That’s right – the Citizens Advice Bureau has come under attack from the right-wing Guido Fawkesblog, which is trying to create a story about a haven of “Labour apparatchiks”, operating a politicised agenda behind a mask of neutrality. The email extract above is being presented as justification.
What utter codswallop!
The claim is that the charity, which helps people resolve their legal, money and other problems by providing free, independent and confidential advice, pushes a left-wing or Labour-supporting agenda because it is “stuffed full” of Labour members like “former Miliband aide and Labour candidate Polly Billington”.
In fact, a quick glance through the very email being waved around as evidence is enough to prove the opposite. It leaves no doubt that Ms Billington is leaving her role in Citizens Advice precisely because she knows that taking up her political activities would create a conflict of interest if she were to remain. It’s there in black and white.
The email states: “Polly and I have been thinking carefully about how to make sure this is a smooth transition, so that the campaigns and communications teams are fully supported… and both THE REALITY and perception of our political neutrality are maintained” [boldings and CAPS mine].
That’s right – the intention is to maintain THE REALITY of the charity’s political neutrality.
How did Guido report it? She “has been moved from the front line … so that the ‘perception of our political neutrality’ is ‘maintained’. This is an extremely clumsy misinterpretation because, as noted above, the email refers very clearly to THE REALITY of the charity’s political neutrality.
Indeed, the CAB Code of Conduct prohibits any politicisation of the kind suggested by Guido: “Trustees and committee members must comply with… the avoidance of activities which might compromise Citizens Advice’s political neutrality.”
So where Guido‘s article continues: “Meanwhile, the charity has just hired the Resolution Foundation’s James Plunkett as its new head of campaigns. That would be the same James Plunkett who used to work for Gordon Brown and who has written a string of articles for the Guardian laying into the Tories and “the cuts”. Wonder how they will maintain his ‘perception of political neutrality’,” again it is spouting nonsense. He will be tied into political neutrality by the same code of conduct that ties everybody else in positions of authority, including members of CAB trustee boards across the United Kingdom who may be supporters of the Conservative, Labour, Green or any other party in their personal life, including this writer.
Since the article is clearly trying to suggest the CAB’s political neutrality is only a front, it seems clear that CAB has every right to sue Guido into oblivion – or at least seek compensation for the intended damage to the charity’s reputation.
This seems like another attempt to claim left-wing political bias that isn’t there, in order to install exactly the same kind of sympathy towards the right-wing parties instead – for an example of this strategy, look at the BBC.
Who do you bank with? This piece of public opinion was picked up from Twitter [Author: Unknown].
Isn’t it a shame that on of our national Sunday newspapers has chosen to disrupt everybody’s enjoyment of our Easter eggs with a specious attempt to expose abuses of food banks and make operator the Trussell Trust look hypocritical?
Isn’t it also a shame that the Mail on Sunday didn’t make a few inquiries into the procedure for dealing with people who turn up at food banks without having been referred?
The paper’s reporters and editor could have, at least, opened a dictionary and looked up the meaning of the word “charity”.
Unfortunately for reporters Simon Murphy and Sanchez Manning, both situations are – in fact – allowed, because food banks must be flexible in the way they deal with individual cases. They would have known that if they had done their homework – as yr obdt srvt (who’s writing this) did at several meetings on the organisation of food banks here in Powys.
The paper’s investigation claims that there were “inadequate checks on who claims the vouchers, after a reporter obtained three days’ worth of food simply by telling staff at a Citizens Advice Bureau – without any proof – that he was unemployed”.
It turned out that this person had to fill out a form providing his name, address, date of birth, phone number and the reason for his visit before an assessor asked him why he needed food bank vouchers. In contradiction of the introduction to the story, he explained – not simply that he was unemployed, but that he had been out of work for several months and the harsh winter had left him strapped for cash and food. He said his wife had left her job and was not earning and that they had two children. These lies were sufficient to win food bank vouchers.
What the report didn’t say was how the details given by reporter Ross Slater would have been used afterwards. The CAB would have booked him in for a further interview with a debt advisor, to which he would have had to bring documentary evidence of his situation. When he didn’t turn up, he would have been identified as a fraud. The food bank would also have taken his details, to be fed back into the referral system. Job Centre Plus would have picked up on the fact that he isn’t unemployed. From this point on, he would have been identified as a fraud and refused further service.
