Tag Archives: burden

Huge new VAT burden is ‘yet another aspect of Brexit’ the Leave campaign never mentioned

Barrels of port – a product exported to the UK – in a cellar in the city of Vila Nova de Gaia in Portugal [Image: Alamy].

Let’s be honest – this never crossed the minds of Boris Johnson, Michael Gove, Nigel Farage or even Arron Banks.

But what is currently a “paper exercise” will become a huge cashflow problem from UK importers, the instant Brexit comes into force, if it is allowed to happen on March 29, 2019 as Theresa May demands.

As a result of leaving the EU-VAT area – which is what hard Brexiters really, really want, remember – importers will have to pay VAT up-front on machine parts or ready-for-sale goods brought in from the EU, putting them seriously out-of-pocket.

Possible measures to avoid the issue involve staying in the Customs Union or negotiating to stay in the EU-VAT area. Neither would be tolerated by Brexiters.

This Writer wonders how many of the businesspeople affected by the change voted for Brexit. How many of their employees did?

Did they know they would be putting their livelihoods in danger? That’s the logical result of this situation; businesses may not be able to fund the deficit created by the change, with disastrous results.

Ah, but Brexit was the patriotic thing to do, wasn’t it? We had to get away from being ruled by those terrible unelected Eurocrats.

But there never were any unelected Eurocrats forcing us into anything – that was a lie. And it isn’t patriotic to lead your country into a no-win situation.

More than 130,000 UK firms will be forced to pay VAT upfront for the first time on all goods imported from the European Union after Brexit, under controversial legislation to be considered by MPs on Monday.

The VAT changes spelled out in the taxation (cross-border trade) bill – one of a string of Brexit laws passing through parliament – are causing uproar among UK business groups, which say that they will create acute cashflow problems and huge additional bureaucracy.

Labour and Tory MPs and peers said that the only way to avoid the VAT Brexit penalty would be to stay in the customs union or negotiate to remain in the EU-VAT area.

The Labour MP and former minister Chris Leslie said that the VAT hit to firms was “yet another aspect of Brexit that the Leave campaign failed to inform the public about”. He added that he would be tabling urgent amendments to ensure the UK remained in the EU VAT area – a move that would enrage pro-Brexit MPs.

UK companies that import machine parts or goods ready for sale from the EU can currently register with HMRC to bring them into the UK free of VAT. They register the VAT charge and reclaim it later, all as a paper exercise. VAT is added to the price of the product whenever it is sold to the final customer.

Without a VAT deal with Brussels, importers will have to pay the VAT upfront in cash and then recover the money later, creating a huge outflow of funds before they can be recouped.

Source: UK companies will face huge new VAT burden after Brexit | Politics | The Guardian


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Yes, Iain Duncan Smith – Vox Political HAS accused you of ‘outrageous action’. PROVE US WRONG

Iain Duncan Smith can’t prove us wrong. He deliberately refuses to collect the statistics that would confirm his claims – or ours.

Instead, he has claimed that This Blog (and presumably others) has accused him of “outrageous action”, without providing a scrap of evidence against the allegation.

This Writer is delighted that the Gentleman Ranker has tried to defend himself. I am currently working on a book covering this subject and his words may provide an excellent introduction.

The man we like to call RTU (Return To Unit – a Forces description of someone who trained to be an officer but was a washout) was responding to a request for information from Frank Field, chairman of the Commons work and pensions committee.

Mr Field had asked what data the DWP collects on the deaths of benefit claimants, in an attempt to find out whether there is any link between the work capability assessment (WCA) – carried out on claimants of Employment and Support Allowance and the Personal Independent Payment – and suicide, self-harm and mental ill-health.

The issue had been raised in research by Oxford University and Liverpool University entitled First Do No Harm.

This Blog reported on that document’s findings here – and you would be well-advised to refresh your memory of that article before you see the Secretary-in-a-State’s comments.

You should also read Vox Political‘s follow-up article in which a response from the Department for Work and Pensions – attempting to deny the research findings – is comprehensively disproved.

Iain Duncan Smith started writing his letter without a leg to stand on. Here it is – read it for yourself and see if you have any sympathy for his attitude.

Note that he admits the DWP has a “duty of care” to benefit claimants. It has taken years to get him to admit this and it will be very important if – for example – corporate manslaughter charges arise in the future.

Where he says the report’s authors admitted there was no evidence of a “causal link” between the WCA and suicide, he is of course being disingenuous. Iain Duncan Smith would not be satisfied with any evidence other than coroners’ findings that all 590 suicides mentioned by the report were attributed by the perpetrators to the work capability assessment. That was never going to happen.

But the report did examine other causes and eliminated them. While it states there is no direct evidence of a causal link between the WCA and suicide, the deaths certainly aren’t linked to any other cause.

Note also, Duncan Smith’s claim that the lack of a causal link was not reported in the media is not true.

The comment that there is no evidence the people with mental health problems underwent a WCA is covered in This Blog’s follow-up article, but for clarity I’ll repeat it here:

“Jonathan Portes of the National Institute for Economic and Social Research (NIESR) told This Writer that… the DWP’s response ‘reflects a basic misunderstanding of how you do this sort of analysis! Looking at WCA cases would be precisely wrong. You need to be able to control for selection – to do that here, [you] need to look at [the] whole population.

“’Let’s try [an] example. Does Coke make you fat? You can’t just look at people who drink coke & ask if they’re fatter, but if in areas where Coke [is]cheap, [and] people [are] on average fatter, *controlling for everything else*, that does tell you something.’

“So, in order to ensure that the correct cause is ascribed to any particular effect, those who carried out the study had to examine the health of the population as a whole, and eliminate elements that could relate to everybody, rather than just those who took the work capability assessment. They needed to rule out “unobserved confounding” – unseen elements contributing to the results.”

And that is precisely what they did.

Duncan Smith’s assertion that being sent back to work can “promote and protect health, and also reverse the harmful effects of long-term unemployment or prolonged sickness absence” is only accurate if the person doing the work is healthy enough for it – and, by definition, may not be applied to those whose mental ill-health has driven them to suicide.

Inaccurate WCA findings that claimants are “fit for work” or may be “fit for work” within a year of their assessment also mean that many ESA claimants will be sent back into the job market before they are healthy enough. In these cases, there can only be one result: Being sent back to work will make their health worse.

Of course it will; there is a reason they stopped working and claimed ESA in the first place. If that reason still applies, then sending them back to work can only have one result.

Anyone wanting to suggest that a large number of ESA claimants are committing fraud in order to avoid work should remind themselves of the facts: While a TUC survey has shown people think 27 per cent of the ‘welfare’ budget is claimed fraudulently, the government’s own figure is just 0.7 per cent. For ESA claimants it reduces even further, to 0.4 per cent. That’s one person out of 250, rather than roughly one in four – a big difference, especially when one considers the effect on their health of sending an ill person back to work prematurely, as Iain Duncan Smith appears to be advocating.

And then there is this:

160211IDSnote-outrageousaction

The handwriting is appalling so This Writer will try to translate: “NB: There are some out there in the media and social media who have used raw figures to accuse the govt of outrageous [sic] action. I would hope that the committee would not seek to follow suit. I note that having introduced the ESA and the WCA, the Labour Party now seeks to attack it as though they had nothing to do with it. Surely the committee should seek to recognise the good intent of those engaged in this difficult area.”

Those engaged in this area have no good intent whatsoever – let’s get that clear from the start. Their intentions are well-covered in previous articles on This Blog, which I will forward to Frank Field and his committee.

As for “some out there in the media and social media who… accuse the government of outrageous action” – I think he means me.

How nice to have official recognition and how clever of him to describe his own behaviour accurately.

Outrageous action? That’s exactly right.

Iain Duncan Smith’s department practises ‘chequebook euthanasia’ – WCA assessors use psychological ‘nudge’ techniques to push the mentally-ill towards suicide in order to reduce the “burden” on society caused by these “useless eaters”.

Even Frank Field – chairman of the work and pensions committee who contacted Iain Duncan Smith over the Oxford University and Liverpool University allegations – has raised concerns about this behaviour:

zTerminal

It is outrageous.

Even more outrageous is the fact that Iain Duncan Smith is trying to deny it.

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The work capability assessment and suicide – a.k.a. ‘chequebook euthanasia’

Too ill to work means too ill to live: Work capability assessors have been asking people with serious illnesses and disabilities why they have not committed suicide.

Too ill to work means too ill to live: Work capability assessors have been asking people with serious illnesses and disabilities why they have not committed suicide.

A new phrase has entered the Vox Political lexicon following yesterday’s article on an Atos work capability assessor who asked a woman suffering with depression why she had not committed suicide: ‘Chequebook euthanasia’.

(That article had itself been prompted by a piece the day before, on the higher possibility of people committing suicide over the Christmas period.)

The article prompted Earl Appleby to tweet, in response: “Little surprise here, alas. The able-bodied driving people with disabilities to suicide is a hoary form of chequebook euthanasia.”

He added: “Binding & Hoche advocated chequebook euthanasia nearly a century ago.”

They certainly did. Professors Karl Binding and Erich Hoche raised the case for chequebook euthanasia in Germany’s Weimar Republic, 80 years ago, in their seminal work The Destruction of Life Devoid of Value.

This article reveals the worst about Binding and Hoche. It states that they considered people with disabilities (and would probably have added those with long-term illnesses) to be “‘useless eaters’ whose ‘ballast lives’ could be tossed overboard to better balance the economic ship of state. In speaking of those with disabilities, and explicitly advocating involuntary euthanasia, Binding and Hoche wrote:

Their life is absolutely pointless, but they do not regard it as being unbearable. They are a terrible, heavy burden upon their relatives and society as a whole. Their death would not create even the smallest gap—except perhaps in the feelings of their mothers or loyal nurses.

“Just like today!

Furthermore, Binding and Hoche drove home the economic argument by calculating the total cost expended in caring for such people. They concluded that this cost was ‘a massive capital in the form of foodstuffs, clothing and heating, which is being subtracted from the national product for entirely unproductive purposes.’

Now look at the case of Abi Fallows, as reported yesterday. This is a person who has asserted that she is unable to work – certainly for the foreseeable future – and has medical evidence to support this. The Atos assessor seized on her admission that she suffered with depression and asked why she had not committed suicide.

Not only was this a device to put the idea in her mind, it also indicates government thinking – one less mouth to feed is considerably less expense on, as Binding and Hoche would have it, “their relatives and society as a whole”.

It should be noted at this time that Ms Fallows’ case is not unique – by any stretch of the imagination. Vox Political has a tiny readership, compared with the size of the UK population, let alone the world (this blog is read in all but a few countries internationally) and yet within 15 minutes of the article’s publication, a commenter named Dominique stated: “They asked me too at my assessment.”

Caroline Hudson told the 4UP Politricks Facebook page: “I got asked that at my assessment. In fact she told me I had been looking for attention and had not meant to kill myself otherwise I would not still be here.”

Fellow blogger Jayne Linney told us: “I was asked the same question by Capita as well as ATOS. I wonder if it’s in the DWP ‘Script’?” [bolding mine]

‘Mary’ added: “I think it’s the system. They are told what questions to ask and what boxes to tick.”

“It’s the system”…

Following up on Earl Appleby’s tweet, Trevor Warner added: “It was Binding & Hoche who laid the groundwork for the ‘Aktion T-4’ program implemented by the Nazis.” T4, according to our old friend Wikipedia, was “a programme of forced euthanasia in wartime Nazi Germany. Under the programme physicians were directed to judge patients ‘incurably sick, by critical medical examination,’ and then administer to these patients a ‘mercy death’.” In this way, 70,273 people were despatched during the programme’s official running time, with a further 200,000+ unofficial deaths attributed to German and Austrian physicians practices who continued its practices until the defeat of the Nazis in 1945.

Technology developed for Aktion T4 went on to be used in the infamous extermination camps.

It could be argued that the Coalition Government doesn’t have any blood on its hands. Nobody goes around the United Kingdom subjecting the sick and disabled to so-called ‘mercy’ killings, after all.

They just subject people – who are already in an unstable frame of mind – to a highly pressurised ‘fitness’ test and then demand to know why, considering their condition, they haven’t killed themselves yet. Then they let those people do all the work themselves.

Perhaps the government ministers who devised this wheeze – or perhaps the shadowy American insurance firm that has been advising them on policy – thought it was an excellent way of clearing the books without anyone ever being able to say they were responsible for the deaths.

Well, you know what?

There is a list including around 70 people who have died since the Coalition government came into office, many of whom committed suicide – after taking the Coalition Government’s work capability assessment.

What’s the law on corporate manslaughter, again?

“An organisation… is guilty of an offence if the way in which its activities are managed or organised causes a person’s death; and amounts to a gross breach of a relevant duty of care owed by the organisation to the deceased. An organisation is guilty of an offence only if the way in which its activities are managed or organised by its senior management is a substantial element.”

The noose is beginning to tighten – and not on benefit claimants.

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‘It is cheaper to help people die rather than support them to live’

Lord Carey: He may be demonstrating the amount of thought he has given to what unscrupulous people will do with his "change of heart".

Lord Carey: He may be demonstrating the amount of thought he has given to what unscrupulous people will do with his “change of heart”.

A “change of heart” by a former Archbishop of Canterbury over ‘assisted dying’ has dismayed at least one campaigner for the rights of people with disabilities.

Mo Stewart has been researching and reporting what she describes as the “atrocities” against the chronically sick and disabled in the UK for the last four years. She said Lord Carey’s decision to support legislation that would make it legal for people in England and Wales to receive help to end their lives would “play right into the hands of this very, very dangerous government”.

Justifying his change of position, Lord Carey said: “Today we face a central paradox. In strictly observing the sanctity of life, the Church could now actually be promoting anguish and pain, the very opposite of a Christian message of hope.

“The old philosophical certainties have collapsed in the face of the reality of needless suffering.”

The Assisted Dying Bill, tabled by Labour’s Lord Falconer, would apply to people with less than six months to live. Two doctors would have to independently confirm the patient was terminally ill and had reached their own, informed decision to die.

But Mo Stewart warned that the proposed legislation, to be debated in the House of Lords on Friday, would be subject to ‘function creep’, with unscrupulous authorities taking advantage of people with depression in order to relieve themselves of the financial burden of paying for their care.

“If this law is granted, what will be deemed a possibility for the few will, very quickly I fear, become the expected for the many,” she wrote in a letter to Lord Carey which she has kindly provided to Vox Political.

“It’s cheaper to help people to die rather than support them to live.

“There is a catalogue of evidence demonstrating that, in those countries where assisted dying is permitted, very often those taking their own lives are suffering from a clinical depression and leave our world to resist the perception that they are a burden to loved ones.

“I am stunned that you would use your voice to try to permit this to happen in the UK.”

She pointed out that medicine is an inexact science and policy changes such as this could have an enormous detrimental impact: “My own webmaster, who is now desperately ill with possibly only weeks to live, was advised he had less than six months to live over four years ago.

“Until very recently, he still enjoyed a high quality of life with his wife, family and friends; a life that could have been removed four years ago” had the Assisted Dying Bill been law at that time.

“What this debate is demonstrating is the failure of guaranteed high quality palliative care in the UK, that makes those with a life-limiting diagnosis feel that self termination is a reasonable solution,” she warned.

“If palliative care was at the peak of quality and access then there would be no need to ever consider such a Bill for this country, as those who wish to access self termination are usually living in fear of the possible physical suffering they may need to endure. This is a highway to clinical depression when quality of life is deemed to have disappeared with diagnosis.”

The current Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, has described the Bill as “mistaken and dangerous” and Mo said she believed he had explained the dangers well.

He said: “This is not scaremongering. I know of health professionals who are already concerned by the ways in which their clients have suggestions ‘to go to Switzerland’ whispered in their ears by relatives weary of caring for them and exasperated by seeing their inheritances dwindle through care costs.

“I have received letters from both disabled individuals and their carers, deeply concerned by the pressure that Lord Falconer’s bill could put them under if it became law.”

Mo Stewart’s letter concludes: “In the real world, this Bill – if passed – would, I have no doubt, lead to abuses where some were actively persuaded to self terminate for the convenience, and possibly the inheritance, of others.

“It’s really not a very long way away from an assisted dying bill to an assisted suicide bill.”

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My St George’s Day bid to kill the ESA/WCA ‘dragon’

Confrontation: Let's hope the FoI tribunal ends as well for Vox Political as his encounter with the dragon did for St George. [Image: bradfordschools.net]

Confrontation: Let’s hope the FoI tribunal ends as well for Vox Political as his encounter with the dragon did for St George. [Image: bradfordschools.net]

Vox Political is going to court.

A tribunal on April 23 – St George’s Day – will hear my appeal against the Information Commissioner’s (and the DWP’s) decision to refuse my Freedom of Information request for details of the number of people who died while claiming Incapacity Benefit or ESA during 2012.

The aim is to find out how many people died while going through the claim process, which is extremely stressful for people who are – by definition – ill or disabled; and also to find out how many have died after being put in the work-related activity group of Employment and Support Allowance claimants, as these are people who should be well enough to work within a year of their claim starting.

The Department for Work and Pensions has guarded these figures jealously, ever since an ‘ad hoc’ statistical release in 2012 revealed that, every week, an average of 73 people in the above two categories were dying.

According to the rules of the process, these were people who should not have come to the end of their lives while going through it. Clearly, something had been going wrong.

The DWP has strenuously denied this, and has made great efforts to promote its claim that it has improved the process.

But when at least two individuals asked for an update to the ‘ad hoc’ release at the end of 2012, all they received in return was delay and denial.

That’s what prompted me to make a very public FoI request in mid-2013. I published it on the blog and suggested that readers who felt the same way should follow my example.

The DWP claimed that this meant I had co-ordinated a campaign of harassment against it, and answering all the requests it received would create a severe burden on its already-taxed resources. It refused my request, claiming that it was “vexatious”.

In its own words, the DWP is an extremely-large, customer-facing government department with 104,000 employees. It is claiming that it received 23 requests that were similar or identical to mine in the period after my blog post – but I have not seen these and it is possible that this is inaccurate.

Severe burden? Campaign of harassment? It doesn’t seem realistic, does it?

I reckon I have a good chance of winning this – which brings me to the next issue: Winning is only part of this battle.

It won’t mean a thing if nobody hears about it.

Vox Political is a small blog. Agreed, some articles have been read by more than 100,000 people (presumably not all DWP employees) and hundreds of thousands more will have heard of them – but these are rare, and there are more than 60 million people in the United Kingdom.

If I win, I’m going to need help to get the information out to the public. I can’t rely on the mainstream media because they tend to support the government and may suppress the information. Having said that, I do intend to put out press releases and give them the opportunity to do the right thing.

But I also want to hear from people on the social media who want to help get this information out – either on blogs, organisations’ websites, personal websites, Facebook pages and Twitter feeds. It doesn’t matter how many people follow you; if you want to help, please get in touch.

Please also feel free to suggest people or places that might help if contacted.

Reply using the ‘Comment’ box at the bottom of the article. I won’t publish your details but will use them to create a list of participants.

When I receive a verdict from the tribunal, I’ll put out an announcement and we’ll have to see how much noise we can make.

This is a chance for the social media to show what they can do.

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Is anyone stupid enough to fall for this Tory tax bribe?

131001cameronspeech

So David Cameron wants us to believe further public spending cuts will be used to ease the tax burden on the proles, does he?

He must think you’re stupid. Are you?

Exactly one month ago (February 5), the Institute of Fiscal Studies reported that Cameron’s Coalition government will be less than halfway through its planned spending cuts by the end of the current financial year, as Vox Political reported at the time.

These are the cuts that the government considers vital in order to bring the nation’s bank account back into some kind of balance in the near future.

If Cameron abandons the “long-term economic plan” his Tories have been touting for the last few months, in a bid to bring voters back on-side, it means he will want to make even more cuts if he is returned to office in 2015.

We can therefore draw only two possibilities from his claim:

There will be no tax cuts; he is lying, in the same way he lied about keeping the NHS safe from private companies – the same way Jeremy Hunt has lied about your medical records being kept away from companies who will use them to raise your health insurance premiums, and the same way that Iain Duncan Smith has been hiding the true extent of the deaths caused by the Atos- (sorry, OH Assist-) run work capability assessments.

He will make a few tax cuts (probably in the March budget) but any benefit will be clawed back as soon as the Tories have secured your votes and won another term; the only people they want to help are rich – and you don’t qualify.

According to yesterday’s (March 4) BBC report, “every efficiency” found could help provide a “bit of extra cash” for households.

But we already know from the BBC’s article about the IFS that “additional spending, population growth and extra demands on the NHS meant more cuts were needed”.

Cameron even contradicted himself in his speech! At one point he said, “Every bit of government waste we can cut… is money we can give back to you.” Then he went on to add: “If we don’t get to grips with the deficit now, we are passing a greater and greater burden of debt to our children.”

Which are you going to do, David? Give money back to the people in tax cuts or tackle the deficit? If you want to achieve your goals within the time limit you have set yourself, you can’t do both!

Not that deadlines mean anything to him, of course. As noted in the earlier Vox Political article, it is more likely that the Conservatives have been working to give themselves an excuse for more cuts, rather than to restore the economy and balance the books.

And if he does cut taxes, what public services will we lose forever as a result?

Think about it.

Don’t let this liar make a fool out of you.

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Who’s ashamed of the big bad ‘B’ word?

Who should be more ashamed that Peter Lumb (left) has been summonsed because he is unemployed and does not have the cash to pay his council tax bill? Mr Lumb himself? Or George Osborne (right) for creating a system in which people like Mr Lumb are thrown away by indifferent employers?

Who should be more ashamed that Peter Lumb (left) has been summonsed because he is unemployed and does not have the cash to pay his council tax bill? Mr Lumb himself? Or George Osborne (right) for creating a system in which people like Mr Lumb are thrown away by indifferent employers?

“Why are you ashamed of being on benefits?”

One of our commenters asked this of another after they admitted that being on benefits made them feel ashamed. It took me completely by surprise as at first I thought it was aimed at me. Then it occurred that it might have been a general question aimed at anybody on benefits. Only then did I see that it was a response to someone else who had said as much.

In the period between reading the comment and realising what it was about, my mind went through several different thought processes which, in the spirit of Douglas Adams, we may call the Why, How and Who phases. The first could be characterised by the question, ‘Why should I feel ashamed?’; the second by the question, ‘How could shame be an appropriate response?’; and the third by the question, ‘Who should feel ashamed?’

Let’s look at the first. I’m on a benefit; I receive Carers’ Allowance. I feel no shame whatsoever for being in receipt of it. Here’s why:

I quit my last (full-time) news reporting job in mid-2007 to become a full-time carer for Mrs Mike. As everyone reading this probably knows by now, Mrs M has been in a great deal of pain for a great deal of time, and her condition has been worsening. In 2007 the government of the day acknowledged this by putting her on Disability Living Allowance (she was already on Incapacity Benefit), and this meant that I could get the allowance if I was looking after her for more than 35 hours a week. I jumped at the opportunity.

Yes – it was an opportunity. You see, conditions at work had been worsening of late. For the hours I was being asked to work, my pay packet had been decreasing, in real terms, year-on-year. Recently the company had decided to move the office where I worked to the far edge of the patch I covered, forcing me to drive 82 miles there and back, every day. I was tired, I felt misused, and I was starting to go into debt.  Swap this for benefits? For me, it wasn’t a decision at all.

Note carefully: My decision to go on benefits made me better-off (I’m not in debt any more) – not because benefits habitually pay more than wages, but because my (former) bosses had been pushing my wages down, in real terms, beyond the point at which I could make ends meet. It was their decision to do so that meant I could not balance my books; it was their decision to move the office that meant I was spending hours every day in transit when I could have been doing something else; it was the same decision that meant I knew I would not be able to cover the patch as well as I wanted to.

I could have made a case for constructive dismissal. This seemed a much more amicable way out.

I don’t think my situation is unusual. Across the UK, millions of employees are probably in the same situation now – or one that is worse. The problem does not lie with them but with their bosses. If any of them had to give up their job for similar reasons, there would be no cause for shame (in my opinion).

The other reason I don’t feel any shame about being on benefits is that I haven’t made that the sum total of my life. I carry out my caring duties diligently – and have gone head-to-head against the Department for Work and Pensions in the course of those duties, as has been reported here many times.

But I am allowed to do other things as well, provided that my earnings do not exceed a certain amount per week. That’s why I was able to work for an internet news service earlier this year (until their funding for me ran out). That’s why I’ve published one Vox Political book already*, with two more on the way.

These are all legitimate – and in fact if the books started bringing in a larger income – enough to support us – I would be overjoyed at the chance to get off-benefit and provide Mrs M with a better quality of life.

What I’m saying is that being on benefits should not put an end to anybody’s ambitions. You might be supported by the state’s (extremely threadbare and fragile, thanks to Lord Fraud’s and Iain Duncan Smith’s interference) safety net, but that doesn’t mean you can’t keep working for what you want to do.

This leads me to the answer I found for the second question, ‘How could shame be an appropriate response?’ The only reason a person on benefits should be ashamed of it is if they are not doing everything they can to get back on track – getting into the career they want and earning a living wage from it.

A wiser man once said that the way forward is dedication. If you are able-bodied and you have an ambition to be… I don’t know… a writer, it’s not going to happen straight away – so get a job frying fish down at the local chip shop if that’s what it takes to pay the bills, or go on benefits if there aren’t even menial jobs around, but make sure you spend all your spare time putting in the effort to get that first writing gig, whether it’s journalism, scripting comics, writing gags for radio or TV comedy shows, scripting full-length shows, staging plays on an amateur level with a view to progressing into professional theatre – whatever. The possibilities are endless and anyone who wants to make a living from pounding keyboards will need to try the lot.

And there’s no shame in working for employers who have different beliefs – political, moral, whatever – than yourself. If their dollar is good, then it’s all good experience and (if you are a writer) possible grist for the mill one day. That’s one reason I saw nothing badly wrong with Mehdi Hasan’s application to work for the Daily Mail.

The shame would lie in giving up; turning away from your ambitions and accepting society’s current label for a benefit claimant – being a scrounger. Being a skiver. Being a burden on society. Or never bothering to try in the first place.

So, finally, ‘Who should feel ashamed?’ Not me. Not anybody who has been dropped by their employer because of the downturn, nor anybody who has been trying hard to climb back onto the employment ladder. Especially not those who have been trying so hard, and for so long, that they have suffered mental health problems as a result.

Some people claiming benefits do have a legitimate reason to be ashamed of it. They are the people who are ‘playing’ the system; the benefit fraudsters, the ones who could do better but can’t be bothered, the ones who pretend they are ill when they aren’t.

