Tag Archives: building

Economic forecasts make nonsense of Tory policy – but will be used to hammer the poor again

Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond recently said public sector workers like nurses were overpaid, according to a Cabinet leak. So he probably won’t shed tears over an economic forecast that could allow him to postpone easing the cap on their pay that has sent them to food banks to make ends meet.

Commentators like the Financial Times would like to say government plans are going sideways because of “weak economic forecasts”, but the fact is they were always rubbish.

Tory deficit reduction ideas that involve squeezing the poor rather than expanding UK productivity and economic output were never going to work. That’s never – not a few years after they predicted.

Today we found out that the Office for Budget Responsibility has been over-optimistic in all its productivity forecasts for the seven years since it was formed by David Cameron. Some of us aren’t surprised at all.

But here’s a thought:

Isn’t it curious that these facts are only acknowledged when the government is being asked to ease austerity, cut student debt and build houses?

It’s almost as though someone is letting the information trickle out only in order to stop politicians from helping the poor and vulnerable and keep them in line, helping only the very rich instead.

Isn’t it?

Philip Hammond is facing what officials describe as “a bloodbath” in the public finances in his Budget next month as weak economic forecasts derail the government’s plans.

As much as two-thirds of the £26 billion of headroom in the public finances that the chancellor created last year as a buffer for the economy through the Brexit period is likely to be wiped out after the government’s fiscal watchdog concludes its forecasts for growth have been too optimistic.

The Office for Budget Responsibility will publish on Tuesday a new analysis suggesting it has persistently over-estimated Britain’s productivity over the past seven years and will give a broad hint that it will rectify the situation with a more pessimistic Budget forecast.

Slower growth in the forecast will limit deficit reduction and cut the size of the war chest that Mr Hammond put aside to smooth the Brexit transition. This leaves him in an awkward position politically, because he is under increasing pressure to end the austerity cap on public pay, lower the burden of debt on students and build houses.

The situation will dismay the Treasury and surprise economists, who have been encouraged by a steady improvement in Britain’s monthly public finances figures, even as economic growth has slowed this year. In August, the UK posted its lowest budget deficit since before the financial crisis, borrowing a net £5.7bn, well below the consensus estimate of £7.1bn.

Source: ‘Two-thirds’ of Hammond’s £26bn Budget war chest faces wipeout


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Housing minister exaggerates Tory record as building target is missed AGAIN

[Composite: Getty Images/PA].

[Composite: Getty Images/PA].

Someone should tell Gavin Barwell not to play fast and loose with the facts.

His claim that house building rates were at their lowest since the 1920s when the Tories came back into office in 2010 may be accurate, but his claim of “significant progress” since then is nonsense.

In fact, George Osborne’s first act as Chancellor was to slash housing investment by 60 per cent, resulting in a new housebuilding low, in 2012-13, of 135,500 dwellings.

So in fact, it is the Conservatives who are responsible for the lowest house building rate since the 1920s.

Barwell wasn’t lying about 2010 – he just wasn’t being honest about the situation now.

And the “significant progress”? An increase of 5,500 houses to 141,000 in 2013-14. In the calendar year 2014, another increase to 146,359, and then 156,140 in 2015.

That’s far fewer than the 219,000 that Labour managed in 2006-7, after the Barker Review of Housing Supply noted that about 250,000 homes needed to be built every year to prevent spiralling house prices and a shortage of affordable homes.

That target was dropped by the Conservative/Liberal Democrat Coalition Government.

It seems to have been revisited by David Cameron, but it is clear that the Conservatives are already missing their target by at least 30,000 a year – that’s 150,000 over the five-year period of the current Parliament.

And even that number could be subject to slippage.

Barwell should address himself to solving the problem, rather than dissembling about it.

The government is set to fail to meet its target to build one million homes by 2020, the Housing Minister has admitted.

The aim to build one million new homes by the end of this Parliament was announced by David Cameron’s government last year to meet estimates of the shortfall in the country’s housing needs.

Unveiling new measures to tackle the housing crisis, Mr Barwell told Sky News that the Government is currently building about 170,000 homes every year but added “we clearly need to do better”.

“We inherited a position in 2010 where house building rates in this country were at their lowest since the 1920s.

“We’ve seen significant progress.”

Source: Housebuilding target to be missed, says minister

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Lend Corbyn your nomination, Labour MPs – let’s have a REAL debate

Five-time Parliamentary 'Beard of the Year' - the likeable Jeremy Corbyn.

Five-time Parliamentary ‘Beard of the Year’ – the likeable Jeremy Corbyn.

If any of you have been struggling to work out whether you know anything at all about Jeremy Corbyn, you are not alone!

This Writer has also been at something of a loss with regard to his personality and achievements.

So let’s all be grateful to Owen Jones, who knows Mr Corbyn well, for scribbling a few details into his latest Guardian comment piece.

