Workfare vs. Community Sentences – Incoherent Government

Nikhil Venkatesh @ Edinburgh Against Poverty

Notwithstanding the plethora of consultants currently on government books, there remains a gap that needs very much to be filled. Employing what I describe as a ‘freelance philosopher’ may not look like the smartest move in a time of austerity, but it would have some tangible benefits. The philosopher would not be there to make decisions; I am not prescribing some sort of ‘philosopher-king’ from Plato’s The Republic; her job would be merely to examine government policy to make sure it was not contradictory. A good example of incoherence in Coalition thinking comes to mind from the news this week.

The government line on ‘Workfare’ – unpaid internships for job seekers, which, if refused, see the unfortunate claimant lose his benefits – is that work experience is a good thing. They believe that, in the words of Chris Grayling MP  “All of the evidence we can see is that this does better than simply leaving people on JSA, it actually helps more young people get into work.” This is despite a DWP report from 2008 finding that Workfare can ‘reduce employment chances’. The report studied how Workfare programmes had worked in other countries – the USA, Canada and Australia – and found that paid placements, and subsidised jobs ‘can be more effective than work for benefit programmes’ and that ‘there is little evidence that Workfare increases the likelihood of finding work’. This is partly a matter for common sense: if there are no more jobs in the economy, how is giving free labour to companies going to help? Shouldn’t a job seeker spend their time looking for actual jobs, rather than spending two weeks stacking shelves? How does a fortnight of low-skilled, forced labour make anyone more employable? Read more of this post

Greece: Shades of Weimar?

Nikhil Venkatesh

After the Treaty of Versailles, an unstable, war-wearied and poor Germany (with a new government based in Weimar) was made to pay £284 billion (in today’s money) to the Allied powers. Germany was humiliated; throughout the next decade its economy was run not in the interests of the German people, but in the interests of paying back its foreign creditors. This led to crippling hyper-inflation, an economy vulnerable to the Wall Street Crash (1929), an upsurge in nationalism and communism, and ultimately the rise of Hitler. Amazing as it may be, some people predicted that the harsh financial terms of the treaty would mutilate the German economy, endanger its fledgling democracy, and lead to another war in about 1940. JM Keynes wrote about it in The Economic Consequences of the Peace, and even the cartoonist in The Daily Herald had an inkling of a ‘second world war’ (see picture) – he was a year out.

The moral of the story is that if a country’s economy isn’t run in the interests of the people (what Chomsky calls ‘economic sovereignty’), the people will not be happy. They will revolt, riot, and go to war.

The most terrible thing about the bail-out agreement with Greece is that the Greek people do not feature in it. The policies are designed to stop (mainly French, German and British) banks from losing the money they rashly lent to the Greek government. Greece will be forced to impose austerity measures that may well make their citizens’ lives worse – but this is secondary to keeping the bankers afloat. Any money the Greek government has will have to go into paying off debt ahead of being spent on public services. Foreign economists, like the French troops occupying Germany’s Ruhr valley in 1923, will remain until the debtor country can be trusted to uphold its side of the bargain. The Greek people don’t get a choice; Greek economic policy is unaccountable to its own taxpayers; money will be transferred from some of Europe’s poorest people to some of its wealthiest. Read more of this post

Realism and Religion

Andrew Calderwood

Image © Duke Human Rights Centre

For many people, religion will have a profound effect throughout their lives, often acting as a great healer of the soul. It will provide a positive influence in times of need and a rock of solace throughout times of pain and suffering. Equally, during periods of great plenty and fulfilment, the preaching of key messages, moral wisdom and the search for solidarity can be used as an unmatched medium in the step towards societal advancement.

Whether a fully fledged believer or an ardent atheist, the majority of society are likely to agree, that the cornerstones of religious preaching can set sound foundations when building towards a prosperous future in the pursuit of harmonious global relations. This positive underpinning, however, makes it an ever more bitter pill to swallow when recognising that the various religions that encompass our world appear inherently unable to co-exist side by side and assimilate themselves into a united society. Instead, radical religious leaders and sects appear intent on abusing religious ideology in the pursuit of objectives that are deemed as personally productive. Many demonstrate a lack of willingness to cooperate within the national and international arena and thus fail to contribute to the constructive progression of developments in cordial political dialogue.

