Mark Harper: a Tory ‘divide and rule’ boy who thinks that facts about cabinet MPs are “a nationalist view”.
SNP MP Stephen Flynn laid out the facts about members of Liz Truss’s cabinet on the BBC’s Politics Live – to indignation from Tory Mark Harper.
After one fact after another, about one Tory after another, was laid out, Harper responded with “that is a nationalist view”.
Or is it more likely that Harper is in denial, treats Scotland with contempt, and has demonstrated the reason increasing number of Scottish people want independence from a UK government that they didn’t elect and don’t want?
Here’s a clip:
Have YOU donated to my crowdfunding appeal, raising funds to fight false libel claims by TV celebrities who should know better? These court cases cost a lot of money so every penny will help ensure that wealth doesn’t beat justice.
Inadequate wages and extortionate rents are pushing up the Housing Benefit bill, it has been revealed.
What is the Coalition government’s solution? It is increasing its efforts to tackle fraud.
“Forecast spending on Housing Benefit (we call it Landlord Subsidy) has been revised up by £2.5bn (11 per cent) since the expected number of renters and the level of rents relative to earnings have increased at a faster rate than predicted,” according to the New Statesman.
“As wages have continued to lag behind inflation, the number forced to rely on welfare to remain in their homes has surged. The government is now forecast to spend more than £27bn on housing benefit by 2018-19, accounting for more than 11 per cent of welfare [that’s social security] expenditure.”
It seems our Tory leaders find this far more acceptable than the alternative, which is to cap rents and pay working people a living wage. Remember that the vast majority of new Landlord Subsidy claims come from people who have jobs.
The Bedroom Tax must also take some of the blame: “One of the main causes of higher spending has been the shift from public to private rented housing,” states the Statesman. “In 2012-13, the number of private renters exceeded the nunber of social renters for the first time in nearly 50 years. Since private rents are usually higher than social rents, the housing benefit bill has risen accordingly.” This may be attributable to the introduction of the Bedroom Tax in April 2013, with social tenants scrambling to grab the cheapest – that’s right, the cheapest – private accommodation before everyone else.
The Coalition government’s response has been predictable: Falsely accuse tenants of fraud. It worked with incapacity benefits – why not with this?
“We know there is more to do to crack down on benefit fraud,” said Work and Pensions Minister Mark Harper – who is himself a fraudster, having employed an illegal migrant and lied about it. “This month we have brought in a new detection system that will cross-check all housing benefit claims against up-to-the-minute information on earnings and pension income.”
Great. Will that bring down the level of fraud, which totalled £340 million for the tax year 2013-14 – a monumental 1.42 per cent of that year’s £23.9 billion Housing Benefit bill?
Who cares? Even if it eliminated fraud altogether, no new claims were made and HB was not increased, the bill would still be £23.56 billion.
(Here’s a little perspective: If the total spent on fraudulent claims was saved, the government would keep more money than it would make from selling the UK’s share in the Eurostar train service, which is expected to be £300 million.)
Labour has said it will increase wages and build more affordable homes – tackling the causes of the problem rather than scapegoating its victims.
Tarnished record: Mark Harper previously came to our attention when it was discovered that he dodged a £20,000 fine for employing an illegal migrant worker. Vox Political covered the story on August 7 this year. [Image: Political Scrapbook.]
The new Conservative minister for disabled people has insisted that his department is right to ignore reports of deaths linked to the loss or non-payment of disability benefits, according to the latest article from kittysjones.
It seems that, in an interview with the Disability News Service at last week’s Conservative conference, he said he did not accept that the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) should be collecting this information or trying to learn lessons from such deaths.
“But Harper said he did not ‘accept the premise’ that DWP should collect and analyse reports that suggest a disabled person’s death could have been linked to the non-payment or withdrawal of benefits.
“He said: ‘If somebody in those sort of cases, if someone has [a] mental health [condition] and then something happens, trying to disaggregate what was the cause I don’t think is as simple as you are trying to suggest.’
“When asked whether he accepted that any deaths had been caused, or even partly caused, by the loss or non-payment of benefits, he said: ‘Of the cases I have seen since I have been the minister where there have been allegations, when you look at the detail they are not as simple and straightforward as people are alleging.’
“But Harper did promise to ‘go back and look back at what processes we have in place to track cases’ and to look at the Freedom of Information Act response from DWP that led to the DNS story.
