Thursday, 30 May 2013

At £37 billion and rising Afghanistan conflict proves that austerity does not apply when it comes to war

The revelation that the war in Afghanistan has cost £37 billion or £2000 for every tax paying UK household really does throw a new light on the austerity debate.

The cost is estimated to reach £40 billion by 2020 or enough to pay for 5,000 nurses throughout their careers.

The human cost on British servicemen’s lives alone is staggering – 444 killed, 2,600 wounded and 5,000 psychologically injured. Let alone the thousands of Afghanis. What has been the point of the adventure in Afghanistan?

The author of Investment in Blood Frank Ledwidge highlights those who have profited from this ridiculous venture, namely development consultants Afghan drug lords and international arms companies.

This has all been done on the basis of a British identity crisis , born of its failure to accept the loss of empire but believing instead in a strange construct that effectively substitutes in the US version for its own. This malfunction has resulted in Britain operating as the poodle of the United States.

The US is quite happy with this supine role on the part of the Brits, following it into every crazy military venture and willing to pay as well as play its part. Have any lessons been learned from Iraq and Afghanistan, not really, the British government simply cannot wait to get involved elsewhere – note recent escapades in Libya, Mali and the growing drumbeat for involvement in Syria.

Funny thing is when it comes to war the whole issue of austerity seems to go out of the window. Afghanistan and Iraq have swallowed huge amounts of money. The government pushes onto renew the redundant Trident nuclear missile system. If only the British government could accept its more humble role in the world, not as a world superpower but simply part of Europe, everyone would be the beneficiary.

Tuesday, 28 May 2013

Paul Doherty launches 100th book on last days of Henry VIII

Novel  writing Catholic headmaster and historian Dr Paul Doherty is about to publish his 100th book on the topical subject of the Tudors.

The ”Last of Days” focuses on the final three months of Henry VIII’s reign as seen through the eyes of court jester Will Somers . The jester and confident  chronicles the battles between power hungry councillors as to who will come out on top come the inevitable death of Henry.

Dr Doherty's writing career began in 1986, with publication of his first book the Death of a King" focusing on Edward II.
More books followed, focusing mainly on medieval and ancient Egyptian history. Dr Doherty was producing four books a year for a long time but has now slowed to doing two a year.

He has now sold millions of books across the world, including Europe, the United States and Japan. “I am told I’m big in Bulgaria,” said Dr Doherty, who has been head at Trinity Catholic High School for the past 31 years. Proof that the veteran head has not ignored his day job comes in the form of outstanding ratings in the last three OFSTED inspections.
The Last of Days will launch on 6 June at Trinity Catholic High School in Woodford Green, Essex

Friday, 24 May 2013

Why are terror incidents always used as an excuse to cut civil liberties?

Why are incidents like the recent Woolwich killing so hyped up once the link to terrorism is established?
The pattern runs, police or/and security services label the killing terror based. Panic ensues, the government announce in a very loud voice that the COBRA committee is sitting. The implication is always that the incident is not that of isolated maniacs but an international conspiracy of 9/11 type proportions. Muslims as a group are blamed wholesale for any such incident.
The resulting hysteria among the public results in attacks on innocent Muslims. The far right has a field day, playing an active role orchestrating such events.
Finally, the call comes for more powers for the police and security services to lock up and intercept anyone they don’t like the look of.
How different the response is here to say Norway where following the atrocities committed by far right fanatic Anders Breivik, the Prime minister Jens Stoltenberg called for a response that brought "more democracy and more openness." How mature compared to the hysterical rush here to trample on ever more liberties - exactly what the terrorist wanted in the first place ofcourse.

Wednesday, 15 May 2013

Government punishes domestic migrant workers to reward bad employers

The decision of the government to end the overseas domestic worker visa opens up the opportunity for bad employers to abuse migrant workers.

In many ways the move is so typical of this government, removing rights for some of the worst paid and badly treated workers in the country, all in the name of its ill thought out immigration policy, which appears totally predicated on the need to reduce migrant numbers.

The domestic workers visa had been in operation since 1998, giving workers the possibility to change employers and extend their visas. However, this all ended on 6 April when the domestic worker visa was abandoned on the basis the need to cut net migration. There were 15,745 domestic worker visas issued in 2012, similar to the number for previous years.

The new arrangements see a tied visa introduced which has a maximum duration of six months and ties the worker to the one employer, who brought them to the UK. “It is a terrible reflection on this government to withdraw worker’s rights and protection from what is one of the most vulnerable group of workers.  After all, if you live in the household of your employer you are totally in their control.  Many are literally locked in the house when the employer goes out - and domestic workers in the private household are not included in Health and Safety legislation, nor in the Race Relations Act!” said Sister Margaret Healy, co-founder of the domestic worker campaigning organisations Kalayaan and Justice for Domestic Workers (J4DW).

So the net effect of the changes has been to benefit exploitative employers. Already, statistics gathered by Kalayaan confirm the worsening situation under the new tied visa system.

