Skwawkbox is absolutely right to remind us all of the monster in charge of the Department for Work and Pensions at the moment.
We’ve had a spate of resignations from the Tory government and that may have taken our minds off the fact that there are threats to the lives of innocent and vulnerable people still on their front bench.
Calls for Ms McVey to resign were widespread last week, after she lied repeatedly to Parliament.
But a week is a long time in politics, and many members of the public may think that a resignation is enough, even though it isn’t the resignation that is needed.
It isn’t enough. That’s why we have to keep reminding the people that all the Tories have to go.
DWP Secretary Esther McVey appeared before MPs again yesterday – fresh from lying last week about her ‘apology’ for lying to them – to answer questions about her department’s disastrous Universal Credit system.
Labour’s Liam Byrne stood to talk about the chaos of Universal Credit in his Birmingham Hodge Hill constituency and told Ms McVey about one of his constituents so badly impacted by it that her family can’t afford food – or even socks for her children’s feet.
A situation of such agonising pathos must surely elicit a human response from even a hard-hearted Tory – even if only a token word. Right?
McVey made no reference at all to the poor woman or even her children – just a lame quip about Byrne’s note left for his successor after Labour lost the 2010 general election, while her equally callous colleagues jeered.
Rearranging the pack: Both the government and its opposition are having a reshuffle today – but will we get aces, or just another set of jokers?
Today’s the day – doomsday for some, and a new dawn for others. Both the Coalition and Labour are reshuffling their top teams.
We already know some of the names that have stepped down. On the government side, Michael Moore has been sacked as Scottish Secretary, to make way for fellow Liberal Democrat Alistair Carmichael. Apparently Mr Carmichael, referring to the upcoming referendum on Scotland seceding from the Union, has said he is “up for it”.
At least nobody tried to put a Tory in, to represent a country where that party has no MPs at all. It may seem beyond the realm of possibility but with the Government of Idiots (and I refer to the term in its classical sense) it would not be surprising.
Deputy Chief Whip John Randall and Cabinet Office Minister Chloe Smith (who was humiliated on the BBC’s Newsnight last year when, as Exchequer Secretary, she struggled to answer questions about the government’s decision to defer a rise in fuel duty. It seems she had been promoted because David Cameron mistakenly believed she was a trained accountant. This does not bode well for today’s decisions) have both stepped down.
The BBC reported that Ms Smith’s resignation letter stated she had been “only 27” when she became an MP and now wanted to “develop other ways of giving public service” – indicating possible disillusionment with the Coalition government and the way it conducts itself.
Transport Minister Simon Burns has also stepped down – but this is to run for the position of Deputy Speaker, which was left vacant by Nigel Evans after he stepped down to fight criminal charges for sexual assault.
All the pundits are saying the government reshuffle will concentrate on mid-level ministers, with every Cabinet-level Tory secure in their position. What a shame.
Meanwhile, over at Labour, the situation is not so clear. Ed Miliband’s decisions have been unrestricted, and speculation has ranged from whether he will increase Shadow Cabinet representative for women, bring back members of Labour’s old guard (unlikely – he would face criticism along predictable lines from the Tories and besides, this seems to be about bringing in new, more attractive faces), promote people who are loyal to him or (my preference) have a Shadow Cabinet Of All Talents – including critics who happen to be very good at their jobs.
Abraham Lincoln had a Cabinet Of All Talents, if I recall correctly. Some consider this to be part of what made him great.
One person who won’t be a part of Labour’s team is former Minister (and then Shadow Minister) for the Disabled, Anne McGuire. who quit last week after five years in the job.
The Stirling MP was praised by disability campaigners such as Sue Marsh who, in an email, described her as “the one true ally we had on Labour’s front bench”.
And blogger Sue Jones wrote: “Anne will always be remembered by our community for her very articulate attacks on the media’s [mis]representation of disabled people and on the Government’s welfare reforms, in parliamentary debate. I remember her account of private debate, too, on the same topic with Iain Duncan Smith, and such was her ferocity and anger at the profound unfairness of the media’s sustained persecution of sick and disabled people, fanned by Iain Duncan Smith, as we know, that she pinned him against a wall on one occasion.”
But the former Shadow Minister, who is herself disabled, ran into controversy when she agreed to host a fringe meeting at this year’s Labour Party Conference, organised by the right-wing thinktank Reform, and sponsored by the Association of British Insurers.
Entitled ‘New thinking on the welfare state’, the event seems to have been a front for insurance companies to try to influence Labour’s thinking on social security in the future. Similar events were arranged by Reform and staged at both the Liberal Democrat and Conservative conferences.
Discussions at the private, round-table policy seminar seem to have centred on ways in which insurance companies could become more involved with social security – what products they could sell to working-class people who fear the loss of income that follows loss of employment.
This is exactly the scenario that the American Unum corporation wanted to create when it was invited into the then-Department of Social Security by Peter Lilley – a weakened state system that either cannot or will not support people in genuine need, particularly the sick and disabled, forcing them to buy insurance policies in the hope that these will top-up their income.
