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The Guardian: Conservative claims about benefits are not just spin, they’re making it up

April 15, 2013 1 comment
Categories: Benefits, Lies Tags:

Has the government broken the law over disability benefit changes?

April 10, 2013 Leave a comment

The Guardian: We need a coalition of resistance against local council cuts

December 31, 2012 Leave a comment

We need a coalition of resistance against local council cuts

As the new year dawns, councillors around the country will start drawing up budgets for 2013-14. Sharp and continuous reductions in government grants totalling 30% will result in severe cuts to balance the books. By law, they have to do this. Town halls can’t run deficit budgets, unlike the government.

 

 

This is the point at which Labour councils should be saying no, in a loud and clear voice, with support from their national leadership. We won’t make your cuts. We will not pass on the burden of the calamitous economic and financial crisis of capitalism that we did not create. We will defend our communities.

 

 

As matters stand, however, Birmingham, Manchester, Southampton and Labour councils in other towns and cities are preparing to announce thousands of redundancies and the elimination of key services. Virtually every section of the community will be affected.

 

 

As the Observer reported today, the leaders of Newcastle, Liverpool and Sheffield warned this weekend: “The unfairness of the government’s cuts is in danger of creating a deeply divided nation. We urge them to stop what they are doing now and listen to our warnings before the forces of social unrest start to smoulder.”

 

 

Yet, despite their dire forecast, the leaders of these and other Labour councils intend to make the budget cuts as demanded by the government. In my view, this is absolutely indefensible.

 

 

The hollow argument used to justify implementing the cuts is one that’s been around since I was leader of Lambeth council during its momentous struggle with the Thatcher government. Neil Kinnock, then Labour’s leader, told councillors that they should abandon defiance that might be considered illegal and instead maintain a “dented shield”.

 

 

Better to have a Labour council administering cuts in a “caring” way than the Tories, went the argument. In any case, resisting central government might encourage the Tories to do the same if Labour were in office. I heard the same tune again recently when Steve Reed said councillors were finding “practical ways to limit the pain”. For his loyalty, Reed was rewarded with the safe seat of Croydon North, and left his post as Lambeth council leader.

 

 

Back in the 1980s, David Blunkett (Sheffield), Margaret Hodge (Islington) and Graham Stringer (Manchester) initially took stands against rate-capping and budget cuts. One by one, they were persuaded by Kinnock to drop their opposition. All subsequently became MPs.

 

 

Ed Miliband’s pseudo-Tory “One Nation” politics does not allow for meaningful resistance to coalition austerity policies. It’s not difficult to fathom why. As many are aware, New Labour prepared the ground for many of the coalition policies through the expansion of PFI, contracting out, academies, tuition fees and other market-orientated measures.

 

 

Ed Balls and Gordon Brown between them set the bankers free to run riot with other people’s money. Now local government workers and service users are being made the scapegoats for a crisis that New Labour had a political hand in making. Pensions have already been reduced and wages frozen – with the backing of Labour’s front bench.

 

 

The biggest coalition in recent times is emerging against this government’s policies. Families with children at nurseries and schools, single parents, the disabled, carers, pensioners, students, redundant workers, part-time workers, people struggling to make ends meet, those whose homes have been repossessed, those on ever longer waiting lists and a million young people unemployed – all dependent at some point on local authority services which are now being snatched away.

 

 

This coalition is the basis for a co-ordinated campaign of resistance to council cuts and would provide the platform for exploding the myth, repeated as gospel truth by all the major parties since 1979 that there is no alternative. Public sector trade unions should take the initiative and call local assemblies of community groups, anti-cuts campaigns and other activists. These assemblies could draw up, or even commission, work on policy alternatives to an unsustainable, divisive capitalism that promotes inequality.

 

 

Let’s draw on the experiences of Occupy internationally, UK Uncut and the assemblies’ movement that has swept Spain. Why not mobilise communities to keep open services earmarked for closure, even if on a temporary volunteer basis like at Friern Barnet library?

