Will somebody from the Common Sense wing of the Labour Party please stand for the leadership?
Today The Guardian is reporting that leadership favourite Andy Burnham has decided to pander to big business rather than stand up for the common people.
He said he was prepared to support cuts to social security in order to counter claims that Labour gives scroungers an “easy ride”.
He would do better to counter the claim that all political parties give an easy ride to lazy business bosses who exploit the working classes and hide their massive profits in tax havens – especially as he was making his speech at the HQ of tax avoidance tzars Ernst and Young.
The company, now branded EY, is one of the ‘Big Four’ accountancy firms that have been helping the Tory Government rewrite tax law to make it possible for big business to use tax havens and avoid paying.
Regarding benefits, the simple fact is that the fraud rate is 0.7 per cent – a miniscule amount. People claiming benefits deserve to have them – especially as they have paid into the relevant fund for their whole lives; the money belongs to those people, not any government – Labour or Tory.
If Burnham really wanted to bring down the amount of benefit claims, he would have been telling businesses to buck up their ideas and start paying the living wage, rather than scrounging the rest of the money their employees need from the government.
He would have been telling landlords to start charging reasonable rents, rather than pushing them up and up and expecting the government to pay what tenants cannot afford in housing benefit.
And he would have been proposing a strategic remodelling of the system to prevent people falling into the kind of difficulties that force them to claim benefits – including a revamp of Health and Safety regulation to ensure that people do not fall prey to long-term illness caused by conditions at work.
Will somebody step forward who can actually do the job?
Labour leadership favourite Andy Burnham has indicated he would support further welfare cuts, including government plans for a £23,000 cap on benefits if it has adequate safeguards.
At a speech in London, the shadow health secretary said he wanted to counter the perception his party wants to give “an easy ride” to people who do not want to help themselves.
“Labour does need to win back those people who have that feeling about us,” he told business leaders at the headquarters of EY (previously Ernst & Young) on Friday. He added that the party would not be re-elected unless it showed people it was on the side of those who wanted to “get on” and succeed.
Margaret Hodge: A principled stand against corruption of politics by corporate influence.
This is something that broke while Yr Obdt Srvt was still recovering from a recent illness, but is still worth covering because Labour really needs to understand the danger of association.
Margaret Hodge, Labour’s chair of the Commons Public Accounts Committee, broke ranks to warn the Shadow Cabinet against accepting – shall we call it – “help” from accounting firms like PricewaterhouseCoopers on Friday. She said it was “inappropriate” and she was right to do so.
It’s the political equivalent of accepting “help” from the Mafia – you end up in their pocket, owing them favours.
According to the BBC, Labour MPs including Ed Balls (Shadow Chancellor) and Chukka Umunna (Shadow Business Secretary), along with Rachel Reeves (Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary) have received more than £540,000 in research assistance from the firm in the past 18 months alone.
PwC is one of the ‘Big Four’ accountancy firms – the others are Ernst & Young, KPMG and Deloitte – who also advise the Conservative-run Treasury on tax policy. It should not be beyond anybody’s wit to see there’s a clear conflict of interest if the firm is advising both Labour and the Tories on tax policy.
Labour’s official line is that “PwC have provided long standing support to all three major political parties on a non-party basis, as happened for the Conservatives and Lib Dems before the last election. Given the complexity of government and that opposition parties do not have significant access to civil servants, the support provided by organisations such as these helps ensure that there is better scrutiny of government policy.”
PwC said its staff provided “limited and fully disclosed technical support to the main political parties” but added: “We do not develop policy on their behalf.” Staff on secondment might make “observations on the improvement of legislation or proposed legislation”, the firm added in a statement.
Isn’t this exactly the problem? Staff make “observations”, and before we know it, all our political parties are carrying out PwC policy instead of their own.
If Labour was serious about getting the advice it needed, then it would be employing advisers who have nothing to do with any of the other political parties. That’s the way it has to be. Anything else courts betrayal of the public.
Then there would be no opportunity for these firms to create embarrassment when their activities “promoting tax avoidance” on an industrial scale were revealed by the Public Accounts Committee
PwC said it disagreed with the Public Accounts Committee report (it would, wouldn’t it?) and denied claims by Mrs Hodge that the firm had misled her committee when its executives gave evidence in January 2013. Who do you believe?
Mrs Hodge herself told BBC Radio 4’s The World At One: “You have to be very, very careful when you’re in opposition whom you take money from”.
This is why Vox Political supports the removal of all private company advisors from government. The private sector has no place in decisions about public services.
Today Vox Political pointed out that Labour’s Rachel Reeves has hired an advisor from PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), a foreign-owned company that is already advising the Conservative and Liberal Democrat Coalition government, and actually writing laws on tax while helping companies and the very rich to avoid paying it.
It seems clear that she is, as we put it, sleeping with the enemy and it seems likely that this relationship would continue if Labour were to form a government next year – aiding PwC in its aim of being in control, no matter which political party is supported by the people.
Do British people want to live in a corporatocracy like that?
