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Welsh Secretary is whining because he read about UBI experiment online. But is that it, really?

Why so sad, Simon? The Tory Secretary of State for Wales is upset that Universal Basic Income might be tried out in Wales. What if – God forbid – it’s a success?

Simon Hart has made a big mistake, shouting about the Welsh Government’s Universal Basic Income experiment too soon.

He’s all upset because Wales’s First Minister, Mark Drakeford, has announced that the Welsh Government will run a pilot scheme.

He reckons Drakeford jumped the gun by announcing it in a story he read online (this one?*) before talking to the Treasury and the Department for Work and Pensions, which runs state benefits.

In fact, it seems to This Writer, Hart is the one who’s jumping the gun.

Drakeford, a long-term supporter of UBI, realised before this year’s local elections that he could end up leading an Assembly in which a significant number of members also support it.

In the event, counting himself, 26 of the 60-strong Welsh Assembly want UBI trials.

So he has begun research into that possibility. It clearly hasn’t gone very far because when I ran the story he was seeking expressions of interest from unitary authorities and now he’s talking about giving it to people leaving care.

It is far too early to be talking with the Treasury, DWP or any other official organisations about this because it might not come to anything, despite the good intentions of all concerned.

But being premature isn’t the big mistake I think Simon Hart has made.

His big mistake was showing how much he hates the idea of UBI:

Mr Hart said he agreed with previous comments made by the Welsh economy minister Vaughan Gething in 2018 – when he was health minister – that the idea was “out of touch”.

The UK government, which controls benefits, has said it did not think it would be an incentive to work.

The problem, for Tories, is that in many cases the only incentive to work at the moment is the avoidance of extreme poverty and the threat of death due to benefit deprivation according to – guess what? – Tory rules.

Universal Basic Income scheme would take away that threat, but would still leave people living at subsistence level.

The difference is that, rather than forcing the worst possible pay and conditions on possible employees and saying, “take it or leave it,” employers would have to start offering genuine incentives for people to take their jobs.

That is anathema to Tories. It means they and their business-oriented friends would end up taking a smaller cut of their firms’ profits, because employees would be able to demand what they’re actually worth.

That’s what Simon Hart revealed to us: he isn’t opposed to UBI because it’s “out of touch” or because of any inter-governmental lack of manners; he hates it because it offers dignity to working people.

And to those without jobs, come to think of it.

*I doubt it, although the tweet that I used came from a source that was new to me. Why can’t the BBC credit social/online media sources that published stories first? Is it some weird neurosis – worry that someone else is doing better news reporting?

Source: Universal basic income: UK government ‘not told’ about Welsh plans – BBC News

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One rule for them: Gove ‘pinged’ by Covid track&trace – but won’t have to self-isolate

Michael Gove: he didn’t have to self-isolate after coming into contact with Covid while watching Chelsea in the Champions League final – because he is an over-privileged Tory politician and considers himself to be above the rules that apply to the rest of us.

Once again, a Tory government minister is being allowed to ignore the rules that apply to the rest of us – because he can.

Michael Gove went to Portugal to watch the final of the Champions League – itself a thing that only people with a certain amount of money and the privilege that goes with it can do.

While he was there, he came into contact with someone who has (or at least had) Covid-19 – and was alerted to the fact by the Covid “track and trace” app on his mobile phone.

But not for him the inconvenience of having to self-isolate for weeks at a time! Oh no! He’s far too entitled for that!

Instead, he is taking part in a “pilot scheme” that nobody has ever heard of before now, in which he will instead undergo daily Covid tests.

Presumably he will still be in contact with his government and Cabinet colleagues – potentially exposing them to whichever variant of the virus he may have caught as well.

I’m partly inclined to say, good luck to the lot of them and they’ll only have themselves to blame if they all end up with the Delta variant (or whichever version is in vogue at the moment).

But he’ll probably get off scot free; it will be a false alarm and some Tory head-wagger will lecture us about what a wonderful step forward this “pilot scheme” is – for privilege people like him.

Richard Madeley put his finger on the heart of this matter when he asked that corrupt Tory liar Robert Jenrick about the incident on Good Morning Britain:

“One rule for you and one for us” indeed. And you’ll have noticed that Jenrick sees nothing wrong with that at all.

