No Mr Clegg, this is not ‘Fair’

Cameron and Clegg have defended their Government’s austerity cuts as ‘Fair’. We beg to disagree.

The Treasury’s own figures recognise that less well off people will be affected more than the affluent. People whose income is in the bottom 60% of earnings will be hit harder than those in the top 40% – these are the people who can easily afford the reductions.  People in the north affected more than those in the south; urban areas affected more than the Tory shires. Women affected more than men. Benefit payments are cut by £7 billion; bankers get £7 billion in bonuses. No, we are not all in this together.

Peter Allen was the Green Party candidate in High Peak in the General Election. Peter is a benefits advisor in Manchester. He is well aware of the hardships that ordinary people are already facing. This is his reaction.

“This is not my idea of fairness. The least able to pay are having to pay for the recklessness of some of the richest people in society. £850 billion of our money has been committed to bailing out the banks. Fraud and tax evasion are costing the country £30 billion a year; billions of past taxes are uncollected and written off. But, as always, it is the rest of us who have to pay up. Is that fair?”

In Derbyshire, the Conservative controlled County Council were already drawing up plans to cut spending and increase charges even before last week’s Public Spending Review. The previous Labour Government warned them that they too would require massive spending cuts. Their plans include cutting the financial support for the bus services that many low-income residents in Derbyshire rely on, make charges for  those who need home care and axing the Derbyshire Welfare Rights Service.

This proposal is indicative of the mean-mindedness at the heart of this government. Not satisfied with cutting benefits, they are ensuring that many people remain unaware of their entitlement. The right-wing press lead their gullible readership to believe that there are legions of scroungers out there, greedily taking money from hard-working taxpayers. There is benefit fraud, it costs £1 billion a year, and it needs stamping out. There is also tax evasion that the right-wing press actually encourage. George Osborne has a £4 million offshore trust fund; by this means, he can have tax-free financial security. Tax evasion costs the economy £15 billion a year. That needs stamping out as well.

Closing down the Welfare Rights Service will make it more difficult for people to claim benefits. Since last year alone the Service helped Derbyshire residents claim over £11 million of benefits to which they were entitled, as well as preventing the unjust removal of benefit payments. ‘A good thing too!’ scream the tabloid headlines. Good for who? Benefits are a good mechanism for the redistribution of wealth, a concept that is an anathema to right-wing politicians. The £11 million of extra income secured by DWRS and spent in the local economy has benefited local traders and businesses. The £18 billion in welfare cuts so far announced by the ConDem coalition is money taken out of local economies. Its loss will affect local businesses, many of which will be tipped over the edge by this loss of income. A high percentage of top incomes are spent or invested abroad. Over the winter we will see many independent retailers and small businesses, the bedrock of the local economy, go to the wall.

The Government acknowledges that the Comprehensive Spending Review will lead to the loss of half a million jobs, mostly in the public sector. But this is not the end of the story. Many businesses are reliant on their contracts with public bodies like the Councils.  Many contracts will be cancelled, resulting in an estimated further half million job losses. The Times has predicted that unemployment will top 3 million be the end of the year. [The Times made this claim in January, to embarrass the then Labour Government.]

If this Government was fair, it would lead a drive to create jobs, but it is not, it is simply assuming that the private sector will take up the slack. This is not happening. Ian Duncan Smith is telling people on benefit to ‘get on the bus’ and find work. Another great idea from IDS, but wait: they are cutting the bus services as well! So, it’s back to Norman Tebbit’s bike! This again shows the sheer callousness of the ConDem coalition, resorting to putting the blame onto the victim. What the Minister for Work and Pensions cannot recognise is that the jobs are not there. Nationally, there are more than four people chasing every vacancy. The further north you go the higher this figure becomes, over seven per vacancy in the High Peak; over 10 in the northeast.

And what of the human side of rising unemployment and welfare cuts?

A new report by the independent Policy Studies Institute [Youth Unemployment, Labour Market Programmes and Health], looks at the relationship between unemployment and health problems among young people. Its key findings are that unemployed young people experience more health problems than those in work, including lower levels of general health, more anxiety and depression, higher rates of smoking and higher suicide rates. Attempted suicide rates in unemployed young men are 9.5 to 25 times higher than in employed young men.

The screaming tabloids are wrong. Most people want to work, but they want real jobs, not meaningless schemes. Work for the dole was tried by Thatcher’s government in the 1980s with detrimental effect. Poorly paid work and temporary schemes are seen as demeaning, a ‘punishment’ for daring to claim benefit, no more than a sop to the chattering classes.

