austerity

Shameless Tory Press Continues to Promote the Policies That Are Killing the Health Service

This year is the 70th anniversary of the greatest achievement of Clement Atlee’s government: the creation of the NHS. This was to be a system of socialised medicine, which was to be universal and free at the point of delivery. And the Tory right has hated it ever since.

The BBC has been commemorating the NHS’s birth with a series of programmes, including A People’s History of the NHS. The series’ name recalls the book, A People’s History of the United States, which looked at the history of the US from the point of view of ordinary Americans, including women, Blacks and other minorities, who have had to struggle to gain their freedoms, rather than the elite White men who framed the Constitution. These last were rich patricians, who feared real American democracy because it would lead to attacks on their privileged social position. Needless to say, the book has not been popular with Republicans.

At the same time, the NHS is in acute crisis due to the massive funding cuts inflicted by Cameron’s and Tweezer’s Tory administrations. Tweezer has declared that she will put so many billions into the NHS by 2022, but her estimations still fall short of what is actually required. Besides, regarding the NHS, the Tories cannot be trusted on anything. Remember how David Cameron promised he was going to ringfence NHS spending so that it would not be affected by his austerity programme? The first thing he did when he got in No. 10 was wind up his campaign against Labour’s hospital closures, starting closing them himself, and cut funding to the NHS. And then resume the Thatcherite programme of dismantling it through piecemeal privatisation.

So what has been the attitude of the Tory press to the current NHS crisis? Well, the Spectator, Telegraph and various other right-wing rags have decided to go on as usual, promoting the same policies that are destroying this most precious of British institutions. They’ve declared that extra money isn’t needed, just more cuts to eliminate waste, and that rather than the Tories reforms destroying it, they’re needed more than ever.

Neither is remotely true. The cuts imposed by the Tories have manifestly not led to any improvements. The only thing they have done is lifted the tax burden for the extremely rich. At the same time, the privatisations the Tories and their predecessor, New Labour, have insisted upon have not increased efficiency either. They’ve actually led to closures of hospitals and GPs’ surgeries as the private companies running them have sought to increase their profits. Far from being more efficient, private healthcare is actually more expensive and wasteful than state healthcare, as private firms have advertising and legal departments and must show a profit for their shareholders. Private hospitals, whatever Jeremy Hunt may rave about them, are typically smaller than their NHS counterparts. About forty percent of the expenditure in private healthcare firms may be in administration, a much higher percentage than that of the nationalised NHS.

Private healthcare is wasteful and inefficient. Which is why the Tory and New Labour businessmen and politicos with links to it want to remove the NHS and give private medicine instead state support.

And those voices, demanding that the NHS be privatised through more free market reforms, are shouting in the Speccie and Torygraph. And I’ve noticed that these are the pieces that are being reprinted in the I’s opinion matrix column, which selects pieces from elsewhere in the press. To my knowledge, the column has not included any newspaper pieces demanding that the NHS be renationalised. Because that’s one of Corbyn’s dreadful Trotskyite policies, obviously.

This shows the real contempt the hacks and management at both the Spectator and the Torygraph, as well as the other Conservative rags that share their views on NHS reform, have for the people of this country. They want the NHS to be privatised, and so British people’s health to suffer catastrophically, just to create more profits for the private healthcare firms, on whose boards they serve, and give more tax cuts to the already obscenely rich, while the poor are forced further into poverty.

Get them out, and Corbyn in for a government that really cares about the NHS.

A very British disease

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 18/06/2018 - 3:35am in

The desire to judge people's motives rather than addressing their needs is a “British disease”. We have been suffering from it for hundreds of years, cycling endlessly through repeated cycles of generosity and harshness. Each cycle ends in public outrage and an abrupt reversal: but the memory eventually fades, and the disease reappears in a new form. In this post, I outline the tragic history of Britain's repeated attempts to "categorise the poor".

For centuries, successive British social systems have recognised that there are people who cannot work, whether because they are too young, too old, too ill or too infirm. These people need to be provided for by others – in the first instance families, but where family support networks break down, support must be provided by the wider community.

And for centuries, successive British social systems have also recognised the existence of people who are perfectly capable of working but are not doing so. Most of these people are unemployed due to economic circumstances. But a small minority are not working because they don't want to. And an even smaller minority pretend to be ill, infirm or unfortunate in order to claim benefits, often while working on the sly.

In mediaeval times, most social support was provided by the Church, through the monasteries and the parishes. But after the dissolution of the monasteries, far more of this responsibility fell on the parishes. Welfare provision in Tudor times became patchy and inconsistent – good in some places, less good in others. Eventually, the Poor Laws of 1601 recognised and codified “good practice” in the care of those who could not provide for themselves. Poorhouses were established, in which the old, ill and infirm were cared for, and orphanages were created to house, feed and educate children.It all sounds very civilised.

But there was a darker side. People who were physically unable to provide for themselves were not the only people without work in Tudor times. Unemployment was already high at the time of the dissolution of the monasteries, and it was accompanied by persistently high inflation. A growing number of able-bodied people were either not working or not earning enough to support themselves.

There had been a history of vagrancy in England ever since the Black Death. Once feudal ties were loosened by the shortage of able-bodied workers, some people got into the habit of moving from place to place looking for the best-paid work. The first law controlling wages and restricting movement of labour appeared in 1349 and was reinforcedin 1351. But these were poorly enforced and ineffective. And they did not address the growing number of “sturdy beggars” travelling from place to place, supporting themselves with a mixture of casual work, petty crime and begging.

Such itinerant workers were regarded with fear and suspicion, much as modern-day “travellers” are. The first law outlawing “wandering” appeared in 1388. Initially the punishment amounted to public humiliation: the offender was to be put in the stocks until he could persuade someone to pay for him to return to his “hundred”.