“Many of the cases became widely-known through media reports of inquests, but in the case of Ms DE, the Mental Welfare Commission for Scotland concluded that the work capability assessment process and the subsequent denial of ESA was at least a ‘major factor in her decision to take her own life’.”
Of course this all goes back to the Freedom of Information requests submitted by Samuel Miller and others that prompted Yr Obdt Srvt to make the now-infamous “vexatious” request of June 2013. When it was refused on appeal to an information tribunal, Disability News Service submitted its own request.
A repeat request by Vox Political has since been refused on the grounds that the DWP intends to publish some or all of the information at an unspecified time in the future. These ‘section 22’ refusals must be supported by certain conditions which the DWP did not meet, and a reconsideration request has been met with stony silence (other than the acknowledgement of receipt), so once against it seems an appeal to the Information Commissioner (and possibly another tribunal hearing) will be necessary.
It’s all stalling tactics. The Conservatives in the government know that, if the true extent of the deaths becomes clear, the game will be up for them.
After all, who in their right mind would want to vote back into office an organisation that had just caused the deaths of anything up to or beyond 50,000* of their fellow citizens? Nobody would be safe under such a government.
Turning back to Mr Harper, independent disability researcher Mo Stewart has written to him with a stern rebuke that he will, no doubt, ignore. Here it is:
“Please be advised that the public are beginning to challenge why, historically, your predecessors don’t manage to remain in post for very long and I note your website continues with the government rhetoric whilst totally disregarding the human consequences of the austerity measures.
“I often wonder what exactly MPs mean when claiming that we are living in ‘difficult times for families’ when failing to take responsibility for the deaths and devastation you have clearly created, using cash as the only justification for the fact that ‘malnutrition’ is now regularly found in Coroners’ reports. The poor, the sick and the disabled people of the UK didn’t create the banking crash Mr Harper, so why are you hurting them but refusing to publish the growing mortality rates of government policies?
“Please be advised that your defensive claims that that you do not “accept the premise” that the DWP should collate and analyse the many, many thousands of deaths now directly linked to the withdrawal of DWP benefits is tantamount to an abandonment of responsibility by the British government, it may well lead to charges of crimes against humanity once all the detailed and often disturbing evidence has been collated and analysed by other sources and the British government is already about to be investigated by the UN for the demonstrated human rights violations of disabled people. All this whilst the UK faces the return of Victorian diseases linked to extremes of poverty…. That’s quite a track record this government has built up.
“With respect, you are not professionally qualified to assess these reported cases and regardless of if you admit it or not, high calibre REAL experts are now advising that: ‘…there is growing evidence that the draconian welfare reforms are irreparably damaging the mental and physical health of benefit claimants.’
“If someone is already surviving on a token income and the government reduce or remove it, with savage sanctions or by using a totally compromised ‘assessment’, how precisely do you expect these people to live, to eat or to survive when they are already the poorest in the land?
“This question isn’t going to go away because DWP Ministers fear the public reaction if the figures of welfare reform related deaths are ever published.
“Now the DWP are attacking our older disabled veterans by threatening to remove the DLA of our War Pensioners, whilst the PM continues to wax lyrically at Conference about the debt this nation owes to our armed forces. Unwise Mr Harper, very, very unwise.
“Release the mortality figures Mr Harper and don’t ever presume that we are about to stop asking for them.”
In addition to the above, it seems appropriate for Vox Political to reiterate:
Not only does the DWP have mortality statistics for benefit claimants, but it has them in a form that may be freely distributed to anybody asking for them, within the cost limits imposed by the Freedom of Information Act.
The only reason these numbers are not in the public domain is the fact that ministers like Mark Harper refuse to allow their release.
The only reason they have for refusing to release these figures – that makes any sense – is that they fear the consequences: Public shock and outrage.
That is not the response of a responsible government. It is the response of a gang of criminal killers who are terrified their misdeeds will be revealed.
*This is an estimate based on the known number of deaths related solely to a single benefit – Employment and Support Allowance – between January and November 2011.