Source: Covid: Michael Gove alerted by NHS Test and Trace after Champions League trip – BBC News

Universal Basic Income pilot scheme to be launched in Wales. May I suggest Powys?

Money: a Universal Basic Income scheme guarantees that people receive enough money to support them, at all times. Some claim that this discourages them from working, but this is nonsense. Everyone wants more than the bare minimum, right? Or is the problem that employers only offer the bare minimum?

This is great news.

The Labour-run Welsh government was softly suggesting that it might support a Universal Basic Income (UBI) pilot scheme before the local elections.

But the election result has put 25 AMs in Cardiff Bay who signed a pledge promising to put pressure on governments and councils to launch trials.

That seems to have been enough to encourage Mark Drakeford to green-light projects in Wales, to be organised by new Social Justice minister Jane Hutt:

This Writer has had contact with Jane Hutt. I asked her for advice on a matter involving an acquaintance of mine and she took the time to provide a very full and helpful response. I think she is an effective and responsible public servant and that this project is in good hands with her.

The Guardian‘s article suggests that Rhondda Cynon Taff is among several Welsh councils that have expressed an interest in running a UBI pilot. I hope that my own home county – Powys – has also done so.

Powys is the biggest and most rural county in Wales, with many employment problems associated with having a sparse population. UBI could hugely help people here by removing the threat of sanction associated with the current benefit system and allowing people to concentrate on tackling local issues in a creative and adaptive way.

And it would be a real feather in Mr Drakeford’s cap to be able to say he’d managed to make UBI work across an entire quarter of Wales.

Source: Wales to launch pilot universal basic income scheme | Universal basic income | The Guardian

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Johnson insults Turing with foreign education scheme on the cheap

Insult AND injury: if the injustice he suffered while he was alive wasn’t bad enough – and remember, it drove him to suicide – it seems Boris Johnson is trying to make it worse by linking one of the UK’s greatest minds with a scheme that will actually prevent students from achieving their potential.

We always knew the UK backed out of the ‘Erasmus’ scheme, for UK students to study in the EU, for only one reason: to save money.

Now the scale of Boris Johnson’s cheapness is becoming clear.

The new scheme, named after Bletchley Park code-cracker Alan Turing, will send students all over the world, rather than just into the EU.

But it will not pay for their tuition. Instead, universities are to be urged to agree tuition fee “waivers” with their counterparts abroad. Does anybody really think that’s going to happen?

Nor will the new scheme pay travel costs for UK students to study abroad – except in the case of students from the most disadvantaged backgrounds (but we know that the Tories are biased against such students from last year’s ‘A’ level results so it seems unlikely that any travel costs will be paid at all).

The European Commission had paid up to £1,315 for UK students to study in the EU, so this will seriously hinder the ability of poorer students to travel.

Oh, and just for good measure, the living allowance has been slashed – by a fifth, according to the Scottish National Party.

Originally, Johnson had promised that UK students would remain part of the far better-funded Erasmus.

But it seems clear that he changed his mind when he realised there was an opportunity to cut spending – and victimise poorer UK citizens at the same time.

(Rich students will still be able to study abroad if they want, because they can rely on the bank of mummy and daddy.)

Instead, he announced the new Turing scheme, doing his best to make it sound like a huge stride forward into a brighter, wider world:

In fact, Johnson is pushing us into darkness and isolation.

Source: New ‘Erasmus’ scheme will not pay tuition or travel costs and living allowance slashed | The Independent

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Tories announce new scheme for buildings with ‘Grenfell’ cladding – while taking millions from builders who used it (allegedly)

Inferno: Grenfell Tower went up like a roman candle because it was covered in flammable cladding – killing an official total of 72 people.

The wrongness of this should be evident for all to see.

Firstly there’s the wrong of the new scheme to replace Grenfell-style cladding on tower blocks.

If you live in a block that’s taller than six storeys, your building will get a share of a £3.5 billion government fund to get rid of the flammable death stuff.

If your block is smaller – four to six storeys, then the government will stuff you with a loan, so you have to pay to strip off your own cladding. You get to pay it back at £50 per month, for “many years”.

Okay, they’re “low interest” but they’re also “long term”. Okay, they’re attached to the property – not the occupier – but that just means anybody in an affected block of four-six storeys is hammered with negative equity for – as good as – ever; new buyers would factor the loan into any decision on whether to buy and it is likely to lower prices.

