Tuesday, 31 May 2011

Fatal consequences of benefit changes

An open letter to the Guardian suggests changes to the welfare system are having a 'devastating' impact, driving some to suicide attempts

“Reform of the welfare system is steaming ahead, and already we're hearing about the devastating effects this is having on the mental health of hundreds of thousands of people across Great Britain. While much is made of the impact that changes to benefits will have on people with physical disabilities, it is vital that those with "invisible" issues such as mental health problems are not forgotten. Reassessments of people on incapacity benefit (IB) via the deeply flawed work capability assessment are due to start next month, and the new personal independence payment test is being trialled over the summer – just some of the changes already alarming many people affected by mental distress.

We've found that the prospect of IB reassessment is causing huge amounts of distress, and tragically there have already been cases where people have taken their own life following problems with changes to their benefits. We are hugely worried that the benefits system is heading in a direction which will put people with mental health problems under even more pressure and scrutiny, at a time when they are already being hit in other areas such as cuts to services.

There needs to be a shift towards a more sympathetic and supportive system that genuinely takes into account the additional challenges people with mental health problems face and can make a real objective assessment of their needs rather than placing them into a situation where their wellbeing is put at risk.”

Paul Farmer Chief executive, Mind
Bill Walden-Jones Chief executive, Hafal
Paul Jenkins Chief executive, Rethink Mental Illness
Professor Bob Grove Joint chief executive, Centre for Mental Health
Billy Watson Chief executive, Scottish Association for Mental Health
Dr Jed Boardman Consultant and senior lecturer in social psychiatry,
Royal College of Psychiatrists

Thursday, 26 May 2011

Can Labour win an election with an unpopular leader?

More people will blame Labour than the Tories if the economy gets worse, writes George Eaton in the New Statesman

On the surface, the latest Reuters/Ipsos MORI political monitor should gladden Labour souls. Last month's poll put the Tories level with Labour on 40 per cent but this month's gives Ed Miliband's party a seven point lead. Labour is up two points to 42 per cent and the Tories are down five points to 35 per cent.

But dig deeper and some worrying trends emerge for the red team. Net satisfaction with Miliband, which stood at +1 last month, is back down to -8 (see graph below). More worryingly, just 17 per cent of voters believe the Labour leader is ready to be Prime Minister, compared to 69 per cent who believe he is not. By contrast, 31 per cent of voters say Labour is ready to form the next government, a finding that will again give Miliband's critics cause to ask if the party could be performing better under an alternative leader.

Elsewhere, there's further evidence that voters share George Osborne's belief that the government is clearing up "Labour's mess". Asked who they will blame if the economy gets worse over the next 12 months, 22 per cent of respondents say the last Labour government but just 10 per cent say the Tories. A total of 27 per cent would blame both the Tories and the Lib Dems but that's only 5 per cent more than would blame Labour. Given that the economy was growing at an annual rate of 4 per cent under Labour but has ground to a halt under Osborne, that's some achievement by the Conservatives. As Douglas Alexander recently lamented, Labour's marathon leadership contest allowed the coalition to define the terms of debate from the start.

Miliband's troubles, however, are as nothing compared with those of Nick Clegg. Net satisfaction with the Deputy PM has plummeted from -18 last month to -32 this month. For the first time, Clegg's approval rating is below that of the coalition. By contrast, net satisfaction with Cameron remains at -3, a poor rating but not a terrible one. Miliband, who has led Cameron in every MORI poll since January, is now behind the Prime Minister. Personal approval ratings are often a better long-term indicator of the election result than voting intention. Labour often led the Tories under Neil Kinnock, for instance, but Kinnock was never rated above John Major as a potential prime minister.

Can Labour defy history and win an election with an unpopular leader? That is the question some in the party will be asking today.

Tuesday, 24 May 2011

Never mind the legacies, just get on with your jobs!

Speaking yesterday in Milton Keynes, Cameron insisted that the Big Society was fundamental to his determination to improve the quality of life in Britain over the next decade.

50 “Give some to the white kids, for Christ’s sake!”

"As our debts are paid off, this is what I want to endure as the lasting legacy of this administration – helping to build a society where families and communities are stronger, where our nation's wellbeing is higher, and where all these things are accepted as central, not peripheral aspects of what modern governments should hope to achieve," he said.

