Monday, 28 May 2012

An Alternative to Austerity by Stephen Lee Hodgkins

Graphicking by Stephen Lee Hodgkins

Thursday, 24 May 2012

GPs call for work capability assessment to be scrapped

GPs have voted unanimously in favour of scrapping the controversial work capability assessment (WCA), the test that determines who is eligible for sickness benefits, to prevent harming "some of the weakest and most vulnerable in society". At the annual GPs' conference, doctors backed a motion stating that the computer-based assessments were "inadequate" and "have little regard to the nature or complexity of the needs of long-term sick and disabled persons". They called for the tests to be replaced with a more "rigorous and safe system".
The vote at their annual conference in Liverpool reflects rising concern within the medical profession over the government's use of the work capability assessment (WCA) to reassess recipients of the outgoing incapacity benefit to determine whether they should receive the replacement benefit, employment and support allowance (ESA). Since the test was introduced in 2008, hundreds of thousands of people have against decisions to refuse them the benefit; around 40% of appeals are successful. Large numbers of patients with terminal and incurable conditions have been found fit for work after undergoing a 30-minute assessment, carried out by a private company, Atos Healthcare.

Andrew Holden, a GP from Petersfield in Hampshire, said the system was not able to distinguish between patients who really needed help and those who did not. "Since the system was introduced in 2008, people with terminal cancer have been found fit to work, people with mental health problems have complained their condition is not taken seriously and people with complex illnesses say that the tick-box system is not able to cope with the nuances of their problems," he told the conference, proposing the motion. "The computer-based assessments are carried out by a healthcare professional but one not necessarily trained in the field of the patient's disability, which is particularly important when it comes to mental health issues."

Laurence Buckman, chair of the BMA's GPs' committee, said: "When 40% of appeals against the assessments are successful at tribunal hearings, something is clearly very wrong with the system. Being in work is good for people's overall health and wellbeing, but GPs are seeing too many patients who genuinely need to be on incapacity benefit coming in very concerned and confused by the system. The government needs to look again at the whole assessment process and replace it with one that is fit for purpose."

Dean Marshall, chair of the Scottish general practitioners' committee, which has already passed a similar motion, welcomed the vote. "These assessments can have a devastating effect on our patients' mental and physical health. There has been a dramatic increase in the numbers being assessed as fit to work and a massive number of appeals have been made against these decisions. The frequency of successful appeals seems to us to demonstrate the mechanism's shortcomings," he said. "Our patients are very concerned and confused about these assessments. Many are in fear of how they will cope with the removal of, or cuts to, their benefits. Evidence appears to suggest that people with serious health conditions are sometimes being declared fit for work."

Labour MP Tom Greatrex, who has raised a number of concerns about the WCA, said: "The government should not dismiss the strength of feeling being expressed by the medical profession in this motion – the very people the DWP are reliant on to carry out the assessment. As the motion reflects, assessing whether people are able to work is right in principle, but in so many respects the practice has been appalling. Thousands of people have suffered because of the decisions Atos get wrong time and again, costing the public purse millions."

A spokesperson for the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) said improvements were being made to the system. "We're absolutely committed to the reassessment of people on incapacity benefit and helping those who are fit to move back into work. Under the old system too many lives were written off. The work capability assessment introduced in 2008 was not fit for purpose, which is why we are implementing all the recommendations made by our independent reviewer to make this a better and fairer process. We want to keep improving the WCA," the department wrote in an emailed statement.

The vote means that calling for the WCA to be scrapped is now the policy of the BMA GPs' committee, which represents 44,000 family doctors across the UK, and the committee will attempt to make its views clear to the DWP.

Amelia Gentleman, The Guardian

Friday, 18 May 2012

The Radical Alternative to Austerity | John McDonnell

Cameron and Osborne have repeated again throughout this week that there is no alternative to their failing austerity programme. There needs to be a clear statement from the Left that there most certainly is an alternative to austerity and it goes beyond just cutting less deep and less fast. Below is a brief statement of what that alternative could contain, written by John McDonnell. It is not meant as a definitive statement but at least a broad depiction of what a radical alternative would comprise. If you are willing to put your name to the statement please do so by emailing John at

The Radical Alternative to Austerity

The austerity programme of the Coalition government is not just failing; it is prolonging and deepening the recession. Cuts in investment in public services, in jobs, wages, pensions and benefits are creating mass unemployment and mounting hardship. Austerity is creating a spiral of economic decline as cuts produce high levels of unemployment which in turn reduces tax income and prompts another round of cuts and job losses. The Government’s austerity measures are also unfair as the only people the Government seems intent on protecting from the recession are the rich.