Secondly, there’s the wrong of the £2.5 million allegedly donated to the Conservative Party – the political organisation running the government that has introduced these cladding replacement schemes – by the builders who installed the terminally-flammable cladding in the first place.

That’s right. The Tories stumped up £3.5 billion for one scheme, knowing they’ll tax that money right back*, set up a second scheme that takes cash direct from the people affected – and the people responsible for all the trouble, gave the Tories £2.5 million (allegedly).

*Apparently there’ll be a £200 million a year tax on the property industry to pay for all this – but you know the top bosses will just pass the cost on to clients rather than pay any of it themselves.

That’s great value for money – for the (allegedly) builders!

And that’s especially true when we remember that the firm that sold the cladding used at Grenfell Tower knew about the risk of fires in 2013, but continued to offer a flammable version of it.

And there’s even more wrong!

There was no announcement … for people in buildings of three storeys or less, who it appears could still be hit with eye-watering cladding bills by their freeholders.

There was also no new answer to who will pay for expensive “waking watches” – wardens who patrol buildings to check they are not currently on fire. Mr Jenrick referenced a £30m fund to replace waking watches with fire alarms, that was already open.

We also don’t know when the new support will launch or when we will get more detail about it.

And we don’t know if the £50-a-month loans for people in low-rise blocks will ever be written off. If they’re not, the announcement indicates a flat that faced a £50,000 bill could be paying it off for more than 80 years.

Some have condemned the Tory government’s behaviour as “incompetence” but let’s try to be honest about it, shall we?

If they really did take money, it’s corruption.

Source: Fury at new cladding scheme – how it works and why it ‘betrays’ flat owners – Mirror Online

After ‘hamper’ fiasco, Tories want to deny kids free school meals during half term week. But what are they hiding with all this noise?

Scandal: only two days ago, the Tory government came under attack for letting an outsourcing company skim £25 in profit from the cost of a £30 food hamper FOR CHILDREN. Now the Tories are trying to confuse parents by forcing them to apply to their local council for food vouchers over half term week. Is it all a big distraction from something else they don’t want us to see?

Isn’t it incredible?

Days after they were found to have been starving children by outsourcing £30 ‘free school meal’ hampers to a company that provided only £5 worth of food and kept the other £25 to itself, the Conservative government has announced a plan to starve schoolkids during half term week.

They say they won’t allow schools to provide free meals to pupils who usually get them; instead, local councils have been given responsibility to provide food under the Covid Winter Grant Scheme.

This scheme provided £170 million to councils in December. Under it, families have to apply to their local council for help, and will get a £15 voucher for each qualifying child.

It seems a deliberate attempt to cause confusion by switching schemes just when families need clarity.

And how much of that £170m fund has been spent already? It’s not a lot, divided across the whole of England (other UK countries have equivalent schemes, according to the government).

Kevin Courtney, joint general secretary of the National Education Union, warned that switching schemes meant “yet more disruption to free schools meals could lie ahead in half term”.

He said that rather than allowing schools to carry on providing food it would cause an “unnecessary logistical nightmare”.

He said ministers should now “hang their heads in shame” for threatening more “chaos and confusion” over providing food.

“These are battles which should not have to be repeatedly fought,” said Mr Courtney.

But they are.

And both the media and the public tend to focus on recurring issues like this, to the exclusion of other matters happening at the time.

School meals don’t cost a huge amount – in government terms – and it won’t cause too much upset if the Tories are forced to capitulate again.

So This Writer is left to ask what else is happening that the Tories don’t want us to know?

Source: Row over half term free school meals plan – BBC News

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Sunak announces furlough scheme replacement. Is it any good?

After he served up this little howler – and pushed up Covid-19 infections massively, Rishi Sunak needs to make a good impression with his plan to replace the furlough scheme for jobs affected by Covid-19. Has he managed it?

Tory Chancellor Rishi Sunak has announced a new “job support scheme” to replace the “furlough” programme he has been running since lockdown began in March.

This new scheme will run for another six months until the end of April 2021.

What is it?

A six-month scheme starting on November 1.

To be eligible, employees must work a minimum of 33 per cent of their normal hours.

For the remaining hours not worked, the government and employer pay one-third of the wages each.