Some 62 per cent on the tied visa are paid nothing at all compared to 14 per cent under the previous system.  All workers on the tied visa were paid less than £100 a week compared to 60 per cent on the original visa

Sister Healy argues there was no justification for withdrawing the visa. “It has not been abused, the Home Office knows exactly where every domestic worker lives and works because they have to supply this information yearly when they renew their visa.  Just when the International Labour Organisation (ILO - Convention 189) is promoting rights and protections for domestic workers world-wide the UK government withdraws all rights and protections - it is shameful,” said Sister Healy.

It is difficult to make any sense of this latest policy from the Coalition Government. The alleged intention to help cut migration seems unlikely, given that the removal of protections makes it far more likely that desperate workers will leave abusive employment and join the reservoir of undocumented workers. They will be un-trackable for government in this environment and the exchequer will lose the tax and national insurance that previously the workers paid when legitimately employed.

This ridiculous policy benefits no one other than exploitative employers. It can only be hoped that the government listens to the argument of the likes of Kalayaan, J4 DW and Unite who are all calling for restoration of the overseas domestic workers visa with immediate effect.

*For more information contact Kate Roberts, Community Advocate at Kalayaan – tel. 0207 243 2942 or

see also:
New Internationalist - 2/7/2013 -
Tablet - 9/6/2013
Universe - 2/6/2013

Thursday, 9 May 2013

Fourth largest economy can afford welfare state

The obsession of the Coalition Government with the need to cut the welfare budget never seems far from the headlines.

It is an area where the spinning of facts is rife in order to produce a narrative that says the welfare state cannot be afforded in its present form.

The fundamental building blocks of the welfare state though as it is known today were put in place by the post war Labour Government. It moved to enact the recommendations of the Beveridge report which was published in 1942. Sir William Beveridge identified what became known as the five giants, Want, Disease, Ignorance, Squalor and Idleness.

The reforms proposed marked an essential shift from the Victorian days, when discretionary charity was seen as the answer to poverty, to a system where citizens have a right to welfare support.

Despite the poverty of post war Britain the capacity to pay for this welfare revolution was never in doubt. The welfare state remained an unquestionable facet of the post war consensus for ruling Britain up to the 1980s.

The arrival of the Thatcher Government in 1979 started the chipping away of credibility of the welfare state, though its funding levels remained relatively unscathed.

The tide, though, started to turn in those days. The constant flow of misinformation over the years has now resulted in the Coalition Government launching its all out assault on the welfare state.

It is as though things have almost come full circle with Chancellor George Osborne’s crude stereotyping of skivers and strivers, mirroring the Victorian values of the deserving and undeserving poor.

The result is the introduction of the universal credit, which brings together the jobseekers allowance, income related employment and support allowance income support, child tax credits, working tax credits and housing benefit into one benefit. There is also to be a cap of £500 a week on all benefits received by a household.

The cuts to housing benefits, including the infamous bedroom tax, which penalises people living on benefit in houses where there are spare rooms, aims to slash this budget.

An assault on the disabled has seen 100,000s of people being reassessed in relation to Disablity Living Allowance. Some 560,000 are due to be reassessed by October 2015. Many are expected to lose the benefit altogether as a result of this often dubious process. DLA is to be replaced by the Personal Independence Payment.

All of these changes are premised on the back of much misinformation in the media.

The TUC discovered the extent of misundertstanding when it commissioned a Yougov poll. Researchers found the public believe that 27% of the welfare budget is claimed fraudulently. The actual amount for 2011/12 was 0.8% or £1.2 billion. Similarly, on average people think that 41 per cent of the entire welfare budget goes on benefits to unemployed people, while the true figure is 3 per cent.

There has been much made of those families receiving more in benefits than the median salary of £26,000 a year, so justifying the imposition of the cap. The reality is that it applies to just 58.000 households.

There is so much false information around in the debate on welfare that it makes for a sobering exercise to look at just how the budget does split up. By far the largest part of £166 billion work and pensions budget (2011/12) goes on pensions. Pensions account for £74 billion or 47% of the budget. Pension credit and minimum income guarantee benefit account for another £8 billion. Housing benefit costs £17 billion and disability living allowance £13 billion. Incapacity benefit and jobseekers allowance account for £5 billion a piece.

There is also a double standard about welfare. Take housing benefit where the focus is on the family receiving thousands in benefits. Never is the focus on the greedy landlords who keep pushing up rents. Rent controls rarely get a mention, yet the rack renting landlords are also welfare benefit cheats.

Tax credits are another area where the bad employer paying poverty wages does not seem to receive the same level of criticism regarding welfare as the single parent struggling by. In effect via tax credits, people are not only being helped into work but a subsidy is being provided to employers who want to pay poverty wages.

The result of the present stripping away of the welfare state is already being seen with a doubling in the number of people going to food banks over the past year. The food banks are a charitable response to poverty of the type seen in the 19th century when the poor laws and workhouses scarred the landscape.

