Tag: transatlantic trade and investment partnership

Price of everything, value of nothing.

By Daniel Margrain

Ever since the Red-Tory government of Tony Blair stepped up the Thatcherite ethos of the British state as purchaser rather than direct provider of services, the outsourcing of these services has continued apace. This neoliberal ideology has, in turn, increased the proletarianization of not just traditional blue collar roles but white collar middle class professions as well.

The intensification of work and the insecurity of working life, short-term and part-time contracts, flexible shift patterns, mushrooming ranks of middle managers and supervisory staff, constant testing and assessments, punitive disciplinary codes, long working hours, short holidays and relentless ‘downsizing’ have materially and dramatically worsened the experience of going to work for many people.

Whereas forty years ago working as teacher or health professional was widely regarded as a stimulating and well paid job that offered a great deal of autonomy, they are now roles that provide a diminishing social and economic status in which the workers concerned have little or no control in their day to day activities.

As the experience of work has become increasingly harsh and coarse for the vast majority, life for the minority of the ruling class and upper ranks of the middle class has taken a completely different trajectory. Just as we entered the 21st century, government figures revealed that Britain’s biggest earners were enjoying their largest share of national income since the Thatcher years.

Within the space of about ten years, the multiple of chief executive pay to average pay for FTSE companies, has moved from 69 times, to 149 times. And that’s just a comparison with average pay, not those paid at the very bottom of the scale which also does not reflect company performance. The New Economics Foundation (NEF) has argued that unless the pay discrepancies are tackled, “by 2030 the UK will have returned to Victorian levels of inequality.”

With Victorian levels of inequality comes a Victorian paternalistic ideology that dominates the governing classes in which the ‘socially excluded’ must be helped to help themselves. Those who refuse to ‘modernise’ must be swept aside. But the maligned are not just the poorest but increasingly extend to enemies of ‘reform’ among the less well off sections of the middle classes.

These are the kinds of people who cannot rely wholly or mainly on private provision for such essentials as health care, pensions, education, care of the environment and transport. They too depend on the welfare state. The scientific work measurement practices of Taylorism traditionally associated with blue collar occupations are becoming a feature of white collar jobs too.

Although some heads of department and heads in schools, lecturers, middle ranking civil servants, managers in local councils and health professionals regret the passing of the public sector ethos even as they preside over its destruction, others like Dr Rob Galloway are beginning to make a political stand against the top down reorganization of the National Health Service (NHS) and the kinds of changes to working conditions that Taylorism implies.

This feeds into the attitudes of the wider public who recognize the connection between the deteriorating working conditions of health professionals, the downward spiral of the NHS in general (both of which are politically and ideologically driven) and their own working conditions and experiences.

The deliberate running down of the NHS is predicated on its eventual privatization related to the fact that 70 MPs have financial links to private healthcare firms. The carving open of the NHS for exploitation by private interests undermines the longstanding obligation of the UK government to provide universal health care free at the point of delivery. The creeping implementation of the former will ensure the ditching of the latter.

On March 20, 2012, MPs passed the Health and Social Care Bill despite the fact that it was not mentioned anywhere in the 2010 Conservative election manifesto, or that nearly every professional medical body fought against it. It was clear that the reason why the Tories were silent on the issue was because to highlight it would have been electoral suicide.

The coalition agreement between the Tories and the Lib Dems of May 2010 had promised: “We will stop the top-down reorganisation of the NHS.” That promise has been well and truly smashed. The NHS bill was opposed by 27 professional medical bodies, including the Royal College of GPs, the BMA and the Royal College of Nurses: that’s all but one of the relevant medical bodies.

Researcher Éoin Clarke has produced a map of England showing the areas affected so far by the NHS carve-up. One of the major corporate players is Virgin Care who won a £500 million contract to provide community services across Surrey and began running these services, as well as the county’s prison healthcare. Hundreds of donations from private healthcare firms to Tory coffers can be viewed here.

Moreover, the website Social Investigations has compiled an extensive list of the financial and vested interests of MPs and Lords in private healthcare. This list, says the site, “represents the dire state of our democracy”. Andrew Robertson, the blog’s founder observes that more than one in four Conservative peers – 62 out of the total of 216 – and many other members of the House of Lords “have a direct financial interest in the radical re-shaping of the NHS in England.” 

These unelected peers – with personal interests in insurance companies, private healthcare and private equity groups – were able to help push through a bill from which they will now profit. If they had been elected local councillors, such personal interests would have debarred them from voting. The Tory top down reorganization of the service while spun as a necessary precondition for its survival as a free at the point of delivery service, is in reality the precursor to its demise.

