Tag Archives: cost of living

Risible PMQs performance is no win for Cameron

The face is red but the heart is black: Cameron's strategy is to say one thing and do something entirely different.

The face is red but the heart is black: Cameron’s strategy is now one of false arguments and ignoring the questions put to him.

Was anybody else dismayed to see media commentator after media commentator blithely commenting that this week’s Prime Minister’s Questions was, for example, an “easy win” for David Cameron (George Eaton, New Statesman), with Guardian political correspondent Andrew Sparrow tweeting, “Verdict from the Twitter commentariat – Unanimous for Cameron”?

It offends this writer’s sense of Britishness and fair play. If Cameron won, he did so by evasion, false argument, and perverting the facts.

Let’s go through the leaders’ exchange together, using the BBC live blog and Hansard for reference.

The first thing mentioned by Ed Miliband was the Iraq Inquiry – he called for its findings to be published as soon as possible. Then he changed subject, pointing out that the Coalition government will be the first to leave office with living standards lower than when they came into power.

David Cameron did not answer the question but went back to Mr Miliband’s comment about the inquiry instead. He said he too wants to see the Iraq Inquiry published as soon as possible – but it would have been ready years ago if the previous Labour government had set the inquiry up sooner, as the Conservatives and others had wanted.

This not true. Labour’s position on it is that the inquiry was set up at the appropriate time – after hostilities in Iraq had ended. In any case, we are now in the sixth year since the inquiry was established (in November 2009); most of the delays have taken place under the Coalition Government led by David Cameron. The reason currently being given for the delay, by inquiry chairman Sir John Chilcot, is that witnesses need an opportunity to respond to any criticisms of them that have been made.

This blog wishes to point out that Mr Cameron himself is also partly responsible for delays in this matter. The Guardian reported in November 2013: “The Cabinet Office is resisting requests from the Iraq inquiry… for ‘more than 130 records of conversations’ between Tony Blair, his successor, Gordon Brown, and then-US President George W Bush to be made public. In a letter to David Cameron, published on the inquiry’s website, the committee’s chairman, Sir John Chilcot, disclosed that ’25 notes from Mr Blair to President Bush’ and ‘some 200 cabinet-level discussions’ were also being withheld.

“The standoff between the inquiry and Sir Jeremy Heywood, the cabinet secretary, has been going on for five months and has meant that the [process] in which politicians and officials are warned that they will be criticised in the report, is on hold. As a result, a date for the final publication of the report has yet to be agreed, more than four years after the inquiry started. ”

That’s a delay directly attributable to David Cameron and his government. It would have been more accurate if he had said the inquiry’s report would have been ready years ago if Mr Cameron himself had not done everything he could to hinder it.

Back to today: Ed Miliband noted that Mr Cameron made no mention of the economy in his reply, and pointed out that people are £1,600 a year worse off since 2010. According to the BBC blog: “David Cameron says Labour has no apology for not launching the Iraq Inquiry earlier – before launching into a defence of the coalition’s economic record. He says Mr Miliband is wrong about everything.”

In fact he raised the alleged drop in unemployment and rise in wages recorded by the ONS (and debunked on this blog earlier today). His mention of tax reductions as a defence against the “£1,600 a year worse off” claim is ridiculous as it shows how lightly his government has taken its self-described reason for being – reducing the deficit. This is not going to happen under a government that doesn’t want to take taxes.

Cameron’s claim that there is no cost of living crisis because inflation is at 0.5 per cent is a silly ‘excluded middle’ false argument; just because the headline level of inflation is low, that does not mean people are not struggling to make ends meet – especially when they have to deal with measures brought in by Cameron’s government like the Bedroom Tax, that have nothing to do with inflation and everything to do with Tory neoliberal ideology.

Mr Miliband stood his ground: Cameron has raised taxes on ordinary families, raised VAT, cut tax credits. Wages are down; taxes are up – and a report by the Joseph Rowntree foundation has shown that half of all families where one person is in full-time work cannot make ends meet at the end of the month.

“You can work hard and play by the rules, but in Cameron’s Britain you still cannot pay the bills—that is the reality,” he said – and it’s strong stuff.

Cameron’s response was feeble. He claimed that more than 30 million people are now in work – but we know that this is partly due to the rise in the population, and most of the jobs are zero-hours, part-time or temporary, meaning that Mr Miliband is right; families are struggling to pay the bills. His repeated reference to the ONS statistics – which were discredited within minutes of having been published, is risible. Cameron was making an ‘argument by selective observation’ – what he was saying was factually accurate, but he was deliberately failing to put all the facts before us.

The claim that people in work are seeing their pay rise by four per cent seems to be an outright lie. Even the ONS could only support a rise of 1.8 per cent.

“If we had listened to [Mr Miliband], none of these things would have happened,” blustered Cameron. “If we had listened to Labour, it would be more borrowing, more spending, more debt: all the things that got us into a mess in the first place.” How does he know that? He doesn’t. It’s another false argument – an ad hominem (attacking Mr Miliband, rather than his argument), also an ‘appeal to widespread belief’, as many people still seem to believe that Labour will borrow more and create more debt (despite repeated evidence that Labour will do nothing of the sort) and that the economy is safer with the Conservatives (even though their own rampant borrowing has nearly doubled the National Debt), and a non sequitur – it doesn’t follow that, if the Tories had listened to Labour, none of the favourable outcomes he listed would have happened.

Mention of borrowing prompted Mr Miliband to point out that the Coalition Government has failed on the deficit – accurately. According to his original preductions, Chancellor George Osborne should have reduced the deficit to around £37 billion per year by now – instead it stands between £90 billion and £100 billion.

Mr Miliband’s claim that executive pay has increased by 21 per cent in the last year alone, meaning the recovery is only for a few at the top, is also accurate. Spread among the workforce as a whole and coupled with the small pay rises they have received, the average may be 1.8 per cent – but most people aren’t enjoying any sudden increase in prosperity. Are you?

Cameron’s response: “The right honourable Gentleman criticises me on the deficit—he is the man who could not even remember the deficit.” Another ad hominem, and another non sequitur. What does Mr Miliband’s lapse of memory in a speech from last year have to do with today’s statistics?

Mr Miliband’s last question was about David Cameron’s decision not to take part in televised election debates if the Green Party is excluded. If he is so confident about the economy, why is he “chickening out”?

Again, Cameron did not even answer the question. Instead he quoted Christine LaGarde, head of the International Monetary Fund, in support of his claim that the UK economy is improving. That discussion was over. Why did he have nothing to say about the TV debates? It’s a simple change of subject but, again, it’s no argument against what Mr Milband was saying.

So let’s tot up the Prime Minister’s score – did he win or lose? Let’s see: Iraq inquiry – lose; economy – lose; employment – lose; wages – lose; deficit – lose; TV debates – lose.

The moral of the story: You don’t have to win any argument if enough people are willing to say you did.

Follow me on Twitter: @MidWalesMike

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Now British Gas has cut its standard tariff – by much less than it should

150119britishgas

Gosh. British Gas is to cut household gas prices by five per cent – but this is a whopping 22 per cent less than the fall in wholesale gas prices.

The company says its 6.8 million customers will benefit by £37 over a year (that’s if the price cut remains for that long). It’s more than E.On customers (as reported here yesterday)…

… but the benefit of the wholesale price cut means British Gas will still make a whopping profit of more than £1 BILLION.

(Total profit is likely to be around £1,107,040,000).

British Gas representatives were all over the media this morning, apologising for making customers wait until February 27 before they feel the benefit; this is because the company reckons it bought the gas being used at the moment at higher, 2013-14, prices.

They should have been apologising for failing to pass on all of the wholesale cut to customers. It would have saved them very nearly £200 per year.

That kind of money is desperately needed by families feeling the pinch of the Conservative-planned cost of living crisis.

The drop will only benefit customers on British Gas’s standard and those Fix & Fall tariffs and the effect on different customers will vary.

The Labour Party, which has been campaigning for fairer energy bills for more than a year, has been (understandably) disparaging about this meagre display of largesse.

Shadow energy secretary Caroline Flint tweeted: “Wholesale gas prices down by [more than] 20%, yet gas bills only cut by 5%. Regulator must have power to make sure full savings go to all consumers.”

In a statement to the press, she added: “This shows that Ed Miliband was right to challenge the energy companies to cut their prices and pass on the falls in wholesale costs to consumers. But given gas prices have fallen by at least 20 per cent a price cut of just 5 per cent means consumers still aren’t getting the full benefit of falling wholesale prices.