There is an alternative to austerity
There is no lack of wealth and resources in our country that we can draw upon to tackle this recession. The problem is that this wealth and these resources are held in the hands of too few people and are not being used productively to create the growth and jobs we need. If we can release these resources, we can overcome the current recession and start to build a prosperous future for our country, linking with others across Europe and the United States to overcome this global economic gridlock.

Releasing the resources within our own country is not difficult. It simply requires the introduction of a limited range of redistributive measures which will raise the funds we need from those most able to pay and who have profited most out of the boom years. This redistribution can be achieved through:

  • a wealth tax on the richest 10%,
  • a Robin Hood tax on financial transactions,
  • a Land Value tax,
  • the restoration of progressive income tax of 60% on incomes above £100,000
  • and a clamp down on the tax evasion and avoidance that is costing us £95 billion a year.

Investing the resources released can halt the spiral of decline
With unemployment rising month by month we urgently need to get people back to work and earning a decent living. We can do this by investing the resources we have released through taxation in modernising our economy, its infrastructure and our public services to meet the needs of our community.

Instead of cutting and privatising our health, education and local services, this means:

  • investing in a mass public housing building and renovation programme, in universal childcare, in the modernisation of our public services, in the NHS, in creating a national Caring Service, in our schools and colleges, in our transport infrastructure and in the extension of broadband;
  • investing in alternative energy, combined heat and power and insulation to both tackle climate change and create one million climate change jobs;
  • establishing a national investment bank with the resources levied from the banks so that there is no shortage of funds to lend for manufacturing growth and research and development.

To be successful the recovery programme has to be fair
We will need the support of a significant majority of our people if we are to drive through this type of radical regeneration and redistribution programme. To gain this level of support means the Radical Alternative must be seen to be fair. This means addressing many of the inequalities of our current system. For those at the top it means ending the bonuses and limiting high salaries to no more than 20 times the lowest paid in any company or organisation.

For all others it means replacing the minimum wage with a living wage and a living pension and living welfare benefits, reducing the working week to 35 hours, closing the gender pay gap, controlling rents and energy prices, and restoring rights at work. For young people it means a guaranteed job, apprenticeship, training or college place for every young person with the burden of fees abolished.

There is no shortage of resources to implement this programme of reform. The problem is the distribution of these resources. The Radical Alternative simply releases the resources we have to regain control of our economy and invest in our future.

Never again can we let them say that there is no alternative.

John McDonnell

Thursday, 17 May 2012

What must they be thinking?

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

Tuesday, 15 May 2012

Clegg and Cameron's cruellest day

Greece, the birthplace of democracy, has set off a voters' rebellion against the dictatorship of financiers. In the eye of the vortex, no one knows if the centre can hold or what happens next when voters say no to austerity imposed by the same financiers who caused the crash. JP Morgan's reckless derivatives gamble lands on cue to make the point. As François Hollande and Angela Merkel meet for the first time on Tuesday, Karl Marx could not have devised so perfect a crisis of capitalism.

At first the voters acquiesced, tightened their belts, obeyed the iron laws set by bankers whose grotesque pay flows from bailouts by states they impoverished. But the prospect of years of unremitting high unemployment and stagnation shows the great austerity experiment has failed, and even its north European proponents are being gingerly forced to acknowledge it.

In Britain the failure of that experiment is most telling, because no one imposed it on us except our own government. Inflation is predicted to stay obstinately high while wages lag, shrinking demand in households with ever less to spend. Industry now begs the government to kick-start the economy. Bond rates here fell even lower on Monday: our government can borrow more cheaply than for 300 years. The refusal of Cameron and Osborne to borrow and invest in housing, energy, schools and transport is the ideological fixation that will destroy them. Once a Conservative government loses the trust of industry, it's in deep trouble.

