A surprisingly fair and sympathetic piece by Spectator editor Fraser Nelson, who appeared on Channel 5’s The Big Benefits Row last night. The standard health warning about re-blogs here at Shiraz (ie don’t assume we agree with all of it) applies:
Katie Hopkins, Matthew Wright and Spectator reader White Dee
My night with White Dee — and Channel 5’s Big Benefits Row
What do you get if you mix the Jeremy Kyle show with Question Time? Channel 5 tried to find out this evening in a one-off debate about benefits and I was one of the 25 – yes, 25 – guests they asked along. Matthew Wright tried to keep the order, and the debate ranged (or, rather, raged) from the morality of benefits for immigrants to high MTR rates for welfare. It was more of a verbal explosion than a debate – you’d have working single mums screaming (“give me a job, innit!”) at benefit-dependent single mum. Edwina Currie baiting the lefties, with visible enjoyment. Even a mini protest (“every mum’s a working mum”) and Katie Hopkins who, with her ‘you’re all evil scroungers’ act, wound up the audience perfectly. And Jack Monroe, of the austerity recipe fame, who was admonished for using the f-word. It was kind of political panto.
Even Peter Stringfellow was present- in his capacity as a pensioner on benefits. He was very keen to touch the hem of Rachel Johnson, there as she’d recently spent a week living on £1 a day and has (as she put it) “friends with benefits”. The ex-Guardian journalist, Sarfraz Manzoor, was there to heckle Katie Hopkins and just when you though the evening couldn’t get more bizarre, up pops Terry Christian (ex-The Word) to stick the knife into Ms Hopkins as well. Margot James, a Tory MP and member of the 10 Downing St policy group, was watching all this, open-mouthed, from the front row.
But the star of the evening, for my money, was White Dee. She was then, as she is in Benefits Street, calm, articulate and funny – and making more sense than the rest of the guests put together. When the show closed, everyone came to to her asking for autographs and taking selfies. She kindly said that she was a Spectator reader (all the best people are) and that she liked our coverage of the Benefits Street debate.
I’m not sure what was learned this evening, given the variety of angles the topic was approached from – and the brave attempt to mix the Jerry Springer-style fights with the likes of myself jabbering on about marginal tax withdrawal rates (see below). But one thing’s for sure: after years of being an incredibly dull policy area, welfare reform is now one of the hottest topics in Britain. It is capable of breaking out of the normal confines of Westminster debate, and into a wider realm where wilder beasts roam and many more millions pay attention. And where poll after poll (including one taken for the show) makes clear that the public still backs reforms – still, that is, on the side of the government.
PS Here’s the point I was trying to make. White Dee doesn’t work because if she found part-time work and wanted to increase her hours, she’d find herself trapped in a system that would, in effect, tax her at 100 per cent for the work that she does. There is so much poverty in Britain because we have destroyed the economic function of work for the low-paid. Below is the Marginal Deduction Rate (i.e., benefits withdrawn, as a percentage of money earned) for someone in White Dee’s situation (i.e., a lone mother with two children).
The EU Commission’s report (Impact of mobile EU citizens on national social security systems) leaves no room for doubt: the Tories’ campaign against so-called “benefits tourism” is based upon a pack of lies.
The report finds that “mobile EU citizens are less likely [ie than the national average] to receive disability and unemployment benefits in most countries studied.” In the UK, EU migrants account for just 4% of Jobseeker’s Allowance claimants while representing more than 5% of those in employment.
EU spokesman Jonathan Todd told BBC Two’s Daily Politics, “the vast majority of migrants go to the UK to work, and they actually contribute more to the welfare system than they take out, purely because they tend to be younger than the average population, and of working age. The more EU migrants you have, the better off your welfare system is.”
The report also contradicts the claim, published in yesterday’s Sunday Telegraph that “600,000 unemployed migrants are living in Britain…at a cost of £1.5 billion to the NHS alone”. The 600,000 figure turns out not to refer to those who are unemployed but to those who are “economically inactive”, including pensioners, students, school children and the disabled. Of this total, those out of work and claiming Jobseekers Allowance amount to just 28%. In addition, the figures published in the study show that EU migrants are less likely than their UK counterparts to be economically inactive or unemployed. Thirty per cent of migrants are “non-active” compared to 43% of British citizens, while 7.5% are out of work, compared to 7.9% of UK nationals (the unemployment rate at the time the study was conducted).
