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Don’t believe the critics – Labour’s plans are good for Britain

What do you think of the Labour Party conference this year? It’s a loaded question and one that is bound to elicit loaded answers.

The propaganda machines of the other parties have been working overtime to discredit Her Majesty’s Opposition, with Scottish people who wanted independence (the minority, let’s remember) claiming Labour lied to them, UKIP supporters adamant that the party is full of child abusers (based on a BNP propaganda website, which should tell anyone with a brain all they need to know), and of course the Tories doing what they usually do – blaming all the country’s problems on the last Labour government while stealing the family silver.

You never hear ‘No’ voters saying Labour lied, do you? You never see UKIP supporters complaining about racism in their own party. You never see Tories calling for genuine reform that helps the 99 per cent, rather than the tiny minority that they represent.

So let’s look at what Labour is proposing. Let’s make a list – because, you know what? Mrs Mike was watching coverage of the conference yesterday, and even she tried to tell Yr Obdt Srvt that Labour wouldn’t keep its promises. If we have a list, we’ll be able to check the promises against what they do, after a Labour win next May.

So let’s see what Ed Miliband promised. He outlined six “national goals”, and he called for 10 years in which to hit them. You may very well ask: Has he been reading Vox Political? Recent comments questioning Labour’s intentions have been answered with the simple observation that it takes time to change the direction in which a country is travelling (or in the UK’s case, lurching), and Miliband’s words echo that sentiment. He can’t do everything in one day. It does take time. Let’s look at those goals.

They were:

Halve the number of people in low pay by 2025, raising the minimum wage by £60 a week or more than £3,000 a year.

Ensure that the wages of working people grow with the economy (something that is glaringly missing from the Conservatives’ ‘economic recovery’, meaning that – for the vast majority of us – it isn’t a recovery at all). Miliband said: “What’s amazing… is that statement, that goal is even controversial. It used to be taken for granted in our country that’s what would happen.” He’s right – look at today’s article from Flip Chart Fairy Tales that Vox Political re-published.

Create one million jobs in the green economy – neglected by the Conservatives – by 2025, committing to take all the carbon out of electricity by 2030; start a Green Investment Bank; devolve powers to communities to insulate five million homes by 2025, saving energy and heating costs

By 2025, ensure that as many young people will be leaving school or college to go on to an apprenticeship as currently go to university. It really is as though he’s been reading Vox Political. A long-standing gripe of this blog is that governments have concentrated on academic achievement while neglecting the education of people who have more practical aptitudes. This is a very welcome change.

By 2025, be building as many homes as we need, doubling the number of first-time buyers in the UK. Vox Political would prefer to see far more social housing; perhaps this will come as well but it wasn’t part of Miliband’s promise. Nevertheless, the pledge to build 500,000 new homes should make housing more affordable again for people who aren’t spectacularly wealthy or don’t have wealthy family members.

Finally, to create a world-class 21st century health and care service, funded by a clampdown on tax avoidance including tax loopholes by hedge funds that will raise more than £1 billion, proceeds from a mansion tax on homes above £2 million, and money from tobacco companies. Total: £2.5 billion (per annum, it seems). Some have said this is not enough when the NHS is facing a £20 billion shortfall but we must remember that this deficit only appeared recently and could be the result of Tory scaremongering, or the private companies introduced by the Tories leeching money out of the system to fatten their shareholders. More details were due from Andy Burnham today (Wednesday).

Oh yes, you see Andrew Lansley’s hated – Yr Obdt Srvt really cannot find the words to show how vile this diseased piece of legislation really is – Health and Social Care Act will be repealed by a Labour government. If you don’t care about any of the other measures, you should vote Labour for that reason alone.

So those are his six goals. But what’s this?

“It is time we complete the unfinished business of reform of the House of Lords so we truly have a Senate of the nations and regions.” Considering the way Cameron has been packing it with Tory donors, rather than people of any expertise (as it is intended to contain) this can only be a good thing.

