Padraig Colman

Rambling ruminations of an Irishman in Sri Lanka

Tag: Iain Duncan Smith

Brexit Part Two

This article appeared in Ceylon Today on Thursday July 14 2016

Colman's Column3

 

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Grievance Vote against the Elites

When Mrs Thatcher came to office in 1979, manufacturing accounted for almost 30% of Britain’s national income and employed 6.8 million people; by 2010, it accounted for 11% and employed 2.5 million. In no other major economy was industrial collapse so drastic, speedy and long-lasting. There used to be a working class; there used to be a working class culture. Ian Jack writes about the life of the manufacturing towns: “much of the country’s former character was also owed to them – non-conformist chapels, brass bands, giant vegetable championships, self-improvement, association football. Surely nothing as significant to the nation’s economy, culture or politics would ever emerge from them again? And then it did: grievance.”

British politicians in the past had a hinterland: Macmillan and Attlee served with honour and were wounded in the First World War. They saw the poverty in the land and tried to do something about. Today’s politicians go straight from university to think tanks or to work for politicians. They have little contact with the real world. Johnson and Gove were journalists who wrote op eds not well-researched investigations.  Politicians like Cameron, Osborne and Iain Duncan Smith see it as a noble mission to dismantle the welfare state that Attlee and Macmillan built and privatise public good for the profit of their cronies. In his 1991 book The Rise and Decline of the English Working Class 1918-1990, Eric Hopkins shows how the affluence of the Macmillan years became the bleakness of the Thatcher years. Manufacturing industry was replaced by the service and financial industries and the working class lost its sense of community with unemployment and the emasculation of the trade unions. There is an unpleasant view on YouTube of Nigel Farage of the UK Independence Party haranguing fellow MEPs, telling them they do not know about real life and have never done a proper job in their lives. The man sitting behind him was a cardiac surgeon who was born in a Gulag. Farage was a commodities broker.

Sunderland was the first to declare a result in the referendum and it was overwhelmingly for leaving as were many other areas devastated by Thatcherism and its aftermath – areas kept alive by massive EU subsidies. Wales as a whole voted to leave. Michael Sheen, the Welsh-born actor (who played the role of Tony Blair) from Port Talbot, tweeted: “Wales votes to trust a new and more rightwing Tory leadership to invest as much money into its poorer areas as EU has been doing.” Many people voted Leave as a way out of seemingly hopeless circumstances. Cornwall, which voted solidly for Leave, has already demanded British government “protection”.

Economic Consequences

Standard & Poor’s stripped Britain of its triple-A credit rating. The Conservative Party set great store by London’s position as the world’s leading financial centre. Banks are preparing to shift jobs out of London amid the uncertainty about whether the UK can keep its “passporting” rights allowing them to operate across the EU. Ironically, although the UK was proud of keeping out of the euro, leaving the EU could mean the City will have rules imposed upon it by eurozone countries.

There is no doubt that some financial services jobs will be relocated to Dublin, Frankfurt, and Paris. US bank JP Morgan has warned 4,000 jobs will go from the UK and HSBC has said 1,000 City jobs will move to France. An Irish friend long resident in France tells me that Paris estate agents are being swamped with enquiries from large financial institutions in London looking for apartments for their personnel. “Whatever Osborne might say, that is the reality”. Rumours are sweeping the City that alternative trading sites are being set up in a number of other financial centres, including Luxembourg.

A survey by the Institute of Directors (IoD), found that nearly two-thirds of those polled said the outcome of the referendum was negative for their business. A quarter of those polled were putting hiring plans on hold, while 5% said they were about to make workers redundant. One in five respondents, out of a poll of more than 1,000 business leaders, were considering moving some of their operations outside of the UK.

There will be an immediate, and downward, impact upon GDP as uncertainty about the UK’s terms of trade with the rest of the world will deter even British firms from investing. If businesses stop investing there will be less employment in the UK economy. This will have a bad effect on consumer spending.

Immigration, Stupid!