Anne McGuire denied this was the intent of the exercise but it is significant that neoliberal New Labour did nothing to prevent the advance of this agenda during its years in power, including the period she spent as Minister for the Disabled.
People who have suffered under the current benefit regime are demanding – ever more stridently – that Labour should mount a strong attack on the practices of the Department for Work and Pensions, as run by Iain Duncan Smith and his cronies, Mark Hoban and Esther McVey.
Part of this demand is that private organisations such as Unum and Atos, which administers work capability assessments, should be kicked out, and a new, fairer system of determining disability benefits based on a claimant’s medical condition and needs, rather than the greed of private enterprise, should be brought in.
There has been no hope of this with plastic Tory Liam Byrne as Shadow Work and Pensions spokesman, but rumour has it he could be shunted out and replaced by Rachel Reeves. Is this a good move?
The omens are not wonderful. She is yet another alumnus of the Politics, Philosophy and Economics course at Oxford (another notable example of that course’s graduates is David Cameron). Her background is in business. She once interviewed for a job with tax avoiders Goldman Sachs (but turned down the job offer) and has been named by The Guardian as one of several MPs who use unpaid interns.
Falling on deaf ears: The chorus of protest against the bedroom tax is unlikely to be heard at the Conservative Party Conference in Manchester, where delegates will be discussing how to bribe the electorate into supporting them in 2015. [Picture: Matthew Pover in the Sunday People]
Does David Cameron have any new policies that are big enough to silence the rising clamour of discontent against him?
He’ll need something big – Coalition partners the Liberal Democrats managed only a tax on plastic bags (an idea stolen from the Labour Welsh government) and a few weak cries of “Please let us stay in government after 2015”.
He has set aside £700 million for the scheme, which is more than the government would have spent if it had not imposed the bedroom tax.
A brand-new ComRes poll is showing that 60 per cent of voters agree with Labour’s plan to abolish the bedroom tax – which hits 660,000 households. And one in five Liberal Democrats could vote Labour in protest at the tax.
The issue has prompted shadow Work and Pensions secretary Liam Byrne to say something with which this blog can actually – for once – agree! He said: “It is the worst possible combination of incompetence and cruelty, a mean-spirited shambles. It’s got to go.”
He added that the bedroom tax was likely to cost more than it saved – a point made by this blog many months ago.
Another hopelessly unpopular Tory policy to come from Iain Duncan Smith’s Department for Work and Pensions has been the work capability assessment for sick and disabled claimants of Employment and Support Allowance. It seems one of the first things the Tories did was alter this test so that it became almost impossible to accumulate enough points to be found in need of the benefit.
The result has been three years of carnage behind closed doors, where people with serious conditions have been forced into destitution that has either caused their death by worsening their condition, or caused the kind of mental health problems that lead to suicide. Thousands – perhaps tens of thousands – have died.
The Very Reverend Dr David Ison, who presided over Margaret Thatcher’s funeral, signed a campaign letter entitled ‘The Downing Street Demand’, which claims Government policies force some of the most deprived members of society to “shoulder the heaviest burden of national debt created by the super-rich”.
Some might say this is typical of broad Conservative policy: Taking from the poor to give to the rich.
The harshness of such a policy, as outlined in the letter, is appalling: “In 2010 you said, ‘I’m going to make sure no-one is left behind; that we protect the poorest and most vulnerable in our society’.
“The reality of the austerity programme is the opposite.
“Since your Government came to power, cuts have meant that disabled people are paying back nine times more than non-disabled people and those with the highest support needs are paying back nineteen times more.”
Dr Ison said: “It’s right to stand in solidarity with people from many different organisations to draw attention to the needs of some of the most deprived members of our society.
“Many disabled people feel desperate facing possible cuts in support, the bedroom tax, and in particular an inflexible and failing Work Capability Assessment scheme which can blight and even cut short their lives.
“The Government needs to respond by enabling disabled people to live with dignity and security.”
Against this background, what is Cameron doing to make his party more attractive?
He’s bringing forward the second phase of his government’s Help to Buy scheme, that helps people in England to get 95 per cent mortgages on properties worth up to £600,000 – a scheme that has been widely criticised for setting up another debt-related housing bubble.
But the BBC reported that, during September, house prices rose at their fastest rate in more than six years – and a report from Nationwide Building Society showed the rise was “increasingly broad-based”.
Adam Marshall, of the British Chambers of Commerce (which is normally supportive to the Conservatives), said: “With all the concern expressed about Help to Buy – rushing into it seems less than responsible on part of government.”
It is, therefore, under a barrage of scorn that the Conservative conference begins today. How is Cameron planning to rally his troops?
He wants the country to believe that “We have had to make very difficult decisions… These difficult decisions are beginning to pay off and the country’s coming through it.”
