Tag Archive: council


VOAG-Logo-(Ukraine)UK has ‘worst quality of life in Europe’

Survey of 10 developed European countries puts UK at bottom of the pile due to high costs of living, while France takes top spot


The UK has been named the worst place to live in Europe for quality of life, behind countries with damaged economies such as Ireland and Italy, according to the latest uSwitch quality of life index.
The UK emerged as having the second lowest hours of sunshine a year, the fourth highest retirement age, and the third lowest spend on health as a percentage of GDP. Despite above average household income – the fourth highest in Europe – Britons have 5.5 fewer days holiday a year than the European average and endure a below average government spend on education.

UK households also struggle with a high cost of living, with food and diesel prices the highest in Europe, and unleaded petrol, alcohol and cigarettes all costing more than the European average. As a result, more than one in 10 Britons (12%) said they are “seriously considering” emigrating, with “broken society” the biggest concern for 59% of those questioned, followed by the cost of living (49%), and crime and violence (47%). Just 5% of those questioned are happy in the UK.

The study examined 16 factors to determine where the UK sits in relation to nine other major European countries. Variables such as net income, VAT and the cost of essential goods were put under the microscope, as well as lifestyle factors such as hours of sunshine, holiday entitlement, working hours and life expectancy.

France bagged the top spot for the third year running, despite families earning an average £31,767 (compared to the UK’s £38,547) and working longer hours than people in the UK. But the French enjoy 2,124 hours of sunshine, have an average retirement age of 60, and receive 36 days of holiday a year. They also live a year longer than Brits, with an average life expectancy of 81.4 years compared to 80.4 in the UK. People in France, Spain, Italy, the Netherlands and Sweden call all expect to live longer than people in the UK.

Spain, Italy, the Netherlands and Germany rounded out the top five best European countries for quality of life, with Denmark, Poland, Sweden and Ireland also above the UK in the table. Last year, Ireland was joint bottom with the UK.

France and Spain are also where people in the UK would most like to live, with 13% of the 2,036 adults surveyed by uSwitch choosing Spain and 7% opting for France. The Spanish can expect to live just over a year longer than people in the UK, and enjoy the highest number of days holiday in Europe with 39 days. Spain also has the lowest alcohol price of the 10 countries.

Uswitch said it had weighted each category to “nationally representative criteria” using sources such as the OECD, the Met Office, the World Health Organisation and Eurostat. It then calculated a standardised score for each category, defining quality of life as the sum of the standardised scores.

Ann Robinson of uSwitch.com said: “Last year, at least our neighbours in Ireland were worse off, now we can’t even console ourselves with that. We are now officially at the bottom of the pile. We may still be enjoying the fourth highest household income in Europe, but the high cost of living means we are living to work.

“When coupled with many of the issues facing households in the UK today it is not surprising that one in 10 of us have contemplated starting a new life abroad. But for those of us who decide to stick it out and ride the storm, there will be no choice but to batten down the hatches. Cutting back where possible to help combat our high living costs will go some way to improving our quality of life.”Revolution Banner

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LP 1900 Manifesto

 

voice of anti-capitalismThe VOAG Focuses On The Labour Party, As Another Member Resigns

With the European elections looming, and the Borough Council elections only a year away, the VOAG publishes a letter of resignation from the Labour Party, posted on Facebook by a former member.

The stark reality is that only a Socialist Party of the Bolshevik type can lead the working class, those that work and produce the wealth, to a better future. Only a Socialist society, one that produces goods and services, not for profit, but according to what’s needed and democratically agreed upon, can fulfill our needs, the producers. With true equality of opportunity comes true freedom.

As Karl Marx, the founder of modern socialism said: “Where one can do one thing today and another tomorrow, to hunt in the morning, fish in the afternoon, rear cattle in the evening, criticise after dinner, just as I have a mind, without ever becoming hunter, fisherman, herdsman or critic”…”Where in place of the old bourgeois society we shall have an association in which the free development of  each is the condition of the free development of all”. (Karl Marx, communist Manifesto).

