Jun 22 2016

EU Ins and Outs

Category: Politics Etc...Marcus @ 10:38 pm

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.

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Jun 17 2016

Death in Birstall

Category: Politics Etc...Marcus @ 12:49 am

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.

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Apr 18 2015

Stuck Up Nonsense

Category: Politics Etc...,UncategorizedMarcus @ 2:36 pm

Back in 1997 when I started at uni it was quite exciting to see the difference between a small hippyish market town and a big city. Hebden Bridge wasn’t particularly cosmopolitan so moving to Manchester with lots of different cultures was quite a change. I liked being able to look around and find out more about what was going on. I’d lived in Harehills in Leeds until I was 5 so I was obviously aware of some of the differences, but we were all just kids so we didn’t pay that much attention. One of the less pleasant things about Manchester was seeing some pretty shocking posters around the uni campus. They were posted by Al Muhajiroun which was one of Anjem Choudary’s early outfits. It was pretty obvious that they were something of a joke and no one took them too seriously.

Al Muhajiroun and various other aliases became a lot more prominent after the terrorist attacks on the US and UK in the early to mid 00s. The groups were banned under the Terrorism Act but Choudary always seemed to get off with just a slap on the wrist regardless of how provocative his behaviour was. One of the most notable was setting fire to a Remembrance Day wreath on Remembrance Day itself a few years ago. I think it’s pretty obvious that he’s being used as an agent provocateur to flush out hot-headed but rather dim people who think they’re supporting his cause. They may not necessarily join whatever group he runs at the time, but they may be “inspired” by him. One of the biggest ways of making an impact is putting posters up saying basically “Your kind is not welcome here”. It might be something like “Shariah Law Zone” or, as in Cardiff last week, “Voting is not Islamic”. The thing with posters is that anyone can put them up anonymously. They don’t have to be members of a particular group and might even be put up by an opposing group just to wind people up.

What is pretty obvious is that these “Voting is not Islamic” posters certainly don’t speak for Islam in general. It’s a bit like saying the Westboro Baptist Church speaks for Christianity. I daresay whoever put them up did so with the intent of annoying people who are already suspicious of Islam. Whether it was some extremist Islamic group or someone else is neither here nor there. As with the old Al Muhajiroun posters, I think the best option is not to pay them too much attention. “But what are the Muzzies up to now?” I hear some say. They’re not up to anything. One may as well say “Aren’t the Crizzies daft?” whenever some bonkers televangelist opens his mouth.

I’m an atheist and I do have strong beliefs but I prefer them to come from a position of knowledge. I’ve been known to check bits of the Bible and I’m interested to know why people believe certain things. I think if more people took the time to understand what other belief systems say, they’d be less like to get wound up by some daft posters or other made up nonsense. It’s easy to cherry-pick or quote-mine, but pretty much all religions (and those of us who don’t follow any) have the central idea of respecting people for who they are.

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Dec 23 2013


Category: Politics Etc...,UncategorizedMarcus @ 4:49 pm

I’ve changed the commenting system on this site to use WordPress/Jetpack instead of Facebook comments. Gives me a bit more control, and automatically closes comments after a certain period so I don’t get people replying to old posts. The Facebook comments system didn’t notify that anyone had replied, so I was surprised to see quite a discussion happening on some of the politics posts when I checked a while back.

This being a personal website means there’s no obligation for me to provide a commenting system at all. If it gets filled up with spammers, I always have the option of switching it off.

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Jul 07 2013

Immigration and the NHS @ 65

Category: Politics Etc...Marcus @ 12:18 am

The NHS makes it to 65, despite endless reorganisations and increasing amounts of private sector involvement. (Got to tread carefully with what I say because I have some experience of the National Programme for IT, but this is in a personal capacity only). Meanwhile, something that’s been in the news recently is the idea of charging foreigners an annual fee for GP services. There are all sorts of reasons why this is a bad idea. First of all, introducing charges means introducing a charging mechanism. Sounds obvious, and of course it is, but it hasn’t been thought through properly. If some people are going to be charged and others are not, you need to find a way of proving that some people don’t have to pay. What form will this take? I don’t know, but whatever it is, it will be expensive. This also raises the risk of fraud. Since the Life in the UK Test was introduced, people have cheated in the test, got someone else to sit it for them, or produced fake certificates. Basically, if something has a cash value, people want it and don’t want to pay for it. How much would it cost to introduce a charging system and make sure it remains secure? It certainly won’t be cheap. Remember that this will have to check the eligibility of the entire population, whether or not they come from abroad.

