No doubt some of you will scream that this post is overdramatizing, but the consequences of further fiscal consolidation (that’s austerity to most of us), as laid out in Professor Simon Wren-Lewis’s latest Mainly Macroarticle, seem undeniable.
He tells us the National Institute has used the model NIGEM to analyse the macroeconomic impact of the different political parties’ fiscal plans post-2015, which is published in the latest Review. (Chris Giles has a FT write-up.) The result: The more fiscal austerity you undertake, and if monetary policy fails to perfectly offset the impact on demand, the lower output will be.
You don’t need a crystal ball to see what this means, if we get another Conservative, or Tory-led, government. Lower output means a lower tax take, therefore less money to spend on the NHS and welfare benefits (areas like Defence and International Development will always have funds – we can’t let ourselves go defenceless and we must continue our programmes of cultural imperialism, after all).
So further Tory austerity instantly implies the imposition of even harsher standards of qualification for state benefits, pushing even more vulnerable, sick and disabled people off the books and into their graves. We’ve all known that voting Tory is an endorsement of state-sponsored suicide but it’s time we all owned up to it.
It means the sale of the National Health Service in England to private companies will be accelerated, with consequent impacts on the amount of grant funding for the health service in the other UK countries; the service will continue to worsen and even more deaths will be the result.
But the Tories will want to pretend to the media that all is well, which means an increased push to get people into part-time, temporary or zero-hours work, and an increased number of benefit claimants being funnelled into work activity programmes that, in fact, reduce the number of available jobs. The resulting low-pay economy is exactly what the Conservatives want; the workers will be kept down and the employers can pocket the profits.
Nobody in the government or even the Bank of England will tell you this because, it seems, they haven’t done any analysis and won’t make any such forecasts.
The Office for Budget Irresponsibility is not allowed to look at alternative fiscal policies in the short term and must therefore put the bravest possible face on what is offered to it – that is why every single forecast to come out of that organisation has been hopelessly optimistic.
We’re back to evidenceless policies again. The Tories are saying “everything will be okay”, because – for them – it will be. They and their rich friends will have loads of cash. Who cares that the entire infrastructure of the United Kingdom – and the British way of life – will be dismantled and disappearing from under them?
Think this is overexaggerating? Let’s go back to Prof Wren-Lewis and examine the Tories’ record. He writes: “If you go back to 2010, the OBR’s main forecast didn’t look too bad: the recovery was continuing, and interest rates were able to rise as a result.
“But good policy does not just look at central projections, but it also looks at risks. Then, the risks were asymmetric: if the recovery became too strong, interest rates could always rise further too cool things, but if the recovery did not happen, interest rates would be stuck at their lower bound and monetary policy would be unable to keep the recovery on track.
“In 2010 and beyond that downside risk came to pass [bolding mine], and the recovery was delayed. Fiscal policy put the economy in a position where it was particularly vulnerable to downside risks, which is why it was an entirely foreseeable mistake.
“Exactly this point applies to 2015 and beyond. The problem with further fiscal consolidation while interest rates remain at their lower bound is that it makes the economy much more vulnerable to downside risks.”
In other words, it seems Conservative policy, as set down by History graduate and towel-folder George Osborne, deliberately weakened this country’s ability to recover from the crash of 2008 and afterwards.
How secure is you job? How safe are your savings?
Do you really want to risk them on more Tory bungling?
What a relief to see Ed Miliband putting out a New Year message that clearly shows, not only that he understands the problems facing his Labour Party, but he also understands how to frame his appeal to the people.
One fact that has become perfectly clear over the last year or so is that many readers of this blog have serious doubts about Mr Miliband and the party he leads. The perception is that he has been seduced by the Tory ‘deficit reduction’ narrative.
This writer has held concerns that Mr Miliband did not realise that the only argument he really needs to use is that of history – that it was the Labour Party that set the UK on three decades of continual growth after World War II.
How refreshing, then, to hear the Labour leader say: “This coming year we mark the 70th anniversary of the end of the Second World War, when our parents and grandparents overcame the most daunting odds to rebuild.
“After the war – badly battered and deeply in debt – Britain rose again.
“We built the NHS, a modern welfare state, homes for people to live in, and still dealt with our debts.
“We set the stage for a generation of progress for working people.
“Today’s challenges are different – but if we could walk through those fires, we surely can meet the problems of our time.”
He’s right, but there will be critics who won’t accept these words. They’ll say that the answer lies in further austerity – in withdrawing the cash that forms the lifeblood of the British economy and is needed to bring growth to the system as it flows through. They’re wrong, but to understand why, we need to examine the historical context provided by Mr Miliband.
So let’s put some flesh on the bones provided by his speech.
“UK national debt peaked in the late 1940s at over 230% of GDP. From the early 1950s to early 1990s, we see a consistent decrease in the debt to GDP,” according to the Economics Help website.
It continues: “The main reason UK debt to GDP fell in the post-war period was the sustained period of economic growth and near full employment until the late 1970s. This growth saw rising real incomes which in turn led to higher tax revenues and falling debt to GDP ratios.”
“Sustained economic growth” – Ed Balls has made it clear that he intends to stimulate the economy, if Labour is elected into government in May (despite the interruptions of such interviewers as Martha Kearney on BBC Radio 4’s The World At One – she insisted that such plans were irrelevant in the short term and demanded that he tell her what he was going to cut, completely missing the point).
We all know the Conservative-led Coalition ran a policy that stalled the economy for three years. The only reasons it is improving now are the fact that every economic downturn eventually reaches its lowest point and picks up again, plus the economic bubble that George Osborne created in the housing market.
“Near full employment” – Labour has made a return to full employment one of its policy goals. Detractors will say we’re close to that already; the difference is that Labour intends to achieve this with what this blog considers to be proper jobs – not zero-hours contracts or part-time fiddles.
“Rising real incomes” – Under the Coalition, incomes have stagnated, with most families having to endure a real-terms income drop of £1,600 while the richest one per cent have doubled their wealth. Labour plans to raise the minimum wage and push for the Living Wage wherever possible – as a start in its programme to cut income inequality.
“Higher tax revenues” – George Osborne has affected surprise that his policies have led to lower Income Tax returns, but it seems clear that this is an act; the plan was to engineer a drop in tax receipts, in order to justify further cuts to social security and public services. Labour’s plan would reverse this trend.