Lenin declared, in his book What Is To Be Done, that “economic arguments [for socialism] are the most widely applied, but not the most widely applicable”. The essence of socialism, the project, often forgotten by fellow socialists overcome by the day-to-day struggle, is the complete transformation of society, the transcendence of mankind, and the liberation of humanity. Socialism, as Marx once said represents “the very beginning of human history“.

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I am returning my membership card for the Labour Party as a means of saying that I wish to resign from the party. It is with regret that I am doing this but I see no other option.

I joined the party in October last year as a longstanding member of the Fabian Society. As an expat, I had come to the University of Cambridge the previous month and was horrified at the damage the coalition government had done to the social fabric of Britain. I had thought and hoped that both the aggressive foreign policies – notably the war against Iraq – as well as many Thatcherite notions endorsed by ‘New Labour’ had been part of the past, and that the choice of Ed Miliband as a more ‘left-wing’ candidate had signified a fresh start for Labour. I admit that I had been very much wrong.

I have closely followed Labour’s policies and campaigns since. Most of these have been concerned with shallow, cosmetic and ultimately insignificant campaigns. Britain surely faces more challenging problems than ticket touts at major rugby events (23 February). The most visible response to the dire problems faced by a society which for the first time since 1945 has seen the Red Cross in action delivering food to the needy has been Miliband calling for a ‘freeze’ on energy bills. Surely nobody in the Labour party is so naïve as to seriously believe that such a move were possible without renationalising the energy companies.

The excesses of an entirely market-driven society and of almost completely deregulated capitalism could be felt by all in 2008 and the following years: Profits had been privatised, and losses socialised. Yet I cannot remember reading any statements by Labour during these last few months that would have called for fundamental changes to an economic model creating the rifts running through Britain. Quite to the contrary, recently even the Labour Party, or rather some members thereof, attempted to jump onto a populist bandwagon to please an immigrant-bashing and xenophobe, Daily-Fail-reading petit bourgeois sector of the electorate with a petty, islandish outlook. This, at least, was the impression conveyed in late January, early February, when the Labour leadership failed to stand up to such tendencies galore, and instead attempted to play the ‘tough on immigration’ card.

Just as bad, if not worse, is the fact that Britain currently has, arguably, the worst Secretary of State ‘for’ Education in history. Michael Gove, on this the person reading this letter will probably agree, is easily the worst person in this office in British history. Education, to some extent the most important brief in the cabinet, is in the hands of a tub-thumping madman. Yet while it is clear that a myriad of different forms of schools has done incredible damage to the education system, that tuition fees have turned higher education into nothing but a marketable commodity, there is no such thing as an education policy on the part of Labour that would even bear the potential – let alone the promise – of making the best possible education again available for all. The most fundamental key to equality is left in ruins, while Labour cannot even bring itself to let go of such a completely failed notion as academies and ‘independent’ schools mushrooming around Britain.

Ultimately, the balance we once attempted to strike between markets and citizens has been abandoned, with the former having been given complete preference over the latter. I continue to hope that from within the Fabian Society – as well as from other think tanks, as well as individuals – alternatives emerge, and that there be people within the Labour party who listen. However, so long as Labour as a party only disagrees with the Tories on how to tip the balance towards markets over citizens, rather than on how to reverse it, it is regret that I need to tell you that I cannot support the party as a member any longer.

Yours sincerelyEnemy Is Profit

big-societyDon’t Vote UKIP Don’t Vote Alexandra Swann: As UKIP Asks Should The Unemployed Be Allowed To Vote

The former chair of Conservative Future has suggested that the unemployed should not be allowed to vote. Tom Bursnall, who recently defected from the Tories to UKIP on Windsor and Maidenhead Council, specifically targeted the unemployed people on his “Pro Capitalist” blog, asking: “Should people on benefits be allowed to vote?”