Many in Ebbw Vale, the constituency of those left-wing icons Nye Bevan and Michael Foot, voted UKIP in the last general election – a town with almost no immigrants that voted to get the immigrants out. A recent survey showed that 77% of UK citizens are concerned about immigration above any other political/economic topic – and concern is strongest and most widespread in constituencies with virtually no recent immigration.

One can, without wanting to join a fascist party, empathise with those white working class people who feel in their gut that decisions that they were powerless to influence were made by people who were cushioned from the consequences of those decisions. One can understand their sense of insecurity as they see familiar areas changing because of immigration. I was shocked to find that the part of my hometown, Gloucester, which had been the birthplace of the poet and composer, Ivor Gurney, was full of Muslims and mosques. However, in the early 50s it had been full of West Indians.

The austere and donnish classicist, Enoch Powell, had dockers marching through the streets in his support. In the sixties, he became the unlikely spokesman for the beleaguered white working class, even winning the endorsement of Eric Clapton. Because he was a contrarian and mischief-maker, it is likely that Powell took delight in raising issues that both parties shrouded in complicit silence. His “rivers of blood” speech raised matters of real concern. In particular, he was right to suggest that areas like Wolverhampton were experiencing acute problems in adjusting to the concentration of recent immigrants.

Whether or not people voting Leave had legitimate concerns about immigration, there is no doubt that the referendum result seems to be giving licence to racists. Many MPs received reports from their constituencies and communities of migrants being intimidated or “told they need to go home”.  Many people, whose parents or grandparents were born in the UK, now say they feel less secure.

Boris Johnson tells us in his Daily Telegraph column (for which he gets paid 5,000 pounds a week) that he wants a “balanced and humane points-based” immigration system, but that’s for the extremely indeterminate future – and everyone can meanwhile look forward to ‘intense and intensifying’ co-operation with Europe, and opportunities to live, travel, work and study on the continent just as they please. The only pledge the Leavites could honour is a points-based immigration system, which the UK has had since 2008.

A likely scenario is that many elderly people living abroad will have to return to the UK, thereby placing a burden on the NHS (which will not be getting the extra funding promised by the Leavites), while young people currently working and paying taxes will leave the UK.

Conclusion

I respect anybody’s right to vote the way they choose. I am angry at the hypocrisy of those who are dismantling the welfare state and the NHS for the profit of their cronies but pretending to be saving the nation from Brussels bureaucracy.

Many who voted to leave the EU blamed immigrants for their reduced circumstances. There are real problems in the areas that voted to leave. Those problems were not caused by the EU or by immigration. They were caused by the deliberate policies of successive UK governments.

It is distressing to watch the rancour generated by this referendum. George Szirtes is a distinguished poet who found a welcome in England when his family was displaced by the Hungarian uprising in 1956. George sees a very different country today and finds it hard to forgive the Leavites: “You have changed not only my life but a great many people’s lives, both here and elsewhere, for the worse. I am not going to shake your hand for that.”

 

 

 

Elders Part One

This article appeared in Ceylon Today on Thursday June 25 2015.

Colman's Column3

Elders Time Bomb

Over thirty years ago, I worked for Sir Arthur Armitage at the Social Security Advisory Committee in New Court, London. One major issue that SSAC was grappling with even then was the problem of an ageing population. Now that I am part of the problem rather than someone looking for a solution, the issue seems more acute to me. I was part of that cohort born after the Second World War known as baby boomers. The post-war surge was then followed by a fall in birth rates, which means there are not enough people of working age to support we oldies in our twilight years.

Population ageing arises from two demographic effects: increasing longevity and declining fertility. In all human history, the world has never seen as aged a population as currently exists today. This is the case for every country in the world except the 18 countries designated as “demographic outliers”.

Who Pays?

Today, for the first time in history, Britain’s over-65s now outnumber people under the age of 16. Many people in the UK labour under the misapprehension that they are paying for their own pensions through income tax and national insurance contributions. The number of contributions I made while working governed the amount of pension I receive. However, the pension I currently receive does not come out of a kind of savings account in my name. People working today pay my pension.  There are currently four people of working age supporting each pensioner in Britain; by 2035, this number is expected to fall to 2.5, and by 2050 to just two. The number of people of working age in relation to retirees is known as the ‘dependency ratio’. Future pensioners might not have anyone to pay them.

