Tag Archives: politics

EU Ins and Outs

Sod it. Vote whichever way you want tomorrow, but make sure it’s a decision based on facts rather than which endorsement you prefer. Public services are stretched because George Osborne keeps cutting the funding, not because of immigration. I know there’s a long list of factory closures doing the rounds, each with “…with EU grant” tacked on the end, but James Dyson closed his factory and moved it to Malaysia without one. Votes for prisoners was decided by the European Court of Human Rights, a completely separate organization to the EU. Incidentally it was the European Convention on Human Rights (again separate) that led to the reopening of the Hillsborough Inquiry.

Yes, we do pay the EU for membership and get some of it back with conditions. However those conditions tend to be “you must spend this money on improving the environment” or “you must spend this money on reducing poverty”, or “this money is made available to charities to improve social conditions”. Stops George Osborne spending it on things like cutting higher rate taxes, or Boris on a vanity island and bridge. Two major funds are the European Social Fund and the European Regional Development Fund. I’m not convinced these would be replaced if we left.

It’s also true that the EU comes up with a lot of laws. However most of these enforce standards that are required for a functioning trade area, like making sure furniture doesn’t produce hydrogen cyanide gas when it catches fire. Quite a few of these standards are written by our own British Standards Institute. Even if we did leave, exporting products to the EU would still require them to meet these standards. Other trade blocs work the same way. Products exported to NAFTA countries must also meet specified standards. They aren’t too keen on toxic armchairs either.

One thing I’ve seen a lot of is a dislike of other countries interfering in our affairs. “Vote leave, take control,” as some say. It works both ways and we can interfere in theirs as well. That’s just what John Major did when he vetoed everything to protest against the export ban on British beef during the BSE crisis. Even if we left, any post-EU agreements would still need a certain amount of give and take. That’s how trading works. Being outside the bloc means we’d have less influence; we certainly wouldn’t be able to veto anything in the same way. Don’t worry about Turkey. There’s a list of rules they must follow before they can join. Even if they meet them, every country has a veto, including the UK. I can’t see Greece or Cyprus being too impressed.

The EU is also blamed for rising immigration, even for countries outside the EU. Migration from the Indian subcontinent in the 1960s? We weren’t a member back then, and that was Commonwealth immigration rules. “Bogus” asylum seekers not stopping in the first safe country? That’s because they pay a large fee to people traffickers who don’t tell them where they’re going and hide them in the back of a van. EU nationals taking “our” jobs? Nope. Employers choose to employ them, and the number of British nationals in work has also increased over the last few years. The strict rules on welfare mean that the immigrant who both takes a job and claims benefits is even less likely than it was. Reciprocal agreements on healthcare mean that NHS care is only available with an EHIC card, otherwise you have to pay for it. Even if you’re an EU national. You can get emergency care, but apart from that you’ll have to pony up the cash.

As for “we want our country back,” this is my country as well. Times change. Things move on. Even without being a member of the EU this country is very different to how it was in the past. Changes in society during the 50s and 60s were not caused by being a member of the (then) EEC. The oil shocks of the 70s were caused by Saudi Arabia. The Cold War ended at least partially due to the actions of Gorbachev in the 80s. The collapse of Yugoslavia in the 90s was one of the last Western(ish) European land wars. The War on Terror which began in 2001 had bigger consequences than being a member of the EU. The 2008 Credit Crunch started in the US. Leaving the EU will not reverse decades of social change.

Economies like stability and staying in is likely to be less unstable than leaving, given that no country has yet left the EU and no one knows what might happen. A stable economy is important because it helps long term planning. Most of us have some sort of long term financial commitment, such as a pension fund or a house or a student loan. It might be “our” instability but it’s also “our” pensions or house prices that would suffer in the meantime.

It’s probably obviously that I think we’re better off remaining, but if you do want to vote to leave, make sure your reasons for doing so are good ones. If you’re not sure, we can stay put for now and then review it if things don’t work out.

Death in Birstall

I was going to post something about the pros and cons about the EU, examining the issues and explaining why we’re better off staying. However, after the murder of Jo Cox MP, I want to address the festering undercurrent of xenophobia and right wing nationalism that has had tragic consequences. Whether or not the attacker shouted “Britain First” or has mental health issues is beside the point. Let’s wait until it comes to trial and we find out the full facts before jumping to conclusions in this case.

However, I know the EDL and Britain First have been having demonstrations around Birstall, Batley and Dewsbury for some time but they have largely been either pitied or ignored. I think we’ve got to a stage where their odious beliefs need to be challenged and the mainstream politicians who encouraged them need to think more carefully about what they’re doing. If you play with fire, don’t be surprised if it gets out of control.

