Say what you like about Ed Miliband, at least he hasn’t descended into the morass of smears, accusations and counter-accusations that typify the Tory and Liberal Democrat election campaigns.
Labour’s approach seems to be focused on the national situation, rather than local areas – perhaps Mr Miliband is leaving local campaigning to local representatives, who know exactly what they’re talking about. Good policy.
By concentrating on the overarching issues – especially ahead of next week’s launch of the Coalition’s future legislative programme – he’s telling the country what Labour stands for, right now: Action on jobs, tax, housing and training, and cutting household bills.
I don’t know about you but I’m in favour of all of that.
Labour would provide a jobs guarantee for the long-term unemployed. People out of work would be obliged to take up those jobs (which might seem draconian, but remember, these people have been out of work for a long time and their pay would be more than the benefits they receive) and the £1 billion costs would be funded by reversing the government’s decision to stop tax relief on pension contributions for people earning over £150,000 being limited to 20 per cent.
Labour would re-introduce the 10p tax band and cut VAT temporarily, freeing up the money supply to pump much-needed life into the national economy. Mr Miliband said the Coalition’s attempt at trickle-down economics was failing badly, and he was right – trickle-down is a proven falsehood.
And Labour would cut energy bills and crack down on rogue landlords, putting more cash in the wallets of the people who actually spend their money.
Of course, the Conservatives reacted predictably by complaining that the plans mean more spending, borrowing and debt – completely overlooking the fact that their own policies have increased borrowing by £245 billion since 2010.
The World At One’s Martha Kearney tried to tackle Mr Miliband about this, but ended up making herself look a little foolish. While Miliband patiently tried to explain that investment now would bring growth in the medium term, cutting future borrowing, she seem to expect him to wave a magic wand – a Mili-wand, if you like – and fix the borrowing issue immediately.
Of course that isn’t possible – but it’s a far better alternative to the failed austerity programme. The statistics in the image (above) indicate clearly how disastrous austerity can be for a country, and of course Gideon Osborne’s main evidence to support this course was disproved a couple of weeks ago (I’m still waiting for you to bring forward other documentary evidence in favour of austerity, by the way, George).
Meanwhile, the Liberal Democrats have climbed onto the Tory ‘negative campaigning’ bandwagon and decided that their best hope of winning votes is to attack the other parties. It’s a common Lib Dem ploy.
So the Conservatives have abandoned compassion, and Labour is now a party of protest, according to Nick Clegg (who was clearly taking notes when Mr Miliband met former Labour leader Tony Blair).
What a shame he didn’t pay attention to what Mr Miliband was saying. It’s ridiculous to suggest Labour is “offering anger rather than hope” when Labour has been telling everyone exactly how it would return hope to Britain’s blighted economy.
Mr Clegg claimed that both Labour and the Conservatives were retreating to political extremes, and urged voters to vote for his party instead – conveniently forgetting that the Liberal Democrats in Parliament are currently an enthusiastic part of the most extreme right-wing government the UK has had in generations.
What’s even more amazing is that he followed up this character assassination of his political rivals by saying that, in the event of another hung Parliament in 2015, he would gladly go into coalition with either of the other parties.
He said the Lib Dems would “do our duty to the country”.
Considering your track record to date, Nick, it seems unlikely that ‘duty’ has ever been your motivation.
What is going wrong with the social media giant Facebook?
By now, we all know that Facebook took it upon itself to target and attack bloggers – primarily with WordPress, as I understand it – who use the site to publicise their articles, last week. Vox Political was one of those sites.
The censorship took the form of an alert message that appeared on readers’ screens when they clicked through from Facebook to an article by the writers who had been targeted. This message stated: “Facebook thinks this site may be unsafe. If you’re not familiar with it, please provide feedback by marking it as spam (you’ll be brought back to Facebook).”
Anyone trying to ‘share’ a link with other Facebook users was subjected to the infamous and annoying ‘Captcha’ box – this is the time-consuming and difficult method of proving you are a human being by reading a series of letters or numbers, that have been stretched or bent on the screen in a way that we are told prevents automated ‘spam’ systems from understanding it, and then typing the sequence correctly into a box. This is off-putting as it takes time and effort, and many users may have decided not to bother.
