lizw: text: the truth will set you free... but first it will piss you off (politics)
[personal profile] lizw
Featured on Liberal Democrat Voice

So, Nick Clegg thinks I have "a messed-up set of priorities" that he "cannot for the life of [him] understand".

Between this and the Welfare Reform Act, I am really not sure I can stay in this party. I'm still glad we got Labour out in 2010; I still think I was right to vote for the Coalition Agreement; and I think the Coalition Government is doing better than the last Labour Government did on all the issues I listed in this post. But workfare, the withdrawal of ESA from people whose partners earn £7,500, and the benefits cap were no part of the Coalition Agreement, and are arguably inconsistent with the promise in the Coalition Programe that we would introduce measures to protect people on low incomes from the effects of spending cuts and that we would support the Minimum Wage. Our MPs don't have to vote for them, and while Nick has to support them in public because of collective Cabinet responsibility, he doesn't have to do so in terms that other the dissenters in quite that way (many of whom are in our own party).

I've hesitated in the past to declare a red line in the area of benefits, because compared to, say, torture and the waging of illegal wars, it's an issue where pragmatism in the form of budgetary constraints inevitably has to play a greater part. I'm not an economist, so to a large extent I have to rely on the input of those who are to assess what's reasonably achievable and what isn't. But when it comes to saying that disabled people should rely on the income of a partner who earns as little as £7,500 - considerably less than a full-time minimum wage - I start to feel we're in territory where no economist could convince me that we have no better choices. That change is going to "save" around £1.4bn; the MOD budget for 2012/13 is £33.7bn. I realise that in itself represents a substantial cut, but there have to be more programmes we could cut. Honestly, if it really came to it, I'd sooner get rid of the whole bloody lot than treat disabled people like this - and those of you who know of my personal history with and resulting sense of loyalty to our armed forces will know how significant a statement that is. Our national spending priorities are badly, systematically fucked up; they need rethinking from the ground up. By allocating cuts between Departments before the specifics were worked out, the Coalition Government has precluded that. So yeah, I'm going to say that the Government has crossed one of my red lines with the decision on ESA, which means that according to my own principles, I need to either work from inside to reverse that, or else I need to resign.

So which is it going to be? I will probably wait until a reasonable period after our Spring Conference in Gateshead before I make a decision, because I want to gauge what scope there actually is for the internal party democracy to achieve a change in direction. I am not too hopeful, given that the last Conference I was able to attend voted against the withdrawal of child benefit from higher income earners, which has now been introduced by the back door via the benefits cap. On wider benefits issues, those of us who oppose the changes may well be in a minority in the party anyway, judging from the most recent Lib Dem Voice members' survey. I'm also conscious that my own ability to participate in the internal party democracy is severely limited at the moment by the effect my father's disability has had on my finances and available holiday time; I don't know how comfortable I can be sitting back and leaving it to those in the party who do share my views to sort everything out, while meanwhile my membership fees are still going to support a party that increasingly seems to me to be headed in the wrong direction.

Date: 4 Mar 2012 11:46 (UTC)
rmc28: Photo of me shortly before starting my first half-marathon (Default)
From: [personal profile] rmc28
I think the party is doing the right thing by low-paid people, but not enough by the very poorest - those without jobs at all. But I've lost this argument with my stepfather (member of the LibDems and previously the Liberal Party for decades), who talks about people he knows who have never "bothered" to work.

That said, I have a long-term-unemployed sibling in my household, who has been put on one of these work experience placements, which bears no resemblance to "slavery at Tesco", but actually seems constructive, useful and reasonable. So I can understand frustration with people condemning all work experience placements as "slavery".

I am still in sufficient agreement with my local party, especially my MP, to want to campaign more actively for the party. In particular, we have council elections this year and I want the current LibDem administration to stay rather than losing to the Labour opposition. I'm also trying to get more involved in trying to persuade people on the areas where I disagree. But I have the time and money to do so ...

Date: 4 Mar 2012 12:41 (UTC)
mirabehn: (Default)
From: [personal profile] mirabehn
So I can understand frustration with people condemning all work experience placements as "slavery"

FWIW, I know quite a lot of people who are activists against workfare, and none of them, AFAIK, are against work experience placements in general - just against *compulsory* placements, especially where they are actively inappropriate. In fact many are actively in favour of truly voluntary, helpful work experience placements.

Date: 4 Mar 2012 13:08 (UTC)
From: [personal profile] cm
There have never been any compulsory placements, and some strict instructions have now gone out to frontline staff that they should make it very clear to claimants that placements aren't compulsory, so hopefully no-one will be getting the wrong end of the stick on that again going forward.

