The Austerity Con-Trick

Cash machines targeted by Occupy protesters

Cash machines targeted by Occupy protesters (Pic: Guy Smallman)

The UK government mantra that it’s imperative to reduce the deficit (the difference between the money coming in and going out) is one of the greatest confidence tricks to have ever been fostered on the British people. In reality, the deficit could be wiped out at a stroke. In his documentary film The Spirit of ’45, Ken Loach highlighted that in the decade after the war, the UK government built 300,000 affordable homes a year and brought the NHS into being.

The chart below shows at that time UK national debt – the accumulation of deficits – stood at about 180% of GDP. At present it’s about a third of that.

UK National Debt since 1900.

Source: Reinhart, Camen M. and Kenneth S. Rogoff, “From Financial Crash to Debt Crisis,” NBER Working Paper 15795, March 2010. and OBR from 2010.

So why in 2015 are we apparently unable to afford to prevent the most vulnerable in society from committing suicide as a result of cuts to their benefits, yet after the war we were able to build hundreds of thousands of affordable homes for people to live in as well as bring our NHS into being? Why the insistence on getting the deficit down especially since there is no law forcing the government to repay the debt?

The answer to those questions is that since the crisis hit in 2008, there’s been an iron clad consensus between both the Labour Party hierarchy and the Tory right, predicated on neoliberal ideology which is used as a weapon with which to beat the poor with by way of the former’s support for, and the latter’s implementation of, a sustained programme of austerity and cuts. It’s this iron clad consensus that Jeremy Corbyn wants to break.

The notion that it’s imperative the British government “balances the budget” in order to reduce government debt is nonsense, as is the analogy that national budgets need to be treated just like household budgets. The bailiffs won’t be entering the House of Commons or the Bank Of England any time soon. The truth is, unlike personal debt, the deficits and debts of governments’ are not of primary importance.

When he became chancellor in 2010, Gideon Osborne boasted that he would eliminate the deficit by April 2015. But that plan is in tatters. He has now put back the promise to 2018/19. The government had to borrow £3.7 billion more in the first seven months of last year. This was partly because North Sea oil and gas revenues plummeted to a four year low.

The UK is a relatively low wage economy compared to it’s major rivals and its productivity gap with these nations’ is at the widest it’s been for 20 years. Moreover, because many of the new jobs created in Britain are mainly part time (against a backdrop of the longest drop in real wages since records began), means that tax revenues are low.

In order to make up the shortfall between real and expected revenues, the government borrows money by selling bonds which are essentially IOUs with the promise of future repayment. In the meantime, the government pays interest on these bonds which are sold to banks, insurance firms and even pension funds. The total of bonds that have been sold is called “public debt”.

In a crisis like the one we’ve had since 2008, bond buyers can demand higher interest payments which they have done. This explains why the cost to the government in terms of the interest on the national debt has risen since the beginning of the crisis as illustrated in the table below.


To appease the bond buyers, the government has imposed austerity on the people. We constantly read in the gutter press about the rail workers allegedly holding the government to ransom, but never the bankers – funny that!

During the peak of the swinging sixties, government debt was greater than it is in 2015 and yet, unlike those golden days, we are told that both the government and the citizens of today have to tighten their belts as though we were living the austere days of the Great Depression in the 1930s.

The truth is the post war Keynesian boom resulted in a steadily declining debt from it’s peak in the 1950s. This is because higher wages and high employment means greater spending power, which in turn means greater economic activity and higher government tax revenues.

This is precisely the kind of argument progressive capitalists like Nick Hanauer point to. The reason billionaires like him argue for a doubling in the national minimum wage is not because they are altruistic but because they understand that it’s in their best interests’ and that of the capitalist system as a whole. That message needs to be relayed to Cameron and Osborne.

Housing Benefits The Rich

Figures shared with the Guardian by Generation Rent suggest landlords could be gaining as much as £2
Figures shared with the Guardian by Generation Rent suggest landlords could be gaining as much as £26.7bn a year from the taxpayer. Photograph: Christopher Thomond/Guardian

It’s been clear for a very long time that the main purpose of the tax system is to provide benefits to the wealthy. The minister responsible for cutting income support for the poor, Iain Duncan Smith, lives on an estate owned by his wife’s family. During the last decade it has received €1.5m in income support by way of farm subsidies from taxpayers.

In what has been dubbed the “Great British Sell-Off” and the “Sale of the Century”, the chancellor, George Osborne, intends to sell off public owned stakes in Royal Mail, RBS, the Met Office, Ordnance Survey and air traffic controller, Nats, which will rake in a one-off windfall of around £31.7 billion in 2016/17 – an amount which surpasses all privatisations since 1993, breaking even Thatcher’s record. To put this into a wider context, the money raised which will benefit the minority of Osborne’s elite friends in the city, will be the largest amount of money raised through the disposal of public assets in any 12-month period in modern history.

