Sunday 31 March 2013

The War on the Poor

April 1st is usually the time for a bit of a knockabout. Indeed, you can expect bouts of the usual silliness tomorrow. David Cameron and Nick Clegg to record Especially For You for charidee? Brilliant. Harry Cole taken on as Number 10 press officer? What a hoot. Boris Johnson to go for Prime Minister? Chortle. But while Tory ministers are chuckling over their cold meats and croissants, few of them will be sparing a thought for the hammer they're smashing down on our poorest and most vulnerable households. For April Fools' Day this year will live in infamy as hundreds of thousands of low paid, unemployed and disabled people will get mugged by a combination of cuts to tax credits, the bedroom tax, council tax rises, social security cap, and abolition of the Social Fund. And to top it all, this denial of resource to the poor is to directly fill the pockets of the rich with their millionaires' tax cut. Redistributive policies are alive and well in Tory Britain, it would seem.

According to The Sun(!), 2.4m families will have to find an extra £138 to pay their Council Tax, while some 660,000 households in social housing will have to find between £14 and £25/week if they are found to be "under-occupying" under the government's despicable criteria. The Indy paints an even worse picture - the cumulative changes (which the government has refused to assess) could see some households lose £93/week. And on top of that, one week later disabled people in receipt of Disability Living Allowance will be clobbered by the introduction of Personal Independence Payments, which is governed by a series of tougher criteria driven by budgetary savings as opposed to the actual needs of those forced to subsist on it.

And what have the government got to say about it all? Danny Alexander rants about so-called 'bedroom blockers'. This is ostensibly directed at the likes of Bob Crow and Frank Dobson who, as well-to-do current and former council housing tenants respectively, should not occupy social housing. So much for the vision of building for mixed and cohesive communities that drove post-war town planners, this grubby rhetoric is trying to turn tenant against tenant and reinforce the right-wing view that social housing should be ghettoes for the poor. And how long before 'bedroom blocker' is extended to label each and every under-occupier? With Alexander it's very much the case of looking from Tory to LibDem, and from LibDem to Tory ...

Unbelievably, this isn't today's most crass offering from the front bench. In a puff-piece in The Mail, Esther McVey, the Minister for the Disabled is quoted as saying, "Only three per cent of people are born with a disability, the rest acquire it through accident or illness, but people come out of it. Thanks to medical advances, bodies heal." Next time I deal with someone coughing up their lungs with asbestosis, I'll be sure to ask what their plans are after they get better.

If how a society treats its poorest and most vulnerable is a measure of how civilised it is, we're on the slippery slope to barbarism. Not even a ghost of patrician responsibility is left. That value was long ago exorcised from this neoliberal Tory party of overt class war. As this report argues, the media and politicians have consistently pushed six myths about the poor: they are lazy, they're drug and drink-addled, they're not really poor, they milk social security, they lead an easy life, and are responsible for the deficit. It's pernicious, dehumanising, scapegoating stuff, and - unfortunately - there's always been a constituency who readily lap it up.

Is there more to it than social Darwinism, headline-chasing, and vote-grubbing? Yes. There's always more.

This Liberal Democrat-supported Conservative government is ideological to its core. And by ideology, I mean in the sense of being driven by a set of discredited ideas that fly in the face of reality. As a party/movement undergoing decomposition and terminal decline. As the long-term tendency is showing no sign of abating, this parliamentary term is the one shot they've got at shaping the kind of Britain they want. Dehumanising the poor is integral to it. They understand tilting cultural change and common sense goes some way to rendering their pitifully but purposely inadequate social security support system permanent, and make it easy for them to leverage further policy influence when they're back on the opposition benches. It's not entirely accidental that Michael Gove is fond of quoting Gramsci.

Their project must be countered by our own. Policy and vision have to be tied around a radically different view of the good life and the good society. Quoting stats is not enough; they will never rip away the right's veil of lies. The fear and despair milked by the Tories, the LibDems and UKIP can only be properly challenged and defeated by the promise of something better. In short, Labour and the labour movement have the responsibility to develop that politics of hope to make good the damage the Tories have done, and lay the groundwork for a society fit for living in.

Friday 29 March 2013

Frankie Says Trance

Blogging will be light today as I'm working on this, so to fill the gap between now and tomorrow's inevitable post about how awfully sexist the new Doctor Who episode is, I give you one of the finest remixes from the golden years of trance.

Wednesday 27 March 2013

A Goodbye to David Miliband

After the speculation, kremlinology, rumours of plots, and Closer-style commentary, the brothers-at-war psychodrama the media loved to obsess about is over. In the biggest piece of expected news since, well, last week's budget David Miliband is to announce (and has in fact, pre-announced) his resignation to head up International Rescue in New York.

There is very little that can be added to the coverage already oozing from the commentariat's every pore. And because it's not the done thing to speak ill of the dead, even if it's only a political career that's snuffed it, I'll leave it for someone else to ask the tough questions about extraordinary rendition, the business interests, and expenses.

Weirdly, I have always quite liked David. Not enough to vote for him when it mattered, but he was a strange attractor for those of a wonkish, geeky bent. But I never understood his appeal beyond that milieu, especially as it was the other Miliband who was supposed to 'do human'. And of all the candidates who duked it out for the Labour leadership, it was David's candidacy stamped most clearly with continuity. As far as I was concerned, his position was too managerial, too technocratic, too tied to an austerity agenda, too close to those who would reduce the influence of unions, and too willing to fight the next election as if it was 1997 again. Unlike the candidacies of the two Eds, I did not think he'd learned the lessons of the crash and what it meant to politics. And when you had "crafty" Tories "letting it be known" to the press they feared a David leadership, well, faint praise coming from that quarter certainly damned him in others.

Another problem with David was the absence of any hint he would challenge powerful interests. Could you imagine Labour under David making the running against Murdoch? Attacking the Tories for their millionaires' tax cut? Committing to reversing the Tory privatisation of the NHS? Or sticking up for the very poorest by opposing the 1% cap on social security payments and the spiteful bedroom tax? Would David have proved any more effective in appealing to those swing seats Labour needs to capture in 2015? It is, of course, a question that will never be answered. But every activist in their marrow knows it's much harder to sell the technocratic politics of detail on the doorstep than a different but credible way of doing things, which, of course, will be the actual choice come the next election.

As far as the party is concerned, there will be a bout of mourning for some, and others will take David's departure as a body blow against the Blairites. But the truth is that current has long been a busted flush. It has no organising centre, no network of would-be stalking horses ready to defenestrate Ed when the time comes. In fact, the prominent figures most associated with that most ancien of regimes are entirely dependent on the leader's largesse for their position. As the axis of politics has shifted so too have the balance of factions and groupings within the party. Ed-Ed's position is unassailable and - at last - unions are playing a more active role at all levels of the organisation again. Even Progress these days reads like a proper social democratic journal (well, most of the time). If anything, what David's resignation underlines is the final extinction of the Blairite/Brownite paradigm. The shadow they cast over the party's dynamics have finally faded for good.