The Tories’ privatization objectives will be made smoother following the introduction of the proposed Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) agreement, the purpose of which, if finalized, will be to grant big business the right to sue governments which try to defend their citizens. It would allow a secret panel of corporate lawyers to overrule the will of parliament and destroy our legal protections.

The mechanism through which this is achieved is known as investor-state dispute settlement. It’s already being used in many parts of the world to kill regulations protecting people and the living planet. It could also be used to smash any attempt to re-regulate the banks, to renationalize the railways, to leave fossil fuels in the ground and to save the NHS from the kind of corporate control envisaged by the Tories.

Just as the government attempted to hide from the public their intentions for the NHS prior to the 2010 general election and then subsequently spin their way out of the reality faced by junior NHS doctors, they are also maintaining their silence over the proposed undemocratic TTIP agreement which will be used to further their privatization agenda.

People Socially Cleansed As ‘Dirty Money’ Floods Into London

“There is no place for dirty money in Britain”, so says UK Prime Minister, David Cameron, who has promised to crack down on dodgy offshore companies that buy up luxury properties in the UK. Cameron says he will introduce a public land registry of properties owned by foreign investors. Channel 4 News has access to the data which highlights the problem is particularly acute in London.

“London must not become a safe have for corrupt money from around the world”, says Cameron. “We need to stop corrupt officials or organized criminals using anonymous shadow companies to invest their ill-gotten gains in London property without being tracked down.”

The figures are staggering. Some £122 billion worth of property in England and Wales is owned by foreign companies. Around 100,000 UK property titles are registered to them. Most are in Greater London where almost 43,000 properties are owned by overseas firms. “There is no place for dirty money in Britain. Indeed, there should be no place for dirty money anywhere. That is my message to foreign forces. London is not a place to stash your dodgy cash”, he said.

Undercover reporters’ working as part of the Dispatches documentary, From Russia With Cash, discovered just how easy it is to buy property in London with no questions asked. Chido Dunn from Global Witness says that “the presence of corrupt money in the London property market props up corrupt regimes overseas and means that a lot of people are stuck in poverty and violence and don’t have access to education.

So concretely, how is Cameron proposing to deal with the problem?

In the Autumn, data will be released that will highlight which foreign companies are buying up property in England and Wales. Although the data already exists within the public domain, Downing Street says it will now be more easily available.

In Westminster, where one in ten homes are owned by foreign investors, Channel 4 asked  Transparency International about the changes that are being consulted on.  A TI spokesman said that if enacted, the proposals would require foreign owners to declare their interests at the same standard as UK companies. The unanswered question is why the discrepancy in the first place?

That aside, over last 10 years a suspected £180 million of laundered money has been investigated by the authorities. However, according to Global Witness, that’s merely the tip of a very large ice berg. What these new measures will do if enacted will be to identify where the corrupt money is and prevent it from coming in to the country in the future. Currently the government is able to identify who owns a property on an individual and company basis but crucially not who the real people are who hide behind these companies.

People can still use offshore companies to structure their investments in order to benefit from things like inheritance tax and capital gains tax. But, if the consultation process succeeds, people hiding money for a criminal reason will no longer be able to hide it in property.

This appears on the surface to be an important first step. The question is, should the proposals go through, will law enforcement be empowered to properly investigate the practice of money laundering in the UK?

In a speech to Muslims in Birmingham on July 20, Cameron said “that people can grow up and go to school and hardly ever come into meaningful contact with people from other backgrounds and faiths”.

But money laundering is a major contributory factor (as is the failure to tax property effectively) in house price rises which in turn results in the kind of social cleansing I discussed here. Any failure by Cameron to get to grips with the problem will increase the problem of social exclusion he claims he wants to redress.

As with much else in the area of social and economic policy, the UK government appear to be tugging at the coat tails of the United States. What applies across the Atlantic is of as much relevance in New York as it is London. But at least in the former, rent controls to some degree ameliorate the problem. That said, UK government policy is geared towards increasing the disconnect between the rich and poor in much the same way the United States is.

As George Monbiot astutely puts it:

“The rich disconnect themselves from the civic life of the nation and from any concern about its well being except as a place to extract loot. Our plutocracy now lives like the British in colonial India: in the place and ruling it, but not of it.” We suffer the same curse: a ruling class whose wealth lies offshore, and which identifies more readily with a transnational elite than with the other people of this nation. On behalf of this elite, the government now gives away £93bn a year in corporate welfare: a sum bigger than the deficit. It champions the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership; a graver threat to the interests of this nation than Islamic extremism presents.”

The failure to tax property effectively has fuelled a rise in house prices so severe that entire English regions are becoming almost uninhabitable to the poor. The situation is made all the worse by the announcement from the head of the National Crime Agency who said there is a direct link between money laundering in property and the massive rise in London house prices.