Category: austerity

Neoliberalism: Manipulation of The Many to Benefit The Few

By Daniel Margrain 

 

Theresa May recently described free-market capitalism as the “greatest agent of collective human progress ever created”. But progress is an ideology linked to advances in technology and science, that since the emergence of industrial capitalism in the mid-19th century, has infected much of intellectual life (see, for example, Chris Harman’s ‘A People’s History of the Worldpp. 384-86).

What the obsession with the prevailing neoliberal socioeconomic orthodoxy of successive governments over the last 40 years illustrates, is that right-wing politicians like May proselytize, not on behalf of genuine free-markets, but an extreme form of crony capitalism in which the publicly owned assets of the state are systematically asset- stripped and the spoils distributed to the elite economic and political class.

Farm subsidies, public sector retrenchment, quantitative easing, share giveaways and housing benefit subsidies, are some of the ways in which neoliberal corporate welfare continues to greatly enrich the wealthiest in society. Figures reported in the Guardian indicate that the richest one per cent in Britain have as much wealth as the poorest 57 per cent combined.

More evenly shared

The growth in inequality during the neoliberal era contrasts with the thirty year “post-war settlement” period in which the wealth created by workers was shared much more evenly. For example, data indicates that the share of income going to the top 10 per cent of the population fell over the 40 years to 1979, from 34.6 per cent in 1938 to 21 per cent in 1979, while the share going to the bottom 10 per cent rose slightly. Meanwhile, other figures indicate that economic growth in the UK, adjusted for inflation, has grown over the last 60 years from £432bn in 1955 to £1,864bn in 2016.

The Tory exchequer in 2017, therefore, has roughly four times as much money at its disposal in real terms compared to six decades ago. Moreover, the ratio of national debt to GDP was approximately three times higher in the post-war years compared to 2017. Nevertheless, the then Labour government built hundreds of thousands of “homes fit for heroes” and brought the National Health Service into being.

Many decades later, Theresa May who leads a immeasurably wealthier country than was the case during the post-war period, claimed “there is no magic money tree” to fund public services. Whereas neoliberal fundamentalists envisage the market as an ideological manifestation of a notion of scientific and technological progress, Corbyn’s vision is a return to a more equal society in which improvements to the quality of life for the majority through investing in public infrastructure and social capital play a crucial role.

The evidence Jeremy Corbyn intends to break the neoliberal consensus marking a return to the kind of equitable redistribution of the spoils of growth of the post-war years, is an economic strategy that is worrying a Tory government bereft of ideas. May and her Chancellor, Hammond, continue to advance the notion that the aspirations of those at the bottom of the socioeconomic ladder are most effectively met as a result of economic trickle-down emanating from the top – a theory that has – given the subsequent growth in inequality – been comprehensively discredited. Under neoliberalism, wealth doesn’t trickle down. On the contrary, it gushes up.

Mixed economy in the right hands

Potentially, sustained economic growth that capitalism engenders can create the conditions for the mass of humanity to overcome poverty and pestilence and to meet its fundamental needs – but only in the right hands. Paradoxically, the neoliberal model is is likely to lead to the exact opposite: the extinction of our species and probably many others.

The poorest who can’t afford to enjoy the benefits of capitalism are, in the short-term, the most likely to be adversely affected by the climate chaos and wars it engenders. But the rich are not insulated from the process either since the affects of nuclear fallout and global warming are not undemocratic.

Theresa May’s notion that the ideology of progress, manifested in scientific and technological advancement, is indicative of the “greatest agent of collective human progress ever created”, is negated by the chaos wrought by global warming, the spread of wars, the growth in relative poverty and the lack of disposable income for millions of people.

Under neoliberalism, the impoverished and war-torn are unable to engage in the kinds of commercial and cultural activities the rich disproportionately benefit from. It is therefore not “collective” human progress that May is referring to when she espoused the virtues of capitalism.

For neoliberal ideologues, progress is measured in terms of the extent to which people are able to consume what the advancements in technology the market is able to deliver. While it is true that more people than ever have access to “luxury” technologies like flat screen TVs, mobile phones and computers, it’s still the case that the majority of the worlds population don’t.

Moreover, it doesn’t necessarily follow that those who do have access to them are not struggling to feed their families. There is no correlation between poverty and the amount of consumer goods people have access to. Poor and hungry people without money who do have access to consumer goods like mobile phones are not able to console themselves by eating them.

Absolute v relative poverty

The Prime Minister is right to infer that the historical inward tidal flow of capitalist development over time has corresponded to an overall reduction in absolute poverty. But if it were only absolute poverty that resulted in social resistance there would never have been general strikes or revolutions after the first years of industrialization. As John Rees in Imperialism and Resistance (pp. 102-3) remarked:

“Few people in modern Britain wake up in the morning to face a new day and content themselves with the thought that at least they are not living like 19th century weavers. They ask themselves different questions. Is my child’s life going to be harder than mine? Are we, the people, who do the work, getting a fair share of all the wealth that we see around us in this society?”

