Despair: You don’t have to be elderly or infirm to put extra strain on accident and emergency departments this Christmas. In ‘suicide season’, all you need is depression.
Perhaps NHS bosses have been reading Vox Political because this site put out a similar warning almost three weeks ago.
NHS leaders are urging people to look in on elderly friends and neighbours over the Christmas period to ease pressures on hospital A&E departments, according to the BBC.
They’re saying loneliness and isolation can increase the risk of emergency hospital admissions at a time when accident and emergency departments are already facing their highest-ever demands.
In contrast to the Vox Political message, though, they’re saying people are more likely to report health problems in good time if they have someone to tell.
This blog was warning against the possibility that disabled or depressed people – no matter what their age or physical condition – might decide to take their own life in response to constant pressure from the government.
At a time of year that many consider to be ‘suicide season’, this seems a more pressing concern.
The intention of the NHS announcement is good, though.
It’s just a shame that they’re obscuring the facts that make it necessary.
Poverty rates by 2040, according to the JRF: The different levels, marked out by differently-coloured bars, show the effect if social rents rise at one per cent above inflation per year, or to meet market values.
When a Conservative-run government messes up your life, it doesn’t go in for half measures!
Earlier today you all read how the Conservative Party had miscalculated – badly – the effect of its ‘welfare reforms’, meaning that people were being forced into expensive privately-rented accommodation by the Bedroom Tax, then claiming more in Housing Benefit because their wages were not rising fast enough to accommodate the increase.
(Wages have, of course, been held down because the government’s insistence on cutting the amount paid to the unemployed has created an underclass of people desperate to take any job available – meaning employers can brush off calls for wage rises by saying hundreds of other people would be happy to do these jobs for less.)
The Joseph Rowntree Foundation has put flesh on the bones of these findings in a report published yesterday (November 17).
It states that “compared to 2008, private rents will rise by 90 per cent – more than twice as fast as incomes – pushing up to 50 per cent of private renters into poverty”. The average private rent today is £132 per week – it will be £250 per week in 2040 in real terms.
“People who rent will be more than twice as likely to be living in poverty than homeowners.
“Private rents are forecast to rise by 90%, twice as fast as incomes.
“One in five (10.6 million people) will be living in private rented homes, up from 7.2 million today. Half of these, 5.7 million, will be in poverty (a rise of 2.6 million).
“One in 10 will be living in social housing, down from the current figure of 8.2 million to 5.7 million in 2040. Social rents will increase 39% to reach £92.10 per week in real terms.
“If social rents continue to rise towards market rates, the cost of Housing Benefit could rise by 125% – adding £20 billion to the current bill.
“Real median house prices for owners will increase to £263,000, a rise of 57%. 35.3 million people will be home owners by 2040 (a reduction of 820,000 people from 2008). Real household incomes will grow from £32,300 to £45,500.”
In light of these figures, JRF has called on the government and housing providers to work together to solve the housing crisis and keep poverty in check, saying poverty levels are likely to reach one in four by 2040.
“The reality facing many people is a life below the poverty line because of the extortionate cost of keeping a roof over your head,” said JRF chief executive Julia Unwin.
JRF reckons this growth in poverty can be contained if:
Housing supply doubles to more than 200,000 units a year;
Social rents continue to go up by inflation plus 1%, rather than move towards market rents;
Housing benefit continues to support housing costs at similar levels;
The fall in the proportion of affordable social housing in the overall market is halted.
Of course that is a forlorn hope under any Conservative-run government.
The increase in poverty levels to one in every four people should worry everyone – if it doesn’t affect you, then it will affect somebody in your family or somebody you know. It is clear that this is the intended result of Conservative-led government policy, and the Liberal Democrats have supported it.
Labour – on the other hand – already has a policy to increase housing by 200,000 units per year. It supports social housing. It wants to cap rent increases in the private sector, and its plan to cut the amount spent on housing benefit is based on increasing wages so that fewer people need it, rather than increasing the number of people who are homeless.
Honest appraisal: The national opinion of Iain Duncan Smith is reflected in this comment, delivered direct to the Work and Pensions Secretary by ‘pigeon post’.
Iain Duncan Smith typifies the classical definition of an idiot – and his latest speech will prove it by ignoring Britain’s real problems in favour of self-centred, ideologically-motivated foolishness.
