Robert Hampton

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1st April 2013

Day of shame
Posted by at 10.40am | In the News | No responses

Today the real April fools are those who voted Tory or Lib-Dem at the last general election (and that includes myself :()

Under the pretext of reducing the government deficit, the coalition government has been systematically reforming significant portions of the welfare system. Shamefully, those hardest hit will be the poor and vulnerable, who will see protections and support they have relied on for decades reduced or stripped away entirely.

The Guardian has an excellent summary of the changes, but the short version is: if you’re poor, disabled or otherwise need help from the Government to live a dignified life, you are screwed.

The changes include the introduction of the bedroom tax, which will see many people in social housing penalised for the crime of having a spare room. They will have to either pay , or leave homes that they have had for years to downsize to smaller accomodation (even though, in some cases, they are unable to move as housing is not available). Local victims of this policy include A woman who lost her teenage son at Hillsborough and a disabled woman whose spare room is now a lift shaft, but still counts as a spare room for bedroom tax purposes.

Major changes have been made to the Legal Aid system. Many categories of legal work are no longer eligible for legal aid and the means testing criteria have been changed, meaning that access to justice will now only be possible in many cases if people are prepared to pay solicitors privately – costs that, in many cases, they will be unable to afford.

The benefits system is being altered, with various benefits including Jobseeker’s Allowance and Disability Living Allowance being gradually phased out from today and replaced by the new “Universal Credit”. This will, we are told, “simplify” the system. However, there are concerns that the new online system, which new claimants will use, is not ready. Still, anyone who has trouble will be dismissed as a lazy, skiving benefit fraud in the eyes of this government, so don’t expect any sympathy from Iain Duncan Smith.

Perhaps worst of all are the big changes that are coming to the NHS. As Owen Jones points out in his column for the Independent, this has not received the coverage that it should have:

The Health and Social Care Act is more than three times longer than the legislation that established the NHS in the first place. When I asked journalists adamantly opposed to the Tory plans why they had failed to adequately cover this travesty, they sheepishly responded it was too complicated: it went over their heads.

It is very complicated, but the biggest change is that large parts of the NHS will become open to competition, with private companies bidding to provide healthcare services. It’s a bit like how the railways were privatised. Remember old inefficient British Rail and how the private companies improved services and drove costs down? Oh…

The NHS’s own web page confidently states: “Healthcare will remain free at the point of use, funded from taxation, and based on need and not the ability to pay.” We shall see.

The Daily Mirror, alone amongst the tabloids in that it occasionally does stand up for the poor and oppressed, has an even more succinct summary:

Mirror April 1st

SHAMEFUL is absolutely right. We will not be able to toss this uncaring Government out of office until May 2015. I just hope that it won’t be too late by then.

13th March 2013

Let’s have a heated debate

Sign above a polling station: "Do not sit on the fence"I’m a procrastinator by nature. Back in 2003, I dragged my heels about setting up the blog, and even after the software was installed and ready to go, I didn’t post anything for quite a while. I was eventually persuaded to get my proverbial arse in gear when I realised that I wanted to have my say on the hot topic of the day.

There was a war looming in Iraq, and controversy over the morality and wisdom of invading Saddam Hussein’s dictatorship was raging. What better subject for my second ever blog post, on the second day of the blog?

I’m not one of these people who believe war is always wrong. Similarly I don’t think it’s the solution to every problem. I DO think it should be the last resort, when all sensible diplomatic avenues have been exhausted.

While the UK government always emphasised weapons of mass destruction, the US made no secret of its desire for regime change in Iraq, citing Saddam Hussein’s record of using chemical weapons on his own people. I don’t doubt for a moment that Saddam is evil, but we are setting a dangerous precedent: if you don’t like a government, it’s OK to launch a pre-emptive strike. And if the real reason for invading is out of concern for the Iraqi people, why are we concentrating solely on Iraq and not on the many other dictatorships which are ruled by tyranny and fear?

Looking back ten years later, and I think I was right. The Iraq war was a colossal mistake. Unfortunately no-one in Britain seemed to get punished for it, except the BBC, which got hauled over the coals for reporting the truth.

I haven’t always been so spot on. This post on “chavs” makes me cringe now. What was I thinking?!

Read the rest of this post »

8th January 2013

Net Disbenefit
Posted by at 10.08pm | Politics | 1 response

When your own Government department admits that proposed benefit cuts will hit the poor hardest, maybe it’s time for a rethink.

Britain’s poorest households will be hit hardest by government plans to limit rises in working-age benefits to 1% in a bid to save £3.1bn by 2016, according to a Whitehall assessment rushed out shortly before MPs debated a controversial welfare bill.

There’s little doubt in my mind that the coalition government is making Britain a colder, more cruel place to live. I try to console myself with the thought that this will be a one-term government and 2015 will bring some semblance of sanity. I’m concerned, however, that by then the damage to the welfare state will be irreperable. I’m also worried that the electorate may actually be fooled by Cameron and Co’s soundbites and support their “strivers v skivers” nonsense.