What he may have reasonably suggested is that that not all 63% of social rented sector HB claimants tenants who are disabled and ‘affected’ by the size criteria will necessarily be adversely affected for a reason related to their impairment or health condition because their impairment or health condition does not give rise to a specific need for additional bedrooms as per the criteria. Rather what the Impact Assessment appears to be saying is that 63% of those to whom the policy will apply are disabled and for that reason they are affected, even if not adversely for a reason related to their disability.
Why are we being asked to believe it is such a surprise that the number of working people who have to rely on housing benefit has doubled in the last five years – at huge cost to the taxpayer?
It is all part of the “long-term economic plan” that the Conservatives keep mentioning, every chance they get.
That plan is to provide government support to major employers and to private landlords rather than the people who need it.
We know that the Conservatives have spent almost 40 years working to undermine working people, with policies designed to increase financial insecurity among those who have to work for a living. For example, the humbling of the unions ensured that increasingly meagre pay settlements would contribute to an ever-widening gap between the lowest and the highest rates of pay. Huge amounts of wealth have been transferred from the masses to an ever-smaller ‘elite’, guaranteeing their support for the Tories.
Ever-diminishing pay and rising living costs have meant that increasing numbers of people have had to claim benefits, even though they have been in full-time work. Again, this attacks people on low and middle incomes, rather than those who are paid the most; people in the highest tax brackets have been able to take advantage of legal tax avoidance schemes, some of which have been created by the current Chancellor, George Osborne. That has left those on lower pay scales to subsidise housing benefit through the taxes they pay – another drain on their resources.
Depressed rates of pay for those in work have necessitated government action on benefits for the unemployed, in order to justify claims that the Coalition has been “making work pay”. This has meant below-inflation increases in out-of-work benefits that have made them inadequate to cover living costs, forcing the unemployed to face the possibility of losing their homes and possessions to the bailiffs as their debts mount up. In order to avoid this, they find themselves forced to accept work at ridiculously low rates of pay, if they can find it.
A consequence of all this is that private landlords benefit from increased inflows of housing benefit into their pockets. The law allows them to increase their rents in line with the going rate, with no reference to tenants’ ability to pay; housing benefit is then used to help tenants achieve that amount, but it is the landlord who benefits from the increase – not the tenant. These are people who are already, by definition, well-off – otherwise they would not have been able to buy the property and make it fit to rent out.
The Conservatives’ “long-term economic plan” is to leech wealth from anybody poorer than them and create a new feudalism, with themselves as lords and everybody else as vassals, only able to make a living under conditions granted by the moneyed few; a modern slave-state.
According to The Independent, the cost to the taxpayer of in-work benefits will be £6 billion by 2018-19, nearly triple the £2.2 billion it cost in 2009-10. LabourList reckons the total cost of in-work poverty by 2019 will be more than double that amount, at £12.9 billion.
The total cost of housing benefit has already almost tripled, from £8.8 billion in 1990 to £24.4 billion now – despite the apparent efforts of Iain Duncan Smith’s Department for Work and Pensions. This is because all their cost-cutting efforts have been about finding ways of denying the benefit to people who deserve it.
Helping people earn enough to obviate the need for housing benefit runs contrary to the “long-term economic plan”, you see.
And what do you think this says about where the benefits of economic growth are going?
The Independent article states that the Department for Work and Pensions has claimed the number of unemployed housing benefit claimants has fallen since 2010, arguing that it is better for people to be employed, paying taxes and contributing towards their rents than to be “languishing” on out-of-work benefits, living on government payouts.
Technically, this may seem like a good argument. The minimum wage for full-time work is £11,700 per year, more than the increased tax threshold introduced by the Coalition government – but this means that, with Income Tax at 20 per cent, a full-time worker would lose one-fifth of everything earned above the £10,000 threshold, passing just £340 on to the government. They are likely to receive more than that in housing benefit. And the level of pay is still a pittance.
Worse still, a drop in the number of unemployed claimants does not mean they have all found jobs. Some will have been pushed off the system by the Bedroom Tax, which has made it impossible for some households to meet their rent commitments.
And there is no guarantee that the extra working people are paying taxes either – they might be self-employed (or claiming to be self-employed – see earlier VP articles on the subject) who are not earning anything like enough money to provide for themselves; they might be on zero-hours contracts – technically in work but on health-endangering wages; they might even be on a government-mandated Workfare scheme, in which case their only pay will be state benefits.