The Greeks used to believe idiots were ignorant people, incapable of ordinary reasoning, whose judgement in public and political matters was poor – but who refused to change their minds.
If you don’t think that’s Iain Duncan Smith, take a look at parts of his speech, as quoted in today’s (Monday) Daily Torygraph.
First off, take a look at the headline: “Cutting benefits is vital for economy, says Iain Duncan Smith”. Why? That money goes out to people on extremely low incomes who cannot save it and must use it immediately, to service their needs. They spend it straight away, boosting the economy as it then passes through the system. Taking it away from people will only stall the system so Duncan Smith is wrong from the start.
This is why we call him RTU, or Returned To Unit, on this blog. It’s a phrase referring to his Army career in which he did not achieve promotion to Captain despite training at Sandhurst. This kind of failure, in the Army, leads to a soldier being RTU’d as a failure.
Look at his main claim – that immigrants have taken British jobs, not ahead of British people, but because British people refused to take them, preferring a life on benefits. The man is delusional.
Does he not understand the hell into which he has turned the benefit system? Getting any money out of the Department for Work and Pensions at all is a minor miracle in the age of RTU! The disabled are forced to wait months at a time, without any means of support, while hired hands from private profiteer companies mull over whether the DWP should bother to help, while people who are actively seeking work are sanctioned by Job Centre Plus for attending job interviews rather than signing on.
Those who do get work are either encouraged into self-employment at extremely low pay and no holidays or pensions, zero-hours contracts at extremely low pay with no holidays or pensions, or part-time work with extremely low pay and no holidays or pensions. The figures make it seem that full-time work is increasing but these are reversed when self-employment is removed.
He is trying to say unemployment surged upwards after 2008 because people were refusing work, in line with the Conservative Party’s current attempt to re-write history. In fact it increased because of a recession engineered by greedy bankers that cost many thousands of jobs and had nothing to do with migrant workers or the preferences of the people affected.
In fact, the way to get British people back to work is the exact opposite of what RTU has been doing, and the exact opposite of what he is proposing.
The Conservatives have been pushing wages down, and squeezing benefits with below-inflation rate rises in order to make it possible for them to say they are “making work pay”. Anyone can see through this lie – just because work pays slightly more than benefits, that doesn’t mean it pays enough.
But he wants to make matters worse by lowering the Benefit Cap further – from the already-below-what’s-needed £26,000 per family to £18,000 – the average amount of take-home pay, according to new figures his party has plucked from its posterior.
It is an idiotic move; taking money out of the economy will stall it.
If he were to encourage firms to pay the Living Wage, ensuring that workers do not have to claim benefits at all, he would find that all the issues he mentions would disappear.
Sure, some people would want to remain on benefits – there is an acknowledged 0.7 per cent rate of fraud and error, after all (yes, just 0.7 per cent, and RTU spends billions trying to say it is worse) – but most are desperate to be self-sustaining and would take work that allowed them to achieve that aim.
These people would still be low-earners, meaning the money would still be spent into the economy straight away on necessities, and to pay off debts accrued under RTU’s disastrous regime – and this means it would provide much-needed lubrication for the economy.
They would also be paying Income Tax, rather than claiming benefits, meaning funds would pour into the Treasury rather than out of it.
All the talk of economic recovery indicates that employers are in a much better position to provide the Living Wage, now, than they were over the last few years, so why isn’t Iain Duncan Smith suggesting so in his speech today?
Lord Carey: He may be demonstrating the amount of thought he has given to what unscrupulous people will do with his “change of heart”.
A “change of heart” by a former Archbishop of Canterbury over ‘assisted dying’ has dismayed at least one campaigner for the rights of people with disabilities.
Mo Stewart has been researching and reporting what she describes as the “atrocities” against the chronically sick and disabled in the UK for the last four years. She said Lord Carey’s decision to support legislation that would make it legal for people in England and Wales to receive help to end their lives would “play right into the hands of this very, very dangerous government”.
Justifying his change of position, Lord Carey said: “Today we face a central paradox. In strictly observing the sanctity of life, the Church could now actually be promoting anguish and pain, the very opposite of a Christian message of hope.
“The old philosophical certainties have collapsed in the face of the reality of needless suffering.”