Another bad thing about this is the impact on public health. Asylum seekers get free healthcare during their application process. Most of them end up in the UK because they pay a broker to send them somewhere, often with no particular destination in mind as long as it’s not where they came from. If they’ve spent days in the back of a lorry they probably won’t be in the best of health just because of the journey, and they may come from countries where things like yellow fever, cholera and dysentery are rife. Because of this they need healthcare: not just for their benefit but also to make sure they don’t introduce diseases into a population that doesn’t have immunity to them. These charges won’t affect asylum seekers (I certainly hope they don’t, anyway), but I have serious concerns that someone who isn’t an asylum seeker might have similar health problems but won’t or can’t pay the fee and end up infecting people. They will still get emergency care and certain public health cover, but it seems an unnecessary complication to differentiate between what’s covered and what is not. The current list of notifiable diseases is at http://www.hpa.org.uk/Topics/InfectiousDiseases/InfectionsAZ/NotificationsOfInfectiousDiseases/ListOfNotifiableDiseases/. The initial symptoms of most of them are very similar to flu. What happens if they’re thought to have something notifiable that turns out to be treatable with bed rest and lots of fluids, or if they haven’t paid to register with a GP, feel off colour, and then turn out to be a 21st century Typhoid Mary when they’ve infected loads of people?

The real issue with all this is immigration policies that have got completely out of hand. When the official Home Office Twitter account publishes a tweet like this there’s something seriously wrong:

There is sometimes an assumption that these policies will only apply to foreigners. Wrong. To avoid letting people slip through the net the only way to check is to ask everyone. To get a job you have to prove that you’re legally entitled to work. In the latest immigration bill there are plans to introduce a check for people wanting to rent accommodation. Why? If someone can afford to pay a deposit, produce references and provide a month’s rent in advance, what benefit will it bring if they also have to prove to a letting agency that they did not come from another country illegally? They are already liable to being deported if they have. I do think it’s about time more people stood up to the “send them back where they came from” crowd rather than coming up with more and more hysterical ideas. “You are wrong because…” can be a courageous thing for politicians to say (in the Yes Minister sense), but sometimes it needs to be said.

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May 17 2013

On Builders and Anti-immigration Bile

Category: Politics Etc...Marcus @ 11:30 pm

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.

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May 04 2013

I Kip, You Kip

Category: Politics Etc...Marcus @ 1:53 am

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.

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Apr 27 2013

Why the “Asylum seeker gets £2m house while pensioner starves on £6K a year” meme is total bollocks

Category: Politics Etc...Marcus @ 2:43 pm

There’s one of those “share this photo” memes doing the rounds on Facebook where someone has put a stock photo of someone with wrinkled hands holding some coins next to a Daily Mail story about a family from Somalia, and added some inflammatory text suggesting that all pensioners get £6K a year while asylum seekers are given free houses. Like this:

Before going into the details, this is a classic example of a false dilemma or false dichotomy. It isn’t a case of state pensions or support for asylum seekers but not both. I could as easily do a different one where a very rich pensioner sponges off the tax payer while someone who just wants a better life after being persecuted is forced to live in a cardboard box.

