Theresa May in Parliament – and don’t you wish she wasn’t? [Image: YouTube].
All of us – especially women affected by the change in the state pension age – should be grateful that David Hencke was on the ball during Prime Minister’s Questions last Wednesday (February 7). I was (and am) still suffering from a cold and was no use to anybody.
He spotted the following falsehood, uttered by PM Theresa May.
I would strongly advise the 6,000+ women aged over 50 who live in Hexham, Northumberland, to consider Mr Hencke’s advice about Guy Opperman.
There was an extraordinary error by the Prime Minister, Theresa May, when she was challenged by Ian Blackford, the Scottish Nationalist leader, at Prime Minister’s Questions in Parliament.
Mr Blackford used one of his two questions to raise the plight of the 3.8 million WASPI women who have been hit by the government’s decision to raise the pension age from 60 to 65, then 66 and 67.
Mr Blackford asked: “A motion in this House last November, which received unanimous cross-party support—the vote was 288 to zero—called on the Government in London to do the right thing. Will the Prime Minister do her bit for gender equality and end the injustice faced by 1950s women.”
The Prime minister replied: “As people are living longer, it is important that we equalise the pension age of men and women. We are doing that, and we are doing it faster. We have already acted to give more protection to the women involved. An extra £1 billion has been put in to ensure that nobody will see their pension entitlement changed by more than 18 months. That was a real response to the issue that was being addressed.
3.8 million women waiting up to SIX years for their delayed pension have yet to get the message across. Theresa May just thinks you have a little wait of 18 months. And this £1.1 billion concession is just a future cost to the government over the next two years, no money has been paid out yet.
Some commenters on the original newspaper story claimed that Mr Woodcock, whose benefits had been cut, should be grateful for the “free” treatment he would receive from the NHS. The comment is despicable, as it misrepresents the contributory principle of ‘benefits in return for contribution’ (as framed by William Beveridge, who designed the Welfare State) to become “free allowances from the State”.
Glynis has sent us the following report, explaining why this is wrong. Unfortunately she has not said where she found it, so I cannot give it the proper attribution.
“Any discussion of Beveridge today needs to recognise that along with the erosion of the link between contributions and entitlements, the contributory principle has also been the victim of an extraordinary impoverishment of meaning.
“When Beveridge contrasted ‘benefits in return for contribution’ with ‘free allowances from the State’, his aim was to break with previous paternalist models of social protection: the new model turned on workers having an entitlement to the benefits for which they had paid.
“This did not mean that benefits were unconditional (Beveridge was clear that both unemployment and sickness benefits were conditional on making preparations to return to work except where this was ruled out by disability) but it meant that they were part of a deal between citizens and government: a social contract extending across the lifecycle and across generations.
“In contrast, when ‘the contributory principle’ is invoked these days it is often in terms of the policing of the benefit system, referring to little more than the idea that people who have not worked or fail to meet worksearch conditions should not be able to access benefits.
“This attenuation of the idea of contribution is an important development in the political language of welfare in the UK. It arises in part from the way the language of reciprocity came to be turned against the welfare state in earlier decades.
“The political fortunes of the phrase ‘something for nothing’ over the last twenty years are instructive. ‘The something for nothing society’ was introduced into the political discourse of welfare by Peter Lilley at the Conservative party conference in 1993; it was adapted by Tony Blair as ‘the something for nothing culture’ to frame New Labour’s welfare reform agenda in the late 1990’s. Variations on the phrase continue to frame policy statements on social security on both Labour and Conservative sides, reinforcing the message that the main problem faced by social security is one of non-reciprocity, of people taking out who have failed to put in.
“And policy under both the current and previous government has often seemed to have more to do with reinforcing the sense of a system subject to massive abuse than any genuine policy objective. It is hard to imagine Beveridge welcoming ‘lie-detector’ tests for benefit claimants, or proposals to cut benefits for the families of convicted rioters, or the existence of a benefit fraud hotline where people can denounce their neighbours under cloak of anonymity, with only 1.3 per cent of calls leading to the detection of any fraud.
“In the report we subject the ‘something for nothing’ perspective to a reality check and find it severely wanting. Perhaps the most heretical statement that could be made about the UK social security system is that it overwhelmingly does what the public want it to do: however, this would seem to be the case.
“Most people who claim benefits have ‘put in’ in the past and will do so in the future; most benefit claims are short-term; most long-term claims are for disabled people or carers.