“The next Labour government is committed to making big changes in our energy market: freezing energy prices until 2017 so that bills can fall but not rise, and giving the regulator the power to force energy companies to cut their prices – when wholesale costs fall – to all of their customers.”

Some have taken issue with the description of a freeze that allows prices to fall, rather than keeping them static, but this is nit-picking. We can all see that Labour is simply pushing for households to get the best deal.

What do the Conservatives want? What do the Liberal Democrats want? Only last week they showed…

They’re quite happy for the rich company bosses to keep your money.

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Who voted to put fatcat energy bosses before their constituents? Here’s the list

130925energy

The Coalition Government has vetoed a proposal by the Labour Party to put people before profit and give the energy regulator for Great Britain a statutory duty to ensure that energy suppliers pass on price cuts to consumers when wholesale costs fall – if those suppliers fail to act.

The proposal was put to the House of Commons by Shadow Energy Secretary Caroline Flint, and was dismissed with 305 votes against and 228 for – a difference of 77.

Of course, that wasn’t the point of the exercise.

The point was to show which of our MPs actually wants to help struggling households cope with the ever-increasing cost of living by helping them cope with their energy bills… and which of them would rather siphon your money into a Big Six shareholder’s pocket as profit (possibly with an eye on a possible seat on the board during their retirement).

Vox Political has the names of all those who voted. They are presented below in alphabetical order. If your MP appears in the ‘Ayes’ column, then they did right by you.

If your MP appears in the ‘Noes’ column, then they betrayed you. You may wish to consider voting for somebody else on May 7.

Here’s the list:

AYES
Abbott, Ms Diane (Labour)
Abrahams, Debbie (Labour)
Ainsworth, rh Mr Bob (Labour)
Alexander, rh Mr Douglas (Labour)
Alexander, Heidi (Labour)
Ali, Rushanara (Labour)
Allen, Mr Graham (Labour)
Anderson, Mr David (Labour)
Ashworth, Jonathan (Labour)
Austin, Ian (Labour)
Bailey, Mr Adrian (Labour/Co-op)
Bain, Mr William (Labour)
Banks, Gordon (Labour)
Barron, rh Kevin (Labour)
Bayley, Sir Hugh (Labour)
Beckett, rh Margaret (Labour)
Begg, Dame Anne (Labour)
Benn, rh Hilary (Labour)
Berger, Luciana (Labour/Co-op)
Betts, Mr Clive (Labour)
Blackman-Woods, Roberta (Labour)
Blears, rh Hazel (Labour)
Blenkinsop, Tom (Labour)
Bradshaw, rh Mr Ben (Labour)
Brennan, Kevin (Labour)
Brown, Lyn (Labour)
Brown, rh Mr Nicholas (Labour)
Brown, Mr Russell (Labour)
Bryant, Chris (Labour)
Burden, Richard (Labour)
Burnham, rh Andy (Labour)
Byrne, rh Mr Liam (Labour)
Campbell, rh Mr Alan (Labour)
Campbell, Mr Ronnie (Labour)
Caton, Martin (Labour)
Champion, Sarah (Labour)
Chapman, Jenny (Labour)
Clark, Katy (Labour)
Clwyd, rh Ann (Labour)
Coaker, Vernon (Labour)
Connarty, Michael (Labour)
Cooper, rh Yvette (Labour)
Corbyn, Jeremy (Labour)
Crausby, Mr David (Labour)
Creagh, Mary (Labour)
Creasy, Stella (Labour/Co-op)
Cryer, John (Labour)
Cunningham, Alex (Labour)
Cunningham, Mr Jim (Labour)
Cunningham, Sir Tony (Labour)
Curran, Margaret (Labour)
Danczuk, Simon (Labour)
David, Wayne (Labour)
Davidson, Mr Ian (Labour/Co-op)
Davies, Geraint (Labour/Co-op)
De Piero, Gloria (Labour)
Denham, rh Mr John (Labour)
Dobson, rh Frank (Labour)
Doran, Mr Frank (Labour)
Doughty, Stephen (Labour/Co-op)
Dowd, Jim (Labour)
Doyle, Gemma (Labour/Co-op)
Dromey, Jack (Labour)
Dugher, Michael (Labour)
Durkan, Mark (Social Democratic & Labour Party)
Eagle, Ms Angela (Labour)
Eagle, Maria (Labour)
Edwards, Jonathan (Plaid Cymru)
Efford, Clive (Labour)
Ellman, Mrs Louise (Labour/Co-op)
Engel, Natascha (Labour)
Esterson, Bill (Labour)
Evans, Chris (Labour/Co-op)
Farrelly, Paul (Labour)
Field, rh Mr Frank (Labour)
Fitzpatrick, Jim (Labour)
Flello, Robert (Labour)
Flint, rh Caroline (Labour)
Flynn, Paul (Labour)
Fovargue, Yvonne (Labour)
Francis, Dr Hywel (Labour)
Gardiner, Barry (Labour)
Gilmore, Sheila (Labour)
Glass, Pat (Labour)
Glindon, Mrs Mary (Labour)
Godsiff, Mr Roger (Labour)
Goodman, Helen (Labour)
Greatrex, Tom (Labour/Co-op)
Green, Kate (Labour)
Greenwood, Lilian (Labour)
Griffith, Nia (Labour)
Gwynne, Andrew (Labour)
Hain, rh Mr Peter (Labour)
Hamilton, Mr David (Labour)
Hamilton, Fabian (Labour)
Hanson, rh Mr David (Labour)
Harman, rh Ms Harriet (Labour)
Harris, Mr Tom (Labour)
Havard, Mr Dai (Labour)
Healey, rh John (Labour)
Hepburn, Mr Stephen (Labour)
Heyes, David (Labour)
Hillier, Meg (Labour/Co-op)
Hilling, Julie (Labour)
Hodge, rh Margaret (Labour)
Hodgson, Mrs Sharon (Labour)
Hood, Mr Jim (Labour)
Hopkins, Kelvin (Labour)
Howarth, rh Mr George (Labour)
Irranca-Davies, Huw (Labour)
Jackson, Glenda (Labour)
James, Mrs Siân C. (Labour)
Jamieson, Cathy (Labour/Co-op)
Jarvis, Dan (Labour)
Johnson, Diana (Labour)
Jones, Graham (Labour)
Jones, Susan Elan (Labour)
Jowell, rh Dame Tessa (Labour)
Kane, Mike (Labour)
Kaufman, rh Sir Gerald (Labour)
Keeley, Barbara (Labour)
Kendall, Liz (Labour)
Khan, rh Sadiq (Labour)
Lammy, rh Mr David (Labour)
Lavery, Ian (Labour)
Lazarowicz, Mark (Labour/Co-op)
Leslie, Chris (Labour/Co-op)
Lewell-Buck, Mrs Emma (Labour)
Lewis, Mr Ivan (Labour)
Llwyd, rh Mr Elfyn (Plaid Cymru)
Love, Mr Andrew (Labour/Co-op)
Lucas, Caroline (Green)
Lucas, Ian (Labour)
MacNeil, Mr Angus Brendan (SNP)
Mactaggart, Fiona (Labour)
Mahmood, Mr Khalid (Labour)
Mahmood, Shabana (Labour)
Malhotra, Seema (Labour/Co-op)
Mann, John (Labour)
Marsden, Mr Gordon (Labour)
McCabe, Steve (Labour)
McCann, Mr Michael (Labour)
McCarthy, Kerry (Labour)
McClymont, Gregg (Labour)
McDonagh, Siobhain (Labour)
McDonald, Andy (Labour)
McDonnell, John (Labour)
McFadden, rh Mr Pat (Labour)
McGuire, rh Dame Anne (Labour)
McInnes, Liz (Labour)
McKechin, Ann (Labour)
McKenzie, Mr Iain (Labour)
Meale, Sir Alan (Labour)
Mearns, Ian (Labour)
Miliband, rh Edward (Labour)
Miller, Andrew (Labour)
Mitchell, Austin (Labour)
Moon, Mrs Madeleine (Labour)
Morden, Jessica (Labour)
Morrice, Graeme (Livingston) (Labour)
Morris, Grahame M. (Easington) (Labour)
Munn, Meg (Labour/Co-op)
Murphy, rh Mr Jim (Labour)
Murphy, rh Paul (Labour)
Murray, Ian (Labour)
Nandy, Lisa (Labour)
Nash, Pamela (Labour)
O’Donnell, Fiona (Labour)
Onwurah, Chi (Labour)
Osborne, Sandra (Labour)
Owen, Albert (Labour)
Pearce, Teresa (Labour)
Perkins, Toby (Labour)
Pound, Stephen (Labour)
Powell, Lucy (Labour)
Qureshi, Yasmin (Labour)
Raynsford, rh Mr Nick (Labour)
Reed, Mr Jamie (Labour)
Reeves, Rachel (Labour)
Reynolds, Emma (Labour)
Riordan, Mrs Linda (Labour/Co-op)
Ritchie, Ms Margaret (Social Democratic & Labour Party)
Robertson, John (Labour)
Robinson, Mr Geoffrey (Labour)
Rotheram, Steve (Labour)
Roy, Mr Frank (Labour)
Ruane, Chris (Labour)
Ruddock, rh Dame Joan (Labour)
Sarwar, Anas (Labour)
Sawford, Andy (Labour/Co-op)
Seabeck, Alison  (Labour)
Sharma, Mr Virendra (Labour)
Sheerman, Mr Barry (Labour/Co-op)
Sheridan, Jim (Labour)
Shuker, Gavin (Labour/Co-op)
Skinner, Mr Dennis (Labour)
Slaughter, Mr Andy (Labour)
Smith, Angela (Labour)
Smith, Nick (Labour)
Smith, Owen (Labour)
Spellar, rh Mr John (Labour)
Straw, rh Mr Jack (Labour)
Stringer, Graham (Labour)
Stuart, Ms Gisela (Labour)
Sutcliffe, Mr Gerry (Labour)
Tami, Mark (Labour)
Thornberry, Emily (Labour)
Timms, rh Stephen (Labour)
Trickett, Jon (Labour)
Turner, Karl (Labour)
Twigg, Derek (Labour)
Twigg, Stephen (Labour/Co-op)
Umunna, Mr Chuka (Labour)
Vaz, rh Keith (Labour)
Vaz, Valerie (Labour)
Walley, Joan (Labour)
Watson, Mr Tom (Labour)
Weir, Mr Mike (SNP)
Whitehead, Dr Alan (Labour)
Williams, Hywel (Plaid Cymru)
Williamson, Chris (Labour)
Wilson, Sammy (Democratic Unionist)
Winnick, Mr David (Labour)
Winterton, rh Ms Rosie (Labour)
Wishart, Pete (SNP)
Woodcock, John (Labour/Co-op)
Wright, David (Labour)
Wright, Mr Iain (Labour)