The Assisted Dying Bill, tabled by Labour’s Lord Falconer, would apply to people with less than six months to live. Two doctors would have to independently confirm the patient was terminally ill and had reached their own, informed decision to die.
But Mo Stewart warned that the proposed legislation, to be debated in the House of Lords on Friday, would be subject to ‘function creep’, with unscrupulous authorities taking advantage of people with depression in order to relieve themselves of the financial burden of paying for their care.
“If this law is granted, what will be deemed a possibility for the few will, very quickly I fear, become the expected for the many,” she wrote in a letter to Lord Carey which she has kindly provided to Vox Political.
“It’s cheaper to help people to die rather than support them to live.
“There is a catalogue of evidence demonstrating that, in those countries where assisted dying is permitted, very often those taking their own lives are suffering from a clinical depression and leave our world to resist the perception that they are a burden to loved ones.
“I am stunned that you would use your voice to try to permit this to happen in the UK.”
She pointed out that medicine is an inexact science and policy changes such as this could have an enormous detrimental impact: “My own webmaster, who is now desperately ill with possibly only weeks to live, was advised he had less than six months to live over four years ago.
“Until very recently, he still enjoyed a high quality of life with his wife, family and friends; a life that could have been removed four years ago” had the Assisted Dying Bill been law at that time.
“What this debate is demonstrating is the failure of guaranteed high quality palliative care in the UK, that makes those with a life-limiting diagnosis feel that self termination is a reasonable solution,” she warned.
“If palliative care was at the peak of quality and access then there would be no need to ever consider such a Bill for this country, as those who wish to access self termination are usually living in fear of the possible physical suffering they may need to endure. This is a highway to clinical depression when quality of life is deemed to have disappeared with diagnosis.”
He said: “This is not scaremongering. I know of health professionals who are already concerned by the ways in which their clients have suggestions ‘to go to Switzerland’ whispered in their ears by relatives weary of caring for them and exasperated by seeing their inheritances dwindle through care costs.
“I have received letters from both disabled individuals and their carers, deeply concerned by the pressure that Lord Falconer’s bill could put them under if it became law.”
Mo Stewart’s letter concludes: “In the real world, this Bill – if passed – would, I have no doubt, lead to abuses where some were actively persuaded to self terminate for the convenience, and possibly the inheritance, of others.
“It’s really not a very long way away from an assisted dying bill to an assisted suicide bill.”
Swivel-eyed loon: This is the kind of many who thinks subsidising businesses to be lazy, while refusing to support disabled students (no matter how intelligent they are) is a clever idea. [Picture: Left Foot Forward]
George Osborne was today set to attack both the Labour Party and UKIP as being bad for business. Isn’t that a bit rich, coming from a man whose party uses taxpayers’ money to subsidise private firms?
Across the UK, firms of all sizes – ranging from huge multinationals right down to the smallest traders – take advantage of the taxpayer-funded benefit system that supports people who earn less than the Living Wage (the minimum amount necessary for a working person to be able to pay their own way).
Osborne would have you believe this is good for Britain; more firms are employing more people – and that’s got to be good, right?
Wrong. More people may be employed, but on increasingly less money, meaning the burden on the taxpayer is increasing all the time.
But the taxpayer has increasingly less money to give to the Treasury, meaning that – instead of saving the economy – Osborne has put us into a vicious spiral of diminishing returns.
That’s what you get when you ask a towel-folder to do a real job!
It would be far better to demand that businesses pay the Living Wage. It isn’t an impossible dream – only a few decades ago, it was possible for one parent to earn enough to house and feed an entire family. Why doesn’t this happen anymore?
There is, in fact, no reason for it to have stopped.
The only conclusion we can reach is that the Tory government is using the system to leach money into the pockets of wealthy businesspeople. By pushing benefit payments so low that the unemployed and low-paid struggle to support themselves, they have made it possible for employers to pay less and pocket more.
That is why the names on the Sunday Times Roll Call of Shame (otherwise known as the Rich List) are so much richer this year than they were before the Tories weren’t elected.
The answer is simple: Compel businesses to pay the Living Wage.
Oh, but you think that will be bad for business too, do you?
Mr Osborne would tell you so, would he?
How odd – because this would be no different from a policy his government has been happily forcing on benefit claimants since 2010.
You see, as stated above, the policy has been to make living on benefits extremely difficult in order to force people to seek employment. This in turn allows firms to depress wages because they can tell the workforce there are plenty of other people waiting to take their places.
