Archive for December, 2012

Shirkers and strivers


Workers or shirkers and strivers and skivers. The Chancellor would have us believe that the nation can be divided into these simple categories. Oh, if life was only so simple.
With the help of his chums in the right wing press everyone claiming any benefit of any kind falls into the category of a shirker or a skiver. Those of us who don’t are obviously strivers.
Its the resurrection in modern parlance of the deserving and undeserving poor. The only difference is the “deserving” poor are also being hard hit by the Chancellor and his cuts.
The sad thing is that after years of stigmatising benefit claimants as cheats, layabouts and work shy, a large swathe of the country has swallowed the line.
Because mud sticks, political capital can be made of it. And this is precisely what the Chancellor is setting out to do.
In the new year the government will introduce a welfare uprating bill. Why precisely such a bill is needed has never being explained. Cuts in welfare payments of every kind can happen under current legislation.  There is no practical need for the bill.
But young George’s cunning little plan, in introducing the bill, is to wrong foot Labour. To paint them as being the friends of the skivers and the shirkers and by implication against the honest working man and women.
Politics has come to a sorry state that political advantage can be made by hitting the poor and disadvantaged.
So a bill is about to be introduced, not to make law but to discomfort the Leader of the Opposition. So if Miliband stands up for the claimants he can be branded the friend of the skivers and the feckless. What a victory for the government.
The fact that the income of the country’s poorest people will be cut for the first time in over 80 years is not a cause of concern but a cause for gloating and party politics.
Even people in his own party want Miliband to go along with Osborne’s nasty little plan.  Jacqui Smith, the former disgraced Home Secretary, commenting on an article in last Sunday’s “Observer” said “Within the article a ‘senior Labour figure’ suggested that there was a ‘caucus of “new Labour” figures believing it will be politically suicidal to leave the party open to charges that it sides with ‘scroungers’ and is in denial over the need to cut the benefits bill’. I’m sure this wasn’t meant as a good thing by the ‘senior Labour figure’, but frankly you can count me into this ‘caucus’.”
If Labour’s Miliband don’t stand-up for those affected, who will? If Mr Cameron wishes to turn his back on the social justice agenda he set himself when Leader of the Opposition it doesn’t mean that the current one should.
The facts are that the cuts fall more on those in work than those out of work. Many of those in work get paid so little, not even a living wage. Instead of the employers paying, working tax credit pays. To the tune of billions of pounds. So cuts to these will affect the “workers” and the “strivers.”
In his autumn statement the Chancellor declared his intention of breaking the historic link between the cost of renting and housing benefits. After next April’s 2..2% increase it will be capped at 1% in subsequent years.
One in five households rely on housing benefits to keep them in homes and 87% of these are low and middle income families and pensioners. Neither “skivers” nor “shrikers.”
The truth is that many need the State’s help to make ends meet.  The low paid economy that is the Britain of today makes life a struggle to many. Cutting their living standards further will push many more to the food banks and the soup kitchen’s and the homeless charities.
Can such a society be described as civilised? Miliband should stand his ground both to government and those throwbacks from New Labour that are urging him to turn his back on those in real need.

