Monday, 27 June 2011

Social care spending on elderly and disabled faces 8.4% cut

Social care spending for the elderly and the disabled faces "devastating" cuts, according to new research conducted by Age UK. The data compiled based on Freedom of Information data shows that funding for services for the over 65s will drop by £610 million (8.4%) this year. This means the average net spending on people aged 65 and over would fall to £791 from £864 in the previous year.

Age UK argues that only 40% of those who need support actually receive it but even then the funding would fall to £2,335 from £2,548. The charity claims that the elderly care system is already close to breaking point and these cuts would push it over the edge.

"Funding for social care is already inadequate and the system today is failing many older people at the time when they really need help," said Michelle Mitchell, charity director of Age UK said. "The consequences of cutting expenditure further by 8.4%, as indicated by our research, could be devastating. We are fearful that even more vulnerable older people will be left to struggle alone and, in some cases, will be put at risk." The charity wants the government to set out a new funding system for social care that would be fair for "today's and tomorrow's pensioners". 

The government denies the situation is at breaking point. Ministers argue that the charity's figures are wrong as it has failed to incorporate the whole of the additional £1 billion investment in social care which is being diverted from the NHS. "We know that social care needs urgent reform, but Age UK's figures simply don't add up," Care Services Minister Paul Burstow said. "Their suggestion that only 35% of NHS social care funding will be spent on older people is simply wrong."

"While some councils may simply be cutting care, others are working hard to get more for less with innovative ways of delivering better care, including using more tele-care and cutting needless admissions to hospital and residential care," he added. Ministers also argue that £2 billion more would be invested in social care by 2015. The government is expected to produce a white paper on social care by December and a new social care reform bill is expected to make its way through Parliament sometime next year.

Emily Thornberry, Labour's shadow care services minister, said: "Labour warned from the start that the Tories' plans to slash council budgets would mean deep cuts to care services and would see the most vulnerable in our society suffer."

Source: eGov monitor - A Policy Dialogue Platform

Time for Gove to ‘negotiate in good faith’

Here is an extract from an article written by Dr Mary Bousted, general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL), on the ATL website - 

"Most teachers simply cannot work until they are 66 or beyond. The demands of the job are just too great. Teachers and lecturers made a deal with the government, which Secretary of State Michael Gove endorsed at the 2010 ATL Conference when he told delegates:

"On pensions — I think that ... critically, for everyone who's been in teaching, you entered with a particular contract, as it were, in broad terms … I'm not talking about a written document, I'm talking about a broader expectation. You would work quite punishing hours. You would put up with a variety of different frustrations, but the guarantee would be that at the end of your time that your pension would be relatively secure. You might not earn as much as your contemporaries who were as well-qualified as you. You accepted that. You had good degrees, they had good degrees — they went on to earn more, but you had a fulfilling career that brought you endless joy and, at the end of it, a decent pension pot.

"I think in the future there will be changes for new entrants into the profession. But I also think that, for people who've been in the profession, we shouldn't alter the terms on which they entered. I think that's part of the sort of broad contract that you expect. You came in on a certain basis. You should proceed on that basis."

Well said, Mr Gove. Now we expect you to stick to your words. We expect you to take away the loaded gun of increased pension contributions and to negotiate in good faith."

Saturday, 25 June 2011

We can't go on like this, says Ed Muddleband - then tells the unions next week's strikes are a mistake

In an interview with the Guardian today, Ed Muddleband lays out far-reaching reforms designed to modernise Labour's relations with the trade unions, open the party up to the public, and reinvigorate what he describes as its boring annual conference.

The Labour leader regards these changes as critical to his efforts to get the party back in touch with the electorate, and ensure it stays in opposition for only one term. He also for the first time tells the public sector unions that it would be a mistake for them to strike next week, saying they need to do more to persuade the public of their argument over the perceived injustices in the government's changes to public sector pensions.

In a Guardian interview, Muddleband says: "I want to open up the leadership to the party and the party to the country. In a society that is changing so fast in so many ways, we cannot continue as we are, with essentially a closed structure that was formed a century ago." He also says he is not fazed by his low personal ratings: "I have a clear sense of where the country needs to go and what needs to happen to the party."

In an initial package of party reforms, disclosed to the Guardian, he proposes:

• Public petitions gathered by local parties should determine issues for debate at Labour's policymaking forum. In a form of crowd-sourcing, he suggests either the ten petitions with most signatures, or any petition with a minimum threshold of signatures, should be guaranteed a debate.

• Non-party members, such as Greenpeace or other NGOs, would be entitled to speak at party conference as "registered consultees". Muddleband said: "In order to have a good conversation at party conference, you've got to expand the conversation."

• Trade unions would be "required to open up" so that local parties can access any of four million affiliated union levy payers living in their area. Muddleband proposes every local party should meet twice a year with its local union levy-payers to end what he describes as a "totally detached" relationship.