Even here, the evidence is against him. George Osborne’s economic theory was based on a very silly spreadsheet error, as was proved several months ago by an American student. Attempts by this blog to ascertain whether he had anything more solid on which to base his policy proved fruitless – all the evidence he provided was underpinned by the same discredited document.
No – we can all see what George Osborne’s policies did to the British economy: They stalled it.
We spent three years bumping along the bottom with no growth worth mentioning, which Osborne, Cameron and their cronies used as an excuse to impose policies that have hammered those of us on the lowest incomes while protecting the rich corporate bosses, bankers and hedge fund investors who caused the economic crash.
Now, it seems more likely that the economy is picking up because it was always likely to. Commerce is cyclical and, when conditions merit it, business will pick up after a slump. That is what is happening now, and this is why growth figures are “stronger than expected”.
It has nothing to do with Conservative economic policies at all.
That won’t stop Cameron trying to capitalise on it. Ever the opportunist, he is already trying to pretend that this was the plan all along, and it just took a little longer than expected. We would all be fools to believe him.
And he has rushed to attack Labour plans for economic revival, claiming these would involve “crazy plans to tax business out of existence”.
In fact, Labour’s plans will close tax avoidance loopholes that have allowed businesses to avoid paying their due to the Treasury.
Besides, Conservative policy – to reduce Corporation Tax massively – has been proved to do nothing to make the UK more attractive for multinational businesses; the USA kept its taxes high and has not lost any of its own corporate taxpayers.
That country, along with Germany, adopted a policy of investment alongside a tighter tax regime and has reaped the benefits with much greater growth than the UK, which has suffered from a lack of investment and a tax policy full of holes (because it is written by the architects of the biggest tax avoidance schemes).
So what’s left?
Historically, at this time in the electoral cycle, Tory policy is to offer Middle Britain a massive bribe.
If they try it now, they’ll risk wiping out any savings they might have made over the last three years, rendering this entire Parliament pointless.
This blog stated last week that the Tories seem to want to rewrite an old saying to include the line: “You can fool most of the people, enough of the time.”
We know that millions of people were fooled by them at the last election.
Only days after Ed Miliband announced a Labour government would sack Atos, the party’s conference is hosting an event part-funded by the architects of the ‘work capability assessment’ administered by that company – the criminal American insurance giant Unum.
‘New thinking on the welfare state’ is a fringe event taking place at the Labour conference on Monday, September 23, organised by the right-wing thinktank Reform (which has Unum as one of its funders) and sponsored by the Association of British Insurers (which includes Unum among its members). Does anybody doubt that it has been arranged in order to give Unum a chance to influence high-ranking party members? No?
Then consider: This is a private round-table policy seminar, staged by Anne McGuire MP. Rank and file Labour members aren’t invited – attendance is by invitation only. Can you smell a rat? Still no?
The event has already been staged at the Liberal Democrat conference (by Steve Webb MP, whoever he is), and will also be a feature of the Conservative Party conference, courtesy of that turncoat floor-crossing slime Lord Freud. It shouldn’t take a genius to work out that Unum wants to ensure that all three parties have the same social security/welfare policy, going into the next election – and that Unum continues to figure prominently in the formulation of that policy.
If you didn’t smell a rat infestation before, by now you’re probably wondering why pest control hasn’t been called.
Ed Miliband knows that any change of the organisation administering work capability assessments is purely cosmetic; the Conservative-led Coalition itself is bringing in other companies to carry out the work, and Capita has already been taken on to carry it out in some areas.
It is the policy itself that must change.
Unum knows all about that policy. The company came up with it in the 1990s as a way to combat claims on its health insurance policies for ‘subjective’ illnesses such as ‘chronic pain’, ‘chronic fatigue syndrome’, fibromyalgia, multiple sclerosis, Lyme disease and others – by aggressively disputing whether a claimant was ill.
It based its new test on the Biopsychosocial Model of illness developed by the psychiatrist George Engel, which is itself an unproved theory. Unum removed the bio- and -social aspects in order to concentrate on the ‘psycho’ – the claim that a person’s illness is all in their mind; that they are imagining it.
This worked very well for the company until the American people realised that they were being diddled out of their insurance money and very large lawsuits were launched that ended with the company having a criminal record in several US states.
Undaunted by this, Unum branched into the UK and cosied up with then-social security minister Peter Lilley, who wanted to cut the number of people claiming disability benefits. Unum saw an opportunity here, with a long-term goal of making state disability benefits useless to the British citizen and forcing them to pay out for the companies duff health insurance policies – which had already fallen foul of the law in America.
That’s why the work capability assessment takes precedence over any evidence your doctor might provide to support your claim, and it’s also why doctors are being actively discouraged from providing any evidence at all; that’s why UK law currently sees a glowing future for people who may be paralysed, but for one finger, as a button pusher; that’s why people with Parkinson’s Disease or other degenerative conditions are being told they will be able to work again in the future; and that’s why thousands upon thousands of people have died as a result of the current policy – especially since the Conservative-led Coalition came into office in 2010.