Only today, on this blog, we were discussing Tory David Willetts’ plan to cut Disabled Student Allowance. He wants us to believe that this will get students with disabilities to work harder, rather than expecting the taxpayer to lay everything at their feet; in fact, he is taking away their lifeline and leaving them to starve.
But the argument works just as well with employers. Any government with the guts to tell them that the crutch of in-work benefits is being removed and they will have to pay the difference is sending out the same message to employers as they did to benefit claimants: You’ve had it easy for too long. Now it’s time for you to earn your keep.
Some firms will go under. Unlike the disabled people being victimised by David Willetts (et al), we should shed no tears for them; they weren’t helping the economy.
More will pay up – finding new markets to fund the extra expenditure. These are the businesses that will build the real economic recovery.
Labour is one of only a few political organisations that support the Living Wage, and therefore the only mass-appeal political party that would have a genuinely beneficial effect on the economy.
David Cameron should be very happy that UKIP is around to make him look acceptable.
We can’t ever say he’ll look good, but in contrast to the ‘Farage wave’, the spectacle of UKIP being thrown out of the venue where it was supposed to be launching its European election campaign, and the never-ending queue of candidates who are desperate to embarrass themselves publicly – what’s the latest one? “Women should be made to wear skirts because they’re a turn-on for men”? Ye gods… – it’s easy to think that the Conservatives are mild, or at least rational.
But Cameron was keen to project an image of competence at the Conservatives’ campaign launch for the local council elections. This is strange because, with his record of achievement, the things he was saying seem more like stand-up comedy than serious statements of ability.
Try this, about the European Union: “I have a track record of delivery – and believe me, whatever it takes, I will deliver this in-out referendum.” A track record of delivery? Well, yes. He delivered a top-down reorganisation of the NHS that nobody wanted, leading to an inrush of private health companies into the NHS – that nobody wanted. He has delivered the lowest amount of house-building, per year, since records began. He has delivered a withered economic ‘recovery’ that arrived three years later than if he had continued with the plan of the previous, Labour, government. He has delivered all the benefits of that ‘recovery’ to the extremely rich, rather than sharing it equally with the people responsible for it. And he has delivered a new high in employment, with no economic benefit to the country, that has left workers on wages that are so low they are going into debt.
He delivered the bedroom tax.
He delivered a massive increase in the National Debt.
He delivered millions of people into poverty and food bank dependence.
Ha ha ha. Very funny, Mr Cameron.
He told us, “People said I would never veto a European treaty. In 2011 that’s exactly what I did.” Well, yes. But the rest of Europe just went right ahead and carried on without you. You marginalised Britain as a member of the EU and made us a laughing-stock in the eyes of the world.
Ha ha ha. Very funny, Mr Cameron.
“We came through the great recession together; we are building the great British revival together,” he said. But he can’t say that to the many thousands of people who used to be claiming sickness and disability benefits but aren’t anymore because they are all dead. They didn’t come through the great recession. Cameron cut off their means of survival, forcing them into situations in which their health was allowed to worsen until their conditions overwhelmed them, or their situation induced such huge bouts of depression that they took their own lives.
Ha h- no. That’s not funny, Mr Cameron.
“The job is not done. If you want to finish the job we have started, back the party with a plan,” he said. Well, no. The Conservative plan (such as it is) will destroy your employment rights, scrap the welfare state, maintain a huge underclass of unemployed people to use as fodder for work-for-your-benefit schemes (a contradiction in terms if ever there was one) to circumvent the minimum wage, and to claim credit for successes that aren’t theirs.
There is only one reason to support the Conservative Party in this – or any other election.
That is if there is only one other political party on the ballot paper – and that party is UKIP.
He was right to say it was “profoundly shaming and offensive” for Conservative voters – especially those who are not super-rich – when George Osborne lowered the top rate to 45p, two years ago.
He was right when he wrote that “to make the rich richer at the same time as making the poor poorer – what George Osborne has been doing – is simply squalid, immoral and disgusting.
“Any decent human being must surely feel sick in the stomach that he is taking this action at the same time as cutting the amount of tax paid by people earning more than £150,000.”