• Local parties are to be given incentives to draw up a register of local supporters who back Labour's goals but do not wish to become members.

• All parliamentary candidates and councillors are to be asked to sign a code of conduct committing themselves to be in regular touch with the public.

Muddleband said he was not "at this stage" going to say anything about possible changes to the way the party leader is elected, or voting strengths at conference. "Discussions will carry on within the party about the full range of changes that we want to make," he said. But some of his proposed reforms could be seen as a staging post to widening the composition of the current electoral college, or reforming the union block vote at conference. It may also lead to unions being required to give leadership candidates equal access to the addresses of political levy payers.

In last year's leadership election candidates who did not win the nomination of a union leadership were denied access to union membership lists. Party officials said details of how unions might be required to open up to local parties have not been settled, partly because of data protection concerns. Muddleband admitted even local Labour parties were staying away from party conference because it was too boring. "We do need to make it an interesting place and not be afraid of debate and dialogue," he said in advance of a speech to Labour's policy forum today.

He was speaking the day after he aroused anger among some MPs by announcing he wants to abolish elections to the shadow cabinet. In the interview he justified the change, saying: "I want to be a one-term opposition, and there is no way I want shadow cabinet members looking over their shoulder and thinking about anything other than winning the next election." Muddleband also for the first time tells the public sector unions that it would be a mistake for them to strike next week as planned. The unions are planning co-ordinated strikes, possibly to the autumn.

Accusing the government of handling the negotiations on public sector pensions catastrophically, he said: "The most important thing for the unions is to get the public to understand what their argument is. I don't think the argument has yet been got across on public sector pensions as to some of the injustices contained on what the government is doing. Personally I don't think actually strike action is going to help win that argument and I think it inconveniences the public. I think strikes must always be the very last resort."

Elsewhere in the interview Muddleband said he wanted to end the "take what you can society" and said his task would be to bring responsibility to both the boardroom and people on welfare. Asked whether he thought football stars like Wayne Rooney were paid too much, he said "I don't want to get into individuals, but the arms race in football salaries has got to stop." [Arms race?] When asked whether he supported the current campaign to get Bono and U2 to pay more tax, he replied: "All pop stars should pay their fair share of tax, but I do not know the details."

Muddleband insisted he was not demonising the poor by admitting there are some people abusing the system, saying he was confronting the problem to protect the welfare state, not to undermine it. He said: "In the last decade we have seen chief executive pay go from 69 times the average to 147 times the average. We need a debate whether these levels of pay awards are linked to achievement because in some cases they are not."

The Guardian (amended)

Tuesday, 21 June 2011

The benefit cap and media bigotry

A letter to the Guardian from John McDonnell MP

Thanks to Tom Clark for his exposure of the implications of the benefit cap the coalition is introducing in its welfare reform bill (The truly nasty cap fits, 16th June). On the government's own estimates, 50,000 families will have their benefits cut, even though they complied with every duty placed upon them to seek work. Many families with children who are already struggling on benefits will be forced into further poverty.

The Labour leadership declined to support my amendment to remove this dreadful proposal from the bill for fear of the reaction in sections of the media, which the Tories would exploit. If Labour is to restore its credibility with the electorate, we need to demonstrate that we have learned from the mistakes of New Labour, and show how we can lead this country once again.

There can be no better way to demonstrate that we have changed than standing up against media bigotry against the poor. Real leadership is sometimes demonstrated by standing up for what is right, and turning a minority opinion into majority support.

John McDonnell is the Labour MP for Hayes and Harlington


Many of these U-turns are for the better, however that does not disguise the fact that the policies were ill-conceived in the first place. Time after time, this calamitous coalition has announced off-the-cuff policies that have been poorly researched and hastily proposed with scant regard for the impact of their implementation.