“And it is time to devolve power in England.” What a blow against the Tories who have been claiming Labour want to delay or destroy such a process! Miliband is talking about “devolving power to local government, bringing power closer to people right across England”. That seems to be an indication that he wouldn’t create a new, expensive English Parliament but would give power back to the current councils – power that has been leeched away from them by centralising Conservatives and the previous, neoliberal, incarnation of Labour.

There’s more. He wants constitutional reform. But unlike David Cameron, who wants to impose changes from above, so that they only benefit people who are already rich and powerful, Miliband wants to make it a matter of public discussion. Those who can’t be bothered to take part will only have themselves to blame if they don’t get what they want.

There were promises on foreign policy – to stand up for the UK in Europe, in contrast to Cameron’s strategy which Miliband blasted: “When David Cameron comes calling, people don’t think he’s calling about the problems of Britain or the problems of Europe. They think he’s calling about the problems of the Conservative Party. And here’s the funny thing… If you’re elected the Chancellor of Germany or the Prime Minister of Italy or the President of France, you don’t really think you were elected to solve the problems of the Conservative Party.”

More solid was the promise to recognise the state of Palestine and actively seek a solution to the problems of that part of the world we might call – in an attempt to be fair – the Holy Land: “I will fight with every fibre of my being to get the two state solution, two states for two people, Israel and a Palestinian state living side by side.” Many detractors have wrongly claimed that Miliband is a Zionist, determined to support the Israeli government’s use of vastly superior firepower to eliminate Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank; they had better think again – and look very hard at David Cameron, whose government has done as little as possible to protest at what has been happening.

And Miliband also said he wanted Labour to fight discrimination against same-sex relationships around the world. That may not seem as important to some people, but in some places it is just as easy to be killed by homophobia as it is to be killed because of your religion. Personally, Yr Obdt Srvt finds same-sex relationships unattractive – but it takes all sorts to make a world.

That makes six more goals! Double the value.

These are all good aims. All of them, if seen through, will be good for the UK.

So there’s your checklist, with 12 – not six – goals on it. If you support Labour next year, you’ll be able to check Miliband’s progress against them and you’ll have a chance – halfway through his 10-year plan – to stop him if he’s not making it happen.

Alternatively, you can say to yourself – as Mrs Mike did last night: “He doesn’t mean it. They’re all the same. It’s not worth voting,” or any of the other things the Tory campaign chief Lynton Crosby would like you to believe, and you can sit on your thumbs at home. That would be a vote for the Conservatives to carry on raping your country and ripping you off.

If Labour win in spite of people like that, then they will still benefit from the changes Miliband wants to introduce, along with the rest of us. If the Conservatives win because of those people, then we will all lose – apart from a miserably small band of super-rich, super-selfish, super-arrogant and entitled exploiters who tell Cameron what to do.

Framed that way, it isn’t really a choice at all, is it?

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Osborne promising full employment – is this an April Fool?

Bottom of the class: If you believe George Osborne's talk about jobs and benefits, you must have been educated at one of Michael Gove's 'free schools'. [Image: Gaianeconomics]

Bottom of the class: If you believe George Osborne’s talk about jobs and benefits, you must have been educated at one of Michael Gove’s ‘free schools’. [Image: Gaianeconomics]

The answer has to be in the affirmative. Conservatives can’t promise full employment because it simply isn’t part of their philosophy.

As this blog has stated many times, Tories need a discontented underclass fermenting away beneath the lowest-paid members of the working class, in order to create the level of fear necessary to keep wages down.

The argument is that a person will not ask for a pay rise if they know their boss will turn around and say, “There are hundreds out there who will work for less than you – pick up your cards on the way out!”

For a more easy-access disproval of Osborne’s claim, we only have to look a little further into his speech – from the part where he said: “For it’s no good creating jobs – if we’re also paying people to stay on welfare.”

Hang on! When did our great Social Security system change from being a safety net to help get people back into work to “paying people to stay on welfare”?

Oh yes, that’s right – when we had an unelected Conservative government foisted on us. Tories pay people to stay on welfare because they need that fermenting underclass. The aim is always not to pay enough (as you will see).

The next few lines contain unfounded claims and opinions. See for yourself:

“We inherited a welfare system that didn’t work.” According to whom?

