Labour, Letters And Clear Water

Both Paul Bernal and Sunny Hundal have written open letters to Rachel Reeves. First, the ex-Labour Party member expresses what many of us feel:

“This is a rare chance for you – I do hope you haven’t already thrown it away. Ed Miliband’s speech at conference was very well received, and seemed to pretty seriously rattle the Tories. They, in response, revealed some of their nastiest aspects at their conference. The Lib Dems are still in chaos. With the departure of Liam Byrne, you had a chance to change the game. It was a chance get onto the front foot, and set the agenda – as Ed Miliband did so well with the energy price freeze policy. Did you notice how well that resonated with people? And how the promise to repeal the Bedroom Tax resonated with people? Did you ask yourself why? One of the key reasons is that it put clear water between Labour and the Tories. It showed that Labour understood peoples’ problems, and actually seemed to care about them. It showed that Labour was no longer going to just be a slightly milder version of the Tories…. or so we thought.
EDM1
Through your interview, you’ve reversed all that. You may well have lost all the goodwill gained by the Party Conference. I do hope that’s not the case, and I hope you’ll be willing to reconsider your approach. Personally, I live in Cambridge, which is a marginal seat, currently held by the Lib Dems, and I would have thought that you want my vote. Right now, with an approach like this, I don’t think I can give it to you. After Ed Miliband’s speech I was even considering rejoining the Labour Party – after a long gap – and putting a good deal of energy into supporting the campaign. I’d still like to do that, but with an approach like this, I really can’t see a way. [My emphasis.] “

Sunny puts it in an more moderate way:

“The conventional wisdom within Labour is that the party is seen as ‘soft’ on people who claim social security and too forgiving of people who abuse the system. You will know that poorer people are usually harsher towards others on benefits and want tough sanctions on abusers of the system. You will have seen polling that suggests Labour needs to neutralise that image or else people may be tempted to vote for the Conservatives in 2015. Hence you wanted to sound tough in your interview with the Observer on Sunday.

This talk of Labour ‘walking into a welfare trap’ set by the Tories has itself become a problem: we keep returning to the safe ground of ‘tough’ rhetoric, without convincing messages or policies that favour Labour in the long term. It is time to bring some fresh thinking to this debate and I hope you won’t shy away from doing so.”

Update 1: George Eaton argues EU study shreds the myth of “benefit tourism”.

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Iain Duncan Smith Caught Lying By The Economist

Politicians do not like being told that they lie.

The English language hides the necessary directness beneath such wording as disingenuous, economical with the truth or actualité. But even the Economist, frequently feriously supportitive of the Tories, has conceded that Iain Duncan Smith is a liar, in a roundabout fashion:

”And this is the only the latest in a series of questionable press releases. Earlier this month, Mr Duncan Smith claimed that the benefits cap had encouraged 8,000 people to get jobs. Yet as Jonathan Portes, the director of the National Institute for Economics and Social Research pointed out, the Department for Work and Pensions has never made an estimate of the behavioural effects of the benefit cap. At best, Mr Duncan Smith’s figures simply showed that 8,000 people who were to be affected had got jobs. Perhaps some did because of the benefits cap—but we have no idea.

Even before that, there was the matter of 878,000 people who apparently dropped their claims for disability benefits when faced with a doctors test over the past four years, as the old Incapacity Benefit system was replaced with the new Employment and Support Allowance. Again, this figure was absurd. It took no account of the churn—the number of people who come off benefits each month anyway. The most glaring error was that the figures completely ignored the fact that a lot of Incapacity Benefit and ESA claims are short-term—and so a lot of claimants simply got better before facing the test.

All of these are technical, even wonkish objections. “Yes, we twisted the statistics a little”, I can hear a hypothetical Conservative MP saying, “but so does Labour, and the fundamental truth is that the benefits system costs too much and is need of reform.”

Well, quite. The welfare system does indeed need reform. But the whole point about government statistics is that they are meant to be at least sort of objective. Ministers can quote the ones which support their case—but they shouldn’t manipulate them and distort them to tell stories that aren’t actually true. There is plenty of evidence to support welfare reform without resorting to such disgraceful abuse of numbers.

But the problem is, they get away with it—they have done for a long time. Even before the election, Chris Grayling, then the shadow home secretary, was alleging that gun crime was soaring, using distorted data to prove his point. In fact, gun crime began its precipitous decline under Labour. Similarly, much of David Cameron’s “Broken Britain” rhetoric ignored—or denied—dramatic and unexpected improvements in social indicators. “[My emphasis.]

The Economist is too polite. I blame lying Tories, myself.

BBC, Lies And The Tory View Of The World

When next you hear a Tory, or one of his University chums at the BBC, explain that the “welfare changes” are really to help the poor and disabled, then do remind them of these relatively unreported examples:

“…[Henry Sherlock] had been “bullied and harassed” by Atos Healthcare, the French firm slammed for carrying out the humiliating eligibility tests for the Department for Work and Pensions.

Henry worked for the DWP for 18 years until he was forced to retire on medical grounds eight years ago. He lost his sight after suffering meningitis and also has chronic heart disease, diabetes and depression. He said: “I found it such a shock being on the other side of the fence.

“Being a claimant, you are treated with total disrespect.

More begging is what the Tories want:

“When I worked for the DWP it was the case that the client came first and they were given the best support possible but now all they are interested in is cutting costs.

MSPs were told how a blind former health worker, Henry Sherlock, was reduced to begging after being interviewed and reassessed by the Department of Work and Pensions and Atos Healthcare, the private firm paid to carry out fit-to-work medical assessments, claiming both of them had “harassed and bullied” him.