According to Owen, Mr Corbyn is:

  • The very antithesis of the negative caricature of an MP: he’s defined by his principles and beliefs, uninterested in personal self-advancement, and determined to use his platform to further the interests of people and causes that are otherwise ignored.
  • One of the most likable MPs – and a five-time winner of Parliamentary Beard of the Year.
  • A proponent of peace, a staunch internationalist (he was protesting against Saddam Hussein when the west was arming him), a fervent believer in workers’ rights, and an opponent of austerity whoever peddles it

Not only does he seem exactly what we’re looking for, he even seems to fit what people in this nation genuinely want, as Owen explains:

“According to the polls, millions of Britons support a living wage, a radical house building programme, public ownership of utilities and services and higher taxes on the rich… Given their widespread backing, these policies surely at least need a hearing in the leadership contest of the dominant, purportedly left-of-centre party in Britain.”

In conclusion, this blog can only echo the article’s final words:

“If Labour MPs deny the party and the country a genuine debate, it will reflect disastrously on them. It will do whoever emerges victorious no good, either. Labour has just suffered one of the worst defeats in its history. If the party doesn’t have the good sense to have a meaningful debate now, you might wonder why it doesn’t just pack up. So come on, Labour MPs. Put your future careers aside for party and national interest.

“Lend Corbyn a nomination, and let a real debate begin.”

Hear, hear.

Osborne’s last budget says more in its omissions than in its announcements

150319budget8

Did we just have the worst-ever Budget from Britain’s weakest-ever Chancellor? All the indications suggest it.

George Osborne stole his best ideas from the Labour Party and claimed he was trimming his planned austerity back – raising mockery from those who said he was running like a rabbit from Labour’s “back to the 1930s” attack.

“George Osborne blinked,” said Paul Mason on Channel 4 News. “He looked at the scale of austerity he promised in December and realised it wasn’t going to be that popular.”

Did he, though? An alternative view might be that he has been trying to trick us – setting out a plan that suggests a horrific level of cuts at first, then claiming to relent and suggesting that he will inflict less damage and spend lots at the very end of the next Parliament.

So his promise is hideous suffering for four more years, with the vague possibility of greater spending at the end of it – if all has gone well.

Based on his current record, that’s a promise George Osborne can’t keep. Did he balance the books in this Parliament? No. Did he cut the deficit without cutting frontline services? No. Did he balance austerity fairly between the poor and the rich? No – the poor have taken a hugely disproportionate amount of the pain while the richest in the UK are now twice as rich as they were in 2009; for them, we have been in an economic boom.

What a shame those "naughty Trotskyites" (thank you, Mike Collins) at the Torygraph had to burst Osborne's balloon by pointing out the huge growth of the national debt on his watch.

What a shame those “naughty Trotskyites” (thank you, Mike Collins) at the Torygraph had to burst Osborne’s balloon by pointing out the huge growth of the national debt on his watch – more than £517 billion so far, which is more than every Labour government in history.

Labour’s bank levy and the changes to pensions that would have funded Labour’s tuition fees cut were stolen by Osborne. This is why Labour has been keeping future policies quiet – to prevent such things from happening. In making these moves, Osborne has helped Labour because critics of Labour’s failure to announce policies in advance will now have to shut up.

He said living standards would be back where they were in 2010 by the end of the current financial year – but using a scale (Real Household Disposable Incomes) that is disputed, and in any case is only a projection. According to the Mean Income scale, we’re nowhere near.

And Osborne’s claim assumes that household incomes will rise by no less than 3.1 per cent this year. Unlikely!

And remember – as Mr Mason put it: “Prices are falling because of oil prices and potential deflation; it’s not because a load of bricklayers and plumbers and taxi drivers are putting down their prices – and wages up.”

He repeated the claim that he has halved the deficit – but this is as a proportion of GDP. What if we have another economic shock (as seems likely) and GDP drops? Suddenly that figure won’t look as good. In money terms, the deficit has come down by around one-third to something like £90 billion a year. This means Osborne hasn’t even achieved what the previous Labour chancellor, Alistair Darling, said was possible in 2010 – and Labour would not have caused anything like the misery George Osborne’s party and the Liberal Democrats created for people on housing benefit, the sick, the disabled, and low-paid workers.

He didn’t mention the huge budget cuts to come over the next five years (if we get lumbered with more Tory rule) – worse than “anything over the past five years”

150319budget7

As the BBC’s Robert Peston tweeted: “If Tories win, OBR says ‘sharp acceleration’ in pace of cuts to day-to-day spending on public services & admin 2016-17 & 2017-18.” In those two years – under Tory rule – we would get double the amount of austerity cuts that we’ve had at any point in the last four. We don’t even know where those cuts will happen.

150319budget4

It is important to note that we won’t get cuts on anything like this scale under a Labour government, according to shadow chancellor Ed Balls.

In the meantime, Osborne has managed to pull a few rabbits out of his hat:

  • The tax allowance has been raised again, lifting more low-earners out of paying Income Tax. But those working part-time on low wages, including most apprentices and people who are self-employed, are already unlikely to pay income tax and will miss out entirely on the benefits of this tax change.
  • Meanwhile the threshold at which people will pay tax at the ‘high’ 40 per cent rate will also rise, meaning people earning up to £42,384 will get a massive tax break.
  • Beer duty is being cut again.
  • There will be a new savings tax break, meaning more than 90 per cent of savers won’t pay tax on this money.
  • And Osborne is launching a new ‘help to buy’ ISA for people trying to get on the property ladder.

