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Thursday 27 February 2014

Another 212,000 Reasons, Not To Vote For Lib-Lab-Con!

I don't know about anyone else, but when I was at school 212,000 didn't really represent tens of thousands of anything, because for it to do that, it would have to be below 100,000, say something like 50,000, 60,000, 70,000, 80,000 or even 90,000 they would all represent tens of thousands, because they fall below that benchmark 100, after which numbers tend to be called.....well, hundreds of thousands!
Anyhow, so today we finally managed to find out that a net 212,000 foreign migrants arrived on our shores in the year ending September 2013, supposedly to either work, or to educate themselves, because as we all know, the Coalition has tightened up the regulations relating to benefit entitlements, so none of these 212,000 individuals can or will arrive here expecting to be kept by the taxpayers of the UK. Yeah right!
It's interesting to consider that if you just repeat the number 212,000 often enough, it tends to lose its effect, but if you think of it this way that in that 12 month period we imported another Wolverhampton, or a Derby, or a Stoke-on-Trent, or a Salford, or a Southampton, or another Westminster, or even another Portsmouth, then do you suppose that people might begin to see the scale of the problem that's facing our country, each and every single year that we continue to belong to the European Union?
Of course, another good thing about the ONS (Office National Statistics) releasing the figures, is that we're finally able to figure out exactly what happened to all of those disappearing migrants from Romania and Bulgaria that the pro-EU mainstream media were more than happy to point out didn't arrive in January 2014. Apparently they arrived prior to January 2014, by September 2013 in fact, an additional 24,000 of them, on top of the 9000 who had arrived in the year before that; and the thousands in the year before that, yada, yada, yada!
It's also worth bearing in mind that the 212,000 migrants mentioned in the report, are not necessarily the only new migrants arriving in our country, as the 212,000 represents a net figure, the difference between those going out and those coming in (or at least those that we know about). However, to get a better idea of just how significant the numbers are, the ONS also points out that during the same period, the 12 months ending September 2013, a total of 617,000 new National Insurance Numbers were issued by the British Government, suggesting that over 600,000 individuals needed them for either work and/or education (but clearly not for benefits though!)
Obviously it would be unfair to suggest that Romanian and Bulgarian migrants were in any way solely or directly responsible for this sudden increase in EU migrant numbers entering the UK, as there were any number of EU member states whose citizens felt compelled to come to the UK for work.  Bulgarians and Romanians accounted for 24,000 individuals (an increase of 166% on the previous year), The number of Italians migrating to the UK accounted for 44,000 (an increase of 66% on the previous year). However, it should be pointed out that as Italy is renowned for its habit of issuing citizenship to foreign migrants, just to get them out of Italy, is is just as likely that a large proportion of those listed as "Italian" by the UK Border Agency, are just as likely to originate from Sub-Saharan Africa, or some other African state. The number of Portuguese workers entering the UK was reported to be 30,000 (an increase of 47% on the previous year), while the number of Spanish citizens coming to Britain was said to be 52,000 (an increase of 36% on the previous period). Although one would have imagined that Britain already had its fair share of Polish workers already resident in the UK, according to the latest ONS figures, an additional 111,000 Poles arrived here to work (an increase of 39% on the previous year). Just by way of interest, other nationalities taking full advantage of Britain's much talked about economic upturn include, the French (+23%), Slovakians (+26%), as well as the Greeks (+33%).
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the Coalition were quick to try and "spin" the latest immigration figures by pointing out that non-EU migration had fallen to its lowest level since 1998, although the fact that they had essentially been replaced by European citizens rather took the shine of the Coalition's attempt to paint a more positive picture! Given that Mr Cameron and his merry band of Coalition halfwits are now fully aware of the rising public antipathy to foreign migration into the UK (from anywhere in the world), the fact that European migration doubled from 2012 to 2013, from 65,000 to well over 130,000 must be a doubly bitter pill to swallow, yet Cabinet Ministers still choose to hide behind the old excuse of treaty agreements limiting their ability to act. It is worth making the point however, that although the Labour Party leadership have made great play of the rising immigration figures, which have caused huge embarrassment to the government, bearing in mind the astronomical levels of migration that the last three Labour administrations presided over between 1997 and 2010, one can only surmise that had they been in office, today's figures would have been even worse still.
Just by way of finishing off the ONS figures, according to their press release, in the 12 month period ending September 2013 some 23,507 Asylum Seekers presented themselves to the British authorities, as opposed to the 21,843 who presented themselves in 2012, an increase of 1654 individuals. Much of the increase in 2013 was said to have arisen from people claiming asylum having arrived from Syria, Eritrea and Albania.
To make David Cameron's day even worse, today was also the day that the most powerful female politician in the world (supposedly?), Angela Merkel arrived in the UK to speak to the two Houses of Parliament, where many hoped that she would offer some sort of tacit support for Mr Cameron's much talked about reform of the European Union. Unfortunately for the Prime Minister, the German Chancellor quickly dispelled any hopes of receiving her help in promoting any such reforms, save for those that might be mutually beneficial to Germany itself. It is clear therefore that any hopes that Mr Cameron might cling to regarding any large scale reform of the EU, is little more than a personal fools errand that the Prime Minister and most of his parliamentary party seem bound and determined to follow, even if the path that they are choosing to pursue, will almost inevitably lead to their own electoral destruction.

Tuesday 25 February 2014

Let's Play The Old Oppressed Minorities Card Again!