To that, let’s add a point about the kind of people who are benefiting from the lower tax rate – the kind of people who take home around £1 million a year in basic pay, who are promised bonuses of up to twice those yearly salaries, and who caused the financial crisis that has allowed Osborne to pursue his policy of impoverishing the poor.
That’s right: George Osborne’s 45p tax rate is a £100,000 extra bonus, every year – in gratitude for all their help, one must presume – for bankers.
Oborne is also right to say that Labour’s decision in the 1970s, to impose a top tax rate of 83p in the pound, was a huge mistake – for whatever reasons. It genuinely drove people out of the country, whereas at 50p they just grumble and threaten to go.
All of the above being said, Oborne continues to espouse some utterly wrong-headed nonsense. He claims that “the Conservative Party is not an interest group which represents only the very rich” when all of its actions since getting into office in 2010 demonstrate ample proof that a minority group representing only the very rich is exactly what it is.
Oborne actually puts in print: “The Coalition government has devoted a great deal of effort to lowering the living standards of the poor. I support this project.”
It’s great to see a Tory voter actually admitting this, but imbecilic behaviour for a columnist who (one presumes) wants people to respect his point of view.
He goes on: “I believe that Gordon Brown’s welfare state forced some people into a life of dependency… There have been many people on welfare who need much more of an incentive to return to work.”
Wrong, wrong, wrong.
The reason many people are without jobs and claiming benefit is, there are almost five jobseekers for every job. This is a situation created by the Tory-led government in order to keep wages low; with so many people clamouring for jobs, people who do have work but are on the bottom rung of the employment ladder can’t ask for a raise – they would be jettisoned and replaced by a jobseeker (most likely on lower basic pay than the original holder of the job).
Nobody was forced into a life of dependency by Gordon Brown; the vast majority of unemployed people genuinely want to improve their situation with a job that allows them to avoid claiming benefits – and it is good that the Labour Party, if returned to office next year, will work hard to bring the Living Wage into force for all working people.
You see, Mr Oborne and his ilk conveniently forget that the vast majority of people whose living standards have been hit by the Tory war on the poor are in work. They are so poorly-paid by George Osborne’s corporate friends that they have to claim tax credits – or, as I like to call them, Employer Subsidy – and housing benefit – otherwise known as Landlord Subsidy.
That’s improper use of our tax money. We should not be subsidising fat corporates with our hard-earned taxes, so they can deliver ever more swollen dividends to their shareholders; and we should not be subsidising greedy landlords who charge multiples of what their properties are worth to tenants who have nowhere else to go if they want to keep their pittance-paying job.
It is valid to criticise Gordon Brown for allowing this to happen, but who knows? Maybe this figurehead of neoliberal New Labour was using tax credits as a stop-gap, intending to persuade corporate bosses round to the Living Wage in good time. We’ll never know for sure.
There remains a strong argument that government schemes to get people into work should have checks and balances. As underwriters of these schemes, we taxpayers need assurances that the firms taking part will not abuse their position of power, using jobseekers until the government subsidy runs out and then ditching good workers for more of the unemployed in order to keep the cash coming. That is not a worthwhile use of our cash.
We also need assurances that participants won’t drop out, just because life on the dole is easier. I was the victim of several personal attacks last week when I came out in support of Labour’s compulsory job guarantee, because they hated its use of sanctions. I think those sanctions are necessary; there should be a penalty for dropping out without a good reason.
In a properly-run scheme, those sanctions should never be put into effect, though. That means that any government job scheme needs to be driven, not by targets but by results.
Look at the Welsh Ambulance Service. Targets imposed by the Welsh Government mean that ambulances are supposed to arrive at the scene of an emergency within eight minutes – even if they are 20 minutes’ fast drive away, on the wrong side of a busy city like Cardiff, when they get the call. This means the Welsh Ambulance Service faces constant attack for failure to meet targets.
But what kind of results does the service achieve? Are huge numbers of Welsh patients dying, or failing to receive timely treatment because an ambulance arrives a minute or so after its target time? No. There will, of course, be some such occasions but those will most likely be the result of many contributory factors.
So: Results-driven schemes will put people into jobs and improve the economy; there is no need to impoverish the poor; the very rich never deserved their tax cut; and Ed Balls is right to want to re-impose the 50p rate.
The Conservatives are wrong to attack poor people; there is no need to impose further cuts on social security as part of Osborne’s failed austerity policy; and these things show very clearly that the Tories are a minority-interest party supporting only the extremely rich.