You see, it is true that food banks run on a voucher system, but that is only a part of the scheme. The questions asked of people who need vouchers are used to ensure that they get the help they need to avoid having to come back – that’s why they’re asked. They also weed out abusers like Mr Slater.
If the paper’s editor had looked in a dictionary, he might have seen charity defined as “voluntary provision of help to people in need, or the help provided” in the first instance. However, reading further, he would have seen “sympathy or tolerance in judging” listed as well. It seems the Mail on Sunday would have no such sympathy and would have deserving cases turned away to starve.
It is telling, also, that the paper had to go to Citizens Advice to get its evidence. Far more food bank vouchers are handed out in the Job Centre Plus, where all a citizen’s circumstances are available to advisors. But not one word is said about the fact that the vast majority of food bank referrals are for people in real need and not newspaper reporters.
The paper also stated: “Staff at one centre gave food parcels to a woman who had visited nine times in just four months, despite that particular centre’s own rules stipulating that individuals should claim no more than three parcels a year.”
It continued: “Individuals experiencing severe financial hardship are able to claim food vouchers but there are no clear criteria on who should be eligible. Once received, the vouchers can be exchanged for three days’ worth of food at an allotted centre.
“The Trussell Trust has a policy that an individual can claim no more than nine handouts in a year, but undercover reporters found this limit varied in different branches.”
No – it is far more likely that it varied according to the circumstances of the person who needed the help. Rigid rules, such as one that limits people to only three visits, mean those who need the most help would be cut off while they still needed assistance. People working in food banks would be aware of who these were, and would be more likely to be tolerant towards them.
Meanwhile, the other support services – Job Centre Plus, Citizens Advice, Social Services and so on – would be working to help them. With some people, it simply takes longer. It should be easy for anyone to think of reasons why this may be the case.
This may also explain the situation in which a worker at a Trussell Trust food bank said people “bounce around” locations to receive more vouchers. The assessment system is a way of monitoring these people and determining whether they need extra help.
It is not true that the criteria are not clear – the paper is misleading with this claim. Food banks, the charities running them, and referring organisations all have to agree on the circumstances in which they permit people to receive parcels. You really can’t just walk in the door and expect to get a free handout. That’s why the questions are asked and forms filled out – they will check up on everybody.
Another claim – that “volunteers revealed that increased awareness of food banks is driving a rise in their use” is unsubstantiated, and is clearly an attempt to support the government’s claim that this is the case. But it is silly. Of course starving people will go to a food bank after they have been told it exists; that doesn’t mean they aren’t starving.
And the paper wrongly said the Trussell Trust had claimed that more than 913,000 people received three days’ emergency food from its banks in 2013-14, compared with 347,000 in the previous financial year. This is a misreading of the way the charity records its work, as the Trussell Trust records visits, not visitors. It would be hard to work out exactly how many people attended because some will have visited just once, others twice, a few for the full three times, and some would have required extra help.
The claim that many visitors were asylum-seekers is silly because food banks were originally set up for foreign people who were seeking asylum in the UK and had no money or means of support.
Of course it would be wrong to say that nobody is trying to abuse the system. There are good people and bad people all over the country, and bad people will try to cheat. Look at Maria Miller, Iain Duncan Smith (Betsygate), George Osborne (and his former paddock), Andrea Leadsom’s tax avoidance, Philip Hammond’s tax avoidance, Charlotte Leslie who took cash to ask Parliamentary questions – to name but a few.
The Trussell Trust has agreed to investigate the newspaper’s allegations – but it is important to remember that these were just a few instances of abuse, and only claimed – by a newspaper that is infamous for the poor quality of its reporting.
Nothing said in the article should be used to undermine the vital work of food banks in helping people to survive, after the Conservative-led Coalition government stole the safety net of social security away from them.