All of these remove income from the Treasury, meaning the austerity measures Osborne plans to introduce will be more severe than you may be expecting. Note that the high-earners benefiting from the rise in the tax threshold will profit again – they can’t be hurt by cuts to benefits they don’t receive.

And what about tax dodging? Osborne omitted his failure to tackle this issue from his Budget speech. Perhaps this is because the wounds inflicted by the HSBC scandal are still too raw; perhaps it is because everybody knows Osborne and the Coalition have re-written tax law to make avoidance much easier for the filthy rich and the corporates. 38 Degrees caught the mood in a nutshell:

150319budget5

Regarding the ‘help to buy’ ISA, it’s notable that Osborne didn’t mention the lack of new homes built since 2010.

150319budget2Osborne did not mention the Coalition government’s disgraceful treatment of the National Health Service at all. There will be no new money for the service. His omission prompted the following – scathing – response:

150319budget1

However, as Mark Ferguson of LabourList pointed out on Twitter: “Cameron again takes credit for more doctors. Now it takes seven years to train a doctor. So those are Labour’s doctors.”

Oh, and there was a sideswipe at the SNP. North Sea oil revenues have taken a vertiginous tumble as a result of the cut in oil prices, meaning investment has also declined markedly. Osborne has cut the supplementary charge and introduced investment incentives to prop up this income stream, in a move that Tom Bradby describes as “trying to shoot SNP foxes”.

On employment, Osborne quoted his claim that there are 1.9 million new jobs and the jobless rate is at 5.3 per cent. He omitted the figures on how many are zero-hours (1.8 million in a snapshot taken last August) or off the dole due to sanctions. The number of people unemployed and not claiming JSA is at its highest level ever, as this graph shows:

[Thanks to Bernadette Meaden for this information.]

[Thanks to @InclusionCESI for this information.]

So, as one commentator put it, the Tories go into the 2015 general election with debt, in-work poverty and net migration higher – and the NHS in crisis compared to 2010.

Labour’s Michael Dugher followed up on this with: “Are the Tories really going to run on ‘You’ve never had it so good’?”

He has offered a few small freebies in a lame bid to influence the vote, hoping all the while that you won’t ask questions about the important economic issues he hasn’t bothered to mention.

Not only are we at the end of a zombie Parliament, but its own chancellor has crippled it in its final lurch to the election.

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Ed Miliband’s policies backed by public – The Guardian

Here’s some information that will enrage everybody who has been campaigning so ardently for the downfall of the Labour Party – people who have been duped by Lynton Crosby and (north of the border) the SNP. The Guardian has revealed the following:

Over 70 per cent of the public are in favour of Miliband’s policy to fund the NHS with extra taxes on tobacco companies and mansions, according to a new poll.

Every one of Ed Miliband’s pledges from his speech yesterday has popular public support.

A new Survation poll for Labour List of 1,037 people shows that 72% of the public are in favour of the policy to fund the NHS to the tune of £2.5bn extra a year, partially using taxes against tobacco companies and mansions as well as closing loopholes. Only 12% were against.

The polling suggests this pledge was particularly popular among Labour (81%) and Lib Dem (84%) voters from 2010, which is useful for a leader hoping to woo disaffected voters from Nick Clegg’s party.

[Image: The Guardian.]

[Image: The Guardian.]

Miliband’s pledge to raise the minimum wage to £8 an hour also was supported by the majority of the public and played even better with Liberal Democrat voters (80.1%) than Labour (78.6%).

His pledge to break up the high street banks was the least popular (but still had 43.9% of people in favour of it). Only a quarter of people (24.9%) said they were opposed to it with 31.4% saying they didn’t know how they felt.

In fairness, the article adds: The way this poll is structured may be flattering to Labour’s prospects. By using Labour’s own phrasing, the poll presents each policy in quite a generous light, which makes it difficult to disagree with – not many people would say creating “a “world class” health service” is a bad idea, for example. This has the effect of making the policies look popular – and they may well be – but it may be that if the same policies were presented differently, the poll numbers could change a lot.

Nevertheless, this is exactly the response Labour needed, in advance of next year’s general election. Clearly the general public thinks that Ed Miliband is on the right track.

Of course, the election is still eight months away and much may change in that time. Public opinion is fickle and we may well see polls supporting David Cameron’s plans – or even Nick Clegg’s – before the end of October.

But it’s a big boost for Labour and will give the party the momentum it needs, in order to win the campaign and – if elected – let us hope Miliband will hit the ground running.

Because the UK needs a change, and it can’t come soon enough.

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Don’t believe the critics – Labour’s plans are good for Britain

What do you think of the Labour Party conference this year? It’s a loaded question and one that is bound to elicit loaded answers.