The current UK government seems to be protecting pensioners by making severe cuts in other public spending. They have made clear that they believe they need to make significant savings from working-age benefits. Chancellor George Osborne has said he will press ahead with hefty cuts to welfare despite tens of thousands engaging in protest marches against austerity.  Iain Duncan Smith said the Conservative government would go ahead with plans to cut welfare spending by 12 billion pounds, out of an annual budget of 220 billion pounds. Cuts under consideration included banning people aged under 25 from claiming housing benefit and restricting tax credits to a couple’s first two children.

Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka already has the highest proportion (13%) of old people in South Asia; this is expected to rise to 20% by 2031, 25% by 2041 50% by 2050. At the same time, the proportion of working age people will progressively decrease. Longer life expectancy and improvements in health care means that people are enjoying many more work free years after retirement than used to be the case. The down side of better life expectancy is that there are more very old people who need care because of dementia and general exhaustion of the soft machine that is the human body.

Business Opportunity

In the UK, many saw the ageing population as a business opportunity. That would be fine if a decent professional service were provided at a fair price- there is no ethical dilemma in  entrepreneurs making an honest profit by relieving  the state (or individual families) of the burden of providing care. Unfortunately, it did not always work out that way. Even as long ago as the early 1970s, many dodgy operators caught on to the potential of a captive market. Even today, one finds countless internet sites advising how to set up a business caring for elders. Here is one random example:

http://franchises.homeinstead.com/franchise-opportunity/Pages/Why-Home-Instead-Senior-Care.aspx

Abuse

Traditionally, elders were cared for within the family. This did not protect them from abuse and even today, many today suffer even when living at home at the hands of family members or professional carers. A study conducted by Agewell Foundation​revealed that 25-30% of older Indians are suffering abuse, mistreatment and even torture in old age. The study said only about only five per cent of those mistreated complained to the police or any other authorities.

Figures released to mark World Elder Abuse Day on June 15, show that in Ireland more than 13,000 cases of financial abuse were reported up to the end of 2013. Financial abuse is the second most common form of mistreatment and is most often perpetrated by a family member. The day also brought revelations from Age Concern New Zealand that abuse of old people in that country was an “epidemic”. They get an average of eight calls every working day about alleged elder abuse. Many more cases are reported to health providers, the police, lawyers, community support organisations and other prevention services.

Profit without Care

One  entrepreneur website says: “In-home care and assisted living is essential as we get older. If healthcare is your passion, consider owning your own senior care franchise business.” Too often, the passion was for making money rather than providing care. The UK government allowed care homes to directly receive the pensions of residents from the state.

There has to be a worry that businesses providing care for profit might put profit before care and that abuse might take place undetected. Care homes for adults in England are regulated by the Care Quality Commission, which has a remit to inspect each care home at least once every three years. This has not prevented many instances of abuse being reported in the press.

The charity Action on Elder Abuse (AEA) claims that over 500,000 elderly people in the UK suffer abuse and that women are particularly vulnerable. The five common types of abuse are physical, psychological, financial, sexual abuse and neglect. Often these abuses are also crimes. “it is important to think in advance about ways in which someone can reduce the possibility of abuse, by avoiding isolation or dependency, and by having more than one person keeping an eye on matters. Reliance on others does not mean having to be dependent on others. Thinking about self-protection is more about commonsense than about being distrustful.”

Old Deanery

In April 2014, the BBC Panorama programme secretly filmed a 98-year-old woman, in Oban House care home in Croydon, crying out for help 321 times over a whole hour. She died less than a month later. Two members of staff were convicted of common assault. Secret filming inside the Old Deanery home in Braintree, Essex showed a staff member slapping a partially paralysed woman who suffers from dementia.  A Panorama reporter worked undercover as a care assistant and saw “rough handling” of residents, calls for assistance repeatedly ignored, and elderly people goaded and left to sit or lie in their own mess.  Residents were ignored, call-bells were unplugged and one man in his 80s was repeatedly called a “bitch”. Inspectors gave the home a glowing reference around the same time. CQC CEO Andrea Sutcliffe said the treatment was “unacceptable” – but said inspectors could not be expected know “what goes on behind closed doors”.