UPDATE: Already the Mail on Sunday is facing a public backlash against its ill-advised piece. A petition on the Change.org website is calling for the reporter who claimed food bank vouchers under false pretences in order to make a political point to be sacked. Vox Political has mixed feelings about this – it targets a person who was sent out to do a job by others who are more directly to blame for the piece, but then he did it of his own free will and this action brings all newspaper reporters into disrepute. Consider carefully.
How many more underhanded ways can our underhanded Coalition government find to sneak crippling damage to public services in by the back door?
A particularly vile method has just been uncovered here in my own county of Powys, involving the collusion of councillors who are supposed to be independent (but you will see that their political colours are more blue than anything else).
The Coalition government has cut back its Aggregate External Grant to local authorities for next year – its subsidy to councils – by many millions of pounds. This means that councils need to cut huge sums of money from their budgets if they are to balance their books. In Powys, the total that must go is £20 million – around one-eleventh of the total budget.
The council launched a public consultation, asking residents for their views on which services should be cut and giving (in the broadest possible terms) examples of areas that could be changed. The total amount to be saved if constituents agreed to all the cuts was £16 million, with the rest to be taken from reserves – so there was no way to balance the books without making all the cuts listed in the document.
Hardly anybody was made aware of the survey in advance, and many have complained that they only found out about it after it had ended.
One of the “possible” cuts listed was to the Citizens Advice Bureau in Powys. The consultation document said all funding to advice services (£93,500 to the CAB, £36,500 to independent centres) would be cut, with alternative funding found from other budgets. This proved untrue.
As a trustee of the Powys CAB, I was told this week that the county council has no other budget that could be used, and that the intention is to cut the money no matter what the public consultation shows.
This means citizens advice services in Powys would be wiped out from the beginning of April.
You might think that’s not the end of the world. After all, who takes advantage of the services provided by this charity anyway – a few people with benefit problems and a few more who are in debt?
Wrong! Thousands of people go to Citizens Advice every year – and the numbers are increasing exponentially because of Tory and Liberal Democrat “savings” that were inflicted without consideration of the true cost on real people in our communities.
Not only will those seeking help with benefit entitlement and debt have nowhere to go, but those seeking advice because they are unemployed, have been unfairly dismissed, have housing concerns and the full range of advice that CAB provides through its proven quality advice will also have to struggle on their own.
There is a proven benefit to individuals’ health through the provision of advice; that’s why advice in Powys is provided through a number of GP surgeries. But that too will end, putting a greater burden on the National Health Service here in Wales (which is already under attack from the Tories in Westminster).
CAB brings millions of pounds into the county through ensuring benefit entitlement; there is also a considerable sum gained through renegotiated debts – the total comes to more than £11 million per year. This money benefits everyone in the Powys economy as it has been shown that it is generally spent locally – so there is a fiscal multiplier that can be added to it, meaning the total boost to the Powys economy could be as much as £20 million.
That’s the same amount as the county council wants to take out of the economy by cutting its budget. The total loss may therefore be said to be almost £40 million, just because a cut of less than £100,000 has been included in the council’s plans – 1/200 of the total amount of cuts.
If there is a similar knock-on effect attached to all the other cuts, the effect will be devastating.
You may think that it would be easy to seek advice elsewhere, but the nearest alternative bureaux are around 100 miles from the centre of Powys, in any direction – and they are already overburdened with their own clients.
You might think that councillors should be able to provide the necessary advice (especially considering they want to cut off the current source). Could you provide the kind of specialist expertise necessary to deal with difficult legal issues? No? Then you should not expect your councillors to manage it – they are lay people like yourself; they don’t have any training in these matters.
A petition has been launched to stop the county council from withdrawing its funding. If you are a Powys resident, I strongly urge you to sign it and ask your friends to sign as well. If you can’t be bothered, just ask yourself who will help you when the Coalition turns the screw again and you are the victim of its attack.
If you are not a Powys resident, consider this to be a warning. Is your own council planning to cut services? Will it launch a public consultation on what will go? And will that be as much a sham as the survey in Powys seems to have been?
Above all, remember: This would not be happening if not for the Coalition government’s crippling programme of austerity-driven cuts which have had almost no effect in reducing the national deficit, even though we are told that is what it is for.