The Labour Party are showing the classic signs of a political party that's under pressure, as having run out of token slogans, like "One Nation" this and that, or the latest "Cost of Living Crises", their daily mouthpiece, the Daily Mirror, continues to attack Mr Miliband's political adversaries in the most dubious fashion, by carrying out a campaign of misrepresentation and propaganda, more reminiscent of American presidential adverts, where rubbishing and trivialising your opponents is far more important than offering a viable political alternative to them.
Possibly as part of flipping through their new negative campaigning playbook, over the past few days, Labour's Shadow Justice Secretary, Sadiq Khan, has been wheeled out in public by the Daily Mirror to add his own two-penneth-worth about how truly nasty their Conservative opponents are; and making sure to let his readership know that if they're Black or Asian then the Tory Party was part of their everyday problems, not a potential solution.
"The Tories are out of touch and not to be trusted when it comes to race" Labour claimed today, according to the newspaper. In a stinging attack, Labour frontbencher Sadiq Khan suggested the Conservatives came across as part of the “racist establishment” of the 1980s. The Shadow Justice Secretary also said that David Cameron’s insistence that his party wanted to reach out to Black and Asian voters should be viewed with “suspicion”. He pointed out the Coalition Cabinet was “overwhelmingly white and male” with Baroness Warsi, the only member who was from an ethnic minority .
Writing for the Mirror, the Labour Shadow Minister said: “No party can understand society without looking like the country it represents. “Britain will know when the Tory party has finally changed on race and ethnicity – after all, seeing is believing.” He went on: “But as the election gets closer, the Tories are targeting ethnic communities. They say they’ve changed, but have they?”
Mr Khan also revealed today how Labour was to launch a new drive to reach out to black and minority ethnic voters. He said the party could not “rest on its laurels” and assume it had the black vote in the bag. The Tooting MP added: “We need to give the next generation of ethnic minority Brits, a reason to vote Labour, not just because it was something their parents have always done.”
His comments came after Tory election candidate Afzal Amin admitted last week that the “general perception” among ethnic minorities was the party was racist. And Tory election guru Lynton Crosby had reportedly said that reaching out to ethnic voters “muddies” the party message.
Mr Khan also added : "Having grown up as an Asian boy in Thatcher’s Britain, I’m suspicious of the Tories on race. It was tough, with a racist establishment which the Tory Government failed to challenge. They ignored Stephen Lawrence’s family after his murder and they were never on my side when I suffered racism. I’m proud to be an MP for the Labour Party – which has always fought for those facing discrimination. Only Labour’s policies speak to minority Brits, from tackling stop and search abuses to hiring more minority police officers."
Obviously, for a purportedly educated man, Mr Khan is either being deliberately disingenuous, or really is pretty stupid to begin with. Having employed the usual left-wing attempt to close down debate on his own comments by deploying the charge of "racist" against his political opponents, one can only assume that Labour's Shadow Justice Secretary recognises that he is attempting to use a fairly vacuous argument to begin with; and hopes that his Black and Asian readers will simply be foolish enough to fall for it, which I am sure many will not.
First of all, the reason why the Conservative Party, the Labour Party, the Liberal Democrat Party, UKIP and the rest of the minor political parties are represented by white people, is because some 87.1% of the UK population is white. There would be something seriously wrong with the country if a predominantly white electorate were to vote almost entirely for either Black or Asian representatives, especially when people from such ethnic groups don't generally stand for election to public office and only account for between 3 and 5% of the total population.
As for the actual disparity between men and women on the government benches, although Labour have a much better record than the Conservatives in that particular respect, that has as much to do with Women-only constituency shortlists, as it does with the Labour Party attracting more women into politics generally. The truth of the matter, is that purely on the basis of parliament reflecting the British population in terms of gender, there should be around 325 female MP's sitting in the House of Commons, on both sides of the house, so Labour is certainly in no position to criticise anyone else about female representation in Westminster.
As for the other issues raised by Mr Khan in his newspaper article, his growing up with a racist establishment, one that ignored the family of Stephen Lawrence, that were never on his side when he personally suffered racism, whilst at the same time praising the Labour Party that always fought for those facing discrimination, that tackled the issues of Stop and Search abuses, the Labour Party that hired more ethnic minority police officers. Of course, Mr Khan offers no qualification over the "establishment" that he's referring to, when he whinges about his own troubled past, before trying to closely associate his own personal suffering with that of the Lawrence family, as if there could be any comparison. The callous murder of Stephen Lawrence was a tragedy, but no more so than the hundreds of other personal tragedies that are visited on British families everyday of the week, every week of the year. The death of a loved one, whether by fair means or foul is a tragedy, regardless of whether you're white, black, British, Asian, or whatever. But for Mr Khan to try and make political capital out of that specific tragedy for entirely for party advantage, is a rather despicable method of trying to score points over your political opponents. But then, when you have a senior politician still whingeing and complaining about perceived wrongs done to him several decades before, then maybe it says more about him as an individual than it says about our country at large.
And as to Mr Khan's claim that the Labour Party somehow reduced the numbers of Stops and Searches carried out by the police, perhaps he has conveniently forgotten about the 101,000 Stops and Searches that were carried out in 2009/10 under Section 44 of the Terrorism Act 2000, that was introduced by the Labour Party. Perhaps Mr Khan has also forgotten about the 150,000 S & S's that were carried out under the same regulations in 2008/09, or the 1.2 million Stop and Searches (all sections) that were carried out in England and Wales in the year 2009/10. That is not to forget the 878,153 Stops and Searches that were carried out by police in the year 2005/06, but perhaps Mr Khan doesn't believe that these actions are anything to do with the Labour Party that he's talking about in his recent newspaper articles, the same political party that has been instrumental in making us one of the most stopped and surveilled democratic populations in the world? But then, isn't that the thing about being a good liar, you need a very good memory; and clearly in that particular respect, Mr Khan is obviously a bit of a failure. However, no doubt he can put that down to being a member of an ethnic minority as well?  

Monday 24 February 2014

Foodbanks: Comply Or Starve In Modern Britain?

