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Truss and Sunak’s Hard-Right Economic Plans Will Only Deepen Cost of Living Crisis

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 05/08/2022 - 8:31pm in

With the UK heading for recession, the two remaining candidates to become Britain's next Prime Minister are committed to the same failed economic theories that created the current crisis, writes Thomas Perrett

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Both of the candidates in the Conservative leadership contest have outlined economic strategies predicated, to varying degrees, on tax cuts and shrinking the size of the state.

Liz Truss, who was recently forced to U-turn on plans linking public sector pay to regional living costs – which would result in a significant pay cut for already economically vulnerable teachers and nurses outside of London – has promised £40 billion worth of tax cuts. 

Rishi Sunak has promised to implement a 20% income tax cut by 2029 once the threat of inflation has subsided. "I believe in hard work, family and integrity," he wrote last month. "I am a Thatcherite, I am running as a Thatcherite and I will govern as a Thatcherite". Sunak clearly intends to depart from Boris Johnson’s more interventionist rhetoric on the economy, supporting current levels of corporation tax (which themselves are historically low) only to mitigate inflation and protect the investments of the wealthy.

But neither candidate has put forward a coherent strategy for addressing the cost of living crisis, the climate emergency or the pressures within the NHS – which rank among voters’ most pressing concerns.

Instead they have chosen to espouse the same laissez-faire approach which is arguably the source of Britain’s current malaise. A recent report by the Trades Union Congress found that British workers are on course for the worst economic squeeze in the G7, as real wages are set to decrease by 6% over the next two years, following a hit of nearly £20,000 between 2008 and 2021.

Research from the Resolution Foundation, which has concluded that the richest 10% of the population have increased their average wealth relative to the bottom 50% by between £300,000 and £1.2 million per adult, has found that the average British household is £8,800 poorer on average than its equivalent in five countries: France, Germany, Australia, Canada and the Netherlands.

According to the Foundation, sluggish growth, stagnating productivity and a lack of focus on mitigating inequalities have produced these staggering disparities.

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A Failed Economic Plan

The Resolution Foundation found that while Britain’s productivity had caught up with that of France and Germany, by the ‘90s and mid ‘00s, its GDP was 6% lower than Germany by the 2008 crisis – a figure which reached 19% by 2019.

Meanwhile, labour productivity in Britain grew by just 0.4% in the 12 years following the 2008 financial crash – under half the rate of comparative OECD countries, where it increased by 0.9%.

The country’s lack of productivity, when combined with widening economic disparities, has spawned the vastly unequal society which exists today. The aftermath of the Thatcher era, which saw 'Right to Buy' and the deregulation of the financial sector, prompted financial speculators to lend excessively to mortgage holders, culminating in skyrocketing house prices. 

Unproductive assets have emerged as a lucrative avenue for investment, with growth in investment in productive assets having stalled since 2008. Meanwhile, housing remains the largest source of wealth in Britain, comprising nearly 60% of GDP.

According to the Bank of England’s own research, house prices would be 25% lower today had the second round of quantitative easing not been implemented back in 2009. Indeed, the Resolution Foundation concluded that business investment in the UK in 2019 was just 10%, behind an average of 13% in France, Germany and the US.

Real wage stagnation has been a consequence of flatlining productive investment in the aftermath of the 2008 crash, with British workers bearing the brunt of successive economic crises to a greater extent than their European counterparts.

The Resolution Foundation discovered that, while real wages had increased by 33% on average between 1970 and 2007, this figure fell below zero in 2010, leading British household incomes to trail Germany by 16% and France by 9%, despite having been higher in 2007.

The report also highlighted the effects of the weakening of trade union power on wages, finding that the decline of unions accounts for a sixth of wage inequality among men from 1983 to 2019, and that across the entire labour market, wages could be 15% lower than they would otherwise be if stronger union laws were in place, the equivalent of £100 a week for workers on average.

Britain’s anti-union policies are another aspect of Thatcherism which has vastly diminished wages. Excessive trade union militancy was viewed as the cause of a ‘wage-price spiral’ which had sent inflation spiralling and allegedly prevented businesses from attracting investment.

As a result of Thatcher’s policies, which saw union membership fall to around nine million by 1990 – its lowest level since 1948 – real wages ceased to be positively correlated with increased productivity, stagnating to their lowest level since the Napoleonic wars, according to the Trades Union Congress.

It is therefore concerning that, following a wave of strikes in multiple sectors throughout this year, the Conservative leadership contest has seen a resurgence in union-busting rhetoric.

Both Truss and Sunak have said that they would ban essential strikes, with Truss proposing taxing strike pay and compelling unions to achieve 50% support – not only from their voting members but from all members eligible to vote.

The Government’s decision to permit agency workers to replace striking workers, despite often being less skilled and trained, thus posing a significant risk to public safety, is the latest in a succession of punitive measures exacerbating the wage stagnation and economic precariousness which have become endemic in this country over the past few decades.

Levelling Down

The Resolution Foundation’s report also analysed the regional inequalities which Boris Johnson’s ‘Levelling Up’ agenda has largely failed to address. It concluded that, in 2019, income per person in the richest local authority (Kensington and Chelsea) was £52,500, compared to the poorest local authority (Nottingham) where it was just £11,700.

Moreover, the report found that low income households in Britain are currently 22% poorer than their French counterparts and 21% poorer than their German counterparts – with the lowest income households earning on average £3,800 less than their equivalents in France.

“The share of people thinking their local area has deteriorated in the preceding two years rose from 20% in 2013-14 to 26% in 2019-20," the report said. "Tackling this sense of decline is essential to delivering on a social contract that promises you’ll gain from the national economy wherever you live. But Britain is not serious, yet, about delivering this."

The Resolution Foundation found that, between 2009 and 2019, council revenues per person fell by 30% in the most deprived areas, compared to just 15% in the least deprived areas.

According to a recent report by the New Economics Foundation, half of British families were £110 worse off per year between Boris Johnson’s election victory in 2019 and the end of 2021 – despite the richest 5% gaining £3,3000 per year.

The Prime Minister's handling of the Coronavirus pandemic was an important factor in exacerbating these regional divides, as the UK was one of only two countries in the G7 with growth rates trailing 2019 levels by 2%. Moreover, the Resolution Foundation concluded that the post-pandemic era has seen 430,000 fewer people in work and investment slump to just 9% of pre-pandemic levels.

Neither Conservative leadership candidate is well-placed to alleviate the flatlining real pay, declining productive investment and rampant inflation which has entrenched inequality within British society.

Both candidates are committed to the suppression of organised labour and the pursuit of monetarist tactics for mitigating inflation – both crucial elements of the same Thatcherite strategy which has caused many of the disparities mentioned in the Resolution Foundation’s report.

As slumps in job creation and regional investment in favour of rampant financial speculation have made Britain’s workers significantly poorer than their European counterparts, how will the Government get the economy back on track?

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MPs Condemn Government’s ‘Rushed’ Awarding of Contracts to Randox

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 27/07/2022 - 7:57pm in

The Public Accounts Committee claims it is ‘impossible to have confidence’ that contracts awarded to the testing provider during the pandemic were ‘awarded properly’, reports David Hencke

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MPs today condemned the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) for “woefully inadequate record keeping” in awarding £777 million of COVID testing contracts to the Northern Ireland firm Randox Laboratories and its associated companies, mostly without any competition, during the pandemic.

MPs on the Commons Public Accounts Committee say “it is impossible to have confidence that the contracts were awarded properly”.

An alleged lack of documentation combined with the failure to record minutes of meetings, mainly between Randox and junior health minister Lord James Bethell, meant there were no proper audit trails. The MPs’ report says eight meetings were held, four of them were not declared and only two were minuted.

In addition, Matt Hancock, the former Health Secretary, received undeclared hospitality from Dr Peter Fitzgerald, managing director of Randox, during a ministerial visit to Northern Ireland in 2019. Hancock told MPs that his office considered it to be a political event and therefore did not need to be disclosed. Hancock was given a free night’s accommodation and a meal. He said he had saved the taxpayer one night’s hotel accommodation.

Fitzgerald ‘s company is a regular donor to the Conservative Party, having given a total of £152,600 between 2010 to 2018 to party funds.

The awarding of contracts caused political controversy for former Cabinet minister Owen Paterson, who was lobbying Matt Hancock on behalf of Randox at the time.

Paterson last year faced a 30-day suspension from Parliament for breaching lobbying rules, in relation to his previous efforts to advocate on behalf of Randox, but resigned before Parliament voted on his suspension.

Boris Johnson had intervened on Paterson’s behalf in an effort to relax parliamentary standards rules, but backed down amid the public and political uproar. The Conservatives subsequently lost Paterson’s North Shropshire seat to the Liberal Democrats in a by-election, losing a 23,000-vote majority.

Millions Made

The MPs are very critical of the department’s failure to investigate any potential conflict of interest because of these circumstances.

The report says: “For its first contract with Randox, [worth £132 million] the department failed to identify any conflicts of interest, incorrectly stating at the time that consideration of conflicts of interest was not applicable to that contract award. The department was not able to answer clearly how it makes sure that those involved in procurement give due consideration to potential conflicts of interest in their decision making, even where interests are properly recorded or declared.”

According to the report, the procedure for awarding it was unusual in that it was not signed off by a senior civil servant. Instead, Lord Bethell was authorised to proceed and got it signed off later. The Cabinet Office, which normally approves large contracts, was also by-passed.

The second contract worth £328 million was awarded “despite the performance issues with the first contract, which meant Randox took longer than expected to increase its testing capacity”. The department still awarded it to Randox without competition in October 2020 and appeared by then to have already become “heavily reliant on its services.”

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The report says: “Randox reported a profit of £177 million in the year to 30 June 2021, more than a hundred times greater than its £1.2 million profit for the 18 months to 30 June 2020. The company’s net assets also increased ten-fold in one year, from £17 million in June 2020 to £171 million in June 2021.”

It adds: “The department was… unable to offer a view on whether there had been profiteering on testing contracts. “  

Dame Meg Hillier, Labour chair of the Public Accounts Committee, said: “The National Audit Office has been careful to stress that it has not seen any evidence that the Government’s contracts with Randox were awarded improperly. But then, in the case of the hundreds of millions of pounds of contracts awarded to Randox there was precious little evidence to see. Much of the business was won without any competing tenders from companies who may have had better capacity to deliver, perhaps without the upfront capital.

“Add to that the failure to include any performance measures in the first contract, or any protection against excess profits, and this looks just like the rushed policy and contract-making that we’ve seen across so much of the Government’s response to the pandemic. We repeatedly hear the reference to the crisis we were facing as a nation. But acting fast doesn’t mean acting fast and loose.”