All this took place around the time the House of Lords was voting on the regulations that will allow private firms to compete to run NHS services – the privatisation of the NHS; and it also coincided with bowel cancer sufferer Mark McGowan’s crawl from King’s College Hospital to 10 Downing Street, pushing a toy pig with his nose to highlight his view that the privatisation marked out the Conservative-led government as pigs with their snouts in the money trough.
I can’t comment on how this affected anybody else, but my own site certainly suffered as a result, and I complained to Facebook about this treatment, pointing out that the alert message clearly lowered me in the estimation of right-thinking members of the public generally, and caused me to be shunned and avoided – fulfilling not just one but two criteria necessary for an act to constitute defamation – otherwise known as libel.
The problem appeared to resolve itself just before the weekend. Facebook said that it was all a mistake, made by its automated spam-filter algorithms. It seems that WordPress sites all over the world were affected, and there was discussion of it on the WordPress user forums, ending with a post from a staff member saying that “the problem seems to have been fixed on Facebook‘s end on or around April 26th.”
And that should have been the end of it, right?
Well… were these automated systems malfunctioning again on Sunday and Monday? That would seem very strange behaviour, so soon after an initial ‘mistake’ that was so widely discovered, reported and discussed.
Still, I posted an article yesterday and, when I checked this morning, found that – according to Facebook statistics – it had reached a total of 16 people. The previous article, a link to a reblog that I also posted yesterday, had amassed more than 1,700 readers (according to the stats). The article before that – more than 2,000.
That was seriously odd, I thought. Nobody loses 2,000 readers in a day.
Still, I had another article to promote, so I posted the link to “Tory department of dirty deeds swings into pre-election action”. Half an hour later – by which time I would normally have expected to see a ‘total reach’ in the hundreds, that number had stalled on two.
That’s right – two.
“Yes,” said one of my readers in response to a (Facebook) status report asking what the devil was going on, “the government is putting pressure on Facebook to delete some posts and groups which contain political themes, and to slow the process of certain posts being sent for others to see. Guess Cameron is feeling the heat.”
Conspiracy-theory nonsense? Or a rational response to the evidence? I thought about this for a while. Then I decided to put it to the test.
If Facebook is using spam-filtering algorithms to censor certain messages, then it must be programmed to detect particular words, or combinations of words, I reasoned. Maybe my use of “Tory” alongside “dirty deeds” was what got the article kicked into touch?
So what would happen if I posted a link to the very same article, but this time with an innocuous – if unlikely – headline such as “Peace and harmony breaks out between the British political parties”?
I’ll tell you what happened: ‘Total reach’ of 542 people within half an hour – that’s what! More than the original link – to the same article – had achieved all day. More than it has achieved as I type this, in fact.
Maybe I’m being paranoid – Johnny Void thinks so; he’s been trying to convince me that this really was an innocent glitch, and I’d like to believe him.
But I also want some solid answers. Wouldn’t you?
I’ve written to Facebook; let’s see what happens.
And, while we’re waiting, I might create a new page on Facebook: BASTARDS for CONSERVATISM! The description will read: “We may be illegitimate, but we know our own when we see them!”
The Nasty Party is at it again, spreading dire warnings about its political foes and trawling opponents’ appearances on the social media for anything it can use against them.
Labour and – especially – UKIP candidates had better watch out; these are people who will take any apparently-innocuous off-the-cuff comment and turn it into galloping racism (for example) before your eyes!
The Party of Smears kicked off in typical fashion yesterday by attacking UKIP as “a collection of clowns” in a protest party with no positive policies, that was primarily opposed to foreigners.
The comment about being a party of protest will also ring in the ears of Labour candidates, after former party leader Tony Blair warned Ed Miliband that Labour must not be seen as one.
According to the BBC, UKIP reckons it has evidence that Conservative Central Office is spreading smears about its candidates, after spending months trawling through the Twitter and Facebook accounts of anyone likely to be a candidate.
Meanwhile The Guardian has reported a warning to Labour MPs from party vice-chairman Michael Dugher, that they will all be under “intense scrutiny” from the Tories for the next 18 months to two years, with Conservatives “scouring” opposition MPs’ Twitter accounts (and, we can well expect, Facebook pages) for damaging or embarrassing material.
