Monday, 27 January 2014

Agenda of Hope

Owen Jones paints a different picture in today's Independent.

“The alarm goes off. It’s dark outside, and Mary wakes to get ready for work at the checkout of a local supermarket. Like most of Britain’s poor, she has a job that leaves her and her children trapped below the poverty line. She finds herself competing with colleagues for overtime, just to earn a few more pounds to spend on her kids. Even though her employer makes hundreds of millions of pounds of profit a year, it is the taxpayer who has to step in and subsidise those poverty wages to give Mary a chance to pay the bills and feed her children.

Mary had a rough night’s sleep because it’s nearly time to pay the rent. She would love nothing more than a secure, affordable home for her family but, like 5 million others, she’s stuck on a council housing waiting list. Because her rent is so extortionate, the taxpayer has to step in again, to make sure her landlord gets the rip-off sum he demands.

On her way downstairs, Mary knocks on the door of her 19-year-old son, Michael. He is one of nearly a million unemployed young people. Michael sends in CV after CV, to supermarkets and call centres, and often does not even get a response. The odds are that being unemployed at such a young age will leave him with a lower wage, and an increased risk of being out of work, for the rest of his life.

As she approaches the front door, Mary glimpses another reason for her sleepless night: an unopened energy bill lying on her kitchen table. As the bills have soared, so the hot meals she eats have declined in number. And so Mary leaves for a gruelling shift at the supermarket, working hard to earn her poverty.

Mary isn’t a real person, but there are millions of people in this country who share aspects of their lives with someone like her. We all have to pay, literally, as poverty-paying bosses and rip-off landlords milk our welfare state.

The Government and much of the media have answers for people like Mary. “Instead of being angry at your situation,” Mary is told, “be angry at unemployed people, immigrants, public sector workers, or disabled claimants instead.” It is an Agenda of Fear. The bankers who plunged Britain into disaster, the politicians in the pockets of the wealthiest, the rich tax-dodgers, the poverty-paying bosses and rip-off landlords – all are let off the hook. The Agenda of Fear makes sure that the real solutions to the problems faced by someone like Mary – and the nation as a whole – are never even discussed. (my emphasis)

But we desperately need an Agenda of Hope. It is a series of policies that the next Government must implement if it is going to transform our country. They are not plucked out of nowhere. Polls show the British people overwhelmingly support a minimum wage that is a living wage, public ownership of our utilities, letting councils build houses, and tax justice. These are common-sense, mainstream ideas that are ignored by our political and media elite. When on Saturday Ed Balls suggested restoring the 50p tax on the top 1 per cent of earners, he provoked near-hysteria among the political and media elite, and yet the polls show the British people support going even further.

These Agenda for Hope policies are suggestions that draw inspiration from tax justice crusaders such as chartered accountant Richard Murphy and UKUncut; the pioneering New Economics Foundation, with its work on a new industrial policy and banks that work for people; and new union-backed think-tank Class, which is hammering away at an alternative.

The gentleman’s agreement of British politics, which ensures that our national political debate is kept on the terms of the wealthy and powerful, has to end. But our history shows that change is never given: it has to be demanded. The polls show that some of these demands are backed even by Conservative voters. And no wonder. This isn’t about left or right. It’s about building a country run in the interests of those who keep it ticking, not run in the interests of the elite. That’s what an Agenda of Hope can offer." Ind. 27/1/14

Sunday, 26 January 2014

Gove v Wilshaw

The spat between these two masters of the educational universe - at least in England anyway - will not arouse much sympathy with ‘hard working teachers’. Gove, the little squit who comes up with a wheeze a week, and wants to privatise state education is deeply arrogant and very unpleasant. The fact that Wilshaw, the man he described as ‘his hero,’ has turned nasty with Gove’s department will not disturb him for too long. Wilshaw is the ex-headteacher who now runs OFSTED, the organisation known for moving the inspection goalposts almost annually. Wilshaw does not rate the people he worked with all that much. ‘Show me a happy staffroom and I will show you a failing school’ and ‘a teacher who is not stressed is not doing their job.’ Yippee. Such a motivator. 

