Thursday, 31 January 2013

The Tax & Cut Time Bomb: April Showers Pain on the Poor

In the UK, the month of April is normally associated with torrential showers of rain.  In April of 2013, this month will be remembered for torrential showers of pain from the corporatized state's imposed punitive measures on the poorest people in the land.  Today’s article leads you through the unprecedented state abetted impoverishment of the nation.

The New Poll Tax

As of April, anyone currently claiming Council Tax benefit will see a rise in their annual council tax bill of up to £600 a year.  The central government has renamed the benefit Council Tax Support, cut the amount available by an arbitrary 10% and passed responsibility for administering it down to local councils.  This is the state equivalent of lighting the fuse of a poverty bomb and dropping it into the lap of local decision makers.

Council Tax Benefit currently supports 5.9 million UK households, 3.2 million of which are working age.  It is payable to pensioners, the disabled, people in low paid jobs and people unemployed through circumstance or sickness.  The government has stated that existing support must be retained for pensioners, but is providing no such stipulation for any of the other groups.  In fact, it will be single parents who work part time and require childcare who will be worst hit, with a possible 333% increase in the council tax contributions. 

The stated purpose of the cut is to reduce the current Council Tax Benefit bill by 10%, and is in no way based on the reality of the need for the support by the groups who currently rely on it.  The Resolution Foundation published its report No Clear Benefit on the changes this morning claiming it in effect sets a tax rate of 81p in the pound for the lowest paid workers in England. 

The devolved Welsh Parliament is absorbing the 10% cut entirely, whilst Scotland is splitting the cut between Central and Local government to make it easier to abate the impacts on constituents.  No such compassion has been showed by central government in England.

Gavin Kelly, the Resolution Foundation's chief executive, said: "Millions of England's poorest households… are already very close to the edge given falling wages, tax credits and benefits. Very few of those currently exempt from paying the full rate of council tax are expecting a large new bill to drop on to their doormat this spring. When it does, they are going to find it hard to cope."

The Bedroom Tax

In the same month, the Coalition’s infamous Bedroom Tax kicks in.  The Bedroom Tax stipulates that anyone claiming housing benefit faces cuts in their payments relative to the ‘under occupancy’ of their home.  If they class you as having one room more than needed, you lose 14% and it rises to a 25% cut if you’re classed as having two.  To anyone familiar with being poor, losing between £520-1300 a year means choosing between eating three meals a day and having the heating on for an hour in the evening. 

Do we really, as a nation, need to add to the suffering of a grieving family, the burden of making this kind of decision?

Inside Housing report that the plan will impact 660,000 social housing tenants, around two thirds of which will contain a person with a disability.  

Universal Credit and the Benefit Caps

April will also see the launching of Universal Credit.  Universal Credit will also be capped at £26,000 a year.  This cap will apply to all the benefits now rolled in to Universal Credit.  These include: Housing Benefit, Income Support, Job Seekers Allowance, Employment and Support Allowance, Child Benefit and Child Tax Credits, Carers Allowance, Maternity Benefits and Widows Benefits. 

These are the benefits that help people support sick, elderly and disabled loved ones; that help support disabled people to find and maintain jobs; that ensure poor children and poor families are supported whilst working; that women can take time to prepare for and recover from giving birth to their children and be home to take care of their newborn children; that bereaved pensioners are supported.

Barriers to Making Claims

The Universal Credit places un necessary barriers in the way of people claiming social security.  It means where historically some benefits relating to children were paid directly to women (a saving grace for women in relationships with abusive, alcoholic or drug dependent partners) they will now be paid together, to just one partner.  The system is also only claimable online and payable into a bank account, requiring people not only to have access to a computer and be computer literate, but also have a bank account to be able to make a claim. 
This is simply fantasy, which is exactly what service providers on the front line are saying to the Department of Work and Pensions, but sadly this has all fallen on deaf ears. 

A False Cap & Propaganda
The Government has cynically branded this cap as some sort of principled stand for the working poor of England.  They say that no one on benefits should receive higher payments per year than the average wage after tax.  While this makes a great sound byte, particular when couple with the kind of appalling ad campaigns below, there is more to the story.

The reason benefits are rising higher than wages in the UK is because corporations have ceased to pay a living wage to a vast amount of UK workers.  For some time, the state system has been protecting the working poor from this reality.  

The reason benefits have risen higher than wages is not because they are some sort of sop to the masses; it is because they have risen with the true cost of living.  Wages on the other hand, have not.

A government worth its salt, who truly wanted to support the rights of the working poor, would be addressing the fact the companies have ceased to pay a living wage.  Instead, this government has simply taken the safety net away for everyone.

