Monthly Archives: September 2013

Osborne’s big plan: falsify unemployment figures under the Workfare banner

A swivel-eyed loon, earlier today. [Picture: Left Foot Forward]

A swivel-eyed loon, earlier today. [Picture: Left Foot Forward]

So Gideon wants the long-term unemployed to go on Workfare indefinitely, does he?

Forgive me if I’m mistaken, but doesn’t this mean the Chancellor of the Exchequer’s big announcement – at this year’s Conservative Party Conference – is a tawdry plan to massage the unemployment figures?

I’m indebted to The Void blog for the following information, which I recalled while reading reports of Osborne’s drone to the swivel-eyed masses. An article from May stated that the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) had been forced to admit a rise in unemployment was down to a fall in the number of people on Workfare.

“According to the Department, the number of people in work fell by over 47,000 over the last three months – which they say ‘reflects’ amongst other things a drop of 16,000 in the numbers on Government employment schemes,” the article states. As far as I know, this is still correct – if a person is put on Workfare, they are removed from unemployment statistics, even though they only receive social security payments for the work they do.

Putting the long-term unemployed on Workfare indefinitely, therefore, will effectively wipe long-term unemployment from the national figures. This will make Osborne’s administration look very good indeed – despite having done nothing to improve anyone’s chances of finding a job. In fact, those prospects will have worsened because every Workfare place removes a paying job from the market.

And what will this do for the Bank of England’s scheme to raise interest rates only if unemployment drops below seven per cent?

Wait – it gets worse. We can also see a now-traditional Tory ‘bait-and-switch’ going on, supported by a justification narrative based on a bit of voodoo polling. This one pushes lots of our favourite buttons!

Osborne’s rationale for imposing the scheme – the justification narrative – is simply that people want it. He’s basing his reasoning for this on a voodoo poll by the right-wing Policy Exchange, as described on The Void today.

“The general public’s opinions on workfare have been grossly distorted by the nature of the questions asked in this survey – of which there were only two,” the article states.

“The first question asked whether people thought ‘The government should require people who are unemployed for 12 months or more to do community work in return for their state benefits.’ The truth is that only just over half agreed at 56%. But the public were not asked if this workfare should be full time. In fact it does not even specify that the work should be unpaid – previous workfare schemes have come with a top up payment to benefits attached. Whilst those engrossed in welfare policy might assume workfare to mean 30 hours a week, every week, without pay, there’s no reason a survey respondent would think that. They might think yes, they should volunteer in an old people’s home for an afternoon a week, or do a couple of days a month helping out in the local park, for reasonable expenses. This 56% in no way gives a mandate for full time unpaid workfare.”

It continues: “The second question is even more dubious. The Policy Exchange are attempting to use the answers to this question to claim that only 22% of the public support disabled people being exempt from workfare. That incidentally is disabled people “who are capable of working” – another devious phrase as who is and isn’t capable of working is clearly open to debate as the Atos scandal has shown. The obvious inference from the from this figure is that 78% of the public support workfare for disabled people. Yet in question 1 only 56% of people support workfare for anyone at all. There must be something in the going on to explain this bizarre discrepancy.

“Question 2 asks respondents to imagine that compulsory workfare exists and then questions who should be exempt. Now a disabled person completing this survey may think well if I have to do workfare then why shouldn’t a lone parent, and vice versa. That doesn’t mean they support workfare, it means they support equality, of a sort.

“There is no option available for those who think that everyone should be exempt from workfare, although it is possible to answer that every group of claimants given should undertake unpaid work.”

So: Extremely dubious findings, used to support a dubious claim that the public supports increasing Workfare and this is why the Coalition is doing so. In fact, this is a thinly-veiled attempt to falsify unemployment statistics and trigger an interest rate rise.

The swivel-eyed loons must have lapped it up.

Now, why wasn’t Vox Political‘s best friend, Iain Duncan Smith, making this announcement?

Rising tide of protest marks start of Tory conference

Falling on deaf ears: The chorus of protest against the bedroom tax is unlikely to be heard at the Conservative Party Conference in Manchester, where delegates will be discussing how to bribe the electorate into supporting them in 2015. [Picture: Matthew Pover in the Sunday People]

Falling on deaf ears: The chorus of protest against the bedroom tax is unlikely to be heard at the Conservative Party Conference in Manchester, where delegates will be discussing how to bribe the electorate into supporting them in 2015. [Picture: Matthew Pover in the Sunday People]

Does David Cameron have any new policies that are big enough to silence the rising clamour of discontent against him?

He’ll need something big – Coalition partners the Liberal Democrats managed only a tax on plastic bags (an idea stolen from the Labour Welsh government) and a few weak cries of “Please let us stay in government after 2015”.

