Snouts in the trough: Martin Rowson’s Guardian cartoon goes straight to the heart of the matter – fracking isn’t about ending the energy crisis, or even extracting shale gas in a reasonable way; it is about GREED.
Labour has tabled a legislative amendment to prevent fracking in the UK unless 13 outstanding loopholes in the regulation are closed.
The party first set out its conditions for fracking to take place in March 2012, but says the Government has repeatedly sidelined genuine and legitimate concerns, ignoring gaps in the regulatory framework.
“David Cameron has repeatedly ignored people’s genuine and legitimate environmental concerns over shale gas,” said shadow energy secretary Caroline Flint.
“Despite clear evidence that existing regulations for shale gas are not fit for purpose, the Government seems prepared to push ahead with fracking at any cost.
“While eight out of 10 homes still rely on gas for heating, shale gas may have a role to play in displacing some of the gas we currently import and improving our energy security. But that potential benefit cannot come at the expense of robust environmental protections or our climate change commitments.”
Tom Greatrex MP, Labour’s Shadow Energy Minister, added: “Labour have always said that shale gas extraction cannot go ahead unless there is a system of robust regulation and comprehensive inspection.
“The Tories have belatedly acknowledged that the current regulations are inadequate, conceding to Labour pressure for reform on a small number of issues. But these piecemeal concessions cannot overturn a Tory mindset which is zealously opposed to any further regulation of shale gas in the UK, despite clear evidence that this is necessary.
“There are significant concerns about independent inspection of well-integrity, fugitive emissions and protections for national parks. Labour will force a vote on Monday to prevent shale gas developments in the UK unless these loopholes are closed.”
The message is clear: Unless these dangerous loopholes are closed, Labour wants all plans for fracking in the UK to be abandoned.
This may not be as much as many anti-fracking campaigners wanted, but it is much more than the Coalition Government has offered – and offers a suggestion that Labour may move still further away from any support for the controversial mining method in the future.
Nick Clegg: He must have had his forked tongue in his cheek when he wrote the Liberal Democrats’ latest list of pledges.
The Liberal Democrats have launched a desperate attempt to win back voters, packing their General Election manifesto with meaningless pledges.
Why are they meaningless? Because the Liberal Democrats, under the same leader (Nick Clegg), made pledges to us before the 2010 election – having already hammered out an agreement with the Conservatives that meant they would not be able to honour those commitments.
There is evidence that teams representing the Tories and Liberal Democrats negotiated what would be in a coalition agreement on March 16, 2010 – and abolishing student tuition fees, a principle Liberal Democrat pledge, was not part of it.
In this light, how can we believe Liberal Democrat plans to push for higher capital gains tax, bringing it more closely in line with income tax? How can we believe they would change tax relief for entrepreneurs, so it does not provide a tax loophole for the super-rich – or even the modest plan to cut tax relief on pensions from £1.4 million to £1 million? And how can we believe they will restrict access to “non-dom” tax status for foreigners living in Britain who do not pay tax on their earnings abroad?
The BBC has an even more hard-to-believe report that the Liberal Democrats will cut the Winter Fuel Allowance and free TV licences for better-off pensioners, in order to pay for a 66 per cent discount on bus travel (in England only) for young people aged 16-21.
This is doubly insulting to our intelligence. Firstly, a concession on bus fares is no consolation for the tripling of student tuition fees in which the Liberal Democrats participated after promising to abolish them instead – and don’t they know that means-testing benefits to discover who deserves them is not a simple matter? It is complex and costly – as Alex Little told us only a few days ago.
This comment of his is particularly apt: “Old Tories are often popping up to say they don’t need their £250 winter fuel allowance. It may be true that they don’t need it, but their motives for mentioning it are so these things will be means tested, the budget will be slashed and then they think they can ask for lower taxes, or more ‘contributory benefits‘ (code for benefits not available to the ‘undeserving’ who’ll need to rely on charity).”
The Liberal Democrats are being more than a little disingenuous with that promise, then.
And does anybody really think the plan to decriminalise possession of restricted drugs for personal use will ever happen? The Liberal Democrats know their performance in the Coalition means they won’t win any elections soon and are hoping to be part of another hung-Parliament alliance. This means they would be sharing public office with one of the other parties who, they state, have “blighted” UK drugs policy with “kneejerk prejudice and the wish to appear tough”. This is another pledge they can make safely, knowing it is never likely to happen.