I hate that particular soundbite, which seeks to portray anyone claiming any sort of state benefit as a scrounger who needs to be given a kick up the arse and stand on their own two feet (unless their legs have been amputated, but they’ve probably still been passed as fit for work by ATOS anyway). This “lazy dolescum” argument seems based entirely on the tabloid stories which surface every so often, about families on benefits who go on expensive holidays and have plasma screen TVs in their living rooms. Undoubtedly there are people who are playing the system, but they are very much the exception rather than the rule. Most people use state benefits for their intended purpose: as a safety net, to ensure a minimum standard of living.

Now, the Tories and their Lib Dem enablers seek to remove that safety net. Get out there and work (even if it’s for free in Poundland). Never mind that there are no jobs – we’ve just arranged free bus travel for the jobless (of course, since last year’s cut in bus subsidy there may not be a bus any more)!

Look across the pond to America, which has long championed self-reliance and small government. The extreme example came in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, where some truly vicious pundits said that anyone stranded in lawless New Orleans only had themselves to blame. Those left behind were mostly poor, went the logic. If they had been well-off, they could have transported themselves away easily. The lesson? You should never rely on Government to help you, ever, and if you’re in poverty – for whatever reason – tough.

At the time I laughed and felt grateful that rhetoric like that would be completely out of place here. Now, however, I worry that we might be heading in that direction. Are we going back to Dickensian days of workhouses and the poor living on the streets? Maybe not to that extreme, but a similar attitude towards the poor seems to be taking hold.

I still have misgivings about Labour – I’d like to see a full apology for the Iraq mess, and the authoritarian streak that brought us ID cards and DNA databases is still there, I think. I also worry that they may go for the populist approach in the next general election by adopting similar “tough on scroungers” rhetoric. But they can’t possibly be worse than the Tories – many of whom have no understanding of what it is like to be poor and struggling to make ends meet.

24th November 2010

The Protest with the Mostest
Posted by at 8.37pm | Politics | 1 response

The student protests added a frisson of excitement today. I had just got back to the office after my lunch break, and saw the Liverpool contingent marching down Church Street.

I work on the 6th floor so had an excellent view as they sat down on the pedestrian crossing at the junction of Bold Street, Church Street and Hanover Street, causing a queue of buses to build up rapidly.

The police presence – with vans, helicopters and horses all scrambled — seemed to be slightly over the top, but I understand from the Echo’s live blog that things were a bit rowdier at the Liverpool ONE end of Hanover Street, where the Liverpool Conservative Party has an office.

A smart-arse in the office (NOT me for once) claimed that the students were daft to protest, because they won’t be the ones affected by the tuition fee increase. I take the view, however, that they should be applauded for caring about the kids of today who want to follow in their footsteps, who are being sold down the river thanks to Nick Clegg’s inability to keep a promise.

In other news, Liverpool has a Conservative Party office. Who’d have thought?

2nd May 2010

Those crazy Liberals!
Posted by at 12.40pm | Politics | 1 response

The Liberal Democrats’ recent surge in the polls has resulted in an awful lot of scaremongering about their policies. If you believe the Daily Mail (and I strongly recommend you don’t, about any topic), voting Lib Dem will result in Britain becoming part of an EU superstate, with all the sandal-wearing, gay-sex-having, immigrant-loving mayhem that would involve.

It makes very little difference to me, thanks to my living in one of the safest Labour seats in the country. But for those of you in marginal seats who are still worried about the consequences of voting Lib Dem, here are three of the biggest myths smashed. I strongly recommend you read the manifesto, if you haven’t done so already.

The Lib Dems will scrap the nuclear deterrent, leaving us less safe

They’ve not actually said they would get rid of Britain’s nuclear deterrent, merely hold a review into the replacement of Trident to see if a cheaper alternative is available. They’ve also stated that nuclear disarmament would be multilateral (i.e. as part of an agreement with other countries). Trident was designed during the Cold War — do we really still need to be pointing so many weapons at Russia?

They are going to have an amnesty for illegal immigrants

They are here, living and working in the shadows, often under the control of illegal gangs. An amnesty (which would be a one-off event, offered only to the English-speaking and law-abiding) offers illegal workers the chance to come out into the open without fear. They can then contribute to British society, work and pay taxes into the system — in other words, the exact opposite of the “spongers” that you read about in the Daily Express.

They will sell us out to Europe!

I hate to break this to you, but the British Empire no longer exists. Most of our trade these days is with the European Union member countries, which is why Britain needs to be an active participant in the EU and have a strong voice, not least so it can campaign for some much-needed reform. As for joining the Euro, the manifesto clearly states: when the time is right and only if the British people vote for it in a referendum.

Let’s not forget some of the other things they do want to do: scrap ID cards, scale back Labour’s surveillance state, repeal the Digital Economy Bill, encourage reopening of closed rail lines.

On many issues, the Liberal Democrats seem to be proposing to do what is right, rather than what is popular. That may well turn out to be politically inconvenient come polling day, but at least they will score a moral victory (note: under British electoral law, moral victories do not count for anything).