In the end, I find myself agreeing with one more comment by Mr Oborne; Ed Balls really has “given ordinary, decent people a serious reason for voting Labour at the coming election”.
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Ingeus out of favour: This image was found on a site protesting against Workfare and demonstrates the high regard in which it is held by previous users of the Ingeus service.
Perhaps we’re jumping the gun with the headline but alarm bells tend to go off when you read that “people on sickness benefits will be required to have regular meetings with healthcare professionals to help them with their barriers to work”.
Everyone working on Employment and Support Allowance should already know what everyone receiving it knows – it’s more a bloodbath than a benefit.
This is down to the attitude of the healthcare professionals already working on it – the people who (and God forbid you should ever ask to see their qualifications) automatically sign 70 per cent of claimants as ‘fit for work’, whether they are or not, and tell most of the rest they need to be work-ready within a year.
The result? Mental breakdowns, depression and suicides; physical breakdowns, worsening of existing conditions, and premature deaths. By the thousand.
These are the people who ask claimants when amputated limbs are going to grow back, and who tell people with Parkinson’s disease and multiple sclerosis that they’ll be fit for work within six months.
If you did (God forbid) ask them where they got their qualifications, it was probably the Teaching Hospital of Noddyland.
“People on sickness benefits will be required to have regular meetings with healthcare professionals to help them address their barriers to work – or face losing their benefits [italics mine] – in a two-year pilot scheme in central England which begins in November,” the DWP press release states.
Isn’t this what happened with people on Jobseekers’ Allowance? Suddenly they had to start fulfilling lots of pointless extra requirements or their benefits would be withdrawn? Part of that is a regular meeting in which – as far as we can ascertain – innocent people are harassed, threatened and abused by DWP employees who are themselves, it seems, millimetres away from nervous exhaustion brought on by the pressures of the job.
Claiming benefits, it seems, is now an endurance test: Who cracks (up) first?
Now, for 3,000 people in the work-related activity group for ESA in the Black Country, Derbyshire, Leicestershire, Northamptonshire, Lincolnshire, Nottinghamshire, Rutland, Staffordshire and Shropshire, there’s no relief even if they have a nervous breakdown and have to claim ESA on mental health grounds.
“People involved in the pilot – who have all been assessed as being able to work at some point in the future – will have regular appointments with healthcare professionals as a condition of receiving their benefit, to focus on helping them move closer to being able to get a job.”
There you go – all judged as able to work in the future. Presumably Iain Duncan Smith has taken a look at their files, glanced into his crystal ball, and declared that he has a “belief” in their fitness to work. If any of these people are reading, please contact this blog if you have a progressive health condition that won’t ever improve.
Because the meeting is a condition of receiving benefit, anyone attending can expect to be treated abominably. This is not about helping you back to work, or even back to health; it’s about kicking you off-benefit and nothing further. The aim, as with JSA, is to cut claimant numbers and thereby cut spending.
“It’s really important we give people who are disabled or have a health condition the support they need to get into work if they are able,” said employment minister Esther McVey who knows nothing about this at all (despite having been minister for the disabled).
“Traditionally, this help has tended to be work-related, but this pilot will look at whether a more holistic approach is more successful in helping people to manage their conditions and so break down their barriers to work.”
The biggest barrier to a person with a disability getting work is the fact that the Conservative-led Coalition government has been closing down employment opportunities for them and removing incentives for employers to take them on.
The healthcare professionals will be provided by Ingeus UK – a welfare-to-work provider that has been involved in the Work Programme – you know, the time-wasting scheme in which jobseekers are taken off the unemployment statistics while they learn simple skills that, in fact, most of them already have.
The company’s website is very slick but contains no information about the number of doctors in its employ.
Oh, and guess what? The company is half-owned by Deloitte, one of the ‘Big Four’ accountancy firms that currently writes British tax law to make avoidance easy for the big corporates. How much tax has Ingeus paid lately?
“Everything we do is results driven”, the site declares.
One wonders what Ingeus will do when the casualties start piling up.
After sticking his foot in his mouth last week – both with his speech about how great the benefit cuts are, and his attempt at using Estuary English rather than Received Pronunciation to deliver it to unimpressed workers at Morrisons – he has pronounced himself “in tune” with what the majority of the country thinks about those cuts.
