welfare

UK: The current welfare state is reaching its limits, as evidence on inequality and poverty in the UK is surfaced

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 17/01/2019 - 7:22pm in

Philip Alston. Picture credit to: BBC News Philip Alston, UN Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, was in the UK last November 2018, presenting his findings on this press conference. It seems that the UK, the 5th world economy in terms of GDP, drags on the 55th position as far as inequality is concerned, in a list of

The post UK: The current welfare state is reaching its limits, as evidence on inequality and poverty in the UK is surfaced appeared first on BIEN.

Mental health and homelessness

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sun, 23/12/2018 - 3:19am in


I haven't written a post for a while. I wanted everyone to read the post I wrote in November about my niece Annie's suicide. Writing new posts drops older ones down the list, and I didn't want her memorial post to disappear off the radar until after her funeral. Annie's funeral was last Tuesday, 18th December, the day after her 29th birthday. Now, it is time to write again.

But not yet to move on from the issues that Annie's death highlights. This post is about the link between mental ill health and homelessness. Particularly, "street" homelessness, or in common parlance, "sleeping rough".

Homelessness and rough sleeping have risen hugely in recent years. Government statistics show that between 2010-15, estimates of the number of those sleeping rough rose by 102%. This is partly due to changes in methodology to correct suspected under-reporting of the problem. But the Government admits that there is a real and considerable increase in the numbers sleeping rough. Its own figures show that in Autumn 2017, 4,751 people slept rough on a typical night, an increase of 15% since the previous year.

The homeless charity St. Mungo's identifies four causes for the increase in homelessness and rough sleeping:

  • Increasing housing costs and welfare reform leading to homelessness 
  • A shortage of supported housing 
  • Homelessness services overloaded
  • More people from Central and Eastern Europe sleeping rough. 

The last of these could reduce as the Government clamps down on EU migration after Brexit. But the other three are a direct consequence of government policies particularly since 2010. Unless these policies change, they can only get worse.

The image many people have of a typical rough sleeper is a middle-aged white man with alcohol problems. But this is no longer the case. A 2018 report by the University of York highlights the changing composition of rough sleeping populations:

A broad trend reported since the 1990s has been for increasing numbers of women to appear in the rough sleeping population, within a wider pattern of change that has seen the population shift from older, white, often alcohol-dependent and mobile men, towards a younger population with more complex needs. There have been major changes in health, social care, social housing and welfare systems, as well as in the UK housing and labour markets, along with significant cultural changes, and these data are within a longstanding pattern of increases in female youth homelessness.

Today's rough sleepers are more likely to be young, more likely to be female (though men still make up by far the largest proportion), more likely to be from ethnic minority backgrounds, and more likely to have mental health problems. St. Mungo's says that around half of those living on the streets have mental health needs. Among women, the proportion is higher - as much as 60% in London.

Annie was one of them. In 2015, her landlord had raised her rent from £400 to £700 per month. She could not afford to pay it, so he gave her notice to quit. This is not an unusual experience for young people in London: St. Mungo's reports that the end of a private sector tenancy is the commonest reason for someone becoming homeless. But for Annie, who already had a long history of unstable mental health, it was disastrous. It triggered an acute depressive episode which resulted in her being hospitalised.

Although the NHS could treat Annie's symptoms, it could not solve her problem. When she left hospital, she became homeless. She spent some time sofa-surfing, but eventually ended up on the streets.

While she was homeless, Annie suffered repeated physical, sexual and emotional abuse. This seems to be a near-universal experience of homeless women, especially those sleeping rough. The University of York's study graphically describes the abuse suffered by women in its focus groups:

Most had been subjected to horrific violations; this included being spat, urinated and vomited on. Many had been robbed, threatened, experienced physical violence and been continually harassed for sex by male members of the public...Verbal abuse and being treated with contempt were common experiences; there was also a frequent assumption that being on the street meant they were involved in sex work.