Yet many wanderers were repeat offenders: as fast as they were sent back to their hundreds, they left again. There is little doubt that to start with, many were simply migrating around the country in search of better-paid work, while others were professional beggars (and in the case of women, prostitutes) who knew they could make more money in a place where they were not known – rather like today's homeless man in a doorway, accompanied by obligatory dog, who takes the Tube back to his flat in Mill Hill at the end of a successful day's begging*. But once unemployment started to rise in Tudor times, their ranks were swelled by men, women and children who were genuinely unable to find steady work.

The trouble was that no-one distinguished between the genuinely unemployed and the professional vagrants. Punishments for vagrancy became increasingly harsh: in 1530, the Vagabonds Act licensed begging by the old and infirm, but provided for any able-bodied person found wandering outside their hundred to be “whipped until bloody” then forcibly returned to their hundred and compelled to work. The only people excused from this were heavily pregnant women and children under seven.

The legislation was strengthened in 1536, when provision was made for mutilation, imprisonment or execution of repeat offenders. And in 1547, a law was passed allowing for enslavement of vagrants. These laws proved too much for the magistrates: neither law was ever enforced. The 1547 law was repealed in 1550, and the death penalty for vagrancy was abolished in 1597. Imprisonment was as far as magistrates would go. Thus were born the first “workhouses”.

They weren't called workhouses at that time. They were known as “houses of correction”. The idea was that “sturdy beggars” were choosing not to work and therefore had a bad work ethic, which needed to be “corrected”. This was done by imposing hard physical work and a spartan regime.

The Poor Laws codified this distinction. Poorhouses were for the “deserving poor” - those who, through no fault of their own, were incapable of working. “Houses of correction” were for the “undeserving poor” - those who were perfectly capable of working but were choosing not to do so.. But not many of the unemployed actually ended up in houses of correction. Belatedly, Poor Law legislators realised that unemployment was not necessarily wilful, and so chose to support the majority of unemployed with “outdoor relief”, or what we would now call unemployment benefit.

“Outdoor relief” was originally introduced to support agricultural labourers suffering seasonal unemployment. Usually it involved some form of workfare, which was supposed to be socially useful but unfortunately included such beneficial activities as parking the unemployed on benches and leaving them there all day. Finding useful work for the unemployed to do was not always easy for parish administrators in times of high unemployment: modern proponents of a countercyclical job guarantee system might like to take note. They also faced the problem known as “hysteresis”, where the skills of the unemployed degenerate over time.

All manner of creative solutions to the twin problems of unemployment and hysteresis were adopted. The so-called “labour rate” was a property tax specifically used to fund the employment of agricultural labourers. The “roundsman” system was a job guarantee system funded by parishes to ensure that all agricultural labourers were productively employed: it depressed wages, but at least it kept people busy. Philanthropists, too, did their bit to relieve unemployment: one clergyman with more money than sense even built a completely useless tower near Rothbury, Northumberland, purely to keep local stonemasons occupied. And the Speenhamland system of income support attempted to ensure that periods of unemployment and under-employment coupled with high inflation did not leave families struggling to afford bread.

The Poor Laws were in many ways a benevolent institution, reversing the harshness of Tudor times. But the cost of all this assistance grew higher and higher as the population increased in the Industrial Revolution, raising concerns about its affordability. And there was a growing belief that supporting people with benefits destroyed people's incentive to work and was therefore a bad idea from both an economic and, more importantly, moral point of view. Rather than discouraging work with benefits, therefore, people should be compelled to work, if necessary with the threat of starvation.

Driven by both moral and economic concerns, the Old Poor Laws were replaced in 1834with a new systemdesigned to ensure that people took responsibility for providing for themselves and their families. No more were parishes to provide unemployment benefits or income support (although in practice many continued to do so). No longer was there to be any attempt to distinguish between those who would not work and those who could not. Poorhouses and houses of correction merged to create a single institution – the workhouse. And into the workhouse went the old, the ill, the infirm, widows, orphans, the unemployed and their families.

Conditions in workhouses were deliberately harsh. It was believed that “work should pay”, and therefore workhouses should be a last resort for the desperate. Work itself was believed to be virtuous. So workhouses provided just that – work. Hours and hours of it. Pointless, boring, demeaning work such as breaking stones, picking oakum or – stupidest of all – walking a treadmill. The regime was harsh, food was basic and there was no leisure time. You were not in a workhouse to enjoy yourself. Nor were you there to be cared for if you were incapable of work: the old concept of the benevolent poorhouse had gone. Everyone, old, young, ill, infirm, widows and unemployed, were subject to the same regime. Regardless of the circumstances, you were in a workhouse because you had committed the crime of worklessness. There were no mitigating factors.

Because it was believed that worklessness was caused by moral defect, steps were taken to prevent such moral degeneracy from spreading. People who entered workhouses often died there. Children were separated from their parents, often never to see them again. And husbands and wives were separated, usually permanently.

And yet, for all their harshness, Victorian workhouses had benefits. They provided basic healthcare and education, which many people “on the outside” could not afford. This rudimentary safety net made them particularly attractive to the old and those with children. Because of this, they failed in their basic aim, which was to force everyone to support themselves.

The Victorian period was a time of bizarre contradictions: of appalling cruelty inflicted with the best of motives, and of real social improvements coupled with grinding poverty for far too many. The foundation of the modern welfare state was laid during that time, as campaigners and politicians genuinely concerned about the hardships of the poor enacted legislation to improve their lot.

But the moral beliefs that drove both the harsh treatment of vagrants in the 16th century and the unintended cruelty of the Victorian workhouse system persist to this day.

