Friday, 12 July 2013

Andy Burnham: UK's finest asset the NHS is in sick hands

On July 5, 1948, the great Nye Bevan opened his National Health Service at Trafford Hospital. Sixty-five years and six days later, his successor Jeremy Hunt, who is not fit to lace his boots, scurried to the House of Commons to announce the closure of its A&E in a major downgrade, without having the courtesy to inform the local MP Kate Green.

Hunt’s advisers found time to give the Murdoch empire market-sensitive information but he could not be bothered to tell Kate about the closure. Not only does that tell you everything you need to know about the man, there can be no clearer sign of this Government’s disregard and disrespect for the NHS and those who rely on it.

While Labour cherished and nurtured the NHS, this ­Government carves it apart. And it is patients who are paying the price for the monumental mismanagement of hospital reconfiguration.

This Government pledged a moratorium on hospital closures. That promise must go down as one of the most cynical and dishonest of modern times. The biggest crime of all is robbing a community of a successful A&E to solve the ­problems of the Government’s own making.

Where changes can be shown to save lives Labour will always support them. But we will never allow communities to be picked off by an arrogant government that is hellbent on the destruction of our country’s finest asset.

Andy Burnham MP, Shadow Health Secretary

An open letter to our overpaid, under-worked, trough-snuffling MPs

Dear MPs,
How are you? What’s it like up there? I do hope the cuckoos and clouds aren’t bothering you too much. Down here on Planet Earth things are a bit different. Everyone has less money than they used to, will be working for longer, and all our services – health, schools, roads, councils – are being cut back. It’s generally accepted that we are, in fact, on our arse.

It has now come to our attention that you have been recommended for a pay rise. Not the 1% which is the most any other public servant could expect (and most of them get nothing), but 10%. This would be offset, very slightly, by a reduction in the golden goodbyes you get when booted out of office so they are in line with what mortals receive, a downgrading of your platinum-coated pension scheme and stricter rules about free dinners. 

All this has been recommended by the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority that was set up in the wake of the expenses scandal of 2009. You remember, that time when you all looked really bad.

Now, the Prime Minister says the pay rise is ‘unthinkable’, Nick Clegg says he won’t accept it, and Ed Miliband says it should be no more than 1%. Funnily enough none of them have called for a vote on the issue, or ordered their MPs to refuse it. Some MPs have insisted they should be paid more than their current £66,396, others think it’s electoral suicide, and no fucker has mentioned the fact you had a pay rise only three months ago.

As your employer, it falls to us to decide your pay. Allow me to explain our thinking:

• Your existing pay puts you in the top 3% of earners in the UK. This means 60 million people would describe it as ‘a shitload’. If ‘a shitload’ is not enough for you, you might want to try the belt-tightening you have recommended for the rest of us.

• Last month the 2:1 history graduate in charge of the nation’s purse-strings capped pay for public servants at 1%. He said automatic rises were ‘antiquated… deeply unfair… the private sector has to pay for it.’ If that applies to teachers, nurses, police officers and prison staff then it also applies to you.

• You would merit a similar 1% pay rise if you were doing a good job of steering the ship of state through choppy waters. Instead you behave like a bunch of argumentative teenaged drunks with the munchies driving a clown car through a minefield, while ignoring the 62 million people on board all screaming at you to stop.

• It is part of your role to promote democracy and uphold the rule of law. In recent weeks you have threatened to pull out of the European Convention on Human Rights, which was drafted by Churchill and largely based on British law, failed to deport a hate preacher who left of his own accord after being invited to stay here by Michael Howard in 1994 (advised at the time by one David William Donald Cameron), welcomed a military coup in Egypt and shown yourselves, regardless of party, to be up for sale to whoever wants to purchase your tainted souls.

On top of this you have such a reputation for corruption and venality that only 65% of us could be bothered to not really vote for anyone at the last election.

