Tag Archives: UK Uncut

Campaigners occupy grounds of Westminster Abbey to protest against closure of ILF

Users of the Independent Living Fund (ILF), along with members of Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC), UK Uncut and Occupy London, have set up a protest camp in the grounds of Westminster Abbey.

Disabled activists chained themselves to the gates while the camp was being set up.

The ILF was originally set up in 1988 as a national resource to fund support for disabled people with high support needs, enabling them to live in the community rather than move into residential care. It allowed them to be active in society – in education and employment, as volunteers and trustees, as employers, and as carers for family and friends.

According to Independent Living Fightback, “Currently 17,500 disabled people with the highest levels of need receive essential support through the ILF enabling them to enjoy fulfilling lives and contribute to their communities. The closure of the fund will have a devastating impact on the lives of these individuals and their families. It also has a much wider significance that affects all of us because at the heart of this issue is the fundamental question of disabled people’s place in society: do we want a society that keeps its disabled citizens out of sight, prisoners in their own homes or locked away in institutions, surviving not living or do we want a society that enables disabled people to participate, contribute and enjoy the opportunities, choice and control that non disabled people take for granted?”

“In December 2010 the Government announced the closure of the ILF to new applicants, and in December 2012 following a consultation on the future of the Fund that disabled people claim was inaccessible and carried out in bad faith, it was announced that the Fund would be closed permanently from April 2015. The Government claimed that Local Authorities could meet the same outcomes as the ILF and proposed transfer for existing ILF recipients to their Local Authorities.

“A group of ILF users successfully challenged the decision to close the fund and The Court of Appeal ruled in November 2013 that the closure decision had breached the public sector equality duty because the Minister had not been given adequate information to be able to properly assess the practical effect of closure on the particular needs of ILF users and their ability to live independently.

“However, on 6th March 2014 the Minister for Disabled People announced his intention to press ahead with the closure of the Independent Living Fund on 30 June 2015. A fresh legal challenge by ILF recipients was issued last week on the same basis as the first that once again the Minister had not discharged the public sector equality duty because he did not have adequate information to be able to properly understand what the impact of closure would be on the people affected.

“Transition funding will not be ring fenced for social care once it is transferred to local authorities, and so even within 2015-2016 there will be no guarantee that this money will be spent on supporting disabled people to live independently rather than absorbed into the broader council budget.

“ILF recipients will only be eligible for continued social care support from their local authority if they meet… criteria. The new Government’s intention to set the new national eligibility threshold at ‘substantial’ means that many simply will not receive any replacement support from their local authority once the ILF closes.”

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UK Uncut activist ‘Lucy’ has blogged her reasons for joining the protest.

“For me this is personal,” she writes. “I grew up with narratives handed down to me by my family of visceral poverty. My granddad, one of 12, described siblings dying from treatable illnesses; of the ever-present shame and fear of the workhouse; of fear of not having enough to eat, or of being warm enough or of knowing where they would sleep. When he died in 2009 he had paid for his own funeral, the avoidance of what was for him a final shame – the paupers grave.

“In his lifetime those fears were replaced with rights – the right to housing, the right to support in old age, the right to support for those who were unwell, the right to support if there was no work, rights to equal access. However imperfect these were rights nonetheless.

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“Today I take action because I believe that those rights have been eroded and because I do not accept the government’s claim that there is no money to fund vital public services.

“I act because I am angry that corporations like Boots are enabled by our government to avoid paying taxes, while disabled people are told that they do not have the right to make decisions about their own care.

“I act because I am furious that citizenship has become tied to wealth and not to fundamental rights. I am angry that we are told that the cuts are about creating choice in a market: because what kind of choice is being a prisoner at home or in residential care?”

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No lawbreaking required: Secret police are spying on students to repress political dissent

Caught with his trousers down: Herr Flick from 'Allo Allo' - possibly the last secret policeman to be revealed in quite such an embarrassing way.

Caught with his trousers down: Herr Flick from ‘Allo Allo’ – possibly the last secret policeman to be revealed in quite such an embarrassing way.

So now not only are our students facing the prospect of a life in debt, paying off the cost of their education (thanks, Liberal Democrats!) but they know they can expect the police to be spying on them in case they do anything radical, student-ish and treasonous like joining UK Uncut and occupying a shop to publicise the corporate tax avoidance our Tory-led government encourages.

Rather than investigate and solve crimes, it seems the police are embracing their traditional role (under Conservative governments) as political weapons – targeting suspected dissenters against their right-wing government’s policies, trying to undermine their efforts and aiming to apprehend key figures.

They are behaving like secret police, in fact. Allow this to go much further and we will have our own Gestapo, here in Britain. Before anyone starts invoking Godwin’s Law, just take a look at the evidence; it is a justifiable comparison.

According to The Guardian, police have been caught trying to spy on the political activities of students at Cambridge University. It had to be Cambridge; Oxford is traditionally the ‘Tory’ University.

The officer concerned tried to get an activist to rat on other students in protest groups in return for money, but the student turned the tables on him by wearing a hidden camera to record a meeting and expose the facts.