So employees working 33 per cent of their hours will receive at least 77 per cent of their pay.

Where will employers get the extra money?

According to BBC News:

Sunak announced a “pay as you grow” scheme for businesses which took government guaranteed loans during the crisis.

“Loans can now be extended from six to ten years nearly halving the average monthly repayment,” he said.

They can also move to interest only payments or suspend payments if they are “in real trouble” for up to six months.

He said no credit rating will be affected.

Coronavirus Business Interruption Loans will also be extended for up to 10 years.

There will also be a new loan scheme in January, the chancellor says.

He is also extending the scheme for self-employment on “similar terms” to the existing job support scheme.

The scheme is mainly for small and medium-sized firms. Only large firms that can prove they have been harmed by Covid will be eligible for the Job Support Scheme.

What about VAT?

Sunak is also cancelling the planned increase of VAT from five per cent to 20 per cent, which was due to come into effect in January.

Instead, the lower rate of five per cent will remain until 31 March next year.

Viable jobs?

Sunak said the new scheme is intended to support “viable” jobs only – and that should ring alarm bells:

Of course – Tories being Tories – certain extremely rich people are enjoying the continuation of their own subsidies at the same level:

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Did ‘activist lawyers’ tell Home Office its Windrush compensation scheme was a disaster, too?

The Empire Windrush brought many people to the UK to help rebuild the country after World War II. If it had still been in service a couple of years ago, the Tories would have been trying to use it to deport them all again.

How unfortunate for the Home Office that it should fall foul of the lawyers twice in one day.

Or is it perhaps a sign of the Johnson government’s disregard for the law?

The Tory government’s much-maligned Windrush Compensation Scheme has been trashed by – one would expect – activist lawyers from no fewer than nine separate firms.

They say it is failing to provide access to justice – a claim that can only have gained validity after it was revealed that the HO tried to rush-deport 23 people illegally, because it had not allowed them their right to appeal.

The – activist – lawyers also said that while the Windrush scandal traumatised its victims, the compensation scheme is only worsening the trauma.

The HO has already confirmed that at least five people who applied for compensation died before receiving it.

Lawyers say they have experienced significant delays and difficulties filing claims for clients who were wrongly classified as illegal immigrants and lost their jobs, housing or pensions as a result.

The letter says many applications appear to be “appear to be lost in a kind of bureaucratic limbo”, with some people forced to wait more than a year for decisions.

Look at this:

The decision to put the Home Office in charge of processing of claims was particularly problematic, they write, given the criticisms of the department made in Wendy Williams’ official inquiry into the scandal. Williams’ report identified a “culture of disbelief and carelessness” within the Home Office and “institutional ignorance and thoughtlessness towards the issue of race”.

And now let’s all remember that the Home Office is carrying out its own inquiry into the death of refugee Mercy Baguma. What chance does justice have in a “culture of disbelief and carelessness” with “institutional ignorance and thoughtlessness towards the issue of race”?

Coincidentally (or is it?) yesterday HO permanent secretary Matthew Rycroft announced:

Perhaps inevitably, this was one of the responses:

Source: Windrush payout scheme not fit for purpose, say lawyers | Windrush scandal | The Guardian

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Tories cave in to Rashford’s school meals campaign with scheme for holidays

Marcus Rashford: his campaign has won. But would it have succeeded if a member of the pubic had been making the call?

This is a victory – but you must remember that Boris Johnson wanted your children to starve.

It is only the fact that this was a public relations disaster that has changed his mind. If Marcus Rashford had not launched a popular campaign, the Tories would have withdrawn the cash and given it to their fat corporate friends instead.

Remember that while you read that 1.3 million children will now benefit from funding that Johnson had previously claimed was not available. What about the other 1.7 million? Will they still go hungry?

Almost 1.3 million school children in England – accounting for 15.4% of state-educated pupils – were eligible for and claiming free school meals according to the latest available data.

That’s interesting. It was three million in the stories about Mr Rashford’s campaign before he won.

He tweeted:

It is indeed.

England in 2020 is a place where the government deliberately tries to harm its citizens…

… and where it only gives anything back in fear of harmful publicity from a campaign by a highly-visible public figure. If Joe Bloggs from a small village had run this campaign, your children would be skin and bone by September.