also available on Flipboard


1.  NHS Direct 'not being scrapped' -

2.  Government confirms re-think on school sport funding -

3.  Downing Street rejects child milk scheme cut suggestion -

4.  Sale of forests in England scrapped -

5.  Plans to grant anonymity to rape case defendants scrapped -

6.  Government backtracks on Bookstart -

7.  Housing benefit cap to be postponed until January 2012 -

8.  Government admits defeat on immigration target -

9.  Military covenant to be enshrined in law after months of criticism -

10. UK coastguard station closure plans 'scaled back' -

11. Government 'abandons' plans for weekly rubbish collection -

12. Cameron tears up Ken Clarke's "soft" sentencing policies -

13. David Cameron denies 'humiliating U-turn' on NHS -

14. Treasury backtracks on Danny Alexander's pension reform plan -

15. Ken Clarke forced to abandon 50% sentence cuts for guilty pleas -

16. Key localism reform axed from Bill -

17. BBC World Service receives government funding boost -

18. Ministers scale back coastguard closure plans further (see 10) -

19. Ministers accused of DNA database U-turn -

20. Grant Shapps backtracks on two-year tenancy limit -

21. NHS launches bowel cancer campaign after U-turn over advertising -

22. Minister unveils revised cuts to UK coastguard centres -

23. Clarke U-turn over scrapping of chief coroner -

24.  Youth Justice Board saved from quango cull -

25. Labour's future jobs fund revised and reinstated -

26. Mobility benefit for people in care homes to stay -

27. Rethink on £26,000 benefits cap -

28. Government in new climbdown over benefit cap -

29. American-backed private universities plan dropped -

30. Means testing of suspects held in police stations dropped -

31. Cameron in U-turn over fiscal policing of eurozone -

32. Ministers drop benefit sanctions threat from work experience scheme -

33. Legal aid U-turn for babies and domestic violence victims -

34. NHS redundancy costs force government u-turn -

35. Cameron halts compulsory green deal policy on home improvements -

36. U-turn opens up legal aid to domestic abuse victims -

37. U-turn signalled over no-notice inspections for schools -

38. Government forced into U-turn over Royal Navy fighter jets -

39. Cable forces Tory U-turn on workers' rights -

40. George Osborne backs down on pasty tax -

41. Secret courts bill U-turn fails to silence critics -

42. Buzzard capture plans abandoned after 'public concerns' -

43. Tax relief limit on charity to be axed -

On 1st June, HMRC redefined the U-turn. We have therefore redefined our brief to include "clarifications".
44. HMRC clarifies landfill charges after row over 'skip tax' -

45. Government cancels planned 3p fuel duty increase -

46. David Cameron is now prepared to consider an EU referendum -

47. Coalition abandons crucial vote on reform of House of Lords -

48. A14 to become first existing road to exact toll under coalition plans  -

49. Cameron retreats on House of Lords reform -

50. Government prepares £2m green deal publicity campaign -

51. U-turn on money for elderly care -

52. U-turn on curbing payments to victims of minor criminal assaults -

53. U-turn on plans to force cancer patients to actively seek work -

54. David Cameron "reconsiders" £140 state pension reform -

55. West Coast main line rail contract halted in shock move -

56. Energy policy chaos as Cameron's 'lowest tariffs' row deepens -

57. Badger cull postponed until 2013 -

58. Number 10 backtracks on section 106 pledge -

59.  Treasury to defer planned increase in fuel duty -

60. David Cameron forced into U-turn on flood defence spending cuts -

61. Disarray as child care tax break is put on hold -

62. Government retreats from plan to help families with childcare -

63. More cash for Tory shires after revolt -

64. Michael Gove forced into U-turn on GCSE replacement plan -

65. Mary Seacole to remain on the Curriculum -

66. Nuclear power: ministers offer reactor deal until 2050 -

67. Osborne forced into U-turn as borrowing forecast fails -

68. Government scraps private finance plan for Crossrail trains -

69. NHS private sector climbdown a 'humiliating U-turn' -

BONUS: Just one day in the life of this coalition of clowns -

70. Bedroom tax 'in chaos' after IDS announces exemptions -

71. Government to shelve plans for minimum price on alcohol -

72. Tory ‘U-turn’ on devolution -

73. Eric Pickles amends home extension plans -

74. Caste discrimination to be outlawed by Equality Act -

75. Cameron drops foreign aid pledge -

76. Clegg says nursery ratio changes are being scrapped -

77. Child heart surgery reform suspended -

78. Government rethink over level of difficulty for disability benefit claims -

79. Michael Gove redrafts new history curriculum after outcry -

80. Speed limit rise for motorways hits the brakes -

81. Grayling signals legal aid climbdown over 'client choice' -

82. Gove abandons plans to drop climate change from curriculum -

83. UK plans for plain cigarette packaging to be shelved -

84. Post-Olympic arts festival plan dropped -

85. Minimum unit price for alcohol proposal shelved -

86. Home Office backs down over 'go home' vans after legal complaint -

87. Government U-turns on criminal justice pledge -

88. U-turn on legal aid price competition -

89. Government to amend lobbying regulation plans -

90. Plan to divert benefits of troubled families scrapped -

91. 'Epic U-turn' as Cameron announces GPs to provide 7-day service -

92. Ministers u-turn on slimmer standards regime -

93. Anger over government U-turn on 15-minute care visits -

94. Visitor bond scheme to be scrapped by government -

95. U-turn over retired miners' fuel allowance -

96. Payday loans U-turn represents 'intellectual collapse', says Ed Miliband -

97. U-turn could result in plain packaging on cigarettes by 2015 -

98.  Mark Carney forces George Osborne into U-turn -

99. Coalition reverses policy of growth in higher education sector -

100. Plan to use tolls to fund A14 improvements abandoned -

101. Defence procurement privatisation plan axed -

102. Why the sudden Tory U-turn on the minimum wage? -

103. Tories ditch pledge to let voters sack their MP -

104. Giant NHS database rollout delayed -

105. David Cameron drops plans to ease fox-hunting restrictions -

106. U-turn over human rights protection for home care -

107. Cameron ditches foreign aid pledge -

108. Ministers intervene to prevent relaxation of checks at Passport Office -

109. Land Registry privatisation plans abandoned by ministers -

110. Cable announces abandonment of student loans sale -

111. David Cameron in humiliating U-turn as he deploys Royal Navy flagship to save drowning migrants -


This list does not include pre-election promises and manifesto pledges, many of which were torn up as the coalition agreement was written.