They total seven people in every thousand benefit claimants. They are a tiny, tiny minority. But they’re not the only ones who should be ashamed.

It seems to me that a far larger portion of shame lies with employers who deliberately push workforce wages downwards, in order to improve their own salaries (and in some cases, shareholder profits – look out, Royal Mail employees). It lies with employers who treat their people as disposable commodities, rather than assets to be nurtured.

And it also lies with governments, past and present, that allowed these practices to go on – and in fact failed to legislate against them; and with politicians who have worked for the advantage of Big Money, rather than that of the Little People who create it.

That’s where the real shame lies.

Not with folk like you and me who’ve got patches on every pair of trousers they own.

But with the people in the expensive suits.

* Vox Political: Strong Words and Hard Times may be bought here, here, here, here and here, costing £9.99 or £4 – depending on the format in which you wish to receive it.

Coalition: Put your own house in order before you patronise foreigners about disability

Lynne Featherstone: Her speech may have been well-intentioned, but was also patronising and hypocritical in the light of the Coalition's treatment of disabled people in the UK.

Lynne Featherstone: Her speech may have been well-intentioned, but was also patronising and hypocritical in the light of the Coalition’s treatment of disabled people in the UK.

Today the Coalition government announced it is showing the developing world how to treat people with disabilities (don’t laugh) – by ensuring that schools built with direct UK funding will have easy access for the disabled.

According to a government press release, Liberal Democrat International Development Minister Lynne Featherstone used the High Level Meeting on Development and Disability at the United Nations in New York – the biggest disability rights meeting in five years – to call on the international community to tackle the ‘great neglect’ of a billion people globally who face unequal access to education, employment, healthcare, social support and justice as a result of disability.

Did her speech make any mention of the ‘great neglect’ of people in her own country who face discrimination on exactly the same grounds, caused by her government?

“Those living with a disability are disproportionately some of the poorest and most marginalised people in the world – part of an unseen great neglect,” she told the meeting. “It is telling that of the 57 million children currently out of school in the world today, over a third have a disability.

“As a global community, we have a duty to safeguard the most vulnerable. If developing countries are to move forward into prosperity and greater self-reliance, they must take everyone on the journey.

“That’s why from this day forward, all schools built with the direct support of British taxpayers will be designed to allow disability access.

“With the ongoing discussion of what development should focus on when the Millennium Development Goals expire in 2015, we have a once-in-a-generation chance to finally put disability on the agenda.”

Leaders of developing countries would have been justified in looking askance at the British minister while she was making this speech, with her hypocrisy on display for everybody to see.

They would be right to ask themselves: “Is this not a minister from a country that demonises its disabled people? That treats them as a burden on the community? That is trying to purge its society of them?

“Did her government not drive 73 disabled people per week to suicide or death through the exacerbation of their health problems – both brought on by cuts to state benefits and the threat of destitution – during 2011? And is her government not now refusing to provide up-to-date figures on the deaths its policies have caused?

“Does this not mean that deaths of disabled people caused – directly or indirectly – by UK government policies have increased dramatically during this time period, and the same government is trying to cover up the fact?”

It is notable that the government’s announcement landed on the same day that disability activist Samuel Miller received the following correspondence from the office of the UN’s special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights:

“On behalf of the Special Rapporteur, thank you very much for your communications… Ms Sepulveda is observing very closely the situation with the UK welfare policies and their effects on persons living in poverty, including persons with disability.

“She is doing her best within the limits of her mandate to address such situations not only in the UK but globally through direct engagement with Governments.

“She would like to commend you for your tireless efforts and wishes you all the best in your endeavours.”

In the light of all this, would leaders of developing countries not be right, while thanking the UK government for its well-intentioned offer, to ask why Ms Featherstone feels justified in talking down to them about the disabled when her government refuses to allow those in its own country an opportunity to live with dignity.