The married couples’ tax allowance isn’t it. It seems this is how the Tories plan to spend any money saved by imposing the bedroom tax, and people are already naming it as an election bribe – albeit a poor one at £3.85 a week.

He has set aside £700 million for the scheme, which is more than the government would have spent if it had not imposed the bedroom tax.

A brand-new ComRes poll is showing that 60 per cent of voters agree with Labour’s plan to abolish the bedroom tax – which hits 660,000 households. And one in five Liberal Democrats could vote Labour in protest at the tax.

The issue has prompted shadow Work and Pensions secretary Liam Byrne to say something with which this blog can actually – for once – agree! He said: “It is the worst possible combination of incompetence and cruelty, a mean-spirited shambles. It’s got to go.”

He added that the bedroom tax was likely to cost more than it saved – a point made by this blog many months ago.

Another hopelessly unpopular Tory policy to come from Iain Duncan Smith’s Department for Work and Pensions has been the work capability assessment for sick and disabled claimants of Employment and Support Allowance. It seems one of the first things the Tories did was alter this test so that it became almost impossible to accumulate enough points to be found in need of the benefit.

The result has been three years of carnage behind closed doors, where people with serious conditions have been forced into destitution that has either caused their death by worsening their condition, or caused the kind of mental health problems that lead to suicide. Thousands – perhaps tens of thousands – have died.

Now, the Dean of St Paul’s Cathedral has written to Cameron, urging him to end the assessments which, he wrote, can “cut short their lives”.

The Very Reverend Dr David Ison, who presided over Margaret Thatcher’s funeral, signed a campaign letter entitled ‘The Downing Street Demand’, which claims Government policies force some of the most deprived members of society to “shoulder the heaviest burden of national debt created by the super-rich”.

Some might say this is typical of broad Conservative policy: Taking from the poor to give to the rich.

The harshness of such a policy, as outlined in the letter, is appalling: “In 2010 you said, ‘I’m going to make sure no-one is left behind; that we protect the poorest and most vulnerable in our society’.

“The reality of the austerity programme is the opposite.

“Since your Government came to power, cuts have meant that disabled people are paying back nine times more than non-disabled people and those with the highest support needs are paying back nineteen times more.”

Dr Ison said: “It’s right to stand in solidarity with people from many different organisations to draw attention to the needs of some of the most deprived members of our society.

“Many disabled people feel desperate facing possible cuts in support, the bedroom tax, and in particular an inflexible and failing Work Capability Assessment scheme which can blight and even cut short their lives.

“The Government needs to respond by enabling disabled people to live with dignity and security.”

Against this background, what is Cameron doing to make his party more attractive?

He’s bringing forward the second phase of his government’s Help to Buy scheme, that helps people in England to get 95 per cent mortgages on properties worth up to £600,000 – a scheme that has been widely criticised for setting up another debt-related housing bubble.

Cameron denies this. Speaking on The Andrew Marr Show this morning (Sunday), he said that outside London and the South East the average price of homes has only risen 0.8 per cent.

But the BBC reported that, during September, house prices rose at their fastest rate in more than six years – and a report from Nationwide Building Society showed the rise was “increasingly broad-based”.

Adam Marshall, of the British Chambers of Commerce (which is normally supportive to the Conservatives), said: “With all the concern expressed about Help to Buy – rushing into it seems less than responsible on part of government.”

It is, therefore, under a barrage of scorn that the Conservative conference begins today. How is Cameron planning to rally his troops?

He would be ill-advised to use the economy – as seems likely from a BBC report today.

He wants the country to believe that “We have had to make very difficult decisions… These difficult decisions are beginning to pay off and the country’s coming through it.”

Even here, the evidence is against him. George Osborne’s economic theory was based on a very silly spreadsheet error, as was proved several months ago by an American student. Attempts by this blog to ascertain whether he had anything more solid on which to base his policy proved fruitless – all the evidence he provided was underpinned by the same discredited document.

No – we can all see what George Osborne’s policies did to the British economy: They stalled it.

We spent three years bumping along the bottom with no growth worth mentioning, which Osborne, Cameron and their cronies used as an excuse to impose policies that have hammered those of us on the lowest incomes while protecting the rich corporate bosses, bankers and hedge fund investors who caused the economic crash.

Now, it seems more likely that the economy is picking up because it was always likely to. Commerce is cyclical and, when conditions merit it, business will pick up after a slump. That is what is happening now, and this is why growth figures are “stronger than expected”.

It has nothing to do with Conservative economic policies at all.

That won’t stop Cameron trying to capitalise on it. Ever the opportunist, he is already trying to pretend that this was the plan all along, and it just took a little longer than expected. We would all be fools to believe him.

And he has rushed to attack Labour plans for economic revival, claiming these would involve “crazy plans to tax business out of existence”.