The ideology underpinning this public asset stripping is part of a strategy to reduce the role of the state that will do nothing to stimulate growth. On the one hand, Osborne announced £12 billion of cuts – the pain of which will be felt by the most vulnerable. On the other, he rushed through the sale of £2 billion worth of the 79 per cent stake the government has in RBS and as a result it was the taxpayers who lost out on a potential £14 billion return. It should also be noted that the Tory aristocrat, who seems set to be next in line to take the reins of PM from his friend David Cameron, had promised action on tax avoidance in spite of the fact that his family business routinely avoids tax.

Meanwhile, the UK version of a Kardashian, the royal parasite Princess Beatrice, who has been spotted taking to the water on Roman Abramovich’s £1 billion super yacht, Eclipse, has racked up seventeen holidays in eight months at our expense.

The real benefit spongers, then, are not those who feature on low brow documentary programmes, but rather they are the elites who occupy the corridors of power. If the richest 1,000 people in Britain that have seen their wealth increase by a massive £155bn since the current economic crisis began in 2008, were to actually pay their fair share of tax, the deficit the government assures us needs reducing, would be wiped out at a stroke.

But there is no priority within government to insist they cough up. Asda, Google, Apple, eBay, Ikea, Starbucks, Vodafone: all pay minimal tax on massive UK revenues, mostly by diverting profits earned in Britain to their parent companies, or lower tax jurisdictions via royalty and service payments or transfer pricing. The £1 billion that Gideon gave away to his pals in the city on August 4 in the RBS share giveaway would have gone a long way to fund the deficit in the NHS, whose trusts’ claim are “unaffordable”.

However, the redistribution of wealth from the poor to the rich doesn’t end there. After dissecting yesterday’s Guardian piece on welfare spending, Craig Murray highlights how housing Benefit represents another form of massive subsidy and wealth transfer, particularly in London and the South East of England where, in the absence of housing benefit or inheritance, it’s impossible for anyone on the average income to live.

As Murray says, the distortion in house prices in this part of the UK has nothing to do with very wealthy foreign buyers concentrated at the top end of the market, but rather, it’s to do with:

the conjunction of buy to let and state housing benefit. The state pays out 18 billion pounds a year in housing benefit, and the vast majority of that goes straight into the pockets of private landlords in the South East of England. State housing benefit underpins the entire system.”

Now the brilliance of the trick is that, as it is labeled a benefit, the left fight to keep housing benefit as though it benefited poor people. In fact this is a great illusion. It does nothing of the sort. What would truly benefit poor people is lower rent or affordable homes. Housing benefit goes straight into the pockets of the landlord class.

The landlord class of course encompasses the political class, many of whom (including Cherie Blair, famously) are also landlords. As housing benefit is paid for from general taxation, the entire system is a massive transfer of wealth from the poor to the rich, and above all from the North and West to the South and East.

The landlord class benefit not only from the taxpayer giving them enormous rents, but from the possession of artificially inflated property on which they can raise further money for more speculation…. The reason that IDS has not made a serious assault on housing benefit is that it puts money straight into the pockets of most of his Tory chums.

The largest benefit recipients in the UK are the great landlords….[P]umping in 18 billion pounds of state money a year to rents adds 288 billion pounds to property values.That explains how you reach the apparently impossible situation of median property at twelve times median income.

Bankers bankrolled by the taxpayer, as well as local authorities that administer housing benefit – both of whom owe their continuing existence to public funds – should be acting in the public interest not frittering away public money into the pockets of the rich.

Turning Children Into Consumers

Children are naïve about advertising and can easily be manipulated and exploited by marketers to want and demand their products. Corporate marketers believe that over time they can be shaped into lifelong consumers with brand loyalties and that can be profitable for decades to come. What is more, children influence family spending decisions worth hundreds of billions of dollars on household items like furniture, electrical appliances and computers, vacations, and even the family car.

Corporations began targeting their marketing messages directly to children during the 1980s, as affluent adult markets became saturated with consumer goods. Large firms established ‘kids’ departments and smaller firms specialised in marketing to children. A number of advertising industry publications were created such as Selling to Kids and Marketing to Kids Report. The academic literature began to feature studies of children as consumers.

In the US the amount corporations spent marketing to children under twelve increased by five times between 1980 and 1990 and ten times more during the 1990s. In 2004 around $15 billion was being spent marketing to children. Conferences on the best ways to market to children are held all over the world. There are also awards for the best advertisements and marketing campaigns with hundreds of entries.

Much marketing to children now consists of sales promotions such as direct coupons, free gifts and samples, contests and sweepstakes, and public relations exercises such as using celebrities and licensed characters to visit shopping centres and schools. These additional forms of marketing have supplemented rather than replaced advertising as the importance of the children’s market has grown. Their aim however is the same as advertising.

The international children’s market is increasingly attractive to transnational corporations who seek to make their brands and products popular in different cultural milieus. The food industry was a pioneer in these efforts. In 1997 Brandweek magazine noted that McDonald’s was the favourite fast food all over the world and Coca-Cola the favourite drink.


Not only are there many more advertisements aimed at children but they are increasingly infiltrating the private and public spaces where children play and learn. Today’s children are confronted with advertisements almost everywhere they go. There are now television stations, radio stations, newspapers and magazines delivering underage audiences to advertisers 24 hours a day.

