Today’s High Court decision to uphold Cait Reilly’s appeal over her being forced to participate in the government’s workfare scheme on pain of having her JSA stopped, is a rare victory for human decency.
Currently thousands of people up and down the country, who through no fault of their own are struggling to find employment, are suffering the indignity and coercion of workfare. It is reflective of the callous disregard for the human rights of the poor and most vulnerable in society by this government of the rich, by the rich, and for the rich.
In conjunction with the social injustice of the controversial and ongoing Atos re-assessments of people on disability, the upcoming bedroom tax designed to punish people on housing benefit, workfare will be remembered as a low point in the nation’s social history in years to come. The criminalisation of poverty and the demonisation of the unemployed and people on benefits is in itself a crime.
Cait Reilly’s victory today gives millions who are currently suffering as a direct result of the government’s attacks on benefit claimants hope, reminding them that they are not scum and that they do not have to accept being bullied, harassed, intimidated, and coerced – that they can fight back and they can win.
Bertolt Brecht once wrote that ‘Unhappy the land that is in need of heroes.’
Britain in 2013 is just such an unhappy land and Cait Reilly is indeed a hero.
I am no fan of David Miliband, but during the Commons debate on the Tory Welfare Reform Bill, he used the example of a Labour Party poster from 1929 to illustrate the mindset of the Tories, both yellow and blue, when it comes to equality and making sacrifices during a recession.
It is a very effective poster, which speaks more powerfully than words, and Labour could do worse than produce an up to date version now.
David Miliband’s speech is worth listening to. He spoke powerfully and landed some telling blows on the Tories and their Lib-Dem bag carriers.
The potentiality of 2013 proving one of the most convulsive and ugly in Britain’s social history is real.
The brunt of this Tory-led coalition government’s assault on welfare and public spending come on stream in April. Swingeing cuts in child benefit, housing benefit, and a cut in council tax benefit will plunge millions of UK families into the abyss of destitution and despair. Add to this a one percent freeze on Jobseekers Allowance, tantamount to a real terms cut, and the conditions for social unrest in the UK have hardly been more propitious.
Since coming to power 2010 this Tory-led coalition government, aided by its allies in the right wing press, has been diligent in its efforts to prepare the public for the economic tsunami that it intends to unleash on the public sector, the poor and benefit claimants. It has engaged in a concerted and determined propaganda campaign designed to demonize the unemployed, people on disability benefits, and public sector workers, the main targets of its attacks with the objective of turning what was and remains an economic crisis caused by private greed into a crisis of public spending. Pitting one section of working people against another has been a key plank of the Tory strategy to minimise resistance to the most egregious and brutal assault on the incomes and lives of poor people in living memory.
Save The Children calculatethat currently in the UK 1.6million children are living in what they describe as severe poverty. Households mired in severe poverty are forced to make a choice between heating and eating each winter on an income of £15,000 or less. The extent of child poverty in the UK is a badge of shame in the word’s seventh largest economy. Indeed, along with food banks, it is this badge of shame and not the Olympics which is Britain’s lasting legacy in 2012.
Given the criminal lack of social and affordable housing in Britain, a consequence of Thatcher’s decimation of council housing stock throughout the 1980s, a policy continued throughout the nineties, wherein tenants were able to buy council properties at huge discount, and New Labour’s failure to address the yawning gap during its 13 years in office, millions of people are currently living on the edge of homelessness, victims of the inflated rents and insecure and short term tenancies offered by private landlords. With the collapse in the mortgage market, demand for private rented accommodation has spiked, which with the government’s intention of scrapping housing benefit for under 25’s and restricting it for everyone else is a recipe for disaster.
These facts, no matter how shocking, do not come close to describing the stress suffered by those on the receiving end of the government’s assault. This is a crime in itself, a cruel and brutal attack on the welfare of millions of men, women, and children, punished for daring to be poor by a government of the rich, by the rich, and for the rich.
