Free Money = Freedom: Why the Labour Party must support the Universal Basic Income.

I’ve been thinking about Universal Basic Income (UBI) a lot recently…in a good way. What sort of society could we become if each adult citizen was given say £1000 a month each, from the state? There would be no strings attached; that £1000 per month would be a right for each man or woman over the age of 18. A study released by the University of Bath in September suggested that 49% of 18-79 year olds would support a policy of this nature and certainly, in principle at least, UBI tackles poverty in a brave, bold way. It is ‘Tom-Paine-Thinking’ for the Twenty-First Century.

TenPoundNotes

I think to my friends. Most of whom are in their 30s and 40s and what you could politely describe as being stagnantly mid-career. Would being in receipt of UBI change what we were doing with our lives? Would my teacher friends still teach? Would my friends in the NHS still want to work for our struggling health service? Would my banker friends still steal money from the poor to line the pockets of The Man (obviously I’m joking; I don’t have any banker friends – ahem, Sorry Dave). For most they probably wouldn’t change the job, they would change the hours. For some, it would give them the confidence to try a start-up idea, or launch a ‘passion project’ long since shelved for fear of leaving their families without, if and when it failed. UBI could give Britain the chance to be more creative, most aspirational and much, much braver.

It could also help ease Britain’s growing mental health crisis. We are overworked; as Owen Jones detailed in The Guardian yesterday in his calls for a four-day week, nearly half of all people suffering from stress, depression or anxiety, attribute it to workload. UBI could allow all workers the choice to spend more time with their families. It could help liberate the workers; I make no apology if I come over full on Marx here, but UBI is going to be a key part of liberating workers from the oppression of labour. Indeed, economic and industrial development has long been seen as a precondition for Socialism and with Artificial Intelligence potentially rendering many jobs we know today obsolete, it may well be that the industrial developments of the Twenty-First Century actually bring the voices calling for UBI away from the traditional ‘hard’ left and into the centre.

Combined with Labour’s proposed National Education Service, which will offer free education at any point in life, adults could re-enter education, re-train, re-fresh, and ultimately become a more academic, skilled workforce; they would use UBI to facilitate and free-up the hours for part-time study. A more skilled workforce, eventually gives back to the state in increased productivity. Could the policy then pay for itself?

Well there has to be another form of funding UBI, at least initially. Most here on the left, would raise taxes; but a Canadian poll in 2016 showed that support for UBI fell dramatically when such rises in taxation were mentioned. Neo-liberals would fund UBI another way: essentially by stripping away most welfare. It may well be that welfare can have a huge shake-up if UBI were introduced, but there will always be people for whom circumstance requires financial support from the state.

So, it certainly won’t all be plain sailing: some experts warn that UBI could, within a generation, simply reinforce women’s traditional role by encouraging them to return to providing care and household services. It could spell the end of state maternity pay and limit further entitlements to child benefit. In the USA, supporters of UBI see it as allowing women to spend more time at home with new-born babies before returning to work; of course, the USA does not have a Welfare State like ours in the UK. The introduction of UBI would raise other serious questions relating to benefits: Would there be any more need for a state pension? Would there be a sort of ‘UBI-plus’ for a generation who had paid in substantial National Insurance contributions before the transition of arrangements? What about those entitled to Personal Independence Payments (PiP) or many of the benefits being brought under the umbrella of Universal Credit? Could we end up with UBIPIPUC? Would you pay more to people who live in areas with higher rents and associated living costs? Would your UBI amount depend on which postcode you were born into, or where you lived?

So, lots of questions. One thing I am sure of though: it’s time for the discussion. I want a future Labour government to put UBI on the table. In the meantime, let’s get it to Parliament for a full Chamber debate. There’s a parliament.uk petition online. I’ve signed today.

May’s “British dream” simply shows she is sleeping through the housing crisis

In Theresa May’s address to the Conservative Party conference last week, the phrase “British Dream” cropped up a grand total of 22 times. It is not a new form of words however; previous echoes of the same phrase were spoken in the past by Michael Heseltine, Michael Howard and indeed Labour’s Ed Miliband in keynote speeches of their own. Future studies may show that saying the words out loud is, in fact, akin to putting the final nail in your own political coffin.