It is therefore not capitalism’s ability to reduce the level of absolute poverty, but it’s socially relative poverty measured in terms of the level of income inequality that counts. 

At the turn of the century, the Office of National Statistics provided a snapshot of relative poverty in Britain. In interviews with panelists selected from the General Household Survey, it drew up a list of items regarded as “necessities”: a bed, heating, a damp-free house, the ability to visit family and friends in hospital, two meals a day and medical prescriptions.

The study found that four million people do not eat either two meals a day or fresh fruit and vegetables. Nearly 10 million cannot keep their homes warm, damp-free or in a decent state of decoration. Another 10 million cannot afford regular savings of £10 a month. Some 8 million cannot afford one or two essential household goods like a fridge or carpets for their main living area. And 6.5 million are so poor to afford essential clothing. Children are especially vulnerable – 17 percent go without two essential items and 34 percent go without at least one.

With the massive increase in the use of food banks, the rise in zero hours contracts and in-work poverty; the adverse affects of the bedroom tax and cuts to council tax benefit for the poorest over the last decade, these figures almost certainly understate the extent of the current problem.

Wanda Wyporska, Executive Director of The Equality Trust, said:

“The cavernous gap between the richest and the rest of us should be a real source of worry…Extreme inequality is ravaging society…While many people’s incomes have barely risen since the financial crash, a tiny elite has continued to pocket billions. If politicians are serious about building a genuinely shared society, then they urgently need to address this dangerous concentration of power and wealth and tackle our extreme inequality.”#

System of enslavement

A world in which the mass of humanity is getting increasingly poorer while the rich are getting richer, largely as a result of the latter’s collective theft of state assets, is indicative of a form of inherent systemic corruption on a huge scale. This is reflected by the extent to which public enterprises are privatized for profit and private capital debt is socialized through subsidy by the tax-payer. This is the kind of “free-market” capitalism espoused by May – a vision of a system built on the principle of socialism for the rich and enslavement for the rest. 

Although many commentators point out, correctly, that this neoliberal socioeconomic model is not working for the vast majority of people, the point is, it was never intended to be that way. The purpose of neoliberal socioeconomic policy is not to improve the living standards or protect the jobs for the many, but to defend the short-term economic interests of the few.

In Spain, the Rajoy governments use of brute force against the people of Catalonia is an illustration of the extent to which the one percent are prepared to go in order to protect their corrupt neoliberal system of wealth usurpation. In theory the EU, as an institution, can be the catalyst for raising the living standards of the poorest, but under neoliberalism, it too, has become a corrupt extension of the sovereign state.

What Theresa May really means, is not that capitalism is the “greatest agent of collective human progress ever created”, but rather that neoliberalism is the best economic model through which her class is able to financially enrich themselves by manipulating the institutions of society.

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The scourge of inequality: Why we desperately need a change of government

By Daniel Margrain

Image result for pics of revolution

As measured by the Gini Coefficient (see below), the redistribution of wealth from the poorest to the richest, embodied in neoliberal ideology, rose sharply under the Thatcher government in 1979. The trend continued, albeit less drastically, under successive Tory and Labour governments where it reached a peak in 2009-10.

The UK was a much more equal society during the post-war years. The data available shows that the share of income going to the top 10 per cent of the population fell over the 40 years to 1979, from 34.6 per cent in 1938 to 21 per cent in 1979, while the share going to the bottom 10 per cent rose slightly.

SourceIFS 2016

Neoliberal ideology and inequality are emblematic of the symbiotic relationship between welfare retrenchment and the notion of the role of the state as facilitator of welfare handouts to the corporate sector. Farm subsidies, public sector asset stripping, corporate tax avoidance and evasion, government share giveaways and housing benefit subsidies, are just some of the ways in which neoliberalism continues to greatly enrich the wealthiest in society. Figures reported in the Guardian indicate that the richest one per cent in Britain have as much wealth as the poorest 57 per cent combined.

Analysis by The Equality Trust found:

  • The richest 100 families in Britain have seen their combined wealth increase by at least £55.5bn* since 2010. An average increase in wealth of £653m each, or £2 million each per week.
  • Since the financial crash in 2008, the richest 100 families in Britain have seen their combined wealth increase by at least £12.57bn.** An average increase in wealth of £151m each, or £364,052 per week.
  • By contrast, median household income has increased by just £4 per week since 2010, and £10 per week since 2008***. Median wealth has increased by just £8,600 since 2010.****
  • £55.5bn is the same wealth as that held by the poorest 19% of the population. £12.57bn is the same wealth as that held by the poorest 12% of the population.

The vast majority are not sharing the nations wealth

The problem has been that while figures show GDP, adjusted for inflation, has grown over the last 60 years (from £432bn in 1955 to £1,864bn in 2016), this increase in wealth has become increasingly concentrated in fewer hands. In other words, since the era of neoliberalism, working people who have created the sustained increase in wealth in society, have had their slice of the pie reduced dramatically.

