Monthly Archives: March 2013

Coalition spongers’ Bedroom Tax lies: Is anybody stupid enough to believe them?

Grant Shapps and Danny Alexander, pictured together honing their nonsense-spouting skills on the BBC's Daily Politics.

Grant Shapps and Danny Alexander, pictured together honing their nonsense-spouting skills on the BBC’s Daily Politics.

If Grant Shapps, Danny Alexander and the rest of the Coalition government really thought the Bedroom Tax was about making the best use of available accommodation, they would be offering to pay the full costs of a move into smaller, private accommodation for those able to downgrade, along with the difference in housing benefit contribution – so the tenant does not have to pay more – in perpetuity.

But they aren’t prepared to pay that, are they? Instead, they want the poorest tenants in the country to become poorer. Don’t believe this gang of sponging liars.

I call them sponging liars because you will recall that most of them are perfectly happy to claim just as much money as they can from the taxpayer – at rates that are vastly above the benefits they want to steal from you or your next-door-neighbour.

Think of James Clappison (Con, Hertsmere) – on £12,500 per year, which is almost two-and-a-half times as much as people could get on the maximum amount of housing benefit.

Yet Tory Chairman Grant Shapps insists on proving himself to be an untrustworthy doubletalking deceiver by claiming in the Telegraph that the change is a “common sense reform which in the end will help house more people”.

That is not what it is intended to be. If more people are housed, the government will be out-of-pocket because of all the extra housing benefit claims that will incur. The plan is to make people who are trapped in “under-occupied” accommodation pay more towards their rent, thereby reducing their spending power and making them poorer.

This will have a knock-on effect on the national economy, of course, as the money supply is squeezed ever further. But the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats have already proven themselves to be economic illiterates – look at the ‘Mandatory Work Activity’ schemes that are depriving the economy of almost £1 billion every year.

“People share rooms quite commonly – my boys share a room,” wittered the Welwyn Hatfield MP, opening up the opportunity for us all to suggest that the remaining space in his five-bedroom house is there to accommodate his many aliases, such as Michael Green and Sebastian Fox. Under these names, he operated HowToCorp and TrafficPaymaster, the former of which has been under investigation by the Advertising Standards Authority in response to a complaint that its website made misleading claims.

In The Sun, Danny Alexander (if he really wrote the article) revealed his woeful failure to understand the housing benefit rules to the world.

“Social tenants live in homes that are let at low rents to people in housing need… Under Labour’s rules, such tenants — reported to include the likes of Bob Crow, the RMT union general secretary who earns £145,000 a year — have their rent subsidised by you and me,” the article inaccurately claimed.

If Mr Alexander knew anything at all about his subject, he would know that the amount of housing benefit available to any tenant tapers off, according to the amount they earn. If Bob Crow earns £145,000 per year, he won’t receive any benefit at all.

Most ridiculous of all was his claim that, “in this month’s Budget, we announced our plan to call time on Labour’s better-off bedroom blockers.”

Bedroom blockers? Did a real person write this nonsense?

Nobody – nobody is blocking bedrooms, other than Conservatives and their allies. Let’s remember that Conservatives sold off council houses by the hundreds of thousands in the 1980s and choked off the money supply to local authorities in order to prevent any more being built. New Labour tried to get the private sector involved in affordable housing but this didn’t get off the ground because greedy privateers simply sat on their planning permissions, waiting for an administration to come along that would not enforce the requirement for affordability. Now we have a Tory-led administration that has completely failed to build any social housing to accommodate the 600,000 people affected by its Bedroom Tax policy trap.

It is Mr Alexander and his kind who are the bedroom-blockers.

Meanwhile, four more religious organisations have joined the Church of England in denouncing the Coalition’s benefit changes as “unjust”.

The Baptist Union of Great Britain, the Methodist and United Reformed Churches, and the Church of Scotland have echoed criticism by the new Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, and 43 other Anglican bishops, claiming Coalition benefit changes target society’s most vulnerable and create a “false picture” of the poor as “lazy”.

The government – as epitomised by the rantings of Messrs Shapps and Alexander – claims the changes are fair, but the facts state otherwise. The Mirror today ran a story showing that nearly 10 million households will be hit by the Coalition’s “brutal” austerity measures, leaving families an average of £891 worse-off than last year.

That is an average figure, of course – some will lose much more, including some of the poorest in the UK.

That’s the truth of Coalition politics:

Steal as much as possible from those who can’t fight back.

Sponge as much as possible from the hopelessly overgenerous Parliamentary expenses system.

And laugh all the way to the (possibly offshore) bank.