And it gets worse — when Tom “Batshit” Bursnall goes on to suggest that rich people should receive more votes than the poor: “It would be terribly ‘unfair’ of you to give equal representation rights to the chap who contributes 50 times more than the next person. In the same way as if you own 60% of shares of a company, you’ll get 60% of the voting rights at the Annual General Meeting.”farage_swannWith Tom and his councillor wife trousering more than £14,000 from the taxpayer, The VOAG wonders how many more votes the Bursnall household would receive.

Now UKIP’s most high-profile new recruit, former Ukip candidate for Farnham North in the last Surrey County Council elections, Alexandra Swann, has joined in. She claims Cllr Tom Bursnall “has a point”, going on to say it is “dangerous” to let unemployed people vote. She continued: “allowing people to vote on how other people’s money is spent — if they dont contribute — is dangerous”

As with Tom Bursnall, Alexandra Swann defected from the Tories in 2012. 23 year-old Alexandra Swann was the star turn at UKIP’s recent conference in Skegness — with party leader Nigel Farage proudly declaring that “the Swann has migrated”. A statement on her website says she left the conservative Party for UKIP because Conservative-led” government submits to every liberal-left piety imaginable.’

She was narrowly defeated by the Tory incumbent, Denise Le Gal, by just 43 votes in the 2012 Surrey County Council elections. Don’t Vote UKIP, Don’t vote Alexander Swann.Join Us On Facebook

Diabled CampaignThe Black Triangle Campaign was founded to support the human rights of disabled people and to oppose the Government’s “Work Capability Assessments”, which re-classify sick and disabled people as “fit for work”.

 

The hidden welfare state that the U.K. government dares not speak of

The UK has two welfare states. There is one that is reported and endlessly discussed, and another, which is rarely mentioned. Whilst the first is suffering enormous cuts under the Tory/LD coalition, the other just keeps expanding.

Governments on the left and the right can always justify welfare cuts by pitting, for example, mobility scooters against needle exchanges, or the soft-play area in children’s playgrounds against an old people’s home. Who deserves it most, they say, students or cleaners? Old or young? But when we’re running not one, but two welfare states, that’s a totally fake scenario. The real choice is between playgrounds or gas rigs; between Meals on Wheels or The City of London Currency Speculators’ Maintenance Allowance.

There’s a connection – never mentioned – between, let’s say, Britain’s eight new deep-water gas rigs and its new food banks. The connection is that the $4.5 billion subsidy package being doled out to transnational gas corporations is a very big slice of the welfare pie. And to keep the gas transnationals on the benefits to which they are addicted, hungry humans have to queue for tinned food that is too close to its sell-by date to be kept on the shelves of supermarkets, many of which are themselves massive recipients of corporate welfare.

Not only does the UK pay out unemployment benefits less generous than Romania, Albania and the US, but the wages of the employed have simply not kept pace with productivity over the last 30 yrs. Tory Ideology is all about Handouts to the Wealthy paid for by the Poor.unemploymentGeorge Osborne has cut £18bn from benefits plus a further £81bn from public services in the name of unavoidable austerity, whilst at the same time providing huge subsidies, tax cuts and removing regulation for the hidden ‘welfare’ system that benefits the private sector.

No goods or services are directly returned to the government in exchange for these expenditures, although of course, politicians will argue that they’re stimulating the economy, helping struggling industries, creating jobs or funding important research but actually this is just a corporate welfare system.

The Cato Institute, for example, estimated that in the US, $93 billion were devoted to corporate welfare in 2002. This was about 5% of the federal budget, and nearly twice the amount spent on social welfare ie. feeding people, housing the homeless, raising children out of poverty etc.

There is no reason to think the situation is different in the UK. However, overall statistics for the UK corporate welfare budget are hard to discover, and the variety of different subsidies are staggering. Needless to say, the Tories focus their attention on fraud and waste in the social welfare budget.

Welfare fraud and waste is never far from the top of the UK’s news agenda – but the real figures often bear almost no resemblance to popular belief. The British public, for example, think around 27% of the welfare budget is lost of fraud, according to TUC research.