"So the Big Society is not some fluffy add-on to more gritty and more important subjects. This is about as gritty and important as it gets: giving everyone the chance to get on in life and making our country a better place to live." Yes, he really said that.

The Labour leader, meanwhile, said he wanted to be judged in office by his success in boosting the job opportunities and supply of affordable housing for young adults. Miliband, speaking in London, warned that Britain faced a "jilted generation" of young adults with fewer opportunities than their parents. He insisted: "We must reverse the sense of foreboding that people feel for their children and their future."

The Labour leader said: "David Cameron's benchmark for his government is simply deficit reduction. The benchmark I set for a future Labour government is much more than that. It is about improving the chances for the next generation." He called for a drive to find jobs for young people, improve conditions in the workplace, guarantee "genuine access" to university for aspiring students, halt the "inexorable rise in the average age of home ownership" and tackle climate change.

Mr Miliband said the overwhelming majority of young people were decent and wanted to do the best for their families and communities. "We owe it to them to paint a fairer picture of young people in our country and to celebrate what they do," he said. "But it is a two-way street. The promise of Britain is not just about the promise we make to them, but the promise they must make to themselves and our country to be good citizens."

People across the country carried on with their mundane lives, oblivious to the concerns of their elected stuntmen.

Monday, 23 May 2011

Let's put aside our sectarian differences, we have a world to win

At a special conference in July 1932 the Independent Labour Party voted to disaffiliate from the Labour Party. Aneurin Bevan described their decision as “pure but impotent”. True to form, its membership fell to less than a third of its level at the time of disaffiliation, quickly withering away into political obscurity.

This factionalism remains a persistent problem in the organised British Left.  We have a large number of small groups of activists, who shift backwards and forwards from split to fusion to split. This is extremely damaging for the Left as a whole.

This trend takes place within a wider story of the disintegration of the European Left. In Germany, social democrats split to the Left and remained organised in die Linke, future realignments within the SDP is still a possibility. In Italy, the Left has been comprehensively disarmed, institutionally and ideologically. In France, the PS has failed to recover as a national project from the disappointment of the Jospin years.

Judging from the past few decades, it’s clear that the consequences of this factionalism have been grave – societies have been plagued by all manner of preventable social ills – unemployment, stagnant wages, rising inequality, war, environmental degradation and a democratic deficit that has reached such sinister proportions that a significant proportion of the democratic world do not see the point in the vote.

I can only despair at the prospect of twenty more years under neo-liberal hegemony. There must be an alternative to this desperate state of affairs.

It has always been possible to unite the British Left for common goals such as fighting racists through Unite against Fascism, taking over the GLC and Tony Benn’s campaign for the Deputy leadership. It has been possible, and it still is possible.

Perhaps it is naïve to suggest that Left activists now put aside their various disagreements and embrace the spirit of unity and comradeship that must be the essence of any true left-winger’s aspirations. It is naïve but not quite as naïve as to think that we can stop this Con-Dem government’s destructive policies without co-ordinated action.

The terms of this unity should be based on rational principles, and I will offer some suggestions on which to premise any productive political action.

First, there will be no new mass workers' party. The arguments proclaiming the end of the Labour party as the party of the labour movement are not convincing but rather grounded on sectarian wishful thinking. See beyond the present faces. It is certainly possible that huge shifts in public opinion towards the fundamental issues could be achieved were the bulk of the Labour leadership, a large chunk of the PLP, the unions and activists moving together to campaign for radical socialist policies.

I believe this rallying point for the Left is the Labour Representation Committee, chaired by John McDonnell and affiliated to countless trade unions.

Second, the Labour Party’s almost exclusive reliance on the “white working class” is a great weakness. It’s true but trite to say that parties can only win when they represent a coalition of social forces large enough to defeat those in power. This is the reason why the trade unions set up the Labour Party in the first place. We now need a broad coalition which includes skilled and unskilled workers, the unemployed, women and ethnic minorities as well as the sexually oppressed in our society. This means us changing. I’m opposed to attempts to co-opt different movements just because we can get votes from them. The Labour Party must listen to what they are saying and then change itself.