The idea that “work must pay” encourages politicians to make claiming benefits extremely difficult for the unemployed and – more worryingly – for those who are unable to work due to illness or infirmity, just as in Victorian times, workhouse conditions were made deliberately harsh to discourage people from entering them.

Politicians castigate “generational worklessness”, promoting the idea that a tendency to worklessness is somehow inherited, passed on from parents to children. It was this idea that led to the brutal separation of families in the workhouses.

Above all, there remains a strong belief in the moral virtue of work. Work is indeed important for human dignity, so making it possible for people to work is important: but in what way mind-numbingly boring, pointless and demeaning work is dignifying and virtuous is hard to imagine. Nonetheless, the idea that people should be forced to do basic work to “earn” their benefits – even if their time might be better spent looking for a job that actually uses their skills - is electorally popular.

Underlying this lies the unwarranted assumption that all jobs are intrinsically of value and therefore anyone who turns down work because it is poorly paid, socially useless and utterly boring is lazy. It was this idea that led to workhouse inmates being forced to work long hours in dreary, pointless jobs. Today, we impose benefit sanctions on people who turn down the dreary, pointless jobs we assign to them in the name of “work experience”. Giving it a different name doesn't change its nature. It's the workhouse work ethic all over again.

It is perhaps understandable that we feel angry when we see people we think should be working but aren't. And it is also understandable that when times are hard, we resent paying benefits to those we feel don't deserve them. I suppose the anger that we feel towards those we regard as “scroungers” and “shirkers” will never go away. But categorising the poor is not only difficult – it is harmful, not to the shirkers and scroungers, but to the genuinely deserving. And it is also economically damaging for society as a whole.

Compelling people to work depresses wages for everyone. Harsh treatment of the workless enables employers to bid down wages to the floor in the certain knowledge that people will accept any work, at any price, rather than face the consequences. In Victorian times, fear of the workhouse depressed wages on the outside, forcing workhouses to respond by making conditions inside even worse. There was a race to the bottom in grimness which culminated in the famous Andover workhouse case, where starving inmates were reduced to eating the bones they had been assigned to grind down to make fertilizer. Today, we withdraw unemployment benefits from people who refuse even unpaid “work”. Is it any wonder that real unskilled wages have been falling?

Falling wages mean reduced demand in the domestic economy and lower tax revenues. If there are in-work benefits, falling wages also mean higher benefit bills. The “roundsman” system resulted in unsustainable benefit bills, as employers under-employed at market rates in the knowledge that they could pay less for the “reserve army” of unemployed labourers auctioned off by the parishes. These days, we prevent Dutch auctions in unskilled labour by imposing minimum wages. Ostensibly, this is to “make work pay”: but as benefit withdrawal for people on minimum wages can mean marginal tax rates of 100% or more, work at the minimum wage may not actually pay at all, though it does limit the benefit bills. But we haven't addressed the root cause of the problem: because we still subscribe to Victorian ideas that people will prefer to live on benefits than work to improve their lot, we are still – nearly two hundred years later – trying to compel people to work. The result is spiralling regulation and intervention in labour markets to limit the race to the bottom that such compulsion causes. We have learned nothing from our history.

But worst of all, using rules and sanctions to compel the genuinely work-shy to work diverts attention and resources away from those who really need help. And it unfairly stigmatises the vast majority of those who are not working, or who are not working as many hours as we think they should, whether through unemployment, sickness or disability. Study after study has shown that in general, people want to work. The problem is that suitable jobs aren't always available. And yet there remains a prevalent view, even among people who should know better, that people must be compelled to work, or to work harder, with harsh treatment. But today's sanctions for those who won't or can't work are mild compared to the punishments of old: why should they be any more successful? We would do better to concentrate our attention on helping those who genuinely want to work to find fulfilling, productive and well-paid jobs.

And we should also stop trying to decide whether someone “deserves” social support. We have been trying to distinguish between the “deserving” and “undeserving” poor for eight hundred years, and we are no better able to make that judgement now than we were in the fourteenth century, or the sixteenth, or the nineteenth.

It is time to give up this fruitless attempt to judge people's motives. Simply provide everyone with a basic income so that they can afford to live, then let them get on with whatever they want to do.

_________________________________________________________________________________

Related reading:

Rolling out Universal Credit - National Audit Office
Productivity and Employment - Coppola Comment

* I do not mean to suggest that all homeless beggars in London are frauds. But we should recognise that professional begging exists today just as it did in the fourteenth century. Some things never change.

Image is The Andover Bastille, a cartoon from the time of the Andover case. Courtesy of Wikipedia

This post was originally published on PieriaView in 2014, under the title "Categorising the Poor". 

Book Review: Public Sector Reform in Ireland: Countering Crisis by Muiris MacCarthaigh

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 14/06/2018 - 8:28pm in

In Public Sector Reform in Ireland: Countering Crisis, Muiris MacCarthaigh focuses on the unprecedented public sector reform agenda of the Irish government introduced to counter the impact of the Global Financial Crisis (GFC). This book provides a valuable, ‘thick’ academic analysis of cutback management by studying the case of Ireland, one of the most badly affected states. Yao Han appreciated its contribution to research on state retrenchment and reform from the perspective of the reformers.

Public Sector Reform in Ireland: Countering Crisis. Muiris MacCarthaigh. Palgrave. 2017. 

Find this book: amazon-logo

Beginning in late 2007, the Global Financial Crisis (GFC) exposed many states with fiscal imbalance and creeping public debt. In his new book, Public Sector Reform in Ireland: Countering Crisis, Muiris MacCarthaigh explores how the Irish government embraced the opportunity brought about by the crisis and retrenched the state.