• It is also your job to pass the laws which we, your employer, would like to see enacted. The idea of gay marriage enjoys greater public support than a single politician, yet still you argue over it. Most of us have no wish to penalise the disabled or their carers by whose devotion the nation saves, for each, £5,000-a-week in health costs, yet still you do so. Most of us want to know what Prince Charles thinks and keep a rough eye on the Queen’s spending, yet you pass laws that say we cannot.

• Everyone else who has to work after 7.30pm buys their own sandwiches. You can do the same.

• To claim that losing automatic payments of up to £65,000 is a cutback is somewhat cheeky, seeing as it is merely being cut back from ‘excessively disgusting’ to ‘standard for everyone else who loses their job’.

• Furthermore, with a pension scheme that has 29% contributions from the taxpayer compared to 14% for the rest of the public sector, it can probably stand a little trimming without losing any of its soft and privileged belly fat.

• Many of you moonlight. This is not on.

• Finally, your ‘independent’ standards body was set up by MPs, consists of people employed by MPs, and has its budget set by MPs. The MPs are in turn overseen by the Speaker of the House of Commons, who is also an MP. It is about as independent as David Cameron’s thought patterns.

All in all your performance is not what it could be, and you are subject to a personnel appraisal just once every five years. No matter how appalling you are at your job, you generally lose it only if your line manager is more unpopular than the other line managers. In short you have a fairly cushy job and to complain you might lose the associated free dinners is, frankly, insulting.

There is an argument that we would have better politicians if we paid you more. Seeing as enriching you by means of an enormous salary, generous pension and a free house has not achieved this, it is difficult to see how extra cash would help. We do however need politicians, so here are a few suggestions for your future pay and conditions which, if agreed, could bring you year-on-year salary increases.

• Sleep in a dormitory like every other public servant who has to live away from home. You expect the military, nurses, doctors and care workers to do the same; perhaps if you have to endure state housing you would ensure it wasn’t a death trap. We’d call yours The Ivory Tower.

• A salary, pension and redundancy package which is precisely the same as the national average. If you want this to improve, you will need to raise the national standard of living which is what we voted you in to do in the first place.

• Commit to a yearly public meeting with your constituents, open primaries so that anyone of merit can be selected as a party candidate without the need for financial backing from their own pockets or those of a union, and give voters the power to recall MPs when they have been disgraced. This would finally end the outrage of a politician being booted, resigning or losing the whip but clinging on to their MPs’ perks for years to protect their party from a by-election. Patrick Mercer, Tom Watson, Mike Hancock , I am looking at you.

• You would be expected to work for a rise in voter turnout, have holidays reduced to six weeks a year, take on no other employment, and spend one day a month doing community work in your constituency in order to keep your feet on the ground. Food bank, picking up litter, teaching assistant – we don’t care what, so long as you talk to actual human beings whose lives are different to yours.

Of course like every other public servant if you do not accept your employers’ pay offer you have the right to either go on strike or seek better-paid work in the private sector.

We look forward to you either manning the braziers or trying to get proper jobs. Some of you are entirely unqualified – the Chancellor used to fold towels, the Prime Minister was a PR man, Clegg used to lobby for Libya and Miliband’s never done anything else. Still, with a skill set which includes avoidance, evasion, immorality, blatant criminality, and hypocrisy there should be a role for you in the financial industry.

We hope that you see sense, and as IPSA are asking for public feedback on their suggestions through their website, Twitter and by email  you can rest assured that we will be urging them to do the same.

Otherwise, there is a strong chance of a lynch mob marching on Parliament armed to the teeth with rotten vegetables if you continue on your present course of snuffling right down to the bottom of the trough.

Yours sincerely,

Red Street Fox
Daily Mirror 

Tuesday, 9 July 2013

Michael Gove and his well-commissioned research

In March, in an article for the Daily Mail, Michael Gove wrote: 

'Survey after survey has revealed disturbing historical ignorance, with one teenager in five believing Winston Churchill was a fictional character while 58 per cent think Sherlock Holmes was real.' 