The propaganda machines of the other parties have been working overtime to discredit Her Majesty’s Opposition, with Scottish people who wanted independence (the minority, let’s remember) claiming Labour lied to them, UKIP supporters adamant that the party is full of child abusers (based on a BNP propaganda website, which should tell anyone with a brain all they need to know), and of course the Tories doing what they usually do – blaming all the country’s problems on the last Labour government while stealing the family silver.

You never hear ‘No’ voters saying Labour lied, do you? You never see UKIP supporters complaining about racism in their own party. You never see Tories calling for genuine reform that helps the 99 per cent, rather than the tiny minority that they represent.

So let’s look at what Labour is proposing. Let’s make a list – because, you know what? Mrs Mike was watching coverage of the conference yesterday, and even she tried to tell Yr Obdt Srvt that Labour wouldn’t keep its promises. If we have a list, we’ll be able to check the promises against what they do, after a Labour win next May.

So let’s see what Ed Miliband promised. He outlined six “national goals”, and he called for 10 years in which to hit them. You may very well ask: Has he been reading Vox Political? Recent comments questioning Labour’s intentions have been answered with the simple observation that it takes time to change the direction in which a country is travelling (or in the UK’s case, lurching), and Miliband’s words echo that sentiment. He can’t do everything in one day. It does take time. Let’s look at those goals.

They were:

Halve the number of people in low pay by 2025, raising the minimum wage by £60 a week or more than £3,000 a year.

Ensure that the wages of working people grow with the economy (something that is glaringly missing from the Conservatives’ ‘economic recovery’, meaning that – for the vast majority of us – it isn’t a recovery at all). Miliband said: “What’s amazing… is that statement, that goal is even controversial. It used to be taken for granted in our country that’s what would happen.” He’s right – look at today’s article from Flip Chart Fairy Tales that Vox Political re-published.

Create one million jobs in the green economy – neglected by the Conservatives – by 2025, committing to take all the carbon out of electricity by 2030; start a Green Investment Bank; devolve powers to communities to insulate five million homes by 2025, saving energy and heating costs

By 2025, ensure that as many young people will be leaving school or college to go on to an apprenticeship as currently go to university. It really is as though he’s been reading Vox Political. A long-standing gripe of this blog is that governments have concentrated on academic achievement while neglecting the education of people who have more practical aptitudes. This is a very welcome change.

By 2025, be building as many homes as we need, doubling the number of first-time buyers in the UK. Vox Political would prefer to see far more social housing; perhaps this will come as well but it wasn’t part of Miliband’s promise. Nevertheless, the pledge to build 500,000 new homes should make housing more affordable again for people who aren’t spectacularly wealthy or don’t have wealthy family members.

Finally, to create a world-class 21st century health and care service, funded by a clampdown on tax avoidance including tax loopholes by hedge funds that will raise more than £1 billion, proceeds from a mansion tax on homes above £2 million, and money from tobacco companies. Total: £2.5 billion (per annum, it seems). Some have said this is not enough when the NHS is facing a £20 billion shortfall but we must remember that this deficit only appeared recently and could be the result of Tory scaremongering, or the private companies introduced by the Tories leeching money out of the system to fatten their shareholders. More details were due from Andy Burnham today (Wednesday).

Oh yes, you see Andrew Lansley’s hated – Yr Obdt Srvt really cannot find the words to show how vile this diseased piece of legislation really is – Health and Social Care Act will be repealed by a Labour government. If you don’t care about any of the other measures, you should vote Labour for that reason alone.

So those are his six goals. But what’s this?

“It is time we complete the unfinished business of reform of the House of Lords so we truly have a Senate of the nations and regions.” Considering the way Cameron has been packing it with Tory donors, rather than people of any expertise (as it is intended to contain) this can only be a good thing.

“And it is time to devolve power in England.” What a blow against the Tories who have been claiming Labour want to delay or destroy such a process! Miliband is talking about “devolving power to local government, bringing power closer to people right across England”. That seems to be an indication that he wouldn’t create a new, expensive English Parliament but would give power back to the current councils – power that has been leeched away from them by centralising Conservatives and the previous, neoliberal, incarnation of Labour.

There’s more. He wants constitutional reform. But unlike David Cameron, who wants to impose changes from above, so that they only benefit people who are already rich and powerful, Miliband wants to make it a matter of public discussion. Those who can’t be bothered to take part will only have themselves to blame if they don’t get what they want.

There were promises on foreign policy – to stand up for the UK in Europe, in contrast to Cameron’s strategy which Miliband blasted: “When David Cameron comes calling, people don’t think he’s calling about the problems of Britain or the problems of Europe. They think he’s calling about the problems of the Conservative Party. And here’s the funny thing… If you’re elected the Chancellor of Germany or the Prime Minister of Italy or the President of France, you don’t really think you were elected to solve the problems of the Conservative Party.”

More solid was the promise to recognise the state of Palestine and actively seek a solution to the problems of that part of the world we might call – in an attempt to be fair – the Holy Land: “I will fight with every fibre of my being to get the two state solution, two states for two people, Israel and a Palestinian state living side by side.” Many detractors have wrongly claimed that Miliband is a Zionist, determined to support the Israeli government’s use of vastly superior firepower to eliminate Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank; they had better think again – and look very hard at David Cameron, whose government has done as little as possible to protest at what has been happening.