For those who still hold a candle for David, I'm sorry, he won't be back. He's done. But there's still a difficult job to hand. There is a labour movement to be rebuilt, a party that needs to be much larger, and the most ruinous government since the 1930s to be defeated. So, as you were.

Tuesday 26 March 2013

Historical Materialism Journal and the SWP

From the South Asia Citizens Web

Disentangling the Delhi HM Conference from the SWP Crisis

Statement from the organising group of the Delhi HM conference

Over the past few days there have been suggestions that the journal Historical Materialism (HM) is run by Britain’s Socialist Workers’ Party (SWP), that the SWP is associated with the Delhi HM Conference on 3–5 April 2013, and that in light of the rape crisis in the SWP, the Delhi HM conference should be boycotted or disrupted.

Both propositions underlying the boycott and disruption call are absolutely false. HM has always been an independent journal, and is not controlled by the SWP or any other group. Three out of the 12-member Editorial Board were members of the SWP. During the recent controversy, all three have resigned their membership of the party in support of democracy and gender rights. Furthermore, there is no connection whatsoever between the SWP and the Delhi HM conference.

Participation at HM conferences across the world has always covered a wide spectrum of left-wing political thought. The Delhi HM conference includes participants from India and abroad and will continue this tradition of plurality. Members of the organising group of the Delhi HM conference, which is broadly Left in its composition, believe that equality between the sexes is central to building ‘new cultures of the Left’. This struggle must address violence against women wherever it occurs. Since the recent crisis in the SWP involves rape charges, it caused deep disquiet amongst us.

The bulk of the preparations for the conference, including the selection of submissions, took place well before the recent SWP controversy, yet the fact that one out of around 140 papers selected was by an SWP Central Committee member was used in the disinformation campaign against the Conference. As the success of the Conference is the organising group’s prime concern and we have no wish to be associated with the crisis of any other group, we asked the sole member of the SWP CC who was to attend the conference not to attend. The HM Conference remains an open event and its organisers cannot prevent the entry or exit of participants or stop anyone who chooses to speak from the floor of the Conference discussions from doing so.

Dilip Simeon

Gautam Mody

Harsh Kapoor

Kamal Chenoy

Rohini Hensman

Rosa Basanti

(On behalf of the Delhi Conference organising group) 26/3/2013


My thoughts? As His Lordship has been excluded from the vanguard of academic Marxism, shit might now seem real.

(H/T Cat Grant (again!))

Immigration: A Rant

I am bloody fed up of lies, lies, and more lies about immigration. Unlike the tossers who peddle crap about housing queues, over the last couple of years I have helped dozens and dozens of people get on or move up the City Council's housing waiting list. How many of those, do you suppose, were new arrivals? How many of those were non-white? Do you really want to know? In Stoke-on-Trent, not a mono-cultural city by any means, I helped my first and only non-white family two weeks ago. So forgive me if I think Dave's dog-whistling on immigration and housing is a pile of shitting arses.

Monday 25 March 2013

Socialism and the Family

Eli Zaretsky's short book Capitalism, The Family, and Personal Life, is well worth a read. In plain english it explains the development of the family as an outcome of the class struggles that marked the passage of feudalism to the early, middle, and late stages of capitalism. In so doing it bursts with insights that have either been taken up in highly abstract ways by professorial Marxists, or have been dismissed/ignored by the far left. That's a shame, because Zaretsky simply and concisely explains how gender, the family and the struggle for personal autonomy are definitely not "distractions" from the class struggle. Here's an interesting and thought-provoking passage on the workers' movement and the family.
With the rise of industrial capitalism wages replaced productive property as the economic basis of the family. 'Private property' was redefined among the proletariat to refer to objects of consumption: food, clothing, domestic articles, and later, for some, a home. The traditional division of labour within the family was threatened as women and children joined men in the factories. Meanwhile, capital was accumulated by restricting domestic consumption and diverting any surplus into industry. The bourgeois ethic of repression and abstinence was extended to the proletariat through the force of material circumstances. The family's internal life was dominated by the struggle of its members for their basic material needs.

This understanding underlay the politics of nineteenth century socialists and reformers. Many feared that by turning women and children into wage-earners, industrial capitalism was destroying the family. The goal of 'saving' the family underly such nineteenth-century reforms as protective legislation and child labour laws. Over time a series of private and public institutions arose - schools, saving banks, insurance companies, welfare agencies - whose functions was to mediate between capitalist production and the fragmented realm of private life. The great trade union struggles through which the nineteenth-century working class both resisted and accommodated itself to industrial capitalism were also intended to establish a new basis for the proletarian family. Women were commonly excluded from trade unions and male trade unionists demanded a wage that could support the entire family.

When the socialist movement took up the question of the family in the nineteenth century it expected that a revolution in commodity production would simultaneously transform the family; early socialists did not experience the family as a 'separate' political problem. The major critique of the family came from within romantic and utopian socialist currents and from feminists. The great effect that Marx and Engels had on nineteenth-century socialism was to demonstrate the centrality of the sphere of commodity production (the sphere in which surplus value was produced and realised) to all areas of life. This gave the romantic and utopian critique a theoretical basis that it lacked, and encouraged a focus on collective political action rather than on individual transformation. But it also led away from the emphasis on subjective or personal life that distinguishes the petty bourgeois tradition. Reflecting the struggle for survival that characterised the nineteenth-century proletarian family, Marx and Engels saw no need for a separate programme for 'personal' life, including the oppression of women by men within the family. Instead they believed that if individuals were freed from economic exploitation they would arrange their private lives according to earlier ideals of domestic and personal fulfilment, unrealisable under conditions of industrial capitalism. (1976, pp.62-3)

Sunday 24 March 2013

How to Tame a Zombie

New zombie show In the Flesh (BBC Three, Sundays, 10pm) is an interesting take on a well-trodden genre. Taking place in a contemporary setting, cadavers have crawled out their graves and, with a nod toward the spoof Return of the Living Dead, roam Britain to satisfy their hunger for brains. UKIP folk can chillax, then. But, in an interesting twist, science rides to the rescue. Zombies desire the contents of your cranium because they have lost the ability to reproduce a certain set of brain cells necessary to keep them animated. Scientists are able to synthesis these cells and apply them as a vaccine. Administering it pacifies zombies, allowing their original memories and personalities to resurface while their hunger for the old grey matter abates. And it stops them from decomposing too. Now re-dubbed sufferers of Partially Deceased Syndrome, zombies are then encouraged to return to their families and re-integrate back into society.