The British don’t do “dreams” well. Rather than the aspirational echoes of the American variant, to shout about the British dream is to risk seeming brash; we can never quite get over the fact that (as Hamlet told us) “to sleep, [is] perchance to dream”. If you are dreaming, you are asleep. If you are asleep, you literally have your political eyes shut to the true state of this nation. Mrs May needs to wake up.

The Labour Party is waking up. The Labour Party’s eyes are open to the true state of the biggest horror facing our country: the housing crisis. Yet despite shouting loudly in opposition, there are many that feel that future Labour housing policy can still be bolder. The time to be brave is indeed the next manifesto.

As Labour gets braver and cracks on in preparing for government, the Tories are snoring through some of the biggest social problems to affect the country since 1945. The Tories are dreaming when they should be helping the 120,000 children that will be sleeping tonight in temporary or emergency accommodation.

May

That’s right, 120,000 children in 78,000 families don’t have a permanent place to call home tonight. Many of these families in temporary accommodation are trapped there; evicted by landlords as rents have risen beyond their ability to pay. This a problem caused not by greedy landlords in the main, but by rents rising – so landlords can pay bills and mortgages – as DHA rate remain frozen until 2020. In parts of south east England, average rental market value is now already 40 per cent above the frozen rate of housing benefit. This has cast thousands of families into abject housing poverty, arrears and evictions.

That is not to say that there are not greedy landlords. Of course there are. But Labour has to recognise that the majority of landlords (59 per cent) only let out one home. For most of these landlords, that one rental is a pension pot in an age where the state pension is in real risk of becoming a myth. Labour needs to look more carefully at taxation and rent controls for business landlords, those nine per cent of landlord-magnates with over five properties.

In a recent study for Shelter it was revealed that 63 per cent of landlords said “no DSS”, meaning they would not accept tenants in receipt of social security payments. That seems to me to be far lower than the actual figure, especially in London and the south east. Calling six local estate agents in Kent to find out how many of their advertised two-bedroom private rentals accepted DSS, I found a grand total of one available property that might consider an applicant on benefits. Of course, that was an immediate “no” for a benefit-receiving applicant with children. Perhaps “No DSS, no children”, is the new “No blacks, do dogs, no Irish” – the true social scandal of our age. A Labour government could introduce policy whereby the only stipulation for applying to rent a property was your ability to pay.

So, we must fix that ability to pay. The government needs to undo the freeze on housing benefit; pump more money into local government for building council houses; issue fines on councils that house families in B&B accommodation for more than the legal six weeks; introduce Ofsted-style inspections of local authority housing stock with the possibility of Whitehall taking over when councils fail to meet standards; place tough rent controls on landlords who let out more than five properties, in order to encourage the release of housing stock; have authorities act as guarantors for DSS recipients with references and/or a clean history of payment; and ban a landlord’s right to select tenants based upon anything other than ability to pay.

There you are John Healey: sorted.

This article was first published on Labourlist.com on 9th October 2017

“It’s not as bad here as it is in some places.”

That’s right, the title for today’s blog post is a quote. A quote from Damian Green, the First Secretary of State (de facto Deputy Prime Minister). Mr Green was commenting on the state of the NHS in his area (Ashford) today when he seemed to admit that the current state of the NHS is other areas was indeed worse than the [somewhat] ‘bad’ level of care in East Kent. Oh well, that’s a relief; some other poor buggers elsewhere in the UK have it worse off. I’ll just pack up my campaigning suitcase now then. Or I’ll write this blog post.

Damien Green and Labour Mum

If the state of the NHS in other areas is worse than in East Kent then the NHS is dying. A close family member was taken to hospital in Margate by ambulance last Sunday. It was five hours from phone call to being seen by a doctor. In my day job, I hear anecdotal evidence like this all the time about QEQM in Margate and the William Harvey hospital in Ashford. During today’s Q&A in Ashford, which was organised by the Ashford Chronic Pain Group, Mr Green denied that the closure of key services at the Kent & Canterbury hospital was having any impact on waiting times at either Margate or Ashford claiming that fewer ‘big centres’ will provide better care. When asked if he supported the call for a new hospital to be built in Canterbury, he was quite clear: ‘no’. I’d like to be a fly on the wall next time Damian Green bumps into Helen Whatley, the MP for Faversham who has been very loud in her recent calls for a new super hospital (albeit not built in her constituency, but she seems keen to get involved in Labour MP Rosie Duffield’s campaigns nevertheless). I can’t imagine Whatley would enjoy being stuck on a long Conservative battle-bus outing between Green and Roger Gale, the MP for Thanet North, who also seems intent on denying people in Herne Bay (an area of his constituency he always seems keen to forget) quick access to a Canterbury based A&E.