  • Grant Shapps claimed £12,647 in second-home expenses between 2005-2008; Danny Alexander “conned the Treasury out of over £100,000 by flipping his home back during the expenses scandal”, according to that paragon of journalism, the Guido Fawkes blog.

Good luck with the IPCC cover-up brigade, Mr Mitchell! If YOU were a ‘pleb’, you’d need it…

Andrew Mitchell: Either you believe him when he says the police log of 'Gate-gate' (or 'Plebgate') was false, or you believe him when he admitted abusing a policeman and apologised "profusely" for it. I prefer not to believe a word he says.

Andrew Mitchell: Either you believe him when he says the police log of ‘Gate-gate’ (or ‘Plebgate’) was false, or you believe him when he admitted abusing a policeman and apologised “profusely” for it. I prefer not to believe a word he says.

The announcement that former Coalition chief whip Andrew Mitchell has made a formal complaint to the Independent Police Complaints Commission about the so-called ‘plebgate’ row almost made me smile. Almost.

Having had experience of this organisation and it’s amazing cover-up tactics, supporting police officers who deny the existence of any laws that conflict with what they’ve done, I view the affair with scepticism.

If the outcome goes badly for him, it will confirm the IPCC’s position as principle rubber-stamping organisation for police behaviour – no matter whether they have behaved rightly or wrongly.

If it comes out in his favour, for me, it will confirm that the system works only for privileged members of society such as Mr Mitchell – those in influential positions – and not for ordinary citizens like the rest of us.

The facts of the case are completely unimportant to the outcome. Inconsequential.

For the record, it relates to an incident on September 19 last year, when it was alleged that the then-Chief Whip swore at police, calling them “plebs” (of all things) when they refused to open the Downing Street gates for him to cycle through on his pushbike.

Mitchell resigned his position but CCTV coverage later cast doubt on the accepted version of events and four people, including three police officers, have since been arrested.

Now, in a letter to the IPCC, Mr Mitchell has accused the police of a “dishonest and illicit attempt to blacken my name and destroy my career”.

Personal experience tells me he’d better have a mountain of evidence to back up that claim.

My own experience, as outlined in previous Vox articles, related to an incident in which somebody illegally published information identifying an alleged crime victim, in an attempt to blacken a suspect’s name, prior to a trial. I reported this, quoting the relevant law down to the section and paragraph, to the police – who flatly refused to investigate, claiming that the law had not been broken by ignoring the references I had given and referring to a different section of the same legislation – a section that was totally irrelevant to the nature of the crime.

You see, prosecuting this individual would have been inconvenient as it would have weakened the case against the suspect they had lined up for trial. Easier to flout the law, apparently. One law for us… another law for them.

I made a full, detailed complaint to the IPCC, quoting the relevant legislation with a printout of it from the government’s own website, pointing out where the officer involved had gone wrong, and explaining why I believed the error was intentional.   All I got for my efforts was another flat refusal to acknowledge the facts. The investigator spoke with the officer and decided that his interpretation of the law was correct – despite having it quoted to them, in black and white, by me!   For me, the only way forward from that point would have been to hire a lawyer and get a judicial review, but that costs money and I simply don’t have enough. Again, it’s one law for us… another law for them.

Mr Mitchell, on the other hand, does have money. But since he is, by definition, a member of “them”, any success he may enjoy will not affect the fact that is the theme of this article, which is (one last time):

It’s one law for us… another law for them.

Actually, now that I have a police commissioner, I might take the case to him and see what he makes of it. At least, that way, he’ll have something to do. The outcome will show whether his appointment – and that of all the others – really was the waste of time and money that the vast majority of Britons believe it to have been.

Thousands turn out for Bedroom Tax protests – but what happens next?

MPs Andy McDonald and Grahame Morris spoke against the bedroom tax at the Middlesbrough demonstration.

MPs Andy McDonald and Grahame Morris spoke against the bedroom tax at the Middlesbrough demonstration.

According to the Daily Mirror, 26,000 people across the country took part in the 50-odd protests against the Bedroom Tax, all staged earlier today (March 30) – so we can reasonably assume the real figure is much larger than that.

According to Charlie Kimber on Twitter, at least 10,000 were in Glasgow, and the photographic evidence seems likely to bear that out, so my guess is that, for once, the Mirror had taken a conservative (small ‘c’) stance.

The Mirror article had crowds gathering in Trafalgar Square, waving banners and posters with the message ‘Stop bedroom tax’, wearing T-shirts carrying “angry” messages for David Cameron, Gideon George Osborne and Iain Duncan Smith. The nature of these messages was not revealed but I think we can make educated guesses of our own.

Whitehall was closed to traffic as, chanting “Can’t pay, won’t pay, axe the bedroom tax,” the protesters made their way to Downing Street.

In Liverpool, the paper said, demonstrators declared an “uprising” during their march.