“Falling debt to GDP ratios” – The Conservative-led Coalition has overseen a catastrophic increase in the National Debt, while continually claiming that the economy is safe with them; because of this, we can look on the 2015 General Election as a measure of our own gullibility. Labour’s plan would bring prosperity back to the UK, allowing us to pay off our debts – just as we did after the Second World War.
Needless to say, the BBC Newsreport of Mr Miliband’s speech completely missed all of these points.
Back to Economics Help: “Note – Debt to GDP fell, despite higher real government spending on the newly formed welfare state and national health service. In fact government spending as a percentage of GDP rose from around 35 per cent of GDP in the early 1950s to the high 40 per cents in the 1970s.”
You see, debt isn’t a problem if you’ve got the economic strength to deal with it. The Coalition has weakened the country; Labour would build up our muscle again.
Another feature of the post-war period was high tax rates – but perhaps that’s a story for another time.
Miliband’s message is a solid statement of hope for the future. Cynics will try to shoot him down – but they’ll need far more substantial arguments than any seen so far.
‘Bin diving’: This is a stock shot of a man in Chelyabinsk, Russia, looking for food in rubbish bins – but it is happening here in the UK as well, and your Coalition Government will try every trick in the book to deny responsibility for it.
Two stories on Welfare Weeklyyesterday (December 9) really stood out – they express the Coalition Government’s attitude to state-funded benefits and the people receiving them so well.
It told the story of Mike from New Cross, who called LBC radio to describe how he has had to live off a tin of spaghetti a day and is forced to root through supermarket bins to survive.
“What you get covers just what you need, and you have to go to food banks,” he said.
“For these people to sit there to say oh go and get a job – I’m out there every day, looking and searching, and you know you’re trying to do it on your own, but you can’t, and it gets harder and harder.
“You’re just trying to get by. Some days I can’t eat. I don’t eat.”
New claimants will not be eligible for any financial support during the first week of their claim, and will then have to wait a further month before any benefits are paid.
The warning came in response to a cross-party inquiry into hunger and child poverty, which found that delays in benefit payments is one of primary reasons for soaring numbers of food bank users.
Clearly the Coalition Government is not bothered about the plight of people like Mike – its Universal Credit policy makes it perfectly clear that the plan is to increase the agony – for anyone who has the temerity to claim the social security for which they have been paying taxes, ever since they were old enough to be trusted with money.
And there’s another factor at play here: Blame.
Look at what Mike said: “For these people to sit there to say oh go and get a job…” Suppose he starves to death, as Mark Wood already has. What will the Coalition Government and its media puppets say? “He was another lazy man who couldn’t get up off his backside and get a job“?
Suppose more people do end up going to food banks as a result of a switchover to Universal Credit (you never know, that change might just happen) – will right-wing critics attack them in the same way a commenter on Mainly Macroattacked them? Will they be told they don’t really need the free food parcels on offer there? Will they be told they’re only going because it is free, and there is limitless demand for anything that is free? Will they be told they are just pretending to be hungry?
And what, exactly, is the ultimate purpose behind these claims?
Is it not to insure the Coalition Government against the backlash when somebody dies?
They may starve; they may commit suicide through despair. Both have already happened – here in the UK – many times since the Coalition slithered into office. Ministers don’t want you to know that they were responsible; that their policies led people to this point; that this is what they were intended to do.
Speaking ill of the dead is a better outcome for ministers than admitting they failed to provide the protection for which the people of this country pay their taxes.
The late Brian McArdle is one of the many, many people who have died because of policies inflicted on the UK by a corrupt government.
It seems some people still don’t understand the threat posed to them by the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats who are currently running the UK into the ground.
Yesterday (Saturday) a commenter suggested that it might be a good idea to put up with another four years of the current catastrophe, in the hope that voters will be so sick of the situation by the end of it that they’ll support a properly Socialist government.
That is an attitude born from naivete and a failure to understand the changes wrought by the self-serving wretches we foolishly allowed into government in 2010.
Firstly, if a Tory or Tory-led government is voted back into office next year, the Fixed Term Parliament Act means we’re saddled with them until 2020 – that’s five and a half more years.
Secondly, changes to the electoral system have been introduced which mean that far fewer people are likely to have registered to vote by the time that 2020 election rolls around – and those who are still able to do so will be far more likely to vote for the Conservatives than for any other organisation.
Thirdly, the Tories tried to gerrymander Parliamentary constituencies – during the current term of office – in order to ensure they would be far more likely to win any future election, by reducing the number of MPs to 600 and altering constituency borders to make a majority of people in the new constituencies more likely to vote for them. The only reason this failed is because the Tories’ little yellow partners, the Liberal Democrats, refused to support the change after the Tories stabbed them in the back over their bid to introduce proportional representation. They will try again, if elected back into office next year.
Fourthly, the mainstream media is owned by strongly right-wing, Tory-supporting concerns who feed the general public highly biased ‘news’ items that are intended to prejudice ordinary people against the organisations that gave them the welfare state, the NHS and the human/working rights that make their lives tolerable at the moment. The plan has always been to mislead people into relinquishing those hard-won pillars of the modern UK by supporting the Conservative Party and its plans to abolish them in favour of a private system that will rob them and leave them powerless to prevent further predations.
Fifthly, the Conservative Party has no intention of allowing anyone to consider the possibility of an alternative government as it has spent the last four and a half years turning the British government into a gravy train, creating more wealth for the Conservative Party. The aim has always been to use the deficit and the national debt as excuses to cut services and sell their provision to private companies – who then charge the public higher prices for those services and pay the Conservative Party large donations as thanks for services rendered. The claim that this will lessen the national deficit and debt is a lie – with less money passing through the system, it is more likely that the debt will increase, providing the Tories with an excuse to sell off even more of the hard-won infrastructure of our society.