And Miliband also said he wanted Labour to fight discrimination against same-sex relationships around the world. That may not seem as important to some people, but in some places it is just as easy to be killed by homophobia as it is to be killed because of your religion. Personally, Yr Obdt Srvt finds same-sex relationships unattractive – but it takes all sorts to make a world.

That makes six more goals! Double the value.

These are all good aims. All of them, if seen through, will be good for the UK.

So there’s your checklist, with 12 – not six – goals on it. If you support Labour next year, you’ll be able to check Miliband’s progress against them and you’ll have a chance – halfway through his 10-year plan – to stop him if he’s not making it happen.

Alternatively, you can say to yourself – as Mrs Mike did last night: “He doesn’t mean it. They’re all the same. It’s not worth voting,” or any of the other things the Tory campaign chief Lynton Crosby would like you to believe, and you can sit on your thumbs at home. That would be a vote for the Conservatives to carry on raping your country and ripping you off.

If Labour win in spite of people like that, then they will still benefit from the changes Miliband wants to introduce, along with the rest of us. If the Conservatives win because of those people, then we will all lose – apart from a miserably small band of super-rich, super-selfish, super-arrogant and entitled exploiters who tell Cameron what to do.

Framed that way, it isn’t really a choice at all, is it?

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Rachel Reeves’ weak speech has little to offer but social insecurity

Rachel Reeves: Look on the bright side - at least she isn't Liam Byrne.

Rachel Reeves: Look on the bright side – at least she isn’t Liam Byrne.

Was anyone else underwhelmed by Rachel Reeves’ speech in this years Labour conference?

Not by the promise to take the Bedroom Tax off the statute books, obviously. That has been a settled part of Labour policy since, well, since it landed on the statute books back in 2012. We should not take it for granted, though – and we must always remember that the Bedroom Tax won’t be going anywhere if the Blue Meanies manage to hang on to control after May next year.

But is anybody really convinced by her ‘Jobs Guarantee’? Is it really likely to work, or is it just another ‘make-work’ scheme? What difference will it make if private companies running the current work programme/mandatory work activity/workfare/whatever-they’re-called-today schemes are replaced by local councils and communities? Vox Political is based in Powys and the council here wouldn’t know how to help anybody get back into work off the back of any such scheme. Why should it be different elsewhere?

Do we really need a ‘Basic Skills Test’? Isn’t that an indictment of our education system – and shouldn’t that be where the skills gap ought to be tackled?

Did chills go up anybody else’s spine when Reeves mentioned a “pensions market“? Do we need a pensions market? Do you want to have to shop around for the best pension for you? Don’t you pay your National Insurance for the government to sort out that side of things and not make a mess of it?

And what did she mean by “tailored support” for disabled people who can work? By whose standards?

What did you make of her comments about the work capability assessment? “We need real reform”, she said. No! We don’t need reform! We need to scrap it altogether! It has never been fit for purpose; it never will be. The very word “assessment”, linked to a person’s sickness or disability, is tainted beyond reform. All that is necessary – all that has ever been necessary – is written confirmation of a person’s condition from – guess who? – a doctor. Work capability assessments are a waste of money and a risk to the health of sick and disabled people.

She said: “I give you this commitment: as Secretary of State I will come down hard on any contractor that gets these critical assessments wrong, or fails to treat disabled people with the decency and respect they deserve.” Do you think any such contractor was quaking in their boots at the thought of that? No.

What is she going to do about the Tories’ vindictive ‘mandatory reconsideration’ system? Will she agree to pay benefits to claimants while they await a decision, or will she forget them like the Tories forgot the ex-Remploy workers she mentioned in her speech?

She said Universal Credit was “stuck in first gear” – but made no promise to get rid of it. Its aim, under Tory control, is to ensure the government doesn’t have to spend as much money on benefit claimants. Even if Labour changes that – after it has been made to work at all, which is a hard battle in itself – there will be no way to stop the Tories changing it back into a weapon if the public ever becomes stupid enough to vote them back into office again. It would be far better to devise a scheme that the Tories could not pervert – difficult though such a task may be.

There was more good material than the Bedroom Tax, and it would be wrong to gloss over that. The plan to increase the Living Wage is good, and so is the plan to increase the minimum wage. But critics say the minimum wage provides employers with an excuse to reduce all pay to that still-paltry amount, so why isn’t she saying Labour will combat that? Labour could encourage companies to become employee-owned co-operatives; as co-owners, workers could ensure equitable rates of pay. These measures would go a long way to eliminating the “in-work benefit” element of the social security bill.

Labour should be going further, though. It should be renationalising railway firms that aren’t performing well enough, either by overcharging passengers, failing to invest in the service or simply demanding too high a subsidy from the taxpayer. These firms are supposed to be private – if we are still supporting them, we should still own them. At least, that way, we’d get the profits rather than some faceless shareholder.

