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Been a while since my last post – largely due to laziness in honesty, and a few other demands on my time. But hey, 2011 is here and it’s looking like a year is getting off to a start public discontent about so many things. The government cuts are starting to bite. Communities are finding out they will be losing vital services unless they can convince their councils to do otherwise.

My own community called a meeting on Friday evening about the closure of the local library, over 200 attended and were unanimously opposed to the closure. Across the county and no doubt the country campaigns are forming, such as Save Somerset’s Libraries

The dole queue calls…

for hundreds of thousands public sector workers across the country. In my neck of the woods, Somerset the council announced it’s cutting around a quarter of it’s workforce over the next couple of years in cuts of £75 million. Some of these cuts are to capital projects but the majority of the cuts will be jobs. The local Tory led council claims that the private sector will magically create new jobs in the area. Somerset has very little industry now, I’m struggling to think of any factories that remain open in my borough with most of the employment being in the public sector, financial sector and shops of one kind of another. The south west has the second highest level of personal insolvencies at the moment, ordinary people just don’t have much spare cash and small businesses are folding all the time.

If out of the £75m that is to be cut, we say £50m is in the form of jobs, and assume that 65% of this would have been put back into the local economy in one way or another (for lower paid and part-time workers the percentage is much higher), we’re looking at £35.5million not entering the economy, which is why many local business that depend on us for custom are worried, less custom, especially at the moment, is bad news for them.

But on the positive side(!) the council trumpets about how it’s fixed 19,000 potholes this year which allegedly is the only thing the electorate is interested in. Forget about supporting the elderly, infirm and vulnerable to lead independent lives, Forget youth services and youth clubs, forget early intervention in childcare and education settings which prevent a small problem becoming a large and costly one (costly in both human and financial terms), forget cutting crime in communities, forget keeping people SAFE! It makes my blood boil, it’s people that matter, not f*cking potholes!

Sharing the Pain? (Part 2)

Another report, this time by the impartial, Institute for Fiscal Studies has further confirmed that the pain of the June 2010 budget will have a greater impact on the poorest in our society. The poorest 10% will be around 6% worse off than their richer counterparts, even the richest 10% will have to sacrifice proportionally less than the poorest. The IFS also confirms what many have been saying, this budget is clearly REGRESSIVE, not progressive as heralded by the coalition.

One of the arguments that the coalition is putting forward in an attempt to counter the report, is that the report doesn’t take into account all the new jobs that current benefit claimants will be doing, therefore lifting themselves out of poverty. Oh yes? Where are these jobs going to come from? Over half a million public sector jobs will be lost over the next two or three years, this will impact on the economy and private sector. Around 80% of public sector pay goes back into the economy, for simplicity’s sake, let’s say each one of these half million jobs had a salary of £10,000 and we are talking about £4 billion, not an insignificant figure. Of course, not all public sector workers will be on the dole for long, some will have taken early retirement, some will get jobs relatively easily, others will struggle and there will be more people chasing jobs and I’m really not certain where the coalition’s assertion that the private sector will be creating jobs comes from, especially when many companies are planning to reduce their workforces rather than increase them.

Short lesson in Economics

Confused by economics? Don’t be! Politicians say economics so complex a subject that us plebs cannot understand it, they are wrong, what they really mean is that they don’t want us to understand it!

I found this article by Christopher StoneWe do the work. Someone else takes the wealth, which I think explains economics in a very readable, easy to understand way and highlights the smokescreen of ‘modern monetarism’ which obscures the processes by which few are accumulating obscene amounts of wealth. It reminds us of where wealth comes from, namely, us workers

We are told by the government that we must all “share the pain”; which doesn’t sound too unreasonable so long as one carefully ignores the reasons we got into this unholy economic mess! and so long as one doesn’t examine who will be feeling the most ‘pain’ – it’s certainly isn’t the financial institutions that caused this mess, they are doing very nicely thank you very much, many having been bailed out by public funds, they are posting huge profits and paying bonuses.