Monday, 14 May 2012

The Police Federation's letter to David Cameron following the march has obtained a copy of the letter given to Prime Minister David Cameron last week following the Police Federation’s march through London. The march on May 10 culminated in the Police Federation of England and Wales handing in a letter to 10 Downing Street to outline its concerns about government austerity measures and the Winsor Review. 

A federation spokesman said the letter was more than just a gesture following the march – as the government itself seemed unclear on the Fed’s position. This letter therefore provided clarity:

Dear Prime Minister,

We write to you as the statutory representatives of 135,000 police officers in England and Wales to inform you of the morale crisis amongst our membership. In recent months we have been inundated with telephone calls and correspondence from police officers who are angry, dismayed about their future, and completely demoralised. 

Through the introduction of the Winsor reviews they feel they are being treated differently and more harshly than any other public sector workers. They accept that the police service must share some of the financial burden of the economic crisis but feel they have been unfairly singled out and targeted by your Government.

For decades, successive Governments have respected the fact that police officers have restrictions on their private lives and work lives; whether that is restrictions on where an officer may live, the requirement to intervene in incidents when off-duty, or the fact that their hours of duty, rest days and annual leave can be changed or cancelled if operational reasons dictate. 

Your Government has broken this ‘covenant’; pushing ahead with the Winsor recommendations demonstrates a view that that there should be no protection of police officers’ terms and conditions or recognition of their unique employment status as holders of the office of constable.

In addition, proposed changes to privatise core policing functions will transform the British police service from one based on policing by consent, and that is the envy of the world, to a body of officers unable to develop and deliver policing skills other than the use of coercive force. 

Your ministers have given us assurances that they agree with us that the independent Office of Constable is the bedrock of policing; however, that independence is threatened with the proposed introduction of compulsory severance whilst the privatisation of policing will expose the public to an unaccountable second-tier of law enforcement.

Today thousands of police officers have taken a day’s holiday to come to London in their own time to make their voices heard. Many say they feel so under-valued that they are seriously thinking about leaving the police service.

This is an important and challenging year as we embark upon the biggest policing and security operation we have witnessed in this country: the 2012 Olympic Games. We are genuinely concerned that public safety will be jeopardised in the future if large numbers of police officers leave the service.

We would welcome an urgent meeting with you to discuss what we can do to avert this national crisis.

Yours sincerely,

Friday, 11 May 2012

Coalition cocks up again - not surprising considering the cocks in charge

A £1.4bn coalition scheme to boost the economy has failed to achieve value for money, according to the government's official auditors.


Because the scheme is spending as much as £200,000 generating a single job.

Needless to say, Dave and Nick praised the initiative when they visited Essex earlier this week. 

And previously, Nick has said the fund would lead to half a million jobs. But that was a lie, Nick, wasn't it? The report forecasts that it will create only up to 41,000 jobs.

Then there's Nicebutdim Nick's claim that the fund would help rebalance the economy. It hasn't, has it, Nick?

'£1.4bn regional growth fund not value for money, says finance watchdog' - (Guardian)

Wednesday, 9 May 2012

Cameron tells Mail how Lib Dems are holding him back

On the eve of the Queen’s Speech, Cameron has used an 'exclusive interview with the Daily Mail' to insist he is determined to lead a Conservative-only government after the next election

Complaining of a "growing list of things that I want to do but can’t" because of the Liberal Democrats, he admitted more candidly than ever before where his coalition partners are holding him back. Cameron singled out human rights law, reform of workplace rights and support for marriage as areas where Tory principles are being held in check but urged senior MPs growing tired of coalition not to waste the next three years. He also suggested a referendum should be considered on  Clegg’s plans for a mainly elected House of Lords, particularly if it could help avoid the Government’s legislative agenda becoming ‘bogged down’ in the issue.

Speaking on the day he made a joint appearance with Clegg at a tractor factory in Basildon, Essex, to focus on the economy, he said: ‘Look, as Prime Minister of a coalition government at a time of national difficulty, I must focus on what can be done, what must be done now. We have the programme to deal with deficit, to get the banks lending, get young people employed, boost apprenticeships, get businesses investing and growing. Whether it’s capping welfare, limiting immigration, we have a programme that needs to be delivered. Of course there are frustrations, and there is a list of things that I am looking forward to doing if I can win an election and run a Conservative-only government.’

