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My Proposed Article on Bristol’s Slavery Reparations – Ignored and Rejected by the Press?

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 14/04/2021 - 8:20pm in

Okay, I’ve blogged about it before when Bristol City council first passed the motion all those weeks ago. These were a couple of pieces about the motion, brought by Green councillor Cleo Lake, and seconded by Labour’s deputy mayor and head of equalities Asher Green, calling for the payment of reparations for slavery to all of Britain’s ‘Afrikan’ community. I criticised this because this motion effectively means the payment of reparations to the African peoples responsible for the raiding and enslavement, and their sale to outsiders. It wasn’t just European, who purchased and enslaved the continent’s peoples, but also Muslims, Arabs and Indians. The motion falsifies history by reducing a complex situation to simple Black and White – White Europeans versus Black Africans. I believe Lake and Craig are playing racial politics here by trying to create a unified Black British community by presenting all British Blacks as the victims of White, European, British slavery when this was not historically the case.

The motion also raises other issues by setting the precedent for formerly enslaved peoples to sue their former captors. Thus Black Africans could also demand reparations from Morocco, Algeria, Turkey and the successors to the great Arab caliphates of the Middle Ages – perhaps Saudi Arabia? – Oman and other states for their enslavement. As could Europeans. 2.5 million White Europeans were carried off into slavery by the Barbary pirates from Morocco and Algiers. Would the councillors, who supported and passed Lake’s and Craig’s slavery reparations motion also support similar motions for the payment of reparations to these people from their former masters?

I wrote to Lake and Craig raising these issues, and so far have received no reply. Perhaps they’re too busy. Craig has received 6,000 racially abusive messages, which I condemn, so perhaps she hasn’t looked at it because it’s been lost in all the other mail she’s received about it.

I tried to get the press interested in this issue, and so submitted an article about it. I first sent it to the Guardian, and then to a number of right-wing newspapers when I heard nothing from the Groan. I thought the right-wing press would be perhaps be more likely to publish it, and it contradicts some of the attitudes and assumptions of the pro-Black activists that newspapers like the I, Independent and Observer share and promote. Along with the article itself, I sent the following cover message.

Dear Sir,

I would be very grateful if you would consider the attached article laying out some of the problems with the motion passed a few weeks ago in Bristol calling for the payment of reparations for slavery to the Black community. There are a number of difficult and complex issues raised by this, which I do not believe have been adequately discussed in the press. One of these is that the motion calls for both Africans and Afro-Caribbean people to be granted reparations. While I’ve no doubt that Black African people are as disadvantaged as people of West Indian heritage, there is a problem here as historically it was African peoples who did the dirty business of slaving, selling them not just to Europeans, but also to Muslim, Arab and Indian slavers. It would therefore be unjust for people the British enslave or who actively collaborated in slaving to receive compensation for slavery.

Other problems with the motion are that it sets a precedent for other peoples to demand reparations for their enslavement. White Europeans would, following this logic, also be justified in demanding reparations for the enslavement of 2 1/2 million Europeans by the Barbary pirates. And Black Africans would also be entitled to ask Muslim and Arab nations for reparations for their enslavement of them.

I also consider the motion to be racially divisive, as it seeks to create a unified Black community, who are represented as equal victims, against Whites, who are considered slavers, thus simplifying a complex historical issue.

I hope you will consider the article suitable, and look forward to your reply.

Yours,

And here’s the article itself.

Slavery Reparations: Not All Blacks Were the Victims, Some Were the Slavers

A few weeks ago Bristol Council passed a motion calling for the payment of reparations to the Black British community for their enslavement. The motion was introduced by Cleo Lake, a former mayor and the Green Councillor for Cotham in the city, and seconded by Asher Craig, the city’s deputy mayor and head of equality. The reparations were to be both financial and cultural. It was moved that they should take the form of proper funding for projects to improve conditions for the Black community and raise them to the same, sustainable level of equality with the rest of British society. These projects were to be led and guided by Black organisations themselves. And the reparations should include all ‘Afrikans’, by which eccentric spelling Councillor Lake meant both Afro-Caribbean people and Black Africans. The motion was passed 47 to 11. It was supported by the Greens, Labour and the Lib Dems. Only the Tories opposed it. They said that while it came from ‘a good place’, the motion was ‘divisive’. In fact, there are a number of reasons why it should be opposed. The most important of these is that Black Africans were hardly innocent of slaving themselves.

Slavery existed in Africa long before the European invasion, and Britain wasn’t the only country that traded in enslaved Africans.  So did the Arabs, Ottoman Turks, French, Spanish, Portuguese and Dutch. The first Black slaves in Europe were enslaved by Arabs and taken to al-Andalus, Muslim Spain. In addition to the transatlantic slave trade, there was also an Islamic slave trade to north Africa and Muslim nations in Asia. Although there were exceptions, Europeans did not directly enslave their African victims. Before the 19th century ‘Scramble for Africa’, powerful African states prevented Europeans from penetrating inland and seizing African territory. The European slave merchants were largely confined to specific quarters, rather like European ghettos, in these state’s main towns, from whom they purchased their human cargo. By the 19th century powerful African slaving nations, such as Dahomey, Whydah and Badagry had emerged in West Africa. In East Africa, the Yao, Marganja and Swahili peoples enslaved the people of other nations to sell to the Arabs. Some were purchased by the Imaum of Muscat, now Oman, for labour on his immensely profitable clove plantations in Zanzibar. It was to prevent Indian merchants from importing enslaved Africans into British India that the British government opened negotiations with the Imaum to halt the east African slave trade.

Part of the rationale for British imperialism was to stamp out the slave trade and slavery at its point of supply, and this was one of the causes of African resistance to British expansionism. The Mahdi’s rebellion in the Sudan, for example, was caused by the British attempting to abolish the Arab enslavement of Black Sudanese. It was to halt slaving by Dahomey that Britain fought a war against its king, Guezo. In some parts of Africa, slavery continued up to the 20th century because these countries had not been conquered by Europeans. The slave trade to Morocco continued to 1910 because the European powers had blocked the European invasion of that country. Slavery also persisted in Ethiopia, whose armies also preyed on the peoples of the surrounding African states, prompting a British punitive expedition in the 1880s.

This obviously presents problems for the payment of reparations to all sections of the Black British community, because some African nations weren’t the victims of White enslavement. They were the slavers. Someone once remarked on this situation that if reparations were to be paid, it should be by Africans compensating the Black peoples of the Caribbean and Americas.

And there are other problems with slavery reparations. If reparations were paid to Blacks for the enslavement of their ancestors, it would set a precedent for similar demands by other ethnicities. For example, up until the conquest of Algeria by France in the 19th century, White Europeans were captured and enslaved by Muslim pirates from Morocco and Algiers. About 2 ½ million people, including those from Bristol and the West Country, were carried off. The demand for reparations for the Black victims of slavery means that, by the same logic, White Europeans would also be justified in demanding reparations for the enslavement of their ancestors from those countries. At the same time, Black Africans would also be entirely justified in claiming reparations from the Muslim nations that enslaved them, such as perhaps Turkey or Saudi Arabia. But there have been no such demands, at least to my knowledge.