Randox Responds

A spokesperson for Randox said: “The PAC report is deeply flawed and wrong in assumptions it makes and the conclusions it draws about Randox.

“As the UK’s largest diagnostic company, with four decades of experience, over 2,000 professional staff on hand at the start of the pandemic and more than £350m of prior investment in diagnostic and engineering innovation, Randox was uniquely situated to respond to the national need when COVID-19 emerged in early 2020”.

The company defended its record, saying how “in supporting the UK’s urgent requirement for coronavirus testing Randox reacted with speed, efficiency and flexibility in delivering value. The company developed and built, in record time, the UK’s largest COVID-19 laboratories and testing services. It provided the Department of Health and Social Care [DHSC] with a PCR testing capacity at the time of greatest need, rising from 300 tests per day to 120,000 per day by January 2021.

“Altogether Randox processed over 25 million samples for UK’s National Testing Programme and in support of international travel for business and personal reasons. This played a crucial role in keeping vital elements of the UK economy functioning during lockdowns.

“In adapting to rapidly changing DHSC and Department of Transport requirements, Randox delivered unique value to the government, the national economy and to individuals”.

It also stated that the Public Accounts Committee did not make any contact with Randox, and as such “many elements of its report relating to Randox are false, based as they are, on wrong and unchecked assumptions about the company”.

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As Britain deals with hunger, record temperatures and wildfires, Tory candidates bicker over tax cuts and borrowing

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 25/07/2022 - 1:12am in

“You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.”
Buckminster Fuller

Supermarket worker giving water to a dogDonny the Labradoodle in the ‘chill-out zone’ of an Iceland supermarket in Islington. Image by Matt Alexander/PA Wire on Flickr –  Creative Commons 2.0 License

While the Tory leadership hopefuls have spent the last couple of weeks fighting like rats in a bag, vying for a move into Number 10, it has become clear that their priorities are less concerned with addressing the existential crisis humanity is facing, or proposing solutions to the vast inequalities in real wealth distribution, and are instead focused on other concerns. How fiscally disciplined, tax-cutting or inflation-busting they can be. Or who can get the economy back on track for more of the same uncontrolled growth, to keep the capitalist truck going, whilst ensuring at the same time that the fossil fuel producers remain unhindered in their objective to carry on polluting. We have also heard precious little about that fantasy known as levelling up, which so far has failed to get beyond Boris Johnson’s rhetoric and will probably be buried in yet another round of austerity.

Never mind the fact that our public and social infrastructure is in a state of absolute decay, or that the NHS is on its knees. Never mind either about the exponential growth in food banks, which it has been reported are beginning to struggle to meet demand as donations dry up, or that children are arriving at school hungry, tired, and anxious, with some sixth formers missing schooling to help their families, as the cost-of-living crisis continues to bite.

And then while the candidates battled it out, as we sweltered in exceptional temperatures, runways melted, and wildfires broke out across the country, there has been scarcely a mention of the climate crisis, which has slipped off the political agenda as the public finances became the only topic for discussion. Fiscal responsibility trumping the lives of citizens and a viable planet.

Heaven forbid too, that we get the opportunity to ask questions of those pitching for the leadership, about the origins of the crushing poverty and inequality that exists. It didn’t just happen all by itself.  If people really understood that their misery was down to a cruel, toxic, economic ideology, embraced by successive governments which have put satiating the god of the market before their economic health and well-being, who would vote for the Tories, or to be frank, any of the political parties that have held power over decades? Who would vote for them in the knowledge that their poverty was caused by political decisions which have allowed the increasingly inequitable distribution of real wealth and the enslavement of the majority, in the service of the equivalent of the warring feudal lords of old?

So, now, the last two standing after voting rounds are Liz Truss and Rishi Sunak, but whoever becomes the next Prime Minister in September, we can be sure of one thing if the candidates’ pitches can be relied on; not much will change, and the battles will still be fought around fiscal discipline and the narrative that government spending is constrained by its tax revenues, borrowing capacity or public debt.

In fact, as the Shadow Chief Secretary suggested ‘both Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss offer more of the same. ‘They are the continuity candidates’ he said. They are indeed the continuity candidates of a false narrative of public accounting, as in fact are Labour. We shall come back to that.

You can’t avoid these false constructions of how governments spend. They are the bread and butter not only of politicians but also a compliant media, spewing the daily household budget rhetoric to keep the foot soldiers in line. On the one hand, Sunak claims he wants, ‘a grown-up conversation’ about the economy, telling Truss that ‘borrowing [her] way out of inflation isn’t a plan, it’s a fairy tale’, whilst on the other, Truss maintains it’s perfectly ‘affordable’ and ‘we can start paying back debt within three years.’

The IFS also stepped into the fray, criticising Truss’s plans for tax cuts, claiming that regardless of how you rewrite fiscal rules, in the end, lower taxes mean lower spending. It suggested that ‘as things stand, unexpectedly high inflation is already set to lead to another dose of austerity for public services’ and that ‘whoever is in office will have to make a choice between topping up spending plans to shore up public services or requiring any additional costs to be met from within existing budgets.’ ‘The former, it said’ would eat into fiscal headroom available for tax cuts; the latter would mean a deterioration in the quality of public service provision’.

And then the think tank, the IPPR, felt obliged to add its penn’orth in support of the IFS about Truss’s plan saying that:

‘Perhaps most importantly, permanently cutting taxes has consequences – and would require a scaling back of the state.’

Although noting quite rightly that ‘The problem is, there is nothing left to hack back, following the decade of austerity that people, communities and services across Britain have endured.’

It is not our intention to discuss here the claimed merits or otherwise of proposed tax cuts but to focus on challenging the narratives of how the government spends which persist on the left and right of the political spectrum.

Using the household budget model of the public accounts, what a choice that presents. Tax cuts or a deterioration in quality public service provision? How much worse could they make it on that basis? But then, on the other hand, it also provides the perfect opportunity for further degradation or perhaps obliteration of public service provision. We have been here before.

It’s never either/or. And does not require having to rob Peter’s departmental budget to pay Paul’s or cut departmental spending to find savings. These arguments are everything that is wrong with this debate. They are fairy tales in themselves. Fairy tales that have so far not led to a happy ending and will not do so, ever.

The narrative always follows the same false language trajectory when reported on by the mainstream media, quoting experts and politicians, and is designed to keep people compliant with the idea that governments spend like our own household budgets or operate like businesses with a profit and loss sheet.

“Liz Truss tax cuts would cost UK economy £40bn, fuel inflation and push interest rates up, experts say” – i Newspaper

“Treasury accused of pocketing £5bn state pension savings” – The Telegraph

John Redwood MP tweets that Rishi Sunak “authorised printing far too much money which gave us inflation“.

Kemi Badenoch claims that for public sector workers to get a 5-10% pay rise “we need to create an economy that can fund it” – The Mirror

Rishi Sunak condemns Truss’s ‘unfunded tax cuts’ saying ‘it’s one thing to borrow for long-term investment.  But it’s a whole other thing to put the day-to-day bills on the country’s credit card – The Scotsman

Liz Truss told Sunak in the 17th July debate that “raising taxes at this moment will choke off economic growth; it will prevent us getting the revenue we need to pay off the debt.”

Mrs Thatcher lives on in these words which continue to be touted to justify the government’s tax and spending policies. The idea that government has coffers where it stores tax revenues, that when it borrows, it has to tax more or cut public spending to pay the debt incurred, that it puts tax money aside to pay for pensions or that the country’s public finances can be compared to a credit card, creating a burden on future generations, are, frankly, the real stuff of Sunak’s fairy tales. They in no way reflect monetary reality.

As for inflation, it wasn’t caused by Rishi Sunak ‘printing too much money’ as the media likes to present it, or as Iain Duncan Smith claimed this week by suggesting that he had allowed that naughty old Bank of England to ramp it up during the Covid pandemic. It has been caused, as explained in previous GIMMS blogs, by external supply issues resulting from the pandemic, the conflict in Ukraine and the profit gouging by companies shamelessly boarding the disaster capitalism gravy train.

On that subject, one can only reiterate that Rishi Sunak had no option but to spend that money into the economy if it wasn’t to take a nosedive and cause huge distress to those affected. That pandemic spending has not caused this inflationary episode. And the issue is not that he did it, but where much of the money ended up, that is in the hands of the corporations and the friends of politicians with zero mechanism to provide proper accountability or oversight.

Equally, the idea that our public services are dependent on a healthy economy which, in turn, brings in higher tax revenues to pay for them, as Badenoch, one of the candidates suggested, allows governments to claim falsely that there is no money for what, in reality, constitutes the foundations of a healthy economy. To allow people to believe that we are dependent on tax revenues, particularly of the excessively wealthy, to provide essential infrastructure, which is a stance often promoted by the left wing, is partly responsible for the societal division we see today. Rich against poor and old against young.

Such distortions of the truth about monetary reality have allowed successive neoliberal governments serving a toxic economic ideology to cut public services or privatise them, and cause distress to the sick, vulnerable, and unemployed, through reforms to social security benefits. It has nothing to do with affordability as is suggested. But it is a handy motif for driving through ideological change.

To bring some clarity, the fundamental question revolves around the role of the state in creating a healthy, functioning economy. A hands-off, market-led approach, as we have seen over the last few decades, has created the infrastructure wasteland we are currently experiencing. People have died as a result.

Spending on public infrastructure such as education, health and social care, public transport networks and local government must come first, not second, to nurture that healthy economy. These are not ‘nice to have’ luxuries, only available if tax revenues are sufficient to afford them. What does this say about those same successive governments whose economic dogma has led us down the austerity road on the basis of this lie, thus destroying any hope of creating the healthy economy that politicians promise? It’s always jam tomorrow.

When you base your entire economic policy on a false accounting model of the public finances, there can be only one outcome. The place where we find ourselves today. Government, by formulating their tax and spending policies on the basis of the state of the public accounts instead of the prevailing economic conditions, have created an economic desert, the implications of which for the lives of working people and their families, and the public infrastructure which supports them, are all too evident.

And we cannot let Labour off the hook. A recent speech by Rachel Reeves, the Shadow Chancellor, attempting to draw a line between Tory leadership candidates’ promised billions of pounds in tax cuts, pledged the party to ‘iron clad discipline’ with the public finances. She promised to manage Britain’s debt burden by binding any future Labour government to strict borrowing limits and claimed, in her fantasy faraway land of household budgets, that it would allow it to lay the foundations for a growing economy.