It is sometimes easy to forget that the United Kingdom is the 6th largest economy in the world in terms of Gross Domestic Product (GDP); and the 3rd largest economy in the European Union, behind France and Germany. In terms of Purchasing Power Parity, the UK is the 8th largest economy on the planet; and along with being the 10th largest exporter in the world, was also the 6th largest importer. London hosts the biggest financial centre anywhere on the globe, alongside New York; and has the largest GDP of any city in Europe. Sterling is the world's third largest reserve currency and the UK is an intrinsic member of the G7, G8, G20, the International Monetary Fund, the OECD, the World Bank, the World Trade Organisation and the United Nations. So by any measure, nor by any stretch of the imagination, could the United Kingdom be regarded as a minor financial player, a second class economy, or indeed, a third world state; and yet you could be forgiven for thinking that is exactly what we have become, when you realise that food-banks have become and will almost certainly remain a feature of our country's social fabric for many years to come.
Of course food-banks in the United States, with its extremely limited welfare provision, are a commonly accepted part of that country's social system, where private and corporate donations, in the form of both money and goods, are regarded as traditional methods of personal patronage by the "haves" to the "have-nots", the rich to the poor. The first official food-bank in Europe was reportedly established in France in 1984, while the first one in Italy was set up in 1989. Spain's network of food-banks is thought to have helped feed 800,000 during the period 2008-2011, an average of 260,000 people per year, whereas in Belgium, food-banks are said to have helped feed an estimated 120,000 during 2012, 4500 more than in 2011. Even the powerhouse German economy has seen people struggle, with one academic referring to an "explosion" of food-bank use in the country. Other nations that employ food-banks include Australia, Israel, Turkey, Russia, India, Taiwan, Colombia, Brazil, Argentina, Chile, Guatemala, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Hong Kong and South Korea, while similar schemes exist throughout Africa and parts of Asia.
Research into the subject of food-banks generally has found that right wing politicians and commentators are generally enthusiastic about the use of such provision, often because it plays into their own political ideologies of small state, minimal intervention and minimum funding being required by the various ruling executives, a view that might well be informing the whole approach of the current Coalition government in the UK. However, academics warn that there is a down side to this political approach, in that removing the provision of foodstuffs from direct political control, inevitably lessens the power of the executive itself, as the population learn to look elsewhere for their sustenance; and then perhaps their other vital daily needs, to the extent that the executive becomes unnecessary or irrelevant?
However, on the whole food-banks are commonly regarded as unsatisfactory models, simply because they rely on an often inefficient and unreliable supply chain, plus not everyone is happy to go "cap-in-hand" to what is after all a privately operated food source, as opposed to a government run one, with the stability of supply and personal confidentiality that such agencies are deemed to offer the user. According to some reports, up to 900,000 Canadians have received help through the country's network of food-banks, soup kitchens and breakfast clubs; and yet it has been suggested that these nearly 1 million users still only represent 20% of the total needing help to feed themselves and their families.
Here in the UK, by far the largest and most notable food-bank network is the Trussel Trust, a Christian charity affiliated to numerous churches throughout the country, which established its first food-bank in Salisbury in 2000; and has recently opened its 400th branch. In addition to the Trussel Trust, another large charitable food supplier is Fare Share, a centralised food distributor that delivers supplies to an estimated 1000 charities, soup kitchens and breakfast clubs throughout the UK. On top of these large scale providers there are estimated to be several hundred individual food-banks carrying out this vital task independently, all of which suggests that there are probably several thousand free food-banks and charitable food distributors operating in modern Britain, if you take into account the hundreds of soup kitchens and breakfast clubs that operate on an almost daily basis in the towns and cities of the UK, often well below the radar of most people.
Obviously collating user numbers from all of the different outlets, the food-banks, soup kitchens and breakfast clubs, etc that help to meet people's nutritional needs around the UK would be very nearly impossible, simply because so many of them exist below the radar that they are largely unknown, or unreported by the various government agencies. It is also worth remembering that the current Coalition government, in common with its Labour predecessor, do not; and have not regarded food-banks as a necessary resource, but rather as something to ignore, or undermine, depending on the individual elected representative's personal view on the matter. In fact, when questioned in Parliament about the apparent explosion in the number of food-banks during the Coalition's term of office, the Social Security Secretary, Iain Duncan Smith, was seen to skulk out of the chamber, rather than trying to offer any sort of reasonable explanation to the question. During the same debate, MP's from both the Liberal Democrat and Conservative parties constantly heckled and derided their Labour opponents, as story upon story was related of everyday British citizens being humiliated, ashamed and driven to despair, at the prospect of having to go to a food-bank to ask for food, necessary supplies, or even basic sanitary products, because for one reason or another, they didn't have a brass penny in their pockets.
Due to the fragmented nature of the UK's charitable food-bank services; and of course a steadfast refusal by central government to accept that any sort of problem exists in the first place, calculating the total numbers of citizens who rely on such food-banks is extremely difficult, if not impossible. Consequently, the only sort of statistical evidence has come from the largest single supplier, the Trussel Trust, which has grown from one single outlet in 2000, to around 400 in 2014, but still takes no account of the hundreds of other groups, charities and kitchens that are providing similar services throughout much of the country. However, that having been said, what few figures that do exist are startling in their measure, if only because they illustrate how quickly charitable food-banks have become such an invaluable part of Britain's social safety net; along with how quickly central government have abandoned their role in the very same areas.
In the year 2005/06 Trussel Trust reported that they had helped 2814 people with food parcels, while in the following year, 2006/07, the figure had risen to 9174, a more than three-fold increase on the previous year. In the year 2007/08, the numbers had increased again, to 13849, a little more than a 50% increase on the previous year, but a massive five-fold increase on the numbers collected in 2005/06. In the year 2008/09 the numbers of people being helped by the Trussel Trust had increased to 25899, almost double the 13849 noted in the previous year; and some eight times the figures of those shown three year earlier in 05/06. It is worth noting that 2007/08 marked the start of an escalation in the cost of wholesale food prices on the world markets and in the following year, the start of the worldwide recession, initiated by the sub-prime fiasco in the USA that sent financial shockwaves around the world. As a result, the Trussel Trust's food-bank figures in the UK for the period 2009/10 reflected these crises, with food-bank useage climbing to a staggering 40898, more than 15000 people than in the year before. As a point of interest, the Labour Party has tried to make political capital out of the numbers of people being forced to use food-banks, since the Coalition came into office in May 2010, which are shown in the following paragraph. However, it is worth making the point that during Labour's own term of office, food-bank useage increased from 2814 in 2005/06, to 40898 in 2009/10, without the matter seeming to overly concern the Labour cabinet, or its elected representatives in the least. Why was that one wonders?
Again from the Trussel Trusts own figures. In the year 2010/11 the number of people compelled to use their food-bank services, to offset starvation, were reported to be 61468, a further rise of 20000 on the year before. In the year 2011/12 the total number of requests to Trussel's food-banks had risen to a staggering 128697, more than double the numbers from the year before. In the 12 month period 2012/13 it has been estimated that some 346992 people accessed a Trussel's food-bank, 200000 more than in the previous year long period. Current estimates suggest that in the period 2013/14, the Trust will have been contacted by over 700000 people seeking help with vital foodstuffs; and if that trend were to continue, which it almost certainly will, in the years beyond 2014/15 the Trust expects to be helping UK citizens, not in the tens of thousands, but in their millions, a damning indictment of the way in which our country is moving in terms of social need and state provision of vital services.
Aware of the rising public disquiet over the issue of food-banks and responding to the rather hypocritical charges levelled by Ed Miliband's Labour Party, the Prime Minister David Cameron, along with Nick Clegg, Iain Duncan Smith, Esther McVey and a plethora of other Coalition worthies have come forward to totally refute any suggestion that their government's benefit changes have played a part in the sudden need for, or use of food-banks in the UK, claiming to a man that there is no statistical evidence whatsoever to support the charge that food-banks have arisen because of their government's wilfully imposed austerity measures, which it is proposed will remove £32 billion from the nation's Welfare budget by 2015.
However, first consider that according to Trussel Trust's own figures the principal reason for people using their foodbanks is A) Delays in benefits (29.69%), B) Low incomes (18.45%), C) Benefit changes (14.65%), D) Personal debt (9.52%), E) Other reasons (8.5%), F) Refusal of Crisis Loan (4.29%), G) Unemployment (4.25%) H) Homelessness (4.16%), I) Domestic Violence (2.5%), J) Sickness (0.96%) and K) Delayed Wages (0.82%). Interestingly, where Jobcentres were previously allowed to refer (signpost) claimants to food-banks using a tick-box form that explained their personal predicament to the food-bank (ie: where benefit was delayed, the claimant sanctioned, or their entire claim disallowed, etc,) this explanatory note has now been done away with, thereby preventing food-banks from collating figures from their clients, which begs the question, why?
The reality is that there is no single reason why the use of food-banks has suddenly exploded in the UK, but there are a number of related factors that have come into play around the same time, some or all of which have helped push hundreds of thousands of British people into real food poverty, to the extent that they have no choice but to rely on charitable food-banks. The first factor has been the rising cost of basic foodstuffs on the international markets, caused in part by shortages and higher demand, especially from countries like China, India and elsewhere, that have seen basic prices in the UK rise by 22% between 2007 and 2013. Similarly, international energy costs have risen, resulting in higher prices for consumers, especially those who are struggling to cope on lower incomes to begin with and who tend to feel the effects of price increases more than most. At home, the austerity measures imposed by the Coalition have had a direct impact on people's already limited incomes; and proposed changes to benefits, with new restrictions, reassessments and sanctions have all helped to create a climate of fear, confusion and discrimination.
Even though the Coalition strongly refute the charge that their welfare benefit changes are the root cause of increased food-bank useage, to a significant degree they almost certainly are a major contributory factor. According to their own figures from the Department of Work and Pensions, in 2001 (during Labour's term of office) some 279840 claimants were either sanctioned, or had their claims disallowed, a figure that subsequently ballooned to 684030 in 2010, implying that many of these claimants would have been forced to look elsewhere for help, including food-banks, family and friends. In 2011, the first full year of the Coalition government the number of claimants sanctioned or having their claim disallowed was slightly lower, but still totalled some 668000 individuals, a proportion of whom would have been forced to rely on other agencies. However, from January 2012 until October 2012, a period of 10 months, the number of claimants sanctioned totalled 680180, suggesting that the figure for the full 12 months was closer to 800000 people, a proportion of whom would undoubtedly have approached the charitable food-banks for help. Starting in October 2012, a new set of rules were imposed for those claimants on Jobseekers Allowance, which were thought to have caused 580,000 people sanctioned, between October 2012 and June 2013, a period of 9 months, while an additional 11400 ESA (Employment and Support Allowance) claimants were sanctioned as well. Under the Coalition's new welfare benefit changes, an estimated 1.5 million claims for Disability Living Allowance and ESA will be scrutinised and reassessed by companies such as Atos, with the expectation that around 25%, or some 375000  claimants will be found fit for work; and thus put back on to normal Jobseekers Allowance, with all of the financial repercussions that that will certainly bring. Despite what the Coalition might say, or how much they might protest about being blamed for the rise of the charitable food-bank here in the UK, their ideological strategy of public compliance or starvation will almost certainly ensure that Trussel Trust and the rest of the charitable food-bank infrastructure are here for the long term, or at least for as long as the Conservative, Labour and Liberal Democrat parties keep getting elected into public office.