The GFC pushed states to reform their public sectors. MacCarthaigh seized the rare chance to study state retrenchment in response to the GFC in 2011. His interest in the ambitious reform agenda met the desire of Robert Watt, the Secretary-General at the new Department of Public Expenditure and Reform (PER or DPER, pronounced ‘deeper’), to record all of the experiences and lessons of reform, allowing MacCarthaigh to go behind the doors of the Irish government to document and analyse the process primarily between 2013-15, with some follow-up data gathered up until 2016. The arguments throughout the book are supported by detailed evidence based on interviews with officials. Hence, Public Sector Reform in Ireland invaluably contributes to the study of state retrenchment as a response to the GFC from an insider perspective.

MacCarthaigh notes that although Ireland had reformed under New Public Management (NPM) principles since the early 1990s, the measures and changes introduced had not really reflected the essence of NPM, which emphasises efficiency and market-based objectives. The financial crisis created an opportunity for the Irish public sector to truly engage in NPM concepts through deep state retrenchment. The DPER was created to undertake the Irish reform. It led this by strengthening the coordination between individual sectors, which could be explained in accordance to the Post-NPM model which advocates ‘a strengthening of coordination through more centralized or collaborative capacity’ (Lodge and Gill 2011, 143). In particular, the new Minister Brendan Howlin, Watt and senior officials were empowered and legitimised to initiate a wide-ranging, whole-government public reform agenda taking advantage of the window created by the crisis, which corresponds to John W. Kingdon’s (1995) model of a policy window.

Image Credit: Government Buildings, Dublin (Gian Luca Ponti CC BY SA 2.0)

A newly established department does not necessarily have the de facto power to make other departments obey its orders or fulfill its expectations to reduce spending. But DPER did it successfully. MacCarthaigh nonetheless shows the frictions during the process. For example, the people inherited from the old department were very defensive when DPER was introduced. Some large spending departments – which remain anonymous within the book – felt that the public expenditure control was very difficult and that DPER did not understand them well. One Secretary-General of a department mentioned that DPER did not know operations and did not listen to people who did.

The author also shows how successes occurred. The window of opportunity offered by the crisis played a key role. The common atmosphere created by the GFC and the tiresome work of fighting against the crisis meant that resistance was not high. The DPER also reorganised institutional structures to meet its objectives. One example is the annual ‘away days’ held by DPER, which provided a platform for those at middle-management levels and above to hear from the outside and communicate public responses and media coverage about the reform. This helped the new department obtain feedback and adjust its strategies accordingly, which minimised the cost of the reform. It also fostered a bottom-up approach and brought in more opinions from diversified sources across levels. A new culture was thus able to form when time and space were created for the once-isolated top civil servants and the rank-and-file members to communicate and debate.

MacCarthaigh documents and analyses the organisational reform and rationalisation to reduce the size and cost of the public sector. Decentralised and individual sectors can make more efficient decisions pertaining to their specific functions or contexts. However, the advantage of shared services is also recognised by the reformers. The detailed description by MacCarthaigh shows the evolution of organisational forms, especially the incubation and birth of new offices such as the National Shared Services Office and the Office of Government Procurement, as well as regenerated offices such as the Office of the Government Chief Information Officer, previously the Centre for Management Organisation and Development. The establishment of DPER and related offices can be understood as the formation of hierarchies and networks initiated by the reformers, with these new levels and links helping to promote and facilitate the reform.

MacCarthaigh points out that this book contributes much to the academic analysis of state retrenchment. In fact, it also contributes much to studies of government growth – not in terms of spending but in terms of bureaucratic size. To retrench the state, new departments and offices were established and officials and officers were renewed generally. During the reform, the number of staff in DPER grew from 300 at the end of 2011 to almost 900 by the end of 2014. It is also noted by MacCarthaigh that a number of interviewees expected DPER to reduce its staff like the other departments, but DPER did not. Hence, when MacCarthaigh documents the government shrinking, he is also revealing a process of resource and power reallocation.

The general result of the Irish public sector reform was critical to Ireland and has been deemed to have saved Ireland in time. However, MacCarthaigh argues that overall assessment of the reform is almost impossible as reform success varies across issues. For example, MacCarthaigh shows how the cuts to pay and pensions evolved: at the beginning, pay and pensions were cut for officers of lower pay; after reaching agreements based on negotiations, pay and pensions were cut for all levels of officers, with a lower reduction rate for lower-ranking staff and a higher reduction rate for higher-ranking staff. Though not emphasised by MacCarthaigh, this sets a good example for other countries to reduce public expenditure in a vertically equal way.

The Irish government also took advantage of the opportunity to reform the public sector regarding ‘openness, transparency and accountability’. For example, the government made their data and performance information available through Irish public service bodies, though this did not receive sufficient media attention according to MacCarthaigh’s analysis. These reforms might be useful for countries that have heavy burdens in supervising government or business activities.

As it takes time for specific strategies to show their success, the analysis leaves room for future research to evaluate the performance of these and to explore the politics behind the specific decisions where there were alternatives. For example, when disposing of state assets, four assets were finally decided upon to be sold: the company Bord Gáis Energy (BGE, the customer supply and distribution part of the state company Bord Gáis Éireann); some of the non-strategic assets belonging to the electricity company Electricity Supply Board (ESB); forestry rights belonging to the state forestry company Coillte; and the state’s minority shareholding in the former national airline Aer Lingus. The process of how those four assets were decided can be further studied. Selling the assets to gain money in the short-term was a strategy reluctantly adopted by the reformers. Hence, the long-running impacts of this project are still to be evaluated.

In all, Public Sector Reform in Ireland documents and analyses the complexities of whole-of-government reform to counter the financial crisis using the single case study of Ireland. Cutbacks are always tough work. MacCarthaigh shows how the Irish government reduced its spending and reformed its public sectors. These successful experiences can be adopted by other countries after adaptation to their specific context. The findings can also be compared to cases in other countries to generate some common knowledge about cutback management studies.