She said:

“The level of unfunded tax cuts being bandied about this week would blow a massive hole in the public finances. […] Because responsible management of our public finances is the only route to providing the strong foundations we need to reboot our economy, revitalise our public services and re-energise our communities. [We will] make sure every pound of taxpayers’ money is treated with the respect it deserves”

Aside from the lie that tax cuts would, ‘blow a massive hole in the public finances’, since taxes don’t actually fund anything at all, frankly, the idea that fiscal responsibility can go hand in hand with laying the foundations for rebooting the economy, revitalising public services and re-energising communities is laughable. Basically, it’s just more of the same old nonsense being espoused by those still firmly in the hands of their masters, the City and the Corporations.

Reeve’s speech makes a mockery of her ‘serious plan’ […] ‘built on the strong foundations provided by our fiscal rules’. They are mutually exclusive propositions. A recipe for more of the same at a critical juncture in history.

And, given Labour’s attachment in the Blair years to serving the corporate world, it is not surprising to hear her talk about ‘building partnerships between government and business.’ What’s changed? Tony Blair began the rot in that department in 1997, the Tories went further, and now Reeves intends to continue along that path. The role of the state is not as a cosy partner to business, but as a rule maker, through providing the tax and legislative operating frameworks for business to function effectively and the economy to thrive through good times and bad.

The whole political, institutional and media establishment is blinded by neoliberal dogma which has already done huge damage and seems intent on carrying on as we are.

In the 1990s, Francis Fukyama in his book, claimed that we were at ‘the end of history’, and that with the rise of liberal democracy globally we had reached ‘the endpoint of mankind’s ideological evolution and the universalisation of Western liberal democracy as the final form of human government.’ Nothing could have been further from the truth, and the statement reveals astonishing hubris given where we find ourselves today.

In 2008, the Global Financial Crash upset those nice tidy paradigms we had been taught, and yet since then we still seem to have learned nothing about the complex and uncertain nature of human existence which the pandemic and the conflict in Ukraine have cruelly emphasised.  That which has been built up, can come crashing down as it did in 2008, and as now when external powers challenge the globalist project and the current status quo spearheaded by the United States and its obedient allies waving their flags for the sham of freedom and democracy.

The restoration of the old order is not a certainty, any more than it was immediately after the second world war, and yet those in the driving seat are intent upon further destruction regardless of the human cost. Fundamentally, it rests upon an economic system underpinned by a state-funded industrial military complex which knows no bounds, which will, if it continues, deny us the possibility of creating a sustainable planet for humanity and the whole fabric of life.

To be blunt, whilst we have political parties of all stripes reducing the future to the state of a set of public accounts and putting fiscal discipline above grappling with the pressing issues we face, the future will not be the one we would wish to bequeath to our children and their children.

There is still time, but it seems that despite the urgency, politicians at home and abroad do not have the political will to deliver a just, green transition to a sustainable world. Changing our direction is the biggest challenge of all, and it starts with creating a news media that holds power to account, rather than reinforcing the current paradigm. Within that, it also asks us to challenge the public understanding of how government spends to bring clarity and reveal possibilities. Creating a future depends upon it.

 

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The post As Britain deals with hunger, record temperatures and wildfires, Tory candidates bicker over tax cuts and borrowing appeared first on The Gower Initiative for Modern Money Studies.

The Perils of a Renewed Age of Austerity

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 15/07/2022 - 9:33pm in

Sascha Lavin explores why tax cuts promised by the Conservative leadership hopefuls are even more dangerous after 12 years of austerity

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While Boris Johnson’s successor is yet to be selected by the Conservative Party, it is becoming increasingly likely that, whoever they may be, the next prime minister will reinstate austerity policies to fund their tax-cutting promises. 

As of last weekend, the Conservative leadership candidates had promised tax cuts collectively worth £200 billion – more than twice the annual budget of the NHS.

When former Prime Minister David Cameron announced that “the age of irresponsibility is giving way to the age of austerity”, he pledged that his package of extensive public spending cuts would “deliver more with less”.

Now, more than a decade later, Cameron’s assurances are little more than empty words: austerity didn’t deliver more with less, it delivered less with less. 

From hollowed-out youth services to legal aid cuts – few public services were left unscathed from Cameron’s budget slashes.

Over the decade of austerity, the number of emergency food parcels distributed by the Trussell Trust – the UK’s largest food bank charity – increased by 5,146%; rough sleeping in England soared by 165%; and 600,000 more children were in relative income poverty.

In the most severe cases, austerity has been a death sentence: Cameron’s programme of cuts can be linked to more than 50,000 extra deaths in five years, according to research by the University of York

Professor John Fender, who published the monograph ‘Austerity’, has warned that implementing a new package of extensive spending cuts to public services would be “extremely damaging, more so than the last round of austerity”.

“The low-hanging fruit has already been picked,” he told Byline Times. “Cuts that were (relatively) easy to make have already been made.”

Hitting the Poorest, the Hardest

Despite Cameron’s Chancellor George Osborne protesting that “we are all in this together”, the north of England was disproportionately affected by his austerity measures, according to the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) think tank.

Indeed, a Byline Times investigation found that ‘Red Wall’ constituencies in the north and the midlands bore the brunt of public spending cuts.

From 2014/15 to 2019/20, the percentage of children in poverty increased in English Red Wall seats by 16%, while nationally this figure was 8%. Those eligible for free school meals in Red Wall areas also outstripped the England-wide average: 23.2%, compared to 19.9%. And social care spending fell in real terms in these constituencies by 23.8% between 2010/11 and 2018/19, while the England-wide social care budget dropped by only 16%. 

As Sam Bright observes in ‘Fortress London’, seven of the 10 cities that experienced the largest spending cuts from 2009/10 to 2017/18 were located in the north-east, the north-west or in Yorkshire. On average, cities in the north suffered spending cuts of 20%, compared to cuts of 9% in the east, south east (excluding London) and the south west.

Barnsley was the city hardest hit by austerity – experiencing a reduction in funding of around £145 million (40%), or £688 for every resident. On a per capita basis, Liverpool was the worst affected, its £441 million spending cut equating to £816 for every person in the city.

Perhaps it is because no leadership candidate looks likely to win back Red Wall seats that they have unanimously chosen to ignore how tax-cuts will only level-down public services in areas already in desperate need of a cash boost. 

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But it is not just those living in Red Wall areas that shouldered the burden of Conservative public spending cuts.

“Austerity policies since 2010 hit poorer people harder than rich people," Mary-Ann Stephenson, director of the Women’s Budget Group, told Byline Times. "They hit women in every income group harder than men and black and minority ethnic women, disabled women and lone parents hardest of all."

Research by the group found that black and Asian households with the lowest-fifth of incomes experienced the biggest drop in living standards during the decade of austerity, while 86% of the cuts to public spending between 2010 and 2017 was from spending which previously went to women. 

“Further cuts to public spending will have a disastrous impact on these groups; they already have lower levels of savings, higher levels of debt and are most affected by the rising cost of living,” Stephenson said. “Tax cuts will largely benefit the better off. Combined with cuts to spending, they mean a further transfer of money from the purses of poorer women to the wallets of richer men.”

If the next Conservative prime minister chooses to re-invigorate austerity policies, past spending retrenchment will be compounded, and those who were hit hardest by the first age of austerity will feel the cuts most acutely again.

This time around, however, they will be even worse-off, having not yet recovered from David Cameron’s cuts. Indeed, wage levels across the board are lower in real terms than before the 2008 financial crash.

‘One Disaster After the Next’

The Coronavirus pandemic is far from over: the number of people infected in the UK has more than doubled since the start of June, with one in 25 people in England now testing positive, according to the latest Office for National Statistics data.

But, as the Conservative hopefuls pledge to pursue tax-cutting policies, which can only be funded by drastic cuts to public services, they appear not to have learnt a valuable lesson from the pandemic. 

Over the past two years, the UK’s Coronavirus response has been thwarted by a decade of austerity measures. George Osborne’s cuts left the NHS “extremely fragile” at the onset of the pandemic, according to the IPPR, with an £850 million real-term reduction in public health grants over a three-year period from the 2015/16 financial year.

For Sir Michael Marmot, who wrote an eponymous landmark report on health inequalities in 2010, the age of austerity created “one disaster after the next” during the pandemic, putting lives at risk.

“It meant doctors working in unfamiliar roles desperately trying to cope with rocketing numbers of COVID-19 patients in potentially unsafe environments, £1.5 billion emergency funding for field-style Nightingale hospitals and wanton encouragement of hasty discharge from hospitals into care homes and the community to free up beds – encouraging a rapid spread of the virus,” he said. 

A high-austerity prime minister will weaken the NHS at a time when fully-funded and fully-functioning healthcare is needed in the ongoing fight against Coronavirus and to deal with persistent NHS backlogs. 

Slashing public spending will hit the services, the areas and the people already left worst off by Cameron’s age of austerity. After a decade of cuts, an ongoing pandemic and a cost of living crisis, what fat is left for the next prime minister to trim?

This article was produced by the Byline Intelligence Team – a collaborative investigative project formed by Byline Times with The Citizens. If you would like to find out more about the Intelligence Team and how to fund its work, click on the button below.

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The Next Conservative Leader: a High-Austerity Prime Minister

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 11/07/2022 - 9:10pm in

Conservative candidates are making increasingly wild tax cut pledges, which can only be paid for by drastically cutting public services, reports Adam Bienkov

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The candidates to become the next Conservative leader and Prime Minister are currently competing with each other to offer the most unaffordable slate of tax cuts.

Among them is the Chancellor, Nadhim Zahawi, who this morning indicated that he plans to slash corporation tax, business rates and income tax and pay for it by slashing the size of the state.

Asked by Sky News what public services he would cut to pay for these pledges, he said that he would like to cut every government department by 20%. 

This aligns with Zahawi's previous calls for the party to focus on “rolling back the state” in order to pay for tax cuts. 

However, cuts on the scale he appeared to back this morning would be absolutely ruinous and cause the near-total destruction of many vital public services. 

His allies later suggested that he had only intended to refer to staff cuts at departments, rather than overall budgets.

However, such are the demands for a low tax, high austerity agenda among the Conservative selectorate, that all of the candidates are increasingly following each other down this same destructive road.

And the net result is that whoever succeeds Boris Johnson will be under huge pressure to impose ever more drastic cuts on public services.

And any further cuts to the size of the public sector will only take further money out of an already struggling economy. As the economist Richard Murphy has written: "Get rid of these public servants and not only do we lose what they add to the economy, we also lose what they spend as well. They won’t be spending much when they’re unemployed. Nor will most find jobs as well paid."

Yet such is the fervour for tax cuts, that such considerations are falling by the wayside.

As a result, the Conservative Party is now shifting significantly to the right of the current Prime Minister on economics. Whatever his many faults, Johnson did seek to distinguish himself from his predecessors by claiming that he was bringing an end to austerity.