You’ll notice, also, that the Liberal Democrats say next to nothing about the National Health Service – that foundation stone of British fair play and decency that they allowed the Conservatives to sell off to private companies (in which many of them are shareholders) in order to make a profit from the suffering of the sick.
They will increase its budget in line with inflation so the private companies leeching off of it won’t lose profit. How caring of them.
To cap it all off, Clegg repeated what has become the Liberal Democrat mantra ever since he first used it in December 2012: “Liberal Democrats are committed to building a stronger economy and a fairer society, enabling people to get on in life.”
It’s the ‘party message script’, you see. Back in 2012, he added: “We will stay the course on the deficit. We will cut income tax bills and help with childcare bills. We will invest in boosting jobs and we’ll reform welfare to get people into work.”
Considering his party’s record on those matters, there is certainly no reason to buy any of what he’s peddling today.
Evil eyes: Esther McVey seems to get a perverse thrill from pretending her government’s policies are helping people; it is more likely they are driving the needy to despair and suicide.
Note to Iain Duncan Smith: It is not a good idea to try to inspire confidence in a £multi-billion “money pit” disaster by wheeling out Esther McVey to lie about it.
The woman dubbed “Fester McVile” by some commentators has accumulated a reputation so bad that the only way she can hide the metaphorical stink from the public is by associating with …Smith himself, in whose stench she seems almost fragrant. But not quite.
This is a woman who has lied to the public that it is impossible to carry out a cumulative assessment of the impact on the sick and disabled of the Coalition’s ‘final solution’ changes to the benefit system.
This is the woman who, in the face of public unrest about the prevalence of zero-hours contracts, announced that Job Centre advisors will now be able to force the unemployed into taking this exploitative work.
She has previously misled Parliament over the loophole in Bedroom Tax legislation that meant the government had removed Housing Benefit from thousands of people who were exempt from the measure – including Stephanie Bottrill, whose suicide has been attributed to the pressure of having to survive on less because of the tax. Asked how many people had been affected by the loophole, McVey played it down by claiming she did not know the answer, while other ministers suggested between 3,000 and 5,000. In fact, from Freedom of Information requests to which just one-third of councils responded, 16,000 cases were revealed.
Mark Hoban stood in for McVey to trot out the lie that independent reviews of the Work Capability Assessment had identified areas of improvement on which the government was acting. In fact, out of 25 recommendations in the Year One review alone, almost two-thirds were not fully and successfully implemented.
In a debate on food banks, McVey’s lies came thick and fast: She accused the previous Labour government of a “whirl of living beyond our means” that “had to come to a stop” without ever pausing to admit that it was Tory-voting bankers who had been living beyond their means, who caused the crash, and who are still living beyond their means today, because her corporatist (thank you, Zac Goldsmith) Conservative government has protected them.
She accused Labour of trying to keep food banks as “its little secret”, forcing Labour’s Jim Cunningham to remind us all that food banks were set up by churches to help refugees who were waiting for their asylum status to be confirmed – not as a support system for British citizens, as they have become under the Coalition’s failed regime.
She said the Coalition government was brought in to “solve the mess that Labour got us in”, which is not true – it was born from a backroom deal between two of the most unscrupulous party leaders of recent times, in order to ensure they and their friends could get their noses into the money trough (oh yes, there’s plenty of money around – but this government is keeping it away from you).
She said the Coalition had got more people into work than ever before – without commenting on the fact that the jobs are part-time, zero-hours, self-employed contracts that benefit the employers but exploit the workers and in fact propel them towards poverty.
She lied to Parliament, claiming that children are three times more likely to be in poverty if they are in a workless household. In fact, according to the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, in-work poverty has now outstripped that suffered by those in workless and retired households; children are more likely to be in poverty if their parents have jobs.
She attacked Labour for allowing five million people to be on out-of-work benefits, with two million children in workless households – but under her government the number of households suffering in-work poverty has risen to eight million (by 2008 standards), while workless or retired households in poverty have risen to total 6.3 million.
She claimed that 60,000 people were likely to use a food bank this year – but Labour’s Paul Murphy pointed out that 60,000 people will use food banks this year in Wales alone. The actual figure for the whole of the UK is 500,000.
She said the Coalition’s tax cuts had given people an extra £700 per year, without recognising that the real-terms drop in wages and rise in the cost of living means people will be £1,600 a year worse-off when the next general election takes place, tax cuts included. She said stopping fuel price increases meant families were £300 better-off, which is nonsense. Families cannot become better off because something has not happened; it’s like saying I’m better off because the roof of my house hasn’t fallen in and squashed me.