Yao Han, PhD in Quantitative Social Sciences Program, School of Politics and International Relations, University College Dublin, 2017; Researcher, Geary Institute for Public Policy, University College Dublin, 2012-17; Visiting Research Fellow, Department of Asian Studies at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, February – May 2017; Research Fellow, Dublin European Institute, June 2017 – . Currently she is a Visiting Research Fellow at the School of Public Policy and Management of Tsinghua University. She wishes to thank Dr. Rosemary Deller for her edit. Twitter: @hanyao_sara. Read more by Yao Han.

Note: This review gives the views of the author, and not the position of the LSE Review of Books blog, or of the London School of Economics.


Jeremy Corbin’s Labour vs. the Single Market

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 14/06/2018 - 12:10am in

by Costas Lapavisas. This article has been published in Jacobinmag.

“In recent weeks there has been intense debate in Britain about the Labour Party and the ongoing Brexit process. Advocates of the European Union have sought a range of concessions from the party leadership ranging from another vote on Brexit, to continued membership of the single market and Customs Union, and focusing on Brexit at party conference.

Underpinning this campaign to change Labour’s position on Brexit has been a barrage of articles arguing that European Union or single market rules would not impinge on Jeremy Corbyn’s program for government. These have come from a wide range of sources including the journal Renewal, the New Statesman, the Fabian’s website, the New European, LabourList, Open Labour, OpenDemocracy and Open Britain. But are they correct in their assertions?

In three interrelated areas EU rules would place severe restrictions on a future Corbyn government: State Aid, public procurement and nationalization. These are not minor issues. They lie at the heart of any attempt to transform Britain’s economy in a socialist direction, especially when it comes to industrial policy.”

Read the whole article in Jacobinmag.

Jeremy Corbin’s Labour vs. the Single Market

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 14/06/2018 - 12:10am in

by Costas Lapavisas. This article has been published in Jacobinmag.

“In recent weeks there has been intense debate in Britain about the Labour Party and the ongoing Brexit process. Advocates of the European Union have sought a range of concessions from the party leadership ranging from another vote on Brexit, to continued membership of the single market and Customs Union, and focusing on Brexit at party conference.

Underpinning this campaign to change Labour’s position on Brexit has been a barrage of articles arguing that European Union or single market rules would not impinge on Jeremy Corbyn’s program for government. These have come from a wide range of sources including the journal Renewal, the New Statesman, the Fabian’s website, the New European, LabourList, Open Labour, OpenDemocracy and Open Britain. But are they correct in their assertions?

In three interrelated areas EU rules would place severe restrictions on a future Corbyn government: State Aid, public procurement and nationalization. These are not minor issues. They lie at the heart of any attempt to transform Britain’s economy in a socialist direction, especially when it comes to industrial policy.”

Read the whole article in Jacobinmag.

Inequality breeds stress and anxiety. No wonder so many Britons are suffering | Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 11/06/2018 - 12:56am in

In equal societies, citizens trust each other and contribute to their community. This goes into reverse in countries like ours

The gap between image and reality yawns ever wider. Our rich society is full of people presenting happy smiling faces both in person and online, but when the Mental Health Foundation commissioned a large survey last year, it found that 74% of adults were so stressed they felt overwhelmed or unable to cope. Almost a third had had suicidal thoughts and 16% had self-harmed at some time in their lives. The figures were higher for women than men, and substantially higher for young adults than for older age groups. And rather than getting better, the long-term trends in anxiety and mental illness are upwards.

For a society that believes happiness is a product of high incomes and consumption, these figures are baffling. However, studies of people who are most into our consumerist culture have found that they are the least happy, the most insecure and often suffer poor mental health.

Related: The psychological effects of inequality – Science Weekly podcast

Related: Rising inequality linked to drop in union membership

Continue reading...

Frightened Davidson Tells May to Concentrate on Funding NHS

A day or so ago I put up a post arguing that Corbyn’s promise to renationalise the NHS had Tweezer and the Tories rattled, as there had been a story in the I that May had held the promise of repealing some of Andrew Lansley’s vile Health and Social Care Act. This is a long, convoluted act which basically absolves the Health Minister of the requirement to provide universal healthcare free at the point of delivery to everyone in Britain. It’s one of the major landmarks on the long campaign of the Thatcherite right – both Tory and New Labour – to privatise the NHS. May was also talking about increasing taxes to mend the funding deficit in the NHS. This was, however, spoilt by May acting true to form as a Tory. She immediately declared that everyone would have to pay this tax, which could be as high as £2,000. Mike’s posted a piece on his blog about how this was worked out, and pointed out that not everyone should have to pay the same amount. We have progressive taxation in this country, which means that the rich pay higher rates of tax than the poor, who can’t afford it. The Tories, however, hate progressive taxation, because they’re solidly on the side of the rich and despise the poor. And so Thatcher, Major, Cameron and now May have done their best to shift the tax burden onto the poor, in order to lower the tax rates on their rich friends. And Thatcher came unstuck in 1990/1 when she tried to promote the poll tax.

Like May’s proposed tax increase for the NHS, this was supposed to be a uniform rate charged on rich and poor alike. It was expected to replace the rates, which were charged on the value of your property. So a rich Tory donor living in a mansion was going to be charged the same amount of money as someone on unemployment benefit living in a simple terraced house. Never mind: Thatcher and her cabinet of grotesques claimed this was ‘democratic, because we all pay the same’. The British public didn’t agree, and there were massed protests and riots against it. I also know of a number of magistrates, who resigned because of it. As Justices of the Peace, they would be required to enforce this piece of legislation, which they personally felt was terribly unjust. And rather than find people guilty in support of a law, with which they profoundly disagreed, they obeyed the calls of their consciences and resigned. And I have every respect to these people for doing so. Thatcher was then outed in a coup, Major installed as her replacement, and unfortunately the Tories carried on in power until Blair’s victory in 1997.