It seems that, if Rachel Reeves has her way, your vote really will count for nothing (who’d have thought she’d be an agent of Lynton Crosby’s ‘They’re all the same’ agenda?) and the corporate bosses will run the country for their own gain and to our detriment.
Alternatively, is it time she received her marching orders and was shipped off to the backbenches, along with her corporate adviser?
Is it time we told Labour that we don’t want to elect another party of corporate lapdogs?
Should we tell Ed Miliband we want him to make his own decisions, untainted by the interests of big businesses that have no intention of helping the poor?
—Putting her foot in it again: Rachel Reeves has a history of stupid decisions. Now she has employed one of the UK’s leading tax avoidance advisors to help her, when we need to END tax avoidance in order to improve the benefits bill.
This is very disturbing, from the new Private Eye (1379):
“Rachel Reeves, Labour’s shadow work and pensions secretary, is the latest Opposition member to accept help from PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC).
“The management consultant is supplying an analyst to support Reeves from October to January… This suggests that, although Labour has made a lot of noise about the government’s work with unpopular contractors like Atos and A4e, the People’s Party intends to stick with this commercial approach to welfare should it find itself back in power next year.
“PwC is already involved in advising the government on ‘commissioning’ welfare services; and last year Tory employment minister Mark Hoban asked it to help strengthen ‘quality assurance’ in the fitness-to-work tests carried out by Atos [PwC is Hoban’s former employer, implying an inappropriate relationship from the get-go]. This didn’t seem to work, as Atos quit the contract this year after much criticism.
“Reeves’ timing is unfortunate, to say the least. PwC is currently heavily implicated in the latest scandal of big corporations avoiding tax through Luxembourg. Most of the leaked documents show PwC was helping arrange all those tax-free tricks.”
PwC is, along with the rest of the ‘Big Four’ accountancy firms – Deloitte, KPMG and Ernst & Young – of course, well-known to Vox Political. Along with the others, it has been invited to actually write government legislation on behalf of the Tories and Liberal Democrats – specifically UK law on tax avoidance – while running many tax avoidance schemes.
In a previous article, Vox Political wrote: “The Department for Work and Pensions has employed many private firms; this is the reason that department is haemorrhaging money. There are the work programme provider firms who, as has been revealed in previous blog entries, provide absolutely no useful training and are less likely to find anyone a job than if they carried on by themselves; there are the IT firms currently working on Universal Credit, about which Secretary of State Iain Duncan Smith lied to Parliament when he said he was having to write off £34 million of expenditure – the true figure was later revealed to be closer to £161 million, almost five times as much; there are Atos and Capita, and probably other firms that have been hired to carry out so-called ‘work capability assessments’ of people claiming sickness, incapacity and disability benefits, according to a plan that intentionally ignores factual medical evidence and places emphasis on a bogus, tick-box test designed to find ways to cut off their support; and there is Unum Insurance, the criminal American corporation that designed that test, in order to push British workers into buying its bogus insurance policies that work on exactly the same principle – this is theft on a grand scale.”
This blog has warned that the bosses of companies like Unum, Atos and KPMG (and by extension, PwC) were planning to ensure that they would have government contracts, no matter which political party was in office. In effect, Vox Political warned, they would be unelected kings because whatever you decided at the ballot box, they would be in charge.
In another article, Vox Political pointed out that money paid to these companies does not benefit the British economy but goes abroad to their foreign headquarters or parent companies. PwC is part-American-owned.
In October last year, this blog stated that if Rachel Reeves had promised to be as tough on tax dodgers, in her previous job as shadow chief secretary to the treasury, as she promised to be on welfare in her first speech as shadow work and pensions secretary, Labour might have a lot more credibility.
The article said that ensuring we get the money that is currently going unpaid by tax dodgers – who are facilitated by firms like PwC – would ease the benefit bill as it would take up a smaller proportion of the national tax take. And now she is taking advice from PwC.
Maybe someone at PwC read the article and decided to take preventative action.
It seems clear that if Labour has any involvement with this company – or allows it to continue working behind the scenes on government business – it will not be in the public interest, and in fact is highly likely to harm the public good.
So we must ask:
Rachel Reeves, what the blue blazes do you think you are doing?
You see, not only has this been going on ever since the Coalition government established welfare-to-work in its current form –
Not only have government ministers and backbenchers been lying to you about the payouts given to the profit-driven privately-owned provider companies –
Not only have these companies been sucking down on your hard-earned taxpayer cash as though they had done something to earn it –
But the people they were supposed to be helping – people who have been forced into ever-greater poverty by the benefit uprating cap, arbitrary and unfair benefit sanctions, the bedroom tax, the £26,000 cap on benefits for families, the imposition of council tax on even the poorest households (in England at least), the stress of continual reassessment (if they are ESA claimants in the work-related activity group), the humiliation of having to visit food banks and who knows what else…
The people who are desperate to get any kind of paying job, despite the fact that zero-hours contracts could make them worse-off than unemployment, due to the effect on in-work benefits, despite the fact that those in-work benefits are also being squeezed hard, and despite the fact that there are at least five jobseekers for every job that becomes available…
These are the people that government ministers, backbenchers and the right-wing press keep victimising with their endless attacks on “skivers”, “scroungers”, the “feckless”, the “idle” and the “lazy”!