The short link for this article is -

Monday, 20 June 2011

10% rise in people sleeping rough on the streets of London

There has been a near 10% increase in the total number of people seen sleeping rough in London compared to last year, according to homelessness charity Broadway. In 2010/11 the total number of people seen sleeping on the streets of London rose by eight percent from the previous year, it said. However, Outreach teams continued to help people to leave the streets, it said, moving 1,372 people into accommodation and assisting 326 people to return to a home area or an area where they could access appropriate services.

These figures are contained in the annual report on rough sleeping figures in London released today. The report, Street to Home Bulletin 2010/11, presents information about people seen rough sleeping by Outreach teams in London and those who have accessed accommodation for rough sleepers in London in 2010/11. Information is from the ‘Combined Homelessness and Information Network’ (CHAIN), a database commissioned and funded by the Greater London Authority and managed by Broadway.

The headline findings from the Street to Home Report 2010/11 include:

~ 3,975 people were seen rough sleeping in 2010/11

~ 28% of those seen sleeping rough were from Central and Eastern European (CEE) countries that joined the EU in 2004 and 2007.

~ Just 4 people under 18 were contacted and only 8% of those seen sleeping rough throughout the year were under 25.

~ Amongst UK nationals, 3% (36 people) were known to have served in the armed forces at some point.

The statistics in the report are based on information collected by outreach workers and recorded on the CHAIN system over a 12-month period.

Richard Blakeway, Mayor of London's Housing Advisor said: "Ending rough sleeping in London by 2012 is a tough challenge but one which the Mayor is more determined than ever to achieve. Today's CHAIN figures clearly show we have work to do but they also show that significant progress has been made.

“There has been a 75 per cent drop in the number of the most entrenched rough sleepers living on London's streets and the introduction of a new rapid response project now means more than half of all rough sleepers spend just one night on the street.  With the £34m recently secured by the Mayor from Government to tackle rough sleeping, we will now be able to support even more rough sleepers off London's streets to rebuild their lives over the coming year."

Howard Sinclair, Chief Executive of Broadway, said: “We know exactly the size of the task facing us if we want to reduce rough sleeping to as near to zero as possible by the end of 2012.  We believe that as long as resources are used in the right way and we continue to work together towards this common aim then we can continue to make a positive and long-lasting difference in the lives of people who end up having to sleep rough in London.”

Ross Macmillan for

Friday, 17 June 2011

Tory MP Philip Davies: disabled people should work for less than minimum wage

Shipley MP then goes on to describe criticism of his remarks as 'leftwing hysteria'

A Tory MP sparked anger by suggesting that disabled people should work for less than the minimum wage to increase their chances of being taken on by employers. Philip Davies told the Commons: "If an employer is looking at two candidates, one who has got disabilities and one who hasn't, and they have got to pay them both the same rate, I invite you to guess which one the employer is more likely to take on.

"Given that some of those people with a learning disability clearly, by definition, cannot be as productive in their work as somebody who has not got a disability of that nature, then it was inevitable that, given the employer was going to have to pay them both the same, they were going to take on the person who was going to be more productive, less of a risk.

"My view is that for some people the national minimum wage may be more of a hindrance than a help. "If those people who consider it is being a hindrance to them, and in my view that's some of the most vulnerable people in society, if they feel that for a short period of time, taking a lower rate of pay to help them get on their first rung of the jobs ladder, if they judge that that is a good thing, I don't see why we should be standing in their way."

Mental health charity Mind dismissed the Shipley MP's comments as "preposterous". Richard Hawkes, chief executive of disability charity Scope, said the MP had got it "seriously wrong". "This reveals a lot about how we value disabled people – and what we think they have to offer when it comes to work," he said. "In fact disabled people can contribute as much to a workplace as anyone else.

Davies has a history of making controversial statements out of sync with his party high command. A Conservative party spokesman said: "These comments do not reflect the views of the Conservative party and do not reflect government policy." In the debate, Davies was challenged over his remarks by fellow Tory MP Edward Leigh, who told him: "Why actually should a disabled person work for less than £5.93 an hour. It is not a lot of money, is it?"

But Davies said criticism of his remarks was "leftwing hysteria". He said he had talked to people with mental health problems when he met recently with the charity Mind and he said they agreed with his analysis. Labour's Anne Begg, chair of the work and pensions select committee, called the remarks "outrageous and unacceptable". "To suggest that disabled people should be treated as second class citizens is shocking and shows just what a warped world some Tories demonstrate they inhabit," she said.