He told how he had been threatened with having his benefits stopped after refusing to provide personal information after receiving an unannounced call from Atos one Saturday evening.”

Read what he said.

Brain-damaged amputee fit for work, says Atos:

“An amputee who cannot walk, struggles to talk and is brain damaged has been passed “fit for work” and had his benefits cut under government reforms.

Mark Evans, from Daubhill in Bolton, said his incapacity benefits were cut by £440 a month and has been left with just £220 to pay his monthly rent, bills and food.

The 50-year-old had received incapacity benefits, now known as employment and support allowances, since 1993 when he had a brain tumour. He also had his left leg amputated below the knee in 2004 after contracting deep vein thrombosis. “

Anxiety over Atos fit-for-work test brings on father’s heart attack:

“The controversial assessments by the French IT firm are part of a benefits shake-up by the Con-Dem Government, who are looking to cut billions from the welfare bill.

Former welder Jim, who had worked all his adult life until he suffered a heart attack 18 months ago, said: “It was very clear that I wasn’t 100 per cent.

I was sweating profusely, my breath was very laboured and I had been confused during the interview.

“I wasn’t able to concentrate on a lot of what they were saying.

“They gave me a glass of water but that was it.

“They were more concerned with asking me questions such as, ‘Can you walk 200m and can you raise your arm up in the air?’”

Jim, of Cambuslang, near Glasgow, added: “I was telling them I was stressed and that I was anxious, and that I didn’t feel like I could go out and work at that moment.”

The very next day, he had a heart attack as he was walking down a street in Glasgow’s west end. “

Cecilia Burns:

“Ms Burns, a mother of two boys, was diagnosed in 2011. After surgery, she underwent months of chemotherapy, radiotherapy and was on the drug Herceptin until her death.

In March 2012, her employment support allowance was reduced by £30 and she was told she was fit to work, even though she was still undergoing treatment. “

Slow Witted Iain Duncan-Smith and LBC’s James O’Brien

LBC’s James O’Brien interviewed Iain Duncan-Smith, Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, and gave him a enough rope.

The slow witted Tory didn’t seem to understand half of the questions or the contradictions in his own answers and those of his department.Disturbances across the UK

O’Brien describes his desire to interview IDS:

“I did this because in recent months I have been trying desperately to work out whether he genuinely believes in things that I, and many others, find almost surreally implausible or whether he is, in fact, knowingly delivering rancid and divisive policies to the people while dressing them up as deserved assaults on the feckless and the workshy.

Whether. for example, he really believes that the relationship 500,000 job vacancies and 2.5 million jobseekers is somehow addressed by making some of the latter do unpaid work in the hope of equipping them with what is needed to fill some of the former.

And whether, when his own Department categorically refutes the claim that its schemes cast benefits as remuneration for labour, he really sees no dissonance or contradiction when he talks of people being ‘paid’ with JSA to do ‘work experience’. “

Listen to it here or download as an MP3.

Chagossians, An innumerate Iain Duncan Smith And More

I had hoped to start 2013 on a better footing, with longer, more thoughtful post but time and life are not so generous. I think the plight of the Chagossians deserves a wider audience:

“For the uninitiated, in the 1960s, the US wanted Diego Garcia (one of the Chagos Islands) as a major air base. It spoke nicely to the UK, its owners, who consequently evicted and banned all the inhabitants from it and the neighbouring islands. The constitutional arrangements were apparently decorous. A new UK colony was established (the British Indian Ocean Territory or BIOT) with a Commissioner to make laws for the peace, order and good government of the Territory. “

Iain Duncan Smith is a loathsome politician, but he’s also innumerate as Channel 4’s Factcheck shows:

The claim

“Tax credit payments rose by some 58 per cent ahead of the 2005 general election, and in the two years prior to the 2010 election, spending increased by about 20 per cent.”

The verdict

We asked the Revenue and Customs (HMRC), which administers work and child tax credits, how much has been paid out since the current system started under Labour in 2003 (before that it was the Working Families Tax Credit).

It said that in 2003-04, £16.4bn was paid, and the following year – the one that included the general election to which Mr Duncan Smith refers – £17.7bn.

That’s an increase of 8 per cent, not 58. “

The German army still has a problem with neo-Nazis as Zeit On-line points out, original in German or the Google translation.

In the US, White Supremacists are planning an anti-immigration rally according to the ADL.

The Guardian looks at the companies set to benefit from the privatisation of the NHS.

The Automatic Cat’s commentary is to the point:

“That doesn’t matter, anyway. The purpose of his statement was to demonise a section of the public in order to justify cuts which themselves are aimed at proving to ‘The Markets’ how fiscally astute and fearless we are. ‘The Markets’ being, in large part, the global banking system which brought us to the edge of catastrophe in the first place.

We’ve seen this kind of demonisation before, with the unemployed and the long-term ill. The suggestion that they’re really putting it on somehow, or shirking, or somehow otherwise undeserving of any help at all. It goes hand in hand with the policy that the safety net has made us all soft and needy and that taking it away will get us off our lazy behinds and make us take all those jobs which are out there.

It really won’t do. Personally I’m rather insulted that the government thinks so little of us that it believes we’ll swallow this nonsense. It shows a rather interesting lack of sophistication and, indeed, compassion. A government which believes we can be so easily manipulated is really not a government worth having. “

Reuters reminds us of the ever increasing death toll in Syria: 60,000 at the last estimate.

Will 2013 be better than 2012? Not looking good thus far.