Wanda Wyporska, Executive Director of The Equality Trust, said:

“The cavernous gap between the richest and the rest of us should be a real source of worry, not just globally but here in the UK, where extreme inequality is ravaging society.”

Wyporska continued:

“While many people’s incomes have barely risen since the financial crash, a tiny elite has continued to pocket billions. If politicians are serious about building a genuinely shared society, then they urgently need to address this dangerous concentration of power and wealth and tackle our extreme inequality.”

Impact of inequality

A report by Oxfam highlights the significant role neoliberalism plays in the creation of unequal societies and suggests that the most affected are more prone to conflict or instability. The report also points out that extremes of inequality are bad for economic growth, as well as being related to a range of health and social problems including mental illness and violent crime.

Moreover, Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett, authors of the book, The Spirit Level. argue that other impacts of inequality include drug addiction, obesity, loss of community life, imprisonment, unequal opportunities and poorer well-being for children.

Left Foot Forward has cited studies that illustrate the close correlation between inequality and unhappiness. The tendency to equate outward wealth with inner worth means that inequality colours our social perceptions. It invokes feelings of superiority and inferiority, dominance and subordination – which affect the way we relate to and treat each other.

But instead of introducing socioeconomic policies that help reduce inequality, the Conservative government under Theresa May, have deliberately and consciously continued with the failed high borrowing-low investment/high debt neoliberal model that gives rise to it.

Deficit & debt

Public sector net borrowing, the widest measure of the deficit, was £48.7 billion last year (2016/17) and the gap is widening. In 2010, the coalition government said it would clear the deficit by 2015/16. Having missed the target, the stated aim is to clear it by 2026.

In their attempt to cover the deficit which adds to the total stock of national debt (ie the total money owed), the Tory strategy has been to borrow. Public sector borrowing is £1.9bn higher than last year. The government borrowed £6.9bn in June, 2017, £2bn more than at the same time last year.

In fact, the Tories have been the biggest borrowers over the last 70 years. This has culminated in an expected budget deficit from 2010 to 2020, of some £870 billion. This is well over the combined borrowing of Labour governments since 1945, around £490 billion.

Significantly, about 5 per cent of the government budget goes towards paying interest on the national debt which under the Tories has increased in real terms by 53 per cent between 2009/10 and 2016/17 to a huge £1.7 trillion. This represents 87.4 per cent of GDP and a 3.6 per cent rise year-on-year.

Relatively low tax rates for the rich, an inability to tackle evasion/avoidance, unemployment, the increase in poverty pay and zero hours contracts indicative of the rise in inequality, have all contributed to falling tax revenues and higher government debt. This has been used to justify more attacks on the poorest and weakest in society on the spurious basis that “the country can’t afford alternatives to austerity” and that “there is no magic money tree.”

Author of The Production of Money, Ann Pettifor, summarizes the austerity myth in 2 minutes 17 seconds. As she astutely puts it:

“Taxes are a consequence of investment and spending. They are not its cause.”

The cornerstone of Tory economic policy is not to invest to stimulate the economy in order to boost growth and generate tax revenues, but to attack the welfare state and public sector which has the reverse affect.

Work that the Tories claim lift the poor out of poverty, is in reality poorly paid and insecure underwritten by the tax payer which puts more strain on public finances. On the same day that the bedroom tax was announced in parliament (estimated to “save” the Treasury £480 million), the top rate of tax in the UK was cut from 50 percent to 45 percent, resulting in a loss of revenue of £1 billion.

Lowest growth in the G7

With a record level of household debt and reduced levels of household spending combined with a lack of infrastructural investment, the GDP growth rate for the first quarter of 2017 shrunk to 0.2 per cent. This is the lowest growth rate of all the G7 nations. It doesn’t leave much scope for a government apparently committed to “living within its means,” to fund anything more than the local village fete.

The Tories austerity strategy began to take hold in a significant way following Chancellor George Osborne’s June, 2015 budget in which he announced £12 billion of cuts. This included the abolition of working tax credits to the poorest and the top down reorganisation of the NHS brought about by the 2012 Health and Social Care Act which removes the duty of the Secretary of State for Health to provide a comprehensive health service.

The punitive attacks on the unemployed, working poor, sick and disabled have been increasingly stepped up resulting in over a million three-day emergency food supplies given to people in crisis in 2016/17. This in turn has led to increasing rates of depression, anxiety and incidences of suicides.

In social care, a combination of cuts of around 30 percent to local authority budgets since 2010, increasingly restrictive eligibility criteria for services, and inadequate personal budgets are leaving millions without the support they need.

Moreover, the lack of affordable housing, the reduction in housing and council tax benefits to the unemployed and sick and the imposition of the bedroom tax, has resulted in growing rates of homelessness and/or the social cleansing and displacement of entire communities, many of them long established.

Fragmented

The existence of fragmented and atomised communities outside the confines of the workplace, the reduction in organised labour within it (illustrated by the long-term decline in trade union membership) and the lack of any safety net, means that ordinary people are increasingly vulnerable to the vagaries of “market forces”.