Saturday 22 February 2014

The Media's Imaginary Army Of Skivers And Scroungers:

I was particularly struck by this picture, not because it's a presentation from one of our American cousin's; and we all know how they generally feel about Welfare of any sort, but more because it appears to have gained some sort of currency with people here in the UK, who seem to believe that vast amounts of their personal income tax is simply being handed to a burgeoning underclass of benefit scroungers and idlers. I can't imagine why that would be the case, although the Daily Mail's earth shattering "exclusive" with White Dee from Channel 4's Benefit Street might have something to do with it, because we all know that she's totally representative of those who claim their rightful benefits in the UK today, don't we?
What a pity it is that sensible people don't do a little bit of personal homework, before they start buying into the complete and utter garbage that they read in most of our right wing press, instead of just accepting what some overpaid Daily Mail journalist says is the Gospel truth, that White Dee, or Ms Kelly, is somehow representative of a prevailing benefit underclass that is going to drag our country into everlasting financial damnation. It is complete and utter tosh, written by a second hand hack, whose only intention is to sensationalise the rather sad little life of a previously anonymous nobody, who has managed her part in fulfilling Andy Warhol's assertion that everyone is entitled to, or gets, their personal fifteen minutes of fame. Today's news headlines are tomorrow's chip paper, or so the expression goes; and were fast food outlets allowed to use newsprint any more, no doubt the Daily Mail's pages would be well suited for the purpose.
Although not from an unimpeachable source, it has been estimated that around 5000 people in the UK have been claiming unemployment benefits for more than five years, a body of claimants that equates to about 2% of the total registered unemployed, so hardly a large number by any stretch of the imagination; and certainly not the sorts of numbers that anyone should be getting too stressed, or irate about.
According to the latest figures supplied by the ONS, the Office of National Statistics, the total number of unemployed people in the UK, between October and December 2013, was 2.34 million, comprising 1.3 million men and 1.04 million women. Measured in terms of their periods of unemployment, some 1.1 million claimants had been out of work for 6 months or less, 398,000 had been out of work for between 6 and 12 months, 845,000 had been out of work for more than 12 months; and a further 451,000 had been unemployed for more than 2 years, including presumably, the 4000 people previously mentioned.
At the time the figures were collated, in December 2013, it was calculated that some 306,000 Jobseeker Allowance claimants were aged 18 to 24, 684,000 were aged 25 to 49, a further 222,500 were aged 50 and over, giving a total of 1.2 million JSA claimants in the UK at that particular moment in time. Within that same timescale, the number of advertised job vacancies in the UK was reported to be 580,000 (presumably full and part-time, employed and self employed) giving a ratio of 1 job vacancy for every 4 unemployed workers (based on total numbers of registered unemployed, irrespective of benefit type), meaning that each person had at least a 25% chance of applying for, or possibly even finding a job.
As a means of helping the unemployed find their way back into paid work, the Coalition introduced their own work programs, including the sorts of Workfare programs used in the US, Australia and elsewhere with mixed results. A total of some 1.3 million jobseekers were reportedly referred to such schemes, with the result that around 1/5th or 20% of those enlisted on the various schemes ultimately found paid work, while 4/5ths, or 80% did not; and were subsequently re-enlisted onto other work programs. It is also worth pointing out that over the same period, October to December 2013, the ONS also noted that the average number of hours worked by UK employees fell from 32.2 hours per week, to 32.1 hours per week, reflecting the increase in part-time posts, as opposed to full-time ones. Average weekly pay for British workers was reported to have been estimated at £478 per week (including bonuses) and £450 per week (excluding bonuses), giving an annual salary scale of between £24,856 and £23,400, depending on whether or not the post included bonuses, but both still below the stated average national salary of £26,500. According to the ONS, where wages had risen by an average of 1%, the Consumer Price Index, the government's preferred measure of inflation had risen by 2%, suggesting that workers were generally 1% worse off, in terms of the cost of living than they had been previously.
Even though there were 2.34 million people registered as unemployed, over the same time period there were in fact some 4.41 million claiming key out-of-work benefits, a figure that represented 11.1% of the population aged 16 to 64. These additional 2.07 million claimants were reported to include those who were sick, disabled, single parents and others, who were deemed eligible for some form of work, now or in the future.
According to the group "Poverty", sickness and disability are the most overwhelming reasons why working age people claim key out of work benefits over a long period of time. According to their calculations 75% of working age people, an estimated 2 million citizens, who receive out of work benefits for more than two years, are generally classified as being either sick and/or disabled, while only 3% are officially unemployed. Almost half of all long term benefit claimants suffer from some sort of mental or behavioural disorders, which is almost twice the number from the next group, those suffering from musculo-skeletal disorders. Long term disability or sickness, as measured by those claiming out of work benefits for two years or more, is not necessarily confined to those approaching retirement. Only around 33% of those claiming such benefits are aged 55 and over, with a further 33% aged between 45 and 54; and the final 33% aged under 45.
As a final point, it is worth noting that although forbidden by law, ageism continues to be a significant factor within a UK job market, with employers often choosing to select younger and cheaper workers, over those who are more experienced and relatively more expensive. Of the recorded 845,000 people who have been unemployed for 12 months or more, a full fifth, or 21% of them are reported to be aged 50 years and over, with most experts agreeing that it is this particular group of unemployed jobseekers who will struggle most to find work.
In closing this blog post, it is worth making the point that even taking into account the minimal amounts paid weekly in Jobseekers Allowance, Housing Benefits, Council Tax Benefits and any other associated welfare payments that the unemployed might receive from the State, it is worth considering such things in the round. Very, very few benefit claimants actually make a living from the State as such; and when considering those few thousands skivers and shirkers that do, it is perhaps worth considering the billions of pounds that our national governments waste every single year, yet no-one tries to turn ministers into social pariahs, as is often the case with benefit claimants. I wonder if those who complain so bitterly about benefit claimants are just as fretful about the £100 million spent by this government on employing the French IT company Atos to conduct disability assessments for the DWP, as a result of which a full third of their decisions are overturned on appeal; and dozens of seriously ill people have actually died, largely as a result of the stress they've been caused by the threats to their benefits. Still think your tax money is still being well spent?
As you can see from the ONS's own figures, the very idea that the country is being held back, let alone destroyed by an unseen army of unemployed scroungers is simply not true. It is simply the product of right wing media propaganda that just happens to sell more copies of their various newspapers that's all.  