Meanwhile, Unum has begun a mass-marketing campaign to encourage able-bodied British citizens to invest in ‘Income Protection Insurance’ and a scheme known as the ‘Back-up Plan’. These are only available via the workplace, and it is understood that it has been designed to ensure that the company can resist paying out if anybody should be unlucky enough to have to make a claim.
So you see, the plan is to leave the sick and disabled of this country with no support whatsoever; they can either take out Unum’s insurance policies, pay the company a fortune in premiums and get nothing in return – or they can throw themselves at the mercy of a state which has no mercy and be refused the benefits for which their taxes have been paying ever since they were old enough to pay taxes in the first place.
Either way, Unum wins. For younger readers, it’s like the plot of the prequel trilogy in the Star Wars saga, where the character who becomes the Emperor engineers a war in which he controls both sides. So you see? Those films weren’t as bad as we all thought.
But of course, any person or organisation that intentionally creates a parallel between itself and the most evil character in recent fiction should absolutely not be anywhere near the real-life political decision-makers of this or any other country.
That’s why Mo Stewart, the retired healthcare professional and disability researcher who has spent four years examining the relationship between Unum and the UK government, has contacted Ms McGuire, demanding to know why she is having anything to do with the firm.
She wrote: “Given the amount of evidence against the practice of the dangerous corporate giant, Unum Insurance, and the fact that Labour MPs have exposed their influence with government during debate, the British disabled community are wondering why you would chose to host a fringe meeting by Unum at the conference on Monday?
“‘New Thinking on the Welfare State’ it seems is the title of the meeting, and they should know since Unum have been helping to systematically destroy the welfare state, as welcomed by various governments, since 1994.
“If you were planning to cause offence, you couldn’t have done a better job.
“Keep betraying the British disabled people and you’ll be waiting in the wings for a lot longer before Labour ever return to Government.
“I have spent the past 4 years exposing the links between the DWP, Atos Healthcare & UNUM Insurance. Some of your colleagues are very familiar with my work, which is to be considered by the UN within weeks, and I suggest that if you wish to be taken seriously as the Shadow Minister for Disabled People then you need to be familiar with this evidence.”
This blog wholeheartedly supports Mo Stewart’s position.
If you’d like to do more, feel free to broadcast that facts about Unum as widely as you can. There seems to be a media blackout on mention of this criminal organisation’s involvement with the state, so you cannot rely on the national news media. This means word of mouth – viral networking – is the only alternative.
Spread the word.
Oh, and Ed? Mr Miliband? We’ll all be waiting for you to make a slightly more solid commitment to the British people. You know what it is because we’ve made it perfectly clear already:
New policies on sickness, disability and incapacity benefits that are humane to claimants and rely on real medical evidence – not the opinions of an unqualified ‘decision-maker’ at the DWP.
Expel Unum from any position in which it may influence the government – including fringe events at party conferences. This may mean dismantling the DWP altogether as that organisation appears to have been terminally compromised.
End the work capability assessments. Find a different way to assess people’s ability to work – perhaps one that involves knowledge of what jobs are available and whether employers have any intention to take on people with limited abilities… Something practical, rather than the dribble that masquerades as current government policy.
And, for goodness’ sake, get rid of Byrne (and McGuire… and let’s not forget Stephen Timms) and replace them with backbenchers who actually understand and sympathise with the plight of benefit claimants who have been made to suffer under a needlessly brutal system.
You don’t dare betray the British people again.
If you do, you’ll have more than eggs to dodge, whenever you dare show your face in public.
Real change required: Sacking Atos would be a cosmetic difference if DWP policy remains unchanged under a Labour government. Let’s have an announcement about that! [Picture: Skwawkbox blog]
Having had time away to think about this, it has occurred to me that in discussing whether Labour is right to say it will fire Atos – or whether it will even fulfil that promise – we are barking up the wrong tree.
Atos does what the DWP tells it to do. We can all say it does this work very badly, but that would be splitting hairs. The orders come from the Department.
Getting rid of Atos won’t make any difference if the policy stays the same – and Labour’s record on social security has not been good since neoliberal ‘New Labour’ took office in 1997.
So I reckon more pressure needs to be exerted on Mr Miliband and his front bench, to expel all traces – not only of Atos, but of Unum, the real influence, and to put forward a new policy that is, above all, humane to claimants of disability/sickness/incapacity benefits.
What he says on this subject will be very interesting. But he must be pinned down.
No Atos – or any other unqualified overseers of our medical health.
Can the DWP do anything right? Universal Credit joins the Work Programme and the murderous administration of Employment and Support Allowance on the list of Iain Duncan Smith’s failures.
The National Audit Office has published its ‘early progress’ report on Iain Duncan Smith’s flagship Universal Credit scheme – and it is damning.
The report states that, after years of development in which £425 million was spent on the scheme, the Department for Work and Pensions does not even have a detailed view of how Universal Credit is supposed to work.