In the Flesh follows Kieran Walker (Luke Newberry - pictured), a melancholy teenaged ex-zombie haunted by flashbacks. Nevertheless, he has successfully responded to treatment and, rehabilitated, returns home to his family. Unfortunately for Kieran, the village of Roarton happens to be the epicentre of the Human Volunteer Force. The HVF is an officially-disbanded militia that fought and helped put down the zombie uprising outside of the major cities. It retains its weapons and is violently opposed to returning 'rotters' (very English) to their communities. Hence Kieran's parents have to hide him from public view. He has to also avoid being seduced by the Red Army Faction-style Undead Liberation Army, their addictive and psychotic episode-inducing drug, Blue, and the small matter his sister, Jem (Harriet Cains), is a luminary in the local HVF chapter.

Yes, I know. Tamed zombies are very far fetched (and the idea of the living dead isn't?), but the show is darker and more compelling than the premise suggests. Writer Dominic Mitchell originally conceived a series tracking Care in the Community patients as they struggle to reintegrate themselves into the community. As worthy such a project would be, zombies sell better.

Nevertheless, while integration of difference into our communities remains a topic of considerable import, it has some very interesting things to say about our political culture and, unwittingly, the London-centric metropolis and liberal elitism.

One of the key scenes from last week's episode was a public meeting hosted by the HVF leader and vicar, Oddie (Kenneth Cranham). Its speaker was the hapless minister sent out to tour the provinces to explain, unconvincingly, the zombie resettlement plan. He fumbles over his words, sticks to the script, refuses to respond to hostile, angry questioning; and scarpers as soon as the opportunity avails itself. For someone who's been thinking and writing about populism and anti-politics lately, this is a near perfect allegory of the sentiments feeding it. The government man is hopeless and uncaring. He is afraid of the mob but does not listen to, let alone address their concerns. Instead the government have slapped a politically correct label on a problem and without consultation or consent is imposing its desire on decent, salt-of-the-earth people. They are out-of-touch, because they did not (and do not) face the same struggle to survive and therefore cannot understand the true nature of the integration policy they're pursuing. Does any of this sound familiar?

The flip side of this populist reading is one the viewer is party to. Because we follow Kieran and his experiences, we know he's not a ticking time bomb. He takes his meds, sits down to dinner with his parents, and stares a lot into the distance. In effect our greater knowledge of the lead's biography and motives invites us into knowing that the HVF - the mob - are wrong. These simple northern people with their big guns, sense of entitlement and anti-government position aren't well-armed mavericks; they're bigots. And so while the populist position of the HVF is set up the narrative guides us into accepting the establishment's argument that they really do know best.

What In the Flesh manages to do is capture the emerging divisions in British political culture. One can map on to its exploration of these tensions those around town vs country, north vs south, London vs the rest, mainstream politics vs populism, abstract knowledge vs common sense, the establishment vs the people.

But none of this answers the really interesting question. How can injecting the drugs work when zombies have no circulatory system?

Immigrants and Ignorance

Another Sunday, another immigrant-bashing headline. Responding to "concerns" (and looking to get favourable headlines, for a change), Dave will announce measures tomorrow to keep immigrants out of social housing. Apparently, no one can get a look-in as Afghans, Iraqis, Somalis and Eritreans have jumped the housing queue. Things are so bad even single mums are getting pushed aside! Never mind this is all a load of rubbish, it's an opportunity for the PM to show how tough he is by attacking yet another group of powerless people.

Back when I was a tweenaged Tory, there were a couple of issues that always got my right wing goat. One was unilateral nuclear disarmament. The other was, of course, "the immigrants". Thanks to living in an almost exclusively white suburbanising ex-pit village, I was 17 before I counted black and asian kids among my social circle (and those were through work in nearby Derby, not my then college). But that didn't stop me from believing white Britain was getting buried under waves of brown folk. I didn't see black and asian people for weeks at a stretch, but the fear remained that they were out there somewhere, despoiling our green and pleasant land with reggae, yams, Bollywood film nights, and brightly coloured saris.

Thankfully, most people grow up and leave the stupid ideas of their youth behind. But I did take an important lesson from my time as a bigot someone with sincerely felt and strongly held views. When you don't directly interact with people marked as 'different' from other ethnicities, backgrounds, and sexualities; the more likely your perceptions of those groups will be filtered through their depictions in the media. And if your eyes on the world pass through the medium of the right wing press, as mine did at the time, chances are their prejudices and folk devils become yours too.

Image source

Saturday 23 March 2013

Cruel Intentions

I've tried and tried and tried to make sense of this video. I'm still stumped. But it's Simian Mobile Disco, so who cares?

Friday 22 March 2013

Hypocrisy, Daily Mail-Style

Following the tragic death of Lucy Meadows, a transgendered teacher who was monstered by the Daily Mail's Richard Littlejohn in a characteristically vile piece, the paper has released the following statement:
"It is regrettable that this tragic death should now be the subject of an orchestrated twitterstorm, fanned by individuals – including former Labour spin doctor Alastair Campbell – with agendas to pursue.

"They might do well to consider today's words of media commentator Roy Greenslade: 'Let me begin this posting by urging that people do not rush to judgment... It is important to note that there is no clear link – indeed any link – between what Littlejohn wrote and the death of Lucy Meadows.'

"Our thoughts are with the family and friends of Lucy Meadows."
Hat tip Channel 4 News for that one.

The Mail has a point. We do not know a great deal about the conditions surrounding Ms Meadows' passing, and as a general rule one should never jump to conclusions until all the facts have come to light. 

After all, The Daily Mail would never do that.

Thursday 21 March 2013

Claim Benefits? Then Bank Charges are Unlawful

Many thanks to Catriona Grant for letting me know about this very useful piece of Tory legislation. This needs spreading far and wide.

Did you know that

Section 187 of the Social Security Administration Act 1992

There is an Act of Parliament which over-rides banks taking charges from your account if you are in receipt of any of the following benefits.

• Income Support
• Tax Credits
• Child Benefit
• Job seekers allowance
• Incapacity benefit
• Disability living allowance
• Attendance Allowance
• CSA payments
• Other DWP payments

These social security benefits are granted to stop hardship and are designed to meet basic day to day needs, and are exempt and are protected under the Social Security Administration Act 1992 sub section 187. from arrestment in terms of section 187 of the Social Security Administration Act 1992 (see Enforcement of Civil Obligations in Scotland, Scottish Executive report, at paragraph 5.245).

Section 45 of the Tax Credits Act 2002 Chapter 21 part 1 is an identical provision to the said section 187 of the 1992 Act. This stipulates that the banks can not apply any charges to money received as benefit, and any such charges are unlawful and therefore disallowed.

If you have any bank charges and in receipt of these benefits - write to your bank asking for your charges back.