Tellers for the Ayes:
Bridget Phillipson (Labour)
and
Nic Dakin (Labour)

NOES
Adams, Nigel (Con)
Afriyie, Adam (Con)
Aldous, Peter (Con)
Amess, Sir David (Con)
Andrew, Stuart (Con)
Arbuthnot, rh Mr James (Con)
Bacon, Mr Richard (Con)
Baker, Steve (Con)
Baldry, rh Sir Tony (Con)
Barclay, Stephen (Con)
Barker, rh Gregory (Con)
Baron, Mr John (Con)
Barwell, Gavin (Con)
Bebb, Guto (Con)
Beith, rh Sir Alan (LD)
Bellingham, Mr Henry (Con)
Benyon, Richard (Con)
Beresford, Sir Paul (Con)
Berry, Jake (Con)
Bingham, Andrew (Con)
Binley, Mr Brian (Con)
Birtwistle, Gordon (LD)
Blackman, Bob (Con)
Blackwood, Nicola (Con)
Blunt, Crispin (Con)
Boles, Nick (Con)
Bone, Mr Peter (Con)
Bottomley, Sir Peter (Con)
Brady, Mr Graham (Con)
Brake, rh Tom (LD)
Bray, Angie (Con)
Brazier, Mr Julian (Con)
Brine, Steve (Con)
Brokenshire, James (Con)
Brooke, rh Annette (LD)
Browne, Mr Jeremy (LD)
Bruce, Fiona (Con)
Bruce, rh Sir Malcolm (LD)
Burley, Mr Aidan (Con)
Burns, Conor (Con)
Burns, rh Mr Simon (Con)
Burstow, rh Paul (LD)
Burt, rh Alistair (Con)
Burt, Lorely (LD)
Byles, Dan (Con)
Cable, rh Vince (LD)
Cairns, Alun (Con)
Carmichael, Neil (LD)
Carswell, Douglas (UKIP)
Cash, Sir William (Con)
Chapman, Jenny (Labour)
Chishti, Rehman (Con)
Clappison, Mr James (Con)
Clark, rh Greg (Con)
Clarke, rh Mr Kenneth (Con)
Clifton-Brown, Geoffrey (Con)
Collins, Damian (Con)
Colvile, Oliver (Con)
Cox, Mr Geoffrey (Con)
Crabb, rh Stephen (Con)
Crockart, Mike (LD)
Crouch, Tracey (Con)
Davey, rh Mr Edward (LD)
Davies, David T. C. (Monmouth) (Con)
Davies, Glyn (Con)
Davies, Philip (Con)
de Bois, Nick (Con)
Dinenage, Caroline (Con)
Dorrell, rh Mr Stephen (Con)
Doyle-Price, Jackie (Con)
Drax, Richard (Con)
Duncan, rh Sir Alan (Con)
Duncan Smith, rh Mr Iain (Con)
Dunne, Mr Philip (Con)
Ellis, Michael (Con)
Ellison, Jane (Con)
Elphicke, Charlie (Con)
Eustice, George (Con)
Evans, Graham (Con)
Evans, Jonathan (Con)
Evans, Mr Nigel (Con)
Evennett, Mr David (Con)
Fabricant, Michael (Con)
Fallon, rh Michael (Con)
Farron, Tim (LD)
Field, Mark (Con)
Foster, rh Mr Don (LD)
Fox, rh Dr Liam (Con)
Francois, rh Mr Mark (Con)
Freer, Mike (Con)
Fullbrook, Lorraine (Con)
Fuller, Richard (Con)
Gale, Sir Roger (Con)
Garnier, Sir Edward (Con)
Garnier, Mark (Con)
Gauke, Mr David (Con)
George, Andrew (LD)
Gibb, Mr Nick (Con)
Gilbert, Stephen (LD)
Gillan, rh Mrs Cheryl (Con)
Glen, John (Con)
Goldsmith, Zac (Con)
Goodwill, Mr Robert (Con)
Graham, Richard (Con)
Grant, Mrs Helen (Con)
Gray, Mr James (Con)
Green, rh Damian (Con)
Greening, rh Justine (Con)
Grieve, rh Mr Dominic (Con)
Griffiths, Andrew (Con)
Gummer, Ben (Con)
Gyimah, Mr Sam (Con)
Hague, rh Mr William (Con)
Halfon, Robert (Con)
Hames, Duncan (LD)
Hammond, Stephen (Con)
Hands, rh Greg (Con)
Harper, Mr Mark (Con)
Harrington, Richard (Con)
Harris, Rebecca (Con)
Hart, Simon (Con)
Haselhurst, rh Sir Alan (Con)
Hayes, rh Mr John (Con)
Heald, Sir Oliver (Con)
Heaton-Harris, Chris (Con)
Hemming, John (LD)
Henderson, Gordon (Con)
Hendry, Charles (Con)
Herbert, rh Nick (Con)
Hinds, Damian (Con)
Hoban, Mr Mark (Con)
Hollingbery, George (Con)
Hollobone, Mr Philip (Con)
Holloway, Mr Adam (Con)
Hopkins, Kris (Con)
Horwood, Martin (LD)
Howarth, Sir Gerald (Con)
Howell, John (Con)
Hughes, rh Simon (LD)
Hunt, rh Mr Jeremy (Con)
Huppert, Dr Julian (LD)
Hurd, Mr Nick (Con)
Jackson, Mr Stewart (Con)
James, Margot (Con)
Jenkin, Mr Bernard (Con)
Jenrick, Robert (Con)
Johnson, Gareth (Con)
Johnson, Joseph (Con)
Jones, Andrew (Con)
Jones, rh Mr David (Con)
Jones, Mr Marcus (Con)
Kawczynski, Daniel (Con)
Kelly, Chris (Con)
Kennedy, rh Mr Charles (LD)
Kirby, Simon (Con)
Kwarteng, Kwasi (Con)
Lamb, rh Norman (LD)
Latham, Pauline (Con)
Leadsom, Andrea (Con)
Lee, Dr Phillip (Con)
Leech, Mr John (LD)
Leigh, Sir Edward (Con)
Lewis, Brandon (Con)
Lewis, Dr Julian (Con)
Liddell-Grainger, Mr Ian (Con)
Lidington, rh Mr David (Con)
Lilley, rh Mr Peter (Con)
Lloyd, Stephen (LD)
Lopresti, Jack (Con)
Loughton, Tim (Con)
Luff, Sir Peter (Con)
Lumley, Karen (Con)
Macleod, Mary (Con)
Main, Mrs Anne (Con)
Maude, rh Mr Francis (Con)
Maynard, Paul (Con)
McCartney, Jason (Con)
McCartney, Karl (Con)
McIntosh, Miss Anne (Con)
McLoughlin, rh Mr Patrick (Con)
McPartland, Stephen (Con)
McVey, rh Esther (Con)
Menzies, Mark (Con)
Metcalfe, Stephen (Con)
Miller, rh Maria (Con)
Mills, Nigel (Con)
Milton, Anne (Con)
Mitchell, rh Mr Andrew (Con)
Moore, rh Michael (LD)
Mordaunt, Penny (Con)
Morgan, rh Nicky (Con)
Morris, Anne Marie (Con)
Morris, David (Con)
Morris, James (Con)
Mosley, Stephen (Con)
Mowat, David (Con)
Mulholland, Greg (LD)
Mundell, rh David (Con)
Murray, Sheryll (Con)
Murrison, Dr Andrew (Con)
Newmark, Mr Brooks (Con)
Newton, Sarah (Con)
Nokes, Caroline (Con)
Norman, Jesse (Con)
Nuttall, Mr David (Con)
Offord, Dr Matthew (Con)
Ollerenshaw, Eric (Con)
Opperman, Guy (Con)
Ottaway, rh Sir Richard (Con)
Paice, rh Sir James (Con)
Parish, Neil (Con)
Patel, Priti (Con)
Paterson, rh Mr Owen (Con)
Pawsey, Mark (Con)
Penning, rh Mike (Con)
Penrose, John (Con)
Percy, Andrew (Con)
Perry, Claire (Con)
Phillips, Stephen (Con)
Pickles, rh Mr Eric (Con)
Pincher, Christopher (Con)
Poulter, Dr Daniel (Con)
Pugh, John (LD)
Raab, Mr Dominic (Con)
Randall, rh Sir John (Con)
Reckless, Mark (UKIP)
Redwood, rh Mr John (Con)
Rees-Mogg, Jacob (Con)
Reevell, Simon (Con)
Reid, Mr Alan (LD)
Rifkind, rh Sir Malcolm (Con)
Robathan, rh Mr Andrew (Con)
Robertson, rh Sir Hugh (Con)
Robertson, Mr Laurence (Con)
Rogerson, Dan (LD)
Rosindell, Andrew (Con)
Rudd, Amber (Con)
Russell, Sir Bob (LD)
Rutley, David (Con)
Sanders, Mr Adrian (LD)
Scott, Mr Lee (Con)
Selous, Andrew (Con)
Shelbrooke, Alec (Con)
Shepherd, Sir Richard (Con)
Simmonds, rh Mark (Con)
Simpson, Mr Keith (Con)
Skidmore, Chris (Con)
Smith, Chloe (Con)
Smith, Henry (Con)
Smith, Julian (Con)
Smith, Sir Robert (LD)
Soames, rh Sir Nicholas (Con)
Soubry, Anna (Con)
Spelman, rh Mrs Caroline (Con)
Stanley, rh Sir John (Con)
Stephenson, Andrew (Con)
Stevenson, John (Con)
Stewart, Bob (Con)
Stewart, Iain (Con)
Stewart, Rory (Con)
Streeter, Mr Gary (Con)
Stride, Mel (Con)
Stuart, Mr Graham (Con)
Stunell, rh Sir Andrew (LD)
Sturdy, Julian (Con)
Swales, Ian (LD)
Swayne, rh Mr Desmond (Con)
Swire, rh Mr Hugo (Con)
Syms, Mr Robert (Con)
Thornton, Mike (LD)
Thurso, rh John (LD)
Tomlinson, Justin (Con)
Tredinnick, David (Con)
Turner, Mr Andrew (Con)
Tyrie, Mr Andrew (Con)
Uppal, Paul (Con)
Vaizey, Mr Edward (Con)
Vara, Mr Shailesh (Con)
Vickers, Martin (Con)
Villiers, rh Mrs Theresa (Con)
Walker, Mr Charles (Con)
Walker, Mr Robin (Con)
Wallace, Mr Ben (Con)
Walter, Mr Robert (Con)
Ward, Mr David (LD)
Watkinson, Dame Angela (Con)
Webb, rh Steve (LD)
Wheeler, Heather (Con)
White, Chris (Con)
Whittaker, Craig (Con)
Whittingdale, Mr John (Con)
Wiggin, Bill (Con)
Willetts, rh Mr David (Con)
Williams, Mr Mark (LD)
Williams, Roger (LD)
Williams, Stephen (LD)
Williamson, Gavin (Con)
Willott, rh Jenny (LD)
Wilson, Mr Rob (Con)
Wollaston, Dr Sarah (Con)
Wright, rh Jeremy (Con)
Wright, Simon (LD)
Yeo, Mr Tim (Con)
Young, rh Sir George (Con)
Zahawi, Nadhim (Con)