As the amount of money being spent increased, the age that children were targeted decreased. A marketing conference in 2000 in New York was entitled “Play-Time, Snack-Time, Tot-Time: Targeting Pre-Schoolers and their Parents”. There is even a US cable station, BabyFirstTV, which aims at under-two year-olds.

Television is an ideal way for advertisers to reach children as it is so omnipresent in homes around the world. In more than a third of the homes of American preschool children the television is on most of the time, whether or not anyone is watching. By the time they get to first grade American children will have “spent the equivalent of three school years in the tutelage of the family television set” and by the time they finish high school they will have spent more time watching television than they spent in class for their entire schooling.

In the UK, the average child watches around 17 hours of television a week. Three out of four children between 5 and 16 have a television in their bedroom. UK children view more than 18,000 television adverts each year.

Individual commercials are repeatedly shown for months and “effectively penetrate” the language and thinking of young children. They repeat advertising jingles and slogans to friends, draw advertising images and logos in their artwork, and discuss advertisements with their friends. Roy Fox, in his book Harvesting Minds, pointed out: “A person’s image and language create his or her sense of selfhood. And this selfhood – especially during our formative years – is the most valuable, fragile quality we’ll ever embrace.” Yet it is sold as a commodity over and over. Today it is advertising jingles that children sing rather than nursery rhymes.

The internet, video games and mobile phones have also provided opportunities for “new, personalized promotions” aimed at children. Children as young as four are being targeted by internet advertisers and often the interaction with the children is unmediated by parents or teachers. UK advertising agency Saatchi & Saatchi noted: “Interactive technology is at the forefront of kid culture, allowing us to enter into contemporary kid life and communicate with them in an environment they call their own.”

Advertisements appear on banners at the top of websites, on scroll down frames at the side of the windows, and unbidden on pop-up windows. There are even animated product “spokescharacters” to interact with the children and develop relationships with them so that they can be persuaded to buy something.

Internet advertising is particularly effective at targeting children because they are less able to tell the difference between advertisements and other content. They are more likely, for example, to click on banner ads thinking they are part of the website, offering information or entertainment, and they tend not to take any notice of annotations like “AD” or “PAID” that are supposed to indicate advertisements.

The meagre regulations that television advertising is subject to don’t apply to the internet. Advertisers and marketers are free to merge content with advertising and exploit children with few if any limits. The ads on internet sites are often integrated with the other content of the internet site – games and competitions, music downloads, video clips, discount coupons, online chat rooms, free email, club membership, gossip, fashion tips or advice – which is designed to keep the children engrossed in play for hours at a time and to keep them coming back. Marketers and advertisers are “fundamentally reshaping the digital culture, creating new hybrid forms that blend communications, content and commerce”.

For example the Family Education Network, a division of Pearson Education, runs and websites for children with “the hottest collections of games and activities” on the internet. It offers advertisers access to “over 7.5 million unique kids targeted by age and gender”, three quarters of whom are between 6 and 12 years old.

Three quarters of food manufacturers advertising on the internet have designed websites specifically for children, some for very young children; many others have websites that have a children’s section. The address of the website is often given on the product packaging. Most of these websites are plastered with brand logos and advertising claims and include links to other food related sites.  On some websites children are encouraged to view television advertisements for the product. On others they are offered branded downloads such as music clips, mobile phone ringtone, desktop wallpaper, screensavers.


It is unethical to advertise to children who are unable to distinguish the advertisements from television programs or internet content, unable to understand the purpose of advertisements, and unable to critically evaluate advertisements and the claims they make.

Between ages two and five most children cannot even differentiate what happens on television from reality. They are very interested in commercials, which they believe without reservation. Marketing consultant, Dan Acuff, notes that until the age of seven children tend to accept television advertising at face value and he advises advertisers how to take advantage of that. For example he tells them that at this age kids are particularly susceptible to give-aways and similar promotions because “the critical/logical/rational mind is not yet full developed”.

Studies commissioned by the US Surgeon General have demonstrated the failure of children under eight to understand persuasive intent. Even if they can differentiate advertisements from television programmes, (and sometimes the boundaries are blurred so that even adults don’t recognise some content as advertising), about half of them still don’t understand that the advertisements are trying to sell them something.

A study by Roy Fox, Associate Professor of English Education at the University of Missouri-Columbia, found that children watching athletes in television commercials thought that the athletes had paid to be in the advertisements to promote themselves rather than the products. They believed children in advertisements were real rather than paid actors and they often confused advertisements with news items. Generally they did not understand the commercial intent of the advertisements.

A Swedish Consumer Agency report that contributed to the decision to ban advertising to children under twelve in Sweden noted: “The results of studies that have attempted to distinguish between different degrees of understanding or levels of awareness, all indicate that it is only after the age of 12 that children develop a fuller understanding of the purpose of advertising.”

The problem with not understanding persuasive intent is that children will therefore tend to trust what the advertisement is telling them and not recognise its bias nor that it may “exaggerate, manipulate, pontificate, and cajole” in order to get them to buy their product.

Psychiatrist Susan Linn notes that even if children say they understand that advertisements can be deceptive, they can still be subject to their influence.