Wednesday 20 March 2013

Exasperation Nation

Aspiration Nation. Could it be the dumbest political slogan since 'Make Ireland Thatcher's Vietnam!'? How befitting then it got an airing no less than several thousand times in Osborne's Budget Statement this afternoon, a piece of political work premised on political failure, economic incompetence and outright complacency. Don't take my word for it, here are some graphs. Aspiration? Exasperation nation more like ...

There's very little I can add. Osborne's 2013 budget is austerity-as-usual. The points I made on the occasion of the Autumn State in December(!) largely still stand, though I note his home equity scheme looks like yet another attempt to jumpstart a housing bubble. I wonder what part of the world and what kind of constituencies would benefit the most from it? Still, it will probably come to nought - this scheme's predecessor, 'New Buy' had the target of helping sell on 100,000 new homes in its first nine months. It managed a measly 1,500.

Allow me recommend you Boffy's takeThe Third Estate, and three pieces from ToUChstone.

And here's a reminder of the time before Osborne became the tax dodger's worst nightmare:

What Was Liam Byrne Playing At?

What is Liam Byrne playing at? There has been exasperation and annoyance that Labour MPs were instructed to abstain on last night’s DWP Commons vote. This was to retrospectively revoke workfare recipients’ right to claim compensation in light of the so-called Poundland ruling. Readers will recall IDS and his minions fell foul of an especially badly-worded set of rules that sanction dole recipients who "refuse" to take up compulsory work experience “opportunities”. It was a classic case of Tory incompetence and the DWP looked set to pay out approximately £500 to 230,000 JSA recipients who had been penalised under the regime. It would have cost a couple of hundred million.

Last night’s vote was IDS desperately scrambling to clarify the rules and retrospectively amend the act to avoid the pay out. It was a grubby subversion of the court’s ruling and will come as a kick in the teeth to some of our poorest people. So why did Liam Byrne insist Labour give the government a free pass by convincing the leader’s office to whip an abstention?

Unfortunately, the two articles setting out the DWP shadow’s thinking in advance are practically inscrutable. The official justification for the PLP's official position turns mainly on technical as opposed to political arguments.

First, there is the principle of sanctioning social security recipients if they do not meet expectations under the rules. All throughout the New Labour years these measures were enthusiastically embraced by a succession of DWP ministers. So it continues under Ed's One Nationism, although the intention is to marry the responsibilities that come with JSA to the right to a guaranteed job after six months. As far as Liam is concerned, the abstention reaffirms a principle present in social security going back to the initial legislation in 1911, while making plain Labour's displeasure at the Department's incompetence.

So, is that it? A technicality? No. While the only politics in the two pieces contain are found in his attacks on the government's complacency over jobs and unemployment, it's what goes unsaid that matters. After all, as Freud liked to observe, absences can be as equally significant. The last big Tory cock-up - the West Coast Rail Line franchise fiasco - will empty the Treasury to the tune of £50m. Making good the court judgement would cost substantially more. The problem is politically, it would appear the leadership have made a calculation. The real term cuts to JSA and ESA between now and 2015 has proven far less popular than the government thinks. But, unfortunately, this does not mean the public have done an about turn on attitudes towards unemployment. The tendency to hold unemployed people responsible for their circumstances remains strong, and the obligation that they should "do something" for their dole commands majority support. In the toxic and febrile social security "debate", having Labour seen to be urging the government to fork millions out to the "undeserving" poor is a triangulator's nightmare. Sticking up for the "skivers" costs votes.

This is political reasoning at its coldest. But it could have been different. As part of the unending policy review, Labour is trying to rethink the welfare state. The announcements on the jobs guarantee and stronger emphasis on the contributory principle signpost the direction of travel, and a 'One Nation' social security system is looking like a great deal will be owed to social contract thinking. But winning support for this demands benefit bashing be resisted. A balanced system that can meet need cannot be built when the policy and political environment around it is bounded on all sides by tabloid hysteria. Labour have to seek to lead public opinion, not reactively bend with it and, unfortunately, last night's whipped abstention was a fortuitous opportunity lost to begin changing the welfare conversation.

Tuesday 19 March 2013

UKIP and Labour

Trailing his article in this month's Total Politics, Mark Ferguson asks if Labour should be worried about UKIP? On first glance, no. C4's analysis of the Eastleigh by-election shows just seven per cent of UKIP voters previously supported Labour. This is broadly supported by YouGov's recent research. UKIP have an order of magnitude greater pull with Tories than Labour voters. Indeed they have more of an attractor among former LibDem voters too, probably because the yellow party has left the 'none of the above' situation vacant. So should we sit back and grab the popcorn as they duke it out? Definitely not.

Mark makes the crucial argument. The danger from UKIP is not electoral, it's political. Three quick points:

1. Remember the 00s when the BNP made dangerous inroads into what were previously regarded as core Labour areas? The conditions they fed off - inadequate housing, poor job prospects, unemployment, insecurity - none of these have gone away. The BNP itself is a busted flush, for the time being, but the despair and the poverty that sustained them has redoubled under the LibDem-supported Tory government. Switching from one band of xenophobes to another doesn't take much, especially when UKIP has proven far more adept playing the anti-politics populist card. In Stoke-on-Trent, for example, UKIP have tried taking a ride on the bandwagon of the local protest movement. In other places where Labour-run councils are having to make unpalatable decisions, especially where the BNP have a previous track record, posing as the champion of working Britons while making the usual hysterical noises about immigration, the EU and so on can, and will (over the long term) give Labour a headache.

2. UKIP owes its prominence to the disproportionate media coverage it attracts, but that does not make it any less real. UKIP is part of a hard right tendency to completely unravel what remains of the post-war consensus. As UKIP benefits from unchallenging media coverage so all of British political discourse is pushed to the right. Hardly constitutive of the ideal grounds for any kind of left and socialist politics.

3. Labour cannot out-UKIP UKIP, and shouldn't even try. Doorstep patter in traditional Labour areas should focus on their similarities to the Tories. After all, few people are aware our populists favour very unpopular policies like cutting taxes on the wealthy (bringing down the top rate of tax to a flat tax of 31%, and abolishing employers' National Insurance contributions). The UKIP manifesto is full of hostages to fortune - you do not need to be a stat-quoting wonk to select a few howlers. But crucially the way for Labour to properly crush UKIP is to commit itself to a programme that offers security and hope. If UKIP particularly and populist anti-politics generally rests on insecurity, Labour - whether through the One Nation prism or not - has to be bold and say what needs to be done to restore security and stability to people's lives. If we don't, UKIP will, and that's a sure fire way to store up future tragedy for us all.

