Tag Archives: transform

We must act to make sure that there are no more Daniel Blakes | Shadow Work & Pensions secretary

161104-daniel-blake-posterAn important commitment to benefit claimants from Shadow Work and Pensions secretary Debbie Abrahams.

Her use of the word “transform” may ring alarm bells, as it is the catchword used by private consultants when they change government systems without making them better.

I’ve known Ms Abrahams long enough to believe she means Labour will change the system for the better.

This is a promise to achieve that – and for government to stop letting UK citizens down. You can hold her to it.

To describe our current social security system, following six years of Conservative ‘reform’, as Kafkaesque sounds prosaic. Yet I, Daniel Blake by Ken Loach shows us how in this case the description rings perfectly true. Despite having been employed as a carpenter his whole working life, Daniel faces a seemingly endless maze of barriers in making his claim for support after suffering a heart attack, with ‘advice’ delivered to him in rushed jobcentre interviews. He is told that he must sign a claimant commitment for jobseekers allowance and spend hours seeking work, despite his doctor stating he is unfit for work and still in recovery.

This is not news to those of us trying to support people through the system. In 2014, a constituent of mine suffered a heart attack midway through a DWP work capability assessment. He was rushed to hospital, only to find a letter telling him he had been sanctioned and his payments stopped for failing to complete the assessment when he arrived back home.

Sadly, his case is one of many thousands that I have received since being elected to Parliament. Loach’s depiction of the frustration caused by a social security system administered through faceless ‘decision-makers’ will be recognised by the many who have, through sickness or ill health, been forced to rely on it. The despair felt by many as their determination to fight the bureaucratic system ebbs away as ever greater hurdles are placed in their way is something I sadly see every day.

I believe there is a better way and a fairer way. I don’t want people who have paid into the system all their life, but then need support having become sick or disabled to be made to feel worthless and dehumanised by a state that should be there to support them.

Labour will transform the whole social security system. But fundamentally, I want to change how our social security system is perceived. The government has used the poisonous “shirker” and “scrounger” language to vilify people on social security as the new undeserving poor.

That’s why I used the trailer for I, Daniel Blake at the start of my Conference speech last month. The film brings the consequences of the Government’s current policies to full public attention. No longer should people who are ill and disabled be left to fight the system alone. We must all stand together to ensure that there are no more Daniel Blakes.

Source: We must act to make sure that there are no more Daniel Blakes

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Why is Labour always offering too little, too late?

Announcement or admission: Labour's announcement, as it appeared on Facebook.

Announcement or admission: Labour’s announcement, as it appeared on Facebook.

A future Labour government would cap rent increases, the party has announced – around a year and a half late.

The Coalition government has chosen to keep Housing Benefit down by making it the first payment to be reduced as part of the benefit cap, and Labour’s announcement should rightly be seen as a response to this.

But the benefit cap was announced in the mists of history, back in 2012 or thereabouts, so why has Labour only just got around to telling us its counter-proposal? The rest of us were screaming it from the rooftops at the time.

Coming so late, it seems less that this policy has been announced, and more that it has been admitted.

Perhaps this is the influence of new election advisor David Axelrod, and maybe it signals the start of regular announcements in the run-up to the general election next year. If so, this would go some way towards saving Ed Miliband’s blushes.

Certainly today we were presented with a 10-step ‘cost of living’ contract, stuffed with promises Labour has made to help beleaguered consumers keep prices down – and these are (mostly) good steps.

First is the popular scheme to freeze gas and electricity bills while the energy market is reformed.

Then there’s Labour’s plan to have 200,000 new homes built every year by 2020, relieving the housing shortage and lowering the cost of a new home.

Next comes the rent cap, plus a pledge to help families that rent plan for the future with new, long-term, predictable tenancies.

There’s the pledge to cut income tax with a 10p starting tax rate. This may be seen as an admission that Labour’s decision to end the original 10p tax rate (even though I seem to recall it was intended to be temporary) was a mistake. But isn’t it better to admit our mistakes, put them right, and move on? The plan to restore the 50p top rate has been lambasted by posh Tories and business executives, who say it won’t achieve anything (they would, wouldn’t they?) but is a good symbolic gesture.

Fifth is a pledge to ban zero-hour contracts altogether. This may seem problematic, as the evidence shows that there are working people who benefit from these contracts’ flexibility. The trouble is that unscrupulous firms were using these contracts to exploit workers who deserved better from them. Labour’s attitude – that these firms will have to manage without them if they won’t use them properly – is a bit ‘nannyish’ but makes a strong point.

Then comes Labour’s pledge to “Make work pay”. Some may criticise the use of words that have been tainted by Conservative spin. The Tories want you to believe that they’ll “make work pay” by cutting out-of-work and in-work benefits, but we all know that this won’t make anybody better-off; quite the opposite. Labour’s idea is to boost the minimum wage and encourage firms that are able, to increase their pay rates to the Living Wage, cutting the benefit bill that way.

