The Real Benefits Scam

With the House of Lords voting to approve the coalition government’s truly awful welfare reform package which will plunge thousands of families below the poverty line, and Ed Miliband’s Labour Party already stating that they’ll vote for amendments to the bill, and won’t actually oppose it, Britain took a considerable turn for the worse today. And the worst of it is it’s a bill based on out-and-out lies and pure, vicious ideology.

Let’s start with the £26,000 cap on household benefits, and how the Government arrived at that figure. Iain Duncan Smith claims that this is the average household income in Britain, but this is extremely misleading, as the Guardian points out (the article as a whole is an informative Q&A piece on the consequences of welfare reform):

Critics say it is excessively draconian. The Children’s Society says the cap confusingly compares non-working household income with average household earnings. Were it to align the former (more fairly) with average household working income – which includes tax credits, and a range of benefits – the cap would be set at £31,500. This would mean thousands of poorer households would not be pitched into poverty by the cap.

What the Conservatives have successfully bludgeoned out of people’s minds is that housing benefit is not actually income. It does not in fact go into the pockets of the people receiving it, but goes to pay the rent their private landlord is charging.  And as housing benefit makes up the bulk of the average household on welfare’s payments, the right wing’s justification for this horror of a bill, namely that people on welfare at the moment can earn more than people who work, is shown for the pack of lies it is. If you want to blame anyone for ‘excessive welfare spending’, as our dear Prime Minister David Cameron puts it, blame the landlords who jack up the rent to ridiculous levels. After the banking industry, the housing industry is probably the next most in need of regulation. But of course, the Government’s attitude to this is: if the rent is too damn high, move!

Yesterday, the Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith said the reforms were not designed to “punish” families.

He told Sky News: “I simply make the point to them that the purpose of this is not to punish people but it is to give fairness to people who are paying tax, who are commuting large distances because they can only afford to live in the houses that they have chosen.”

It’s particularly galling that this dismissive ‘just move to a cheaper area’ message is coming from a group of people to whom moving house involves using taxpayers’ money to finance the mortgage and furnishing of a second home in London. Unfortunately, poor people don’t have the option to put the costs of upping sticks on expenses. And, of course, there’s the fact that moving house would have a serious impact on children in myriad ways; being uprooted from a place they call home, having to change school and start all over at a new one with no friends, living in reduced circumstances (but hey, you and your siblings, who may be of the opposite sex, being packed together in one bedroom is no big deal according to Duncan Smith, who also lies about the charity Shelter defining this as homelessness on its website; it doesn’t). And there’s the problem of finding another house. As anyone with any actual experience of the real world will know, a great many landlords refuse to accept people on welfare as tenants. Finding a house that suits your family’s needs is not easy either. Hard as it may for the green-eyed monsters of the Daily Mail to believe, the reason those large families they pin on their front page in their idea of public shaming live in large houses is – this will come as a shock, I know – large families need more space.

A one-size-fits-all plan is a supremely cack-handed approach at the best of times, but when it impacts actual human beings, the results are even more horrendous. A single parent family with, say, 3 kids in London will have very different needs to a two-parent family with one child in Liverpool. To force the same cap on everyone receiving benefits, regardless of individual circumstances, is not only incredibly stupid, it’s unfair and yes, contrary to what Iain Duncan Smith says, punishes people. Because that’s what this is all about, really. The Tory approach to winning elections is and always has been: further improve the lives of their traditional voting bloc, the rich; then get a big slice of the middle-class to vote for them not by making their lives better, but by fanning the flames of resentment towards those on welfare and making the poor’s lives shittier, to make the middle feel better about themselves. It’s the same dynamic you see in the battle over public sector pensions; instead of encouraging the private sector to offer their employees better deals, the Tories instead dishonestly bash public sector employees and work to strip them of the pension rights they have earned by accepting reduced salaries during their working lives. It’s disgusting, it’s despicable, and tragically, it works.

And here’s the most depressing thing about this whole sorry debate:

All three parties are behind the benefits cap in principle – but there are disagreements over the details.

And then there’s this, which makes you wonder what the fuck the point of even having an opposition party is:

Labour reacted cautiously, suggesting that it would try to find a compromise. “Labour won’t be voting against the benefits cap, but we will be seeking to amend the Bill.”

That’s the sort of bold, principled leadership we’ve come to expect from Ed Miliband’s Labour!

In Britain, people on welfare are now everybody’s whipping boys – not just the right wing’s. And this a prime example of why I laugh my head off at the idiotic liberals in America who whine when a bill that is inherently progressive whatever happens to it gets watered down. Here, the only thing that gets watered down by our allegedly ‘left wing’ (ha!) parties is right-wing political and economic theory.

 

 

House of Lords Reform: Another Better Chance For PR?

Though I’m pessimistic that this will pass the House of Commons, let alone the House of Lords who will naturally be opposed to any shake up, the current plans to reform the upper chamber, though sketchy and vague at present, seem to me to be an ideal way to pilot proportional representation.

A joint committee of 13 MPs and 13 peers to be set up in the next few months will consider plans for members of the new legislature to be elected for 15-year terms under the single transferable vote system.

Under the government’s plans, members would be elected on a staged basis – a third every five years – with the first elections for the new chamber to take place in 2015 – on the same day as the next general election.