The Glasgow anti-bedroom tax demonstration. How many people do YOU think attended?

The Glasgow anti-bedroom tax demonstration. How many people do YOU think attended?

A BBC Scotland report reckoned the Glasgow demo attracted two and a half thousand people, including Bill Scott from disability campaign group Inclusion Scotland (in fact he was in Edinburgh), who was quoted as saying two-thirds of UK households affected include a disabled person – rising to four-fifths in Scotland.

And “disability rights activist” Susan Archibald headed up the Edinburgh demonstration. On Twitter, afterwards, she said, “I was so proud to lead the bedroom tax protest in Edinburgh today. I stood up for all people who were either too poor or ill to attend.”

I particularly enjoyed the IBS – did I say IBS? I meant IDS – quote the BBC Scotland article used:

“Mr Duncan Smith defended the reforms during a visit to Edinburgh on Wednesday.

“He said: ‘It is unfair on taxpayers, it is unfair on those in over-crowded accommodation and it is unfair that one group of housing benefit tenants cannot have spare bedrooms and another group are subsidised.'”

From that last sentence alone, we can only guess what goes on in a mind that seems, clearly, deranged. But let’s just juxtapose his comments in unfairness with another state subsidy, discussed in this blog yesterday:

“The government thinks it is more fair to deprive people of the money to pay landlords for their homes than it is to cap rents.

“The government thinks it is fair to take money from people who cannot move into smaller accommodation, more appropriate to their needs, because it simply hasn’t been built.

“But then, the government thinks it is fair for MPs like James Clappison (Conservative, Hertsmere) to have 24 homes and yet still claim £100,000 in second-home expenses between 2001 and 2009. That’s £12,500 per year. People on Housing Benefit get less than £100 per week, meaning less than £5,200 per year.”

Together we can smash the tax: People in Swindon show their support for the protest.

Together we can smash the tax: People in Swindon show their support for the protest.

The protests constituted a nationwide display of disgust at the Coalition government’s attempt to find yet another way for the poor to pay for the mistakes of the rich.

But what happens now?

Historically, governments don’t pay much attention to rallies and protests. The only real way to hit this lot is in the wallet. Look at recent history for a good example: the Poll Tax.

Mass rallies were held, with attendances far greater than those today. The government didn’t bat an eyelid. But when people refused to pay up, and were prepared to face court action, fines and even imprisonment for their principles… I think we all know how it ended. The tax was replaced and the then-Prime Minister was removed.

The trouble is, as you’re probably thinking, this time the government isn’t expecting the people to pay; it’s simply deciding not to pay the people. So how can you fight that?

Okay, try this:

  • If you’re in a council house, you probably got it after being on a housing list. Your council put you there. It is reasonable, therefore, to argue that your presence is due to a decision by your council and not your own choice – therefore it is the council that should be paying for any ‘extra’ bedrooms as defined on the government’s hastily fudged-together list. Take your council to small-claims court over it, the instant you get a letter of denial.
  • If you’re in a house belonging to a social landlord, why not tell them you’re perfectly prepared to move, but for reasons of your own choice – maybe you’ve got a local job, for example – it must be to a place near your current location. What do they have? My guess is, not a lot. Be difficult about the kind of accommodation you’re willing to move into. When you decide they can’t give you what you need, take the government to small-claims court. Clearly, you are occupying this property because there is no appropriate social housing within a reasonable distance, and that is because the government has not allowed enough such accommodation to be built. You are not at fault; the government is.
  • If you are disabled, inquire of your landlord about the cost of removing any living aids you have from your current residence and installing them elsewhere. Do they have spare buildings with disabled access? What if you are a person who must rely on particular routines – moving house will disrupt those, and therefore seriously impact on your standard of living. Appeal against any change that could affect your lifestyle adversely.
  • Whoever you are, if you have made any improvements to your home, seek legal redress for the cost of those improvements, should you have to move. You might not actually be moving now, but you want the money because you don’t know when you might have a chance to move, and it will be harder to prove what you’ve done if someone else is in there, making their own changes.

None of these – and they’re just off the top of my head – are likely to win any court battles, but that’s not the point. The aim is to tie up the government, local government, social landlords and anybody else involved in this nightmarish policy, in ever-more-convoluted legal shenanigans. These things will cost them money. If enough of you get involved, they’ll cost a considerable amount, in fact. Then there’s the question of manpower that will have to be diverted from other work to deal with it. That will cost – as will employing more staff to take on the extra burden.

Government departments are already straining under the burden of appeals against other so-called benefit reforms. Ministers won’t have much tolerance for dealing with these matters because they think they have better things to do.

But you don’t.

What could be more important than fighting for your home?