There seems little doubt that the Britain can afford the welfare state. The approach of the present government as in so many things is using a crisis to achieve idealogically driven goals that impoverish growing numbers of people.

Welfare for low paying businesses or rack renting landlords is apparently fine. Would the argument about funding welfare even be on the table if the £42 billion in tax being avoided by companies and individuals were being paid?

The challenge now must be to defend the right of citizens to cradle to grave welfare. The lies and misrepresentations now being used need to be exposed in order to halt the charge backwards to the days of charitable provision and the workhouse.

9/5/2013 Morning Star

Monday, 6 May 2013

TUC general secretary challenges unions and Labour Party to deliver radical new economic settlement

TUC general secretary Frances O'Grady has warned that both unions and the Labour Party will need to change to deliver a radical new economic settlement that will lift the UK out of a lost decade of stagnation.

Delivering the annual Attlee lecture at Oxford University, Frances warned that the Labour Party must make a break from New Labour managerialism and the idea that deregulated markets can be given a human face.

She also warned that unions cannot retreat into a comfort zone of narrow sectionalism or oppositionism.

“Both Labour and unions must learn from the lessons of the past, in order to forge a new ideological settlement for post-crash Britain,” said Frances. 'If we are to build a future that works for all, then both sides of the labour movement need to change.

'For the Party, there must be a decisive break with New Labour managerialism, the notion that deregulated markets can somehow be given a human face.

'And for us in the trade unions, there can be no retreat into a comfort zone of narrow sectionalism or oppositionism. Our long-term viability ultimately rests on our capacity to shape a new economy, not from the sidelines but from within.'

Looking ahead to the challenge facing unions, Frances said: 'Unions need to be smart and realistic about what we seek from a new settlement. Much as we would like the next Labour government to be like a videotape run backwards undoing all the coalition policies we dislike, we have to recognise that there will be a difficult and different starting point.

'Of course we need to undo the damage done by this government and the crash, but there will need to be new thinking and a recognition that not everything will be achieved at once.

'That does not mean that we in the trade union movement be timid in what we seek. We know that even with an end to forced austerity, there will no longer be the illusory resources generated by the finance bubble. But if there is less to spend, then we need to look for precisely the big structural changes in the economy that the last Labour government shied away from.

She called for a future Labour Government to properly deal with problems such as low pay, not spray money at them by subsidising poor employers.

'And in seeking radical economic change, unions need to avoid the strategic error we made after the war. We should embrace industrial democracy and take up every chance to redefine economic relationships. Trade unions cannot afford to stand aside as we did after 1945. This time, history would simply pass us by,” said Frances.

'In the future, unions and working people need to be at the heart of the economy, having an effective voice, winning fairness, building the businesses that will deliver our prosperity in the decades to come. That poses a challenge to government, to business and to managers.”

A strong believer in the concept of the common good, Frances said “Most of all, industrial democracy poses a challenge to us in the trade union movement. It implies a role that is not just more ambitious, but more demanding, than the one we usually have now. It means accepting responsibility, moving out of a comfort zone of short-termism, to taking the long view and championing the greater good.'

Wednesday, 1 May 2013

Zambian academic calls on those seeking to change the world to start with themselves

A Zambian academic has called on those seeking to change the world to start with themselves.

Addressing the 25th anniversary celebration of the Africa-Europe Faith and Justice Network at Westminster Hall, Martin Kalungu-Banda, Fellow at Future Considerations Oxford, told how growing up in Zambia he had one pair of shoes, a couple of shirts and little else. In the consumerist world, living in Britain he can have any number of shoes and shirts but he questioned whether he should whilst those in Zambia continue to grow up the way that he did.

“I should not buy my child that third or fourth toy, they are not needed,” said Mr Kalunga Banda, who stressed that if as Christians we start showing this example of more simple living it will effect the family and in time these same people can become the government ministers and business leaders of tomorrow. “Politicians and business leaders are not made of different stuff from ourselves,” said Mr Kalunga Banda.

The academic highlighted three divides in the world: ecological, social and spiritual. The ecological divide sees a world where 1.5 planets would be required to support the present lifestyles of the west for all. The social divide sees almost three billion people living on less than US$2 a day and not knowing where their next loaf is coming from. The spiritual divide means that three in 10 contemplate suicide at some time in life. “Whether we like it or not we are each others keeper because billions going to bed every day does not make for a safe world,” said Mr Kalunga Banda,

Jenny Brown, the senior European Union relations adviser at Christian Aid, told how much damage is being done worldwide by individuals and companies not paying their taxes. Developing countries lose US$160 billion a year in tax they are owed with half of world trade going through tax havens which enable lower payment of taxes,” said Ms Brown, who argued that tax improves the accountability of governments and is more reliable and sustainable than aid..

Ms Brown explained how things were changing for the better, with pressure for disclosure of more information on companies and moves to get rid of the secrecy of tax havens. She urged those present to lobby the Government to do more to stop tax dodging by British companies.