Leaving aside the “generic pensioner”, it’s worth reading the original story at the Daily Mail to find out the facts of this case. It was published in 2010 so it’s rather old now, and it mentions certain key points that the meme image does not:

  • The story begins “A family of former asylum-seekers from Somalia” (my emphasis). In other words, they aren’t asylum seekers. They have been granted asylum. As such they are entitled to all the same rights and benefits as our “generic pensioner”, including being able to apply for council housing if they want to. As the story admits, “Rules allow anyone who is eligible for housing benefit to claim for a private property in any part of the country they wish.”
  • They were not “given” the house. It is rented and paid for through housing benefit. The rent may be high, but that’s down to the landlord deciding to charge that much and to allow it to be let out to housing benefit claimants. A lot of landlords are very strict about “no DSS”. As the story says, “The current housing benefit system was overhauled by the last government in April 2008. Labour Ministers introduced new caps on the amount claimants could receive, depending on the size and location of the property. But instead of bringing costs down, the new system encouraged many landlords to raise rents to the level of the maximum allowable”. In other words, not the family’s fault
  • The family were granted asylum in 1999 and the mother has never worked since then. Could it be because asylum seekers are banned from working and she had a large family to look after once it was granted? I don’t know why the father lost his job as a bus driver but the story does admit that he’s trying to find another one and doing training to help him do so

So there. The story isn’t as straightforward as it looks. It has two main points: standard Daily Mail rhetoric against foreign people, and blaming housing benefit claimants for the decisions of landlords. The first is as much a feature of the Mail as Page 3 is of the Sun, and the second could be dealt with if we had proper rent controls that applied to everyone whether or not housing benefit was involved. Benefit caps and bedroom taxes are popular with the tabloids but they aren’t the right way to reduce the housing benefit bill.

What support do asylum seekers get then? The UK Border Agency website has a list:

  • Accommodation including utility bills is provided, but there’s no choice about where it is and it will be in Scotland, Wales or the North of England. It will not be in London or the South. There are also strict rules about what behaviour is expected
  • A cash payment of about £40 a week is made to cover all other living expenses
  • Asylum seekers are banned from working. If their case takes more than 12 months, they are allowed to apply for permission to work, but there are strict rules about what they can do. Begging is illegal
  • Health care and education for children under 18 is provided. This isn’t just to be nice: if someone comes from a country where there might be diseases like yellow fever, typhoid, you want to make sure they aren’t infectious. Apart from a few exceptions, all immigrants wanting to stay for 6 months or more are required to have a health check before being allowed entry, regardless of who they are. Local authorities have a legal duty to make sure all children below a certain age are educated and school is the usual way to do this

Asylum and immigration are often confused. However an asylum seeker is someone who flees their country to escape persecution while an immigrant is someone who enters the country for other reasons. While asylum seekers should seek refuge in the nearest safe country, often they make arrangements to escape without knowing or caring where they’ll end up. They don’t just seek asylum in the UK: a quick Google suggest almost everywhere has people claiming political asylum. However a story about Somali asylum seekers claiming refuge in, for example, Kenya isn’t exactly going to be headline news in the rightwing UK tabloids. Kenyan treatment of asylum seekers isn’t exactly pleasant so it’s not surprising people go elsewhere.

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Apr 08 2013

Returning to Politics

Category: Politics Etc...Marcus @ 12:41 am

And the Aggressive Secularist is back, in a different place. Lots to get angry about with changes to the NHS and the constant rudeness about social security (“welfare”) at the moment. It’s sometimes said that you don’t judge someone by who their friends are, but who they decide to make their enemies, especially in politics. I can never remember the difference between a striver and a shirker, but it doesn’t really matter. There’s a massive shift in the use of language going on. A “welfare state” made up of “strivers and shirkers” sounds very different to receiving “social security”. The right-wing tabloids refer to social security payments as “benefits” and “handouts”. However, a lot of how much you get depends on national insurance contributions. Most of the social security bill goes on state pensions, but that’s not what you’d believe if you listen to the press. The level of benefit fraud is also very low: less than 1%. Sure you do get occasional edge cases but the number of these is so small as to be insignificant.

Lots to get the teeth into, especially with the overall narrative and use of language. Later though.

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Apr 04 2013

Starting off politics…..

Category: Politics Etc...Marcus @ 10:45 pm

George Osborne is an arse. That is all.

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