I should just stop there and spend the rest of this article discussing that one piece of information. After months and years of listening to ‘RTU’ ranting about how Universal Credit was going to be a revolution in benefit claims, we now know that he does not know – and never bothered to work out – how his revolution was going to be delivered!
Nor does Howard Shiplee, the ‘director general’ who has been talking it up on the media over the last few days.
Universal Credit is an attempt to “simplify” six major areas of social security into one streamlined payment system. They are: Income Support, income-based Jobseekers Allowance, income-based Employment and Support Allowance, tax credits (child and working), housing benefit and budgeting loans.
However: “Poor control and decision-making undermined confidence in the programme and contributed to a lack of progress,” the report states. This is directly attributable to the Secretary of State – it is his failure.
The report – and we should remember that this is from an organisation concerned with whether the government is spending our money wisely – concluded that the DWP has not achieved value for money.
The department was over-ambitious in both the timetable and scope of the programme, the report states. This is interesting in itself. How can its scope be “ambitious” if nobody even knew how it was supposed to work?
According to the NAO: “The Department took risks to try to meet the short timescale and used a new project management approach which it had never before used on a programme of this size and complexity. It was unable to explain how it originally decided on its ambitious plans or evaluated their feasibility.” In other words, from its employees right up to its ministers and Secretary of State, the DWP could not justify the risks it took with taxpayers’ money and never bothered to investigate the likelihood of failure.
“Given the tight timescale, unfamiliar project management approach and lack of a detailed plan, it was critical that the Department should have good progress information and effective controls. In practice the Department did not have any adequate measures of progress.”
The report singles out for particularly strong criticism the computer system intended to run the new benefit. “The Department is not yet able to assess the value of the systems it spent over £300 million to develop… Over 70 per cent of the £425 million spent to date has been on IT systems,” it states.
Then it says, “The Department, however, has already written off £34 million of its new IT systems and does not yet know if they will support national roll-out.” So the systems are not – to use a favourite DWP phrase – “fit for work”.
In fact, some parts don’t work on any level at all: “For instance, the current IT system lacks a component to identify potentially fraudulent claims so that the Department has to rely on multiple manual checks on claims and payments.” Meaning: In the single Job Centre where UC has been introduced, employees have been working out claims on paper.
“Such checks will not be feasible or adequate once the system is running nationally.” It seems amazing, but Iain Duncan Smith probably needed to see that, written down in black and white, or he might never have considered the possibility.
Problems with the IT system have delayed the national roll-out of the programme (and for that, considering all of the above, we should all breathe a long-drawn-out sigh of relief). “In early 2013, the Department was forced to stop work on its plans for national roll-out and reassess its options for the future… The Department will not introduce Universal Credit for all new claims nationally in October 2013 as planned, and is now reconsidering its plans for full roll-out.
“Instead, it will extend the pilots to six more sites with these new sites taking on only the simplest claims. Delays to the roll-out will reduce the expected benefits of reform and – if the Department maintains a 2017 completion date – increase risks by requiring the rapid migration of a large volume of claimants.”
The DWP intends to spend £2.4 billion on Universal Credit up to April 2023. To put that in perspective, that’s twice as much as the government loses on all benefit fraud – not just those being bundled together here – every year. And this will “increase risks”.
The spending watchdog found that the DWP took some action at the end of 2012 to resolve problems, but was unable to address the underlying issues effectively.
“The programme suffered from weak management, ineffective control and poor governance,” said Amyas Morse, head of the National Audit Office.
Despite all this, the report incredibly states that “the programme still has potential to create significant benefits for society, but the Department must scale back its delivery ambition and set out realistic plans”.
Liam Byrne will no doubt seize this as an opportunity, yet again, to offer Labour’s help to find a way forward and bring Universal Credit back on track. He should be discouraged from doing so. This ‘flagship’ hasn’t so much sailed as sunk.
Universal Credit is a FAILURE.
It should be SCRAPPED – before that idiot Smith wastes any more of our money on it.
The Torygraph has claimed this is Labour’s “strongest backing yet” for Universal Credit.
Is Ed Miliband, as Labour’s leader, blind to the amount of damage this will do to his party?
It seems likely that Byrne is trying to improve his position ahead of a shadow cabinet reshuffle, but Miliband would have to be stupid to keep him on, after the shadow work and pensions secretary caused one disaster after another.
Look at the Guardian article. The lead paragraph declares: “The coalition’s benefit cuts have descended into “chaos” that will cost an extra £1.4 billion because of delays, extra claimants, waste and complaints, Labour claims.” [Italics mine]
What about the human cost, then? What about the huge damage that these Conservative-led policies will cause to hard-working people up and down the UK? We know that the benefit cap has already caused huge harm to working-class people, and the bedroom tax is doing the same – and these are only recent examples of stupid, cruel Tory policies (forget the Liberal Democrats – they’re only around to rubber-stamp the plans of a Tory government).