Meanwhile, as 2013 gets underway, those same rich have never had it so good. Last year’s Sunday TimesRich List confirmed that the 1000 richest people in Britain have seen their wealth increase by a staggering £155 billion over the past three years of the worst economic recession since the 1930s, enough to wipe out the entire deficit with around £30 billion to spare. Yet thanks to the government’s decision to reward those earning £1 million a year or more with a £42,000 tax cut starting this spring, the rich can look forward to their wealth increasing still more. As for the corporations and businesses which many of them run, those are set to enjoy a two percent reduction in corporation tax in 2013, while VAT remains at 20 percent, a tax on consumption with a disproportionate impact on the poor.
Thanks in large part to the unstinting efforts of the campaign group UK Uncut when it comes to shining a light on the immorality of tax avoidance by the rich and big business, we now know the full extent of the theft committed by multinational companies such as Asda, Ikea, Starbucks,Vodafone, Google, Amazon, and others when it comes to exploiting tax loopholes to avoid paying anything like their fair share of tax on UK revenues. Plugging these loopholes at any time, never mind in the midst of the deepest recession since the 1930s, you would think would be done as a matter of urgency by a coalition government whose mantra since it entered Downing Street after the 2010 general election has been ‘fairness’ and ‘we are all in this together’.
The opposite has been the case. In fact, worse, the government has turned its guns on the poor and working class to make sure that the wealth and profits of the rich remain intact. It is class war by any other name.
The lack of investment by the private sector has led to a collapse in demand, which in other words means we are living through a crisis of underconsumption. It is a crisis screaming out for an investment-led response by the government to fill the vaccum left by the lack of private investment in the economy, specifically via the banks, the beneficiaries of billions in taxpayers money to keep them afloat at the height of the financial crisis.
The result is an economic shambles with injustice at its heart and the wonder is that we have yet to witness wholesale riots and civil unrest in towns and cities all over the country in response. 2013 may well see it erupt.
Given the seemingly unending series of gaffs and setbacks to afflict the government over recent weeks, culminating in the damning economic figures just released by the Office for National Statistics (ONS), it’s a safe bet that the opening of the Olympics could not come quick enough for George Osborne and David Cameron. Indeed, if economics was an Olympic sport Osborne would have been asked to hand his team vest back after a performance since entering Number 11 that has him on course to be the most incompetent Chancellor of the Exchequer in recent history.
Significantly, the news that the UK economy has gone deeper into a double-dip recession under his watch looks to have finally ended the cosy relationship which the Chancellor had previously enjoyed with the City and British business, with numerous calls from both demanding that he ‘do something’ to reverse the tide.
That ‘something’ would of course involve not just a change of course economically – hard for any government to do when it’s under the cosh for fear of being labelled weak – it would also by necessity involve a step-change in ideology. Why? Because the economic policy being followed by this government is more the product of ideological blinkers than sound economic theory. How could it be otherwise when in economic terms the policy being followed has thus far proved disastrous?
Since the economic crisis first hit these shores at the beginning of 2008 the glaring weakness in the economy has been a collapse in demand. Britain’s deficit has been a result of more government borrowing to fill the gap of plunging tax income due to rising unemployment, businesses going bust, and a concomitant increase in people claiming benefit.
But rather than takes steps to tackle the causal factors responsible, this right wing government has focused almost entirely on the symptoms – i.e. getting the deficit down by slashing spending, including benefits, with no thought for how it will only deepen the depression rather than produce a recovery.
As the US economist and nobel laureate Paul Krugman asserts: “Economics is not a morality play.”
Yet this has been precisely the approach to the depression by Osborne, Cameron, Clegg et al. In this morality play it has been overspending, a jamboree of consumption, which has led us to the mess we’re in. Now, in order to clear it up, a national exercise in economic self flagellation is required. Clearly, given the lack of comparable measures introduced to dole out some of the resulting pain to the rich, this national exercise is to be restricted to the poor and ordinary working people – the undeserving poor as opposed to the deserving rich, in other words – making this a Victorian morality play.