Unsurprisingly, Annie's mental state worsened considerably and she was again hospitalised. This time, when she left hospital, she was given temporary secure accommodation in a hostel. Her troubles did not end there, though: homeless hostels are not always safe places for women. Annie was sexually assaulted while living in a hostel then physically attacked when she reported the abuse.

But how did Annie, a young woman with a long history of mental illness, come to be homeless? Local authorities have a duty to house those who are vulnerable due to mental illness. When she lost her private sector tenancy, Annie suffered an acute mental health crisis that led to her being hospitalised. Why didn't Southwark Council provide her with accommodation on her discharge from hospital?

Sadly, there are many examples of the NHS discharging mental health patients from hospital into inappropriate accommodation and without appropriate care or follow-up. Annie was far from alone. And being under the care of the Community Medical Health Team after discharge was not enough to make her a priority case. When she asked the council to house her, the council decided that she was not vulnerable enough to justify housing. In hindsight, this was a catastrophically bad decision.

The council decided that the fact that she had left her accommodation voluntarily when the landlord's notice expired, instead of waiting for bailiffs to evict her, meant that she was "intentionally homeless". This was perverse, since remaining would have meant building up rent arrears, potentially making it much harder for her to find alternative accommodation. However, it had the useful effect of diminishing the council's legal responsibility towards Annie. All they now had to do was decide whether she was sufficiently vulnerable to justify emergency accommodation despite being "intentionally homeless". As we shall see, their sole purpose in conducting an assessment of Annie appears to have been to evade their legal responsibility towards her.

The letter in which Southwark Council advised Annie of their decision outlines the reasons (these are selected excerpts):

We are satisfied that even though you suffer from severe depression and emotionally unstable borderline personality disorder the conditions are not such as to impede your normal function, nor impair your ability to fend for yourself if street homeless. You do not take any medication at present for these conditions. For this reason, we are satisfied that you would be able to cope if street homeless and that you would continue to be able to engage with relevant services... 

If you were faced with street homelessness we are not satisfied that you would be more at risk than another ordinary street homeless person... 

After considering all these facts, we are not satisfied that you are vulnerable as a result of suffering from severe depression and emotionally unstable borderline personality disorder. We are satisfied that you will be no less able to fend for yourself if street homeless or that you would experience difficulties with finding and keeping accommodation." 

I was struck by the poor grammar and construction of this letter, and its repetitive nature. It was almost as if the author were cutting and pasting paragraphs from a standard document. The terms "street homeless" and "fend for yourself" were repeatedly used. Yet this was supposed to be the result of an individual assessment of Annie's housing needs. Something didn't quite add up. So I did a bit of investigation.

The rationale for the council's decision was derived from case law: Regina vs Camden LBC ex parte Pereira, 1998 (referred to as "Pereira" in the council's letter). I looked it up. The case rested on the interpretation of section 59(1)(c) of the Housing Act 1985, which assigns priority need for housing to:

...a person who is vulnerable as a result of old age, mental illness or handicap or physical disability or other special reason, or with whom such a person resides or might reasonably be expected to reside

In particular, the problem is what is meant by the term "vulnerable". Lord Justice Hobhouse concluded:

The Council must consider whether Mr Pereira is a person who is vulnerable as a result of mental illness or handicap or for other special reason. Thus, the Council must ask itself whether Mr Pereira is, when homeless, less able to fend for himself than an ordinary homeless person so that injury or detriment to him will result when a less vulnerable man would be able to cope without harmful effects. The application of this test must not be confused with the question whether or not the Applicant is at the material time homeless. If he is not homeless, the question whether he is in priority need becomes academic. The question under paragraph (c) can only arise if (or on the assumption that) he is at the material time homeless. A particular inability of a person suffering from some handicap coming within paragraph (c) to obtain housing for himself can be an aspect of his inability as a homeless person to fend for himself. Such an individual may suffer from some mental or physical handicap which makes him unable to obtain housing unaided and thus makes him unable to cope with home less ness in a way which does not apply to the ordinary homeless person. But it is still necessary, as is illustrated by the decided cases, to take into account and assess whether in all the circumstances the applicant's inability to cope comes within paragraph (c). It must appear that his inability to fend for himself whilst homeless will result in injury or detriment to him which would not be suffered by an ordinary homeless person who was able to cope. The assessment is a composite one but there must be this risk of injury or detriment. If there is not this risk, the person will not be vulnerable.