He might be right; most people might think, as he does, that there is a large amount of social security fraud and the cuts will force people to get off their backsides and go to work (never mind, for a moment, the fact that the jobs don’t exist because those places are full of people on Mandatory Work Activity, making oodles of money for Poundland or whatever other companies are still clinging to that albatross of a scheme).
It begs a few questions.
Firstly: How knowledgeable is the British public on this matter?
Radio 4’s The Now Show had a few things to say about this, way back in November 2011, and the observations shine a bright light on the subject:
“There’s been a lot of fuss that THE PEOPLE haven’t been given a say, but then the media have a very schizophrenic attitude to THE PEOPLE.
“You must have noticed that newspapers regularly run stories that go: ’70 per cent of adults can’t read a bus timetable’ or ‘Half of the population are unable to multiply 50 by 17’.
“They’re forever running surveys that show that people can’t add up, or don’t know the name of the Foreign Secretary, or the year World War II broke out, and then suddenly the next day, the same papers go: ‘It’s time voters had a say on the debt restructuring of the Eurozone!’
“‘Why, oh why, can’t they let the people decide on the feasibility of operating a single currency in an economic area of widely differing levels of productivity?’
“Because yesterday you said most people can’t read a bus timetable, that’s why – you can’t have it both ways. It doesn’t make sense!
“A lot of the reason for this confusion, of course, is that often people’s opinions depend on how you phrase the question. “If you go: ‘Should we cut public sector jobs to save money?’ people say yes, but if you go: ‘Should we cut public sector jobs such as airport border officials to save money?’ They… still say yes, but when it goes wrong they claim they didn’t and blame someone else.”
That’s a very good point. The answer really does depend on the question. In this case, OUR question must be: Has the Conservative Party been ‘voodoo’ polling again?
I refer you to the Vox article that covered this, back in December 2012:
Today I was made aware of another survey that attempts to manipulate the responses it receives by cleverly-worded “leading” questions – except I’m referring to a survey on the Conservative Party website, so neither the questions nor their wording are particularly clever.
“We’re interested in your view about the fairness of our benefit reforms” is the overture. I have to admit that, on reading this, I was overjoyed. At last a chance to let the Tories know how wrong-headed their approach has been! That they are hitting the vulnerable in society – and that their policies are in fact leading to the deaths of many of the most vulnerable. Fat chance.
“Conservatives in Government have made a decision that we will support people who work hard and that work will be rewarded.” This was the snap back to reality. Anyone reading this has to see that it’s a propaganda exercise. The only other response is to ask, when is this support going to happen?
“Labour say that benefits should go up by more than average wages – even though it will be the taxes of people in work that pays for this increase.” Whoa, whoa, WHOA, wait. The Conservatives aren’t about to lower the base rate of taxes (only the top rate, for the benefit of their extremely rich friends). Nor are they about to increase taxes. This is disingenous and manipulative. They are trying to say that their decision to depress rises in benefit payments is reasonable because it is in line with employers’ (and let’s remember the government is itself an employer) unreasonable decisions to keep their employees’ pay down (and we’ll get onto their own pay rises in a moment).
“We don’t think this is fair for the following reasons…
“1. A real terms increase would have meant that benefits increased more than the average salary. Since 2007, benefits have increased by 20% whilst salaries have only increased by 10%. If the Government continued to increase benefits at a higher rate than salaries, this would not be fair on working people. The same working people who pay the taxes which fund the benefits to begin with.” Hogwash. Since 2007, benefits have increased in line with inflation and, as a result, people on benefits have been able to survive. Salaries may well have increased by only 10 per cent. I recall my own pay – before I became self-employed. Month after month, year after year, I saw my disposable income being whittled away in a series of poor pay increases, until I reached the point where continuing to work at the same company would put me into debt. That is the harsh reality of the British workplace in the 21st century, under the Tory-led Coalition.
“2. Working people are having their taxes cut. Changes to the personal allowance mean that working people will pay less tax and will keep more of their earnings. Anyone in work and receiving benefits will gain more from paying less tax, than what they lose from benefits not increasing in real terms.” This is simply untrue. 60 per cent of households attacked by the Tory-led government’s cuts to benefits are working households.
