Tory

Could you go five weeks without money? Under a new DWP plan you might have to

[Reposted from Left Foot Forward]

Further punitive restrictions on Universal Credit are on the way

Job Centre ncrjThe latest development of Ian Duncan Smith’s Universal Credit scheme will soon mean that people made unemployed will have to wait at least five weeks before getting any financial support.

At present it’s two weeks; still a long time to wait when you have bills to pay and mouths to feed.

Some of this is administrative delay, but with the new five week wait it will be a deliberate strategy to force people into immediate work or push them into penury – the latter being more likely in an economy where jobs increasingly can’t actually fund even basic necessities like housing and energy costs.

That’s why the TUC have launched a campaign to ‘Stop the Five Week Wait’ as part of their Saving Our Safety Net project, launching a petition against IDS’ impoverishment strategy.

It poses a very clear question: how long could you go without any income? Even for those in work, many have to scrape together money from friends and family at the end of the month in what some call ‘scrounge week’. Imagine that week becoming five.

Why so long? A whole calendar month will be spent ‘assessing’ the amount of benefit you’ll be able to receive. Then you’ll have to wait a week for the DWP to actually arrange your payment.

But you’ll also have a week-long period when you will be unable to even apply for Universal Credit. The government is deciding whether this will be during the assessment period or beforehand, meaning potentially sixweeks in assessment, admin and spiteful restrictions.

And this from a government that supposedly hates bureaucracy and red tape.

There will be some emergency support available. But the rules on who can claim it will be so strict that very few able to claim Universal Credit will be eligible. Richard Exell at the TUC writes that “one reason for being turned down, for instance, will be that your family has debts that might make it hard for you to repay the advance.” Unbelievable.

The public are against it, understandably – by 70 per cent to 18 per cent when told about the policy. Even the vast majority of UKIP and Conservative voters oppose the wait.

But there’s a problem: just 13 per cent have actually heard of it. We need, therefore, to spread the word fast if there’s to be any chance of stopping this disastrous scheme going under wraps.

The policy can be summarised quite simply: the state safety net being outsourced to food banks and payday loan sharks. This is a government hand-out to Wonga and co, while returning to the Victorian welfare state of unreliable charity. TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady has branded it+ ‘cruel and vindictive’.

It comes in next April – just a month before the General Election. With a strong enough campaign, it can be halted or pushed beyond that date. So there is an opportunity for the opposition to succeed. Millions of people who might be made redundant over the coming years are relying on that outcome.

You can read the TUC’s report on the five week wait, Universal Credit: Solving the problem of delay in benefit payments, here.

Please share this and spread the word against this deeply disturbing plan.

Osborne’s Autumn Statement wasn’t just class war. It was age war, too

‘Do you remember when people used to retire?’ I can just imagine our generation’s grandkids asking us that in 50-odd years’ time. Our generation – the 1990s crew – will be working into our 70s. That means that a fair few of you reading this, given the vast inequalities in life expectancy in Britain, will be toiling flat-out and non-stop…till we drop.

The budget did nothing for students or graduates – nearly half of whom are in non-graduate roles, from shelf-stackers to baristas and receptionists. A tenth are unemployed. I’ve lost count of the numbers of old uni friends who’ve recently been on the dole. Where they have found work, many are whiling away their hours gaining ‘work experience’ or what anthropologist David Graeber politely termed ‘bullshit jobs’ – roles which serve no useful purpose. You’ll all know many more. The Autumn Statement announcement of a legislated welfare cap of 1% will push them further into the ground amid rising food costs and energy bills.

Neither will their woes – or just early world-weariness – be made any easier by announcement that the government plans to sell-off of the entire Student Loans Company, part of the coalition’s much-mooted £20bn (doubled from their previous aim) plan to flog-off a whole swathe of public assets – from Eurostar to potentially the Met Office, air traffic control and plenty more. It will make the forestry sell-off a couple of years ago look like a walk in the park. Pardon the pun.

What will it mean to us? Eventually, the terms of our loans will change. Where companies can no longer make a profit off our debt, they will seek to remove or lift the interest rate cap. And with that, we’ll have a de facto rise in tuition fees. Since the loans will be in private hands, we’ll have no say over the matter.

The implications are of course far deeper than this. If not even our student loans are publicly owned any more, our education system certainly won’t be either. Thus Higher Education becomes a commercial enterprise with barely a whisper of democratic discussion.

It’s not just privatisation that we have to contend with. The next few years will see £1bn worth of extra cuts year on year, further limiting demand in the economy and thus jobs growth. The dole queue won’t be going down any time soon. Nearly a million of our generation – five years after the crash – still remain stranded without work.

