More on rich scum

Image of young rich and poorRich scum are used to people sucking up to them. There’s no need to do that of course – they’re only rich scum. Class War was probably the best at not sucking up to the rich.

Image reads "The rich and powerful piss on us and the media tells us it's raining"One thing about rich scum is that they consume hugely so making massive contributions to climate change. Private jets, superyachts, expensive cars, frequent flying, owning and maintaing large residences or private islands.
Image of a Ferrari driven into a lampost

Superyachts are not really yachts – they’re more like floating hotels or small cities. They’re so big that they have to follow shipping lane routes like oil tankers. Consider their contribution to climate change and all for what?

Image of superyacht Mayan Queen

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Cabinet minister ‘misled’ Parliament over welfare reform

Andrew Lansley, a Tory Cabinet minister, is facing claims that he misled Parliament after doubts were cast on his denial that ministers attempted to influence a report by MPs into the Universal Credit fiasco

Image of Andrew Lansley

Andrew Lansley, the Leader of the House, earlier this month told the Commons that there was “no truth” to allegations that ministers had approached Tory MPs on the public accounts committee to ask that its report name and shame his department’s permanent secretary, Robert Devereux.

The PAC report said that £140million had been squandered on the flagship welfare reform and accused the Government of “alarmingly weak” management.

Mr Duncan Smith denied allegations that he had attempted to have anyone blamed in the report.

However, Margaret Hodge, the committee’s chairman, has now cast doubt on those claims and said that senior figures in the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) had sought to influence her report.

In comments to students on November 11 – four days after the publication of he committee’s report – Mrs Hodge said: “I can’t tell you how much inappropriate talking there was to me and other members of the committee, by both ministers and civil servants, either to get me to blame the permanent secretary in the DWP and therefore transfer blame away from Iain Duncan Smith or to put the blame on Mr Devereux and to ensure ministers escaped blame.”

Continue ReadingCabinet minister ‘misled’ Parliament over welfare reform

Iain Duncan Smith and the Tories F*Up again: Training people to use universal credit ‘could cost hundreds of millions’

Research shows many benefit claimants will need extensive help to get online, open bank accounts and manage budgets

Image of Iain Duncan SmithEquipping benefit claimants with the digital and financial skills to use the government’s new universal credit welfare system is likely to cost hundreds of millions of pounds, unpublished research commissioned by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has found.

The study, carried out by three London councils using DWP data and a methodology agreed with Whitehall officials, found they would each need to spend about £6m over a two-year period to support vulnerable claimants to get online, help them open bank accounts and manage monthly budgets.

The research, seen by the Guardian, , reveals the extent to which socially excluded claimants will struggle with the huge cultural and behavioural changes demanded by universal credit, and warns that without help, those who fail to get to grips with the new welfare system will face debts, arrears and eviction, leading to a rise in homelessness.

It suggests councils, charities and private companies will be required to deliver millions of hours of specialist training and support face-to face and over the telephone to ensure claimants are confident and technically proficient enough to use the system.

Around one in 10 users of the system are likely to need intensive or ongoing support, it finds.

The scale and cost will unnerve ministers, who are struggling to roll out the beleaguered £2.4bn universal credit system, and have admitted that they have already written off at least £140m on failed IT systems for the project. Ministers are expected to decide by Christmas whether to write off universal credit altogether and start again, or reduce it in size and complexity to make it more manageable.

Those behind universal credit see it as an opportunity to tackle digital and financial exclusion for up to 8m households. Iain Duncan Smith, the work and pensions secretary, has called it a chance for claimants to “get back in to the 21st century“.

But while they anticipated that this would require some investment, they are understood to be taken aback by the potential size of the support bill – which could reach £100m for London alone – and have ordered departmental analysts to see if it can be reduced.

Under universal credit, six existing benefits will be rolled into a single monthly payment, out of which claimants will be expected to pay rent, spread living costs over a four-week period, and provide regular online updates marking changes in their income and job status. Unemployed claimants will also have to search for jobs online.