Her talents won exactly the recognition they deserved when her Wikipedia entry was altered to describe her as “the Assistant Grim Reaper for Disabled People since 2012, second only to Iain Duncan Smith. She was previously a television presenter and businesswoman before deciding to branch out into professional lying and helping disabled people into the grave.”
In her food bank speech, she also said the government had brought in Universal Credit to ensure that three million people become better-off. There’s just one problem with that system – it doesn’t work.
Criminal: Iain Duncan Smith has made the UK government into a criminal regime, illegally victimising its most vulnerable citizens.
Iain Duncan Smith took an metaphorical slap in the face from the High Court today when Mrs Justice Lang said his retroactive law to refuse docked payments to jobseekers was not legal.
The Jobseekers (Back to Work Schemes) Act 2013 was rushed onto the statute books after the DWP discovered the rules under which it had docked Jobseekers’ Allowance from 228,000 people, who had refused to take part in Workfare schemes, were illegal.
The ruling does not mean that everyone who was penalised for refusing to take part, or for leaving the scheme once they had started it and realised what it was, may claim back the JSA that had been withdrawn from them.
But anyone who appealed against a benefit sanction on the basis of the previous decision will be entitled to win their appeals and be repaid the withheld benefits – as Vox Political advised at the time. That payout could be as high as £130 million.
The judge said retrospective application of the 2013 law conflicted with the European Convention on Human Rights and “interfered with the right to a fair trial” of all those affected.
This is the latest twist in a legal challenge brought by Cait Reilly, a graduate who fell foul of the scheme, in 2012. She demanded a judicial review on the grounds that being forced to give up voluntary work in a museum (she wanted to be a museum curator) to stack shelves in Poundland breached her human rights.
Poundland no longer takes part in mandatory work activity schemes run by the UK government.
Mrs Justice Lang said today (July 4) that “the absence of any consultation with representative organisations” as well as the lack of scrutiny by Parliamentary committees had led to “misconceptions about the legal justification for the retrospective legislation”.
The 2013 Act introduced a new “draconian provision, unique to this cohort of claimants” which was “not explained or justified” by the government in Parliament “at the time”.
Mrs Justice Lang rejected the Secretary of State’s assertion that flaws in the 2011 Regulations were simply “a technicality or a loophole”, that the 2013 Act sought to give effect to Parliament’s ‘original intention’ or that repayments to benefits claimants would be “an undeserved windfall”.
She also recognised that it would be “unjust to categorise the claimants in the Cait Reilly case as claimants “who have not engaged with attempts made by the state to return them to work”, as asserted by the Department for Work and Pensions.
“This case is another massive blow to this Government’s flawed and tawdry attempts to make poor people on benefits work for companies, who already make massive profits, for free,” said solicitor Phil Shiner of Public Interest Lawyers, who appeared for the unemployed.
“Last year the Supreme Court told Iain Duncan Smith and the Coalition government that the scheme was unlawful. In this case the High Court has now told the Government that the attempt to introduce retrospective legislation, after the DWP had lost in the Court of Appeal, is unlawful and a breach of the Human Rights Act and is a further disgraceful example of how far this Government is prepared to go to flout our constitution and the rule of law. [bolding mine]
“I call on the DWP to ensure that the £130 million of benefits unlawfully withheld from the poorest section of our society is now repaid.”
So there it is, in black and white. Iain Duncan Smith has made the Coalition government a criminal organisation, guilty of 228,000 human rights violations.
This is a serious matter; some of these people may have been put in serious financial hardship as a result of the Coalition’s actions. One hopes very much that nobody died but if they did, those fatalities should be added to the many thousands who have passed away as a result of Iain Duncan Smith’s homicidal regime for claimants of incapacity benefits.
Let us not forget, also, that we remain at the mercy of these tyrants. Iain Duncan Smith has announced he intends to waste yet more taxpayers’ money on another appeal. In the meantime, a DWP spokeswoman said the legislation remained “in force” and the government would not be compensating anyone pending the outcome of its appeal.
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.
“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!”
Vox Political stands up in public to make its point
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Vox Political just had this Bedroom Tax story from a commenter on Facebook who has asked not to be named. I don’t think it needs any commentary from me:
“A neighbour of mine couldnt bear to give up the family home so she struggled and paid £24 a week for two spare rooms.
“She was missing all her other payments and not eating for days.