Finally, the new – corrupt – system that the Tories have created (with or without the collusion of the Liberal Democrats) relies on the creation of an underclass for people to hate, on whom the blame can be placed for the perceived failure of the system to work in the way the Tories have been claiming it would. The chosen scapegoats are the unemployed and the disabled – people who are unable to work in Tory donors’ sweatshops, for varying reasons. The Tories have used their friends in the mainstream media to whip up hysteria against these so-called ‘lazy scroungers’, unhindered by any relationship with the facts; subsidies to the City (London’s financial district) far outstrip payments made to the unemployed, incapacitated or disabled, despite the fact that the City is a profit-making entity that doesn’t need taxpayers’ help and the amount of fraud in the benefit system – the number of people who don’t deserve taxpayer support – stands at less than one per cent. And wasn’t it the bankers who caused our financial woes in the first place? This has led to the deaths of tens of thousands of innocent people, whose only fault was needing the help that they, and their fellow citizens, had funded with their taxes in the past. The government is refusing to release figures on the number of deaths and Iain Duncan Smith recently denied that any had taken place.
Just one such death should be enough to send the Conservatives out of government forever. Here are 71*:
Terry McGarvey, 48. Dangerously ill from polycytheamia, Terry asked for an ambulance to be called during his Work Capability Assessment. He knew that he wasn’t well enough to attend his WCA but feared that his benefits would be stopped if he did not.
He died the following day.
Elaine Lowe, 53. Suffering from COPD and fearful of losing her benefits. In desperation, Elaine chose to commit suicide.
The late Mark Wood.
Mark Wood, 44. Found fit for work by Atos, against his Doctors advice and assertions that he had complex mental health problems. Starved to death after benefits stopped, weighing only 5st 8lb when he died.
‘Stewardship’: This memorial is to Paul Reekie, the Scottish poet and writer who took his own life in 2010. Letters left on his table stated that his Housing Benefit and Incapacity Benefit had been stopped. The poet’s death led to the creation of the Black Triangle Anti-Defamation Campaign in Defence of Disability Rights.
Paul Reekie, 48, the Leith based Poet and Author. Suffered from severe depression. Committed suicide after DWP stopped his benefits due to an Atos ‘fit for work’ decision.
Leanne Chambers, 30. Suffered depression for many years which took a turn for the worst when she was called in for a WCA. Leanne committed suicide soon after.
Karen Sherlock, 44. Multiple health issues. Found fit for work by Atos and denied benefits. Fought a long battle to get placed into the support group of ESA. Karen died the following month of a heart attack.
Carl Payne, 42. Fears of losing his lifeline benefits due to welfare reform led this Father of two to take his own life.
Tim Salter, 53. Blind and suffering from Agoraphobia. Tim hanged himself after Atos found him fit for work and stopped his benefits.
Edward Jacques, 47 years old and suffering from HIV and Hepatitis C. Edward had a history of severe depression and self-harm. He took a fatal overdose after Atos found him fit for work and stopped his benefits.
Linda Wootton, 49 years old. A double heart and lung transplant patient. Died just nine days after the government found her fit for work, their refusal letter arriving as she lay desperately ill in her hospital bed.
Steven Cawthra, 55. His benefits stopped by the DWP and with rising debts, he saw suicide as the only way out of a desperate situation
Elenore Tatton, 39 years old. Died just weeks after the government found her fit for work.
John Walker, 57, saddled with debt because of the bedroom tax, John took his own life.
Brian McArdle, 57 years old. Suffered a fatal heart attack the day after his disability benefits were stopped.
Stephen Hill, 53. Died of a heart attack one month after being found fit for work, even though he was waiting for major heart surgery.
Jacqueline Harris, 53. A former Nurse who could hardly walk was found fit for work by Atos and her benefits withdrawn. in desperation, she took her own life.
David Barr, 28. Suffering from severe mental difficulties. Threw himself from a bridge after being found fit for work by Atos and failing his appeal.
David Groves, 56. Died of a heart attack the night before taking his work capability assessment. His widow claimed that it was the stress that killed him.
Nicholas Peter Barker, 51. Shot himself after being told his benefits were being stopped. He was unable to work after a brain haemorrhage left him paralysed down one side.
Mark and Helen Mullins, 48 and 59 years old. Forced to live on £57.50 a week and make 12 mile trips each week to get free vegetables to make soup. Mark and Helen both committed suicide.
Richard Sanderson, 44. Unable to find a job and with his housing benefit cut forcing him to move, but with nowhere to go. Richard committed suicide.
Martin Rust, 36 years old. A schizophrenic man who killed himself two months after the government found him fit to work.
Craig Monk, 43. A vulnerable gentleman and a partial amputee who slipped so far into poverty that he hanged himself.
Colin Traynor, 29, and suffering from epilepsy was stripped of his benefits. He appealed. Five weeks after his death his family found he had won his appeal.
Elaine Christian, 57 years old. Worried about her work capability assessment, she was subsequently found at Holderness drain, drowned and with ten self inflicted wrist wounds.
Christelle and Kayjah Pardoe, 32 years and 5 month old. Pregnant, her benefits stopped, Christelle, clutching her baby son jumped from a third floor balcony.
Mark Scott, 46. His DLA and housing benefit stopped and sinking into deep depression, Mark died six weeks later.
Cecilia Burns, 51. Found fit for work while undergoing treatment for breast cancer. She died just a few weeks after she won her appeal against the Atos decision.
Chris Cann, 57 years old. Found dead in his home just months after being told he had to undergo a medical assessment to prove he could not work.
Peter Hodgson, 49. Called to JCP to see if he was suitable for volunteer work. Peter had suffered a stroke, a brain haemorrhage and had a fused leg. His appointment letter arrived a few days after he took his own life.
Paul Willcoxsin, 33 years old. Suffered with mental health problems and worried about government cuts. Paul committed suicide by hanging himself.
Victim of government persecution: A coroner has agreed that government pressure drove Stephanie Bottrill to suicide.
Stephanie Bottrill, 53. After paying £80 a month for bedroom tax, Stephanie could not afford heating in the winter, and lived on tinned custard. In desperation, she chose to walk in front of a lorry.
Larry Newman suffered from a degenerative lung condition, his weight dropping from 10 to 7 stone. Atos awarded him zero points, he died just three months after submitting his appeal.
Paul Turner, 52 years old. After suffering a heart attack, he was ordered to find a job in February. In April Paul died from ischaemic heart disease.
Christopher Charles Harkness, 39. After finding out that the funding for his care home was being withdrawn, this man who suffered with mental health issues, took his own life.
Sandra Louise Moon, 57. Suffering from a degenerative back condition, depression and increasingly worried about losing her incapacity benefit. Sandra committed suicide by taking an overdose.