Monday 18 March 2013

Sexism and Abuse of Power in the SWP

I met P some years ago when I was around the SWP. A couple of years older than me, she came across as strong, confident, and earnest in the way most of us were when we joined our first revolutionary organisation. I recall her kicking my arse when, after a branch down the pub, I was dumb enough to venture the idea that fascists should have the freedom to speak and to organise too. P was a trusted and well-respected SWP activist who had a militant but wise head on her shoulders. Thinking back there was no inkling whatsoever the SWP had already put her through the wringer. When I fell away from the organisation P and I didn't see each other for 10 years when, coincidentally, we ended up at the same university with an overlapping social circle. By then her SWP days were well behind her but, thankfully, her commitment to the labour movement and the cause of working people remained undimmed. She has since gone on to become a full-time union organiser.

P and I have been corresponding off and on about the SWP's crisis. Nevertheless, despite all that has come to light I was shocked to read the testimony she chose to share with me, which I reproduce here with her permission. P's story has been lightly edited and anonymised, and it demonstrates the sexism, abuses of power, the whisperings, and character assassinations brought into sharp relief by the Delta debacle are not aberrations but find themselves turning up time and again. It's hard to conclude how these could be anything other than the systemic effects of the SWP operating as an unaccountable and socially isolated mini-bureaucracy consumed by its own privileges and sense of self-importance.
Hi Phil

I've been following the SWP soap opera with interest and see some remarkable similarities to how I was treated in the party. At the time I thought it was an isolated incident motivated by opportunity to discredit me because of political objections I was making at local level against the behaviour of some other party members.

I see the woman at the centre of the Delta allegations was actually a girl of 17.

When I was in ___ SWP aged 18 I foolishy embarked on an affair with a married comrade 10 years my senior. Don't get me wrong the relationship itself wasn't abusive, I still think there was genuine affection there. However, what happened in terms of the Party when his wife found out was just astonishing.

There was a group of so-called comrades in ___ who were very fond of holding SWP fundraising social events in their homes. This invariably involved the hosts and their immediate circle, all being in their late 30s early 40s. The sensible comrades never attended these events, only skint teenagers attracted by the 50p per bottle of beer and free food would go to these things. By the end of the night when all the kids were drunk the adults would then suggest party games, spin the bottle, truth or dare that sort of stuff. I made a complaint to the Party HQ after an event I didn't attend but an old school mate of mine did. He was interested in politics and was considering joining, no chance after what he was subjected to. The comrades, most of them women i'm ashamed to say, got the twister board game out. The conventional rules were not applied, in this version if you fell over you weren't out, you were instructed to remove an item of clothing and nominate another comrade to rub baby oil into that part of your body. I think those older female comrades believed themselves to be sexually liberated by behaving this way.

At a social event I was present at, I inadvertantly stumbled across a particularly revolting game involving the passing of chocolate cake by the mouth from one comrade to another. I didn't know what was happening in the room and walked in oblivious. A 14 yr old boy then ran over to me pushed me up against a wall and spat chocolate cake in my mouth. I ran out to the bathroom and threw up.

To be fair Lindsey German and Chris Bambery took what I said about these 'socials' seriously and bollockings were issued.

However, when my affair came to light these same comrades rallied around the bloke I was knocking off to marginalise me within the district. He basically had me excluded from my local geographical branch, made out I was a stalker, and I did hear accusations levelled against me that I was a mentally disturbed heroin addict who had relentlessly pursued him. I was told by S I had to go to another branch. When I asked why me? It was the man who really was mostly at fault being as I had no broken any vows to anybody? I was told that he was a trade unionist in the civil service and I was just a student. S also indicated his belief that I was basically asking for it, though he didn't use those exact words, he said I had brought it on myself.

Stupidly I still stayed in the party for another four years after this event. My rationale at the time was if I departed under circumstances where allegations about drug use and my mental health had been made, people might conclude I had something to hide if I was seen to run away.

The rationale S used means women in the party can never be treated fairly and young women are especially vulnerable. Society is structured with men in most key positions, if all decisions on conduct are subordinated to the power and influence of the persons comcerned, the so-called revolutionary party is as guilty as the bourgeois state for perpetuating sexism. The SWP is certainly not a safe environment for young women.

I hope the comrade who accused Delta has had the good sense to leave. I hope she changes her mind and goes to the police. I know how I felt when there was rumour at local level about me, I can only imagine what she must be feeling about the CC getting five hundred signatures from party loyalists to affirm the DCs decision that she wasn't raped. Not to mention all the stuff on the internet.

Do let me know if you hear anymore, as you can imagine I'm keen to hear of the organisation's demise.


She then adds subsequently:
As you can imagine it [her experiences] wasn't something I wanted to shout about, I've always been a proud person, I felt embarrassed and hurt by what had happened. I convinced myself at the time it was an isolated incident and actually, until all this came to light I still didn't realise how entrenched this sort of behaviour in the SWP was/is. I thought the ___ SWP was just some sort of weird sociological experiment that had gone very wrong! I think now all those who have stories like these need to air them somehow, the more of this stuff gets out there, the less likely it is the SWP will recover.

I also feel a responsibility to W, she should not feel alone. Even the strongest people find it difficult to withstand the internal pressure of party moralising to keep quiet. I thought it was just me that found the pressure overwhelming and maybe it was all in my head? Not anymore. I don't believe W's decision not to go to the police was made free from repeated lectures from her comrades.

Since I've been reading about W I've felt a sense of shame about my own decision to remain in the Party, even though I was vocal in exposing the goings on at the social events. It's clear to me now the SWP is a cult rife with exploitation of young women AND young men. The older women comrades are just as culpable. For all their condemnation of feminism being the expression and vehicle for a particular class of women, SWP women cover up the misogyny of their male counterparts when doing so advances their position and standing within the party. I can imagine how W is being demonised by them. The 500 signature statement is a most serious, public attack on her dignity, I cannot understand how one person could think that is a reasonable thing to do let alone 500. I was gutted to see ___ had signed that statement, he really has been brainwashed.

I read Chris Bambery's resignation letter yesterday and one of the reasons he gives for his departure is the impossibility of working alongside people who had repeatedly slandered him. If only I had realised this in my youth I might have escaped their clutches at 19.

Sunday 17 March 2013

The Hard Right: A Thought Experiment

Some people are never satisfied. Our LibDem-supported Tory government have pushed through the most ruinous economic policies since the 1930s. Have gleefully cracked down on the social security net that supports our lowest paid, poorest, and most vulnerable. Immigration has been restricted to the point it's damaging Britain's economic interests. The rich can look forward to income and corporation tax cuts. And Dave has conceded a referendum on EU membership should the Tories win the next election. If I was a rightwing newspaper proprietor I would be pretty gratified, all told. And yet, no matter what Dave does the rightwing press - The Sun, The Mail, The Express and The Telegraph - are doing all they can to destabilise the PM's leadership. So why are the hard right talking up leadership challenges (Boris, Theresa May) and Tory disloyalty? Why are they providing so much free advertising copy for UKIP?

Let's speculate.