Two wrongs do not make a right. One murder does not make another acceptable. Extremist views from one minority group do not need to be matched with extremist views from another. This is not about “them and us”. Regardless of race, religion or other background everyone has the same needs, to be fed, housed, to love and to be loved by others.

Yes, there are valid concerns about things like immigration, the globalization of labour, unfamiliar cultures, and the loss of national status as other countries become more successful. However these will not be addressed by turning the EU into a proxy for these fears, or by persecuting innocent people. Immigrants don’t “take” jobs: employers choose to employ them. Illegal immigration is already illegal. Making it more illegal is a nonsense. Intercepting illegal immigrants at the border shows that we do have border control. Just because millions can work in the UK, through EU or Commonwealth membership for example, doesn’t mean that they will.

The UK has always been a melting pot of different cultures: even the name United Kingdom reflects this. My own ancestry includes German, Irish, Scottish, Roman Catholic and Protestant. A consequence of wanting to be a world player is that people will want to come from all over the world to live and work here. Immigration to take up skilled jobs in public services was encouraged by people like Enoch Powell in the early 60s when he was Health Secretary. One thing that centuries of immigration into the UK shows is that people will integrate into society if given a chance. Let’s not forget the biggest cultural influence around: the mass media. What you buy, what you think, what you believe, or how you use language are all influenced by watch you watch on TV, read in the papers, or online. This has a far greater effect than a family down the road worshipping at a mosque or a synagogue instead of a C of E church. The media tends to concentrate on the more outrageous stories but it doesn’t mean that what’s being reported happens all the time.

It matters not that there are some who dislike “our” way of life. Always have been, always will be, but hating them back is not the answer. They want you to hate them. If you can’t ignore them you can isolate them. Make it clear that their hatred is not welcome. Talk to people with different cultures. Find out why they have those beliefs. Aim for mutual understanding even if you disagree. If you want them to integrate into British society, help them into it. Share a joke, ask how their family is doing, have a moan about the weather. It’s sometimes said that it’s best to talk to your neighbours before you need to talk to your neighbours. Even more so if they’re newly arrived and don’t know anyone. A friendly hello can help to avoid a lot of problems down the line.

The Brexit debate was supposed to be about whether or not to remain in the EU. Traditionally this is a very dry and boring subject. With all that’s been going on I think we need to take a few steps back and think about what sort of country we’re becoming. This isn’t just about the tragic events in Birstall. A society where everyone is suspicious of each other is dangerous. It takes time to unwind years of wariness so for now let’s ignore the extremists, whether from the EDL, Britain First, or whatever outfit Anjem Choudary is running these days, and try for just a bit of understanding and a bit of tolerance. That’s the type of country I want to live in.

On Builders and Anti-immigration Bile

So there’s another copy & paste meme doing the rounds on Facebook. This one:

Just been talking to a guy who works at the DHSS call centre. He was saying that he had a 52 year old self employed builder who has never claimed before but has had no work, rang up asking for some help and all he could offer him was the payment of his national health stamp.The next phone call he received was from a Somali immigrant who couldn’t speak English and required a translator with 7 children and another on the way complaining that her £40,000 a year benefits was not enough to live on !
He also stated that they had been receiving phone calls from Bulgaria and Romania with reference to benefits available in preparation for the window that will be opening soon here in the UK.
I am not a racist and support my own charity in Africa but something is seriously wrong with our system, there are many of us out there who have invested in our nation and asked for nothing in return and when you hear things like this it’s like your own government is slapping you in the face.If you agree with me please share…

Like most of these, this is a load of claptrap and I think it’s worth going into some detail about why. Taking this a sentence at a time:

“Just been talking to a guy who works at the DHSS call centre.”

DHSS? That was abolished in 1988. Notice that it’s “a guy”. No names, no locations. I’m going to suggest that this “guy” doesn’t actually exist. If he does, he’s been working for a government department that ceased to exist 25 years ago. Nice work if you can get it.

“He was saying that he had a 52 year old self employed builder who has never claimed before but has had no work, rang up asking for some help and all he could offer him was the payment of his national health stamp.”

First of all, under the Data Protection Act, call centre staff are not allowed to discuss individual cases. Maybe our non-existent “guy” didn’t give a name because he’d be sacked? If our 52 year old builder had no work, he would have been referred to Job Centre Plus for an assessment or advised to check online to see what he might be entitled to. National Health stamps were abolished in 1948, and stamp-based National Insurance contributions went out in 1975. I know some people sometimes use the old terms, but our 52 year old would have been 14 when they ceased.

