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A war on many fronts… December 31, 2013

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Culture, Economy, Irish Politics, The Left.
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I’d sort of said I wouldn’t write any posts around the news this week – just to get a bit of down time, so its been a bit retrospective and history focused. But… just when I thought I was out…they pull me back in…three pieces of news over the past few days I think are worth referencing because they provide a pattern. Firstly, Nick Cohen, who as usual on basic economic policy proves to be a lot better than international politics or musings about the supposed iniquities of the further left, has some pointed thoughts on the sheer hypocrisy of the Tory led British coalition which after all the emphasis on the ‘Big Society’ of the voluntary and charitable sector to take up the slack from the state (or in fact replace the state in many areas) suddenly resiles when faced with the inconvenient truth that said sector starts pointing to massive need far beyond its capacity to deal with. At which point the Tories start to accuse said sector from ‘politicising’ the situation.

Food banks being a case in point. As demand for them shoots up what is the response Cohen quotes from

Lord Freud, the government’s adviser on welfare reform, [who] had to explain away food banks by saying: “There is an almost infinite demand for a free good.”

Cohen neatly demonstrates that access is not a case of waltzing in from the street, but he continues by noting:

You get nothing unless a charity or public agency has assessed your need and given you a voucher. The trust is at pains to make sure that the beggars – for hundreds of thousands of beggars is what Britain now has – receive a balanced diet. To feed a couple for five days, it gives: one medium pack of cereal, 80 teabags, a carton of milk, two cans apiece of soup, beans, tomatoes and vegetables, two portions of meat and fish, fruit, rice pudding, sugar, pasta and juice. That this is hardly a feast is confirmed by the short list of “treats”, which, “when available”, consist of “one bar of chocolate and one jar of jam”.

That this situation is tolerated, or worse explained away as market mechanisms in action, or worse again projected as not actually happening and being an invention of those charities and voluntary groups in the area tells us much as to what the Tories and their feckless partners in government find acceptable, even normal.

Speaking of normal, a curious – though in its own way linked – piece this morning from Carl O’Brien on the news that in this Republic:

New figures show a dramatic increase in anonymous tip-offs over suspected social welfare fraud, with more than 21,000 reports submitted to Government authorities so far this year.

The increase – up from just 1,044 five years ago, an increase of more than 2,500 per cent – highlights the extent of the cultural shift over recent years in reporting suspected fraud.

Curious because O’Brien regards this as evidence of some shift in Irish thinking, one that tilts towards ‘cost-savings’ and protecting the ‘national interest’.

O’Brien argues that:

Whereas just 600 reports of suspected fraud were reported to authorities at the tail-end of the boom years in 2007, the numbers jumped to more than 1,000 a year later just as the downturn began to hit.

Of course the fact that in the interim there has been a massive number who have – y’know, been made unemployed, would have nothing to do with that increase in numbers, or part of an attitude to state expenditure that it is intrinsically wasteful and that tax cuts are more important (tellingly O’Brien in a piece on our economic fortunes in 2014 and after from only a day or two ago made the point that ‘tax cuts’ aka ‘feeling economic improvement’ were unlikely to materialise for years, that conjunction being educative of a certain attitude abroad). Though in fairness O’Brien does note that it’s easy to do:

In addition, taxpayers hit with higher taxes and charges to maintain our social safety net feel a burning sense of indignation at anyone unfairly claiming benefits they’re not entitled to.

The Government, too, is all too keen to encourage whistleblowers. Anyone nowadays can simply log on to the Department of Social Protection’s website to file an anonymous report, without ever lifting the phone.

But there’s a bit of a problem. Because the actual levels of fraud are quite minimal in the system. Of all those reports on supposed fraud only 16% or so saw payments cut or stopped. And more pertinently because it indicates overall levels of fraud:

For example, a fraud and error survey of 1,000 people in receipt of the disability allowance last year found just over 1 per cent involved fraud and another 1 per cent involved clerical errors.