Finally, the argument that we need to make is that we need to control the flow of capital and the control of the banks and finance houses. This means curbing the speculators in the City of London and an extension of public ownership into the financial sector. It shouldn’t be difficult to explain to people that a Labour Government intends to use the billion pounds a month that currently leaves the country to rebuild the economy and the welfare state. Indeed, everyone I have spoken to has responded overwhelmingly to such a suggestion.

This is just a brief outline of one strategy needed not only to win back those 5 million mainly working class votes that were lost as a result of New Labour’s neo-liberal policies, but also to create a radically different, more equal and humane society.

If we are to bring about this radical social change, then what we need is unity. The alternative is political impotency the price of which no-one on the Left should countenance if they are truly serious about what they believe to be right.


Thursday, 19 May 2011

Dig trenches for Britain, Davis tells unemployed

Conservative MP David Davis has called for the government to use unemployed workers to build a nationwide fibre broadband network. Writing in the comfort zone provided by The Times paywall and not even picked up by the Daily Mail who would surely sponsor such a wheeze, Davis admits the government cannot afford to spend £25 billion on a nationwide fibre-to-the-premises (FTTP) network, and says the sum is "more than the ponderous, monopolistic companies in this sector are willing to risk".

However, Davis claims that the biggest cost of installing a fibre network is the physical labour of building the infrastructure - a task he claims could be undertaken by the unemployed. "Building a superfast rural broadband network is largely low-skill - digging trenches, laying pipes, filling them in," Davis writes. "Only a small fraction of the cost is high-tech materials. Why not use use the 2.4 million people who are either jobless or on welfare to build this infrastructure?" Why not just shoot them all now?

Davis claims that the government's current plans to encourage investment in a fibre network are insufficient. "At the moment, the Government intends to direct about £530 million from the BBC licence fee to enable BT to invest £5 billion in laying cable to about 60% of the population, mainly in urban areas," he writes. "This is not enough. There is already a digital divide between rural and urban Britain. There is a real risk that superfast broadband will be an exclusively urban luxury and that rural households and businesses will be left farther behind."

And we wouldn’t want anything resembling a chasm between rich and poor in this country, would we?

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

Localism Bill: Concern over '142 extra powers for Pickles'

The Government's flagship Localism Bill will help free "local government from the shackles of central government", a Minister told MPs today as the Bill came under renewed pressure for handing Communities Secretary Eric Pickles "more than 100 extra powers".

Junior Communities minister Andrew Stunell said amendments and new clauses to the legislation tabled by the Government were each designed to improve the effectiveness of the Bill. The Localism Bill aims to devolve greater powers to neighbourhoods and councils and give local communities more control over housing and planning decisions.

Speaking during the Bill's report stage in the Commons, Mr Stunell introduced a new clause refining one of the central elements - the general power of competence. He said: "This Government is committed to the radical decentralisation of power and control from Whitehall and Westminster to local government, back to local communities and individuals. We are pushing power back down to the lowest possible level. This Bill is about shaking up the balance of power and revitalising democracy.

“It will give power to councils, it will give power to communities, it will give power to voluntary groups and power to the people. Giving local authorities the power to take decisions that are right for their areas and giving to local people the power to implement those decisions. This Government trusts local authorities to know what's best for their areas, we trust local councils to know what they are doing and we are freeing up local government from the shackles of central government. The Localism Bill does just what it says on the label."

Shadow Minister for Communities and Local Government Barbara Keeley queried whether the proposed extra powers granted to the Secretary of State accorded with the spirit of the Bill. She said: "On new clause 12, clearly the Minister has been talking about the limits on power and we are still very concerned about the 142 extra powers for the Secretary of State in the Bill." Mr Stunell said a local authority could choose whether or not it adopted a code of conduct for its members, but it must be under a duty to publicise whether it had revised or abolished it.

Wednesday, 11 May 2011

Social care laws face sweeping reform

Government promises reform of laws covering support for older and disabled people and carers after Law Commission report, writes David Brindle in the Guardian

The government is promising "the most significant single reform of social care law for sixty years" after the Law Commission published its final proposals for modernisation and rationalisation of legislation governing care and support for older and disabled people, those with mental health problems and carers. Charities and user groups broadly welcomed the proposals as a singular opportunity to sort out what one called the "dog's breakfast" of statutes and guidance dating back to 1948 and appearing incomprehensible to most non-lawyers.