If I was unemployed and my MP had been caught slagging me off while praising these good-for-nothing so-called work programme ‘providers’, I would make it my business to bring them before the public, lock them into some medieval stocks and pelt them with rotten vegetables. Public humiliation is the least they should get for this continual insult to common decency.
But wait! There’s more.
It turns out that, not only are these work programme providers a bunch of lazy good-for-nothing parasites, but many of them are also a bunch of foreigners who’ve come to the UK to take our jobs!
Ingeus is Australian. G4S is part-Danish. Maximus is American.
It seems that all the politically-fuelled and media-driven anger against immigration into the UK from the rest of the European Union and beyond may be designed to distract us all from the fact that foreign firms are immigrating here to take government jobs that should be yours, and to steal your tax money.
Nobody can say they’ve earned it, after all.
But let us not be unfair. It would be wrong to concentrate on welfare-to-work providers when all of government is riddled with foreign interlopers.
Look at the Treasury, where the ‘Big Four’ accountancy firms have been re-writing tax law to suit their tax-avoiding corporate clients for the last few years. They are Deloitte (American), PriceWaterhouseCoopers (part-American), Ernst & Young (part-American) and KPMG (Dutch).
And then there is the huge, criminal, foreign firm that has been advising the Department for Work and Pensions on ways to privatise the welfare state since the mid-1990s – a firm so controversial that there is currently a moratorium on the mention of its name in the national mainstream media. It is an American insurance giant called Unum.
The best that can be said of these five corporations is that – at least to the best of our knowledge – they do work for a living.
Ingeus out of favour: This image was found on a site protesting against Workfare and demonstrates the high regard in which it is held by previous users of the Ingeus service.
Perhaps we’re jumping the gun with the headline but alarm bells tend to go off when you read that “people on sickness benefits will be required to have regular meetings with healthcare professionals to help them with their barriers to work”.
Everyone working on Employment and Support Allowance should already know what everyone receiving it knows – it’s more a bloodbath than a benefit.
This is down to the attitude of the healthcare professionals already working on it – the people who (and God forbid you should ever ask to see their qualifications) automatically sign 70 per cent of claimants as ‘fit for work’, whether they are or not, and tell most of the rest they need to be work-ready within a year.
The result? Mental breakdowns, depression and suicides; physical breakdowns, worsening of existing conditions, and premature deaths. By the thousand.
These are the people who ask claimants when amputated limbs are going to grow back, and who tell people with Parkinson’s disease and multiple sclerosis that they’ll be fit for work within six months.
If you did (God forbid) ask them where they got their qualifications, it was probably the Teaching Hospital of Noddyland.
“People on sickness benefits will be required to have regular meetings with healthcare professionals to help them address their barriers to work – or face losing their benefits [italics mine] – in a two-year pilot scheme in central England which begins in November,” the DWP press release states.
Isn’t this what happened with people on Jobseekers’ Allowance? Suddenly they had to start fulfilling lots of pointless extra requirements or their benefits would be withdrawn? Part of that is a regular meeting in which – as far as we can ascertain – innocent people are harassed, threatened and abused by DWP employees who are themselves, it seems, millimetres away from nervous exhaustion brought on by the pressures of the job.
Claiming benefits, it seems, is now an endurance test: Who cracks (up) first?
Now, for 3,000 people in the work-related activity group for ESA in the Black Country, Derbyshire, Leicestershire, Northamptonshire, Lincolnshire, Nottinghamshire, Rutland, Staffordshire and Shropshire, there’s no relief even if they have a nervous breakdown and have to claim ESA on mental health grounds.
“People involved in the pilot – who have all been assessed as being able to work at some point in the future – will have regular appointments with healthcare professionals as a condition of receiving their benefit, to focus on helping them move closer to being able to get a job.”
There you go – all judged as able to work in the future. Presumably Iain Duncan Smith has taken a look at their files, glanced into his crystal ball, and declared that he has a “belief” in their fitness to work. If any of these people are reading, please contact this blog if you have a progressive health condition that won’t ever improve.
Because the meeting is a condition of receiving benefit, anyone attending can expect to be treated abominably. This is not about helping you back to work, or even back to health; it’s about kicking you off-benefit and nothing further. The aim, as with JSA, is to cut claimant numbers and thereby cut spending.
“It’s really important we give people who are disabled or have a health condition the support they need to get into work if they are able,” said employment minister Esther McVey who knows nothing about this at all (despite having been minister for the disabled).
“Traditionally, this help has tended to be work-related, but this pilot will look at whether a more holistic approach is more successful in helping people to manage their conditions and so break down their barriers to work.”
The biggest barrier to a person with a disability getting work is the fact that the Conservative-led Coalition government has been closing down employment opportunities for them and removing incentives for employers to take them on.
The healthcare professionals will be provided by Ingeus UK – a welfare-to-work provider that has been involved in the Work Programme – you know, the time-wasting scheme in which jobseekers are taken off the unemployment statistics while they learn simple skills that, in fact, most of them already have.