Too often we see religious leaders or groups striving for dominance over another, or politicians using religious beliefs as a political vehicle to control the masses. We have also been witness to the oppression of groups and individuals who openly oppose the dogma of ruling political parties, or those who may be deemed undesirable or a danger to the status quo of power politics. Throughout history religion has been used as a tool to nurture the ‘Power Urge’ of groups and individuals, derived from the more basic urges of self-aggrandisement and self-assertion. The power urge can be translated through personal ambition, a quest for prestige or simply from a desire to profit from the work of others.[1)

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DeJa vu all over again

Dominic Turner

Image © Arash Razzagh Karimi

You may be forgiven for thinking you’ve seen this all before. Increasingly ‘crippling’ sanctions.  Whispers of ever-growing weapons capabilities. The pounding beats of the same war drum, of distant threats, from a savage alien culture. We were here almost 10 years ago. This week Israeli ‘intelligence’ asserted the claim that Iran may be capable, in some indeterminate time, to strike US cities with missiles. You may remember similar claims in 2002 about the Iraqi regime being capable of striking the West within 45 minutes. Those claims, like the ones of today, formed part of the propaganda package sold to British public as the reason to illegally invade Iraq, a war that cost the lives of hundreds of thousands of innocent Iraqi’s.

If you search through the pages of British and American media outlets you will see the liberal use of the phrase “strategic strikes” on Iran’s nuclear facilities. The same was said before Afghanistan was bombed into the Stone Age, causing the deaths of around 30,000 civilians. The truth is, Iran’s nuclear facilities are scattered around the country, meaning any war or planned attack would inevitably cause immeasurable casualties to a civilian population that is more than twice the size of Afghanistan’s. 

In July of 2007 41% of Americans still believed the bald faced lie that Saddam Hussein was personally involved with the attacks of September the 11th, a central facet in selling the war to the American people, three years after it was proved false. Today, Sky News is sowing the same seeds of destruction, proclaiming that Iran and Al Qaeda are plotting a joint attack in Europe. The fact that Al Qaeda are Sunni whilst the Iranian leadership is Shia nation, and are sworn enemies, is an inconvenient fact that cannot get in the way of the war mongering of the Murdoch owned media. The success of the propaganda mill can be demonstrated by the fact that 71% percent of Americans believe Iran possess a nuclear weapon when even US defence secretary Leon Panetta has admitted that Iran has not yet decided whether to build nuclear weapons. Any strike on Iran would not be an act of self defence but an act of war.

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The NHS reform bill is reckless politics

Tom Bailey

Image © UCL Conservative Society

The former Tory Chancellor of the Exchequer, Nigel Lawson, famously called the NHS “the closest thing the English have to a religion.” This oft-quoted truism is once again doing the rounds as the furore over the Health and Social Care Bill boils on despite continuous opposition from almost everyone in the profession and large swathes of the public. Ed Miliband even had a good soundbite in PMQs when, citing supposed (and since refuted) opposition to the reforms from the Tory Reform Group, he hit Cameron with the line that ‘Even the Tories don’t trust the Tories on the NHS.’ Lawson’s judgement remains an apt assessment of how important the NHS is to the British people and the corresponding distrust of creeping privatization into this most popular institution of the welfare state. For an example of this instinctive distrust of marketisation of the NHS, last week’s Question Time saw the American business woman, Julie Meyer, jeered by the audience when she suggested that we should turn it into a ‘trillion pound British healthcare industry.’ Perhaps this response was unsurprising given how America somehow squanders away 16.2% of its GDP on healthcare (as opposed to 9.3% for the UK) and yet leaves around 50 million people, or approximately 16% of its population, without healthcare. However, I want to focus on the bad politics surrounding this bill. I lack sufficient expertise and willpower to dissect or examine the 367 page bill itself.

Firstly, this bill was not democratically mandated. The much cited Coalition agreement set out that the government would ‘stop the top-down reorganisations of the NHS that have got in the way of patient care.’ Further to this, the Tory 2010 manifesto stated that ‘more than three years ago, David Cameron spelled out his priorities in three letters – NHS. Since then, we have consistently fought to protect the values the NHS stands for and have campaigned to defend the NHS from Labour’s cuts and reorganisations.’ Occasionally there has been an attempt by the government to claim it is not top-down but bottom-up change. However, one Tory MP argued that ‘stripping out primary care trusts (PCTs) and strategic health authorities is as top down as it comes.’ Even if certain clauses in manifestos gave hints of coming organizational changes, no radical transformation was openly offered up at the last election by either the Tories or the Lib Dems. Instead, the government is open to accusations of dishonesty and hypocrisy given the record of both the Tories and Lib Dems in critiquing overly zealous top down New Labour reforms of the NHS.

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Winter of Discontent: Put away childish things

Morus

Image

Image © Murdo Macleod

As a political anorak and resident of Edinburgh I dutifully plodded out to St Andrew’s House yesterday afternoon to stand in the cold and catch a glimpse of my Prime Minister greeting my First Minister. Though unaccredited, I was able to wander freely into the press pit and take my post amongst the telescopic lenses and cameras of Scotland’s media. Indeed, security was remarkably lax. Despite NUJ members having been informed that they would have to register their presence in some fashion, this was not enforced. The police presence was remarkable by its scarcity and, though a pair of suited men with prominent earpieces were to be seen presumably discussing security arrangements with a man conspicuously without a tie, the tone of the event was intensely relaxed.