A song for the Bedroom Tax protesters

Here’s something we can all enjoy:

Tomorrow – Saturday, March 30, 2013 – thousands, maybe even hundreds of thousands, of people will be heading out to organised protests against the Bedroom Tax.

You know why.

The government has dreamed up a financial device, called variously a ‘state overoccupation charge’ or a ‘spare-room subsidy’. Under its back-of-a-fag-packet rules, anyone in social housing with more bedrooms than the government says they need will lose housing benefit – 14 per cent for the first extra room; 25 per cent for two or more.

The government thinks it is more fair to deprive people of the money to pay landlords for their homes than it is to cap rents.

The government thinks it is fair to take money from people who cannot move into smaller accommodation, more appropriate to their needs, because it simply hasn’t been built.

But then, the government thinks it is fair for MPs like James Clappison (Conservative, Hertsmere) to have 24 homes and yet still claim £100,000 in second-home expenses between 2001 and 2009. That’s £12,500 per year. People on Housing Benefit get less than £100 per week, meaning less than £5,200 per year.

Do YOU think it’s fair for Mr Clappison, with his 24 houses, to be taking so much of our (taxpayers’) money while forcing so many of us into rent arrears on the only homes we have?

Nor do I.

So please, if you live in one of the towns where a protest is taking place, go. I hope you have a great time, meet similarly-minded people, build alliances, plan future protests.

I would. But I live in Mid Wales, where there don’t seem to be any protests. Not only do all roads turn to dirt tracks before you get here; political thinking devolves to feudalism as well.

So, to all you protesters, I send you this song. It’s not mine, but the link was sent to me so I’m going to use it. I think it sets out the facts of the situation – eloquently.

Universal Credit: Hardly universal, and no credit to anybody

Getting a bit rough, is it? Iain Duncan Smith knows his flagship Universal Credit scheme won't work - he just doesn't care.

Getting a bit rough, is it? Iain Duncan Smith knows his flagship Universal Credit scheme won’t work – he just doesn’t care.

Earlier this week, a Job Centre somewhere in Mid Wales was graced by the presence of Yr Obdt Srvt, the author of this column. It’s true; I’m a real human being and I receive certain state benefits.

Having said that, it transpired during the conversation with my advisor that I was on one less benefit than expected; the DWP had, in its wisdom, cut me off from Income Support, with “No contact”. That was the on-screen comment. They stopped it but couldn’t be bothered to tell me.


But that’s by-the-way. The discussion ranged through the paid work that I do, my plans to expand my earnings, and my aim to get off-benefit as soon as possible -certainly “before Universal Credit comes into effect, in October”.

I said it, looked my advisor – who is, I should point out, a very nice person indeed, and therefore breaks all the rules of the DWP just by being there – in the eye, and we both had a little giggle about that one.

“That’s still right, isn’t it? In October?”

“They’re hoping.”

The conversation moved on.

Imagine my delight on Thursday evening, when I refreshed the BBC website and saw: “UNIVERSAL CREDIT PILOTS SCALED BACK”!

“The government is to scale back some of its plans to test a radical new reform to the welfare system,” the story stated. It was by James Landale, about whom I have previously complained to the BBC with regard to Tory bias, so it should be no surprise that the reason for the scaleback was buried 11 paragraphs down: “But Labour said this showed the scheme was in crisis and that the information technology needed for it was not ready.”

I turned to the newspapers for corroboration, and found it in the Independent, which put the issues right at the front of the story: “Ministers tonight significantly scaled back plans to begin piloting their controversial universal credit programme next month amid fears that the scheme is behind schedule and facing major problems.”

UC – I pronounce it “Uck” – was due to be tried out in four areas from late next month, but will now run only from a single Job Centre in Ashton-under-Lyme at that time. The three other pilot areas, in Wigan, Warrington and Oldham, won’t get started until “at least July” (it says here).

The plan is to merge around 30 benefits and tax credits into a single payment, on a tapering scale depending on a claimant’s earnings. It requires communication between computer systems belonging to the Department for Work and Pensions, HM Revenue and Customs, and employers who have to provide PAYE details (if I’ve got this right).

The scaleback is already being seen as an admission that the communications software – required for UC to succeed – doesn’t work.

There are also fears that the government doesn’t have anyone with the training or experience necessary to manage the scheme without messing it up completely and making the government look like a bunch of irresponsible fools. Again.

Needless to say, the government has denied that there is any problem. Apparently it is “sensible” to start in one area before rolling the system out elsewhere. Oh really? No attempt was made to explain why the original plan had been changed. Because the answer is too embarrassing?

This plan is a total disaster.