Here’s the statement from László Andor, the Commissioner for Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion:
The study makes clear that the majority of mobile EU citizens move to another Member State to work and puts into perspective the dimension of the so called benefit tourism which is neither widespread nor systematic. The Commission remains committed to ensuring that EU citizens that would like to work in another EU country can do so without facing discrimination or obstacles.
Downing Street responded by issuing a statement saying there is “widespread and understandable” concern about “benefit tourism”: in other words, never mind the facts, just pander to prejudice.
NB: In writing the above, I made extensive use of this report on the New Statesman website – JD
Following a scathing report on UK housing conditions (and, in particular, the bedroom tax) from UN special rapporteur Raquel Rolnick, Tory Chairman Grant Shapps appeared on the BBC Today programme not to respond to her points, but to rant about her being “a woman from Brazil” and to demand “an apology and investigation into how this came about” from the UN.
Ms Rolnick, a member of the Brazilian Workers Party, had said of the Bedroom Tax, “I was very shocked to hear how people really feel abused in their human rights by this decision and why — being so vulnerable — they should pay the cost of the economic downturn, which was brought about by the financial crisis. People in testimonies were crying, saying ‘I have nowhere to go’, I will commit suicide’.”
Ms Rolnick is a former urban planning minister. Grant Shapps is…what, exactly?
Well, a shyster, liar and charlatan for a start.
The photo above shows him posing as “Michael Green”, a “multi-million dollar web marketer” at an internet conference in Las Vegas in 2004.
Between 2004 and 2009 he ran a website called MichaelGreen-Consulting.com (part of a company he owned called How To Corp) giving get-rich-quick advice until blocked by Google for breaching its rules on copyright infringement. In his early years as an opposition MP, he also charged clients £183 an hour for advice on how to make money from the web and tips on beating the recession. When he unsuccessfully ran for Parliament in 1997, in the South London seat of Southwark and Bermondsey, his election leaflets described him as ‘a Londoner by birth’. When he stood successfully in Welwyn Hatfield in 2005, his literature stated that he was ‘born in Hertfordshire’.
In 2008 Shapps transferred his share in How To Corp to his wife and claimed he had “no [further] involvement” with it. Since he entered Parliament in 2010, all How To Corp’s websites have disappeared, removing all traces of “Michael Green” and his business activities.
So who would you trust and believe on the bedroom tax (or anything, come to that): the UN’s special rapporteur on housing, with five years’ experience of carrying out housing investigations in places as varied as the US, Croatia, Argentina, Israel, Rwanda, Palestine, Kazakhstan, Indonesia and Algeria… or a fly-by-night spiv from Watford who once used a false name to sell get-rich-quick schemes?
From Leigh Day & Co:
Lawyers vow to fight on after losing part of their battle on overturning the Government’s ‘Bedroom Tax’
Lawyers representing adults and children with disabilities who are challenging the Government’s ‘Bedroom Tax’ have vowed to fight on after today losing part of their High Court battle to halt the controversial new housing benefit regulations that came into force on 1st April this year.
Since 1 April 2013, persons deemed to have 1 spare bedroom have had their housing benefit reduced by 14% and persons deemed to have 2, or more, spare bedrooms have had their housing benefit reduced by 25%. The claimants all argued that these new Housing Benefit rules discriminate against people with disabilities.
The Court accepted that they are discriminatory, but decided that the discrimination was justified and therefore lawful – apart from in cases of disabled children unable to share a bedroom because of their disabilities.
Disabled Children and Bedroom Sharing
The Court found that the Secretary of State has been aware that the law must be changed to provide for disabled children since May 2012, and they were highly critical of his failure to make Regulations to provide for them. Lord Justice Laws said that the current state of affairs “cannot be allowed to continue”.