In addition to simplifying more than forty existing statutes and thousands of pages of guidance, the Law Commission's plans for England and Wales would entitle carers to an assessment of their support needs irrespective of how intensively they provide care, place a duty on councils to investigate abuse and neglect of adults, allow direct payments to be used to fund residential care and improve "portability" of entitlement to care and support services if people move from one council area to another.

Frances Patterson QC, the public law commissioner who led the three-year project to review existing law, said: "Our recommendations will bring much-needed clarity and accessibility to this important area of the law and have a major, beneficial impact on the lives of many of our most vulnerable citizens."

The government has indicated it will incorporate the commission's proposals in a care and support white paper, expected in December, together with the outcome of the Dilnot review of the funding of long-term care. Legislation could follow next year. Paul Burstow, the care services minister, said the Law Commission's final report provided "a strong foundation" for the most significant reform of social care law for sixty years, suggesting the government might not adopt the seventy-six recommendations in their entirety.

Incompetence without a conscience: the Coalition - one year on

It has been one year since the Tories and the Lib Dems thrashed out a 'coalition agreement' with each other, both of them so desperate for power that they would ignore the swathes of Lib Dem votes that had been accrued from people just as desperate to keep the Tories out of power. Most of those people had witnessed the Thatcher years and would do anything within the law to make sure their kids never had to go through that experience. A large amount of Lib Dem votes was gleaned from students hoping for no increase in tuition fees, as pledged by Lib Dem MPs up and down the land. How hundreds of thousands of people would live to regret that vote.

So what have the Lib Dems achieved while they've been under Cameron's over-sized, steel toe-capped jackboot? A replacement for Trident in this parliament, cutting inheritance tax for the wealthiest, re-negotiating fundamental elements of the EU's Lisbon treaty, building more prisons and replacing the Human Rights Act. No, but what have they achieved? In terms of the everyday lives of everyday people - alarm clock Britain, as Clegg calls them. Well, he's come up with a new term for them - alarm clock Britain. That's a start. And it's more marketable than 'mugs'.

By all accounts (Clegg's at least), the Lib Dems have been "punching above their weight" in terms of their contribution to the coalition's policy agenda. They're particularly proud of their support for pensioners, the low paid, nursery education and apprenticeships but they reckon they must "do a better job" of trumpeting their achievements. So, despite the arrangement with the Tories being "stable and durable", it is more a coalition of "necessity not conviction".  Apparently, the two parties are going to show their separate identities more overtly in future - the Lib Dems, for their part, are going to be more "muscular" in government [oh, how we laughed] and their influence will be more "visible", no mean feat when you're ignored more often than Fred Miliband.

Nick Clegg would even go on to say: "There is a reason neither of the two bigger parties won last May - neither of them were really trusted to deliver both a strong, dynamic economy and a fair society. We can be trusted on both counts. I am confident that showing we can combine economic soundness with social justice - competence with a conscience - will make us an even more formidable political force in the future."

I bet Fred's quaking in his slippers.

Sunday, 8 May 2011

The Hardest Hit march, rally and lobby of Parliament, 11 May 2011

Thousands of disabled people and their families and supporters will converge on Westminster tomorrow to protest against government cuts and their impact on key benefits such as the disability living allowance and the employment and support allowance. Afterwards they will lobby MPs as the welfare reform bill reaches a critical stage in the House of Commons.

Wednesday's protest, dubbed the Hardest Hit march, is being coordinated by hundreds of disabled people's organisations and charities and groups including Scope, Leonard Cheshire Disability, Mencap, the RNIB and Sense. Organisers say that disabled people will be hit disproportionately hard by the cuts, which, they estimate, could result in families losing £9bn of support over the next four years.

Jaspal Dhani, chief executive of the United Kingdom Disabled People's Council, said the cuts would have an adverse effect on disabled people's rights and their ability to live independently. "We believe that disabled people stand to lose most from these cuts," he said. "We hope to show both the government and the community at large just how fearful disabled people are about the impact the cuts will have. It's about taking direct action because it seems government ministers are simply not listening."

