Category Archives: Social justice

Coalition: Arbeit macht frei and the Deserving Poor


It is sometimes necessary to shock to reveal an underlying truth. The title of this post is a well-known slogan above the entrance to the Auschwwitz concentration camp which in English means ‘labour makes you free’. In England next week the Coalition government is to give us, in the form of changes to the welfare system, an English version of an underlying truth. To draw the parallel closer I should really use the slogan about the Buchenwald concentration camp: Jadem das Seine( idomatically, everyone gets what they deserve).

Next week several hundreds of the poorest and most vulnerable families in England are to be faced with reductions in their welfare benefits. The Labour Party (admittedly a partisan source) has calculated that these families will lose some £800 over a year. At the same time anumber of members of the Cioalition Government will receice tax cuts worth £100,OOO a year.I am reliably infromed that these unknown members of our government deserve every penny of their tax cut. No dodgers there then.

It is sometimes supposed that the use of the term ‘deserving poor’ was invented in Germany. Not so, it was invented here and brought into law by several Poor Laws in Elizabethan times. I have had the opportunity to study the implementation of these Acts in Colchester, Essex (now represented by a Lib Dem MP.) The poor laws were administered by the local parish churches. Abandoned children and the unemployed on the street corners were brought under the direction of the Parish. Here they were expected to work and at 14 aid ceased although some Parishes provided apprenticeships (ring any bells now?). In some of these parishes the beneficiaries were made to carry a large red letter P on their outer garments to denote that they were recipients of care. Naturally like the Jews in Berlin in the 1930’s with their yellow labels these children were fair game for any spare abuse going on at the time. A sort of badge of shame.

It is said to us by the Coalition that only the deserving poor are worth helping and that there are a lot of scroungers, the undeserving poor, who don’t deserve to receive any benefits whatsoever. For them it is Jadem das Seine or idiomatically, ‘get a job you lousy scrounger). I wonder does the Coalition have any ideas for the introduction of a badge. Let me know dear readers if you know something.

Now of course there are many recipients of welfare who are working but they too are thought undeserving. They will continue to suffer a cut in their wages in real terms because of high inflation and many millions of people are not being paid a living wage but in some mysterious way they remain undeserving. Tough luck, I hear you say plenty of good jobs in the City of London and anyway some of them are Romanian immigrants taking advantage of our low wages.

If you think I am exagerating? I suggest you direct your letter of protest to George Osborne or Nick Clegg. But if as I suspect you are a member of the undeserving poor be careful in the language you use. These public school boys know how to defend each other.

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Filed under BBC, Benefits, Cabinet, Cameron, Child poverty, Coalition Government, Disabled, Germany, Ian Duncan Smith, Labour Blogs, Lib Dem blogs, Liberal Voice, New Stateman, Nick Clegg, Politics, Poverty, Social justice, Unemployment

Riots: Always an Economic Cause


The recent riots are not capable of a simplistic explanation and I do not intend to add to any of them. What is lacking in media comment, however, is the absence of any historical perspective and what we are offered is the perpetuation of myths. Britain over the past two  weeks has been far from the nation of dreaming spires, cricket on the green , the clink of teacups and photographs of the Queen in post offices. But it always was at some distance form the idyll. The truth  is also  a long way shorty of the the Tory dream fashioned in the shire counties of everything in its place and a place for everything. If we roam back for the last three hundred years we see evidence of a turbulent Britain colonising approaching forty percent of the world in a misguided desire to further our trade by conquest and -to the pointhe –  a whole series of rebellions and revolts. When closely examined all these revolts have been activated by economics: the price of corn, the loss of earnings, unemployment, social injustice and the corruption and profiteerng of Britains ruling elites.

There is a pervisity in this. The French revolution of 1789 occurred in a country with the highest standard of living among the peasantry in Europe.  Frenc peasants revolted because after basking in the sunlight of a series of good harvests they suddenly experienced a couple of bad one’s. Throw in a little  aristocratic preening and arrogance and you have a Rebellion.

Labour attempted to reform social welfare and largely failed. The Tories have set about it in earnest. Suddenly you have a toxic recipe. High and growing unemployment in many areas, few jobs – and now an attack on benefits. Throw into the mix police corruption, MPs fiddling their expenses and banker’s bonuses, a phony re-launch of the Royal Family and -surprise, surprise – beneath the the sugary confection show so appealing in leafy Oxfordshire and Berksbire you have – revolt, anger, disrespect and  ugly violence. And we are surpised, and taken aback

The aftermath of riots and civil disturnance is always the same: punishment, more discrimination more toffs visiting the riot scenes, and a reluctance to face the obvious. Unless something more is done to tackle youth unemployment and to widen and deepen opportunities in areas discriminated against, there will be more disturbances. The chances of this happening are slim. As we settle into long-term economic depression the inequalites will widen.

We live in an era of tele violence. Seemingly all over the world by the use of social media and a mobile telephone you can get a crowd out on any street anywhere with a minimum of fuss and bother. You don’t need a trade union, you will not find Labour politicians at the head of a procession, and you don’t need to rent a mob. This is the age of the street politican and get youself on the telly. Yes, you – apparently – and almost anyone and anywhere.

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Say No to the Referendum


Today the House of Commons debates the Referendum Bill which proposes a mix of hybrid measures including a Referendum on the Alternative Vote electoral system. The Coalition Tories and the Lib Dems will vote for it while Labour and some backbench Tories will vote against. At the General Election the party positions were reversed Labour proposed a referendun and the Coalition parties opposed. It is reasonable to assume that this Bill is not about reform. It’s purpose is to sustain the Coalition in power. A referendum is about genuflecting in the direction of a reform that no one wants. 