The Government must now make Regulations “very speedily” to show that there should be “no deduction of housing benefit where an extra bedroom is required for children who are unable to share because of their disabilities.”
The Wider Group
However the Court held that discrimination against adults with disabilities, even those in the same situation to children with disabilities who could not share a room, was justified. Lawyers for adults with disabilities today said that they believe this cannot be right.
They should be entitled to full Housing Benefit for the accommodation they actually need.
Lawyers for adults with disabilities today confirmed that they intend to appeal the ruling, arguing that the discriminatory impact of the measure on people with disabilities cannot be justified and is unlawful.
Disabled children and their families also intend to appeal as they are now left in a position where they do not know whether in fact they are entitled to full housing benefit to meet the costs of the homes that they need.
This is because the Government has declined to confirm that the new Regulations, which the Court says must be made, will cover their situations, or to provide a date by which the new Regulations will be made.
Since the new housing legislation was introduced it has had a devastating effect on many people across the country. Charities, Social Landlords and Advice Agencies have spoken out about the plight of people with disabilities who have been affected by the measure.
3 law firms are representing the Claimants: Hopkin Murray Beskine, Leigh Day and Public Law Solicitors.
Richard Stein from the Human Rights team at Leigh Day said:
“This is a most disappointing result. We will be seeking an urgent appeal to the Court of Appeal. Many people with disabilities including our clients may lose their homes unless the law is changed. Their lives are already difficult enough without the fear of losing their accommodation which has been provided specifically to meet their exceptional needs.”
The Guardian identifies some “puzzling anomalies” in the judgement.
From The Mirror website:
Ten days ago Stephanie Bottrill sat in the redbrick terrace house which had been home for 18 years to write notes to her loved ones, the Sunday People reports.
She ripped the pages from a spiral-bound notebook and placed them neatly in little brown envelopes.
There was one for her son. Another for her daughter. Her mother. Friends. And a very special one for the year-old grandson she doted on.
Then in the early hours of last Saturday Stephanie, 53, left her home for the last time, leaving her cat Joey behind as the front-door clicked shut.
She crossed her road in Meriden Drive, Solihull, to drop one of her letters and her house keys through a neighbour’s letterbox. Then she walked 15 minutes through the sleeping estate to Junction 4 of the M6.
And at 6.15am she walked straight into the path of a northbound lorry and was killed instantly. Stephanie Bottrill had become the first known suicide victim of the hated Bedroom Tax.
In the letter to her son, Steven, 27, she had written: “Don’t blame yourself for me ending my life. The only people to blame are the Government.”
Read the full article, from the Mirror, here
As a general rule, it’s the political right who object to attempts to explain crime by reference to the social, economic or political context in which it occurs. This is, they say, to make excuses and to let evil people off the hook. Individuals must be accountable for their actions and distractions like poverty and unemployment should not enter into the equation.
This petition has now reached over 200,000 signatures:
This petition calls for Iain Duncan Smith, the current Work and Pensions Secretary, to prove his claim of being able to live on £7.57 a day, or £53 a week.
On Monday’s Today Programme David Bennett, a market trader, said that after his housing benefit had been cut, he lives on £53 per week. The next interviewee was Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith, who was defending the changes. The interviewer then asked him if he could live on this amount. He replied: “If I had to, I would.”
This petition calls on Iain Duncan Smith to live on this budget for at least one year. This would help realise the conservative party`s current mantra that “We are all in this together”.
This would mean a 97% reduction in his current income, which is £1,581.02 a week or £225 a day after tax* [Source: The Telegraph]
It’s not, perhaps, the most sophisticated response to the Tories’ across-the-board attack on welfare claimants (whilst simultaneously cutting the income tax on the earning £150,000 or more). But it’s bloody effective.
You never know, it might even embarrass Iain Duncan Smith to give it a try…but it would have to be for a year (as the petition demands) for it to be meaningful.