Dhani said the cuts would result in disabled people being institutionalised and treated unfairly as local authorities try to save money by cutting funding to the bodies that support them. Rebecca Rennison, co-chair of the Disability Benefits Consortium's policy group, agreed that disabled people were likely to feel the cuts far more keenly than the rest of the population.

"They're experiencing the same cuts as everyone else and then experiencing additional ones, so it's cuts on top of cuts," she said. "The disability living allowance (DLA) is vital to people's independence. They are taking away the mobility component that pays for things like taxis and allows people to get out of their homes. The impact will be devastating and people are saying enough's enough. That's why people from all over the country are coming to London to make their views known."

The rally will begin on Victoria Embankment on Wednesday morning and move to Westminster. Protesters will then lobby MPs in Westminster Hall and Methodist Central Hall between 13.30 and 17.30.

The Guardian

They’ve only gone and voted me in again!

blogpic (40)

Saturday, 7 May 2011

Greens emerge as largest party in Brighton and Hove

Party wins 23 council seats, a gain of 10, leaving Greens just short of having an overall majority, writes Ben Quinn in the Guardian

The Greens have emerged as the largest party on Brighton and Hove city council after local election gains underlined its importance as a beach-head for the Greens' broader national ambitions. Just over a year after Caroline Lucas made history by becoming the Greens' first MP, the party built on her success by winning 23 council seats in Brighton, a gain of 10, leaving it just short of an overall majority.

Lucas, who leads the party in England and Wales, said: "This is a fantastic result. I am delighted that the voters of Brighton and Hove have once again made history, by voting in the Greens as the largest party on the council. The fact that we held all our seats and gained 10 – with a total of 23 – shows more than ever the scale of Green support in the city. We have offered people a positive and progressive alternative to the older political parties, and they have welcomed it.

"Our councillors are determined to get the best possible deal for Brighton and Hove in these difficult times. And with all the results in, now is the moment for Greens to reach out to the many different groups – community organisations, businesses, unions and others – and local residents so that together, we can find the best solutions for this great city."

The Greens won 33% of the vote and displaced the Tories as the largest party on the council – the first time a local council in the UK has elected the Greens as the largest party. The Labour Party won 13 seats (32%), the Conservatives 18 (29%), and the Liberal Democrats lost their only seat after the party limped in with 5% of the vote.

Friday, 6 May 2011

David Cameron: a lucky man, a blessed career and now a mandate to wreak havoc on the country

David Cameron ordered Tory cabinet ministers to avoid signs of triumphalism after the prime minister led his party to a strong performance in local elections in England and played a decisive role in winning the AV referendum. No 10 sent a message to ministers to avoid gloating as the Conservatives sought to repair relations with the Liberal Democrats, who are enraged by the way the No to AV campaign depicted Nick Clegg as untrustworthy.

Behind the scenes, Tories were ecstatic. One ministerial source said: "Cameron is lord of all he surveys. He finally got a grip of the referendum campaign and ended all the muttering on the Tory right." The prime minister adopted a different tone as he went out of his way to congratulate the Lib Dems for their work in the coalition when he paid an early morning visit to Tory HQ before heading to Birmingham for his latest meeting in the government's NHS "listening exercise".

He said: "I am absolutely committed to make this coalition government, which I believe is good for Britain, work for the full five years of this term. It is then that I believe the coalition and its parties will be judged by the electorate. But I would pay tribute to the work that Liberal Democrats have done, and are doing, in this coalition and will go on doing, because we are absolutely committed to make sure it works hard for the people of Britain."

The Tory party was keen to point out Labour's poor performance in Scotland and a weaker than expected showing in England, but silent on the Lib Dem performance. They declined to mention 11 gains on North Norfolk council, where the Lib Dems had 12 losses. This will be a blow to Norman Lamb, Clegg's senior parliamentary adviser, who used Lib Dem success there to capture a safe parliamentary seat from the Tories in 2001.