I don’t doubt that Black Africans in Bristol or elsewhere in the UK suffer the same problems of marginalisation, poverty, unemployment and discrimination as the rest of the Black population, nor that there should be official programmes to tackle these problems. And it is only fair and proper that they should be guided and informed by the Black community itself. But reparations cannot justly be paid to the Black community as a whole because of the deep involvement of some African peoples in slavery and the slave trade.

Furthermore, there’s a nasty, anti-White dimension to Lake’s motion. By claiming that all Blacks, both West Indian and African, were equally victims of the slave trade, she and her supporters seem to be trying to create a unified Black community by presenting all of them as the victims of White predation, simplifying a complex historical situation along racial lines.

I’ve written to councillors Lake and Craig about these issues, but so far have not received an answer. In Councillor Craig’s case, it may well be that my message to her got lost amongst the 6,000 abusive emails she is reported to have received. It is, of course, disgusting that she should suffer such abuse, and she has my sympathies in this. But this does not alter the fact that reparations for Black slavery raise a number of difficult issues which make it unsuitable as a means of improving conditions for Black Britons.

Well, I haven’t heard anything from any of the newspapers I submitted it to, not even an acknowledgement. It seems the news cycle has moved on and they’re not interested. But this doesn’t mean that the arguments against the motion are any less valid, and I thought people would like to read these arguments again for themselves, as well as about my efforts to raise them in the press.

Tories Now Want to Set Up Privately Run ‘Secure Schools’

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sun, 11/04/2021 - 2:55am in

This is really alarming, considering the appalling record of the outsourcing giants running the privatised prisons. Mike put up a piece yesterday suggesting a possible reason for Gavin Williamson’s absurd statement that pupils’ behaviour had got worse during the lockdown and absence from school. Mike and myself both noted that there was zero evidence for this. In fact a friend of mine, who is a school governor, believed the children at her school were actually better behaved. And it seems this friend isn’t alone. Mike put up a series of quotes from people in education saying very clearly that children’s behaviour hadn’t deteriorated. One of them even said it had improved. Williamson’s statement is thus pure nonsense.

But there is a possible explanation for it in the Tories’ proposed change to the school system, which in fact is a further expansion of the prison-industrial complex. He wants to introduce privately run ‘secure schools’. This sounds to many concerned educationalists like the return of the Young Offenders Institutions. One of those, who oppose this plan, is Zahra Bei, who fears that they will be a ‘fast track to prison’. The Tories have said that they won’t be ‘prisons with education’, but I really don’t put much faith in that considering the Tories appalling record of lying as easily as most people breathe. Private companies have so far been excluded from running such schools, but the government wants to reform this legislation so that they can do so under the guise of charities. This seems to me to be already a scandalous disaster in waiting, considering the mess companies like G4S, Serco and the rest of them have made of running adult prisons and migrant detention centres. It was only a few years ago that conditions in privately run prisons were so appalling that the prisoners were rioting. Private Eye has also run any number of stories in its ‘Footnotes’ or ‘In The Back Column’ about the tragic deaths of young people put in adult prisons, either by their own hand or murdered by their fellow inmates. The Tory plan to start building privately run prison schools seems to me to threaten the further deaths of vulnerable young people. And this is quite apart from the horrors of their predecessors, as depicted in films like Scum.

But I can see more children being unjustly sentenced to these places as the government and the companies running them want to turn a profit and give a nice, fat dividend to the shareholders. The ‘capped crusader’ Michael Moore gave an example of such a glaring miscarriage of justice in his documentary Capitalism – A Love Story. This was the case of a teenage American girl, who was sentenced to a spell in prison. The girl had committed a trivial offence. I can’t remember what it was – it may have been simply bunking off school or underage drinking. It certainly wasn’t anything more serious. It was the kind of crime which over here would be have been punished with a small fine or so many hours community service. Or simply being grounded by her parents and having her playstation taken away for the duration. But no, the beak decided that she was such a dangerous delinquent, that only a spell in the slammer would deter her from a life of crime. Well, actually, not quite. The real reason was that the judge was on the payroll of the private company running the prison. Their profits depend on people being put in them. Hence the incentive for the esteemed lawman to put a teenage girl behind bars.

And I’m afraid the same will happen here. Williamson’s comments about the bad behaviour of all those children coming back to school seems set to prime public opinion for it. The Tories are past masters at exploiting the public’s fear of rising crime, especially by the young. Children haven’t become worse behaved because of the lockdown. In fact, Mike’s probably right when he says that they may even have become more self-disciplined because of it. But Williamson needs people to believe that children’s behaviour has got worse, so that he then has a pretext for locking them up in his new, shiny, privately run educational prisons.

When they run the risk of really getting set on a career as a crime and a lifetime in prison, or brutalised by the staff employed by private companies running the schools or the other inmates, with the dreadful prospect that some will either commit suicide or be killed by the others. Bei has said that the majority of people put in these wretched schools will be young, Black, poor and disabled. That’s a certainty, given that the prison population is generally composed of the poor and those from ethnic minorities. The number of female prisoners in the UK is comparatively small – 4,000 women compared to 80,000 or so men. But women in prison can be particularly vulnerable, especially as the majority of them aren’t violent. It’s been claimed that many of the women currently banged up are for crimes like failure to pay their TV license. But I can imagine a number of girls getting sentenced to these schools as part of Williamson’s campaign to stamp out the entirely imaginary tide of school-age crime he wants us to think is coming.

Tory Flag-Waving Now Reaching Reaganite Proportions

Patriotism, someone once said, is the last refuge of the scoundrel. And the Tories have done their best to show how true this is, especially last week when it seemed that they wasted no opportunity to wave the flag. This also led them to generate more synthetic outrage towards the BBC. Charlie Stayt and Naga Munchetty raised Tory ire when Stayt joked about the relatively small size of the union flag on display during an interview with Matt Hancock or one of the other Tory ministers. This led to howls from the Tory press that the Beeb was sneering at the flag. They weren’t. They were laughing about the Tory’s sheer opportunistic use of it.

It’s no accident that they’ve started waving the flag in the weeks running up to the local elections. Their performance on health, the economy, Brexit and just about everything else has been dire. They’re still trying to privatise the health service by stealth, they insulted the nurses with a 2 per cent pay rise, which is in real terms a cut in their salaries, wages are still frozen, more people are being forced into real, grinding poverty, the queues at the food banks are as long as ever, or longer. The Brexit that Boris has been so desperate to ‘get done’ is spelling disaster for Britain’s manufacturing industry, and businesses dealing with the continent and ordinary Brits wishing to travel abroad are now faced with mountains of paperwork and bureaucracy. Bureaucracy which the Brexiteers blithely assured us wouldn’t happen. Hopefully this year will see us coming out of lockdown and the Coronavirus crisis. We’ve a far higher rate of peeps receiving the vaccine than the EU, but that shouldn’t distract attention from the colossal way the Tories have mismanaged the Covid crisis as a whole. As Mike’s pointed out in one of his articles, Tory bungling and corruption – they gave vital medical contracts to companies owned and run by their friends and supporters, rather than to firms that could actually deliver – that over 100,000 people have died of the disease. One of the good peeps on Twitter has shown how this compares to the numbers killed in some of the genocides and ethnic massacres that have plagued recent decades. And the report, which was supposed to show that Britain isn’t institutionally racist, has been torn to shreds with some of the academics cited claiming they were not properly consulted and seeking to distance themselves from it. And then there are the mass demonstrations up and down the land against their attempts to outlaw any demonstration or protest they don’t like under the guise that it would be a nuisance.