“There was not enough help for those looking for a job – people were just parked on benefits.” But there isn’t enough help now. Come to that, there aren’t enough jobs. Where are all the jobs, George?

“Frankly, there was not enough pressure to get a job – some people could just sign on and get almost as much money staying at home as going out to work.” How many people, George? Five? Six? You make it seem as though more than a million jobseekers were sitting at home and drawing as much money in social security as at work. That would be a lie, George.

“That’s not fair to them – because they get trapped in poverty and their aspirations are squashed.” Whereas Conservative policy means what? Oh yes – they get trapped in poverty and their aspirations are squashed.

“It’s certainly not fair to taxpayers like you, who get up, go out to work, pay your taxes and pay for those benefits.” Tory divide-and-rule. You are different to them, because you have a job. If you are low-paid, it is because they are sucking down your tax money to pay for their extravagant lifestyles (I think we’ve all quite thoroughly killed that particular myth, haven’t we? It doesn’t exist outside the Tory political mind).

“Next Monday is when we do more to encourage people without jobs to find them… Benefits will only go up by 1 per cent – so they don’t go up faster than most people’s pay rises, as used to be the case.” This means people on benefits will start to become much worse-off than they are already. Jobseekers’ allowance used to be pegged at around one-sixth of average pay but will now drop to a far lower proportion, because the Tories lied to you when they said benefit rises were far greater than pay rises. One per cent of Jobseekers’ Allowance at a weekly rate of £71 is 70p; one per cent of the average weekly wage in April 2013, which was £517 per week, is £5.17. You see the difference? Oh, and one more thing: Where are all the jobs, George?

“When I took this job, some people were getting huge payouts – receiving £50,000, £60,000 even up to £100,000 in benefits. More than most people could get by working.” How many people, George? Five? Six? One, perhaps?

“So we’ve capped benefits, so that a family out of work can’t get more in benefits than the average working family.” I’m not actually opposed to ensuring that people on benefits can’t take home more than people in work. However, while accurate, this line is disingenuous. George has ensured that a family out of work takes home at least £5,000 less, per year, than an average working family because of the way he and his Tory friends rigged the system. He’s lying to you.

“And we are bringing in a new Universal Credit to make sure work always pays.” He means “pays more than benefits”. He doesn’t mean “pays a living wage”. Spot the difference?

Now here comes some more oppression, based on a really big lie.

“From this month we’re also making big changes to how people go about claiming benefits. We all understand that some people need more help than others to find work.” What work? Where are all the jobs, George?

“So starting this month we’ll make half of all people on unemployment benefits sign on every week – and people who stay on benefits for a long time will have to go to the job centre every day so they can get constant help and encouragement.” Help and encouragement, is it, George? Have you witnessed the kind of “help and encouragement” they get at the job centre? DWP employees should face harassment charges for the disgraceful way they treat their fellow citizens.

“We’re going to require people to look for work for a week first before they get their unemployment benefit. From now on the deal is this: look for work first; then claim the dole. Not the other way around.” Why? In order to drive people into grinding poverty as early as possible? Forcing people to wait until they claim means they could be without money for food, accommodation and utilities for up to a month, while the system processes them. This is not fair. It is cruel and demeaning – especially when Tory George knows there’s no work to be had.

“When people turn up at the job centre they’ll be expected to have a CV ready and to have started looking on our new jobs website.” This is the Universal Jobmatch website that is habitually used by criminals for identity theft, or to offer jobs in the sex industry. It’s so bad that the government itself is planning to ditch it when the contract with its provider runs out in two years’ time. Why would anybody in their right mind use that?

And now here’s the clincher:

“We will ask many of the long term unemployed to do community work in return for their benefits – whether it is making meals for the elderly, clearing up litter, or working for a local charity.”

In other words, they will ensure that fewer jobs are available by making jobseekers do the work for nothing. Brilliant idea, George – you are wrecking our economy.

“All of this is bringing back the principles that our welfare state was originally based on – something for something, not something for nothing.” A lie, couched in truth. The Welfare State is based on the principle that people on hard times were able to take advantage of benefits because, when in work, they paid into the system via taxes and National Insurance. That’s the “something for something”. It is not based on the idea that jobseekers have to take jobs off the market by doing them for free. That’s just plain silly.