“The message was that while you might not be household names now, any slip can instantly make you one and do huge damage to the party. The next 18 months is crucial. And the next few weeks are crucial ahead of the June spending review,” a ‘source’ is quoted as saying.
Facebook has already been the subject of controversy over alleged links with the Conservative Party, after blogger Tom Pride said he had been told by a Job Centre Plus employee that the Department for Work and Pensions had conspired with the social media giant to create a blackout around his blog because it criticised the Coalition government.
That blackout spread to other blogs including Vox Political, in a bid to choke off critical political writing, with potential readers warned that sites “may be unsafe” in an effort to turn them away. Although initially successful, with hits on this blog suffering during the early part of last week, the attack was routed after Facebook users were told that they were being manipulated. Hopefully, visits to this site will soon be back to pre-attack levels.
UKIP has taken the Tory attacks in its stride. The relatively young party has taken on nearly 2,000 candidates to contest the local elections on Thursday and has admitted it has not had time to check all their backgrounds properly. Therefore, the party says, it is glad the Conservatives are doing this job and has begun investigating six candidates over alleged links to the British National Party and other far-right groups.
UKIP sources have also stated their certainty that, if they were to investigate Conservative candidates in a similar manner, they might find “even more examples” to use in a counter-attack, summing up the Tory tactic as “morally reprehensible and downright dirty”.
“It isn’t scrutiny; it’s smear,” said a spokesperson.
Of course, this fighting among the right-wing, minority-interest parties (and if you don’t think the Tories are a minority-interest party, you haven’t been following their policies for the last three years) should be very helpful to Labour.
UKIP’s popularity splits the right-wing vote, meaning Labour has more chance to gain a majority in marginal council wards (and, by extension, marginal Parliamentary constituencies). At least, that’s one theory.
The problem is the fact that Labour voters might decide to defect on Thursday, as well – maybe even to UKIP, despite the fact that that party’s position is further to the right than the Conservatives’.
Much of this problem, Labour believes, lies in policy – with many people unaware of what most members of the Labour front bench actually do.
And this is compounded, in my opinion, by the fact that the one policy area in which Labour’s position is known is such a cast-iron, vote-losing, disaster for the party: Welfare/Work and Pensions.
Yet a Guardian article about a possible reshuffle makes no mention of Liam Byrne and his deputy Stephen Timms whatsoever – despite the fact that their decision not to oppose a blatantly illegal stitch-up of the system by the Tory DWP secretary Iain Duncan Smith enraged Labour heartlands across the country. Indeed, a fellow blogger recently headlined an article with the profanity (which I’ll edit here) ‘Liam Byrne f*ck off’.
It is long past time that Ed Miliband told him to do so. If Labour does not abandon Byrne’s horrifying attempt to equal the Tories’ brutality towards Britain’s most vulnerable people, in favour of a new policy that attacks the causes of unemployment, sickness and disability rather than the symptoms, then Labour will lose the next general election.
And that will be an even graver disaster for us all.
This is what passes for information among Conservatives nowadays, apparently.
I picked up the original image on a brief visit onto the Conservative Party Facebook page, where I passed a few choice comments on it – which appear below. I decided the correct information should not be wasted on the Conservatives alone, so I tried to share it on the VoxFacebook page.
There, I discovered that Facebook‘s problem with politics is ongoing, as my attempt to post the, shall we say, altered version of the image was met with the response that FB was having trouble processing it, and I should try again in a few minutes. Repeated attempts failed, so now I’m posting it here, and what would have been an ephemeral moment of humour will now remain with us into posterity (or at least until I decide to take it down).
So what is wrong with this picture?
For a start, that deficit has been down by a third for a long time now. How much has it come down in, say, the last year? Less than a quarter of a per cent, according to my calculations. And in the last quarter? Even less.
Businesses have not created more than 1.25 million new jobs – certainly not in the last three months! For a start, as we all know, 200,000 of them were education jobs that were simply transferred out of the public sector into private ownership to make ConDem figures look good. I haven’t seen any job creation figures for the last three months, but I doubt they’re as good as this image pretends.