Seventh is a little-known plan to cut business rates and make banks lend to small businesses (at least, that’s the only interpretation of “reforming the banks” that makes any sense in this context).

There’s a pledge to give working parents 25 hours’ free childcare (presumably this is per week) for kids aged three and four, and one to tackle abuses of immigrant workers by banning recruitment agencies that only hire people from abroad and pushing Europe for stronger controls. This would present problems for the Conservative-run NHS, as the BBC News has just announced that it is recruiting heavily from Portugal!

Finally we have the weakest promise – the job guarantee for the young unemployed, coupled with more apprenticeships. This has been met with opposition from the very people who were expected to welcome it, as it seems nobody outside the Labour front bench believes it has the remotest chance of success.

Unmentioned is Labour’s plan to change the assessment system for sickness and disability benefit ESA, which earned instant toxicity because it sports only cosmetic differences from the current Conservative scheme that has been fatal for thousands. The plan was announced at around the same time as a Labour inquiry into these benefits called for preventative investment that the party leadership is unwilling to countenance, and a group of mostly-disabled people called Spartacus provided a far more enlightening overview of the problems with the benefit, and the steps needed to remedy them, that clashed with what Labour is saying.

More concerning still is the fact that all of these measures are responses to Coalition policies that have harmed people during the course of this Parliament – or situations that the Tories and Tory Democrats have allowed to continue because they support the overall plan.

Where is the inspiration to transform Britain and return prosperity to everybody, rather than limiting it to people who own smart suits and big houses? When can we expect a hint that this is coming?

Unless you are one of the aforementioned people with smart suits and big houses, the Conservatives sidled into government with a plan to diddle you out of as many of your Parliament-supported rights, privileges and benefits as they could possibly fit into a five-year term in office, all the while telling you it was for your own good.

As you can tell from today’s previous Vox Political article, that has gone astonishingly well for them.

Of course, the Tories didn’t announce this plan, because they knew it would turn the electorate away in their millions – the classic example of this in practice is the way Andrew Lansley was forbidden from mentioning his privatisation plan for the National Health Service, as this would be toxic to the Tory election campaign.

But times have changed. People are suffering. They need Labour to offer something more than a promise to rub ointment on their wounds.

They want to see Labour turn the tables on the Tories. And they want to know how that’s to be achieved.

Saying Labour will “transform Britain” won’t work as we’ve all heard about such miraculous transformations before, and they have always benefited the suit-and-house people.

So come on, Ed.

When can we have it?

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Church v (Secretary-in-a-) State over social ‘reform’

Cardinal-designate Vincent Nichols, who has attacked fellow Catholic Iain Duncan Smith's benefit cuts as a "disgrace". [Image: Liverpool Echo]

Cardinal-designate Vincent Nichols, who has attacked fellow Catholic Iain Duncan Smith’s benefit cuts as a “disgrace”. [Image: Liverpool Echo]

Does anybody else have the feeling that Vincent Nichols, the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Westminster, was only waiting for the Pope to name him a Cardinal-designate before sinking his teeth into the UK’s Conservative-led Coalition government?

One gets the impression he feels secure that the new position means his words now carry sufficient weight – and they are weighty words indeed.

“People do understand that we do need to tighten our belts and be much more responsible and careful in public expenditure,” said the Archbishop to the Telegraph.

“But I think what is happening is two things: one is that the basic safety net that was there to guarantee that people would not be left in hunger or in destitution has actually been torn apart.

“It no longer exists and that is a real, real dramatic crisis.

“And the second is that, in this context, the administration of social assistance, I am told, has become more and more punitive.

“So if applicants don’t get it right then they have to wait for 10 days, for two weeks with nothing – with nothing.

“For a country of our affluence, that quite frankly is a disgrace.”

“Hunger”, “destitution”, “crisis” – “a disgrace”. You cannot accuse this man of mincing his words!

They come almost a year after the (Anglican) Archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Reverend Justin Welby, together with the Archbishop of York and 43 bishops, launched their own attack on changes to social security, saying they would have a “deeply disproportionate” effect on children and families.

Mr Welby had himself only recently taken the Church of England’s most senior office.

Speaking to the Telegraph on March 9 last year, 12 days before his enthronement, he said: “As a civilised society, we have a duty to support those among us who are vulnerable and in need. When times are hard, that duty should be felt more than ever, not disappear or diminish.

“It is essential that we have a welfare system that responds to need and recognises the rising costs of food, fuel and housing.

“These changes will mean it is children and families who will pay the price … rather than the Government.”

The Department for Work and Pensions laughed off Mr Welby’s concerns.

But Iain Duncan Smith, the Secretary of (or “in a”) State for Work and Pensions, is – or is at least supposed to be – a devout Catholic. How could he ignore such harsh criticism from the most senior member of his Church in the United Kingdom?

Very easily, it seems.

Iain Duncan Smith has not deigned to respond. Perhaps he has a belief – he does seem to rely on them a lot, now, doesn’t he? – that he is doing more for the people of this country than the Archbishops. There’s a word for this condition that’s slipping my mind for a moment… no – I’ve got it.