 

 

In the 1980s, Labour councils like my own did organise a fightback. A price was paid, councillors were surcharged and forced from office. But resistance, far from being futile, mobilised communities. We won additional funds so that budgets could be set without cuts. Labour councillors today have the same choice – they can either lead a struggle against a vicious government or stand aside for those who will.

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Steve Bell on Workfare

November 28, 2012 Leave a comment

Sue Marsh, The Guardian: Fit-for-work tests are exposed, again – change this shocking tactic now

November 12, 2012 1 comment

Fit-for-work tests are exposed, again – change this shocking tactic now

http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2012/nov/12/fit-for-work-tests-employment-support

A report written by people who have serious illnesses or disabilities,The People’s Review of the Work Capability Assessment, contains 70 first-hand accounts of taking the fit-for-work test, which in large part determines eligibility for employment and support allowance (ESA).

ESA replaced incapacity benefit four years ago. These testimonials about the eligibility test clearly show how ministers have misled the public and used the press to demonise this most vulnerable of groups.

For the first time, the report exposes the extent of the opposition to the ESA and proves, beyond any doubt, that not only is it “unfit for purpose” but that it is also one of the most shocking betrayals of those most in need that has ever been allowed to go unchecked.

Since the test’s introduction in October 2008, more than 400,000 people with serious illnesses and profound disabilities have appealedagainst the decision to strip them of state support, and 40% have been successful; a great many disabled and sick people have died after being found “fit to work” and a survey has found that 6% of GPs have come across a patient who has attempted to take or taken their own life as a result of undergoing, or “fear of undergoing” the test.

It should have been so different. When the then Labour government introduced the ESA as a new benefit for those unable to work due to long-term illness or disability, the eligibility test was intended to look at what the disabled person could do, not what they couldn’t.

The assessment would have three possible outcomes: the person was too ill or disabled to undertake any kind of paid work so they would go into the long-term support group (SG) and would not be expected to look for work; the person had a significant illness or disability but might be able to work, or would like to work with the right support. They would go into the work-related activity group (WRAG) and have access to training or adaptions and experts to help them find a job; or the person would be found immediately able to work and would move to jobseeker’s allowance (JSA).

Charities and campaigners representing sick and disabled people supported this concept and indeed, the principle is still one we accept and would like to see today.

But the politicians have made the test far too limited. It has ignored whole classifications of illness or disability; people with mental health conditions, learning difficulties, autism or Asperger’s and conditions that fluctuate. Cancer patients have found themselves at the job centre between chemo treatments, paraplegics have been told that they are fully mobile.

Politicians and the media also stopped talking in warm, empowering terms and suddenly, an obsession with “scroungers”, “skivers” and “cheats” that had no basis in fact took over. Despite having one of the lowest rates of support for sick and disabled people in the developed world, despite the toughest criteria in the developed world and despite a broadly average number of people claiming support, ministers and the media painted a picture of a country held back by an army of lazy shirkers who could work if they wanted to but chose not to.

In fact, UK sickness and disability benefits have the lowest fraud rates of any benefit at less than half of 1%; a full one-third of sick or disabled people live in poverty and 60% of disabled people already work.

Luckily, the new benefit was tested first in two pilot studies and it became immediately apparent that the test could not accurately access claimants. At this point, the ESA should have been stopped and redesigned. Politicians should have seen that the language they were using was doing great damage to a vulnerable group and returned to the original concept of the ESA.

But far from pausing the ESA, the coalition government not only rolled it out nationwide, it limited the WRAG to just one year. Any last sense that the WRAG was a secure place for nurturing the untapped potential of those with significant barriers to the workplace was gone.

The coalition did at least ask professor Malcolm Harrington to lead an independent review into ESA and recommend improvements. A year later, Harrington suggested many sensible changes that wereaccepted but as yet, little progress has been made in rolling them out.

How many more seriously ill people must suffer mentally, physically and financially before the ESA is withdrawn and redesigned? Four years is long enough – indeed far too long. This report proves it beyond any doubt.