The Department for Work and Pensions’ latest data on fraud and error in the benefit system shows a very different reality: fraud exists, but at a far lower level than the public believes – and is outweighed by errors from claimants and officials alike. The DWP estimates £3.5bn has been overpaid due to errors and fraud in the system; 2.1 per cent of the overall benefit expenditure.

The corporate welfare budget arises from four main sources: Paying little or no tax – Tax havens; tax breaks; enjoying huge subsidies and the removal of employment and environmental protection regulations.

Tax Havens
 The UK’s 100 biggest public companies are running more than 8,000 subsidiaries or joint ventures in onshore and offshore tax havens, according to research. The figures, published by the charity Action Aid, show that only two of the companies listed on the UK’s FTSE 100 have no subsidiaries in tax havens – while companies such as Barclays and Tesco own hundreds. http://www.guardian.co.uk. The UK Crown Dependencies and Overseas Territories constitute half of the world’s most frequently used tax havens.

Tax Breaks
Almost one in four of Britain’s biggest listed companies paid no corporation tax in this country last year – and almost half fail to disclose their tax payments to the UK at all, according to research by The Mail on Sunday.  According to the annual reports and accounts of all the companies in the FTSE 100, 47 companies gave no obvious figures for tax paid in Britain.  Of the 53 who did, 12 showed they paid no tax at all and, six actually received a tax credit.Tax AvoidTax Avoidance

 Treasury minister, David Gauke, admitted in reply to a parliamentary written question that only four employees of HMRC are working to capture 124 tax fugitives. The amount of uncollected tax rose again last year. A Labour MP pointed out that the four officials dedicated to the tax fugitives compares with the 450 HMRC staff involved in administering the withdrawal of child benefit from higher-rate taxpayers.

Subsidies
Currently, it is estimated that the government has already provided £43.5bn in various subsidies including the National Infrastructure Plan, the Equity Loan and Help to Buy schemes, the Enterprise Finance Guarantee and the Regional Growth Fund, with nothing to show for it. Far greater sums are in the pipeline, up to £310bn.

Meanwhile supermarkets get an enormous subsidy to help with one of their major overheads, staffing costs. This is because many employees in these large and successful companies are paid only the minimum wage. And because the current minimum wage is not a living wage, nearly everyone on it has to claim tax credits to be able to make ends meet. Those tax credits are funded by the taxpayer. The supermarkets are effectively state subsidised industries.

In addition to the recent unprecedented public support for the financial sector The NEF (New Economics Foundation) identified at least three significant hidden subsidies:

* The ‘Too Big to Fail’ subsidy: The government now provides a public guarantee, effectively insurance against banks going bust. This gives banks a huge commercial advantage over other firms in a market system. It means banks are able to borrow money much more cheaply than if they were not ultimately underwritten by the public. Exchanges with leading auditors in front of the House of Lords Select Committee on Economic Affairs in January 2011 confirm this. A conservative analysis reveals that this hidden subsidy could be worth £30 billion annually. It means that bonuses to senior staff for ‘performance’ and dividends to institutional investors are at least in part a straight transfer from the taxpayer.
* The quantitative easing windfall subsidy: When it was decided that the economy needed more liquidity, the Bank of England pumped money in using the technique called ‘quantitative easing’. To meet various, and sometimes self-imposed, requirements, it did by purchasing government bonds through investment banks. Merely for being passive conduits for this ‘risk free’ arrangement the banks took a cut of every trade. Here nef analysts found that banks enjoyed a significant windfall, but that lack of transparency keeps the likely amount hidden.
* The ‘make the customer pay’ subsidy: Since the baking crisis of 2008, the banks have been increased the gap between what they have to pay to borrow money, and what they charge people to borrow from them. This is the so-called interest rate ‘spread’. This is because they can borow money from the Bank of England at virtually 0%. As it is, the taxpayer is subsidising the banks twice over: once through taxpayer funded public support to the banks, and secondly through paying much higher interest to borrow than the banks do. This hidden subsidy amounts to at least another £2.5 billion each year.Rebuild The Fourth International

Housing-For-AllSale Of Small Council Homes Condemning Thousands To The Bedroom Tax – The VOAG Investigates

Thousands of one and two-bedroom council homes have been sold off since 2010, preventing tenants affected by the “bedroom tax” from downsizing to avoid the penalty, research by The Independent shows.