This is one of those rare occasions when any sentient being would welcome a lose-lose outcome. Bring it on.

Friday, 17 January 2014

For Greed and Stupidity you cannot beat the Tories

Compare and contrast: Oil Money

Who has really screwed the economy? The Tories big lie is that Labour screwed the economy when the banks went into meltdown in 2008. The lie is wrong in so many ways. Labour was responsible for introducing a lighter touch regulation regime which encouraged the excesses - a regime which was condemned by the Tory opposition at the time as being too rigorous! it was the Tories mates, the financiers, the bankers and brokers who ‘speculated’ ( a fancy word for gambled) on some very dodgy deals. It is those same mates who are working hard to make sure that nothing of significance will change. 

Let us go back a bit, to the North Sea oil bonanza and see just how good the Tories really are with the economy.......

“Last Wednesday, every single Norwegian became a millionaire – without having to lift a lillefinger. They owe the windfall to their coastline, and a huge dollop of good sense. Since 1990, Norway has been squirreling away its cash from North Sea oil and gas into a rainy-day fund. It's now big enough to see Noah through all 40 of those drizzly days and nights. Last week, the balance hit a million krone for everyone in Norway. Norwegians can't take a hammer to the piggy bank, amassed strictly to provide for future generations. And converted into pounds, the 5.11 trillion krone becomes a mere £100,000 for every man, woman and child. Still, the oljefondet (the government pension fund of Norway) owns over 1% of the world's stocks, a big chunk of Regent Street and some of the most prime property in Paris: a pretty decent whipround for just five million people.

Wish it could have been you with a hundred-grand bonus? Here's the really nauseating part: it should have been. Britain had its share of North Sea oil, described by one PM as "God's gift" to the economy. We pumped hundreds of billions out of the water off the coast of Scotland. Only unlike the Norwegians, we've got almost nothing to show for it. Our oil cash was magicked into tax cuts for the well-off, then micturated against the walls of a thousand pricey car dealerships and estate agents.

All this was kick-started by Margaret Thatcher, the woman who David Cameron claims saved the country. The party she led still touts itself as the bunch you can trust with the nation's money. But that isn't the evidence from the North Sea. That debacle shows the Conservatives as being as profligate as sailors on shore leave.

Britain got nothing from the North Sea until the mid-70s – then the pounds started gushing. At their mid-80s peak, oil and gas revenues were worth more than 3% of national income. According to the chief economist at PricewaterhouseCoopers, John Hawksworth, had all this money been set aside and invested in ultra-safe assets it would have been worth £450bn by 2008. He admits that is a very conservative estimate: Sukhdev Johal, professor of accounting at Queen Mary University of London, thinks the total might well have been £850bn by now. That doesn't take you up to Norwegian levels of prosperity – they've more oil and far fewer people to divvy it up among – but it's still around £13,000 for everyone in Britain.

Hawksworth titled his 2008 paper on the subject: "Dude, where's my oil money?" We don't have any new hospitals or roads to show for it: public sector net investment plunged from 2.5% of GDP at the start of the Thatcher era to just 0.4% of GDP by 2000. It is sometimes said that the money was ploughed into benefits for the miners and all the other workers Thatcherism chucked on the scrapheap, but that's not what the figures show. Public sector current spending hovered around 40% of GDP from Thatcher through to the start of the banking crisis.

So where did our billions go? Hawksworth writes: "The logical answer is that the oil money enabled non-oil taxes to be kept lower." In other words: tax cuts. When the North Sea was providing maximum income, Thatcher's chancellor, Nigel Lawson slashed income and other direct taxes, especially for the rich. The top rate of tax came down from 60p in the pound to just 40p by 1988. He also reduced the basic rate of income tax; but the poor wouldn't have seen much of those pounds in their pockets, as, thanks to the Tories, they were paying more VAT.