The Impact

A joint report by the Children’s Society and Disability Rights UK on the Inquiry into Universal Credit led by Tanni Grey Thompson concluded up to half a million disabled people could lose out on Universal Credit alone.  These include:
  • 230,000 severely disabled people who live alone, or with only a young carer – usually lone parents with school age children – will get between £28 and £58 less in benefits every week.
  • 100,000 disabled children stand to lose up to £28 a week
  • Up to 116,000 disabled people who work will be at risk of losing around £40 a week.
Between the cuts in tax credits and the Universal Credit, the government itself confirmed that 200,000 children will be plunged into poverty as of April 1 2013.

It’s Raining, It’s Pouring, the Populace is Snoring

This is the nightmare that awaits the sick, the disabled and the poor of our country in April this year. What makes it even worse, is that these groups are already suffering and expanding at an eye watering rate down to the austerity measures already implemented.  Homelessness has risen 26% in the last three years.  Between 2011 and 2012 the number of families forced by poverty and a housing shortage to live in temporary bed and breakfast accommodation rose 44%.  The number of people dependent upon Food Banks has sky rocketed from around 41,000 in 2010 to over 138,000 today.  The government’s response to the fact to this astonishing rise in Food Banks? People cannot afford to eat, they cannot afford a home, and the government is taking yet more away from them claiming the rise in Food Banks is the fault of the poor and them choosing to spend their money on non essential items.

The government tells us that this forms part of their vital austerity programme, and that the UK simply cannot afford to maintain its existing levels of support.  This is simply not true.

The New Poll Tax aims to save the government £1.8bn by 2014/5. The Bedroom Tax aims to save £500m a year.  The Benefit Cap aims to save £290m 2012/3. 

At the same time, the Chancellor gave a tax CUT to the country’s highest earners of £3bn a year. 

This amount alone is greater than ALL the money saved from the hideous schemes outlined above. 

Not only this, but Corporation Tax has been cut by 1% losing the Treasury yet another £920m each and every year that it applies.

Meanwhile Corporations are already failing to pay their Corporation Tax, with Chair of the Public Accounts Committee stating the Corporations are now seeing tax avoidance as a legitimate means of making a profit.

In response, neoliberals and the government will say that this all makes perfect sense.  That cutting government costs associated with social security, and reducing the tax burden on the wealthy and corporations will stimulate growth and the end result will be more jobs and prosperity for all.  
The reality is that by the government’s own measures their policy is failing, as these policies always do.  They fail because they forget that companies only recruit staff and increase wages when their businesses expand, and their businesses expand only when there is a wealthy consumer class able to buy their goods.
Business relies on a public having enough money to buy the things they want, because they have money left over after they have paid for the things they need.

The results?  The deficit of the annual budget is rising not falling.  The national debt of the country is rising not falling.  Unemployment is rising, not falling (with govt massaging official figures by counting those in the government’s work programme, and the under employed as employed).  Underemployment, where people have to take part time jobs because full time jobs are not available, is rising, not falling.  Wages are stagnating.  In the last quarter of 2012, the UK economy did not grow, but shrank by 0.3% raising the likelihood of a triple dip recession…meaning the government coming out of recession, only to fall back into it again three times over in as many years.  This is the slowest ‘economic recovery’ in the UK in over a century.  

This is an not an economic recovery it is a still unfolding economic disaster.  Every new policy of austerity for the poor and tax cuts for the rich that this government rolls out pushes us further into debt and farther from recovery.

I have not even included all of the tax cuts on the rich, or all of the tax rises and service cuts facing the poor in today’s piece.  This is merely a selection to represent to jaw dropping scale of injustice facing the population of the country.

This April, if we do not act, the April showers will rain pain down on the poorest of the land with a force like Britain has not seen this side of World War II.  We need to mount the fight back now, because come April, the showers begin and with them the dampening of the dreams of a generation.

Tuesday, 29 January 2013

Poem: I Don’t Do Politics

‘I don’t do politics’ drips from the lips and is somehow a praiseworthy thing
Like abdicating responsibility for your world is the latest trend that’s ‘in’.
You can have a strong opinion, on some celebrity’s hair or shoes
But for pity’s sake do not bore on ‘bout some story on the news.

“Free at last, free at last, thank god almighty we are free at last”:
The ringing in my ears of calls from heroes of the past.
The men and women of yester year who held roses up to guns
So our generation could grow obese and swap politics for fun.

We really weren’t built for this, the generation of me, me, me
We were raised to believe there’s no such thing as society
That individual freedom was the highest attainable goal
While in the background our fathers broke their backs while digging coal.