Rebecca Front, The Guardian: Deficit or no deficit, deafblind children need government help

November 9, 2012 Leave a comment

http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2012/nov/09/deficit-deafblind-children-government-help

Deficit or no deficit, deafblind children need government help

Giving birth is an overwhelming experience. You feel joyous, exhausted, thrilled, desperate, excited and terrified all at once. One thing you cling on to in those early days is the reassurance from other parents that all babies do this or that, that it’s nothing unusual, that it’s just a phase. I can’t imagine how much more extreme all those emotions must be if you don’t get that reassurance; if instead you’re gradually facing the reality that your child isn’t the same as every other child and this isn’t going to change. How would you cope, for example, giving birth to a child who is both deaf and blind? That’s what I kept asking myself on a recent visit to the extraordinary Anne Wall Centre in north London.

Deafblindness is a combination of both sight and hearing difficulties. No two deafblind children are the same, and because of their complex conditions, many also have physical or learning disabilities. The Anne Wall Centre is there to support deafblind people and their families. It is an extraordinary place, every conceivable space crammed with art rooms, cooking areas, trampolines – you name it. One room is a kind of sensory chill-out zone, with crazy light shows and soundscapes to heighten the experience of whatever limited sight or hearing you may have. I could have stayed in there all day – in fact, I suggested they should hire it out for parties, but apparently that’s not quite the point.

During my visit, I was lucky enough to meet some of these wonderfully unique children and their parents, as well as the highly skilled professionals who support them. It’s an awful cliche to say it was inspiring, but … it just was. Utterly. The parents I met described the centre as a lifeline: their visits to it were not just highlights in their week, but indispensable ones.

I witnessed first-hand how these children can learn and achieve with the right support. A person who works one-to-one with a deafblind child is called an “intervenor”. This is a highly trained professional who enables a deafblind child to connect with the world around them and learn tactile communication. With intervenor support, a deafblind child can learn, play and develop as much independence as possible while growing up. This support is vital for deafblind children to overcome the isolation caused by deafblindness, offering opportunities to develop in our hearing and sighted world and learn language. Watching a deafblind child learn by touch as they feel the intervenor’s hands is like watching a beautiful ballet. It is remarkable.

I’ll confess that before I visited, I found the prospect of discussing deafblindness scary. As a claustrophobic, the thought of being trapped in a dark world, unable to communicate or be communicated with felt like the worst nightmare imaginable. What I learned was that, through the skill of these expert intervenors, deafblind people can communicate, and be communicated with. They can learn to write and paint and cook and clean and lead fulfilling lives.

So I am shocked to learn that most deafblind children are being left without the professional support they need to develop language and make sense of the world. These children are truly unique and it is estimated that there are 4,000 in the country. Research by the charity Sense shows that just 10% of deafblind children have been identified by local authorities, meaning that nine out of 10 deafblind children are left without any hope of intervenor support. And even for those children lucky enough to be identified by local authorities, only three out of 10 are getting the intervenor support they vitally need.

I’ve met some parents of deafblind children and they really are incredible. I’m sure they will never shirk from their responsibilities as parents – but they cannot do it alone. On 12 November, I’ll be supporting deafblind children and intervenors in parliament with the charity Sense, where we will speak to the Department for Education’s Edward Timpson. The message for him and for the government as a whole has to be that, deficit or no deficit, deafblind children desperately need intervenor support. Surely, as a society, we cannot leave their families to cope with these challenges alone? And we cannot leave these children unable to connect with their world.

Eileen Fairweather, The Guardian: Inquiries fail abused children

November 7, 2012 Leave a comment

http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2012/nov/06/inquiries-fail-abused-children

 

Inquiries fail abused children

As an investigative journalist, I have for over 20 years exposed paedophiles preying on children in care in, among other sorry places, Islington, Essex, Hackney, Jersey, north Wales and Romania. My work has generated numerous inquiries. Every one essentially confirmed what I, brave whistleblowers and abuse survivors revealed. But did they bring child abusers to justice? Not at all.