Interest rates are indeed at record lows, but this has nothing whatsoever to do with decisions by the current government.
I notice that the only legible word on the side of the coins is ‘impune’. It’s a misspelling, but I take it as an invitation for all to come and impugn the lies we see here (Impugn: cast doubt upon or criticise as unreliable or unworthy of respect).
Long comment from one of my readers follows. It is pertinent to this, though:
“I used to be a nurse for many years. I trained under the old system before Project 2000. I’ve never worked as hard, been so tired or enjoyed a job more in my life. After training I went on permanent night duty in a busy A&E department in a smallish hospital. It was a great, friendly place to work and because during the night there were always fewer staff on duty we all supported and relied on each other. We would often have crazy busy nights when it got to around 5am before anyone got chance to sit down with a brew. We gave our all for our patients because that was why we were there and this fact alone was for me the reason why I got so much job satisfaction, despite the crap wages.
“Then along came Thatcher and her divide and rule ‘quasi-market’ ideology for the NHS. Suddenly we were not all one hospital any more but an NHS Trust divided into Directorates. Staffing levels started to drop. We were instructed to order cheaper equipment such as substandard paper gowns with no sleeves in and nothing to tie them together at the back so patients felt exposed and embarrassed wearing them or the cheaper intravenous drip tubes made by some company connected with Tory MP John Gummer that somehow never worked properly…cheaper dressings, cheaper everything.
“Each Directorate had its own nursing budget and the responsibility for this was devolved down to chief Nursing Officers (NOs). This had some perverse consequences such as the NO of the Medical Directorate who was responsible for the cardiac arrest team telling the NO of the Surgical Directorate she’d reached her monthly quota for call outs of the team so any further use of this service would have to come out of the surgical budget…a huge row broke out. Nurse was set against nurse and morale began to suffer.
“I have no idea what its like to work in the NHS now but what I do know from recent experience as a patient is that wards are chronically understaffed. Despite this I received excellent care from nurses and doctors alike. They saved my life. This nurse baiting is a typical Tory tactic not unlike their attack on benefit recipients. Its lazy and dishonest politics, its unfair and its ugly.”
The graph reproduced above is from the Tax Research UK website, where it is being used to show that the Lords agreed to regulations that – in effect – privatised the English NHS last week, because of greed.
It shows the difference between OECD countries, based on the amount they spend on healthcare and the average life expectancy.
Note that the UK is currently more or less in the middle of the majority group, with average spending and a fairly high life expectancy.
By contrast, the USA is out on its own, with almost three times as much money spent on healthcare and a lower life expectancy (if only by a year). Clearly, the huge amount of extra cash spent on its private system does not lead to a huge improvement in health.
So the question must be asked: Why is the British government determined to change our system – which, despite all the criticisms currently being trumped up against it, works – into one that is far more costly but produces slightly worse results?
How will that improve the nation’s finances, for example?
Considering that the poorer nine-tenths of the population would have a hard time stumping up the money for health insurance, it seems likely that we will see the return of some of the diseases that have been more or less eradicated from our shores for the last few decades, which leads to another couple of questions. Perhaps you would like to ask them on the doorstep, when canvassers come around in advance of the May elections.
Firstly, do Conservatives and Liberal Democrats miss the old-time diseases like diphtheria so badly that they had to attack the healthcare system in order to bring them back?
And also, if they really do miss those diseases, why not inflict them on their own social class, rather than on people who were quite happy with the system as it was?
Does anybody remember the grotesque Harry Enfield character Loadsamoney? He was a walking, talking satire of the Thatcher era’s obsession with cash. When he first hit our TV screens, he was a plasterer, because they were making cash hand over fist at the time. Then the crash happened in 1987, and what did he become?
Taking possessions away from people who were unable to stop it had become the growth industry, so that’s what ‘Loadsamoney’ went into.
Now, bailiffs are once again salivating at the chance to get their hands on other people’s property.
I predict that anyone with brains, who’s likely to get a visit from the bailiffs, will already be working out the home addresses of all those who run – or are employed by – local companies, and devising plans about what to do.
After all, what have they got to lose? A British prison is better than the street.