Friday 21 February 2014

Stop Demonising The Disadvantaged And The Disabled:

It seems as though it is fast becoming a commonly accepted fact within modern Britain that deliberate discrimination against the poor, the disadvantaged and the disabled is a perfectly acceptable attitude to adopt, whether you happen to be an elected political representative, charged with safeguarding the rights of all of our citizens, or you're an everyday tax paying worker, who honestly believes that the country is being dragged to financial ruin by an unknown numbers of unemployed skivers and shirkers, who are happy to benefit from the diligence of those other millions who do, do the right thing and go out to work to pay their way.
Lost in the heat of the argument over welfare, Winston Churchill once observed that "you can measure the degree of civilisation within a society, by how it treats its weakest members", although quite whether the great man was referring to a specific group of weakest members, or just had the poor, the disadvantaged or the disabled in mind is unclear. Either way though, it is a sentiment that one would imagine any grown-up, civilised society would try to aspire to, although given the blatant, almost hysterical, anti-welfare newspaper campaigns waged by a number of Britain's daily tabloids, along with one or two of the supposedly better informed broadsheets, it is hard to imagine that Churchill's observation would find many supporters in modern day Britain.
Perhaps this apparently rabid intolerance of the poor, the disadvantaged and the disabled is just simply symptomatic of where our country is at this present moment in time, with large numbers of genuinely hardworking people struggling to pay their way, only to be fed the idea by a malignant media that an entire class of people, this often imaginary army of scroungers and skivers are getting everything for nothing, without having to lift a solitary finger to pull themselves out of poverty and want.
Of course, it's a highly simplistic argument, with equally simplistic solutions. How many people in this country one wonders will celebrate the fact that an estimated 13.5 million citizens of the UK, or some 21% of the population, live below the governments own official poverty line, with a significant number surviving on little more than £3000 per year. How many of us would be content to know that our country now ranks third (3rd) in the list of the most unequal countries in the world, with rates of inequality greater than those of the United States, with all of its inherent socio-economic problems; and yet we still come out worse than them!  Who else would be happy to know that despite all of the lies, the propaganda, the fabrications put about by the British media, benefit fraud in the UK, only accounts for around £1 billion per year of public money. One billion pounds is a sizeable chunk of change no doubt, but contrast that to the monies lost to the country through tax fraud, an estimated £15 billion per year; or the money unclaimed by entitled citizens every year, monies to which many thousands of people are entitled, which amounts to some £17 billion; or perhaps contrast that £1 billion of benefit fraud, with the estimated £22 billion that the coalition government of David Cameron is proposing to cut from the benefits of the poor, the disadvantaged and the disabled. Does that make you proud? Is that something for us to celebrate; that on the basis of £1 billion being illegally gained by a bunch of crooked claimants, we're happy to penalise genuinely needy people to the tune of £22 billion?
This data is taken from a report issued by the Campaign For a Fairer Society; and was produced by Dr Simon Duffy, from the Centre For Welfare Reform, who was asked to look at the potential effects of the Coalition's proposed Comprehensive Spending Review carried out just after the coalition government came into office in May 2010.
According to Dr Duffy, the coalition initially intended to make budget cuts of around £63.4 billion by 2015, which would have been the equivalent of about 10.8% of the government's total spending on public services during their period of office. However, when the specific budget cuts were analysed, it very quickly became evident that not all areas of public spending were likely to experience budget cuts, as apart from the NHS and Pensions, several other government departments were spared the financial axe, including Foreign Aid, the Treasury, the Cabinet Office and a number of government Quangos, all of which saw real increases in their departmental budgets.
Where the NHS and Pensions spending was protected by inflation matching increases, thereby ensuring no loss, no gain, elsewhere Dr Duffy calculated that by the time all of the various government monies were properly calculated, in reality, rather than representing total budget cuts of £63.4 billion, the figure was more likely to be in the region of £75.2 billion having been lost from the public spending budget, an increase of about £11.8 billion on the already planned level of cuts.
And of these £75.2 billion's worth of cuts, Dr Duffy anticipated that approximately 50%, or £37 billion's worth would come from reductions in Local Government spending and the Welfare Benefits bill, even though these two areas between them only account for 27% of government expenditure, not only making it disproportionately unfair to those adults and children affected by the cuts, but also suggesting that the Coalition was purposefully targeting these groups as part of its wider austerity agenda. In his own expert opinion, Dr Duffy believes that the most disadvantaged in society, are now even more so, given that they now face the real possibility of being hit by additional cuts to Social Care, Welfare Benefits, Housing Benefits, as well as regressive tax increases.
In order to confirm and underpin these conclusions, the Centre For Welfare Reform has carried out its own analysis into the Coalition government's proposed cuts; and found out that by 2015, in England alone, that Local Government and Housing budgets will be slashed by around £16.2 billion, a real terms reduction in their budgets of 41.9%, despite the fact that social care for the poor, the disadvantaged and the disabled, as well as children, accounts for 60% of all Local Authority spending. Social care spending had already been reduced by £4 billion, a figure that is expected to double to £8 billion, or a 33.3% cut in the budget, by the time the Coalition government goes to the country in 2015. At the same time and over the same period, Welfare payments for the poor and the disabled are expected to have been reduced by a further £18 billion, representing a fall of some 20% during the lifetime of this government.
When these figures are put into some sort of perspective, it quickly emerges that the 21% of the population who are living in poverty, according to the government's own official guidelines, the 13.5 million people previously mentioned, are being asked to bear around 39% of the Coalition's budget cuts. Those who are disabled, despite only representing a mere 8% of the general population, are being asked to bear 29% of the Coalition's savings, whilst those suffering from the severest levels of disability, representing a miniscule 2% of the entire population, are being asked to shoulder 15% of the proposed cuts. To what degree is civilisation a mark of our own modern society with percentages such as that?
In more specific terms, where an average able-bodied citizen is expected to bear budget cuts amounting to a loss of around £467, a person living in poverty would expect to lose about £2195; and a disabled person around £4410, over nine times more than their able-bodied counterpart. Those citizens with the most severe disabilities suffer even more, losing an estimated £8832, some nineteen times that of their able-bodied counterpart, twice their less disabled fellow and four times that suffered by their neighbour living in poverty. These losses arise through cuts made to Social Care budgets, Welfare Benefit payments, Housing benefits and tax increases, resulting in nearly one million families facing the prospect of losing the best part of £9000 per year, by some of the neediest families in the country.
Obviously, for two-dimensional thinkers, like many of our modern day politicians, simply cutting budgets automatically saves public money, little realising that often money saved in one vital area, just means more money being spent elsewhere, the law of unintended consequences if you will. Although the Coalition might choose to believe that they are successfully saving money in exactly the right places, in reality their budget cuts are likely to cost the country more money, not less, in the long run. As the poor, the disadvantaged and the disabled increasingly struggle to cope on a much smaller budget, or far less vital services, so it is more likely that they will be pushed into a medical, social or financial crisis, forcing them to become an additional burden on their GP's, the NHS, or Social Services, all of which are a lot more expensive to access, both for that particular individual and for the country as a whole.
Of course, the Coalition vehemently refutes any suggestion that their budget cuts are targeted towards specific groups of citizens, but rather argue that they are a necessary measure in light of the financial deficit bequeathed by the previous Labour government. But consider this, if that were true, why is it that at a time of national budgetary constraints, where Welfare and Local Government funds are being squeezed, why have the budgets for the Treasury, the Cabinet Office and various Quangos been increased by 241%, Foreign Aid by 20.7% and the NHS and Pensions budgets maintained at the cost of a 12.6% inflationary stabiliser?
If the Coalition are not deliberately targeting the poor, the disadvantaged and the disabled, then why is the department suffering the greatest level of cuts in terms of cash, the Benefits Department? According to Dr Duffy's report, between them, the Local Government budget and the Benefits budget account for some 50.8% of all of the Coalition's proposed cuts, even though between them they only represent around 26.8% of total government expenditure.
Bearing in mind the publics often misinformed antagonism towards the poor, the disadvantaged, the disabled and even the unemployed, it is easy to understand the Coalition's budgetary decision making, in that cutting benefits to those who are purportedly workshy, indigent or feckless, or even criminally lazy, is a great deal more populist than attacking those who are just generally struggling to get along. Interestingly though, it has been calculated that in real terms, the actual cost of benefits in the UK is estimated to be £25 billion, around 3% of the UK's Gross Domestic Product, simply because many calculations fail to take into account the percentage of tax each and every benefit claimant pays back to the government, when they spend their welfare payments, approximately 47p in the £1. So in a funny sort of way, by reducing benefit payments to claimants, not only do the government reduce economic activity, because people have less money to spend, but inevitably the government also automatically reduce their tax receipts as a result.
Even though it might appear to be a highly popular policy to target individual groups within society, in order to achieve their long term ideological objectives, the Coalition run the risk of further dividing an already fragile citizenry in pursuit of their own narrow political and fiscal aims. It is already well accepted that poverty, indebtedness, social disadvantage are key reasons for family abuse, violence, isolation, exclusion, increased hospital admissions, drug use, alcoholism, illness, increased institutionalisation, family breakdowns and imprisonment, which all bring with them additional social and economic costs to the wider community and to the country at large. More police, ambulances, nurses, doctors, hospital beds, prison warders, psychologists, advisers, counsellors, etc. do not come for free; and represent an added burden to the exchequer, often at many times the cost of the original problem.
If the Coalition government, ministers, politicians, the media and the people of Britain don't stop and think about the way in which they so easily demonise the poor, the disadvantaged and the disabled, then their indifference to the plight of their not-so-successful fellow citizens could well come back to bite them!