There can be only two reasons the government is pushing forward with it. Firstly, Iain Duncan Smith has said it will happen so it will happen, no matter how badly past-deadline and over-budget it turns out to be.

Secondly, if it doesn’t work, the only people who’ll be inconvenienced are poor people who are on benefits – and they won’t be able to take legal action over it because Legal Aid will have been cut for civil cases.

That’s why I want to be out of the blast zone when this one hits.

I fear for my future – and that of everyone else who will be caught up in this debacle – if I’m not.

Tory ‘something-for-nothing’ culture: The real reason the economy has bombed

"Getting them off-benefit is what we're going to do," yelled Iain Duncan Smith on Question Time last year. But why bother, when they can be so profitable for companies taking part in Mandatory Work Activity schemes?

“Getting them off-benefit is what we’re going to do,” yelled Iain Duncan Smith on Question Time last year. But why bother, when they can be so profitable for companies taking part in Mandatory Work Activity schemes?

“We’re going to end the ‘something-for-nothing’ culture.”

Sometimes a phrase stands out from everything else that’s said around it, launches itself at your face and forces you to confront the enormity of the lie it encapsulates. You knew this was going to end badly, the moment Iain Duncan Smith (Vox Political’s Monster of the Year, 2012, let’s not forget) opened his face and uttered the words.

He was trying to say that people on Jobseekers’ Allowance (JSA) should not expect to get the benefit without putting something back into society – totally bypassing the fact that they have either already paid towards it, via taxes paid while they were in a previous job, or they will in the future, when they manage to get a job (if such a thing is still achievable in a Tory-led UK).

This was to justify the many ‘Mandatory Work Activity’ schemes onto which jobseekers are currently being put by the thousands, and for which they are being paid only in JSA.

It was only a matter of time before someone identified the flaw in the logic, as Alex Andreou did in the New Statesman when he, rightly, wrote: “Such schemes do not end the “something for nothing culture”. They simply elevate it to the corporate level.”

How many weeks was Cait Reilly supposed to spend stacking shelves at Poundland – was it four? Let’s say four. So assuming 30 hours a week, if she had been employed on the minimum wage, she would have earned £742.80.

Instead, she would have received JSA at, what, £56.25 per week? That’s £225. From the taxpayer, not Poundland.

So Poundland, which runs more than 390 stores and whose annual profit in 2010 was £21,500,000, would have had the benefit of nearly £750 worth of work, for nothing. But the gravy train doesn’t even stop there!

Employees of all profit-making companies are taken on because they add to the firm’s profits in some way. Therefore we can assume that, as a result of a person stacking shelves at Poundland, a shopper will come along, see something the stacker has stacked, and buy it – creating a profit for the company.

How many times would this happen during a jobseeker’s four-week tenure on ‘Mandatory Work Activity’? There’s no way of knowing. Let’s apply a conservative estimate based on the standard levels of a fiscal multiplier, at the low end, and say that adds a further 60p to the value of every pound that Ms Reilly would have earned.

Total: 1,188.48 profit for Poundland.

Now multiply that by the number of people going through ‘Mandatory Work Activity’ and you’ll see how much these companies are making, courtesy of the taxpayer – because, don’t forget, working people are paying for jobseekers to make money for these firms. We know 878,000 people were put on these schemes between June 2011 and July 2012 – that comes out as 752,571 in a year, on average.

Total profit for companies using people on ‘Mandatory Work Activity’ should therefore be: £894,416,090. Nearly £1 billion.

Loss to the taxpayer: £16,933,000.*

If that isn’t enough to get you hot under the collar, consider this: The profits created for companies by ‘Mandatory Work Activity’ go to company bosses and shareholders, all of whom may be expected to be rich already. They won’t be putting that money back into the economy; they’ll be banking it. Possibly offshore.

If they had employed those jobseekers and paid them at minimum wage, that would have put £559,010,060, per year, back into the economy. These workers would have spent the money in their communities, on commodities that they needed, thus providing a valuable boost to shops and businesses that have been deprived of this support by Coalition government policies.

And the companies concerned would still have made £335,406,030. More than a third of a billion pounds – not to be sniffed at!

It’s mathematical proof of the Conservative Party’s economic incompetence. Making the rich richer and the poor poorer will ruin the country.

*This article does not include payments to Work Placement Provider companies because, not having gone through this system myself, I’m not sure whether it should be applied or not. My understanding is they would get £600 per referral, with higher figures if a jobseeker actually got a job afterwards. Can anyone confirm this is what would happen here?

Ed Miliband on the Workfare Bill – we’ve heard it all before

Miliband and Byrne: They did the wrong thing, but was it for the right reasons?

Miliband and Byrne: They did the wrong thing, but was it for the right reasons?