The Granary

The Old Deanery home charges £700 a week. The Granary in Somerset charges £800 per week. A judge at Bristol Crown Court barred Daniel Baynes, Tomasz Gidaszewski and Janusz Salnikow, employees at The Granary, for life from working with vulnerable adults. Footage from a camera, secretly placed in her room by her son, showed an 87-year-old woman with dementia being pushed around on a number of occasions while she was subjected to a tirade of verbal abuse. Baynes admitted stealing food and was jailed for four months. Salnikow was  given a suspended jail sentence, while the others were given community orders. AEA had written to the attorney general’s office calling on him to review the sentences handed out to the three men. AEA  argued that what the men did was “appalling” and that the sentence “did not convey the seriousness with which the public view such abuse”, and “will not act as a deterrent”.

I was prompted to look into this subject following a recent trip to Colombo to rescue my wife’s Aunt from abuse. I will look into the issue of abuse of elders in Sri Lanka in next week’s column.

 

UK Parliamentary Election 2015

This article appeared in Ceylon Today on Tuesday 12 May 2015

 

Colman's Column3

Neil Kinnock in 1983: “I warn you not to fall ill. I warn you not to be young. I warn you not to be old.”

 

What if the UK had PR?

It used to be received wisdom that a proportional representation system for parliamentary elections led inevitably to coalition government. The first past the post system in the UK for a long time meant that either the Labour Party or the Conservative Party governed because of having a majority of seats in the House of Commons.

In the 2015 election, the Conservative Party won a clear majority. Under a proportional representation system they would have had 90 fewer seats would have been forced into another coalition.

UKIP

 

Under PR, UKIP (the United  Kingdom Independence Party) would have been the third largest party in parliament. The Lib-Dems with their caring philosophy failed to soften their coalition partner’s policies. There is evidence that the Conservatives moved rightward  because of a perception that  UKIP’s xenophobic policies on immigration were popular. What kind of policies would emerge if the two parties were in government together? There is already the promise of stricter immigration rules, more cuts and a referendum on leaving the EU.

Coalition in 2010

In the 2010 UK general election, no single party achieved the seats required for an overall majority. A total of 326  seats  are needed for  an absolute majority, but because Sinn Fein MPs do not take their seats and the Speaker’s team does not normally vote, the real number has been 323. The Conservatives had most seats and votes in 2010 but were 20 seats short of the magic number. A coalition government of Conservatives and Liberal Democrats was established.

During the 2010 election campaign, Liberal-Democrat leader Nick Clegg was widely seen as a strong performer and his party achieved its largest popular vote since its foundation. Nevertheless, the nature of the electoral system meant they suffered a loss of five seats.

PR Voted Down

The Lib-Dems and their ancestor Liberal Party long fought for proportional representation in order to win seats in parliament that would more fairly match their votes. A referendum on proportional representation was a key feature of the coalition agreement. The 2011 referendum result was Yes 32.1% and No 67.9%.on a 41% turnout. Former Liberal leader Paddy Ashdown told the Guardian there been a “breach of faith”. He accused David Cameron of failing to disassociate himself from personal attacks by the No campaign on Lib-Dem leader Nick Clegg.

Poisoned Chalice

The coalition has contributed to the downfall of the Lib-Dem party and its leader. After the 2015 general election, Clegg was one of three party leaders to resign. Although the Lib-Dems in 2010 presented themselves as being to the left of New Labour, they could not sustain that illusion while being complicit in austerity measures that hurt the poor while allowing the rich to prosper. The Conservatives claimed credit for what economic recovery there was and diverted any blame to the Lib-Dems.