I have highlighted two terms in this: "homeless" and "fend for himself". It seems that this is the source for those terms as used in the letter sent to Annie. But in Annie's letter, "homeless" had been altered throughout to "street homeless", which as I said above, is usually taken to mean sleeping rough. Mr. Pereira was never "street homeless". He was living with friends, as indeed was Annie at the time of the council's decision, though it was not possible for her friends to provide accommodation long-term. Southwark council assumed that because her mental condition was stable and she didn't need medication while living with friends, she would remain mentally stable and off medication if she had to sleep rough. I am no lawyer, but I cannot see how this could possibly follow from the Pereira judgment, which at no time even mentioned "street homeless", let alone assumed that Mr. Pereira would remain well if he were forced to sleep rough.

The Pereira judgment seems to have become the standard vehicle used by local authorities to evade their responsibility to house vulnerable adults. But by the time Annie's application was refused, such an interpretation of the Pereira judgment had already been deemed legally dubious.

In 2014, the Court of Appeal heard three separate challenges to decisions by Southwark and Solihull councils to refuse housing to vulnerable adults. On reading the facts of these cases, the similarity between the language used in the letters sent to these claimants and that sent to Annie is striking. Here, for example, is a paragraph from the letter sent to Sifatullah Hotak by Southwark Council:

[T]he Council must ask itself whether the applicant, when street homeless, is less able to fend for himself/herself so that injury or detriment will result where a less vulnerable street homeless personwould be able to cope without harmful effect.

And this is from the letter sent to Patrick Kanu, again by Southwark Council:

[The Council is] not satisfied that if [Mr Kanu’s] household was faced with street homelessness they would be at risk of injury or detriment greater than another ordinary street homeless person due to Mr Kanu’s wife and son's ability to fend for the whole household, including [Mr Kanu].

There are numerous other examples of the same terminology throughout the letters. Yet Mr Kanu, Mr. Hotak and Annie all had different assessors. If they had all written individual reports, such similarities would be unlikely.

It is hard not to conclude that cutting and pasting paragraphs from a standard document was exactly what the assessors were doing. Rejection, it seems, was the default setting: the job of the assessors was to decide which of the reasons for rejection in the standard document best fitted the individual case. And presumably the wording in the paragraphs cut from the standard document had been cleared by the legal department, so could not be significantly changed. This would explain the strangely repetitive construction of the letters and their poor grammar. It would be interesting to know how many applications from individuals with mental health problems Southwark Council does accept. How ill does someone have to be before they can be housed?

Lord Neuberger at the Court of Appeal was less than impressed with Southwark Council's repeated use of the terms "street homeless" and "fend for oneself":

Certain expressions seem to have entered the vocabulary of those involved in homelessness issues, which can lead to difficulties when they are applied to strictly legal problems. In particular, for instance, “street homelessness” and “fend for oneself” are expressions which one finds, in one or more of the review letters in the present appeals. Such expressions may be useful in discussions, but they can be dangerous if employed in a document which is intended to have legal effect. There are obvious dangers of using such expressions. They may start to supplant the statutory test, which is normally inappropriate in principle, and, when they originate from a judgment, they may be apt for the particular case before the court, but not necessarily for the general run of cases. Additionally, they may mean different things to different people.

