Esther McVile: The employment minister, who claims adamantly that changes to housing benefit do not constitute a ‘bedroom tax’, is pictured complaining about a so-called ‘tunnel tax’ in her own constituency in a blatant display of double standards.
New rules coming into force at the end of the month mean jobseekers will have to do more to find work – even though there are currently five of them for every job available – the Department for Work and Pensions has announced.
Simply ‘signing-on’ for benefits will be a thing of the past under the draconian and repressive new rules.
Employment Minister and double-standards queen Esther McVey has hailed the new rules as undermining the range of support available, which helps diminish aspects of the social security system so that it no longer protects anybody from being left impoverished – in this case by making sure people cannot start claiming Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA) by just signing-on without first humbling themselves before the Tory-led government.
She said: “With the economy growing, unemployment falling and record numbers of people in work, now is the time to start expecting more of shirkers if they want to claim benefits. It’s only right that we should push people who are unemployed into such a depth of poverty that even ‘in-work’ poverty is a step-up.
“This is about taking support away from people and undermining the range of support available to them so they can hit rock bottom faster. In return, we will give people as much harassment as possible, to make them stop scrounging or face sanctions, because we know from employers that we have to break people’s spirit before they’ll work for a really low wage.”
To prepare for their first interview with a Jobcentre Plus adviser, people looking for work will be told they will not even be able to sign as unemployed until they have prepared a CV, set up an email address – even though they might not have a computer on which to use it – and registering with the government’s discredited jobs website Universal Jobmatch, which will expose them to identity thieves and exploiters looking for sex workers. This change will make it possible to exploit people as soon as they start their JSA claim.
People who don’t tow the line will receive more harassment from their Jobcentre Plus adviser – weekly rather than fortnightly – to ensure they can be cleared off the books via sanctions if it proves impossible to push them into poverty work.
All new JSA claimants will also now have a quarterly review with their adviser, who will try to find a reason to impose sanctions and get them off the books.
These new measures are being introduced as figures show the number of people claiming Jobseeker’s Allowance fell by over 363,000 on the year, the largest annual fall since 1998. This shows that the system of sanctions, putting people on Workfare to hide the fact that they are unemployed, and asking them to pretend that they are self-employed in order to fraudulently claim tax credits instead, is working.
The government is committed to sanctions and the vast majority of people are bullied off JSA quickly – more than 75 per cent of people end their claim within six months. Every working day Jobcentre Plus advisers shout at 98,000 interviews jobseekers and there are a range of ploys available to push them off the system. These include:
• Hiding them on the Work Programme
• Referring them for ‘training’ by companies that provide the minimum help available, take the money and run
• Putting people on pointless ‘work experience’ that won’t lead to a job but will clear them off the claimant count
• Fooling people with ‘incentives’ that mean nothing
• Getting people to pretend they are self-employed.
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Corporate trade a-greed-ment: Notice that this image of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership has mighty corporations straddling the Atlantic while the ‘little’ people – the populations they are treading on – are nowhere to be seen. [Picture: FT]
Your rights and freedoms have been under attack from all sides.
Not only has the government been able to pass the ‘gagging’ bill, preventing you from organising large-scale campaigns against repressive right-wing Conservative and Liberal Democrat legislation; not only are the police lobbying a sympathetic Home Secretary (there’s no restriction on their campaigning powers) for permission to use water cannons to suppress public on-street political protests; not only is the government hiding legislation to shackle news reporters and ignore the democratic process within a Bill that is supposed to be about cutting ‘red tape’; but negotiations to barter away your rights in the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership are still taking place.
Now, dear reader, you have probably written to your elected representatives at the European Parliament already. You haven’t? In that case, please look them up here – MEPs are elected on a regional basis so you should write to everyone representing your constituency – and get writing.
For information, here’s the letter I wrote to my own MEPs. Do not copy this, paste it into your email program and send it as your own! You will be ignored. The best way to grab their attention is to put in your own words your concerns about this issue. Use what follows as reference, but say it your own way.
Readers of Vox Political have been accused of improper behaviour before, because they copied and pasted rather than using their own words. Let’s not allow that again.
Here’s my letter; see if you can improve on it:
May I draw your attention to the detrimental effects of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership. This agreement, currently in negotiation between the USA and the European Union, has as its stated aim opening up markets for services, investment and public procurement.
Much of the groundwork has been carried out in secret, hidden from public scrutiny, but the information that has been made available has aroused serious concern that this agreement will weaken existing standards and regulations that protect workers and consumers in the EU.