Moreover, advertisements often set out to deceive children. Forms of deception in advertising to children include the following:

The use of celebrities to exploit a child’s trust in authority figures.
The presentation of products to make them seem bigger than they are to exploit a child’s limited perceptive abilities.
Focusing on gifts and giveaways rather than the actual product, so that the child is not actually making judgements about the product that is being sold.
The use of jargon and complex language to take advantage of a child’s limited vocabulary.
The excessive use of emotional triggers to exploit a child’s insecurities and gullibility.


Food companies exploit the inability of such young children to understand the purpose of the advertisements and the deception inherent in them. They seek to make food of little nutritional value seem to be exciting, delicious, and fun.

Free gifts are a particularly effective way of attracting child customers. Free toys can double or triple the sales of McDonald’s meals to children. One of the most successful was the Teenie Beanie Baby which was thought to have sold 100 million Happy Meals in ten days compared with normal sales of ten million per week.

Fast food and cereal marketers often take advantage of children’s natural inclination to collect things by offering gifts in sets as collectors items. For example, when McDonalds gave toy Hummers with its happy meals as part of its “Hummer of a Summer promotion” there were 8 different Hummers to collect. When Frito-Lay offered small collector discs called Tazos free in its Doritos chip packets in 1996 it had to increase production by 40 per cent to keep up with demand.

Advertisers not only promote unhealthy foods but they create a culture where food is eaten for pleasure or fun without any need for discretion, limits or care. Often manufacturers use food additives such as colouring solely for the purpose of making it appealing and eye-catching to children. The UK Food Commission found that 75 per cent of food that contains high amounts of added fat, sugar and salt also contains ‘cosmetic additives’. These additives, including artificial colour, have been shown to increase hyperactivity in children.

Food marketing undermines the efforts of parents, teachers and doctors to teach children about healthy eating. The onslaught of advertisements for fast foods, sugary foods and salty foods encourage children to favour such foods over more healthy and natural alternatives, such as fruit and vegetables. The US Department of Agriculture claims that children get an appetite for high levels of sugar and salt in their food and drinks before they even go to school.

The food and beverage industries have denied the link between their products and weight gain in children and funded several studies to support this denial (see box below). A Yale University survey of 88 studies found that “Studies funded by the food industry simply did not find the degree of negative health effects from soft drinks that independent scholars discovered.

Some Denial Studies from the Food Industry

Coca-Cola was the sole sponsor of an Australian government study into children’s exercise habits. The ensuing report in 2004 claimed that it was declining physical activity that was the major cause of rising childhood obesity.

Cadbury Schweppes donated millions of dollars to the American Diabetes Association, and shortly afterwards the Association’s chief medical officer denied the link between sugar and diabetes as well as between sugar and weight gain.

Coca-Cola, donated millions of dollars to the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry which now prevaricates about the link between soft drink and cavities.

In Australia McDonalds is paying the National Heart Foundation $330,000 per year in return for the Foundation’s tick of approval for nine of its meals. The foundation says the money is to reimburse its costs in testing the meals and auditing McDonalds restaurants.

A review published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition in 2007 and paid for by the American Beverage Association, questioned a 2001 study published in the Lancet that found that children were 1.6 times as likely to become obese with every can of sweetened drink consumed per day. Two of the authors of the review had links to the soft-drink industry.

Coca-Cola has established The Beverage Institute for Health and Wellness, to undertake scientific research and educate the public around the world about the role beverages play in nutrition and health.

In 2002 a draft report of the Joint WHO/FAO Expert Consultation on Diet, Nutrition and the Prevention of Chronic Diseases called for stricter marketing rules and labelling, as well as taxes on sugar-rich food marketed to children. It prompted the American Advertising Federation, the American Association of Advertising Agencies, the Grocery Manufacturers of America, the National Soft Drink Association, the Snack Food Association, the National Confectioners Association, the US Chamber of Commerce and several other industry associations to write to the US secretary of Health and Human Services to “express our concerns” that the report would harm the US food industry. The industry letter argued the report “should be substantially modified before being issued by WHO and FAO”.

The following year the Sugar Association “threatened lobbying to block WHO funding if the report was not changed.” At the behest of industry lobbyists the Bush administration opposed WHO anti-obesity initiatives behind the scenes and objected to the way the WHO identified some foods as “bad”.

Manufacturers of junk food deny that there are good and bad foods, but instead insist that all foods have their place in a ‘balanced’ diet. They nevertheless seek to achieve maximum sales of their foods. For example, McDonald’s aims for 20 visits per month per customer. In its brochure Healthy Balance, it stresses the need for “a balanced diet and regular exercise” and implies that McDonald’s can contribute to that balance:

“A typical McDonald’s meal of a Big Mac, French Fries and a Thick Shake contains foods from most of the core food groups, which are sources of riboflavin, calcium, phosphorus, thiamine, niacin, zinc, magnesium, iodine and iron…”

They also add protein and vitamins to the list. However a person would need to walk for around 5.5 hours to burn off the calories of such a meal.

Coca Cola’s Beverage Institute for Health and Wellness emphasises the importance of drinking enough fluids so as not to become dehydrated and argues that any drink suits this purpose so “there’s no need to stick to plain water if it bores you”.