The company’s website is very slick but contains no information about the number of doctors in its employ.
Oh, and guess what? The company is half-owned by Deloitte, one of the ‘Big Four’ accountancy firms that currently writes British tax law to make avoidance easy for the big corporates. How much tax has Ingeus paid lately?
“Everything we do is results driven”, the site declares.
One wonders what Ingeus will do when the casualties start piling up.
In it, she tells us (wrongly), “We are not in an environment where there is more money around,” and says that Labour will be tougher than the Tories when it comes to slashing the benefits bill. She stressed that she wanted to explode the “myth” that Labour is soft on benefit costs.
There are a few myths feeding into these statements. Firstly, the myth that millions upon millions of British citizens are living a life of luxury on benefits, which is, quite frankly, infantile nonsense. Benefits do not pay the ordinary claimant enough to afford huge luxuries and never did. They were always intended to cover the cost of survival while the recipient looked for something better. Anything else is a lie concocted by unscrupulous politicians, that you would be a fool to believe.
Then there’s the myth that the British taxpayer is being defrauded out of a fortune by benefit cheats who are (again) living a life of luxury at our expense. One look at the figures dispels that idea! The fact is that only seven people in every thousand commit benefit fraud – at a consequently small cost to the overall budget – and the amount they receive simply would not support the lifestyle our politicians are suggesting for them.
Let’s move up to a bigger myth – that people prefer to live on benefits than get a job. We’ve now moved from infantile nonsense to dangerous nonsense. The current situation, engineered by the conservatives in both Coalition parties, means there are very few jobs available – around 500,000 at any one time, with 2.5 million people chasing them.
And what kind of jobs are they? How many are zero-hours contracts? How many are part-time? These jobs do not pay more than benefits (“Making Work Pay” – another Tory lie) so anyone taking them will be out-of-pocket.
Meanwhile, the Tories in power have rigged the system so that anyone who does not spend the entire working week pestering local businesses for jobs that they aren’t offering will be sanctioned and will lose their benefit for a period of up to three years! It is entirely disproportionate, considering the state of the economy, and may cost jobseekers a lot more than a few quid a week in the long run.
But this is how the benefits bill will be slashed – by the Conservatives and by Labour, if Rachel Reeves is to be believed. Ministers of any party, living in the la-la land of made-up statistics, will sanction people for failing to work hard enough at securing jobs that don’t exist!
Ms Reeves says Labour’s jobs guarantee will ensure that those jobs do exist but we don’t know that for sure. We do know that she intends to continue Tory policy on sanctions – blindly.
That’s seven times more than the national bill for JSA, and more than 29 times the estimated cost of all benefit fraud. But wait – it gets better! This is only an estimate and it has long been believed that the true cost of the so-called “tax gap” is £120 billion – equal to each year’s national deficit, 24 times the cost of JSA or 100 times the cost of benefit fraud.
Why isn’t our government going after these criminals? Why hasn’t Labour promised to go after them if the Tories won’t?
Simple: Both main parties have been re-writing tax law to make it easier for rich individuals and large corporations to avoid paying tax, and ignoring flaws in tax laws that make avoidance possible.
So for example: In the late 1990s, the then-Labour government removed the tax on dividends that meant companies had to pay tax on profits if they wanted to pay them out to the owners. So for example Arcadia boss Philip Green’s wife Tina, who is technically the owner of the company and lives in Monaco, received a tax-free £1.2 billion dividend in 2005; if this tax had been in place, £300 million of that would have gone to the UK Treasury.
Gordon Brown slashed Capital Gains Tax from 40 per cent to 10 per cent in 2000, meaning income that his friends in private equity managed to engineer into capital gains would be taxed at a lower rate than was paid by their cleaners. Not the finest hour for the Party of the Worker!
And towards the end of its term, New Labour started dismantling the rules that guarded against industrial-scale tax avoidance by British multinationals, meaning profits returned to the UK from overseas subsidiaries would be exempt from tax. This created a substantial incentive for firms to send their income offshore.
Before the 2010 election, our old friend David Gauke made a lot of noise about stopping the limitless tax deductibility of interest payments, that had been used by Boots (the chemist) to slash its tax bill. Six months after the election, when he was in a position to do something about it, he was telling everybody the rules would not be altered because business considered them a competitive advantage.
The Coalition brought in tax exemptions for companies’ tax haven branches and for profits parked in tax haven subsidiary companies. Meanwhile, tax breaks for the cost of funding these offshore set-ups, from the UK, are also provided.
Corporation Tax will drop to 21 per cent by 2014, even though there is no evidence that cutting the rate will make the UK any more competitive in world business.
The Treasury’s mission is now to adjust the framework of tax laws to suit big business. The ‘Big Four’ accountancy firms are now well-entrenched in writing our tax laws for us – and they run the most popular tax avoidance schemes. Consultations have descended into a process of agreeing laws demanded by big businesses.
There are clear and irrefutable arguments that reversing these legislative idiocies and closing every other tax avoidance loophole will do far more for the economy than flogging the unemployed to death, looking for jobs that don’t exist.
