but the report states that the Department for Work and Pensions has failed to consider the knock-on effects of its plan to save £2 billion by scrapping DLA and introducing the new PIP, or Personal Independence Payment.

Forecasts suggest half a million disabled people will lose their benefits, but the expected savings will be cancelled out by the loss in tax revenue, implementation costs and the increased burden on council services such as care – meaning the planned saving has been overestimated by around £1.6 billion.

The total amount saved would therefore be around £800 per claimant, equivalent to less than a month’s pay for an average-earning person in full-time work. If my calculations are correct, it would cover the government’s debt payments for almost six days.

But the effect on the people losing benefit would be catastrophic. According to the report:

85 per cent claim losing their DLA would drive them into isolation, and would leave them struggling to manage their condition.

95 per cent fear that losing DLA would be detrimental to their health.

More than three quarters (78 per cent) of disabled people said their health got worse as a result of the stress caused by their Work Capability Assessment (WCA) for Employment and Support Allowance (ESA)

Two-thirds (65 per cent) of disabled people felt that ESA assessors did not understand their condition

Nearly 9 in 10 (87 per cent) welfare advisors said the constant re-assessments for benefits are damaging people’s health (and we have all seen the evidence for this in the appalling death toll that now stands at 73 people per week, on average).

90 per cent of welfare advisors said that too many disabled people are slipping through the net and are left without adequate support by the welfare system.

The number of disability hate crimes in England and Wales is increasing dramatically and a survey reveals plummeting levels of public support for benefits for disabled people who cannot work (thanks, I understand, to a government-fuelled hate campaign in the right-wing press). The report highlights that disabled people are twice as likely to live in poverty and even a small loss of income can tip them into greater dependence on health and social care services or friends and family.

And around 450,000 disabled households are set to lose out under the new Universal Credit (UC) system. For example, 100,000 families with disabled children stand to lose up to £28 a week.

For more details, read the full report, entitled The Tipping Point.

To me, this seems like a huge expense of time, energy and money to victimise an already-suffering minority for a negligible return – almost as great an effort as that being made in not recovering the money the UK Treasury fails to take in evaded and avoided taxes which, it is believed, could total £120 billion per year.

That’s 300 times what the government is likely to save by scrapping DLA.

With friends like these, this dog of a government has had its day

Exactly who does support David Cameron’s government these days?

He’s got Tory ‘grandees’ like Lord Tebbit calling it a “dog”; he’s got the 2010 intake of Tory MPs rebelling against him – presumably in the belief that they’ll have more chance of promotion through backstabbing than waiting for him to shuffle them into his ever-growing Cabinet; and he’s got Cabinet members who are themselves liabilities.

I suppose he should count himself lucky he’s got the support of all those corporate doners, pouring millions into Conservative Party funds in return for the billions of pounds worth of government or NHS contracts he’s been handing out to them (and the devil take the public, who won’t benefit at all).

The ‘youth revolt’ might be a serious threat to Cameron’s authority, but it is the attack from Tebbit that will be the most damaging. At a time when polling shows only one per cent of the population believes the Coalition is likely to be more competent than Labour, he made it perfectly clear that he thinks Cameron doesn’t know what he’s doing.

“This dog of a coalition government has let itself be given a bad name and now anybody can beat it,” he wrote in an Observer column.

“The abiding sin of the government is not that some ministers are rich, but that it seems unable to manage its affairs competently.”

This is an attack that the coalition will find hard to disprove, especially after Cameron’s hastily-announced plan to force energy companies into putting everyone on the lowest possible tariffs (of which the Energy Secretary and department apparently knew nothing). “Back-of-the-envelope” policymaking, as Ed Miliband might say.

“It has let itself be called a government of unfeeling toffs,” said Lord Tebbit.

Again – impossible to deny. Look at the Comedy Chancellor, Gideon George Osborne, sitting in a First Class train seat with a standard class ticket. One wonders if this will re-ignite the debate over rail ticket pricing – as they are clearly too costly even for a millionaire like him…

And then of course there’s Pleb-gate, or Gate-gate – the saga of the short temper and long decline of now-former Chief Whip Andrew Mitchell. Whether he actually called a Downing Street police officer a “pleb” or not is immaterial, and has been ever since it was first reported; that was the moment the public made up its collective mind and Cameron should have known it. Instead he hung on to a lost cause, dragging his entire administration down as the story dragged on.

Mitchell’s replacement is Sir George Young, a man who is on record has having described the homeless as “What you step over when you come out of the opera.” He has been described on the Void blog as “a stuck-up, not so nice but dim, advert for class war” and as a “chinless f*cking wet-wipe”. In other words, he’s likely to be even more unpopular than Mitchell.

Lord Tebbit, who – we are told – represents a growing number of senior Tories who are questioning whether Cameron has the qualities necessary to lead a government, said Cameron must impose “managerial discipline, not just on his colleagues but on himself.”