And so, with all this discontent, they’ve fallen back to Thatcher’s tactics of waving the flag at every opportunity. One of the hacks at the Absurder in the 1980s said that Britain had three parties – the patriotic party, who were the Tories, the loony party, which was Labour, and the sensible party, which was the SDP/Liberals. Which showed you the paper’s liberal bias even then. The SDP, Liberals and their successors, the Lib Dems. have sold out utterly, while after four decades of Thatcherism Michael Foot’s Labour party looks far less than loony. But the hack was right about the Tories and patriotism. Thatcher waved the flag as frantically as she could and constantly invoked the spirit of Winston Churchill and World War II. One particularly memorable example of this was the Tory 1987 election broadcast, which featured Spitfires zipping about the sky while an overexcited voice told the world ‘Man was born free’ and concluded ‘It’s great to be great again’.

Here’s another feature of Fascism that’s been adopted by the Tories to add to those on Mike’s checklist. Fascism is an ideology of national rebirth and revival. Thatcher was claiming she was making us great again, just as Donald Trump claimed he was doing for America. Just as Oswald Mosley called one of his wretched books The Greater Britain. And unfortunately, as Zelo Street has also pointed out, Fascists like the Nazis have also used people’s natural loyalty to their flag as a means of generating support for their repulsive regimes. British Fascism was no different. Mosley also made great use of the flag at his rallies, and this tactic was taken over by his successors in the National Front and BNP. This has been an embarrassment to ordinary, non-racist Brits, who simply like the flag. One of my friends at school was a mod. At the time, the union flag and British bulldog formed a large part of mod imagery without meaning that the person was a racist or White supremacist. During one of the art lessons my friend started painting a picture with those two elements – the union flag and bulldog. The teacher came over and politely asked him not to do so, as he was afraid people would like at it and come to the wrong conclusion. This was just after the 1981/2 race riots, so you can understand why. But it is frustrating and infuriating that ordinary expressions of reasonable patriotism or simple pop culture iconography have become suspect due to their appropriation by the Far Right.

But the real excesses of flag-waving were to be seen over the other side of the Pond in Reagan’s America. Reagan was wrecking his country with privatisation and an assault on what the country had in the way of a welfare state, while murdering the people of countries like El Salvador and Nicaragua by supporting Fascist dictators and their death squads. But, like Thatcher, he did everything he could to use the symbols of American nationhood. Like the Stars and Stripes. A Republican party political broadcast in 1984 or thereabouts showed the American flag being raised no less than 37 times. This was so bizarrely excessive that one of the Beeb’s foreign correspondents commented on it. As far as I am aware, no-one took him to task for sneering at it.

This flag-waving is part of the Tories attempts to present themselves as the preservers of British national identity, tradition and pride against the assaults of the left, particularly Black Lives Matter and their attacks on statues. I’m not impressed with the attacks on some of the monuments, like that of Winston Churchill, even though he was a racist. But in Bristol the only statue attacked was that of the slavery and philanthropist Edward Colston. None of the other statues in and around Bristol’s town centre of Edmund Burke, Queen Victoria, Neptune and the sailors who made my city a great port, were touched. And then there was the protest last week against the new school uniform policy at Pimlico Academy in London. This ruled out the wearing of large afro hair styles. So the students started protesting it was racist. The headmaster also raised the union flag, which led the statement from one of the students, Amna Mukhtar, that it weirdly felt like they were being colonised. And then some idiot burnt the flag in protest. The headmaster has now rescinded the school’s uniform code and taken the flag down. Now I gather that one of the Tories is now calling for every school to fly the union flag.

It all reminds me of the comments the late, great comedian Bill Hicks made when Reagan and his supporters were flying the flag and their outrage when a young member of the Communist party burned it. After making jokes about the Reaganite rage and hysteria, Hicks said that he didn’t want anyone to burn the flag, but burning wouldn’t take away freedom, because it’s freedom. Including the freedom to burn the flag.

Quite. And the Tories are wrecking our country and taking away our freedoms while cynically waving the flag.

So when they start spouting about it, use your scepticism and think of Hick’s comment instead. And vote for someone else.

Have we had enough of market-led dogma yet?

“OK…SO WHERE DOES THE FUNDING COME FROM?”

It depends on what we are talking about. If we are talking about universal health care, a Job Guarantee, infrastructure work, etc., the funding comes from the national government.

If, on the other hand, we are talking about national government spending itself, – as in, “how does the government ‘fund’ its spending?”, the answer is the national government does not “fund” its spending because it is an impossible condition.

The national government alone is the source of funding in terms of its own currency for the private sector and the foreign sector combined. That is what being the monopoly currency issuer is all about: Providing the funds.

The currency-issuing national government is not an intermediary that collects “money” from private entities in the form of taxation or borrowing to fill its empty coffers, and then redistributes those “funds”.

Treasury has no coffers to fill. Rather, treasury fills the coffers of everyone else.

Ellis Winningham

Placard with the slogan "When is enough enough, when does hte greed stop?", Wisconsin State Capitol protest 2014Photo by Joe Brusky/Flickr Creative Commons License 2.0

Have we had enough yet? This week Boris Johnson, in a Zoom meeting of the 1922 Committee, warmly saluted the vaccine rollout with these words: ‘The reason we have the vaccine success is because of capitalism, because of greed my friends’. Whilst he has tried to backpedal from these ill-advised remarks, the words reflect a widely held view by politicians, institutions and the excessively rich that the market is the only mechanism for delivering well-being, and that the State should take a step back and let the market do its job, greed and all. We have paid a heavy price for that sort of thinking, in terms of environmental destruction, poverty, inequality, human degradation and exploitation.

The cumulative effect of five decades and more of market-led dogma and a toxic ideology that has been embraced by successive governments, of either political stripe, has given monetary succour to the corporations at the expense of public purpose, which has over the past year been revealed for exactly what it is. Greed for power, greed for profit. Not a very wholesome or edifying advert for capitalism, and one which is increasingly in the public eye, as media attention focuses on who has benefited from government policies and spending decisions, and those who have lost out.

The appalling management of the Covid-19 crisis, which has led to the deaths of well in excess of 126,000 people so far, combined with those who have suffered or died as a result of cuts to government spending on vital public infrastructure and the pernicious reforms of the social security system, have revealed in all their hideous outcomes what happens when government spending is reduced to household budgeting narratives. The phoney notion that delivering public purpose is either monetarily unaffordable and/or dependent on the economic climate.

The remark reveals something rather distasteful about a Prime Minister who not long back was standing on the steps of Number 10 encouraging us to clap for key workers. Those who have been responsible for caring for the sick, elderly, and vulnerable as well as keeping the economy functioning during the crisis whether in the public or private sector.

A letter written by the authors of The Spirit Level (Kate Pickett and Richard Wilkinson) which was published in the Guardian this week took the Prime Minister to task for his comments saying:

“You report (23 March) that Boris Johnson told backbench Conservative MPs that the UK’s successful vaccine rollout was thanks to capitalism and greed. Really? Greedy academics and research scientists? Greedy World Health Organization staff and civil servants? Greedy nurses who give us our jabs? Is that also why contracts given to Tory cronies for test and trace were so startlingly successful? This is not a trivial misunderstanding: it is a fundamental failure to comprehend how modern societies work. Prof Mariana Mazzucato has shown how discovery and innovation flow from the public sector, and there are now studies showing that more equal societies are more innovative, with more patents per head than those where capitalism is rampant.”

