Right, that’s enough, now what are we going to do about it?

People’s Assembly: Saturday 22 June 2013, 9:30am – 5pm, Central Hall Westminster, Storey’s Gate, London, Westminster, London SW1H 9NH

Click on photo to add your support

Click on photo to add your support

The following has been republished from Coalition of Resistance, posted originally on Mark Steels blog and in the Independent

I genuinely hope that George Osborne does it on purpose. That he descends from the podium after a speech and sniggers to Cameron “I said ‘We’re all in it together’ again. Haaa haaaa, I don’t know how I get away with it?”

He continues to use this slogan, this son of a 17th baronet, worth £4 million and heir to many millions more, as he explains the necessity of cutting public services, libraries, pensions as well as payments to the poor, the disabled, and those who will never inherit a single baronetcy, no matter how hard they train for it.

The crisis we’re all apparently joined in – it’s generally agreed – was caused by the failures, greed and recklessness of a clique we call, for short, ‘the bankers’

Yet the people having to pay for their chaos are not the bankers. They’re the disabled and the homeless, the firefighters and lollipop ladies and anyone who depends on them. Maybe George Osborne believes these were the culprits, that it was lollipop ladies telling kids “Wait by the road a minute, love, I’m just loaning ten million quid on the basis that property values are certain to double every six months forever, and awarding myself half a million as a bonus. Right, now that’s done we’re safe to cross.”

For the poor to pay a major contribution towards the crisis created by the bankers would be a screaming injustice, but it’s so much worse than that. Because one of the few professions that doesn’t have to cough up is the bankers themselves. And to ease their pain of watching everyone apart from themselves suffer, one of the few measures taken by this government that gives more money away rather than less has been a tax cut for the richest one per cent.

There are many consequences of this, among them the fact that many people in Britain now express their feelings about economics with a theory that goes, more or less, “Aaaaaaagh.” Sometimes they go into more detail, adding “The BASTARDS.” And then “Aaaaaaaagh.”

But the coalition’s outrages are only part of the frustration felt by so many. Because there can hardly have been a time when so many people, disgusted by their government, have been at such a loss as to what we can do about it.

Until recently, many people found a home for their anger at social injustice in the Labour Party. But the New Labour years, if we’re being harsh, weren’t all that successful at promoting peace and equality. Although there are Labour members who are wonderfully effective, such as Tony Benn and Owen Jones, many of their activists left or became disillusioned.

Left wing groups have collapsed more spectacularly, in a series of crises that makes you wonder whether their activities are organised by the scriptwriters of Eastenders, leaving another layer of socialists and campaigners in confusion.

But another piece of this jigsaw of frustration is that the basis for an opposition is evident. The government is by no means overwhelmingly popular, and the Lib-Dem part of it widely held in contempt. Anyone who watches Question Time knows the easiest way for a panellist to win a round of applause is to make an angry speech about greedy bankers. When a few hundred activists moved into tents under the ‘Occupy’ banner, they won the sympathy of millions and forced ministers to appear on the news making unconvincing attempts to justify their actions.

When an opposition has appeared credible, it has won an astounding level of support – such as when George Galloway won the election in Bradford, or when Caroline Lucas was victorious in Brighton for the Green Party. Campaigns such as the one in Lewisham to prevent the closure of the A&E department at the hospital have amassed tens of thousands of supporters. But for the most part these moments remain in one area, or pass quickly, then it’s back to yelling at the telly, or if you’re really dedicated, the radio as well.

Would it be possible, I find myself thinking, to bring together those who share these frustrations, to connect with each other?

Some people are already in groups or parties, such as UK Uncut, the Greens or Labour, but I’m sure they’d acknowledge there are many people beyond their own supporters who’d be willing to contribute towards a squabble with George Osborne.

It might be tempting to consider these thoughts, then conclude you’d done your bit by thinking them, and if you wanted to do any more you could occasionally arrange them into a moan. But it seems – since enough people are thinking this way at once – that a genuine movement is possible.