As ever with Johnson, the reality of his record did not fully align with his rhetoric. Yet the logical conclusion of the agenda now being pushed by almost all the Conservative leadership candidates is not just a return of the sort of austerity seen in the Cameron era, but the supercharging of it.

Interestingly, the one candidate to so far put up any kind of resistance to this, is the current frontrunner Rishi Sunak, who has said that further tax cuts can only come once the threat of inflation has been tackled.

Yet such is the pressure that he is now coming under from Conservative MPs and party members, that even he is likely to be forced to follow his colleagues down a similarly destructive path.

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Johnson resigns, but the toxic market-driven ideology will remain, whoever his successor

“Have we fallen into a mesmerized state that makes us accept as inevitable that which is inferior or detrimental, as though having lost the will or the vision to demand that which is good?”

Rachel Carson, Silent Spring

 

Boris Johnson making resignation speech at lectern, No 10 Downing steet07/07/2022. Prime Minister Boris Johnson makes his resignation statement outside Number 10 Downing Street. Picture by Kyle Heller / No 10 Downing Street. Creative Commons 2.0 license.

On Thursday, after weeks of uncertainty, as the wheels of the Conservative party machine forced his hand, Boris Johnson was finally left with no alternative but to resign. When he will leave the building permanently is still unclear, but not before he holds a lavish wedding party in the summer, which was to be held at Chequers but has now been moved due to the understandable public outcry!

It is a final insult to the nation which has borne the brunt of Tory policies, not just during the last two years and more, but since they came to power in 2010, claiming to be the party of fiscal discipline ready to save the country from bankruptcy. The shadow of unnecessary austerity which followed, on the basis of a false presentation of how the government spends, has dogged the economy ever since and caused human misery.

Whilst people may clap and cheer his departure, it is, however, yet another distraction from reality. The Prime Minister, whilst clearly not known for his integrity and honesty, and who with astonishing regularity has demonstrated his ability to dodge the fire, has been a longstanding part of successive Conservative governments which have wreaked destruction on the lives of working people and the country’s public and social infrastructure. The current one is no exception, and the evidence cannot be ignored. It is damning.

With Johnson’s ‘planned’ departure the neoliberal, market-dedicated Tory vultures are already circling for the top spot. But the idea that a new prime minister and government will mean a change of direction will quite simply be wishful thinking. To view his departure as a win for the country would be a mistake. Will the sense of overarching privilege and entitlement that dominates in Conservative thinking be replaced with a sense of duty to the country’s citizens? Probably not, when the architects of suffering are benefiting from the system remaining as it is.

As the blogger Jonathan Cook tweeted:

‘Rejoice, Rejoice! The ship of state, holed by corruption and heading straight for the rocks of climate breakdown, is to get a new captain who’s as committed to the course we’re on as the last captain.’

Just a brief look at the voting records of MPs and Ministers who may stand to replace Johnson is indicative of what to expect from any future Prime Minister. And it’s not just climate breakdown, bad as that is, that is at stake. From voting for reductions in spending on welfare benefits and for NHS reforms, (better known as privatisation), and against publicly owned bus and rail services, climate change measures or spending public money on creating guaranteed jobs for long-term unemployed youth, these issues are just the tip of the iceberg.

Steve Baker, MP for High Wycombe who once re-tweeted a report that suggested that the ‘climate crisis is not happening’, is, according to reports, considering running for PM, and has said that if he won, he would dismantle many of the Prime Minister’s Green policies (which is strange because it’s not clear that he ever was committed to any except in his rhetoric). Baker claimed bizarrely that measures to help farmers protect the environment were ‘anti-human life on Earth’, and that he would increase gas production in the UK because there was ‘no short-term threat from the climate crisis.’ The calibre of potential leadership leaves much to be desired.

This is a party, just like its opposition, wedded to a toxic market-driven ideology which is underpinned by a false narrative of how the government spends. Whilst for a time it seemed that a window of opportunity was opening to challenge those notions, given the vast public spending to prop up the economy which begged many questions about where the money came from, the household budget explanation continues to dominate, allowing present and future governments of either political stripe to persist with their smoke and mirror tricks to justify their political decisions. On the left, it’s ‘tax the rich to fund public services’, on the right, it’s ‘cut spending on public services to balance budgets.’

Rishi Sunak, a committed Thatcherite and the first to resign from Johnson’s government, has been replaced as Chancellor by yet another, Nadhim Zahawi. The Guardian reports that he is one of the richest MPs, who has used a tax haven for family investments and holds a wide portfolio of other interests including several houses. It might suggest that tax reform is not likely to be on his top list of ‘must do’s unless it favours the interests of the already excessively wealthy and the big corporations.

At the same time, he was quoted as saying that he wants to, ‘make sure that we are as competitive as we can be, whilst maintaining fiscal discipline’.

And there you have it. Fiscal Discipline. Same old. He has claimed that whilst his priority is to ‘rebuild and grow the economy’, spending plans which include potential tax cuts should not:

deflect from the need to limit increases in borrowing and to bring down inflation. “The important thing is to get inflation under control, be fiscally responsible. The first thing to do is to make sure that we are really careful about, whether it’s public sector pay, is that inflation doesn’t continue to be fuelled.

If the intention is to keep spending and erroneously named ‘borrowing‘ under control, how he aims to achieve this miracle has yet to be explained, although, of course, we could take an educated guess as to his modus operandi. But growing the economy and cutting government spending are mutually exclusive propositions. The former requires the intervention of the latter.

Last week, as Minister for Education, Zahawi was advocating a nine per cent pay rise for new teachers (but only 3% for others). This week, as Chancellor, he is rowing back, saying he will now wait for the pay review bodies before deciding. Fiscal discipline is the watchword, or in other words the possibility of more austerity for public sector workers who under this government have already suffered grievously as a result of cuts and pay freezes, leaving them even less able to stand the pressures caused by rising prices. The same working people who are now potentially expected to continue to do so to keep the public finances afloat (or so the story goes), or to control inflationary pressures by avoiding a wage-inflation spiral.

What absolute nonsense. Firstly, the UK’s public finances are not like the accounts of a private business. As such, there is no possibility of the government going bankrupt. The government is the currency issuer and as such has choices in terms of its spending priorities, which do not involve taxation or bond sales (called borrowing) to cover them. The only constraints it faces are finite real resources and the decisions about how they are distributed evenly, or not, throughout society.

Instead, we should view government spending and its policy decisions in terms of tangible benefits which have thus far served the elites and the corporations, and not working people and their families. They have led to the decline of our public sector infrastructure in areas such as health, education, and local government.

When they asked us to clap for the NHS, for those who bore the brunt of the pandemic, that shouldn’t have meant that they expected people to continue to work for peanuts after years of pulling in their belts, having been told falsely that there was no money. Or to work under worsening conditions with insufficient staff and real resources to provide good health care services. Furthermore, under the cover of the NHS logo and the noses of an unwitting public, our NHS has been packaged up to suit private healthcare interests. A heavy price has been paid and will continue to be paid.

As a report from the University of Oxford, which was published in The Lancet in early July showed, the fallout from the privatisation of health contracts has been a drop in care quality and higher rates of treatable mortality, deaths that could have been avoided. The NHS is not a business making widgets for sale. It is a vital public service protecting the health of the nation and should be publicly owned, paid for, and managed.

Spending cuts have also been responsible for a social security system which is not fit for purpose and has become a mechanism for dividing and punishing people instead of helping them in need. It has also led to many deaths as a recent report published by the Deaths by Welfare project notes. Deaths that could have been avoided with the political will.

Government policies and spending decisions have led to a low-wage economy, rising poverty, hunger and food banks, and a sicker nation.

Government has, in fact, treated its citizens as expendable in a never-ending race to the bottom. The neoliberal quest pursued by successive governments has been to reduce the size of the state on the basis of both a toxic neoliberal ideology that sets the market as the arbiter of all, and that a smaller state will need less tax to pay for it, which forms the cornerstone of Tory policy.

It is based on a notion of a bloated state that needs to be culled in the face of a scarce pool of money which deprives the business sector of funds for investment. In this respect, Rees Mogg, who seems to have travelled in the Tardis forwards in time from the 18th century and who is horrified by the idea that people can work from home just as effectively as in the office, has indicated his intention to reduce the civil service by 91,000, to reduce government spending costs. He asks no questions about the economic impact of such a strategy on an already failing economy. Or the suffering it will cause.

The undisguised hatred of state interference by the right wing fails to recognise that it is the spending decisions of the currency issuer which determine the economic health of a nation and creates the infrastructure and legal framework for business to even exist.

The State sits at the top of the pyramid and through its spending and taxation policies, everything good or otherwise flows down from there. It can’t be emphasised enough that government makes the decisions about its spending priorities and those determine how well the economy functions and who benefits.

Whilst government pretends that there is no money for public infrastructure, it has had no problem finding public money to fund wars or pour into private profit for public service provision. Public services funded with public money have become a cash cow for the private sector. If the alarm bells are not ringing, they should be!

The public sector is the last bastion against an out-of-control neoliberal-inspired capitalism which seeks to profit from human suffering to keep the global capitalist truck rolling. And this government is party to that objective, both in its policies and its household budget narratives of government spending. We shall come back to this shortly.

At the same time, that word inflation is still making the headlines on a daily basis. It is the central bank’s justification for raising interest rates and the government’s for its proposals to constrain public sector wage rises and calling generally for pay restraint, except of course if you are a CEO of a large corporation. It is worth repeating again in this week’s Lens the words of John T Harvey in an article in Forbes.

‘… it’s abundantly clear that the lion’s share of what we are facing today is being driven by supply-chain issues […] Gas prices are not going up because people had so much money they wanted to do some more joy riding and oil companies couldn’t keep up.  Rather, as with the OPEC oil embargo in 1973, a geopolitical event has created uncertainty and a decrease in supply.  These are the factors responsible for our inflationary woes. […] Nothing in our current scenario suggests that lowering the level of economic activity […] would be helpful. ‘

So, to keep harping on about wage-inflation spirals shows a level of economic ignorance on the part of politicians in terms of the context of these inflationary pressures and a seeming willingness of the central bank to bow to media and political pressure to increase interest rates which will not be in the best interests of the economy. It’s not like Andrew Bailey, the Governor of the Bank of England, doesn’t know this fact as he made plain early on. It will quite simply add to the woes of working people as the increased cost of money works its way through the economy in additional costs and then prices. In an environment where price rises are the result of global supply issues over which we have little control and not wage demands, they will just further damage an already failing economy.

In the face of the storm, you don’t pray for a hurricane.