Those affected are not just the poor and traditional blue collar workers but also the lower ranks of the middle classes. This is illustrated by the fact that the cuts, which began to have political repercussions within David Cameron’s own Oxfordshire constituency, are now a factor in Tory seats up and down the country.

As Theresa May’s disastrous General Election campaign and manifesto proved, the Tories can also no longer count on the elderly demographic for their vote. In an increasingly aging society, the pressure on the social care system will become more acute as demand for its services increase.

But a service motivated by profit is necessarily compromised in terms of its ability to provide a universal service of care predicated on need. The electorates rejection of the Tories “dementia tax” manifesto pledge seemed to suggest that there is a limit to which an aging population are willing to vote against its own interests.

 

As far as the political establishment is concerned, however, maximizing profits for the corporations they represent is given priority over the concept of a properly functioning and accountable social democratic state. Profit has become the guiding principle for the organisation of society from which everything is judged, including perceptions of success and happiness. This is reinforced daily on television programmes and in the lifestyle sections of magazines and newspapers.

Biological determinism

What underlies these contrasting perceptions is the concept biological determinism The proponents of this concept posit that the social order is a consequence of unchanging human biology, rather than the result of inherited economic privilege or luck. Thus, biological determinism reinforces the notion that inequality and injustice and the existence of entrenched hierarchical social structures of government, media and commerce are “natural”.

But it also highlights the artificial limits that a system driven by profit imposes. Any rejection of biological determinism and the capitalist system that reinforces it, is regarded by apologists as being the fault of the individual and not the social institutions or the way society is structured.

Thus, the trend among evolutionary psychologists in their attempts to tackle, for example, the current anxiety and depression crisis in society, is not to challenge existing social structures upon which “reality” is based, but rather to alter the chemical composition of the human brain to accommodate it to this reality, or even in extreme circumstances to eliminate individuals altogether whose values are perceived to impact negatively on the ‘taxpayer’.

Useless mouths/Social Darwinism

Years before moving towards explicit racial genocide, the Nazis developed the notion of ‘useless mouths’ or ‘life unworthy of life’ to justify its killing of ‘undesirables’ who, like the Tories, they regarded as a ‘drain on society’. These ideas are a variant of nineteenth century ‘Social Darwinism’ and eugenicist theories, which adapted Darwin’s notion of the survival of the fittest to describe relationships within society or between nations and races as a perpetual evolutionary struggle in which the supposedly weaker or defective elements were weeded out by the strongest and the ‘fittest’ by natural selection.

Intellectual challenges to market fundamentalism (neoliberalism) and evolutionary psychology that is its ideological cousin, help undermine the notion that rigid social stratification, inequality, injustice and neoliberal economics used to justify them, are inevitable. Indeed, prominent economists such as Joseph Stiglitz, Paul Krugman, Dani Rodrik and Jeffrey Sachs have for a long time been raising their voices against the neoliberal experiment.

They are not alone. Venture capitalist, Nick Hanauer has said:

“If capitalism doesn’t change fundamentally, it will destroy itself. If you allow wealth to concentrate in fewer and fewer hands over time, in the end it cannot be good for anybody, particularly people like me. You show me a highly unequal society and I’ll show you a police state or a revolution.”

Hanauer continued:

“If we don’t get inequality under control then it’s likely to lead to war – a similar pattern that followed the last period of massive inequality between 1925 and 1940….. From a capitalists perspective, although it may seem a good idea in the short-term to impoverish the typical family, in the long-term it’s a catastrophe.”

Whereas progressive venture capitalists like Hanaeur, economists like Stiglitz and Krugman and politicians like Jeremy Corbyn, understand that the functioning of a modern forward-looking society is dependent upon the reduction in inequality to save capitalism from itself, the Tories want to take us back to the vast inequalities of the time of Charles Dickens and a return to a period before the Factory Acts of the 1830s and 1840s which set down a maximum length for the working day.

Alternative

For the first time in generations, there exists a major alternative credible political force in Britain, that is prepared to challenge the prevailing neoliberal orthodoxy. The Labour party under Jeremy Corbyn, has shown it is serious about tackling head-on the dangerous concentration of power, wealth and extreme inequality that has been deliberately fostered by successive UK governments over the last 40 years.

Neoliberalism is a political and ideological construct that can, and must, be reversed. The transformation to a more just, humane and democratically responsive system is what Corbyn will usher in if elected next time around. It’s imperative for the sake of our children and grandchildren, that we don’t let the opportunity slip.

NOTES:

*Figures were obtained by comparing Sunday Times Rich Lists in 2010 and 2016. This £55.5bn represents a conservative figure, as 15 of the 100 richest people in 2010 fell out of the list of richest 1,000 (the full list) by 2016, and so their wealth could not be counted. The £55.5bn figure therefore reflects the wealth of the 85 Rich List figures who have remained in the Rich List from 2010-2016. Wealth was adjusted for inflation to 2016 prices.