Also on the nationalisation list should be power companies and water firms. The energy business seems to be a cartel, organised to screw customers out of as much money as possible – on pain of losing the power necessary to heat and light their homes, and cook their food. That must end. Whatever contract they were given when they were privatised, they have reneged on the deal and should be brought back under public control.

As for the water firms – they’re just tax avoidance schemes, aren’t they? Also, Yr Obdt Srvt seems to recall that one firm sold around 25 reservoirs to France, so they get the benefit of our water during hot summers while we have to suffer drought. That’s not why these firms were sold off. They should come back under public control, with stiff penalties for the shareholders who have abused the public trust.

Come to that, what about the construction industry? We need hundreds of thousands more homes – especially one- and two-bedroomed dwellings – to be defined as social housing, in order to stave off more Tory “captive victim” schemes like the Bedroom Tax. Why won’t the government employ the builders to carry out this work, starting on brown-field sites and avoiding green belt land, for the sake of the future?

Investment in work of this kind could revive the UK’s fortunes in a stroke – and would infinitely improve Labour’s offer to the public. The Attlee government did far more, starting from a far worse financial position so there is no reason to hesitate.

But Rachel Reeves has nothing to say about it.

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Cameron’s comedy turn won’t make anybody happy

140117democracy

David Cameron should be very happy that UKIP is around to make him look acceptable.

We can’t ever say he’ll look good, but in contrast to the ‘Farage wave’, the spectacle of UKIP being thrown out of the venue where it was supposed to be launching its European election campaign, and the never-ending queue of candidates who are desperate to embarrass themselves publicly – what’s the latest one? “Women should be made to wear skirts because they’re a turn-on for men”? Ye gods… – it’s easy to think that the Conservatives are mild, or at least rational.

They’re not.

But Cameron was keen to project an image of competence at the Conservatives’ campaign launch for the local council elections. This is strange because, with his record of achievement, the things he was saying seem more like stand-up comedy than serious statements of ability.

Try this, about the European Union: “I have a track record of delivery – and believe me, whatever it takes, I will deliver this in-out referendum.” A track record of delivery? Well, yes. He delivered a top-down reorganisation of the NHS that nobody wanted, leading to an inrush of private health companies into the NHS – that nobody wanted. He has delivered the lowest amount of house-building, per year, since records began. He has delivered a withered economic ‘recovery’ that arrived three years later than if he had continued with the plan of the previous, Labour, government. He has delivered all the benefits of that ‘recovery’ to the extremely rich, rather than sharing it equally with the people responsible for it. And he has delivered a new high in employment, with no economic benefit to the country, that has left workers on wages that are so low they are going into debt.

He delivered the bedroom tax.

He delivered a massive increase in the National Debt.

He delivered millions of people into poverty and food bank dependence.

Ha ha ha. Very funny, Mr Cameron.

He told us, “People said I would never veto a European treaty. In 2011 that’s exactly what I did.” Well, yes. But the rest of Europe just went right ahead and carried on without you. You marginalised Britain as a member of the EU and made us a laughing-stock in the eyes of the world.

Ha ha ha. Very funny, Mr Cameron.

“We came through the great recession together; we are building the great British revival together,” he said. But he can’t say that to the many thousands of people who used to be claiming sickness and disability benefits but aren’t anymore because they are all dead. They didn’t come through the great recession. Cameron cut off their means of survival, forcing them into situations in which their health was allowed to worsen until their conditions overwhelmed them, or their situation induced such huge bouts of depression that they took their own lives.

Ha h- no. That’s not funny, Mr Cameron.

“The job is not done. If you want to finish the job we have started, back the party with a plan,” he said. Well, no. The Conservative plan (such as it is) will destroy your employment rights, scrap the welfare state, maintain a huge underclass of unemployed people to use as fodder for work-for-your-benefit schemes (a contradiction in terms if ever there was one) to circumvent the minimum wage, and to claim credit for successes that aren’t theirs.

There is only one reason to support the Conservative Party in this – or any other election.

That is if there is only one other political party on the ballot paper – and that party is UKIP.

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The State of Osborne: a visitor’s guide

A moment of crisis for David Cameron as he realises it is unlikely that George Osborne has the faintest idea what the Autumn Statement means.

A moment of crisis for David Cameron as he realises it is unlikely that George Osborne has the faintest idea what the Autumn Statement means.

If anybody else had prattled on for 50 minutes while hardly uttering a single sensible word, they would have been consigned to a mental hospital forthwith.

But this is Coalition Britain, and the speaker was George Osborne, the man who likes to tell us all that he is in charge of the nation’s finances. Thanks to his government’s Department for Work and Pensions, nobody is allowed to have mental illnesses anymore; after this speech, it seems likely we all have an idea about the reason for that.

A 50-minute speech is a lot of verbiage, and it is certain that worthier journalists across Britain – if not the world – have already analysed it to exhaustion. Allow me to let you into a secret:

They’re probably trying too hard.

Most of the speech was about putting Labour down. The Opposition has made all the headway over the past few weeks, and we all knew Osborne was under orders to change the mood music of the nation in time for Christmas.

Did he manage it? Not really. His speeches always come across as strained events, where he’s making an effort to be clever without ever achieving it. As a result, the message gets lost. We can therefore discount the Labour-bashing.

That leaves us with what he actually said. Even here, his meaning was at times opaque. What follows is an attempt to provide a handy guide to George-speak, for anyone unfortunate enough to have heard him yesterday.

Osborne: “We have held our nerve while those who predicted there would be no growth until we turned the spending taps back on have been proved comprehensively wrong.”/Meaning: “I am lying. Austerity failed miserably and the economy flatlined. A few months ago I realised that we would have nothing to show at election time so I turned the spending taps back on, with Help To Buy and Funding For Lending. I know that these are exactly the sort of Keynesian economic levers that I preached against for three years but I’m hoping that nobody noticed.”

The hard work of the British people is paying off, and we will not squander their efforts./Osborne appears to be celebrating his three years of stagnation. He inherited growth and decided to trash it. (MagsNews on Twitter)

There was no double-dip recession./“Phew! Lucky escape there!”

At the time of the Budget in March, the Office of Budget Responsibility forecast that growth this year would be 0.6 per cent. Today, it more than doubles that forecast and the estimate for growth will be 1.4 per cent./“Please God don’t let anybody remember that three years ago, the forecast for this year was 2.9 per cent.”

Today in Britain, employment is at an all-time high… We have the lowest proportion of workless households for 17 years./These jobs have increased the numbers of the working poor. Too few are full-time; too many are part-time, zero-hours or self-employed, serving up no National Insurance contributions from employers, no holiday or sick pay, or making contractors work long hours for less than the minimum wage.

The number of people claiming unemployment benefit has fallen by more than 200,000 in the past six months—the largest such fall for 16 years./“And we have imposed sanctions on more people on Jobseekers’ Allowance than ever before, in order to produce that figure.”

By 2018-19, on this measure, the OBR does not expect a deficit at all. Instead, it expects Britain to run a small surplus. These numbers mean that the Government will meet their fiscal mandate to bring the structural current budget into balance and meet it one year early./Although of course the books were initially supposed to be balanced by 2015. (Huffington Post live blog)

This year, we will borrow £111 billion, which is £9 billion less than was feared in March./…and £41 billion more than forecast in 2010.

We will cap overall welfare spending./But this will not include the state pension (half the social security budget) or the most cyclical jobseeker benefits./”A living wage would mean less dosh on in-work benefits; letting councils build would mean less subsidies for private landlords.” (Owen Jones on Twitter)

Pensioners will be more than £800 better off every year./But as usual he’s ignoring the VAT elephant in the room. (Mark Ferguson on Twitter)

We think that a fair principle is that, as now, people should expect to spend up to a third of their adult lives in retirement. Based on the latest life expectancy figures, applying that principle would mean an increase in the state pension age to 68 in the mid-2030s and to 69 in the late 2040s./But life expectancy depends on where you live and how much money you have, meaning the poor continue to pay more towards the pensions of the rich./”Current pensioners better off – future pensioners paying for it. What was that about “making our kids pay for current spending” George?” (Mark Ferguson of LabourList on Twitter)

Most wealthy people pay their taxes and make a huge contribution to funding our public services; the latest figures show that 30 per cent of all income tax is paid by just one per cent of taxpayers./Estimates of the amount of tax that is not collected range between £25-£120 billion per year and it is not the poor who aren’t paying up.

This year the rich pay a greater share of the nation’s income taxes than was the case in any year under the last Labour Government./Because they now have more income. Simple really. (Tom Clark of The Guardian, on Twitter)

Today we set out in detail the largest package of measures to tackle tax avoidance, tax evasion, fraud and error so far this Parliament. Together it will raise over £9 billion over the next five years./Including capital gains tax for foreign investors on sales of UK property, which has nothing to do with tax avoidance/evasion, fraud or error.

We must confront this simple truth: if we want more people to own a home, we have to build more homes… The latest survey data showed residential construction growing at its fastest rate for a decade./The rate of house building is at its lowest peacetime level since the 1920s

This autumn statement has found the financial resources to fund the expansion of free school meals to all school children in reception, year 1 and year 2, announced by the Deputy Prime Minister and supported by me./On Wednesday, the Lib Dems and Michael Gove’s education department argued over who had to pay for it.

Extra funding will be provided to science, technology, and engineering courses [in universities]. The new loans will be financed by selling the old student loan book, allowing thousands more to achieve their potential./And pushing thousands into the hands of debt collectors.

The best way to help business is by lowering the burden of tax. KPMG’s report last week confirmed for the second year running that Britain has the most competitive business tax system in the world./KPMG would know – it writes the tax system and also runs some of the larger tax avoidance schemes.

From April 2015 we will introduce a new transferable tax allowance for married couples… Four million families will benefit, many of them among the poorest working families in our country./Osborne says the Tories are backing British Families – but only ones who are married it seems. (Mark Ferguson on Twitter)/While the new tax arrangements bribe families to marry, the benefit cap will bribe big families to split up. (Tom Clark on Twitter)

We are all in this together./The biggest lie of this Parliament.