What did Thatcher's grateful children do with their tax cuts? "They used the higher disposable income to bid up house prices," suggests Hawskworth. For a few years, the UK enjoyed a once-in-a-lifetime windfall; and it was pocketed by the rich. The revolution begun by Thatcher and Reagan is often seen as being about competition and extending markets. But that's to focus on the process and overlook the motivation or the result. As the historian of neoliberalism Philip Mirowski argues, what the past 30 years have been about is using the powers of the state to divert more resources to the wealthy. You see that with privatisation: the handing over of our assets at knock-down prices to corporations and supposed "investors", who then skim off the profits. The transformation of the North Sea billions into tax cuts for the wealthy is the same process but at its most squalid.

Compare and contrast with the Norwegian experience. In 1974, Oslo laid down the principle that oil wealth should be used to develop a "qualitatively better society", defined by historian Helge Ryggvik as "greater equality". Ten oil commandments were set down to ensure the industry was put under democratic control – which it remains to this day, with the public owning nearly 70% of the oil company and the fields. It's a glimpse of what Britain could have had, had it been governed by something more imaginative and less rapacious than Thatcherism.

If Scotland had held on to the revenues from North Sea oil, the question today would not be how it would manage solo, but how London would fare without its bankrollers over Hadrian's Wall. Oljeeventyr is how Norwegians refer to their recent history: the oil fairy tale. It conveys the magic of how in just a few decades, they have been transformed from being the poor Nordic neighbour to being the richest. We have no equivalent term for our North Sea experience, but let me suggest one: a scandal.”13 Jan 2014: Aditya Chakrabortty: Guardian

Wednesday, 15 January 2014

Flooding: An Avoidable Waste of Money

George Monbiot has been doing his homework. He has looked at the chaos over Christmas and the reaction of those unfortunates who were flooded and the mealy-mouthed offerings of the political class. What he has to say in a lengthy article in the Guardian is well worth reading.

“We all know what's gone wrong, or we think we do: not enough spending on flood defences. It's true that the government's cuts have exposed thousands of homes to greater risk, and that the cuts will become more dangerous as climate change kicks in. But too little public spending is a small part of the problem. It is dwarfed by another factor, which has been overlooked in discussions in the media and statements by the government: too much public spending.
Vast amounts of public money, running into billions, are spent every year on policies that make devastating floods inevitable. This is the story that has not been told by the papers or the broadcasters, a story of such destructive perversity that the Guardian has given me twice the usual space today in which to explain it.
Flood defence, or so we are told almost everywhere, is about how much concrete you can pour. It's about not building houses in stupid places on the floodplain, and about using clever new engineering techniques to defend those already there. But that's a small part of the story. To listen to the dismal debates of the past fortnight, you could be forgiven for believing that rivers arise in the plains; that there is no such thing as upstream; that mountains, hills, catchments and watersheds are irrelevant to the question of whether or not homes and infrastructure get drowned.
The story begins with a group of visionary farmers at Pontbren, in the headwaters of Britain's longest river, the Severn. In the 1990s they realised that the usual hill-farming strategy – loading the land with more and bigger sheep, grubbing up the trees and hedges, digging more drains – wasn't working. It made no economic sense, the animals had nowhere to shelter, and the farmers were breaking their backs to wreck their own land.
So they devised something beautiful. They began planting shelter belts of trees along the contours. They stopped draining the wettest ground and built ponds to catch the water instead. They cut and chipped some of the wood they grew to make bedding for their animals, which meant that they no longer spent a fortune buying straw. Then they used the composted bedding, in a perfect closed loop, to cultivate more trees.
One day a government consultant was walking over their fields during a rainstorm. He noticed something that fascinated him. The water flashing off the land suddenly disappeared when it reached the belts of trees the farmers had planted. This prompted a major research programme, which produced the following astonishing results: water sinks into the soil under trees at 67 times the rate at which it sinks into the soil under grass. The roots of the trees provide channels down which the water flows, deep into the ground. The soil there becomes a sponge, a reservoir which sucks up water and then releases it slowly. In the pastures, by contrast, the small sharp hooves of the sheep puddle the ground, making it almost impermeable, a hard pan off which the rain gushes.
One of the research papers estimates that – even though only 5% of the Pontbren land has been reforested – if all the farmers in the catchment did the same thing, flooding peaks downstream would be reduced by about 29%. Full reforestation would reduce the peaks by about 50%. For the residents of Shrewsbury, Gloucester and the other towns ravaged by endless Severn floods, that means – more or less – problem solved.
Did I say the results were astonishing? Well, not to anyone who has studied hydrology elsewhere. For decades the British government has been funding scientists working in the tropics and using their findings to advise other countries to protect the forests or to replant trees in the hills to prevent communities downstream being swept away. But we forgot to bring the lesson home.