He continued: “Had Mr Miliband concentrated his fire on a long list of muddles – from the proposed sale of our national forests to the BAE and energy policy muddles of recent days, it would have been far worse.”

With respect, Lord Tebbit, Mr Miliband didn’t have to – you did it yourself.

And with friends like these, Cameron doesn’t need enemies. The Nasty Party’s reputation for back-stabbing is well-deserved.

Cameron’s benefits bungling could cost you your home

When Mr Cameron’s housing benefits cap takes effect, along with the increased council tax bill for those on benefits, how long will it be before working-class Tories find their representatives have forced them out of their homes?

It’s the kind of ignorance that could kill off the Working-Class Tory.

We all knew David Cameron had his head in the clouds (or where the sun doesn’t shine) when he asked what hard-working people were meant to think when they see individual families getting up to £60,000 of housing benefit. I believe the Conservative Party has yet to provide proof of the claim.

The fact is that a huge amount of new housing benefit claimants are in work themselves – so Mr Cameron’s argument was utterly defeated before he had even uttered a word of it.

Today (Monday) the National Housing Federation has stated that a failure to build new houses has led to an 86 per cent rise in working people claiming housing benefit between May 2009-2012, as rents and mortgages have soared.

An extra 10,000 new claims are being made each month.

The solution is simple; I’ve pointed it out in this very blog, many times – cap rents.

Instead, Mr Cameron said he was capping housing benefit, meaning hard-working families will have to tighten their belts and cut back even further on their other outgoings, just to keep a roof over their heads. They might not be able to afford to heat their home as well as last year (I doubt a working family qualifies for the Winter fuel allowance). They might not be able to eat as well as they did last year, as food prices are rocketing. But don’t worry – their landlords will carry on doing just fine, thank you very much!

(Until the family’s earnings can’t be stretched any further and they are forced out and – because the rent is too high for anyone else, the property becomes vacant and derelict. Landlords: Isn’t it wiser to make rents affordable and at least have some regular income from your property?)

In his speech to the Conservative Party conference, Mr Cameron said: “Because of our welfare cap, no family will be getting more in benefits than the average family earns.”

But it seems the average family doesn’t earn enough to stay off benefits! So what, exactly, was Mr Cameron saying, there? That he’s putting the average British family into an ever-decreasing recursive benefit loop?

The worst nonsense was the choice he said we give our young people today:   “Choice one: Work hard. Go to college. Get a job. Live at home. Save up for a flat […] Or: Don’t get a job. Sign on. Don’t even need to produce a CV when you do sign on. Get housing benefit. Get a flat. And then don’t ever get a job or you’ll lose a load of housing benefit.”

Wrong, wrong, wrong. Since people with jobs are on housing benefit, we already know this was a pile of hooey, but we also know that he’s capping that benefit, so people with jobs are going to lose a load of housing benefit as well!

“And we’re going to look at ending automatic access to housing benefit for people under 25 too.” So, if you’re aged under 25, Mr Cameron is pulling the ground out from beneath your feet, before you’ve even got on your feet!

And let’s not forget the threat of the Localism Act, which will add to the council tax bill payable on your home. If you are in a working family that receives housing benefit, you will most likely be in receipt of council tax benefit as well, and this means even more money will have to come from your tight budget, as of next April.

So here’s my question, for anyone who still thinks they’re a working-class Tory: When all these cuts and new taxes have done their worst to you, and you’ve moved back to live with mum and dad (or gran and grandad) simply to have a (rather overcrowded) roof over your head, and the next election rolls around, are you really going to tell me that you think David Cameron’s Conservative Party is your best choice?

Why are councils silent about the Localism Act’s eviction threat?

If you don’t have a plan to deal with the financial demands of the Localism Act, this could be you.

Has anyone received any information from their local authority about how it plans to implement the new council tax support scheme required by the Localism Act?

This scheme will be running from the beginning of April next year (2013), and it is therefore a matter of urgency that we find out what it will involve. Or is it our councils’ intention to take us all by surprise?

It is two months since I wrote my article on the subject, Poll Tax revival plan to take away your home, and I have heard nothing from my own local authority.

I have therefore written a letter, asking for information. If you are in the same situation, you may wish to use what follows as a template:

Dear County Council,

You will be aware that the Coalition government’s Localism Act means that Council Tax Benefit will be scrapped from April next year. Instead, local authorities – such as yours – will be compelled to set up local council tax support schemes. The aim is to cut 10 per cent from the current council tax benefit bill, or around £470 million.

Because pensioners will not be attacked in this way (at this time) – the legislation exempts them – this means working-age people are likely to face a loss of at least 16 per cent of their benefit.