Lee Robinson, 39 years old. Took his own life after his housing benefit and council tax were taken away from him.
David Coupe, 57. A Cancer sufferer found fit for work by Atos in 2012. David lost his sight, then his hearing, then his mobility, and then his life.
Michael McNicholas, 34. Severely depressed and a recovering alcoholic. Michael committed suicide after being called in for a Work Capability Assessment by Atos.
Victor Cuff, 59 and suffering from severe depression. Victor hanged himself after the DWP stopped his benefits.
Charles Barden, 74. Charles committed suicide by hanging due to fears that the Bedroom Tax would leave him destitute and unable to cope.
Ian Caress, 43. Suffered multiple health issues and deteriorating eyesight. Ian was found fit for work by Atos, he died ten months later having lost so much weight that his family said that he resembled a concentration camp victim.
Iain Hodge, 30. Suffered from the life threatening illness, Hughes Syndrome. Found fit for work by Atos and benefits stopped, Iain took his own life.
Wayne Grew, 37. Severely depressed due to government cuts and the fear of losing his job, Wayne committed suicide by hanging.
Kevin Bennett, 40. Kevin a sufferer of schizophrenia and mental illness became so depressed after his JSA was stopped that he became a virtual recluse. Kevin was found dead in his flat several months later.
David Elwyn Hughs Harries, 48. A disabled man who could no longer cope after his parents died, could find no help from the government via benefits. David took an overdose as a way out of his solitude.
Denis Jones, 58. A disabled man crushed by the pressures of government cuts, in particular the Bedroom Tax, and unable to survive by himself. Denis was found dead in his flat.
Shaun Pilkington, 58. Unable to cope any more, Shaun shot himself dead after receiving a letter from the DWP informing him that his ESA was being stopped.
Paul ?, 51. Died in a freezing cold flat after his ESA was stopped. Paul appealed the decision and won on the day that he lost his battle to live.
Chris MaGuire, 61. Deeply depressed and incapable of work, Chris was summonsed by Atos for a Work Capability Assessment and deemed fit for work. On appeal, a judge overturned the Atos decision and ordered them to leave him alone for at least a year, which they did not do. In desperation, Chris took his own life, unable to cope anymore.
Peter Duut, a Dutch national with terminal cancer living in the UK for many years found that he was not entitled to benefits unless he was active in the labour market. Peter died leaving his wife destitute, and unable to pay for his funeral.
George Scollen, age unknown. Took his own life after the government closed the Remploy factory he had worked in for 40 years.
Julian Little, 47. Wheelchair bound and suffering from kidney failure, Julian faced the harsh restrictions of the Bedroom Tax and the loss of his essential dialysis room. He died shortly after being ordered to downgrade.
Miss DE, Early 50’s. Suffering from mental illness, this lady committed suicide less than a month after an Atos assessor gave her zero points and declared her fit for work.
Robert Barlow, 47. Suffering from a brain tumour, a heart defect and awaiting a transplant, Robert was deemed fit for work by Atos and his benefits were withdrawn. He died penniless less than two years later.
Carl Joseph Foster-Brown, 58. As a direct consequence of the wholly unjustifiable actions of the Job centre and DWP, this man took his own life.
Martin Hadfield, 20 years old. Disillusioned with the lack of jobs available in this country but too proud to claim benefits. Utterly demoralised, Martin took his own life by hanging himself.
Annette Francis, 30. A mum-of-one suffering from severe mental illness, found dead after her disability benefits were ceased.
Ian Jordan, 60. His benefits slashed after Atos and the DWP declared Ian, a sufferer of Barratt’s Oesophagus, fit for work, caused him to run up massive debts in order to survive. Ian was found dead in his flat after taking an overdose.
Janet McCall, 53. Terminally ill with pulmonary fibrosis and declared ‘Fit for Work’ by Atos and the DWP, this lady died 5 months after her benefits were stopped.
Stuart Holley, 23. A man driven to suicide by the DWP’s incessant pressure and threat of sanctions for not being able to find a job.
Graham Shawcross, 63. A sufferer of the debilitating disease, Addison’s. Died of a heart attack due to the stress of an Atos ‘Fit for Work’ decision.
David Clapson, 59 years old. A diabetic ex-soldier deprived of the means to survive by the DWP and the governments harsh welfare reforms, David died all but penniless, starving and alone, his electricity run out.
Chris Smith, 59. Declared ‘Fit for Work’ by Atos as he lay dying of Cancer in his hospital bed.
Nathan Hartwell, 36, died of heart failure after an 18-month battle with the Department for Works and Pensions.
Michael Connolly, 60. A Father of One, increasingly worried about finances after his benefits were cut. Committed suicide by taking 13 times the fatal dose of prescription medicine on the 30th October – His Birthday.
Jan Mandeville, 52, A lady suffering from Fibromyalgia, driven to the point of mental and physical breakdown by this governments welfare reforms. Jan was found dead in her home after battling the DWP for ESA and DLA.
Trevor Drakard, 50 years old. A shy and reserved, severe epileptic who suffered regular and terrifying fits almost his entire life, hounded to suicide by the DWP who threatened to stop his life-line benefits.
Death of a severely disabled Dorset resident, unnamed, who took her own life while battling the bedroom tax.
This blog used to quote, with monotonous regularity, the words of Pastor Martin Niemoller on what happened in Nazi Germany:
“First they came for the socialists,
“and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a socialist.
“Then they came for the trade unionists,
“and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a trade unionist.
“Then they came for the Jews,
“and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a Jew.
“Then they came for me,
“and there was no one left to speak for me.”
In today’s United Kingdom, an extra two lines may be added (perhaps to replace the lines about the Jews):
“Then they came for the unemployed and the disabled,
“and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t unemployed or disabled.”
This is the country where you live.
These crimes are taking place here and now – except they’re not called crimes because, when you have a criminal government, it changes the law to ensure that any such damning definitions are removed.
And you want to excuse the government that has inflicted all this harm? You want to let it continue, because the alternative isn’t Socialist enough for you? Or because you’ve decided the system is corrupt and you don’t want to support it with your vote?
People are dying now.
At the last count, those in just one of the groups threatened by this government were dying at a rate of more than 200 per week.
And you want to let this continue.
What will you do when they come to take everything away from you, and there’s nobody left who could help?