This is telling us that Labour actually agrees with the ideology behind these schemes; it is in the execution of them that the parties differ. Here’s proof of it in the Guardian article: “The focus of Byrne’s speech will not be challenging the substance of reforms brought in by Iain Duncan Smith… but criticism of his failure to deliver them properly.
That is a terrible, terrible mistake for Labour to make and, as leader, Ed Miliband should be putting a stop to it at once.
The Guardian says, “he will pledge to ‘bring social security spending under control’.” That’s what the Tories say! Labour should be promising to bring fairness back to social security. Labour should be promising the removal of Atos, Unum and any other profit-making concerns from the business of the Department for Work and Pensions and Labour should be pledging to bring in a new system that concentrates on the needs and abilities of each claimant, as determined by proper medical evidence and not some silly made-up tick-box computer questionnaire that was devised to make it easier to sell bogus insurance schemes.
Why is Byrne making such silly promises? Because, the Guardian says, Labour wants to “shake off Tory claims that it is too much on the side of benefit claimants over working people”. In other words, he and they are worried about what the Tories say, and not about the torture through which they are putting ordinary people like you and me. They won’t win any elections that way!
Attacking the Tories over the way they are doing things, rather than the things they are doing, has of course left Byrne wide open to any kind of attack the Tories wished to launch and, sure enough, an ‘aide’ to Iain ‘Returned To Unit’ Smith dismissed Byrne’s claims as “laughable”.
Quoted by the Guardian, she said this was “yet another disastrous speech, void of any ideas”. It’s a rare situation in which I am forced to agree with a Conservative!
“Same old Labour is in the wrong place on welfare,” she continued. “They want people on benefits to make more money than the average hard-working family earns.” Now that – of course – is utter nonsense, but it will stay in people’s minds because the claim that the speech has no new ideas to offer, coupled with one that it is a “last-ditch attempt… to keep his job in the shadow cabinet” rings true.
The Telegraph article says Byrne has called for cross-party talks to clear up the “‘mess’ of delays and IT problems that he says have hit the policy.” Again, no mention that the policy is wrong. In fact, the article later states, “The project… is a good idea but needs to be rescued from the ‘disaster’ that it has become under [Mr Returned To Unit], he will claim.” A good idea? Universal Credit?
It’s a shame that he has decided to support the principles of the Tory regressions (we can’t call them reforms, and changes isn’t strong enough), because he did come up with a decent comment, that is also a truism: “There is now a private joke in Whitehall – to err is human, but to really foul things up you need Iain Duncan Smith.” But of course Byrne ruined it by saying it was Smith’s fault his harmful reforms are in crisis, rather than pouncing on them as bad ideas in their own right.
The Guardian article says “Shadow cabinet members are under pressure from Labour grandees to start spelling out their policies more clearly.” If this is Byrne’s idea of a Labour policy he should be dumped – not only from the shadow cabinet, but from Parliament and the Party – with haste.
Byrne has always been a dangerous liability – remember the damage he caused with one silly note about there being no money left after the 2010 general election?
He persuaded hundreds of Labour MPs to abstain from voting against the Tories’ hasty plan to legalise their robbery of millions of pounds from thousands of Jobseekers – the Jobseekers (Back to Work Schemes) Act – in March, claiming that he had secured “concessions” that would make it worthwhile.
The first was a guarantee of appeal rights – a safeguard that had always been in place and that the Conservatives had not suggested they would drop.
The second was an independent review of the sanctions regime, with an urgent report and recommendations to Parliament. It is now nearly six months since that concession was made. Has anybody – anywhere – heard any more about this “urgent report”?
Byrne was hoodwinked into giving way on a policy that is hugely damaging to the financial security of millions of people and receiving nothing at all in return. That’s not even mentioning the damage caused to the Labour Party by this and other unnecessary concessions to the Conservatives.
The only sane choice for Ed Miliband is to sack Byrne on the spot and announce a reversal of Labour policy that will halt any support for regressive Conservative austerity measures that harm not only hard-working people and jobseekers who want to get onto the employment ladder but also the economy in general.
But Miliband seems weak – or at least indecisive. It seems he needs encouragement.
Talent deficit: Iain Duncan Smith wrote a poorly-received novel called The Devil’s Tune – and many may argue that his entire tenure at the DWP has been spent ‘on the fiddle’.
Labour frontbencher, sadist and closet Tory Liam Byrne has been preparing to take over the Department for Work and Pensions – by practising his future policy on current incumbent Iain Duncan Smith.
That’s right – instead of suggesting IBS should go back to the dole queue that he got married to escape, Byrne has told the Work and Pensions Secretary to “spend more time with his novels”.
This is of course an act of hideous cruelty – not just on LieDS, who deserves it, but also on the general public, if Mr… Smith accepts the advice.
His one published work of fiction, The Devil’s Tune, was released in 2003 and its uniformly negative reception may be taken as proof that publishers are more interested in who an author is than in whether they can write.
