Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Universal Credit Begins With A Fraudster’s Free For All


Today marks the launch of Universal Credit, the all encompassing change to the welfare system that was furiously scribbled down on the back on an envelope after Iain Duncan Smith watched an episode of Shameless.

The changes, which will prove devastating for many of the lowest income families, are as inept as they are callous and likely to lead to unprecedented chaos.  The decision to restrict the roll out of Universal Credit to just a handful of claimants from one Manchester Jobcentre shows how even DWP Ministers are running scared of the new digital by default system.

A gushing press release from the DWP already reveals one major flaw even in this small trial.  Addressing concerns that many, if not most, claimants do not have internet access at home, the DWP boast:  “Eight computers will be available at Ashton-Under-Lyne Jobcentre Plus to help people who do not have access to the internet, and over 130 computers will also be available at certain libraries and council offices in Tameside.”

Making a claim for Universal Credit will involve providing huge amounts of personal information to the DWP via the internet.  Many claimants will have never used a computer before and have little understanding of online security.

It is unlikely Iain Duncan Smith, or Lord Fraud, have ever used an internet cafe or library to access the web.  If they did, they might have noticed that it is not uncommon to visit a site such as facebook or yahoo and find the person who used the computer before you is still logged in.

This is one of the reasons that banks warn“As you cannot be certain about the security of public wireless networks or computers in public places (like a library or internet cafĂ©) you should be cautious about using internet banking services in these situations. Never change your security details while using a public wireless network or a public computer.”

Far from just changing your security details, such as your password, the DWP seem to be actively encouraging people to make their entire initial claim from public computers.  In some cases this could mean the next person to sit down at that machine could have complete access to a previous user’s Universal Credit account.  Even if the library or internet cafe uses software to clear caches and remove passwords after each session (and not all do), anyone looking over someone’s shoulder will be able to steal their log in details and gain access to their account.
This is not the first time Iain Duncan Smith has played fast and loose with claimant’s online safety.  The government job search website Universal Jobmatch has already been plagued by spam, scams and spoof vacancies.  This hasn’t stopped IDS throwing caution to the wind and not just recommending people use libraries to access Universal Credit, but leaving many claimants no other choice.

For all the DWP’s talk about getting tough on benefit fraud, they don’t appear to have a clue about protection from online fraud.  Whilst there is no secure way for people to access their Universal Credit accounts then Iain Duncan Smith has created an identity fraudster’s free for all that could turn into a living nightmare for some of the most marginalised people in the UK.

Follow me on twitter @johnnyvoid

IDS can't avoid the blame for Universal Credit failures

Hearing only what you want to hear.

The government's Universal Credit program is not launching smoothly. The first "pathfinder" scheme launched on Monday with just 300 people expected to start claiming, after the other three trials were delayed. As it was, not one claimant actually turned up in person on day one, leaving staff at the Citizens Advice Bureau "unable to say what the rest of the form was like because they had not seen the live version", according to the Guardian's Amelia Gentleman.

Faced with this teething trouble, the government's spin machine is whirring up. Not to make the service sound like it works – that's a task beyond even Malcom Tucker's ken – but to make the failure somebody else's fault. Rachel Sylvester in the Times quotes one government source shifting the blame on to the civil service:
“IDS has been an incredibly good minister and really determined to get this reform through, but he has been banging his head against official intransigence, lack of will and at times deception,” says a government source.
Conservative Home's Paul Goodman goes one step further:
Another has put it more bluntly to me: "They lied to him," I was told (about the progress of the scheme).
Did poor IDS really only find out about the (lack of) progress in implementing Universal Credit recently? That seems unlikely, given that we all knew far sooner. In October 2010, the Chartered Institute of Taxation submitted its response to the Government's consultation on Universal Credit:
The document suggests that the IT changes required would not constitute a major project, and this was repeated by the Secretary of State [Iain Duncan Smith] when he gave evidence to the Work and Pensions Select Committee. We are sceptical about this.
By June 2011, those fears were becoming reality. The Observer's Daniel Boffey reported (presciently) that "Universal credit's 2013 delivery could be derailed by complex IT system":
A report commissioned by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), details of which have been leaked to the Observer, reveals serious concerns among government IT suppliers over whether the deadlines for the new system can be met.
And by July 2012, the Telegraph's Christopher Williams was reporting that the technology underpinning the reforms had been "rushed through":
The All Party Group on Taxation found that the Universal Credit, a single payment intended to replace several different benefits, is reliant on a new HMRC up-to-date “real time” information to track earnings.
Officials admitted that a pilot begun in April was suffering from a “glitch” that meant it had processed fewer than one in 10 of the 1m PAYE submissions so far submitted by employers. Internal documents also said the original project budget of £108m has grown to £201m.
Iain Duncan Smith may have a terrible relationship with his civil servants, but he can't blame them for not knowing about the shambles he was heading for.

Thatcher: the person [Michael Meacher MP]

Saturday night’s TV was a real eye-opener.   The story of Young Margaret: Love, Life and Letters on BBC2 casts a new and highly revealing insight into Thatcher’s early life.   It shows clearly her burning ambition from the start, her delight at boasting of her successes emphasised by highlighting alongside the failures of others, her determination to achieve money and wealth.   It comes through, unwittingly, as she recalls a male friend in her early adulthood whose name she can’t remember, but she does recall “his farm is worth £25,000, he has 3,000 shares in ICI, now standing at 47 shillings”.   She meets Denis whom she describes as “not a frightfully attractive creature”, but his redeeming feature was that he had wealth.   She needed someone to bankroll her political career, and he fitted the bill, so she married him.   At her honeymoon in Madeira she writes back to her sister noting that “some (of the people here) are rather tatty tourists, Jews and novo (sic) riche” – snobbish as well as a bit racist.

But what is really revealing is her attitude to her father.   Just after his wife died, Margaret’s mother, he stayed with his daughter and Denis.   Her letters to her elder sister, Muriel, record her feelings: “He is eating the most enormous meals and doing absolutely nothing except reading…..I shall have to shunt Pop off on Saturday 14 January at the outside….otherwise he will just hang on and on and not take any hints”.   One of her father’s letters to Muriel later exposes heedlessness of her father; he writes “I’m sorry to say I never hear anything from Margaret.   In fact I don’t think I know their new phone number”.   He died two months later.  

Mrs. Thatcher won the leadership partly because of her overweening ambition and indomitable resolution, but also because she so totally fulfilled the values of the Tory Right.   She was domineering, ruthless, class-ridden, viscerally aggressive, besotted with wealth, and utterly devoid of compassion.   Her relations with her father, whom she referred to honorifically in public, reveal another side to her character – her coldness and meanness towards anything that got in the way of her ambition.   Even the individualism she championed had no soft edges, it was about the resilience to succeed and make money.   The Good Samaritan in the biblical story was transmuted from a symbol of mercy into a convenient moneybags.   May she rest in peace.

Universal Credit Web Site Can’t Spell and Barely Works.

The Guardian reports:

The first step of the claim form for the government’s flagship welfare reform initiative, billed as the biggest change to the benefits system for 60 years, invites people to input a security code, “seperating” each word with a space.

Council staff and CAB advisers initially had some difficulty navigating beyond the welcome page as they tried to familiarise themselves with the system and found the password entry stage was temporarily stuck

“I’m not saying it’s not working,” a council staff member said, flustered as she tried to demonstrate the system. “But we have a display error.” The issue resolved itself half an hour later, and staff concluded that it was probably a local problem rather than an issue with the DWP computer system.
Advisers were worried about the absence of a save function on the process (which takes up to 45 minutes to complete), meaning that if a claimant paused to get extra information and was logged off, they would need to start again. Staff said they hoped this would be resolved before the programme was rolled out nationwide for new claimants from October.
This is not the end of the problems Universal Credit will cause.

The Morning Star notes,
 Critics have warned the scheme threatens heavy sanctions for people who are already working.
Those in minimum-waged, part-time jobs of less than 35 hours a week risk losing their benefit unless they attend job interviews with as little as 48 hours’ notice.
The regulations can even compel a worker to quit the job they have for one with slightly more hours, on pain of freezing their benefit.
And the Minister in charge says he,
 would also freeze people’s benefits if they tried to secure higher wages through industrial action.
“Striking is a choice and in future benefit claimants will have to pay the price for that choice – as under universal credit, we no longer will,” he said.
There are plenty of critics,
TUC regional secretary Lynn Collins said the raft of sanctions and hoops would “only worsen the gap between the haves and have-nots.
“This is a crackpot scheme which is designed to cut payments to the most vulnerable people and the working poor,” she said.

Disabled should work for less than minimum wage, Tory MP suggests

Chris Spivey/The Telegraph

So, back in 2011 the mug puppet, Shipley MP Philip Davies stated that the disabled should work for less than minimum wage… What a fucking Jeremy Hunt that man is.

Course, it goes without saying that given his own way Davies would scrap the minimum wage altogether. Then again, he fucking would do wouldn’t he.

Just another case of a rich ponce MP wishing to target the poorest and weakest members of society really.

I feel sure that the fucktard Ian Smiff will be backing Davies for promotion with double standards such as those.

Lucky then that I can link every single one of our 650 nonce ponce MP’s to sleaze.

And with that being the case, lazy Davies – a typical Tory homophobe despite the vast majority of them all being closet gays themselves – is included in that number. 

It is however worth mentioning, that the slimey toad wart – who just so happens to be a closet racist also – did actually do something quite honourable… once.

Unbelievable I know. But true all the same.

You see, In 2012 he contacted the Metropolitan Police and urged them to re-open the investigation into ex-Labour MP Denis MacShane’s expenses claims.

That is to say that it would have been an honourable act, had it not been for the thieving toe-rags gross hypocrisy.

I say that because between 2005 (when Davies first won his seat) and 2009, he racked up a cool  £622,200 in expenses.  Well over half a million quid in 4 fucking years. That is on top of his over inflated wages… Unbe-fucking-lievable!

So did he earn it?

Did he fuck!

The following is from the Ayes to the left website:

Davies has filled in approximately 18 surveys in 2010 (Remunerated employment, office, profession etc) and received payment of a total of £1.185 for approximately  5 hours 40 mins work - which is approximately £237 per hour (well above the national minimum wage).
Hmmm. Perhaps we should report the thieving cunt to the Met.

Interestingly enough, or not as the case might be, Davies started his working life as a bookmaker. 

“Any parliamentary sleaze connected to Davies and gambling organisations Spivey?”

Obviously. The following is from Wikipedia:

In 2012 Davies was exposed for accepting gifts from bookmaking organisations whilst at the same time calling for them to be given tax concessions by the UK Government. Subsequently he also supported offshore bookmakers by opposing a Point of Consumption Tax on online gambling. In 2013 it was announnced that Davies was to be investigated by the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards in relation to his support of offshore bookmakers.
Hands up who thinks Dirty Dick Davies is a cunt?


 In 2011 Davies abandoned his wife and 2 kids, like most of the self obsessed fat prick MP’s do sooner or later. 

He now shares a flat with the MP Esther McVey, who just so happens to have been a good friend of Kate McCann. She even  helped the McCann’s to set up the controversial Madeleine McCann Fund. 

The following is from the McCann Files Website:

Esther McVey is a long-time friend of Kate McCann and was spokesperson for Madeleine’s Fund from its launch in May 2007.

Esther and Kate first met in 1986, when they were both 18, at the North East Technical College in West Derby, where they were studying A-levels together.

She joined the board of Madeleine’s Fund on 20 June 2007 and continued her role as spokesperson for the Fund until her resignation, announced in January 2008.

Ms McVey has remained-tight lipped as to the reason, or reasons, behind her resignation – a rather ironic position, considering her desire to become a Member of Parliament and given her former and current roles in the media/PR.

Her own website, on which she once displayed an online petition in support of the McCanns, now contains no mention of Madeleine McCann at all.
“Cool Spivey, but what in the name of nonce ponce MP’s has that got to do with Dickhead Davies’s unforgivable statement that the disabled should work for less than the minimum wage?”

Nothing really, except that since 2012 McVey has been the Minister for Disabled People… You really, really couldn’t make this shit up.

Disabled should work for less than minimum wage, Tory MP suggests

People with disabilities should be paid less than the minimum wage, a Conservative MP suggested yesterday, prompting angry criticism from rights campaigners.

Philip Davies Conservative MP for Shipley
By , and Robert Winnett
7:30AM BST 18 Jun 2011

Philip Davies, the MP for Shipley, claimed the disabled or those with mental health problems were at a disadvantage because they could not offer to work for less money.

Relaxing the law would help some to compete more effectively for jobs in “the real world” in which they are “by definition” less productive than those without disabilities, he claimed.

The remarks stunned MPs on all sides and forced Downing Street to distance the Prime Minister from Mr Davies. Charities and equality campaigners condemned the suggestion as “outrageous”. During a Parliamentary debate, Mr Davies told MPs that the minimum wage of £5.93 per hour meant disabled people who wanted to work found the door being “closed in their face”.

“The people who are most disadvantaged by the national minimum wage are the most vulnerable in society,” he said. “My concern about it is it prevents those people from being given the opportunity to get the first rung on the employment ladder.”

He said that, during a visit to the charity Mind, he had spoken to people with mental health problems who viewed it as “inevitable” that someone without such difficulties would be offered a job ahead of them.
Sophie Corlett, of Mind, described Mr Davies’s suggestion as “preposterous”. “People with mental health problems should not be considered a source of cheap labour and should be paid appropriately for the jobs they do,” she said.

Dame Anne Begg, the Labour MP who heads the Commons work and pensions committee and uses a wheelchair, said Mr Davies’s remarks were “outrageous and unacceptable”.

A Downing Street spokesman added: “The Government would reject any suggestion for disabled people to be able to opt out of the national minimum wage. The aim of the national minimum wage is to establish fairness in the workplace and one of its key principles is to protect the most vulnerable workers.”

The MP was warned that he would be questioned over the remarks by the Equality and Human Rights Commission.

A commission spokesman asked: “Is he arguing that Richard Branson, by definition, is less productive than people who don’t have dyslexia? Or that Winston Churchill was unfit to run the country because of his depression?”

Mr Davies appeared unrepentant, however, blaming criticism running on the Twitter microblogging website on “Left-wing hysteria”. He later told BBC Radio 4 that disabled people should be allowed to “prove themselves” before moving up the pay scale.

Majority of public believes coalition’s economic plan has failed, according to new poll

A majority of the public believes the government’s economic plan has failed and that it will be ‘time for a change’ in 2015, according to a ComRes survey for tomorrow’s Independent.

David Cameron PMQs

Over half of those questioned (58 per cent) agreed that the government’s economic plan had failed and that it would be time for a change of government in 2015, while 31 per cent disagreed.

More people also supported Labour’s ‘time for a change’ message than the Conservatives’ likely slogan at the next general election – that they should be allowed to ‘finish the job’ of restoring Britain’s economic fortunes – according to the poll.

The Conservatives have managed to cut Labour’s lead in the polls, however.

According to ComRes, Labour’s lead is now six points. Labour is on 38 per cent (no change); the Conservatives 32 per cent (up four points); the UK Independence Party on 13 per cent (down one point); the Liberal Democrats on 9 per cent (down three points) and other parties on 8 per cent (down one point).  If this were replicated at the 2015 General Election it would give Labour an overall majority of 78.

ComRes interviewed 1,001 GB adults by telephone between 26th and 28th April 2013. Data were weighted to be demographically representative of all GB adults. Data were also weighted by past vote recall. ComRes is a member of the British Polling Council and abides by its rules.

Snoopers’ Charter would turn a nation of citizens into a nation of suspects

Rachel Robinson is a policy officer at Liberty
The moment that human beings form relationships, families and other associations, let alone complex digital societies, new tests emerge for the protection of personal privacy.

Snoopers charter

The technological advances of recent decades have magnified the challenge. An online message or entry to a search engine may be no less private and sensitive than a hushed conversation or a private letter was to an earlier generation.

Whilst we can accept that, without some proportionate and lawful intrusion, other vital concerns such as public safety would be impossible to pursue, we must not forget that a society which does not pay sufficient regard to personal privacy – and its meaning in digital age – is one where dignity, intimacy and trust are fatally undermined.

The holding of mass information through large-scale databases is one of the most significant societal changes with privacy implications in recent decades. Liberty has never opposed targeted surveillance, but proposals such as the now discredited ID card scheme and current plans to introduce blanket collection and retention of communications data amount to nothing less than monitoring of the population at large, turning a nation of citizens into a nation of suspects.

Hidden dangers

Technological innovation is a double edged sword. The Internet has brought huge gains for free speech and association and has been a democratising force in repressive societies. By the same token it has also brought with it new ways of committing crime.

But, often overlooked, are the huge gains for law enforcement yielded by greater online communication. Increased access to records of communications between individuals is, in itself, a recent boon for police. Not too long ago, before the wide availability of mobile phones and email, most communications between individuals, if not carried out through traditional telephony or letter writing, would have been conducted face to face.

This would have presented different – potentially more challenging – obstacles for crime prevention and detection. The fact that, in recent times, the state has benefited from access to communications data already recorded and retained by communications providers, should not lead inexorably to the conclusion that total access to data should be required.

For good reason other – supposedly more intrusive – surveillance techniques available under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act, such as bugging (whether in private or in public), the use of human covert surveillance or the interception of communications need prior authorisation on the basis of individual suspicion.

Once authorised they can only be carried out in the future. The government is not presently arguing that we should all be routinely or randomly subject to bugging, covert tracking or interception ‘just in case’ but, if the present proposals for the collection of communications data become law, proposals for other types of blanket or random surveillance irrespective of suspicion ‘just in case’ are a logical next step.

Ethical considerations

A proportionate surveillance regime for the future must recognise that technical capability is not the same as ethical imperative. In this country, the state has been all too willing to apply intrusive surveillance measures to the population at large.

There is clearly unexplored potential for better use of targeted surveillance and the evidence gleaned as part of suspicion-led criminal investigations. A recent report published by the Joint Committee on the Draft Communications Data Bill made clear that law enforcement agencies are not making full use of the data already available to them (para 45).

Furthermore, for many years Liberty has been calling for the ban on the use of intercept evidence in courts to be lifted – a move which would allow for the effective prosecution of many more serious offences.

Whilst blanket surveillance will inevitably bring some law enforcement gains, monitoring of an entire population smacks of authoritarianism, and will undermine the proud reputation for liberty we have developed as the oldest unbroken democracy in the world.

More on this can be found in the Open Rights Group’s Digital Surveillance report.

Jobseekers made to carry out bogus psychometric tests

Unemployed people are told they risk losing benefits if they fail to carry out meaningless questionnaire


Jobseekers are being made to complete bogus psychometric tests by the Department for Work and Pensions – and told that in some cases they risk losing their benefits if they do not complete the meaningless online questionnaire.

The test called My Strengths, devised by Downing Street's behavioural insights or "nudge" unit, has been exposed by bloggers as a sham with results having no relation to the answers given.

Some of the 48 statements on the DWP test include: "I never go out of my way to visit museums," and: "I have not created anything of beauty in the last year." People are asked to grade their answers from "very much like me" to "very much unlike me".

When those being tested complete the official online questionnaire, they are assigned a set of five positive "strengths" including "love of learning" and "curiosity" and "originality".

However, those taking the supposed psychological survey have found that by clicking on the same answer repeatedly, users will get the same set of personality results as those entering a completely opposite set of answers.

An unemployed single mother, who wanted to be referred to as Maggie, said she received an official DWP letter warning her that her jobseekers' allowance of £71 a week "could be stopped for a period of time" if she did not fill out the questionnaire.

The DWP letter said the test was "scientifically shown to find people's strengths" and instructed her that along with searching for work she must complete the online test within three days. "Failure to comply with this direction may result in loss of benefit," it added.

The mother of two young children, who is in her late 20s, said she was upset when she discovered the test was a sham. "It's a waste of time … I felt really disappointed. I thought, you've made me do this and there's a chance I might lose my benefits if I didn't do it but really, I didn't need to do it," Maggie said.

The government's nudge unit is attempting to implement the findings of the field of behavioural economics or "nudge" theory, which says that human behaviour can be shifted dramatically by small changes in the way people are presented with information.

The unit, which costs just over half a million to run, is championed and overseen by David Cameron himself, and its head, Dr David Halpern, is paid around £100,000 a year to run it. The blogger Steve Walker, who runs the Skwawkbox site, discovered that the website hosting the test was registered to a civil servant based in the Cabinet Office's nudge unit.

Walker criticised the department's use of the test. "In a context where we see regular headlines about people committing suicide out of fear of losing their benefits, it's appalling that the DWP is threatening people with low literacy and computer skills with the loss of their income if they don't complete a meaningless test designed to manipulate them into some kind of positive thinking," he said.

The DWP did not comment on the validity of the test but denied that anyone would be stripped of their benefits for not completing it. A spokesperson said that the exercise was "intended to help jobseekers identify their strengths, and we have had extremely positive feedback from both jobseekers and their advisers – it is right that we use every tool we have to help jobseekers who want to work find a job".

Monday, April 29, 2013

IDS's attack on pensioners is really an attack on all of us [Owen Jones]

This is where the shredding of universalism ends up, promoting poisonous ideas of the 'undeserving poor' and the further destruction of Britain’s social cohesion


by Owen Jones

Britain’s welfare state is under such a sustained attack from so many directions, it is difficult to know where to begin a defence. The latest volley – yet another assault on the principle of universalism from Iain Duncan Smith – may, at first, seem more more challenging to take on than, say, the scandalous kicking of the working poor, disabled and unemployed people. Duncan Smith argues that wealthy pensioners who don’t really need benefits such as the winter fuel allowance or free bus passes should hand them back. How is unclear; as Ken Clarke quickly pointed out: “You can’t... I don’t think it has a system for doing that.” But it’s clear where this is all heading: the Liberal Democrats already favour stripping these benefits from middle-class people, and a large chunk of Tories would like to do the same, too.attack from so many directions, it is difficult to know where to begin a defence. The latest volley – yet another assault on the principle of universalism from Iain Duncan Smith – may, at first, seem more more challenging to take on than, say, the scandalous kicking of the working poor, disabled and unemployed people. Duncan Smith argues that wealthy pensioners who don’t really need benefits such as the winter fuel allowance or free bus passes should hand them back. How is unclear; as Ken Clarke quickly pointed out: “You can’t... I don’t think it has a system for doing that.” But it’s clear where this is all heading: the Liberal Democrats already favour stripping these benefits from middle-class people, and a large chunk of Tories would like to do the same, too.

On top of the chaotic withdrawal of child benefit for higher earners, Duncan-Smith’s intervention is consistent with the gradual chipping away of the very foundations of the welfare state. It’s a clever ruse, too. It seems to reverse the positions of left and right. How is it defensible for low-paid workers to cough up to pay for frivolous benefits that multi-millionaires simply do not need? It even taps into widespread discomfort with the very inequality promoted by right-wing policies: why on earth should some of the country’s wealthiest people get free TV licences?

It is certainly true that members of Britain’s booming rich elite have lots of money they simply don’t need, whether they have retired or not. That’s one reason we have this thing called tax. What it does – in theory, any way – is take money from you based on your income, in order to pay for a functioning, civilised society. Rich people have benefited from this more than most: they need workers trained by a state-funded education system and kept healthy by a state-funded healthcare system; they depend on lending from banks rescued by the taxpayer; they rely on state-funded infrastructure and research, and – like all of us – on a society that does not collapse. Whether they like it or not, they would not have made their fortunes without the state spending billions of pounds.

The universal basis of social security is this: “Everyone pays in, everyone gets something back.” It should be seen as inextricably linked with citizenship: that all of us have access to certain rights, whoever we are. On technical grounds, universalism works: it is the most efficient, cheap, easily understandable and simple way of administering the welfare state. Take a look at a Scandinavian country like Sweden. The wealthiest pay one of the highest tax rates in the world – nearly 57 per cent – and get the same excellent cradle-to-grave benefits as everybody else. Sweden, of course, is one of the most equal, best-functioning societies on earth, as nations with universal welfare states tend to be.

But what the assault on universalism really means is the further destruction of Britain’s already-collapsing social cohesion. The Tory strategy since coming to power has involved the most shameless attempt to turn large sections of the electorate against each other since the Second World War. If you’re a low-paid worker suffering cuts to your pay packet and tax credits then you are encouraged to be enraged that the less deserving unemployed “scrounger” is not being mugged sufficiently. Stripping the welfare state of its universalism will breed a middle-class that is furious about paying large chunks of tax, getting nothing back and subsidising the supposedly less deserving. It will accelerate the demonisation of the British poor.

It is easy to see where it is leading. Low-earners are being taken out of income tax, even if they are being left poorer overall by increased indirect taxes and the slashing of both in-work and out-of-work benefits. But remember when Mitt Romney damned the 47 per cent of Americans who supposedly paid nothing in, while benefiting from supposed state largesse? That is where the shredding of universalism ends up, promoting poisonous ideas of an undeserving poor, where the wealthy resent paying taxes in exchange for zilch.

Given the explosion in the fortunes of the wealthiest 1,000 Britons since Lehman Brothers collapsed is bigger than our annual deficit, the case for the rich coughing up more money is unanswerable. That means an all-out war on the £25bn lost each year through tax avoidance, increasing tax on both income and wealth, clamping down on tax relief on pension contributions for the wealthiest, hiking capital gains tax, and so on. If a pensioner is well-off, then they should pay more proportionate to their wealth and income. That’s how we get money from the wealthiest without undermining universalism in favour of an inefficient, socially destructive alternative.

As ever, the Tories are setting the terms of debate on social security in the absence of an effective response from the Labour leadership. All too often, Labour’s leading lights have refused to take on – or have even endorsed – Tory attempts to set people against each other. Their most recent proposals included a contributory system – that is, you get back depending on what you’ve put in. It would discriminate against the million young people currently languishing in unemployment; women, who are more likely to take time off work to look after children; disabled and ill people; poorer people; and those with the misfortune to live in areas of high unemployment. Labour has finally started accepting that low wages are being subsidised courtesy of the taxpayer, but has yet to consistently make the same argument about landlords charging extortionate rents.

The universal welfare state is under siege; it needs a confident, coherent defence. Talk of reform must surely centre on the subsidising of bosses and landlords. The case for tax on the basis of wealth and income desperately has to be made. As Britain’s finest Prime Minister, Clement Attlee, put it: “If a rich man wants to help the poor, he should pay his taxes gladly, not dole out money at a whim.” If Labour fails to do its job and drive the Tory onslaught back, our already deeply fragmented society will face even further social destruction. It must not be allowed to happen.

The campaign against blacklisting

This film highlights the evils of blacklisting, the campaign against it that has been waged by Steve Acheson, one of the many victims of blacklisting, and why we must all work to eradicate the practice. The film is produced by Salford TUC with technical support from the University of Salford.

Reblogged fronm Michael Meacher MP

UK Appointed Disabilities & Claimants Anti Discrimination Task Force For ATOS Public Inquiry

Reblogged from Same Difference:

I was sent a link to their Facebook page yesterday and thought UK readers might be interested to know this is out there.

On the authority of the Worldwide Chair and within the Constitution of The International Human Rights Commission a task force has been set up to collate information, monitor, investigate and press for public enquiry and Justice.

Under the leadership of and in conjunction with The sub commission International Human Rights Commission for Children, Youth and Women's Issues under The Presidency of His Lordship, Sir Leslie R Angell, High Commissioner of the IHRC and Ambassador to The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

There is much concern about assessments orchestrated by DWP and made by ATOS whereby claimants benefits have been refused, cut, refused or incorrect. In many cases Courts of Coroners Enquiry have found that people may have taken their own lives following assessments and rulings by ATOS assessors.
Allegations have been made that assessments have been unfair, incorrectly carried out and over 34% have been overturned on appeal with many claimants just not bothering to go through the unacceptable protocols and red tape that the appeals process entails.

This task force as authorised by The world wide chair after some months of consideration is to work with pressure groups and other organisations whom are working independently, it is therefore the wish of this organisation to allow a cohesive enjoining together to call for public enquiries and policy/protocol changes to ensure that people’s rights under Human Rights legislation are enforced and maintained.

Five things the coalition won’t tell you about Universal Credit

The Universal Credit scheme officially goes live today with a ‘Pathfinder’ version in the north of England – Ashton-under-Lyne – and scheme is expected to be rolled out nationwide from October 2013.

Universal credit will merge several benefits and tax credits into one monthly payout.

Iain Duncan Smith

The professed aim of the Universal Credit is to boost the personal responsibility of claimants, make work pay more than benefits and prepare out-of-work claimants for their next job.
There are a number of problems with Universal Credit, however – problems which haven’t been given anywhere near the amount of coverage by the press that they warrant.

1. The benefit changes will “reinforce the traditional male breadwinner model”, in the words of the Women’s Budget Group. The new universal credit will mean that whereas previously certain benefits like tax credits were paid directly to mothers, the universal credit will be claimed and owned by couples jointly and usually paid in full to one partner. Incentives for second earners (usually women) will also be weakened according to independent evaluations; and even more worryingly, the government believes ‘that any such risk of decreased work incentives for women in couples is justified.’

2. Households that earn £247 or less a week will see a fall in real income in 2015 because of the changes to benefits, and lone parents will be worse off, whatever their circumstances, according to the Chartered Institute of Housing.

3. Research suggests that a monthly payment will make it harder for claimants to budget. A Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) survey asked benefit and tax credit recipients the following question: “If payments of benefits and tax credits are made monthly, would you find it easier or harder to budget, or would it make no difference at all?” Four in ten said it would be harder to budget after the changes and just one in ten said it would be easier. Four in ten said it would make no difference. The fear most commonly cited by claimants was that they would run out of money before the end of the month.

4. The proposal that social tenants should have to manage their rental payments, as opposed to the money going direct to their social landlord, is overwhelmingly opposed by most social tenants. 86 per cent of social tenants believe “strongly” that it is better for housing benefit to be paid directly to the landlord. A third of claimants are not confident they will be able to keep up rental payments if they have to manage benefits paid to them for their rent.

5. The reforms are bad for those who are in work and looking to work more, especially those who previously received Working Tax Credits. According to an analysis by the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS), “Low earners who do have a working partner will tend to see their marginal effective tax rate (the fraction of a small rise in earnings lost to income tax, national insurance, withdrawn benefits or tax credits) increase, because Universal Credit will have a higher withdrawal rate than tax credits do.” (p4) The marginal tax rate for this group will be 76.2 per cent, up from 73 per cent as it is now.” As well as reducing incentives for second earners (see point one), so-called “strivers” will effectively be penalised for working harder.

Left Foot Forward

The "better off on benefits than in work" claim is a complete fallacy - where's the evidence?

The real issue for the government is not making work pay, but making work exist, says the PCS union's Mark Serwotka.

Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith. Photograph: Getty Images
Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith. Photograph: Getty Images

Earlier this month work and pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith and chancellor George Osborne claimed their changes to our welfare system mean, "no longer will it be possible to be better off on benefits than in work". The prime minister wrote the same in the Sun, calling it a "crazy situation".

The government's line, as it very gradually rolls out Universal Credit from today, that it is "making work pay" has cross-party support. "We would make work pay," promises Duncan Smith's mini-me Liam Byrne, while shadow chancellor Ed Balls affirms that "it must pay more to be in work than live on benefits."

My union's members, tens of thousands of whom work on the benefits and tax credits system, are confused. A jobcentre worker told me: "All the calculators that we use in jobcentres are designed to show that you would be better off in work."

So if politicians are telling us all that you can be better off on benefits, and jobcentre advisers are telling claimants that they would be better off in work, someone is being lied to. But who? Iain Duncan Smith should come clean. But not being one to look for pots of gold at the end of rainbows, I asked my union researchers to look into it.

They found the DWP’s "tax benefit model" – data which showed how much better off people out of work, in a range of circumstances, would be by moving into employment. Publication of this data was, intriguingly, abandoned in 2010 – just after the coalition government was elected, but a similar calculator is still used by DWP staff. It shows what would happen if someone moves into work for 30 hours per week. Even on the minimum wage, the legal minimum, benefits only deliver 79 per cent of what you would be paid in work.

We looked again to see if the same was true for only 16 hours of work – after all there are 1.4 million people working part time because they can’t find full-time work. This time benefits were only worth 81 per cent of a working income. Jobcentre advisers tell me these figures closely match the ones they use today.

For verification, we checked against data collected by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development on all major countries’ welfare systems, including the UK’s. Like the DWP calculator, it factors in housing costs and benefits, and it assesses what is called the "replacement rate" for moving from benefits into work for 30 different household types – and in not one single case would a household be better off on benefits.

It does not feature in either the DWP's or OECD's models, but work might not pay for those who work very few hours in low paid jobs. But the irony here is that Duncan Smith has himself actually made this more likely by increasing the number of hours people need to work before they receive working tax credits.

The "better off on benefits" fallacy has become common. In truth, there has always been a clue that it is an urban myth: no one who claims it exists has ever actually given up work to live the benefits high life. And why not? Probably because deep down they do not believe it, but it is also true that even when the benefit of working is highly marginal, most people want to work. As unemployment climbs above 2.5 million, and 6.8 million counting as underemployed, the reality is there are fewer than half a million job vacancies. The real issue for the government is not making work pay, but making work exist.

PCS members working in jobcentres face a bullying management driving down their own living standards and setting targets that staff are told to deny exist. Low pay is so endemic that up to 40 per cent of the DWP’s own staff will be eligible for Universal Credit themselves. It is grim, far worse than when I started working for the DHSS in the early 1980s. Back then we helped claimants and took as long as was necessary to get them the benefits to which they were entitled.

On the other side of the counter (or more likely now on the other end of a phone) it is even worse, with claimants subject to more and harsher sanctions, unprecedented demonisation from ministers and a Pavlovian press trained to foam at the mouth at the mention of scroungers and skivers.

As well as challenging ministers’ myths, we have a duty to challenge their hatred-inciting rhetoric. So the next time Iain Duncan Smith – or anyone else for that matter – claims people are better off on benefits, hand him a pen and paper and ask him to show you how.

Mark Serwotka is the General Secretary of the Public and Commercial Services Union 

New Statesman