Similarly, a survey of one-parent family payments found that just over 2 per cent of payments related to suspected fraud, while 0.3 per cent involved errors.

Moreover, and in relation to the sometimes voiced line that with such measures will come a greater acceptance of social welfare or social expenditure amongst those who would other wise be hostile, there’s no sign of a political consensus emerging that ring-fences social expenditures due to such ‘control measures’. Quite the opposite (and by the way the fact that those numbers of reports are increasing so rapidly might also be indicative of a profound suspicion of social welfare expenditure come what may). The political consensus remains one where the major parties appear dead set on returning to the status quo ante of tax cuts in the future rather than social expenditure expansion (or in reality recovery to previous levels).

Actually there’s another problem in all this, which is that simply put, by the figures we’ve been offered by the Dept itself close to 4 in 5 (and here I’m being generous) of such reports are wrong.

Finally, as if I haven’t depressed us all and myself for one day, or year, what of this straw in the wind, also from this morning’s Irish Times:

Housebuyers who took out mortgages with Dublin City Council are now more than €13 million in arrears on their home loans.

The arrears figure has increased by €10 million in the past six years, prompting a senior council official to question whether the council should be dealing with mortgages at all.

And:

…assistant city manger in charge of housing Dick Brady said it was questionable whether the council should be in the “mortgage business”.

Applicants have to be refused a mortgage by two banks, before they can be considered for a loan from the council, a rule which remains in place despite the changes in the market.

“We as a local authority must examine the reasons for us being in the mortgage business in the first place. It is time that we asked ourselves is this a business that we should be in, having regard to the fact that in order to get a local authority mortgage you have to be refused twice by banks.”

In a society where the vagaries of a private housing market have been ameliorated by state intervention to only the most limited degree it is genuinely disturbing to hear the idea that the state would pull back yet further. And yet…

Comments»

1. EWI - December 31, 2013

Re: “market mechanisms”.

Despite what Emer O’Kelly claims, there is definitely a moral force attached (by the rich and their cheerleaders, of course) to the almighty god of The Market. Ignoring the various issues of inherited wealth, nepotism and the ‘old boys club’ connections, blatant corruption and criminality and sheer chance that brought most of them to their exalted status in life.

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2. Stevie - December 31, 2013

War on many fronts but war requires combatants and on our side the war is being fought back.

Real great to see both Bill deBlasio and Miliband have both made all day free childcare as part of their central policy planks going forward. Means even as the other side tries to rip down the welfare state the fight goes on to extend.

If the US and UK start pushing all day free child care then soon enough we will be pushing for it as well.

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EWI - December 31, 2013

Real great to see both Bill deBlasio and Miliband have both made all day free childcare as part of their central policy planks going forward. Means even as the other side tries to rip down the welfare state the fight goes on to extend.

Being on ‘defence’ is a losing battle, as we’ve found. The vast amount of money on the Right finds a way to undermine it, not least using less-clued-in ostensible members of the major ‘left’ party.

See also: Duncan Black (Atrios) in the US has been asking why Medicaid/Medicare shouldn’t be extended, the retirement age lowered, and a platinum coind be minted by the US Treasury as a way around the new Republican tactic of holding the US economy hostage every couple of months (the so-called Debt Limit). All deeply ‘unserious’ ideas – until they weren’t. And they’re helping to turn the tide.

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CMK - December 31, 2013

If all the Right is facing are De Blasio and Milliband, then they’ll take that and run. That either of those two eejits are regarded as offering any hope is indicative of how far we have to go to get any semblance of a decent society. A couple of dozen more Kshama Sawants in the US and we’d be sucking diesel; De Blasio is just another ‘progressive’ huckster who knows exactly how long his leash is……

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EWI - December 31, 2013

I’ve never even heard of Kshama Sawants, so, you’ll need to fill in some blanks here CMK!

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CMK - December 31, 2013

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