Mark Harper, Minister for Disabled People, claimed that the Coalition government had taken action to get the system under control by capping benefits “so no family can claim more than the average family gets by going out to work and we’ve put an end to unlimited housing benefit”.
He added that Labour voted against the cap, and against a general limit on benefits.
Harper’s claim that the system under the previous Labour administration “saw some people claiming £104,000 a year,” is also disingenuous as it related to a handful of people in specific circumstances. None of them are receiving anything like that amount now, and it is unclear whether this had anything to do with Coalition policies.
Labour, on the other hand, has hit the nail squarely on the head by pointing out that the rise in benefit claims is entirely due to the Tory-led Coalition’s failure to tackle low pay, insecure work and the cost of living crisis – although the opposition party stopped short of actually claiming that this was the plan all along.
The party has said that, if elected into office, it would build more homes and cap rents, easing the excessive demand that has made it possible for landlords to demand more and preventing abuse of the rental market.
“This particular Secretary of State, along with his Department, is pushing people through [the] cracks and hoping that the rest of the country will not notice that they have disappeared.” – Glenda Jackson MP, June 30, 2014.
If the man this blog likes to call RTU (Returned To Unit) thought he would be able to show that his behaviour had improved, he was sorely mistaken – as the comment above illustrates.
It is vital that this information reaches the general public despite the apparent news blackout, in the mainstream media, of any disparaging information about Duncan Smith or his DWP.
But we were discussing the debate as a trial. Let us first look at the evidence in favour of the government.
There. That was illuminating, wasn’t it?
Seriously, the government benches were unable to put up a single supportable point against the mountain of evidence put forward by Labour.
Iain Duncan Smith, the Secretary-in-a-State, resorted yet again to his favourite tactic – and one for which he should have been sacked as an MP long ago – lying to Parliament. He accused Labour of leaving behind a “shambles” – in fact the economy had begun to improve under intelligent guidance from Alistair Darling. “The economy was at breaking point,” he said – in fact the British economy cannot break; it simply doesn’t work that way. His claim that “We were burdened with the largest deficit in peacetime history” is only supportable in money terms, and then only because inflation means the pound is worth so much less than it was in, say, the 1940s – or for the entire century between 1750 and 1850. He called yesterday’s debate “a cynical nugget of short-term policy to put to the unions,” but the evidence below renders that completely irrelevant.
He said complaints about long delivery times for benefits were “out of date” – a common excuse. He’ll do the same in a few months, when the same complaint is raised again.
“Universal Credit is rolling out to the timescale I set last year,” he insisted – but we all know that it has been ‘reset’ (whatever that means) by the government’s Major Projects Authority.
He said there had been four independent reviews of the work capability assessment for Employment and Support Allowance, with more than 50 recommendations by Sir Malcolm Harrington accepted by the government. This was a lie. We know that almost two-thirds of the 25 recommendations he made in his first review were not fully or successfully implemented.
He said appeals against ESA decisions “are down by just under 90 per cent” – but we know that this is because of the government’s unfair and prejudicial mandatory reconsideration scheme – and that the DWP was bringing in a new provider to carry out work capability assessments. Then he had to admit that this provider has not yet been chosen! And the backlog of claims mounts up.
He tried to justify his hugely expensive botched IT schemes by pointing at a Labour scheme for the Child Support Agency that wasted hundreds of millions less than his Universal Credit, without acknowledging the obvious flaw in his argument: If he knew about this mistake, why is he repeating it?
Conservative Mark Harper said Labour opposed the Tories’ most popular scheme – the benefit cap. That was a lie. Labour supported the cap, but would have set it at a higher level. We know that the Coalition government could not do this because it would not, then, have made the huge savings they predicted.
Now, the evidence against.
First up is Rachel Reeves, shadow secretary of state for work and pensions: “After £612 million being spent, including £131 million written off or ‘written down’, the introduction of Universal Credit is now years behind schedule with no clear plan for how, when, or whether full implementation will be achievable or represent value for money.
“Over 700,000 people are still waiting for a Work Capability Assessment, and… projected spending on Employment and Support Allowance has risen by £800 million since December… The Government [is] still not able to tell us which provider will replace Atos.
“Personal Independence Payment delays have created uncertainty, stress and financial costs for disabled people and additional budgetary pressures for Government… Desperate people, many of whom have been working and paying into the system for years or decades and are now struck by disability or illness, waiting six months or more for help from the Department for Work and Pensions.