It struck me at the time, as I said in my previous article, that May was probably trying to scare people with the £2,000 figure, which many poorer people wouldn’t be able to afford, so she could claim that the NHS is unaffordable as it stands. Cue more privatisation. Despite the fact that we could easily afford it if we took a leaf out of the European’s book and spent more on the NHS, and increased the tax rates for the rich instead.

But the fact that May is holding out the prospect of undoing her predecessor’s legislation, and raising taxes for the NHS, shows that Corbyn’s got her rattled.

And not just May. It also seems to have worried ‘Rape Clause’ Ruth Davidson north of the Border. The I ran a story on Tuesday reporting that Davidson had warned may to concentrate on increasing funding for the NHS, and ditch plans for more tax cuts. If she didn’t, she risked relegating the Tories to history.

This shows just how far the panic is spreading in the Tory party. Quite apart from Davidson and Gove forming a think tank – surely an oxymoron in their cases – to reinvigorate the Tory party with new ideas. Because, they warn, if they don’t have them, the Tories may be out of power for a whole generation.

Well, I’d just love to see this vile party and its horrendous politicians thrust out of power, and not just for a generation. That’s too short a time.

As for the gurning, smirking leader of the Tories in Scotland, today’s I carried pieces from a couple of newspapers predicting that Davidson is too young, ambitious and talented to be content to remain head of the Tories in Scotland. According to them, she will most probably try to head down south to forge a political career in Britain and Wales. What a terrible prospect! Davidson is responsible for trying to implement the government’s wretched austerity campaign in Scotland, including its demand that women, who’ve had more than two children due to rape, should have to prove this is the case when claiming child benefit. Hence her soubriquet of ‘Rape Clause’. It’s a nasty piece of vindictive legislation which punishes already vulnerable women, who have been traumatised by their sexual assault. But this is the Tories, who have absolute contempt for the poor, the weak and the underprivileged. Davidson is supposed to be a ‘liberal’ Tory, but there’s no evidence of that except her sexuality. And despite May’s attempts to position herself as a feminist, this is a thoroughly misogynist piece of legislation. The last thing the rest of Britain needs is for her to come down south to spread even more misery down here.

Actually, reading between the line, it’s possible that Davidson may not have a choice. For all that she’s supposed to have masterminded the revival of the Tories in Scotland, she didn’t actually increase their vote. Instead, the SNP’s vote decreased and Labour’s revived, which split the opposition and allowed the Tories to emerge as the largest single party, even though most
Scots voted against them. Which is another argument in favour of proportional representation. Given the parlous situation of the Tories in Scotland, it’s possible that the Scots may vote them out. This would result in the party looking around for a new leader, and Davidson given her marching orders. In which case, if she wanted to continue her career, she’d have to go south.

I don’t want her coming to England and Wales, but I look forward to the Scots voting out the Tories and their thoroughly grotesque and objectionable leader.

Book Review: Poor News: Media Discourses of Poverty in Times of Austerity by Steven Harkins and Jairo Lugo-Ocando

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 29/05/2018 - 10:25pm in

In Poor News: Media Discourses of Poverty in Times of AusteritySteven Harkins and Jairo Lugo-Ocando explore how debates and discourses surrounding poverty and welfare have been shaped by the mainstream press in the UK. The granular content analysis offered by the book gives great insight into the normalisation of social inequality across the British media landscape, writes Matthew Hacke, and will be of interest to those looking to formulate a more ethical and inclusive journalism. 

Poor News: Media Discourses of Poverty in Times of Austerity. Steven Harkins and Jairo Lugo-Ocando. Rowman and Littlefield. 2018.

Find this book: amazon-logo

The provenance of the British press is a key point of contention in current affairs. New media, and new modes of distribution, from Twitter to Breitbart, have restructured the way that most people consume news. This landscape, compounded by the collapse of the political centre, has shown traditional media institutions to be unashamedly partisan. Topics and figures such as Brexit, Donald Trump and Jeremy Corbyn are now inextricably tied to individual journalists and particular outlets as much as they are to policy or ideology.

In this sense, Poor News: Media Discourses of Poverty in Times of Austerity, edited by Steven Harkins and Jairo Lugo-Ocando, is an incredibly timely contribution. The news landscape has changed. However, in paradoxical fashion, the influence of the traditional press seems to have reached its zenith. This is most apparent in the mediation of economics and inequality to the public. Discourses on welfare and socioeconomics, as shown in Poor News, have been repeatedly defined and articulated by the traditional news media. Invariably, this process has demonised a significant subsection, if not all, of those in poverty.

Whilst avoiding detailed discussion of the modern media landscape, Poor News still provides a strong deconstruction of how debates on poverty in Britain have been shaped by the mainstream press. Its content analysis of a range of papers, including the Daily Telegraph, the Sun and the Guardian, is robust, offering a convincing exposé of how print outlets normalise social inequality, regardless of their political standpoints. What’s more, its granular approach to various sub-debates and issues will give great insight to researchers interested in ethical journalism, public opinion on poverty and the British media landscape.

Image Credit: (Mikey CC BY 2.0)

The central assumption of Poor News is that when reflecting on poverty, people ‘often choose to believe and share certain worldviews, despite the evidence and sometimes against their own personal experience’ (1). This, for Lugo-Ocando and Harkins, is aggregated by cultural apparatus, and newspapers play a key role in formulating these opinions. Therein, the extensive content analysis that grounds the majority of Poor News is an appropriate research methodology. For the most part, this analysis is split thematically, rather than by political standpoint or audience segment. This should prove useful for academics using the book as a resource to make arguments on a range of aspects of poverty in times of austerity. Moreover, this split makes certain that the book does not become too disjointed. As the authors demonstrate, tabloid opinion on poverty in the UK is worryingly one-voiced. Thus, different ways of thinking are just not prevalent enough in the source matter to warrant a split by standpoint or ideology.