(I’m not condoning this kind of behaviour, mark you – I merely foretell)
Speaking before the event, Mr McGowan said a few words that were particularly illuminating. “Without a mandate, having concealed their health policy, this government is giving away NHS contracts to the highest bidder,” he said.
“Under the cloak of austerity, the primary purpose of this government is to move public money into private pockets, as fast as humanly possible. They are like pigs at the trough of public money.
“These people in government are liars, criminals and thieves and should be arrested for embezzlement of public funds. A staggering 206 parliamentarians have recent or present financial private healthcare connections; amazingly all of them were allowed to vote on the Health and Social Care Act.
“This is not a democracy.”
You’d have expected this expression of free speech to have received a huge amount of coverage in the free press, wouldn’t you? Well, think again because I just checked: An article in the Metro and a video on something called London24. That’s all.
Ah, but there’s always Facebook, where bloggers such as myself can freely direct readers such as yourselves to our work and highlight the subjects not covered in the so-called popular press, isn’t there?
Well, this was a story that Facebook was doing its damnedest to make sure didn’t get out.
Facebook then seemed to get a taste for censorship: The Pride’s Purge blog by Tom Pride received similar treatment after it posted links to an openly-satirical article (It was plainly marked ‘Satire’) about the Department for Work and Pensions and Atos.
Tom claimed in a later post that a JobCentre Plus worker “openly bragged” to him that JCP had complained to Facebook about him, and this had led to the censorship of his work.
Even this blog, which only posted links to other articles about these issues, was targeted for attack. As readers who link here from Facebook will know – you alerted me to it – we had a couple of days when visits here were accompanied by this stern warning: “Facebook thinks this site may be unsafe. If you’re not familiar with it, please provide feedback by marking it as spam (you’ll be brought back to Facebook).” As site statistics show, this was enough to put many readers off.
I wasn’t having it. I have written to Facebook, pointing out that the unfounded allegation is defamatory and demanding that reparations must be made – to charity, and to the Labour Party (of which I am a member), since this site is not for profit and the attacks seemed to be centred on left-leaning bloggers. They’ve got three weeks to respond, then I start adding noughts to the amount that I suggested.
Facebook has said the mass censorship was a mistake made by its automated systems – but you’d have to be gullible in the extreme to believe that.
So much for freedom of speech; so much for freedom of the press; so much for freedom on the Internet.
Yesterday it emerged that a man had been held in prison for two weeks after claims were made that he made a “threat to kill” during an Atos work capability assessment.
Steve Topley, a 49-year-old Hucknall father with multiple health conditions including Reynard’s syndrome, who has a heart replacement valve and lost one of his kidneys to cancer, and is on a strict medication regime including treatment to stabilise his blood levels and maintain safe blood pressure, was whisked away after he made comments about a person who was not present at the assessment.
He was arrested, subjected to a mental health assessment which offered no reason to detain him, so was re-arrested and taken to Nottingham police station where he was charged and kept in custody. He was refused bail twice in closed courts which, his family said, they were refused permission to attend.
Today (Friday) he was taken to another secret court, where he was charged, admitted the crime, and bailed – with the likelihood of a community sentence waiting for him at his next appearance.
Johnny Void, writing about this in his blog, made some particularly apposite comments on the subject, as follows: “This incident happened in the middle of an Atos assessment which are notoriously stressful and frightening for claimants. If he hadn’t been put through that, it is unlikely he would have said whatever he said, which it seems was not a very credible threat, at least as far as the Judge was concerned.
“It can make people react irrationally or angrily and they end up doing things they wouldn’t ordinarily do. The context these events take place in is often ignored by ‘professionals’, because to them it is all just a job and they can’t understand why people are not being reasonable. The stark terror felt by some people facing courts, benefit assessments, arrests, bailiffs, prisons or even more seemingly benign institutions such as social services, Jobcentres and community mental health teams can often cause people to destroy themselves. This can happen even if ‘professionals’ concerned do their jobs properly within the constrain of the system and no-one is really personally culpable.”