But I don’t think former Bank of England economist Rachel Reeves will be interested in that. In 1975, an appalled taxpayer wrote to then-Chancellor Denis Healey, complaining that an employee of the Bank (which is supposed to work on preventing tax avoidance) had been giving advice on how to avoid tax. “I wonder if this is really part of the Bank of England’s duties,” the correspondent wrote.
The behaviour of Ms Reeves, the former Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury, suggests that she believes it is.
What Britain Wants: Delegates at the Conservative Party Conference in Manchester were outnumbered three-to-one by the 50,000 demonstrators against the party’s austerity policies, who chanted “Out, Tory scum!”
Do rank-and-file Tories really believe their party’s “achievements” in taxation will propel it to victory in the next election?
To recap: The Coalition government has cut taxes to allow 13,000 income-millionaires an extra £100,000 each, but at the other end of the income scale, raising the tax threshold nominally gave the poorest in society an extra £600 per year – which has been completely wiped out by the rising cost of living and cuts in social security benefits. Most people in the UK earn less than the average wage so it is easy to conclude that many more people will be affected.
It might be a mouth-watering policy for the ‘have-yachts’ who now appear to comprise the majority of party membership after the mass defections and membership card-burning displays of recent months, but party leaders know that they need to keep that sort of thing quiet and woo the masses with a more attractive proposition.
They’re not stupid. They have learned a trick or two from David Cameron’s short-lived “detoxification” before they came back into public office, and they believe their “bait and switch” tactic is serving them well. They need a user-friendly “bait” to get the average citizens’ votes, after which they can “switch” back to the terrifying policies of oppression that we have tasted – yes, only tasted – over the last three years.
So Andrew Rawnsley in The Guardiantells us: “The high-speed rail link is to be rebranded ‘the north-south railway’ in an attempt to convince voters that the Tories want an economic recovery for all regions of the country.”
And Andrew Gimson on ConservativeHomestates: “There is a bit of window-dressing about cautions, which is meant to show that the Tories are tough on crime. And there is an irresponsible scheme to help people buy over-priced houses, which is meant to show that the party is on the side of people who do not have rich parents.
“If I were a floating voter, I think I would find these attempts to gain my support rather patronising,” he adds – and we can all agree with that.
Then he has to ruin it with: “Why can the party not rely on the substantial reforms being made in such fields as taxation, welfare, education and health?”
Simple answer: Because nobody wanted them.
We have already covered taxation in part. To the regressive changes in income tax that have helped the rich and attacked the poor, we should add the non-attempt to handle tax avoidance, which amounts to a few weasel words spoken for the benefit of the public while the ‘Big Four’ accountancy (and tax avoidance) firms continue to write the law on the subject, ensuring that their schemes – together with the people and firms on them – continue to avoid the attention of HM Revenue and Customs.
Is that fair? Do you think it will appeal to the poverty-stricken voter-on-the-street?
Welfare: George Osborne was set to unveil a new intensification of Workfare today (Monday), in which everyone who has been unemployed for more than two years will have to go on work placements in order to receive their benefits. This is, of course, utterly pointless. Such schemes ensure that fewer real jobs are available (why should an employer pay anyone a living wage when the government is supplying a steady stream of workers for free?) and have proved worse than useless at getting anyone into the few positions that remain. The announcement may cheer the Tory faithful but Andrew Gimson’s article suggests that these people are further out of touch than their MPs!
It is interesting that the new plan is not being unveiled by Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith, but by his rival. It seems that Smith really has been ‘Returned To Unit’ for the time being – perhaps because he has done more to re-toxify the Tory brand than most of the party’s other front-benchers put together!
It is, however, a sad example of the power of media censorship that people are more stirred up by his bedroom tax than they are about the fact that his Unum-inspired and Atos-driven work capability assessments for Employment and Support Allowance claimants have led to so many thousands of deaths – yes, deaths – that the government is refusing to release the fatality statistics.
Education: Michael Gove is working hard to dismantle state education, so schools may be run for profit, rather than to educate our children. He has distorted international statistics to make it seem that our performance had worsened when in fact it had improved – and got an official warning about it from the UK Statistics Authority. He lied about the advantages of schools becoming academies – all schools already control the length of the school day, teachers’ pay and the curriculum. His claim that autonomy would improve performance remains entirely unfounded – non-academy schools outperform them. His expensive Free Schools experiment is pointless if intended to improve education – in Sweden a similar experiment increased racial and social divisions while education standards dropped. American ‘Charter’ schools were also held up as examples of “extraordinary” change, but almost half showed no improvement and more than one-third worsened. Gove’s next stop, following the ‘Charter’ schools’ example, will be privatisation – schools-for-profit. Meanwhile, he intends to worsen academic achievement by promoting an outdated, learn-by-rote, system of teaching that is scorned by the other countries he says he admires, in favour of creativity. And he has undermined not only teacher morale and conditions, but also the morale of his own civil servants. Our children don’t even have the right to a qualified teacher any more. Now he wants performance-related-pay, rather than national pay awards – further undermining teachers and teaching standards.