“As for the social archetypes that haunt the contemporary welfare discourse – the families in which no-one has worked for generations, the areas where ‘nobody works around here’ – these bear virtually no relation to any identifiable social reality. To see ‘scrounging’ or benefit fraud as the main issues facing social security is about as realistic as seeing the theft of prescription medicines as the main issue facing the NHS.
“If the contributory principle is to play a serious role in future thinking about social security, we need to move away from the ‘something for nothing’ framing and address the ‘nothing for something’ problem of a system in which the great majority of people contribute but see little visible return for their contribution. In doing this, we should be alive to the full meaning of the principle that Beveridge set out when he talked of ‘benefits in return for contributions’.
“Although there were important limitations to Beveridge’s system which were to dog social security policy for decades – especially with regard to gender and disability – his contributory principle was nonetheless intended as a principle of inclusion. To use it to draw new lines of exclusion, as often seems to happen today, would be a poor tribute to his achievement.”
Possibly the most useful part of the above is the comparison with the NHS. Clearly the theft of prescription medicines is not the most important issue facing the health service – it is the effect of the shift to a privately-run healthcare system, its consequent burden on funds and its effect on treatment. Take that information back to the benefit system and there is a strong argument that all this talk of a “something for nothing” culture is an attempt to indoctrinate the public into accepting that they should contribute towards their own unemployment benefits by taking out insurance against losing their jobs – even though they have already contributed towards such a system, simply by paying their taxes. And remember – we all pay taxes; the government gains more revenue from indirect taxation (including, for example, VAT on goods purchased) than from Income Tax.
Energising: Keith Lindsay-Cameron prepares to take his case to the police.
An activist from Somerset is raising his own ‘Shoestring Army’ to crowdsource funds and mount a legal challenge against the government’s new Claimant Commitment for jobseekers, after police said they were unable to arrest Iain Duncan Smith and Lord Freud for breaching the Human Rights Act.
Keith Lindsay-Cameron, of Peasedown St John, near Bath, was advised to obtain the services of a solicitor and raise a legal challenge in the courts after he made his complaint at Bath police station on Friday (May 2).
He said the conditionality regime that is part of the new Claimant Commitment will re-cast the relationship between the citizen and the State – from one centred on ‘entitlement’ to one centred on a contractual concept in which the government provides a range of support only if a claimant meets an explicit set of responsibilities, with a sanctions regime to enforce compliance.
According to Mr Lindsay-Cameron, this amounts to the reintroduction of slavery. Forced compliance – through the sanctions regime – means people will be denied the means of survival if they fail to meet the conditions imposed on them. Deprivation of the means of survival, he claims, also breaches the act’s guarantee that everybody has the right to life and should not be deprived of it.
“The civilian desk receptionist asked my business and I gave her a verbal breakdown – that I had come to accuse Iain Duncan Smith and Lord Freud of crimes under the Human Rights Act 1998,” said Mr Lindsay-Cameron, who is better-known to thousands of readers as the author of the A Letter A Day To Number 10 internet blog.
“The Claimant Commitment contract means the loss of access to any benefits if one refused to sign, and benefit sanctions if one was considered to be in breach of the signed contract. Either way, this amounts to forced labour and therefore slavery.
“I was asked for more details and explained that a sanction – loss of benefits – meant the loss of the means of survival. I said we had not come to ridicule the police or to challenge them, but that they existed as our – ordinary folks’ – doorway to justice and that what I was doing there was asking for their help and that I was personally in the system and that we all needed help.”
But a police inspector told the activist, and the small group who attended to show their support, that officers at his station could not deal with the matter.
“I explained the situation and what the coercion of sanctions meant and that this did not constitute anything normal as a civic obligation under the human rights act – and I pointed out that if he made a mistake, he would not face a loss of a month’s income, nor three months’ for a second error or three years’ loss of income for a third infraction,” said the campaigner.
“He explained to me that, under the law, Iain Duncan Smith and Lord Freud were upholding the laws that they had made and that – whatever I felt about that – they had no case to answer and that his job as a police officer was to enforce the law.
“He said that I would need to obtain the services of a solicitor and raise a challenge in the courts for a judge to decide whether the actions of Duncan Smith and Freud were a breach of human rights.”
He said this process was already under way. The group has bought the internet domain name theshoestringarmy.com and will now start the process of a challenge.
Mr Lindsay-Cameron added that his visit to Bath Police Station was delayed when he stopped to meet a group of homeless people in the churchyard next door, while police were trying to move them on.
“It gave us a bizarre sense of what we were about to embark on,” he said.
“Where do people go, having nothing and welcome nowhere, in the land of the growing dispossessed?”
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