Wednesday, 5 March 2014

Why We're Withdrawing from Lobbying Work

Last night I saw Edwina Curry on a television programme about food banks. Her opinion was that food banks are unnecessary, and people on benefits just need to learn to budget better.

Food Banks and Benefit Sanctions
If you're on benefits, you risk a 'sanction' if you don't comply with all the rules. This can mean your benefits are cut for up to three years. Last year 133,000 sanction decisions were overturned on appeal, as administrative errors were responsible for the sanctions having been made. Recovery of unpaid benefits takes weeks. During this time, people starve. That's the reality of our current benefits system, and why food banks have become necessary. We'll see their use increase, as meals on wheels are to rise in price by 56% with benefits limited to only a 1% rise.

A friend of mine recently had his ex-wife die, and his children come to live with him. My friend is disabled and on benefits. It was three weeks before benefits were adjusted, and during this time period his choice was using a food bank and relying on friends' help for food to feed himself and his children. These are the people referred to by our current Government as scum.

Dear Edwina's comments may be better focused on the 77 MPs who haven't paid their Westminster food and drink bills and owe £140,000. No sanctions for them, or three years without a Parliamentary salary for breaking rules. Remember, 75% of MPs are millionaires, and the rest earn a fairly decent salary (topped up by generous expenses).

Demonising the Disabled and Poor
Phrases such as 'workers and shirkers' used to demonise the poor and disabled to win public support for the aggressive benefits cuts are abhorrent. On 22 May 2013, a landmark decision by the courts in a judicial review brought by two individuals with mental health problems ruled that the Work Capability Assessments were not fit for purpose, and that they substantially disadvantage people with mental health conditions. The department of Work and Pensions have admitted that 55% of people who lost their disability benefits after assessments with the french IT company were unable to find employment. 30% were relying on other forms of benefit and only 15% had found a job. A follow up survey of 590 claimants found 43% were still without any form of income. Work Capability Assessments have found patients with brain damage, terminal cancer, severe MS, and Parkinson's Disease to be fit for work. On 24 April 2013, a woman who was a double heart and lung transplant patient died in her hospital bed only days after she was told, after a Work Capability Assessment, that her allowance was being stopped and that she was fit for work. Government statistics reveal that between January 2010 and January 2011, 10,600 sick and disabled people people died within six weeks of their benefits having been ended.

Bedroom Tax
The LibDems are little better. Their party voted against the bedroom tax at conference but their MPs shafted them when it came to the vote in Westminster. It may interest you to learn that at a tribunal appeal in Liverpool, a father has recently won his case that the bedroom tax breached his and his children's human rights to family life. His children had homes with both himself and his ex-wife. Not legal precedent, but a start...

Lord Freud suggested on radio that non-resident parents have their children sleep on a sofa bed when they stay overnight. A father asked him whether it was appropriate to have his two boys and daughter share a single sofa bed. The stuttering Lord hadn't thought of this (parents having more than one child), but being out of touch and not thinking through the impact of knee jerk changes is at the heart of this Government's policy.

Opportunity Cost
There is an opportunity cost with any Government spending, and in a decent society protecting the poor, disabled and vulnerable should come before other commitments. 

The argument that the Government can't afford the current benefits bill is fatuous. It's a choice. MPs' portraits (£8,000 for Ken's wrinkled shirt), expenses, subsidised lunches, pay rises, junkets and more come at the price of making 90 year olds unable to cook for themselves having to cut back back on food. Failed IT projects (the BBC, DWP, MoD to name but a few departments involved) have cost hundreds of millions of pounds.

Children and Families Bill
The Children and Families Bill is a classic example of feckless Government thinking and waste. The Conservatives committed to shared parenting before the last election. The changes in the Bill have been so watered down as to be meaningless drivel which change nothing. The wording supports some form of parental involvement but leaves it open to be anything from a Christmas card to overnight staying contact so long as there is no risk of harm. What change from the current legislation? Child Arrangements Orders replace contact and residence, but the bill talks in terms of the parent with whom the child lives and parent with whom the child visits (oh, you mean residence and contact then). Tortuous amendments to the wording which actually change nothing at all, but will cost a fortune in new guides, forms, and all rushed in at the last minute as nothing more than (failed) Government spin. Another Conservative promise broken as they wriggle to justify having done nothing other than increase the administrative burden on the courts, legal profession, legal advise services and HMCTS (not to mention confusing the hell out of litigants-in-person).

About the Writer
Am I some radical socialist opposed to Conservatives? No. I have a background working for blue chip companies in management positions... public school educated... have enjoyed shooting and fishing... so am good, traditional Conservative stock but appalled at that party's immorality and ashamed at having voted for them previously. I won't make that mistake at the next election.

My apology for this rant rant, but dear Edwina's TV piece followed by my own MP's asking me to help convince the Scots to stay part of the Union were the final nails in a coffin on opinions on this Government. If I were Scottish, I'd want to be more than geographically removed from Westminster, and removed from a Government which ridicules those who are vulnerable and denies the evidence put forward by those who seek to point out how its policies harm the most vulnerable.

A party for families? Don't make me laugh! 

Withdrawing from Lobbying
If the above matters aren't sufficient motivation to withdraw from lobbying, the final straw was attending the launch of 'Tackling the Advice Deficit' report by the Low Commission at Westminster. Portcullis has a vast, sectioned off area where those in the club can natter... near empty at the time of the presentation. Attendees at the launch were packed into a baking hot room (no seating for the disabled or questions with invitations about the needs of disabled attendees) reminiscent of sheep crammed into a lorry off to the abattoir (another sign of nonsense is a sign on the entrance door reminding people that handguns are not allowed... one wonders how much that cost).

LibDem Lord McNally, one of the speakers at this event jovially poked at audience members concerning funding for services for the vulnerable (the audience included many from charities and advice agencies). "I recognise many of you as people I've said no to" was accompanied by his chortle. What thought to those attending of the impact on them of turning people away who need help, seeing colleagues lose their jobs, and their organisations risk closure and failure as a result of his humorous withdrawal of their funding. Personally, I hope he chokes on his next subsidised steak in one of Westminster's subsidised troughs.

We're withdrawing from lobbying work. What point, when you're dealing with attitudes such as his. Members of Parliament laughing during the food bank debate compounded our opinion that our dear MPs not only don't care, but draw humour from the suffering of others. If they'll ridicule those who point out children and the elderly are starving, they'll hardly be bothered about family welfare.

Please don't vote for them in 2015, and as for the Scottish issue... RUN HAMISH... RUN