For example Owen Jones, one of the most eloquent opponents of the Coalition’s austerity, is eager to help set up such a network. Salma Yaqoob, who many will know as an inspiring opponent of the war in Iraq, is another. Caroline Lucas, the Green MP, feels the same, as does Laurie Penny, the journalist who wrote powerfully as part of the Occupy movement.

The trade unions are committed to establishing this network, which can link the campaigns, the meetings, the petitions and the squeals of anguish that try to prevent the cruelties of austerity. Almost every major union has pledged to back such a movement, which it will call a ‘People’s Assembly’.

And crucially, many of this large and growingly frustrated TV-abusing section of society have greeted the idea with enthusiasm, and even a hint of optimism. For example a single letter in a newspaper announcing the Assembly attracted hundreds of initial supporters. So this is the plan.

Within the next few weeks a series of gatherings in the biggest cities in Britain will take place to launch the Assembly in each area. From there groups can be set up that will discuss ways to oppose the barrage of attacks coming from the coalition, leading to a People’s Assembly on June 22 in London. You can register for that day here

Many possibilities can open up once the connections are made. A group in one part of the country can discuss how to support a campaign to defend a hospital in another part. Even a joint letter to a local newspaper is an improvement on a lonely individual seethe.

It will be a network that embraces supporters of different groups and parties, as well as those with no affiliations. And it will bring together enough people eager to participate, who would rather do something than nothing, who would rather find themselves alongside others who agree than remain on their own.

The evidence suggests that wherever a community unites and campaigns to defend its hospitals, its libraries, it parks and its people, it succeeds at least in part. The aim of the People’s Assembly will be simply to tap into the vast amount of humanity, imagination and wit of those who wish to curtail the injustices swirling around us, and create a place that we all feel better for being in, and all feel better for having helped to create.

That’s all.

And you can carry on swearing at George Osborne on the telly as well if you like.

So leave a name or a message if you’re interested and we can add it to the many who have already said they are, and to show I’m fair, I’ll even let you leave a name and a message if you’re not interested and think I’m completely round the sodding bend.

UK second last among G7 countries in ‘global race’ for export growth

Reproduced with kind permission of TUC – Trades Union Congress

The UK has experienced the second slowest export growth of all G7 countries since 2010, with only Japan faring worse, the TUC said on Monday 18th February as it published its submission to the 2013 Budget.

With the Chancellor identifying an economic ‘global race’ as the defining challenge of the government, the TUC report shows how George Osborne’s own strategy is causing the UK to fall behind its competitors.

Recent figures from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) show that over the last two years export growth in the UK has been slower than five of its G7 competitors – the US, Germany, France, Italy and Canada. Only Japan, whose economy is still reeling from the 2010 tsunami and earthquake, is doing worse than Britain when it comes to exports.

The Chancellor cannot blame Europe for the UK’s economic woes as the three biggest Eurozone countries are all performing better on exports, says the TUC.

In terms of economic growth since 2012, the UK is ranked just 158th of the 184 countries monitored by the IMF.

Instead, the TUC believes that a combination of self-defeating austerity and a complete absence of a strategy to grow the economy are dragging the UK down.

The TUC Budget submission calls for an immediate stimulus to boost demand. This should include stopping damaging welfare cuts that are reducing people’s living standards – particularly those of low-income families – and reversing cuts in capital spending that have badly affected the construction and housing sectors.

But as well as an immediate stimulus, the TUC submission calls for the government to deliver a proper growth strategy, along with stronger tools to deliver it.

The Chancellor should start by introducing many of the measures championed by Lord Heseltine in his recent report ‘No Stone Unturned’, says the TUC. This should include an active industrial policy, led by a National Growth Council that would also include business and union representation.

The submission also says that the government needs to address another key blockage in the UK economy – a lack of lending to firms outside of finance and real estate. To address this problem the Chancellor should set up a publicly-owned business bank that targets growing industries, such as green technology and high-value manufacturing.

In order to work properly, a new business bank should have sufficient capital says the TUC, and suggests £40bn initially over four years. It should also have the ability to raise funds on capital markets.

The Budget submission also calls for more action to tackle growing pay inequality which, if left unaddressed, could result in most workers receiving no benefit from future economic growth.