“The Work Programme has failed to meet its targets, the unfair bedroom tax risks costing more than it saves, and other DWP programmes are performing poorly or in disarray.
“Spending on housing benefit for people who are in work has gone up by more than 60 per cent, reflecting the fact that more people are in low-paid or insecure work and are unable to make ends meet, even though they may be working all the hours God sends.
“More than five million people — 20 per cent of the workforce — are paid less than the living wage. Furthermore, 1.5 million people are on zero-hours contracts and 1.4 million people are working part time who want to work full time.
“This… is about the young woman diagnosed with a life-limiting illness who has waited six months for any help with her living costs. It is about the disabled man whose payments have been stopped because he did not attend an interview to which he was never invited.
“The Government are wasting more and more taxpayers’ money on poorly planned and disastrously managed projects, and are allowing in-work benefits to spiral because of their failure to tackle the low pay and insecurity that are adding billions of pounds to the benefits bill.
“The Government are careless with the contributions that people make to the system, callous about the consequences of their incompetence for the most vulnerable, and too arrogant to admit mistakes and engage seriously with the task of sorting out their own mess.
“What this Government have now totally failed to do is to remember the human impact, often on people in vulnerable circumstances, of this catalogue of chaos. Behind the bureaucratic language and spreadsheets showing backlogs and overspends are people in need who are being let down and mistreated, and taxpayers who can ill afford the mismanagement and waste of their money.
“To fail to deliver on one policy might be considered unfortunate; to miss one’s targets on two has to be judged careless; but to make such a complete mess of every single initiative the Secretary of State has attempted requires a special gift. It is something like a Midas touch: everything he touches turns into a total shambles.
“Meanwhile, the Secretary of State will spew out dodgy statistics, rant and rave about Labour’s record, say “on time and on budget” until he is blue in the face and, in typical Tory style, blame the staff for everything that goes wrong.”
Julie Hilling (Labour) provides this: “The Government do not know what they are talking about… They talk about the number of jobs being created, but they do not know how many of them are on zero-hours contracts or how many are on Government schemes or how many have been transferred from the public sector.”
Stephen Doughty (Labour/Co-op): “another stark indictment of their policies is the massive increase in food banks across this country.”
Helen Jones (Labour): “When I asked how many people in my constituency had been waiting more than six months or three months for medical assessments for personal independence payment, the Government told me that the figures were not available. In other words, they are not only incompetent; they do not know how incompetent they are!”
Sheila Gilmore (Labour): “Although the problems with Atos were known about—and it is now being suggested that they had been known about for some time—a contract was given to that organisation for PIP. Was due diligence carried out before the new contract was issued?”
Gordon Marsden (Labour): “Many of my constituents have been caught by the double whammy of delays involving, first, the disability living allowance and now PIP. They have waited long periods for a resolution, but because a decision is being reconsidered, their Motability — the lifeline that has enabled them to get out of their homes — has been taken away before that decision has been made. Is that not a horrendous indictment of the Government?”
Emily Thornberry (Labour): “I have been making freedom of information requests.. in relation to mandatory reconsiderations. When people get their work capability assessment, and it has failed, before they can appeal there has to be a mandatory reconsideration. The Department does not know how many cases have been overturned, how many claimants have been left without any money and how long the longest period is for reconsideration. It cannot answer a single one of those questions under a freedom of information request.”
Natascha Engel (Labour): “The welfare state is designed as a safety net to catch people who absolutely cannot help themselves… That safety net is being withdrawn under this government, which is certainly pushing some of my constituents into destitution.”
There was much more, including the devastating speech by Glenda Jackson, partly in response to Natascha Engels’ comments, that is reproduced in the video clip above.
The vote – for the House of Commons to recognise that the DWP was in chaos and disarray – was lost (of course). A government with a majority will never lose such a vote.
But once again, the debate was won by the opposition. They had all the facts; all the government had were lies and fantasies.
By now, one suspects we all know somebody who has died as a result of Coalition government polices on welfare (or, preferably, social security). Two such deaths have been reported in the Comment columns of Vox Political since the weekend, and it is only Tuesday.
That is why it is vital that this information reaches the general public despite the apparent news blackout, in the mainstream media, of any disparaging information about Duncan Smith or his DWP.