In fact, George, you are just plain silly.

So, returning to the question in our headline, it’s clear to see the answer.

If anyone here is an April Fool, it’s George Osborne.

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My Bedroom Tax protest speech

Standing in the shadow of a giant: Vox Political's Mike Sivier (front) at 'Cooper Corner', with Caerphilly Castle in the background.

Standing in the shadow of a giant: Vox Political’s Mike Sivier (front) at ‘Cooper Corner’, with Caerphilly Castle in the background.

Vox Political was relatively quiet yesterday; although I reblogged plenty of articles from other sources, there was no new piece from the site itself because I was in Caerphilly, delivering a speech at a Bedroom Tax protest there.

Caerphilly is the birthplace of the late, great comic Tommy Cooper, and it was in the shadow of his statue that the demonstration took place. I instantly (and privately) named the location ‘Cooper Corner’.

I took the opportunity to lighten proceedings at the start by suggesting that Mr Cooper (albeit in petrified effigy) would be providing the jokes. I held the microphone up towards the statue. “Anything? No? No. I didn’t think so.” Turning back to the crowd I added: “The Bedroom Tax is no laughing matter.” Then I got into the body of the speech:

“I write a small blog called Vox Political. I started it a couple of years ago as an attempt to put in writing what a reasonable, thinking person might have to say about government policies in these years of forced austerity, and politics in general.

“As you can probably imagine, this means I knew about the Bedroom Tax, several months before it was actually imposed on us all. I was writing articles warning people against it from October 2012. The trouble was, Vox Political is a small blog that even now has only a few thousand readers a day – and the mainstream media has been almost entirely bought by a political machine with far more funding than I have.

“It is a tax, by the way. You may have heard a lot of nonsense that it isn’t, but consider it this way: a tax is defined as a compulsory contribution to state revenue, levied by the government against a citizen’s person, property or activity, to support government policies.

“It is not a ‘spare-room subsidy’. If anyone in authority tries to tell you you’re having your ‘spare-room subsidy’ removed (or more likely, imposed, they’re so confused about this), just tell them to go and find the Act of Parliament that introduced the ‘spare room subsidy’, using those words. Tell them if they can find it, you’ll pay it – but if they can’t, they must not take any money away from you. They won’t be able to find it because it doesn’t exist.

“It is more accurately described as the ‘State Underoccupation Charge’ – SUC! And it really does suck.

“It sucks money that social housing tenants need for food, heat, water and other necessities out of their pockets and forces them to send it to their landlord instead – either the local council or a social landlord like a housing association. The reasoning behind it has always been that this would encourage people to move, but in fact we know that there is no social accommodation for them to move into. When the Bedroom Tax became law, there was only enough smaller housing to accommodate around 15 per cent of the affected households. It is clearly a trap, designed to make poor people poorer.

“This is why the first advice I put on my blog was for anyone affected by the Bedroom Tax to appeal against it – and I was criticised quite harshly for it, because some people decided such action would mark tenants out as troublemakers and create more problems for them. At the time, I thought it was right to give some of the aggravation back to the people who were foisting this additional burden onto lower-income families; make them work for it, if they want it so badly. As it turns out, I was right to do so, because there are so many loopholes in the legislation that it seems almost anybody could avoid paying!

“Do you think Stephanie Bottrill would have died if she had known that she could successfully appeal against her Bedroom Tax, on the grounds that she had been a social housing tenant since before January 1996 and was therefore exempt? The government spitefully closed that particular loophole earlier this month, but that lady is already dead, due to a lie. Had she been properly informed, she could have successfully fought it off and then taken advice on how to cope with it after the government amendment was brought in.

“There is a case for corporate manslaughter against the Department for Work and Pensions, right there. If tested in court, it seems likely that the way its activities have been managed and organised by senior management – the fact that it foisted the Bedroom Tax, wrongly, on this lady – will be found to have led to her death, in gross breach of its duty of care to those who claim state benefits (in this case, Housing Benefit).