Continue ReadingIain Duncan Smith and the Tories F*Up again: Training people to use universal credit ‘could cost hundreds of millions’

Archbishop attacks UK food poverty

Image of Archbishop of York, John SentamuJohn Sentamu calls for ‘more equitable, more caring world’ and questions effects of government’s welfare reforms

The archbishop of York has attacked the “new and terrible” blight of food poverty and increasing malnutrition in Britain, questioned the effects of the government’s welfare reforms and called for a renewal of the postwar spirit that hungered for “a more equitable, more caring world”.

In a long and often angry address to the Church of England general synod on Tuesday, John Sentamu said static salaries and rising prices had left nine million people living below the breadline at a time when the chief executives of the UK’s 100 biggest companies were earning on average £4.3m – 160 times the average national wage.

“We are an advanced economy, a first-world country, and we have been one for longer than most,” said the archbishop. “But we suffer from blight – increasing poverty in a land of plenty.”

Sentamu, who chairs the Living Wage Commission, said politicians needed to stop referring to “hard-working” families and recognise that they were instead “hard-pressed” families struggling to survive despite their best efforts.

“Once upon a time you couldn’t really be living in poverty if you had a regular income,” he said. “You could find yourself on a low income, yes. But that is not longer so. You can be in work and still live in poverty.”

Reports of malnutrition and food poverty in Yorkshire “disgrace us all, leaving a dark stain on our consciences”, he said. “How can it be that last year more than 27,000 people were diagnosed as suffering from malnutrition in Leeds – not Lesotho, not Liberia, not Lusaka but Leeds?”

The effects of the government’s welfare reforms, Sentamu said, were “beginning to bite – with reductions in housing benefit for so-called under-occupation of social housing, the cap on benefits for workless householders and single parents, and the gradual replacement of the disability living allowance with a personal independence payment”.

He questioned whether the bedroom tax made economic sense, as those leaving accommodation to avoid the under-occupancy charge were being rehoused in private lodgings at a greater cost. He expressed incredulity that the statutory minimum wage had been raised by just 12p last month.

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Bedroom tax affected more than 522,000 people, first figures show

The government has released the first statistics showing the impact of the controversial subsidy withdrawal in August

More than 522,000 housing benefit claimants were subject to the bedroom tax in August and had their housing benefit reduced by an average of £14.50 a week, official figures show.

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) said the figures were the first official returns on the impact of the controversial tax, or bedroom subsidy withdrawal.

They show more than 429,000 people were penalised for having one bedroom too many, losing an average of £12.66 a week; more than 92,000 were penalised for having two excess bedrooms, and were losing an average of £23.43 a week.

The government said there had been a steady fall in the number of households affected, with 24,000 fewer claimants affected than in May.

Continue ReadingBedroom tax affected more than 522,000 people, first figures show

Bedroom tax debate

The Labour party has called an opposition day debate on the subject of the bedroom tax. The bedroom tax has proved hugely disruptive to poor families and the disabled. The debate may be ongoing now or I may have missed it.

Iain Duncan Smith – the architect of the bedroom tax – will avoid the debate.

A group of five Liberal Democrat MPs have broken ranks and signed a motion demanding reform of the bedroom tax.

Ahead of an opposition day debate on what the coalition calls the ‘spare room subsidy’, Greg Mulholland, Ian Swales, Adrian Sanders, Roger Williams and John Leech said no-one should be subject to the financial penalty unless they had refused a suitable alternative home.

“I understand what the government is trying to do. They are trying to cut council house waiting lists and equalise rent levels by extending something the last Labour government brought in for private sector homes,” Leech said.

“My main problem with the plans is that, because Labour didn’t build enough social housing, there aren’t enough houses for people to downsize into.”

Today Labour is calling time on David Cameron’s hated Bedroom Tax with a vote in parliament for its immediate repeal. The tenuous case for the policy now lies in tatters, with mounting evidence that it is not only flagrantly unfair but also counterproductive as a way of controlling benefit costs.

The 660,000 families affected include 400,000 disabled people and 375,000 children. Through no fault of their own, some of Britain’s hardest-pressed low-income households are expected to find, on average, an extra £720 a year – or face losing their home.

This punitive penalty presents appalling dilemmas for vulnerable families already struggling to survive at the sharp end of David Cameron’s cost-of-living crisis. The loss of income is equivalent to losing all child benefit paid for a second or subsequent child – or more than the average cost of a daily school meal. The result has been more people resorting to Food Banks, according to the Trussell Trust, as well as expanding opportunities for payday lenders.