Tellers for the Noes:
Harriett Baldwin (Con)
and
Dr Thérèse Coffey (Con)

Basically, if your MP is a Conservative or a Liberal Democrat, they don’t represent you; they represent corporate bosses.

Also, how interesting to see the two UKIP turncoats, Douglas Carswell and Mark Reckless, voting with their former Tory colleagues again. “The People’s Army” – what a joke.

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Marcus Brigstocke v the Government – has he been reading Vox Political?

This is the first pic I could find of Marcus Brigstocke, as he might have looked while delivering the piece quoted below. He's a known beardie so he probably had face-fuzz as well.

This is the first pic I could find of Marcus Brigstocke, as he might have looked while delivering the piece quoted below. He’s a known beardie so he probably had face-fuzz as well.

What a rare and pleasant thing we’ve enjoyed for the last few days – a Bank Holiday weekend with good weather! And isn’t it a shame that this means most of you will have been out, and therefore missed Marcus Brigstocke’s turn on The Now Show.

Here’s a guy who knows how to take the government apart; it seemed as though he’d been reading Vox Political for the last few months because he touched on some of our favourite subjects:

1. The economy

He led with the 0.8 per cent increase in economic growth, mocking the government’s celebratory tone with impressions of how ordinary people took the news, up and down the country (some of the accents were beyond belief).

“Well done, George Osborne,” said Marcus, his voice dripping with sarcasm. “You have proved your theory right, using the Grand Theft Auto model. You have successfully shown that the poor really are like video game prostitutes – if you kick them hard enough, eventually money will come flying out of them.”

Doesn’t this fit nicely with what this blog has been saying about the economy being dependent entirely on the movement of poor people’s money? Those with less spend all – or almost all – of their income and it is this money, being pushed around the system, that boosts profits and keeps Britain going.

He continued: “I know that the state of the economy matters but for the vast majority of people it is as mysterious and cryptic as the shipping forecast… What makes a difference to people is not zero-point-eight-per-cent growth; it’s actual wages and the cost of living.

“The National Institute of Economic and Social Research (NIESR) showed this week that the average worker is £2,000 worse-off since the financial crisis hit,” another common theme here on VP, except in fact it’s £2K per year worse-off. Let’s do a quick shout-out to Jonathan Portes, NIESR’s director, whose Tweets are well worth a read: @jdportes

“I say, ‘hit’. That makes it sound like the crisis swerved towards us. The reality is, the average worker is £2,000 worse-off since the financial sector arrogantly, and with galactic, hubristic stupidity, drove the economy off a cliff, yelling, ‘Does this mean I still get my bonus?’ Of course you’ll still get your bonus. Otherwise you’d leave the country and [chuckling] nobody wants that.” [Laughter from the audience – we’re all in on that joke.]