Not for us this laboured life of working til your dead.
We’d go to University and wear shirts with white collars instead.
‘There’s no such thing as working class in Britain anymore
We’re a great big pile of middle class; there’ll not be any poor!’

The dream they sold us every day of our piss poor education
While Thatcher, Major and later Blair sold off the entire nation
We didn’t need our civil rights and business did it best
As they gave away the keys to the public treasure chest

They sold off all the factories; they sold off all the mills
Instead of milking cows, the poor swipe cartons at the tills
They sold off the utilities; thus privatising heat.
And now pensioners are forced to choose to warm their rooms or eat.

They sold off our national railways, gave Branson and co our trains
Now it costs the sky for standing room only while record profit reigns.
And not a penny back to us who built and paid for it all.
Apparently public money spent on public good is terrible.

And now they’re taxing our bedrooms to afford a tax cut for the rich
While the idea of affordable homes for all lays dying in a ditch.
They’re forcing the unemployed to work as shelf fillers full time for free
Or lose the payments guaranteed to us all under social security.

The sick and the disabled are having their life lines cut to shreds
As the department of work and pensions becomes the department of rolling heads.
 They’re selling off the hospitals; they’re selling off the schools
They’re busy giving tax breaks to the banks that broke the rules.

While all of this is happening some of us are coming round
From a fast food anaesthetic which has kept our dosed minds bound.
But still a great majority refuse to rouse from sleep
When every single one of us is needed on the street
We fight them in the Twitterverse, the Blogosphere and Reddit
We repost every bad word said with a funny pic of the fool who said it
We fight them on their servers; we hack into their sites.
We spread their secrets round the world in gifs and megabytes.

But if nobody is listening, or joining the front line
If the cavalry will never come and the war is lost within our time
If no one dares do politics, or step up to have their say
We let the vanquishers vanquish every hard won right away.

Our children will have it worse than our great grandparents had it
They’ll work harder for longer for less on a dirty, dying planet.
They’ll ask us where we were, when their futures were sold at auction
To a capitalist class who put their own greed over caution.

 They’ll ask us why we can’t afford to fix their broken bones
‘What happened to the NHS?’ Their wretched mouths will moan
They’ll suffer from diseases that were eradicated decades ago
Rickets, scurvy, tuberculosis rise as we sink to a whole new low.

So when you say ‘I don’t do politics’, what do you really mean?
You’d rather stay fickle and facile rather than grow as human being?
The thing is, the planet needs you, your unborn successors too
We simply cannot win this thing without the help of you.

The time has come for our generation to put down its childish things
The fight of our lives us upon and the bell for round one, it rings.
The time is now for us to stamp our will upon the earth
To stand in solidarity with all those who’ve been hurt.

We need to take our rightful place among the soldiers of our time
To say ‘Up with this we will not put’ and form an unbreakable line
From pole to pole across the earth, all of us saying together:
“We will not let you destroy the world. Equality and justice forever!”

Monday, 28 January 2013

We Are Taxing the Bedrooms of Dead Children

It was reported today that when seven year old Becky Bell died of Cancer, her council sent her family a £672 bill for her newly empty bedroom due to the new Spare Bedroom Tax on the poor.
Britain is a colder place since the passing of the Welfare Reform Act 2012, which seeks to radically change the concept of social security. The social contract is being replaced with a Victorian welfare system.  Today we look at the creeping impacts of the Welfare Reform Act and how it is making the poorest in the land suffer the consequences of the crimes of the wealthiest.

A Tax on ‘Spare’ Bedrooms? For Real?

The Coalition Governments bedroom tax stipulates that anyone claiming housing benefit faces cuts in their payments relative to the ‘under occupancy’ of their home.  If they class you as having one room more than needed, you lose 14% and it rises to a 25% cut if you’re classed as having two.  To anyone familiar with being poor, losing between £10-25 per week means choosing between eating three meals a day and having the heating on for an hour in the evening. 

Do we really, as a nation, need to add to the suffering of a grieving family, the burden of making this kind of decision?

Inside Housing report that the plan will impact 660,000 social housing tenants, around two thirds of which will contain a person with a disability.  For all this suffering, the government aims to save £500m a year. 

WorkFare – The End of Social Security

The social contract as most of us understand it, reads that if a person finds themselves unemployed through circumstance, sickness or disability – they receive social security payments until or unless they can find new work.  This is based on the idea that whilst in work, they contribute to the system through national insurance and taxes.  However, the ideological underpinning of WorkFare, the government’s Work Programme is that benefit claimants must earn their payments, real time.  So the government has a collection of corporations and charities who receive free labour, paid for by the tax payer. 
Benefit claimants must work up to 30 hours per week, for up to 13 weeks at a time, for nothing more than the social security payment they are entitled to by their citizenship of the country.  They also face total withdrawal of the payments if they refuse to comply.