Cameron’s shameful, cynical speech about furriners coming over here to scrounge off our generous welfare system is just the latest manifestation of mainstream politicians pandering to UKIP and the racist right. The wretched Clegg’s been at it as well and Labour’s not above it either. In this poisonous atmosphere, even sections of the left are hamstrung by their anti-EU obsession. The Murdoch press and a former adviser to Frank Field (one of the most right wing Labour MPs of recent times) are not obvious sources of reason and enlightenment in this non-debate, but the following article came as a welcome breath of fresh air when it was published on March 8 in response to a speech by Iain Duncan Smith, acting as a warm-up act for Cameron’s performance today.
Naturally, I don’t agree with all of what follows, and wouldn’t personally have given either Field or Farage even the back-handed compliments (for “clarity”) that the author proffers, but overall it’s a pretty good piece. Actually, the bulk of it would make the basis of a good speech from a half-way principled Labour leader…
Benefit tourists are just political phantoms – It’s a myth that lazy foreigners are sponging off our welfare state. Our leaders ought to be straight with us. By Phillip Collins (THE TIMES, March 8 2013)
Some of the most testing problems in a democracy are the phantoms. When crime is falling but the people say it’s rising, is it prudent for politicians to declare the people to be in error? Is it ethical to pretend the phantom is real to show a popular touch? This week the spectre came dressed as “benefit tourism”, which in a histrionic performance in the House of Commons, Iain Duncan Smith, the Secretary of State, the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, described as a “crisis.”
I would not suggest there are no foreign nationals in Britain claiming benefits in preference to work. I have no doubt that the official figures will miss some black market activity and fraud. But to suggest that Britain is in the grip of a crisis of lazy foreigners stealing our benefits is untrue, irresponsible and not worthy of a Cabinet Minister of good standing.
The very term “benefit tourism” suggests that people treat welfare states like holiday resorts. It is a claim that large numbers of migrants are taking advantage of the generosity of the welfare state and that is their motivation in coming to Britain. Not attracted by the higher wages on offer in Britain, the feckless East Europeans go to the trouble of leaving family and friends back home because — and only because — of the irresistible allure of British housing benefit.
This is an argument that carries with it enough rope to hang itself. But let’s demolish it with the facts as well. It is not true that EU nationals can walk into Britain and live instantly off the fat of the land. Anyone from the EU who wants to stay longer than three months has to be in work, seeking work or be able to show that they will not become a burden on public funds.
For this reason, there is no reliable evidence at all that this country has a serious problem with benefit tourism. Even if there were any serious studies that showed migration patterns are linked to benefit levels, which there aren’t, the rational tourist scrounger would go to France where there are no jobs and where unemployment benefits are much higher than they are in Britain and eligibility conditions are weaker. Yet not many Poles went to France because the French have this irritating habit of speaking French.
As it happens, it has been good news that the Poles came to Britain. People from the countries who joined the EU in 2004 are much less likely to be claiming out-of-work benefits than British-born people, even though more of them are of working age. Just over 1 per cent of Polish people who live in Britain claim unemployment benefit. The rest are working. We can object to the Poles on the grounds that they are foreigners taking British jobs that should be reserved for British workers but we cannot object to them on the grounds that they are bone idle. Read the rest of this entry »
Adapted by JD from Workers Liberty/Solidarity (editorial)
Ukip has seen its support surge, most recently in the 28 February Eastleigh by-election where it won 11,571 votes — 27.8%, an increase of 24%, and enough to beat the Tories into third place. A recent opinion poll puts them on 17% – well ahead of the Lib Dems and exactly 10% behind the Tories..
They have also just won a local council seat in the North West.
Last year, in the Croydon North by-election, Ukip polled 1,400 votes, an increase of 4%. In Rotherham, it won 4,648 votes (21.67%), coming second. In Middlesbrough, it also finished second with 1,990 votes (11.8%).
The trends suggest that Ukip stands a good chance of gaining the most votes of any party at next year’s European Parliament elections.
A great deal of debate has taken place in the mainstream press about whether Ukip’s recent electoral gains were just “protest votes”, rather than indicators of the party consolidating a longer-term, loyal base. If the vote was an expression of “protest”, the questions are: who was doing the protesting, what were they protesting about, and in the name of what alternative?