A whole week after the crucial confidence-breaking vote on the Bill that gives Iain Duncan Smith retroactive powers to steal benefits from jobseekers, an email appears “from the office of Ed Miliband”.

Here’s what it said:

“Thank you for contacting Mr Miliband about the Jobseekers Bill and my apologies for the delay in replying.

“We know how strongly many people feel about this and that you are disappointed that Labour decided to abstain.

“Please be assured that we looked very carefully at all the points raised but in the end the vote came down to the question of whether the DWP should have any legal power whatsoever to stop benefits for people who won’t try to find work at all.

“With record levels of young people out of work, we believe young people must be offered a real choice of a real job with real wages. That’s why Labour is moving amendments to the Bill to demand a tax on bankers’ bonuses to fund over 100,000 jobs for young people with pay at the national minimum wage and training.

“Our approach is completely different to the government.

“We would guarantee everyone unemployed for over two years a properly-paid job, but we want it to apply to young people after a year. In return, we think most people would agree that people would be obliged to take up those jobs or face losing benefits.

“These powers have always existed; for example, in Labour’s Future Jobs Fund, if a young person didn’t take the offer of a job, they would have faced having benefits halted. Labour’s New Deal operated on the same principle.

“We would not support a retrospective bill driven through Parliament at lightning speed – and Labour demanded two crucial concessions, which we forced the government to make.

“First, appeal rights must be guaranteed so that others can appeal against mistakes made by the DWP. We can’t have carte blanche retrospective legalisation of sanctions.

“Second, there must be an independent review of the sanctions regime, with an urgent report and recommendations to Parliament.

“While you may not agree with the decision to abstain, we hope you can recognise that the points you and others have raised were carefully considered and the safeguards Labour have secured.

“Thank you again for taking the time to contact Mr Miliband on this important issue.”

It’s not good enough, is it?

Miliband – and Liam Byrne, Stephen Timms, and all the rest of the current Labour team – need to realise that there is a fundamental difference between what they supported and what they say they want. They should have held out for the latter.

The Coalition government’s scheme puts people to work – for employers who are perfectly capable of paying not only minimum wage but the living wage, for an indefinite period of time, to a person who used to be defined as a paid employee – for, and this is the important part, no remuneration other than their Jobseekers’ Allowance.

Contrast that with what Labour offered in the past – “in Labour’s Future Jobs Fund, if a young person didn’t take the offer of a job, they would have faced having benefits halted. Labour’s New Deal operated on the same principle” – and what Labour says it would offer in the future – “we believe young people must be offered a real choice of a real job with real wages“.

Why put up with anything less?

The concessions are paper tigers – it is understood that appeal rights were enshrined in the original legislation and we have seen no evidence that they were ever going to be dropped, while the timetable of the proposed independent review is such that the current Secretary of State for Work and Pensions may never have to act on it.

In other words, Labour let the Coalition run roughshod over the rule of law – for nothing.

Lies, damned lies and… ‘forward-looking’?

Don't drool, David! Mr Cameron takes questions after his speech on immigration, earlier this week. See those white flecks on his chin? He had been spitting down his face throughout the event. Perhaps he should not allow himself to get so excited?

Don’t drool, David! Mr Cameron takes questions after his speech on immigration, earlier this week. See those white flecks on his chin? He had been spitting down his face throughout the event. Perhaps he should not allow himself to get so excited?

This week we all learned a new euphemism. From now on, it seems, the less-offensive synonym for a governmental lie will be: “forward-looking”.

As in, for example: “Part of [David Cameron’s speech on reducing immigration] is on the importance of reducing pull factors from people who may be considering coming… There is a forward-looking angle to the speech.” (A Downing Street spokesdrone)

Okay, so when he said he was giving migrants from the European Economic Area – in other words, people who already live here – a “very clear message” that there will be no absolute right to unemployment benefit, those words were referring to the future?

That’s fine, but only 0.65 per cent of the two million net migrants to the UK from countries who joined the EU in 2004 – 13,000 people in total – have ever claimed Jobseekers’ Allowance, and that figure is unlikely to rise in the future.

So for Cameron to be claiming this is an important step forward would be a li- it would be a l- It’s forward-looking??

Downing Street’s claim that there has been a 40 per cent increase in the number of social lettings to migrants between 2007-8 and 2011-12 cannot be taken as forward-looking. It’s a statistic – and a typically-distorted one.

The number has indeed risen by 40 per cent – from 6.5 per cent of the proportion of such lettings to nine per cent. All of those people qualify because they are either working, self-sufficient or have a permanent right of residence in the UK – in other words, they are not a burden on the benefits system.

Eligible foreign nationals have their housing needs considered on the same basis as other, UK-born, applicants in accordance with each local authority’s allocation system – in other words, they get no preferential treatment.