Say the kind of Britain the hard right would like to see is one where the welfare state is stripped back to a residue and where the public sector is privatised or as penetrated by business interests as possible. A Britain in which working people are atomised, flexible to employers' needs and their dependence on the good grace of capital is absolute. Where challenges to the accumulated privileges of the British oligarchy - be it through labour and other social movements, or the backdoor of the EU's Social Chapter or European Court judgements - are nullified. And a Britain where the responsibilities capital was forced to concede politically and industrially are reduced to the barest minimum; supporting the less well off, for instance, becomes a matter of philanthropic choice, not an obligation. This is Thatcherism taken to its logical conclusion, of governmental activism used to prosecute and cement a society beholden to capital and the privileged interests arrayed behind it.

Say the hard right also know Dave will likely be a one-term Tory. Demographic changes and the retoxification of the Tory brand could see the Tories out of power for a very, very long time. The next two years could be the only stab the right have at reshaping our society around their priorities and privilege. As far as they are concerned, the Coalition's "achievements" are, if you forgive the pun, a step in the right direction. But they do not go far enough. They want to see a legislative and cultural legacy embedded to the degree it would be difficult, expensive and politically vexatious for an incoming Labour government to undo. They want to forestall a perceived social democratic policy programme well in advance.

How to extend, consolidate and render permanent the path toward this vision of Britain under these circumstances?

Thinking through this problem, it would be expedient if hard right intellectuals persistently used their media channels to swing political discourse further to the right. While the rightwing press have always stirred up hatred against immigrants and used scapegoats, cranking up the rhetoric against powerless but easily identifiable groups of people and oppose to them the decent, respectable, and hardworking majority always strikes a chord. Picking up on myths of national decline and fear of the new, one can also assume and champion a more traditional *English* nationalism that makes sense to people alienated from 'official' British multicultural national identities, from the EU, and the progress various minorities have made in winning rights and acceptance. Politically, to have a rump of Tory MPs who mouth off at every opportunity about how the party can win if it turned further right are useful too, as is the rise of a populist hard right party with a track record of slewing off significant numbers of Tory votes. With the Tory party harried by the meltdown in its right wing core vote, and all the media inputs into the Westminster bubble awash with the common sense of the hard right, the combination of apparent electoral expediency with a less bumpy ride in the op-eds exerts a powerful gravitational pull on leading Conservatives and builds the rightist 'temptation' up to almost irresistible levels.

Therefore one could conclude this exercise in idle speculation that for such a project to be successful a vocal, well-funded, well-publicised and well-organised set of rightwing voices has to come together to push it.

I'm glad this is only a thought experiment.

Thursday 14 March 2013

The Society for Cutting Up Jobs

I hear professional economists are in a quandary. Apparently, there is some confusion involving a puzzling feature of Britain's current baleful economic performance. Heads are being scratched and brows are getting furrowed because no one can explain how the economy is stagnant but yet more and more jobs are getting created. Usually, recession sees firms shedding jobs, lower spending, and the consequent loss of further jobs. If the numbers of people employed are going up, people are buying things and the economy expands in a self-sustaining boom. You should have a vicious or a virtuous circle, one or the other. But right now there is an impossible mishmash: we have bits of both. Frustratingly, the British economy just isn't behaving.

I'm no economist, but allow me to venture a theory based not on longitudinal trends, neoclassical endogenous growth theory or a half-baked return to utilitarianism; but on experience.

When I was 17 I got myself a part-time job at a brand spanking new supermarket. For at least ten hours every Saturday, and four hours on a Sunday I would stand behind a baking hot counter serving up all manner of unpalatable poultry products. Occasionally I would operate our deep fat fryers for those new-fangled southern friend chicken things, and take whole chickens and bits and bobs out of the oven. Sometimes, if I was lucky, I would find myself on the much cooler and cleaner pie shop immediately next door. But mostly I was up to my elbows in grease, or getting bellowed at by the store manager and his equally foul deputy. The pay was crap by mid-90s standards (£2.21/hour, rising to £2.63 when I reached 18) and the experience did have a profound radicalising effect, but I did have a good laugh*.

If memory serves our department started out with 16 members of staff. By the time I left for uni 14 months later, only three of the 'founding' workers had stuck it out - including me. But between those two points in time I got a crash course in the division of labour in the capitalist firm. Within a few months about half of the staff, including the departmental manager and her deputy had left. They were replaced haphazardly and never on the basis of actual need. But as long as the wage bill was kept under budget the store manager got his bonus, even though the business around him was running on vapours.

I never drew up the departmental rota sheets, but I remember the department needed at least three out front and one round the back doing prep. One of the back room boys (and they were boys - breading up chickens and throwing them in ovens was considered a manly job), the dept manager and one other worker were full-time. The rest of us were part-timers with contracts ranging from eight to 30 hours/week. As the full-timers quickly fell victim the department was more or less left to college kids to run. Apart from the occasional borrowed full timer from the deli, the bakery and the salad shop that was how it remained. The full timers' hours were shared out among a sliver of new part-timers who were employed to close the gap, or let slide. And for every subsequent worker who left, their hours were subdivided further to new employees, went into the (rarely seen) overtime book, or just allowed to disappear. The only way employees progressed to more hours was if they "applied" for and took jobs off-department. Small wonder it was eight months before the cooling trolley's grease bucket got emptied.

I suppose for most of us it didn't really matter that much. 14 hours each weekend suited my college commitments and allowed me to save for university. Others sunk their cash in their first car, their wardrobes, their burgeoning drinking habits. We all lived at home, we all had the bank of mum and dad to fall back on. Of those who were older, most other part-timers were women who fitted hours around childcare. More often than not their households had a second "breadwinning" wage coming in. At one level of remove, you could say flexible hours suited both the business and the part-timers who stuck it out.

But now let's take that and apply it to the working population at large. The government likes to trumpet the million new private sector jobs since 2010 as evidence of and justification for their approach to rebalancing the economy (though this total includes a couple of hundred thousand public sector workers who've either been reclassified, or had themselves outsourced to a private service provider or joint public/private ventures). But what the government doesn't like to dwell on are the record numbers of people having to take up part-time employment (or those full-timers on temporary contracts). Take Royal Mail, for example. Over at least the last five years, management have systematically preferred to replace the loss of a full-time worker by taking their job and chopping it into two or three pieces for a part-timer to pick up. A similar route has been taken in higher education. Regardless of an institution's research and teaching priorities, roles are dissected and fed out to contract research and teaching labour on extremely time-limited contracts. The public sector is not alone. The number of hours available in most supermarkets are now taken up by part-time workers. Banks, shops, factories, call centres - all of these enterprises are taking jobs and parcelling them out in smaller and smaller portions. Whereas you had one person doing a 39 hour week previously, so now you have two, three or four people each working a morsel of what was. And these are no longer in the main students or mums, but are increasingly 'ordinary' former full-time workers forced to take whatever they can get. Some who are able may combine two or more part-time jobs depending on how 'flexible' their contracts require them to be. Though most remain woefully underemployed.