This was brought home by an unlikely source this week when Paul Drechsler, a former Chair of the CBI and current Chair of the International Chambers of Commerce, was asked in an interview on the Radio 4 Today Programme whether cutting taxes should be the new Chancellor’s first priority. He responded:

‘I think the most important thing to do is to feed people who are hungry. I mean that is the burning platform at the moment.  The poorest in our society are going to be starving to death the second half of this year.  This needs to be addressed. Sprinkling a bit of cash over everybody […] isn’t going to make a jot of bloody difference.’

In the article published in Ekklesia, reference was also made to the survey commissioned by the Royal College of Physicians in May this year, which showed the impact of the cost-of-living crisis on people’s health. Responding to those results, Professor Michael Marmot who is an expert on health inequalities noted:

‘In my recommendations for how to reduce health inequalities, sufficient incomes for a healthy life was one among six. But it is crucial as it relates so strongly to many of the others, in particular early child development, housing and health behaviours. As these figures show, the cost-of-living crisis is a potent cause of stress. If we require anything of government, at a minimum, it is to enable people to have the means to pursue a healthy life.’

The cost-of-living crisis has arisen out of the ongoing pandemic and the supply issues related to the conflict in Ukraine, but the low-wage economy has been an ongoing situation caused by successive governments who have been willing to allow people to be thrown under a bus as an inflation control mechanism and, let’s be honest, to allow business to exploit the angst of the unemployed who are desperately seeking work and who then have no alternative but to compete with their fellow workers on wage rates.

The failure by the government also to address the socio-economic determinants of health through its spending policies and legislation is a shameful reminder that this has been a political choice borne of a rotten ideology and has caused great social and economic harm.

It is all the more concerning then to read in the BBC this week that according to the OBR, in its Fiscal Risks and Sustainability Report, the pressures of an ageing population on spending and the loss of existing motoring taxes in a decarbonizing economy (although no sign of that as yet) means that the UK is on an ‘unsustainable path’, unless spending is tightened, and taxes are raised.

That bogeyman of debt once again raises its ugly head and once again the public is being tricked into believing that there will be no alternative to more austerity pain if the government is to get the public finances back into the black.

In the words of Mike Hall, an MMT activist posting on Facebook, who responded thus to this patent nonsense.

‘This is a completely, factually fraudulent narrative, uncritically parroted by the propagandists masquerading as ‘journalists’ […]

 

UK Gov issues £s, free gratis. It has zero need, functionally to offer *savings* Bonds at all, with the pretence they’re needed to ‘fund’ anything. Monetary system facts, that the establishment mass media and politicians they elevate, continue to lie about.’

He suggests that:

‘The only way we can begin to correct this rule by false propaganda is by creating a true commons, common ownership mass media sector, free of both private money interests & centralised control by corrupt political leaders. […]

 

The present system of rule elites’ propaganda control means humanity (none of us) will not survive the climate and ecological collapse it is hurtling us toward.

 

Change must begin with the information/media system (and its consequent politics planetary wide death), or it will not happen at all.’

And here in the penultimate paragraph, we get to the heart of the matter. We have a ruling class assisted by academia, institutions and the media, parroting a lie at every opportunity about how governments spend, which allows them to suggest that we do not have the monetary wherewithal, not just to save humanity from ecological collapse, but also to address the crushing wealth and other inequalities that exist around the world, in particular in the global south, due to centuries of colonial exploitation.

The ludicrous nature of that narrative must be exposed for what it is. A lie. In a world where time is running out to address the climate crisis, those who talk about fiscal ammunition having been used up or public debt as unsustainable, or who suggest that such spending relies on a healthy economy and the taxes derived from it, or indeed that too much government spending/borrowing will create a future tax burden, are condemning future generations. The UK government, whilst trumpeting its green credentials, has done little more than just that, and now is moving full steam ahead in the opposite direction to secure its energy needs by giving energy companies drilling rights for new oil and gas exploration, and who knows, maybe fracking next.

The supply crisis has reinforced, as nothing else could, that we do not live in a vacuum and that we have become dependent on just-in-time global supply chains that can easily be affected by war, disease, and climate change. This should be the signal that we must not return to our old ways to shore up an economic system which has been proved to be catastrophic in every sense – for the planet and its biodiversity, and the people who depend upon it both here and elsewhere for their existence and livelihoods.

It is an opportunity to develop our own food and energy strategies, invest in public infrastructure and useful and productive activity to secure a better, happier, and more sustainable future for all. It is also an opportunity to work cooperatively with nations around the world for the same objectives, instead of assuming we can carry on exploiting the human and other resources of those countries, as was suggested this week by Abebe Selassie, a director of the IMF’s African department, in an article entitled ‘Neglect Africa Now and we will face labour shortages globally.’ Yes, let’s not neglect Africa, but not by stealing labour for the benefit of northern economies.

Whilst corporations continue to sell us a greenwashed world designed to keep the profits rolling, and governments tell us their spending options are limited by a finite pool of money, we are running out of time to make the difference that is needed. This is a global emergency and it’s time to get serious. That starts as always with a challenge to the narratives about how governments spend, and for that, we need a media that holds government and its institutions to account.

 

 

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The post Johnson resigns, but the toxic market-driven ideology will remain, whoever his successor appeared first on The Gower Initiative for Modern Money Studies.

My NHS and how the Tories Broke It

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 05/07/2022 - 6:00pm in

Penny Pepper reflects on how the Government dodges responsibility for the lack of resources available for our health service

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I’m an NHS baby. My earliest memories would play out like an episode of Call the Midwife, perhaps less sweet. By the time I was five, the NHS hospital was part of my life.

It was very different back in the 60s and 70s. Even the food was different – the big kitchens with cheeky foreign porters lined up to push the massive trolleys. In some ways, it was like boarding school, with long days of education and physiotherapy. 

I felt I belonged in a community. Some of the nursing staff were most likely of the Windrush generation. It was a time of discovery, to know and love people from so far away while in childhood. Everyone knew my name and it was the medical staff that dragged most of us through adolescence. They had an astonishing dedication to our treatment. 

Service was never perfect but we were fed well, attended to and received what we needed. Provisions offered by GPs and smaller local hospitals were connected to communities and I felt genuinely cared for by my own doctor, who would go out of his way to bend the rules and talk to people to ensure I received the best treatment I could. He would visit if I had an urgent need. Calling an ambulance was unthinkable and unnecessary for most of the time.

A few weeks ago, an injured hip began my painful modern drag through the current NHS. The cracks are clear to see. 

I needed an x-ray to eliminate a break or dislocation. Once, I could have rung my GP and received advice with an x-ray ordered immediately. A GP appointment now can’t be made for three weeks and, even then, it’s a phone consultation. As an obedient citizen, I tried 111 – although I knew the outcome before I dialled.

The only sobering option was to go to A&E, which I did with a close friend and an experienced personal assistant. We arrived into complete crowded chaos. A friendly and harassed nurse attempted to organise the waiting area by injury and I was corralled into limbs. This was at 3.30pm. 

I didn’t want to be there, mostly because it felt unnecessary – but there was no other option. Around 7pm, I saw the triage nurse as the waiting area continued to heave and ambulances continued to queue. A woman had a seizure in the waiting room. Kids were vomiting. An old man was coughing. There was no aggression, more a weary resignation and almost stoic companionship. The nurse gave me oral morphine which helped more than just my hip. The wait went on. And on. 

My tired friend left at 11.30pm. I finally saw a very elderly doctor at 12.20am who, despite a significant language barrier, announced that I needed an x-ray. A different nurse, apologising for my very long wait, said staff shortages were acute. By 1am, I was put on a trolley for my x-ray. I’d only had water to drink and no food since 1pm. A nursing assistant attempted to find me some sandwiches but they never arrived as no one was available to answer the call to the kitchens…

My experience with this interminable wait reflects a recent report in the Guardian, highlighting how there are “greater numbers of people calling an ambulance because they cannot get through to a more appropriate service such as their GP”. 

As reported, the Government naturally blames the pandemic. Yet, we now live in a Coronavirus-present world, and the fault lies firmly with the Government’s policies and outright attacks on health services and social care in general. We also know that the Government can rely on the rampant right-wing media to blame anyone but Boris Johnson’s administration. 

As noted in a powerful and scathing BMJ piece, “headlines have included the Telegraph’s ‘GPs Still Ignoring Orders to Allow Patients Face-to-Face Appointments” and the Spectator’s ‘Why Are Doctors Still Hiding Behind Zoom Screens?’. A Times headline claimed that ‘Virtual GP Visits Are “Costing Lives”’. A GP also comments that ‘the current [media criticism] onslaught is the worst I can remember in over 30 years.’”

I know it, and most of us know it: the Tories actively work to turn the NHS away from its glorious founding principles – to meet the needs of everyone, to be free at the point of delivery, and be based on clinical need not on the ability to pay. The Conservative view is one of profit-making. Investment for the boys with their hedge funds and capital ventures.

We know why we can’t see our GP, why ambulances queue, and why harassed nurses are at breaking point. And why people die unnecessarily. The BMJ piece quotes a doctor who puts it plainly: “The real issue is that we are now seeing the fall-out of over a decade of under-investment in our service.”

This is not the NHS I know and love. Next time in that ambulance queue, if it’s not you, it may be someone you love. Let’s all yell together to call out the Government and keep this most precious, shared resource.

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Growing discontent as the cost of living rise continues to bite

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 27/06/2022 - 12:04am in

Demonstration by workers employed by Mitie on strike at st George's Hospital, Tooting.GMB members employed by Mitie on strike outside St George’s Hospital, Tooting, for better pay and conditions and to be directly employed by the NHS. Photo by Helen O’Connor

“An attitude to life which seeks fulfilment in the single-minded pursuit of wealth – in short, materialism – does not fit into this world, because it contains within itself no limiting principle, while the environment in which it is placed is strictly limited.”

E.F. Schumacher –  Small Is Beautiful: Economics as if People Mattered

 

Anyone remember when Boris Johnson hid in a fridge to avoid being interviewed by Piers Morgan? It’s getting to be a habit. While the country’s economy reels, and people’s lives are wrecked by growing global instability, rising energy and food prices, and the consequences of 12 years of damaging Tory economic policy, Johnson decided to sneak off to Kiev instead of meeting Tory activists in Doncaster, prior to this week’s by-elections in Tiverton and Honiton, and Wakefield. As a Tory MP suggested, “The PM ought to be making every effort to support and respect the people who hold his future in their hands.” Not for the first time, he fell short of the expectation that Ministers should serve the interests of their citizens and not their own.