Inquiries are mostly the establishment’s way of managing dissent and pretending something is being done. I did not rejoice when David Cameron announced there would be an inquiry into allegations that children in the north Wales homes scandal were abused not just by staff but also by politicians, police and businessmen; or when Theresa May appointed the chief of the National Crime Agency to investigate how north Wales police handled allegations of child abuse in the 70s and 80s. Those allegations have been known for decades. We don’t need another inquiry but a proper, long overdue police investigation.

The horrors of the Jimmy Savile scandal have at last made the unimaginable imaginable. Allegations that children abused in care homes and schools across Britain have sometimes also been abused by powerful outsiders are not new. But not one of the resulting inquiries has had the power, remit, skills or resources to investigate properly. How could they? The paedophile rings preying on children in care are a form of organised crime. Only an expert national taskforce, staffed by detectives and senior social workers with track records in collaring paedophiles, have the faintest chance of cracking them.

These rings all join up. An investigator may start by looking at a home in north Wales but soon will be looking at a linked home in north London or Devon. The paedophiles protect each other and swap children, references, cover stories, venues and customers. Yet no one ever joins up the dots and says it is time we investigated them nationally.

Worse, most inquiries depend almost exclusively upon the testimony of abuse survivors. Children who go into care have often suffered cruel or tragic family lives, poor education and then horrific abuse in the system supposed to protect them. Many later survive through prostitution and petty crime, serve time in mental hospitals or jail and become addicted to drugs and alcohol. They are easily attacked as poor and unreliable witnesses. It is obscene to make them relive childhood tortures yet again unless other evidence is looked at too.

Many survivors or those supporting them have tried to point police towards the people and places used to prostitute children. They have identified child brothels, transportation routes, hotels and bars, fixers, providers of false documents and outlets for the lucrative trade in images of child abuse. Almost none of this evidence has ever been acted upon.

The child protection whistleblower who contacted the MP Tom Watson last month did so because he was once in a team of just the kind needed now. I was first in contact with his team and wrote about it 19 years ago, before it was abruptly closed down by orders from on high. It was a brilliant prototype, a joint police/social services investigation into the ring around childcare guru Peter Righton. It produced establishment names and revealed an alleged linked cover-up by Labour – let us never forget paedophilia is a cross-party crime – and was shut down as a result. Not one of the implicated men was prosecuted.

So, how much does Britain care for its children? If we get another inquiry stuffed with do-gooders with no real powers, we will know. We don’t need more hand-wringing and a report published years later; we need to kick down a few doors and rescue some children.

Eileen Fairweather is a freelance journalist covering child protection issues

The Guardian: Iain Duncan Smith adviser being paid by thinktank lobbying his department

November 6, 2012 Leave a comment

Iain Duncan Smith adviser being paid by thinktank lobbying his department

 

http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2012/nov/05/iain-duncan-smith-adviser-lobbying

The work and pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith‘s longest-serving adviser is being paid by a thinktank that he set up and which lobbies their department.

Duncan Smith set up the Centre for Social Justice in 2004 as a rightwing research and lobby group focusing on poverty as he rebuilt his political career after being ousted as party leader the previous year, but cut active ties with the thinktank when he rejoined government in 2010.

His policy special adviser, Philippa Stroud, is being paid an income by the CSJ to be co-chair of its board of advisers.

Stroud was formerly executive director at the CSJ, and the arrangement was cleared by both her department and the Cabinet Office, but her continued paid work for the thinktank has now drawn criticism because of the potential for a direct conflict of interest.

The special advisers’ code of conduct, largely based on the civil service code, stipulates that they “should not receive benefits of any kind which others might reasonably see as compromising their personal judgment or integrity”.

Under the heading “integrity”, an annex to the code, titled the Seven Principles of Public Life, adds: “Holders of public office should not place themselves under any financial or other obligation to outside individuals or organisations that might seek to influence them in the performance of their official duties.”

