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 »
The Paralympics Demonstration Against Atos Healthcare in London, a set on Flickr.
Yesterday, Friday August 31, was the last day of the Atos Games, a week of events organised by Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC) and UK Uncut against the jaw-dropping hypocrisy involved in Atos Healthcare, the French IT giant, being allowed to sponsor the Paralympic Games, while the company is also in charge of running the government’s Work Capability Assessments, a review process that is designed to find disabled people fit for work.
As a result, huge numbers of disabled people, who are not fit for work by any genuinely objective measure, are being driven into poverty — a wretched and cruel policy for a government that claims to have Christian values — and the results are leading directly to suicides, or other deaths through the stress involved. Undeterred, however, the government recently renewed Atos’ contract, to the tune of £400 million, and ministers are permanently involved in ignoring the inconvenient truth that, on appeal, tens of thousands of decisions made by Atos’ representatives are being overturned. The average is 40 percent, but in Scotland campaigners discovered that, when claimants were helped by representatives of Citizens Advice Bureaux, 70 percent of decisions were overturned on appeal. Read the rest of this entry »
As the cracks in the Tory-led coalition government grow more and more obvious, the biggest question may be whether it is incompetence or corruption that will depose the clowns who have been pretending to run the country for the last two years. In terms of the Olympics, which, two months ago, I described as a militarised, corporate, jingoistic disgrace, the incompetence particularly involves security and travel, and in terms of corruption, it involves the tax haven created for the duration of the Games, as reported last week.
On the security front, it was revealed that G4S, the biggest employer listed on the London Stock Exchange, with more than 650,000 staff worldwide, had spectacularly failed to fulfil its £284 million Olympics contract, in which it was supposed to provide 13,700 personnel for the Games. Just two months ago, it was reported that G4S had had 100,000 applications for 10,000 job vacancies, the inference being that all was proceeding smoothly.
That, however, was spectacularly untrue, as became apparent on Thursday, with just two weeks to go before the Games begin, when it was revealed that the government was arranging for 3,500 military personnel to be provided to make up for G4S’s inability to meet its commitment.
As the Guardian noted, “The news was met with disbelief. Diana Johnson, the shadow home office minister, tweeted: ‘This is the same G4S who aspire to win policing services through privatisation. Not reassuring.’” Read the rest of this entry »
When David Cameron responded to a Times investigation into offshore tax avoidance schemes, which found that around 1,000 individuals — including the comedian Jimmy Carr, and other celebrities, including musicians and sports stars — were paying as little as 1% of their earnings in tax through a legal, but morally unacceptable scheme in Jersey, a notorious tax haven, he decided to take the moral high ground.
Saying that media reports of Carr’s financial arrangements suggested “straightforward tax avoidance,” the Prime Minister added:
I think some of these schemes — and I think particularly of the Jimmy Carr scheme — I have had time to read about and I just think this is completely wrong [sic]. People work hard, they pay their taxes, they save up to go to one of his shows. They buy the tickets. He is taking the money from those tickets and he, as far as I can see, is putting all of that into some very dodgy tax avoiding schemes. That is wrong. There is nothing wrong with people planning their tax affairs to invest in their pension and plan for their retirement — that sort of tax management is fine. But some of these schemes we have seen are quite frankly morally wrong. The government is acting by looking at a general anti-avoidance law but we do need to make progress on this. It is not fair on hardworking people who do the right thing and pay their taxes to see these sorts of scams taking place. Read the rest of this entry »
I hope you have 25 minutes to spare to watch a new film by UK Uncut, entitled, “The Missing Billions,” which I’ve posted below. Since emerging in October 2010, the UK Uncut campaigners have protested against tax avoidance in the UK and have worked to raise awareness about cuts to public services. They have also undertaken — and encouraged others to undertake, on a kind of free franchise basis — countless actions involving theatrical occupations of corporate outlets, and are now, as they put it, “extending their actions into the courts.” See here for their legal action page — and how to donate to support their legal cases.