So will the rest of the Severn catchment, and those of the other unruly waterways of Britain, follow the Pontbren model? The authorities say they would love to do it. In theory. Natural Resources Wales told me that these techniques "are hardwired into the actions we want land managers to undertake". What it forgot to say is that all tree-planting grants in Wales have now been stopped. The offices responsible for administering them are in the process of closing down. If other farmers want to copy the Pontbren model, they must not only pay for the trees themselves, but they must also sacrifice the money they would otherwise have been paid for farming that land.
For – and here we start to approach the nub of the problem – there is an unbreakable rule laid down by the common agricultural policy. If you want to receive your single farm payment – by far the biggest component of farm subsidies – that land has to be free from what it calls "unwanted vegetation". Land covered by trees is not eligible. The subsidy rules have enforced the mass clearance of vegetation from the hills.
Just as the tree-planting grants have stopped, the land-clearing grants have risen. In his speech to the Oxford Farming Conference, made during the height of the floods, the environment secretary Owen Paterson boasted that hill farmers "on the least productive land" will now receive "the same direct payment rate on their upland farmland as their lowland counterparts". In other words, even in places where farming makes no sense because the land is so poor, farmers will now be paid more to keep animals there. But to receive this money, they must first remove the trees and scrub that absorb the water falling on the hills.
And that's just the start of it. One result of the latest round of subsidy negotiations – concluded in June last year – is that governments can now raise the special mountain payments, whose purpose is to encourage farming at the top of the watersheds, from €250 (£208) per hectare to €450. This money should be renamed the flooding subsidy: it pays for the wreckage of homes, the evacuation of entire settlements, the drowning of people who don't get away in time, all over Europe. Pig-headed idiocy doesn't begin to describe it.
The problem is not confined to livestock in the mountains. In the foothills and lowlands, the misuse of heavy machinery, overstocking with animals and other forms of bad management can – by compacting the soil – increase the rates of instant run-off from 2% of all the rain that falls on the land to 60%.
Paying to keep the hills bare
Sometimes ploughing a hillside in the wrong way at the wrong time of the year can cause a flood – of both mud and water – even without exceptional rainfall. This practice has blighted homes around the South Downs (which arguably should never have been ploughed at all). One house was flooded 31 times in the winter of 2000-2001 by muddy floods caused by ploughing. Another, in Suffolk, above which the fields had been churned up by pigs, was hit 50 times. But a paper on floods of this kind found that "there are no (or only very few) control measures taken yet in the UK".