Mr Cameron also said Britain has a “free National Health Service, not a free International Health Service”. It seems likely this claim was based on concerns raised by the health secretary, Jeremy Hunt, who seems to think foreign nationals owe the health service £200 million a year, despite the fact that official Department of Health figures place the total for 2011-12 at £33 million – less than one-sixth of his claim (but still a substantial sum of money)

Mr Hunt has announced plans to limit free NHS care to permanent, not temporary, foreign nationals, on the basis of these fake- sorry, forward-looking, figures.

Mr Cameron has also announced plans regarding foreign migrants – he’ll limit their benefits. While this shows a certain consistency within the Coalition government – it is already limiting benefits for people who were born here – Cameron seems to be making no effort to tackle illegal immigration, or exploitation of foreign migrants.

But let us not criticise this new “forward-thinking” breeze that is blowing through the corridors of power without considering some of its other applications.

For example, employment minister Mark Hoban said last week, during the debate on the Jobseekers (back to the Workhouse) Bill that there were no national targets for applying sanctions against jobseekers, nor were there league tables of Job Centres, ranging from the best to the worst in imposing those sanctions.

How does he reconcile this with the leaked letter from an employee of Walthamstow Job Centre, which is 95th in the allegedly nonexistent league table – out of only 109.

The letter states: “I have until the 15th Feb… to show an improvement. Then it’s a PIP [Performance Improvement Plan – the first stage of disciplinary action for Job Centre Employees] for me… to improve my teams SBR [Stricter Benefit Regime – in other words, sanction] referral rate.” The letter went on to say the Job Centre’s manager was looking for 25 such referrals per week, from each section.

“Guys, we really need to up our game here,” the letter concludes. “The 5% target is one thing, the fact we are seeing over 300 people a week and only submitting 6 of them for possible doubts is simply not quite credible.”

Another thing that is now “not quite credible” is Mr Hoban’s claim that there are no targets and no league tables. Or was this another bit of “forward-looking” – to a time when there won’t be any need for them? Perhaps when everyone has been cleared off benefits altogether?

A leaked newsletter for Malvern Job Centre, quoted in The Guardian, also refers to the five per cent target.

Liam Byrne, the Labour work and pensions spokesman who traded away his Party’s opposition to the Jobseekers (back to the Workhouse) Bill for a nebulous promise of an independent review of back-to-work schemes, lasting 12 months and with no deadline set for the government to respond to its report, demanded that this review should be set up immediately, “so it can begin the job of putting the DWP’s house back in order” – even though it has nothing to do with the sanctions regime.

He clearly doesn’t want to rock the boat.

So we have government ministers – and a Prime Minister – determined to lie- sorry, look forward about as many policies as possible, while Her Majesty’s Opposition is determined to look the other way.

And, out in the real world… How are your finances looking for next month?

Byrne’s weasel words will not excuse his betrayal

Liam Byrne (right) wants to convince us that he made the right choice over the Jobseekers Bill. Don't give him the satisfaction. His actions are unsupportable.

Liam Byrne (right) wants to convince us that he made the right choice over the Jobseekers Bill. Don’t give him the satisfaction. His actions are unsupportable.

What do you do with a serial offender who will not acknowledge his crime?

Dropping him from the Parliamentary Labour Party might be a good start.

Having appeared in Parliament only to urge his backbench Labour colleagues to abstain on the controversial Jobseekers (back to work schemes) Bill, Mr Byrne subsequently published an article on in which he attempted to justify his position.

He said of his decision to support the Bill: “It’s pretty hard to say DWP shouldn’t have a sanction power that was well and truly incorporated into policies that worked when we were in government.”

The trouble is, that isn’t what people are saying, and it is disingenuous of Mr Byrne to suggest that it is. People are saying that the current government policy – to put people into unpaid work for firms that are perfectly capable of paying them a living wage – does not deserve to have sanctions attached to it. If it was a reasonable policy, maybe. In this case, no.

So Mr Byrne should not have supported the Bill, if that was the reason.

He went on to address the concessions he claims to have won, added as amendments to the Bill: “Do I do everything to foul up the timetable of the bill, safe in the knowledge that because we lack a majority, the Tories and Lib Dems would ultimately win any vote they liked, whenever they liked? At best this might have delayed the Bill a week or two. Or, do I let the Bill go through before Easter in return for two critical concessions which Labour MP’s actually can actually use in practice to help people over the next two years?”

It’s a leading question, because if those were the only options, anyone reasonable would agree with the latter. But he’s playing fast-and-loose with the truth again. One of those concessions merely confirms the grounds of appeal that were already in place; the other puts in place an independent review that will not report back for a whole year, following which the Secretary of State – whoever that may be by then – can delay any response indefinitel.

