Tag Archives: reward

At last the crisis of British democracy is addressed by a party leader: ED MILIBAND

Champion of democracy: Ed Miliband told the country he wants Parliament to provide what the people want, signalling a return to the principles of democratic government that have been abandoned by the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats.

Champion of democracy: Ed Miliband told the country he wants Parliament to provide what the people want, signalling that Labour plans to return to the principles of democratic government that have been abandoned by the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats.

Hopefully the naysayers among Vox Political‘s readership will have a little more respect for Mr Miliband after today.

He is the first – and so far, the only – leader of a mainstream British political party to have correctly identified the biggest problem facing our democracy at this time:

The fact that people aren’t bothering to vote.

Here’s what he said, in his response to the Queen’s Speech:

“The custom of these debates is to address our opponents across the despatch box in this House, but today on its own that would be inadequate to the challenge we face.

“There is an even bigger opponent to address in this Queen’s Speech debate – the belief among many members of the public that this House cannot achieve anything at all. Any party in it.

“About 10 per cent of people entitled to vote, voted for UKIP in the recent elections. But – as significant – over 60 per cent did not vote at all.

“And whatever side we sit on, we will all have heard it on the doorstep: ‘You’re all the same, you’re in it for yourself, it doesn’t matter who I vote for.’

“Of course, that’s not new, but there is a depth and a scale of disenchantment which we ignore at our peril – disenchantment that goes beyond one party, beyond one government.

There is no bigger issue for our country and our democracy.

“So, the test for this legislative programme, the last before the general election, is to show that it responds – to the scale of the discontent and the need for answers.

“In this election, we heard concerns about the way the EU works and the need for reform. We heard deep-rooted concerns about immigration and the need to make changes. But I believe there is an even deeper reason for this discontent.

“Fundamentally, too many people in our country feel Britain doesn’t work for them and hasn’t done so for a long time:

“In the jobs they do and whether their hard work is rewarded.

“In the prospects for their children and whether they will lead a better life than their parents, including whether they will be able to afford a home of their own.

“And in the pressures communities face.

“Above all, whether the work and effort people put in is reflected in them sharing fairly in the wealth of this country.

“The Governor of the Bank of England gave a remarkable speech last week saying inequality was now one of the biggest challenges in our country. We should all be judged on how we respond to this question, right as well as left.

“There are measures we support in this Queen’s Speech including tackling modern slavery, an Ombudsman for our Armed Forces and recall.

“But the big question for this Queen’s Speech is whether it just offers more of the same or whether it offers a new direction, so we can genuinely say it works for all and not just a few at the top.”

Yes – exactly. Yes!

Within the last couple of days, I was saying on the Vox Facebook page that Labour needs to recognise the threat posed by UKIP in the context of disenchantment with democracy: With so few people voting, the door is thrown open to loony extremist right-wing parties.

The only solution is for the mainstream parties to ensure they know exactly what the people will support and offer the electorate what we want, rather than what they want to push on us.

With this speech, Mr Miliband has made it clear that he gets it, and that he is listening.

As the only leader who does – and is – this should put him well ahead by next May.

All he has to do is deliver what he has promised.

Follow me on Twitter: @MidWalesMike

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Housing association speaks out over Bedroom Tax

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It seems the chief executive of a local housing association has taken issue with yr obdt srvt over the Bedroom Tax.

Shane Perkins, of Mid Wales Housing, wrote to the Powys-based County Times after I used that paper to expose an illegal action by the county council’s ruling group, aimed at preventing discussing of a motion for the council to adopt a ‘no-eviction’ policy.

The motion asked the council not to evict tenants who fail to pay their rent because of the Bedroom Tax. Councillors who are also private landlords were forbidden from speaking or voting on the motion as they stand to benefit if social housing tenants are forced to seek accommodation with them as a result of the vindictive policy, and this meant 30 councillors had to leave the chamber.

Members of the ruling group, realising there was a real possibility of the motion being carried, then claimed that any councillors who are social housing tenants should also be barred from taking part – a move that is against the law (to the best of my knowledge). My understanding is that a ‘general dispensation’ allows councillors who are council tenants to take part in debates on, and vote on, matters relating to council housing.

Mr Perkins, writing in the paper’s December 20 edition, suggests that it is almost impossible to establish whether or not a tenant has fallen into rent arrears solely as a consequence of the “pernicious” (his word) Bedroom Tax, and claims that the motion was “a meaningless ‘political’ statement”.

He makes the point that it may be possible to apply the policy where the tenant has never previously been in rent arrears, but this would be unfair on other tenants who are similarly affected now but had fallen into arrears for other reasons in the past. He asks why tenants who struggle to meet their rent payments should not receive a financial subsidy or reward for being a good and conscientious tenant; and also points out that the cumulative effect of other regressive changes to benefits is also likely to affect the rent payments of vulnerable people and, to be consistent, Labour’s motion should encompass them also.

He says all social landlords, including the council, will seek to advise and support tenants who are in financial difficulty, but “in the final analysis, if a tenant fails to pay their rent, the ultimate sanction has got to be eviction.

“To do otherwise would be irresponsible, as ultimately the cost of one tenant not paying their rent is borne by all those tenants that do pay, and spiralling arrears will ultimately affect the viability of the council’s housing, which will serve none of its tenants.”

It would be easy to pick holes in his arguments. The whole point of government policy is to make sure that nobody gets a penny more than the Conservative-led Coalition decides they should have – and this government wants to drive people into poverty – so there will be no rewards for hard work. The Labour Party, and non-political groups, has campaigned ceaselessly to force the government into assessing the cumulative impact of its changes to the benefit system, but the government has refused all such calls, knowing as it does that such research would reveal the monstrous truth about its attack on the poorest in society.