Thursday 20 February 2014

When Trade Off Becomes Sell Out: Very Different Things!

Wading through the mass of downloaded internet files that I have on my computer tends to remind me just how haphazard my thinking is, when it comes to the various subject matter that peaks my interest at any given moment in time, from the NHS to history, from politics to economics, from the EU to national and local government, each in their turn has stretched the old "grey cells", before being quickly replaced by a completely different subject entirely.
Anyhow, it was during one of these daily trawls that I came across a document entitled "The Great British Trade Off", written by John Springford and Simon Tilford, on behalf of the Centre for European Reform, a pro-European Think Tank, which is dedicated to a careful reform of the European Union, rather than allowing it to continue as it is at present, or worse still, advocating its wholesale destruction. In prefacing its report, the CER notes that:
As the eurozone economy continues to stagnate, the proportion of British trade accounted for by the rest of the EU is falling, and non-European markets are becoming more important for British exporters. But this is not a reason for the UK to leave the EU.
Membership of the EU significantly increases Britain’s trade with other member-states, while there is little evidence that it reduces trade with countries outside the Union. Britain is home to a larger stock of EU and US foreign direct investment (FDI) than any other EU economy and is the preferred location for investment from other leading markets. Some of this investment would be threatened by a UK exit from the EU.
If Britain were to leave the EU, it would face a difficult dilemma: having to negotiate access to the EU’s single market in exchange for continued adherence to its rules – or losing access in return for regulatory sovereignty that would be largely illusory.
Of course the entirety of these three short paragraphs is almost entirely predicated on the absurd suggestion, or assumption; that a UK outside of the European Union: as in no longer a fully participating member, under the terms of the currently existing treaties, would no longer trade with Europe under any circumstances, which simply cannot happen. Although it has never been used by a member state, the whole purpose of Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty was to ensure that any member country that wished to withdraw from the EU, could do so on friendly terms; and with a continuance of future trading agreements ensured for all parties. The oft repeated myth that rabid Eurosceptics want to completely withdraw from continental Europe, in terms of trade, travel and general co-operation, to then hide behind some form of defensive, isolationist wall is an absurdity, created for the most part by those Europhile parties, who would happily part with two thousand years of British national history, in order to build their own political legacies. From pre-Roman Britain through to today, our country has traded with other peoples, other nations, other cultures from all around the globe, so it seems highly unlikely that all of a sudden we're going to pull up the shutters and simply say no more trade to or from continental Europe.
Clearly risks to future foreign investment in the UK do and will exist, in the event that the British people ever do get the much promised referendum on our European membership, in 2017, or any other year you care to mention. Nissan, Ford, Unilever are just three of the major foreign investors who have already said that they would "reconsider their positions" in the UK, if the majority of the population decided that Britain was better off out of the Union and therefore instructed a future British government to begin negotiations on a withdrawal from the customs union after more than 40 years, the more commonly referred to "Brexit". However, before people start panicking about the loss of investment and jobs that such commercial reassessments by the likes of Ford, Nissan and Unilever might mean, it's worth considering this basic fact; all businesses reconsider their commercial positions on an almost daily basis, whether that's because of interest rates, banking charges, rates of pay, changes in government, costs of transportation, or any number of other associated factors. At the same time consider the fact that Britain is first amongst many when it comes to ease of doing business generally, that in or out of the EU, Britain remains well placed geographically to access continental Europe, that outside of the EU and its minefield of manufacturing regulations, it would probably be easier and cheaper to set up a new business in the UK; and consider also that it would benefit no-one, neither British, nor Europeans, for a trade war to begin, simply because nobody's business interests benefits from that. As for Nissan, Ford and Unilever specifically? As has been mentioned in a previous blog post, all three companies derive substantial benefits from doing business in the UK, with Ford selling around 200,000 car units here, while Unilever achieve overall sales of an estimated 2.5 billion Euros from Britain alone, so just who would lose out in the long run, if these companies decided to reconsider their positions in the UK? The answer is, no-one really!
As for the CER's final point about Britain's "regulatory sovereignty being illusory", one can only suppose that they're either being deliberately disingenuous with their readers, or they have failed to understand the basic principles of the European Union generally. Were the EU a genuine customs union, a collection of sovereign states dedicated to free internal trade, with an absence of national borders and tariffs, then perhaps one might be a little more relaxed about the UK's membership of the club. But that is not what the European Union is, or indeed what it wants to be! With its mantra of "ever closer union", the EU makes no pretence of what it wants to be, a federal superstate, akin to the likes of the United States of America; and the emerging Russian Federation, neither of which purport to be a simple customs union. For anyone to claim that the European Union does not present a threat to national sovereignty is to fly in the face of the overwhelming evidence, kindly supplied by the likes of Vivien Reding and her like, who openly call for the creation of a United States of Europe, with not a blemish of shame on their cheek.
Were the European Union simply involving itself in individual nation's agriculture, fisheries, manufacturing and continental trade, then one could willingly accept that all of these competencies were legitimate areas of EU involvement, as they all relate to the activities of a genuine customs union. But the EU has become much more than that; and has chosen to involve itself in virtually every aspect of a nation's daily life, from transport to taxes, from elections to education, from the environment to energy production, from justice to prisons, from international diplomacy to international agreements; and yet they still want more, with moves afoot to centralise and control their very own army, navy and air-force, as well as their own continental police force. Independent national control over such areas of competency might well be regarded as "illusory" by some British commentators, but here's the question, why would a simple customs union want complete control over such vital and necessary services? And once we have handed them over, could we ever get them back; and what's to stop the EU from using them against us, or another Eurosceptic population? Surely, any loss of control over such vital areas of national interest shouldn't be considered as illusory, but as a matter of grave concern, as should be the fact that successive British governments have happily allowed such losses of sovereign control to occur in the first place.
In a sense and certainly in the writer's personal opinion, the CER report mentioned goes to great lengths to illustrate the immense difficulties the UK would almost inevitably face, assuming that a public referendum on our EU membership, delivered a resounding out vote, although only when looking at such a scenario from a purely business perspective. Ultimately, the people of Britain will have to decide exactly what economic value they put on their national sovereignty and their personal freedoms, as in reality that is what is at stake. Will they opt for an independent Britain, controlling its own borders, trade, laws, tax, political representation, transport, fisheries, agriculture, etc. or will they choose to become a federal Britain, a minor region of the much larger United States of Europe, with all of the important decisions being taken in Brussels and Strasbourg, by a largely unrepresentative European Parliament?
In some respects the authors of the CER report on Britain's on-going relationship with Europe are correct, in that within any sort of international trade agreements there are elements of give and take, gain and loss, good and bad, for all of those parties involved. However, rather than our membership of the European Union representing an equitable trade off between parties, there are many who believe that our country has been the subject of an undisclosed sell-out; and that's a very different thing indeed.