The by-election results are a testament to people’s growing disaffection, not just with the Prime Minister, but with the Tory government, which has demonstrated time and time again its priorities in terms of in whose interests they govern. Priorities which have impoverished many and enriched the few, and left the public and social infrastructure unable to respond effectively to the economic threats it has faced and continues to face. Thus, in a predictable flurry of tactical voting, Labour lost its deposit in Tiverton and won Wakefield, and the Lib Dems lost their deposit in Wakefield and won on a huge swing in Tiverton.

As positive as this might be viewed, and regardless of whether Johnson does the decent thing and resigns, the country still faces two more years of Tory rule, with all the economic pain that is likely to bring. Leopards don’t change their spots, unless of course it’s in their interests to do so, as is the case with Rishi Sunak’s reported decision this week to restore the pensions triple lock next year. Clearly a bribe to give their retired voting supporters a reason to put yet another x on the voting slip.

Worse, even if there were an election tomorrow there would be little choice on offer between three political contenders still wedded to serving the City and big business, and the neoliberal ideology that has dominated policy for decades.

We have three political parties whose policies are driven by the household budget narratives of government spending, rather than spending in the context of the real resources that the UK government has at its disposal, and which are the real constraints that need to be managed to avoid inflationary pressures. In the light of that framework, these are spending choices which are political and not monetary in themselves, and which determine who gets the pie. And over the last decade and longer, it is very clear who have been the winners and losers.

In this respect, the household budget narrative of how a government spends continues to frame the debate through headlines and articles which analyse the public accounts, and in doing so, keep the false mantra of public unaffordability in the public eye.

This week, Sky News in its headline suggested that the government had been ‘forced to hand over £7.6bn in record payments on public debt after inflation pushed borrowing costs to some of their highest levels on record’, and the same news outlet also reported that the National Debt had grown in April by £18.6bn. The Telegraph also suggested that it would cut the Chancellor’s ‘headroom’ for further spending or cutting taxes.

Just more of the same old nonsense.

The government has not, in fact, been forced to do anything of the sort. These references represent part of the smoke and mirrors that are intended to deceive the public about the nature of how the government spends. The government as the currency issuer is always able to meet any liabilities in its own unit of account which include maturing bonds. Those bonds do not constitute borrowing in any shape or form, any more than taxing creates the funds allowing governments to spend.

When Michael Gove warns ‘tough times’ are ahead and claims that the pressure of the public finances means that government is unable to provide the level of support to people it would like, it is a whopping lie of the first order.

It is vital, therefore, to bring clarity to the public about how government really spends. It boils down to a few simple facts: The government is the currency issuer and has to spend money into existence before it can collect any tax at all, or issue bonds. Contrary to belief, the issuing of these bonds does not constitute borrowing, rather they form a safe savings mechanism for big corporations which allows the Central Bank to manage its target interest rate. Furthermore, the government, as the currency issuer, can always meet those liabilities and any interest accrued upon maturity.

As for the National Debt, that is quite simply all the money the government has ever spent into existence and didn’t tax back. The money that circulated in the economy. Not something that anyone needs to spend time worrying about. People should instead be concerned about a government using the language of taxation and debt to deny them functioning and quality public services. And which, combined with government market-led policies, have been responsible for the low-wage economy and the growth in food banks and homelessness, while at the same time immorally lining the pockets of large corporations and their rich friends.

Sunak is endlessly given a platform by a compliant media to repeat his messages that government, ‘must take a balanced and responsible approach to support now, while also not burdening future generations’, or that it is, ‘making sure every penny of hard-earned taxpayer money is being spent on our world leading public services.’

On that last point, it is ironic that Sunak thinks that his government has created a world-leading public service sector, when it is clear that over the last 12 years it has done the exact opposite. It has devastated them whilst driving its privatising agenda. The state of our NHS is living proof of that, as a Panorama programme earlier in June demonstrated, as an undercover reporter exposed the scandal of a US-owned company, Operose, which is prioritising profit over patient care. With staffing shortages, rising waiting lists, crumbling NHS infrastructure and a demoralised workforce, we are paying a heavy price for government policies and insufficient public sector funding.

If governments seek to be accountable, that should be related to their policies and achievements, or not as the case may be, not whether they have been fiscally responsible.

As for the claimed burden faced by future generations which this blog has spoken about many times, the only debt that will be owed to those future generations will be the one created by government failure to invest in the country’s infrastructure today, to ensure that one can be as productive as possible tomorrow. Instead, based on our current trajectory, the country faces a bleak future based on using the public accounts as the measure of a country’s economic success or failure.

While the Tories bet on continuing to con the public with their talk of the necessity to be fiscally responsible, a couple of weeks ago Labour, in the same vein, took the Tories to task over its own published record on the public finances which showed that Labour presided over nine budget surpluses compared to the five under the conservatives. The data also indicated that the highest peacetime deficit came under the Tories during the pandemic. The report also said that Labour had ‘failed’ to set out how they would pay for their spending measures and attacked the party for its ‘reckless’ approach to the public finances and the third-highest deficit ever recorded after the second world war and the pandemic.

This is yet more of the nonsense which prevails in political circles and is reported by the mainstream media.

Firstly, whilst Labour chases rebuilding its reputation as being fiscally responsible, it, like the Tories, adheres to the false notion that balanced budgets and surpluses are the golden grail of public accounting. It is unfortunate that Labour and the Conservatives choose to conduct a war based on who supposedly has been the most fiscally disciplined, rather than examining the background to those surpluses and basing their critique on that. Surpluses, just as deficits are neither good nor bad in themselves and simply represent government spending and taxation in relation to the economic circumstances that prevail.

We should reject the implied notion that government surpluses create savings that can be used later to fund public expenditure. As Bill Mitchell explains:

A budget surplus exists only because private income or wealth is reduced.’

It is the context of that reduction that is all-important.

The real consideration should be an examination of why there is a surplus or deficit. What were the economic reasons? The pandemic, the global financial crash and now the global uncertainty arising from rising energy and food costs are three examples of why deficits of both political parties increased, to save an ailing economy facing recession and alleviate the associated human consequences. There was no alternative, unless one preferred economic collapse to ensuring that a country could function during difficult times. The point of contention might be who the beneficiaries of the government spending actually were, and the question was it a fair distribution?

Surpluses equally can arise when government fails to spend adequately, thus pushing the non-government sector into increasing its debt burden, which ultimately has an unavoidable consequence as debt levels become unsustainable as they did during the build-up to the Global Financial Crash.

As Bill Mitchell wrote in 2009 and as we are currently experiencing:

“In terms of fiscal policy, there are only real resource restrictions on its capacity to increase spending and hence output and employment. If there are slack resources available to purchase then a fiscal stimulus has the capacity to ensure they are fully employed. While the size of the impact of the financial crisis may be significant, a fiscal injection can be appropriately scaled to meet the challenge. That is, there is no financial crisis so deep that cannot be dealt with by public spending.”

What was true then is true today. So, whilst Labour and the Tories fight their battles on the premise of fiscal discipline, the elephant continues to thrash about in the room. It is worth reiterating that the only measure of a government’s economic success is what it actually did to preserve a functioning economy in good times or bad, and the outcomes of those decisions. Not whether they lowered the deficit, balanced the books or recorded a surplus. Our political parties have it all upside down.

Whilst the endless merry-go-round of public indoctrination and deception by politicians and a compliant mainstream media continues, scarcely a day goes by when that dreaded word inflation is not mentioned to keep the troops fearful and in their place as if they were not already suffering enough. Articles in the mainstream media castigate the Bank of England for not acting sooner to curb it with interest rate rises or suggest that it has to go much further yet.

As people struggle to keep their heads above the water as the rises in the cost of living continue to bite, the government once again shows who in the pecking order are its priorities.

This week the Treasury said that there would be no ‘inflation-busting’ pay rises for the public sector and urged private companies to consider similar pay restraint. At the same time, it defended its above-inflation rise for pensioners and its plans to cut limits on director and non-executive pay, as part of a package of business deregulation. On the last point, have we learned no lessons at all?

Whilst Sunak insists that pay rises for workers should be, ‘proportionate and balanced’, to prevent price pressures getting out of control, at the same time he claimed that the planned increase in state pensions was different because high pensioner incomes do not feed into the cost for businesses creating goods and providing services.

As Ben Riley-Smith from the Telegraph pointed out, Downing Street’s arguments about pay and inflation now make little sense. It seems yet again that in a low-wage economy in which working people were already struggling, the government are choosing to throw them under the bus yet again to curb inflation at a time when wages are already falling, and demand is sinking as retail figures showed this week. When costs rise, uncertainty rises with it, and then impacts the high street.

There is absolutely no distinction between income increases via pensions or pay all will add to aggregate demand and the capacity to spend. This is a deliberate choice by the government and smacks not of economic common sense but political bias. Long forgotten are the claps for the people who kept the economy functioning during the pandemic.

These inflationary pressures as Martin Lewis the Money Expert suggested, result from supply-led problems, not demand-led ones, and such interest rate rises will feed through into the cost-of-living pressures already being felt by working people.

And as the economist John T Harvey noted in an article in Forbes:

“… it’s abundantly clear that the lion’s share of what we are facing today is being driven by supply-chain issues […] Gas prices are not going up because people had so much money they wanted to do some more joy riding and oil companies couldn’t keep up.  Rather, as with the OPEC oil embargo in 1973, a geopolitical event has created uncertainty and a decrease in supply.  These are the factors responsible for our inflationary woes. […] Nothing in our current scenario suggests that lowering the level of economic activity […] would be helpful.”

And yet, as the TUC noted in an analysis, while bonuses paid to the bankers, insurance brokers and other financial sector employees have reached a record high, the rest of the country struggles with soaring cost of living pressures that are outstripping pay rises. Wealth inequity is built into our economic system and working people pay the price. The rising discontent is currently feeding through into industrial action or threats of industrial action.

So, what should the government’s strategy be? GIMMS Associate Neil Wilson suggests the following :

  • Interest rates should be going down, not up, because taxing young people trying to set up home and giving that to rich people with money is completely the wrong approach.
  • Instead, we need to understand that taxes are there to stop the private sector from hiring people so the public sector can hire them. If we have inflation, then we are undertaxed for the size of government we have.
  • Therefore we reduce the size of government, or we increase taxes on business so they hire fewer people. Employee NI changes should be shifted to Employer’s NI.
  • The number of people on out-of-work benefits is entirely in the gift of private sector businesses. All they have to do is offer sufficiently attractive wages and conditions. In other words, learn to compete and stop offering substandard jobs. Rather than out-of-work benefits we should provide a guaranteed living wage job for all, then it would be even clearer that the problem is with the quality of the private sector job offers, not the willingness of the people to work.
  • Since the inflation problem is a lack of energy, why are we arguing about money rather than talking about measures to use less energy?