“3. To increase benefits in real terms would have meant borrowing more money. This Government is reducing borrowing and cutting the deficit. Labour would borrow more and add more debt to fund unlimited benefit rises. The Conservatives don’t believe that we should burden future generations with our debts in order to live beyond our means today.” The Conservatives are in fact borrowing more money now than Labour would have, if they had won the 2010 election – £212 billion more than planned, by 2015 alone. Using an expected increase in borrowing as an excuse to deprive the most vulnerable of their ability to survive adequately is plain disgusting.
“Have Your Say on Benefits
“We’re interested in what your think about benefits. That’s why we’re asking you whether or not you support two fundamental principles upon which our welfare policies are founded – many will say they don’t but many will also be in favour. Your responses will tell us what the majority think.
“Please also leave your comments.”
Here’s the first question. Remember what I said at the top, about the way the writers manipulate the wording of these things:
“Should benefits increase more than wages?”
See what I mean? The only possible answer to that is “No” – because they shouldn’t! That doesn’t mean that Tory welfare policy is right, though. It means employers aren’t paying their workers well enough (as proven by my own experience). Next question:
“Do you think it’s fair that people can claim more in benefits that (sic) the average family earns through going to work?” Again, the only reasonable answer is “No” – but again it doesn’t mean Tory welfare policy is right. It means this question – like the first – has been carefully worded to prevent anyone responding from giving an unwanted answer.
Never mind – there’s a box for comments, in which respondents may explain their answers. Here’s what I wrote:
“Your questions are slanted to produce a particular set of answers, I notice. My answer to the first is that they should increase in line with inflation. Wages should do that as well. The simple fact is that the majority of employers in this country seem to see fit to fill their own pockets with cash while depriving their workers. It is THIS imbalance that needs to be redressed. Company bosses have given themselves generous pay rises totalling 700 per cent over the last 20 years, while employees’ wages have risen by an average of just 27 per cent in the same period. That is completely unfair – and the reason it is possible for people on benefits to make more money than the average family earns by going to work.
“You don’t make work pay by cutting benefits to the point where people can’t afford the necessities of life – you do it by actually paying people in work enough money to make doing their job worthwhile.
“I don’t think it’s fair for people in benefits to have more money than the average family earns through work, but the answer is not to cut benefits; you must stop the ruthless exploitation of working people by fatcat business bosses. It isn’t rocket science. It’s common sense.”
So you can see that the Conservative Party has a poor record when it comes to polling. They ask leading questions in order to get the result they want, and then push it at the public as proof that they’re right.
In fact, in a comment, Vox reader Janet Renwick said: “Obviously the results of this will be triumphantly waved in our faces to show that the ‘Government’ is ‘in touch’ with the population. This is evil and designed to split the population and take sympathy away from the people most in need.”
How prophetic she was.
But what do the British people really think, and is it out of tune with the facts?
Let’s go to a TUC poll of people’s beliefs about benefits, published in January.
This found that, on average, people think that 41 per cent of the entire social security (welfare if you like) budget goes on benefits to unemployed people.
The true figure is just THREE per cent.
It also found that, on average, people think that 27 per cent of the social security (welfare) budget is claimed fraudulently.
The government’s own figure is 0.7 per cent.
You can see why Osborne said he’s “in tune” with what people are thinking. What people are thinking is inaccurate, but because it serves his purposes, he’ll support that – against the facts – every chance he gets.
But that’s no basis on which to justify changing the system. You wouldn’t convict somebody in court because “most people” think a defendant committed a crime, would you? No, we have a legal system that – at least nominally – is concerned with the FACTS of a case. At crown court, juries totalling 12 people are called in to examine the evidence provided, and determine those facts. They don’t have newspaper accounts pushed into their hands before being sent into the jury room to read those second- or third-hand accounts and then make up their minds!
So, if the Coalition government wants a proper debate on this issue, let’s have one.
Let’s have publication of the government’s own figures on the benefit bill, including the total amount paid on unemployment benefits, in real money terms and as a percentage of the whole budget; and the total percentage of the budget that is lost to fraudulent claims.
Let’s have proper discussion, with other facts provided as and when necessary.
And let’s have proper reporting of it in the media. There’s no reason for organisations like the BBC to rely on what politicians say, when the facts are available.
If Osborne is “in tune” with anything at all, it is a fantasy.
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