Tag Archives: House of Commons Library

Vox Political vindicated on unemployment figures

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How pleasant to see Vox Political‘s concerns about the massaging of UK unemployment figures being taken up by the kind of people the mass media actually respect.

A report on the BBC News website states that Conservative Party claims that unemployment has dropped by around 60 per cent in some areas is based on “wrong data” – in other words, the Tories are lying.

This blog has been saying that for a very long time!

The story says Tories have been using Jobseekers Allowance figures – the so-called Claimant Count – to justify their claims, but the independent Office for National Statistics showed only a 20 per cent drop in those seats. The ONS said online: “the number of unemployed people in the UK is substantially higher than the claimant count”.

Jonathan Portes, director of the National Institute of Economic and Social Research (and well-known to readers of this blog), said: “Many people who are unemployed don’t claim JSA… JSA figures at the local level are accurate, but it is not correct to confuse JSA rates and unemployment.”

In the BBC story, a Tory spokesman said the concern over the data was “nonsense”. He said: “This unemployment measure is provided by the independent House of Commons Library – and for constituencies they are the most up to date and most reliable numbers to use.”

Yes, the House of Commons Library does provide figures – with a caveat that they do not include the number of unemployed people claiming Universal Credit, and there is no date set for when those figures will be included in the Claimant Count (as reported by David Hencke in November last year). The current way of calculating these figures is misleading from the start.

In an article from the same month, This Writer made some other pertinent points:

“If employment has increased – and there’s no reason to say it hasn’t – we can also conclude that the reason employers are more willing to take people on is that they can pay peanuts for them and rely on the government to top them up with in-work benefits. It seems likely that the work was always there but employers weren’t going to take anybody on if it meant increasing the wages bill and reducing the amount of profit available to them. Now that zero-hours contracts are available, along with part-time schemes that deny people pensions and holiday pay, it’s a different matter.

“The number of people who were self-employed increased by a staggering 186,000, to reach 3.25 million, while people working as self-employed part-time increased by 93,000 to reach 1.27 million. That’s 4.52 million – almost one-sixth of the total number of people in work. If you think that’s great, you haven’t been paying attention. Remember this article, warning that the increase was due to older people staying in work? And what about the catastrophic collapse in self-employed earnings we discovered at the same time?

“How many of these are people who have been persuaded to claim tax credits as self-employed people, rather than jump through the increasingly-difficult hoops set out for them if they claimed Jobseekers’ Allowance – and do they know they’ll have to pay all the money back when their deception is discovered?

“The number of people in part-time employment has also increased, by 28,000 to reach 6.82 million. Are we to take it that this means under-employment has increased again?

“Public sector employment has fallen again. If you want to know why the government keeps messing you around, there’s your answer. There aren’t enough people to do the job. This month’s statistics show 11,000 fewer public sector employees than in March, and 282,000 fewer than this time last year.

“Unemployment is said to have dropped – but remember, this is not counting people who have been sanctioned. A recent study by Professor David Stuckler of Oxford University suggests as many as half a million people could have been sanctioned off-benefit in order to massage the figures, meaning that the total listed – 931,700 – is probably wrong. Remember also that Universal Credit claimants aren’t counted, nor are those on government work schemes – another 123,000 people.

“This means the actual unemployment rate is likely to be double the number provided by the official statistics.

“And what about people on ESA/DLA/PIP?”

In January this year, This Writer added: “New research by Oxford University and the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine has shown that only around one-fifth (20 per cent) of people who have been sanctioned off of Jobseekers’ Allowance have actually found work, leaving 1.6 million in limbo; they’re off the benefits system but researchers can only surmise that they are relying on food banks.”

And in February, Vox Political had this point to make: “We also know that many thousands have died – through suicide or complications of their physical conditions (if claiming incapacity benefits) after receiving decisions that were not only wrong, but may have been fraudulent.”

Whichever way you slice it, the Tories aren’t being straight with you.

You can trust Vox Political to give you the facts, though.