“She then had to start selling things from her house…
“Then started asking us if we had any old clothes because she had found a place where they weigh old clothes and give you money for them…
“Then because we had given her all we had, another so-called friend told her how she does without food… She then started taking speed as you don’t feel hungry and what money was left she could at least use to feed her daughter.
“She came to mine and broke down because she was ill with it.
The European Union’s trade commissioner, Karel De Gucht, reckons he’s going to consult the public over the controversional Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership – the EU/US free trade agreement.
He says he is determined to strike the right balance between protecting EU firms’ investment interests and upholding governments’ right to regulate in the public interest.
Bear in mind, this is for the investment part of the deal, which includes investment protection and the red-hot disputed subject of investor-to-state dispute settlement, where firms would be allowed to sue governments if regulations got in the way of their profits, as the deal currently stands.
A proposed text for the investment part of the talks will be published in early March.
“Governments must always be free to regulate so they can protect people and the environment. But they must also find the right balance and treat investors fairly, so they can attract investment,” said Mr De Gucht.
“Some existing arrangements have caused problems in practice, allowing companies to exploit loopholes where the legal text has been vague.
“I know some people in Europe have genuine concerns about this part of the EU-US deal. Now I want them to have their say… TTIP will firmly uphold EU member states’ right to regulate in the public interest.”
Do you believe him?
The European Commission wants to use TTIP to improve provisions already in place that protect investments by EU-based companies in the US, and vice versa.
In practice, we are told, there would be a require for this protection to defer to states’ right to regulate in the public’s interest.
There would also be new and improved rules, including a code of conduct, to ensure arbitrators are chosen fairly and act impartially, and to open up their proceedings to the public. This comes after significant unrest about arbitrators being chosen exclusively from big business, with a natural bias towards the interests of their employers.
It seems “no other part of the negotiations is affected by this public consultation and the TTIP negotiations will continue as planned”.
Is this the only part of the deal that affects the public interest, then?
I don’t know. The TTIP negotiations have been shrouded in mystery since they began last June. Can anyone outside the talks – and those taking part are sworn to secrecy – say they are an expert?
Since the talks began, the Commission has held three rounds of consultations with stakeholders – big businesses operating in both Europe and the USA “to gather the views and wishes of the public and interested parties across Europe”, it says here.
“The Commission has also done public consultations before the start of the TTIP negotiations.” Have you taken part in any such negotiations?
The rationale behind the talks is that the EU is the world’s largest foreign direct investor and the biggest recipient of foreign direct investment (FDI) in the world, so it must ensure that EU companies are well-protected when they invest in countries outside the EU. This involves reciprocal agreements to protect foreign companies.
“Investment is essential for growth, for jobs and for creating the wealth that pays for our public services, our schools, our hospitals and our pensions,” the argument goes. But who gets the wealth? The people who work to make it – whose living and working conditions are likely to be reduced dramatically to lowest-common-denominator terms? Or the company bosses who are ironing out the terms of this agreement while most of us are being told to look the other way?
Let’s look at an example of this in action. According to OpenDemocracy.net, the TTIP talks “could see England’s NHS tied into a privatised model semi-permanently.
“The idea [is] that the Health and Social Care Act was developed to allow foreign transnational corporations to profit from NHS privatisation.
“Even worse is the idea that, once passed, an international trade agreement will leave us irreversibly committed to privatising the NHS. Even with a change of government and the repeal of the Act, we’d be facing the insurmountable obstacle of international competition laws.”
The article demands that the government must be clear with the public – will our health service be opened to multinational business as part of this trade agreement?
Leftie politics sheet the New Statesman agrees: “This will open the floodgates for private healthcare providers that have made dizzying levels of profits from healthcare in the United States, while lobbying furiously against any attempts by President Obama to provide free care for people living in poverty. With the help of the Conservative government and soon the EU, these companies will soon be let loose, freed to do the same in Britain.
“The agreement will provide a legal heavy hand to the corporations seeking to grind down the health service. It will act as a Transatlantic bridge between the Health and Social Care Act in the UK, which forces the NHS to compete for contracts, and the private companies in the US eager to take it on for their own gain.
“It gives the act international legal backing and sets the whole shift to privatisation in stone because once it is made law, it will be irreversible.
“Once these ISDS tools are in place, lucrative contracts will be underwritten, even where a private provider is failing patients and the CCG wants a contract cancelled. In this case, the provider will be able to sue a CCG for future loss of earnings, causing the loss of vast sums of taxpayer money on legal and administrative costs.