 He pointed out that the expression "fend for oneself" was not the statutory test of vulnerability, and observed that "a person may be vulnerable even though he can fend for himself." And he also objected to the term "street homeless" on the grounds that it lacks legal definition:

The expression “street homeless”...seems to have entered into the Court of Appeal’s vocabulary in the judgment of Auld LJ, in Osmani – see paras 23-28 and para 38(7). When Lord Hughes raised the question of the precise meaning of “street homeless” with counsel during argument, it took until the following day before he got a clear answer. The expression can plainly mean somewhat different things to different people. “Homeless”, as defined in the 1996 Act, is an adjective which can cover a number of different situations, and the very fact that the statute does not distinguish between them calls into question the legitimacy of doing so when considering the nature or extent of an authority’s duty to an applicant.

Solihull Council did not insert the word "street" before "homeless". But otherwise, the language in the letter that the council's assessor sent to Craig Johnson is again similar:

She should ask herself “whether [Mr Johnson], when homeless, would be less able to fend for [himself] than an ordinary homeless person so that injury or detriment to [him] would have resulted when a less vulnerable person would be able to cope without harmful effect”, and explained that her conclusion was that he “would not be less able to fend for [himself] than an ordinary homeless person” for reasons she proceeded to give.

Clearly, both councils had relied heavily on Lord Hobhouse's comments in the Pereira case. But Lord Neuberger disputed their interpretation of his comments. Citing case law, he pointed out that the term "ordinary homeless person" was problematic, since the prevalence of mental health problems in the homeless population is extremely high:

The fact that there might be disproportionately many such people in the homeless population would not in itself mean that they were any the less vulnerable within the meaning of section 189 (1)(c) - any more than it would if there were a disproportionately large number of homeless people suffering from severe mental illness. The question of who constitutes the ‘ordinary homeless person’ … cannot be answered purely statistically.” 

And he continued:

In my opinion, properly understood, both Waller LJ in Bowers and Hobhouse LJ in Pereira intended the vulnerability comparison under section 189(1)(c) to be Page 20 with an ordinary person if made homeless, not with an ordinary person actually homeless. That seems to me to be apparent from Waller LJ’s reference to “a less vulnerable man”, as opposed to “a less vulnerable homeless man”. I think it also follows from Hobhouse LJ’s reference (in a passage at p 330 which I have not so far quoted) to “an individual” who “suffer[s] from some mental or physical handicap which … makes him unable to cope with homelessness” as someone who would fall within section 189(1)(c). There was no suggestion that, if such a person could be said to be ordinary in the context of the actual homeless, he would fall outside the section.

This is a crucial point. Annie had a diagnosed mental ill health condition and had recently been hospitalised. She may have been no more vulnerable than other homeless people with mental health needs, but that does not mean she was not vulnerable compared to a person who did not have a diagnosed mental health condition.

Unfortunately Annie did not appeal Southwark Council's decision. Had she done so, the outcome might have been different. But like so many in her situation, she lacked both the emotional fortitude and the legal means to do so. She simply accepted the inevitability of homelessness.

There is little doubt that homelessness contributed significantly to Annie's mental deterioration. Indeed, she said so herself. In December 2016, Annie gave evidence to MPs in which she expressed a clear view that unstable and - following Southwark Council's decision - non-existent housing had contributed significantly to her worsening mental health.

Although in the video she appears bright and articulate, Annie was by then on long-term medication to control her symptoms, and was too unwell to live unsupported. When I saw her nearly a year later, in November 2017, she seemed in a better mental state, though as her mood was extremely variable it was hard to tell whether I had just caught her on a good day. But the medication was causing her weight to balloon, causing her further problems with self-image and self-esteem.

I saw her again in September 2018. She was still on medication, but she had begun to lose weight, was studying again and had recently started as a Citizens Advice gateway volunteer. She seemed to be getting her life back together. But bipolar disorder is unpredictable. In November, everything came crashing down again. Why, I do not know: but I was struck by her comment in her evidence to MPs that she would be living in hostels for another two years. That was nearly two years ago. Perhaps, as her health improved and the end of her hostel tenure approached, she realised she would soon no longer be a housing priority, and could not face returning to the merry-go-round of unaffordable private sector tenancies, bankruptcy, homelessness and hospitalisation?

