Tag Archives: poverty

The Council Tax Liability Order

Is there anything more pointless than the Council Tax Liability Order? If you’ve failed to pay your Council Tax for whatever reason, your local authority will threaten to apply to the court for a Liability Order. The reason, they claim, is to ascertain liability for the tax. Well, duh, so I’m liable to pay Council Tax but liability and the ability to pay are two separate things and, as far as local authorities are concerned, if you can’t pay, that’s just tough. In fact, local authorities don’t care if you starve. They just want their money, so they will either demand payment in full or lock you into an arrangement that you cannot possibly meet.  So that takes you back to square one.

The Liability Order is simply another way to dump more debt onto those people who are least likely to be able to pay full Council Tax in the first place. It’s well past time to abolish Council Tax, but government ministers are simply too lazy to implement a much fairer system of local taxation. We need an Axe the Tax campaign like we had with the Poll Tax. In fact, I would argue that there is very little difference between the Council Tax and the Poll Tax. Both are based on the notion that everyone’s circumstances are the same. Theoretically, if someone on an income of £16, 000 pa is living next door to someone on £60,000 and they are in similar banded properties; they pay the same in Council Tax. Is that fair? No. But then, the Tories’ idea of fairness can be seen everywhere from the homeless that sleep on our streets to the working poor, who have their benefits cut and are forced to go to foodbanks.

Welcome to Cruel Britannia. Abandon all hope, ye who enter here.

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Right-wing Cliches (#7) “Benefit Tourism”

The Tories love to bandy about expressions like “benefit tourism” (“health tourism” is another such phrase) to make their spurious points about immigration seem more credible. But let’s be honest: no one comes to this country to claim a measly £74 a week in Jobseeker’s Allowance. “Ah” I hear you cry “what about the other benefits, like Housing Benefit”? What about Housing Benefit? You really think immigrants come to this country to sample the delights of housing benefit and live in decrepit properties owned by our slum landlords? Think on.

If people wanted to sample real benefits, then there are better countries they can go to. Germany is one country and France is another. Benefits in these countries are far more generous than the paltry benefits available in Britain, which are paid at poverty levels set, apparently, by the National Office for Statistics. If the benefit levels are set by the NOS, then they must be working to 1970s figures because no one can live on  £74 a week. Not even the braggart and habitual liar, Iain Duncan Smith, can live on that kind of money – in spite of his unsubstantiated claim that he can live on £1 a day.

So, in reality, no immigrant comes here to live on benefits. They come here to work in the sorts of jobs that are beneath those who complain the most about immigration. Immigrants also pay more in tax than the average British worker. Indeed, they pay more tax than the so-called ‘wealth-creators’ that this government is forever talking about. So when the government complains about the budget deficit, they could always raise taxes on their rich mates but, instead, they would much rather you hate the immigrants who are putting money into the Exchequer’s coffers. How’s that for logic?

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Let’s Talk About: Economic Growth

Images like this mean nothing to Dan Hannan. who prefers to deal with fictional characters than real people and their complicated lives.

Economic growth or just ‘growth’ is the holy grail of career politicians, neoliberal economists and their hangers on in the media. We’re often told how important it is to have ‘growth’ in our economy and it is only then that everyone will see the benefit. The trouble with this notion is that those who continually spout this rubbish aren’t the ones who need to worry. They’re already comfortable. The ones for whom these pronouncements mean little, if nothing at all, are the poor and the low waged. They continue to see their income squeezed, while the cost of living continues to rise. But the media and the government will have none of it.

A few weeks ago, the BBC’s economic editor, Robert Peston, was crowing over low oil prices. He told the nation’s viewers that “everyone” would now feel “richer” because of the continued fall in petrol prices. This is not only misleading; it’s also dishonest. The only people who can feel “richer”, by definition, are the rich themselves. If you are poor, you cannot be “rich”, it’s an absurdity. Yet this does not stop the likes of Daniel Hannan repeating this meaningless tosh. In Thursday’s blog for CapX, he repeated Peston’s bogus claim that “The rich are getting richer and the poor are… getting richer”. This is a measure of how out-of-touch our media and politicians are in relation to the people they purport to serve. We can also draw the conclusion that the mainstream media, the Westminster politicians and economic cults like the Adam Smith Institute and the Institute for Economic Affairs are in a cosy conspiratorial relationship with one another. The relationship between these institutions and ordinary people themselves is one of power. They consider themselves to be the voices of authority and we must listen and obey… or so they think. So when they tell us that “things are getting better” we are expected to believe them. But I no more believe them than I believe in the existence of God, the tooth fairy or Father Christmas. I see no improvement and neither do millions of other people.