The controversial policy is meant to free up social housing space by encouraging hundreds of thousands of tenants to move to smaller properties, by cutting their benefits if they have a spare bedroom.

But figures obtained by The Independent show that a severe shortage of smaller council homes across the country is being exacerbated by the right-to-buy scheme – leaving many victims of the bedroom tax with no choice but to accept reduced benefits.

In the areas hardest hit by the housing crisis, more than two-thirds of council homes sold off under right-to-buy since the Coalition came to power had one or two bedrooms, figures obtained under Freedom of Information show.

Central London is suffering from the biggest sell-off of small homes. In Camden, 81 per cent of properties sold since 2010 had two bedrooms or fewer, and 49 per cent had one bedroom. Figures for Hammersmith and Fulham show that 77 per cent of sales were of small properties.

In Southwark, 74 per cent of those sold were small, with 32 per cent one-bedroom properties, and in Lambeth, 74 per cent of its right-to-buy sales were of the smallest homes.

Brighton and Hove council has sold 111 properties since 2010, of which 74 per cent had one or two bedrooms. Although Bournemouth council sold just 20 homes, all of them were small.

The analysis of 125 council areas found that of 14,616 properties sold across England, 45 per cent had one or two bedrooms. About 61 per cent of England’s total social housing stock is made up of one- or two-bedroom properties, suggesting that some councils appear to be selling off a disproportionate number of smaller homes.

Alison Garnham, the chief executive of the Child Poverty Action Group, said the figures exposed the bedroom tax as “a hasty shambles” which had forced some of the most vulnerable children into unfit housing. “It’s often pushing them into the worst quality housing in the private sector – places that aren’t fit for habitation because of problems like damp and mould.”

Labour’s shadow housing minister, Emma Reynolds, said: “The truth about David Cameron’s bedroom tax is that there are simply not enough smaller homes for people to move to. With the Government failing to keep its promise on replacing every home sold through right-to-buy with a new home built, the shortage is getting worse.” Labour plans to scrap the policy if it wins a majority in next year’s general election.

Government efforts to reform the welfare system have resulted in tenants being moved out of expensive areas. But even those cities receiving families who are priced out are losing smaller properties through right-to-buy. In Hull, for example, 44 per cent of houses sold since 2010 had one or two bedrooms.

The housing charity Shelter urged the Government to review the bedroom tax in the light of the findings. “This research points to a serious contradiction at the heart of government policy,” said Roger Harding, Shelter’s director of communications, policy and campaigns. “Unless sufficient one- and two-bed homes are made available the bedroom tax is an unfair penalty on people who have no choice but to stay where they are.”Voag-Logo-catapult2

Westminster Tories bring in a bylaw making it an offence to “give out food for free”!

From Daily Mirror
Westminster Tories have ­revealed their true colours by  banning charities from running soup kitchens for the ­homeless.HomelessConservative Westminster council in Central London also wants to make it an  offence to sleep rough – while slashing £5million of funding to hostels. Astonishingly, town hall chiefs claimed soup kitchens only “encourage” people  to sleep on the streets.

Westminster council, one of the richest in the land, wants to bring in a  bylaw making it an offence to “give out food for free”, punishable by fines. The  twisted move blows apart David Cameron’s Big Society boast that an army of ­volunteers will flock to help those worse off.

And it sparked a storm of ­criticism. Reverend Alison Tomlin of the  Methodist church in ­Westminster said: “The proposals are nothing short of  disgusting. This bylaw punishes people solely for their misfortune and belongs  in a ­Victorian statute book, not the 21st century.”

Labour’s London mayoral ­candidate Ken Livingstone added: “Only the  Conservatives would try to make it illegal to give food to the homeless. “With Tory mayor Boris Johnson cutting affordable housing to a trickle, the  number of people sleeping on the streets is rising and cuts to housing benefit  threaten ­thousands more with eviction and homelessness.”