**Figures were obtained by comparing Sunday Times Rich Lists in 2008 and 2016. This £12.57bn represents a conservative figure, as 17 of the 100 richest people in 2008 fell out of the list of richest 1,000 (the full list) by 2016, and so their wealth could not be counted. The £12.57bn figure therefore reflects the wealth of the 83 Rich List figures who have remained in the Rich List from 2008-2016. Wealth was adjusted for inflation to 2016 prices.

***Figures were obtained from the median household income in the ONS’ Households Below Average Income release, 1994/95 to 2014/15 statistical release – https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/households-below-average-income-199495-to-201415  Looking at difference between 2007/08 (£463), 2009/2010 (£469) and 2014/15 (£473) figures.

****Figures were obtained from the ONS’s Wealth and Assets Survey, this shows the median wealth increase from 2010/12 – 2012-14, the first and last releases since 2008. https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/personalandhouseholdfinances/incomeandwealth/compendium/wealthingreatbritainwave4/2012to2014  

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The Office For Budget Irresponsibility

By Daniel Margrain

 Philip HammondBudget giveaway: Philip Hammond’s National Insurance rises have provoked a furious reaction in the Tory grassroots CREDIT: AP

The economic growth model is like a cult that is fetishized by governments’ as if it were a religion. With the aid of mass advertising campaigns, the latest consumption-profit driven craze involves attempts by giant corporations to persuade the British people to purchase new cars, on credit, at ever increasing rates.

The moment these cars leave the showroom they depreciate in value by at least a third. This means that the buyer is in a position where he/she has to service the debt of a rapidly depreciating commodity. In other words, advertisers in a deregulated market, overseen by a Tory government, are encouraging people to spend on depreciating luxury goods like cars they don’t need with money they haven’t got.

As a consequence people whose incomes have largely remained static for a decade or more, are being saddled with unsustainable debts similar in principle to conditions that led to a housing bubble which crashed and caused the 2008 financial crisis. More cars on the roads is also bad for the environment. Pollution levels in London, have breached annual limits just five days into 2017 and often exceed the regulatory amounts recommended by the European Union.

Dystopia

Meanwhile, the elderly are shoved in hospital corridors for hours on end because of government under funding in the NHS and when they are due to leave hospital, there is increasingly unlikely to be any social care provision in place for them to go to. But that’s alright, just as as long as the growth the rich disproportionately benefit from continues to increase, the ‘low-lying fruit’ can wither away and die because there are too many ‘useless mouths’ to feed anyway. The notion that a government strategy of cheque book euthanasia in a society where robots will soon replace the few remaining blue collar jobs that exist, is far from a dystopian fantasy.

The kind of nightmarish scenarios described above are symptoms of an irrational profit-driven system predicated on the Tory governments obsession with a neoliberal economic growth model focused primarily on banking. Chancellor Philip Hammond’s first budget which George Galloway described on twitter as “the most complacent out of touch other-worldly I’ve heard in nearly 50 years”, will result in more preventable deaths. The lie in which the masses were encouraged to believe that wealth trickles down, as opposed to gushing upwards, should finally be laid to rest by Hammond’s budget.

The reason for the continued upward flow of wealth is due to the fact that the public sector is being continually squeezed to the point that it can be squeezed no more, meaning that the road to serfdom will become an increasing reality for many. All the baloney from May about the Tories being the party of the people and the so-called ‘just about managing’ (jams), has, over the last few days, been finally blown into the dustbin of history. If ever proof were needed that the primary function of tax revenue collection is the syphoning of large amounts of cash into the already bulging pockets of those who don’t need it, while the poorest are left on the shelf, then Hammond’s budget was it.

Tax giveaway

The Chancellor’s £70bn tax giveaway to those on the top of the pyramid is contrasted with the £2bn national insurance hike he has lumbered low and middle income earners with. What the Independent described as “Hammond’s tax-raid on the gig economy,” not only cements the Tories reputation as the ‘nasty party’, but what can only be described as the Chancellor’s sociopathic behaviour towards the poor, even outdoes the callousness of his predecessor who, in May 2015, reduced the top rate of tax on the same day as introducing the pernicious bedroom tax which resulted in the widespread social cleansing of working class communities.

It’s almost hard to keep up with Tory shenanigans – from the largely unreported election fraud scandal and Hammond’s unwillingness to reveal his tax returns, through to May’s repeated lies to parliament – it seems that barely a day goes by without some scandal or other entering the public domain. Many of the people Hammond is targeting are the increasing amount of workers on zero hours contracts who have no in-work protections of any kind.

Hammond is not planning to include in his “spreadsheet” an increase in spending in order to address any of these issues, nor to raise spending on social care and the NHS comparable to other major European economies despite the fact that both are in a state of emergency. Instead, the Tories have once again demonstrated that what motivates them is their preoccupation with augmenting the interests of their class. The Tories are clear where their priorities lie. The question is, will a sufficient amount of working class Tory voters shift their support towards a Labour leader who has their best interests at heart at the next General Election?