The submission proposes tackling soar-away directors’ pay by forcing companies to disclose pay ratios between the lowest, median and best paid company staff, as well as introducing employee representation onto remuneration committees.

The Chancellor can also raise revenues by simplifying the tax system through the closure of tax loopholes, says the TUC. This should include aligning capital gains tax with the top rate of tax and strengthening the proposed General Anti-Avoidance Proposal.

TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said: ‘The UK is currently gripped by two big crises – falling living standards and economic stagnation. For all the Chancellor’s talk of the UK paying its way in the world, his own strategy is dragging the economy down.

‘On growth, exports and investment the UK is falling behind its competitors in Europe and across the globe. In order to address this, the Chancellor must announce a change of direction next month.

‘He can start by taking up Lord Heseltine’s proposal for a new growth council and prioritising new infrastructure projects. It is far better to invest in improving our transport and energy networks than to pay for the costs of economic failure that high unemployment and falling wages bring.

‘But the Chancellor also needs to do more to help families suffering through the UK’s living standards crisis. With real wages falling since 2009, the government has heaped on the pressure by raising VAT, cutting welfare support and freezing pay for public servants.

‘Giving low-paid families a few hundred pounds in a tax break is no good if they are also losing thousands more in tax credits and when wages are failing to rise as the economy stagnates. Instead we need to see a reversal of benefit cuts and policies that can secure better wages, including measures to tackle soar-away pay at the top.’

TUC

Britain needs a pay rise to kickstart growth

The following article has been reproduced with the kind permission of PCS – Public Commercial Services Union

Why is employment rising when the UK economy is still flatlining? Our new research could provide the answer.

Figures show that since the onset of recession in 2008 the real value of wages has fallen by 7%, or more than £50 billion a year. During the same period there has been a real terms drop in consumer demand of 5%.

Our report, ‘Britain needs a pay rise’, published today (Tuesday 12), argues this fall in the value of pay could be a major obstacle to the return of economic growth.

The report also busts the myth that civil servants are paid more than their private sector counterparts.

Serious debate on pay

Using data from the Office for National Statistics and research by the Institute for Fiscal Studies, and government departments, employment specialists Croner and Incomes Data Services, and the Resolution Foundation, other findings include:

  • The government’s four-year pay policy, plus the increase in pension contributions, will cut almost £7 billion a year from the value of public sector employees’ pay by 2015.
  • Median pay in the civil service is 4.4%, or £1,263, lower than median pay in direct private sector comparators.
  • At executive officer level civil service pay was 10% below private sector comparators and at administrative officer level it was 8%.
  • These discrepancies in pay for executive officers and administrative officers are found in every nation and region in the UK.

The report aims to generate a serious debate about the effects of low pay and government pay policy on the UK economy.

It comes as 250,000 of our members who work in civil and public services start voting in an industrial action ballot over cuts to their pay, pensions and terms and conditions.

We have asked for a pay rise for civil servants of 5% or £1,200 and for the living wage to be written into government contracts with private sector employers.

Money in people’s pockets

While ministers are not able to increase wages across the whole economy, increases in public sector pay and the national minimum wage – and support for the extension of the living wage by insisting on it for government contracts – would stimulate demand and act as a catalyst for the private sector.

PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka said: “Almost everyone can now see that austerity is not working. The chancellor George Osborne is borrowing more for failure, we are on the verge of a triple dip recession, food banks are on the rise and pay day loan sharks are preying on the vulnerable.

“We believe the government’s pay policy, built on the lie that hardworking civil servants are paid too much, is having a seriously damaging effect on the whole economy.

“Instead of burying their heads in the sand and hoping for the best, ministers can and should act now to put money into people’s pockets and back into our economy.”

Click here to download the full report.

Consumer confidence fell to six-month low in October

As many predicted, the direct result of the government’s savage austerity measures, saw the UK economy suffer a double dip recession. But how many foresaw a triple dip; it’s now looking a distinct possibility. The cuts are hurting; they are not working. Whilst people are losing their jobs; seeing their pay frozen or cut and going hungry and cold, the government pontificates about “handing £58bn of Whitehall cash to city-based engines of growth, co-ordinated by businesses and local councils” whilst still advocating their deficit reduction strategies and the destruction of the public sector / services, the NHS and the Welfare State.

