As we feverishly await the result of the US Presidential Election (with, to my mind, the clear recognition that there is such a thing as the lesser of two evils), I wanted to take the opportunity to shine a light on another story of government cruelty in my home country, the UK, to add to the colossal and unprecedented incompetence of the current government, under the stunningly inept leadership of Theresa May.
Unlike the Brexit debacle, which is being spectacularly mismanaged by May and her post-referendum Cabinet, the story I want to shine light on predates May, but is part of a continuum of cruelty for which the current Conservative Party is notorious; specifically, the benefit cap, introduced by George Osborne, when he was Chancellor and David Cameron was Prime Minister, and relaunched on Monday with an even more savage bite.
The benefit cap was introduced in April 2013, capping at £26,000 the total amount that any family can receive in benefits, which might have sounded fair to anyone who wasn’t really paying attention. A little thought, however, would reveal that the majority of that money went not to the claimant, but to their landlord. Read the rest of this entry »
What a horrible, despicable bunch of vicious bullies the Tories are, obsessed with making the poor poorer and the rich richer, while cynically dressing up their abuse in the language of fairness and aspiration.
In the Tories’ first budget since the electorate bizarrely freed them from the restraints of coalition with the Liberal Democrats, the Chancellor, George Osborne, delivered an ’emergency budget’ that was, no doubt, supposed to make us feel that we are in a state of emergency, still in need of savage cuts for the health of the economy, even though the false and damaging rationale for austerity has been thoroughly discredited time and again by economists, who understand that it actually stifles economic health. How Osborne has got away with his cruelty and stupidity for so many years almost beggars belief, as he has not managed to save any money, despite making life miserable for millions, but our bent media urging people to turn on one another — and a sad propensity for British people to revert to Puritan self-flagellation when prompted — seem to be to blame.
And so Osborne’s budget hit poor people hard on a number of fronts, while hiding much of the pain behind one generous gesture inherited from the Lib Dems and another that is nowhere near as good as it sounds. The former is the raising of the threshold at which tax is paid, to £11,000 a year, while the latter is the surprise announcement of what George Osborne described as a ‘National Living Wage.’
This was supposed to hide another policy tweak that is nakedly for the benefit of the rich — the raising of the threshold at which inheritance tax is paid, so that £1m houses can now be handed on to children without the state taking a penny, an increase from £650,000. Even the Daily Telegraph had trouble justifying that. “Today’s emergency Budget has brought huge inheritance tax savings for people with expensive properties,” an article explained. Read the rest of this entry »
Some of the worst nights of my life have taken place in early May — Margaret Thatcher’s first election victory on May 3, 1979 (when I was too young to even vote), and the 2010 election, on May 6, 2010, which brought a Tory-led coalition government, led by David Cameron, to power.
There were other dreadful nights, on or around May — the Tory victories on June 9, 1983, June 11, 1987 and April 9, 1992 — and after the anti-Tory euphoria of Tony Blair’s victory wore off, following New Labour’s landslide victory on May 1, 1997, the reality of a New Labour Britain was of course a huge disappointment, as the party embarked on its own neo-liberal trajectory, and the country became host to a housing price casino that was a poor substitute for an actual functioning economy — and, in 2003, also became the home of an illegal warmonger.
As a result, the rest of New Labour’s victories — on June 7, 2001 and May 5, 2005 — were also disappointing, as the party failed to remember what it was supposed to be, and continued, instead, as a general betrayer of its founding values. On those occasions, however, the disappointment in a Labour victory was, pragmatically, offset by slim gratitude that at least the Tories weren’t back in. Read the rest of this entry »
On March 15, 2015, 22 events took place in the UK, Ireland, the US and Canada to raise awareness of homelessness, under the umbrella heading, “March for the Homeless.” I attended the protest in London, opposite 10 Downing Street, where campaigners had arranged for homeless voters to register for the General Election on May 7, and there was a free food kitchen.
Homelessness has increased by 55% since the Tory-led coalition government came to power, and, of course, has increased specifically because of the introduction of certain disgraceful policies — the benefit cap, which attempted to portray those receiving benefits as the problem, when the real problem is greedy landlords; and the bedroom tax, whereby a cabinet of millionaires, with more rooms than they can count, passed legislation forcing people on benefits living in social housing who are deemed to have a “spare room” to downsize, even though there are few smaller properties to move to, and many people, treated as worthless “units” by the government and kicked out of their homes, have had to be rehoused in the private sector, thereby increasing the overall housing benefit bill.
An article in the Guardian last June stated that, in 2013, “112,070 people declared themselves homeless in England — a 26% increase in four years. At the same time, the number of people sleeping rough in London grew by 75% to a staggering 6,437.” In addition, as the Streets of London website notes, there are also “around 400,000 ‘hidden homeless’ in the UK, living out of sight in hostels, B&Bs, ‘sofa-surfing’ or squatting.” Read the rest of this entry »
Ever since the Tory-led coalition government got into power and ministers made it clear that they were seeking to do as much damage as possible to the poor, the ill, the unemployed and the disabled, and to dismantle, if possible, every state-owned enterprise, and anything that expresses some notion of communality and doesn’t involve naked profiteering, misery and uncertainty have been on the rise, and with good reason.
As I have stated in numerous articles over the last few years, the assault on the unemployed and disabled has been particularly heart-wrenching, as the Tories, their spin doctors, their Lib Dem accomplices and their cheerleaders in the mainstream media have portrayed the unemployed as skivers, despite there being only one job available for every five of the country’s 2.5 million unemployed, and have portrayed disabled people with similar flint-hearted distortions.
