Category Archives: Welfare

Full Blown Hard Tory Brexit

Posted by Euan Bennet on 09/02/2017

Imagine the EU Referendum last June had resulted in the opposite result: 52% Remain to 48% Leave. Now imagine that yesterday the “Remain” Government of the UK had announced that the UK was joining the Euro, the Shengen area, and giving up all other special opt-outs that the UK enjoys as an EU member state, and that they were railroading the bill enacting this through Parliament without scrutiny in a way that hasn’t been seen in over 100 years. Imagine if the Government had threatened the House of Lords with dissolution should they not “do their patriotic duty” and approve “the will of the people”.

Imagine the outrage. That an agenda held by a small minority of citizens should be so forcefully imposed without scrutiny and under threats to both the Executive and Judiciary branches of the Government.

Of course that scenario is far-fetched, but it is the equivalent in the opposite direction of what will now be forced upon all citizens regardless of whether they voted Remain or Leave.

Last night the UK Parliament voted to allow the UK Government to trigger Article 50 and begin the formal process of leaving the European Union. In the process, not one amendment was accepted – these amendments ranged from guaranteeing the rights of EU citizens to live and work in the UK, to commissioning a full Treasury report into the likely economic impact of the decision, to requiring the agreement of the Joint Ministerial Committee (made up of the leaders of the UK, Scottish, Welsh, and Northern Irish Governments) to the final deal. Not a single amendment.

The Brexit bill can be found here.

What MPs voted for last night has been described so often as “handing the Tories a blank cheque” that that phrase now qualifies as a cliche. The Labour Party made a lot of noise last week about how they would be voting in favour of the Government bill, but only after extracting concessions. In the event, they extracted precisely zero concessions… and then voted for the bill anyway. Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has been attracting mockery for an ill-advised tweet after the Government won the vote, including from the First Minister of Scotland:

corbyn_sturgeon

The fight starts now? Seriously, Labour? I thought the Labour Party in Scotland had monopolised most of the stupid to go around in their Party, and for context today they are probably STILL saying “we are for a strong UK in the EU” with their head buried in the sand. Perhaps it’s contagious. The fight starts now. AFTER you’ve allowed the Tories to get permission to do whatever they want. Aye, very good mate. To quote Hardeep Singh Kohli – “Jog. The. Fuck. On.”.

What do the Tories want?

It’s become clear with the Prime Minister’s kow-towing to President Trump, and the Government explicitly saying it repeatedly, that a trade deal with the USA is a high priority. Leaving aside the technical point of how weak the UK’s negotiating position is with anyone, particularly a US President whose slogan is “America First” and who has espoused at length his strategy of only making deals that favour the USA and disadvantage the other parties, what would be required to compete with US companies?

  • Deregulation of workers’ rights. This has been a long-time goal of certain parts of the Tory party anyway, and I suspect it was a major motivation for many of the Brexiteers in the party.
  • Deregulation of food standards and safety. This includes many different areas, from chemical additives to animal welfare issues. The USA has significantly fewer regulations than there are in Europe.
  • Access for US companies to buy up parts of the Health Service. The current piecemeal privatisation happening in England is only the beginning.

What about the wider goals?

  • CONTROLS ON IMMIGRATION, to quote the famous Labour mug. Yesterday the UK Government snuck out an announcement that they were ending a programme for taking in lone child refugees – they had previously committed to taking 3,000 unaccompanied children in to save them from starvation, slavery or sex trafficking, but have decided to shut the doors to these most vulnerable humans after taking in only 350.
  • A European tax haven. This is not just a goal of the Tories, but given that the financial sector might just prefer to move to an EEA nation when the UK rejects the four freedoms, how else will they desperately appeal to them to stay?
  • Repealing human rights. The Tory plan is to replace the current (EU-driven) human rights laws with a “British bill of rights”. Given all that we’ve already witnessed, would anyone like to bet that a society with the Tory version of human rights would be a desirable society to live in?

 

Further implications

In my opinion, starting last night the UK set out on a truly dangerous path with no clear plan other than to let the incompetent xenophobes in the UK Government make things up as they go along. Factually, this is where we now stand:

  • The UK Government has effectively ripped up the Good Friday Agreement which is an international treaty that safeguards the peace process in Northern Ireland.
  • The UK Government has effectively forced the potential end of the United Kingdom by all but guaranteeing a second Scottish Independence Referendum, in which every single one of the winning 2014 No campaign’s arguments have been systematically dismantled by… the UK Government.
  • The UK Government has demonstrated that they would rather cosy up to a US administration whose actions are consistent with those of a fascist coup, than choose the path of diplomacy and rule of law that the European project is founded upon.
  • The UK Government has demonstrated a casual disregard for at least 48% of voters and the majority of all citizens, and intend to pursue an extreme agenda favoured by a far smaller minority.