With its AEG, the government controls councils’ spending. Your local authorities are being used as puppets by the Westminster government, who can then wash their hands of the whole affair by saying the decisions were made elsewhere. And for what?
The deficit has dropped by a total of seven billion pounds – from £118 billion to £111 billion – in the time George Osborne has been Chancellor of the Exchequer.
You are suffering all the pain for absolutely no gain at all.
Why are you putting up with it?
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Hero of the week: Peter Hain put the record straight about the cause of the UK’s current economic woes (bankers) and the Conservatives’ attitude to bank regulation (they wanted less of it before the crash). At long last, the facts came out on a national media outlet!
There are a lot of potential topics for discussion but yr obdt srvt (that’s me) is very short of time on this sunny Sunday, so today’s article is going to have to be a quick run through of Things You Need to Know.
Nice one. Shame it won’t scratch the surface of the £2 billion that has been spent by UK councils on temp accommodation since 2009 – that’s an average of £500 million per year; 250 times the puny amount Mr Prisk is offering, to alleviate problems his government has created with (for example) the Bedroom Tax.
The BBC and many others have reported that Tim Yeo has joined the growing ranks of Tory MPs involved in ‘lobbying’ scandals, alongside Patrick Mercer from last week. Unlike Mercer, the allegation does not involve taking money to raise an issue (paid advocacy) – instead it is alleged that he coached an organisation, telling representatives what to say to the Commons’ Energy and Climate Change committee. It’s still corruption, and it’s staggering that these people are being allowed to continue as MPs while investigations go on, and possibly even afterwards, if they are found guilty. Should we really have people who have been proven to be dishonest, helping to make decisions on the future of our country?
It’s just a shame that funding for the CAB (much of it from the government or statutory authorities) is declining, isn’t it? It’s almost as if somebody planned it that way, to make it even harder for poor people to get any justice. (I write as the vice-chair of a Welsh CAB so, believe me, I know my facts).
On the subject of justice, did anyone hear John Finnemore on The Now Show, laying into inJustice Secretary Chris Grayling’s ‘reform’ (there’s that word again) of the Legal Aid system that will make it impossible for anyone in that system to get justice, unless – you guessed it – they’re rich.
“Legal Aid will have a financial eligibility threshold. To be fair, this doesn’t seem like the worst idea in the world,” he said. “And I can be confident about that, because right there next to it – as if deliberately placed there for purposes of comparison – are two of the worst ideas in the world.
“One – defendants will no longer have the right to choose their own lawyer; two – legal aid contracts will be awarded on the basis of price-competitive tender, i.e. who’s cheapest, to private companies – like Tesco and Eddie Stobart. You know, the lorry guy.
“You might almost wonder whether this might affect the quality of the representation in some way but Chris Grayling, Minister of Justice and dispenser of none, assures us it will not… Even though everywhere else, the government is obsessed with getting us to choose… when it comes to poor people who’ve been arrested, suddenly Daddy knows best.
“The bargain-basement Eddie Stobart Legal Aid lawyers will be paid a flat fee, regardless of results and, best of all, regardless of whether the client pleads guilty – which is quick and cheap – or not guilty, which is not. Yes, Chris Grayling has actually created a system where privately-run Legal Aid firms have a direct financial incentive to persuade their clients to plead guilty, while simultaneously being under enormous pressure to slash costs to the bone in order to put in a tender low enough to keep the contract.
“Meanwhile, the career crims… tend to trust their regular solicitor and take their advice if they suggest they’d be better-off pleading guilty, but they’re certainly not going to take that advice from Eddie McTesco in his ‘My First Lawyer’ costume. So they’re going to start pleading not guilty to everything.
“Well done, Mr Grayling, you’ve pulled off the double – innocent people encouraged to plead guilty; guilty people to plead not guilty. What a merry, madcap world of misrule you have created, Mr Grayling, you absolute tit!”
Finally, still on the radio, did everyone hear Peter Hain on Any Questions, putting the record straight on the reasons for the economic crisis and the facts about bank regulation – two subjects about which the Conservatives have been hugely vocal in their lies for many years.
He was talking about the announcements last week by Labour’s leaders, on their future plans for welfare. He’s critical (which is a relief), but he said it would not be right to make promises about things that Labour can’t deliver.