Postscript: The saddest fact of all is that many people won’t bother to read this article because it’s “a bit long”.
*VP has been contacted on Twitter by people who were keen to point out that some of the deaths listed above took place while the Labour Party was in power. They are missing the point. Evidence exists that states Labour was dismayed at the effect its benefit changes had caused, and would have altered the system to prevent further deaths if elected in 2010. That didn’t happen; we ended up with the Coalition instead – and the Coalition has intensified the pressure on vulnerable individuals. It is therefore on the Coalition that blame should currently be targeted – the administration that has demonstrated no remorse for what it is doing and, if reports of plans to reduce ESA payments are true, intends to worsen the situation considerably in the future. Any attempt to divert attention onto Labour’s past can only distract from what the Coalition is doing now.
Those readers who are determined to paint Vox Political as a Labour Party apologist site may be surprised to see this blog publicising an article by alittleecon which lambasts the Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer for his apparent capitulation to the Coalition’s economic viewpoints.
In it, Alex Little compares words spoken by Ed Balls at the Labour Party conference last week with those he spoke in what has become known as his ‘Bloomberg’ speech of 2010 – unfavourably.
You can visit the site to compare the speech excerpts yourself, but Mr Little’s conclusions bear quoting here. He writes: “It seems he thinks he haslost the argument and far from standing outside the consensus, he’s now lining up alongside George Osborne to see who can outbid each other on the consensus (but bogus) concept of fiscal responsibility.
“He has totally given up on trying to win the argument and is now quite prepared to pretend the earth is flat, believing that enough voters actually do think the earth is flat to benefit him politically. It’s an incredibly cowardly and cynical point of view, and one that takes us all for fools. Whether he is right about the electorate being fools remains to be seen.”
The consensus concept of fiscal responsibility is that the government needs to “balance the books”, as Mr Balls described it last week – using policies of austerity, which means cuts in government spending and services.
We know from the last four and a half years that this policy is absolute and utter rubbish; it is a tool of neoliberals, intended to create a sense of emergency in the general public in order to make people more likely to accept the strictures being placed on them – for a lie.
Fiscal austerity can never “balance the books”.
Fiscal austerity removes money from the national economy, meaning the government takes less tax every year. This means it becomes increasingly difficult to fund public services – the government must either borrow more money or reduce its spending still further by cutting services or selling them off to the private sector.
The process has been accelerated in some countries (including the UK) by the practice of cutting income taxes for the obscenely rich and corporation tax charged to large and international firms, diminishing the tax take even further.
Fiscal austerity is not about being able to “balance the books” – it is about grossly enriching those who already have too much via the further impoverishment of those who are already poor.
We have Michael Meacher’s letter in The Guardian, republished here, to remind us of the failure of fiscal austerity to do what George Osborne said it would do. There is no reason to believe that Ed Balls will be more successful in pursuing what we all now know to be a pointless cover story for what the police describe as a distraction theft.
It is the latest development in a crime that has been inflicted on the British people since the late 1970s, when Margaret Thatcher’s neoliberals devised their plan to reverse the progress of the years since Labour’s historic 1945 election victory. They believed, according to The Impact of Thatcherism on Health and Well-Being in Britain that undermining the working classes “would require, not simply the disengagement of the state from industry, but the substantial destruction of Britain’s remaining industrial base. The full employment that had been sustained across most of the post-war period was seen, together with the broader security offered by the welfare state, to be at the root of an unprecedented self-confidence among working-class communities. Very large-scale unemployment would end the ‘cycle of rising expectations,’ [and] permit the historic defeat of the trade union movement.”
What we need, then, is a reversal of the neoliberalism that has allowed David Cameron to sell the UK off to anybody with a penny in their pocket. Perhaps economists reading this will correct the following if it goes astray, but it seems that, more than anything, we need:
Expansionary budgets that will put money in the hands of people who actually spend it, building up the national economy towards full employment and boosting the tax take.
Tight re-regulation of our industries – particularly finance – to ensure that the money goes where it is needed, and not into the pockets of tax cheats.
Investment in our manufacturing, service and new industries, to repair the damage caused by right-wing neoliberals – including the possible renationalisation of those that have been most seriously mismanaged.
That will do as a start. If Ed Balls can’t commit to any of it, then he needs to make way for somebody who can. This is a job for someone willing to roll up their sleeves and get their hands dirty – not some namby-pamby neoliberal apologist.
A veteran’s view: Click on the image to read Harry Leslie Smith’s Guardian article.
I was disturbed, this morning, to read that parts of the media were trying to silence people who had created images and sites linking D-Day and its 70th anniversary with the National Health Service – its creation and current problems.
The comment was made by an organisation calling itself The Labour Forum and ran: “D-Day and the NHS have nothing to do with each other. Whatsoever. Any photos trying to link today’s political issues with D-Day are offensive and will be deleted immediately.”
This seems extremely strange to me because, from what I have read, the creation of the NHS and a ‘welfare state’ (the term did not actually enter the Oxford English Dictionary until 1955) were exactly what the soldiers at Normandy were fighting so steadfastly to ensure.
When Britain went to war in September 1939, it was woefully ill-prepared for the task. Our professional army was not a match for Germany’s well-nourished, well-trained and well-equipped war machine (Germany’s welfare state had been ushered in by Otto von Bismarck during the 19th century). Not only that, but the crop of recruits brought in by conscription was a step in the wrong direction, being untrained, in poor health and malnourished after 20 years of Conservative rule.
Yet these were the men who were going to win the war, supported by equally poorly-served women, youngsters, and pensioners on the Home Front.
We know the first few years of the war went badly for Britain. We were forced out of Europe and attempts to create a front in Africa found themselves on uneven ground.
Then came the Beveridge report, Social Insurance and Allied Services. It was written by the Liberal Sir William Beveridge, who had been tasked with carrying out the widest social survey yet undertaken – covering schemes of social insurance and – as stated – allied services.
He went far beyond this remit, instead calling for an end to poverty, disease and unemployment by fighting what he called the five giants on the road to reconstruction – Want, Disease, Ignorance, Squalor and Idleness – and claiming to supply the means to do so.
His plan dealt mainly with Want and Disease, proposing a system of social insurance against the interruption and destruction of earning power and a National Health Service for the prevention and cure of disease and disability, and for rehabilitation.