This is an important documentary, and a perfect follow-up to my article yesterday, RIP Karen Sherlock, Another Victim of the Tories’ Brutal, Heartless Disability Reforms, in which I not only mourned the death of disability campaigner Karen Sherlock, who was herself severely disabled, but also reiterated my sustained attack on the government’s cruelty and incompetence, with particular reference to the government’s assault on education, on the NHS, and on the unemployed and disabled.
The film includes interviews with disabled people, with others opposing the artificial age of austerity imposed on us, and also with financial experts and lawyers explaining the colossal extent of tax avoidance, and how we do not need to accept that the cost of bailing out the banks who caused the global economic crash of 2008 is being paid for through cuts, when it should be tackled by clamping down on tax evasion and tax avoidance. Read the rest of this entry »
So I’m sure you’re all aware that Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II celebrates her Diamond Jubilee this year. To mark the occasion, the Whitsun Bank Holiday has been moved from May 28 to June 4, and a Diamond Jubilee Holiday has been added on June 5, making a bumper four-day holiday, in which the emphasis will be on an expensive nationalistic back-slapping celebration of Little England myopia, and no one in government will be discussing how much this orgy of manipulative jingoism will be costing, both in terms of the celebrations, or the cost in lost productivity (which would cause outrage in government, if, for example, it came about through a strike). I also suspect that there will be little visible dissent, and certainly not my preference — hordes of anarchists on black-clad bicycles, flying black and grey Union Jacks, and with pedal-driven sound systems pumping out the Sex Pistols’ “God Save the Queen” on a permanent loop at street parties up and down the country.
One organization opposed to the jubilee celebrations are the theatrical anti-austerity activists of UK Uncut, who, on Saturday, held alternative street parties up and down the country, and, in London, took over Parkfields Road in Putney, where Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg lives. As they explained in a press release:
UK Uncut had previously only announced that their protest would directly confront the high profile ‘architects of austerity’, the politicians, bankers and tax avoiders they they see as responsible for the government’s cuts. The move to directly target politicians marks a significant change in tactics for the group which is well known for targeting tax avoiders, such as Vodafone, Sir Philip Green’s stores, Boots and Fortnum & Masons. Read the rest of this entry »
Fed up with an artificial age of austerity, designed to destroy the welfare state and transfer every remaining function of the state — the NHS, education, land, property, even the police — into private hands? Fed up with being told by wealthy, out-of-touch Tories that “we’re all in this together,” when we clearly aren’t? Fed up of the nationalistic nonsense driving the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, 35 years after the Sex Pistols’ “God Save the Queen” accurately demolished deference to the monarchy? Fed up with the corporate, militarised, jingoistic haemorrhaging of money for the Olympics?
Then you, my friend, need to attend UK Uncut’s Great British Street Party, next Saturday, May 26. As the anti-cuts direct action group explained last month in an announcement of the plans:
Britain was emerging from a World War and had a huge national debt. Much bigger than the one we face today. Did we see painful cut backs and austerity measures? No, quite the opposite. We saw the birth of our National Health Service and the Welfare State. The UK was the first country to make health care, social care and financial security accessible to all.
1948 saw the launch of ground-breaking new laws designed to protect and care for everybody in our society, including universal unemployment benefits, universal child benefits, disability benefits, rights to housing and the signing of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Read the rest of this entry »
Although the mangled corpse of Andrew Lansley’s wretched NHS reform bill was passed by Parliament a month ago, the fight to save the NHS is far from over.
On the afternoon of April 24, the campaigning group 38 Degrees, which mobilised over half a million people to oppose the government’s plans to hack up the NHS and flog off as much as possible of it to the private sector, organised, at short notice, a public meeting in London to discuss the future of the NHS, and to draw attention to another meeting taking place nearby — a conference organised by Capita and United Healthcare, two of the companies that stand to gain from the carving up of the NHS. Over 22,000 38 Degrees members sponsored the event, each paying £1 to put it on, which is a great example of people power.