The Work Programme, which pays companies to help find jobs for the unemployed but which is, according to the DWP’s own figures and in Mr Byrne’s words “worse than doing nothing”.
The Youth Contract, which was set up 18 months ago to get 160,000 unemployed young people into work, and has managed to find placements for just 4,600 jobseekers aged 18-24.
Universal Credit, which was intended to use integrated computer systems to provide real-time updates to benefits. The problem is the software doesn’t work. A pilot scheme opened in just one Job Centre, focusing on the simplest claims, with entitlements worked out on paper (according to some accounts).
The Work Capability Assessment, now put into ‘special measures’ because of the overwhelming number of mistakes which have swamped both the DWP and the appeal tribunal system with complaints.
A Telegraph report said representatives of the Secretary-in-a-State said Mr Byrne’s remarks were a “compliment” as they suggest his welfare reforms are a threat to Labour.
This is correct in the literal sense; they are indeed a threat to labour. It seems that under the current regime, anyone lucky enough to get a job does so in spite of the system rather than with help from it.
Smith’s spokesman (apparently he is no longer able to speak for himself; this does not bode well for his writing) said his reforms were “hugely popular”, which is partially true. Unfortunately they are only popular with people who have not been subjected to them and who don’t know what they mean.
Repeating one of the many falsehoods for which the DWP now has a well-deserved reputation, he added that the Labour Party opposes the benefit cap. In fact, Labour supports a cap – but not the unjustified level at which the government has set it for families.
I refer you to the review of The Devil’s Tune by John Sutherland, Lord Northcliffe Professor of English Literature at University College London in November 2003, when his review was published in The Guardian: “Ask someone, said Tolstoy, ‘Can you write a novel?’ and – most likely – they will reply, ‘I don’t know; I’ve never tried’. They wouldn’t say the same if you asked them if they could play the violin. IDS has tried fiction. And high-political office. He should have stuck to the fiddle.”
Judging by his record since 2010, many may say he did.
Don’t be complacent: It may seem as though the Coalition government that has blighted the UK for the past three years is marching willingly to its own demise – but that is by no means certain. We must all be vigilant against the apathy that allows them to spread their poisonous views and convince impressionable people that they are speaking common sense ideas that are held by the majority, when we all know that this is a falsehood.
So Gideon George Osborne is announcing £11.5 billion of cuts to be implemented from April 2015 to the end of March 2016 – so what? There will be a general election the following month and he would be delusional if he thinks his party will win.
Ed Balls has said Labour would match the Coalition’s spending totals for that financial year, but we should not be fooled into believing this means Labour would make exactly the same choices as a Conservative or Conservative-led government. It won’t.
Ed Balls could cancel the lot and, working with a decent Labour Work and Pensions secretary (not Liam Byrne), install a new system aimed at the causes of unemployment, sickness and disability, and still pay less than the current government.
You see, Tories aren’t really about saving money for the taxpayer. They’re about making poor people pay taxes to support rich people who don’t need them.
That’s just one – extremely oversimplified – example of why I don’t think we have to live in a country dominated by ‘Ballsbornism’, even though I coined the expression earlier today in a response to a comment.
‘Ballsbornism’ implies a consensus economic policy, much like the ‘Butskellism’ of the 1950s that married the ideas of Tory Rab Butler and Labour’s Hugh Gaitskell, and recent announcements by Ed Miliband and Ed Balls have stirred up fears that the Labour front bench has capitulated to the Tory economic viewpoint.
This blog has been part of that, and I make no apology for it. Like all political movements, Labour must be made to see that it cannot take the easy way out. People’s lives – no, I’m not making this up – depend on their decisions and those lives will be on their conscience if they cock up the system (as Osborne has been doing) or make lazy decisions.
The Tory-led Coalition likes to say its policies on benefits “encourage” people to sign off (and goes on to suggest that they then get jobs, although the evidence is overwhelmingly that they end up with no form of income at all); if we want better for our future, then the people of this country must similarly “encourage” Labour into policies that will genuinely improve our situation.
I have outlined my opinion of what those policies should be, in a previous article, so need not rehash them here.
And let’s remind ourselves of the absolute lunacy that could be foisted on us if the Conservatives come back into power: Tory backbencher Peter Bone, alongside similar-minded nutters, has compiled an alternative Queen’s Speech (or is it an alternative to the alternative, as Labour already produced one?).
This suggests restoring the death penalty for criminals (we all know this leads to injustice); privatising the BBC (more money for rich Tories who don’t deserve it, along with a diminished and politically-biased national broadcasting service), abolishing human rights legislation (to the huge detriment of all citizens and working people who rely on it, as discussed many times on this blog), and renaming the August Bank Holiday as ‘Margaret Thatcher Day’ (an insult to everybody whose lives were blighted by her policies).