The rigging of the economy by the Tories that has resulted in six million people earning less than the living wage, and where nearly four million children are in poverty, will get worse as long as this bunch of lying crooks remain in power. Much of the media present the economic policies of the Tories as being somehow inevitable. But of course they are predicated on choice. Their priority is not for a fairer and more inclusive society, but one ridden with hate and division. The poor are to be kept firmly in their place while the rich, including the banking cartels, continue getting richer on the backs of them.

Transfer of wealth

Tory economic policies are geared specifically towards facilitating this transfer of wealth which was what QE was all about. In recent years this has probably been no more evident than under the leadership of Cameron and his Chancellor, Osborne. One of the biggest controversies to have arisen during the Cameron-Osborne era was the former’s offer to China of generous tax breaks to encourage their firms to re-locate to a new property development in Manchester. The same incentives are not, of course, applicable to small British businesses as Hammond’s budget confirms.

Meanwhile, Willem Buiter, chief economist at CitiBank, predicts a hard landing for the global economy that looks set to push the world back into crisis. In the summer of 2015, the Shanghai stock market crashed by 40 per cent within two months, erasing $7 trillion dollars in company valuations in China. The risk is that the countries slow down will drag the rest of the emerging world with it.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has estimated that every one percentage point drop in Chinese GDP growth, will wipe 0.3 percentage points from states’ in south east Asia. As emerging markets power 70 per cent of global growth, if China sneezes the rest of the world will almost certainly catch a cold. The problems do little to ally the lack of public confidence in the ability of the UK banking sector to self-regulate itself in order to ameliorate any unease.

Banking cartel

A Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) report found that the market in the UK lacked dynamism, with the four big banks – Lloyds, RBS, Barclays and HSBC – controlling an incredible 80 per cent of personal current accounts and nearly 90 per cent of business accounts. The existence of a private banking cartel and consolidation of power among both the giant banking players and the government, illustrates the inability of the Tories to punish this sector. To paraphrase Mark J Doran, “Just try and imagine a government of multi-millionaires devoted to serving billionaire tax-dodging bankers, challenging these bankers.”

Alasdair Smith the head of the CMA said the body was “reluctant to pursue heavy handed remedies to deal with bankers.” Clearly, this “reluctance” is predicated on May and Hammond’s eagerness to succumb to the power of the banking lobbyists and others. This runs contrary to any notion that the government acts in the public interest. Brexiter’s would be wise to keep this in mind before they next complain about the alleged lack of sovereignty of the UK remaining in the European Union. The problem is, the power the corporate lobbyists command is such that they are able to usurp the democratic and legislative process. In relation to the banks, the Daily Mail of all papers, said this:

“After years of scandals in which the public were mercilessly ripped off, the CMA promised a radical shake up of Britain’s bloated, often money grabbing, high street banks. Yet after an 18 month inquiry, all it produced yesterday was some minor tinkering which consumer groups warned doesn’t go anywhere near far enough to inject genuine competition.”

As inferred above, this is all part of a mutually reciprocal corrupt culture in which highly controversial big business practices and government policy have become increasingly intertwined. Finding bankers guilty of misdeeds in Britain is particularly difficult given the labyrinthine nature of banking in this country. Rather like the structure of the Mafia, the trail of criminality is almost impossible to pin down to specific individuals. This has been exacerbated by the Tory government which back-tracked on its ‘guilty until proven innocent’ rule – regulations that were supposedly intended to bring unscrupulous bankers to account.

Lobbying power

This stipulation was to be the financial regulators most powerful tool in putting senior bankers on the hook for serious wrongdoing, and was a response to the public’s fury that almost no individuals within the banking sector have been seriously punished for a crisis ordinary working people are paying for by way of austerity. The shift in government policy was prompted by concerted lobbying by some of the top foreign banks who threatened to withdraw from Britain if their demands were not attended to. But instead of calling their bluff, the government caved in.

Iceland is one country where a rather different and radical approach has been undertaken in response to the criminality of their bankers. In two separate rulings, the Supreme Court of Iceland, sentenced twenty six top bankers and CEOs to prison for a total of 74 years in relation to financial crimes committed in the lead up to the banking crisis of 2008.

Meanwhile, in Britain not a single banker has been arrested, charged or sentenced. Instead, they are given untold amounts of public money which they use to award themselves with huge bonuses. If you happen to be a criminal British banker, then crime really does pay. The scandal is that it’s the 99 per cent who have to pick up the pieces resulting from this criminality. The message that emerged from Hammond’s budget was that corporate criminality can be tolerated just as long as it’s the poor who continue to suffer.