The emergency budget in June was always going to be a nasty one, but the impact of the cuts announced will impact more on some sections of our society than others, not too much of a surprise I suppose, this is a Tory led coalition government, they will always look after their own, it’s a government of the posh, by the posh, for the posh. Women will be hit most by the cuts, the House of Commons library has conducted research which shows women will suffer 72% of the tax and benefit cuts. In terms of employment, 4 out of 10 women work in the public sector and over 85% of part-time jobs in the civil service are held by women and have the spectre of pay freezes and job losses of at least 600,000 heading their way. Women will also take the brunt of benefit cuts: maternity grants (paid only to women), the freezing of child benefit, reductions in tax credits and lone parent income support (9/10 of claimants are women) and the housing benefit reforms. All these are examples of benefit cuts that will affect more women than men.

Whilst the government must have known their cuts will affect women more than men, they failed to conduct an Equality Impact Assessment which would show the impact of the cuts on different groups, by gender, disability and race. There is a duty to complete a EqIA when changing policies or services which was written into the Treaty of Amsterdam, Articles 2 and 3, 1997 and has been written into subsequent UK legislation to cover not only gender, but disability and race. See Equality impact assessments – a brief history for more info.

The apparent failure of the government to conduct an EqIA on the effects of the budget has lead the Fawcett Society, to take the unprecedented move of legally challenging the government by seeking judicial review to declare Osborne’s emergency budget unlawful. It is not just women that are being hit unfairly by this budget, the disabled, the young, the old and ethnic minorities are also disproportionately affected. Even Theresa May, Home secretary and Minister for equality (also friend of the wife-beater) has said that if the government cannot show that equality issues had been fully considered, then a legal challenge had a real chance of success. We will find out later this month if the Fawcett Society has been successful. I for one wish them every success.

Utter Tory B*stards

You gotta hand it to them, 3 months in power and the ConDems have managed to resurrect levels of hatred that haven’t been felt since the days of Margaret Thatcher. I hated the last government too of course, for their authoritarian, dishonest and Stalinist ways but there’s nothing really quite so easy to hate as a Tory government.

This week saw attacks on secure council tenancies by liar liar pants on fire, Cameron. not a totally new proposal, the last government tried sounding this out about 2 years ago when it was met with overwhelming condemnation. How will the threat of losing your home encourage any tenant to try to improve their lot? It would turn council estates into transitory housing where only the very poorest can live. Council housing provides stability and knowing that you are not going to be moved on encourages you to get involved in your community, it improves the educational outcomes of children and cohesion in the community. Council housing isn’t subsidised, quite the opposite, central government has done very nicely thank you out of tenants rents and we should have our say. I’m a member of the committee of Defend Council Housing a tenant led group to fight for our housing.

Next we heard that the government’s cuts to public sector spending will be permanent, but don’t worry, as me and my colleagues are drawing the dole, paying the price for the financial crisis we had no hand in causing, we will be comforted to know that our loss will help those those fat cats in the private sector to become that much fatter. And those poor poor banks that we have bailed out, they’re announced billions in profits this week whilst forcing record number of people into bankruptcy.

On Wednesday, the Home Secretary, Theresa May, announced that the power to ban domestic abusers from victims’ homes will be scrapped. What a complete and utter bitch!

And finally, today we here the Health Minister admits that the Child milk scheme may be cut This scheme http://www.nurserymilk.co.uk/index.html provides free milk to children under five in nursery education. Maggie really must be proud.

End Legal Loan Sharking!