 

Closer to home

A reminder: Every part of Scotland voted to Remain in the European Union.

result_map

We are now being dragged against our will into some sort of Europe’s North Korea dystopian future. If that’s not a “material change in circumstances” then I don’t know what is.

There will now certainly be a second Scottish Independence Referendum. And frankly, if we don’t vote for independence under the circumstances of , then we never will. And if we don’t vote for independence to choose a different path for our country, we will deserve absolutely everything that is coming to us – and that is NOT going to be pleasant.

Time to get the Yes campaign up and running again… Let’s do this!

 

 

 

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Early implications of the Budget 2015

Posted by Euan Bennet on 09/07/2015

Having read the actual budget document yesterday, I was surprised [not really] to see the front pages of the UK mainstream media proclaiming a “pay rise for all” without the appropriate caveats. Caveats such as “all, except for the young, the low-paid, and the sick”. The way the press have run with the “£9 living wage” announcement represents a very loose interpretation of reality – what was actually announced is next year the minimum wage will be £7.20 an hour, rising to £9 an hour by 2020. As long as you are 25 or over. For comparison, the Living Wage in Scotland is £7.85 an hour right now. Living wage employers in Scotland include the Scottish Government.

Of course, the mainstream media will never report that the only place any of these wages are enough to live on is some parallel universe where food and energy prices haven’t changed for the last seven years. The actual living wage is more like £10 an hour (at least). Until yesterday, this was reflected in tax credits paid to low earners. After yesterday, those tax credits are being cut, and cut hard:

I’m sure this family won’t miss that £1,357.22 a year. After all, it’s not like they need food AND electricity, is it? Image source.

As Wings over Scotland have pointed out today, even when the Daily Mail fudged and sugar-coated the numbers, they couldn’t hide the abominable transfer of wealth directly from the poorest in society to the richest.

Daily Mail says: Fantastic! Everyone is an average of £1,204 per year worse off!!! (Sincere apologies for the source)

The United Kingdom in 2020: economic apartheid

The figure below shows the distribution of income per household per week, in 2011/12. The figures are not adjusted for housing costs, but are adjusted to include social security.

See full ONS report 

Imagine you are towards the lower income end of this range – to the left of the median income line i.e. where most of the population is. We’ve already seen that the changes mean you would gain slightly in wages, but lose out by more than you gain when the changes to welfare are included. What does the Budget statement say about your situation? Let’s find out by cherry-picking some out of context quotes!

“The government believes that those in receipt of tax credits should face the same financial choices about having children as those supporting themselves solely through work.”

Sounds promising, so they’re appreciating that family social security is about making sure the children get the best possible start in life first and foremost then, right?

Wrong:

“The Budget will therefore limit support provided to families through tax credits to 2 children, so that any subsequent children born after April 2017 will not be eligible for further support. An equivalent change will be made in Housing Benefit to ensure consistency between both benefits. This will also apply in Universal Credit to families who make a new claim from April 2017.”

“The Department for Work and Pensions and HMRC will develop protections for women who have a third child as the result of rape, or other exceptional circumstances.“

But it’s ok, they’re not completely heartless. Already have two children, and happen to become pregnant after getting raped? Simply prove it some bureaucrat and everything will be fine!

Ok, so they didn’t really mean that everyone should have the same choices for their children, in terms of welfare. Maybe they meant everyone should have the same choices if one parent would like to give up work to raise their children?

“Extending parent conditionality – From April 2017 parents claiming Universal Credit, including lone parents, will be expected to prepare for work from when their youngest child turns 2, and to look for work when their youngest child turns 3”

Oh. Well at least they’ll continue to support disabled children whose parents need to provide full time care, right?

“The disabled child premia in tax credits and UC will also continue to be paid to all children with a disability.”

That’s good. Except, as we’ve already seen, a family with one adult working at the minimum wage will be £1,357.22 a year worse off because their tax credits are being cut…

If you’re well off, you’ll be fine

“Combined with the increases the government has made to the personal allowance and the introduction of the Personal Savings Allowance, from April 2016 individuals will be able to receive up to £17,000 of income per annum tax-free, and separately invest up to £15,240 per annum through an ISA tax-free.”

“The government will achieve this by taking the family home out of inheritance tax for all but the wealthiest with a new transferable nil-rate band, introduced from April 2017.”

“First time buyers will be able to deposit £200 per month into their Help to Buy: ISA at participating banks and building societies. First time buyers will be able to open their Help to Buy: ISA accounts with an additional one off deposit of £1000 so that they can start saving now.”