In fact, Labour’s plans will close tax avoidance loopholes that have allowed businesses to avoid paying their due to the Treasury.

Besides, Conservative policy – to reduce Corporation Tax massively – has been proved to do nothing to make the UK more attractive for multinational businesses; the USA kept its taxes high and has not lost any of its own corporate taxpayers.

That country, along with Germany, adopted a policy of investment alongside a tighter tax regime and has reaped the benefits with much greater growth than the UK, which has suffered from a lack of investment and a tax policy full of holes (because it is written by the architects of the biggest tax avoidance schemes).

So what’s left?

Historically, at this time in the electoral cycle, Tory policy is to offer Middle Britain a massive bribe.

If they try it now, they’ll risk wiping out any savings they might have made over the last three years, rendering this entire Parliament pointless.

This blog stated last week that the Tories seem to want to rewrite an old saying to include the line: “You can fool most of the people, enough of the time.”

We know that millions of people were fooled by them at the last election.

Will we be fooled again?

12 Per Cent of Workers’ Income Now Eaten Up by Job Costs

Once again the Beast has uncovered material supporting what must be a consensus case against the Coalition government’s employment and benefits policies. The information here meshes rather elegantly with that in recent VP blogs and helps create a strong case against what is being done.

The land of do-as-you-please (if you’re a Tory minister)

The Tory Faraway Tree: By the power of very bad image editing, David Cameron, Iain (RTU) Smith and Grant Shapps have replaced the protagonists. Careful, Mr Shapps - your panties are showing! How unusual that they aren't on fire!

The Tory Faraway Tree: By the power of very bad image editing, David Cameron, Iain (RTU) Smith and Grant Shapps have replaced the protagonists. Careful, Mr Shapps – your panties are showing! How unusual that they aren’t on fire!

Do any British readers remember what it was like to live in a country where the government respected the law, and accepted facts without making up silly little stories about them?

What an amazing place that must have been.

Sadly, we’re all trapped in Tory-Coalition purgatory for the next 19 months at least, and have to endure the relentless procession of nonsense associated with it.

Yesterday (Friday) we were provided with two glowing examples.

Firstly, the visit of the United Nations Special Rapporteur on adequate housing, Raquel Rolnik, was treated with extreme prejudice by the Tories and their poodles in the right-wing press, after she announced she would be filing an unfavourable report after investigating the effect of the bedroom tax on the British people.

Vox Political covered these events in some detail, so there’s no need to rehash them here.

Tory chairman and ‘Michael Green’ impersonator Grant Shapps then wrote to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to complain about the Special Rapporteur’s behaviour. A reply has now arrived and, rather than give it the due consideration it deserves, Shapps seems to have handed it straight to The Sun.

That newspaper reported that the UN had “slapped down” Ms Rolnik for her behaviour. Shapps himself told the paper: “People expect the UN to be neutral, yet on this occasion a former Workers Party politician came with a clear agenda” – a bizarre claim, when the letter itself creates a completely different view.

Guido Fawkes’ blog provides the text of the UN letter – along with a bit more right-wing spin which we’ll ignore as it is irrelevant.

It states: “Ms Raquel Rolnik is one of 72 independent experts appointed by the United nations Human Rights Council – the lead UN body responsible for human rights – on the basis of their expertise and independence, and following a competitive selection process. As in the case of all mandate holders, Ms Rolnik serves in an independent capacity and in accordance with a Code of Conduct adopted by the Council. She is not a staff member of the United Nations, is neither accountable to nor appointed by the Secretary-General, and does not receive any compensation beyond a daily allowance when engaged in mandated activities.

“Among other activities, Special Rapporteurs are mandated to undertake country visits to assess human rights enjoyment on the ground. The United Kingdom is one of 94 Member States which has extended a standing invitation to mandate holders thus indicating that it is open to the visit of any Special Rapporteur. Country visits are governed by rules and procedures set out in the Code of Conduct referred to above and the Manual of Operations adopted by Special Procedures. Ms Rolnik’s visit was planned and organised over many months in consultation with the Government in compliance with these rules and procedures.

“As in the case of all country visits, Ms Rolnik’s visit concluded with a press conference and a press statement, provided to the Government in advance, which indicate preliminary findings and recommendations. The final report on the visit will be submitted to the Council’s twenty-fifth session which will take place in March 2014 in Geneva.”

Reading between the lines, we can piece together the gist of Shapps’ correspondence – and it’s clear that he made a lot of mistaken assumptions. Firstly, it seems likely he wrote to Ban Ki-moon demanding that Ms Rolnik be fired from her position, in the belief that she is a hired hand and that the Secretary-General can hire and fire her as he pleases, the way Tories would like to run the UK. She’s just ‘the help’ in Shapps’s eyes. He must also have made a claim about her remuneration – possibly that she receives too much money from the UN or that, as a Socialist, she must be pulling pennies out of the public purse like there’s no tomorrow. Both claims get short shrift.