The food industry also argues that achieving a balanced diet is a parental responsibility and that government regulation of junk food advertising represents the intrusion of a “nanny state” into private lives. Advertisers nevertheless seek to market direct to children, bypassing parental gatekeepers where they can, encouraging pester power to overcome parental resistance. Moreover, the UK Office of Communications (Ofcom) found that mothers “are at a loss” as to how to make a healthy diet attractive to children in the face of the barrage of marketing making junk food attractive to them.

The food industry also thwarts the exercise of parental responsibility by lobbying against food labelling regulations and other sources of nutrition information being made available to parents. It has successfully lobbied for food disparagement laws in twelve US states making it difficult for critics to point out the shortcomings of their food. Jeff Richardson, director of the Centre for Health Economics at Monash University in Australia pointed out that “food marketing was so manipulative that a central free-market principal – that people would act in their own best interests – no longer applied in relation to food consumption.”

Junk food manufacturers blame lack of exercise, rather than junk food marketing, for the rising tide of obesity and have recently been promoting exercise and associating themselves with exercise campaigns as part of their public relations efforts. Several beverage and fast food companies, such as McDonalds, have given out pedometers. Many have sought to associate themselves with exercise and sport including Pepsi, Coca-Cola, Cadbury and NestlÈ. However it is not realistic to believe that regular consumption of junk food can be counteracted with exercise as we saw with the example of the McDonalds meal.

In 2007, when the food industry was under threat of advertising regulation in the US, a group of major food companies including McDonald’s and PepsiCo agreed to voluntarily stop advertising the worst of their foods during children’s television programmes. They will not however, stop advertising these same foods during family programmes such as the enormously popular American Idol, which most children watch. Similar promises were made by Kraft in 2005 and Kellogg’s in 2007.

Advertisers also like to claim that exposing children to advertising is part of their education and enables them learn to deal with advertisements and learn critical skills. However, the evidence seems to be that those “who watch most television tend to be the most easily influenced by a given advertisement” and, in particular, younger children do not become more sceptical of advertisements, the more they see. Heavy television watchers tend to ask for the products advertised more often. Critical skills are not gained by watching more advertisements.

The above is an extract from ‘This Little Kiddy Went To Market – The Corporate Capture Of Childhood.’ (Pluto Press, 2009) by political analyst and visiting professor at the University of Wollongong, Australia, Sharon Beder.

Iain Duncan Smith Is A Sociopath

Stuart Chester has Down's syndrome, epilepsy and autism

Stuart Chester has Down’s syndrome, epilepsy and autism

A SEVERELY disabled young man who is unable to talk, read or write and needs round-the-clock care from his mother is the latest target in Iain Duncan Smith’s campaign against Scotland’s most vulnerable.

Stuart Chester, who has Down’s syndrome, epilepsy and autism and is unable to feed or wash himself, is being told by officers in the Tory minister’s Department for Work and Pensions to prove he is unfit for work.

The 25-year-old has been sent a controversial 20-page work capability assessment form to fill in that will investigate his fitness for work and whether he deserves his Disability Living Allowance (DLA) and Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) benefits.

Last night Social Justice Secretary Alex Neil described Stuart’s case as “absolutely outrageous” and “shameful”.

Stuart has been given a deadline of September 18 to complete the complicated and detailed document and return it to the DWP.

His mother Deborah McKenzie, 51, said receiving the form had caused her “undue stress” and said Duncan Smith’s plan to deliberately target the sick and disabled was tantamount to “genocide”, after shocking DWP figures were released last week showing more than 80 people were dying each month following work capability assessments.

She said: “Stuart gets the high-rate DLA and he was supposed to get that for life because his condition will never change. He also received ESA benefits.

“I cannot understand why he was sent this capability for work questionnaire because he cannot talk, read or write or do anything for himself. There is no way he could work and this is just causing a lot of undue stress and anxiety.

“I was really upset when the form came through the door. I called up the DWP and asked them why they would send it out to someone like my son when he is supposed to to get DLA for life and they told me it was tough luck, that it’s just the way it is and I would just need to fill out the form for him just like everyone else.

“I know other disabled people in wheelchairs with conditions like cerebral palsy, also people like Stuart who cannot do anything for them, are being harassed by the DWP to fill in fit for work forms when there is absolutely no way they could work.

“I used to have to fill in a form for my son every three years but eventually we were told he had the DLA for life because his circumstances were not going to change and he I no longer had to fill in an application for benefits for him.

“I am his full-time carer and there is no way my son could work, no chance. He needs 24/7 care and cannot feed or wash himself and he has a lot of accidents toilet-wise. I have to do everything for him.”

Neil called for the “cruel” assessments on the sick and disabled to be scrapped, and demanded that David Cameron hand over the rights to decide on benefits to the Scottish Government.

He said: “This is absolutely outrageous and these are the kind of cases which highlight that the Tories are out of control and they must hand over running of our benefits system to the Scottish Government.

“It bad enough the DWP sends out these forms to people like Stuart but they don’t seem to understand the stress and worry this causes families in Scotland.

