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Gordon Brown is yesterday’s man – but he still has good points to make about the Budget

Gordon Brown: his heart is in the right place but his ideas are rooted in an ideology that doesn’t work.

Does anybody care that, according to Jeremy Hunt’s own projections, by 2026 his government will have made us all much worse-off than we were in 2019?

Gordon Brown does – apparently. But the reaction he received from some people when he wrote about it in The Guardian suggests that they think he’s responsible.

Maybe it’s true that his New Labour governments didn’t make the changes that were necessary after 18 years of Thatcher and Major-style neoliberalism, and paved the way for a further 15 years in which the Tories have been able to destroy what was left of the way of life that had made the United Kingdom worth inhabiting.

But that doesn’t mean he doesn’t have anything worthwhile to say.

His factual points are all worth taking in because they contribute to a State of the Nation-style snapshot of what the UK is today. And it is horrifying:

271,000 homeless people

400,000 children who sleep without a bed of their own

14 million condemned to damp or substandard housing

7.5m UK households in fuel poverty

Food prices in the shops have risen 18% in a year, with many basic items shooting up by twice as much – baked beans up 35%, ketchup up 39%, tomato soup up 73%

9.7 million adults already skipping or cutting back on meals

Six in 10 adults unable to afford other basic essentials

A record 2.1 million people are using food banks

There are 14.4 million living in poverty, including 4.2 million children, the vast majority of whom are in families where the breadwinner is on low pay

As Brown put it at the top of his piece,

Poverty will last until doomsday if this Conservative government is all that confronts it.

The so-called “budget for growth” [is] more accurately titled the “budget for growth in poverty”

The point of his piece was that cleanliness is the next thing the Tories have rationed, with hygiene poverty leading to the rise of so-called “beauty banks” to run alongside the already-infamous food banks.

He was calling on retailers and manufacturing companies to offer up surplus goods and to consider special production-line runs of unbranded toiletries to ease the crisis.

But this is just – as current Labour leader Keir Starmer would put it – “sticking-plaster politics”. It’s putting a plaster over the wound but not healing it.

Businesses can certainly do much more to ease the crisis that the Conservatives have deliberately created to distract the young and the poor from their strategy to divert public funds into the hands of the old and the rich.

They can provide better pay and conditions, and opportunities for career growth that make it worthwhile. These tactics will reap huge rewards for them as, freed from the stress of poor health due to bad nutrition and harmful work practices, and unburdened by the mental ill-health caused by continually having to find ways to make ends meet, employees’ productivity will soar.

That is the best way out of the hole Hunt has dug for us. Indeed, it is the only way, as his government is absolutely determined not to help.

Source: Jeremy Hunt has left the UK to rot in poverty. So we must take matters into our own hands | Gordon Brown | The Guardian

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Now the Tories want to sell your tax details to private firms

[Image: The Guardian.]

[Image: The Guardian.]

Not happy with its attempt to sell your health details to private companies, the moneygrubbing Conservative-led Coalition wants to sell off your personal tax data to companies, researchers and public bodies.

The government is considering how much to charge for the information, and claims that all data accessed by third parties will be “confidential”.

But the public has already been stung once by the Coalition’s incompetent attempts to go commercial. The proposed initiative to share NHS medical records with the private sector had to be suspended after a public outcry over “pseudonymised” data – a process by which medical records were said to be anonymous but it was in fact possible to trace exactly whose they were.

The plans for HM Revenue and Customs to share its data are, apparently, being overseen by Treasury minister David Gauke, whose relaxed attitude towards private firms led him to sign off on the infamous “sweetheart deals” that allowed multinational companies to keep billions of pounds of tax that they owed to the Treasury but didn’t want to pay.

Worse still, it turns out the government has already allowed private firms access to our data.

The government has strict rules about what can be released outside HMRC, with a near total ban on data sharing unless it is beneficial for the organisation’s internal work. But according to The Guardian, despite the restrictions, HMRC has quietly launched a pilot programme that has released data about VAT registration for research purposes to three private credit ratings agencies: Experian, Equifax and Dun & Bradstreet.

To comply with the law, the private ratings agencies, which determine credit scores for millions of people and businesses, have been contracted to act on behalf of HMRC and are “therefore treated as part of the department” – giving them access to tax data about businesses that would otherwise be confidential.

The government’s plans to change the law to allow the sale of anonymised individual tax data and release of the VAT register were buried in documents as part of the autumn statement and recent budget.

An HMRC spokesman told the BBC: “HMRC would only share data where this would generate clear public benefits, and where there are robust safeguards in place.

“Last year’s consultation made it very clear that there would be a rigorous accreditation process for anyone wanting access to the data and that any access would take place in a secure environment.

“Those accessing data would be subject to the same confidentiality provisions as HMRC staff, including a criminal sanction for unlawful disclosure of taxpayer information.”

So there. Do you feel better now?

Emma Carr, deputy director of civil rights campaign group, Big Brother Watch, doesn’t. She said: “The ongoing claims about anonymous data overlook the serious risks to privacy of individual level data being vulnerable to re-identification.

“Given the huge uproar about similar plans for medical records, you would have hoped HMRC would have learned that trying to sneak plans like this under the radar is not the way to build trust or develop good policy.”

Ross Anderson, a professor of security engineering at Cambridge University, told The Guardian the information could be highly useful to credit rating agencies, advertisers, and retailers wanting to practise price discrimination.

“This is going to be a big battleground,” he said. “If they were to make HMRC information more available, there’s an awful lot of people who would like to get their hands on it. Anonymisation is something about which they lied to us over medical data … If the same thing is about to be done by HMRC, there should be a much greater public debate about this.”

It seems the Conservatives in the Coalition are determined to sell information that doesn’t belong to them, and intend to grind us down with a relentless bombardment of initiatives and plans until they succeed.

They seem to by relying on the possibility that we will get ‘complaint fatigue’ and give up any protests. This is how they have beaten disabled people into submission to the draconian system for withdrawing state benefits from them; the system for appealing is drawn-out and convoluted, and many people with illnesses are too tired or weak to go through the process.

Also, this is another way of contracting-out government work to private firms, as evidenced by the VAT “research” that has been handed over to credit ratings agencies.

You can be sure of two things: Your data is not safe in their hands, and they won’t stop trying to sell it until they have been pushed out of government.

What are you going to do?

UPDATE: Campaigner Patrick Olszowski has responded to my challenge by launching a petition on the Change.org website. Please visit and sign!

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