Winston Churchill (who was of course Prime Minister at the time) privately made clear his concern at the “dangerous optimism” created by the report’s proposals. In public, although he could not attend a debate on a Labour motion that – significantly – called for the early implementation of the plan as a test of Parliament’s sincerity, he sent a message saying it was “an essential part of any post-war scheme of national betterment”. But he refused to “tie the hands of future Parliaments” by starting any legislation to bring the plan into effect.
I quote now from The Welfare State, by Pauline Gregg (George S Harrap & Co, 1967): “To refuse its immediate acceptance, to refuse to make public any plan for its immediate post-War implementation, even if not for its implementation then and there, was to the people betrayal… You cannot refuse to welcome a saviour without being suspected of not wishing to be saved – or, at best, of being so blind that you do not know salvation when you see it!”
The social and economic questions that most troubled the electorate in 1944 were housing and jobs – as they should be today. But the wartime coalition broke over arguments about housing, and Churchill’s Conservatives refused to commit to full employment, as demanded by Beveridge. Instead it proposed that “a high and stable level of employment” should be one of its primary responsibilities, with no legislation planned on the grounds that employment could not be created by government alone.
This is why Labour won the 1945 election with such a landslide. The people expected the Tories to betray them when peace was restored, and they could not back Beveridge’s Liberals because they were afraid of half-measures.
And the people – both those who fought as soldiers and those who supported them at home – were determined that their war would mean something; that it would create a better future. They wanted Beveridge’s plan for social security and they absolutely demanded a national health service.
That is why they were prepared to fight so hard, and even die for their cause. Not the continuation of a British government that couldn’t care less about them until it needed cannon fodder – but the creation of a new system, in which every citizen had value and could rely on the support of their fellows.
It was a system that enjoyed success – albeit to varying degrees – right up to the early 1970s when Edward Health tried to replace it with neoliberalism. He failed but he paved the way for Margaret Thatcher, Nicholas Ridley and Keith Joseph to turn Britain into the mess it is today.
And here we sit, on the 70th anniversary of D-Day, facing exactly the same issues as our parents and grandparents did back then.
Do we want a National health service? Or are we content to allow a gang of money-worshipping bandits to turn it into a profit machine for their own enrichment while our health returns to pre-1939 conditions? Rickets and tuberculosis have already returned. What next?
Do we want a housing boom for the rich, while the workers and the poor lose the benefits that allowed them to keep a roof over their heads (pay having dropped below the level at which people can cover all their bills without help from the state)?
Do we want a job market that deliberately ensures a large amount of unemployment, in order to keep wages down and ensure that the lower echelons don’t forget that their place is to serve aristocrats like Jacob Rees-Mogg?
Or shall we remember the sacrifices made by our forefathers on D-Day and throughout the war, and demand better?
The choice is yours – and no ‘Labour Forum’ has the right to stop you discussing it.
(The latest Vox Political book collection – Health Warning: Government! – is now available. It is a cracking read and fantastic value for money. Only available via the Internet, it may be purchased here in print and eBook form, along with the previous VP release, Strong Words and Hard Times.)
It seems the neoliberal Blairites of New Labour are coming out of the woodwork in an effort to ensure that nobody in their right mind supports the modern Labour Party next year.
According to the Huffington Post, shadow chief secretary to the Treasury Chris Leslie reckons that a future Labour government will not undo the Coalition’s hugely unpopular cuts but will continue to impose the austerity that has kept our economy in crisis for the last four years.
In that case, why bother voting for Labour? We’ve already got one lot of Conservatives in power; there’s no need for any more.
Just to recap what we all know already, austerity is no way out of a recession. Economies grow when an increased money supply travels through the system, making profits for businesses and creating the fiscal multiplier effect. This means more tax comes to the government and it is able to pay down its debts. Austerity cuts off that money supply, making it much more difficult for money to circulated, profit to be made and tax to be taken. Evidence shows that the only people who profit from it are those who were rich already.
Indeed, the current economic miracle (if you believe George Osborne) was engineered by government investment – rather than austerity – in a housing price bubble. It’s almost a return to Keynesian economics, but done in a cack-handed, amateurish way that will cause more problems in the long run.
Austerity is, therefore, a Conservative policy and one that should be abandoned if Labour ever comes to power. The fact that this Leslie person is promoting it shows his true-Blue colours. Perhaps someone should start a petition to have him ejected from the party.
Retaining austerity was described by the HuffPost as part of “Labour’s ‘radical’ policy plans”, but this is ridiculous. How can retaining a policy that is already causing uncounted harm be, in any way, radical? It’s just more of the same neoliberal Conservatism.
“George Osborne has had his five years to eradicate the deficit. I am determined that we finish that task on which he has failed,” said Leslie in the article. How does he propose to achieve that aim, if his methods are the same? The man just isn’t making sense.
Meanwhile, a former Blair aide named Nita Clarke has defended another pillar of neoliberalism – privatisation – by making the absurd claim that Labour should not criticise private firms when they fail to deliver public services.
How does Nita Clarke think British citizens feel about being let down on a regular basis by these profit-guzzling clowns, ever since Margaret Thatcher’s Conservatives first started letting them into places where they did not belong?
How does Nita Clarke think British citizens felt when neoliberal New Labour refused to push back the tide of privatisation?
How does Nita Clarke think British citizens should feel about the fact that privatisation is now threatening the welfare state, the National Health Service and even state pensions?
Like austerity, privatisation is a fundamental pillar of the current neoliberal agenda. It has no place in the Labour Party, if the Labour Party is serious about opposing the Conservatives at the next election.
There should be no place in Labour for Chris Leslie, Nita Clarke, or anybody who supports their views, either.
It’s a view that might be unpopular with the Blue suits that make up the current Labour leadership.
But it’s the only way Labour will ever come up with a really ‘radical’ – and workable – plan.
Some commenters on the original newspaper story claimed that Mr Woodcock, whose benefits had been cut, should be grateful for the “free” treatment he would receive from the NHS. The comment is despicable, as it misrepresents the contributory principle of ‘benefits in return for contribution’ (as framed by William Beveridge, who designed the Welfare State) to become “free allowances from the State”.
Glynis has sent us the following report, explaining why this is wrong. Unfortunately she has not said where she found it, so I cannot give it the proper attribution.