Then, minutes before Mr Cameron was scheduled to arrive, the calm was pierced by a meagre gaggle of protesters who, by their garb and enthusiastic chanting of slogans from the 80s, I suspect represented the best and brightest of Edinburgh’s youth wing of the Socialist Workers Party. They were led by four ageing soldiers of the war against the Tories and the remaining three dozen or so represented their ideological progeny. The quiet afternoon air solidified into a greatest hits of three decade old resentment and anger as faint noises of traffic and the grumblings of bored and cold photographers was replaced by young voices raised in cries of “Tory scum” and “when you say cutback we say fight back.”

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Global Justice and the Future of Hope

Rajesh Makwana

Image © Niklas Sjöblom

Would it be easier to create a sustainable global economy if the world more closely resembled the demographics and geography of Iceland – a volcanic island with a manageably small population and a unique abundance of renewable energy? This was among the many questions raised during a panel discussion at Tipping Point Film Fund’s UK premier of Future of Hope, often referred to as the Iceland documentary.

Since the Nordic country experienced the systemic failure of its entire banking sector in 2008, a number of Iceland’s senior banking executives have been arrested, sacked or sued. Grass roots organisations, including the Ministry of Ideas that was featured in the film, have since hosted a National Assembly of unprecedented scale. The government-backed Assembly was designed to focus specifically on the nation’s next steps; to agree on a set of collective values and to establish a clear vision for how to rebuild their economy from the ashes of the old. While the film did not focus on the Assembly itself, progressives would not be surprised by its outcome: participants emphasised the importance of robust public services, establishing an environmentally responsible and sustainable economy, and ensuring equality and transparency in the country’s future renaissance.

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The Uniform-Dating Effect

Nikhil Venkatesh

Image © Metropolitan Police

I recently saw an interesting advert on the television: it was for the internet dating service, ‘uniformdating.com‘. The advert asks for people to join the site ‘if you work in uniform’ (a bit strange to differentiate this group for romantic purposes, isn’t it?) or, even more sinister, ‘if you just fancy those who do’. I have no problem with the idea of internet dating, and if people in a uniformed occupation (or with a strange attraction to this diverse group) wish to use the service, then good luck to them. But, to most people, doesn’t this seem just a bit… well, weird?

My theory is that the main aim of the owners of this site, the NSI group, is not to encourage people to join this particular site. Through their ‘Really Fab Dating’ software, NSI have an interest in the fortunes of many different site within the internet dating industry. Through spending lots of money on TV adverts for uniformdating.com, the company probably hopes to help the industry as a whole. This is how: 1) There is still a stigma about internet dating; some people think it’s ‘a bit weird’. 2) These people will see uniformdating.com as ‘very weird’. 3) Suddenly, in comparison, mainstream dating sites such as match.com (from comparing the fonts, I assume NSI have something to do with that one too) seem far more normal. Thus, through creating an intentionally off-beat site, the internet dating industry will improve its image, and grow.
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Mooney, the Mail, and Me

Scott Hill

Image © Byzantine K

As hard as it may be to envisage, it is possible that some of you may have missed my appearance on BBC Radio Four’s Broadcasting House programme over the weekend. Thanks to the wonders of BBC iPlayer you can catch up here[1]. Typically, I forgot half of what I wanted to say and failed, in the small time allotted to the very broad topic of the Daily Mail’s impact on society, to produce a wholly satisfactory, coherent argument. Nevertheless, it was an interesting debate, but one I feel needs fleshing out further. But first, let us look at what was revealed during the 8 minute ding-dong.

My sparring partner throughout the debate was the Mail’s very own Bel Mooney. Immediately, Bel was forced to concede that she regularly receives criticism for daring to write for the infamous paper. She even acknowledged that the Mail “gets things wrong and often prints things I don’t agree with”. However, she failed to maintain sanity. She went on to describe the Mail as a “paper of absolute genius” and, when I dared to raise an example of the paper’s contradictory views on feminism, she declared: “Can we be more serious than that?” Coming from a Daily Mail defender, surely that must be the irony of all ironies.

Aside from the point I raised with regards to the double standard over feminism[2], I also managed to fit in a quote from a BNP activist (“The rhetoric of the Express and the Mail could come from one of our own newsletters[3]”), stated that my parents merely buy the Mail for its supposedly superior crossword, challenged the paper’s definition of what it means to be British (something that went ignored by both host and opponent) and asserted that Mr Dacre’s new corrections box on page two is simply not enough to convince me that the paper’s standards will significantly rise.

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