Whilst the temptation is increasingly to focus on domestic issues, we ignore at our peril the global context of the effects of the pandemic and the conflict in Ukraine on world economies, not to mention the climate crisis which seems to have taken a back seat, or rather dropped off the agenda.

It is increasingly clear that there will be severe consequences for countries in the global south. Countries that do not enjoy food and energy sovereignty, are loaded with foreign debt, and who have suffered at the hands of the IMF which imposes tough conditions for bailouts, destroying public infrastructure and privatising public assets.

Countries who, on top of this, are also having to deal not only with the shocking rises in the price of food staples like grain and energy, related to the conflict in Ukraine, but also with the costs associated with western manufactured wars and economic exploitation, and human-caused climate warming.

There is not a week that goes by when those consequences are not laid bare. Those of a rotten economic system which favours the global north.

This week the UN warned that only an immediate scaling up of funds and humanitarian relief could save Somalia from famine.

In March and April, a brutal heatwave struck India and Pakistan which killed at least 90 people and led to wheat crop failures, power outages and forest fires.

This month, more than 110 people have died and millions have been stranded as excessive Monsoon rains devastate India and Bangladesh, adding to the damage already caused by unusually heavy rain which lashed north-eastern India and Bangladesh in March.

In Niger, people are on the other hand, praying for rain, as malnourished children die as the global food crisis worsens years of drought, caused by the climate crisis which has led to increasingly unpredictable patterns of rainfall and longer dry seasons.

And in Chile, working people are becoming desperate as a severe drought which is turning a reservoir into a desert has affected copper output, stoked tensions over water use for lithium and farming, as well as fuelling forest fires. Plans are now being drawn up for water rationing.

In the Congo, peat which stores vast amounts of carbon is under threat from climate-induced longer dry seasons, unsustainable farming practices and the possibility of significant oil deposits being exploited close to peatlands, with government already parcelling out blocks of land and seeking potential investors.

These events come as climate talks in Germany between rich and poor countries over funding compensation to deal with climate change caused by the emissions of richer countries, ended in acrimony as the US and EU fail to agree.

As Congo’s Environment Minister pointed out, ‘It’s time we understood that it is in our common interest to conserve [the peatlands]. Because if [the West] doesn’t help support our conservation work, we shall be obliged to use our own natural resources, because we need money simply to live.’

That goes for all countries faced with similar dilemmas, and we are as far away as we have ever been from developing global solutions.

With Sri Lanka’s Prime Minister warning this week that the country is on the point of economic collapse, it exposes the fundamental exploitative and toxic nature of the economic system. A country that has as the economist Fadhel Kaboub tweeted recently, ‘failed to invest in food and energy sovereignty, raced to the bottom chasing low value added export industries, remittances and tourism. All fueled by debt in foreign currency.’

The climate crisis, combined with the toxic economic system which is driving it, is posing an existential threat to humanity. The natural world and its biodiversity is under threat as never before, and yet despite the promises, we are now going backwards.

As Antonio Guterres, the head of the UN, made clear last week, fossil fuel firms ‘have humanity by the throat’, as the industry and its backers pull in record profits as energy prices soar, and governments give the go-ahead for further oil field development or re-opening coal plants as Germany is proposing to do. Suddenly the appetite for addressing the climate emergency has been supplanted by other immediate concerns, rather than the long-term effects of continuing to burn fossil fuels and use up the world’s finite resources to keep a dying economic system alive.

We have choices. They start with unpicking the lies about how the government spends, so the public understands the scam that has been perpetrated over decades by politicians, orthodox economists, and the media.

Change is inevitable. The question is what sort of change do we actually want for our children and what needs to happen to achieve it? We need an urgent challenge to a toxic system. Learning how money works is fundamental to that quest.

 

 

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The post Growing discontent as the cost of living rise continues to bite appeared first on The Gower Initiative for Modern Money Studies.

Will the Government Ever Face Accountability for its COVID Crimes?

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 24/06/2022 - 6:45pm in

Rachel Morris inspects the legal basis for the prosecution of the Government’s fatal failures during the pandemic

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A workplace manager, by failing to ensure a safe work environment, can be prosecuted for gross negligence manslaughter if they cause the death of a person to whom a duty of care was owed. An organisation can be prosecuted for corporate manslaughter if its activities amounted to a gross breach of duty of care causing death. The outcome of criminal prosecution can include fines and prison sentences.

Yet, change the context to one in which the government causes death, and what are the consequences, if any?

One of every 342 people in the UK – almost 200,000 – have died of COVID-19, at a minimum. Meanwhile, 2.8% of the population, one in every 37, were estimated to be experiencing Long COVID symptoms of varying severity by April 2022.

Compare this to Japan, which has suffered 31,046 COVID deaths to date. Its population is nearly double that of the UK, with a density of 341 per square kilometre compared to our 281.

Thailand has a very similar population to the UK. It has a lower density of 137 overall, but similar density in its cities, where half the population resides. COVID fatalities there total 30,506.

What accounts for these stark differences between broadly similar populations? Culture, in part. Asian people of all ages have worn masks for years to protect themselves and others, with no complaints, histrionics or paranoia. It could be argued that many lives would have been saved in Europe and north America had masks been normalised rather than politicised.

But messaging around such things is connected to politics and political leadership. In a pandemic, people look to those leading them, who can change or suspend culturally-led behaviours.

An article in Nature about the Japanese response to the pandemic found that studies and communication were key to convincing and empowering citizens to protect themselves and each other, with culture playing only one part. For all countries that kept fatalities relatively low, it wasn’t about which measures were taken per se but that institutional attention was paid to the need for them.

The Oxford Coronavirus Government Response Tracker project calculates a composite measure of nine responses – the Stringency Index – with metrics ranging from public information campaigns to school and workplace closures and international travel controls. The higher the score, the stricter the response.

The UK has been consistently low on this index recently – not because the measures taken are less stringent, but because none are taken at all. There is no public health messaging any more – either about Coronavirus or the emerging Monkeypox. The Government never mentions the pandemic now, except when a minister tweets that the it is 'over’ or uses it as an excuse for economic crises.

The Government's handling of the Coronavirus crisis cannot reasonably be blamed on the opposition.

The UK’s positive responses included lockdowns reducing transmission, financial support for vulnerable employees and employers, praise for frontline workers, and the much-vaunted vaccine roll-out often referred to when the Prime Minister is seeking to save his own skin.

But the negatives are numerous: Boris Johnson missing the first five Cabinet Office Briefing Rooms (COBRA) meetings about the pandemic; the 2016 Cygnus pandemic study mostly ignored; flights from China not banned; COVID-positive people sent from hospitals into care homes; the Prime Minister boasting of shaking hands with everyone in a hospital; the ignoring of World Health Organisation recommendations to test and trace the population; the adherence to ‘herd immunity’ advice; locking down too late, on multiple occasions.

There was also the abandoning of community testing; mass gatherings at sporting events; a lack of adequate personal protective equipment (PPE) and ventilators; cronyism and corruption around the awarding of contracts with poor outcomes; a lack of coordination between nations; millions of pounds wasted on Nightingale hospitals; people left with no financial support; ‘Eat Out to Help Out’ launching more COVID cases; non-mandatory masking; the overlooking of asymptomatic and airborne transmission; neither testing at nor closing airports; expensive and laissez-faire quarantine arrangements; an ineffective test and trace app; no ventilation in schools; ignoring Long COVID; ‘Partygate’ and its cover-up; and Dominic Cummings' Barnard Castle eye test.

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An Imminent Inquiry

If we focus on just two of the many failings – the lack of adequate PPE for healthcare workers, some of whom had to wear bin bags and thousands of whom died of COVID; and sending people back to care homes without testing, protections or mitigations – would either be enough to attract legal consequences for decision-makers?

In April 2020, consultant urologist Abdul Mabud Chowdhury died of the virus aged 53, five days after he had warned the Prime Minister via Facebook about a lack of “appropriate PPE and remedies”. Nurse John Alagos also died in 2020, aged 23. His mother claimed that he was not given adequate protective clothing while working with COVID patients on 12-hour shifts.

The Corporate Manslaughter Act 2007 makes companies and organisations liable and guilty of manslaughter in the event of serious management failures resulting in grossly negligent breach of a duty of care. Section 11(1) states that government bodies can be prosecuted for corporate manslaughter, contrary to a usual rule that ‘crown bodies’ cannot be prosecuted for criminal offences. The Department of Health and Social Care and NHS trusts are covered by section 11(1).

In April, the High Court found that Government policies on discharging patients from hospital to care homes were unlawful because they failed to take into account the risk from non-symptomatic transmission. Former Health and Social Care Secretary Matt Hancock had claimed that his department threw a “protective ring” around care homes. The High Court disagreed.

However, both Hancock and Boris Johnson blamed any failings on the now-disbanded Public Health England – and there have been no consequences for either.

The ruling stated that “the Government’s failure to protect... and positive steps taken by the Government which introduced COVID-19 infection into care homes, represent one of the most egregious and devastating policy failures in the modern era”.

Could this, or the avoidable deaths of healthcare workers, not meet the requirements of a Corporate Manslaughter Act prosecution?

Yet, sections three to seven specify exceptions for liability in public emergencies, exempting “decisions of a public authority in relation to issues of public policy (such as the allocation of public resources)”.

The draft terms of reference for the COVID-19 Inquiry include examining the protection of the vulnerable and PPE provision. While it will simply produce ‘lessons learned’, its findings could provide substance for grieving families who seek to pursue the prosecution of failures by public bodies.

The Government deflected criticism of its handling of the pandemic throughout with calls for ‘unity in crisis’. It is likely to avail itself of the public emergency exemption at every opportunity.

Meanwhile, the third COVID wave in six months surges across the country, largely unremarked upon, with no mitigations or free testing.

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On the Frontline of the Battle for Benefits

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 23/06/2022 - 9:52pm in

Chaminda Jayanetti speaks to those affected by the Government's failing system of assessing support for some of the most vulnerable people in our society

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Earlier this year, Byline Times reported on how Government assessments delivered by private firms are unfairly denying the Personal Independence Payment (PIP) benefit to disabled people, with a high success rate for people when these decisions are appealed.

Figures published last week show that two-thirds of tribunal appeals by benefit applicants were upheld in 2021/22, with the Department for Work and Pensions' (DWP) assessments amended or overturned. That’s just among appeals that reached a hearing – large numbers of appeals are ‘lapsed’, meaning that the DWP does not contest the appeal, sometimes withdrawing its opposition to it at the last moment.

Tribunal appeals come after the compulsory ‘Mandatory Reconsideration’ (MR) phase, where the DWP looks again at the initial assessment.