“Even more worrying is that, once the TTIP is enacted, repealing the Health and Social Care Act in the UK will become almost impossible.”
The public has the democratic right to contest the agreement, and fight for a health service that protects them, the Statesman says, “but how can they when MEPs do nothing to inform opinion or gather support back home? The NHS is in a very precarious position. It seems that soon, with the help of Brussels, its fate will be sealed.”
Would you like your MEP to speak up for you – in other words, to do what he or she was elected to do and actually represent your interests? Then why not get in touch and ask why they’ve been so quiet about this for so long? It’s easy – you can find their contact details here.
The EU has released a ‘factsheet’ summarising how it would like you to understand changes to existing investment protection rules and the ISDS system.
The previous Vox Political article about TTIP is here.
Diddled into debt: A corporate tax avoidance scam is conning workers out of decent pay and the government out of tax and NI money, after causing the financial crisis.
“A bank in the UK could lend, say, $1bn to a US bank… generating tax-free income in the UK but a tax deduction in the US – and then simply borrow it back. For the second leg a different instrument could be used that generated tax-free income in the US and a tax deduction in the UK. The banks had simply swapped $1bn, to no economic effect beyond two tax breaks, while quite possibly keeping any mention of the debts off either’s balance sheet. Such tricks – the creation of debt more for tax advantages than any real business need – undoubtedly contributed to huge levels of inter-bank indebtedness that triggered the financial crisis.” – Richard Brooks, The Great Tax Robbery, p86.
If you are not deeply disturbed by the implications of the above quotation, read it again until you are. Richard Brooks is saying that the major banks of the UK, the USA, and who knows how many other countries colluded to hide massive amounts of money from the tax man by claiming – falsely – that it was debt.
The financial crisis happened because the banks could not service the debt they had created – they could not even pay back the interest on it, let alone the debt itself – and so the government was forced to step in and bail them out. So now the government had not only lost the tax it was due from the bank profits that had been hidden by the dodge Mr Brooks mentions, but it had now taken on the fake debt that had been created. The taxpayer was doubly the loser.
Who pays back the debt? Not the banks. Not the large corporations that are also avoiding tax. Not the rich businessmen and women who dreamed up the tax dodges. Thanks to changes in the law and already-existing legal loopholes that have not been closed by the Coalition government, they have been able to park their ill-gotten gains in offshore tax havens, depriving the nation of the wherewithal it needs to fix the problem they created.
With more people in work than ever before, the UK should be getting massive amounts more in tax and National Insurance, allowing it to provide the services we expect and pay down the national deficit. But the deficit hasn’t budged. Why?
Because the new jobs are part-time, self-employed or temporary.
Self-employed contracting means you can end up working for less than the minimum wage (you’re paid a fixed daily rate for the job, not the hours it takes to do it, so if it takes a long time to get it done, your pay-per-hour diminishes proportionately – and, as you are self-employed, you’re not entitled to the minimum wage).
Conversely, if you are employed part-time, you can end up working too few hours to qualify for tax or National Insurance (so you don’t get enough credits to pay for your pension later in life and the Treasury doesn’t get the tax money it needs to pay for services and clear debts) and on a personal level you don’t work enough hours to qualify for decent holidays. The company doesn’t pay for employees going on annual leave, potentially saving tens of millions of pounds.
If you work overtime, this doesn’t count towards annual leave, of course. So you can be employed on a part-time contract for, say, three days a week, be asked to work two more days overtime (a full five-day week) and lose out on all the benefits a full-time worker would expect.
The threshold is 20 hours per week. If you work less than that, employers do not have to pay NI contributions which would cost them nearly 14 per cent of pay. So people may work all their lives but never qualify for the state pension.
This is why more people are now in work than before the recession – it’s a cheat by bosses. They’re the ones who pay your tax and NI contributions. If you’re on pay that’s below the new tax threshold, you don’t pay tax. We have the Liberal Democrats to thank for that. It seems like a good deal but in fact it isn’t.
Meanwhile the companies say that cutting down working hours has saved jobs in a hard business environment, while the number of full-time jobs is down and wages have now fallen by 12 per cent in real terms (up from nine per cent, only a few months ago).
It is cheaper for companies to employ more people on shorter hours because they pay less to the government in tax and NI. And they say the “flexible” labour market has been a boost for the country, that having a job is better than having no job, and that it will help people progress.