The code also makes clear that appointing ministers, in this case Duncan Smith, are held responsible for their advisers’ conduct.

“It’s totally wrong to take money from a pressure group lobbyingyour own department,” said the Liberal Democrat peer Lord Oakeshott, a former special adviser to Roy Jenkins when he was a Labour home secretary in the 1970s.

“She must go now, and Iain Duncan Smith and the Cabinet Office must explain why on earth they condoned such a clear breach of the code [of conduct] and the seven principles of public life.”

Stroud, who stood as a Tory candidate in the 2010 general election, is publicly listed as co-chair of the advisory board, alongside Labour MP David Blunkett, on the CSJ website.

On a parliamentary website register she lists her relationship with the thinktank as a consultant.

The contrast between Stroud’s two incomes and the Department of Work and Pensions’ ongoing work to cut benefits is also likely to be embarrassing.

Mark Serwotka, general secretary of the Public and Commercial Services Union, said: “We’re very concerned about the increased politicisation of work that ought to be done by impartial civil servants, and in fact current government proposals would formalise this by outsourcing even more policy to political bodies, accountable to no one but vested interests.

“But this revelation of a salary transforms an already troubling revolving door into something deeply worrying, and casts the government’s brutal welfare plans in a whole new light.”

The DWP said that neither Stroud nor the department wanted to comment on the issue, but the Cabinet Office, which oversees declarations of interest by ministers and civil servants, said they were aware of and happy with the arrangement.

In a statement, the Cabinet Office said: “Philippa Stroud’s membership of the Advisory Board at the Centre for Social Justice was fully disclosed to the Cabinet Office and the permanent secretary at the Department for Work and Pensions at the time of her appointment, who confirmed they were content with the arrangement.”

A spokesman added that Stroud’s declaration on the parliamentary website was on a register not commonly used by special advisers – the Register of Interests of Members’ Secretaries and Research Assistants – because she has a parliamentary pass.

He said: “From a governmental perspective the most important thing is that she declared to both the Cabinet Office and her department, which she had done from the start.”

A CSJ spokesperson said: “Alongside Labour MP David Blunkett, Philippa Stroud is entitled to remuneration in her capacity as co-chairman of the CSJ advisory council.

“As is standard practice, the CSJ does not publish the details of any payments it makes to individuals.”

Duncan Smith remains life patron of the CSJ.

Tanya Gold, The Guardian: The nasty babble which stigmatises depression

November 3, 2012 Leave a comment

Tanya Gold
The Guardian, Friday 2 November 2012 20.15 GMT

 

The nasty babble which stigmatises depression

Denial is bliss. Ed Miliband’s speech on mental illness was largely ignored last week, blown away by Hurricane Sandy, because we prefer a catastrophe we can see. In fact, it was all sensible. Milibandcalled mental health “a taboo running across our society”, noted the financial burden to business of ignoring it (£26bn a year) and reported that the World Health Organisation (WHO) thinks that by 2030 depression will be the leading cause of disease on earth.

He wants to rewrite the NHS constitution to give patients a right to therapy, as well as to drugs. Critics will call it “a creeping Hampstead-isation of normal British brains”, I am sure. What happened to those ordinary coping mechanisms – stiff lips and drink?

Miliband was brave to talk about mental health because it was also the week that Felicia Boots told a court that she had killed her babies. Boots had postnatal depression: she said that she had stopped taking medication because she feared it would pollute her breast milk, and, if this were discovered, the babies would be taken from her. It is possible that, were postnatal depression not a taboo and were Boots given psychotherapy without fuss or pleading, this calamity would have been averted. The Lancet reports that, in a survey, 79% of depressives said that they had experienced discrimination; if Boots feared to speak there was, at least, one sense in which she was not alone.

Since the royal family sent the epileptic Prince John away in 1917 so people would not associate them with madness, there has been some creeping change. The mentally ill are now rarely shut away but they are too often objects of derision, either considered laughable or complicit in their illness.

It is little known that recovery is possible or even, in some cases, probable; mental health debate often feels like a pre-Enlightenment scream, full of shame and monsters. That vast numbers of the population (one in four according to WHO) will at some point be affected makes the stigma more childish and self-hating. It is elective lunacy, an infant’s game.

Here are some examples of public attitudes towards mental illness, which got more space than Miliband’s speech. There is Derek, Ricky Gervais’s comedy about a “simple” man (shamefully commissioned for a full series by Channel 4). There are reports of bystanders screaming for suicidal depressives to hurl themselves from buildings, because they have confused television with life.

There is Jeremy Clarkson, whose need to go fast in a car is very strange, arguing in the Sun that if you are suicidal, throwing yourself in front of a train, “is a very selfish way to go because the disruption it causes is immense“. The train driver should, under such circumstances, “get the train moving as soon as possible and let foxy woxy and the birds nibble away at the smaller, gooey parts that are far away and hard to find”. Clarkson is one of Britain’s best-known TV presenters, yet he advocates feeding “Johnny Suicide” to foxy woxy because he is an idiot.

Swaths of the rightwing media write lies about mental illness. Miliband mentioned Clarkson and Janet Street-Porter, who wrote in the Daily Mail: “The misery movement has rapidly gathered momentum and in recent months it’s become apparent that, along with the Sam Cam handbag, the latest must-have accessory is a big dose of depression.” Depression does terrible things to the victim, it is true, but leather goods are not involved; then Street-Porter plugged her book.

Damian Thompson of the Daily Telegraph insulted Alcoholics Anonymous: even those attending self-help groups are, in his mind, losers of the most desperate kind. He happily told tales about AA meetings he attended; then he plugged his book.

Cristina Odone, also of the Daily Telegraph, thinks that antidepressants should be criminalised: at least, I think that is what she meant. Sometimes it is hard to tell what Odone desires beyond a tyranny of twee niceness, where no one is an alcoholic, or has an abortion, or is poor.

Peter Hitchens of the Mail on Sunday, meanwhile, tells his 6 million readers that all drug use is a moral failure, enjoys the frisson of the backlash, and then, inevitably, plugs his book. This is the thrashing of the ignorant, who should be ashamed of their ignorance, but seem instead to like it.

The coalition government, it is true, does not verbally insult the mentally ill unless they are also poor. Shrinking the state is everything with them, so they can make nice when it costs nothing – that is why David Cameron hugged a husky on a glacier. (Huskies? Depressives? Cinzano Bianco fans? Who cares?)

However, the nasty babble of the commentariat creates a culture where it does no harm to ignore the mentally ill. The government backs some initiatives that are sweet and cheap – there is Time to Change, an awareness campaign, and it says it will support amental health discrimination bill which is before parliament – but neither of these are as important as treatment.

Miliband noted that 2011 was the first year in a decade that mental health provision was cut. Of course, the long-term mentally ill are disproportionately poor: cuts to disability benefit, legal aid and NHS mental health services will harm them disproportionately. Will funding be found for the illness you cannot see, when denial is such bliss?

Twitter: @TanyaGold1

How gangmasters exploit Britain’s ‘on-tap’ flexible workforce

November 1, 2012 1 comment

http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2012/oct/31/gangmasters-exploit-flexible-workforce

 

How gangmasters exploit Britain’s ‘on-tap’ flexible workforce

We do not know what David Cameron discussed on the free helicopter flights he accepted in the runup to the election from Noble Foods, the Happy Egg company, which this week turned out to be using Lithuanian workers allegedly kept in conditions of slavery. In any case, there would have been plenty of other opportunities for the company’s chairman, Peter Dean, a key Tory party donor, to discuss the importance of cheap, flexible labour with the Conservatives. Noble Foods gave £50,000 to the Tories last year alone. That is the magic figure that gets you dinner with David Cameron. It must feel like happy eggs all round now, with the coalition’s charge to remove the “red tape” of labour rights that is a such “burden on business”.