Below is an article from The Retail Bulletin


UK consumer confidence slipped to a six month low in October as households became more pessimistic about their financial situation over the coming 12 months according to a survey by GfK NOP.

The GfK Consumer Confidence Index dipped to -30 in the month from -28 in September. This was the lowest reading since April.

While the index measuring changes in personal finances during the last 12 months decreased three points to -24, the forecast for households’ expectations for the next twelve months fell five points to -13. This is three points lower than October 2011. The survey also revealed a reluctance to invest in major purchases with the index dropping two points to -33 in the month, one point lower than this time last year.

The index measuring the expectation for the general economic situation over the next 12 months decreased to -29, two points higher than October 2011. The ‘now is a good time to save’ index increased one point to -17.

Nick Moon, managing director of social research at GfK, said: “Just as the economy moves out of recession consumer confidence dips again. While we are not quite back to the levels of this time last year, the Index has not been this low in six months.

“While the Olympics are thought to have boosted GDP in the last quarter, the late Summer boost in consumer sentiment has now faded. The government will be concerned that the economic bounce will follow a similar path and deflate during the Autumn.

“The fragility of the recovery is underlined by the fact that people are more worried about their own financial situation over the next 12 months. This certainly doesn’t suggest there will be a spending boom on the back of the official emergence from recession.”

The GfK survey was conducted amongst a sample of 2,004 individuals aged over the age of 16 between 5 and 14 October 2012.


More than 100,000 jobs lost in South West since start of the recession

More than 100,000 jobs have been lost in the South West since employment peaked in the third quarter of 2007, according to research released by the Trades Union Congress.

The number of jobs in the region has fallen by 4 per cent, from 2,719,400 in the third quarter of 2007 to 2,615,000 in the first quarter of 2010 – a loss of 104,400 jobs in total across the South West.

Analysis of Office for National Statistics figures shows employment in the South West peaked ahead of the UK as a whole – meaning the region was hit by job losses six months earlier than the rest of the country.

The analysis, carried out by the TUC, shows a million jobs have been lost across the UK as a whole, thanks to the recession.

UK employment fell by 3 per cent, from 31.78 million in the UK employment peak of the second quarter of 2008 to 30.77 million in the first quarter of 2010. The worst affected industries across the UK as a whole are mining and quarrying (-15 per cent), manufacturing (-12 per cent) and construction (-11 per cent).

The TUC analysis shows if the private sector continues to create jobs at the same rate that it has over the last 10 years, it is likely to take 14 years for UK employment levels to those before the recession struck.

In some regions, such as the North West, it will take more than two decades to make up for the jobs lost in the recession and those to come from public spending cuts. For the South West, the analysis shows it will take at least 11 years for the private sector to return job levels to pre-recession levels.

South West figures

Since the South West employment peak of Q3 2007, the worst affected industries are: construction (-24 per cent); transport & storage (-13 per cent); accommodation & food services (-11 per cent); professional/science (-11 per cent); finance and insurance (-10 per cent).

It’s not all bad news: the number of jobs in agriculture, forestry & fishing has increased by 52 per cent since Q3 2007; water supply (+35 per cent); arts and entertainment (+14 per cent); and by 6 per cent each in admin & support services, public administration and real estate.

But overall there’s been a drop of 4 per cent since the region’s employment peak of Q3 2007.

It will take at least 11 years for the private sector to create enough jobs to return employment levels in the region to pre-recession levels, based on the private sector’s growth rate of the last 10 years.

South West TUC Regional Secretary Nigel Costley said: ‘These figures show how bad the recession has hit the South West. Behind the big numbers are countless personal stories of upset and loss.

‘Valuable skills and experience have gone, good firms have suffered. But we fear worse to come given the savage nature of the cuts that are coming. For every public sector job lost there will be even more gone in the private sector.’

Other findings of the TUC analysis include:

There is a clear north-south divide in the decline in the number of jobs. Scotland, Northern Ireland, the North West and the West Midlands have had the biggest falls in employment (-4 per cent) since Q2 2008.