Whatever led Annie to make the final decision to end her life, one thing seems clear. Southwark council's disastrous decision in 2015 to refuse housing was a key fork in the road that eventually brought Annie to a place where she felt she could no longer go on. Had they decided differently, Annie might still be with us today. Though she did not die on the streets, responsibility for Annie's death nevertheless lies in part at Southwark Council's door.

But we should not forget the underlying issues that are driving up youth homelessness and resulting in an increasing number of people with mental health problems sleeping rough. Deep cuts to council budgets and community mental health services, benefit restrictions for under-25s, and very low wages for many young people, have made decisions like this inevitable. I have no doubt Annie is far from the only vulnerable young person whose life has been put at risk by councils desperate to avoid legal responsibilities they cannot afford to meet. But councils and mental health teams are themselves on the front line. High private sector rents, insecure tenancies and wholly inadequate social housing provision mean that vulnerable people inevitably end up homeless. There is simply nowhere for them to go.

Throughout the 1990s and 2000s, successive governments - of both colours - introduced and expanded schemes to reduce rough sleeping. In 2008, Gordon Brown's government set out a strategy that aimed to end rough sleeping by 2012. And in 2011, the Coalition government announced plans to extend London mayor Boris Johnson's "No Second Night Out" strategy, intended to ensure no-one ever spent more than one night sleeping rough, to the whole country.

The present Government has now produced a "Rough Sleeping Strategy" which sets out its vision for halving rough sleeping by 2022 and ending it by 2027. Surely this is a tacit admission that the story since 2010 has been one of catastrophic policy failure?

The Government is also now putting more money into mental health services, which have suffered deep cuts since 2010. But the money is almost entirely going into acute services, not into the community and preventative services that could improve mental health over the longer-term. They remain pariah services. And councils remain as cash-strapped as ever, and as desperate to wriggle out of legal responsibilities that cost them money. While this remains the case, vulnerable adults like Annie will continue to live on the streets until they end up in hospital under a section, or in prison. Prisons, like the streets, are full of people with mental health conditions. And like community mental health, prisons are a pariah service. They have suffered deep funding cuts in recent years, resulting in sharply worsening conditions for both inmates and staff.

The lack of joined-up thinking in homelessness strategies is remarkable. There is no point in having a strategy to end rough sleeping if you are simultaneously pursuing policies that increase it. And there is no point in pouring money into acute mental health services while pursuing policies that worsen mental health outcomes. Until there is an end to spending cuts and "reforms" that deepen mental distress and drive up homelessness and rough sleeping, the Government's strategies to end rough sleeping and improve mental health are doomed to fail.

I shall let Annie end this post in her own words.

It is abhorrent that we have a Government that does not appear to prioritise the need for its citizens to have safe places to live. It is disgusting that we have so many people living on the streets, many of whom have physical and mental disabilities, who desperately need help to get back on their feet.

Related reading:

Letter to Annie from Southwark Borough Council (Dropbox link) (by permission of her father)
Regina vs Camden LBC ex parte Pereira
Hotak & others (appellants) vs London Borough of Southwark and another (respondent)
Rough Sleeping Strategy - HM Government
Stop the Scandal - St. Mungo's
Homelessness and the mental health scandal - The Big Issue
A very British disease
The road to the workhouse

If you would like to donate St. Mungo's in Annie's memory, you can do so here: https://www.mungos.org/get-involved/donate

Image is a still from the video of Annie's evidence to MPs, link in the post. 

United States: Harvard Economist Argues for Replacement of the EITC with a Basic Income

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 21/12/2018 - 11:46am in

Associate Professor of Economics at Harvard, Dr. Maximilian Kasy contends that the Earned Income Tax Credit in the United States, carries several economic, moral, and political disadvantages in comparison to a universal basic income.