Councils could choose to reduce spending in other areas or increase council tax, but these would affect groups other than current benefit recipients and so, in the name of fairness, I think we can be sure those who are on benefit now will end up paying that £470 million bill.

You can be sure that the illusion of choice has been included by the Coalition to ensure that you – and all the other local authorities in the UK – take the blame for what will be a considerable increase in the bills being paid by poorer households. I don’t think anyone who devised the legislation stopped to think what the tax hike will be, as a proportion of claimants’ earnings.

Worse than that, though, is the fact that I have not heard a single word from you about how you plan to approach this matter. Implementation of the scheme is now less than six months away, and those who will be affected need to plan how they intend to absorb the extra expense.

My fear is that you think you can remain silent until the very last minute in the hope that this will minimise harmful publicity against you. This would be disastrous for your taxpaying constituents.

Such a policy may well leave them unable to pay their bills and therefore, ultimately, homeless.

Please publicise your proposals to deal with the demands of the Localism Act now.

Cameron, Brooks, and an embarrassment of emails

The correspondents: Can anything transmitted between Rebekah Brooks and David Cameron be as bad for them as a naked photograph was for a Conservative councillor?

How embarrassing are these emails that David Cameron withheld from the Leveson Inquiry?

I’m sure you know the story by now – Mr Cameron held back dozens of emails, including (it’s believed) messages to Andy Coulson while he was still an employee of Rupert Murdoch, after taking legal advice. It seems they’re not “relevant”.

The trouble is, things that aren’t “relevant” have a nasty habit of grabbing the public interest. I want to know the contents of every single one of those emails, and I don’t think I’m the only one.

… Most especially since the contents of these private emails have been described as “embarrassing“.

Here in Mid Wales – only last week – we have had experience of “embarrassing” material, sent between individuals electronically, resurfacing to the detriment of a political reputation.

It concerns a very young county councillor, who took a naked photograph of himself on a mobile phone and transmitted it to a girl he claims was his enamorata at the time. That photo subsequently went public, and recently a campaign was launched against the councillor, casting doubt on his character due to the fact that he had taken the photograph in the first place, and the age of the girl to whom he sent it (my understanding is that she was aged under 16).

Putting his side of the story to a local newspaper, the councillor reportedly said: “A private communication between myself and my girlfriend at the time was shown to others. It was a foolish thing to do and it caused much embarrassment. I apologised at the time to all concerned.”

That’s not actually good enough, as we have no information from the young lady who received the photograph. Was she really his girlfriend? This might actually be a case of a 17-year-old sending a naked picture of himself to a random girl several years younger – in which case it’s a completely different affair.

But let’s go back to Mr Cameron. It occurs to me that, whatever those emails to Rebekah Brooks may contain, they can’t be anything like as damaging as what this young councillor (who also happens to be a Conservative) did.

So, unless Mr Cameron emailed naked pictures of himself to Mrs Brooks and Mr Coulson, there is less harm in producing the emails and letting the public make up its own mind than in not producing them – and watching the public decide anyway!

Mitchell resigns, Osborne in trouble… Fit to rule?

On the day Andrew Mitchell finally resigned as Chief Whip after the now-notorious ‘Gate-gate’ incident, George Osborne (the Chancer of the Exchequer) has been found fare-dodging on a train (he was sitting in First Class but had only a standard ticket).

Meanwhile, the man who disrupted the Oxford/Cambridge boat race by swimming in the Thames while it was taking place has received a six-month prison sentence, raising questions about the disparity between punishments for MPs and those for other UK citizens.

Perhaps it really is time for MPs to have some of their own medicine. We’ve had “We’re all in it together” thrust down our throats for two years, now – isn’t it time members of the government took an Atos-style assessment to see whether they’re fit to govern?

Personally, I think the demarcation point suggested by the cartoon is unfair and that they should all be placed in the “sub-normal” category (when I was typing this, my fingers automatically tried to type “sub-moral”. Draw your own conclusion). However, this is an Atos assessment regime, so fairness has nothing to do with it!

Will you stand up for a future that works?

Getting the message across: The PCS union managed to project it’s ‘Say no to austerity’ message onto the Palace of Westminster itself, home to the Houses of Parliament.

Anti-austerity campaigners from across the UK will be converging on London tomorrow for a mass demonstration against the Coalition government’s failed policy of cuts.

It is possible that hundreds of thousands of people will journey to the capital to march under the heading, “A Future That Works” – showing their opposition to the government’s pro-austerity, anti-growth policies. The march will end with a rally in Hyde Park.

If you’re wondering whether to go, or even whether the demonstration is justified, I would like to quote the following, from the organisers’ website:

“Austerity has failed – the economy has not grown for two years, unemployment and youth unemployment have risen, living standards have been squeezed and borrowing is not coming down.

“We need an alternative approach – one that puts decent work and growth at its heart and takes a long-term approach to rebuilding the British economy after the crash.