At last there is a campaign to tackle the legal loan shark racket. You know the sort of thing, borrow £100 for 5 days, pay back £115 – interest rates of over 2,500%. How can these companies be allowed to operate let alone advertise on TV! They usually advertise during the daytime to target those who aren’t working, those least able to afford extortionate interest rates, but this is often the only credit that is readily available so the we end up paying much more for credit than the better off. Over a one and a half million people are in debt to these companies; with cuts in benefits approaching and wages frozen or cut, it is increasingly hard to make ends meet and more people may resort to using these loan sharks, particularly credit from other, more reputable sources is being withdrawn. For more about this campaign and some facts about debt in the UK, visit:-
End legal loan sharking and there is a campaign on Facebook

Update
Consumer Focus has recently published a report on payday lending. It’s findings show that have quadrupled in the last 4 years, that between 1.2 million borrowing a combined amount of £1.2 billion that most borrowers earn under £25k and are young and single. The report calls for a number of changes, including increased checks on borrowers, a limit for the number of loans that can be taken out each year per household, it calls on the banks to increase affordable lending and last, but in my view not least, the government and the financial service industry must promote alternative forms of credit such as credit unions. This last point is probably wishful thinking because I cannot see that the industry or the government will promote a product that does not benefit them. However they could be promoted by other bodies, trade unions, citizen’s advice and debt advice agencies. For more information about the report by Consumer Focus, please see their press release.

The Sunday telly has me ranting these days…whether it the Andrew Marr show of Sunday Morning Live. SML got me going this morning..”should failed bosses get big pay-offs?” No, aabsolutely not and surely it’s a no-brainer? If you or I f*ck up at work do we get a golden handshake? Of course not, we get sacked and get the minimum due. Why should these fat cats, on hundred’s of thousand £ salaries, get anything at all? They take a whacking great salary to do a job why on earth should the get a pay-off when they fail? Those trying to justify it are so out of touch with the real world it’s unbelievable! The gap between those at the top and those at the bottom has increased exponentially of the last decade and those at the bottom have seen their salaries become worth less and less – the increasing inequality is socially unhealthy, how these commentards can say otherwise it beyond me!!

Today MPs will vote on the hastily pushed through Academies Bill. Schools could convert to academies by September. Conversion means the school has to form a private company and taking on all the back-office and support functions that currently Local Authorities provide to them. The incentive to schools to convert to academies is that they get 100% of their funding rather than 90% with the local authority holding back the remainder to cover support costs (payroll, payment of invoices, raising of income, SEN services, support with budgets and financial controls, workforce development, contract management, free school meals, training, maternity pay, redundancy pay, human resources etc). For schools to meet all of these costs I suspect it will cost considerably more than 10% of their budget because they do not have the economies of scale not the experience that the LA has. Oh yes, staffing, the academies will be able to set their own terms and conditions of employment, opting out of national bargaining and setting their own pay rates and terms and conditions. I suspect it’ll be the support staff at the academies that will first feel the pinch, mainly female, local and low-paid, often with kids at the school they work at, it is not going to be easy to move jobs, especially as academies will set their own term dates – now that could be a real problem for parents where their children go to different schools having to find extra childcare. Academies will be able to set their own curriculum so there could be a considerable variance over what is, and how it is taught. Schools simply have not had enough time to research what becoming an academy will mean as the answers to all but the most basic of questions only just becoming available now from the Department of Education. The cynic in me thinks that this rush is to get as many schools converting for September as possible before they (schools) realise what they’ve let themselves in for! For more info visit the Anti-Academies Alliance

Hello world!

Welcome to my blog!

Celebrity Death Sweepstake
Alex Higgins, the man mostly responsible for my teenage snooker obsession during the late 70s and 80s has passed away.
http://news.bbc.co.uk/sport1/hi/other_sports/snooker/8852020.stm. A great entertainer on and off the table, whether you liked or loathed him, he certainly helped popularise the modern game of snooker. And the sweepstake? Well, some workplaces do a lottery syndicate, bonus ball draws or fantasy football leagues, well the more macabre colleagues, myself included, in my office run a celebrity death pool. Each member chooses 8 well known celebrities/personalities who are under 80 years old and who are in good health, when one of your picks pops their clogs, you get what’s in the pot! Additionally we each can pick a ‘joker’, who can be any age and in any state of health, if they pop off the pool pays out 10%. Cheers Alex, the drinks are on you!
(somehow I don’t think he’d mind…..)

ps – my Joker is Maggie Thatcher