“Any discussion of Beveridge today needs to recognise that along with the erosion of the link between contributions and entitlements, the contributory principle has also been the victim of an extraordinary impoverishment of meaning.
“When Beveridge contrasted ‘benefits in return for contribution’ with ‘free allowances from the State’, his aim was to break with previous paternalist models of social protection: the new model turned on workers having an entitlement to the benefits for which they had paid.
“This did not mean that benefits were unconditional (Beveridge was clear that both unemployment and sickness benefits were conditional on making preparations to return to work except where this was ruled out by disability) but it meant that they were part of a deal between citizens and government: a social contract extending across the lifecycle and across generations.
“In contrast, when ‘the contributory principle’ is invoked these days it is often in terms of the policing of the benefit system, referring to little more than the idea that people who have not worked or fail to meet worksearch conditions should not be able to access benefits.
“This attenuation of the idea of contribution is an important development in the political language of welfare in the UK. It arises in part from the way the language of reciprocity came to be turned against the welfare state in earlier decades.
“The political fortunes of the phrase ‘something for nothing’ over the last twenty years are instructive. ‘The something for nothing society’ was introduced into the political discourse of welfare by Peter Lilley at the Conservative party conference in 1993; it was adapted by Tony Blair as ‘the something for nothing culture’ to frame New Labour’s welfare reform agenda in the late 1990’s. Variations on the phrase continue to frame policy statements on social security on both Labour and Conservative sides, reinforcing the message that the main problem faced by social security is one of non-reciprocity, of people taking out who have failed to put in.
“And policy under both the current and previous government has often seemed to have more to do with reinforcing the sense of a system subject to massive abuse than any genuine policy objective. It is hard to imagine Beveridge welcoming ‘lie-detector’ tests for benefit claimants, or proposals to cut benefits for the families of convicted rioters, or the existence of a benefit fraud hotline where people can denounce their neighbours under cloak of anonymity, with only 1.3 per cent of calls leading to the detection of any fraud.
“In the report we subject the ‘something for nothing’ perspective to a reality check and find it severely wanting. Perhaps the most heretical statement that could be made about the UK social security system is that it overwhelmingly does what the public want it to do: however, this would seem to be the case.
“Most people who claim benefits have ‘put in’ in the past and will do so in the future; most benefit claims are short-term; most long-term claims are for disabled people or carers.
“As for the social archetypes that haunt the contemporary welfare discourse – the families in which no-one has worked for generations, the areas where ‘nobody works around here’ – these bear virtually no relation to any identifiable social reality. To see ‘scrounging’ or benefit fraud as the main issues facing social security is about as realistic as seeing the theft of prescription medicines as the main issue facing the NHS.
“If the contributory principle is to play a serious role in future thinking about social security, we need to move away from the ‘something for nothing’ framing and address the ‘nothing for something’ problem of a system in which the great majority of people contribute but see little visible return for their contribution. In doing this, we should be alive to the full meaning of the principle that Beveridge set out when he talked of ‘benefits in return for contributions’.
“Although there were important limitations to Beveridge’s system which were to dog social security policy for decades – especially with regard to gender and disability – his contributory principle was nonetheless intended as a principle of inclusion. To use it to draw new lines of exclusion, as often seems to happen today, would be a poor tribute to his achievement.”
Possibly the most useful part of the above is the comparison with the NHS. Clearly the theft of prescription medicines is not the most important issue facing the health service – it is the effect of the shift to a privately-run healthcare system, its consequent burden on funds and its effect on treatment. Take that information back to the benefit system and there is a strong argument that all this talk of a “something for nothing” culture is an attempt to indoctrinate the public into accepting that they should contribute towards their own unemployment benefits by taking out insurance against losing their jobs – even though they have already contributed towards such a system, simply by paying their taxes. And remember – we all pay taxes; the government gains more revenue from indirect taxation (including, for example, VAT on goods purchased) than from Income Tax.
‘For the privileged few’: If you’re earning the average wage of £26,500 per year, or less, then nothing George Osborne says will be relevant to you.
Why are the mainstream media so keen to make you think falling inflation means your wages will rise?
There is absolutely no indication that this will happen.
If you are lucky, and the drop in inflation (to 1.7 per cent) affects things that make a difference to the pound in your pocket, like fuel prices, groceries and utility bills, then their prices are now outstripping your ability to pay for them at a slightly slower rate. Big deal.
The reports all say that private sector wages are on the way up – but this includes the salaries of fatcat company bosses along with the lowest-paid office cleaners.
FTSE-100 bosses all received more pay by January 8 than average workers earn in a year. Their average annual pay rise is 14 per cent. Bankers get 35 per cent. These are all included in the national private sector average of 1.7 per cent, which means you get a lot less than the figures suggest.
Occasional Chancellor George Osborne said: “These latest inflation numbers are welcome news for families.” Why? Because they aren’t sinking into debt quite as fast as they were last month? They’re great news for the fatcats mentioned above, along with MPs, who are in line to get an inflation-busting 11 per cent rise; but as far as families are concerned, rest assured he’s lying again.
“Lower inflation and rising job numbers show our long-term plan is working, and bringing greater economic security,” he had the cheek to add. Employment has risen, although we should probably discount a large proportion of the self-employed statistics as these are most likely people who’ve been encouraged to claim tax credits rather than unemployment benefits and will be hit with a huge overpayment bill once HMRC finds out (as discussed in many previous articles).
The problem is, Britain’s economic performance has not improved in line with the number of extra jobs. If we have more people in work now than ever before in this nation’s history, then the economy should be going gangbusters – surging ahead, meaning higher pay for everybody and a much bigger tax take for the government, solving its debt reduction problem and ensuring it can pay for our public services – right?
We all know that isn’t happening. It isn’t happening because the large employment figures are based on a mixture of lies and low wages. The economy can’t surge forward because ordinary people aren’t being paid enough – and ordinary working people are the ones who fuel national economies; from necessity they spend a far higher percentage of their earnings than the fatcats and it is the circulation of this money that generates profit, and tax revenues.
Osborne compounded his lies by adding: “There is still much more we need to do to build the resilient economy I spoke of at the Budget.” He has no intention of doing any such thing. He never had.