Yet strip away the government’s rhetoric over the need to cut spending, the solution to this ongoing economic depression is really very simple. Bringing down the deficit requires growth; growth requires a resurgence of spending; and a resurgence of spending requires the reintroduction of demand into the economy.
This is where the locus of government intervention must be, as the investor and lender of last resort to stimulate economic activity. Investing in infrastructure projects such as housing, roads, transport, the emerging green economy, schools, hospitals etc, will create jobs, which in turn would get people off benefits and back to paying tax and spending in the real economy, thus producing a multiplier effect. Businesses do not create jobs; this is one of the great myths of modern political and economic discourse. Consumers create jobs.
But no one should be in any doubt that the obsession with deficit reduction on the part of the government is really an obsession with keeping the markets happy, which brings into sharp focus the issue of sovereignty. However, even here it doesn’t take a leap of logic to understand that of more importance to the ever-mystical bond markets is the introduction of measures designed to lift the economy out of depression and thus make the prospect of a decent return on UK bonds better over the short to medium term than it is at present. With interests rates at zero and unable to be reduced any further, this requires the implementation of a fiscal stimulus to create the demand already mentioned.
The billions paid to the banks via Quantitative Easing have barely touched the real economy. Banks are refusing to lend because by now there are no customers creating the demand that businesses need to expand. When it comes to the thousands of small to medium businesses which need to borrow to cover the gap between normal operating costs and income, by this point increasing numbers of those have either gone to the wall or been forced to contract as a direct consequence of the present cycle of deepening depression.
Which brings us back to the question of ideology.
The financial and banking meltdown which hit the global economy four years ago was an economic 9/11. And just as that terrible event gave the Bush administration its pretext for going to war in Iraq, its economic equivalent was the pretext needed by the Tories to set about rolling back the state in Britain. The savage attack unleashed on the public sector, the attacks on benefits, pay and conditions across the board, has been accompanied by the demonisation of each of the aforementioned demographics. In other words, the economic crisis has seen class war declared in order to push through the structural readjustment of the economy and with it society in general, with the public sector, a necessary ballast of demand through good times and bad, declared the enemy within in the process.
This is the context in which the latest damning figures, namely a 0.7% contraction in the economic activity across the board over the last three months, have to be considered.
The Brighton Stop the Cuts Coalition Anti-Cuts Day School. Come along, share ideas and step up the struggle against cuts after the huge TUC demo.
9th April, Falmer House Sussex Uni. Open from 10am for a 10:45am start. Its free and open to all!
Speakers include Alex Gordon RMT President, Derek Wall Green Economist, speakers from Keep the NHS Public, Defend Council Housing, Unions, campaigns across the area + much more.
The day will include many different sessions with plenty of time for debate and discussion.
Sessions will include:
Fighting Cuts in:
As well as
Anti-Cuts Economics /Political Representation
Building Anti-Cuts Groups in your Area/
The Case For Public Ownership
from the Daily Echo, reporting a march on 24th March
More than 500 council workers marched on Southampton’s civic offices in protest against mass pay cuts.
A convoy of up to 50 taxi cabs and private hire cars were expected to circle the Civic Centre in a show of solidarity to the protesters.
But they were blocked from reaching the Guildhall Square site due to road closures.
Council workers from the Unite and Unison unions were joined by lecturers from Southampton University, Solent University and City College, who were striking over pay and pensions.
Tory council leaders are preparing to dismiss and rehire the majority of its workers on worse contracts to help plug a £25million budget hole.
Around 250 of the council’s 6,627 strong workforce are also being axed.
Gill Marsh, a 46-year-old Neighbourhood Warden from Townhill, said: “We are here today to protect public services from further cuts. We hope to the impact we have today will force the government into a u-turn.”