Share it with your friends, use parts of it in letters to your local papers or radio stations, even mentioning it in conversation will help if the other person isn’t aware of the facts.
Don’t let it be suppressed.
You don’t want to do Iain Duncan Smith’s work for him, do you?
Prove who you are: Theresa May and David Cameron check the credentials of two police officers, to ensure they aren’t illegal immigrants. No, not really – but don’t be surprised if police checkpoints start appearing everywhere with people in peaked caps demanding your papers, just like in Nazi Germany during the 1930s and 40s!
Experts say this will require a system of identity checks for everyone, requiring British citizens or those with permanent residence to prove that their own presence in the UK is legal.
In a move that seems designed to appease the Daily Mail and its readers, she wants banks to check the immigration status of people applying to open accounts, and private landlords to make similar checks on their tenants.
You will notice that this means the government wants other people to carry out its responsibilities.
The Home Secretary also intends to “streamline” the appeals process in immigration cases. Under the current government, this word generally means “make less fair”, and this is borne out by a passage stating the measures aim to “deport foreign criminals first and hear their appeal later”. In such circumstances, how can we be sure they really are criminals?
There will also be a requirement for temporary migrants like overseas students to contribute towards NHS costs. This is not necessarily a bad thing – although it would be unfair if this money found its way to the private companies now infesting the NHS, rather than the public service itself.
But there will be no tightening of border controls, no “streamline” for bureaucratic deportation procedures, and no measures to tackle forced labour or lack of enforcement of the minimum wage.
Immigration Minister Mark Harper was quoted on the BBC website, saying: “The law must be on the side of people who respect it, not those who break it.” Fine words from the man who was unable to say whether flak-jacketed immigration officers had discriminated against people of ethnic minorities when they carried out their spot-checks at railway stations in August.
The BBC article also quotes Don Flynn of Migrants’ Rights Network, who reiterated that evidence contradicts the view that immigrants are attracted to the UK by benefits and free services; and Dr Richard Vautrey of the BMA, who said a system is already in place for hospitals to recover the cost of treating patients who are not eligible for NHS care – and introducing a system for GPs could be a “bureaucratic nightmare”.
The Guardian tells us the Immigration Law Practitioners’ Association (ILPA) has warned Theresa May her plan, for millions of private landlords to face “proportionate” fines of up to £3,000 if they fail to conduct checks on the immigration status of new tenants and other adults living in their properties, is unworkable.
“British citizens, European economic area nationals and third country nationals alike would be required to produce identity documents at many turns in a scheme that would be intrusive, bullying, ineffective and expensive and likely racist and unlawful to boot,” said the ILPA response.
And the Residential Landlords Association said landlords would need to know about a potential 404 types of European ID documents, in order to operate the scheme – saying some landlords would refuse to house migrants, for fear of falling foul of the new rules – and isn’t that the point of the exercise?
The Guardian quotes Habib Rahman, of the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants, who predicted that “these measures will divide society, creating a two-tier Britain, a return to the days of ‘No dogs, no blacks, no Irish’ and of ill people with no access to healthcare walking the streets of Britain. This bill is a travesty and must be stopped,” he said.
BBC home affairs correspondent Dominic Casciani tells us the ultimate goal is increased public confidence in the system.
But if we are doing all the work ourselves, why should this add up to increased confidence in the government?
Restoring the balance: We know what’s on the Home Office’s so-called ‘racist’ vans; here’s the response from human rights organisation Liberty.
Those of us who are lucky enough not to live in London have yet to see the amazing advertising vans that have been conveying instructions to Conservative-leaning voters, to treat with hatred, suspicion and contempt anybody who is not a white, Anglo-Saxon protestant.
It seems clear that these vehicles are intended to promote racism and heighten racial tension, setting British citizens against each other – because the aim is to encourage the suspicion that another person may be an illegal immigrant – in the same way Coalition policy on social security set citizens against each other by pretending it was commonplace for individuals to receive more in benefits than in paid work.
According to the Public Order Act 1986, it is an offence for a person to publish threatening, abusive or insulting material if this is intended to stir up hatred against any group in the UK, defined by reference to colour, race, nationality, citizenship or ethnic or national origins, or if it is likely to stir up hatred with regard to all the circumstances.
