Friday, 22 June 2012

Ed Miliband and Britain’s anti-immigrant backlash

Ed Miliband and Britain’s anti-immigrant backlash
The politics behind Ed Miliband's long-awaited speech on immigration are pretty straightforward. Polling - and Labour activists' experience on the

What is wrong with Miliband? In just under three years there will be a general election. When the punters come to look at the manifestos of each party they will see the Tories attacking immigrants, and Labour doing likewise; the Tories and Labour will have the same policies on social care; the Tories will be pressing ahead with deficit reduction in the only way they know, by slashing public spending, and Labour will make similar commitments to public spending.

Tell me, why would the British electorate vote Labour when we're seen to be selling the same tired old policies as the Tories. Better the devil you know?

Labour needs bold new policies; policies that grow the Britain out of recession, not a strategy that merely differs from the Tories by a few degrees. For instance, instead of using the excuse that welfare is costing too much; why not be bold and say tax cheats are the real cause of our deficit, for if the Carrs and Camerons of this world didn't spend oodles of boodle to inventive accountants in order to shrink their tax bills to almost zero, we'd be out of this mess far quicker.

Friday, 1 June 2012

Living at the sharp end

Never in my lifetime have I sensed such an atmosphere of trepidation over both the present and the future.

Even during the Thatcher years when the nasty party declared all-out war on our class, things did not seem as bleak as today.
While it took Thatcher a few years to begin her outright attack on working people, the Tory-Lib Dem coalition came straight out with its hit list pre-prepared, imposing its austerity programme that punishes all but the wealthy.
The last few years of Labour's time in office must have been a dream for the Tories as Brown and co prepared the ground by increasing their attacks on the poorest and least able to protect themselves.
Groups such as single mothers and disabled people were daily held up by the gutter press and dubious TV documentary-makers as cheats, scroungers and generally feckless.
That shining example of humanity Rod Liddle advised Sunday Times readers: "Next time you see a young person in a wheelchair, tip it over and drag the occupant down to the nearest jobcentre, lecturing him or her all the while on the dignity of labour."
Just a bit of fun? A remark made in jest?
No. Not when hate crime against disabled people is growing.
This hatred is fuelled by an official narrative of blaming disability benefit recipients for the deficit. Systematic media attacks on benefit claimants have enjoyed both tacit and vocal backing of successive governments.
This demonises disabled people, making us targets for abuse and sometimes violence from people who believe what they might read in the Sun or the Mail.
So, with disabled people duly vilified, the government has a ready-made setting to carry out its attacks on benefits.
Although the trade unions and more progressive elements in society condemn the coalition's cuts, we have still to get great swathes of the population on side.
The disability movement and trade unions are working together to resist the cuts agenda, disability hate crime, discrimination against disabled job-seekers and the proposed Remploy factory closures.
Last year's March for Jobs on March 26 was perhaps the catalyst that helped to build this unity. The trade unions are working with groups such as Disabled People Against the Cuts, Black Triangle and the Hardest Hit Campaign.
Alliances with groups such as UK Uncut are also being forged, as we saw a few weeks ago in London's West End when disabled activists chained themselves together across a main road to block traffic and when Nick Clegg's street was invaded last Saturday by UK Uncut and disability protesters who then held an impromptu "alternative jubilee" party.
Bit by bit we are getting our message across. Those working in government "back-to-work" and medical examination organisations such as A4E and Atos are coming under increasing pressure over the inherently unfair ways in which they operate.
Last week the British Medical Association local medical committee conference, which represents GPs, voted unanimously in favour of a motion on Atos Healthcare's work capability assessments (WCA).
"Conference believes that inadequate computer-based assessments that are used have little regard to the nature or complexity of the needs of long-term sick and disabled persons" and that "WCA should end with immediate effect and be replaced with a rigorous and safe system that does not cause avoidable harm to some of the weakest and most vulnerable in society."
Here we have the body representing front-line GPs calling for an end to the notorious work capability assessment with immediate effect.
Recent months have also seen various organisations linking up to defend Remploy factories.
Groups such as Inclusion London and Disabled People Against the Cuts have joined up with Remploy workers and trade unions to help fight the factory closures.
Even though some within the disability movement question whether supported employment is a good idea, these groups have put aside such differences of opinion, recognising that the forced unemployment of around 1,600 disabled workers overshadows the ideology of mainstream employment "good," supported employment "bad."
The Remploy factory closures have been "justified" by the government using the report by Disability Rights UK chief executive Liz Sayce, Getting In, Staying In And Getting On: Disability Employment Support Fit For The Future.
This gave the government the excuse it was looking for to close down Remploy factories and get rid of residential training courses for disabled people, effectively consigning hundreds of disabled people to a life without work and a poverty existence.
Sayce's report allowed the government to use the level of subsidy as a lever against Remploy factories, claiming that each Remploy worker cost £25,000 to keep in a job, whereas Access to Work (A2W) averaged out at £2,600 per worker.
What it failed to point out was that in order to qualify for A2W you had to have a job - small comfort for the 1,600 displaced Remploy workers if the closures go ahead.
If the government was sincere in assisting disabled people into work, it would open A2W to jobseekers.
And instead of making a mere £5 million per year for the next three years available to A2W - if it closes Remploy factories and stops residential training courses it will have an extra £81m at its disposal - it would pump in millions.
It could also relax the criteria around A2W, making it more readily available for uptake and lessening the bureaucracy that constrains users.
Surely advertising the A2W scheme to doubtful employers might go some way to dispelling the myth that disabled people are an extra cost to businesses.
Toughening the law against employers caught discriminating against disabled workers and jobseekers would be a positive step.
And of course there is the bonus that for every £1 spent on A2W the government collects £1.41 in taxes and insurance, not to mention that the disabled worker becomes more economically active.
Sean McGovern is TUC disabled workers' committee chairman.