I wonder how much of their £20,448.79 a year a family with 2 children will be putting in an ISA to make the most of the limit being increased. Or maybe they should be putting their money in a help to buy account so they have something to pass on to their children. All nice considerations to add in to the annual “heat or eat” decision!

But what about the welfare parasites?

Corporate welfare – £93 billion per year .

Image source.

Get this collected and the national debt will be gone in no time. Let’s see what the budget has to say about it:

“The government has asked HMRC to start a dialogue with business on how to improve the effectiveness of existing IR35 [tax avoidance] legislation. “

“The government will consult on the technical details of introducing tougher measures for those who persistently enter into tax avoidance schemes”

“The corporation tax rate will be cut to 19% in 2017 and 18% in 2020.”

The change in language when discussing tax collection is very apparent when compared to how welfare is discussed in the document. Now it’s all about “dialogue” and “consulting” instead of making sure the super-rich pay their fair share. Though at least the Government are doing their bit to reduce corporation tax avoidance, by reducing the amount of tax to be paid.

Conclusion

It’ll take some time for a more detailed analysis to emerge, but it would be reasonable to expect that inequality in the UK has just taken a step change increase. The Budget was a direct transfer of wealth from the poorest in society to the wealthiest. Aspects of inequality are now going to become more firmly ingrained, and far from work being the route out of poverty, the changes to the welfare system are likely to mean more people become trapped in working poverty. Then there are the under-25s – a generation who are in danger of being left behind.

And the truly sickening thing? This Budget was announced to cheers and celebrations by our colonial masters.

Poverty and inequality – the past, present and future of the Union

Posted by Euan Bennet on 11/03/2014

This video produced by a group of charities fighting poverty has had over 66,000 views since it was uploaded eight days ago. It deserves even wider circulation as it’s a well-made, memorable presentation of just how bad a problem poverty, and in particular child poverty, are in Scotland. The group are called Scotland’s Outlook and they have gathered statistics demonstrating the impact of Westminster’s welfare cuts. Highlights include:

  • 1 in 5 Scottish children is living in poverty (over 200,000 children).
  • 65,000 more children will be pushed into poverty by 2020 than in 2012, as a result of ‘welfare reforms’.
  • HALF of children in poverty (100,000) come from households where at least one parent is in work.

This post is a follow-up to an earlier post where you can find the statistics with supporting evidence of life under the Union.

Let’s examine the evidence to see if we can draw any conclusions about which of a Yes or a No vote is more likely to achieve the aim of reducing/eliminating child poverty.

After a Yes vote

The Scottish Government’s White Paper (pages 190-196) details what can be achieved only with the powers of independence. They propose implementing “transformational” childcare policies which would bring Scotland in line with Denmark and Norway as some of the best in the world. It is estimated that eventually funding 1,140 hours of childcare per year for all children between the ages of 1 and school age will

  • Create 35,000 new jobs
  • Give thousands of parents the choice of returning to work
  • Lead to rewards later in life, since early years are very important for a child’s future development

Evidence that the Scottish Government will achieve this after Independence

  • They have already increased the number of funded childcare hours for all 3 and 4 year olds and vulnerable 2 year olds.
  • They have passed legislation which will provide free school meals for all children in primary 1 to 3.
  • They have set out a clear path (in the White Paper as cited above) of how they want to proceed to the provision of the best childcare in the world.

After a No vote

Pro-Union politicians and commentators have claimed that these childcare objectives can already be achieved with the powers of the devolved Parliament. In particular the Labour party made these claims the day that they voted against free school meals for primary 1-3 children. Such claims are disingenuous, as the following graphic describes succinctly:

childcareflowchart

This graphic appeared in the Wings article cited above.

Visit the Sealand Gazette for a curated source of similar stories.

Evidence that nothing will change after a No vote

There is more evidence that nothing will change after a No vote: simply paying attention to policy announcements by both the UK Coalition Government parties and the Labour party will tell you that. It can’t be stressed enough that if you are a voter undecided about the referendum: please look at what the Yes campaign and Scottish Government are saying and proposing, and compare that with what the No campaign and UK Government are saying, then make your choice.

To break with the dispassionate voice for a moment because it’s been difficult to sustain it for this long, I have to add that researching and writing this post was both depressing and enraging. For me, the fact that there is ANY poverty and child poverty is an absolute scandal in a country like Scotland which is the 8th richest per head in the world, never mind the levels described above.