And while the Conservatives may talk tough on immigration, make no mistake, they are anything but tough on the causes of immigration. Their policies are one key driver of it.

Why, when unemployment among the young and unskilled here is so high, do companies like Noble Foods need to turn to foreign workers supplied by gangmasters? The description of the life led by the Lithuanians who were liberated into the care of the UK Human Trafficking Centre earlier this month might offer a clue.

They told how they were shuttled, in mini-vans, the length and breadth of the country, often sleeping in the vehicles between working shifts of up to 17 hours on farms contracted to Noble. Much of this type of work happens at night, a few hours here and a back-to-back double shift there. The flexible workforce big business says it needs is one they like to be able to turn on and off as easily as a tap.

Few people other than recent migrants can tolerate conditions of this sort for long. They are incompatible with any sort of ordered, decent family life. The pay is rarely enough to live on. The Agricultural Wages Board set rural pay slightly higher than the minimum wage and made sure workers received basic sick pay and protection at work. The government wants to abolish it. More than 150,000 low-income workers will be directly affected, another 100,000 indirectly.

Small farmers don’t want to see the board go. They hate having to conduct individual negotiations with seasonal workers, and want a level playing field on which everyone is obliged to pay properly. It is the larger producers and agribusiness that are lobbying to get rid of it. When pay is too low to live on, local people are forced out, leaving a gap to be filled by those who are more desperate from elsewhere. Immigration becomes the wages policy, with government actually promoting its increase.

The Gangmaster Licensing Authority has survived the bonfire of the quangos, but only just. Set up with support across the political spectrum after 23 cockle pickers drowned in Morecambe Bay in 2004, it was never funded sufficiently to carry out the level of inspection and enforcement needed to eradicate labour abuse. The sectors it covered were illogically restricted to food processing and agriculture, rather than including all those areas in which migrant labour dominates, such as catering, hotel work, construction and care homes. Labour was wedded to the flexible workforce too. But the coalition government will have slashed the GLA’s already meagre resources by nearly a fifth by the end of this parliament.

In response to complaints from agribusiness it has instructed the GLA to be “lighter in its touch” when it regulates and inspects. Providing gangs of vulnerable migrant workers you don’t have to bother to pay properly to factories and farms has got easier. Life for those who want to operate legally, providing decent jobs, filled by the sort of workers who know their rights and are not so easy to exploit, has got harder. Once again, tough when it comes to rhetoric on immigration, lax on the regulation that might remove the conditions driving it.

It was turning a blind eye to the flouting of another bit of regulation, the Sunday trading laws, that marked a turning point in economic migration from eastern Europe to the UK in the early 1990s. Big supermarkets started opening illegally on Sundays, knowing local authorities would not have the bottle or resources to take them on. They succeeded in making a change to the law – which was opposed by unions and church groups – a fait accompli.

Touring factories, I have often been told by directors that the switch to seven-day trading with accompanying “just-in-time” ordering forced them to restructure their workforce. Where, in the past, local people had worked five days a week and enjoyed being able to supplement their incomes with overtime payments for evening and weekend work, that was no longer enough to meet supermarket demands. They had to run 24/7; it was migrants who filled the much longer unsocial hours. The Conservatives want to relax Sunday trading laws further. Ask their voters if they want longer shopping hours, and no doubt many would say yes. Tell them it could mean more migration and you might get a different answer.

Each year the government says it wants to close down schemes, such as the seasonal agricultural workers programme, that allow foreign workers to come into sectors that need low-skill labour, to curb immigration and help British workers. Each year industry argues that it needs them, and they are reopened.

The Conservative stance on Croatian accession to the EU next year is dog-whistle shrill. It wants restrictions to prevent access to the UK labour market by Croatian nationals. Few are likely to come, as they have much stronger ties with Germany. But why miss an opportunity to grandstand to your anti-immigration heartlands?

The more noise made about foreign workers, the easier it is to distract people from the fact that the best way to keep British jobs is to preserve employment protection and enforce the law.

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