2. Employment

“More people are in work now; good. But why do employers talk like they deserve a sainthood when they have people working for them? Your company does a thing; you need workers to facilitate the doing of that thing. The workers work, and the thing is done – am I missing something here? Do you feel you need a medal?”

2a. Zero-hours contracts

“One-point-four million British workers are having to scrape a living together from cynical, ruthless, exploitative employers using zero-hours contracts. Value your employees – they are not battery workers; they are people… One in five UK workers earns less than the Living Wage.”

At this point the narrative switches to a spoof advert: “At GreatBigFacelessBastardCorp we care so little about what we do, we pay our workers the minimum wage allowed under the law! That way we can pass on their listlessness and overwhelming sense of defeated apathy to you, the customer! GreatBigFacelessBastardCorp – crushing dreams so you don’t have to!”

This relates to an argument that Vox Political has been having with Tory-supporting businesspeople for years, going back to the earliest days of the blog. Back in January 2012, I wrote False economies that leave the business books unbalanced in which I stated:

It seems to me that many employees are finding life extremely difficult now, because the amount they are paid does not cover all their outgoings and they are having to work out what they can do without. The cost of living has risen more sharply than their pay, so they are out of pocket.

This creates stress, which can create illness, which could take them out of work and turn them into a liability to the economy – as they would then be claiming benefits.

That’s bad – not only for the country but also for their company, because demoralised employees produce poor work and the company’s turnover will decrease; having to bring in and train up new workers to replace those who are leaving through ill health is time-consuming and unproductive.

Therefore, in taking the money for themselves, rather than sharing it with employees, bosses are clearly harming their own companies and the economy.

In fact, it seems to me that this is a microcosm of the larger, national economy. In order to keep more money, bosses (and the government) pay less (in the government’s case, to pay off the national deficit). This means less work gets done, and is of poorer quality (in both cases). So orders fall off and firms have to make more cutbacks (or, revenue decreases so the government makes more cutbacks in order to keep up its debt payments).

[This seems to have been borne out by subsequent events. More people are employed than ever before, according to the government, yet GDP has improved by only a fraction of one per cent in the last quarter. By rights, it should be about 20 percentage points higher than the pre-crisis peak by now, according to some analysts.]

The message to bosses – and the government – is clear: Cutting back investment in people to keep money for yourselves will cripple your earning ability. Cutting even more to make up for what you lose will put you into a death spiral. You are trying to dig your way out of your own graves.

But there is an alternative.

A reasonable pay increase to employees would ensure they can pay their bills, and would also keep them happy.

Happy workers produce better results.

Better results keep businesses afloat and earn extra work for them.

That in turn creates more revenue, making it possible for bosses not only to increase their own pay but employ more people as well.

Wouldn’t that be better for everybody?

Well, wouldn’t it?

3. Welfare lies

“Young workers are amongst the hardest-hit by the downturn, with pay falling by 14 per cent between 2008 and 2013. Well done, everybody! We pay far more from the welfare budget supporting incomes for people in work than we do for those out of a job.

“The government keep on crowing about the number of people they have in work … most of them are not so much in work as near some work, if only they were allowed to do any.

“If you’re on the minimum wage, kept on a zero-hours contract between 7am and 7pm so you can’t work for anyone else but rack up a grand total of – ooh! – just enough hours so your employer doesn’t have to pay your National Insurance [another VP theme], you get no training, no employee benefits, no hope of any promotion and you hear ‘IDS’ banging on about how he’s ‘the saviour of benefits street’, well, if you can still afford a shoe then please throw it at the radio or through the telly or at his actual face.” This is a reference to sabotage, in which workers threw their crude shoes – or ‘sabots’ into machinery to stop it working, in protest against their working conditions and developments that were endangering their jobs.

“Low pay means higher staff turnover, high absenteeism, poor morale and lower productivity.” That’s exactly as I stated in the VP article from 2012.

4. In conclusion

“I don’t know when money started making money faster than people but… It’s not helping,” said Marcus, truthfully. “So instead of running about with your shirt over your head doing ‘airplane arms’, shouting ‘Nought-point-eight-per-cent’… do something to get the people who actually work to be rewarded, recognised and remunerated for what they do.

“It’s not rocket science and, frankly, if it is, I sincerely hope they’re not on minimum wage.”

When I heard that piece, I very nearly stood up to applaud. If you want to hear it yourself (and I’ve left out enough of it to make it worthwhile, I promise you), it’s available for download here, and starts around eight and a half minutes in.

Actually, it would be better if Marcus hasn’t been reading this blog, because then he would have drawn the same conclusions, from the same evidence, thereby reinforcing my own reasoning.

Now, let’s have your opinions, please. I’ll be very interested to hear from supporters of the current “pay-’em-the-bare-minimum” policy as they almost invariably say things like “We can’t pay them any more” – it’s never “They have good reasons that mean they can’t pay us more”.

Interesting, that.

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Britain’s starvation crisis won’t bother our new millionaires at all

Britain's shame: The front page of yesterday's Daily Mirror.

Britain’s shame: The front page of yesterday’s Daily Mirror.

So the United Kingdom now houses more millionaires than ever before – but at the huge cost of forcing hundreds of thousands of people to seek help from food banks or starve.

This is David Cameron’s gamble: That enough people will profit from the misery of the huge underclass he has created to vote him back into office in 2015, to continue his attack on anybody who takes home less than £100,000 pay per year.

Are you really that selfish?

Do you think this is any way for a civilised, First-World society to order itself?

No – it’s more like the description of the Third World that became prevalent towards the end of the 1960s: A country with low economic development, low life expectancy, high rates of poverty, and rampant disease. They are also countries where a wealthy ruling class is free to exploit the population at large who, without money or force of arms, are powerless to stop them.

Let’s see now… The UK definitely has low economic development. Neoliberal governments since 1979 have decimated our industrial base and the so-called recovery we are currently enjoying has yet to show any worthwhile results, despite the dubious rises in employment and wages that are making headlines this week.

Low life expectancy? Yes, we have that. People in lower-class residential areas are expected to live only a few years into their retirement, if they make it that far, while those in rich areas may continue into their late eighties. Sharp readers will recognise that, although we all pay the same amount into the state pension, the rich get more from it as they live long enough to receive larger amounts.

High rates of poverty? According to the Trussell Trust, the number of food parcels it handed out per year tripled from 346,992 in 2012 to 913,138 last year, with 330,205 going to children. Another 182,000 were provided by 45 independent food banks. The government says poverty is falling but bases its figures on a proportion of the median wage, which has been dropping for the last six years. This means government claims that worker wages are rising must also be lies.

Rampant disease? Perhaps we should not go as far as to suggest this is happening – but the British Isles have witnessed the return of diseases long-thought banished from these shores, like Rickets and Scarlet Fever, along with an increase in Tuberculosis. These are all poverty-related, as they are caused by malnourishment. You can thank your Tory government for forcing so many people out of work and diverting so much NHS funding into privatisation.

As for a wealthy working class exploiting the population – the evidence is all around us.

Look at the reasons people are being driven to food banks, according to the Daily Mirror article from which I quoted the food bank figures: “Benefits cuts and delays, the rising cost of living and pay freezes are forcing more and more people into food banks, experts have long warned.” All of these are the result of Tory government policy.

The government is, of course, unrepentant. I had the misfortune to see Treasury minister David Gauke – who found infamy when he signed off on huge “sweetheart deals” letting multinational firms off paying billions of pounds of income tax they owed us – saying he was not ashamed of the huge food bank uptake. He said they were doing a valuable job and he was glad that the government was signposting people to them. Nobody seemed to want to ask him: In the country with the world’s sixth-largest economy, why are food banks needed at all?

Of course, I’m not likely to persuade anyone to change their political allegiance over this. You all know where I stand and, besides, this blog is simply not big enough to make a difference.

So I’ll leave you with the words of someone who is far more popular: Eddie Izzard, writing in (again) the Mirror:

“A million food parcels. How did our Britain get to be so hungry? Our country, where even after the Second World War, we still had the ambition to feed our poorest people and build a better country.

“This government said it wanted to reform the British welfare system. Instead, it has broken it. The proof is here in the desperate families who have had to turn to their GP, not for medicine, but for vouchers to be able to eat.

“Instead of supporting the most vulnerable people in Britain during the recession this government has hit them with a wave of cruel cuts and punishments – sanctions, Bedroom Tax, welfare cuts.

“The zero hours economy it champions is not enough to put food on tables. It’s done nothing to tackle food and fuel costs.