The policeman, identified by the false name ‘Peter Smith’, “wanted the activist to name students who were going on protests, list the vehicles they travelled in to demonstrations, and identify leaders of protests. He also asked the activist to search Facebook for the latest information about protests that were being planned.

“The other proposed targets of the surveillance include UK Uncut, the campaign against tax avoidance and government cuts, Unite Against Fascism and environmentalists” – because we all know how dangerous environmentalists are!

Here at Vox Political, it feels as though we have come full circle. One of the events that sparked the creation of this blog was the police ‘kettling’ of students demonstrating against the rise in tuition fees, back in 2010. It was a sign that the UK had regressed to the bad old days of the Thatcher government, when police were used (famously) to intimidate, annihilate and subjugate picketing miners.

Back then, BBC news footage was doctored to make it seem the miners had been the aggressors; fortunately times have changed and now, with everyone capable of filming evidence with their mobile phones, it is much harder for such open demonstrations of political repression to go unremarked.

In response, we see the police being granted expanded powers of arrest against anyone deemed to be causing a “nuisance” or “annoyance”, and now the infiltration of groups deemed likely to be acting against the government, even though they may not have broken any laws at all.

This would be bad enough if it was a single incident, taken in isolation – but it isn’t. It is part of a much wider attack on the citizens of this country by institutions whose leaders should know better.

The UK is now in the process of removing the rights it has taken nearly a thousand years for its citizens to win.

It is a country that abuses the sick and disabled.

And it is a country where free speech will soon be unheard-of; where the police – rather than investigate crimes – proactively target political dissenters, spying on anyone they suspect of disagreeing with the government and looking for ways to silence them.

Who voted for that?

Gauke, Osborne and Goldman Sachs: The Treasury’s corrupt tax avoidance conspiracy

Rumbled: David Gauke, the ugly face of Treasury-approved tax avoidance. This man is one reason the poor are being made to pay so heavily for the foolishness of the very rich.

Rumbled: David Gauke, the ugly face of Treasury-approved tax avoidance. This man is one reason the poor are being made to pay so heavily for the foolishness of the very rich.

You know something is wrong in the Treasury when the minister in charge of tax is revealed to have worked for a firm specialising in tax avoidance.

The wrongdoing goes off the scale when it is revealed that the same minister has been actively trying to gag a whistleblower who uncovered a “sweetheart” deal to write off a huge amount of tax owed to the UK by a private company.

That is precisely what we have learned today, thanks to The Guardian.

It seems that David Gauke, the exchequer secretary to the Treasury, green-lit a plan to discredit testimony from Osita Mba, a solicitor with HM Revenue and Customs, after he took the notorious Goldman Sachs “sweetheart” deal to the public.

For those who don’t know about this, the deal with Goldman Sachs was worth up to £20 million, and was part of a series of four such settlements, with large companies, that netted £4.5 billion for the Treasury. That might seem like a lot of money.

But it begs the question, asked by Margaret Hodge MP, who chairs Parliament’s public accounts committee: How much did we not get?

One person who might know the answer is Mr Mba, who told two parliamentary committees that the then-head of tax, Dave Hartnett, had agreed a deal allowing Goldman Sachs, a US bank, to escape £20 million in interest charges, payable to the UK. He claimed Mr Hartnett had done this without following proper procedures.

Disciplinary proceedings were launched against Mr Mba within HMRC, meaning he was suspended from work, and an emailed exchange between an HMRC press officer and Gauke’s private secretary strongly suggest that the minister wanted to discredit the whistleblower with a media smear campaign.

From here, matters get very dodgy indeed.

The National Audit Office was asked to investigate the Goldman Sachs case, along with four others, and although Judge Andrew Parks’ report was not publicly released, the head of the NAO, Amyas Morse, told MPs that the deals had been cleared. Morse’s role was later questioned after a leaked document showed that he had told Hartnett the inquiry would find “nothing of substance” – before it began.

And it was revealed last Thursday – again by The Guardian, which appears to be living up to its name – that the deal with Goldman Sachs had been arranged partly to save our part-time Chancellor of the Exchequer, Gideon 0sborne, from embarrassment.

It seems that the dispute with Goldman Sachs was settled hastily after the bank threatened to pull out of a new tax framework, a week after 0sborne had announced that the bank had signed up to it.

The revelation was made at the High Court last Wednesday, where UK Uncut was calling for a judgement to declare that the 2010 settlement between the bank and HMRC was unlawful. The court heard that Hartnett had personally overruled legal advice, the HMRC’s own guidelines and its internal review board over the issue (confirming Mr Mba’s claim).

So it was a cover-up, in order to allow a company to escape paying the UK a huge amount of money, with the blessing of ministers including 0sborne and Gauke.

In Gauke’s case, of course, this is unsurprising. It has long been known – as can be seen by this entry on the right-wing Guido Fawkes blog – that the minister has not only avoided paying tax himself but also worked for Macfarlanes, a top city law firm that specialises in helping the wealthy avoid paying tax.

The Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill, which has been passing through Parliament recently, includes a section intended to introduce greater protection for individuals from harassment when they blow the whistle at work.

In the light of the treatment of Mr Mba, by members of the government that has introduced this bill, it remains to be seen whether this measure was ever intended to succeed.