“If someone is clearly unable to work and has a lifelong condition they should not be hounded like this and they should be left alone, not put through the hell of being assessed for work and worrying about whether or not they will get their benefits when they are quite clearly entitled to them.

“It is nothing but bullying, harassment, intimidation and a breach of human rights of the most vulnerable in our society and it has got to stop.

“They have crossed the line and if we had control over these benefits, the first thing we would put an end to this kind of harassment and treat these people with respect and dignity they deserve.”

Last week, disability campaigners spoke to The National and warned more people would die because of work capability assessments unless they were scrapped.

The claim followed the release of figures that revealed 2,380 claimants died between December 2011 and February 2014 shortly after being told to get back to work and that their benefits were being stopped.

In the same period, 50,580 people who received ESA died within two weeks of their benefit claim ending.

Stephen Cruickshank, director of the Scottish Disability Equality Forum, who has spinal neuropathy, said the work capability assessments were unfit for purpose.

Mother-of-two Deborah, of Glasgow, said Duncan Smith had “a lot to answer for” and described him as “the lowest of the low” for targeting disabled people.

She said: “I don’t know how Iain Duncan Smith can sleep at night or live with himself targeting the disabled and most vulnerable in our society like this.

“It is beyond belief and absolutely disgusting considering many of the people being sent these forms were awarded with DLA for life which we had to fight for.”

Deborah said coping with everyday life caring for Stuart was “hard and challenging” and even though she knows that he cannot work, it is the uncertainty of having to fill in the complicated form that is putting her under even more stress.

A DWP spokesman said: “We regularly review people’s conditions to ensure that they are not simply written off and condemned to a life on benefits. That’s why we have improved the work capability assessment since it was introduced in 2008, ensuring that it is fairer and more accurate.

“Decisions are taken following a thorough independent assessment, and consideration of supporting medical evidence provided to us by a claimant’s GP or medical specialist.”

“It’s important that regular assessments are made, as for some people, conditions may improve or worsen.”

Originally posted in The National

Breaking the Depleted Uranium Ceiling

It is an astonishing fact that, despite near universal recognition now that the war in Iraq was a disaster, no major British social institution is headed by a single one of the majority of the population who were opposed to the war.

Every Cabinet Minister actively supported the war. Of the fifteen Tory MPs who rebelled and voted against the war, not one is a minister. Civil servants officially have no politics but privately their opinions are known. There is not one single Permanent Under Secretary of a UK government department who was known to be against the war and most were enthusiasts. Simon Fraser, PUS at the FCO, was an active Blairite enthusiast for the war. Though no Blairite, the Head of MI6 Alex Younger was also an enthusiast.

The BBC was of course gutted following its revealing of the truth about Iraqi WMD, and the subsequent murder of David Kelly. Following the ousting of Greg Dyke, both Governors and Directors-Generals have been known supporters of the war. Of the 107 bureaucrats in the BBC who earn over 100,000 pounds pa, insiders estimate that only five were opponents of the war. Craig Oliver – who has now left the BBC for Cameron’s media operation – and James Purnell are absolutely typical of the BBC Iraqocracy.

Every current editor of a UK national newspaper supported the Iraq war. At the time of the war there was one editor opposed – Piers Morgan – who subsequently became a derided and marginalised figure. Not only are the editors firmly from the neo-con alliance, but the high profile commentators who cheered on the war – David Aaronovich, Nick Cohen, Melanie Phillips, John Rentoul, Rod Liddle etc. – have all seen their careers flourish. None has suffered from their appalling lack of judgement. There is no similar raft of commentators who were against the war who enjoy such constant media promotion and massive salaries. Many, like Peter Oborne, have suffered unexpected career glitches. There is no head of a major TV channel in the UK who was against the war in Iraq.

The theme runs through all the public professions. Of the hundreds of academics who took firm positions against the Iraq War, I cannot find a single example who went on to become a University Vice-Chancellor or Principal. By contrast actual war criminals Richard Dearlove and Valerie Amos were parachuted into academic leadership posts. The Chiefs of Staff of the armed forces were all true believers, compared to the massive scepticism that existed among senior officers.

The Iraq test even extends into the heads of institutions apparently quite unrelated, such as City of London banks and insurance companies. There are a tiny number of heads of FTSE 100 companies who were against the war.

It is not that there is an Iraq test. It is that Iraq is the touchstone for adherence to the neo-liberal consensus. All these professionally successful people share a number of attitudes, of which support for the Iraq War is a good indicator. There is a very strong correlation between support for the Iraq War and fierce Zionism. But there is also a strong correlation between support for the Iraq War and support for austerity economics. The strongest correlation of all lies in support for the Iraq War and for “business-friendly” tolerance of corporatism, TTIP, multinational tax avoidance, low taxation and marketization of public services including in education and health.

To return to where I started, the quite extraordinary thing is that there is a near-universal recognition in wider society that the Iraq War was both completely unjustified and a dreadful strategic blunder. Yet its support is a major pre-condition for membership of the governing elite.