“We can’t deliver because this economic policy of the Tory-Lib Dem government is failing on a spectacular scale,” he said. “They’re doing all these things, all these cuts, in order to bring borrowing down, the deficit down, debt down.
“What’s happening? Borrowing is £245 billion higher than they said it would be in 2010 when they began this cuts programme. The national debt is £309 billion higher – and the deficit is £78 billion higher.
“It’s because cutting and cutting and cutting is a way to putting people out of work, destroying businesses, they don’t pay taxes, you don’t get government revenues and everybody goes on benefit – that’s why this is a spectacular catastrophe and we’re going to have to rescue the country from that, and we’ve got to do it responsibly and honestly.”
Owen Paterson, the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, went on the attack with the usual rubbish about Labour overspending but didn’t get very far before Hain put him straight: “It was the banks that destroyed the economy, not the Labour government – it was the international banking system!”
Uproarious applause from the studio audience in Machynlleth (just up the road from me) where the broadcast was taking place. They – like most of the British population – had clearly been waiting years for someone to come out with that simple fact on a national media outlet: The banks caused the current economic situation, not Labour.
Let’s just repeat it: The banks caused the current economic situation, not Labour.
Anyone suggesting otherwise is just plain wrong.
Paterson riposted weakly, “Because Gordon Brown didn’t regulate them”. But Hain had his answer for that ready, as well.
“You wanted lighter regulation. Come on, remember – you wanted lighter regulation!”
And that was also true.
Paterson went further into idiocy by prattling about breaking the national credit card – the kind of stuff that we all now know is nonsense and that has been disproved irrefutably on this blog and in many other places – and about the private sector creating 1.25 million new jobs, which we know it hasn’t done, for example, because 200,000 were education jobs that the government redefined from public to private, probably in order to create another made-up statistic.
In other words, the Conservatives have no arguments for what they’re doing. No arguments about the economy. No arguments about the cuts they have been making.
I’ve met Peter Hain a couple of times, and I’ve had a few differences of opinion with him – but in this instance he was right on the button and far more effective in putting forward an argument for supporting Labour than anything Ed Miliband said in his “we’re supporting Tory policies because we think pretending to be Tories will win us votes” speech last week.
It was one of the worst speeches a Labour leader could have made, but if it prompts more Labour representatives, like Peter Hain, to stand up for the party and present a proper case for opposition to this hateful, incompetent, evil shower – the Coalition – then it might do some good in spite of itself.
An example of what the change to PIP will mean for disabled people, from the CAB blog article.
I can’t reblog the Citizens Advice Bureau article on what the change from Disability Living Allowance to Personal Independence Payment will mean for the majority of claimants, because it’s not a WordPress blog. It is extremely valuable information, though, and I advise you all to visit the site at:
I will, however, give you a taste of what to expect: “Disabled people have already taken more than their ‘fair’ share of cuts – more than any other group. Within the next few years, over 600,000 fewer disabled people will get the support they need from disability benefits and risk plunging their households into poverty as a result.”
The Nasty Parties’ (I include the Liberal Democrats now – let them all be tarred with the same brush) have voted to squeeze benefit increases to just one per cent for the next three years, after the third reading of the Benefits Uprating Bill in the House of Commons.
That Bill will now go to the House of Lords, where I sincerely hope it will receive a more intelligent examination than many Conservatives and Liberal Democrats gave it in the other place. To help them with that work, I wanted to highlight some of the issues raised by opponents to the Bill, during yesterday’s debate.
Firstly, the government is punishing people who are already hard-up for the failure of its own economic policy. As Stephen Timms said, we were promised that the policy would lead to steady growth and falling unemployment, but we got a double-dip recession, perhaps set to become triple-dip, depending on figures due this week. Unemployment is officially forecast to go up next year, so spending on unemployment benefits will go up, and borrowing will go up too.
The government’s response is to force down the incomes of those who already receive the least in order to cover the cost of its mistakes; the saving made by the Bill’s measures will be about the same as the increase in social security spending.