And Tory policy on health has been the biggest betrayal of the lot: If David Cameron had any support at all in 2010, it was because he had promised to support the National Health Service in the then-upcoming time of austerity. He promised no top-down reorganisations of the NHS, even though he knew his then-health spokesman, Andrew Lansley, had been working on exactly that for many years. After worming his way into Number 10, they immediately embarked on the piecemeal privatisation of this country’s greatest asset, and this is now well under way, with contracts worth billions of pounds awarded to private companies for work that was previously carried out by the nationalised service, and a quarter of the commissioning groups – that we were told would be run by GPs and other health specialists – now run by the private accounting firm (also one of the Big Four and a subsidiary of Atos) KPMG.
Even their performance on the economy – which both Cameron and Osborne made the yardstick for determining this Parliament’s success – has been poor. The current upturn has nothing to do with Osborne’s policies and everything to do with the UK’s current position in the economic cycle – in short, things had to get better eventually.
This is why the Tories are gathering under the false slogan “For Hard-Working People”, rather than the more appropriate “For The Idle Rich” that Andrew Rawnsley suggests. The party’s leaders understand what their dwindling support base does not – that they need the masses to believe the Conservatives are on their side.
This is why they can only wheel out watered-down or repackaged policies that they hope will please the crowds – the party’s leaders understand that anything more solid will turn us away.
If you get the chance, have a good look at the speakers in this year’s conference. Every one of them will be terrified that their message isn’t strong enough or that the public will see through it – and remove their snouts from the trough in 2015.
The fact is, they had already blown it – long before they got anywhere near Manchester.
Unelected rulers? Thomas Watjen of Unum, Thierry Breton of Atos, and Michael Andrew of KPMG. As things stand, it seems whoever you support in 2015, these people will be behind them. Do you want that?
There is a certain kind of person who takes great delight in commenting on political blogs with a variant of the following:
“It’s no use voting! They’re all the same! It doesn’t matter what you vote for – a politician always gets in!”
No doubt you’ll be familiar with their work.
They are extremely annoying. Their insistence that all politicians are the same breed of pond scum does a huge disservice to those in public service who genuinely want to improve the lives of their fellow human beings; the fanaticism with which they disseminate their opinions may be seen as an attempt to stop ‘casual’ voters from bothering, thereby condemning the country to the current status quo.
Also, most annoyingly of all, they may have a point.
Take the three men pictured above. The one on the right is Michael Andrew, chairman of accounting firm KPMG. This is one of the ‘Big Four’ accountancies who are, among other things, involved in rewriting UK tax law for George Osborne at the Treasury, partly to suit their own desires as architects of the largest tax avoidance schemes currently available to corporations and wealthy individuals resident in the UK.
Today, thanks to an illuminating blog article by Tom Pride over at Pride’s Purge, we learn that KPMG has taken over the running of no less than a quarter of all the clinical commissioning groups (CCGs) that Andrew Lansley swore blind would be run by doctors when the Conservative-led Coalition government pushed through the NHS Privatisation Act of 2012 (otherwise known as the Health and Social Care Act).
The pretext for creating these organisations was that doctors were in the best position to commission health services in any part of England, as they had the detailed knowledge required to determine what was needed.
In fact it was well known that GPs would not be able to carry out this important work – it would be too much for them to take on in addition to their ‘day job’, and they simply did not have the necessary skills. Lansley knew this, and therefore knew that his law would open the door for private firms to take over.
This is borne out by an article in GP online which is now almost a year old; so readers should bear in mind that the current situation may be much further advanced. It stated that KPMG had confirmed the firm was working with “just over 50” of the 211 CCGs in England, along with 11 commissioning support units (CSUs).
The article indirectly quoted Tim Rideout, who said CCGs did not have the capacity to commission in an effective way.
This is an interesting revelation from the former chief executive of the NHS in Leicester City who was then seconded to the Department of Health as the senior responsible officer for the development of – guess what? – NHS commissioning boards. If the new commissioning groups don’t have the capacity to work properly, why didn’t he do something about it at the appropriate time?
Oh, wait. Here’s the answer: In March 2012, Mr Rideout was hired by KPMG as an associate director responsible for – who would have thought it? – commissioning.
In the same article, national clinical commissioning lead for England, Dr James Kingsland, said clinicians and GPs should not be involved in complex procurement, and added: “We are seeing a lot of misunderstandings, disillusionment and despondency.”
Mark Britnell, KPMG’s head of healthcare since 2009 – and another former NHS chief executive, was quoted by The Observer in 2011 as stating: “In future, The NHS will be a state insurance provider not a state deliverer”, and that “The NHS will be shown no mercy and the best time to take advantage of this will be in the next couple of years.”
The following day, KPMG released a statement in which he said the quotes did “not properly reflect” what he had said.
So we have a firm moving to take over CCGs, helped by the fact that its roster now includes the man responsible for setting them up in the first place. Going back to Tom Pride’s piece, he states that the situation chillingly reflects the way the Dutch health service was privatised in 2006. Provision of health services is being handed over to private companies, control of the health budgetwas handed over to private consortia made of doctors and consultants, but now those consortia are being taken over by private companies.