“No wonder that today, 600 faith leaders, dozens of charities and 40 bishops are telling David Cameron he is failing the country’s poorest people.”

Perhaps you are not affected, like all those new millionaires on whom the Tories are relying. Do you think that makes it all right for this to be happening here?

You can use your vote to share your opinion.

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‘The Budget that confirms Britain is worse-off under the Tories’

Mr Os-bean: As Ed Miliband gave his response to the Budget, George Osborne had a gormless smile on his face that made him look like Mr Bean.  This is not him - but it's the closest image I could find at short notice. [Image as credited]

Mr Os-bean: As Ed Miliband gave his response to the Budget, George Osborne had a gormless smile on his face that made him look like Mr Bean. This is not him – but it’s the closest image I could find at short notice. [Image as credited]

If a Conservative government is returned to office after the 2015 election, there will be yet more spending cuts and service cuts afflicting hard-working, low-paid families.

That was the message for most people in George Osborne’s latest attempt at a Budget speech today.

There were plenty of groan-worthy moments as the part-time chancellor trotted out the Coalition’s catchphrases: “We will fix the roof while the sun is shining” (groan. The job is taking so long, one has to question whether the contractor is Con-ning the client). “We are all in this together” (groan). Oh really?

Benefit spending is to be capped at £119 billion per year, albeit rising with inflation; public sector pay “restraint” will continue for the foreseeable future. This is from the government whose Prime Minister was confirmed, only minutes previously, as having approved 40 per cent pay rises for his special advisors!

Most significant is the fact that Osborne avoided mentioning ordinary working people for most of his speech; this was a budget for businesses, with the benefits reserved for fatcat bosses.

No major advanced economy in the World is growing faster than the UK, said Mr Osborne; more people are in work. This appears to be borne out by current employment figures (although it should be noted that this is due to a vast and questionable boom in self-employment – the number of employees has dropped by 60,000).

Where is the benefit to the British economy? Why has the deficit not been eliminated? Osborne said it stood at £157 billion in the year he came to office, and would be £108 billion this year, but in fact £39 billion was removed due to measures brought in by the previous Labour chancellor, Alistair Darling. He has cut government spending by something like £80 billion so far, but the deficit has dropped by – possibly – £10 billion. Not a good start to his speech.

There will be further investment in high-speed rail, even though there is no way of predicting whether this hugely costly investment in making train journeys 20 minutes faster will create any economic improvement.

There will be money to fund new centres for medical research – but will these be absorbed by private health firms after the public purse has paid for them?

There will be investment in faster extraction of oil from the North Sea – aiming to get as much as possible out before the Scottish referendum, in order to impoverish the Scots if they decide to go for independence?

And there will be investment in low-cost energy (finally killing the highly questionable green agenda) – meaning money for shale gas companies, and to hell with the environmental cost.

All this investment will go into businesses whose main contribution to the Treasury – Corporation Tax – has already dropped by a quarter (from 28 per cent to 21 per cent) and will go down to 20 per cent this year. This is less than the lowest level of Income Tax.

Up go the profits – down go the tax payments. Who benefits?

Council tax in England remains frozen, meaning fewer public services.

The personal tax allowance is to rise, so people may earn £10,500 before paying tax. This is nowhere near enough to offset the massive drop in living standards that has been caused by the Tory-led Coalition. The cost of living has risen for 44 out of the 45 months of this Parliament – for the whole period, if the earnings of high-paid bankers are removed from the calculation.

The threshold for payment of the 40p tax rate is to rise, so fewer people will pay the higher rate.

Savers are to be helped but – again – this is not a boost for the poor. Most working and unemployed families don’t have any spare money to put into the banks. How does it help them to know they would not pay any tax on savings up to £15,000 in an ISA, when they cannot afford to open one?

And there is a new Pensioner Bond for rich senior citizens (poorer pensioners don’t live long enough to benefit).

As Ed Miliband said in his scathing response, the Coalition can afford to give a tax cut of £200,000 per year to bankers who earn £5 million – but can’t afford £250 per year extra for nurses.

Mr Miliband said the Budget speech was more significant in what it hid than in what it actually said.

Working people are suffering under the Bedroom Tax, under cuts to their tax credits, and they are having to visit food banks if they want to eat.

This is a government that gives with one hand, but takes back much more with the other.

And the Conservatives have the bare-faced cheek to call themselves “The Workers’ Party”.

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A&E fears fall on deaf ears

Andy Burnham, Shadow Health Secretary: He'd rather listen to real doctors than spin doctors.

Andy Burnham, Shadow Health Secretary: He’d rather listen to real doctors than spin doctors.

The title of this article should seem brutally ironic, considering that the Coalition government famously ‘paused’ the passage of the hugely controversial Health and Social Care Act through Parliament in order to perform a ‘listening exercise’ and get the views of the public.

… Then again, maybe not – as the Tories (with the Liberal Democrats trailing behind like puppies) went on to do exactly what they originally wanted, anyway.

Have a look at the motion that went before the House of Commons today:

“That this House is concerned about recent pressure in Accident and Emergency departments and the increase in the number of people attending hospital A&Es since 2009-10; notes a recent report by the Care Quality Commission which found that more than half a million people aged 65 and over were admitted as an emergency to hospital with potentially avoidable conditions in the last year; believes that better integration to improve care in the home or community can relieve pressure on A&E; notes comments made by the Chief Executive of NHS England in oral evidence to the Health Select Committee on 5 November 2013, that the NHS is getting bogged down in a morass of competition law, that this is causing significant cost and that to make integration happen there may need to be legislative change; is further concerned that the competition aspects of the Health and Social Care Act 2012 are causing increased costs in the NHS at a time when there is a shortage of A&E doctors; and calls on the Government to reverse its changes to NHS competition policy that are holding back the integration needed to help solve the A&E crisis and diverting resources which should be better spent on improving patient care.”

Now have a look at the amendment that was passed:

“That this House notes the strong performance of NHS accident and emergency departments this winter; further notes that the average waiting time to be seen in A&E has more than halved since 2010; commends the hard work of NHS staff who are seeing more people and carrying out more operations every year since May 2010; notes that this has been supported by the Government’s decision to protect the NHS budget and to shift resources to frontline patient care, delivering 12,000 more clinical staff and 23,000 fewer administrators; welcomes changes to the GP contract which restore the personal link between doctors and their most vulnerable patients; welcomes the announcement of the Better Care Fund which designates £3.8 billion to join up health and care provision and the Integration Pioneers to provide better care closer to home; believes that clinicians are in the best position to make judgements about the most appropriate care for their patients; notes that rules on tendering are no different to the rules that applied to primary care trusts; and, a year on from the publication of the Francis Report, notes that the NHS is placing an increased emphasis on compassionate care, integration, transparency, safe staffing and patient safety.”

Big difference, isn’t it?

From the wording that won the vote, you would think there was nothing wrong with the health service at all – and you would be totally mistaken.

But this indicates the sort of cuckooland where the Coalition government wants you to live; Jeremy Hunt knows what the problems are – he just won’t acknowledge them. And he doesn’t have to – the media are run by right-wing Tory adherents.

So here, for the benefit of those of you who had work to do and missed the debate, are a few of the salient points.

Principal among them is the fact that ward beds are being ‘blocked’ – in other words, their current occupants are unable to move out, so new patients cannot move in. This is because the current occupants are frail elderly people with no support in place for them to live outside hospital. With no space on wards, accident and emergency departments have nowhere to put their new admissions, meaning they cannot free up their own beds.

Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt had nothing to say about this.

Andy Burnham, who opened proceedings, pointed out the huge increase in admissions to hospital accident and emergency departments – from a rise of 16,000 between 2007 and 2010 to “a staggering” 633,000 in the first three years of the Conservative-Liberal Democrat Coalition government.

Why the rapid rise? “There has been a rise in people arriving at A and E who have a range of problems linked to their living circumstances, from people who have severe dental pain because they cannot afford to see the dentist, to people who are suffering a breakdown or who are in crisis, to people who cannot afford to keep warm and are suffering a range of cold-related conditions.”

He said almost a million people have waited more than four hours for treatment in the last year, compared with 350,000 in his year as Health Secretary; the statement in the government amendment that waiting times have halved only relates to the time until an initial assessment – not total waiting time. Hospital A and Es have missed the government’s targets in 44 of the last 52 weeks.