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Fears that women will die laughing at Cameron’s ‘fun’ and ‘optimistic’ claim

Don’t laugh – David Cameron is trying to ‘woo’ women voters.

David Cameron said his wife Samantha chooses his clothes for him.

David Cameron said his wife Samantha chooses his clothes for him.

In an interview with Woman & Home magazine (we haven’t heard of it either), reported by the BBC, the comedy prime minister revealed his love of cooking and watching television in his spare time.

That’s strange – the commonly-held belief was that he was all about playing Angry Birds, too much wine with his Sunday lunch and leaving his daughter behind when he visited the pub. Ah yes – this is mentioned further down the BBC article (except the bit about his daughter. Odd, that).

Apparently women are being asked to think he’s “optimistic” and “fun”, that he relies on his wife Samantha (the one who works for a tax-dodging company) to choose his clothes for him, he loves barbecues, detective dramas on TV (or House of Cards), and his children react “sensibly” to his job. Did that daughter react “sensibly” to being left in the pub, one wonders.

Strangely, nothing seems to be said about the policies Cameron has enacted that have victimised women excessively.

According to the House of Commons Library – as reported in the Independent, £22bn of the £26bn of the Treasury revenue raised from tax and benefit ‘reforms’ since 2010 has been taken from women – 85 per cent of the total, with only 15 per cent contributed by men.

The policies that have had the biggest impact on women include cuts in tax credits, which took £8.3bn from women but only £2.3bn from men, reductions in housing benefit, under which women lost £2.3bn and men £1.5bn, and the three-year freeze in child benefit, which costs women £3.5bn and men £346m.

More information on the effects on women of Coalition policies may be found here.

Strangely, they go unmentioned in both the BBC and magazine articles!

Never mind – you can always share this article around – purely in the name of balance, of course.

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Revealed: Labour did NOT pilot the Bedroom Tax

141230SNPbedroomtaxlie

The ‘infographic’ above is very popular among Scottish nationalists at the moment. In line with the wishes of the Scottish National Party (SNP), they are working hard to smear or discredit the Labour Party in order to undermine its support north of the border. There’s just one problem.

The claim is untrue.

The facts were revealed by a Labour councillor, Paul Bull, on Twitter today (December 30) after Yr Obdt Srvt spent yesterday evening arguing the matter with some particularly avid nationalists.

“I too was concerned by Malcolm Wicks’ comments in Hansard that seemed to suggest [a] Bedroom Tax pilot,” he tweeted. “So troubled that I decided to research what form that Bedroom Tax pilot took. That research … has even gone as far as the House of Commons Library.”

Then he wrote:

141230bedroomtaxfact

So this was a scheme that was announced by a Labour minister, certainly – but the Labour government of 2001 did not go through with it.

So much for the nationalists’ claims. “Oh what a tangled web we weave, when first we practise to deceive”, as someone once said. Or, more appropriately (perhaps), “The best-laid schemes o’ mice an’ men gang aft agley”.

Cllr Bull continued: “However, back then Labour did do something to encourage social tenants to downsize, where many local authorities offered cash incentives to encourage [it], and this scheme was available to ALL social housing tenants, so not just those on Housing Benefit.”

He provided information on Exeter City Council’s schemes, which are available to read here and here. The second link is to a PDF file which may not open in some browsers.

He concludes: “Elements of [the] Exeter Council scheme [are] still in place but incentives are not so generous. But Exeter Council now employ a Downsizing Officer to assist social housing tenants who do want to move.”

The reality, it seems, is a long way away from the harsh brutality of the Coalition’s Bedroom Tax, with which the SNP and its supporters hoped to tar the Labour Party.

Next time anyone tries to tell you Labour had anything to do with the Bedroom Tax, point them to this article.

How can people trust the SNP when it launches lying smear campaigns like this?

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The UK’s EU surcharge (another blow for Osborne) – Second Reading

[Image: Left Futures.]

[Image: Left Futures.]

At first glance, this article from the House of Commons Library blog didn’t look as though it was going to contribute anything new.