When private firms like KPMG run all CCGs, the Conservative plan to privatise the NHS will be complete. And the NHS, it seems, will be run by Michael Andrew, head of KPMG, from his base in Hong Kong.
But the rot doesn’t stop there.
Tom Pride correctly adds that the consulting arm of KPMG has been owned, since 2002, by another company – called Atos.
That’s right – Atos. The French firm run by Thierry Breton (pictured, centre).
The firm that Ed Miliband wants to fire from running work capability assessments for the DWP will still be involved in government work – at the Department of Health.
You see how this works? Let a private company inveigle its way into the plans of politicians and there’s no getting rid of it. Like the giant squid, it extends its pseudopods into every government department it can possibly contaminate, planting a sucker onto everything it thinks it can take for itself.
Over at the DWP, as everyone should know by now, Atos have been carrying out work capability assessments on claimants of Employment and Support Allowance. These were dreamed up by an insurance company called Unum, that has been working with the UK government – Conservative, Labour and Coalition – since Peter Lilley invited then-boss John LoCascio in, back in the early 1990s.
Unum is now run by Thomas Ratjen (pictured, left), who is based in Tennessee, USA. Its long-term aim seems to be the ruin of the British social security system, rendering it pointless for anyone to claim benefits. Instead, the plan appears to be to encourage working people to buy Unum insurance policies – which are themselves useless, as lawsuits in several US states have proved, while also giving the company a criminal record.
This blog recently revealed that it seemed Unum was trying to influence the policies of all three main UK political parties. The thinktank Reform, that has been part-funded by Unum, is running a fringe event at all three party conferences, entitled ‘New thinking on the welfare state’. This event was sponsored by the Association of British Insurers, which has Unum among its members.
Labour’s version of this event took place on Monday (September 23), hosted by Anne McGuire, shadow minister for disabled people.
She defended her role in an email today, as follows:
“I don’t know why you have been led to believe that I was hosting an event by Unum. For the record, I was speaking at a round table discussion with organisations which included the European Commission, voluntary organisations, insurance companies amongst others. As it was such a conversation, it was by invitation only as was the event I attended this morning organised though the Shaw Trust and Mencap. It is not unusual to have such events at party conference.
“I also spoke at an open meeting last night on the future of welfare reform and disabled people with many disabled people in attendance and participating.
“I am aware of the strong feelings on Unum and Atos. However I trust that you will appreciate that having discussions with a range of organisations should not be seen as anything other than that and in no way implies an endorsement of any particular company or organisation.”
It simply doesn’t ring true.
Let’s look at the context: This event was organised by a right-wing thinktank (they’re ideologically opposed to state-run social security systems) that has been sponsored by Unum; was about “new” thinking on the welfare state; was itself sponsored by the Association of British Insurers, of which Unum is a member; and representatives of insurance companies – and we’re willing to bet Unum was among them – took part in the behind-closed-doors discussion.
It seems clear that this event was intended to influence Labour Party policy away from providing a well-run and reasonable state benefit system, as was the case in the UK until Peter Lilley in the early 1990s, and towards dismantling that system to make way for a system based on privately-run insurance policies, such as those produced by Unum.
The fact that it is being mirrored at the other two party conferences clearly suggests that the firms involved want to influence all major British political parties in the same way. If successful, this would mean that it won’t matter who gets into office after the 2015 election; Unum will still be in power at the Department for Work and Pensions.
Just as KPMG will still be in power at the Treasury, and at the Department of Health, alongside its owner Atos.
And the three gentlemen pictured at the top of this article will be the unelected kings of the UK because, no matter which way you vote, they will be in charge.
That would be a good place to end this article, but then, dear reader, you might be left thinking there is nothing you can do. There is something you can do.
You can write to your MP, to local newspapers, to the party leaders and the ministers running these government departments and you can bitch like hell about it!
The people of this country deserve elected representatives who are going to run this country by their own decisions, in the best interests of the citizens who voted for them – not employees of a dubious gang of unelected corporations, running this country in their own best interests and treating the citizens like dirt.
The masks were adopted by the loosely-affiliated protesters Anonymous as a clear indication of members’ feelings towards a Conservative/Liberal Democrat Coalition government whose actions, they believe, have been increasingly fascist.
These people have a point.
Has anyone read V for Vendetta lately? An early chapter, ‘Victims’, provides the historical background to the fascist Britain of the story – and provides very disturbing parallels with the current government and its policies.
In the story, there is a recession and a nuclear war. Fortunately, in real life we have managed to avoid the war (so far) but the recession of 2007 onwards has caused severe hardship for many, with average wages cut by nine per cent (in real terms) due to government policies.
In the story, the line “Everybody was waiting for the government to do something” is notable. Isn’t that just about as British as you can get? As a nation, we seem unwilling to take the initiative; we just wait for someone else to do something. We queue up. And then we complain when we don’t find exactly what we wanted at the end of the queue. But then it’s too late.