This is not a social security programme.  It is a forced labour programme.  Not only that, but with 3 million people unemployed, it places yet more competition in the jobs market.  It incentivises companies NOT to employ people.

It also stands in the way of WorkFare victims applying and interviewing for real jobs as their time is committed to the programme. 

370,000 people were referred to the WorkFare programme June and November 2011.  This scheme is set to cost the taxpayer £5bn.

The final kicker, the government counts people in WorkFare as employed.

ATOS – Fit to Work Assessments

"The test of a good society is how do you protect the poorest, the most vulnerable, the elderly, the frail. That's important in good times, it's even more important in difficult times. People need to know that if they have me as their Prime Minister and they have a Conservative government, it will be that sort of Prime Minister."

The Labour government of 2008 brought in ATOS to conduct Fitness to Work assessments for the Department of Work and pensions as part of changing Incapacity Benefit to Employment Support Allowance.
Most disability campaigners have no issue with the principle of testing a person’s capability to find out what they can do and how employers can support them in doing it.  This is common sense. 
However, the Coalition government has decided to assess the entire 2.6m population claiming ESA in just one year.  The test has been reduced to a simple tick box computer based exercise where a person is classed fit to work, or not.  The whole approach, the media messaging, the letters to claimants are wrapped in suspicion – ‘we’re doing this because a lot of you are fakers, and we are going to find every last one of you.’

The People’s Review of the Work Capability Assessment carries the personal experiences of the people undergoing the assessments.

 A person with a brain tumour, left disabled after having their left cerebellum amputated who has no balance and is still terminally ill – deemed Fit to Work. 

A person who, after a 35 year working life, was suffering deafness, IBS and hiatus hernia – deemed Fit for work.

A 60 year old, single man with 80% paralysis who undertook his assessment three weeks before going to hospital for a major lung operation – deemed Fit to Work.

Or 60 year old Daniel Shurmer, a double heart bypass patient in post operative intensive care – deemed Fit to Work.

A parliamentary debate on the issue on 17th January 2013 revealed one woman suffering severe bouts of daily incontinence, often requiring hospitalisation as a result of Crohns disease – deemed Fit to Work…if she wears a nappy.

Perhaps one voice sums it up best, taken from the Peoples Review:

This week, the government refused to exempt cancer sufferers undergoing chemotherapy from the Work Capability Assessment.  This means people suffering cancer and facing exhausting chemotherapy and radiotherapy, not to mention the emotional strain of facing death, will face the Atos assessors and join the other sick and disabled people joining the queue at the Job Centre – and end up on the WorkFare programme outlined above.

To date, 41% of the decisions have been appealed, with 38% of those successful.  This cost the taxpayer £60m last year, over half of the £110m is costs to run the Work Capability Assessment process.  Meanwhile, over 11,000 people a week are grinded through this meat machine of the policy.  According to the government’s own figures, 1,300 people have died after being deemed fit to work, 2,200 people have died before their assessment is complete, and 7,100 people have died after being deemed unfit to work, and 29 people have committed suicide facing the threat of impending impoverishment.

Enough is Enough

The UK’s top 100 wealthiest people saw their fortunes rise to a record high in 2012, whilst the bottom 10% of wage earners saw their incomes shrink by 3% in real terms.

Enough is enough.

It is as simple as this:
If the government can afford to spend £3bn a year on a tax cut for the wealthiest in the land, then we do not need to tax the bedrooms of dead children.
If we can allow Google, Amazon, Starbucks and Tory Donor’s Lyca Mobile to pay zero Corporation Tax, we do not need to harass sick, mentally ill and extremely disabled people to the Job Centre. 
If we are truly requiring austerity, then we should not be funding the free labour of the unemployed, the sick, and the disabled for corporations. 

Enough is enough. 

This is not austerity; this is a war on the poor and the social contract itself.  End the crime of a government which siphons public money into private pockets, and pays for tax cuts for the richest by cutting the security and services of the poorest.

Take Action
Boycott WorkFare – see lists of the companies and charities complicit in the WorkFare scheme and boycott them.  Many providers have withdrawn from the scheme after the weight of public pressure and protest.

Keep track of DPAC and the Black Triangle Campaign who are spearheading the efforts to fight back against the DWP and Atos.  Support their protests and spread their news.

Join UK Uncut in direct actions and campaigns to make wealthy corporations and individuals pay their fair share of taxes.
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