There are rules about completing a placement once you've agreed to it, but these have been loosened as well.

Date: 4 Mar 2012 13:22 (UTC)
mirabehn: (Default)
From: [personal profile] mirabehn
There appears to be some considerable debate and uncertainty about that, and the individual cases in which people have been forced into workfare do not appear to just be the high profile cases. Though I am quite willing to believe that such cases have been due to individual JC+ staff misinterpreting guidelines, rather than actual policy. I do, I should note, know personally - as do you - at least one person who had JSA cut frivolously due to a culture of aggressive dislike of claimants in a particular JC+ office. (Though equally, this person would be among the first to point out that the staff in question were overworked, underpaid and generally had a pretty short end of the stick themselves.)

I am very glad that things are being loosened.

I do also have some real concerns about large companies using workfare to avoid minimum wage requirements, regardless of whether short, unpaid work experience placements are a good thing in general or not. But I am actually somewhat more concerned about large, wealthy companies paying as little as the minimum wage in the first place - I suspect this is something you and I may agree on, given that it's the DWP that end up effectively subsidising those positions with top-up benefits so that the people in question can afford to live!

Date: 4 Mar 2012 13:32 (UTC)
From: [personal profile] cm
I suspect this is something you and I may agree on, given that it's the DWP that end up effectively subsidising those positions with top-up benefits so that the people in question can afford to live!

Economics are complicated, and I'm not sure what the right answer is. But I slightly resent the implication that 'DWP not having to subsidise people' is anything like one of my top priorities here!

Date: 4 Mar 2012 13:46 (UTC)
mirabehn: (Default)
From: [personal profile] mirabehn
Oh no, sorry, I didn't mean to imply that! Sorry that it came across that way.

What I did mean is that I at least think that this is a really bad use of the DWP's subsidising-people money, because it wouldn't be necessary if the wealthy companies in question paid a living wage. It's necessary because they aren't, and it's good that the DWP is doing that, but it shouldn't be necessary and it takes away the money from cases where DWP intervention is always going to be needed. Given your views on prioritisation of money, I thought you might agree with me on that.

In the way in which it is done, effectively it isn't the DWP subsidising people, it's the DWP being forced to subsidise very wealthy companies. I don't know what the answer is either, but I am certain that the current minimum wage is problematically low, and I do think that some serious research needs to be done wrt the *possibility* of making it compulsory for companies above a certain size to pay a living wage.

Date: 4 Mar 2012 13:43 (UTC)
From: [personal profile] cm
I think the scheme would be vastly better* if the people doing it got at least minimum wage (as it is, some peoples' benefits come to more than minimum wage, but some come to less), but companies do need an incentive to employ the people who would most benefit from the work as opposed to the people who would do the job best, and I'm not opposed to that incentive coming in the form of government subsidies.

* From a moral point of view AND a "saving taxpayers' money" point of view - I think that earning more would make the placements a far more positive experience, and therefore increase the incentive for finding permanent work.

Date: 4 Mar 2012 14:04 (UTC)
mirrorshard: (Default)
From: [personal profile] mirrorshard
I don't know whether "compulsory" and "mandatory" have different meanings inside the DWP/JC+/provider/subcontractor cluster; they are identical to claimants. In any event, "compulsory" is a bit of a complicated word in the circumstances. When dealing with JC+ staff, it's impossible not to be horribly aware that they have the power to take away your entire income (excluding rent) basically at will, and without any recourse on your part.

So when they say "You should do this" it's incredibly difficult not to interpret that as coercive, especially when the word "mandatory" and the "your benefits may be at risk" phrasing are used. I have had a JC+ staff member tell me "yes, this is voluntary, but if you don't attend then your benefits will be stopped" - even without such absurdly Kafkaesque issues as that, it's incredibly difficult to disagree with them and continue doing so when they take the "why can't you see that this is good for you, why are you making difficulties for me, I have 237 other people to see today" attitude. Given the power differential, it's almost impossible not to interpret that attitude as a threat (although I'm intellectually aware that it's almost never meant as one); this effect is even more pronounced for people with worse anxiety disorders than mine, no DLA (therefore no income stream at all besides JSA/ESA), and/or families to look after.

Date: 11 Mar 2012 09:31 (UTC)
gwenhwyfaer: (Default)
From: [personal profile] gwenhwyfaer
Of course, saying that "there have never been any compulsory placements" is just semantics when there's a weight of anecdote suggesting that the response to a claimant refusing a Work Experience place is to send them on Mandatory Work Activity - which unquestionably is compulsory.