The event, entitled, “Citizens and CCGs: Exploring our Future,” was chaired by Guardian journalist Zoe Williams, whose report (which managed to be informative despite striving to find humour where there is none) began by stating, “I always thought this was Andrew Lansley’s true genius — not the dismantling of the NHS itself, not the dark hold he has over David Cameron, but the phrase ‘clinical commissioning group,’ or more ingenious still, ‘consortia.’ If you can jam three words together that all take a bit of unpacking, that’s often enough to make anybody normal walk away.”
That’s true, but those who want to save the NHS do need to grapple with the basics of Lansley’s intentions — to hand over to groups of GPs (CCGs) the budget for “commissioning the medical services they decide their patients need.” With “one member of a CCG, Dr David Wrigley; the leader of the Medical Practitioners’ Union (in Unite), Dr Ron Singer; Dr Louise Irving, newly elected to the BMA council; and Roy Lilley, a founding member of the NHS Trust Federation,” the panel chaired by Williams discussed how to oppose the Act. Read the rest of this entry »
UK Uncut, the organisers of the “Austerity Isn’t Working” Dole Queue outside Downing Street this morning advised supporters to turn up for 11 am prompt for a recreation of the notorious “Labour Isn’t Working” poster from 1979 as a protest on Budget Day — and, lamentably, as a wake for the NHS. In the end, there were, at first, dozens and then hundreds of us — largely unaffiliated protestors — milling about outside Downing Street, tentatively striking up conversations with each other, while members of Coalition of Resistance, CND, the Public and Commercial Services (PCS) union and Stop the War set up stall on the other side of the road, and the organisers were nowhere in sight.
At 11 o’clock, however, it all suddenly came together, as the UK Uncut activists arrived with an “Unemployment Office” banner and hundreds of us queued up in an attempt to recreate the poster that helped Margaret Thatcher win the 1979 General Election. Because Downing Street was so crowded, it was difficult to capture a good image of the queue (which was, to be fair, a rather disorderly affair), but the atmosphere was thrilling, and after the demoralising news about the NHS yesterday it was good to be with like-minded people — even if the general impression is still that most of the country has fallen into an irreversible coma.
As a result, the organisers decided to move down to the gardens opposite Parliament, where TV broadcasters had set up a raised platform to discuss the budget, and where four of them bravely tried to soldier on with their commentary as the crowd struck up a deafening and repeated cry of “Tax the rich, not the poor.” Eventually, they gave up, and as a rather more successful attempt was made to recreate the 1979 dole queue, and various “no cuts” chants rang through the balmy air, it was clear that the event had been a success, and we had hijacked the mainstream media. Read the rest of this entry »
Tomorrow morning, please join me as I help the campaigning group UK Uncut cause a stir on Budget Day by lining up with hundreds of other people outside Downing Street to declare that “Austerity Isn’t Working,” recreating the Tories’ notorious “Labour Isn’t Working” poster that helped Margaret Thatcher win the 1979 General Election. Click on the image to enlarge.
If ever there was a time to say to the government that its plans are an unmitigated failure, it is surely now, with unemployment at a 17-year high, and youth unemployment and women’s unemployment at even more historic levels — over a million 16-24 years old, for example (22.5 percent of the total number of young people), cannot find a job.
In response, of course, while pushing ahead with a disastrous and unwanted NHS reform bill, the Tory-led coalition government has also savagely attacked those who are unemployed (as the recent workfare scandal demonstrated), as well as the working poor and, most wretchedly of all, the disabled — and, in particular, the disabled people who are unable to work, but whom the government is portraying as scroungers.
These assaults on the most vulnerable members of society would be disgraceful at the best of times, but represent an almost unspeakably cruel failure of empathy and responsible leadership, in the interests of the country as a whole, during an economic depression. And make no mistake, this clearly is a depression, as part of the slow collapse of the West after the self-inflicted economic crash of 2008, the refusal to deal with it adequately, and the fact that most manufacturing now takes place in other countries. Read the rest of this entry »
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