That is not what we see.
We see a workforce ground down by the pressure of making ends meet on part-time or zero-hours jobs, making no NI contributions, getting very few holidays, and afraid to challenge the situation because their employers can simply let them go and hire someone else from the huge 2.5-million-strong pool of the unemployed (who are desperate for jobs because the DWP fills their entire lives will bullying and threats about losing their benefits).
We see the government completely unable to cover its costs because its own tax system – written by the ‘Big 4’ accountancy firms that have been responsible for more tax avoidance schemes than any other organisations in the country – actively promotes corporate tax avoidance; and Conservative ministers are totally indifferent to the huge losses they are piling up, because it means they can cut public services, or sell them off to (again) big corporations who will then avoid paying tax on them.
And we see the rich corporates laughing all the way to the (offshore) bank yet again.
The Coalition government has tried to tell us that it must squeeze benefits for the extremely poor, and low-paid working people must work much harder, in order to pay off the debt that – no matter what ministers tell us – neither they, nor the last Labour government, created.
In fact, this has been a story of tax avoidance by the very rich. A huge scam, running for decades, and hidden from the British people.
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.
Laying down the gavel: It seems that InJustice Secretary Chris Grayling is determined to sell justice to the highest bidder – ending a prohibition on the sale of justice that goes back to 1215 and the Magna Carta. Are you going to let him?
“Given the financial stringency which will be applied to HMCTS [Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service], as to everywhere else, we are examining every realistic option… for example, whether the current structures could be transformed, or whether an alternative structure, such as a more independent public interest corporation, would better ensure a sustainable future.”
In other words, We Are Going To Sell Justice.
The release is signed by Sir Jeremy Sullivan, senior president of tribunals; Lord Igor Judge, the Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales; and of course Chris ‘Failing’ Grayling, Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice.
It is no surprise that Grayling’s name is attached to the document. He is the “absolute tit” (thank you John Finnemore and the BBC) whose strategy to privatise Legal Aid and put people who are still innocent until proven guilty into the hands of his corporate friends who have a financial incentive to make them plead guilty, no matter what.
Sir Jeremy Sullivan’s involvement as head of the Tribunals Service indicates that a forthcoming change in fortunes, for example, if you are an Employment and Support Allowance claimant appealing against a wrong decision by the DWP/Atos. At the moment, the number of appeals has been increasing rapidly, with almost half achieving a ruling against the government department. Do you honestly think that will continue if Tribunals are run as a commercial concern, with the government as a major investor?
(Yes; I am saying this seems a transparent plan by Grayling, possibly with his former master Iain Duncan Smith, to clear a major obstacle to their project to drive the sick and disabled off the benefit books, possibly to their deaths. Many people who did not appeal have already died – for reasons which are not clear, although it seems unlikely this would have happened had the DWP not interfered. Privatising the courts may be seen as a bid to deter people from launching appeals.)
Of even more concern is the appearance of Lord Igor Judge as a signatory. Only last month, he was warning Grayling not to undermine the independence of the judiciary.
Why is he now happy to allow justice to be sold – and to be influenced by a right-wing government with an agenda of oppression?
The Guardian, reporting on Lord Judge’s letter, stated that the Ministry of Justice had “denied that wholesale privatisation of the courts service is being considered”. It seems that was untrue.
Why is Lord Judge now, apparently supporting this?
Is it because the privatisation threat comes towards the bottom of the letter, while an assurance that “justice is and will remain a core function of the State” is right at the top?
The reason given for the need to change the way the courts and tribunals work is “current financial pressures”. Readers of this article should be aware that there are NO financial pressures on the government other than those its ministers have invented in their own minds – as an excuse to cut services or sell them off.
In short, we are being governed by a gang of spivs.
Press releases such as this prove that the Coalition government has no desire to rule in the best interest of the nation; it is here to cut the state down to nothing; to sell off those public services likely to provide a profit to the private sector – into which ministers may well retire; and to exploit the vast majority of the population for the enrichment of ministers and their friends in business.
Readers are advised to write to their MPs and to Mr Grayling, opposing these plans; to point out that any pretend “financial pressures” may be alleviated by investment in the UK economy, to create jobs and tax returns; by the closure of tax loopholes that allow the super-rich to avoid paying their fair share; and by the end of so-called ‘sweetheart deals’ with large corporations that allow them to avoid paying their fair share of tax.
The evidence is right in front of us all. We should not allow ourselves to be hoodwinked.
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