“David Cameron has wasted a great deal of oxygen telling us all that disabled people are not affected by the tax. Perhaps he could explain why a disabled gentleman in my home town was forced to move out of his specially-adapted home, incurring not only the cost of moving but an extra £5,000 for removing the adaptations and installing them into new accommodation? He appealed against Bedroom Tax decision but the result came back after the date when he had to be out of his home. Can you guess what it was? That’s right – he won. I have been trying to get him to take legal action against the council and the government about this as it would be an important test case.

“There are other grounds for appealing against the Bedroom Tax. Just because your council wants to claim every room that could be a bedroom is a bedroom, that doesn’t make it so. A fellow blogger, Joe Halewood, has published a list of other room designations that you are allowed to have.

“It includes a study, a utility room, a play room, even an Iain Duncan Smith voodoo doll-making room, if that takes your fancy!

“I was particularly happy to hear that you can have a study as I’ve been writing my blog from the broom cupboard – oh! That’s another room you can have!

“Check the DWP’s online forms. They ask about bedrooms, and then they ask about other rooms. The distinction is clear.”

Then I closed the speech. In retrospect, I should have finished with a few words about the fact that this was the first bit of public speaking I had ever done. I could have given them something along these lines: “I am aware that speech-making is a lucrative sideline for many people, including comedians (although I’m not aware that Mr Cooper ever made any) and also politicians. Perhaps I should use this platform to suggest that, if you know anybody who is considering booking a speaker for a special occasion – society dinner, rugby club social, wedding or party, why not ask them to get in touch with me – instead of Iain Duncan Smith!”

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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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Another Cameron lie: Energy companies’ profits are unaffected by his changes – and we still pay

Cost shock: Even the Conservative-supporting Daily Telegraph has been complaining about high energy prices - as demonstrated by this cartoon from 2012.

Cost shock: Even the Conservative-supporting Daily Telegraph has been complaining about high energy prices – as demonstrated by this cartoon from 2012.

To borrow a favourite David Cameron phrase: Let us be clear on this – any savings on your fuel bills as a result of the Coalition government’s policy change will be added to general taxation in another way and you will still pay.

Energy firms’ profits, which have tripled since 2010, will be unaffected. Cameron’s plan is akin to shifting deckchairs on the Titanic (to borrow another well-known saying).

Why on Earth does he think anybody is going to be deceived by this silliness?

Even with the changes in place, prices will still rise by an average of around £70, at a time when people were already being forced to choose between (let’s have yet another now-tired phrase) heating and eating. Average household incomes have dropped by nine per cent since David Cameron made himself Prime Minister by the back door three years ago.

Average pay for bosses of FTSE-100 companies has risen by 20 times the rate of pay growth for most workers, just in the last year. And let’s not forget that they were getting much higher than average pay already!

It should surprise nobody that all of the ‘Big Six’ energy firms are part of the FTSE-100 – or were, before foreign takeovers.

This means average pay for these companies’ bosses should be around £2,321,700, while profits have risen to £2 billion – up 75 per cent on last year (according to the Independent reports).

None of this will be changed by David Cameron’s measures, which were hastily cobbled together in a bungled bid to regain the initiative from Labour, whose plan to freeze energy prices and re-order the energy market has captured the public imagination.

Instead Cameron – who once campaigned under the slogan ‘Vote Blue – Go Green’ – will postpone green policy targets to a later date, cutting the so-called ‘green levy’ on the energy firms accordingly. This means the UK will be forced to rely on greenhouse gas-producing carbon fuels for longer.

Subsidies for people in fuel poverty will be moved into general taxation, meaning we pay for them rather than the energy firms who should.

“Even after these changes to levies, energy bills are still rising and the average household will still be paying £70 more for their energy than last winter,” said Labour’s Shadow Energy and Climate Change Secretary, Caroline Flint. “Any help is better than none, but you can judge this Government by who they’re asking to pick up the tab – the taxpayer. The energy companies have got off scot-free.

“This shows why nothing less than a price freeze and action to reset the market to stop the energy companies overcharging again in the future will do.”

She was expected to tell the IPPR thinktank today: “If David Cameron and Nick Clegg think just doing what the energy companies ask of them is the answer to bills being too high, they are wrong.