A study into Ukip’s vote at the 2009 European elections, where they came second to Labour and won 16.1% of the vote, argued that Ukip’s “core supporters” are “a poorer, more working-class, and more deeply discontented group who closely resemble supporters of the BNP and European radical right parties.”
The BNP would sometimes pitch “to the left”; leader Nick Griffin claimed in 2002 that his party was “the only socialist party in Britain”, and the BNP’s local work often has an explicitly “working-class” edge and includes opposition to cuts to local services. Ukip’s pitch is different.
Where the BNP might demagogically and disingenuously attack Labour for abandoning white workers, Ukip’s leader Nigel Farage focuses on attacking David Cameron for not being conservative enough. The Tories failed in Eastleigh, Farage said, because “traditional Tory voters look at Cameron and ask themselves: is he a Conservative? And they conclude, no, he is not. He is talking about gay marriage, wind turbines, unlimited immigration from India, he wants Turkey to join the EU.” The Daily Mail‘s Peter Hitchens described Ukip as “the Thatcherite Tory Party in exile”. Ukip wants compulsory “workfare” schemes for anyone on benefits, greater privatisation in education, and a part-privatised “national health insurance” model to replace the NHS.
But despite its right-wing pitch and the fact that 60% of Ukip supporters previously voted Tory (see chart at the top), figures in the Independent show that more than 40% of Ukip supporters oppose the Tories’ cap on tax credits and benefits, 43% want increased spending on public services, and more Ukip supporters than Lib Dem supporters believe that “the government is cutting too deeply”. There is a potentially unstable contradiction between Ukip’s ultra-Tory policies and the instincts of some of its working-class supporters.
It would be patronising and complacent, though, to believe that working-class people who vote Ukip do so simply to express a vague “protest” without any real understanding of or belief in what the party stands for. It is dangerous to imagine that if some left-wing electoral vehicle can replicate Ukip’s populist pitch (but from the left), we can repeat their success.
The Socialist Party-led Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC) stood in the Rotherham, Middlesbrough, and Eastleigh by-elections on as “populist” a pitch as one could wish for — a lowest-common-denominator anti-cuts appeal. TUSC came out of the “No2EU” coalition, an attempt to tap into anti-EU and anti-migrant sentiment “from the left”. TUSC polled 620 votes in total across the three by-elections, less than half of Ukip’s lowest single score. Unfortunately Ukip’s vote represents a layer of anti-migrant, anti-Europe feeling amongst working-class people — which the left needs to relate to with a serious long-term political campaign based on socialist ideas and emphasising working-class unity.
Peter Woodhouse, a Ukip-voting train driver and former Labour supporter interviewed in the Guardian, said: “One of the reasons I voted for Ukip is immigration. I’m worried about the dropping of the barrier in January. I fully expect 2-4 million Bulgarians and Romanians to come over. What’s it going to be like? We’re a small island.” Sarah Holt, a shopworker, said: “They have talked to me about their policies and I agree with a lot of what they have told me. There’s going to be more and more foreigners coming in and taking everything from us. It’s diabolical.”
Although senior Tories like Kenneth Clarke have warned against a rightwards lurch in response to Ukip’s success, a cabinet committee met on 5 March to examine “wide-ranging plans” to restrict Bulgarian and Romanian immigration to Britain without breaching EU law.
But, critically, where is the Labour Party, the wider labour movement, and the left? Eastleigh was a dismal showing for Labour, finishing fourth in a by-election while in opposition for the first time in nearly 15 years.
Shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper unveiled Labour’s new immigration policy last week, and while it is focusing on “crackdowns” on employers who exploit migrants, previous “crackdowns” have been used as cover to deport migrant workers rather than level up their conditions.
The far-left is politically hamstrung on the issue, having been desperately attempting to give a progressive gloss to anti-EU sentiment for years. The “No2EU” coalition and the (closely-related) Campaign Against Euro Federalism have even attacked “the so-called ‘free movement of labour’”, and “the social dumping of migrant labour”. A speech by the then-RMT President Alex Gordon to a 2011 conference of the “People’s Movement” (an Irish anti-EU coalition) argued for restrictions on immigration on the basis that continued “mass migration” would “feed the poison of racism and fascism”.