The Guardian

Caveat Emptor

Steve Bell, the Guardian

Thursday, 16 June 2011

Pensions workers reject 'mutual' plan with a strike

Staff who work for the government agency My Civil Service Pension (MyCSP) and who administer the pensions of 1.5 million existing and retired civil servants, have said they do not want to be part of a mutual arrangement and have voted overwhelmingly to strike. The union says this makes a mockery of the government's plans and exposes their true nature of being privatisation by another name because it does not involve any genuine co-ownership.

In a ballot of the union's 250 members across MyCSP sites in Basingstoke, Cheadle Hulme, Liverpool, Newcastle and Worthing, 77% voted for a strike and 87% voted for other forms of industrial action, on a 46.5% turnout. Unlike the government, PCS has consulted MyCSP staff in all the offices and the overwhelming view was that they do not want to go down this route, and want to retain their civil service status. Ministers have refused to allow this, which would mean staff would no longer have access to the civil service pension schemes they administer.

The strike comes a day after the union announced more than 250,000 of its members will be on strike over cuts to jobs, pensions and pay with teachers and lecturers on 30 June. PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka (pictured above) said: "It is ironic that the first attempt by the government to set up a so called 'mutual' is being met by a total rejection by staff. But it is not surprising, because ministers have been rumbled about their true intentions. There is a chasm between the government's rhetoric about co-operation and mutualism and what they are actually planning to do, which is to impose a decision on staff that rips up their civil service contracts."

PCS Union website

Conservative MP attempts to undermine minimum wage with Private Members' Bill

The Union of Construction, Allied Trades and Technicians (UCATT) has warned that a Conservative MP's Private Members' Bill is a thinly disguised attempt to undermine the minimum wage. The Employment Opportunities Bill, which is being sponsored by Christopher Chope MP, is due to have its second reading tomorrow, Friday 17th June. 

The bill will allow employees "the right" to opt out of the minimum wage. George Guy, Acting General Secretary of UCATT, said: "This bill is a covert attack by the Conservatives on the minimum wage. Their aim is to create a race to the bottom, where workers opt out of the minimum wage in a desperate attempt to undercut each other to secure work. This highlights the true nature of the Conservatives, soft on the bankers but tough on the workers."

The bill's preamble describes it as introducing "more freedom, flexibility and opportunity for those seeking employment in the public and private sectors". Under its proposals the request to be paid below the minimum wage is made by the employee but both the employee and the employer sign the agreement. There is nothing in the bill which prevents employers indicating at interview that an applicant could be successful if they agreed to work for less than the minimum wage.

Mr Guy, added: "Christopher Chope suggests that his proposals will create, freedom, flexibility and opportunity for job seekers. He has all the sincerity of Uriah Heep. His bill, if it ever became law, would create misery for thousands of low paid workers, who would be forced to work for poverty wages."

The bill will be the first to be debated tomorrow in the House of Commons with proceedings commencing at 9.30am. There will be live coverage on the BBC's Democracy Live website.

Wednesday, 15 June 2011

Westminster Tories let developers off nearly £900,000 in affordable housing contributions

Conservative Councillors on Westminster Council’s Planning Applications Sub Committee have voted to let two property developers off paying nearly £900,000 in affordable housing contributions as part of luxury housing developments. The two planning decisions, agreed on Thursday 9th June, were:

1. Oriental Club, 11 Stratford Place – The Conservatives granted planning permission to add 8 more bedrooms, plus other improvements, to improve the viability of the private members Club. The Council’s Planning officers calculated a payment of £288,000 was due as a contribution to the Council’s Affordable Housing Fund to offset the increase in commercial space and recommended refusal because the applicants had declined to pay.

2. 3 Down Street Mews, Mayfair – The Conservatives granted planning permission for 2 luxury houses, one with an underground swimming pool, and waived the required payment of £588,000, because the developer challenged the Council’s Planning officer’s calculation of size of the development and the viability of the project, even though no viability report was submitted by the developer.

Councillor Barbara Grahame, Labour’s member on the four person Planning Applications Sub-Committee voted against both decisions, and said; “What is the point of the Council having Affordable Housing policies if the Conservatives are prepared to ignore them? Both these development could have made a substantial contribution to meeting housing need in Westminster, but nearly £900,000 has now been lost and local residents living in overcrowded conditions will have to pay the price of the Conservatives’ failure to follow their own planning policies.”

via Labour Matters

Tuesday, 14 June 2011

Boris Johnson and Peter Andre launch literacy project

London mayor and pop singer join scheme to improve reading and writing skills of young children across the capital

Boris Johnson and Peter Andre formed an unlikely double act on Tuesday as they joined forces to promote a literacy project for young children [once there were libraries – Ed]. The mayor of London and the Mysterious Girl singer took turns to read passages from Julia Donaldson's The Gruffalo to a group of schoolchildren at the launch of the scheme, run by the National Literacy Trust.