Councillor Paul Dimoldenberg, leader of the Labour Group, said: “Nothing  illustrates the cold-hearted and callous approach of the Conservatives than this  attempt to criminalise those offering help to ­homeless people. “I thought this was what the Big Society was supposed to be all about,  generous-hearted people giving their time to those less fortunate, at no cost to  the public purse. This is a nasty, mean move from a nasty, mean party.”

A consultation paper says rough sleeping and soup runs would be banned in the  Westminster Cathedral Piazza and surrounding area. Labour said the cruel move  comes as the council ­withdraws funding for three hostels in the borough and  housing trust.

Westminster’s Daniel Astaire provoked fury by declaring  free food “keeps people on the street longer”. He added: “Soup runs have no  place in the 21st century. It is undignified that people are being fed on the  streets. They actually encourage people to sleep rough with all the dangers that  entails. Our priority is to get people off the streets altogether. We have a  range of services that can help do that.”Voag-Logo-catapult2

stop-the-cutsFocus On Benefit Cuts and Sanctions

Benefit claimants Assessed as ‘fit for work’ are dying within six weeks of assessment
Thousands of sick benefit claimants are dying within six weeks of being wrongly assessed as “fit to work”, a North-East MP claimed yesterday, during a commons debate  in which he called for an independent assessment of the Coalition’s welfare policy.

Ian Mearns, Labour MP for Gateshead, blamed the Government for the misdiagnosis at least 10,600 sick and disabled people in just ten months, who then quickly died. He said: “Four people a day are dying within six weeks of being declared fit for work under the work capability assessments. It is scandalous.

Mr Mearns said the figure of 10,600 deaths, after unsuccessful claims for Employment and Support Allowance (ESA), covered the period January to November 2011. And he added: “This Government has repeatedly refused to release updated 2013 figures for deaths within six weeks of an end of an ESA claim.”No-CutsStop the benefits cuts and sanctions says Citizens Advice Bureau Punishing Poverty is a report published last week by Citizens Advice and which is based on a national survey of those who have had benefits stopped or sanctioned for not meeting the endless ‘work related activity’ conditions imposed by Jobcentres.  Hundreds of thousands of claimants have faced sanctions varying in length between four weeks and up to three years.  These sanctions are often imposed for the most trivial of reasons and as this report exposes, quite often for circumstances that are entirely beyond the claimant’s control.  It is not just unemployed claimants who face sanctions, but increasingly sick and disabled people and single parents with children over the age of five.

The results of the survey portray a truly horrific account of the destitution and human misery that this regime has inflicted on people.  Stories of families ripped apart, pregnant women left without food, those with dietary needs due to health conditions becoming sick, mental health deteriorating, suicide attempts and people forced to beg or go through bins to find food.

These stories are not the inevitable consequence of economic crisis, the UK is still one of the richest countries in the world. Benefit sanctions barely save the tax payer a penny such is the cost of policing and administering the system. 

As the Citizens Advice report reveals there are countless tales of benefits being stopped due to a mistake by the Jobcentre, or because a claimant faced unavoidable circumstances such as travel delays, hospital appointments and even job interviews which caused them to be late to an appointment with their advisor.  It is the widespread, seemingly haphazard nature of the regime which forces all claimants into a state of perpetual fear.  The threat of the dreaded brown envelope through the door from the DWP is a feature of life on all benefits, a daily reminder that you are only ever a heartbeat away from complete destitution.

