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Why the twin stories of Dave Hartnett and Osita Mba mean you should be out with UK Uncut on the 17th

A bit over a year ago, UK Uncut began, occupying a Vodafone store in central London in protest against the tax dodge which Private Eye exposed that they claimed was £6bn, but HMRC settled for just £1.25bn.
The man in charge of HMRC, who apparently did the deal, is Dave Hartnett.
Dave Hartnett did another deal, with Goldman Sachs, where he (allegedly illegally) let them off £10m in interest on a tax dodge. This incident was brought to light by Osita Mba.

Last week, it emerged that one of these men will retire next year, whilst the other is being disciplined and threatened with the sack for his actions.
Of course, you already know which is which. Dave Hartnett, who in his job as chief taxman, has let hugely profitable multinational companies off tax bills, is to be allowed to retire, to a comfortable pension and no doubt to any number of non-executive directorships for the companies he’s worked so hard for at HMRC, or the tax dodging divisions of the accountancy firms who find loopholes to exploit and sell to companies who don’t want to pay their part towards the public services they depend on for their business.
He is not suspended, pending an inquiry and possibly a court case, concerning his behaviour towards these companies, and asking why, in his role as chief taxman, did he let them off their bills? I ran a small ltd company, and on the occasion I paid my corporation tax late, there was no way they were going to let me off my fine. Perhaps if I’d been able to book a dinner with Dave, a different outcome might have awaited me, and I’d be £100 better off right now.

Meanwhile, Osita Mba, the HMRC solicitor who blew the whistle on the Goldman Sachs deal, has been suspended, and is facing disciplinary procedures. The Guardian say he could be sacked, but I don’t think this is possible, as there is protection for whistleblowers in law, and such a sacking could be considered automatically unfair (ianal disclaimer applies of course). HMRC might sack him anyway, and take the hit of compensation at the tribunal of course, or exploit something else to sack him.
This is clearly a disgrace, Osita should be rewarded for whistleblowing, not punished, and being disciplined will deter other whistleblowers from coming forward.
He may have saved the taxpayer £10m directly, and far, far more from exposing the cosy relationship between HMRC and major multinationals and helping to bring about change.
For a bit of context, Birmingham City Council are currently looking at closing 5 childrens’ homes in Birmingham, including two that provide respite care for disabled children, in order to save around £7m. Goldman Sachs meanwhile, made a profit of $2.7 Billion in the first quarter of 2011

HMRC need to know that if they do not reinstate him quickly then this will become an issue for them. That Osita is supported by a campaign network in solidarity with his actions to help bring about tax justice.

Osita needs our solidarity and support right now. That is why you should be on the streets with #UKUncut on Saturday.

In Birmingham, we’ll meet outside Moor Street train station, at 2pm, and decide where to go from there. Vague ideas about street theatre have been hatched, and if we can get a santa outfit, we’ll be handing out christmas presents in the form of public services to hard working tax payers, only to have them snatched away by tax dodgers..

You can see where else has actions planned on the UK Uncut website – if there’s not one near you, why not ring round some friends and organise one – there’s a guide to planning an action as well.

Also, if you have some spare cash, please make a donation to UK Uncut Legal, who are seeking to take legal action against HMRC over the Goldman Sachs case. If successful, this could see the return of millions of pounds to the treasury, and may open up legal challenges to other tax deals.

#ff @UKUncut @UKUncutLegal @BirminghamUncut #ositamba #ukuncut


Why you should be joining the anti-ATOS day of action on Friday

If you know about ATOS, you can skip the next three  paragraphs.  If you don’t, read on, but also read this article: What’s Wrong with ATOS

The taxpayer pays ATOS £300m to carry out Work Capability Assessments for people claiming disability benefits. ATOS is primarily an IT company, though these are carried out by ATOS Healthcare.  The assessments are simply computer based checklists, and ATOS often ignore doctors advice about the patients capability for work.  This leads to many wrong assessments, with DPAC saying that 70% of appeals are upheld.   We pay an additional £30m -£50m for the costs of appeals.  This appeal process can take up to 18 months, leaving a disabled person who is incorrectly assessed without their benefits.  I have heard of a case of someone with terminal cancer who was assessed fit to work, and died two weeks later.  At a recent public meeting, Sam from DPAC said that 5 people have committed suicide due to the assessment process and the stress it has caused them.