84aBecause nothing says literature quite like a media whore

The project aims to improve the literacy of children in London aged three to five and prepare them for school. The initiative is part of Team London, the mayor's strategy to recruit volunteers to deliver key projects that enhance opportunities for residents of the capital. The mayor hopes to sign up 500 volunteers from across London to work with more than 2,000 families in the city, encouraging parents to read to their children regularly and participate in reading workshops.

Speaking at Botwell Green library in Hayes, west London, Johnson said: "This is incredibly important because we are trying to encourage volunteers to come and help parents to get the confidence they need to read to their kids. The difference needs to be made at a very early stage in their lives. Once you've cracked reading at an early age then you'll never look back, but if you don't get it then it's very hard to recover. That's why it's very important to crack it early on. This is not just economics, it is not just about people getting jobs. If you can read, you will open for yourself the door to a most unimaginable treasure house of riches. It is very, very important that people do acquire this skill."

Andre said: "Reading to your children is very important. One-on-one with your children, it's all about bonding, and these are the things you remember."

Ed, what are you doing?

Dave Brown, Independent

Monday, 13 June 2011

Welfare reforms will plunge people with cancer into poverty, charity claims

Government plans for welfare reform will plunge cancer patients into poverty simply "because they have not recovered quickly enough", campaigners have claimed. 

Macmillan Cancer Support has calculated that 7,000 cancer patients will lose their employment and support allowance (ESA) under plans to cap entitlement to some claimants' benefit at one year. Those who receive ESA on the basis of their national insurance contributions, as opposed to their income, and are deemed to have some prospect of work will only be able to claim for a year, under government proposals. ESA pays up to £94 a week for those assessed as capable of returning to work with support or training.

Ciarán Devane, chief executive of Macmillan Cancer Support, said: "This proposal in the Welfare Reform Bill will have a devastating impact on many cancer patients. We are urging the government to change their plans to reform key disability benefits to ensure cancer patients and their families are not pushed into poverty."

"In my experience one year is simply not long enough for many people to recover from cancer," said Professor Jane Maher, chief medical officer at Macmillian Cancer Support. "The serious physical and psychological side-effects of cancer can last for many months, even years, after treatment has finished. It is crucial that patients are not forced to return to work before they are ready."

A spokesperson for the Department for Work and Pensions pointed out that those on low incomes or those placed in the support group of ESA – meaning they too ill to have any prospect of work – would would not see any time limit on their entitlement. 

Since the bill was introduced into Parliament it has been amended to automatically place people on certain types of chemotherapy in the support group.

Benefits cap plan to be relaxed, says minister

Scheme to prevent benefit claimants getting more than £26,000 will be waived for 'exceptional circumstances'

A benefit cap of £26,000 is to be relaxed in "exceptional circumstances" – such as for large families, the welfare reform minister Lord Freud said. In what will be seen as a concession to the Liberal Democrats, Freud said that changes would be introduced later in the year ahead of the introduction of the cap in 2013.

The cap is designed to ensure no family receives in benefits more than the average net income of a working household. "We're looking at exceptional circumstances which some people may find themselves in and we're going to be putting out arrangements for that later in the year," he told the Politics Show on BBC1. Asked what form the changes would take, Freud said: "Wherever we think that there's something happening that is undesirable and we're looking very carefully at how to draw up those protections."

George Osborne announced the £26,000 cap in his speech to the Tory conference last year in which he unveiled other welfare reforms, including the removal of child benefit from higher rate taxpayers. The chancellor said: "So, for the first time a cap on benefits. No family on out of work benefits will get more than the average family gets by going out to work."

Osborne said that benefits of workless families would be capped at £500 per week – £26,000 a year – which is the median net income of a working household. The cap will be applied in part by reducing housing benefit, affecting about about 50,000 families.

Freud said there were already exemptions. "We have got quite a lot of protections in this cap. Firstly of course, if you are in work, you are not affected. Secondly if you're a disabled person or there's a disabled person in the household, you're not affected. If you're a war widow or a widower, you're not affected." If you’re a Tory you’re not affected.

The Guardian

Saturday, 11 June 2011

Feuds, fraud and fury


Martin Rowson, the Guardian

No country for ordinary folk

More and more, Britain is run by the rich and well-placed on behalf of the rich and well-placed, writes Simon Hoggart in the Guardian

Ghastly that so many Olympic tickets have gone to corporates, and to the appalling people who run so much of international sport. While the toads of Fifa will be whisked in stretch limousines to the men's 100 metres final (one million applications for tickets), the people who have paid for all this – the taxpayers of Britain and especially the council taxpayers of London – find they can't even get seats into the heats of the handball, an event which, if it were taking place outside the Olympics, would probably attract seven people and a dog.

But that's the way Britain works these days. Bankers wreck our economy, do nothing by way of reparation, give themselves the same huge bonuses and refuse to lend money to businesses while thousands wait to lose their jobs. Network Rail makes a multimillion pound profit, while ordinary folk who need to travel in the mornings have to fork out more than £120 to go standard class from London to Manchester.