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I was delighted to be asked to chair the Q&A in Ashford today (offering a little political balance never did a Q&A any harm). It was mainly a chance for residents to ask questions of the former Secretary of State for Work and Pensions about PIP assessments, the state of hospitals in the area, help for carers and other issues that concerned this busy local group. Mr Green heard stories people from Kent being sent for PIP assessments in Barking; we heard about people being denied PIP because they had told an assessor that they tried to cook homemade meals instead of eating only ready meals; Mr Green heard of Ashford Job Centre refusing to allow disabled people access to their toilet facilities; he heard of the proposed Kent County Council cut to all funding for the Disability Information Service Kent (DISK) and of the fact that on Friday 28th July (yes, last week), there were only 4 ambulances available to cover Dover, Folkestone, Ashford and the Marshes. That’s right, 4! But don’t worry everyone, you can allay your fears after hearing all of that, because remember: “It’s not as bad here as it is in some places”.

Ashford Chronic Pain Q&A

Asked about the staff who administer the PIP training, Mr Green confirmed that they were all fully trained. A quick google around job adverts for PIP assessors will show you that applicants have to be registered members of the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC). This means any one of the following, with a little extra training from the DWP, can be a PIP assessor: You could be an arts therapist, chiropodist or podiatrist. You also could be a clinical scientist, a dietitian, a hearing aid dispenser, an occupational therapist, an orthoptist, a social worker or a speech and language therapists amongst other listed occupations. I am now just imagining my former-dietician-turned-PIP-assessor, asking the sort of questions needed to decide on whether to award PIP:

Dietician/PIP assessor:                Do you cook any homemade food?

Nervous Disabled Applicant:    Yes well, I try to put good things into my body. It helps, you know, with the pain –

Dietician/PIP assessor:                I have to stop you there. You can’t have any government funding. Cooking health meals proves you just aren’t disabled enough.

Nervous Disabled Applicant:   This is horrible! These test centres are an abomination.

Dietician/PIP assessor:               It’s not as bad here as it is in some places. You could, after all, be in a chronically-underfunded NHS hospital.

That’s right Mr. Green. It’s not as bad here as it is in some places…

 

How did the Left get it so right in Canterbury?

At midnight on 9th June, a thunderstorm was rolling over Canterbury in Kent. This is not a metaphor. There was a literal thunderstorm. Something was changing in the air.

Beneath the thunderstorm, under the roof of the Westgate Hall in the city, something was changing too; for the first time in 176 years, the constituency seat was about to be won by someone who wasn’t a Conservative. Rosie Duffield MP, ended Julian Brazier’s 30-year stint as the representative for Canterbury, winning for the Labour Party with a tight 187-seat majority. No battle buses have ever visited Canterbury; no big politicians ever mentioned the constituency; everyone in Westminster seemed to have forgotten Canterbury even existed. This wasn’t a drive from Labour central office to take a seat but something stirred in the local waters off Whitstable’s Estuary coast; the people were demanding a change.

LeftCelebrates

So what happened in Canterbury, and in a night of ups-and-downs for all political parties, how did the Labour Party get it so right in this traditionally blue enclave of Kent?

  1. The Students Mobilized.

Canterbury is a university town. There are three universities there: The University of Kent, Canterbury Christ Church University, and the University for the Creative Arts. The demographic has changed quickly over the past decade as the universities have expanded. Rumours on election night were that registrations of university students in the town were around 8000+. This was, in huge part, thanks to the amazing efforts of the Labour groups at those respective universities. Scores of young Labour members cheered and supported their friends and peers into registering. The mood in the Canterbury Labour Students’ camp was always ebullient; they knew something the rest of the town didn’t…yet.

The Labour manifesto offered great promises for students. Many of whom, after the betrayal and then abandonment by the Liberal Democrats, took the sunny rays of promise where they could find it. It wasn’t just the promise to abolish tuition fees though, it was (as the BBC says) the fact that Labour offered ‘them some positive politics and a little passion’. The Conservatives clearly forgot that happiness sells.