Under the worst environment secretary Britain has ever suffered, there seems little chance that much of this will change. In November, in response to calls to reforest the hills, Paterson told parliament: "I am absolutely clear that we have a real role to play in helping hill farmers to keep the hills looking as they do." (Bare, in other words.) When asked by a parliamentary committee to discuss how the resilience of river catchments could be improved, the only thing he could think of was building more reservoirs.
But while he is cavalier and ignorant when it comes to managing land to reduce the likelihood of flooding, he goes out of his way to sow chaos when it comes to managing rivers.
Many years ago, river managers believed that the best way to prevent floods was to straighten, canalise and dredge rivers along much of their length, to enhance their capacity for carrying water. They soon discovered that this was not just wrong but also counterproductive. A river can, at any moment, carry very little of the water that falls on its catchment: the great majority must be stored in the soils and on the floodplains.
By building ever higher banks around the rivers, reducing their length through taking out the bends and scooping out the snags and obstructions along the way, engineers unintentionally did two things. They increased the rate of flow, meaning that flood waters poured down the rivers and into the nearest towns much faster. And, by separating the rivers from the rural land through which they passed, they greatly decreased the area of functional floodplains.
The result, as authorities all over the world now recognise, was catastrophic. In many countries, chastened engineers are now putting snags back into the rivers, reconnecting them to uninhabited land that they can safely flood and allowing them to braid and twist and form oxbow lakes. These features catch the sediment and the tree trunks and rocks which otherwise pile up on urban bridges, and take much of the energy and speed out of the river. Rivers, as I was told by the people who had just rewilded one in the Lake District – greatly reducing the likelihood that it would cause floods downstream – "need something to chew on".
There are one or two other such projects in the UK: Paterson's department is funding four rewilding schemes, to which it has allocated a grand total of, er, £1m. Otherwise, the secretary of state is doing everything he can to prevent these lessons from being applied. Last year he was reported to have told a conference that "the purpose of waterways is to get rid of water". In another speech he lambasted the previous government for a "blind adherence to Rousseauism" in refusing to dredge. Not only will there be more public dredging, he insists, but there will also be private dredging: landowners can now do it themselves.
After he announced this policy, the Environment Agency, which is his department's statutory adviser, warned that dredging could "speed up flow and potentially increase the risk of flooding downstream". Elsewhere, his officials have pointed out that "protecting large areas of agricultural land in the floodplain tends to increase flood risk for downstream communities".
The Pitt Review, commissioned by the previous government after the horrible 2007 floods, concluded that "dredging can make the river banks prone to erosion, and hence stimulate a further build-up of silt, exacerbating rather than improving problems with water capacity". Paterson has been told repeatedly that it makes more sense to pay farmers to store water in their fields, rather than shoving it off their land and into the towns.
But he has ignored all this advice, and started seven pilot projects in which farmers will be permitted to drag all that messy wildlife habitat out of their rivers, to hurry the water to the nearest urban pinchpoint. Perhaps we shouldn't be surprised that Paterson has demanded massive cuts at the Environment Agency, including many of the staff responsible for preventing floods.
Since 2007, there has been a review, a parliamentary inquiry, two bills, new flood management programmes, but next to nothing has changed. Floods, because of the way we manage our land and rivers, remain inevitable. We pay a fortune in farm subsidies and river-mangling projects to have our towns flooded and homes and lives wrecked.
Filthy water and empty aquifers
We pay again in the form of the flood defences necessitated by these crazy policies, and through the extra insurance payments (perhaps we should call them the Paterson tax) levied on homes. But we also pay through the loss of everything else that watersheds give us: beauty, tranquillity, wildlife and, oh yes, the small matter of water in the taps.
In the Compleat Angler, published in 1653, Izaac Walton wrote this: "I think the best Trout-anglers be in Derbyshire; for the waters there are clear to an extremity." No longer. Last summer I spent a weekend walking along the River Dove and its tributaries, where Walton used to fish. All along the river, including the stretch on which the fishing hut built for him by Charles Cotton still stands, the water was a murky blueish brown. The beds of clean gravel he celebrated were smothered in silt: on some bends the accretions of mud were several feet deep.
You had only to raise your eyes to see the problem: the badly ploughed hills of the mid-catchment and above them the drained and burnt moors of the Peak District National Park, comprehensively trashed by grouse shooting estates. A recent report by Animal Aid found that grouse estates in England, though they serve only the super-rich, receive some £37m of public money every year in the form of subsidies. Much of this money is used to cut and burn them, which is likely to be a major cause of flooding. Though there had been plenty of rain throughout the winter and early spring, the river was already low and sluggish.