Census and Wales


Lies, damned lies and statistics is often used to describe the use of numbers to boister weak arguments. But not the census, the figures are based on all our returns. So we get a snapshot of Wales based on the forms filled on census day.
And what does it show? Well to misquote a Dylan song, Wales is achanging. The Wales of Welsh speaking chapel goers is on the way out and is being replaced by an English speaking no religion country.
Why the change you may ask? Well its because more people live in this land called Wales. There’s more of us. 3.1 million and increase of 153,000, this 5% increase is the highest increase since 1951.
Not that we’re enjoying ourselves, well maybe we are, but we’re not breeding more. No, not a bit. Most of the growth, 90 per cent to be exact, was from people coming into the country from other parts of the UK and abroad.
So there are more coming in from outside and in the main they’re English speakers.  It’s always dangerous with statistics to explain cause and effect, but the numbers of incomers undoubtedly will not have helped the cause of the Welsh language.
After a slight increase in 2001 the number of people who speak Welsh has fallen in the past 10 years from 20.8% to 19%. In 2001 there were 582,000 now there are 562,000. A hundred year ago in 1911, there were almost a million speaking the language.
The language has even become a minority language in what were once heartland counties for the Welsh, Carmarthenshire and Ceredigion.
Many thought that the growth in Welsh medium education  and the migration from Welsh speaking Wales would see an increase in language use in Cardiff and some of the valleys in south east wales. Not so.
Although there was an increase in actual numbers in Cardiff (4,231) Caerffili (1014) and Monmouth (1,092) and even the Vale of Glamorgan (195) because of the increase in the population the proportions speaking Welsh remain the same.
The only county in the whole of Wales to show a modest growth is arguable the most English and wasn’t even part of Wales for years, Monmouth. They saw an 0.6% increase, not much granted, but increase nevertheless.
The Welsh language  has seen a decline but nothing on the scale of those in Wales that describe themselves as Christians.  There has been a drop of 14% since 2001. Only 1.76 million(58%) describe themselves as such. Almost a third of the population say that they have ‘no religion.’ Higher in Wales than any part of England.
The churches face a bleak future indeed and they need to get their act together if they are going to stop the rot.
The statistics should be a wake up call for those concerned about the language. They should be asking serious questions about the prioriites. Have they been to concerned about token issues and not concerned about measures that will really make a difference.
Why are kids that go to Welsh language schools so reluctant to speak the language with their peers? Why is the language not seen as hip and pupils don’t see it as cool to speak it socially? Have activists been to concerned about status and too little concerned about daily use of the language? How many people really look at the minutes of the Assembly or Councils in any language? Would the money spent on these, not be put to better use?
Our broadcasters should take a long hard look and ask why they don’t seem to appeal to our young people.
The census  is a wakeup call to both  civil and religious Wales. More of the same just won’t do.
More on the other statistics in tomorrows blog.

In the bleak midwinter


Like a Victorian undertaker looking forward to Winter. That’s how an esteemed colleague described a tweet of mine on Saturday when I warned about the possibility of a triple dip recession .

Vindication came my way on Sunday when no other that the Business Secretary, Vince Cable raised the very same possibility.

Why did I venture such a view? Simple. If North sea oil and factory production is down, indeed the lowest it’s been for twenty years, its not rocket science to predict that there’s a fair chance that the economy will continue its downward spiral.

Not much of what George Osborne announced in his Autumn statement is likely to change the prognoses.

The causes of my doom laden prediction are two fold. The lack of home produced demand, much of which can be blamed on Mr Osborne’s austerity programme. But the next factor can be blamed on those pesky Europeans. Their austerity programme has seen a lack of growth in the euro zone. This of course is where the UK sells most of its goods. So no growth in our biggest export market.

That powerhouse of economic activity in Europe, Germany,  and the biggest economy in the single-currency area, saw output from its factories drop by 2.4% in September.

This news from Europe and the gloomy news from industry  just follows a run of poor economic data for services, construction and trade. So however you look at it, it just ain’t good news.

And just as night follows day, poor production targets eventually means less jobs. Cue stage right the IPPR think tank.

IPPR have estimated that an extra 200,000 people in Britain will be without a job by this time next year. They also reckon that it will be worse for the youngsters, with youth unemployment set to rise above a million.

The think tank’s analysis is based on the pattern of the increase in 2011, a period of similar labour market change.  It shows that a further 86,000 under-25s may join the dole queues next year. Long-term unemployment could rise by 32,000 to a total of 926,000. A further 47,000 people over 50 may also become unemployed.

With a hard winter, benefit cuts and lots out of work many will struggle to survive.

 My friend may have hit the nail on its head. The death business may well see the only economic growth activity in the next few months. A word to the wise forget my horse racing tips,  put your cash into shares in funeral service firms.