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The Real Reason Behind Public Library Closures

Disabled people: marginalised, dehumanised & declared fit to work

 

By Daniel Margrain

This time next month, council tax bill increases that average five per cent will have arrived on the door mats of millions of people. The low paid, unemployed and pensioners with fixed incomes will be among the hardest hit. But there is another group of people – the disabled – who will be hit even harder. This increase will likely push many of the most vulnerable of our citizens over the edge of an already gaping precipice that began widening following drastic reforms to the welfare system that followed the 2012 Welfare Reform Act. Further drastic cuts occurred four years later following the passing of the Welfare Reform and Work Act which, it has been estimated, will have cut nearly £28bn of social security support to 3.7m disabled people by 2018.

What film director Ken Loach described as the “conscious cruelty” of the Tory government seems to know no bounds. A few days before the May, 2015 General Election, 100 disabled people from a variety of backgrounds – ranging from nurses to actresses, academics to museum managers – signed and published a letter addressed to the British electorate – saying they believe that “if the Conservative Party was to form the next government, either our own lives or the lives of others in our community would be in profound danger”. The letter continued: “Disabled people have been hit by spending cuts nine times harder than the general population, and those needing social care have been hit 19 times harder…Now we read of £12 billion more cuts.”

This ought to have been the cause of massive, sustained outrage and disgust, and should certainly have been sufficient enough to have brought down not only the minister responsible at the time, Iain Duncan Smith, but the entire Tory government. But not only were the government under Cameron re-elected, but Duncan-Smith’s revised plans to transform disabled people’s lives by getting them into work, ended up killing many more of them in the days, weeks and months that followed.

Cheque book euthanasia

On August 27, 2015, Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) figures revealed that between December 2011 to February 2014, 2,650 people died after being told they should find work following a “Work Capability Assessment” (WCA). Duncan-Smith, who admitted that his department has a “duty of care” to benefit claimants, disingenuously insisted that there was no evidence of a ‘causal link’ between the WCA and the subsequent 590 recorded deaths from suicide, despite the fact that the coroners findings stated that all of the deaths “certainly aren’t linked to any other cause.”

Not only did the Conservative government try to cover-up the figures, but have continued with a policy strategy that has resulted in the killing of hundreds or possibly thousands more people after they have been deemed “fit for work.”

Such a policy can reasonably be described as ‘cheque book euthanasia’ in as much as it is clear that the intention to kill is deliberate, conscious and systematic. While researching for the film I, Daniel Blake, Ken Loach’s script-writer, Paul Laverty referred to a statement made to him by a civil servant who described the victims of this cheque book euthanasia as “low-lying fruit”, in other words the easy targets. Several whistle blowers he met anonymously said they were “humiliated how they were forced to treat the public.”

While all decent people rightly regard this ‘involuntary euthanasia’ strategy to be deeply shocking, it should be noted that it is not a new one. Years before moving towards explicit racial genocide, the Nazis developed the notion of ‘useless mouths’ or ‘life unworthy of life’ to justify its killing of ‘undesirables’. As was the case with the Nazi’s, the underlying narrative of the Tories is that the long-term unemployed, sick and disabled are a ‘drain on society’ whose value is measured solely in terms of their perceived negative impact on the ‘taxpayer’.

Social Darwinism

These ideas are a variant of nineteenth century ‘Social Darwinism’ and eugenicist theories, which adapted Darwin’s notion of the survival of the fittest to describe relationships within society or between nations and races as a perpetual evolutionary struggle in which the supposedly weaker or defective elements were weeded out by the strongest and the ‘fittest’ by natural selection.

Many people might opine that to compare modern day Tories to Nazi’s is far-fetched. While they may have a point, it’s nevertheless undeniable that similar disturbing parallels and types of trends that blinded Germans to the potential of Adolf Hitler can be found in contemporary society. For example, both Nazi Germany and the Conservative government over time, created – through a strategy of divide and rule – a climate in which the marginalization and the dehumanization of targeted minorities were blamed for societies ills.

What is also undeniable, is that a universal social security system that has at its basis the proposals set out in the Beveridge Report (1942), has been in steady retreat from the mid- 1970s with a greater emphasis on means-testing and exclusion. The Conservative government under David Cameron, and now Theresa May, seem to be taking this ethos several stages further with their Dickensian ‘back to the future’ strategy not experienced since the Poor Law of the 19th century and before.

Civilized society?

Emboldened by what some perceive as a weakness in the Labour opposition to bring the Tories to account, the May government appears to be testing the limits by which civilized society is measured. Recently announced government measures intended to undermine the basis of legal rulings will, if successful, result in around 160,000 disabled people being stripped of their right to access Personal Independent Payment (PIPs).

These measures also undermine mental and physical health parity, contradicting a speech by PM Theresa May in which she promised to transform attitudes to mental health by reducing the stigma attached to it. This contradiction was underlined further after Tory MP George Freeman stated that benefits should only go to the “really disabled.”

The attempt to strip some of the most vulnerable people in society of their basic humanity in these ways are, in the words of the shadow work and pensions secretary, Debbie Abrahams, “a step too far, even for this Tory government.”