The welfare state is not a political weapon to stigmatise  or scapegoat people, force down wages and pursue a work makes you free ideology. It should exist as the opposite, to empower, provide dignity and even act as a force against poverty pay – saying to grasping employers that there is an alternative for people if all you’ve got to offer is shit wages. Benefit sanctions must be brought to an immediate end with no exceptions. The full report can be downloaded at: http://sdrv.ms/1c48ECqwelfare10 Facts About Benefits Britain
1) A TUC survey showed that people think around 41% of benefits go to the unemployed, the real figure is 2.6%. (1)

2) 42% of the Welfare Bill goes to pensioners, 21% goes to people in low paid work. (2)

3) Nearly 80% of JSA claimants stop claiming within 6 months. (3)

4) Of the 7.8 million families receiving child benefit, 1.2 million have more than two children. (4)

5) A TUC survey found that people think around 27% of welfare is lost to fraud – the real figure is only 0.7%, around £1.2 billion. (5)

6) Around £17 billion of benefits that people are entitled to goes unclaimed every year. (6)

7) Immigrants are 60% less likely to claim benefits than a British-born person. (7)

8) 64% of families receive benefits – that’s 20.3 million families. (8)

9) The UK spends 12% less on benefits per head than France does, and 19% less compared to Germany. (9)

10) 93% of new Housing Benefit claimants in 2010 and 2011 came from working people, as UK housing costs are the 3rd highest in Europe. (10)Socialism or Barbarism, it really is that simple!

Bedroom-TaxBeat The Bedroom Tax – Loophole gives hope!


Advice From Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism
Written By Robert Clough

The revelation that possibly 15% of all tenants forced to pay the bedroom tax are in fact exempt because of a legal error must give hope to those fighting this vicious attack on the working class.

Described in the media as a ‘loophole’, it is in fact down to the criminal incompetence of the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) who ignored clauses in housing benefit regulations set out in 2006. This error means that any tenant who has been on housing benefit since before 1 January 1996 and who has been occupying the same house over that period is exempt from paying the bedroom tax.

In an urgent bulletin issued on 8 January 2014 acknowledging the ‘mistake’, the DWP stated that only a ‘small number’ of tenants would be affected. DWP Secretary Iain Duncan Smith and DWP ministers have said between 3,000 and 5,000 tenants would have their bedroom tax payments refunded. These wretches had no basis for their estimates, and made them up to minimise the scale of the government’s incompetence. The true figure will be at least 40,000, and possibly many more. One Wirral housing association, Magenta Living, believes from its own records that 320 tenants out of 2,076 paying the tax are exempt. This figure does not include those who are in succession tenancies, or who have had to move through force majeure in the period since 1996 (because of fire or flooding, for instance), or who have downsized because they could not afford to pay the tax. Even so, at least 15.4% of its tenants have been unlawfully forced to pay the bedroom tax. This is not out of line with initial figures obtained for other housing authorities in the north, and would translate into a national figure of over 80,000 (15.4% of the 522,000 currently paying the tax).

What does this mean for the tenants involved and their families? They have had to make choices between heating and eating. Life, difficult enough beforehand, has been made intolerable by the worry of eviction for non-payment. It drove Stephanie Bottrill to suicide in May 2013 – we now know she was exempt. Thousands have been forced to abandon what had been their family home for decades. Their lives, and those of their families, have been wrecked – and we are talking here about up to 200,000 people living in the 80,000 affected households. To compound the cruelty, councils such as Wirral and St Helens have unlawfully demanded repayment of Discretionary Housing Payments made to those now recognised as exempt.

This cruelty will continue into a second year because there is no organised resistance despite judgments that benefit tribunals have made in favour of tenants. First Tier Tribunals have ruled that bedroom size is a factor that has to be taken into account in determining bedroom tax liability. They have also ruled that in making bedroom tax decisions, housing authorities have to consider room purpose and current usage; the rights of children to a family life where parents have separated; the specific needs of disabled people, and take into account the human rights of tenants. A real movement would be making hay with this.