From a business point of view employing more people theoretically builds more slack into the system when demand is high. And leaves them with lower liabilities overall. And for the government they get to pretend they're responsible for the stirrings of a job-led recovery. But spreading the collective wage thinly across greater numbers of people are forcing more people into tax credit dependence - we're all subsidising the significant savings and resultant profits businesses are making from cutting up jobs. Because lower hours = less pay, the significant growth in jobs are not matched by a congruent rise in consumer spending. And that's before we consider the chain linking precarious employment to what Giddens calls ontological security (how secure one feels in one's existence) to lack of spending and withdrawal into more privatised modes of life.

I'm not going to say 'problem solved'. I'm sure there are all kinds of exotic mathematics that can demonstrate the link between stagnant demand and the spreading of an equally frozen collective wage across more people does not exist, let alone has an impact on Britain's economy. But I will say that anyone who fights shy of the economic damage the rebalancing of the labour market away from full toward part time workers is doing, like Coalition politicians, or completely writes it out of the picture - like those economists who prefer their models of reality to that staring them in the face - are actually complicit in the taxpayer subsidised process that deprives millions of people from ever having secure, meaningful employment. They are members of the Society for Cutting Up Jobs, and deserve branding as such.

*As so many people have either worked in or shop at a supermarket, I don't understand why it's never become foil for a decent sitcom.

Tuesday 12 March 2013

Our Movement Must Be a Safe Space for Women

Support this initiative by Cath Elliott and Marshajane Thompson and sign the statement below here.

We the undersigned labour movement activists stand in solidarity with all women opposing all forms of male violence against women. We recognise that male violence against women is endemic in society, and that our movement is obviously and unfortunately not exempt.

We believe that our trade union and labour movement has the potential to transform society for the better. Therefore we have a particular responsibility to confront and challenge male violence against women within our movement.

Male violence against women is not acceptable in any case. It must not be tolerated from those who hold office or power in our movement.

We recognise the enormous challenges faced by women victims of male violence, and the pressures which women face, including from abusive men, not to complain about violence and abuse. We therefore believe that, when women complain of male violence within our movement, our trade unions and political organisations should start from a position of believing women.

We believe that all women who complain of male violence have the right to be listened to and supported.

All labour movement activists have a responsibility to work to ensure that our movement is a safe space for women. Because we stand in solidarity with all women opposing male violence we accept that we have a responsibility to women throughout our movement, whether or not we are members of the same trade union or the same political organisation.

We therefore address these demands to all trade unions and political organisations which are part of our labour movement.

Sunday 10 March 2013

The SWP: A Short Obituary

So, in the end, all it took was a vote of 400 to 140 at today's gerrymandered special conference to kill the SWP. I'm sure the central committee are toasting a job well done at swappie towers tonight. After all, it takes some mean manoeuvring to pack a meeting with your supporters when your own team is outnumbered by 540+ to 512. And, characteristically for all gatherings on which the fates of organisations turn, according to this report it was something of a tepid, drippy affair. It's all redolent of the official closing of the original CPGB, the shutting down of the Socialist Alliance, and the winding up of my school's chess club.

Well, the central committee and its lynch mob may want to bury their heads in the sand. But that is not going to stop the rest of the labour movement casting them out as pariahs. The rough ride the SWP rightly received at Unison's Women's Conference is a foretaste of what's to come. I imagine their TUSC partners will be less keen to buddy up with them come the morning. Where the SWP have members in senior trade union positions I can't see them coming out fighting the inevitable rape-baiting campaigns sure to be run against its supporters. Anything that smacks of the SWP - model resolutions, front-organised campaigns, it's all irredeemably tainted. And when September comes round for the annual recruitment surge at freshers', Google and the efforts of student union women's societies will drive a further nail into the SWP's tatty coffin.

I don't and have never particularly liked the SWP. But it would be churlish not to recognise the occasional positive contribution it has made to the labour movement; there is also the production of popular and readable theoretical works that have, over the decades, assisted the politicisation of many thousands. And then when you glance at the other side of the balance sheet and see the breaking of campaigns, the wrecking behaviour and cod ultra-leftism, the bullying and systematic burning out/driving out of tens of thousands from the labour movement, and now its utterly appalling rape denialism over a period of time. It's time this rancid cult was put to bed. So thank you Alex Callinicos, Charlie Kimber and your 400 acolytes for doing the rest of the left a massive favour and ensuring your days are numbered.

Regards those SWP members currently considering their options, despite their politics, I hope this bruising experience does not disperse them into the comforting embrace of private life. To those who, I understand, are contemplating a public group resignation in short order - there is a wider movement for you to move into, and it's infinitely more deserving of your talents and energy.

Saturday 9 March 2013

A Note on Populism

In my opinion the emergence of a popular, left populist party in Britain is as likely as a just and equitable outcome to tomorrow's SWP special conference. But what of "a left idealistic populism refusing to accept the pragmatism of office ... a possible wider ‘no cuts, no austerity’ movement", as suggested by Anthony Painter? There are a couple of significant hurdles the anti-cuts movement today that would be tough to overcome.

Firstly, and I am sorry to say it, for most people 'the cuts' plural are not as big an issue as you, I, and everyone on the left would like them to be. People are worried about the changes to the NHS. Cuts to social security, and particularly to disabled people, are building up a reservoir of disgust. And councils up and down the land have faced localised save our services-style campaigns. But the missing ingredient is a diffuse consciousness that links all these up, despite the best efforts of the lefter-leaning trade unions and the far left. The cuts are necessary and there is no alternative - to borrow a tired old mantra that got a repeat airing this week.

Unlike UKIP, whose rise as the de facto 'none-of-the-above' party owes a great deal to the rabidly right wing press, an anti-cuts left populism will not monopolise the acres of media coverage our band of "loonies, fruitcakes and closet racists" commands. Straight away, they're at a disadvantage. Secondly, the workplace and community-rootedness of the labour movement is not what it used to be. With the deliberate smashing up of whole sectors of industry, and the deliberate policy of allowing the winds of globalisation to howl virtually unfettered through the British economy has ripped away the sort of class-based organising capacity that facilitated the emergence of new left/workers' parties across the continent, for instance.

A poll tax or 10p tax moment could change things very, very quickly - but not even this incompetent shower are dumb enough to go down those roads. Organisation can very occasionally be short-circuited and jumpstarted by consciousness if an issue is significantly weighty. And, as you might expect, the political dynamics that condition the viability and potentiality of social movements alternate with the switching of governments. Which, as Anthony notes, makes the government's refusal to take advantage of low interest rates to borrow money now to invest all the more unforgivable - low rates aren't likely to avail themselves in two years time.