Moreover, Work Programme providers have broad, unsupervised discretion to do whatever they please to get someone into a job - up to and including sending them on compulsory work experience. Again, the weight of anecdote suggests that they aren't chary of using that right.

In fact, of five government schemes which involve work placements, only one is not compulsory, and even then the issue was murky until the government issued "clarification" (which turned out to not be that clear at all) - sufficiently murky to provide a solid foundation for a court case on Article 4 grounds. So please, less of the disingenuousness.

Date: 11 Mar 2012 12:23 (UTC)
From: [personal profile] cm
I think you're mistaking ignorance for disingenuousness here! I will look in to what you say.

Date: 12 Mar 2012 01:15 (UTC)
gwenhwyfaer: (Default)
From: [personal profile] gwenhwyfaer
Accepted. My experience has been that the only people who really know what's going on with the benefits system are the ones caught in it. Everyone else hears about it and their instinctive reaction is "it can't be that bad!" It is. It's become a perfect synthesis of Kafka and Orwell.

Date: 4 Mar 2012 17:27 (UTC)
barakta: (Default)
From: [personal profile] barakta
I think the party is doing the right thing by low-paid people, but not enough by the very poorest - those without jobs at all.

That's exactly it. It feels as if the LDs are basically sacrificing "unemployed working age people" to improve things for poorly paid without realising that actually many unemployed working age people are also very vulnerable. I don't think this should be an either or, it should be an 'And'.

for me this has been a red line because the LDs have had plenty of chances to read #Spartacus report which would have been sent to each one of them (as a financial cost) and several grassroots people have tried to communicate this too.

I can only conclude for political expediency that it was okay to sacrifice unemployed disabled people to scapegoating, hatred, disablism and total screw up of basic 'living' benefits. They clearly live in a whole other universe from the people affected by this legislation and ideology.

Date: 4 Mar 2012 12:48 (UTC)
mirabehn: (Default)
From: [personal profile] mirabehn

Much sympathy.

I'm in the fortunate position that I left the LibDems before the last election, while still in some sympathy with the party, simply because the Greens were and are closer to accurately reflecting my political priorities. If I hadn't, I'd have last year sometime given the Welfare Reform Bill and some other things, but it would have been a much harder and more painful move.

I honestly don't know what the right answer is for you at this stage, and I think it would be presumptuous for me to advise you even if I did! So I will just send you many good wishes with the process of discernment. xx

Date: 4 Mar 2012 13:54 (UTC)
mirabehn: (Default)
From: [personal profile] mirabehn
*nodnods* That makes sense.

I am broadly in favour of the Green Party's stance on nuclear power, although I think for different reasons to that of the Green Party leadership! (Ie, my concerns are more about how soon we're going to reach peak uranium, and the environmental and social costs of uranium extraction, rather than believing that nuclear power stations are fundamentally An Evil Thing.)

Where I really disagree with Green Party policy is their support of homeopathy*, though thankfully they do seem to be backing away a bit from that now. But, well, my opinions on homeopathy (and indeed nuclear power) aren't as strong as my opinions on social justice, adapting to peak-everything, continuing and increasing appropriate international aid and increasing LGBT rights, for example, and so those are the ones I make more of a decision on. But, yeah. It's a compromise, and I don't for a minute blame people for not wanting to join my party!

(As I have a tendency to say rather a lot on Twitter, I occasionally look across at Wales and have Plaid Cymru envy. ;-) )

* Am a fan of a lot of complimentary medicine, but very definitely not that!

Date: 5 Mar 2012 10:13 (UTC)
naath: (Default)
From: [personal profile] naath
Peak Uranium> time scales measured in hundreds of years at current consumption rates depending on what you think about extraction of Uranium from seawater and various sorts of other currently-uneconomic means of extracting the stuff. Which isn't "forever" but it is longer than oil.

Uranium extraction> yeah, it has its problems. Big ones. That are often ignored because it is (relatively) small-scale compared to, eg, oil extraction. And these concerns are a good reason to be questioning the future usefulness of nuclear fission.

Extracting our current consumption of energy from genuinely renewable sources is a lot harder than some people sell it as; although we could definately by doing a lot more than we currently are.

Date: 11 Mar 2012 09:35 (UTC)
gwenhwyfaer: (Default)
From: [personal profile] gwenhwyfaer
I only joined the party in early 2010, when they looked for a moment as though they might provide a real alternative on the centre-left (and more importantly, a change of direction away from galloping authoritarianism). Welfare reform pushed me hard, but what prompted me to shove my membership card through the shredder was the continued detention of children (or, you know, anyone) in concentration camps like Yarl's Wood - which is still ongoing; the concentration camps may look nicer and have climbing frames now, but let's not mistake what they are.