  1. Painting the Towns Red

There were two key towns in this constituency, Canterbury and Whitstable. A drive around either in the weeks leading up to the exam would have tricked any visitor into thinking this was a Labour stronghold. Teams of sign distributors took to the streets, even having competitions amongst themselves to see who could erect the biggest banner. All manner of houses (sometimes even including manors) had Labour signs outside. This was a constituency that put two fingers up to what people expected. If people wanted a sign, they got a sign. If you lived in a two-bedroom terrace you put a sign up, and if you lived in a ten-bedroom Georgian townhouse, you put a sign up. Being a Labour supporter in Canterbury is nothing to do with class and everything to do with passion and conviction.

  1. The Local Labour Party Dominated Social Media.

The local Labour Party campaigners really took it upon themselves to dominate the internet. Their e-savvy candidate Rosie Duffied, was happy to be photographed everywhere and with everyone. She used social media to reach those who couldn’t make the rallies or the street stalls, individually messaging lots of people through social media who expressed confusion about Labour’s ideas on various media platforms. She took the time to speak to all of those with questions and doubts, both in real life and electronically.

Furthermore others in her campaign team ruled the internet. There was a snappy local website, a score of people on local Facebook groups quick to the button with Memes, quips, good humour and advice. There were YouTube videos of Spoken Word poetry, videos of Rosie up and down the constituency and pushes on Twitter and Snapchat too.

  1. They Didn’t Give up on Good Old Fashioned Door Knocking

Yes, not everybody likes it. But you must admit there is something charming about knowing that your local party care enough to trudge around in the rain, knocking on your door and asking for your vote. If they are prepared to get bunions, they probably passionately believe in what they are ‘selling’.

DoorknockLabour

The Canterbury and Whitstable Constituency Labour party split into ward teams, often with up to 10-15 members per team. There were daily targets of streets, identified as possibly sympathetic or interested in Labour’s agenda from the 2015 data. There was a systematic, well-manned campaign, run by an organised central team of incredibly capable and business-like local party members.

  1. They Dressed Up

Labour looked the part on polling day. Everyone got the memo: ‘Smart with at least a smattering of red’. Labour representatives on polling stations wore jackets, fitted dresses, rosettes and sometimes (thanks June!) real red roses. They looked like winners, even if they never truly believed they would be.

  1. First Timers Got Involved.

Lots and lots of people volunteered to help out with the campaign even when they’d done nothing before. The turnouts at local Labour political meetings had been steadily rising for 10 years now and those numbers all translated to active feet and active minds when it came to campaigning season. This win began at least a decade ago.

That said, in Canterbury and Whitstable lots of new members and sometimes non-members joined in with specific tasks. Some mums formed a team to hand out flyers about proposed Tory spending cuts to education outside the school gates; some people were just delighted to be the honorary ‘Board Deliverer’ of the town, armed only with a van and a mallet. Some people were delighted to be the lucky bartender in town who got to pull a pint of ‘Red Rosie’ – a beer named after their candidate available in Whitstable. Everyone seemed to have a job.

  1. The Candidate and the Jez Effect

Last, but by no means least, Rosie Duffield was also an ideal candidate. Humble, kind and unassuming. She is instantly likable, a ready made best-friend to all, with none of the frostiness that Tory lady candidates (Teresa, Amber…) often show. Rosie was perfect combination of enough wisdom to have credibility and enough energy to campaign all the way to Westminster and beyond.

Rosie

Rosie was also  honest with her voters about her own beliefs, even when the material wasn’t in the Labour Manifesto. She was honest about supporting Proportional Representation; a passionate Remainer, she was honest about wanting a much, much softer Brexit; she was honest about the fact that she didn’t agree with 100% of the Labour Manifesto. Sometimes 80% is enough. People respect you for your honesty; after all, no-one is a robot, swallowing a document whole.

The Jez effect also had an effect on the result too of course. People want to embrace new radicalism; it has an energy about it and as the New Radicals put in their famous song, ‘You Get What You Give’. The problem with Teresa is that she has forgotten that people want to see and hear their candidates these days. You need to literally run and sing for your supper. Jeremy and Rosie have run a marathon. Willingly.

Corbyn Running

So that’s what happened in Canterbury. Perhaps the UK can learn a few lessons from this forgotten corner of East Kent. Perhaps the battle buses will be here next time? With a small majority of 187, Canterbury and Whitstable are going have to enjoy fighting, whenever the next time might be.

What Could the Cost of this Snap Election Have Bought Us?