I'm not forecasting a 'crisis of expectations' in the next Labour government. After all, the two Eds are going out their way not to get anyone's hopes up, about anything. Nevertheless there are significant revenue-neutral measures Labour can enact to get the economy going and forestall populism, whether it's of the left anti-cuts variety or the right's EU/immigrant-bashing. The mansion tax/10p tax trade off is a welcome first step in the direction Labour needs to be heading. The reversal of this government's corporate tax subsidies and restoring the 50p tax to pay for VAT cuts would put money in people's pockets. Scrapping the public sector pay freeze (and implementing strict salary ratios within it) would do the same too. Most important Labour needs to start thinking now about root and branch reform of workplace law to counter and roll back the seemingly unending trend toward casualisation and part-time working. If you want to rip out the appeal of populism, if you want to get people spending again, and, crucially, you want people to get more involved in community-type things, like joining the labour movement and supporting the Labour Party, then you need many millions more to enjoy security and stability in their everyday lives.

Populism is, in many ways, the politics of despair. Labour has it within its gift to counter that, and it need not empty the exchequer.

Friday 8 March 2013

DWP Benefit Cap Briefing

The government's attack on and stigmatisation of social security recipients begins in earnest from April. We have seen the rhetoric, and now comes the punishment. To prepare MPs and councillors for the change, the briefing below about the benefit cap has been circulated by the Department for Work and Pensions explaining what's happening and why. Only a small minority of recipients will be directly affected - after all, you're more likely to encounter a Tory with a conscience than someone who receives in excess of £25k from the state. That said, it's housing benefit/the landlord subsidy that will take a number of people over the limit, and most of them will be concentrated in London and the South East. It's okay for poor people to work there, but to have them living in the country's most affluent region? We can't have that.

Benefit Cap Briefing
• From April 2013, a cap will be introduced on the total amount of benefit that working-age people can receive so that households on out-of-work benefits will broadly no longer receive more in welfare payments than the average weekly wage for working households.
• The aim of the policy is to achieve long term positive behavioural effects through changed attitudes to welfare, responsible life choices and strong work incentives.
• On its introduction in 2013, the cap will be set at £500 per week for couple and single parent households; and at £350 per week for single adult households without children.
• The cap will apply to the combined income from benefits including:
• the main out-of-work benefits (Jobseeker’s Allowance, Income Support and Employment & Support Allowance except where the Support Component is in payment);
• Universal Credit on its introduction
• Housing Benefit
• Child Benefit
• Child Tax Credit, and
• Other benefits such as Carer’s Allowance
• One-off payments, for example, Social Fund Loans and non-cash benefits, such as Free School Meals, will not be included in the assessment of benefit income.
• In recognition of their additional needs, all households* which include somebody who is receiving Disability Living Allowance, Personal Independence Payment, Industrial Injuries Benefit (and those receiving War Disablement Pension and the equivalent payments from the Armed Forces Compensation Payments Scheme), Attendance Allowance or receiving the support component of Employment Support Allowance will be exempt from the cap.
• War widows and war widowers will also be exempt.
• Households with a member who is entitled to Working Tax Credit will also be excluded from the benefit cap. This will increase the incentive for people on out-of-work benefits to find jobs because once they are in receipt of Working Tax Credit - or the earnings equivalent under Universal Credit - their benefits will no longer be capped.
• The benefit cap will apply from 15 April 2013 in Croydon, Bromley, Enfield and Haringey Local Authority areas.
• It will be implemented in all other Local Authorities from 15 July 2013. All households identified as being appropriate to be capped will, in line with existing plans, be capped by the end of September 2013.
• In the first instance the benefit cap will be delivered by Local Authorities through Housing Benefit payments. In the long term it will be administered as part of the new Universal Credit system.
• A grace period whereby the benefit cap will not be applied for 39 weeks will apply to those who have been in work for the previous 12 months.
• Housing Benefit (HB) paid to households in supported exempt accommodation (SEA) is being disregarded from the benefit cap. The disregard will apply both to benefit cap cases under HB from April 2013 and under Universal Credit (UC).

Support for affected claimants
• Jobcentre Plus has been contacting claimants potentially affected by the benefit cap since May 2012 to ensure they receive the support they need to move them closer to employment.
• In May 2012 letters were sent to all those claimants identified at that time who may be affected. Claimants that have been identified as potentially affected since May were written to in July 2012. A further letter was issued between 20 September and 5 October 2012 to all claimants likely to be affected. These letters gave an estimate of the weekly loss (in bandwidths of £50) to claimants whose benefits are more than the cap allows.
• Between 6 and 8 February 2013, the Department sent out approximately 20,000 letters to all those potentially affected from 15 April and to newly identified cases, affected from 15 July 2013, which we have not written to previously. During March 2013, further letters will be sent out to those affected outside of the four London boroughs to tell them the benefit cap will now apply to them from 15 July 2013.
• All letters will provide information about available employment support, benefit cap helpline and further options available to claimants to help mitigate the cap’s impact.
• A telephone helpline is available for claimants who have received a letter and have further questions. Helpline staff can answer frequently asked questions, offer claimants the opportunity to discuss employment support with their local Jobcentre and signpost claimants to their Local Authority if they have housing related questions.
• From 28th May 2012 an online calculator has been available for claimants to check if the cap may apply to them.
• Jobcentre Plus staff are contacting every claimant potentially affected by the benefit cap (unless they are already engaged with either a Work Programme or Work Choice Provider) to offer them the opportunity to discuss with an adviser what employment support might be available to them. Employment support is also being offered by Jobcentre Plus partners, and claimants likely to be capped can also have early access to the Work Programme
• Where Jobcentre Plus has been unable to contact claimants identified as being vulnerable they will be visited by a DWP visiting officer.
• Local authorities have been working closely with Jobcentre Plus on the employment and skills agenda
• We will provide additional funding for the Discretionary Housing Payments Scheme of up to £65million in 2013/14 and up to £35million in 2014/15. The Scheme allows Local Authorities to make additional payments to people entitled to Housing Benefit where the person needs temporary help with housing costs.
• Prior to the Benefit Cap being applied, DWP will be undertaking a 100% check on information drawn from claimant/household live system records. Once that check is complete the information will be shared with Housing Benefit teams so that they can accurately implement the cap via a deduction from Housing Benefit. As such the data to cap all appropriate households will be sent over several weeks. DWP will continue to work with local authorities on the most appropriate ways to manage the schedule of activity over that period.
* For the purposes of the benefit cap, a household or family unit refers to the benefit claimant, their partner (if they have one) and any child or qualifying young person for whom that adult or couple are treated as responsible when working out their Housing Benefit.

Annex A
Benefit cap helpline number: 0845 6057064 or textphone 0845 6088551 (for people with hearing or speech impairments).

The helpline is open Monday to Friday 8am to 6pm

Benefit cap online calculator available at: