By The Associated Press - Tuesday, April 2, 2013 - 0 Comments
LONDON – A British government minister is being asked to put his money where…
LONDON – A British government minister is being asked to put his money where his mouth is.
Opponents of a raft of welfare changes that took effect this week want Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith to make good on a claim that he could live on 53 pounds ($80) a week — the amount one welfare recipient said he has left after paying for housing and heat.
Asked on national radio Monday whether he could get by on so little, Duncan Smith replied: “If I had to, I would.”
By late Tuesday, some 300,000 people had signed a petition urging him to prove it.
That would mean living on 7.57 pounds ($11.43) a day in London, one of the most expensive cities in the world. It would also reflect a huge comedown — a 97 per cent cut in his government minister’s salary.
Duncan Smith defended himself, telling a local newspaper that he’d been unemployed twice and knew what it was like “to live on the breadline.”
“This is a complete stunt which distracts attention from the welfare reforms, which are much more important and which I have been working hard to get done,” he was quoted as saying by the Wanstead & Woodford Guardian.
The Conservative-led government’s welfare reforms include changes in disability payments, below-inflation increases to benefits and, eventually, the replacement of a patchwork of housing, unemployment and parental benefits with one payment called the Universal Credit.
Prime Minister David Cameron has argued that the changes are needed to save money and make welfare more fair, but the tens of thousands of signatures garnered within 24 hours of Duncan Smith’s comments underscored the anger over the cuts and worry about their human impact.
“You would have to be really tight,” 28-year-old Amy Rowland said outside a London grocery store about the 53 pounds a week budget. “You would have to constantly be thinking all the time, constantly watching your step.”
The British government plans to cut spending by 50 billion pounds by 2015 in a bid to slash the country’s ballooning budget deficit and help bolster the flat-lining economy. The welfare reforms alone will save 4.5 billion pounds by 2014-15, according to government estimates.
“What this government is trying to do is to put things right,” Treasury chief George Osborne told grocery store workers at a speech Tuesday. “We’re trying to make the system fair on people like you, who get up, go to work, and expect your taxes to be spent wisely. And we’re trying to restore hope in those communities who have been let down by generations of politicians by getting them back into work.”
The most discussed welfare change is a reduction in subsidies for social housing tenants who have spare bedrooms. Opponents have dubbed the measure a “bedroom tax,” but the government says the change will save money and free up housing for families because people with too many rooms will downsize.
Religious leaders, including the new archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, have called the cuts “unjust,” and advocates for the disabled and anti-poverty campaigners held protest marches over the weekend. Activists argue that many people can’t just move — the country already has a dire shortage of public housing.
But it was the notion of Duncan Smith counting his coins at a supermarket that captured the public imagination as it illustrated how the poor really struggle to get by.
The 53 pounds a week figure came from David Bennett, a market trader who said he earned about 2,700 pounds last year. He was interviewed by the BBC before Duncan Smith, describing how his housing benefit was being cut even though his children stayed with him several days a week.
If Bennett were to buy a monthly bus pass to get to work it would cost him the equivalent of about 2.50 pounds a day. Setting aside one pound a day for clothing and emergencies would leave him about 27 pounds a week, for food.
Could a person survive on that? Probably. But he’d be living on pasta and potatoes, with maybe a few eggs and a little bit of ground beef or sausage for protein.
Ubah Abdul, 40, scoffed at Duncan Smith’s remark, waving a hand at just a few bags of fruit, bread and other staples that just cost her 41 pounds.
“People will be suffering,” she said, warning that tightening the noose too hard could lead to social unrest — an unspoken but clear allusion to riots in British cities in 2011.
But it is the totality of the government’s austerity program that has activists most concerned. The Trussell Trust, a food bank network, said it had fed more than 300,000 people in the financial year ending in March — more than double their previous year’s total of 128,000.
The trust’s executive chairman, Chris Mould, said political leaders weren’t quite grasping how difficult it can be, though he thought it wouldn’t hurt for Duncan Smith to walk a mile in their shoes.