Whilst the financial markets have produced nothing of value, focused as they are on speculation and amassing huge monetary wealth, the real wealth makers, not the monetary sort, are those on whom society depends. The past year has highlighted their contributions on every level of society. It has also highlighted the role that government can play, if it chooses, in delivering public purpose aims. Whether that is spending to keep the economy from tanking or vital public service and welfare provision, research and development and education and training; all of which make the difference between a good society and a bad one.

However, we live in a world where ‘money’ wealth trumps the real wealth we enjoy, and which is sustained and underpinned by nature which provides the many services on which we depend. Deregulation (or rather accommodation) by neoliberal governments has created a rampant market-dominated model which is threatening democracy and the future of humanity and planetary health.

This toxic market ideology is at the same time underpinned by incorrect ideas of how governments spend. Ideas which suggest that taxing and borrowing are at the heart of their spending capacity, and which, if not reversed, will continue to constrain government actions on the key issues of our day.

The art of the possible is not financially oriented. The art of the possible is about political choices, but those political choices hitherto have left our society in a state of crisis and will continue to do so unless we challenge the status quo.

Currently, the rules for government spending are laid out clearly. Stuff the pockets of the private sector corporations and those of your friends, whilst telling the public sector that there is no money and keeping private-sector workers on low wages and in insecure employment. The evidence is piling up daily.

This week Test and Trace is hiring a ‘Lessons Learnt Analyst’ with a salary of £45,000. You couldn’t make it up! Management consultants being paid to advise what went wrong with a programme designed by management consultants. As GIMMS’ board advisor Deborah Harrington so rightly asked ‘do you ever get the impression we have all somehow been trapped inside a never-ending episode of ‘You’ve been framed’?

Also, this week ministers have opened the public purse yet again to the private sector; shelling out almost £1 million to a private recruitment firm to find temporary staff for the new, but controversial, National Institute for Health Protection, which is to replace Public Health England, in what has been termed a ‘shifting deckchairs’ exercise. In reality an attempt to transfer the blame elsewhere than at the government’s feet.

Whilst refusing to pay nurses a decent pay rise, giving workers a scarcely generous increase in the minimum wage and at the same time suggesting that more cuts to public services may be in the offing, the claim that the government needs to restore its finances smells of purposeful deceit of the public. As GIMMS pointed out last week, the contradictions are increasingly evident, and it is for the public to challenge those false flags which serve ideology and not necessity.

In March 2019, the IMF warned that the world had ‘run out of firepower to fight the next recession’. It erroneously suggested that the ‘money printing’ programmes known as Quantitative Easing, which had supposedly pumped trillions into economies after the Global Financial Crash in 2008, had left the economies so weak in the decade since that the balance sheets of the central banks had ‘swollen to a level that leaves little room left for manoeuvre’. Its conclusion was that the large piles of debt would reduce the ‘fiscal firepower’, available to counteract recessions’.

The public has been led astray by terms such as money printing, public debt and borrowing, and if your suspicions have been aroused that something is not quite right then it’s time to get with monetary realities. Governments around the world have as necessity dictated created the funds necessary to deal with the fallout of Covid-19 at the stroke of a computer key. It may have been dressed up in the smoke and mirrors of QE and borrowing, but it has shown without doubt that, just as in 2008, the money is there at central level to deal not just with the consequences of the pandemic, but also to address the issues which have arisen from insufficient government spending by political decree. From hunger and homelessness to infrastructure decay and environmental degradation.

But government action so far seems to be one of half-hearted plans dressed up in overblown rhetoric, from promises to level up our communities, invest in infrastructure, education and training and deliver an effective green transition. Lots of hot air but little in the way of concrete proposals, or worse, failure to deliver on already proposed programmes.

If the UK government’s flagship home insulation scheme is anything to go by, then one should ask whether that public funding has been properly administered or is even delivering its green objectives. Indeed, in hot news over the weekend the government has decided to scrap the green homes grant which was administered by a US company. Promising a kickstart for a green recovery along with green jobs, it descended unsurprisingly into a dogs’ dinner that was, according to the Environmental Audit Committee of MPs, ‘rushed in conception and poorly administrated’, indeed ‘nothing short of disastrous. As a reader’s letter published this week in the Guardian suggested:

‘This government’s approach to the climate crisis […] is the same as it is to all other iniquities its ideology exacerbates such as poverty, inequality and homelessness. They announce a relatively small injection of cash and a couple of initiatives, careful not to disturb the underlying practices causing the problems. If [the government were] serious and really followed the science, they would end all subsidies to, and investment in, fossil fuel industries. They would also implement curbs to reduce energy and resource consumption, direct and indirect, by the UK population. That would be global leadership and would set a course for a just transition.

 

The government’s proposals are nothing more than a smokescreen to suggest we tried, while baking in failure for our generation and horror for those that follow.”

The problems of lack of commitment by the government are also compounded by financial institutions and businesses who, whilst greenwashing their way to profits, don’t walk the talk. This week, it was reported that the world’s biggest banks have provided $3.8tn of financing for fossil fuel companies since the Paris climate deal in 2015, despite the fact that it has been known for some time that a large proportion of oil and gas reserves must remain in the ground in order to meet the Paris targets. This is exactly the opposite of what is required to tackle the climate crisis effectively and requires urgent government action and spending on a vast scale.

Also this week, Andrea Leadsom announced a new package for parents, ‘Start for Life’, which will provide a hub network to give families access to vital support. This is the same MP who praised Labour’s Sure Start initiative and had to be reminded that government cuts had closed more than 1000 Sure Start Centres.

It seems ironic that we have a Minister who in 2012 envisaged ‘there being absolutely no regulation whatsoever… no minimum wage, no maternity or paternity rights, no unfair dismissal rights, no pension rights…’ for employees working in small businesses and who also voted to reduce the household benefit cap, to freeze the rate of many working-age benefits and for many other changes to the benefits system which have seriously impacted on the lives of those same families, now purporting to want to address the failure caused by a political decision to cut spending on benefits and other services. You couldn’t make it up.

According to reports, Leadsom still has to get the Treasury on board with her plans. Despite the fact that such funding is available at a keystroke on a computer should the government choose; it is constrained only by the availability of real resources. The question of paying for it is an irrelevant one.

Instead of worrying about costs, the government, if it really wants to level up, should have the humility to examine the consequences of its previous spending and policy decisions, and the impact they have had on families across the nation. Would it not be better to start at the roots of poverty by addressing its fundamental causes, through wage and employment policies to help families manage their lives with less financial stress and worry, and in turn create more stable home environments?

The positive knock-on effects of more government spending on public purpose which then fan out into the wider economy are indisputable and make for a healthier and more productive society. Furthermore, people with more money in their pockets are better placed to provide for themselves and will spend any extra into the economy. Simple macroeconomics. And yet the government still sees public provision as a monetary cost rather than a societal gain.

A report on ITV this week covered the appalling conditions in which many families are forced to live in council housing (although this is not confined to social housing, the private sector’s reputation is just as blemished). It was truly shocking. The Chief Executive of Shelter, the biggest housing charity, described it as ‘the worst housing conditions they have ever seen’.

If the government is determined to address poverty and inequality, then it has to put its money where its mouth is. Yes, let us invest in public service provision to support families with better and more joined-up services, but it will not help unless the government focuses as well on eliminating one of the causes of family stress. Poverty. People do not choose poverty, and unemployment, governments impose it through the ideological dogma they espouse and the policies they enact.

At the other end of the scale, Kwasi Kwarteng, the Secretary of State for Business, defending his department’s slow progress on funding for the organisation UK Research and Innovation, which has so far failed to provide any sort of certainty for the science community, blamed it on the pressure on budgets. This is not just short-sighted, as the Covid-19 pandemic has shown, society will increasingly depend on science to address key issues like climate change, but is actually nothing short of a lie in monetary terms. Furthermore, this is the role of the State. Planning for the future, not abandoning citizens to the vagaries of a market-led disaster which is sure to follow without government action.

The government is not short of a penny. It is the currency issuer. Therefore, the only constraints it faces to deliver its agenda are real resource ones. Whilst the government continues to embrace false funding models which claim monetary constraints, any plans for a just green transition that will also address poverty and inequality at the same time will fall by the wayside.

The unvarnished truth is that the phrases ‘bolstering the treasury’s coffers,’ ‘closing the tax gap’ and ‘protecting the finances’ – terms which appear regularly in the press – are illusory descriptions of how the state money system works. Vocabulary designed to make us think that the government spends in the same way households, local government and businesses do.

The illusion acts to keep us in our place, so as we do not demand too much in the way of public services or any other useful expenditure which provides social value and serves the economy.

The real questions for citizens regarding the future are about what real resources we have and how we want them to be distributed. Do we want a return to the old normal of unnecessary and wasteful private consumption, environmental destruction and the reinforcement of the vast inequalities that accompany it? Or do we want our governments to act in the public interest by commanding the resources that are available to deliver public purpose? The second option will require a shift in how we think about creating a fairer society.

Why aren’t we looking at a Job Guarantee as a mechanism to help in addressing both inequity and climate change? Why wouldn’t governments choose a macroeconomically sound proposal, which focuses on creating economic stability in times of crisis and smoothing out the inevitable cyclical economic downturns which destroy lives?  Why not give working people useful, socially oriented employment instead of leaving them to rot on the unemployment scrap heap?

For too long, governments have acted in the interests of big business and global corporations, which in turn through the implementation of short-sighted employment and wage policies serving business, not citizens, have then impacted on their economies adversely.

Haven’t we had enough? Time for change!

 

 

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The post Have we had enough of market-led dogma yet? appeared first on The Gower Initiative for Modern Money Studies.

Money for bombs, but not for people?

MMT is a description of the monetary system. It is not something you can “switch to”, “implement”, or “use”. It merely describes what already is.

The description, once understood, implies what is possible and not possible. MMT then gives us an essential structure to work with to derive economic policy.

So, it is clear that mainstream economists are not critiquing MMT. Rather, they are attacking the progressive possibilities uncovered by what MMT implies. They are virulently angry about the public discovering that the mainstream lied to them; what economists told the people was impossible is factually quite possible, and economists are lashing out with everything they have – mainly straw man arguments – in a fit of terror and panic. In other words, the public found out that the TINA mantra (There Is No Alternative) was and is total bullshit, and that mainstream economists don’t know what the hell they are talking about.

Ellis Winningham (Economist)

 

HMS Vanguard – Image by Think Defence/Flickr Creative Commons License

As we approach the anniversary of the first lockdown, the author Michael Rosen, who spent 48 days in intensive care, has joined his voice with others calling for a public inquiry into the government’s handling of the Covid-19 Pandemic. The consequences for families across the nation and the economy have been painful and far-reaching. However, much of what has happened this year cannot be attributed to the unexpected nature of the crisis or to happenstance.

The responsibility lies, firstly, with an economic system which dominates policy and spending decisions and has left our public and social infrastructure a shadow of itself. Secondly, it lies with the government which has neglected its role in planning and spending for public benefit, preferring instead to serve its corporate friends.

For many years to come, the human and economic cost of the pandemic will be a reminder of a government which put corporations before people, with a decade’s worth of policies that deprived our local communities of sufficient funding, cut spending on vital public services and turned the benefits system into a corrective system which resembles the inhumane Elizabethan poor laws which brought into being the workhouse which punished instead of alleviating the pain and suffering caused by unemployment.

Whilst politicians and mainstream economists still talk about ‘fixing the roof’, in this case meaning the public finances, the real roof that needs to be fixed is the one that has created a public and social infrastructure which no longer serves the public purpose.

According to NHS officials, public sympathy for the NHS may be put in doubt as waiting lists for appointments and treatment grow as a result of a year of delays due to Covid-19 and the already damaging funding gaps which will further affect the NHS’s capacity to deliver services in the future.  Cuts to public sector spending over the last 10 years left the NHS ill-prepared for a pandemic. It left a stretched service short of nurses, facilities, equipment and beds. A situation which was also aggravated by poor government crisis planning.

These were the outward, most visible, and shocking indications that previous government choices, arising out of an adherence to fiscal and ideologically driven dogma, had left the public sector ill-prepared for what was to come.

However, in the same vein, we cannot ignore the causal relationship between government spending and policy decisions which have driven a rise in poverty, inequality and deprivation which have all played a major role in this crisis and its on-going, systemic disaster.

The statistics show clearly that the pandemic has affected some sections of society more than others, in geographical and class terms, and have contributed to life-changing experiences and tragic death outcomes. As Dr Charlotte Summers, a lecturer in intensive care medicine at the University of Cambridge, commented in a Guardian article this week:

‘The problem won’t be answered with a single-minded focus on economic growth but rather an understanding that health and wealth are intertwined and that tackling poor and overcrowded housing, air pollution, unemployment and inadequate education are essential for promoting economic prosperity and public health.’

That drills down into the very heart of the question about economic prosperity, and not just in this country. Who creates prosperity and what conditions are needed to ensure that citizens can make their contributions to the good functioning of the economy and society as a whole through the work they do, whether paid or not?

After the Global Financial Crash, austerity was prescribed as the cure for bloated public finances. We are now living with the consequences of the austerity lie, which has not just affected our public infrastructure but also led to increases in poverty that should shame one of the richest countries in the world.

Over the past year, it has been proved without doubt who the real architects of a healthy economy are; that is the people of this country who have kept it functioning despite the difficulties that Covid-19 posed.  From nurses, doctors and other health workers to social care workers, delivery drivers, those working in the energy and water sectors and local government services, those keeping our parks tidy and our streets clean; they are the real wealth creators since they represent the backbone of our economy and our real social wealth.

And yet, despite the clear evidence that our public infrastructure and the people who work both in it and the wider economy are vital to the good functioning of society, politicians still continue to preach ‘austerity’ through the household budget narratives they use to describe the public accounts.

Only this week, the Health Secretary Matt Hancock suggested that decisions on public sector pay had to be taken because of the ‘enormous pressure on the public finances’. That pressure is apparently so great that the Treasury and NHS England are in a standoff over the demand for additional funding, which if not conceded will result in yet more service cuts and will lead to the NHS not being able to tackle the backlog of surgery and treatments that have built up during the past year.

After 10 years of swingeing cuts already, combined with getting the NHS ready for the big sell-off to make it an attractive prospect for the private health care companies, once again there is the veiled suggestion in the standoff that after the huge and necessary relief package which has sustained the economy over the past year, in the end, hard decisions will have to be made about the affordability of public services and wage increases.

The same tired narratives have also applied over the cuts to foreign aid which the Chancellor announced last year. This week (as reported in the Guardian) the charity Voluntary Service Overseas is planning to shut down its operations in 14 countries as a result of government cuts to the foreign aid budget. The rationale for the cuts, according to the Chancellor, was a response to the economic costs of the coronavirus crisis. A government spokesperson suggested that it had been ‘forced … to take tough but necessary decisions’.

Suggesting that there is no money for aid because the government has spent too much on dealing with the pandemic is yet more deceit by a reckless government, which at the same time has absolutely no problem finding money as it did this week to lift its cap on the number of Trident nuclear warheads.

The inconsistency of the narrative is bewildering. One minute there is no money and the next like the magician pulling a rabbit out of a hat it is suddenly whipped up in no time.

Plenty of money for death and destruction, but none for dealing with the vast inequities that the dominating economic system creates. At the same time as announcing the lifting of the cap, Boris Johnson made a personal commitment (not that anyone takes his promises or personal commitment seriously) that they would be restoring foreign aid as soon as the ‘fiscal situation allows,’ again speaking as if there were a shortage of funds in the state piggy bank to provide support for overseas development.

If you are not confused, you should be, by these clear contradictions. There is no shortage of government funds. Only real resource constraints define government spending decisions and how they will be managed, along with the political will which determines what government priorities are.

We cannot see this issue purely from a UK perspective – it is so much more in these tumultuous times of global crisis and change. It is vital to take this discussion to the next level; the biggest threat we face is climate change combined with growing global poverty and inequality.

Instead of focusing on addressing those threats cooperatively with a global vision for change (not a capitalist inspired Great Reset), our leaders think the best way forward is to make the UK a world player in death and destruction. And it is not confined to the UK. This week the republican senator Mitch McConnell challenged President Biden to boost defence spending to counter what they see as a threat from China.

While our leaders play at warmongering, what we really need is action. Action to address the human and resource exploitation that is creating huge poverty, inequality, and environmental destruction. Exploitation which afflicts both rich and poor countries but discriminates more unfairly against those who are being affected by the West’s excessive consumption, unfair distribution of real wealth and the impact of damaging resource extraction.

We need a fairer trading system as well as a transfer of technologies and other practical support to assist in this global levelling up.

With global cooperation, there could be a role for such organisations as the VSO to work with poorer nations. Not charitably funded, but rather a global governmental initiative using sovereign currency-issuing capacities to give everyone a fair chance within a sustainable economic system.

Whilst these things may seem impossible, acting on fighting poverty globally shouldn’t be down to charities, who are in fact mitigating for a rotten global economic system which is unjust and exploitative, and also creates power imbalances serving the political interests of corrupted governments.

What we desperately need is targeted action by national governments to reduce global inequity. In light of the challenges, we will all gain by cooperation. The inequality and poverty our leaders have connived in, through embracing neoliberal and monetarist ideology, is a stain on the international community.

However, commitment to tackling climate change even locally is being watered down by our current government. According to a report by Greener UK which is a coalition of campaigning groups, legally binding commitments on key areas such as pollution, nature, restoration, waste and resources have been put off until 2037; and only this week Boris Johnson announced that he wanted to cut air passenger duty on domestic flights to boost travel connections across the UK. Some commitment to addressing climate change!! The Australian Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, is suggesting a similar policy with half-price flights to boost the domestic economy. We are going in the wrong direction.

In the light of the planned COP26 conference being hosted by the UK in November, it puts doubt not just on the government’s commitment to real change here, but also playing a cooperative role globally. An opportunity perhaps for more hot air and rhetoric from ministers promising the Earth but the reality of less action.

It is even more disturbing to learn that the environmental principle intended to stop branches of government from acting in ways that might harm the environment will not apply to key departments such as defence and the Treasury. Does that imply that tackling climate change is to be relegated to affordability? No doubt after this huge round of relief spending, we might possibly see that suggestion being made.

The household budget earworm is well and truly established in our public conversations, but it is important to challenge those notions. The BBC reported this week that UK government “borrowing” had hit a February record, and suggested that the public finances had been hit hard as a result.

On Thursday the Centre for Public Policy held a Zoom webinar entitled ‘Is there any money left? The Future of Public Finances Post-Covid.’ Echoes perhaps of Liam Byrne’s note left in the Treasury stating that there was ‘no money left’.

Politicians, economists, and journalists can’t get beyond thinking in accounting frameworks about the public finances, and thus constrain debate about the very serious issues we face, because now or later we will, according to them, have to pay for it. Affordability trumps saving the planet, addressing poverty, and restoring our public infrastructure to health every time!

At the other end of the scale, this week an article in the Financial Times, alluding to a supposed failure of the fiat monetary system, suggested that it had reached the end of its usefulness as it had led to higher debt and spending profligacy, and that some alternative monetary anchor should replace it. The Gold Standard and its replacement forged at Bretton Woods failed to cope with the uncertainty caused by global events such as the Great Depression. So why would one want to restore such an anchored system? It didn’t work then, and it won’t work now.

In fact, whilst not mentioned, probably deliberately, it would be much fairer to say that the fiat monetary system hadn’t failed, but rather the ideological ideas that underpin the spending and policy decisions of neoliberal governments had. Poverty, inequality, and privatisation of public services have all contributed to the impoverishment of our global societies. That should be the real cause for concern.

Private debt is the real problem, not public debt as we are led to believe. The nonsense spouted about public debt and borrowing levels is designed to keep the population in check, and thinking that the things they value such as good local and nationally paid for and provided public services, health and social care and education are unaffordable.

The in-depth paper An Accounting Model of the UK Exchequer’, which was co-authored by Neil Wilson, Richard Tye and Andrew Berkley and was presented to the UCL Institute for Innovation and Public Purpose this week, reveals the monetary realities of government spending and exposes the smoke and mirrors that confuse people’s understanding and lead them to accept the dominant paradigm.

Even if you previously believed it was firmly attached, the global pandemic of 2020 has caused the mask of ‘fiscal responsibility’ to slip away completely. Politicians that were previously preaching hair shirts of austerity have been able to find billions of pounds, dollars and euros from somewhere to prop up their economies while the inflation that we were told would run rampant if we were ever to undertake such an action has been noticeable by its absence.”

In an article this week, even the BBC seems to be getting on board with this new way of understanding the public finances. As explained by Andrew Verity:

“…Unlike households governments controlling their own currency can borrow without limit money that they have freshly created.  They therefore can’t go bankrupt. Because almost all of the money borrowed by the government in this financial year (by issuing gilts) will be owed to another public sector body, the Bank of England. It’s nothing like a household borrowing from a bank.”

It is important to note two things; firstly, that without the government’s relief package the economy would have been worse off – government had no alternative; and secondly, that the additional spending will not create a debt burden for future generations – the bogey man that is regularly flaunted in front of citizens worried about rising taxes for them and for their children.

If the government had failed to act, the burden would have been one of economic collapse and human misery combined with continuing economic uncertainty and all that would mean for future generations. The choice is simple. Worry about the myth of public debt or forge a new understanding that enables economic and planetary stability.

We are by no means out of the woods, led as we are by a government that has a singular agenda to support its corporate friends and pour public money into private profit. But with increasing public knowledge about how the government spends, and that fantasy but perfectly possible future government dedicated to public service using the monetary tools at its disposal, we can address the challenges and create a society which adds real value to human existence, whilst at the same time ensuring economic and planetary sustainability.

 

 

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We Can Eliminate Child Poverty

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 20/03/2021 - 4:31am in

Twice a year, in North Carolina, Eastern Cherokee families receive a check in the mail for their share of the profits from the casinos owned by their tribe. The first of these casinos opened in 1995, and since then, researchers have been able to study the effects of the cash infusions on the families, many of whom were previously poor, and compare them to neighboring families who didn’t receive the cash. From an academic and scientific point of view the researchers lucked upon both an experimental group and a control group. 

What they’ve found is amazing: The children of the families receiving cash have fewer drug and alcohol problems, fewer mental health issues, fewer arrests and are 15 percent more likely to finish school. Non-Cherokee families living nearby, who don’t receive any cash, are the convenient control group — their environment and situation is pretty much the same, and sure enough, their kids have not experienced similar improvements in outcomes.

Based on the encouraging news from these communities and others, the U.S. is implementing a nationwide system of cash support for low-income parents as part of the stimulus plan that was passed last week. 

Under the plan’s new Child Tax Credit, the vast majority of parents will receive up to $3,600 per child each year in what is, in effect, a major expansion of the existing and successful Earned Income Tax Credit. As currently designed, it will last for only a year, though already many in congress have indicated they will seek to make it permanent.

Reducing poverty is cost effective

Studies have shown that a money boost can make a pretty big positive difference in people’s lives — especially when it comes to the future lives of children. A non-partisan think tank called the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine estimates that child poverty costs the U.S. $800 billion to $1.1 trillion a year — 4.0 to 5.4 percent of the GDP — in lower adult earnings, worse health and higher crime. It is predicted that the new child allowance in the stimulus plan will reduce child poverty by 45 percent. Clearly, fixing this is important and the economic and health benefits will impact everyone. 

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There is more evidence than just in the communities in North Carolina. Canada already has a system that is similar to the one in the new U.S. stimulus plan. It’s a child allowance program called the Canada Child Benefit (CCB), and it reduced poverty there significantly just one year after being initiated.

Launched in 2016, the program provides cash payouts to low- and middle-income families with children. The results have been impressive. Between 2015 and 2017, Canada’s national poverty rate dropped by almost 20 percent, partly due to the CCB. A year after the program began, the number of children living in poverty went down by 18 percent… and after two years, there were 33 percent fewer children living in poverty. 

The size of the CCB payment has increased over time — today, the maximum payment is CAD$6,765 (about USD$5,420) per child. By comparison, the payments provided under the U.S. stimulus bill will be USD$3,600 per child under six and $3,000 per child six and older — not quite as much, but it’s a start. 

Credit: Center for American Progress

CCB payments are based on your income from the previous year, and are adjusted regionally because the cost of housing and services varies from place to place. The U.S. child benefit, on the other hand, is a flat payment that doesn’t change based on where you live or how much money you make — unless you make more than $75,000 as an individual or $150,000 as a couple, in which case it phases out quickly.

The Canadian province of Alberta showed the most dramatic impact from the CCB. Between 2015 and 2017 the provincial child poverty rate was cut in half…helping Alberta achieve the lowest child poverty rate in Canada. Alberta, home of the tar sands, has the highest median wages in Canada, but also the highest level of inequality. Poverty was costing them CAD$7.1 – 9.5 billion (USD$5.7 – 7.6 billion) a year. The positive impact of this program will be felt by everyone.

These programs, it must be said, work best when there are support systems and opportunities in place. Alberta passed laws increasing the minimum wage, funding early education, ensuring affordable transport and ending predatory lending. When it works, this combination of programs with the extra cash allows folks to escape the vicious cycle of poverty — not just with money, but with the breathing space necessary to escape from poverty entirely. 

Will money for kids work in America? It already has

The U.S. has long employed its own tool for fighting child poverty called the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC). The EITC has been very successful. In 2017 it helped lift three million children out of poverty, and over the course of 50 years it has helped cut child poverty in half

The ripple effects of this are well documented. A CDC study has shown that this extra cash significantly improves health and education outcomes for these children…which, of course, benefits their entire community and society at large. In the U.S., children in families receiving the EITC did better in school — it’s estimated that with their higher math and science scores they stand to make $40,000 more in lifetime income. A 2007 analysis showed that the EITC added $5 billion to business sales in California alone, and it helped add 30,000 jobs…and not even everyone applied who was eligible!

The EITC works, but it’s fairly limited in scope — it’s only for working-class families, and to be eligible the recipient must have a job. The child benefit in the new stimulus plan, on the other hand, is much closer to what Canada offers: guaranteed regular payments that over 93 percent of children will be eligible for. An analysis by Columbia University estimates that it will reduce U.S. child poverty overall by 45 percent

It’s not uncommon for folks to decry “handouts” and to claim that cash will just be wasted on lazy people. Putting those moralistic judgements aside, the evidence speaks for itself.  Even if one were to be cold blooded and purely focused on self interest, eliminating poverty, especially for children, has been shown to benefit everyone. The economic costs of child poverty are huge, so as these programs reduce that cost, they end up paying for themselves. 

Given a significant financial boost folks often figure out how to improve their circumstances and those of their children. If we can put aside our ideologies and focus on what has been proven to work, America’s new child benefit program — and others like it — might be here to stay.

The post We Can Eliminate Child Poverty appeared first on Reasons to be Cheerful.

Tom Mayhew Skewering the Lies about Benefit Claimants with Laughter

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 19/03/2021 - 6:47am in

Okay, I finally stayed up last night to listen to Radio 4’s Tom Mayhew Is Benefits Scum. I blogged about this programme a little while ago when I first read about it in the Radio Times. I said that it looked like it was worth listening to, as it seemed that it would tell the truth about what it’s really like to live on benefits. This is as opposed to the various ‘poverty-porn’ documentaries like Benefits Street, that seek to portray everyone on welfare as a scrounger. Unfortunately, it’s on at 11.00 pm on Wednesday evenings, which is a bit past my usual bedtime. But last night I actually managed to stay up and listen to it.

It’s not long, only a quarter of an hour in length, and mixes staged recreations of meetings with Jobcentre staff and benefits advisors, and stand-up, observational comedy based on Mayhew’s own experience of the benefits system. He also had a guest performer, Francesca Inez, a disabled woman, who gave her own perspective on how unfair and humiliating the system’s treatment of the disabled is.

It started out in the Jobcentre, where Mayhew was being asked by the clerk if he had really been spending 35 hours a week looking for work. Had he gone for that job as a miner as he should have done? Going out, he found his friend Francesca lying on the floor. She had gone through the process of seeing what would be the ideal job for her, and told it was ballet dancer. She had fallen over trying to practise. Mayhew commiserated with her, telling her that the machine had told him his ideal jobs were footballer, boxer and the Queen’s butler.

This sketch led into Inez herself talking about the grotesque injustice of the benefits system. She said people ask her what should be the proper relationship between government agencies and the disabled over benefits. She said it should be a partnership between the government and the claimant’s doctor. Unfortunately, this had been scrapped by New Labour, who had decided that a sizable number of claims for disability benefit were fraudulent, and so had introduced the Work Capability Test. In fact, the proportion of fraudulent claims was 0.05 per cent, so it was in fact easier for Mayhew to get a job as a footballer than to commit benefit fraud. She asked who would seriously want to be unable to go out on their own, to go to the toilet on their or prepare their own food, all for the sake of £100 a week. She was also massively unimpressed by the clerks the Department for Work and Pensions send round to make sure that claimants really are disabled. ‘Oh, I’m just here to see if you’re still wobbly’, she imitated one saying. He reply was ‘Well, I’ll give you a wet shave, and then you tell me.’

Mayhew also attacked the sanctions system. He thought you were only sanctioned if you deliberately tried to mislead or play the system. But no! He found himself sanctioned for eight weeks simply because he’d sent the wrong form in. But he’d been told that it would take eight weeks for his case to be reviewed. How strange, then, that he had his benefits restored after only four after he’d written to him MP. He then gave a shout-out to David Gauke, a Tory, saying how weird it was that a Tory MP should actually help someone on benefit.

He argued that it was wrong to call welfare payments ‘benefits’. Benefits sounds like something extra on top of one’s wages. Instead it should be called ‘Survival Money’, because you needed it to survive. This would make it difficult to have people thrown off it as well. Depriving someone of benefits sounds much better than removing their survival money. And as for sanctions, how does being hungry make someone better at finding work?

He also joked about the massive lack of self-esteem people on benefits have. He told one story of how he’d been accosted by a man while walking back from the Jobcentre. The man had told him that he should carry himself with a bit more confidence, head held high, because if he’d been a mugger, Mayhew would have been an easy target. It was, Mayhew jested, a Virtual mugging in which he’d been robbed of his self-respect. He then told another one about a mugger marching him to a cash machine, telling him he was going to leave him with nothing. ‘How kind of him to clear my overdraft!’

More seriously, Mayhew told a chilling anecdote which showed how easy it is for desperate, starving young men to be reduced to selling their bodies for sex. He’d met someone at a gathering, and they promised to get in touch with each other again via email. A few months later he got one from this man. Mayhew replied to him, saying he was in a bad patch financially, and asked him for £50. He told him he’d be able to pay him back in two month’s time. The man replied that he couldn’t give him any money, but he would pay him £200 to have sex with him. Mayhew joked that he didn’t, as he wouldn’t do anything like that for less than £350. But for a moment he was tempted. Poverty has often forced desperate women into prostitution, but this story showed it could also happen to men.

I had a great, appreciative comment by Mayhew to my original blog piece about his programme. He asked me if I could do something to further publicise his programme, because he’d been going through the papers and hadn’t found any reviews of it. Listening to his programme, it was easy to understand why: he was too sharp, and told the truth.

Right-wing rags like the Heil, the Scum and the Depress sell copies by spreading moral panic about benefit claimants. They actively paint them as scroungers and malingerers, as does right-wing internet radio host Alex Belfield. Although rather more polite, the same attitude also pervades the Torygraph and the Times. These papers very definitely do not want their Thatcherite ideals contradicted by people, who’ve been at the sharp end of the system, showing their readers they’re perfectly decent, honest people and telling them how dysfunctional, humiliating and malign the system really is.

And unfortunately I don’t see the supposedly left-wing press being much better. The Mirror, the Graun and the Absurder have all struck me as being Blairite New Labour, who wholeheartedly embraced Thatcher’s contempt and persecution of the unemployed, the sick and the disabled. The Graun has many times urged people to vote Lib Dem in recent elections, so again, these papers won’t want their readers disabused of some of their received notions.

Added to this is the current campaign by the Tories and their lapdog press to destroy the Beeb. This is partly because the Tories depend for their propaganda on the favour of Rupert Murdoch and his papers, who hates the Beeb as an obstacle to his domination of the global media. They also hate the idea of a state TV broadcaster as part of their opposition to any kind of state intervention, as well as the idea of an impartial, public service broadcaster. Hence the attempt to set up various rivals to the Beeb by the Times.

As a result, the papers have been running stories about how the BBC is too left-wing and too ‘woke’. Belfield put up a video a day or two ago rejoicing over the cancellation of Nish Kumar’s The Mash Report. Director-General Tim Davie had supposedly cancelled it because it was too biased towards the left. Belfield went further, and claimed that the real reason it was axed was because it wasn’t funny and was helmed by a ‘box-ticker’ – his term for a person of colour or other minority, who’s been given a job because of their identity rather than talent. Kumar’s Asian, so Belfield’s comment looks just a tad racist to me. Belfield claimed that cancelling Kumar’s show wouldn’t make any difference, as the Beeb as a whole is too left-wing and needs to be privatised.

It’s obvious from this that the right-wing media, then, aren’t going to give a good review to an explicitly left-wing comedy show. I also think that class is also an issue here. New Labour, it has been pointed out, was liberal but not socialist. Blair had turned his back on the working class, and instead New Labour concentrated on trying to recruit the middle classes. The left-wing elements of New Labour ideology was a concern with combating racism and other forms of prejudice, such as against gays, and promoting feminism and better opportunities for women. I think defending and promoting the disabled is in there, so long as they are properly respectable and not benefit scroungers. Mayhew is working class, and so isn’t of interest according to New Labour ideology.

All of which means that, unfortunately, the press isn’t prepared to give a hearing to something like this. Which is a pity, as it’s very good. Mayhew tells his stories and his jokes in a normal, conversational tone. He doesn’t harangue or shout for effect, as many comedians do. And he’s actually very witty. To simulate a studio audience, the show used canned laughter because it was impossible to have a live audience due to the Coronavirus. Mayhew made a couple of jokes about how the imaginary audience hadn’t paid for their tickets. He then told how, after one gig, he’d been accosted by an unhappy audience member. Why didn’t he get a proper job instead of standing there complaining, asked the man. To which he replied, ‘Have you seen my show?’ He then commented that at least he was a Tory who had paid for his ticket. He also made jokes about other people, being paid to do nothing all day. Like MPs.

It’s a pity the shows on so late on a weekday night, as it’s a funny, necessary antidote to the constant propaganda being pumped out about benefit claimants being scroungers. I don’t know anything about Francesca Inez, but from what I heard she deserves a place with the other disabled comedians, who have appeared on TV. At the very least, she deserves an endorsement from DPAC because of the way her comedy tries to bring their concerns to public attention. The show also demonstrates very clearly why we need a public service broadcaster, as it’s only a broadcaster like the Beeb that would take a chance on a show like it.

I think it’s only a four part series, and concludes next week. If this sounds like the kind of thing that tickles your funny bone and you also agree with its message, then please tune in.

I hope this is the start of a great career for Tom Mayhew, and that the show later gets repeated in an earlier slot when hopefully more people can hear it.

Free food. Marrickville.

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 17/03/2021 - 10:30am in

Free food. Marrickville.

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