A combination of disastrous forms of upland management has been helping Walton's beloved river to flood, with the result that both government and local people have had to invest heavily in the Lower Dove flood defence scheme. But this wreckage has also caused it to dry up when the rain doesn't fall.

That's the flipside of a philosophy that believes land exists only to support landowners and waterways exist only "to get rid of water". Instead of a steady flow sustained around the year by trees in the hills, by sensitive farming methods, by rivers allowed to find their own course and their own level, to filter and hold back their waters through bends and braiding and obstructions, we get a cycle of flood and drought. We get filthy water and empty aquifers and huge insurance premiums and ruined carpets. And all of it at public expense. Much obliged to you guv'nor, I'm sure.”   Guardian 13/1/14

Monday, 13 January 2014

Academies: yet more Tory corruption

Taxpayer-funded academy chains have paid millions of pounds into the private businesses of directors, trustees and their relatives, documents obtained from freedom of information requests show.
The payments have been made for a wide range of services including consultancy fees, curriculums, IT advice and equipment, travel, expenses and legal services by at least nine academy chains.” Guardian Online 12/1/14

powertothepeople had this to say in response:

The poor subsidising the rich.
Can someone please explain to me why so called 'benefits cheats' are condemned as vermin, yet directors of Academy schools and their trustees who are, by and large cheating the system more so, are not.
DOUBLE STANDARDS OR WHAT. One reason why Tory politicians cannot ever be trusted.”

Jo Vince was less than impressed:

“... figures from the Tories, for all their tough talk about private being good for business...
it is all a racket, a facade to fleece money from the public...
you know those rackets in the US at the peak of prohibition, where you get a front shop selling magazines and candy, and behind there is casino and alcohol selling galore...
now they are doing it everywhere, from the NHS to Education to Social Security, Prisons, Utilities, Transport, 'Criminal' Justice, Law and 'Order'... anything is game for them...
this is what the Tories do, the corrupt corrupting Party...
are you listening, Nick Clegg, collaborator and traitor to the British Public...”

captainbeefheart had this to add:

“It's a gravy train for Gove's mates and others like him. What's so hard to understand? Is it me?

This brought the the following response from ‘VSLVSL’:

“Let's stop calling it by the euphemism "gravy train".
Let's start being honest and call it what it is - corruption.”

originofthespecies spoke for many:

God, how I detest and loathe this government and all it stands for.”

Can we rely on Milibean and Labour to do any better? Hardly. 

Remember ‘Cash for Honours’? Or the Iraq Dossier? Or the numerous Ministers who oversaw developments in their department then promptly moved into the same industry on a big salary? For example Hewitt helping to privatise parts of the NHS, then stepped down and got a job on the Board at Boots. 

It is time for a massive clearout of all these chancers, sleazeballs and, let us be frank, crooks.

Sunday, 12 January 2014

Bonus Street

How about a TV show called Bonus Street about the life and times of City of London crooks?

THE Channel 4 series Benefits Street is a reality TV show based on a Birmingham street where, according to the programme makers, 90% of the residents live on benefits.

It portrays them, essentially, as crooks who are manipulating the benefits system in order to avoid work and who spend the day smoking, drinking, shoplifting and watching very large television sets.
It is hard to watch this programme and not feel a sense of outrage - not least at the producers, Love Productions, for pandering to prejudice. Not much love lost there. The naive residents of James Turner Street say they were told they were part of a film about community spirit.