Directly addressing senior Conservative MPs who unveiled an alternative Queen’s Speech featuring traditional Tory policies at the weekend, Cameron declared: ‘I completely understand your frustrations, but let’s be clear: We’ve taken on some areas like reforming student finance, reforming public sector pensions, freezing public sector pay. These are things that previous Conservative governments weren’t able to do. Hell, I even vetoed an EU treaty. So I would say to Conservatives, I know it’s frustrating. I share your frustration. I want a Conservative-only government. But don’t let’s waste the chance we have now to help get this country out of the mess it was left in. We have got the mandate and the policies and the team to do it.’

Tuesday, 8 May 2012

French precedent | John McDonnell

Letters to The Guardian

Hollande's victory (The change France needs, 7 May) and scale of votes for the left in Greece demonstrate the emergence of a potential European-wide anti-austerity alliance which Labour could be a part of.

To join this movement that is giving hope to people across Europe means Labour decisively rejecting austerity and supporting the demand to tackle tax abuse by the rich, rejecting the privatisation and cuts in our public services, and setting out clearly plans to create the jobs that will restore prosperity. Sarkozy was described as "the president of the rich".

The last Osborne budget demonstrated so clearly that we are governed by a government of the rich for the rich. The European message for Labour is seize the moment and show clearly whose side we are on.

John McDonnell MP
Lab, Hayes and Harlington

Monday, 7 May 2012

Contrary to popular belief, we can afford both welfare and housing, says Andrew Fisher of the LRC

It was Nietzsche who said that man has killed God and Christianity, “but belief in the sickness which it taught and propagated continues to exist”. He meant the belief in sin remained, but now with no belief in the cure. Listening to Iain Duncan Smith talk about welfare reveals the same scenario: “A system developed to help the most vulnerable and support people in times of need is trapping people in a cycle of dependency.” Of course it is, because it has to be accompanied by a policy of full employment.

As well as creating the welfare state, the 1945 Attlee government also had a policy of full employment. That policy of full employment was part of the welfare system they created. The contract was that the government would provide a stable economy that eradicated mass unemployment.

It worked: between the 1940s and 1978 unemployment in the UK never rose above a million. In 1979, unemployment had risen to just over one million - a national shame which led to the Tories famous election poster ‘Labour isn’t working’. Within a few years of that election, unemployment reached 3 million, and the commitment to full employment was buried.

Today the Tories are attacking welfare with unprecedented viciousness. Around £30bn in welfare cuts have been announced since the Tory-led government came to power. When he announced the first tranche of welfare cuts in the 2010 Budget, the Chancellor said: “Total welfare spending has increased from £132 billion ten years ago to £192 billion today. It’s one reason why there is no money left.”

“There is no money left” – the same phrase that Labour’s shadow minister Liam Byrne used in his infamous note. The problem with it is it’s not true. The best evidence to prove that is that over the same period as Osborne’s £30bn cuts to welfare, he will have cut business taxes by £30bn. So Osborne is redistributing wealth from the poorest in society to the shareholders of large companies. But there is a large deficit and welfare spending has increased by 45% in the last decade. More importantly there’s the misery of mass unemployment to tackle too.

So how could a Labour government tackle the welfare bill in a socially just way?

• Firstly invest to create jobs to reduce the £4.8bn cost of unemployment benefit – committing to full employment again;

• Secondly - and this would create jobs - build council housing to cut the massive £20bn cost of housing benefit, which mostly goes into the pockets of wealthy landlords;

• Finally, make the minimum wage a living wage to reduce the £8bn tax credit bill – which means the government is subsidising low paying employers.

Labour must promote a systematic approach again: full employment, decent wages in work, the guarantee of a secure home, and a generous welfare state that offers security to those unable to work.

Andrew Fisher will be speaking alongside Kevin Maguire, Teresa Pearce MP and Andy Winter at the LRC’s Brighton Fringe event  ‘We can afford welfare and housing’