We know why the UK had to pay a surcharge to the EU based on its economy performance from 2002 until 2013 (according to this article; 2009 according to some others). We know that it relates to the EU budget because member states pay a proportion of their gross national income into the EU’s coffers in return for membership. We know that the revision goes back to 2002 because the EU disagreed with the way some member states had worked out their figures. We know that the question of whether the rebate would always apply to this payment is hotly debated.

But then the article states:

“Concessions have been reached on the timing and staging of payments. Member States will be able to pay in stages with payment completed by 1 September 2015. The original amending budget required a single payment to be made by 1 December 2014.

Member States paying later will not incur interest charges for doing so. Regulations would have allowed for interest payments of 2 percentage points above the base rate, increasing by a 0.25 percentage point for each month of delay.” [Boldings mine.]

Didn’t Osborne come back from Europe saying he had negotiated concessions for the UK? What’s all this “member states” business?

For example, on Radio 4’s Today programme on Saturday (November 9), he said: “This is a real win for British taxpayers… It’s another sign this government can get a good deal for Britain in Europe.” [Bolding, again, mine.]

There’s no mention of the other member states in his renegotiation story at all! Osborne makes it look as though he negotiated a deal for the UK that the other states agreed…

… In fact, it seems all member states agreed on a deal that would affect all member states.

For all we know, Osborne could have sat at the back of the room and twiddled his thumbs. The more we learn about this deal, the less significant his role seems to be.

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Debunking the myths: EU qualified majority voting does NOT mean the end of UK sovereignty

vote

A report is doing the rounds via Twitter and various blogs (e.g. Inquiringminds and pjcjournal) about changes in the European Union in November 2014 that will mean the end of British sovereignty.  They also claim that the Prime Minister’s promise to hold an in/out referendum by 2017 is spurious because it would be “illegal” under EU law. Many constituents have contacted their MP about the report, wanting to know if it is true, according to Second Reading, the blog run by staff at the House of Commons library.

Their verdict: It isn’t and it won’t.

Before we go on, it would be wise to point out that the House of Commons Library is not in any way subservient to any political party or philosophy. It provides impartial research and information services to MPs and their staff.

The article states [all bolding mine]: “The report points to 43 or so areas of EU policy areas that are subject to a system of voting called Qualified Majority Voting or QMV in the EU’s legislative body, the Council, which comprises government ministers from the 28 EU Member States. The report accuses David Cameron of being determined ‘to delay our referendum beyond that date, tying Britain for ever within the non-democratic, totalitarian and now clearly despotic EU’.”

Doesn’t this look like a UKIP plot?

“QMV has been a feature of EU decision-making since the birth of the EEC in 1957.  With various EU Treaty amendments, more EU policy areas have moved from governments agreeing by unanimity to agreeing by QMV, largely so that decisions can be made more easily in an expanding EU and not be held up by a need for consensus. QMV has been particularly useful i adopting laws to establish the single market.

The increased use of QMV does have implications for national sovereignty,  because it means individual governments can’t veto proposals they disagree with. However, they do not mean the end of the UK Government or Parliament, as claimed on blogs.

“Individual States’ powers of veto have been removed in some of the 43 areas, where unanimous agreement has been replaced with agreement by a qualified majority. This means governments have to work harder to form coalitions, find allies and negotiate compromises.

“In many of these areas the UK is not affected by any changes to voting because it has an opt-out from that policy area. So the list of items (as reported on blogs) over which it is claimed the UK will have no control is misleading and in some cases wrong:

  • The UK has an opt-in or opt-out option to EU measures concerning asylum, border controls, crime prevention, criminal justice cooperation, criminal law, Eurojust, Europol, freedom security and justice evaluation, immigration and police cooperation. This means the UK can choose whether or not to participate in decisions on these matters (but if we choose to participate, then we have to abide by the QMV rule).
    This arrangement applies to 11 of the items in the list.
  • The UK has an opt-out from the Euro and Eurozone representation.
  • In two cases – concerning freedom of movement for workers and social security – there is an ‘emergency brake’, which means that if a Member State objects to a proposal on grounds of important national concerns, the decision is taken by unanimity.
  • Common defence policy: any move towards achieving a common defence policy will be by unanimity. QMV can be used only to establish ‘structured cooperation’ in defence, whereby a group of like-minded Member States choose to cooperate in a defence-related matter. If the UK does not want to participate, it does not have to.
  • European Court of Justice: QMV is used only to amend the Court Statute.
  • Culture: QMV is used for incentive measures only.
  • Freedom to establish a business: QMV was used before the Lisbon Treaty.
  • The EU Armaments Agency was not in the Nice Treaty as stated in the blogs. The reference is to the European Defence Agency, which was established in 2004. The European Council (heads of state and government) decided unanimously in June 2003 to ask the “appropriate bodies of the Council to undertake the necessary actions towards creating, in the course of 2004, an intergovernmental agency in the field of defence capabilities development, research, acquisition and armaments”.
  • Funding the Common Foreign and Security Policy: only urgent start-up funds for emergency situations are subject to QMV.
  • Sport was not covered by the EU Treaty before Lisbon so the reference to the Nice Treaty is wrong.”

Finally, on the subject of the referendum:

A UK referendum vote on EU membership will not be ‘illegal’ and the UK will not be prevented from leaving the EU in the event of a negative vote in 2017.

“Article 50 of the Treaty on European Union (TEU) provides for a Member State to leave the EU if it wishes, without needing the permission of the other Member States. QMV would be used by the other Member States to agree the terms of exit for the withdrawing State.”

So there you have it. British sovereignty is safe and any promise of an in-out referendum on the European Union – by David Cameron or any other UK Prime Minister –  is supported, not banned, by EU law.

You can read the full article, Extending Qualified Majority Voting in the European Union: does this mean the end of British sovereignty?, on the Second Reading blog site.

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Tories and Lib Dems engineer fastest fall in wages since Victorian times

Damning: The graph by the House of Commons Library, showing how earnings have plummeted since Cameron's Coa-lamity government came into office.

Damning: The graph by the House of Commons Library, showing how earnings have plummeted since Cameron’s Coa-lamity government came into office.

David Cameron must be so proud. He wanted a return to the Victorian era and that is exactly what he has achieved.

Wages have nosedived, meaning the gap between the richest and poorest is larger than it has ever been; we already know that diseases once thought long-gone are stalking our streets once again while the National Health Service has been bled to the point of death; and the welfare state is in critical condition, with people who have paid into the system all their lives bullied out of claiming benefits when they are needed and sent back to die in their homes.

This is David Cameron’s brave new Britain.

The figures on wages are the latest blow against the public-relations Prime Minister’s credibility – they come from the respected House of Commons Library.

The graph (above) uses figures from the Office for National Statistics, the Bank of England and forecasts from Coalition poodles the Office for Budget Responsibility.

It shows that real earnings are expected to have fallen by 2.3 per cent between 2010 and 2015 – the first fall since 1922-3 when wages fell by 1.8 per cent – and the largest since 1874-80, under Conservative Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli, when they fell by 2.6 per cent.

Firm figures for 2010-13, from the ONS, paint an even worse picture – they show a 4.6 per cent drop during the three-year period.

So, Dear Reader, if you have been doubting Labour’s claim that wages have dropped by £1,600 per year, in real terms, since the Tories and the Liberal Democrats sidled into office, doubt no more!

This factual evidence has thrown into chaos Conservative claims that the UK has returned to prosperity because our Gross Domestic Product has finally exceeded its pre-financial-crisis peak.

Vox Political was right to say GDP might be up 3.1 per cent on last year but it has nothing to do with most of the population.

What is our part-time Chancellor going to do about it? He’s done quite a lot of nose-diving himself and, considering what he has managed from his office…

osborne-spandauballet-dominatrixflat

Let’s hope the song isn’t ‘Gold’, because the irony would be too much to bear.

George Osborne might as well go back to prancing around a prostitute’s boudoir to a soundtrack by Spandau Ballet.

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Workers blamed for sinking wages by Tory-controlled BBC

140201wages

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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