The South West has seen a -3 per cent fall in employment since Q2 2008 – but when the region’s employment peak of Q3 2007 is taken into account, the figures show it has suffered the same rate of job losses (-4 per cent) as the worst performing regions.

The national figures would be far worse were it not for the growth of public sector employment since 2008, particularly in education (+4 per cent) and health and social work (+6 per cent).

Source: TUC

Number of UK poor receiving emergency food aid

From The GuardianNumber of UK poor receiving emergency food aid doubles

The number of the UK’s poor and destitute receiving emergency food aid has almost doubled in the past six months, the country’s largest organiser of food banks has reported.

Figures from the Trussell Trust, which operates 172 food banks and has a further 91 banks under development nationwide, show that from April to September nearly 110,000 adults and children were referred for emergency help by professionals such as the police, social workers and job centre advisors and GPs.

The trust, which operates a controlled voucher scheme to track referrals, said that in the whole of the last financial year they fed 128,000 people. Based on demand over the last six months, they expect that number to rise to more than 200,000 between 2012-13.

In the trust’s south-west region, one in 120 children have been fed with food packages during the last six months, while in Wales the current figure stands at one in 130.

A breakdown of the figures also shows that while less than one percent of those being referred are pensioners, there appeared to be a prevalence of young teenagers and adults taking up emergency food aid.

In the latest set of figures, 14,500 people, 16% of all those being referred, were aged 16-24, a group that makes up around 11% of the UK population in total.

The trust’s executive chairman, Chris Mould, said that while they weren’t reaching as many old people as they should be, travel and rent increases and the dire state of the youth employment market had left many of the UK’s young adults in a desperate state with little financial resilience.

“When you’ve got people who are on the margin of just making it and there’s another price rise, another change in their outgoings, they can’t negotiate [the change]… something gives, and it is going to be the food.”

The trust’s own indicators show that the largest block of people were being left unable to feed themselves because of delays or a change in circumstances to their benefit claims.

Currently 45% of professionals referring families and adults for food packages cited troubles and delays with the benefits system, a figure that was up from around 40% on the year before and had more than doubled since the recession began in 2009.

Mould said the rise was “significant”. “In the first half of this year that’s another six or seven thousand people who are being helped at food banks because of problems relating to the timely availability of benefits,” he said.

Mould said that other reasons for hunger included debt and delayed wages; circumstances arising out of domestic violence and sickness, but that the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) who are responsible for the benefits system needed to ask why so many people were being left hungry by bureaucratic failure; increased use of benefit sanctions; and the government’s reform measures, which could require benefit claimants to switch to different types of benefits.

“The period in which people are left with no recourse to money and therefore an inability to get food on the table is longer,” Mould said.

“The DWP should be deeply interested in what’s driving and generating these crises. They really should be asking the question, is there anything we can do to resolve this and to reduce the prevalence, the occasions per month when this happens.”

In response to the figures, a DWP spokesperson cited the fact that 80% of benefit claims were turned around in 16 days and said that reforms were making the welfare system more effective. “We recognise the welfare system we inherited is broken, trapping on benefits the very people it was designed to help. Our reforms will transform the lives of some of the poorest families in society by making work pay and lifting thousands out of poverty,” a department spokesperson said.

“Jobcentre plus processes thousands of benefit payments each day and we also pay crisis loans to help people who have emergency costs or benefit delays. Where appropriate we also refer people to the Trussell Trust following their request for us to do so,” they added.

Hungry children rely on teacher handouts and food banks

A third of teachers admit to taking food into schools to give to the hungriest children

Although breakfast is arguably the most important meal of the day, more and more pupils are coming into school hungry as the recession, unemployment and benefit cuts take hold. Teachers have been forced to take the problem into their own hands with nearly a third admitting to bringing in food for the pupils who have missed out on breakfast. In addition, the food charity FareShare has revealed that more schools than ever are relying on them to feed hungry children at breakfast time –an increase of 57% in the last year.