Councils have argued that they cannot act on First Tier Tribunal decisions since they do not set legal precedents. However, Upper Tribunals do, and a Bolton Upper Tribunal has set a very important precedent, saying that a room can only be a bedroom if it has a bed in it and is used for sleeping in. In other words, if a room is not furnished with a bed and is not used for sleeping in, then it is not a bedroom (see speye.wordpress.com for greater detail). The importance of this lies in the way councils made their original bedroom tax decisions. Labour and Tory alike, they all uncritically accepted data submitted by social landlords which was no more than the number of bedrooms as recorded on tenancy agreements, and refused to inspect each home to determine how those rooms were being used. This blanket approach was unlawful, and with councils having to undertake annual reviews of housing benefit decisions in February and March, campaigns must up the ante by demanding that council officers inspect every social housing property before making housing benefit decisions for 2014/15.

The DWP has said that it will act to remove the 1996 exemption. While there is no limit to the vindictiveness of the ConDem coalition, this may not be straightforward. Coming in the wake of the continuing Universal Credit fiasco it will be a further exposé of governmental incompetence. The media will find it hard to stigmatise those affected as Benefit Street ‘scroungers’: the overwhelming majority of them are either disabled people or carers who have worked in the past but are unable to do so now. In the meantime up to 80,000 tenants can take out complaints of maladministration against the DWP with the Parliamentary Ombudsman and against their local council with the Local Government Ombudsman. They will also be able to sue both for the financial hardship and distress they have suffered. All of this shows that the bedroom tax can be beaten: it merely requires determined organisation.gypt, Syria, London, Liverpool, Birmingham: Join The Resistance!

 

We take a look back at some of the many promises and quotes by David Cameron prior to the 2010 general election and ask ourselves why should anyone believe a word that comes out of the PM’s mouth?6

“With the Conservatives there will be no more of the tiresome, meddlesome, top-down re-structures that have dominated the last decade of the NHS”.same as labourThe coalition government went on to make some of the biggest changes to the NHS since its creation.

“We have absolutely no plans to raise VAT. Our first Budget is all about recognising we need to get spending under control rather than putting up tax”.14George Osborne rose VAT from 17.5% to a record 20%.

“I like the child benefit, I wouldn’t change child benefit, I wouldn’t means-test it, I don’t think that is a good idea”.1The coalition government later abolished Child Benefit for higher earners.

“Yes, we back Sure Start. It’s a disgrace that Gordon Brown has been trying to frighten people about this. He’s the prime minister of this country but he’s been scaring people about something that really matters”.7Hundreds of Sure Start centres have since closed their doors.

“We have no plans to change existing Future Jobs Fund commitments”.2Within weeks of the coalition government taking office it announced the abolition of the Future Jobs Fund.

“We’ve looked at educational maintenance allowances and we haven’t any plan to get rid of them”. 8Nine months later the coalition announced that EMA was to be scrapped.

“Let us look at the issue of dependency where we have trapped people in poverty through the extent of welfare that they have”.13Since then we have witnessed some of the biggest cuts to welfare since the formation of the welfare state, which has led to a five-fold increase in poverty-stricken families turning to food banks.

“People are increasingly frustrated that decisions taken further and further away from them mean their living standards are slashed through enforced austerity”.13The UK has been forced to endure some of harshest austerity measures in decades and those policies haven’t come from “further and further away”. They’ve come from David Cameron and his coalition government.

“We cannot go on as we are with 2.6 million people on incapacity benefit, 500,000 of them are under 35.”5Sick and disabled benefit claimants are still being wrongly found ‘fit for work’ by inhumane benefit tests.

“We will say to people that if you want to work, we will do everything we can to help you. We will give you the training, we will give you the support, we will give you the advice to get you back at work”.12Or hide jobseekers away on the government’s controversial Work Programme so that they can manipulate unemployment statistics perhaps?

“When you’re taking the country through difficult times and difficult decisions you’ve got to take the country with you. That means permanently trying to make the argument that what you’re doing is fair and seen to be fair”.9Tax cuts for Millionaires whilst some of the poorest in society are struggling to make ends-meet due to welfare cuts and poverty wages”.

“What we’re putting forward is the most radical reform of the welfare state for 60 years. I think it will have a transformative effect in making sure that everyone is better off working rather than on benefits”.10Figures show that for the first time in history there are now more working people living in poverty than those in workless households.Voag-Logo-Darker