More and more this is a country run by the rich and well-placed on behalf of the rich and well-placed. Which is how they organised things in Soviet Russia, until people realised they were being conned.


Friday, 10 June 2011

Fire, walk with me

Steve Bell, the Guardian

Monday, 6 June 2011

Sussex LRC launch, 7.00pm Tuesday 7 June, Brighton

The original Labour Representation Committee was formed in 1900 to fight for political representation for the Labour Movement. In Britain today we face a similar crisis of representation. The LRC has been re-formed to secure a voice for socialists within the Labour Party, the unions, and Parliament.

Never in the history of the Labour Party has the need been so great to make the case for peace and socialism. The advocates of global capitalism and war have taken control of the political agenda. The task for today’s LRC, founded in 2004, is to fight for power within the Labour Party and trade unions and to appeal to the tens of thousands who have turned away from Labour in disillusion and despair. Therefore we are calling upon all socialists, Labour Party and trade union members, constituency Labour parties and union branches to join our campaign and join or affiliate to the LRC.

The LRC is a democratic organisation committed to fighting for a socialist future:

We need a foreign policy based upon peace, justice and solidarity

Britain is a more unequal society than at any time since the Second World War. The LRC is fighting for a living wage, a decent state pension, council housing and public services run to meet our needs not sold off for private profit

All people are equal. We believe in fighting all forms of prejudice and discrimination

With global capitalism in control of the political agenda, there is an urgent need for a major shift of wealth and power in favour of ordinary people

The LRC was setup to fight for workers’ rights, civil liberties and political representation

With the planet on the brink of environmental catastrophe the ConDem’s answer is more nuclear power and an expansion of aviation. We need a green energy policy based on renewable and the development of public transport

This is an exciting time to join the LRC – we are continuing to grow rapidly as Labour supporters, trade unionists and other socialists look to develop a radical agenda around which the movement can unite in the face ConDem cuts, the like of which we have not seen since the 1930s.

The LRC has local groups, like this one, right across the country, bringing together socialists and trade unionists to fight local campaigns. We invite you to attend on Tuesday 7 June to hear Labour’s socialist alternative to the Tory-led Government and how, together, we can fight its misguided, unfair and unnecessary cuts.

The main speakers at this meeting will be LRC National Chair John McDonnell MP, Katy Clark MP, Christine Shawcroft (Labour Party NEC), a representative from the local FBU and Luke Cooper (LRC, Workers’ Power & Sussex student).

The meeting starts at 7pm on Tuesday 7 June at the Brighthelm Centre Auditorium, North Road, Brighton BN1 1YD. We look forward to seeing you.

Find us on Facebook here, Twitter here or visit our website here.

When you wished upon a star, were gay days at Disney World an option?

Today sees the end of the annual Gay Days event at Disney World in Orlando, Florida. But just in case people hadn’t noticed thousands of gayers at the venue, a homophobic group hired an aeroplane to fly a banner over the area warning families. The Florida Family Association contracted the plane on Friday and Saturday to fly a banner that read: “Warning Gay Day At Disney 6/4.”

In a statement it said: “Thanks to the generosity of many supporters, Florida Family Association contracted this aircraft company to fly a seven foot high banner for ten hours the day before and ten hours the day of Gay Pride Day at Disney World. Florida Family Association wants to warn these families about this offensive event before they arrive at the Magic Kingdom on Saturday. This airplane banner is our best effort to accomplish that goal.”

The ‘offensive event’ that the group referred to included people wearing pro-gay T-shirts, same sex couples hugging, holding hands, “groping each other” and some punters were even “dressed in drag”. The event is in its twentieth year and brings in around $150m to Disney, hotel owners, restaurants, bars, clubs and other local businesses.

“The economy is improving because of what Gay Days bring into it,” said Gay Day President Chris Alexander-Manley. “Our crowd behaves better than most convention crowds, so come on out and see what it’s really about.

Pink News


UPDATE: Even better is this hate-filled page from - I mean, there were even cases of “group urination in public restrooms,” for God’s sake. Can you imagine?

God bless America!

Sunday, 5 June 2011

England 2 - 2 Switzerland

“Some will say Wilshere's energetic display exposed the fallacy of Arsenal's protestations about his weariness but the reverse applies. This game showed him to be an automatic starter for the senior XI who has progressed beyond U21 level and should not go back.”  The Guardian

Saturday, 4 June 2011

And thus the leader of global morality spake: "Don't shit on my doorstep, for Christ's sake!"

The Catholic Church is once again reeling as the latest scandal to rock its foundations unfolds in the archdiocese of the very Cardinal who was brought in by Pope Benedict XVI to oversee reforms in the wake of the sex abuse scandals. It centres on Father Riccardo Seppia, a 51-year-old parish priest in the village of Sastri Ponente, near Genoa, who was arrested on 13th May and charged with paedophilia and drug offences.