Already 300,000 public sector jobs have been slashed since the government came to power – on a pledge, cynically, to protect ‘front-line services’ – and the Institute for Fiscal studies reckons the another 900,000 job losses are yet to come by 2017/18. Brace yourselves.

The problem isn’t even lack of GDP growth – although there has been a lot less of it since 2010. The real issue, as Labour have belatedly tacked on to, is that wages are stagnating, with workers £5000 worse off since the crash. Labour shouldn’t take the credit however – wages were stagnating under them, too, with a minimum wage that wasn’t fit for purpose and zero hours contracts rearing their head even before 2008. And Ed Balls’ response to the Statement in the Commons was pretty pathetic, by most accounts.

Nonetheless, we’re still right to ask: recovery? What recovery? If there is one, who’s recovery is it? It certainly isn’t young people’s.

It’s not as if the pain of austerity is worth it even on its own terms – annual borrowing is £111bn, compared with the £60bn that Osborne said we’d get this year.

Thursday’s budget, in an era of leaks, was largely without surprises. But that’s the problem. We’ve grown used to austerity, becoming reluctant masochists. There are hopeful signs though that students are starting to fight back – this week has seen a wave of occupations sweep universities across the country, from Sheffield to Birmingham, Sussex to the University of London. Everywhere, of course, met with a heavy-handed response.

But hey, it’s better to die on your feet than to live on your knees. I can sense that our generation – faced with the in-your-face affront we saw in the Autumn Statement – might not be pliant for much longer. Because it’s not just class war any longer, it’s age war too.

Conference season – plus ça change…

Party conference season is over, at last.

Monday marked the end of the SNP’s conference in Perth. It was hardly a game-changer. Salmond was policy-light, despite a good speech. Will the speech change politics? Only if the SNP manages to overturn the 2:1 opposition to Scottish independence. Unlikely, then.

But it was Labour and Miliband’s pledge to freeze energy prices for 20 months if elected in 2015 that made the spotlight. Yet the party is hiding from the fact that tinkering around the edges of the market can leave the oligarchs with just as much power – capital flight (or threats of it), vociferous press attacks, ramped up lobbying and anticipatory price increases all point the way to the real need – to renationalise our energy supply. That, of course, wasn’t on the cards, despite mass popular support.

But Miliband’s pledge, however insufficient it may be, has shifted the debate. The main parties been rudely awakened to the fact that 60% back the freeze. And it’s the Daily Mail, including its elusive editor Paul Dacre, that has come off worse in the battle after publishing its now-infamous ‘Man Who Hated Britain’ article. 72% of the public backed Miliband – and 57% of Mail readers thought their paper should apologise.

The Mail did no such thing of course, but the chain of events has solidified the leader’s press-slating reputation. Perhaps more interestingly, many of Ralph’s most famous tracts sold out in the following days. The Mail may have just revived socialism, more than Ed would ever want to himself (see his awkward ‘get-round-the-negotiating-table’ talk regarding recent strike action).

For the left, the Labour conference is unsettling. Many believe Miliband has taken a social democratic turn. He hasn’t. As Labour’s Michael Meacher pointed out, Ed newly reshuffled team shows his true inclinations, the shadow cabinet ‘now composed of 12 Blairites, 4 Brownites, plus 9 centrists, and 6 on the left or left-inclining.’ Out went Dianne Abbott, in went quasi-neoliberals like Tristram Hunt. The New Labour vanguard still comprises a majority. You can forget renationalising the Royal Mail and our crumbling rail system (despite the wishes of delegates and the public).

As for the Tory and Lib Dem conferences, Cameron put out a passionate defence of the boss class with his ‘profit is not a dirty word’ speech, while both Clegg’s ‘million jobs’ gambit, and Cameron’s pledge to remove benefits for under 25s – can only be enacted on after a general election. With the Lib Dems, that probably means never at all.

For Greens, conference season is more inspiring – votes actually count for a start. Did Green Party conference shift politics? Perhaps not monumentally. As a ‘UKIP of the left’ however, we may have forced Labour ever-so-slightly towards us (Caroline Lucas’ billboard ad could be responsible…). If so, there are serious implications for both parties. For the moment however, there remains a large divide between Labour and the Greens – from supporting renationalisation of the utilities to opposition to Trident (and, indeed, nuclear generally).

It may be too soon to call the result of conference season. But this year does feel different, not least with UKIP humiliated themselves, the upcoming Scottish referendum, and Miliband actually laying out some policy (however flawed it may be).