A Freedom of Information request revealed the sources of the surveys referred to were:

• UKTV Gold;
• a survey of 2000 11-16 year olds by Premier Inns;
• a study commissioned by Lord Ashcroft of 1000 children aged 11 to 18 to mark the unveiling of the Bomber Command Memorial in London;
• a report by Professor Robert Tombs for think-tank Politeia;
• an article by London Mums Magazine;
• research carried out by the Sea Cadets to mark the anniversary of the Battle of Trafalgar.

All that's missing is Family Fortunes.

'Michael Gove revealed to be using PR-commissioned puff-polls as evidence' - New Statesman (13 May 2013)

Sunday, 7 July 2013

We need a new deal on wages to kickstart a true UK recovery

Frances O'Grady writes for The Observer:

Back in the 1950s Henry Ford took the US union leader Walter Reuther on a tour of a highly automated new factory. Ford gleefully asked Reuther how he would get robots to pay union dues. Reuther shot back: "And how are you going to get them to buy your cars?"

It is a classic dilemma. Employers want to keep their workers' wages and bargaining power to a minimum, but need their customers to have money to spend. And that can only happen if they can negotiate decent pay.

Decent wages are good not only for those who get them, but for economic growth, too. Yet the business-friendly policy of recent decades has favoured the selfish, short-termist employer keeping wage costs down.

The minimum wage set a welcome floor, but poverty wages just above the minimum were considered fine. Indeed the state has subsidised low pay through tax credits. In-work benefits should be defended, but it is right to query why the taxpayer should subsidise so many low-paying employers. Deliberate policies of labour market deregulation continued to send the signal that workers' wages should fall.

The result has been a steady decline in the share of the economy going to wages – a drop from 60% in 1980 to 54% in 2011. It is probable that the decline is continuing, as around four in five new private sector jobs are in low-paid sectors. This job creation may be better than unemployment but still leaves households struggling to make ends meet and is no recipe for economic recovery.

Not only has there been a decline in the wage share of the economy, but those in the middle and at the lower end have been getting a smaller share of this shrinking pie. The Resolution Foundation has forecast that a typical low-income household in 2020 will have an income 15% lower than they would have had in 2008.

But many orthodox economists have seen nothing to worry about. The slide in the wage share was inevitable. Technological change meant that the economy needed fewer skilled workers; and globalisation reduced real wages in advanced economies as developing countries industrialised.

Labour market deregulation was a core belief of the 1980s free-market consensus. It was meant to remedy the squeeze on profits and investment caused by union-bargained wages and the costs of "welfare capitalism". Everyone would win as profits drove new investments and innovation, which eventually would trickle down to all. Even today, the coalition claims that it is necessary to squeeze the working-age social security bill, even though the share of GDP going to these benefits has barely changed.

But the theory did not work. Profits grew as the wage share declined, but the increase in the profit share went entirely into the finance sector and personal fortunes, with no greater benefit for anyone else. Growth and productivity increases were a third down on the level achieved in the postwar decades. Unemployment was higher and recessions longer and deeper. Instead of the saving made on the wages bill being invested in new plant, skills and equipment, it funded a big increase in remuneration for those at the very top, plus financial engineering and mergers and acquisitions. Borrowing rocketed as consumption became increasingly dependent upon personal debt, and the seeds of the financial crisis were sown.

That is why I am making a call for a new deal to boost growth and rebalance the economy – as pressing a problem today as the price-wage spiral was in the 1970s. Improving the wages of those who have been left out of the finance sector bonanza makes sense all round. Higher wages would help rebalance our economy, increase the tax take and reduce the benefits bill. Even the OECD and the IMF now say that inequality has gone too far.