In April, the government will give a tax cut to everybody earning more than £150,000 per year, and for 8,000 people who earn over £1 million a year, that means a cut of around £2,000 a week. At the same time, someone receiving the adult rate of Jobseekers’ Allowance will get an extra 71p a week.
The change in the personal tax allowance will not help people in work on low incomes. Citizens Advice has pointed out that “any rise in net earnings leads to a reduction in housing benefit and council tax benefit.” In fact the improvement for people in low-income work was recorded by Helen Goodman: 13 pence per week.
Meanwhile, the average price of weekly grocery shopping has risen by 17 per cent and the energy companies have hiked up their prices by around 11 per cent.
The government lied when it said people in the support group of Employment and Support Allowance are protected – they are not. A lone parent with three children who is in the support group will lose £600 in 2015-16 because of the exponential way in which the Bill will grind down the incomes of people who are already hard-up. [CAB]
In fact the impact assessment tells us disabled households are more likely than others to be hit by the changes in the Bill.
Child poverty is set to skyrocket, thanks to the measures of the Nasty Government. The Institute for Fiscal Studies tells us that, taking account of everything that the Government announced before the autumn statement, child poverty was already set to increase by 400,000 by 2015 and 800,000 by 2020.
Although it was not mentioned in the autumn statement or the impact statement, and a question to the Minister has gone unanswered, the government has let it slip – in a statement by a different minister – that the three years of one-per-cent uprating will increase child poverty by 200,000 – on top of the increase that is already due.
That means that we are on track for one million more children below the poverty line by 2020 – reversing all the progress made during the 15 years since Labour came to power in 1997.
And that is only the figure the government has been prepared to acknowledge in relation to relative income. It has said nothing about the impact on absolute poverty, material deprivation or persistent poverty — measures to which it committed itself in the Child Poverty Act 2010.
The Children’s Society estimates that the following professions are also affected: 300,000 nurses and midwives in the NHS; 150,000 staff in primary and nursery schools; 1.14 million admin workers, secretaries and secretarial assistants; 44,000 electricians and electrical fitters; 510,000 sales assistants and cashiers; and 42,000 armed forces personnel.
“We certainly want it to be more worthwhile for people to be in work, but forcing down the incomes of those who are out of work is not the way to do it,” said Mr Timms. I have been saying that, here, for many months, and it did my heart good to see that it had been said in the House of Commons.
He said uprating should indeed be in line with inflation, as it always was in the past.
He continued: “The Bill was designed by the Chancellor to promote his party’s narrow interest.” Yes – the Conservatives are a minority-interest party. This Bill, and the tax cut for those earning more than £150,000 per year, prove it. They support the super-rich; you and I don’t get a look-in.
And he pointed out that the government did not need an Act of Parliament to restrict benefits upratings. “The Chancellor thought he could boost his party’s standing if he introduced a Bill, so we have one,” he said. Absolutely correct. The plan was to make the Labour Party, in opposing the plan, look like the party of scroungers and slobs. Instead, the Conservatives have confirmed themselves as the ‘Nasty Party’, oppressors of those who most need government help.
“Ministers still say that they are committed to eradicating child poverty,” said Mr Timms. “It says so in the coalition agreement. That commitment is clearly now fictitious. Ministers should stop pretending. They have given up on reducing child poverty. Now they are implementing policies that will force child poverty up.”
Let me draw your attention to the words of Toby Perkins, who tried to put the debate into proper context: “There is a particular irony in the Chancellor, who was a millionaire the day he was born, railing against the extravagance of those on £71 a week.”
I think I can sum up the government’s argument with the words of Charlie Elphicke, who said around five million people in the UK could work, but don’t. He said they need more of an incentive, including an economic incentive, and quoted the Chancellor, Gideon – sorry, George – Osborne: “Over the last five years, those on out-of-work benefits have seen their incomes rise twice as fast as those in work. With pay restraint in businesses and Government, average earnings have risen by about 10 per cent since 2007. Out-of-work benefits have gone up by about 20 per cent. That is not fair to working people who pay the taxes that fund them.”
In other words, he wants to shrink the state (the government’s own actions have created a hole in its finances; it wants to cut public spending to fill that hole) and he can’t do his maths. He compounded his foolishness with a well-repeated lie: “Money is tight in this country today. The reason for that is that [Labour] drove our economy off a cliff, overspending for years and displaying fiscal incontinence that was unparalleled in this country in the last century.”