This post is simple. Simple maths.

This snap election that Teresa May called is costing £116,650,000 from public funds to administer. On top of that the parties combined will likely spend a further £40,000,000 of their own funds on campaigning, propaganda, printing and rosette-making.

Do you know what we could have done with nearly ONE HUNDRED AND SIXTY MILLION POUNDS?

We could have:

A. FED ALL THE PRIMARY SCHOOL CHILDREN IN BRITAIN FOR A MONTH.

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Lunch cost around £2.10 for two courses for each student. Times that by the current number of primary school-aged children (around 4.7 million). That covers the whole of the month of October for school lunches!

B. COVERED THE COST OF DEMENTIA CARE FOR NEARLY 4000 PEOPLE

Dementia

The average cost of the care per annum for a person with Dementia is £32,250. If Teresa May hadn’t called the election, funds would have been enough to cover the cost of almost 5000 vulnerable people’s care until mid-2018.

C. BUILT A BRAND NEW HOSPITAL

New Hospital

The cost of the Whitehaven Hospital was 90 Million pounds in 2015. Even allowing for a little inflation and costs of equipment, this should leave enough money to spare to staff a hospital for three years. We could have had an extra or new hospital instead of an election. Just when they are closing existing provision such as the Urgent Care Unit in Canterbury, Kent.

 

D. SENT EACH HOUSEHOLD IN THE UK A BOTTLE OF PROSECCO.

CANTI PROSECCO

There are around 26 million households in the UK. The current price of a bottle of Canti Prosecco at ASDA is £6, currently reduced from £8.98. We could all have a bottle, with some change to spare. There’s something to think about; perhaps people would have preferred one of these on their doorsteps, rather than a polling card…

Happy voting tomorrow everyone!

London Bridge (‘Build it Up’)

In 1014 King Olaf of Norway, failing to land in Danish-occupied London, fastened ropes around the pillars of London Bridge and, sailing away with the incoming tide, pulled the bridge down.

Early 20th London Bridge

Recalling this incident is the nursery rhyme ‘London Bridge is Falling Down’; the rhyme has spanned the centuries far more effectively than any memory of King Olaf himself; a timely reminder to those who pursue the course of Islamic Fundamentalism that ideologies fade far faster than cities. Their twisted form of Jihad will be left, Ozymandias-style in the ‘lone and level sands’ of time. Indeed, there used to be a sundial on the old Medieval London Bridge that bore the engraved motto, ‘Time and Tide stay for no Man’; perhaps ISIS would do well to remember that the next time they think about trying to spread the ideals of their warped Caliphate.

London Bridge 2

It is important to note that despite the title, ‘London Bridge is Falling Down’, the most oft repeated phrase in that nursery rhyme are the simple words, ‘build it up’. The call to ‘build it up’ comes twelve times in the traditional verses of the rhyme, becoming a mantra of renaissance and resistance. And after each successful assault on London Bridge and its people, Londoners have indeed ‘buil(t) it up’. Today’s bridge, completed in 1973 and deemed ugly by most architectural standards, stands on the site occupied by at least ten predecessors bearing the same name. The simple message is that Londoners always build it up again; any assault against the beautiful thing, which is itself a design of unity, spanning and joining two sides whilst refuting the tides that batter her banks, will be pointless. Many metaphors can be read into the beauty of a bridge and here the bridge becomes the heart of a multicultural, all-spanning London and all her myriad Londoners.

Heads on London Bridge

London used to display the heads of traitors on the bridge too. Many lifeless eyes have gazed out from London Bridge onto the city their tried to destroy (sorry William Wallace, Thomas Cromwell, Guy Fawkes et al). Those dead eyes would ‘see’ the opposite of the poet Coleridge’s ‘mawkish sensibility’ when he too gazed from the bridge; they would see resistance, determination, and the fierce heart of the city, which burns against all who would seek to destroy her. “Build it up. Build it up. Build it up…” London always sings; only the foolish don’t take heed.

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Finally The Shard, the UK’s tallest building which overlooks London Bridge, was designed to represent many things: the church spires that dot the London landscape; the masts of the ships that once rested in its docks and finally, the hope of all humanity, reaching to skies, looking to better itself, like a giant finger pointing to the sun. Today it sits, framed by London Bridge hospital; it is another symbol, in a city of symbols, of the enduring power of hope, and of London’s ability to pierce the clouds that threaten it.