Old-fashioned liberals might have hoped that with a long-delayed place in government the party might have restored Beveridge’s ideals in health and social welfare. The ideology of Ian Duncan Smith prevailed. The Liberal Democrats failed to make themselves heard in the row over tax avoidance, despite having pushed consistently to tighten the lax rules that Labour left behind. They were not able to defend the weak, the vulnerable and minorities, or to stop the privatisation of the health service. In his resignation speech, Clegg said “fear and grievance” had won, while Liberalism had lost.

Another Strange Death of the Liberal Party

Lib-Dem ministers came across as ditherers. This undermined the will-to-live of constituency organisers who had once been notable for their enthusiasm. In 2010, Lib-Dems won 57 seats; in 2015, this fell dramatically to eight. Under a PR system, they would have got 51. They lost their deposit in seven constituencies. Several prominent figures lost their seats – ex-ministers Ed Davey, Jo Swinson, Norman Baker, Vince Cable, Danny Alexander (beaten by the youngest MP since the 17th century – a 20-year old student) , David Laws,  Simon Hughes (who had served his constituency for 30 years and won 50% of the vote in 2010) and former leader Charles Kennedy.

 

High Profile Losers

 

Conservative minister Esther McVey was the highest-profile Tory loser, defeated by Labour in Wirral West. For Labour, Gordon Brown’s hatchet man Ed Balls lost (by one percentage point) to a conservative in Morley and Outwood. UKIP leader Nigel Farage failed to win the seat at Thanet South (although UKIP won control of the local council). UKIP retained one seat; former Conservative Douglas Carswell was re-elected to represent Clacton but with a greatly reduced majority.  The Tory candidate at Rochester and Strood soundly beat another Tory defector to UKIP, Mark Reckless. The UKIP leader had increased his party’s share of the vote in Thanet South by 27%, and nationally UKIP’s vote share was up by ten percentage points to a total of 3.9 million. The Electoral Reform Society has modelled what would have happened under a proportional voting system that makes use of the D’Hondt method of converting votes to seats. UKIP would have been a force to be reckoned with in the Commons with 83 seats.

Green Party leader Natalie Bennett lost to Labour in Holborn St Pancras but Caroline Lucas retains the Brighton Pavilion constituency she won in 2010 giving the Greens one seat in the new parliament. Under PR, they would have got 24 seats.

Whither Scotland?

After the referendum on Scottish independence, I warned a smug unionist against crass triumphalism. I said that, although the vote for Scotland to stay in the UK was decisive, the fact that over 40% of Scots wanted to leave the Union should give pause for thought. The SNP might have lost the referendum vote but they convincingly won the general election vote, gaining 56 out of 59 seats in Scotland. Under a PR system, this would have been reduced to 31. Gordon Brown’s once-safe Labour seat of Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath fell to the SNP. The pro-Union Conservative party now has one seat in Scotland and the pro-Union Labour party has just one. The Lib-Dems also retained  one seat. The referendum was about a positive Scottish identity, rejection of the austerity that Labour had supported. The general election has confirmed a separatist move to the left in Scotland. The referendum did not seal the future of the Union. Resentment from Scotland at a Westminster government dominated by English Tories can only grow, as will English resentment at any preferential treatment given to keep Scotland in the Union.

Social Justice in the Future?



Cameron’s choice of personnel for the  new all-Conservative cabinet makes it clear the way the next five years will go and I am glad I have emigrated. Iain Duncan Smith has been re-appointed to achieve to find a further £12 billion in welfare “savings” and the Lib-Dems will not be there to stop him. While I am fully aware of the deficiencies of the Labour Party, I cannot imagine any circumstances in which I could vote for a Conservative candidate. There is much despair among my friends in the UK. They fear for the future of the welfare state and the forcing of poor people, the precariat, into poorly paid jobs with little security. Under the coalition, food banks increased from 56 to 445. More will be needed. Public services will continue to be handed over to incompetent and irresponsible private firms like G4S. The NHS will continue to be auctioned off to private for-profit companies.

Even former Tory prime minister John Major said: “We need to acknowledge the fact we have a pretty substantial underclass and there are parts of our country where we have people who have not worked for two generations and whose children do not expect to work. How can it be that in a nation that is the fifth richest nation in the world, that in the United Kingdom we have four of the poorest areas in Europe?”

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