“Energy bills have gone up by £120 this winter alone, so even with a £50 cut in levies, people’s bills will still be higher this winter than last year. The real reason bills are rising year on year without justification is because the energy market is broken.

“Instead of bailing out the energy companies, David Cameron should stand up to them and stop them overcharging people.”

But we all know that David Cameron never stands up to his corporate masters, don’t we?

(Vox Political‘s Mike Sivier will be talking about the energy scandal, along with the continuing cover-up of DWP-related deaths on Sonia Poulton Live today. You can see it by visiting www.thepeoplesvoice.tv, starting at 5pm.)

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The great wage con is keeping you poor

minimum-wage-poverty

Is anyone else sick of employers bleating that the minimum wage is hindering their business?

They must think we’re all stupid.

A few of them were on the BBC’s Any Answers on Saturday, saying the minimum wage keeps pay down, and that people can’t afford to go to work – especially if they live in London – because their housing costs are paid by benefits. This is nonsense.

The minimum wage is exactly what it claims to be – a minimum. And if people aren’t getting up to work for it because benefits give them more, we can see that it is not enough.

But let’s take this further: We all know that Landlord Subsidy is being restricted – especially in London, where landlords charge more than in the rest of the country. This means that people on low incomes in rented homes will be unable to pay the bills and will be forced to move somewhere cheaper (if they can find it), as intended by our extreme right-wing government.

Where are all these minimum-wage employers going to find their minimum-wage workers then?

Even that isn’t the limit of it, though. We know from such sources as the summer’s excellent Dispatches documentary on Channel 4 that employers have found ways around the minimum wage.

  • They have taken people on as self-employed contractors who are paid a flat rate for a day’s work – no matter how long that work takes – and being self-employed, these people pay their own taxes and National Insurance, and get no time off for holidays or if they are ill.
  • They have taken on workers on part-time contracts, meaning reduced or non-existent holiday and sick pay entitlements – and then boosted up their hours to full-time levels with fake ‘overtime’ offers.
  • They have employed workers on zero-hours contracts, meaning they can demand an employee’s presence at any time and make them work for as long – or short – a period as required. Again, there are no tax administration obligations, NI, sickness or holiday benefits.

The result is very nice for a government of liars such as the current Westminster administration, because it seems they have managed to increase employment (in fact the last figures showed unemployment is greater than at the end of the Labour administration in 2010, but by such a small amount that it’s not worth mentioning).

Production, on the other hand, has remained flat. If more people are in work, it should have increased.

That is how we know we are looking at a con.

If more people are in work but production hasn’t gone up, we must question the incentive for this increased employment. It has already been mentioned: The lack of holiday and sick pay entitlement, National Insurance and tax admin obligations. The larger the employer, the larger the saving – but this doesn’t mean small firms aren’t feeling the benefit.

The minimum wage worker’s income is topped up by benefits – but the government is cutting these back. Landlord Subsidy in London won’t be enough for people on the kind of contracts described here to stay in their homes, and this means a consequent job loss if they have to move out of the area.

Tax credits are being removed; child benefit restricted. Universal Credit (if it ever works) will operate in real-time, adjusting benefits to ensure that low-paid workers remain in an income trap for as long as their wages remain below a certain level.

Employers reap the benefits. But even they are being conned, because this can’t last forever.

Imagine a Britain without in-work benefits but where the living wage has not been introduced nationwide (this will be a reality in a few years, under a Coalition or Conservative government). Workers on the self-employed, part-time or zero-hours contracts described here will not earn enough to survive.

Private debt will increase exponentially, leading to increased mental illness as the stress of trying to cope takes its toll on the workforce. Physical illness will increase as people cut back on heating in their homes and food in their fridges and larders. Result: malnourishment and disease.

What happens then? It’s hard to say. It may be that employers will take on increasing numbers of cheap foreign workers – but there is already resentment at the influx of immigrants from the European Union and this could lead to civil unrest.