Fine words. But will a future Labour government reverse these cruel Tory policies? Under a Corbyn government one would hope so. But judging by the actions of some other prominent members of the party in the recent past, this is not guaranteed. The acting Labour leader prior to the election of Jeremy Corbyn, Harriet Harman, for example, supported the principle of the Tory Welfare Cap.

Imaginary wheelchair woman

But Harman’s actions were put in the shade by those of Yvette Cooper. While Secretary of State for Work and Pensions under the previous Labour government, Cooper had drawn up plans that would almost certainly have met with the approval of Iain Duncan-Smith.

This is the relevant part of an article from April 13, 2010, which suggests that Cooper’s policy outlook is no different to that of the Tories she supposedly despises:

“Tens of thousands of claimants facing losing their benefit on review, or on being transferred from incapacity benefit, as plans to make the employment and support allowance (ESA) medical much harder to pass are approved by the secretary of state for work and pensions, Yvette Cooper.

The shock plans for ‘simplifying’ the work capability assessment, drawn up by a DWP working group, include docking points from amputees who can lift and carry with their stumps. Claimants with speech problems who can write a sign saying, for example, ‘The office is on fire!’ will score no points for speech and deaf claimants who can read the sign will lose all their points for hearing.

Meanwhile, for ‘health and safety reasons’ all points scored for problems with bending and kneeling are to be abolished and claimants who have difficulty walking can be assessed using imaginary wheelchairs.

Claimants who have difficulty standing for any length of time will, under the plans, also have to show they have equal difficulty sitting, and vice versa, in order to score any points. And no matter how bad their problems with standing and sitting, they will not score enough points to be awarded ESA.

In addition, almost half of the 41 mental health descriptors for which points can be scored are being removed from the new ‘simpler’ test, greatly reducing the chances of being found incapable of work due to such things as poor memory, confusion, depression and anxiety.

There are some improvements to the test under the plans, including exemptions for people likely to be starting chemotherapy and more mental health grounds for being admitted to the support group. But the changes are overwhelmingly about pushing tens of thousands more people onto JSA.

If all this sounds like a sick and rather belated April Fools joke to you, we’re not surprised.  But the proposals are genuine and have already been officially agreed by Yvette Cooper, the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions. They have not yet been passed into law, but given that both Labour and the Conservatives seem intent on driving as many people as possible off incapacity related benefits, they are likely to be pursued by whichever party wins the election…..”

If this wasn’t bad enough, it should also be noted that during Cooper’s challenge for the Labour leadership, she accepted an undisclosed sum of £75,000 from businessman Dan Jarvis which contributed to the New Labour enthusiasts campaign.

The mainstream media didn’t pay much attention to that scandal at the time, nor did they highlight Coopers subsequent hypocrisy and nastiness. Following what columnist Fraser Nelson described tellingly as “the terrifying victory of Jeremy Corbyn’s mass movement” at staving off the coup attempt against him, the Corbyn critic and New Labour MP for Normanton, Ponefract, Castleford and Nottingley tweeted the following:

Congratulations re-elected today. Now the work starts to hold everyone together, build support across country & take Tories on

Clearly, a day is a long time for liars to avoid tripping over their own pronouncements. Less than 48 hours after her insincere message on Twitter, the Blairite MP engaged in a media publicity stunt intended to draw a deeper wedge between the PLP and the membership.

Sisterly love?

Cooper’s crude ‘politics of identity’ strategy was to infer that shadow chancellor John McDonnell was a misogynist for his use of emotionally charged language in defending the “appalling” treatment of disabled people by the last government.

The context in which McDonnell made his remark was set against a backdrop in which former Tory secretary of state for work and pensions, Esther McVey, planned to cut the benefits of more than 300,000 disabled people. That Cooper rushed to the defence of a Tory who presided over some of the most wicked policies of arguably the most reactionary and brutal right-wing government in living memory, is extremely revealing.

What was also revealing was the media’s obvious double-standards. A few days prior to their reporting of McDonnell’s comment, Guardian journalist Nicholas Lezard called for the crowdfunded assassination of Corbyn. Needless to say, there was no media outrage at this suggestion.

Selective outrage is what many people have come to expect from a partisan anti-Corbyn media. In May, 2015, independent journalist, Mike Sivier reported on Cooper’s criticism of those “using stigmatising language about benefit claimants”.

But as the article highlighted above illustrates, while in office as Labour’s secretary of state for work and pensions, Cooper had drawn up plans that were as brutal as any Tory.

Indeed, the policy plans she drew up were subsequently adopted by the Coalition government under the tutelage of Esther McVey. In policy terms, it would thus appear Cooper has more in common with McVey than she does with McDonnell. This, and her disdain towards both Corbyn and McDonnell and the mass membership they represent, explains her outburst. She was not motivated by sisterly love.

Cooper’s deeds and words are yet another illustration as to the extent to which the ideological consensus between the New Labour hierarchy as represented by the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) on the one hand, and the ruling Tory establishment on the other, is structurally embedded within a dysfunctional system of state power that is no longer fit for purpose.

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