The concessions Mr Byrne claims to have won are pointless.

“We need to ensure people hit by sanctions have the right of appeal – to protect the innocent – and that’s what we got guaranteed on the face of the bill,” said Mr Byrne. But they were already guaranteed. The problem is, the government was not acting on them in a proper manner. This is another reason the scheme itself is at fault. A sanction applied against an unjust scheme must, by definition, be unjust itself.

And how is the independent review supposed to work? Will the reviewer be contacting every single person who has been sanctioned over the past three years or so, to get their stories from them? It’s a nice thought but it seems unlikely. Prepare for another stitch-up.

“Labour’s view is that work experience can help get young people into work,” wrote Mr Byrne. “But – and this is the crucial ‘but’ – we strongly feel that young people should be given a real choice of a real job with a real wage.”

There’s nothing wrong with that; what is badly needed is for mandatory work activity to be paid at the minimum wage or above. People on the scheme are not considered to be out of work statistically; why should their remuneration be limited to that of people who are?

“Let’s be under no illusion. Only by standing shoulder to shoulder will we ultimately push this terrible government into Opposition. We are Labour because we care and debate questions like this so passionately. We reject the politics of divide and rule. And we’ve learned the hard way that unity is strength.”

Oh really? Time to send a clear message back to Mr Byrne:

If there is any dischord, YOU are causing it. We do indeed reject the politics of divide and rule but it is your policy that is at odds with the views of the majority of the Labour Party. Unity is indeed strength, so you have a simple choice: GET ON-SIDE AND GET ON-MESSAGE – OR GET OUT.

Budget 2013: Tory doublespeak to fool the masses

"Blah blah blah Budget blah blah blah bad news blah blah blah: The only reason for listening to this man's budget blather is to work out which parts are Tory doublespeak - "You think we're helping you - in fact we're helping ourselves".

“Blah blah blah Budget blah blah blah bad news blah blah blah: The only reason for listening to this man’s budget blather is to work out which parts are Tory doublespeak – “You think we’re helping you – in fact we’re helping ourselves”.

Growth down, employment down.

Deficit up, meaning borrowing up by £245 billion more than initially planned.

£2.5 billion of spending on – paid for by a fresh public spending squeeze, with details of the new cuts announced in a June government spending review.

Spare homes subsidy for rich people wanting second houses?

This is what the Budget tells us.

It’s par for the course that a Conservative announcement which – on the face of it – is good news, turns out to have a hidden double-meaning that will benefit friends of the party.

We can safely conclude that any benefits for first-time buyers are incidental, then.

And the fear of creating another housing bubble is real.

Perhaps this shows the Conservative-led coalition reaching the point of desperation but it is doubtful.

It seems a desperate move to go back to something that could create similar conditions to those that helped cause the financial crisis of 2008 and plunge us into the longest depression for more than 70 years.

But Gideon George Osborne has said the help-to-buy scheme will underwrite £130 billion in loans over three years, aimed at those who want to get on the housing ladder or move to a larger home.

We can only hope that credit checks on these individuals are more stringent than they were on people taking out loans for housing before 2008.

But this gives rise to the claim that the scheme is a second-home subsidy for the very rich – perhaps only the very rich will be able to meet the standards required.

The stated aim of the policy is to reinvigorate the housing market, which has been hit by banks demanding bigger deposits from homebuyers. This may be accurate, but we see nothing in it to stop the very rich taking advantage.

Osborne told the BBC’s Today programme the move would not inflate prices because the Bank of England would be able “to turn off the tap” on the finance after three years if the market was over-heating.

Would this not cause problems for first-time buyers who rely on the loans he is offering?

If so, then this is a scheme to suck money out of people who are slightly more wealthy than the non-waged or low-waged who have suffered the greatest hits so far, but are still not “us”, as the Tories might define that word.

Note that Ed Balls challenged Osborne to confirm funding would be limited to first-time buyers and owner-occupiers and to pledge that second homes and buy-to-let properties would be excluded – but Osborne did not.

Balls also suggested high-earners set to benefit from the cut in the 50p top rate of tax next month could potentially use the “taxpayer guarantee” to buy another property, and contrasted the plan with reductions in housing benefit for those with spare rooms in social housing – “spare room subsidies”, according to the government.

“It now seems his mortgage scheme will help people no matter how high their income to buy a subsidised second home worth up to £600,000,” Balls said.

“From what I can see, the government is basically saying if you have got a spare room in a social home, you will pay the bedroom tax but if you want a spare home and you can afford it, we will help you buy one.”

He added: “That is not just tax cuts for millionaires, it is – dare I say it – a spare homes subsidy.”