The post United States: Harvard Economist Argues for Replacement of the EITC with a Basic Income appeared first on BIEN.

Annals of hypocrisy: Welfare … or social insurance?

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 13/11/2018 - 9:27am in

Robert Reich dissects the hypocrisy about government “handouts”:

Read/see his comment here.

In (qualified) praise of Frank Field

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 31/08/2018 - 8:09pm in

The news that Frank Field, long-serving Labour MP for Birkenhead, has resigned the Labour whip, has generated a deluge of comment, including the predictable attacks from the Corbynist left.

Field’s resignation letter cites antisemitism and a culture of intolerance and bullying as the reasons for his departure – in which he is far from alone; those of us involved in Labour politics have seen a steady exodus of Labour stalwarts – the people who run election campaigns and organise Labour events at local level, as distinct from the social media clicktivists – over the past three years.

Field’s critics have pointed to his role in the development of the welfare system, both under Blair and the Cameron coalition.  Appointed Minister of State for Social Security in 1997, with a brief to “think the unthinkable”, he lasted barely a year; Blair, in his autobiography, described Field’s thoughts as less unthinkable than unfathomable.    His advocacy of a small-state approach to welfare, based on mutualism and opposition to non-contributory benefits, put him at odds with Labour’s thinking (although his consistent opposition to means-testing is closer to the position held in some parts of the Left).

On other issues, he has been associated with the Labour Right – as a prominent Eurosceptic who has consistently supported the Government over Brexit, and as a consistent advocate of reducing the time limit for abortion.

But there is one issue over which Field deserves unstinting praise; his work as Chair of the Work and Pensions Committee of the House of Commons.  That committee has been forensic and absolutely ruthless in its exposure of the cruelties and incompetence of the Department of Work and Pensions, and has embarrassed the Government into significant change.

For example, it exposed the internal DWP targets for dismissing appeals at mandatory reconsideration – the initial process that all those appealing DWP decisions to cut their benefits must go through; the DWP was forced into a humiliating climbdown and the internal target – described disingenuously as a “management target” was abolished, as a direct response to the Committee’s criticism.

And the same Committee has been equally damning in its criticism of how the so-called “health professionals” employed by the private sector contractors who manage Work Capability Assessments are likely to have no expertise in the field in which they conduct assessments – especially where those assessments involve mental health issues.

In other words – Frank Field’s committee has been an absolute model of Parliamentary scrutiny, exposing one Government failure after another and forcing red-faced Ministers into making changes to the benefits regime.

And that is what real opposition looks like.  No matter how many rallies one attends, or how many Facebook posts one likes or how many retweets one makes, the real business of politics is about making a change.  And, like him or loathe him, Frank Field and his committee have achieved far more for the most vulnerable than all the Facebook likes, retweets and Momentum meetings and Jezfests between them have done.

Did Neoliberalism and Austerity Cause Brexit? Yes.

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 14/08/2018 - 10:26pm in

While the Brexit process is underway and UK politicians are tearing themselves apart over this overwhelmingly and multidimensionally complicated  issue, an economics professor from Warwick University Thiemo Fetzer provides ample and comprehensive evidence that the austerity-induced withdrawal of the welfare state brought about by the Conservative-led … Continue reading →

Strange bedfellows

Published by Matthew Davidson on Sat, 26/08/2017 - 4:43pm in

Via MacroBusiness, here's the TL;DR of the Business Council of Australia's submission to a 2012 Senate inquiry into social security allowances:

  • "The rate of the Newstart Allowance for jobseekers no longer meets a reasonable community standard of adequacy and may now be so low as to represent a barrier to employment.
  • "Reforming Newstart should be part of a more comprehensive review to ensure that the interaction between Australia’s welfare and taxation systems provides incentives for people to participate where they can in the workforce, while ensuring that income support is adequate and targeted to those in greatest need.
  • "As well as improving the adequacy of Newstart payments, employment assistance programs must also be reformed to support the successful transition to work of the most disadvantaged jobseekers."