Such a new deal would have at its heart a national consensus that if companies making a good return on investment are to create decent, properly rewarded jobs, government, business and labour must work together. Increasing demand for productive skilled workers should be the key aim of industrial policy, and it should be linked to the capital investment that can help kickstart growth. Economic policy should have achieving full employment as an explicit priority, and this in turn is good for pay.

Wage restraint will have a place too, but applied to those at the top: this can release resources for better pay and more jobs lower down. And with even the IMF and OECD recognising the importance of reducing inequality, a new deal would promote the extension of responsible collective bargaining.

A modest increase in the minimum wage would have a minimal effect on employment. We should also expect companies that can afford it to pay a living wage. While there is a trade-off between jobs and the wage floor, many sectors and companies could pay more while continuing to increase employment. Modern wages councils could set new minimums in some sectors. The government has just abolished the Agricultural Wages Board which did just that.

This adds up to an ambitious agenda for a new government, with some quick wins that can help build longer-term support. Britain needs a pay rise or we will be stuck in a damaging low-wage, low-productivity spiral where economic prospects remain bleak.

Frances O'Grady is general secretary of the Trades Union Congress

Saturday, 6 July 2013

The glamour that is Brighton


100 days of the bedroom tax in Merseyside

The National Housing Federation has released a report highlighting the impact of 100 days of the bedroom tax in Merseyside:

• 26,500 households in Merseyside are affected by the bedroom tax, only 155 managed to downsize due to shortage of smaller homes. 

• 19,055 disabled people in Merseyside are losing over £13m a year due to the bedroom tax. Some grants are available but for three months only. 

• 14,000 Merseyside households fell into arrears with their rent in the first four weeks. 

“The bedroom tax is hurting the most vulnerable people in Merseyside. It is time to face the facts and repeal this unfair policy now.” David Orr, Chief Executive of the National Housing Federation 

Read the National Housing Federation's summary here (includes a link to the pdf report)

Friday, 5 July 2013

Bedroom tax breaking up communities, says damning Church of England report

Communities are being cruelly broken up by the Bedroom Tax, according to a damning Church of England report. The policy has forced “people to move away from areas where they have roots and informal structures of support”. Meanwhile “harsh” treatment of the poor has seen more people turn to the Church for charity while Prime Minister David Cameron’s flagship idea of “The Big Society” is exposed as a fantasy.

The report, Welfare Reform and the Church, states: “Three years on, we have seen very little of The Big Society in policy or practical terms.” Instead, the voluntary sector has seen government funding cut while donations fall in the economic crisis.

The paper has been drawn up by the Church’s Mission and Public Affairs Council for this weekend’s General Synod. It reserves its strongest flak for the Bedroom Tax — which charges tenants an extra £14 a week for having a spare room — saying it has “destabilised” communities. The cap on housing benefit is also forcing people to move away and the report points out: “In hard times, people rely on their neighbours as much as on the state.”

Labour MP Gareth Thomas, the shadow charities minister, said: “This is damning about the state of charities after three years of David Cameron.” The Department for Work and Pensions said: “Reforms are restoring fairness to the welfare state. We’re making sure work pays while ensuring support for the most vulnerable.”

Tuesday, 2 July 2013

Miliband pledges to repeal the Health and Social Care Act

Labour leader Ed Miliband promised today to repeal the Government's NHS reforms and restore the Health Secretary's legal duty to provide a comprehensive health service.

Last year's Health and Social Care Act stated that the Health Secretary had the responsibility to "promote" the delivery of health services in England, but removed a previous duty to "provide or secure the provision of services". Mr Miliband said the move was part of a "deliberate strategy" by Conservatives to allow them to deflect blame for any failings in the NHS on to doctors, hospital managers and commissioning groups.

Writing in the Daily Mirror, the Labour leader said the Government was operating an "ABC of blame" when anything went wrong - passing the buck to "Anyone But Cameron".

"The crisis in A&E? Blame the GPs. Ambulance queues doubled? It must be the fault of the local hospital. Rationing of vital treatments like cataract operations and hip replacements? It's a matter for your local commissioning group," said Mr Miliband. "This is the Government's ABC of blame - Anyone But Cameron."