The left needs more than a change of approach or tactics; it needs a change of politics. Attempting to convince Ukip-supporting workers that their anti-migrant and anti-EU feeling would be better and more progressively expressed by voting for some supposedly “left” electoral formation (Respect, No2EU, TUSC, etc) than for Ukip is a dead-end.
We need to convince workers of an alternative set of ideas: that the enemy is not “Europe” but capitalist austerity, and that the answer to fears about increased migration putting a strain on jobs, wages, and services is not to restrict migration but to organise all workers — British-born and migrant — to fight for the levelling up of conditions to provide living wages, decent jobs, housing, and public services for all. The labour movement needs an emergency plan that can unite workers across Europe to fight for working-class policies against the policies of austerity.
• Sign this statement — “Equal rights for migrant workers!”
Reblogged from ‘A Latent Existence’:
Appellant Cait Reilly: forced to work unpaid at Poundland
The Court of Appeal has ruled today that the Department of Work and Pensions back-to-work schemes are illegal because the regulations that Iain Duncan Smith created to allow the schemes overstepped the law. (An act of Parliament allows for regulations to be created to specify the detail of the law, these regulations went further than Parliament had allowed for.) The court did not find that the schemes violated article 4 of the Human Rights Act, nor did it find that the concept of making people undertake work experience to increase employment prospects would be a problem were it in an act of parliament. Since these work schemes have been proven to actually reduce employment prospects, however, it is possible that the schemes may yet be found to violate human rights.
“The Court found that the Secretary of State, Iain Duncan Smith, has acted beyond the powers given to him by Parliament by failing to provide, any detail about the various “Back to Work” schemes in the Regulations. The Government had bypassed Parliament by introducing the Back to Work schemes administratively under an “umbrella” scheme known as the Employment, Skills and Enterprise Scheme, claiming the need for “flexibility’. The Court of Appeal held that this was contrary to what Parliament had required.”
Paragraph 63 of the judgment criticises the information given to the benefit claimants. I have covered this in previous blog posts (Mandatory unpaid work – the evidence) where I explained that letters sent out state clearly that the work experience is not optional and will result in sanctions while DWP ministers have simultaneously appeared on TV to claim that the work is voluntary and that they have not forced anyone.
Public Interest Lawyers also tell us that:
“The effect of the judgment is that all those people who have been sanctioned by having their jobseeker’s allowance withdrawn for non-compliance with the Back to Work Schemes affected will be entitled to reclaim their benefits. And until new regulations are enacted with proper Parliamentary approval nobody can be compelled to participate on the schemes.”
The two people who brought this case were made to take part in Sector based work Academies and in the Community Action Programme. I do no know whether this judgement affects Work Experience arranged either by the Job Centre or as part of The Work Programme however it does not affect Mandatory Work Activity, which remains legal. It should be noted that some people who refused to co-operate with “voluntary” work experience were referred to Mandatory Work Activity as a result which allowed for sanctions, but this was not covered either.
In a written statement today Minster for Employment Mark Hoban MP said:
“Whilst the judgment supports the principle and policy of our employment schemes, and acknowledges the care and resources we have dedicated to implementing them, the Court of Appeal has ruled that the Jobseeker’s Allowance (Employment, Skills and Enterprise) Regulations 2011 (“the ESE Regulations”) do not describe the employment schemes to which they apply, as is required by the primary legislation. The Court of Appeal has therefore held the ESE Regulations to be ultra vires and quashed them.”
The government has been refused leave to appeal by the Court of Appeal but despite this they have announced that they will appeal to the supreme court to have the judgement overturned. Job Seekers who have been sanctioned by the DWP will not be able to appeal to the DWP for the repayment of their benefits until this has finished. Worryingly the minister also stated that the DWP are “considering a range of options to ensure we do not have to repay these sanctions.” This suggests to me that there will be a hastily enacted act of Parliament to move the scheme from regulations into law, but even then I cannot see how it could be retroactive.
The Judges: Full judgement of the Court Of Appeal [PDF]