Look at the statistics in the Scotland’s Outlook video and website. Look at the difference in the evidence of the behaviour of the two Governments. A No vote is an endorsement of the system that has brought us these levels of poverty and inequality, and a request for more of the same. It is that simple. If you plan to vote No, you’d better have a damn good reason for deeming these conditions acceptable.

‘Shared history’ is NOT GOOD ENOUGH.

‘The risks of independence’ is NOT GOOD ENOUGH. In the face of the evidence that is available, that is an insulting argument. How much worse could things actually get?

‘I just don’t like that Salmond/the SNP/one single policy’ – Grow up. It’s about so much more than that. I would like to hear reasons why you hate Salmond so much beyond ‘the media tells me he’s Satan’ though.

Aaaand breathe. Had to let the anger out. That’s better.

Look at the evidence. Weigh up the options. Decide the best option for the future of all of us who live in Scotland.

Britain-is-for-the-rich

The next stage of the Common Weal project

Posted by Euan Bennet on 09/12/2013

The Common Weal project recently ran a successful fundraising drive on Indiegogo – this new website is the first result of that. It details the alternative future available only with a Yes vote next year. Austerity is *not* the only possibility – with a bit of imagination and effort we can create a better society then we have at the moment.

There’s plenty to digest on this site alone, and there will be lots more to come on this. To briefly mention the political dimension: at least three pro-independence political parties have formally endorsed the Common Weal – none of the pro-Union parties are in favour of it. To be honest, it’s self-evident from party policies which ones would support the concept of building society differently.

As always, I am happy to direct people to other resources such as (relevant to this) the detailed papers written by the Jimmy Reid Foundation or the current Scottish Government proposals and official data.

As has been said before: for those undecided as well as those leaning towards Yes or No; read what is being proposed by supporters of independence, look at what supporters of the Union are presenting as their vision, and compare the two.

http://www.allofusfirst.com/

“For 40 years Scotland has suffered from ‘me first’ politics – and we all came second. This game of ‘winner takes all’ made the rich richer and the powerful more powerful still. But it left the rest of us in low pay and insecurity with declining public services and fragmenting communities.

There is an alternative. Other countries believe that ‘to build more we must share more’. They have created a politics based on working together, where the many benefit and not just the few. They are wealthier, fairer, more equal, more productive, more innovative, more competitive – and their people are happier.

Common Weal wants this kind of society for Scotland. We can build a better economy based on indigenous businesses that make things and on good and productive relations between workers and employers.

That economy will create better quality jobs that will make our people more prosperous.

Prosperous people can then sustain a great welfare state, and that will bring the social cohesion that makes people healthier and happier. Our national resources will be used to benefit all our citizens. Our core infrastructure will be owned collectively and the profits shared.

And by trusting in real democracy we will let the people make their own decisions, taking our future out of the hands of unelected vested interests.

There is always more than one possible future. Choose a Common Weal future.”

Pensions

Posted by Euan Bennet on 23/09/2013

Today the Scottish Government published a paper on their plans for pensions in an independent Scotland. No doubt the media will provide context and mature, sensible analysis of this document and communicate properly to the public that pensions will be safer and better under independence. But just in case they don’t, here is a link to the document itself:

The Scottish Government’s pensions paper

Headline points include:

  • The amount spent in Scotland on ‘social protection’, which includes pensions and other welfare spending, is lower in percentage of public spending and as a share of GDP than in the UK.
  • In 2011-12, social protection accounted for 38% of Scottish public spending, but 42% of UK public spending.
  • In GDP terms, in the same year social protection spending was 14.4% of GDP in Scotland, but 15.9% of GDP in the UK.
  • While all Western nations face the challenge of ageing populations, Scotland is actually projected to have a lower percentage of pensioners and hence a lower number of ‘dependents’ than the UK and many other comparable nations.
  • This is mainly due to lower life expectancy in Scotland, which is something else we’d like to address.

To establish a baseline for considering the likelihood of pensions getting better or worse, we must first recognise that the UK state pension is the second worst for both men and women of all EU member states. It is estimated that 13.2 million people of working age are not saving adequately for their future.

It’s a long and quite boring report, but helpfully Annex A (page 103) summarises the proposals and compares them to the status quo. There are 30 such proposals, all of which say some variation of “will stay the same or get better” (for example by proposing the “Triple Lock” – pensions rise by whichever is highest out of average wage, inflation, or 2.5% – until 2020 in the first instance where Westminster has only guaranteed it until 2015). Don’t just take my word for it though – take a moment to see for yourself! I would encourage anyone who is concerned about the pensions situation after independence to at least look at the preamble and Chapter 1, and Annex A.

 

Update 03/10/2013: Wings over Scotland have posted an image of Annex A to save wading through 100-odd pages to get to the interesting bit.