So much for personal freedom – but wait. The situation here is actually worse than even this story makes out. I am indebted to Vox Political commenter vince032013, who tells us the following, about so-called ‘reforms’ to Legal Aid (italics mine):
“Things might be about to get a lot worse. The government are now planning on reforming the criminal justice system. Highlights are 1. Suspects in the police station will not be able to choose a solicitor. They will be appointed one. 2. The number of solicitors’ firms is to be reduced by 75 per cent (that’s not a typo – 75 per cent). 3. The reduction in the number of solicitors is to be achieved by putting criminal work out to tender. 4. The bidders are not allowed to bid at over 82.5 per cent of the current cost of running a criminal case. 5. The consultation which has introduced this idea states in terms that it does not want solicitors to offer any more than an “acceptable” level of service to suspects. 6. Once charged, defendants may be represented in court by someone with no Crown Court trial experience (and will not be able to exercise a choice to change that representative). If you’re interested read the consultation here
In other words, this Conservative/Liberal Democrat government is determined to rig the justice system against anybody who becomes caught up in it. The conditions described by the commenter are utterly corrupt and offer nobody in this country any chance at justice – unless they can afford it. So the really serious criminals and gangsters have nothing at all to fear.
Today we also discovered that the so-called “big four” accountancy firms – Deloitte, Ernst & Young, KPMG and PricewaterhouseCoopers – who were brought into the Treasury to help the government draw up tax laws, have been using the ‘insider’ knowledge they have gained to help wealthy clients avoid paying taxes. They have been telling multinational corporations and wealthy individuals how to exploit loopholes in the legislation they have helped to write – according to the House of Commons’ public accounts committee.
This represents a staggering betrayal of the working- and middle-class citizens of this country, who have no choice but to pay all the tax that the government demands from them or face imprisonment – and an appalling display of hypocrisy on the part of David Cameron, the British Prime Minister who, only yesterday, said he planned to use the UK’s chairmanship of the G8 nations to tackle what he himself described as “staggering” worldwide levels of tax evasion and avoidance – levels that he, himself, is helping to boost.
Now, I’m not voting in the elections next week. There isn’t a poll in my part of the country. But if you are planning to vote…
Considering the way the government has pushed through its plans to sell the NHS to the highest bidders (without a mandate, having concealed its health policy); considering the way it has been implicated in attempts to stop the public from finding out about the plans and what they mean (in conjunction with Facebook); considering how its servants take it upon themselves to subject very-ill individuals to extreme pressure and then imprison them on the basis of what they say in those circumstances; considering the plan to deny justice to the poor and make high-quality legal advice available only to the extremely rich people, including rich criminals, who can afford it; and considering the fact that it has opened the door for those who should be paying the most tax in this country to avoid doing so altogether – while claiming it is doing the exact opposite…
Taking all those issues into consideration, if you are a working-class or middle-class person planning to vote Conservative or Liberal Democrat next Thursday, then for your own safety, submit yourself for medical assessment because you must be barking mad.
The Atos merry-go-round spins us into Hell again: This story is absolutely chilling. A man with serious medical conditions has been jailed – that’s right, JAILED – after an Atos work capability assessment. Read the story and quake in fear at the totalitarian regime that used to be the World leader in equality, justice and freedom of speech.
Tory Parliamentary candidate Chris Davies: In his letter he accuses local Labour members of “acting as disciples of their London hierarchy” – and then regurgitates as much of the drivel handed down to him by his own Westminster masters as he can manage.
Once upon a time, if you found an error in an article, a document or (in my case – I’m going back to when I was very young) a teacher’s work, you were congratulated for finding the “deliberate mistake”. The culprit would say something like: “Well done! I put that in there as a deliberate mistake to see if you were alert enough to find it. You’ve passed the test! As a reward, clean the blackboard.”
I wonder if the same can be said of a letter in the local paper by a Councillor Chris Davies who, we’re told, is the Conservative Parliamentary Candidate for Brecon and Radnorshire. If so, it seems likely that even the doziest student should find at least one, because his screed is riddled with errors.
Last night I spent several hours writing up a response to his nonsense, and I propose to share it with you now. This means the article will be quite long, but never mind. As those of you who keep up to date with current affairs know, it’ll give Facebook something really juicy to censor.
Here’s the letter from Cllr Davies. Spelling mistakes and misuses of apostrophes are all his own work:
“For years people have had difficulty in distinguishing between the policies of political parties, accusing politicians of all being the same and hogging the middle ground.