The problem with those who constantly talk about ‘growth’ is that they can only speak the language of statistics and mathematics, and can only view the world through the lens of their social status. They are incapable of relating their nutty ideas about economics to the average person because what they’re saying bears no relation to everyday life. Trickle down, for example, is one economic fallacy that is repeated ad infinitum by economic cultists and held up as a model for ‘growth’ and economic well-being. But not even right-wingers like George HW Bush believed it and derided trickle down as “voodoo economics”. Yet the Hannans and Osbornes of this world cleave so tightly to it like men at sea clinging to any bit of flotsam that comes their way.

A couple of months ago, the Labour leadership claimed that if the Tories were re-elected, they would take public spending back to the levels of the 1930s. This was enough to get all manner of right-wing economic cultists into a lather. Hannan was one of those. In this blog, he does his best to claim how the 1930s was a “time of growth”. It’s a risible misrepresentation of a decade that’s become synonymous with economic hardship.

Well, here’s a fact that may surprise you. The 1930s saw more economic growth than any other decade in British history. It’s true that there were patches of deprivation. As in all times of economic transition, some industries declined while others rose. The poverty of the Jarrow Marchers was genuine: theirs had been a ship-building town, devastated by the collapse of international orders.

Sophistry, damned sophistry. For the millions of working class people who struggled to survive the decade, this is an insult to their memory. My mum’s family was Liverpool working class and I can remember her telling me what life was like in the Thirties: if you were poor or low-waged, you had no access to affordable or decent healthcare, because there was no National Health Service (the Tories will abolish it if they are re-elected). There was very little work on Merseyside in the 1930s, so people lived a hand-to-mouth existence.

Hannan continues his fantasy tour of his romanticized past:

Yet these were golden years for new industries such as electrical appliances and aviation and cars, the years when Morris, Humber and Austin became household names. The 1930s also saw an unprecedented boom in construction, as the comfortable suburbs of Betjeman’s Metroland spread across England. The Battersea Power Station raised its minarets over the capital, a symbol of self-confidence in architecture.

Here, Hannan waxes floridly about a world that only those with the economic means could take part. The appliances and cars that he talks about were beyond the means of my family and many others. No working class people owned cars, let alone possessed household appliances. My grandmother was still using a boiler and a mangle well into the 1970s. As for Metroland, the houses that were built there were for sale. Only those with nice, middle class incomes could afford a mortgage.

Here, Hannan slaps more gloss onto his fantasy.

 Britain responded to the 1929 crash by cutting spending drastically and, in consequence, soon saw a return to growth. The United States, by contrast, expanded government activity unprecedentedly under the New Deal, and so prolonged the recession by seven years. Yes, seven years. Here is the conclusion of a major study published in 2004 by two economists at the UCLA, Harold L Cole and Lee A Ohanian:

Cole and Ohanian are comprehensively defenestrated in this blog. Hannan isn’t interested in reality and like all right-wingers of his ilk, he exists in the hermetically-sealed space of privilege. The material of history is bent and twisted to shrink-fit a weak narrative. Like many of his fellow Tea Partiers, he makes the same feeble argument for cuts.

Contrasting the American and British experiences, we are left with an inescapable conclusion. Cuts work, and trying to spend your way out of recession doesn’t.

Let’s put it this way, if a company doesn’t borrow or spend money to invest when it is doing badly, it will go under. Cuts only work for the already wealthy. They are also a means by which the powerful punish the poor for being poor. Hannan makes clear his hatred of FDR and the New Deal. This is the same position held by the economic cultists at the Ludwig von Mises Institute as well as his fellow Randists.

This is perhaps the greatest fallacy of all:

Still, if only for the record, let me set down the real lesson of the 1930. The best way to recover from a crash, not least for low earners, is to bring spending back under control. Growth follows, jobs are created, and the people taking those jobs thereby gain the most secure route out of poverty.

It’s easy for those who have never personally experienced poverty to claim that “the most secure route out of  poverty” is work. Low-paid and zero hours contract jobs actually lock people into poverty. Hannan is not only a fool, he’s a dangerous fool. Leaving people to fend for themselves without a safety net will lead to greater social problems. Hannan is unmoved by such concerns. Yet he would be the first to complain that shanty towns are an “eyesore”. This is the man who calls himself a “Whig”.

Talking about economic growth when people are struggling to survive is deeply offensive. Talking about GDP is meaningless because not only is it a poor way of measuring economic performance, it means nothing to ordinary people. For all his claims of how cutting public spending will improve economic performance, Hannan has never had to suffer the privations of working in a low-paid job. Like all of his pals in Westminster and beyond, he is a bully, who talks a good talk but when his words are unpacked, they reveal the true horrors of the current political system.