ATOS recently used libel laws to get various websites that had content critical of their handling of WCAs pulled from the web, including Carer Forum, where many disabled people and carers receive support and advice.  For those who find it difficult to leave the house, the internet provides an important safety and support network, which ATOS removed for a number of days.

And recently, ATOS were given contracts for the UK Paralympics IT systems.  The chair of ATOS has also been put on the board for  the Paralympics.  This is a disgusting slap in the face for disabled people.

 

More broadly, the Welfare Reform Bill is being railroaded through parliament, with procedural rules being used to sideline debate, and we see attacks on disabled people and benefit claimants in the tabloids time and time again.  Recently the Daily Mail and Express ran articles claiming just 7% of ESA claimants need it – Latent Existence took them apart on their figures here.  When the Express ran an article about worklessness, there were more discussions about the statistics – you can read my analysis here with links to others.

The fight to get ATOS removed as the company that runs WCAs is part of the movement to protect benefit claimants from attacks by the ConDem coalition as part of the austerity agenda.  The demonisation of this group, the attempt to split the working class, must be resisted.  The best way for non-benefit claimants to resist this is through acts of solidarity and mutual aid.

In this case solidarity means going to and promoting actions in support of benefit claimants.  So on Friday, wherever you are, either join a local action, or take part in the online event and then prepare to the next day of action.


We lock people up without trial for criticising their own government

Yesterday a friend of mine was held on remand, after being arrested and charged with road traffic offenses for performing a banner drop for the opening of the Liberal Democrat conference.

The banner, which read “Traitors not Welcome”, referred to the decision of many Liberal Democrat MPs, including all the leadership, to break their pledge to vote against the rise in tuition fees – a pledge which led many students – including my friends – to vote for the Liberal Democrats in the last election.

This action caused no damage and hurt no-one, something which the police stated at the bail hearing.  Two of the defendents were released on bail, one has been remanded in custody and has a further bail hearing next monday, by which time he will have spent 10 days locked up.

The difference between him and the other defendents is that he has a previous conviction – for aggravated trespass, which I’m pretty sure was accrued at Kingsnorth Climate Camp, and because he is currently on bail for sitting down in Fortnum and Mason.  Both of these, and the action for which he was arrested for, were peaceful protests.

The judge said that she could not be satisfied that he would not commit further offences whilst on bail and that is why she was holding him on remand

Because of one previous offence, which resulted in a fine, and one offence that has not yet reached trial, the magistrate decided that he should be locked up without trial in case he commits further offences.

By their own logic what happened yesterday is the legal arm of the state detaining people without trial in case they should engage in criticism of their own government. Such a decision is not just disgraceful, it is undemocratic, illiberal and idiotic, not to mention expensive. We can go on about how murderers and rapists get out on bail, but that is not even the most important thing – the fact is that we should never be jailing people for undertaking peaceful protest, with or without trial.


Lies, Damned Lies, Statistics, Government Statistics and Daily Express Statistics

Today the daily express published a hate filled story – you can see the headline in the image below if you don’t want to grace their website with your hits.
Friday's Daily Express front page - "4m scrounging ... on Twitpic

Two stats there – 4million “scroungers” and 370,000 never worked households..
Both of these are derived from an Office of National Statistics bulletin