Not only did the BCA's confederacy of Scrooges suffer unaccustomed pangs of sympathy, the Liberal Party senator chairing the inquiry also agreed that Newstart is excessively miserly. However, he failed to recommend raising the allowance, saying:

"There is no doubt the evidence we received was compelling. Nobody want's [sic] to see a circumstance in which a family isn't able to feed its children, no one wants to see that in Australia. But we can't fund these things by running up debt."

Sigh. (Here we go…) There is no need to "fund these things", whether it be by "running up debt" or any other means. The Federal Government creates money when it spends. We, as a country, run out of the capacity to feed our children when we run out of food. We cannot run out of dollars, since we can create the dollars without limit.

The government does however, at the moment, have a purely voluntary policy of matching, dollar-for-dollar, all spending with government bond sales. There's no good reason for this; as Bill Mitchell says, it's just corporate welfare. Even so, selling bonds is not issuing new debt. Bonds are purchased with RBA credits (or "reserves", if you prefer). The purchasing institution simply swaps a non-interest-bearing asset (reserves) at the RBA for an interest-bearing one (bonds), still at the RBA. It's just like transferring some money from a savings account to a higher-interest term deposit account at a commercial bank; do we say that this is a lending operation? Of course not.

There is no fiscal reason why the government should punish the unemployed to the extent that they become an unemployable underclass. Even if we are generous and assume the good senator and his colleagues on the inquiry are just ignorant about how the economy works, we are still bound to conclude that there must be some (not so ignorant) people in government, who do want to see people suffering for no just reason.

Wednesday, 15 February 2017 - 5:22pm

Published by Matthew Davidson on Wed, 15/02/2017 - 5:34pm in

I'm ranting altogether too much over local "journalism", and this comment introduces nothing new to what I've posted many times before, but since the Advocate won't publish it:

Again I have to wonder why drivel produced by the seething hive mind of News Corp is being syndicated by my local newspaper. This opinion comes from somebody who appears to be innumerate (eight taxpayers out of ten doesn't necessarily - or even very likely - equal eight dollars out of every ten) economically illiterate, and empirically wrong.

Tax dollars do not fund welfare, or any other function of the federal government. Currency issuing governments create money when they spend and destroy money when they tax. "Will there be enough money?" is a nonsensical question when applied to the federal government. As Warren Mosler puts it, the government neither has nor does not have money. If you work for a living, it is in your interest that the government provides money for those who otherwise wouldn't have any, because they spend it - and quickly. Income support for the unemployed becomes income for the employed pretty much instantly. Cutting back on welfare payments means cutting back on business revenues.

And the claim that the "problem" of welfare is increasing in scale is just wrong. Last year's Household, Income, and Labour Dynamics in Australia (HILDA) report shows dependence on welfare payments by people of working age declining pretty consistently since the turn of the century. This opinion piece is pure class war propaganda. None of us can conceivably benefit in any way from pushing people into destitution in the moralistic belief that they must somehow deserve it.

Sustainability and the political economy of welfare

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 16/06/2016 - 10:00am in

Welfare is commonly understood in socio-economic terms of equity, highlighting distributive issues within growing capitalist economies. In times when the unequal distribution of wealth in the ‘advanced’ capitalist world has returned to levels of the 19th century, the question of whether we can and should ‘afford the rich’ is indeed central. The traditional response of welfare researchers – that issues of inequality can be solved by redistributing the primary incomes of capital and labour within economically growing economies – however, is not only difficult to achieve in an increasingly unfettered global capitalism but is also controversial. While GDP, income growth and rising material standards of living are normally not questioned as political priorities, there is growing evidence that Western production and consumption patterns and the associated welfare standards are not generalizable to the rest of the planet if environmental concerns are to be considered. For that to happen we would indeed need four to five Earths.