Above all though we must remember – politics is made not in keynote speeches but in action. Party leaders remain much better at the former.

Josiah Mortimer is a writer, activist and Politics student at the University of York.

A different kind of party conference…

[A version of this article was first published by Nouse, the York student newspaper]

It’s become a cliché to say that party conferences are dying these days. Every September rolls along, and the newspaper hacks whip out the same pre-made lines about the dwindling turnouts, and the powerlessness of the (ageing) delegates. So it was refreshing to be at this Autumn’s Green Party conference, where stereotypes about the annual conference season could be shattered.

It was to a Brighton waterfront hotel that hundreds of Green Party of England & Wales members descended upon in mid-September – including around a hundred Young Greens (students and anyone under 30) and a solid sprinkling from our own York society.

And a fitting location it was, too. Brighton, somewhat famously, is bit of a Green Party stronghold, with Greens controlling the council, and with former leader Caroline Lucas as the city’s outspoken MP.

It’s an understandable place for the Greens to be rooted. Wandering around sunny London-on-sea, the vegan restaurants, vintage clothes shops, second-hand stores, and blossoming environmental and charity sectors immediately stood out. Under the scenes, it’s also a place where the council has introduced a Living Wage for all staff, slashed executive pay, prevented services from being privatised and become the world’s first ‘One Planet City’ – i.e. genuinely sustainable in terms of resource consumption. But it wasn’t the location that made the conference different.

Firstly, anyone can turn up. Unlike other party conferences which operate on a ‘delegate’ system, any ordinary member can go to the Green Party’s six-monthly gatherings, which operate on a progressive payment scale. For students and the unwaged, it’s about thirty quid for the whole four days, with a hefty hardship fund for those who can’t afford it. Many of the events are free to the public, with cheap observer passes for those that aren’t.  And the members who do come actually get a say, too.

That’s because all party policy is made by members at the twice-yearly conferences. No out-of-reach bureaucrats or Labour-esque Executive Committees determining what to discuss (or side-line). It’s all done on the conference floor – one member, one vote. You’ll often see leader Natalie Bennett or the ‘People’s Caroline’ herself sticking up their voting cards in front of you. Sometimes they’ll lose, too. Even what makes the agenda is determined by members in an online vote.

Raise your hand and you can make a speech, ‘no confidence’ the Chair or vote for more discussion time. Anyone can submit policy, amend it or propose emergency motions. Hell, they even unanimously passed my one calling for the government to abandon the sell-off of Royal Mail.

And because anyone can turn up and have their say, it’s got a very different feel to the usual ego-festivals that are the mainstream parties’ conferences. Suits are de facto banned. Careerists are essentially unheard of (jokes about why any careerist would join a small party aside, please). Cliques, though a problem in every organisation, are mostly dismantled through open socials and workshops.

No conference is perfect. There are diehards who turn up to every one of them (myself included). Not everyone can spare a whole weekend, especially not a four-day one, to trek to far-flung places. They can be confusing, frustrating and disappointing (especially when you lose a vote). But it’s the democracy, and the unprecedented openness, that makes Green Party conferences different.

Oh, and humour too. A week after the Green Party conference ended, Labour delegates were flocking to the same city for their annual talking shop. Here’s what they were greeted with – a billboard of Caroline Lucas reading: ‘Welcome to Brighton – Home of the true opposition in Parliament. PS. Labour is down the hill on the right’. Win.

The Cat Got May’s Tongue – Tory hypocrisy on human rights

“The government are saying…you don’t know best – we do”. Such was the denouement of Theresa May’s maiden speech in 1997, condemning the new Blair government on its education reforms. Sadly Blair’s instincts seem to have rubbed off on her. At this week’s Conservative Party conference, May endorsed Cameron’s plans to take back power from ‘unaccountable judges’ under the Human Rights Act and ‘bring them back’. To politicians? “You don’t know best”: May’s words to judges today.

It’s hard to think of such a contradiction for the Tories as the Human Rights Act, which took powers back from Europe (by bringing the European Convention on Human Rights into British law – and our courts). Strangely, you won’t see Eurosceptics mourning the apparent death of the HRA on Newsnight, despite Brits no longer having to go to Strasbourg to sort their problems out.

Cameron had a lot to say about liberty and rights upon becoming Tory leader – ‘compassionate Conservatism’ (borrowed from that arch-executioner George Bush) aimed to fix the ‘flog em all’ reputation of the Tories. Appointing the liberal Kenneth Clarke as chair of a new Tory ‘democracy group’, Cameron even stole some of the Lib Dems pink flair while they were still battling over who would lead their own party.