That is absolutely untrue. Labour ran a lower deficit than the Conservatives throughout its years in power. The increases in the deficit and the national debt were caused by the banking crisis. Conservatives and Liberal Democrats are on record as having supported what the then-Labour government did to solve the mess that was created by high-earning bankers (about whom the current government has done nothing worth discussing). They would have done the same thing and created the same debt.
Fortunately, Ian Mearns was on hand to put Mr Elphicke right: “The hon. Member… forgot to mention that, while those on benefits have had their benefits uprated at twice the rate of those in work in percentage terms over the past five years, the actual increase in financial terms has been on average about £49 for those in work and about £12 for those on benefits.
“Percentages are meaningless; 50 per cent or 100 per cent of very little is still very little. Making comparisons in the way that he did demeans the debate.”
He added: “I think it is the ultimate insult to ordinary people’s intelligence to say that in order to incentivise those at the top end of the economy we have to pay them more, while incentivising people at the bottom end by paying them less. ‘We are all in this together’ — I don’t think.”
Lords, please take note. If any of you uses the argument about percentage increases, I sincerely hope to see others ask that person whether they will be supporting the government on the basis of something that has been proven – and is now known to the public at large – to be utter, meaningless nonsense.
I doubt many people who aren’t Liberal Democrats will have read the agenda for their conference, currently taking place in Brighton. That’s probably for the best because it includes a policy motion on disability that would leave you dizzy. They really don’t know which way they’re facing on this one.
But no worries, eh? It’s only the public who’ll suffer because of it!
The motion starts by noting that the Welfare Reform Act has been passed, including changes to Employment and Support Allowance (ESA); the introduction of Personal Independence Payments (PIPs) to replace Disability Living Allowance (DLA) – and the plan to use this to cut the benefit by 20 per cent by 2015-16 (therefore stopping people from receiving it); the feeling of exclusion from the welfare reform policy development process amongst the disabled community (hang on – the Lib Dems supported the Act; isn’t it a bit late to be moaning about how it excluded the people it was supposed to be working for?); and the conclusions of the report Reversing Recovery on the impact of the Act.
It also notes the rise in disability hate crime “as reported in a survey conducted by the disability charity Scope”, but makes no mention of the fact that this has been fuelled by inflammatory reports of so-called “scroungers” in the right-wing press.
So already they don’t know which way they’re going with this.
It goes on to welcome – welcome! – the introduction of Universal Credit. This is the benefit that will cap the amount households receive, ensuring that even people in the Support Group of ESA claimants will lose benefit if the total they get is more than an arbitrary prescribed amount. They are welcoming a change that will put more people in poverty and misery.
And it welcomes the Government’s decision to allocate an extra £15 million to the Access to Work budget, on the recommendation of Liz Sayce in her review of specialist disability employment programmes. This is the woman who had all those Remploy factories closed. She is no friend to disabled people.
Now we get really confused.
The motion asks the LD conference to state its belief that “society and government have a duty of care towards sick and disabled people and that the goals of government policy must be the empowerment of sick and disabled people in order to tackle and reduce their dependency on others and, fundamentally, to enable them to enjoy full and equal citizenship.” Empowerment? Full and equal citizenship? Read it again and boggle at the hypocrisy in the words from a party that has helped reduce the disabled to a hated and ridiculed underclass.
“Current welfare policy is failing sick and disabled people and […] the Welfare Reform Act does not do enough to remedy this situation.” Because it is the Welfare Reform Act that has created the situation! “Sick and disabled people unable to work or unable to find employment should be supported by the welfare system for as long as they are unable to work or find employment and […] mechanisms such as the current method of time limiting […] contributory ESA are counterproductive and harmful.” Nearly half of all people found “fit for work” by Atos, the company running the WCA regime for the DWP, now have NOTHING to live on. That’s no money at all. And the Lib Dems voted in favour of that.