Take the 4million figure. Actually, it’s 3.88million, but whats 112,000 households between friends? We’ll accept that sleight of hand I guess, they have rounded up legitimately.
The real deception comes next.. of that 3.88m, 2.92m are classed as economically “inactive”. This includes those on disability benefits; people staying at home to raise children or care for adults; and students, amongst others who are not able to look for work. (I don’t know if this would include refugees who are legally not allowed to work?)
Just 583,000 households have all adults classed as unemployed (ie, in theory they are available for work – assuming they can actually find a job – there are currently nearly 2.5m unemployed and just 260,000 vacancies at job centres – a rate of 5.7 applicants per job (so whilst it may be true that anybody can get a job, it is certainly not true that everybody can).
[edit: I’ve just realised that there’s around 400,000 households missing here – 2.92m inactive + 583,000 unemployed = ~3.5m.. where are the rest of the 3.88m topline figure?]

I’m not sure if it would be possible to find statistics that would tell us how that economically inactive category splits up, it’s not as simple as looking at the number of benefit claimants, because these numbers are about households, not individuals, so there will be some disability benefit claimants who live with partners who do work, and that household would not be counted in this.
Likewise, with students, we could get a number of FE and HE students (bear in mind these stats are for 16-64 year olds, so should include FE students as part of the household and not as a dependent child – certainly will include any 16 year old that has left home for whatever reason). It would be reasonable to assume that most of these will be an individual (which counts as a household, see next paragraph), but working out how many of them do not work would likely be impossible. There are lots of statistical resources out there, and perhaps with the time it could be done. Likewise, working out how many households are economically inactive because the adults are looking after children or caring for other adults is probably possible, but I’m not going to do it now. I suspect the express would be quite supportive of the idea of a parent staying at home to look after their children, but perhaps I am wrong.

We should not forget that a “household” does not mean a family. I am a single man, no kids, living in a shared house. I am a household, so are each of my housemates. Getting any kind of breakdown of that number to come to understand how many of those half a million unemployed households are actually simply unemployed people is probably going to be next to impossible, and I’m not going to look for it this morning. It’s not overly important anyway, but worth remembering given the overall emotional tone of the express piece.. basically the point is that a workless household is not necessarily what it sounds like.

Now lets look at the 370,000 figure for households that have never worked. In the article it states, quite cleary, that 73,000 of those are students.. As the stats are for 16-64 year olds, this presumably includes FE students. I guess those scroungers could have had a paper round when they were 13/14 right? That’s why they are scroungers.. not because they are getting an education and training to allow them to be productive members of their community or to better themselves. Ditto for HE students, who will certainly be included in this number.
So we can immediately knock nearly 20% off the stat given in the headline (or what it’s intended to show)

That leaves us with 297,000 households that have never worked. The first question I have is how many of those households consists of an individual 16-18 year old? With youth unemployment at 20%, it can be hard for a school or college leaver to find work. Give them a few years though, and they’ll have a job.
The express article is clearly painted to make us think that there are 370,000 homes with 2 adults and 2.4 kids (although in their minds it’s probably more like 24 kids, you know how the feckless poor like to breed) in which neither parent has ever had a job, when the reality is quite likely to be very different. Would anyone really say that an 18 year old, who has just finished a college course, and been unemployed for less than a month, is a scrounger? That person would count as one of these households, just the same as a household with two 50 year old parents who have never worked and have no desire to look for or find a job.

Another interesting thing is that in fact this number has fallen by 38,000 in the past year (because of a fall in the number of inactive people, rather than the number of unemployed people).
The express of course ignores the short term fall in favour of a headline designed to denigrate an already marginalised group of people.
The fact that the number of households which have never worked has doubled since 1996 is a more interesting statistic, and one which could be interesting to investigate. My instinct says that this is a result of increased levels of unemployment since the end of the post-war consensus, and the implementation of monetarism & neo-liberalism in the mid-70s, cemented by Thatcherism. 17 years after Thatcher comes to power, we start seeing a significant rise in adults who have never worked – possibly because of the significant rise in unemployment seen under Thatcher.
The fact that there are 300,000 households that have never worked is a scandal. The distortion of the statistics to attack and denigrate a group of people, as part of a sustained campaign by the daily express to vilianise benefit claimants is a disgrace. Just £1.2bn is taken in benefit fraud (DWP PDF), meanwhile over £2bn is lost in errors made by DWP, and at the same time, £70bn gets “scrounged” through tax evasion and £25bn lost to errors at HMRC (I’ve not mentioned the £25bn tax avoidance, because it is not directly comparable to benefit fraud or errors). (Tax Research UK PDF)
How much ink does the express spend attacking people who evade paying tax? What about those who avoid it? I know avoidance is not illegal, but it still is a cost to the taxpayer, who are footing the bill for services used by companies and wealthy individuals who create sometimes elaborate schemes whose only purpose is to shift profits offshore to avoid paying tax.