The Coalition is obsessed with holding on to power. A referendum is part of a price paid by the Tories for Lib Dem support of Tory economic policies which they opposed in the General Election. The Lib Dems are willing to go through the motions of achieving an electoral reform which its members do not support as part of the fairy-tale that the price paid for their public office is a fair one.

The Bill contains measures to reduce the number of contituencies by the simple application of the guiding principle that there are too many MPs, despite a rising population, and that the  electorate should be roughly equal in every constituency. Two Lib Dem held seats in Scotland are seen as an exception to the rule but in reality there are many others. The Boundaries Commission considers much more than numbers. It looks for natural communites. Some of these are below an average size  and some have more electors. Now the Commision is to be harried into a process much quicker than it prefers and to conclusions it would nomally resist. It is common knowledge than many electors are not registered to vote and past actions to get all that are entitled onto electoral lists have been inadequate. A Constituency that seems to be on the small side would often reach a national average if potential voters were identified and encouraged to be on the list. A compulsory voting system, which I would prefer, could ensure that every adult was  on the list and did vote. This is not part of the Bill.

If there were a General Election now the opinion polls suggest that the Tories might win. Whenever the election is called there is little doubt that the Lib Dems will be heavily defeated. 

There is every reason for the Labour Party to oppose the Referendum. It is Labour’s duty to bring down the Coalition as soon as it can to prevent changes in British Society that will make it a less just and prosperous society. This is not a time for fine words and delicate consciences. It is a moment to sound the bugle and to oppose.

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Austerity Without Impoverishment?


The road to hell is paved with good intentions. Few doubt the sincerity of Lib Dem members of the Government: they do genuinely wish to be fair and to reduce  poverty, especially among children but outcomes depend on the implementation of the right policies not Conference resolutions. These thoughts are prompted by a report of the Institute For Fiscal Studies (IFS) which concludes that as a result of fiscal measures take by the Coalition todate the poorest families will lose five times as much as richer childless families, as a percentage of their annual income,  over the next four years.

The debate about this  will need to address a central dilemma, The question is:  when real incomes fall, as they will over the next four years, can you protect the poor and vulnerable? No, you can’t. The popular ditty is right: ‘the poor get poorer and the rich get richer.’ But you can alleviate the impact of fiscal constriction. The burden of cuts cannot all be borne by the public sector for poor people are more dependant on them and the incidence of tax increases must not fall unfairly on the poor. The case against the VAT increase, despite the increasingly sophisticated reasoning in its favour, is a case in point.

The Lib Dems cannot prevent unfairness by talking the talk. The truth is that they have sold out. They are committed to support Tory policies to eliminate the budget deficit in four years and mainly by swinging cuts in public services. You can’t help the poor by contracting the economy, reducing their chances of a job, and  slowing the growth of national income. Chickens will come home to roost. If you are patient and wait a short time you will see them return.

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Fine Words Butter No Parsnips


Nick Clegg is speaking today.  I began to listen and stopped. More of these inananities will drive me over the edge – about time! – I heard that. We live in an Orwellian age of news-speak. Fine words indeed: but do they have meaning. Here are some words: social justice, fairness, progressive, liberty, green, sustainability. Let’s test them by tryng out there opposites. Anyone out there, and raise your hand,  who thinks the opposite? Who is in favour of injustice, unfairness, reaction, pollution, and unsustainable economic development. No takers? Ladies and Gentlemen, there is no need for me to add anything. We are all on the side of the angels. Thank you for coming.

I confess to you that I am heartily tired of this nonsense-speak. Let’s return to basics. Politics is about policy not protestation; actions speak louder that words, the road to Damacus is paved with good intentions (you see that even I know how to take refuge in a cliche); it takes time to judge whether a policy improves a problem or worsens an outcome; and, for the philosophers among you, not every problem has a solution.’ (Discuss in a coherent passage of not fewer than 500 words, thank you). And to summarise ‘fine words butter no parsnips’.

Let’s take two  big calls. First, is it likely that a slow growing economy with persistently high unemployment, a reduction in the quality of public services  and an attack on welfare benefits will result in more or less social justice? Might it be true that universal benefits  alone can ensure that those who are entitled to expect help receive it? Undermining universal benefits might result in  some claimants  receiving benefits they do not need or are not entitled to be given but to close loopholes at the expense of depriving the deserving would not add to the net sum of social justice, would it?

Secondly, take this statement from Cleggie. The Coalition has ‘restored British civil liberties.’ It is a Liberal delusion that liberty is an absolute. Of course it is not. What does he mean? He means of course,  the abolition of speed cameras, reducing the size of the DNA database, smaller and less effective external defence, ineffective border policing, fewer policemen on the beat, more criminals on the street. Freedom .yes. Let’s check. You are a guy who favours a large measure of personal freedom in your life. Good on you. Are you for or against the following: more fatalities and serious accidents on our roads; lower detection rates for serious crimes, rising crime , inability to defend our country against all the threats to our way of life, and a higher probability of serious terrorist acts in Britain. No, of course you are not. Are you then grateful to the Coalition for bringing  this state of afairs closer to our everyday lives? Speak up at the back. No evidence of this outcome, I exagerate, time alone will tell. Very good, sir. You make my point. Let us judge policy by its outcomes not by its claims. It may take time to know an outcome.  However, should  we not put up the red markers. Watch this space and all that..

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