I draw attention to the language used because this is a meme that someone has come up with to wind people up. Using obsolete terms like “DHSS” and “national health stamp” gives it a bit of a homely feel, like someone’s grown up with the system. It’s back to false dilemmas again unfortunately. I know whoever came up with this wants to put across the idea that someone who’s paid into the system all their life doesn’t get anything back because asylum seekers are taking it all for themselves. This is not true though. The asylum support budget is separate from the DWP social security budget and the amount of support asylum seekers can get is pretty tiny. Asylum seekers are a handy scapegoat, but the real reason it’s difficult to get anything out is government policies designed to hector and patronise people who have the audacity to try to claim. Basically, it’s the old workhouse test.

How much would an unemployed self-employed builder actually get? We need to make a few assumptions:

  • He was born on 1st Jan 1961
  • He is up to date with NI contributions
  • He lives alone with no children
  • He is fully able-bodied and receives no disability benefits
  • He has less than £16,000 in savings
  • He has no other income and has not claimed any other benefits
  • His rent is £500/month from a private landlord and has no underoccupied bedrooms
  • He lives in Leeds

Plugging these details into the DWP benefits advisor, we get:

  • Contribution-based JSA of £71.70 a week. After 6 months, it switches to income-based JSA. The overall amount is the same, but any income other than JSA is deducted.

The Leeds City Council benefits calculator adds:

  • Housing benefit of £115.38/week (but a lot of private landlords have “No DSS” rules)
  • The meme originated before council tax benefit was abolished, so that would have been paid in full. These days it’s been replaced by an inferior council tax support system, where (in Leeds) you have to pay 19% of the full amount

If someone has assets of more than £16,000, they are not entitled to anything. The idea being that if you have money saved for a rainy day, you are expected to use it when the rain comes.

“The next phone call he received was from a Somali immigrant who couldn’t speak English and required a translator with 7 children and another on the way complaining that her £40,000 a year benefits was not enough to live on !”

I bet that was a fun call. “Hello. I don’t speak English” “But you just did.” I’m not sure what this is about. If the Somali immigrant hadn’t had some sort of grant of residency, their contact would have been with the UK Borders Agency or its predecessors (the Immigration & Nationality Directorate or the National Asylum Support Service depending on when this meme was drawn up). They certainly wouldn’t have contacted the DHSS, or even the DWP.

What does a Somali immigrant get then? Taking these assumptions:

  • She is single with 7 kids, all under 18
  • She has no assets or access to accommodation
  • She has applied for political asylum but it has not been granted yet

The family will get their support from the UK Border Agency, and they will get:

  • Accommodation with water and fuel bills paid. They will not get to choose where in the UK it will be. The costs will be paid direct to the landlord and utility companies. As the claim for asylum progresses, they will probably be expected to move several times
  • £43.94/week cash, which has to cover the whole family (as far as I can tell, but this is not very clear)
  • £3/week on top for any children under 3
  • A payment of £300 when one child is born. This is only paid once regardless of how many children they give birth to
  • The local authority has an obligation to ensure any children are educated, so they will be given a school place, and reasons of public health mean they will have access to medical care

Note that asylum seekers are banned from working, so this is all they get. That accounts for about £2,500 so I’m not sure where the remaining £37,500 came from.

In a property only occupied by asylum seekers, the property owner has to pay council tax.

Supposing the family has been granted asylum. What then? If they have been granted temporary leave to enter/remain in the UK and recognised as a refugee they can claim social security on the same basis as the 52 year old builder. Temporary leave to remain normally lasts for 5 years when it is reviewed and you can apply for indefinite leave to remain.There is also discretionary leave to remain, which lasts for up to 3 years and has much stricter rules about whether you can apply for indefinite leave. You are not recognised as a refugee if this happens.

I put in some sample values on the DWP benefits advisor (She was born on 1st Jan 1980, her kids were each born on 1st Jan 2012-2006 and she pays £100/week for council accommodation) and got:

  • £376.04/week child tax credit
  • £100/week housing benefit
  • £100.70/week child benefit

That’s a total of £576.74/week or £29,990.48 a year. £5,200 of that will be paid direct to the council as housing benefit, so that’s £24,790.48 cash a year they get. Still not £40,000/year. Anyone with leave to remain or British citizenship would be entitled to this, even our builder if he had the same circumstances.

“He also stated that they had been receiving phone calls from Bulgaria and Romania with reference to benefits available in preparation for the window that will be opening soon here in the UK.”