Illnesses including hypothermia are on the rise, and the old Victorian ailments of rickets and scurvy are back, due to increased malnutrition.

Hospitals are filling up with the frail elderly, who should never have ended up there or who cannot get the support needed to go home because of a £1.8 billion cut in adult social services and support. This, Mr Burnham said, was “the single most important underlying cause of the A and E crisis”; ward admissions cannot be made because the beds are full. The number of emergency admissions of pensioners has topped 500,000 for the first time.

Ambulances have been held in queues outside A and E, unable to hand over patients to staff because it is full. That has left large swathes of the country — particularly in rural areas — without adequate ambulance cover.

The government is downgrading A and E units across the country into GP-run clinics, while pretending that they are still to be used for accidents and emergencies – in the middle of the A and E crisis.

People in England are reducing the number of drugs they are taking because they cannot afford to buy them. Families are choosing between eating, heating or other essentials, like prescriptions.

Competition rules have been stifling care, Mr Burnham said: “The chief executive of a large NHS trust near here says that he tried to create a partnership with GP practices and social care, but was told by his lawyers that he could not because it was anti-competitive.”

He added: “Two CCGs in Blackpool have been referred to Monitor for failing to send enough patients to a private hospital. The CCG says that there is a good reason for that: patients can be treated better in the community, avoiding costly unnecessary hospital visits. That is not good enough for the new NHS, however, so the CCG has had to hire an administrator to collect thousands of documents, tracking every referral from GPs and spending valuable resources that could have been spent on the front line.”

And the health trust in Bournemouth wanted to merge with neighbouring Poole trust, but competition rules stopped the merger taking place.

Mr Burnham demanded to know: “Since when have we allowed competition lawyers to call the shots instead of clinicians? The Government said that they were going to put GPs in charge. Instead, they have put the market in charge of these decisions and that is completely unjustifiable. The chief executive of Poole hospital said that it cost it more than £6 million in lawyers and paperwork and that without the merger the trust will now have an £8 million deficit.

“The chief executive of NHS England told the Health Committee about the market madness that we now have in the NHS: ‘I think we’ve got a problem, we may need legislative change… What is happening at the moment… we are getting bogged down in a morass of competition law… causing significant cost and frustration for people in the service in making change happen. If that is the case, to make integration happen we will need to change it’ – that is, the law. That is from the chief executive of NHS England.”

The response from current Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt needs to be examined carefully.

He said more than 96 per cent of patients were seen within four hours – but this conforms with Mr Burnham’s remark; they were seen, but not treated.

He tried to rubbish Mr Burnham’s remarks about scurvy by saying there had been only 26 admissions relating to scurvy since 2011 – but this misses the point. How many were there before 2011? This was an illness that had been eradicated in the UK – but is now returning due to Coalition policies that have forced people into malnutrition.

He dodged the issue of competition rules strangling the NHS, by saying that these rules were in place before the Health and Social Care Act was passed. In that case, asked Mr Burnham, “Why did the government legislate?” No answer.

As stated at the top of this article. he did not answer the question of the frail elderly blocking hospital beds at all.

The vote was won by the government because it has the majority of MPs and can therefore have its own way in any division, unless the vote is free (unwhipped) or a major rebellion takes place among its own members.

But anyone considering the difference between the Labour Party’s motion and the government’s amendment can see that there is a serious problem of perception going on here.

Or, as Andy Burnham put it: “This Secretary of State … seems to spend more time paying attention to spin doctors than he does to real doctors.”

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Workers blamed for sinking wages by Tory-controlled BBC

140201wages

Congratulations are due to BBC business body Jonty Bloom, who should get an award for the bilge he blathered to justify the fact that the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats have engineered the longest drop in wages for 50 years.

He blamed employees, saying that they weren’t productive enough.

The Office for National Statistics had reported that real wages have fallen by 2.2 per cent every year since David Cameron took over as Prime Minister in 2010 and, as the Tory’s mass-media mouthpiece, the BBC seem to have tasked Mr Bloom with finding plausible deniability for the Coalition, so that ministers won’t have to take responsibility.

Real wages are worked out by taking the rising cost of living into account while calculating the value of earnings.

The ONS report followed one from the Institute for Fiscal Studies on Thursday, suggesting that a mid-range household’s income between 2013-14 was six per cent below its pre-crisis peak.

Both of these reports were latecomers to this particular party, though. A Labour Party report from August 2013 stated that prices had risen faster than wages in all but one month of Cameron’s premiership – April 2013, when he cut taxes for millionaires and bank bonuses soared. The overall fall in annual real wages was £1,350 at the time that report was written.

The Labour report went on to say that figures from the House of Commons Library forecast that, after inflation, wages will be £1,520 lower in 2015 than in 2010, meaning working people, on average, will have lost £6,660 in real terms during the Coalition Parliament.

You’ll notice the BBC report only provides percentages. Interesting, that.

Over at the BBC, Mr Bloom tried to convince us that “workers have, on average, been working fewer hours during the downturn and that in turn has meant that they are earning less.

“The wage an employer pays… will be based on the productivity of the employee. So if a firm’s output falls, it will respond by reducing either the level of wages or the number of people employed in order to maintain its viability… Many firms seem to have held on to staff but output per hour worked fell, putting downward pressure on wages.”

He also suggested that a shift from higher-paid manufacturing jobs to lower-paid service jobs had contributed.

Sadly for Mr Bloom, we can punch holes through all of his arguments. Firstly, this is the government that insisted private sector jobs growth would outweigh the loss of public sector jobs it was going to inflict on the country. That claim alone suggests that ministers may have pressurised firms to keep employees in-post.

But the downturn meant there was less demand for firms’ products. How could they remain viable? Answer: Cut the hours worked by employees. Could this be the reason part-time and zero-hours contracts have exploded during the course of this Parliament? Part-time workers have fewer holiday entitlements and do not cost employers as much in National Insurance. Zero-hours workers are only called when they are needed and therefore the firm’s overheads are hugely reduced. Bosses benefit while workers go without.

Could this also be why firms have hired outside contractors on a self-employed basis, paying them a set amount per job, no matter how long it takes, in order to bypass the minimum wage law? Contractors earn less than the minimum wage but work far longer hours (without upsetting Mr Bloom’s average).

The productivity of a worker depends on how long they are working; part-time or zero-hours employees work for less time and therefore their productivity cannot be anything but lower than a full-time worker. Self-employed contractors’ pay is fixed in companies’ favour from the start. Mr Bloom’s argument is based on a wages fiddle.

Oh, and that shift from manufacturing to the service industries? Isn’t that something the Conservative-led Coalition has vowed vehemently to reverse, while doing spectacularly little about it? I think it is.

One personal note: My own experience as an employee suggests that firms’ financial woes have far more to do with the idiotic decisions made by executives than with the output of employees. Changes in the market do not lead to inventive and innovative responses; instead, the workers are penalised with lower wages or unemployment. This puts firms in a slow death spiral as continual erosion of the workforce makes managers increasingly less able to cope with the challenges that, unaddressed, rack up against them.

So congratulations, Jonty. You carry on blaming the workers if you want. It won’t make a scrap of difference because the real problems lie with the decisions made by company execs, responding to stupid Tory policies.

What a shame you can’t say anything about that because your employers are so utterly under the Tory thumb.

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Food bank debate shows yet again the government’s argument has no substance

131219foodbanks

By now, we should all know how these Opposition Day debates go – but Wednesday’s discussion of food banks was one of the best examples I’ve heard.

The form goes like this: The relevant Labour shadow minister launches the debate, quoting the facts that support the argument (in this case, that the rise of food banks is a national disgrace and the Conservative-Liberal Democrat government’s policies have caused it), the government denies the charge – always with the same feeble excuses, backbenchers queue up to tell their own damning stories of what has happened to their constituents… and then the government wins the vote because its members have been whipped to vote against the motion, rather than because they believe it is wrong.

The food bank debate was textbook. Not only did it carry all these features, but:

  • The Secretary of State responsible, Iain Duncan Smith, declined to speak at all, but turned tail and ran after listening to only a small number of speakers.
  • Minister of State Esther McVey, who spoke in his place, delivered what Labour veteran Gerald Kaufman described as “one of the nastiest frontbench speeches I’ve heard in more than 43 years”.
  • As one story of government-created hardship followed another, Conservative MPs laughed. Clearly they are enjoying the suffering they are causing across the UK.