The Criminal Justice and Public Order Act of 1994 added an offence of intentional harassment – that it is an offence to use threatening, abusive or insulting behaviour, intending to cause a person harassment, alarm or distress. There is a defence that the conduct of the accused was reasonable. This Act was introduced by Michael Howard, who spoke in favour of the advertising vans on the BBC’s Any Questions on Friday.
The Unite union has been seeking legal advice about whether the Home Office-sponsored vans – running a week-long ‘pilot’ scheme that could be expanded to the entire country – incited racial hatred, which implies that their message was intended for domestic consumption, rather than for the benefit (sorry) of illegal aliens.
The message on the vans reads as follows: “In the UK illegally? GO HOME OR FACE ARREST. Text HOME to [a number] for free advice and help with travel documents.”
A stamp in the top-right corner reads: “106 arrests last week in your area.”
The Home Office Twitter account spent the week-long pilot period tweeting messages about the number of illegal immigrants it wished to claim had been detected or turned themselves in – and even transmitted photographs of suspects in a move that is certain to undermine claims that it was not trying to incite hatred.
And spot-checks have been taking place at railway stations, where people who were notably not white were stopped, apparently at random, by immigration officers wearing stab vests who demanded to see identification proving they were in the UK legally. It seems they became unreasonably aggressive when asked what right they had to behave like this without direct cause for suspicion.
Immigration minister Mark Harper has rejected claims that people were targeted because of their race, confirming that the law demands that officers need reason to believe an offence had been committed before stopping anybody.
He said the street operations “involved immigration officers talking to people in the local area and, where there was a reason to do so, asking questions in relation to immigration status”. Are we to take it, then, that his underlings were inviting local people to act as informants, ‘dobbing in’ people they suspected (or possibly, simply didn’t like and wanted to put into trouble)?
All of the above is the latest in the Coalition government’s continuing war against immigrants – let’s drop the word ‘illegal’ from the issue. The national debate is framed around people who come into this country – legally or not – and either take employment here or claim benefits.
The facts appear to show that the hysteria surrounding this has been blown completely out of proportion.
There is an argument to be made about enforcement of illegal immigration laws, but it is about ‘people smuggling’, cheap labour and forced labour – not about people coming here to take your job or claim benefits that they don’t deserve.
According to Scriptonite Daily, “the UK has a lower immigrant population than almost any ‘developed’ nation, these immigrants are mostly assessed via a Points Based System, only seven per cent are asylum seekers, and only 33 per cent of asylum claims are accepted.
“There is no open door.
“Finally, the immigrant population does not have access to a vast majority of the benefits available to UK citizens, the benefits they do receive are nowhere near the same value as those received by UK citizens and they are a third less likely to claim benefits than UK citizens.”
Owen Jones, speaking on Any Questions, voiced the belief that “the Conservatives, fearful of a threat from UKIP, are using taxpayers’ money to tap into people’s fears and prejudices… What we’re seeing is government-funded vans with ‘Go home’ emblazoned on them. That is a term long-associated with knuckle-dragging racists.
“We’re seeing spot-checks and racial profiling of people at tube stations. We have a woman on the news… she was born in Britain; she was told she was stopped because she ‘didn’t sound British’. And we have the official Home Office [Twitter] account being used to send gleeful tweets which show people being thrown into vans with a hashtag, ‘#immigrationoffenders’.
“Is this the sort of country you want to live in, where the Conservatives use taxpayers’ money to inflame people’s fears and prejudices in order to win political advantage? Because I don’t think most people do want that to happen.”
Moreover, it seems the authorities have created a perfect opportunity to start rounding up anybody deemed “undesirable” by the powers-that-be. Greece is already rounding up people of unorthodox sexuality, drug addicts, prostitutes, immigrants and the poor and transferring them to internment and labour camps.
Will the UK follow suit? Only last week we learned that the Coalition government was planning to expand its ‘residential Workfare for the disabled’, rounding up people with disabilities and putting them into modern-day workhouses where someone else would profit and they would receive benefits alone – because that’s how Workfare works. Now this.
This blog was criticised a couple of days ago, by a commenter invoking Godwin’s Law after an article comparing the new workhouses with Nazi concentration camps.
Every day it becomes easier to make comparisons between the current UK government and the Nazis, or other fascist-style institutions. How long will people watch and accept it before they realise what is happening?
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