What happens when the “window” opens is that from 1st Jan 2014 people from Bulgaria and Romania will be entitled to apply for jobs in the UK in the same way as other EEA nationals. Would it be wrong to point out here that it means people from the UK can now work in Romania and Bulgaria if they wanted to? People from the EU can claim JSA for up to 6 months on the same basis as UK residents (including being required to sign on, being patronized by Iain Duncan Smith and all the rest) but they cannot claim contributory benefits like child benefit unless they’ve made enough contributions and pass a residency test, and they can only claim in-work benefits like tax credits if they’ve got a job. There is no entitlement to council housing, not even for UK citizens.

“I am not a racist and support my own charity in Africa but something is seriously wrong with our system”

Sounds like someone doesn’t understand what “racist” means. It isn’t just about calling people from Africa silly names. Whipping up hysteria against people from abroad based on incorrect information counts as well. I also daresay that the “system” that is seriously wrong is the education system of the person who originated this meme. Finding out a few facts shows that the social security system isn’t quite as bad as these memes make it appear. Good for you if you support a charity in Africa, but which one is it? There are lots of them, not all humanitarian ones. It is possible to support an African charity while having a prejudice towards people from other countries, so one doesn’t disprove the other. And how does this fit with the Somali immigrant with 7 kids anyway?

“There are many of us out there who have invested in our nation and asked for nothing in return and when you hear things like this it’s like your own government is slapping you in the face”

You say you’ve invested in “our nation”. OK, what have you invested? Be specific. You feel like your government is slapping you in the face because you’ve heard a load of untruths from someone who probably doesn’t exist? You’re weird.

“If you agree with me please share…”

Is there something you can do if you can show that the meme is a load of old pony? Maybe share this blog post, or just disprove things with facts.

So, to summarize, we have someone from a non-existent organization trying to put out a load of anti-immigration hysteria based on things that are either inaccurate or untrue. It would save a lot of time if people just got to the point and said “I don’t like people from country X”. Copying & pasting memes that you vaguely agree with is easy, but it never hurts to challenge them and see how accurate they are. As with my earlier post about a family of former asylum seekers being given the rent on a £2m house while a stock photo of a pensioner struggles on a state pension, it’s a classic divide and conquer technique. Our builder can claim benefits at the same time as people from Bulgaria apply for the kind of jobs that he might not want to do. It isn’t either/or.

I Kip, You Kip

The day after election day and UKIP did reasonably well, gaining 139 seats. Less reported is that Labour gained 291 of them. It’s not surprising, given that Nigel Farage has been all over the BBC for the last few months without really being questioned. UKIP have been whining that the newspapers have started looking more into some of those candidates, including the bloke who was trying to stop someone taking photos of him pretending to eat a plant, and James Delingpole’s brother behaving like a Dick photoshopping himself into a photo of a dodgy Austrian character with a silly moustache.

Now comes the tricky bit for UKIP. They’ve got something of a reputation as a protest vote and Nigel Farage has a very low attendance rate in his role as an MEP, 75% in the session 2004-09. However, with a total of 147 local council seats, they will now be expected to do things. The BNP used to be something of a right-wing protest vote as well, but their councillors had a habit of not bothering to turn up to meetings. In a lot of cases they were shunted to committees where they could do no harm, like street cleansing or refuse collection. What next for UKIP then? Will they turn out to be as useless as the BNP, or will their councillors do something useful? Farage has said his party machinery hasn’t had enough time to vet all the UKIP candidates so I imagine there will be a few skeletons in the closet coming out in the next few months or so. It’ll also be interesting to see how the candidates cope when they find out what exactly being a UKIP councillor means, whether they decide to remain involved with the party or if they go elsewhere.

Iconic

Quite impressed how many people have looked at my photo of Nick Griffin on Flickr. 430 so far with one person adding it as a favourite and someone else inviting me to add it to an anti-Nazi group. The only sensible thing to do is to turn it into an LJ icon, hence <----. I've Creative Commonsed the original photo so feel free to pinch it It's quite nice to have a period where politicians are trying to say as little as possible. If only it was always like that. I think Rupert Murdoch might be getting a shock that people don't actually like what he wants and they're harder to control than his newspapers and TV stations. Of course he could apply for British citizenship and vote like the rest of us.

Housy

With Tony McNulty and Dolores Umbridge’s husband both being caught with their hands in the cookie jar, is there any good reason why 2nd homes allowances shouldn’t just be abolished and MPs put up in serviced apartments like most people who travel on business and stay away from home for long periods? A one bed apartment with a separate office would do for single MPs, and a bigger place would be OK for people with families. No need for John Lewis lists: the furnishings would be supplied by the company running the apartments. I’ve stayed in one myself and found it to be quite comfortable and secure. It was a studio apartment and went for about £700/week but they had bigger places that were more expensive. A purpose built block for MPs could include things like a library and sports facilities, as well as extra security if needed.