“We need to invest in new infrastructure in transport, energy and social affordable housing and to make fighting youth and long-term unemployment an absolute priority.

“We need to see rising wages so our economy has sustainable growth and isn’t based on household debt.

“We need to reform the banking system so it works for the real economy and an active industrial policy to support manufacturing and the green, low-carbon sectors of the future.

“We need tax justice with a clamp down on avoidance and evasion and a Robin Hood tax on the banks.

“We cannot afford to continue with austerity nor can we go back to business as unusual.

“We need policies to build a ‘new economy’ where the rewards from growth are more equally shared by those in the middle and at the bottom rather than just going to those at the top.

“Finally we need economic growth to be spread across the entire country rather than just being concentrated in a handful of sectors and parts of the UK.”

A mother’s fear – that the GOVERNMENT will steal her child

Here comes the reaper: Iain Duncan Smith, Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, and the man ultimately responsible for the agony being felt by parents of disabled children across the UK.

It’s a damning indictment of government welfare policy when the mother of a disabled child says state benefits will not cover her child’s needs – and then the government still decides to review whether she should receive them.

“My daughter has a progressive incurable condition and after being told to [do so] time and time again, we applied for DLA,” writes Rebecca Brooks-Weir on the Vox Facebook page.

“Six years into receiving the benefit we received that letter – the one claiming an investigation to review whether I’m spending the money properly.

“I got it today and returned it today… I am shocked and sickened at this letter. I have only ever used the money to support my child and have spent thousands more on her needs because of her disability – like the DLA is even enough!

“Who are these people… MONSTERS!”

That letter would be the BF57B, which goes out to every parent or guardian in receipt of DLA when they renew their claim. The form it contains must be signed before the claim can move forward. It demands that the person signing must agree to a review of their role as parent or guardian.

Ms Brooks-Weir is now living in fear that the government will take away her child, if an office-dwelling pen-pusher decides she is not properly spending the pittance she receives.

I already covered the contents of the letter in ‘Children targeted in latest government attack on the disabled’, so you’ll already know how vague the Department for Work and Pensions’ (yes, them again) criteria are.

This is the sharp edge, folks. Will good mothers lose their children because of the arbitrary value judgements of an out-of-touch regime?

Hapless Jeremy proves yet again what a… Hunt he is

Not the right kind of tree-hugger: This is an artist’s impression of what Jeremy Hunt looked like, hiding behind a tree to avoid being seen going to a meeting with Rupert Murdoch.

It is not a good time to be Jeremy Hunt.

“When is?” I hear you cry. Fair point. The reactions of the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh certainly seem to have put the Health Secretary in a state.

He was at a smart Buckingham Palace event, arranged to thank everyone involved in the Diamond Jubilee celebrations, which took place while he was Culture Secretary. He decided this was the moment to put his greatest talent on display.

Clearly, it wasn’t his wit. No, I refer to his talent for making a faux pas – or, in English, a bloody fool of himself.

“I read about a Japanese tourist who said afterwards how wonderful our Queen must be to take part in that, as they would never get their emperor to jump out of the plane,” he told Her Majesty. Faced with an irrelevant comment about a completely different event, she paused, smiled politely, shrugged, and moved on.

Then the Duke of Edinburgh turned up. You may remember he had quite a rough time during the Diamond Jubilee, contracting an infection that hospitalised him for several days. As a result, he probably saw most of it on TV but – clearly – the then-Culture Secretary hadn’t made the slightest impression on him as the first thing he said was, “Who are you?”

Hunt managed to spit out some information about his current job, and that he was Culture Secretary during the Diamond Jubilee and the Olympics, only to have the Duke respond: “Well they do move you people on a lot.”

We are led to believe Mr Hunt was embarrassed by the whole episode. What makes it worse is that he might have gained a bit more recognition if he had mentioned some of the other public disasters in which he has been involved.

Ask not for whom the bell tolls: Mr Hunt’s bell-end landed in a passing lady’s lap. Oh dear.

Perhaps he should have said, “I’m the fool who went ringing a bell to announce the start of the Olympics, only to have the end fall off and hit a passing lady in the lap”?

Or: “I’m the twit who arrived at a meeting with Rupert Murdoch – a gentleman with whom I have long-standing ties, even though he’s being investigated by an official inquiry ordered by my government – but, finding a multitude of press photographers there and not wanting to be seen publicly with the head of NewsCorp… hid behind a tree. One that was too narrow to stop them from spotting me.”

At least he had the good taste not to mention the moment when James Naughtie mispronounced his surname, live on national radio. The use of the C-word would have been beyond the pale.

(Although, it might have won him the recognition he wanted from the Duke).

Perhaps David Cameron would have been better off introducing into his Cabinet some faces that were more recognisable?