The answer of course lies in its value as an indicator for a broad range of neo-liberal consensus attitudes. That is why, both the SNP and Jeremy Corbyn provide such a threat to the Establishment, through denying those attitudes. The fascinating thing is that the SNP and the Labour Party could be the only public institutions in the UK of any note with an anti-Iraq War leadership. The significance is that, in slightly different ways, both the prominence of the SNP and of Jeremy Corbyn are the result of a public revolt which the Establishment has been trying, absolutely desperately, to cut off.

Ed Miliband did not actually vote against the Iraq War, contrary to popular myth. Having both the Labour and SNP parties led by people who reject the raft of values symbolised by the Iraq test, who have broken through the depleted uranium ceiling, is a massive, massive threat to the meritlessocracy. Institutional control appeared to be complete and impermeable. Suddenly they face the danger of the opinions of ordinary people carrying weight. Expect the media control mechanisms to whir into still greater overdrive.

The above article was written by the former UK Ambassador to Uzbekistan, Craig Murray, originally posted on his blog on August 1, 2015.

Tweet this post

Do We Need the U.N To Protect Us From Our Own Government?

Protesters demonstrate against benefit cuts in London in 2014. Photograph: Guy Corbishley/Demotix/Corbis

The shocking news that in two years up to February last year some 2,380 disabled claimants died within two weeks of being assessed as fit for work as part of the governments Work Capability Assessment Programme (WCAP), is finally beginning to make the mainstream. I am a regular listener to LBC Radio and the issue is now a regular feature of many phone in shows. How long it will take before it makes peak time BBC television news bulletins is another matter, but at least the topic is making some inroads which has to be encouraging.

Such is the sheer brutality and callousness of Iain Duncan Smith, that the U.N now proposes to act in circumstances where the government resists. At the very least, the potential setting up of a U.N inquiry into Tory welfare reforms on the back of the deaths in the manner of, for example, Goldstone, could theoretically, in the longer term, result in the man responsible for causing untold misery and suffering being brought to justice.

But even if the U.N ultimately proves to be toothless as it was in terms of the misnamed Israel-Gaza conflict, the negative publicity they will generate for the government will be invaluable. Secondly, and even more importantly, the WCAP must be stopped in its tracks irrespective of the U.Ns findings. But short of electing an effective opposition into power worthy of the name, how can this be achieved in the short term?

Currently, as Michael Meacher acknowledged, parliament has no power to instigate an immediate emergency debate, Neither has it the power to force an inquiry into the workings of WCAP. So leaving aside the proposed U.N intervention, the options appear to be extremely limited. Questions have been raised in the House regarding the deaths but these were sidestepped. In any case, it’s telling that the questions were only asked in the first place because of a Freedom of Information (FOI) request.

The figures only came to light (conveniently) during the recent bank holiday, clearly in the expectation that they would be forgotten about. But it took nearly four months for them to be released and only then after pressure was applied as a result of a ruling by the Information Commissioner. The DWP had appealed against the Information Commissioner’s ruling and only gave up when campaigning blogger Mike Sivier submitted an application for the appeal to be struck out as an abuse of process. As Mike says, the DWP’s response to his FoI request shows three things very clearly

Firstly, that the DWP is very bad at responding to FoI requests – in terms of both timing and content. The response is deliberately written to make it as opaque as possible, and does not include all the information I requested, and this reflects poorly on both the department and its ministers. Therefore I shall be writing to the First-tier Tribunal (information rights), asking that a hearing scheduled for November 10 should still take place because the DWP has not answered my request.

Secondly, that despite the poor quality of the report, it is clear that the work capability assessment is not fit for purpose and the misallocation of people with long term illnesses – either into the work-related activity group or into the jobs market, classified ‘fit for work’ – has certainly led to needless deaths. Iain Duncan Smith said as much last week but it should not save him. Evidence that this was the case has been available since December 2011, when the number of deaths of people on ESA tripled – yes, tripled – in comparison with the average for the previous 11 months. The DWP and its ministers have been hiding this information from us for nearly four years. In the eyes of the law, that is criminal negligence – corporate manslaughter.

Thirdly, that the principles on which Employment and Support Allowance was designed are causing deaths. When Mrs Mike’s Contributory ESA ran out (she used to be in the work-related activity group), her benefit was cut off with no notification or advice about what to do next. How many others have received the same treatment? Many, it seems, according to the DWP’s statistics which show that the number of ‘unknown’ cases (into which these people are thrown as their NI credits are still paid) has dropped while the proportion of deaths in that group has increased hugely, year on year.

The fact that the issues relating to the WCAP are only now beginning to enter the wider public consciousness and, moreover, almost certainly reveal the tip of a much larger ice berg will, in years to come, be regarded as one of the greatest domestic political scandals of recent times.

The fact that the deaths have been brought into the open should be sufficient justification for the scrapping of the WCAP with immediate effect with a view to bringing a prosecution forward for all those responsible for hiding the facts from us for so long. I wonder if Blair and Duncan Smith like the same prison food?

Useless Mouths

Years before moving towards explicit racial genocide, the Nazis developed the notion of ‘useless mouths’ or ‘life unworthy of life’ to justify its ‘involuntary euthanasia’ program. Theorists argued that certain categories of people were nothing but a burden on society and therefore had no ‘right’ to life.   These ideas were 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.