Wednesday 19 February 2014

A Culture Of Criminal Waste, At A Time Of Social Need:

Understanding the age old expression of "if you tell a lie often enough, it eventually becomes accepted as the truth", one can well see, why David Cameron might have felt his nose being put a little bit out of joint by the unexpected involvement of the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Westminster, Vincent Nichols, in the on-going benefits debate. Obviously no-one wants to be accused of forcing people into destitution, poverty or social want, especially if you're a political leader who hopes to be re-elected for a second term of office, so it is hardly a surprise that Mr Cameron has tried to manage the Archbishop's public criticisms by pointing out that the man leading the changes, the "quiet man" of British politics, Iain Duncan Smith, is also a Roman Catholic, so he couldn't possibly be horrible to poor people, as he shares the same faith as the Archbishop himself; and such nastiness is not allowed. Also, the Prime Minister has tried to deflect some of the same criticism by suggesting that his Coalition government's Welfare program is more of a moral, almost spiritual campaign, one that the poor will undoubtedly thank him for in the end, or at least when the economy has turned around, the deficit has been sufficiently diminished and the national debt has been ruthlessly reduced. Although Mr Cameron defends the Archbishop's right to disagree, as far as the Prime Minister is concerned, the clergyman is wrong; and he, as the leader of our country's political elite is right; and if that requires some degree of suffering to be borne by the poorest in society, then so be it!
Of course, in normal circumstances and if everything was as it's purported to be, in terms of the country's finances, then one could very easily sympathise with Mr Cameron's position and indeed his opinion, that the country is fundamentally broke; and government needs to take a vice like grip on the national finances, if we're ever going to extricate ourselves from the fiscal hole that we currently find ourselves in.
However, things are very rarely as simple or as straightforward as they first appear, especially when it comes to either politics or money; and having spent a little bit of time reading the Taxpayer Alliance's Big Book of Government Waste, a truly eye-opening publication, any thoughts that this particular government has been extremely careful with the public purse, in light of our nation's parlous financial situation, were very quickly dispelled. The sheer level of financial wastefulness and public loss highlighted by this report would leave no-one in any doubt that many of our nation's woes are not so much due to the relatively small numbers of semi-professional shirkers and skivers who infest our national Welfare system, but is largely the result of incompetent and crooked politician's, in both local and national government, who abuse the public purse, like a chronic alcoholic abuses a bottle of liquor.
However, in order to create a point of reference and comparison for the amounts of monies wasted by government, it is necessary to repeat some facts and figures regarding the Benefit system that have previously been used in an earlier blog post. As so much political capital is made by attacking benefit recipients in the UK, it is perhaps appropriate to use some welfare figures garnered for the period 2011 to 2012, the first full year that David Cameron's Coalition government were in office.
For the period 2011-2012 the total Welfare Bill in the UK amounted to some £160.2 billion, which comprised State Pensions of £74.2 billion (46.3%), Housing Benefits of £16.9 billion (10.6%), Disability Living Allowance of £12.6 billion (7.9%), Pension Credits of £8.1 billion (5.1%), Income Support of £6.9 billion (4.3%), Rent Rebates of £5.5 billion (3.4%), Attendance Allowance of £5.3 billion (3.3%), Jobseekers Allowance of £4.9 billion (3.1%), Incapacity Benefit of £4.9 billion (3.1%), Council Tax Benefits of £4.8 billion (3.0%), Other Expenditure of £4.7 billion (3.0%), Employment & Support Allowance of £3.6 billion (2.3%), Sickness & Maternity Payments of £2.5 billion (1.5%), Social Fund Payments of £2.4 billion (1.5%), Carers Allowance of £1.7 billion (1.0%) and Financial Assistance Scheme Payments of £1.2 billion (0.8%).
Interestingly perhaps, the figures that follow, taken from the Taxpayer Alliance's Big Book of Government Waste, also relate to the same period of time, 2011 to 2012, the first full year of the Coalition's term of office, so clearly some form of direct comparison can be made between the two sets of figures.
According to the Taxpayer's Alliance own figures in the full year 2011 to 2012 the Coalition government was calculated to have wasted something in the region of £120 billion of taxpayers money, which by their reckoning amounted to around £4500 per household in the UK, or to be seen another way, sufficient to eradicate the country's entire national deficit, thus removing the need for some of the most severe austerity measures that have subsequently been put in place. Just as a matter of comparison, the monies saved by cutting out such waste, as in the £120 billion calculated by the Taxpayers Alliance equates to 75% of the entire Benefit bill for that same period.
Within that estimated £120 billion of waste, the TPA calculate that some £53 billion exists as a result of overpayments on Public Sector pay and pensions, simply because Public Sector workers are generally paid 8% more than their Private Sector counterparts, even though they're often doing the same sort of jobs, working similar hours and enjoy similar levels of entitlements. At the same time, Public Sector fraud is thought to cost the public purse something in the region of £20 billion per year. Inefficient public procurement is thought to cost an additional £15 billion, while poor use of available resources and bad choices in outsourcing is estimated to cost taxpayers an extra £10 billion, monies which are all being spent often because those with their fingers on the public purse strings are either crooked, or incompetent.
An estimated £5 billion per year is thought to be paid to wealthier families with an annual income in excess of £100,000 per year; and who probably have no need of additional benefits, but receive them all the same. In 2011, the Royal Bank of Scotland's losses were estimated to have cost taxpayers around £2 billion, monies that would not have been required had the bank been put back into the private sector. Additionally, the sale of Northern Rock to Virgin money was said to have cost the British taxpayer in the region of £2 billion, given the costs of rescuing it, against the amount raised from selling it back into the market.
The government's Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, run by Vince Cable, is reported to cost taxpayers approximately £2 billion, when some sources suggest that simply scrapping the department and integrating its role within other government agencies would be just as effective, if not more so, considering that some of its fiercest critics accuse it of hampering new businesses, rather than helping them. Similarly, it has been calculated that simply closing the Department for Culture, Media and Sport would save the British taxpayer about £0.9 billion per year.
