Friday, 24 January 2014

"Can you spell 'scrounger'? No? Then starve."

Attempting to show they are as tough on ‘benefits scroungers’ as the Tories, the Labour Party’s spokesperson on Work & Pensions last week announced that the unemployed should have to sit tests in English and Maths. If the out-of-work person failed such a test, a future Labour Government would take away their benefit unless they undertook training in the subjects.

Remember when the Labour Party was actually on the side of the working class, rather than pandering to the right-wing agenda of the Tories, UKIP and the Daily Mail? I know, it’s such a long time ago now that it’s difficult to focus on such a Labour Party. Probably the last Labour manifesto to offer an agenda for the working class was delivered under the leadership of Michael Foot in 1983. Since then, under John Smith, Tony Blair, Gordon Brown and now Ed Miliband, the Labour Party has become more and more a clone of the Tories.

Last week’s statement of intent by Rachel Reeves MP (Labour’s Shadow Minister for Work & Pensions) sought to demonise the unemployed as people of such little worth that they obviously can’t even write in basic English or do their times-tables. Ms Reeves’ added threat of immediately removing benefit from anyone failing Labour’s tests simply demonstrates how far removed from reality are Westminster politicians. The Tory-clone Labour Party would punish someone who fails a test – possibly because they had earlier been failed by the education system – and that punishment would be so draconian as to remove their only source of income. So the Labour slogan for the 2015 Westminster General Election could well be: “Can you spell ‘scrounger’? No? Then starve!”

Labour’s new ‘get tough’ policy would apply to everyone claiming Jobseekers Allowance, which means that unemployed university graduates and company managers would be forced to complete tests to show they had a basic grasp of writing and counting. Such a policy could only be introduced by a party that believes the unemployed are thick.

Has Labour even considered the skilled mechanic who has been laid-off? Such a person could possess the best mechanically-minded brain and the most skilful set of hands, yet if he or she is not so good at English or Maths, bang goes their Jobseekers Allowance and poverty beckons.

The thinking behind this new Labour policy mirrors the ignorance of the Tories’ decision that when the Universal Credit is finally introduced, Housing Benefit will no longer be paid directly to landlords. Instead, the Tory-Lib Dem Government says the rent should be paid to the tenant, so the unemployed person learns how to budget and pay their bills. Apparently, the unemployed have always been unemployed and have never been in a position where they worked, got their pay, budgeted and paid bills.

The Tory Minister behind this plan is Iain Duncan Smith who lives in a mansion, complete with tennis court, on the Buckinghamshire estate of his father-in-law. Mr Duncan Smith and his posh-boy Tory colleagues fail to understand the reality of living week-to-week on poverty-level benefits. Here is a little scenario that has escaped their supposedly massive intellects: living on benefits means always having too little money to make ends meet. It is very often the case that inadequate benefit payments are long gone before the next one is due. The last few days without money are frequently covered by small bank-overdrafts. Under the Tories’ Universal Benefit plan, Housing Benefit to cover rent will be paid directly into a claimant’s bank account. If the claimant’s account is overdrawn (if they have used an overdraft facility) the bank will immediately take-back its money. If the overdraft was not agreed with the bank, there will also be charges applied. The result, of course, is that instantly there will be insufficient money to pay the rent because the bank put itself at the head of the queue to get its money. Insufficient money to cover the full amount of rent leads to arrears, which build-up and can result in eviction.

If the people of Scotland do not take the opportunity to govern our own country by voting ‘YES’ in September’s Independence Referendum, it is a racing certainty that more austerity and more demonising of the poorest members of society will take place following the next scheduled UK General Election (May 2015). Labour claims it can form the next UK Government, but that is unlikely. However, even if they did, Rachel Reeves’ announcement of last week confirms the party would continue with Tory attacks on the poor.

In a nightmare scenario, polls show the Tories are most likely to continue in government at Westminster...but with the possibility of a coalition involving the far-right United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP). At every UK Election since 1955, Scotland has rejected the Tory Party but for the majority of that time we have had them imposed on us by the votes of people in England. UKIP has never even managed to hold a deposit at any election in Scotland (a party requires to receive at least 5% of votes cast to save the financial deposit that must be lodged to fight an election). If we don’t re-take our independence and elect a government we want here in Scotland, the electors of England will decide for us, and the possibilities are far from appealing.

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