Koch sustainability welfare

In an attempt to take planetary boundaries such as climate change, the nitrogen cycle, and biodiversity loss seriously, our new book Sustainability and the Political Economy of Welfare discusses the implications for ‘the’ economy and associated welfare standards. It raises the issue of what would be required to make welfare societies ecologically sustainable. In doing so, we regard the current financial, economic and political crisis and the corresponding recalibrations in Western welfare state institutions as an impetus to also considering environmental concerns. We are furthermore concerned with the main institutional obstacles to the achievement of sustainable welfare and wellbeing (especially the social structures of global finance-driven capitalism), how these could feasibly be overcome, and how researchers can assist policy-makers and activists in promoting synergy between economic, social and environmental policies that are conducive to globally sustainable welfare systems.

These are complex issues that tend to overstretch the terms of reference of single disciplines. My co-editor Oksana Mont and I felt accordingly privileged to have the opportunity to assemble an interdisciplinary team of researchers from five Lund University faculties as well as Kate Soper, Hubert Buch-Hansen and Ian Gough, who wrote the preface, and to work together for eight months at the Pufendorf Institute for Advanced Studies. We subdivided the book into three parts: conceptual issues of sustainable welfare, policies towards the establishment of sustainable welfare and emerging practices of sustainable welfare in countries such as France, the US, Sweden and China.

Our concept of sustainable welfare attempts to integrate the two previously separate disciplines of welfare and sustainability research. Taking environmental limits seriously in welfare theorising means, first of all, to ask whose welfare should be met. Distributive principles underlying existing welfare systems would need to be extended to include ‘non-citizens’, those affected in other countries and future human beings. Hence, sustainable welfare is oriented towards the satisfaction of human needs within ecological limits, from the intergenerational and global perspective. It is only at global level that thresholds for matter and energy throughput as well as for greenhouse gas emissions can be determined in order to effectively mitigate global environmental challenges such as climate change. At the same time, these biophysical conditions and global thresholds delineate the room for manoeuvre within which national and local economies can evolve and within which welfare can be provided. This suggests a new mix of private, state, commons and individual property forms with a much lesser steering role for the market than at present.

Sayer afford the richIn the policy-oriented second part of the book, several authors place emphasis on the detrimental effects of the financial system within the international political economy and highlight various degrowth visions of practical transformation strategies that could frame more specific policy packages. Here, research has a potentially vital role to play but can only do so in close dialogue with diverse societal actors – particularly if it produces insights into the mechanisms, groupings of actors and their institutional embedding as well as into the ways in which governments and governance networks may support voluntary and civic bottom-up initiatives. If sustainable welfare is going to be practiced at all, then it will most likely be in different ways in different countries due to their diverse points of departure in terms of the institutional particulars of market coordination and welfare systems. While research on the potential diversity of future welfare systems is still in its infancy, it is important to explore the opportunities and potentials that exist within current welfare systems since these must be built upon in any move towards sustainable welfare.

Part III of the book argues that a potential opportunity for the establishment of sustainable welfare lies in the diversity of perceptions about the ‘good life’ and the relationship between individuals and governments in initiating transformative processes and legitimizing sustainable lifestyles. People are becoming increasingly disenchanted with the consumer culture due to its growing negative side effects such as time scarcity, high levels of stress, traffic congestion and the increasing displacement of other pleasures of life and wellbeing through the shopping mall culture. We may already find seeds of alternative visions and practices in craft movements, the service economy, socio-ecological enterprises and forms of collaborative consumption. A ‘slower’ life and more free time should not be seen as a threat to the ‘Western way of life’ but as sources of individual and communitarian wellbeing, genuine individual fulfilment and opportunities for greater involvement with various social networks that have the potential of improving social relations and creating trust. This could also facilitate to breaking the link between resource-intensive economic growth and hegemonic perceptions of societal ‘progress’ – and to ending the monopoly of the prevalent consumer culture over alternative definitions of wellbeing and the ‘good life’.

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Government Resurrects Four Week Wait for Welfare

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