Investigators say that during tapped mobile phone conversations, Seppia asked a Moroccan drug dealer to arrange sexual encounters for him with young, vulnerable boys. "I don’t want 16-year-old boys but younger,”  Seppia is alleged to have said. “14-year-olds are OK - look for needy boys who have family issues.”

According to investigators, Seppia later told a friend - a former seminarian and barman who is also under investigation - that the town's shopping centres were the best places to entice minors. During the tapped phone conversations the two friends swore and blasphemed. The priest is charged with attempting to kiss and touch an underage altar boy as well as exchanging cocaine for sexual intercourse with boys over eighteen.

Seppia's defence lawyers are expected to argue that the conversations - monitored since 20th October 2010 - were just playful words, crude games that were played by adults. According to the defence, it was also just a game when, it is claimed, he "kissed on the mouth" a 15-year-old altar boy.

Friday, 3 June 2011

Southern Cross and Winterbourne View have tested public tolerance to the limit

The care homes scandal shows just what happens when financiers are free to make a profit out of the most vulnerable, writes Polly Toynbee in the Guardian

David Cameron's regular railing against "excessive regulation and bureaucracy" rings embarrassingly hollow in this week's care homes crisis. So does his promise that "the grip of state control will be released" from "the enemies of enterprise" as he stops the "dead hand of the state getting in the way".

Writing in the Telegraph back in February, he was two weeks away from publishing an open public services white paper which would, he promised, "create a new presumption … that public services should be open to a range of providers competing to offer a better service". Everything would be up for sale and any civil servants getting in the way would be punished. "If I have to pull those people into my office to argue this out myself and get them off the backs of business then, believe me, I'll do it."

But that oft-delayed white paper still cowers in the long grass. Now it will slip out in "mid-July", those dog days before parliament breaks when a rush of embarrassments emerge with no time for debate. Why? Because too many voters have woken up to how the "any willing provider" edict threatens the NHS, and would jeopardise every other public service too.

Cameron's privatising zeal looks even less enticing in the wake of this week's two care home scandals. The "dead hand of the state" looks rather more welcoming than the grasping hand of private equity. Southern Cross has shown how, as with the banks, privatised services that are too essential to fail make profits while relying on the state to pick up the pieces if they run into trouble, without paying the taxpayer for that hidden insurance. How will the public view predators circling many more services – especially in the NHS – now they see how Blackstone separated property value from the riskier running of the care business?

Are our most vulnerable people really safe in the care of these men?

It is a long way from Ireland's Coolmore Stud to Winterbourne View in Bristol. But the two are linked by a fat trail of cash, writes Ben Chu in the Independent

JP McManus and John Magnier (pictured below), the two Irish investors who turn out to own a stake in the Bristol care home at the centre of this week's abuse scandal, are best known for going to war with the Manchester United manager, Alex Ferguson, over the bloodstock rights to the racehorse, Rock of Gibraltar. It's a safe assumption that the pair, who made their fortunes out of racing, did not invest in the disabled care sector with philanthropy foremost in their minds.

The same is probably true of Stephen Schwarzman, head of the private equity firm Blackstone, which acquired the elderly-care-home provider Southern Cross in 2004. Such is the Blackstone founder's obsession with the bottom line that when Barack Obama mooted increasing the risibly low personal tax rate paid by private equity moguls, Schwarzman compared the suggestion to Hitler's invasion of Poland.

Private equity firms like Blackstone present themselves as managerial wizards, who add value to their companies by finding efficiencies and new revenue streams. But more often than not their skill lies in a combination of financial engineering and ruthless cost-cutting. The financial engineering that took place at Southern Cross under Blackstone's ownership is now suspected of helping to push the company to the brink of bankruptcy – a prospect that leaves its 31,000 elderly residents facing an uncertain future. There will now be an investigation into whether the management in charge of Winterbourne View was reckless. Was cost-cutting one of the reasons staff in Bristol were able to get away with behaving in such an appalling way towards residents for so long? Where was the supervision? Where was the training?

There is a bigger picture here. Research by the Financial Times this week suggests that the standard of care in homes that are run for a profit is, on average, lower than in those which are run by charities and local authorities. That certainly fits with the idea that, in private care home, profits come before people.

In fairness, not all privately owned homes are dens of abuse and neglect. Some provide excellent and compassionate care. And we have seen enough abuse scandals in the NHS over the years to know that public ownership does not always equal compassionate treatment of the vulnerable. None of this should let the official regulators off the hook either. The Coalition, which seems determined to leave the care home inspectors at the Care Quality Commission under-resourced, needs to face up to its responsibilities, too. Council cuts to care their home expenditure budgets do not help either.

But ownership does matter. There needs to be a fit and proper persons test for those who want to make money out of providing services for the vulnerable and elderly. When private investors seek to buy into the care home sector we must ask ourselves a simple question before giving the green light: would we entrust our own grandmother with these people?

Thursday, 2 June 2011