A ‘Messiah’ complex – a state of mind in which an individual holds a belief that they are, or are destined to become, a saviour.

‘Messiah’ trumps ‘Archbishop’ so IDS has chosen to ascend above the debate, leaving its resolution to his trusty DWP spokesperson, who came out with the usual lies.

“Our welfare reforms will transform the lives of some of the poorest families in our communities with Universal Credit making three million households better off and lifting hundreds of thousands of children out of poverty,” wittered the spokesperson.

To disprove these words, let’s turn to the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, the social policy research charity that seeks to understand the causes of social problems, identify ways of overcoming them, and show how social needs can be met. This organisation has stated – repeatedly – that Universal Credit in its current form will create “increased risks of budgeting problems, debt, arrears and ultimately financial exclusion”.

The same organisation quotes research from the Institute of Fiscal Studies (IFS) which states that, under current Coalition government policies, rather than hundreds of thousands of children being lifted out of poverty, by 2020 more than one million more children will be in poverty than when the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats slithered into office by the back door in 2010.

So who do you believe? Come to that, what does Iain Duncan Smith really believe?

The DWP spokesperson said: “It’s wrong to talk of removing a safety net when we’re spending 94bn a year on working age benefits and the welfare system supports millions of people who are on low incomes or unemployed so they can meet their basic needs.”

But we know that Iain Duncan Smith has inflicted £28 billion of cuts on people receiving benefits from his Department for Work and Pensions. If another IFS statement – that this represents only two-fifths of the Coalition’s cuts plan – is accurate, then the total amount he’ll want to cut is a staggering £70 billion.

And he wants his people to talk about the money he’s spending, rather than the effect he’s having. So, what does he believe?

He believes in Mammon.

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Bad apples?

Meet the new boss: Richard Caseby - no connection with any 'bad apples' at News UK or the DWP. Let's hope it stays that way.

Meet the new boss: Richard Caseby – no connection with any ‘bad apples’ at News UK or the government. Let’s hope it stays that way.

The highly confrontational former managing editor of both The Sunday Times and The Sun has been named as the new director of communications at the Department for Work and Pensions.

Richard Caseby takes over after former comms boss John Shield was hired by the BBC last September.

Gosh, what an incestuous world we live in! The BBC, now confirmed as little more than a mouthpiece for the Conservative Party in its political news content, hires the former press officer for the Tory-run DWP. The DWP then hires an executive from Rupert Murdoch’s News UK, previous home of – oh, yes – former Number 10 press supremo Andy Coulson, currently on trial for criminal offences allegedly committed while he was employed by the same firm!

Murdoch, the government, the BBC – these people like to stick together, and they like to put their people in positions of influence.

There is no evidence – to my knowledge – that could link Mr Caseby to any criminal behaviour at News UK. It is to be hoped that any ‘bad apples’ who worked there did not manage to spoil the whole bunch. It would be wrong to consider him guilty of any wrongdoing merely by association with his previous employer.

And we should not automatically consider him to have been elevated to this position – in which, as a government employee, he should be impartial and not partisan – because he may be ideologically aligned with the Conservatives.

That being said, I shall certainly be watching this character like a hawk.

It seems he has gained a reputation for being “outspoken” and “forthright” – Roy Greenslade in The Guardian recounts an occasion when a columnist for that paper had mistakenly reported that The Sun had doorstepped a Leveson Inquiry lawyer, writing that such activities were equal to “casually defecating on his lordship’s desk while doing a thumbs-up sign”.

In response, Mr Caseby sent a toilet roll to Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger along with a note saying: “I hear Marina Hyde’s turd landed on your desk.”

Of his new roll – sorry, role – at the DWP, Mr Caseby said: “Welfare reform and the introduction of Universal Credit represent the biggest transformation programme in the UK. It is fundamentally about changing culture and behaviour to make sure there is always an incentive to work.

“This is a huge and inspiring communications challenge and I’m delighted to be joining the DWP team to help in the task.”

Clearly he is already getting the hang of the lingo: “tranformation”, “changing culture and behaviour”, and “always an incentive to work” are all DWP catchphrases – probably because they don’t mean anything.

A “transformation” programme can turn a good system into the substance he mentioned in his Guardian note.

“Changing culture and behaviour” does not mean improving standards of living – in fact the evidence shows the exact opposite.

And the idea that DWP cuts mean there is “always an incentive to work” has been disproved to the point of ridicule. Iain Duncan Smith’s changes have hit low-paid workers more than anybody else and wages have been dropping continuously since the Secretary-in-a-State slithered into the job back in 2010.

Universal Credit has been the subject of so many expensive write-offs and relaunches that a campaign was launched earlier this week, called ‘Rip It Up And Start Again’, seeking an end to the fiasco.

This is the arena into which Mr Caseby has stepped.

He’d better tread carefully.

If he puts just one foot wrong, he might just get his head bitten off.