Does the government “do something”? Well, no – not in the story, because there isn’t any government worth mentioning at this point. But then… “It was all the fascist groups. The right-wingers. They’d all got together with some of the big corporations…”
Here’s another parallel. How many corporations are enjoying the fruits of the Conservative-led (right-wing) government’s privatisation drive?
The NHS carve-up signified huge opportunities for firms like Circle Health and Virgin, and Bain Capital (who bought our blood plasma supplies). Care UK, the firm that famously sponsored Andrew Lansley while he was working on the regressive changes to the health service that eventually became the Health and Social Care Act 2012, no doubt also has fingers in the pie.
The Treasury is receiving help – if you can call it that – from the ‘big four’ accountancy firms – PricewaterhouseCoopers, Deloitte, Ernst & Young and KPMG. They have written the law on tax avoidance. By no coincidence at all, these are the firms that run the major tax avoidance schemes that have been taken up by businesses and rich individuals who are resident in the UK. For more information on the government’s attitude to taxing the rich, see Michael Meacher’s recent blog entry.
The Department for Work and Pensions has employed many private firms; this is the reason that department is haemorrhaging money. There are the work programme provider firms who, as has been revealed in previous blog entries, provide absolutely no useful training and are less likely to find anyone a job than if they carried on by themselves; there are the IT firms currently working on Universal Credit, about which Secretary of State Iain Duncan Smith lied to Parliament when he said he was having to write off £34 million of expenditure – the true figure was later revealed to be closer to £161 million, almost five times as much; there are Atos and Capita, and probably other firms that have been hired to carry out so-called ‘work capability assessments’ of people claiming sickness, incapacity and disability benefits, according to a plan that intentionally ignores factual medical evidence and places emphasis on a bogus, tick-box test designed to find ways to cut off their support; and there is Unum Insurance, the criminal American corporation that designed that test, in order to push British workers into buying its bogus insurance policies that work on exactly the same principle – this is theft on a grand scale.
So we have a government in cahoots with big business, and treating the citizens – the voters – like cattle. We’ll see more of this as we go on.
“Then they started taking people away… All the black people and the Pakistanis…” All right, these social groups have not been, specifically, targeted (yet) – but we have seen evidence that our government would like to do so. Remember those advertising vans the Home Office funded, that drove around London with a message that we were told was for illegal immgrants: “Go home”?
“That is a term long-associated with knuckle-dragging racists,” said Owen Jones on the BBC’s Any Questions.
“We’re seeing spot-checks and racial profiling of people at tube stations. We have a woman on the news… she was born in Britain; she was told she was stopped because she ‘didn’t sound British’. And we have the official Home Office [Twitter] account being used to send gleeful tweets which show people being thrown into vans with a hashtag, ‘#immigrationoffenders’.
“Is this the sort of country you want to live in, where the Conservatives use taxpayers’ money to inflame people’s fears and prejudices in order to win political advantage? Because I don’t think most people do want that to happen.”
This blog’s article on the subject added that not only this, but other governments (like that in Greece) had created an opportunity to start rounding up anybody deemed “undesirable” by the state. “Greece is already rounding up people of unorthodox sexuality, drug addicts, prostitutes, immigrants and the poor and transferring them to internment and labour camps,” it stated.
Note also the government’s response to criticism from UN special rapporteur on adequate housing Raquel Rolnik. Grant Shapps and Iain Duncan Smith and their little friends tried to say that she had not done her job properly but, when this was exposed as a lie, they reverted to type and attacked her for her racial origin, national background, and beliefs – political and personal. You can read the lot in this despicable Daily Mail smear piece.
Back to V for Vendetta, where the narrative continues: “White people too. All the radicals and the men who, you know, liked other men. The homosexuals. I don’t know what they did with them all.” Well, we know what Greece is doing with them all, and in the story, such people also ended up in internment and labour camps. We’ll come back to that.
“They made me go and work in a factory with a lot of other kids. We were putting matches into boxes. I lived in a hostel. It was cold and dirty…”
Last month this blog commented on government plans for ‘residential Workfare for the disabled’, rounding up people with disabilities and putting them into modern-day workhouses where someone else would profit from their work while they receive benefits alone – and where the potential for abuse was huge. If that happens, how long will it be before every other jobseeker ends up in a similar institution?
A while ago, a friend in the cafe I visit said that a Tory government will always see every class of people other than its own as “livestock”. That’s the word he used – “livestock”. From the above, with descriptions of people being treated like cattle, or being herded into the workhouse for someone else to profit from their work, it seems he has a very strong case.
So let’s go back to these internment and labour camps – in V for Vendetta they’re called “resettlement” camps. A later chapter – The Vortex – reveals that inmates at such camps are subjected to unethical medical experimentation. The doctor carrying out the trials notes in her diary that the camp commandant “promised to show me my research stock… they’re a poor bunch.”
Her research stock are human beings who have been subjected to conditions similar to those of the Nazi concentration camps. Notice the language – this doctor considers the other human beings taking part to be her property. And they are “research stock” – in other words, she does not see them as other human beings but as livestock – exactly as the friend in the cafe stated.
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