Of course there was nothing ‘natural’ about these ideas, or the malignant ways that the Nazis made use of them.   In Nazi ideology, the state killing of the disabled, the sick and the mentally-ill was the beginning of a conveyor belt that led to the wholesale extermination of the Jews and ‘inferior races’ Slavic races during World War II.

Nazism may have been a unique political evil, but the influence of Social Darwinism should remind us that not all of its ideas were entirely original, and that Nazi Germany was not the only country to categorize certain peoples according to strictly utilitarian notions of their perceived usefulness to society.

Consider our own government.  This week it was revealed that nearly 4,000 people died within weeks of being declared fit for work by the DWP.  This ought to be a cause of massive, sustained outrage and disgust, and should certainly be enough to bring down the minister responsible.   Instead Iain Duncan Smith – the sneering face of Tory cruelty –announced new plans to force disabled people into work. Why?  Because Duncan Smith wants ‘to ensure everyone has the opportunity to transform their lives by getting into work’ – even if that transformation only applies to the few days or weeks before they die.

The fact that these deaths have caused very little outcry is a disturbing indication of how low UK society and its political class have sunk these last years.   Quietly, effortlessly, and with very little opposition, Britain has become a society in which certain categories of people are regarded in practice if not in principle, as ‘useless mouths’ whose value to society is measured solely in terms of their perceived negative impact on ‘the taxpayer’.

The government, with the feeble cooperation of a supine opposition, with the help of its tabloid allies and the shameful depravity of TV companies engaging in poverty porn, has been able to characterize people receiving state benefitsas ‘scroungers’  and parasites, rather than people who need the same help from the state that current taxpayers may one day need themselves.

This ideological assault has been so successful that even providing state assistance to the sick and the disabled is regarded as an unnecessary and unfair burden on the taxpayer, and the ability to work is treated as the sole benchmark of social usefulness. Once you begin to accept these parameters, it becomes very easy to force sick people to work, even though their deaths make it clear that they were are so ill that they should not be working at all.

Now some of you ought there might still be naive or sentimental enough to fell a little revulsion at the notion that sick and terminally-ill people should be put through the stress of having to look for work, or losing their state support in the last weeks of their lives.  But you are not getting the point: in the view of this government only people who work have any social value and the state should not be obliged to support the ‘useless mouths’ who don’t work.  Come on now, it’s not rocket science.

I’m not suggesting that we are ruled by Nazis.  Our government doesn’t deliberately kill the people it regards as useless.   Most of the time it merely torments them, and creates a situation in which death becomes more likely.   But its fanatical obsession with measuring usefulness solely in terms of the perceived benefits to ‘the taxpayer’ has created a society in which suffering and death can be regarded with complete indifference and produce nothing more than a collective shrug of the shoulders and a weary shake of the head.

The same ideology also applies to the scroungers who call themselves refugees or asylum seekers, who the government regards as nothing more than ‘health tourists’ and another unjustified burden on ‘the taxpayer’.   That’s why we have just passed a law which will reduce ‘failed’ asylum seekers and their children to destitution and hunger even if they can’t return to their countries of origin.   It’s why the Home Office has declared Eritrea a safe country on the basis of a discredited report by the Danish government.  It’s why we have allowed less than 200 Syrian refugees into the country.

If you enforce restrictions like these, there is always the possibility that people will die trying to evade them.  Our government knew that last year, when it argued against search and rescue operations in the Mediterranean on the grounds that such operations would increase the ‘pull factors’ that brought migrants here.   The unspoken corollary of this argument is an acceptance of death and suffering as a necessary consequence of border enforcement and immigration restrictions.

If you believe, as the government has again and again invited the public to believe, that the men, women and children who are coming to Europe have no other objective or motivation except to take advantage of our ‘generous’ benefits system – another burden on the taxpayer – then it becomes possible to accept any level of death, pain and injury with a sense of tragic equanimity, as though such deaths were the result of a natural disaster or force majeur.

Of course, the government doesn’t want migrants to die.   But like the European Union and so many European governments, it has helped create a situation in which death is likely and almost certain to occur.  In order to justify this,  it has relentlessly dehumanized and caricatured stateless people to the point when they are regarded as ‘surplus people’ whose lives have less value or significance than ours and who somehow threaten us.

This summer we have seen enough unnecessary death to make us sick.  In the last two months eighteen people have died in Calais trying to ‘break into Britain’.   Only this week nearly 200 people drowned in the Mediterranean, some 50 of whom may have suffocated to death in the hold of the boat they were travelling on, and another  71 men, women and children have suffocated to death in the back of a lorry.

In the face of these horrors, the German government has called on European countries to accept quotas of refugees in response to the gravest refugee crisis since World War II.   The British government has not budged, and there is very little possibility that it will budge without serious domestic pressure.

That requires a transformation in the way that migration is perceived.  But for such a transformation to occur we need to reject the neo-liberal variant of Social Darwinism practiced by this government that is turning Britain into something cruel and monstrous, and remember that our society will be defined by the way we treat those who need our help, whether they come from inside our borders or beyond them.

The above article was originally posted on Matt Carr’s Infernal Machine