It seems likely that the largest firms will leave these shores. If we compare them to huge parasites – and we can – then the host will have been drained almost dry and it will be time to move on and find another to treat the same way. These are the companies who have reaped huge rewards from tax avoidance, aided by the ‘Big Four’ accountancy firms – KPMG, Deloitte, PricewaterhouseCoopers and Ernst & Young – who have been writing – into British law – ways for them to get out of paying their share.

The smaller employers might keep going for a while or collapse; it depends how much their bosses save up for the inevitable crash. Deficit financing of their business will support them for a while but, if they don’t have any ideas, they’ll go under.

All because a few very greedy people just won’t pay a reasonable amount for a hard day’s work.

They get on the media, telling us they can’t afford higher wages. In that case, why are they even in business? If they need a workforce of a certain size, but cannot pay a living wage, then they simply should not bother. All they are doing, in the long run, is contributing to a monumental confidence trick that will cause immense harm to the economy and the nation’s health.

Of course, the UK did not always have in-work benefits. People used to be paid enough to make ends meet. We should be asking why that changed and who benefits. A return to that situation would benefit the country enormously – but it isn’t going to happen on the minimum wage, and it isn’t going to happen on zero-hours contracts.

It’s time to name these firms and ask bosses who employ on these terms why those contracts are necessary and why they feel justified in the damage they are causing.

And while we’re at it, it’s time to ask our MPs why they tolerate it, too.

Nick Clegg is in ‘Bedroom Tax’ denial – how does he sleep at night?

The body language says it all: Nick Clegg appears to goose-step off the stage after his conference speech on Wednesday, Nazi-saluting his fellow party members.

The body language says it all: Nick Clegg appears to goose-step off the stage after his conference speech on Wednesday, Nazi-saluting his fellow party members.

It seems this blog’s prediction that the Liberal Democrat leader would ignore the wishes of his party in favour of cosying up to the Tories has been proved accurate.

The Northern Echo has reported that Clegg is refusing to do anything about the so-called ‘under-occupation charge’, even though it is now his party’s policy to oppose it and demand its repeal.

Instead he has blamed local authorities for any problems suffered by the tax’s victims. He told the Echo that councils were failing to spend – or even returning – Discretionary Housing Payment cash which the government has handed out to them as aid for people falling into rent arrears.

He was lying, of course. It seems unlikely that a falsehood of this magnitude can be ascribed to poor advice.

The example used by the newspaper was that of Durham County Council, which received £883,000 from the government to hand out as DHPs – a sum which the council’s resources director, Don McLure, said would last just eight weeks.

In total, councils have been given £150 million to hand out, which may seem a large amount – but is in fact dwarfed by the demand.

Clegg’s rationale for his claim was that several councils had returned some of their DHP allocation at the end of the last financial year – but this was before the bedroom tax had been imposed and so the claim means nothing – and he must know this.

Excuses for the bedroom tax are flying thick and fast, after research by the Independent and the campaign group False Economy proved that 50,000 families are in danger of eviction because of it.

On the BBC’s Question Time, Shirley Williams claimed that the tax had created problems because suitable smaller accommodation had not been built in readiness for the demand it caused. This is nonsense. If there was already demand for accommodation – and we must assume so, because this is the reason the Conservatives have spent so long bleating about families on waiting lists who need accommodation that the tax’s victims are, allegedly, blocking – then why didn’t the government just get on and build it?

The tax was really brought in for several reasons: It is partly a reaction against the increase in the Housing Benefit bill to accommodate people with jobs whose wages are below their cost of living – this is due to greed on the part of employers; it is partly intended to clear housing – not for people on any waiting list but as a form of social cleansing, getting the riff-raff out of attractive parts of our towns and cities; and it is also another attempt to spite people on sickness, incapacity or disability benefits, who must either face the extra cost and inconvenience of removing special adaptations to their houses and reinstalling them elsewhere if they are able to move, or must lose the company of carers who use spare bedrooms when they have to stay over, or must pay the tax and live without food or heat, thereby risking their health.

According to Facebook friend Shirley Nott, the government’s spokespeople are extremely relaxed about this eventuality: “Apparently, there’s no need for alarm. Under no circumstances should anyone assume anything untoward is occurring.