Before embarking on their content analysis of contemporary tabloid media, Harkins and Lugo-Ocando offer an extensive contextualisation of British journalism, moving from its emergence in the industrial revolution to the present day. The grand narrative described here is twofold. Firstly, they trace a continued branding of journalism as impartial and crucial to fostering political accountability. Secondly, and more nefarious, they identify a distortion of this mission through stereotyping and attacks on the disenfranchised as a means of upholding the status quo. Specifically, this entails a demarcation between a ‘deserving’ and ‘undeserving’ poor – and the subsequent demonisation of the latter.

At times, the rigorous historicism provided in the book’s opening chapters seems somewhat superfluous. However, it reveals itself as being integral to Poor News’s framework. Through tracking the chastisement of the poor and the close relationship between journalists and the wealthy throughout modern British history, Lugo-Ocando and Harkins are able to show that today’s partisan media is no aberration. Rather, its lack of impartiality and reactionary narratives on benefits, immigration and healthcare are modern manifestations derived from its fundamental establishment. This ultimately points towards the need for universal change, rather than minor reform.

Historical analysis roots out contradictions specific to the present too. Throughout Poor News, Harkins and Lugo-Ocando return to this distinction in the press between the deserving and undeserving poor, which is used to traverse a diverse range of issues including child poverty, the welfare state and housing. This offers particular insight into fuel poverty, an issue that disproportionately impacts on the elderly. As Lugo-Ocando and Harkins point out, this topic create a deadlock, insofar as the usual script on poverty is short-circuited by its subjects, the elderly, being conventionally categorised as a deserving group, and one ‘far more likely to buy a printed newspaper’ (89) as well. As such, the by-lines on fuel poverty display a curious ambivalence: devoid of ‘critical narratives’, but unwilling to offer any structural critique or solution either (90). Here, the longitudinal discussion proves crucial to shedding light on the motives and limits of the press, both political and commercial. These outcomes perhaps offer the most profound insight into the ambiguities and politicisation of discourses on poverty, and of the media establishment that voices them.

To be sure, the content analysis is excellent, and Poor News does well to effectively illustrate how mainstream tabloids play a ‘key role in framing how [poverty] issues are understood by the public’ (7). Yet, I feel that analysing a wider range of print news sources may have provided further evidence on the group-think that the authors aim to diagnose. Invariably, Poor News selects partisan outlets for its analysis. However, consideration of apparently impartial publications may have offered conclusive evidence on the extent of hegemony discussed throughout the text. For example, Harkins and Lugo-Ocando might have considered the London Evening Standard and the London Metro, two free newspapers that are published in the UK capital on weekdays. Both publications are keen to seem neutral, but the developer-friendly way in which they discuss often contentious urban regeneration projects is indicative of a certain ideological framing. The former, now edited by ex-Conservative UK Chancellor George Osbourne, could prove a particularly fruitful place to analyse the politicisation of consensus and ‘common knowledge’ on poverty in the British press. A discussion of how regional press either dissents from or endorses common opinion, as is briefly touched on in comparisons of the Scottish Sun and the Sun, could have offered further insight too.

Poor News is light on conclusions. The authors are reticent to ‘[extrapolate] our findings into universal claims, mainly because in some cases the media deal very differently with these issues in each society’ (3). Still, their analysis proves a strong framework for assessing cultural production across the globe and is particularly convincing, and relevant, to the political climate in Britain.

There is little doubt that the outlets discussed in Poor News dominate the debates on poverty in the British mainstream. The tragedy of this orthodoxy is that the poor are not only demonised, but also deprived of an opportunity to speak back. With the evidence and authority that Lugo-Ocando and Harkins offer, further research could seek to find ways to develop an inclusive and sympathetic journalism.

Matthew Hacke holds a Master’s with distinction and a First Class undergraduate degree from the University of Exeter. His interests lie in the digital humanities, and in projects relating to security studies, social inequality and war studies. Read more by Matthew Hacke.

Note: This review gives the views of the author, and not the position of the LSE Review of Books blog, or of the London School of Economics. 


Reluctance to Spend is Down to Dublin’s Choices, not EU Rules

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 22/05/2018 - 6:49pm in

by Andy Storey. Originally published in the Dublin Inquirer.

There is a seeming paradox at the heart of European economic governance, and it is one that has important implications for Ireland.

On the one hand, the European Commission has taken umbrage at the Irish government’s claimed conferral of special tax concessions (which they see, not unreasonably, as a form of state aid) on Apple.

Apple and the Irish state are appealing the decision, but, in the meantime, Apple is depositing the €14 billion the commission says it owes in back taxes into an escrow account where, in the unforgettable words of Father Dougal to Father Ted, it will be having a good long rest.

There are many other cases where a vigilant pro-competition policy seems a hallmark of the EU – for example, the €2.42-billion fine imposed on another US tech giant, Google, in June 2017 for abuse of its market-dominant position.

Closer to home, the commission launched a welcome investigation into Irish car insurers last year because of suspicions of cartel-style collusion and abuse of dominant market positions within the sector.

But when I previously noted that case, I also noted that the commission and other wings of European economic governance – especially the European Central Bank – have been much less opposed to governments giving (massive) aid to banks and other market-dominant financial institutions, at particular cost to the Irish taxpayer. In fact, differential support to the financial sector was insisted upon on a scale that must make Apple envious.