It has been estimated that improvements in procurement within the Ministry of Defence could save the government in the region of £1.5 billion per year; and avoiding project overruns could save a further £0.5 billion, while negligence within the NHS is said to cost the service around £1.2 billion a year, although the total provision set aside within the NHS as a whole is reported to be as high as £17.5 billion. Staff sickness rates within the NHS are calculated to be well above industry norms; and as a result are thought to cost the public purse something in the region of £0.9 billion per year, while between them missed hospital appointments and replacement locum services cost the NHS something like £1.2 billion per year.
Between 2007 and 2013, on average British taxpayers were subsidising foreign farmers to the tune of £7.1 billion, which equates to around £1.2 billion per year. Educational gadgets, such as Notepads, Tablets and Whiteboards are said to cost the government around £0.5 billion per year, even though according to the educational charity, Nesta, there is not definitive proof that they actually improve educational attainment. The accidental or deliberate loss of military equipment, including tanks and their recovery vehicles is said to amount to £0.5 billion per year, while simply making better use of existing facilities would save an estimated £0.27 billion; and better co-ordination of utility company works a further £0.22 billion.
Clearly, some of these figures are huge numbers; and whilst they help convey the scale of the problem regarding government waste, in just one year, they probably fail to properly illustrate the sheer level of wastefulness and misappropriation that takes place on an almost daily basis within different government departments and various council chambers. By way of examples, the Taxpayer Alliance's Big Book of Government Waste rather helpfully made a list of some of the most striking cases, some of which are repeated below;
The Arts Council spending £2.7 million to simply rent their Arts Council Headquarters building, while a further £2.5 million of public money was spent painting the sides of inter-continental vehicles, promoting Lincolnshire's Fenland throughout the rest of continental Europe. A further £1 million was spent by the Arts Council to commission a "Helicopter Opera", as a means of celebrating the Olympic Games in 2012.
However, that was pocket change compared to the £98 million spent by the BBC on its Digital Media Initiative, that was subsequently dropped in May 2013; joining the other £80 million loss, suffered by the corporation, when it sold Lonely Planet. Some £6.5 million of Licence Fee payers money was also spent relocating 550 staff to the BBC's new headquarters in Salford; and don't even ask about the cost of the taxi fares that the BBC has subsequently racked up ferrying its various guests and presenters up and down the length of the country.
An estimated £62 million of cost overruns were said to have resulted from Cambridgeshire's guided bus way, while councils throughout the country were reported to have spent around £20 million between them on translation services that they had no legal requirement to provide. £8.7 million was spent by 65 councils on "Green" jobs, presumably environmental compliance officers or similar, although the cost did not include any of the subsequent literature, or associated publicity information that almost inevitable accompany such posts.
A reported £8 million was spent by East and West Midlands Councils, paying suspended workers, 78 of whom were said to have been suspended for more than a 12 month period. £23 million was paid out by various London councils for Public Relations materials, which were thought to have included free newspapers and newsletters.
The Department for International Development was reported to have spent £22.7 million on bailing out a number of debt laden, state owned businesses in Bangladesh, while another DfID scheme in the same country, a £21.2 million project to maintain the country's roads was subsequently suspended after it emerged that only about 10% of the money provided by the UK was actually being spent on the roads themselves, the remainder being diverted elsewhere. According to other expenses records, another DfID scheme, costing an estimated £13.1 million, was intended to train 1700 Civil Servants to develop and deliver pro-poor policies and practices in their home country. It later emerged that the annual salary for each of these workers was estimated to be £600, so clearly the project was intended to be a long term one.
Other government departments are equally as bad. The Department for Transport was said to have spent, or more accurately lost around £50 million due to the mismanagement and subsequent cancellation of the West Coast Rail Franchise competition. Some £4 million is reportedly spent on Disability benefits for a number of people who are morbidly obese, while in another Welfare related case, an estimated £4 million was lost after a Ugandan benefit claimant invented one hundred fictional children, multiple identities and claimed that they were suffering from HIV/Aids, in order to gain access to vital medicines that they normally wouldn't have been entitled to.
The Department of Health was reported to have paid £5 million bringing in a "hit squad" to a number of London's NHS hospitals, in order to help them save money. Elsewhere in the NHS, an estimated £85 million was spent on weight loss surgeries during 2011/12, whilst a further £84 million was spent on a national "Stop Smoking" service, even though the vast majority of smokers returned to the habit very soon afterwards, if they gave up at all. Another £80 million was said to have been spent on prescribing Vitamin D within the NHS, with one instance mentioned of a £16 treatment being charged at £2400. Additionally, NHS Dental Fraud is thought to be costing the service around £70 million per year, whilst a further £67 million is being paid as a subsidy to pharmacists for what are often ineffective medicines. £40 million is thought to be lost through NHS Health Tourism, £27 million spent on providing specialist foods to patients, many of which are often available from the high street and at far cheaper rates, while another £25 million is thought to be spent providing specialist equipment for those who are morbidly obese in their own homes, with this cost not actually including their actual healthcare, which is extra.
Unhappily, the list provided by the Taxpayers Alliance of the waste within government goes on, and on, and on; all of it simply helping to prove that because its public money, provided by the taxpayers of the country, very little thought seems to be given to its security, let alone how it's spent, or even attempting to achieve any sort of value for money. Contrast this though with David Cameron's defence of his own government's welfare cuts, because cuts are what they represent, when benefits payments are irrevocably eroded by a rising cost of living; and yet he still persists in attempting to make the case that "we're all in this together", that everyone is feeling the pinch, that every government department is having to tighten its proverbial belt, or that every bit of waste is being drawn out of every part of his government. If he truly believes that, then quite honestly it is little wonder that billions of pounds of taxpayers money is being wasted each and every year; and with such delusional characters in charge of the country's finances, it can hardly bode well for any of our futures. That being the case I fully expect that the Taxpayers Alliance will continue to be producing Big Books of Government Waste for many years to come.