Oxfam warns of “Perfect Storm” of UK poverty

Today, Oxfam released a briefing paper: The Perfect Storm: Economic stagnation, the rising cost of living, public spending cuts, and the impact on UK poverty.

The paper warns of an assault from all sides on Britain’s poor, caused by a toxic combination of rising unemployment, declining incomes, increased cost of living, public service cuts, benefit cuts, housing shortages and weak labour rights.

The government‟s rapid deficit reduction measures are hitting the livelihoods of almost everyone in the UK, but the particular approach taken is hurting people living in poverty the most. The focus on cutting public spending rather than raising taxes is deeply regressive, and the blend of tax increases chosen is itself regressive. In addition, both public spending cuts and the tax and benefit changes introduced by this government will have a significantly more negative impact on women than on men.

At the same time, we are seeing a synergy of economic and social needs. Protecting the incomes of the poorest people is crucial for both social and economic reasons. It is people on low incomes who are being hurt the most by the Perfect Storm, and increasing the incomes of the poorest will have the strongest multiplier effect on aggregate demand in the economy. By prioritising and targeting social and economic investment, the government can ensure that it protects the services upon which those in poverty most rely, while helping to boost demand and provide investment in the long-term productive capacity of the economy.

Oxfam are calling for decisive action to safeguard the increasing number of British people living in poverty, which shames our status as one of the richest nations in the world.

Protect the incomes of the low paid, reducing the withdrawal rate of Universal Credit from 65 per cent to 55 per cent to ensure that work pays, and increasing the National Minimum Wage at least in line with inflation or average earnings, whichever is the higher;
Protect people in poverty from the increasing cost of living, by giving new powers to Ofgem to cap fuel prices; introducing a maximum level of interest; and protecting the Social Fund and expanding its resources, to protect people from exploitation and to guard against problem debt;
Protect public services, by using progressive taxation to slow the speed and depth of cuts; ring-fencing the Sure Start grant to local authorities in England; and exploring investing in a national system of universal child care, to make work pay for women and to build the social infrastructure of the country;
Protect the social safety-net, by giving local authorities in England and Wales sufficient resources to maintain existing levels of Council Tax Benefit; monitoring the effect of the Housing Benefit and overall benefit caps; reversing the switch from RPI to CPI inflation for benefit uprating; maintaining real Child Benefit levels; and reversing cuts to child-care support;
Provide secure, affordable, decent housing for all, by investing in affordable homes to boost the economy and to help solve the housing crisis; and increasing maximum penalties for rogue landlords;
Protect rights at work: the weak labour market is adding to the power that employers have over workers, and so it is essential to maintain and enforce the vital protections that do exist for vulnerable workers;
Move towards a fairer tax system by clamping down on tax avoidance; introducing a Robin Hood Tax on financial transactions, to help protect public services and benefits and ensure that everyone pays their fair share; and exploring options for a land value tax; and
Rethink how we measure value: the social damage caused by inequality, high unemployment, and environmental degradation all tell us that it is not growth that matters, but the type and distribution of growth; measuring true social value through a measure of well-being such as Oxfam Scotland‟s Humankind Index will help us to measure whether what we are doing to fix the economy is really, sustainably benefiting society.

While such a paper wouldn’t be so surprising if it came from the likes of, say, UKUncut, this is from a major charity more usually associated with providing aid to the developing world. That they now feel it necessary to speak out about the way we treat our own poor may speak volumes about the increasing levels of inequality and hardship on our doorsteps.

You can read the full briefing paper here.

Regional pay cuts for NHS staff (Except if you’re a top exec on a commissioning body)

Sometimes I think Andrew Lansley exists purely to make me angry. I’m sure one day I’ll wake up to find him vomiting in my shoes. This morning, however, what I woke up to find was that he’s backing regional pay cuts.

Andrew Lansley, the health secretary, is threatening another controversial revolution in the NHS by proposing that its staff be paid less if they work in poorer parts of the country.

The cabinet minister is backing a plan for regional pay, which would mean that nurses, midwives, hospital porters, cleaners and paramedics would earn less if they work in the north or the Midlands rather than in the south of England.

Yep, we’re going to follow the private sector in a race to the bottom, and helping to further entrench the North-South Divide while we’re at it?

But what if it creates skills shortages? Surely there’ll need to be exemptions to make sure clinically-vital posts get filled?

Official documents reveal that the only backed by the Department of Health would be for highly paid managers working in new bodies established to deliver Lansley’s controversial NHS reform programme, widely criticised as a privatisation of the health service.

The department, according to a submission to the NHS pay review body, believes special arrangements would be necessary for this new cohort of executives to “attract and retain high-calibre leaders and staff responsible for transforming delivery”

So, the only posts for which we need to “attract and retain high-calibre leaders and staff” are for the commissioning bodies that nobody wanted in the first place?

I’ve said before and I’ll say it again. What a complete and utter Lansley.

Reasons to be Livid #5738

Back last year, the following conversation must have taken place somewhere in Conservative Party Central Office.

“Okay, guys. We need a catchy slogan to get the nation through the austerities ahead.”

“Sure. How about, ‘Batten down the hatches, here comes Armageddon’?”

“Haven’t you got anything a little more upbeat?”

“Well, I was thinking about ‘We’re all in this together’.”

“That’s excellent. Positive, catchy…and you know what? I reckon that’ll never come back to haunt us in any way shape or form whatsoever.”

On today’s news, it certainly looks like somebody forgot to send the memo to our bosses.

Pay for the directors of the UK’s top businesses rose 50% over the past year, a pay research company has said.

Incomes Data Services (IDS) said this took the average pay for a director of a FTSE 100 company to just short of £2.7m.

The rise, covering salary, benefits and bonuses, was higher than that recorded for the main person running the company, the chief executive.

Frankly, it doesn’t so much give a sense of “all in this together” as “haul up the drawbridge while all goes to Hell for the commoners.” Not even the Daily Mail feels inclined to defend this one.

I suspect many of the readers of this blog will have already seen this video, but today’s news reminded me of another recent example of out-of-touch arrogance from our financial elites.

For those of you who haven’t seen it before, the “let them eat cake” moment (and glorious slapdown from Polly Toynbee) is at 3.40.

On the YouTube page, the top comment is “Tax Payers Alliance, I think it might help if your spokespeople didn’t look like cartoons of overfed capitalist scumbags.” Frankly, it’s hard to disagree. The TPA couldn’t have been fronted by more of a cliche if he was wearing a crown and quaffing from a ruby-encrusted goblet. Perhaps while also waving a chicken drumstick as jesters capered around his feet.

Also in the video, Toynbee described the current situation as “a dysfunction like the last days of the Roman Empire”. When I first watched this a couple of weeks ago, that comment seemed like hyperbole. Given today’s news, I’m no longer so sure.