This disjunction is especially striking because it is often claimed that European economic decision-making is based on a rigid German economic philosophy called Ordoliberalism, which insists that everyone – governments and all kinds of companies alike – have to consistently follow certain rules.

There was a strong whiff of this apparent Ordoliberal influence in 2015 when the new Syriza government in Greece sought to renegotiate austerity, and German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schauble responded, “Elections change nothing … there are rules.”

When the Syriza Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis made strong arguments for relaxing those rules, Greece’s European creditors reacted with blank stares; as Varoufakis memorably put it, “I might as well have been singing the Swedish national anthem.”

But, in reality, are the rules always so strictly observed? In 2016, EU deficit fines were not automatically imposed (as they should have been) on Spain and Portugal despite their breach of European Fiscal Treaty rules – realpolitik (in the probable sense of not wishing to boost the electoral prospects of other left-wing parties like Syriza) trumped the rigorous application of the supposedly set-in-stone regulations.

And, as noted above, an apparently rigorous EU attitude to competition law and state aid contains a number of startling contradictions and double-thinks when it comes to tech companies and banks.

There are important lessons from all this in the context of Ireland and the EU, and they arise from our Finance Minister Pascal Donohoe’s insistence that he is going to keep spending in the next budget below even the levels insisted upon by those EU deficit rules.

There may be a good case for not overstimulating an already somewhat overheating Irish economy, but that principally applies to not indulging in unnecessary tax cuts – it should not be used to prevent desperately needed spending increases in areas like health and housing, if necessary financed by tax increases (the Apple money would come in handy here).

The suspicion is that Donohoe is seeking to dampen expectations regarding the kind of public investment his government will sanction, and without which most of our most pressing social problems cannot be resolved.

And it is probable that the EU’s rules (the mysterious concept of “fiscal space”) will ultimately be invoked by the government to argue against significant spending increases.

But this is ultimately a political fig-leaf – the EU’s rules are malleable and they can be challenged by governments with the resolve and backbone to do so. The supposedly immovable barrier of Ordoliberal discipline is, in that sense, a chimera.

In the end it all comes down to politics, not economic law. A more radical Irish government could adopt a more radical political strategy vis-à-vis the EU – if it had the inclination and will to do so.

 

Reluctance to Spend is Down to Dublin’s Choices, not EU Rules

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 22/05/2018 - 6:49pm in

by Andy Storey. Originally published in the Dublin Inquirer.

There is a seeming paradox at the heart of European economic governance, and it is one that has important implications for Ireland.

On the one hand, the European Commission has taken umbrage at the Irish government’s claimed conferral of special tax concessions (which they see, not unreasonably, as a form of state aid) on Apple.

Apple and the Irish state are appealing the decision, but, in the meantime, Apple is depositing the €14 billion the commission says it owes in back taxes into an escrow account where, in the unforgettable words of Father Dougal to Father Ted, it will be having a good long rest.

There are many other cases where a vigilant pro-competition policy seems a hallmark of the EU – for example, the €2.42-billion fine imposed on another US tech giant, Google, in June 2017 for abuse of its market-dominant position.

Closer to home, the commission launched a welcome investigation into Irish car insurers last year because of suspicions of cartel-style collusion and abuse of dominant market positions within the sector.

But when I previously noted that case, I also noted that the commission and other wings of European economic governance – especially the European Central Bank – have been much less opposed to governments giving (massive) aid to banks and other market-dominant financial institutions, at particular cost to the Irish taxpayer. In fact, differential support to the financial sector was insisted upon on a scale that must make Apple envious.

This disjunction is especially striking because it is often claimed that European economic decision-making is based on a rigid German economic philosophy called Ordoliberalism, which insists that everyone – governments and all kinds of companies alike – have to consistently follow certain rules.

There was a strong whiff of this apparent Ordoliberal influence in 2015 when the new Syriza government in Greece sought to renegotiate austerity, and German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schauble responded, “Elections change nothing … there are rules.”

When the Syriza Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis made strong arguments for relaxing those rules, Greece’s European creditors reacted with blank stares; as Varoufakis memorably put it, “I might as well have been singing the Swedish national anthem.”

But, in reality, are the rules always so strictly observed? In 2016, EU deficit fines were not automatically imposed (as they should have been) on Spain and Portugal despite their breach of European Fiscal Treaty rules – realpolitik (in the probable sense of not wishing to boost the electoral prospects of other left-wing parties like Syriza) trumped the rigorous application of the supposedly set-in-stone regulations.

And, as noted above, an apparently rigorous EU attitude to competition law and state aid contains a number of startling contradictions and double-thinks when it comes to tech companies and banks.

There are important lessons from all this in the context of Ireland and the EU, and they arise from our Finance Minister Pascal Donohoe’s insistence that he is going to keep spending in the next budget below even the levels insisted upon by those EU deficit rules.

There may be a good case for not overstimulating an already somewhat overheating Irish economy, but that principally applies to not indulging in unnecessary tax cuts – it should not be used to prevent desperately needed spending increases in areas like health and housing, if necessary financed by tax increases (the Apple money would come in handy here).

The suspicion is that Donohoe is seeking to dampen expectations regarding the kind of public investment his government will sanction, and without which most of our most pressing social problems cannot be resolved.

And it is probable that the EU’s rules (the mysterious concept of “fiscal space”) will ultimately be invoked by the government to argue against significant spending increases.

But this is ultimately a political fig-leaf – the EU’s rules are malleable and they can be challenged by governments with the resolve and backbone to do so. The supposedly immovable barrier of Ordoliberal discipline is, in that sense, a chimera.

In the end it all comes down to politics, not economic law. A more radical Irish government could adopt a more radical political strategy vis-à-vis the EU – if it had the inclination and will to do so.

 

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