The next bit criticises the last Labour government for relying on advice from private companies with a potential financial interest in affecting policies about the sick and disabled. It reminds me of a Biblical extract in which Jesus says that, before you can remove a mote from another person’s eye, you need to take the plank out of your own. Isn’t the current government – of which the Coalition is a part – welcoming the wholesale introduction of the private sector into all manner of public services – with open arms? Look at the privatisation of NHS services, which is kicking up a gear with the arrival of Jeremy Hunt’s red and blue lists. Look at David Cameron’s declared intent to privatise everything but the security services and the judiciary. And the Lib Dems are blaming Labour for relying on private sector advice? Get the plank out of your eyes, boys and girls. Or better still, get out of government and take the Tories with you.
The next part states: “Policies which force sick and disabled people to be dependent on others may prevent them from being able to enjoy equal citizenship and leads to exclusion from society,” – which begs the question: Why do you support such policies?
“Further action by government is required to prevent victimisation of and discrimination against sick and disabled people by employers.” This will never happen under a Conservative-led government.
Let’s move on to what they want. Some of these are in fact good ideas but the hypocrisy in the Liberal Democrats calling for them is staggering. The motion asks the LD conference to seek:
“An independent review of the impact of the Welfare Reform Act.” Isn’t it a bit late for that? Wasn’t the impact checked before the Act was passed? Are they saying the Tories lied to them about what would happen? Are they admitting they were reckless as to the effect on disabled people?
“A review of WCA assessment centres to ensure they have adequate disabled access andeasy access by public transport or that mechanisms are in place to provide home visits oralternative assessment venues.” What, because access to assessments is the main problem? It’s a practical idea, and I understand access has been an issue – unnecessarily – but again, this is something the Liberal Democrats should have considered before they allowed the stupid and vindictive legislation through. Did they actually read the Welfare Reform Bill before it became an Act of Parliament?
“The establishment of a public consultation on the assessment mechanisms for DLA, ESA and PIPs, with special emphasis on eligibility for support for those with time variant conditions.” Again, this is a good idea but its time was before the Act was passed. Even if the majority of Liberal Democrats go back on their original support for the Act, the Conservatives will never allow it to be changed. They want the disabled to live in poverty and misery.
“The results of this consultation to be used by the DWP to reform its sickness and disability policies.” This will never happen with Conservatives in charge.
“Additional support and effort to be targeted at enabling sick and disabled people to remain in work and at removing barriers of access to work through expansion of schemes such as the Access to Work Fund.” Again – this will never happen with Conservatives in charge. They want to cut another £10 billion from the benefits bill, on top of the £18 billion that is already being hacked away.
“The Government to ensure that it continues to take a balanced approach to the advice it receives, and that it prioritises the advice of organisations representing sick and disabled people.” Continues? This Coalition government has never taken a balanced approach to advice, and will never prioritise the advice of representative organisations above that of private business and its own hatchet-people. This is dangerous idealism.
“The Citizen’s Advice and non-profit-making advice services to receive increased government funding during the transitional periods for any future substantial changes to the welfare system.” As a CAB trustee, I’d like to see this happen. As a realist I know it won’t.
“The Government to examine the impact of means-testing and income-related support elements of disability welfare policy and, when funds allow, to reform policy to reduce the number of cases where sick and disabled people are made dependent on partners and carers and to ensure that, where this does happen, this does not lead to exclusion from society.” The operative phrase here is “when funds allow”. A Conservative-led government will ensure that funds are never available to allow the reforms suggested here. The programme, in case the Liberal Democrats weren’t paying attention, is about shrinking the state down to almost nothing. This is being done by ensuring that the national debt stays high, providing an excuse for cut after cut.
“A public awareness campaign to tackle prejudice and other attitudes detrimental to the well-being of sick and disabled people.” This is against Conservative Party policy and will not see the light of day in this Parliament, unless done in a half-hearted and cack-handed manner that will do more harm than good.
So what do YOU make of all that?
I think it will win loud applause in the conference chamber. The Liberal Democrat leadership will enjoy that, hoping that the media will report it as an attempt to moderate the excesses of the right-wing Tories.
But they know that it won’t achieve anything in real terms.
Like so much Liberal Democrat posturing – as part of the Coalition – it’s nothing more than words on paper and hot air.
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