But Benefits Street is essential viewing for anyone who wants to understand how attitudes to the welfare state have changed in Britain. It is a bit like the Ken Loach drama Cathy Come Home in reverse. That programme reflected public concern about homelessness in the 1960s when the welfare state was still seen as a great social achievement.
Benefits Street - along with shows like the drama Shameless, which also vilifies the unemployed - mark what may be the end of that welfare consensus. According to the British Social Attitudes Survey, the number of people who think the Government should spend more on poverty has halved since 1987.

And it's not just got up by the Daily Mail. A surprising number of people who work with the benefits underclass also believe the system must change. One of them is John Bird, founder of the Big Issue magazine sold by the homeless. He says the current system locks people into poverty by giving them no incentive to work. Which only shows that, sometimes, the people closest to a social problem may not be the best judges of the nature of it.

For the premise of the current debate is that benefits are in some way generous to the unemployed. In fact, the reverse is the case. Britain's Jobseeker's Allowance is among the lowest in Europe, at £71 a week. In Ireland, unemployment benefit is three times that; in Denmark, it's five times as much. I don't understand how Jobseeker's Allowance can be regarded as a disincentive to work when it barely enough to live on.

And for young adults under 25, the benefit rate is only £56 a week. Low benefits are one of the reasons so many young people like Danny in Benefits Street end up shoplifting and getting caught in the prison system - which, of course, makes it almost impossible to get a job.

Are we seriously to believe that the one million unemployed young people in Britain are workshy? Of course not - there just aren't enough jobs.
The Conservatives also want to deny housing benefit entirely to those under 25 - which discriminates unreasonably against young people. If ever there were an answer to Russell Brand's claim that voting is a waste of time, this is it. Pensioners vote, and they get a triple lock and annual increases; young people don't vote, and they lose housing benefit and get year-on-year cuts.

So why are people in Britain so much more hostile to the unemployed than voters in France, Germany, Spain - which all pay much higher social security rates and don't seem worried about being invaded by benefits tourists from Romania and Bulgaria?
Well, part of the answer is housing benefit, which costs the UK nearly £25 billion a year. Remember, though, that this doesn't go into the pockets of the poor but to landlords. This is where the real poverty trap occurs because Britain's housing crisis has made owning or renting a home prohibitively expensive. But I don't see how we can really blame the poor for house-price inflation, which has turned hundreds of thousands of people in the south of England into property millionaires.

And can it really be fair to vilify people on housing benefit when the UK Government is using £130bn to fund the mortgages of people rich enough to buy £600,000 houses under the Help to Buy scheme? Not to mention the tens if not hundreds of billions in public money handed to bankers as a reward for nearly destroying the financial syste? How about a Bonus Street about the life and times of City of London crooks? (my emphasis)

Make no mistake: benefit bashing sells newspapers and it buys votes, which is why the Chancellor, George Osborne says he intends to cut the welfare bill by a further £12bn. But how? Half of the £200bn benefits bill goes to pensioners, and is ring-fenced and inflation-proofed. Most of the rest goes on disability benefits, attendance allowance (in England) and child benefits - much of it to people in work.

The largest category of benefit claimants after pensioners is not the unemployed, but the four million who are working in jobs that pay too little to live on. Not much skiving there.
Child benefit is already being cut for the better-off worker. People on disability benefits are being hit already with stringent tests of their ability to work.

Contrary to popular belief, spending on unemployment benefit, Jobseeker's Allowance, is only 3% of the total spending on welfare - around £6bn, and it is falling as unemployment falls. Very little scope for cuts here - though George Osborne is thought to be planning to freeze all benefits except pensions for three years.

I suspect that Osborne will not resort to the more draconian measures on benefit but will allow the economic recovery to reduce the benefits bill, as it invariably does, and then claim credit for it.
His call for £12bn in welfare cuts is a political tactic designed to make Labour look like the scrounger's friend. Such is the public mood that bashing Benefits Street is now the surest way to gain political popularity.

This also explains why the Government is persevering with the bedroom tax despite its manifest unfairness. The UK Government wants welfare organisations and opposition politicians to be outraged because it makes it look as if the Tories really are being tough on welfare. The "spare room supplement" is a transparent attempt to cut benefits by the back door - or rather the bedroom door - by forcing people who have no alternative but to pay extra for their two- bed council flat.