As a result, wave after wave of vile policies have been introduced with very little outrage from people who probably don’t regard themselves as particularly cruel or heartless — the reviews for the disabled, run by Atos Healthcare, which are designed to find people with severe mental and physical disabilities fit for work, so that their benefits can be cut; the workfare programs for the unemployed that are akin to slavery and allow well-off companies to fundamentally undermine the minimum wage; and the overall benefit cap, the most popular policy in this new Cruel Britannia, according to a YouGov poll in April, in which 79 per cent of people, including 71 per cent of Labour voters, supported it. This is forcing tens of thousands of families to uproot themselves — with all the attendant social costs, particularly for their children — and move to cheaper places, which tend to be those with high unemployment, creating ghettoes, as part of a disgraceful process of social cleansing. Read the rest of this entry »
Well, what a lovely place Britain is these days. For the last two weeks, Raquel Rolnik, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on housing, has been visiting the UK to “monitor and promote the realisation of the right to adequate housing,” visiting London, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Belfast and Manchester, where, as a UN press release explained, “she met with government officials working on housing issues, various human rights commissions, academics and civil society.” She “also carried out site visits, where she heard first-hand testimonies and discussed with individuals, campaigners and local community organisations.”
However, when she dared to criticise the deteriorating state of Britain’s social housing provision, and to call for the “bedroom tax” to be scrapped, she was laid into by senior Tories, and by the right-wing media, in a series of vile and hysterical outbursts that ought to be a disgrace to any country that claims to be civilised.
The “bedroom tax” is a widely reviled policy dreamed up by the millionaires in the Tories’ cabinet, which provides financial penalties for people living in social housing and in receipt of benefits who are deemed to have a spare room. It is forcing many people to move from homes they have lived in for decades, even though there are very few smaller properties to which they can move. Read the rest of this entry »
Ever since the Tories came to power in May 2010, aided by the Liberal Democrats, who, sadly, demonstrated that everything they professed to believe in could be discarded if it meant being in government, the very fabric of civil society in the UK has been faced with extinction. This is a country that has developed a welfare safety net to protect the most vulnerable members of society and those who have fallen on hard times, and one that has guaranteed healthcare for its entire population, through the NHS, paid for through general taxation, but the Tories are determined to destroy it, and far too many people have been fooled by their poisonous persecution of the poor and disabled, and their ideologically motivated “age of austerity,” which continues to ruin any chance of economic recovery, while plunging millions of people further into serious poverty.
On Monday, April 1, multiple welfare cuts hit hundreds of thousands of the poorest and most vulnerable members of society, and although two newspapers led with the news on their front pages — the Guardian (“The day Britain changed”) and the Daily Mirror (“D-Day for Savage Con-Dem Cuts”) — there is no sign that the British people, in general, have woken up to the full ramifications of what is being done in their name.
From the beginning of the Tories’ attack on the state, the government and large parts of the media have successfully lied about the unemployed and the disabled being scroungers and shirkers, creating a climate of mean-spiritedness and hatred amongst my fellow citizens that I have found to be both shocking and disgraceful, because the blunt truth, which anyone could find out if they could be bothered, is that there are around 2,500,000 people unemployed but only 500,000 job vacancies. Read the rest of this entry »
Last Wednesday, while George Osborne was delivering his Autumn Statement, taking aim at the most vulnerable members of society once more, with another savage attack on the welfare state, I was in central London, and I returned home after he had made his smug and visibly heartless performance in the House of Commons, when the Evening Standard was already announcing his new attack on the poor and disabled.
The Standard‘s headline — “George Osborne hits welfare for poor and raids pensions of rich” — was not exactly a ringing endorsement of the Chancellor’s statement, but it failed to dent the prejudices of the two women next to me, who were returning home, presumably from their office jobs. As they idly perused the paper, they complained about the amount of money the unemployed receive, followed swiftly by a complaint that they then sit around at home doing nothing. There was no mention of the fact that most of what the unemployed receive from the government goes to their landlords, or that there is still only one job for every five people who are unemployed, let alone the fact that a large proportion of benefits are actually paid to working people who aren’t otherwise paid enough money to survive on. Why let anything that might lead you to regard the unemployed as fellow human beings interfere with some knee-jerk bigotry?
Complaining that they too were suffering, they then spent the rest of their journey home — disturbingly, to Brockley, where I also live — rather undermining their case, by talking about party dresses and which gyms they attended. Read the rest of this entry »
I was sorry to see Sarah under the yoke of this hideous government, because she clearly had more humanity than all the other ministers, and, although she undoubtedly was trying to do her best for those in need, it was also clear to me that she would be unable to do anything much that was worthwhile in a government so dedicated to making the poorest people in society suffer as much as possible. I knew of her humanity, and of her dedication as a constituency MP, because she had very actively campaigned for one of her constituents, Jamil El-Banna, a prisoner in Guantánamo who was released five years ago, and I had met her during that time.
On Sunday, Sarah Teather broke her silence in fine style, telling the Observer, in no uncertain terms, that the government’s welfare reforms are unacceptable, and that, in particular, the one-size-fits-all benefit cap, being introduced in April, is cruel and immoral. Read the rest of this entry »
Investigative journalist, author, campaigner, commentator and public speaker. Recognized as an authority on Guantánamo and the “war on terror.” Co-founder, Close Guantánamo, co-director, We Stand With Shaker. Also, singer and songwriter (The Four Fathers) and photographer.
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