Surveys suggest that as many as half of those affected are already behind with their rent – the mounting arrears further destabilising the precarious finances of local housing providers. And the costs of evicting those who can’t pay, and dealing with the resulting homelessness, could be astronomical.

Danny Alexander is thought to be “embarrassed” after his own father publicly called the bedroom tax – arguably the symbol of the coalition’s welfare cuts – “particularly unfair”. It would be something if embarrassment were sufficient to end seven months of incompetence and pain. Even shame doesn’t seem to work. If it did, stories of a 13-year-old boy, unable to walk or talk, being told to spend his care allowance on his family’s extra rent might have done it. Or a single mother taking an overdose because she couldn’t bear the debt the bedroom tax had put her in.

The systematic hacking of social security from this country’s most vulnerable has been done with barely a whimper of remorse from the most powerful. This government seems to almost revel in the mess it makes, blustering past criticism from experts, committees and courts. The vulnerable are afraid. They have reason to be. Leaders who have no affection for logic, let alone fairness, are quite terrifying.

It was clear before the bedroom tax was even implemented back in April that it was largely going to hurt people with disabilities or illness and people living in poverty; the sections of society who could least afford the charge and who had no way of escaping it. The government either didn’t notice or they didn’t care. Which, I wonder, is worse?

Labour has criticised Iain Duncan Smith, the work and pensions secretary, for missing a debate on the bedroom tax, which the party will argue is unfair and fails to save the taxpayer money.

The policy will be discussed in an opposition day debate in parliament on Tuesday, giving MPs a vote on whether to repeal the cuts to housing benefit for claimants with a spare bedroom.

Labour argues that the bedroom tax is unworkable as the vast majority of the 660,000 people affected are not able to move to smaller accommodation. However, the coalition describes the move as removing a spare room subsidy and believes it will save the taxpayer around £500m.

Rachel Reeves, the shadow work and pensions secretary, said the secretary of state’s absence showed how out of touch the government was on the issue.

“This vote gives MPs a chance to show where they stand and vote to repeal this unjust and unworkable policy,” she said. “If Tory and Lib Dem MPs vote against repeal, we won’t let them forget it – and we’ll step up our campaign to elect a Labour government that will.”

The Department for Work and Pensions said Duncan Smith was unable to be at the debate because he would be in Paris for an international summit on youth unemployment, which would be attended by Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, and François Hollande, the French president.

Continue ReadingBedroom tax debate

The lobbying bill is a gift to union bashers

Given what we know about blacklisting, the lobbying bill’s demands on union membership lists pose a sinister threat

The government’s lobbying bill may be in trouble, but its attack on the confidentiality of union membership records continues in the Lords on Monday. To avoid what would have been a stonking defeat, ministers last week announced a “pause” on part two of this troubled bill, which would restrict free speech for groups other than political parties during an election campaign. The huge opposition it has provoked from across the political spectrum forced the government into this tactical retreat.

But this is no time to celebrate. The government has merely delayed debate in the House of Lords until December on part two – and it has brought forward to later on Monday the attacks on trade union membership contained in part three of the bill. They still aim to finish the bill by Christmas. Debating it in a different order is no victory for campaigners.

No one other than unions might be thought to be interested in plans for tying up union membership systems in blue tape. But there are wider questions at stake about how much personal data should be open to the state and its organs. The bill requires unions to appoint independent membership “assurers” from a list provided by government. These assurers, plus the government-appointed union regulator (the certification officer), and any other investigators appointed, will all have access to union membership records.

Any employer or political opponent of trade unionism will be able to make complaints about membership, which have to be investigated. As the extent of blacklisting in the construction industry has been revealed, members are naturally concerned at union lists being made open.

The government is unable to say why this section of the bill is needed. There is already a strong legal requirement on unions to have robust membership lists. Unions need efficient systems to collect subscriptions and they know that if there is anything dodgy about the membership in a strike ballot, the employer will win an injunction.

Freedom of information requests have established that no one has called on the government to introduce such a measure. And, according to its website, the Certification Office has received no complaints from trade union members relating to registers since 2004. On top of that, between 2000 and 2004 only six complaints were received – five of which were dismissed and no declaration was issued for the sixth.

Continue ReadingThe lobbying bill is a gift to union bashers