In 2021/22, the DWP only decided in favour of the benefit applicant in three out of every 10 MRs. Successful tribunal appeals effectively overturn the DWP’s MR decisions.

To dig deeper into how the Government is failing vulnerable people in need of support, Byline Times spoke to those on the frontline of trying to get PIP benefits about how the battle for benefits has affected their lives.

Victor's Story

Victor Calver was diagnosed in May 2019 with stage four prostate cancer – terminal and metastasized. He continued working, but was hit with a perfect storm early in the Coronavirus pandemic, when he was made redundant from his job and served with an eviction notice by his landlord.

In November 2020, he applied for PIP. “I phoned them up myself," he told Byline Times. "They sent through the form – about 300 million pages.”

Calver has a tumour in his femur and another in his hip, plus two small fractures in his back caused by his cancer treatment making his bones fragile.

“I live with chronic pain,” he said. “Whilst I'm talking to you, my back’s in absolute agony, my legs are in absolute agony. I don’t know if it sounds weird, but I've kind of got used to it. I just kind of accept pain really. And it’s part of my life.

“If you looked at me, if you met me, when I tell people I’ve got stage four cancer, they don't believe it – because generally I’m very, very positive. And that’s how I deal with it. That’s why I don’t get a lot of support, because everyone thinks ‘he’s alright’. 

“Mentally have I coped? Probably not. I don't think many people would be able to cope with the pain I’m in. Sometimes it literally brings tears to your eyes.”

Calver’s PIP application included a letter from his doctor confirming the extent of his illness. But nothing happened for months, until he received a phone call from the benefits assessors.

He told Byline Times: “They’d ask me questions like ‘can you feed yourself?’ Of course I can feed myself. They say ‘what do you eat?’ And I’d say ‘eggs and spinach’ because I used to buy them egg pots from the BP garages. That’s what I’d eat. They said ‘can you walk?’ I said 'yeah, oh yeah'.

"‘Can you go to the supermarket?’ ‘Yeah, of course I can go to the supermarket'. ‘What do you do? Can you walk 50 yards?’ And 'yeah, of course I can walk 50 yards – but I might have to stop 30 times in between'. 

“I said to them ‘yeah, yeah I can go to the shop’. And they suck you in, so you’re ‘yeah I’ll be fine’, you know, ‘I’ll fight this disease’. The moment I put down the phone I’m in tears.”

Despite the doctor's letters and his terminal cancer diagnosis, Calver scored hardly any points in his application for PIP and its Motability element. His application was rejected.

“According to them I was an Olympic athlete,” he said.

By now it was 2021. Calver had to go through the MR phase, whereby the DWP reviews the decision. It didn’t work – there was no change to his assessment score.

“They didn’t even look at it," he told this newspaper. "I don’t think I got a call back or nothing – just a manager, one of these DWP managers, wrote back, says ‘we agree with the assessor’.”

Despite the doctor's letters and his terminal cancer diagnosis... his application was rejected

Calver went to Citizens Advice. The organisation handled his tribunal appeal and secured further supporting letters from his clinicians. The hearing was scheduled for November 2021. Amid the pandemic, he had to take part over the phone. 

But just 10 minutes before the hearing – and a full year after his original PIP application – he got a call from the court telling him that the Government had conceded on all counts. He was given full PIP and full Motability support, backdated to the time of his original claim and awarded indefinitely.

“It’s absurd," Calver said. "Their solicitor or their barrister probably would have looked at the evidence and said ‘you’re going to lose this hands down’. And they conceded, obviously on legal advice – because they took it all the way to the courtroom only for counsel to tell them ‘you’re going to lose this’. Or even the judge might have told them ‘you’re going to lose this’. To concede 10 minutes before the hearing, it seems like the judge or their counsel has told them ‘what have you done?’

“They knew my personal circumstances – we had to give them details about money, earnings, what we’ve got. They knew I had just been made redundant. They knew I was living alone, I was shielding.”

The backdated PIP helped clear some of Calver’s bills and debts that had built during the pandemic and eventually managed to get him rehoused – although not until a lack of suitable accommodation had left him living in a freezing caravan and sleeping in his car over winter.

“How I got this flat now is they considered my PIP money," he said. "They said now I can afford somewhere. Because before, I wouldn’t have been able to afford it anywhere.”

Alison and John's Story

Alison (not her real name) has supported PIP applicants since the benefit was introduced in 2013, having previously worked for a Government department. She told Byline Times that the introduction of the compulsory MR phase simply delayed the process to get to appeal and placed more stress on the people trying to claim benefits.

Even worse, she has come across cases where the person assessing the MR was the same person who carried out the benefit assessment being appealed against.

“I have problems with the Mandatory Reconsideration process, because they're marking their own homework,” she said. “And they say that the person who's made the original decision, the decision-maker, doesn't do the MR. But I know, because I've seen signatures on letters, that the person who made the decision has also done the MR.

She said that the process was "corrupt" because "it doesn’t abide by the rule of law".

"Its decision-making is highly questionable," she added. Also, the decision-makers are people with no medical qualifications.”

One of the people Alison helped was John (not his real name). Having been on the old Disability Living Allowance (DLA) benefit, he was assessed for PIP in 2017, under the DWP’s programme of moving people from the old benefit to the new one.

Aged around 60, he had lost his leg in a motorbike accident at 18 and had been a full-leg amputee for 40 years. He drove an adapted Motability vehicle that let him use all the pedals with one foot.

“He’s a part-time actor,” said Alison, “and his job is being a casualty. He works with emergency services and the Ministry of Defence, and he takes his prosthetic limb off, and they transport him to where he’s got to lie, cover him in fake blood, he has to scream, and the emergency services are assessed.”

She said a private firm employed by the DWP to conduct benefits assessments carried out his PIP assessment and asked him about his job.

“His job requires him to remove his prosthetic leg,” Alison told Byline Times. “And we'd had a hot summer and he’d had to stop wearing this prosthetic leg because he’d got ulcers on his stump, which meant the only way to get about was on a pair of crutches and one leg. And he lost his higher rate PIP mobility component because he was able to do this job – that's how they rationalised it.

“He couldn't get to his job without his mobility car, which is adapted for an amputee, and his job requires him to remove a prosthetic limb, without which he can't really stand up – he’s not particularly stable. But they used this job as a rationalisation for taking his high rate mobility component off him.”

As a result, John lost funding for his adapted car, which his DLA payments had funded. Instead he had to borrow the money to buy it.

John then failed at the MR stage – with the MR apparently done by the same person who did the original assessment.

“I'm pretty sure it was the same person who assessed it, and I've seen others where that's been done as well,” Alison said. “I clocked it on the signature – ‘this is the same person’. They’re actually looking at their own decisions.”

John also lost his appeal at tribunal. At that point, Alison helped him go to a second tier tribunal – a route that can be requested if there has been an error in law. 

For a disability benefit award to be lowered or removed, the DWP has to prove ‘betterment’ – essentially, that the person has to some degree got ‘better’.

“How do you improve from having a full leg amputation?” Alison asked. “You can’t.”

Alison found a very similar case to John’s that had previously gone to appeal – as luck would have it, the same person who presided over the tribunal in that other case presided over the second tier tribunal in John’s case too. 

“She looked at it and said, ‘this needs to go back to the original tribunal hearing and the tribunal has erred in law, and they need to make a fresh decision’," she said. "And that case got him his car back.”

John’s payments were reinstated and backdated. It was 2019 and the case had gone on for two years. He sold the car he had bought, paid off the loan, and got his new Motability vehicle with the restored benefits. 

“If he'd lost, if he couldn't afford to use that car, if he couldn't afford to keep it and have a loan, he wouldn’t have been able to do his job,” Alison said. “It’s pretty outrageous.”

Natalie's Story

Natalie (not her real name) is 32 and has been diagnosed with agoraphobia, depression and anxiety. She has rarely left the house since she was 18 and never leaves without someone with her. 

“Most of the time I go out the house three to four times a year for blood tests and that’s it,” she told Byline Times.

But when she applied for PIP, she scored zero in both assessments – for the ‘daily living’ and mobility components.

“The second assessor used me going to my doctor occasionally for blood tests, and the time I was taken to the dentist because I kept getting abscesses, against me as evidence of somehow being able to get out and do everything unaided and having no mobility issues," she said. "So even getting medical treatment is being used against us.”

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Both the initial report from her mobility assessor and the response to her unsuccessful MR request explicitly referred to her seeing her GP every three months.

The DWP’s response opposing her subsequent tribunal appeal spelled it out more clearly, using her visits to the GP – which always require a lift from her family or partner – as evidence that she can independently interact with people despite her mental health conditions, and that she can manage her medication independently.

At no stage prior to the tribunal appeal have the private company conducting the assessments or the DWP contacted her GP regarding her PIP application, despite her asking the tribunal to do so.

The report from her mobility assessor also referred to her manner when speaking: "At your telephone assessment, you were pleasant and polite and engaged well. You were not breathless when speaking and spoke in full sentences. Despite mentioning that you felt anxious, you responded to reassurance from the assessor. There were no signs of overwhelming anxiety or distress." 

Natalie told Byline Times that the assessments ignored or distorted what she said.

“I mentioned my new meds [Mirtazapine, which treats depression and anxiety], they asked me to read the name," she said. "Then they reported I hadn’t started any new meds. I explained my vision is slightly worse than it would be if I hadn’t been stuck in almost half my life (I am very short-sighted). Apparently I have no issues with vision according to them. All they have done is lie.

“I told them I was overweight and how my partner cares for me. So they mention I’m not underweight. And somehow come to the conclusion everything my partner does for me I can do on my own too.

“I can’t comprehend it. I heard it was bad but I didn’t realise it was this bad.”

Natalie knows what she would do with the PIP money if she wins her appeal: “At first I’d like to be able to get taxis to get out to somewhere with people. Get used to the drivers, that’d allow to eventually start going on my own. After that, I’d like to work on using public transport, with someone at first then build up to doing it alone. Things like that. I want to use it to help me get better and get passed this point in my life.”

The Government's Response

A spokesperson for the Department for Work and Pensions told Byline Times that "the majority of applications for Mandatory Reconsideration go directly to another decision-maker based in the department’s Disputes Resolution Service and where that doesn’t happen, we have robust internal quality checks so ensure all the correct processes were followed”.

“For the majority of PIP claims, we get decisions right and all assessments are carried out by healthcare professionals trained to consider the impact of someone’s health condition or disability, but we are exploring what more we can do so the welfare system better meets the needs of disabled people through our Health and Disability Green Paper,” they added.

Do you have an experience about claiming benefits to share? Contact the newsdesk by emailing news@bylinetimes.com

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