“I am grateful to the local Labour Party acting as disciples of their London hierarchy for putting clear water between our parties.
“As reported [on April 11], the local Labour councillors are up in arms over the Coalition Government’s Welfare Reforms.
“Yet rather than offering to help people back into work or helping them move into more suitably sized accommodation, all these Labour councillors offer is, ‘Check your exemption status.’
“This is the sad reality of a Labour Party that despises individual responsibility and aspiration, preferring instead to encourage and promote state dependency.
“During the last Labour government, welfare spending rose by 60 per cent.
“Such reckless spending and disregard for taxpayer’s money not surprisingly brought record levels of borrowing and debt which left the UK on the brink of bankruptcy.
“For these Labour councillors to now clearly advocate working the welfare system instead of striving to escape it proves that they still have not learnt their lesson.
“These Labour councillors are also completely out of touch with the public, the majority of whom support the coalition’s welfare reform policies.
“The Welfare State is there as a last resort, a safety net, for those who need it – Not as an alternative to work as it became under Labour.
“Labour has always shown little regard for the hardworking taxpayers’ who pay for the welfare state; those paying for others to stay at home and paying for tenants to live in larger houses than they need. The fact that so many of these hard working taxpayer’s cannot afford a property of any size themselves appears of no concern to Labour.
“Whether you are running your own business, working on the checkout in the local supermarket or working as a farm labourer, the majority of the tax you pay now goes to fund the welfare state.
“No one minds paying for those who truly need support, but as these welfare reforms have already shown, there were many people claiming support that they did not need or were not entitled to.
“Tougher medical tests recently introduced to assess the health of the 2.6 million people claiming incapacity benefit found 800,000 of them were perfectly fit and able to work.
“Another 900,000 dropped their claim to these benefits rather than take the test.
“How can Labour honestly say it is unfair that we are capping benefits at £26,000 a year when that is far more than most workers in Brecon & Radnorshire earn?
“How can Labour continue to support a benefit system that gives workless households a higher income than the majority of working individuals who are paying for the system?
“The system should never have allowed unemployment to become more financially rewarding than working. It is this disincentive to work that has largely caused the welfare problem we are now dealing with.
“All Labour can do is pour scorn on anything the Coalition Government does. What are they offering as an alternative? We are seeing No policies, No ideas, No alternatives.
“To quote Tony Blair recently – “Ed Milliband is in danger of being seen as reducing the Labour party to nothing but a party of protests” – It seems to me that whether in London or locally the Labour Party is already there.”
If I know my readership, you are all shaking your heads in blank astonishment that someone who professes to be a reasonable human being – and has managed to become a county councillor, here in Powys, should come out with such an unremitting stream of dribble.
In response, I wrote the following. Be warned – it doesn’t address every single piece of nonsense in Cllr Davies’ letter. There is a word-limit on letters submitted to the newspaper.
So here’s a game for you: Spot the ‘deliberate’ mistakes in his letter that I haven’t singled out, tell us what they are and why they’re wrong.
Here’s my response:
I read with interest the letter from Cllr Chris Davies, who is keen to put “clear water” between our parties. His letter certainly achieves this, ably clarifying that Conservatives have little or no understanding of the effect their so-called reforms are having on those they claim they are trying to help. I’d like to set the record straight. Although I am a Labour member, I think it is appropriate to quote the late Baroness Thatcher: “Where there is error, may we bring truth.”
If taken to its obvious conclusions, the under-occupation charge – more correctly known as the Bedroom Tax – will cost the taxpayer far more than the former situation. The stated aim is to get people who are living in social housing with spare bedrooms to move into smaller accommodation or lose housing benefit. This means a disabled person in a house with thousands of pounds worth of adaptations for their disability, that has two extra bedrooms (one used as a carer’s respite room while the other would be more accurately defined as a cupboard), would lose so much money that they would be forced to move out. If they then went to a private, one-bedroom flat, the taxpayer would not only have to pay full housing benefit (around £100 extra per month) but also the cost of removing the disability adaptations from one dwelling and installing them in the other (thousands of pounds).