By introducing an advanced form of PR (AV was really the least worst option) to vote in elections which have never been held before, thus requiring no messy, difficult switch, and for the subordinate House of Parliament, would be more likely to gain public support for the system. The other positive is that while backbenchers on both sides are making rather a lot of noise, this time the Tories and Lib Dems are in agreement that the House of Lords should be at least partly elected, so we are also likely to be spared the bitter infighting which marred the AV campaign.

The arguments for reform vastly outnumber the ones against. We are the only Western democracy which has an unelected chamber of government.  Given the fact the vast majority of the Lords are there not on merit but by various Prime Ministers rewarding cronies and seeking to stack the Lords in their party’s favour, the House of Lords as it is laughs in the face of democratic and meritocratic principles. Furthermore ,while I definitely would not want the Lords to become a replica of the US Senate – where the members can literally block everything passed by the House – neither am I comfortable with the current system in which the Lords are almost powerless to prevent laws eventually being passed, thanks to the Parliament Act. We need, to use the American description of its system of government, checks and balances. It would be great if Britain were to find a way to stake out a middle ground, and planning reform of the Lords provides us with a great opportunity to do so.

In Which I Tackle Clegg Derangement Syndrome

I’m very much in the minority of liberals in that I believe Nick Clegg is not even guilty of treason, much less deserving of being hung, drawn and quartered (and there are many people on the left who would volunteer for the job of executioner). Here is a chronological explanation of why Clegg has not actively betrayed Lib Dem supporters, but simply muddled along as best he could during the coalition and actually showing responsible leadership in the aftermath of the election in May 2010.

The results of the election meant Clegg had only one choice.  While no party ended up with a clear majority, the message sent was still clear: the British public did not want Labour in power any longer. Therefore, as the leader of the party holding the balance of power, Clegg was honour and duty bound to come to terms with the Tories, the party who received the largest share of seats in the House of Commons. Had he come to terms with Labour, he would have been rightly accused of propping up a moribund government against the clear wishes of the people (as understood under the FPTP system). He did the right thing.

Now, on to the coalition agreement. In their haste to make Clegg a hate figure, many people forget that the entire Lib Dem party voted on whether to approve the terms of the agreement and form a coalition with the Tories. They have been accused of settling for a pathetic number of concessions, but let us not forget that the Lib Dems actually lost seats in the election, and were fortunate to be in the position of having any clout at all. Striking a deal for the non-taxable allowance to be raised to £7500 was pretty good for half a loaf etting the Tories to agree to a referendum for AV was not mere breadcrumbs from their table; it was an impressive concession considering just how deeply opposed the Tories are to PR. As for the tuition fees fiasco – well, in that case Clegg and the Lib Dems’s sin was promising something they knew they could never deliver in making the wholly unrealistic ‘free tuition fees’ pledge part of their manifesto, and later pledging to fight any increases. The criticism they received on this issue was well deserved – if they had to do a U-turn on this, they should have at least demanded £6000 be the absolute cap and not allowed the £9000 loophole, which as anyone could and did predict, became the rule instead of the exception.

Plenty of Lib Dems have made screw ups and done unethical things (Chris Huhne being the latest), yet they have never received the opprobrium Clegg receives. Take David Laws, who, inexplicably, Lib Dem supporters fought a desperate rearguard action for despite the fact he was guilty of outrageous abuse of expenses.  His plea that he was desperate to keep his sexuality a secret was not only a poor excuse for his actions, but I felt it was also insulting to his partner. The whole distasteful affair seemed to me to suggest that Laws put his political career at the expense of his personal relationships, sadly typical behaviour for a politician. And then we have Vince Cable, who might very well have put the kibosh on the awful planned takeover of BSkyB by Rupert Murdoch if he had only kept his mouth shut. Whatever you think of the Telegraph’s sting – and I found it dishonest and a danger to constituents’ relationship with their MPs, and the PCC rapped it over the knuckles - it does not alter the fact that what Cable said was unforgivably stupid, and has now made the BSkyB takeover a near certainty.  So where were the torches and pitchforks? Where were the baying mobs screaming abuse at Cable for letting them down?

Blaming Clegg for the defeat of AV, while easy and no doubt satisfying, as it removes the need for introspection, is wrong.  The real reasons for AV’s defeat are gone over here, by myself and Paperback Rioter. It was hard not to pity the man, as he tried to fight for what he believed in only to be told “Go the fuck away! You’re not wanted here!” by almost the whole of liberaldom. Clegg can’t win – he gets pilloried for allegedly not fighting hard enough for Lib Dem policies by people who fail to grasp the realities and limitations of his position, and he gets pilloried for fighting for the Lib Dem’s Holy Grail – electoral reform.

Prior to the election, a popular Twitter hashtag was #nickcleggsfault. It was created in irony, after the right-wing media led by the Telegraph launched a blatant campaign to smear him when his popularity exploded after the 1st US-style debate. It seems now, that everything still is Nick Clegg’s fault, it’s just the people leading the attack have changed.

Chris Huhne Has Been A Bit Of A Twit

Points on your licence for driving like a wally is one thing. Trying to fob them off on someone else is another, being ever so slightly against the law and all. And then trying to cover it up is, well, something that has generally not worked out well for politicians.

Paperback Rioter can exclusively reveal the transcript of a call from the Sunday Times to Chris Huhne after they published the details of the cover-up phone call.

Adding…Dear Lib Dems, if you must get caught with your pants down, can you try and not do it when you are in a strong position to do good (I’m looking at you, Vince and David) or have just managed to secure a rare victory for the left, like the carbon emission reduction agreement?