Thursday, 5 May 2011

This lot want you to say NO to AV


12 67 66 04 For God’s sake, do the decent thing

Wednesday, 4 May 2011

Helping more disabled people get into politics

A new scheme aims to encourage more disabled people into politics and develop a cross-party network of ambassadors, writes Mark Gould in the the Guardian

If the House of Commons were truly reflective of the people it represents, at least 65 would be disabled. But, as the country prepares to vote in the local elections tomorrow, it is unlikely that many disabled people will be among those elected. While there are 10 million people registered disabled in the UK, there are no formal figures on the number of disabled election candidates; those standing for local or national office are not obliged to disclose such information.

The little research that does exist includes work by the University of Plymouth's elections centre. It conducted random surveys in 2008 and 2009 with more than 1,000 local election candidates. In 2008, when asked what best described their situation, 2.8% of candidates stated they were permanently sick or disabled. In 2009, the figure was 1.3%.

Given the prejudice and stigma experienced by disabled people, it is easy to imagine how disability might be regarded as a vote loser, or activists might be put off supporting disabled candidates who need extra support. But the government hopes to encourage more disabled people into local and national politics, and to improve public attitudes to disability through a new training and development scheme.

The Access to Elected Office for Disabled People project includes plans for a £1m fund to help disabled politicians meet costs. Political parties will be asked to improve their internal disability policies and to work with the umbrella organisation, the Local Government Association, and disabled organisations to develop a cross-party network of disabled councillors and MPs, who would become ambassadors and role models for aspiring candidates. Consultation on the scheme ends this month and it should start later this year.

David Blunkett, blind since birth, and perhaps the UK's most well-known disabled politician, became a councillor in Sheffield 41 years ago. He says technological advances and legislation have helped to drive equality, and that he was never aware of other politicians or the public feeling that as a blind person he was not up to the job.

"Obstacles arise out of fear or ignorance of disability, people not knowing what is possible or how best to help," he says, "with occasional paternalistic blips where individuals have been disquieted by the thought that someone with a major challenge could work not just on equal terms, but succeed in the same professional sphere that they are in. Much of this is covert rather than overt."

Rosemary Gilligan, elected to Hertsmere borough council, in 2002, has severe arthritis, the chronic fatigue syndrome myalgic encephalopathy (ME), and uses crutches. She benefited from a one-year leadership programme run by the disability charity Radar. Gilligan, a former mayor at the Conservative-run council, says people with physical and learning difficulties can get involved in politics.

"On the leadership programme you meet people with learning disabilities, people who are deaf or blind," she says, "but you start talking to them and you get to know, with a bit of help and technology, they can get over them." Gilligan cites the example of a councillor in Stevenage with severe mobility problems who used telephone canvassing during the last elections.

Wheelchair-using peer Lady Jane Campbell has spinal muscular atrophy and needs help with most tasks. She wants imaginative ideas for overcoming problems. "Many disabled people would want to get out on the street and knock on doors and canvass but, for some, like me, it would be impossible. It might be that we find other ways of engaging the public."

Campbell has already successfully challenged parliament to find one solution: "I am physically unable to make long speeches so I asked if another lord could speak for me," she explains. "They initially said, 'It wouldn't be your speech.' I said that was nonsense, I wrote the speech. They finally agreed. If you can change hundreds of years of tradition you can do anything, and we do need to change to include disabled people because it's not a democracy if we don't."

Mark Gould, the Guardian

Labour loses Scottish campaign battle to SNP

Gordon Brown was hemmed in between the soft fruit and the yoghurt at a supermarket in Livingston. The former prime minister crouched down between two small children while their mother lined them all up in front of her camera phone. "C'mon Gordon," she shouted at him, "You are supposed to smile you know." Mr Brown put on a forced grin but it was clear he was finding it hard to look chirpy. He was not alone. Such has been the atmosphere of desperation and near panic in Labour ranks in Scotland that the blaming and backbiting over this election campaign has already started – and polling day is still 24 hours away.

The reason is simple. Labour in Scotland had a solid 10-point lead over the SNP just six months ago. Although its lead had dropped to single figures by the start of the campaign in March, the Labour leaders were still confident of winning. But over the course of the campaign that advantage has not just vanished, it has been turned into such a thumping SNP lead that the latest poll published last night by TNS-BMRB for Scottish Television forecast abject humiliation for Labour tomorrow.