Source: Marcus Rashford: School scheme extended after footballer’s campaign – BBC News

Ghoul Johnson spits on footballer’s school meals plea – he wants millions of children to STARVE

Marcus Rashford: he knows the value of government-provided meals for school-age children; Boris Johnson doesn’t.

Boris Johnson has announced a plan to force around three million school-age children to starve over the summer holidays.

He didn’t say it in quite those words when he rejected footballer Marcus Rashford’s plea to extend the free school meals scheme into the summer holidays – of course he didn’t – but that is what he meant.

Mr Rashford had written to Johnson, pleading for a change of heart from the prime minister who had decided to end the food voucher scheme, in an open letter telling of his own experiences of relying on free school meals. But his plea fell on deaf ears. Johnson doesn’t care about poor people’s children.

Instead, the prime minister’s spokesman said the government was making £63 million available for local authorities to help families struggling to afford food and other basic essentials – a fraction of the £115 million needed to feed school-age children alone.

Mr Rashford, who used food banks and received free meals as a child, has raised £20 million to boost food distribution with the charity FareShare – and may therefore be said to have done more to help feed school-age children than Johnson.

It seems the government – ever conscious of its image – has belatedly realised that this is a public relations disaster and tried to mitigate the effect by sending a minister on a round of the media to say Johnson’s gang will be putting £9 million into a holiday activities and food programme that will feed 50,000 children – just 1.67 per cent of the total number going hungry thanks to Johnson’s cruelty.

Fortunately, Mr Rashford has found allies beyond the government. Here’s the Co-op:

And of course the general public is behind him:

But Keir Starmer’s new New Labour party is notably silent:

And of course there’s always a Tory minister around to put their feet in their mouth and make matters worse. In this case – of all people – it had to be the Work and Pensions Secretary Therese Coffey:

In a plea to MPs he tweeted: “When you wake up this morning and run your shower, take a second to think about parents who have had their water turned off during lockdown”.

But Work and Pensions Secretary Therese Coffey replied: “Water cannot be disconnected though.”

Ms Coffey is right that the law stops water firms disconnecting the supply to people’s homes. But the law doesn’t stop gas or electricity firms disconnecting their supplies, used for heating. That means while water can’t be switched off entirely, “hot water” can.

Marcus Rashford then stepped in – telling her: “I’m concerned this is the only tweet of mine you acknowledged. Please, put rivalries aside for a second, and make a difference #maketheuturn.”

Two hours later, after the backlash, Ms Coffey posted follow-up tweets addressed at the footballer.

She wrote: “I welcome your passion for supporting children and the most vulnerable in society – a passion we share.

“We are working to the same aim. I & this Govt will continue to actively help and support families and businesses through this emergency and beyond.

“We supported people renting and ensure they cannot be evicted & intervened with electricity suppliers on bills.

“We have kept schools open for vulnerable children and those of key workers. We will continue to support the economy and help all of us get through this.”

Weasel words. We have already seen that the government is withdrawing help and support from families. And it seems the people are not convinced:

It seems they are right to be sceptical, too. Senior Tory Robert Halfon has broken ranks to warn that even the meagre cash promised instead of free school meals will never reach the children who need it.

He said:

“The problem with these kinds of programmes is it’s very bureaucratic.

“People have to apply to the council, whereas the free school meal programme is very simple, families understand it and it goes to those who need it most.”

Asked if he supported Mr Rashford’s campaign, Mr Halfon told BBC Breakfast: “Yes I do. He is an inspiration, he is a hero of our time.”

He earned of a looming “ice age for vulnerable children”, with 2.5 million not learning, 4 million having no contact with their teachers and food insecurity nearly doubling.

“Families face not just health worries, but enormous financial anxiety and enormous stress,” Mr Halfon said.

Contrast this attitude with the hundreds of billions in corporate welfare that Johnson pulls out of the government’s back pocket whenever big business needs it:

That’s right – apparently Johnson can give big businesses (whose fat bosses are already hugely rich) £150 billion, but can’t scrape up 0.08 per cent of that to help feed starving kids. And people voted for this, by a landslide.

POSTSCRIPT: This Writer has been a long-term critic of Liberal Democrat AM Kirsty Williams, but she’s on the right side over this issue. As the Labour-run Welsh government’s education minister, she has announced that children here will continue to receive support throughout the summer holidays.

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