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Starving British children are looking for food in rubbish bins

This is a truly shocking story of children forced to scavenge for food. The Tories think poverty is a “left-wing” plot to discredit their “reforms”. When I began this blog over four years ago, I speculated that there would be a rise in homelessness and shanty towns would spring up. I read an article yesterday that actually used the words “shanty towns” in the headline. You could be forgiven for thinking this is Britain in 1814, but it’s 2014 and we have a Tory-led government that’s not only obsessed with the ‘message’, but is also overly fond of nostalgia for the 19th century. This was the dawn of classical liberal economics and a time when everyone knew their place. In the 19th century poverty was rampant, so was disease and illiteracy. Nostalgia underpins all Tory thinking. Denial of the facts is a symptom. This is why I demand a cultural response as well as a political response to the crisis.

Vox Political

Who said it could never happen here? Children are starving on the streets of Britain as the Tory-led Coalition's hate policies bite ever-more-deeply into the poor [Image: Stoke Sentinel]. Who said it could never happen here? Children are starving on the streets of Britain as the Tory-led Coalition’s hate policies bite ever-more-deeply into the poor [Image: Stoke Sentinel]. British children are sifting through bins left outside houses in search of scraps of food because they are starving, it has been revealed.

But Tories and their supporters in rich London won’t have to look at them – because they are in Labour-held Stoke-on-Trent.

The Stoke Sentinel reported that “Youngsters have been searching through bins in the Hollings Street and Brocksford Street area of Fenton before eating any leftovers.”

It said, “Dozens of hungry families are referred to Fenton’s food bank for help every week.”

What’s really sad about this story is that some of the people interviewed seemed to think the problem was with the mess left behind by these children – youngsters who are, remember, so hungry that they…

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Right-Wing Clichés (#6): Work is the best route out of poverty

How many times have you heard a government minister say “Work is the best route out of poverty”? How would they know? They have never been impoverished nor have they been forced into a situation where they’ve had to work in a low paid job, struggling to pay bills and rent. David Cameron repeats the line often enough, but even when he was a student at Oxford, he wasn’t living in a cold, damp, miserable student house. He had the best accommodation money could buy. He didn’t have to go to his local Jobcentre and sift through loads of poorly paid, menial jobs that offer no future and, more importantly, the route out of poverty that he claims to speak of with such authority. His daddy had contacts. The Queen’s equerry even phoned Carlton Television and acted as his referee . How many ordinary people does that happen to?

If you’re a woman and you come from a working class background, the only ‘opportunities’ to make a decent amount of money are in the sex industry. More and more working class women are being forced into making these kinds of choices and perhaps worst of all, the message that comes from government and people like Catherine Hakim, who filleted Bourdieu’s concept of cultural capital to devise her ‘concept’ of “erotic capital”, is that if you’re a working class woman, you’re only good enough to be ogled, fondled and fucked in the car park by some grubby businessman for a tenner. It comes as no surprise to The Cat that Hakim works for the Thatcherite think-tank, the Centre for Policy Studies.

Work that pays the minimum wage (or less) actually locks people into poverty. If you are working in low paid job, you are forced to work endless hours of overtime (for the same amount of money) to make ends meet.This means you don’t have much of a life. It also means that you don’t have the time to look for work that pays more money. You may be in a zero hours contract or have been forced into ‘self-employment’. If you are, then you know that if you don’t work, you don’t get paid. You have to work even if you’re ill. The only thing that raises people out of poverty is greater access to opportunities. Under the present neoliberal system, the possibilities of this happening are small to non-existent, because the jobs that pay the best money are reserved for those people who come from wealthy and powerful families.

So next time you hear a Tory tell you that “work is the best route out of poverty”, you laugh and laugh hard, because he or she has no evidence to support their contention. One Tory told me that the working class were “richer” at the end of the 19th century than at the beginning of that century. Spot the logic fail.

David Cameron is the Queen’s fifth cousin.

 

 

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Right-wing clichés (#5) “Our ‘generous’ benefits system”

As if telling us there’s no poverty in Britain wasn’t enough (or, alternatively, poverty is a ‘left-wing conspiracy’), the right never tire of telling us how ‘generous’ the benefits system is. Of course it isn’t generous at all and if you compare Britain’s out of  work benefits to those in the rest of Europe, you will see that people in France, Germany or even Ireland (where you get a Christmas bonus) get enough money to live on, while in Britain it is impossible to sustain oneself and pay bills on a paltry £74 a week.

Of course, the worst part of this narrative is the way the right seeks to justify its disdain for EU immigrants and others, by telling us there is something called ‘benefit tourism’, where hordes of Bulgarians, Romanians and Albanians pour into the UK to live on less than a subsistence wage.  You’d have to be really stupid to think Britain is the place to come to claim benefits – but that’s the right for you. Like a dog returning to its own vomit, the right returns to the same lies and myths again and again and again.