It seems Shapps then asserted that Ms Rolnik had not been invited to the UK and had no reason to be there. Wrong again, as the UN letter clarifies. A claim that she went beyond her remit is similarly batted away by reference to the governing rules which, we may conclude, were available to Mr Shapps before he wrote his letter. Oh yes, look, they’re available from the introduction page to the United Nations’ Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights’ (OHCHR) website, here!

Next, Shapps is likely to have reasserted his claim that “It is completely wrong and an abuse of the process for somebody to come over, to fail to meet with government ministers, to fail to meet with the department responsible.” The UN response is the same as Ms Rolnik’s own statement in her preliminary report.

And the final paragraph seems to be a response to his further claim that it was out of line “to produce a press release two weeks after coming, even though the report is not due out until next spring.”

Taken at face value, then, this is a letter that entirely supports Ms Rolnik, both in her position within the United Nations and the way she carried out her role in the UK.

But that wasn’t enough for the United Nations, whose higher echelons clearly wanted to ensure there can be no doubt about the way this – let’s face it – international  incident is being viewed.

Rupert Colville, a spokesman for the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, told the Huffington Post: “The Sun‘s take on it – that ‘The United Nations has slapped down’ Ms Rolnik – is pure spin. There was no such intention whatsoever.

In the face of a blizzard of misinformation and personal abuse of Ms Rolnik, published in one or two other UK tabloids during and immediately after her visit, the letter to Mr Shapps simply corrects the factual errors that have been asserted about her status and her role as an independent UN expert, or ‘Special Rapporteur.’

“Ms Rolnik’s visit was planned and organized over many months in consultation with the UK Government in compliance with these rules and procedures.

“As in the case of all country visits, Ms Rolnik’s visit concluded with a press conference and a press statement, provided to the Government in advance, which indicate preliminary findings and recommendations.

“The final report on the visit will be submitted to the Human Rights Council’s session next March in Geneva.

“In short, there was nothing unusual or untoward about Ms Rolnik’s visit – apart from some of the reactions to it.”

No doubt Mr Colville will have drawn his own conclusions about the current UK administration from that Sun article – conclusions that, one hopes, will be included in that final report next March.

The New Statesman reckons the Tories have an “antipathy for evidence” and presents a theory regarding why this should be so: “If all the facts are against you, your best tactic is to make stuff up and hope you can shout the other person down (changing your mind obviously not being an option).”

Alternatively, we return to V for Vendetta territory. The graphic novel’s writer, Alan Moore, referenced Enid Blyton’s novel The Magic Faraway Tree several times. For an anarchist like the story’s protagonist, the Land of Do-as-you-please would be very attractive – but here in reality, it seems the Tories think they’ve taken the ladder to that land and can do and say whatever they want – and facts don’t matter.

For more evidence of this, let’s turn to our second example: The Department for Work and Pensions and its reaction to a benefit tribunal in Scotland, who ruled against Fife Council, saying that a room of less than 70 square feet should not be considered a bedroom for the purpose of the bedroom tax. This led the council to call the tax “unworkable” and demand its reversal. Since then, a disabled gentleman has won a ruling against Westminster Council, after he claimed that a room used to store equipment that helps him manage his disability was not, and never has been, a bedroom.

In his decision notice, the judge wrote: “The term ‘bedroom’ is nowhere defined [in the relevant regulations]. I apply the ordinary English meaning. The room in question cannot be so defined.”

In response to the first ruling, the DWP has issued an ‘Urgent Bulletin’ in which an attempt is made to retroactively define a bedroom, for the purposes of administering the tax.

Perhaps we are to assume Iain Returned-To-Unit Smith believes that, having achieved one retrospective law via the normal legislative route, he can now ordain such rulings willy-nilly. He’s wrong.

His Department’s demand that “when applying the size criteria and determining whether or not a property is under-occupied, the only consideration should be the composition of the household and the number of bedrooms as designated by the landlord, but not by measuring rooms” is worthless.

If he wanted that to be the case, he should have written it into his silly little Bedroom Tax Bill (or whatever it was called).

For the moment, Shapps and RTU can get away with their bizarre pronouncements – although they can’t expect to be believed – because the Conservatives are in office.

But they won’t be in office forever.

In the meantime, let’s all keep supporting the opposers, wherever they turn up. If you are being subjected to the Bedroom Tax – appeal. And write to the UN, supporting Ms Rolnik and her findings against the tax.

You have a chance to prove that the Land of Do-as-you-please is a very small place.

And, as in the book, the return to normality involves a very, very long descent.