Date: 13 Mar 2012 11:43 (UTC)
ext_51145: (Default)
From: [identity profile]
As I understand it, children are *not* any longer being detained in Yarl's Wood or similar places . The ongoing 'detention' of children is only for numbers of hours in the single figures immediately prior to deportation.
Of course, no adults should be held in those places either, but I truly think that the Lib Dems are the party that is most likely to rectify that (though still not very likely, unfortunately).

Date: 13 Mar 2012 17:07 (UTC)
ext_51145: (Default)
From: [identity profile]
Hmm... that's significantly worse than I'd been led to believe, and while it is of course an improvement, I think it's something we need to be pressuring the leadership over. (Unfortunately as a non-voting member the amount of pressure I can put on is minimal :-/ ).

Date: 15 Mar 2012 13:45 (UTC)
gwenhwyfaer: (Default)
From: [personal profile] gwenhwyfaer
That's what I meant. But when I shredded my membership card, children were still being detained in Yarl's Wood. But in any case, I can't stand the thought that I live in a society where something like Yarl's Wood exists, period, no matter which group of innocent people are detained in it.

Date: 4 Mar 2012 14:22 (UTC)
mirrorshard: (Default)
From: [personal profile] mirrorshard
I've never been a party member, but I did vote LD at the last election. At this point, if someone suggested I join (or vote for them again) I hope I would be able to explain calmly why I'm even less likely to do that than to join the Conservatives. I'm on the Work Programme myself at the moment, so it's a fairly personal issue for me.

I agree entirely with your economic points - I'd also like to add one thing, which is that this policy seems very likely to take spending money away from the very poorest, who are both the only ones who are guaranteed to spend nearly all of it rather than saving it, and the ones with the biggest incentive to spend it sensibly. (We are, in fact, the Invisible Hand.) So the decreased tax receipts, both from the direct fall in spending and the resultant fall in growth as demand drops, will offset the savings to some extent anyway.

Also, this is a social engineering policy as much as a financial one: all the unpaid work placements, as far as I can tell, are with companies or charities doing low-grade unskilled or semi-skilled work, in jobs that would pay barely above the minimum wage if they paid at all. Campaigners have suggested that this is partly an effort to make sure that the unemployed have no time & energy left for agitation, but that's a conspiracy theory too far for my taste. It is certainly an effort to direct poorer people towards "suitable" or "appropriate" jobs, though.

Date: 4 Mar 2012 14:42 (UTC)
mirrorshard: (Default)
From: [personal profile] mirrorshard
Oh, I should add - since I'm on the Work Programme due to a mental health disability, I've been referred to the Camden Society, who are a Seetec subcontractor. So far, they seem very nice and actively helpful, and I don't expect to have any problems myself with regard to workfare. On the other hand, I don't want to fall into the "I'm OK, it's those other unemployed people who might be in trouble" trap.

Date: 4 Mar 2012 23:11 (UTC)
mirrorshard: (Default)
From: [personal profile] mirrorshard
Agreed, but I think it's also worth drawing a distinction between pre-existing jobs to which claimants are directed, and work experience posts created for a claimant (which I'd argue that, by definition, don't relate to a pre-existing vacancy) with no expectation of that same job at the end of the period.

Date: 5 Mar 2012 08:47 (UTC)
ext_390810: (Default)
From: [identity profile]
Usually a lurker, but wanted to make one quick point:
On wider benefits issues, those of us who oppose the changes may well be in a minority in the party anyway, judging from the most recent Lib Dem Voice members' survey.
I'm not sure how much the LDV survey (and discussion in the comments and the forum) are representative of the wider membership. I'm a councillor, and meet lots of members here in my local party as well as others regionally, and most people I know of aren't aware LDV even exists, let alone that you can register with it and take part in a survey.

I think a lot of the formal online discussion about the party is dominated by a certain subset of the party's membership, and that gives a skewed impression of the party. That said, I won't be at Conference next week (can't afford or justify spending £300+ for a couple of days) to compare that with reality.

Date: 5 Mar 2012 13:55 (UTC)
ext_390810: (Default)
From: [identity profile]
I think on certain issues they are, yes, but it's not easily defined as a simple left/right thing. However, that could be coloured by my local party, and my experiences of the LDV forum which often resembled an echo chamber for the more Tory-oriented members of the party.

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