In particular, the Investor State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) would allow any foreign company operating in the UK to make a claim against the government for loss of future profits resulting from any regulatory action by the government, such as new legislation. Such claims would be considered by an unelected, unaccountable tribunal composed of three corporate lawyers whose decisions are likely to favour the corporations and would override national laws.
ISDS was set up to protect companies operating in countries with a history of political instability where the rule of law could not be guaranteed. This does not apply to either the US or the EU and you should interpret this mechanism only as a device for subverting our national and supranational legislation.
It is widely believed that the TTIP will be used by our Conservative-led government as a means of locking-in its detrimental changes to the National Health Service. I am sure I do not have to rehearse the arguments that introducing private companies to the health service in England is leading to a patchwork system in which care is provided entirely on the basis of profitability. There is now no obligation on the Secretary of State for Health to provide a high-quality service across the whole of the UK, and the new system encourages Clinical Commissioning Groups and medical practices to exclude from their lists patients with conditions that are expensive to treat. The TTIP will forbid the UK government from improving this system with legitimate public health regulation, health protection and health promotion policies as private health companies will be able to sue the state for loss of future profits. ISDS would make it impossible for CCGs to cancel contracts with private providers, even when those firms were providing inadequate standards of patient care, because they would then face a legal challenge for loss of earnings that they could not fund. It will also limit the government’s ability to regulate professional standards and qualifications regarded for healthcare workers and lower the quality of patient care. In short, it would be impossible to reverse the disastrous Health and Social Care Act 2012, and its marketisation of the NHS. Do you want the health of your constituents to depend on a foreign company’s balance sheet?
You may wish to take heart from comments by the British Medical Association that it believes the NHS will be exempt from the TTIP. There is no evidence to support this statement. In fact, David Cameron stated in reply to a Parliamentary question in June 2013: “I am not aware of a specific exemption for any particular area, but I think that the health service would be treated in the same way in relation to EU-US negotiations as it is in relation to EU rules.”
In fact, as comments from the chairman of the Liberalisation of Trade in Services Committee (LOTIS) and financial services pressure group TheCityUK make clear, no issue had been identified that would allow exclusion of any sector from the second round of TTIP negotiations in November last year. You should also note that the Lisbon Treaty provides no protection for the NHS, despite the arguments of some people.
Furthermore, evidence to the House of Lords European Sub-Committee on External Affairs has shown that public health measures such as warnings on food labels, pesticides and chemicals, and other potentially toxic or unhealthy products may be restricted to bring the EU in line with the narrow approach to risk assessment taken in America (that promotes sales) and away from the EU’s broader precautionary principle (that promotes safety). Are you in favour of sales or the safety of your constituents?
You will know that the USA has not implemented fundamental labour rights such as the rights to freedom of association and collective bargaining. Regulatory harmonisation brought about by the TTIP will lower European labour rights to American standards – the agreement will always bring standards down to the lowest common denominator. This means that workers in all sectors, including (again) health, will lose vital rights in their struggle for fair pay and conditions of work. Do you support attacks on workers’ rights?
To sum up: The TTIP is ill-judged in its entirety and neither the UK nor the European Union should have anything to do with it. It would give huge power to transnational corporations while stripping away member states’ rights to regulate them and, in that sense alone, represents an enormous threat to democracy. British people fought long, arduous battles to gain the few rights they have, and neither you nor anybody else in the European Union have a mandate to sign those rights away.
This agreement may safeguard the profits of large multinational companies, ensuring that huge amounts of money go into their shareholders’ bank accounts (wherever they may be), but it will undermine the wages of everybody who works for them – again, according to the principle of the lowest common denominator. Yet it is workers’ wages that support national economies – by necessity they spend most (if not all) of their income as soon as they get it, on rent, utility bills, groceries and other vital supplies. The TTIP will harm national economies.
There is an argument that the TTIP will create growth and jobs – but there is little evidence for this, and even that is poor. The European Commission’s own impact assessment admits that a 0.5 per cent increase in growth would be “optimistic”, and independent research suggests that a meagre 0.01 per cent increase in the growth rate over 10 years is more likely. The North American Free Trade Agreement between the US, Canada and Mexico led to a net loss of almost a million jobs in the US.
Negotiations on the TTIP represent a test on where your loyalties lie. Do you support the people who elected you – or are you a puppet of the corporations?
As my representative, I am asking you to take all steps necessary to publicise this attack on democracy and on our sovereignty, and to take any action – individually or collectively – to put an end to it.
Please let me know what you intend to do.
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