By the time the 2010 election arrived however, Cameron promised to replace the HRA with a Bill of Rights (which Clarke described as ‘zenophobic’). The dispute in the coalition over the HRA mirrors the manifesto divide – the Lib Dems pledged to ‘protect the Human Rights Act’. Then again, they also pledged to scrap tuition fees. Where this leaves the coalition now though is uncertain. The coalition agreement is ambiguous, seeking to establish a commission to ‘build on our obligations under the ECHR’.

May, who voted against New Labour’s rights-infringing counter-terrorism legislation, described herself to the Tory conference as one ‘in the minority who want [the HRA] to go’. Let’s hope the hypocrite remains in a minority. But other senior figures in the party also want the act scrapped. Will the Lib Dems fight for it, or perform another cowardly u-turn? After the tuition fee debacle however, it’s unlikely the party faithful would forgive another. Cameron’s future is stable. But Clegg’s future as leader could stand on this. The question ‘stay or may be about more than just the Human Rights Act a few weeks down the line.

Cornwall homeless cuts protest ejects from demonstration…homeless people

On Sunday hundreds were set to descend on Truro Cathedral for an anti-cuts protest about the 40% cuts to the Supporting People funding in Cornwall, which provides funding to vulnerable care services. Most of the funding goes towards homelessness support. The demonstration was far different to what many imagined it would be.

You can blame it on the weather, the loss of momentum or the date (it being a bank holiday), but whichever way you spin it the demonstration was a failure. For a start the protest in February saw over 100 sleep outside County Hall for the same reason, despite temperatures dropping to -1. Despite the scale of opposition, councillors just a couple of days later voted through millions of pounds of cuts to these essential services.

This demonstration however, entailed just twenty or less camp outside the Cathedral. Several homeless people were among the protesters. Of course, the demonstration was billed as a show of charitable care towards homeless people, but the behavior of the organisers was inexcusable.

At around midnight the organisers drew people camping in the car park at the back to the front of the cathedral to witness two clearly distressed people, both homeless, apparently ‘lash out’ at the organisers. I had been talking with one of them earlier and she was far from violent, singing protest songs with everyone. But the apparently drunk homeless people had been drawn to attention by the organisers (from the Cathedral) and were being told to leave the shelter of the front of the building and go out into the street. Not your average show of human compassion.

The police were called, despite the protestations of some of the others camping out, and the homeless couple were then told they were ‘spoiling our demonstration’ and ‘being unnecessarily disruptive’. What they were actually doing was demanding the organisers explain why so few were here, why they were being treated like outsiders, why they were being patronised by people who showed only token solidarity with them, before returning to the warmth of their homes.

Eventually the gates of the Cathedral front were closed. The facade was apparently in danger of being scratched by these rowdy two who challenged the middle-class guilt appeasing nature of the demo. Forced into the rain, they left peacefully. As did the organisers, who were reported to have gone home – yes, gone home – instead of sleeping out.

The Cathedral probably has enough space inside to accommodate all the homeless people in Cornwall. But on Sunday, we saw the very people the protest was meant to be in support of snubbed and ejected.

The campaign against such disgusting cuts shouldn’t stop here because of what happened. What it has to learn however is that homeless people do indeed suffer high levels of alcoholism, and understandably so – it’s freezing out there on the streets. It’s the causes of this that we have to tackle as the numbers of homeless increases in Cornwall as a result of these cuts. Otherwise, we are guilty of turning away those we’re supposed to be defending – undermining ourselves and the anti-cuts movement as a whole.

Andrew George MP and the ‘Rage Against the Lib Dems’ Demo

 

Around 5,000 gathered on Saturday to oppose the Liberal Democrat leadership in Sheffield at their conference. A video of the march is below – the mood seemed to be overwhelmingly for Nick Clegg to go.

Probably the same could be said for those inside the conference hall as the membership rejected Tory NHS ‘reforms’ – handing budgets over to private consortia by proxy and scrapping PCT’s – democratic and localised health trusts. Andew George (MP for St. Ives) made some refreshing comments, but even moreso in an overlooked Independent article just a few days ago where he said the NHS changes will leave the

‘carnage of a dismembered and disintegrated health service [providing] rich pickings for private companies and the unscrupulous among private GP contractors. The fractured NHS will be monumentally difficult to hold together’

Wise words Andrew. Now you have to persuade your other Lib Dem comrades in Cornwall the same thing. Stephen Gilbert, who recently jumped on the ‘anti-cuts’ bandwagon, will surely oppose the moves? Wishful thinking, perhaps.