Mould points out that many welfare recipients actually have work — but it is so low paid they can’t make ends meet, and are really exposed when a crisis should hit.
“You don’t know what it is like to struggle with the fear of having your washing machine break — if you have no capital, you have no savings. You have nowhere to turn where a crisis hits.”
A trip Tuesday to a local grocery in London found much sympathy — and quick anger at a political establishment that seemed to not understand.
“I’d like to see him put his money where his mouth is,” 41-year-old teaching assistant Sharon Howlett said. “I’d like to see him demonstrate that.”
By Rosemary Westwood - Wednesday, January 16, 2013 at 11:40 AM - 0 Comments
Londoners payment benefits may depend on their diet and gym regimen
If you really want to see benefits from working out, consider a move to the central London area of Westminster. There, overweight Londoners could see their benefit payments rise and fall depending on how often they hit the gym. Under the controversial new proposal, a family doctor could prescribe exercise to obese patients, who would then be rewarded with financial incentives if they followed the doctor’s orders—or be penalized if they didn’t. “You could use council tax benefits to incentivize people to undertake more healthy activities,” says Jonathan Carr-West, of the Local Government Information Unit, the think tank that wrote the report for Westminster city council. Obesity costs Britain about $8 billion a year, he notes. “We have to try and be innovative, and we have to try and be radical.” The idea made headlines across the country—and drew scoffs from the medical establishment. The British Medical Association’s Lawrence Buckman, a family doctor, said when he heard the idea, “I thought it was a joke.” But Carr-West isn’t bothered by criticisms. “Doctors haven’t been able to solve this problem,” he says. “We need to try something else.” The report comes ahead of a dramatic change in health administration that will see local councils take control of public health care budgets from the National Health Service in April. “It’s a preventative measure to save money,” says Carr-West. And a whole new way to monetize pounds.
By John Geddes - Tuesday, December 6, 2011 at 12:36 PM - 51 Comments
Dollar figures will never tell the whole dispiriting story of Attawapiskat, Ont., of course, but you’ve got to start someplace.
For the federal government, it seems to me, there’s a straightforward question that must be answered right away, and another much more difficult one that demands longer-term vision. Money is at the core of both:
Firstly, how much would it take to fix the housing crisis, in Attawapiskat and similar remote First Nations communities, if spending is properly managed for a change?
Secondly, is more needed to provide a decent life in remote reserves , or is current funding sufficient if it isn’t squandered, or is the whole notion of trying to sustain these communities a mistake?
The first question is tricky enough, but obviously the second is far more fraught.
By Erica Alini - Monday, October 31, 2011 at 12:02 PM - 62 Comments
With the Occupy protesters still camping out on city lawns across Canada, it’s worth investigating whether our tax and transfer system needs a tune-up if we’re going to tackle income inequality.
To be sure, we are a more unequal society than we were thirty years ago, even after one takes into account the redistributive effects of personal income taxes and things like the National Child Benefit and Employment Insurance programs. In 1989, the after-tax income of Canada’s richest 20 per cent was 7.2 times that of the poorest quintile of the population, according to the Conference Board of Canada. In 2009, the richest group made 9.1 times what the lowest income earners did. Continue…
By Danylo Hawaleshka - Tuesday, March 23, 2010 at 12:00 PM - 1 Comment
At risk of insolvency, Greece takes on the underground economy
Taxis are still reasonably priced in Greece, even though not much else is. In Athens, where an espresso can cost $6, gin and tonics $12.50, and the latest issue of Vanity Fair fetches $16, cab rides still cost about half of what they do in Toronto. It probably has a lot to do with how taxi drivers in Greece pay next to no income tax. Christos Kyriakousis, for instance, drives his own 2004 Mercedes-Benz E270 sedan. Under current tax law he simply pays an annual flat rate of less than $1,700 (1,200 euros). But now, the cash-strapped Greek government is insisting that taxi operators like Kyriakousis—horror of horrors—will soon have to issue receipts and pay tax according to how much they actually earn. In protest, drivers earlier this month staged a 48-hour work stoppage. “As far as I’m concerned, they can do it,” Kyriakousis says of the government’s intention to bring in tougher tax measures. “But we have to be able to trust them, and they have to trust us.”