We are also helping families with their energy bills./Commence the cutting of the “green crap”. This from the “Greenest government ever”. (Mark Ferguson on Twitter)

Next year’s fuel duty rise will be cancelled./This is a cut in a tax that was never imposed in the first place.

We are going to abolish the jobs tax on young people under the age of 21. Employer national insurance contributions will be removed altogether on a million and a half jobs for young people./Young people will therefore have less chance to get contribution-based benefit. National Insurance assures people their pension contributions – except when it isn’t paid. So they will have no contributions to show for any years they worked before 21 and will have to work until their late 60s.

The cost for a business of employing a young person on a salary of £12,000 will fall by over £500./This is a bonus for businesses, not employees.

“Jobs tax” – it’s ludicrous, isn’t it? National Insurance has been a respected part of British life for more than 100 years but Osborne, living as he does in a mythical Victorian-era golden age that never actually existed, thinks it is a “jobs tax”. Either that or he’s still bruised by the fact that Labour’s labelling of the under-occupation charge as a Bedroom Tax caught on with the public.

Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls got on his feet and immediately attacked Osborne’s “breathtaking complacency” for denying the drop in living standards faced by everyone in the country, with families already £1,600 per year worse off. Osborne laughed. He thought that was funny.

The Shadow Chancellor pointed out that we are enduring the slowest recovery in a century, and that average real wages will have dropped by 5.8 per cent by the end of the Parliament (except for fatcat business bosses).

He was having a hard time getting his points across, however, because Tory MPs were heckling him very loudly. Owen Jones tweeted, appositely, “Do the Tories think that a bunch of braying MPs dripping with privilege, while ordinary people’s living standards crash, is good TV?”

Maybe they did. Maybe they thought they had the public on their side.

Let’s have a look at a few comments from the public – courtesy of the Huffington Post:

“Planning to kill more people, George?” (Robin Stacey)

“Spend more you wet lipped monkey.” (Will Moriarty)

“No one has an ounce of faith in anything you say, you parasitic pool of curdled warthog’s puke.” (Anthony Nicholas)

And finally: “Hope you end the speech with your resignation x” (Joanne Wood – and yes, she did mean to end with a kiss).

What a shame Osborne did not follow her advice.

 

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Public and private debt reach record levels under ConDem Coalition

inflation

Household debt in the UK has reached a record £1.43 trillion, according to the BBC. What a marvellous achievement for Gideon George Osborne to put next to his already-record public net debt of £1.212 trillion (excluding interventions) or £2.184 trillion (including them).

If you’re surprised at that, don’t be – he needs to pretend that there isn’t any money so he can cut any services that are still left in the public domain after the fire sale of the last few years.

The Tory plan was always to increase private debt. Of course it was – if you cut public spending for people on the breadline, then they go into debt. Why do you think Wonga.com’s owner Dawn Capital is such a prolific contributor to Tory Party funds, with £537,000 in known donations this time last year?

The rich are shielded from debt problems in the same way they are shielded from taxation, thanks to the way our tax laws have been rewritten in their favour – all their money is safely tucked away in tax havens and can’t be touched.

On average, each adult in the UK owes £28,489. Some owe much more than that, though. Yr obdt srvt doesn’t owe a bean to anyone, despite being very poor, so that’s already £28,489 to be spread among everyone else. Mrs Mike isn’t in debt either.

The BBC report cautiously suggests that the record debt level “might increase concerns that the UK’s economic recovery [you know, the one they keep talking about on the news and in Parliament as if it actually exists] is based on increased borrowing, rather than growth sustained by rising incomes” – which of course is correct.

According to The Money Charity, total net lending by UK banks and building societies rose by £1.9 billion in September 2013 – that’s just in one month.

Over the four quarters to Q2 2013, they wrote off £3.67 billion of loans to individuals. In Q2 2013, the daily write-off was £7.61 million.

Based on the latest available data, every day in the UK 285 people are declared insolvent or bankrupt – that’s one every five minutes; 84 properties are repossessed; 1,447 people lost their jobs and eight people became unemployed for more than 12 months; 141 mortgage possession claims are issued and 113 mortgage possession orders are made; and 431 landlord possession claims are issued and 319 landlord possession orders are made.

The benefit system helps nobody. It has been redesigned specifically to push people further into debt – the cap on benefit rate increases to one per cent per year means people are two per cent worse-off for every year it continues, while inflation remains at current levels.

It is in this atmosphere that words written in this blog more than a year ago come back to haunt us all: “What do people do for money when the State fails them and they can’t get work? They fall into the debt trap.

“High-interest, doorstep lending to poor people is Britain’s latest – perhaps only – boom industry. In other words, the government’s sick benefits regime is forcing the poor into debt to organisations that will take away everything they have left, in order to make up payments on a loan whose interest rate they probably made up on the spot.

“And when they’ve taken everything, what do you do then?

“Do you really want your kids to starve?”