You see, the Conservative-led government got its sums wrong. It would be better for all involved (not least the taxpayer!) if ways could be found to prevent this extravagance with the public purse. What the Labour councillors were suggesting was a way of saving taxpayers’ money – not spending it.
Cllr Davies’ claim that welfare spending rose by 60 per cent under the last Labour government is scaremongering and cynical manipulation of the figures. Total expenditure on welfare when Labour took over in 1997 was 11.6 per cent of Gross Domestic Product. Under Labour, it averaged 10.7 per cent – that’s right, it went down – right up to the crash. Afterwards, benefits for children and working-age adults rose from an average 4.9 per cent of GDP to six per cent, which is what one might expect during a recession.
For clarity, the majority of welfare spending goes into pensions – around 55 per cent. Benefits for the unemployed total just three per cent. Fraudulent claims total a miniscule 0.7 per cent.
Moving on to Cllr Davies’ ridiculous claim that many people were claiming support who did not need or were not entitled to it, he claims that 900,000 people (in fact it was 878,300) dropped their claim for Employment and Support Allowance rather than take the Work Capability Assessment. In fact, DWP figures show that the number of cases closed before assessment has remained consistent since before the new assessment came into use. It is known as ‘churn’ – a turnover of claims withdrawn for perfectly normal reasons like people getting better or finding a job they can do, even if they’re ill. That is a result of people using the benefit system properly. Every month, around 130,000 people come off ESA – it isn’t a lifetime benefit; it’s something you claim for as long as you must. Because of the huge number of cases on the system and the amount of time it takes for them to be assessed and decided, some people who no longer need to claim haven’t even had their assessment.
DWP figures show the number of people receiving the benefit has in fact risen since the current government increased its scrutiny of disabled people.
Cllr Davies’ claim that the Work Capability Assessment is a “medical” test is also inaccurate. It is based on a system devised by an American insurance company called Unum, in order to avoid paying out to customers whose policies had matured. The aim is to convince very sick people that their illnesses are imagined. As a policy, you might consider that to be sick in itself. The result is horrifying but I’ll try to put it in context: According to the BBC, by October 30, 2012, the total number of British soldiers who had died in Afghanistan since military operations began there in 2002 was 437. That’s equivalent to the number of sick or disabled people who die while going through the work capability assessment system (or as a result of going through it) – every six weeks; an average of 73 per week (according to figures released after a Freedom of Information request).
The benefit cap is another waste of taxpayers’ money. It will reduce households’ ability to pay the rent, leading to an expected increase in homelessness of 40,000 families. How much will local authorities have to pay, housing families in temporary accommodation? Child poverty will skyrocket by 100,000. Many families may break up in response to the pressures. Parents who live separately and divide their children’s residency between them can claim up to £1,000 a week in benefits, while a couple living together may only claim £500. Of course, this would completely wipe out any saving the government would have made on that family, costing £26,000 more every year.
Cllr Davies rightly says £26,000 a year is more than most workers in Brecon and Radnorshire earn. That’s not a good thing – it means people here don’t get the pay they deserve. But even that figure is inaccurate as it omits benefits, so the average income of a working family is in fact £31,500, or £605 per week. The trouble with that is, if applied to benefit recipients, so few people would lose benefits that it would make the cap pointless. You see, it’s all about cutting the benefit bill; it isn’t about fairness at all. But, as I say, the Conservatives are so hopeless they can’t even get their sums right.
Cllr Davies is wrong to say that Labour opposes a benefit cap, however. There is cross-party support for limiting benefits as an incentive to seek work. The difference is that the Labour version would have been fair.
Cllr Davies says Labour supports a benefit system that gives workless households a higher income than the majority of working individuals who are paying for the system – and again he is manipulating the figures, comparing households with individuals. The simple fact is that unemployment benefits stood at around one-sixth of average earnings until April, when the one per cent uprating came into effect and pushed unemployed people closer to poverty. When benefit is so much less, in real terms, than earnings, a higher percentage increase does not mean you receive more money than a working person – something the Conservatives find hard to grasp, it seems.
So which do you believe – the comfortable lies that Cllr Davies has foisted on you, unencumbered by any factual evidence – or the unpalatable truth that the government’s imbecilic handling of the situation will cost us all many millions more in damage control when it all goes wrong?
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