Each of these is a damning indictment of the depths to which the Coalition has driven British politics. But the debate is only half of this matter. Now it is our duty to publicise what happened. Many people may not know about this, or may not understand its significance.

They need to understand that food bank use has risen exponentially under David Cameron’s Conservative-led government, from 41,000 people in 2010 to half a million by April this year, one-third of whom were children. People are resorting to them because the cost of living is rising while wages have stagnated and social security benefit payments have been delayed or slashed. The government promised to publish a study on food banks in the summer of this year, but has delayed publication with no stated reason. The government department responsible – DEFRA – did not even put up a minister to speak in the debate.

Probably the most damning indictment was the vote. The Coalition government defeated a motion to bring forward measures that would reduce dependency on food banks. The obvious conclusion is that this government is happy to be pushing ordinary working and jobless people into crushing poverty – and intends to continue putting more and more people in the same situation for just as long as it possibly can.

We heard that:

  • People in Slough are fighting each other over discount fruit and vegetables in the local Tesco.
  • Food banks are visited by skilled workers who are unable to get jobs because of Coalition government policies.
  • Serious failures including administrative error in the benefit system mean one-fifth of the people visiting food banks are there because the Department for Work and Pensions has been unable to do its job properly.
  • The Bedroom Tax has hugely increased the number of people using food banks.
  • “The working poor are emerging as the Prime Minister’s legacy, as millions of people live in quiet crisis.” (Labour’s Jamie Reed).

In response, the Tories trotted out the old, old arguments, trying yet again to sell us the long-disproved claim that Labour forced the country into poverty by mismanaging the national finances. We heard, again, the turncoat Lord Freud’s claim that people were visiting food banks because the items there were free (ignoring the fact that everyone who visits a food bank is referred by a qualified organisation, and verified as being in crisis). We heard, again, the suggestion from our ignorant Education Secretary Michael Gove, that people are turning to food banks because they cannot manage their own finances (good management makes no difference if costs outweigh income; but then he clearly hasn’t been educated well enough to understand that).

Esther McVey’s speech showed clearly why she should have remained on breakfast television, where comparatively few people had to put up with her. She accused the previous Labour government of a “whirl of living beyond our means” that “had to come to a stop” without ever pausing to admit that it was Tory-voting bankers who had been living beyond their means, who caused the crash, and who are still living beyond their means today, because her corporatist (thank you, Zac Goldsmith) Conservative government has protected them.

She accused Labour of trying to keep food banks as “its little secret”, forcing Labour’s Jim Cunningham to remind us all that food banks were set up by churches to help refugees who were waiting for their asylum status to be confirmed – not as a support system for British citizens, as they have become under the Coalition’s failed regime.

She said the Coalition government was brought in to “solve the mess that Labour got us in”, which is not true – it was born from a backroom deal between two of the most unscrupulous party leaders of recent times, in order to ensure they and their friends could get their noses into the money trough (oh yes, there’s plenty of money around – but this government is keeping it away from you).

She said the Coalition had got more people into work than ever before – without commenting on the fact that the jobs are part-time, zero-hours, self-employed contracts that benefit the employers but exploit the workers and in fact propel them towards poverty.

She lied to Parliament, claiming that children are three times more likely to be in poverty if they are in a workless household. In fact, according to the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, in-work poverty has now outstripped that suffered by those in workless and retired households; children are more likely to be in poverty if their parents have jobs.

She attacked Labour for allowing five million people to be on out-of-work benefits, with two million children in workless households – but under her government the number of households suffering in-work poverty has risen to eight million (by 2008 standards), while workless or retired households in poverty have risen to total 6.3 million.

She claimed that 60,000 people were likely to use a food bank this year – but Labour’s Paul Murphy pointed out that 60,000 people will use food banks this year in Wales alone. The actual figure for the whole of the UK is 500,000.

She said the government had brought in Universal Credit to ensure that three million people become better-off. There’s just one problem with that system – it doesn’t work.

She said the Coalition’s tax cuts had given people an extra £700 per year, without recognising that the real-terms drop in wages and rise in the cost of living means people will be £1,600 a year worse-off when the next general election takes place, tax cuts included. She said stopping fuel price increases meant families were £300 better-off, which is nonsense. Families cannot become better off because something has not happened; it’s like saying I’m better off because the roof of my house hasn’t fallen in and squashed me.

Then, on top of all that, she had the nerve to tell the country, “Rewriting history doesn’t work.” If that is the case, then hers was one of the most pointless speeches in the history of Parliament.

Labour’s Jamie Reed had the best comment on the debate. He said: “The final verdict on any Government is based on how they treat the poorest in society during the hardest of times,” after pointing out that “the laughter from some of those on the Government benches … says more than words ever could.”

On a personal note, my own MP, Roger Williams, spoke about the food bank situation in Brecon and Radnorshire. It is gratifying that he is proud of the food bank set up by New Life Church, here in Llandrindod Wells – I well remember the telephone conversation I had with the organisers, in which I encouraged them to set it up. I am glad they took up the baton – and that he has appreciated their work.

Rather more worrying is the suggestion that he considers a possible new food bank in Brecon to be only the second in our constituency. There are food banks in many other towns, including Knighton, Ystradgynlais and Hay-on-Wye – with satellite facilities in smaller towns and villages. It is disturbing that the MP does not seem to know this.

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If the economy is in recovery, why does it still feel like recession?

Path to prosperity? If the economy has been growing for the last nine months, why has food bank use tripled during the last year?

Path to prosperity? If the economy has been growing for the last nine months, why has food bank use almost tripled during the last year?

No doubt Gideon George Osborne will spend the next few days (if not weeks and months) crowing about the figures from the Office for National Statistics that say the British economy has grown for a third successive quarter.

He has already tweeted, “This shows that Britain’s hard work is paying off & the country is on the path to prosperity.”

The construction industry has grown by 2.5 per cent on the previous quarter, with house builders buoyed up by Gideon’s Help to Buy scheme, which offers (unsupported) mortgage guarantees to buyers and lenders. He has promised to divert £12 million to this, but has not said where he will find the money.

Critics have warned that this is simply creating another housing-fuelled debt bubble that will burst in a couple of years’ time, leaving even more people in debt than after the financial crisis hit us all.

Has this growth generated work for electricians, plumbers, plasterers, roofers? If so, are they being paid fairly? These are the people who will take their disposable income back into the wider economy, for the benefit of other businesses.

Production (including manufacturing) and services are both on the up as well. The BBC report says nothing about retail. But if this good news is true, why is the Department for Work and Pensions determined to expand its Workfare scheme, as laid out in a Conservative conference announcement and by an article reblogged here.

Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls welcomed the signs of growth in the ONS report but warned: “For millions of people across the country still seeing prices rising faster than their wages, this is no recovery at all.”

He is right, of course. Look at the rise and rise of food banks, which have seen a massive rise in attendances from even working people – whose wages simply don’t cover the cost of living. Benefits are, of course, being cut back by our “compassionate” Conservative-led government.

They say there’s no money for it but – if the economy is surging back into growth – where are all the tax receipts from the big corporates that are profiting?

Oh yes – they’re safely closeted in the tax havens that Mr Osborne kindly opened up for them. Ordinary, working, and poor people have to use their own limited funds to pay off a Conservative-run national deficit, presumably because Tories think the rich, who caused the problem, shouldn’t have to pay for services they don’t use.

And the Institute of Directors’ chief economist, Graeme Leach, warned that there are “strong headwinds” restricting the possibility of further growth, including “debt and inflation” which are “rising faster than earnings”.

That’s right. Only yesterday, Yr Obdt Srvt was talking with a gentleman who – despite having a full-time job – has fallen so severely into debt that he has had to cut his expenditure down to nothing but taxes, the vital utility bills (water but not heating), and rent. He has no budget for food and faces the possibility of having his belongings, such as his car, repossessed – and even eviction.

Is he on the path to prosperity, Mr Osborne? Of course not. This report is merely further proof that you were lying when you said, “We’re all in it together” – as you did (again) at the Conservative conference.

It’s prosperity for the greedy few, and austerity for the rest of us.

Maybe you have a different opinion, but ask any average worker on the street and they will tell you that continued wage depression and price inflation, the expansion of the Workfare regime that gives free employment to firms that don’t need it while the workers themselves have to survive on benefits, massive growth in food bank use, and the threat faced by thousands of eviction and the repossession of their belongings are not milestones on the path to prosperity.