If Mr Perkins is really interested, then he should encourage his own MP to support the call for such an assessment in the debate on the ‘WoW’ Petition, due to take place in the House of Commons in the New Year. I helped write that document, which calls for (among other things) “a cumulative impact assessment of welfare reform”. Labour is supporting the motion. I would suggest, therefore, that any criticism of Labour for making a “meaningless ‘political’ statement” is unfounded.

As for the difference between tenants affected by the Bedroom Tax who have never been in arrears before, and those affected by it who have – this should be something a social landlord can track, especially if they are actively seeking to “advise and support” tenants. This support should include examination of a tenants income and outgoings, before and after the Tax was imposed.

The simple fact is that Mr Perkins would move offending tenants into smaller houses if he had any, but he doesn’t. He would not be talking about eviction if he did. He never built them and we must conclude that he never saw the need. Perhaps he believed that the welfare state would continue to support his tenants.

William Beveridge, the architect of that system, in the report that bears his name, said the British government should fight what he called the “giant evils” of society, including Want.

How could Beveridge know that, 70 years later, the British government would be actively increasing Want, wherever it could. That is what the Bedroom Tax, and the benefit cap, and all the other cuts brought in by this spiteful Conservative-led Coalition are about.

These measures are crimes against the citizens of this country – citizens who have paid into the State, generation after generation since the 1940s, believing that it would look after them if the spectre of Want cast its shadow at their door.

Mr Perkins describes the changes as “pernicious”, but if he allows a single tenant to be evicted then he will be a willing accomplice.

That is what he is saying when he tells us he is prepared to use this “final sanction”.

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Zero hours, zero benefits, zero enthusiasm. Why would anyone take a job on these terms?

The rise of zero-hours contracts: These figures from the Office for National Statistics may be showing only one-fifth of the picture, according to new research.

The rise of zero-hours contracts: These figures from the Office for National Statistics may be showing only one-fifth of the picture, according to new research.

The rise of the zero-hours contract must be deeply disturbing to all those with an interest in fair employment practices.

The arrangement is that an employee agrees to be available for work whenever required, but with no set number of hours or times of work specified. The employee is expected to be on-call at all times but is paid only for the number of hours that are actually worked.

There appears to be no pension scheme, no sickness cover, no holiday entitlement – no rights other than those laid down by health and safety regulations (which the government is trying to ditch) and the National Minimum Wage Act (also under threat from the Conservative-led government).

Also, the system is open to abuse by managers, who can use it to reward some employees (and the term is used in its loosest possible sense) with extra hours or punish others with fewer.

And how, exactly, is an employee supposed to be engaged in, and enthusiastic about, a job where they are treated as a disposable commodity, to be picked up and thrown away whenever it is expedient?

It seems possible that there is an argument in favour of zero-hours contracts – but only for employees who want to top-up another income stream; people who want occasional earnings and are flexible about when they work. The problem here is that it seems likely employers will want these people to work at times when it will be hard to meet the commitment.

For anyone else – including people who are unemployed, penniless, and need the certainty of a properly-constituted employment contract with set hours, pay and conditions, there seems to be no point in taking up such a contract at all. Yet they are proliferating across the UK.

Is the Department of Work and Pensions, through the Job Centre Plus network, forcing these conditions on jobseekers?

Such a situation might be a huge boost to employment figures, but it would also explain why average pay has fallen so drastically in recent years and the economy has failed – so abjectly – to reignite.

Today (Monday) it is being reported that more than a million UK workers are on zero-hours contracts – four times official estimates.

The BBC is reporting that 14 per cent of these could not earn a basic standard of living. If Job Centres are forcing people into these jobs, via the sanctions regime, this is scandalous. Perhaps it is permitted by law, but this would only mean that the government should have a duty to ensure that jobs which are taken under the threat of sanction are capable of providing this basic standard.

Worse still for the government is the allegation, in research by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, that public sector firms – those with government contracts – are more likely to use zero-hours contracts than private companies.

This is particularly prevalent in education and healthcare.

And how is the benefits system affected by these contracts?

CIPD chief executive Peter Cheese told the BBC: “Zero-hours contracts cannot be used simply to avoid an employer’s responsibilities to its employees.” But isn’t that exactly how they are being used? Don’t the number of people saying they can’t make ends meet, and the wider state of the economy, indicate exactly that?

Unison general secretary Dave Prentis seems to have got it right when he said: “The vast majority of workers are only on these contracts because they have no choice. They may give flexibility to a few, but the balance of power favours the employers and makes it hard for workers to complain.

“The growing number of zero-hours contracts also calls into question government unemployment figures.”

Business secretary Vince Cable has ordered a review of the zero-hours contracts system, to take place over the summer. He played down fears of abuse, saying evidence was “anecdotal” and adding that “it’s important our workforce remains flexible” (in employment terms, this means all the power is with the employer, while the actual worker has to adapt to the circumstances foisted upon them).

Shadow Health Secretary Andy Burnham called for zero-hours contracts to be banned, back in April this year.

It seems clear that they are unsafe and open to abuse. But would an all-out ban be appropriate?

Would it not be wiser for Job Centres to continue advertising them, but with no obligation to recommend them to jobseekers (and certainly no requirement to force anyone into applying for them), and with a requirement to warn anyone considering taking up such a position about the possibility that they will not be able to survive on the pay provided?

This might go some way to redressing the balance of power with employers; without the coercive power of the government supporting these contracts, they might try more traditional (and fairer) employment models.

This is a subject worth more examination. What are your thoughts?