Hysterical and delusional the right is incapable of grasping the fact that not a single jobless person can survive long on benefits without getting into serious debt. Worse still, is the right’s constant message of “making work pay”, when wages have been stagnating for the better part of 15 years.  Then there’s the “work lifts people out of poverty” myth. Low paid work actually keeps people in poverty. As thinking goes, the right’s thinking is full of gaps. I’d be surprised if these people could tie their own shoelaces without nanny or a servant to do it for them.

Here’s the choice for most workers: live on payday loans or go hungry and cold. Either way, you’re fucked. The payday loans companies, owned mainly by hedge funds, appear to have a compact with the Tories. They want wages to stay low so that they and their bloodsucking pals in the credit card companies can keep people economically enslaved. Friedrich von  Hayek’s book The Road to Serfdom made the bold claim that a socialist economy would lead to serfdom, it seems he was talking out of his arse. The system that he so loved is the one that’s returning people to the days of feudalism.

It’s time to agitate for a Citizen’s Income.  Now who’s with me?

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Telegraph Comment of the Week (#12)

Brendan O'Neill: let them eat donuts

Brendan O’Neill: poverty is a leftist conspiracy

At Nowhere Towers, Brendan O’Neill is known as one of the Telegraph’s worst bloggers (James Delingpole is the other one). A Murdoch lackey and an acolyte of The Great Furedi, O’Neill rails against anything that looks vaguely left-wing and this  is in spite of his repeated insistence that he’s a “man of the Left”. Is he a hypocrite? Yes, he is.

Yesterday, O’Neill penned a blog with the title “What’s fuelling the food bank frenzy? The hunger for publicity for anti-poverty activists”.

O’Neill knows what his readers like and they like anything that puts the poor and the needy in their place. They also like their ideas half-baked and O’Neill knows this and plays them like a fiddle.

Here’s my theory, for what it’s worth. Today’s food banks are not fuelled by the needs of the poor so much as by the needs of charities and campaigners. I think the main beneficiaries of the fashion for opening food banks, and for press-releasing these openings to every media outlet in the land, are the poverty industry rather than the poor. The poverty industry is made up of those campaigners who depend, for their very existence, on the idea that there exist hordes of helpless, hapless poor folk – and so the more these campaigners can fuel that idea, the better. Just consider how loose is their definition of poverty.

“Here’s my theory” he says. The trouble is, Brendan, it isn’t a “theory”; it’s a collection of prejudices strung together like diamante pearls. Furthermore, there is no “poverty industry”. That’s blatant hyperbole. What O’Neill is saying is that those who help others are to be despised. So the food banks, which many people rely on, are just publicity fronts? Did I get that right? Yes, I did.

They define “food poverty” as “the inability to afford, or have access to, food to make up a healthy diet”. But who defines what is a healthy diet? If a family can afford unhealthy foods – like cheap white bread, processed meat, beans – can they still be said to be suffering from “food poverty”? In these campaigners’ eyes, yes. Using various modern and ridiculously stretched definitions of poverty, the Trussell Trust, which runs most of Britain’s food banks, says 13 million people in Britain are living in poverty. They mean relative poverty – effectively “not being as wealthy as others” rather than “having nothing”. For them, the important thing is not having a serious debate about living standards in the 21st century but rather promoting the Dickensian idea that millions of people are poor, desperate and starving.

With the rising cost of fuel, travel and foodstuffs, combined with stagnating wages (stagflation), life for the low-waged and those on benefits is tough, but you’ll get no sympathy from O’Neill who thinks poverty is a leftist conspiracy. He nitpicks over the definition of “food poverty” but he hasn’t actually produced an coherent argument to challenge it. Instead he tells us that poverty is a “Dickensian idea”; old-fashioned and no longer ‘hip’. In the last sentence, he shows us that not only is he spiteful and mean, but he’s in denial.

That is what is driving the food-bank frenzy – not Britons’ desperation for food, but poverty campaigners’ desperation for publicity. The opening of a food bank is ultimately a very fancy press release about the need to keep the charity sector and welfare state flourishing. It’s politics dolled up as emergency aid. It’s poverty porn, providing a kick for those activists and commentators who like nothing more than to feel the thrill of pity for the less fortunate.

O’Neill hasn’t got any evidence to support this provocative assertion. “Politics dolled up as emergency aid” just reinforces his selective misanthropy. Better to let people starve. Eh, Brendan?

Now we come to the comment of the week. This one is from “MHammer47”, whose class hatred oozes from every word of this comment:

MHammer Twat

“MHammer47” channels Marie Antoinette by saying “let them eat donuts (sic)”. They’re only “69p”. Living on doughnuts will lead to serious health issues but for people like this, such things are incidental; mere collateral damage.  For MC Hammer, finding oneself in dire financial circumstances is about making “bad choices”. If only it were that simple.

There’s an old saying that Hammer and O’Neill need to learn and understand: There by the grace of God go I.

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