That poll gave the SNP a whopping 18-point lead on the constituency vote and a 13-point lead on the list vote. This was not a one-off, though. It was merely the latest in a series of polls creating "clear tartan water" between the Nationalists and their rivals – according to Alex Salmond. The SNP's 2007 Scottish Parliament victory (by a single seat) was seen by many observers as a blip, an aberration, something which would be righted this year. But if Labour loses again tomorrow and, more importantly, if Labour loses by a substantial margin, then it will be clear that the ground has shifted in Scottish politics, perhaps forever.

Labour strategists acknowledge privately that chief among their problems has been the campaign message. Labour went into the election with a defiant anti-Tory theme: the Conservatives are back in charge at Westminster, so vote Labour to stand up for Scotland against Tory cuts. It was designed to press all those old Scottish working-class buttons about the Tories and invoke bitter memories of Thatcherism. But Labour's message was so ineffectual that the party had to switch tack with just two weeks to go. In a hasty re-launch – devised in frantic calls to concerned party bosses in London – Labour stopped attacking the Tories and turned instead on the SNP. The message became a straightforward if negative warning about the dangers of Scottish independence.

Tuesday, 3 May 2011

Tax property, not people, for a fairer society

Levies on land values do not depress or distort wealth creation and are easy to assess, cheap to collect and hard to avoid, says Phillip Inman in the Guardian

Amid all the talk of rebalancing the economy, there is little mention of the most powerful lever the government could pull to generate growth, which involves a switch from taxing income to taxing wealth. It is a subject that tends to get little coverage, mainly because its supporters are considered on the fringes of the political spectrum.

Ultra-lefties support wealth taxes for obvious reasons. Ultra-capitalists support them because they understand that allowing the rich to ring-fence much of the nation's assets and protect the mechanisms that allow values to increase without any serious government interference robs their children, and everyone else's, of any incentive to work harder.

And now it is not just the aristocrats who accumulate serious wealth but also increasing numbers of middle income babyboomers – senior teachers, BT engineers, BA airline pilots and local council middle managers. With their million pound homes and million pound pensions, the problem is even bigger. For an ultra-capitalist, the rapid accumulation of wealth over the last 15 years, which in property terms amounts to about £2.5 trillion, is making us fat and lazy. Only a wealth tax can sort it out.

Yet the debate has broadened in recent years with more mainstream groups taking up the cudgels. The OECD, the rich nation's thinktank, has joined the ranks of supporters. Liberal Democrats Chris Huhne and Vince Cable, in their pre-coalition careers, also voiced some sympathy. Andy Burnham adopted the scheme in his pitch for the Labour leadership. Many mainstream economists have also argued the case.

UK ranks behind Slovenia in childhood wellbeing

Six out of 1,000 British children will die before their fifth birthday and only four in five attend pre-school, says Save the Children

Children in the UK are worse off than those in Slovenia, Estonia and Greece, according to Save the Children. The charity today ranked the UK 23rd out of 43 "more developed" countries for child wellbeing in its annual State of the World's Mothers report, and said the result was a "national embarrassment".

The report ranked children's wellbeing according to three main factors: pre-primary enrolment, secondary school enrolment and under-five mortality rate. The charity said it was "particularly concerned" that just 81% of children in the UK were enrolled in pre-primary education. Justin Forsyth, chief executive of Save the Children, said: "We know that pre-school nursery or playgroup access helps all children, but especially the poorest. It is a national embarrassment that the UK lags so far behind other countries of a similar size and wealth."

Mr Forsyth criticised government plans to cut support for childcare costs, which he said would hurt the poorest children even further. "By cutting childcare support, the government is making it harder for low-income parents to return to work but, just as important, more of our poorest children are likely to miss out on pre-school education, a key to later educational achievement," he said.

The charity's report ranked Sweden as the best place for a child's wellbeing, with Italy and Japan in joint second place. Somalia is the worst place on the planet for children's wellbeing. The UK's under-five child mortality rate – at six per 1,000 live births – was the joint 23rd lowest score out of the 43 countries. The lowest rates were three per 1,000. And it found that only 81% of children under five were enrolled in pre-school education. In secondary schools, 99% of children were enrolled.