Mr Miliband said there were "growing signs that our NHS is in deep distress", with lengthening waits at A&E, growing queues of ambulances outside and a worsening "postcode lottery" in services. But he said: "The response from David Cameron's Tory-led Government has been to shrug its shoulders and blame everybody else - doctors, nurses, even the NHS itself. This is no accident. It is a deliberate strategy by the Tories."

"When Labour created the NHS, in the face of austerity and Conservative opposition, we placed on the statute book a legal duty requiring national government to provide a comprehensive health service free at the point of delivery for all British citizens. It was a foundation stone of political accountability. And it was abolished by the very first line of David Cameron's Health Act last year."

Mr Miliband promised that, if Labour returned to power, "we would repeal David Cameron's Health Act and reinstate the Secretary of State's duty to provide a comprehensive health service".

Monday, 1 July 2013

Cruel and stupid: the trademarks of this government

Impact of housing benefit changes 'worse than feared'

The consequences of the housing benefit cut introduced in April are worse than feared, the National Housing Federation has said. Rent arrears have soared in some areas while larger houses are lying empty as people refuse to move into them. Ministers say the impact of the benefit cut is being monitored closely. The government wants to end what it calls the "spare room subsidy" for social tenants, but critics have dubbed the move a "bedroom tax".

"The impact is at least as bad as we had anticipated, in many respects even worse," says David Orr, chief executive of the National Housing Federation. "What we've seen are really bad effects on individuals, people whose lives have been turned upside down, who are very frightened about the future," says Mr Orr.

One of the government's stated aims for cutting housing benefit for people with spare rooms was to get them to move, thereby freeing up homes for families living in overcrowded properties. Ministers say this is starting to happen but two housing associations have told BBC News that since the welfare change, they have large family homes lying empty because tenants cannot afford to move into them.

Coast and Country Housing, which owns more than 10,000 properties on Teesside, says it is struggling to rent out some properties. "The numbers of empty homes we've got to let are increasing significantly," says Iain Sim, chief executive of Coast and Country. "People are now telling us that because of bedroom tax, they can no longer afford to move into the bigger family homes, and as a consequence of that we're getting fewer lettings and more empty houses."

Across the country in Merseyside, it is a similar story. Cobalt Housing, which owns nearly 6,000 mainly family homes in Liverpool, says the benefit change is putting "terrible pressure" on tenants. "We have perfectly good, three-bedroom homes that people are telling us they can't afford to live in, because of the bedroom tax," says managing director, Alan Rogers.

In a statement, the Department for Work and Pensions said: "The removal of the spare room subsidy [ie the addition of bedroom tax] is returning fairness to housing when in England alone there are nearly two million households on the social housing waiting list and over a quarter of a million tenants are living in overcrowded homes. As with any major reform, we are monitoring the changes to housing benefit closely - including possible arrears levels and how councils are spending the extra £150m in funding for vulnerable claimants."

Source: BBC News

David Cameron's awayday weekend to Kazakhstan

David Cameron, having inaugurated the world's costliest oil project in Kazakhstan, said he hoped the thirty businessmen accompanying him (from Rolls-Royce, British Gas, Ernst & Young et al) would sign more than £700m worth of deals during his two-day trip. Since its independence in 1991, officials say British firms have invested about $20 billion in their economy, part of a total $170 billion ploughed into Kazakhstan since then.

Human Rights Watch says Kazakhstan's human rights record has "seriously deteriorated". Freedom of assembly is strictly controlled, independent media outlets have been shut down, restrictive law on religious freedoms remains in force and strikes in certain sectors are banned.

Still, as long as we're in the "global race for jobs and investment. This is one of the most rapidly emerging countries in the world", after all.

Reuters -
Channel 4 News -

Simon Jenkins: What is David Cameron doing in Kazakhstan?