Conservative economic policy is twofold, it seems: Create widescale unemployment in order to depress wages for those who do the actual work and boost profits for bosses and shareholders; and cut the national tax take to ensure that they can tell us the UK cannot afford a welfare state, opening the door for privatised medicine and private health and income insurance firms.
This is why, as has been discussed very recently, leaders of the Margaret Thatcher era including Nicholas Ridley and Keith Joseph determined that the defeat of the workers would require “the substantial destruction of Britain’s remaining industrial base” (according to ‘The Impact of Thatcherism on Health and Well-Being in Britain’). It is, therefore, impossible for George Osborne to seek to build any “resilient economy” that will improve your lot, unless you are a company boss, banker, or shareholder.
The plan to starve the public sector, as has been repeated many times on this blog, has been named ‘Starving the Beast’ and involves ensuring that the tax take cannot sustain public services by keeping working wages so low that hardly any tax comes in (the Tory Democrat determination to raise the threshold at which takes is paid plays right into this scheme) and cutting taxes for the extremely well-paid (and we have seen this take place, from 50 per cent to 45. Corporation tax has also been cut by 25 per cent).
This is why Ed Balls is right to say that average earnings are £1,600 per year less than in May 2010, why Labour is right to point out that the economy is still performing well below its height under Labour…
… and why the government and the mainstream media are lying to you yet again.
He was right to say it was “profoundly shaming and offensive” for Conservative voters – especially those who are not super-rich – when George Osborne lowered the top rate to 45p, two years ago.
He was right when he wrote that “to make the rich richer at the same time as making the poor poorer – what George Osborne has been doing – is simply squalid, immoral and disgusting.
“Any decent human being must surely feel sick in the stomach that he is taking this action at the same time as cutting the amount of tax paid by people earning more than £150,000.”
To that, let’s add a point about the kind of people who are benefiting from the lower tax rate – the kind of people who take home around £1 million a year in basic pay, who are promised bonuses of up to twice those yearly salaries, and who caused the financial crisis that has allowed Osborne to pursue his policy of impoverishing the poor.
That’s right: George Osborne’s 45p tax rate is a £100,000 extra bonus, every year – in gratitude for all their help, one must presume – for bankers.
Oborne is also right to say that Labour’s decision in the 1970s, to impose a top tax rate of 83p in the pound, was a huge mistake – for whatever reasons. It genuinely drove people out of the country, whereas at 50p they just grumble and threaten to go.
All of the above being said, Oborne continues to espouse some utterly wrong-headed nonsense. He claims that “the Conservative Party is not an interest group which represents only the very rich” when all of its actions since getting into office in 2010 demonstrate ample proof that a minority group representing only the very rich is exactly what it is.
Oborne actually puts in print: “The Coalition government has devoted a great deal of effort to lowering the living standards of the poor. I support this project.”
It’s great to see a Tory voter actually admitting this, but imbecilic behaviour for a columnist who (one presumes) wants people to respect his point of view.
He goes on: “I believe that Gordon Brown’s welfare state forced some people into a life of dependency… There have been many people on welfare who need much more of an incentive to return to work.”
Wrong, wrong, wrong.
The reason many people are without jobs and claiming benefit is, there are almost five jobseekers for every job. This is a situation created by the Tory-led government in order to keep wages low; with so many people clamouring for jobs, people who do have work but are on the bottom rung of the employment ladder can’t ask for a raise – they would be jettisoned and replaced by a jobseeker (most likely on lower basic pay than the original holder of the job).
Nobody was forced into a life of dependency by Gordon Brown; the vast majority of unemployed people genuinely want to improve their situation with a job that allows them to avoid claiming benefits – and it is good that the Labour Party, if returned to office next year, will work hard to bring the Living Wage into force for all working people.
You see, Mr Oborne and his ilk conveniently forget that the vast majority of people whose living standards have been hit by the Tory war on the poor are in work. They are so poorly-paid by George Osborne’s corporate friends that they have to claim tax credits – or, as I like to call them, Employer Subsidy – and housing benefit – otherwise known as Landlord Subsidy.
That’s improper use of our tax money. We should not be subsidising fat corporates with our hard-earned taxes, so they can deliver ever more swollen dividends to their shareholders; and we should not be subsidising greedy landlords who charge multiples of what their properties are worth to tenants who have nowhere else to go if they want to keep their pittance-paying job.
It is valid to criticise Gordon Brown for allowing this to happen, but who knows? Maybe this figurehead of neoliberal New Labour was using tax credits as a stop-gap, intending to persuade corporate bosses round to the Living Wage in good time. We’ll never know for sure.
There remains a strong argument that government schemes to get people into work should have checks and balances. As underwriters of these schemes, we taxpayers need assurances that the firms taking part will not abuse their position of power, using jobseekers until the government subsidy runs out and then ditching good workers for more of the unemployed in order to keep the cash coming. That is not a worthwhile use of our cash.
We also need assurances that participants won’t drop out, just because life on the dole is easier. I was the victim of several personal attacks last week when I came out in support of Labour’s compulsory job guarantee, because they hated its use of sanctions. I think those sanctions are necessary; there should be a penalty for dropping out without a good reason.
In a properly-run scheme, those sanctions should never be put into effect, though. That means that any government job scheme needs to be driven, not by targets but by results.
Look at the Welsh Ambulance Service. Targets imposed by the Welsh Government mean that ambulances are supposed to arrive at the scene of an emergency within eight minutes – even if they are 20 minutes’ fast drive away, on the wrong side of a busy city like Cardiff, when they get the call. This means the Welsh Ambulance Service faces constant attack for failure to meet targets.
But what kind of results does the service achieve? Are huge numbers of Welsh patients dying, or failing to receive timely treatment because an ambulance arrives a minute or so after its target time? No. There will, of course, be some such occasions but those will most likely be the result of many contributory factors.
So: Results-driven schemes will put people into jobs and improve the economy; there is no need to impoverish the poor; the very rich never deserved their tax cut; and Ed Balls is right to want to re-impose the 50p rate.
The Conservatives are wrong to attack poor people; there is no need to impose further cuts on social security as part of Osborne’s failed austerity policy; and these things show very clearly that the Tories are a minority-interest party supporting only the extremely rich.
In the end, I find myself agreeing with one more comment by Mr Oborne; Ed Balls really has “given ordinary, decent people a serious reason for voting Labour at the coming election”.
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