Therein lies the great dilemma. Still very much a cash-based society plagued by frequently low household incomes, Greece remains terribly corrupt, with trust between taxpayers and politicians holding little or no currency. Transparency International’s corruption index last year placed Greece 71st out of 180 countries, behind Kuwait and Ghana, and only slightly better than Burkina Faso. Little wonder then that Greeks tend to look out for themselves—with a sense of entitlement that has often undermined efforts to improve the common good. And so necessary government reforms, like recently announced austerity measures, are often met by protests like the one on March 11, when as many as 50,000 public and private employees took to the streets. And yet it is difficult to imagine a nation, particularly one belonging to the European Union, more desperately in need of economic change.
This is, after all, a country of only 11 million citizens, where one in four workers is employed by the state (many of them tenured), and where generous state pensions and early retirement provisions have the country teetering on the edge of insolvency. The country’s financial problems are dragging down the euro, the currency used by Greece and 15 other EU member states. And so, earlier this month, the government was forced to institute 4.8 billion euros worth of tax hikes and cost savings ($6.7 billion), in addition to the five billion euros in spending cuts already announced in January as part of the so-called stability and growth program demanded by Eurocrats in Brussels. “This is by far the most austere and painful set of stabilization and austerity measures that has ever been adopted by a Greek government,” says George Pagoulatos, a political economist at the Athens University of Economics and Business. “There’s a lot of fat to be scraped off the public sector. There are far too many [state] organizations that could be abolished without any welfare loss. It is clear that the total wage and pension bill of the government is unsustainable.”
By Mark Steyn - Thursday, February 25, 2010 at 7:00 AM - 228 Comments
Mark Steyn on the opening ceremonies: Where was the genuinely bizarro cavalcade?
Judging by emails from readers in America, Britain, India, Australia, Europe, Africa and beyond, Vancouver’s Olympic ceremony was a gold medal snoozeroo of politically correct braggadocio impressive even by Canadian standards. A Florida correspondent suggested that Beijing’s decision in 2008 to downplay discreetly its official state ideology might have been usefully emulated by Canadian organizers unable to go a minute and a half without reflexive invocations of their own state ideology of “diversity.” A reader in Sydney said he had no idea until the ceremony that the majority of Canada’s population were Aboriginal. Actually, if they were, you’d be hearing a lot less talk about “diversity,” for reasons we’ll come to later.
But don’t take the word of doubtless untypical Steyn readers. Out on the Internet, the Tweeting Twitterers pronounced it a bust, and even in the Toronto Star Richard Ouzounian declared that “the eyes of the world were upon us and we put them to sleep.” On the other hand, the Vancouver Sun’s reporter cooed that this was “the Canada we want the world to see, magical and beautiful, and talented.” This just after she’d written: “Maple leaves fell from the sky. And then, the divine poetess Joni Mitchell and her haunting Clouds fills the air while a young boy floats and soars above the audience, undulating fields of wheat below.” I was pleasantly relieved to discover that a story about “the world’s most lethal cocktail” concerned some enterprising dealers who’ve been lacing heroin with anthrax, and not whichever malevolent genius came up with the idea of having airborne ballet dancers doing interpretative choreography over the Prairies to a mélange of Both Sides Now and W. O. Mitchell’s Who Has Seen The Wind. As is traditional, most of the creativity went into the audience estimates: apparently, this tribute to the only G7 nation comprised solely of high priests of the Great Tree Spirit, armies of Inuit sculptors, and Cape Breton chorus lines of federal grant worshippers was watched by three billion people “worldwide.” As if the Royal Canadian Mint could afford to commission that many commemorative authentic pewter maple-encrusted manacles.
Canada’s message to the world: every cliché you’ve heard about our plonkingly insecure self-flattering PC earnestness has been triumphantly confirmed. You need pay us no further heed until the 2068 Commonwealth Games opening ceremony. Half the countries, twice as long!