The average breakfast club costs just £4,000 to run per year, however cuts to school budgets are leaving a financial gap which many are struggling to fill. At least 77 breakfast clubs nationally are now reliant on rely on food banks to keep their daily breakfast clubs going as budget cuts have forced hundreds to close.

The Royal College of GPs, the National Association of Head Teachers, the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health have recently called on the government to provide free breakfasts to children in receipt of free school meals. They believe that doing so would help to reduce the health problems linked with poverty and improve academic achievement.

Austerity isn’t working

2.59 million – total number of people unemployed (8.1% of population)
475,000 – number of job vacancies

1.57 million – number of people claiming Job Seekers Allowance

1 million – number of people aged under 25 who are unemployed

904,000 – number of people unemployed for over 12 months

8.12 million – number of people working part time

1.42 million – number of people working part time because they cannot find full time work

1.9million – number of people in full-time employment but want / need to work more hours

1.75 million – number of children in workless households

1.5% – average annual pay rise (including bonuses)
2.5% – annual rate of inflation

2011 4th Quarter growth rate (minus) -0.2%
2012 1st Quarter growth rate (minus) -0.3%
2012 2nd Quarter growth rate (minus) -0.7%

Public sector net debt now stands at above £1 trillion, compared to £940 billion a year ago, and represents 65.7 per cent of the UK’s GDP, up from 61.8 per cent last year.

In July 2012, the Govt was required to find an extra £600m to plug the gap between spending and tax revenues, having registered a £2.8bn surplus in the same month in 2011.

In the four months since George Osborne’s March 2012 Budget the Govt has now borrowed £9.3bn more than it did over the same period last year.

Social benefit payments have risen by 7 per cent, reflecting the fact that more people are on the dole than this time last year.

Sources: Guardian – ONS – BBC – Trading Economics – Independent

Does weak employment law help economic growth?

SKWAWKBOX

A week ago, because the coalition was starting to talk about weakening employment laws ‘to help kickstart the economy’, I reblogged my analysis of the Beecroft report and its author’s vested interest in the measures he was proposing.

Late last week, the papers carried reports of Business Secretary Vince Cable’s plan to slash the maximum award for unfair dismissal from its current level of £72,000 to whichever is the lower of the national median wage (currently around £25k) or the employee’s annual salary. That means someone on a salary of £40,000 a year receiving a maximum of around £25k, and someone on £15k only receiving £15k – for unfair dismissal. If a tribunal rules that an employee wasn’t unfairly dismissed, that person gets nothing – which means that while decent, fair employers have little to fear under the current system, unfair, ‘shark’ employers stand to gain massively from being able…

View original post 1,060 more words

We need more hiring, not more firing

After a drubbing in last week’s local elections, and with millions of people unemployed, we might have expected this Government to come up with some ideas to get people back into work.

But instead, in today’s Queen’s Speech, the Tories and Lib Dems have put forward a collection of policies to make it easier for employers to sack people.

Increasing job insecurity is not a path out of the recession. We need people in good, secure jobs, spending in the local economy – not more people on the dole, and millions more saving instead of spending, as they are worried about whether their job is safe.

Click here to sign the Unions Together letter to David Cameron and Vince Cable telling them they’ve got it wrong?

UNISON CHIEF CALLS ON TUC TO ORGANISE NATIONAL DEMO

The general secretary of UNISON the UK’s largest union is today calling on the Trade Union Congress (TUC) to organise a record breaking national demonstration in autumn 2012.

The huge demonstration will bring together an alternative coalition opposed to the government’s damaging policies including, public spending cuts, heavy job losses, damaging privatisation and the unfair pay freeze.

Dave Prentis, UNISON general secretary, said:

“The news that we are back in recession confirms our worst fears about this government’s damaging policies. The trade union movement must strengthen it’s alternative coalition bringing together community and local campaigning groups, faith groups and charities that share our vision.

“Our country faces it’s biggest challenges in decades. We need the TUC to organise the biggest demonstration in our Labour movement’s history. Today I am calling on the TUC to set plans in motion to show the government that there is a real alternative. This must include ditching plans to cut taxes for the rich in our society, while those on low incomes and communities all across the country pay a heavy price for the double dip recession.”