The fair answer, recognised by Professor Danny Dorling and reported in the British Medical Journal is ‘good quality apprenticeships, permanent public funded jobs, and more highly valued education’. The most highly valued education among young people being a University education. So what is the fair ConDem response to Professor Dorling? Cut education spending, raise tuition fees to prohibitive levels, cut public investment, deregulate the labour market, or as they put it, cut red tape. Once again, they see unemployment as a ‘price worth paying’ as Thatcher said in the 1980’s. What price, remember ‘Brassed Off’? Watch it again – it will make you weep to think that we are back there again. Who pays the price and for how long? Not those people with offshore Trust Funds, or with wives resident in tax havens.

[Mike Shipley 31st October 2010]

The Equality Trust

The Equality Trust was established by Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett, authors of the book ‘The Spirit Level’ which presents their research into the influence of inequality in developed countries.

The Trust aims to disseminate this information through a programme of public and political education designed to achieve:

  • a widespread understanding of the harm caused by income inequality
  • public support for policy measures to reduce income inequality
  • the political commitment to implementing such policy measures

The Trust is non-partisan and calls on all political parties to prioritise this issue.

Why More Equality?

The authors thirty years research shows that in rich countries, a smaller gap between rich and poor means a happier, healthier, and more successful population. They produced an index of health and social problems, amalgamating comparable data collected by agencies within 21 developed countries in Europe, the USA and Canada, Japan, Australia and New Zealand. The index combined scores for 10 factors:

Life Expectancy                  Maths and literacy

Infant mortality                 Homicides

Obesity                             Imprisonment

Mental illness & Addiction   Trust

Teenage pregnancy            Social mobility

More equal countries performed well for each of these indicators. With the combined results plotted against income equality, countries with higher levels of equality performed better than countries with lower levels of equality. The most equal countries were Japan in first place followed by the Scandinavian countries, Finland, Norway, Sweden, and Denmark.    The countries with the highest scores for the above factors were Japan, again in first place, Sweden, Norway, Netherlands [9th for equality] and Switzerland [13th for equality] Finland and Denmark had slipped to 6th and 9th place respectively.

At the other end of the table, the least equal country was the USA followed by Portugal, the UK, Australia, and New Zealand. For the combined index, the USA was again on the bottom followed by Portugal, the UK, Greece, and New Zealand. Considering each of these 10 factors separately and plotting each against equality, the USA, the most powerful and therefore presumed by some to be the most successful country in the world, was consistently on the bottom, with Japan at the top. The UK closely followed the USA.

The Authors have shown that more economic growth in developed countries will NOT lead to a happier, healthier, or more successful population. In fact, there is no relation between income per head and social well-being across rich countries. People doing similar jobs in Japan and Scandinavia, generally earn less that they would in the USA, but they have a higher sense of well-being.

With greater equality in the UK, the authors conclude that we would be better off as a population. For example, the evidence suggests that if we halved inequality here:

– Murder rates would halve
– Mental illness would reduce by two thirds
– Obesity would halve
– Imprisonment would reduce by 80%
– Teen births would reduce by 80%
– Levels of trust would increase by 85%

Not just poor people do better. The evidence suggests people all the way up would benefit, although it’s true that the poorest would gain the most.

These findings hold true, whether you look across developed nations, or across the 50 states of the USA.

For more information, resources and up to date news, visit the Trust website:

Or, read ‘The Spirit Level’ by Richard Wilkinson & Kate Pickett, published by Penguin Books.

It should be noted the policies of the ConDem coalition would lead to an increase in inequality, with the cuts hitting the least well of and the big business sector resuming bonus business as usual. Performance of the UK in the above 10 indicators, can be expected to decline. 

Caroline Lucas Demands Fair Pay For Women

Green Party Leader Caroline Lucas

“The fact that less than 11% of board members in major British companies are female is a damning indictment of this government’s failure to offer a coherent strategy for fighting inequality and championing women’s rights. What’s more, given that fewer than 20% of MPs are female, Brown and Harman would do well to look closer to home and actively address why women also continue to be marginalised in the political world.

On Monday, International Women’s Day, the Green party launched its manifesto for women. The Greens support the introduction of quotas to ensure that boards of major companies are at least 40% female, based on the model already successfully implemented in Norway, and being considered in France. Further, we would insist that all large and medium-size companies carry out equal pay audits and redress inequalities uncovered; and that the law be changed to make joint suits for equal pay cases simpler. We also propose better provisions for maternity and paternity leave – with a focus on paid paternity – to make sure that responsibilities are shared.

Greens, unlike politicians from the grey Westminster parties, have the courage in our convictions to propose the kinds of solutions we need if we are to secure a fairer deal for women.”