“The reports of 50,000 potential – imminent (initial) evictions are not (“necessarily”) going to be “representative” of a potential situation in the more medium/long term. The ‘rationale’ for this cheery response is (obviously) that the ‘Not a Bedroom Tax’ is only just starting to make its presence felt and so, (of course) people have only just begun “adjusting” to it.”

So their imminent eviction followed, no doubt, by a nice quiet death in a side street is merely “adjusting” to the new system.

Shirley continues: “Government spokespeople… have been at pains to explain – in words of one syllable – that no-one else should worry. It seems possible that some – even most – of those 50,000 mentioned in today’s news might find such an artfully-delivered response to imminent eviction a little difficult to come to terms with – but interested members of the government are very likely to have reasoned that they’ll probably be far too preoccupied with practicalities to make much of it.”

Maybe not – but they can still rely on blogs such as this one to make the point for them.

Please – everyone – feel free to splash this article around wherever you see fit. Use excerpts in letters to your local newspapers, share it with friends who don’t realise the seriousness of the situation – we’ve already had suicides because of this tax, don’t forget…

Make sure it doesn’t go away.

Place your bets on Osborne’s next excuse for economic failure

This is not a good time to run a retail business - the effect of the Coalition's benefit cuts will trickle up and bite our rich retailers and industrialists hard.

This is not a good time to run a retail business – the effect of the Coalition’s benefit cuts will trickle up and bite our rich retailers and industrialists hard.

According to the BBC website, business activity was hit hard by last month’s exceptionally cold weather, with the number of people visiting shops down by more than five per cent.

For one person, this will have been an extremely pleasant piece of news, because for once he won’t have to explain himself.

That person is, of course, Gideon George Osborne.

For one month, he hasn’t been in the unenviable position of having to root around in the political undergrowth for a reason the economy has tanked – that isn’t related to his own hopelessly inadequate economic policies.

For one month only!

He will not have an excuse when the figures come in for April, worse than for March, as sane economic forecasters should expect.

Instinct says he will tell us the funeral of Margaret Thatcher will have something to do with it. He used the wedding of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge as a shield – what goes for ‘matches’ must surely apply also to ‘dispatches’.

The real reason will be the effect of the huge benefit cuts, that will take £19 billion out of the economy over the next year, if commentators are to be believed.

That’s just in money terms. Add in a conservative estimate of the fiscal multiplier (the effect on the economy) and we’re staring into the black pit of a £30.4 billion loss. That would be £500 for every person in the UK, if we were all affected.

But the richest among us won’t be. It is on the poorest and least able to defend themselves that this hammer blow has fallen. The government has been giving money back to the richest, as we all know.

In fact, this show of support for his cosseted buddies might protect them from the storm that’s coming, and may therefore prove to be a shrewd move – but we must all remember that Osborne is not an intelligent man and good fortune coming to anyone as a result of his policies is pure chance.

Because the rich will be affected by the benefit cuts. Poor people have no choice but to spend the money they receive. They have to buy things they need and pay the bills, so it goes on food, heat, light, water, the rent, repairs and other necessaries. With less money available to them, they will not be spending as much in the shops, and will be more careful about how much gas, electricity and water they use, as well.

Who owns and runs the shops? Who owns the shares in the utility companies (now that the bulk of shares have been bought up from the middle-class speculators who bought them in the 1980s)?

The rich.

After a few months of this, we’ll see what happens to their profit margins. My guess is that a £100,000 tax rebate won’t help very much.

The propaganda machine keeps spewing out nonsense, of course. Only last weekend we heard Francis Maude telling Jonathan Dimbleby and the Any Questions audience in Exeter: “The Coalition government, which is two parties which have come together from a different place, in the national interest, to do something quite big and difficult, which is to address the biggest budget deficit any country in the west had.”

It wasn’t the largest budget deficit of any western country – either by size or percentage of GDP. That was a flat-out lie and I wish Jimbles would pull him up on it.

The deficit in the United States is greater than ours in percentage terms; in money terms, it dwarfs the UK.

Across the whole world, Japan has the biggest deficit.

Strangely, you don’t hear the Japanese making a big fuss about it.