Bone, whose bizarre pronouncements create semi-regular moments of comedy during Prime Minister’s Questions, told the BBC he was “putting forward Conservative policies” that would be “very helpful” to David Cameron.
This is an elected Conservative member of Parliament, remember – one of several who have drafted these proposals. And let’s not forget the Free Enterprise group of Tory right-wingers, whose book Britannia Unchained suggests (wrongly) that British workers are among the laziest in the world, and anyone unemployed for more than six months should do 30 hours’ community service and lose 10 per cent of their benefits, as if being forced out of work by (Tory) employers was a crime!
So let Osborne have his moment, when he announces his review on Wednesday. Then reflect on where you’ll be putting your vote in 2015 and enjoy the prospect that he will have wasted his breath.
Red Tory betrayal: He might as well have said, “We’re going to grip the poor by the throat and push them down so far and so hard that they’ll never be able to get on their feet again.”
The Red Conservative Party has announced a new policy attack on people receiving benefits, in its latest bid to out-Tory the Blue Conservatives.
Ed Cameron announced that he would impose a three-year cap on any welfare spending not linked to the economic cycle, stealing an idea put forward by George Osborne of the original Conservative Party during the March budget.
He also vowed to make people work for two years before they qualify for a new, higher rate of Jobseekers’ Allowance.*
Shadow work and pensions secretary Iain Duncan Byrne said the cap would force a Labour government to engage in long-term reforms necessary to bring the welfare bill down.
Neither man actually spelled out which benefits would be affected by the cap.
But Ed Cameron tried to salvage his party’s reputation in the eyes of left-wing supporters by promising to drive down rents and improve pay.
And in a contradictory move, he said he would not abandon the long-standing goal of abolishing child poverty by 2020, even though his new policies mean that, inevitably, more children will suffer poverty through no fault of their own.
Cut through the spin and the above is, pretty much, what has been announced. The Labour Party is becoming even more right-wing, rather than less, as the Tory tabloids claimed when Ed Miliband became the leader.
What we’re seeing isn’t really a conversion to Conservatism – although the retention of critically dangerous neoliberal elements at the top of the party structure means this will continue to be a threat. It’s actually worse than that.
This is a Labour Party that goes any way the wind blows.
Does anybody remember the great Tony Benn’s comments about politicians being either signposts or weathercocks? It has been mentioned previously, in this blog. He said some politicians are like signposts. They point in the direction they want to travel and say, “This is the way we must go!” And they are constant. Others are like weathercocks; they lick their fingers, find out which direction the political winds are blowing and follow.
The Guardian illustrates that Miliband has become a cock in its article, stating that the new announcement “is seen as critical to Labour being able to claw back its poll deficit on welfare and show its ability to take tough decisions”.
It will do neither.
If Labour wanted to “claw back its poll deficit on welfare” it would be announcing new policies to tackle the causes of unemployment, sickness and disability, in order to ensure that unemployment was never again likely to rise as high as it has. This means helping industry; it means restoring the National Health Service; it means making sure employers – especially the really large ones who think they can get away with anything – conform strictly to health and safety laws and can’t blame employees’ work-based sicknesses on anything other than their own negligence.
It means setting the terms of a new debate on this issue – not meekly accepting the Conservatives’ warped frame of reference.
Because, you see, that doesn’t indicate an “ability to take tough decisions”. Nor does copying an idea already mentioned by a Conservative. Tough decisions are those that the public might find hard to accept at first – about policies that might need to be explained before they are accepted. Labour isn’t making any tough decisions. It is following the Conservative/Coalition example and that simply is not good enough.
The Guardian article says Labour hopes the electorate “will focus on the party’s decision to take a credible and specific stance on the deficit, after three years of low growth, rather than punish Labour for its apparent volte face [about turn] by ending three years of criticism of welfare cuts”.
There is no chance of that happening. The electorate is not stupid and I predict that those parts of it that have supported Labour as a force for working people, those who want to work but are unemployed through no fault of their own, and those who have been invalided out of work, again through no fault of their own, will desert the party en masse. Miliband and Byrne might pick up a few right-wing votes – but not enough to make a difference. They will lose far more than they will gain.
Note particularly that line about “ending three years of criticism of welfare cuts”. They’ve stopped criticising the Conservatives/Coalition about cuts that are literally ending UK citizens’ lives at an alarming rate. That is not – and will never be – justifiable on any level at all.
Let’s not forget that an average of 73 people a week are dying as a result of Conservative/Coalition policies on benefits – possibly many more, as this figure is nearly a year old. A Labour government that would allow this to continue is not an electable Labour government.
This announcement marks the beginning of the Conservative victory in 2015.
Thanks for nothing, Ed Miliband. Thanks for nothing, Liam Byrne.
Shame on you, you sell-outs.
*Interestingly, the Blue Conservative mouthpiece BBC misleadingly reported that Labour believed “only people who pay into the system for more than two years should get Jobseekers’ Allowance” at all! This seems to be an inaccuracy but it is damaging and more people will read it.
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