Scots have traditionally been less hostile to benefit claimants because earnings are lower here and people understand that they're only a redundancy away from Benefits Street ­themselves - though it should be noted that the Coalition's benefits cap is just as popular north of the Border as south. Voters in the south of England have, over the last 30 years, absorbed much of the neoliberal, anti-state mentality of American politics, which is why they vote Tory and Ukip.

The welfare state and universal benefits used to be one of the great unifying factors holding Great Britain together. It spoke of collective security, dignity, equality of opportunity. But like the Barnett Formula, Europe, immigration and the NHS, welfare is being changed in ways that Scots may not find congenial.

As The Guardian's Martin Kettle observed last week, the props of the old United Kingdom are being kicked away. How long before the edifice collapses?

Iain Macwhirter  Columnist  Sunday 12 January 2014 The Herald

Sunday, 5 January 2014

Youth Unemployment and the political elite.

We live with the shaming reality of over a million unemployed young people. In a country reported to be in the top ten economies in the world. The Prince’s Trust have done us a favour in exposing how devastating it is to be long-term unemployed in the UK and under 25. Suicidal thoughts, despair and deep frustration are commonplace. Lack of self-esteem fostered by a benefits system with the assumption that the young people they work with are all layabouts and wastrels. Forced attendance at Mickey Mouse unpaid ‘work’ schemes show the contempt with which the young unemployed are treated by the major political parties. The way that G4S and similar shoddy outfits make vast profits claiming non-existent progress is also instructive. Private - no matter how criminal, inept or corrupt = good. Public - no matter how selfless, helpful and effective = bad. The number of long-term youth unemployed rose under New Labour and has continued to rise with the Coalition in charge. 

There has been an outbreak of handwringing in some media but little real insight. This was one readers response to such a hand-wringer.

“You note that Labour poured money into education, but it didn't produce jobs as a result. There's no connection there--you can have well-educated homeless people without jobs, or illiterates. Education does not equal employment.
There's a more basic problem, though, one that columnists and commentators typically avoid: the "left" isn't left--I mean the Labour Party, as you speak to that example. They are as fully tied to the misnamed "free enterprise system" as are their arch-rivals, the Tories. It is there you ought to be looking for an explanation, both in respect to employment and to the broader malaise of a society in which the common people have little voice and influence.
It needs to be said: in a capitalist economy, the most any ruling party (or coalition) can do, is to move the chairs around a bit. Capitalism does not lift society, it does not create abundance, and it does not empower societies to self-rule and freedom from work. Those should be active goals of any so-called democracy, but they are not; instead, all is geared towards enrichment of corporations and a handful of extraordinarily wealthy people.
The young are not stupid or uninformed; they can see quite clearly this is a society of not caring about others, and Labour is simply an example of a familiar kind of shill who affects a sympathetic lingo. When it comes to the facts of economic life, a capitalist economy provides nothing in the way of freedom for the many. On the contrary, their lot is aptly called wage slavery, and it is an arrangement as antiquated and destructive as the feudal relations that preceded its appearance in history.
It isn't the left that's failing the young and their future imperiled by polluting technology; it's a society out of reach and control of the mass of people whose interests are actively traduced by organized greed. (my emphasis) This is now a matter of global survival, and young people are aware of this, as well. Given the fecklessness of most of their elders, why would they not feel despair and a "what the hell" attitude? It's up to us to put this right--and time is short.” OccupyEyed 4/1/14 Guardian Online

And which party is it which best serves ‘organised greed’? Why if it isn’t our old friends the  Tory Party with their not so secret symbiotic relationship with bankers and financiers. Not too far behind are the betrayers of the Labour Party and the little-willied LibDems who just love being ‘in power’ even if it means betraying any remaining principles.

So who to turn to?