The whole thing is designed to drive a wedge in the working class, between those who currently have or are able to work, and those who don’t or can’t. By creating an “other” within our class, the ruling class get to divide and rule. The real scroungers aren’t those on benefits, but those who live off the labour of others. We need to keep our anger and attention foccused on the bosses, and the propaganda outlets that support them.

It’s unfortunate that the only people who read this are likely to be those who already know what lying scum the express are. It would be worth pointing out to anyone you hear regurgitating those stats that in fact only 500,000 households are unemployed, and the 370,000 never worked statistic is so undefined that it is worthless.

See also: Tentacles of Doom: More hate from the Daily Express

Newsframes: Scrounging Families who looked into the ONS statistics to show that the number of workless households has actually decreased since 1996, with an increase since the recession (although the number of households that have never worked doubling is not challenged), and takes down the claim that we are spending ever increasing amounts of money on benefits.
Well worth reading as it takes apart the figures in a different way to me


A short note on sentencing

For the cost of sending just 2 young men to jail for 4 years for setting up a facebook group that didn’t cause a riot, you could employ 4 youth workers for 4 years working with up to 200 of the most alienated young people per year (800 young people in 4 yrs) or pay for a full time youth advice service in 8 large secondary schools (benefitting around 10,000 young people) for a year or you could employ 24 young people on £15,000 for a year at a time when youth unemployment has reached over 20%

^ stolen from elsewhere, and making a good point. When thinking about sentencing, part of sentencing should be about detterence, but part of it should be about considering what is the most beneficial thing to do for the community and individuals affected.

What is going to be more useful to prevent further riots? Jailing these 2 people for four years or one of the alternatives for spending the money that will cost? Would community service not have been a better sentence in this case, with the savings made being able to be invested in services that reach out to young people, help them with employment, education or training and seek to give them a viable future outside of gangs and criminality.


Riots, Causes and Tangents

This occurred to me as a tangent when I was writing down my thoughts on the Birmingham riots. It’s also a useful example to show how looking for causes sometimes turns up unexpected solutions, and how we shouldn’t be looking at a single idea to solve this problem entirely.
So this is my proposal for something that will reduce the likely hood of further riots occurring, that are driven by a criminal element, with a focus on theft and destruction, as opposed to riots which are driven by anger within a community over longstanding issues. (I’d also say that it’s a thin line between the two anyway – the criminal element exists because of longstanding issues, but I’m going to try to keep this post a bit focused). I also don’t want to suggest that these riots were simply because of a criminal element – this element was, in my opinion, the driving force behind what happened in Birmingham, but the same is not true elsewhere, nor was there simply a criminal element, as if no-one else that took part in or made the riots in Birmingham possible.
I think we should legalise drugs. All of them. They should be regulated and taxed. Money should be spent on education and rehabilitation programmes, as well as things like social housing and mental health services which can ease some of the underlying problems that often lead to drug abuse.
I don’t hear anyone much saying “it was drugs that caused the riots” – unless it’s as a part of a frothing condemnation of feral youths, out of control blah blah blah. I certainly don’t hear people saying prohibition is the problem.
But if criminal gangs are a problem, then we need to ask what can we change to solve this problem, and although I’m not going to go and fact check, I feel safe to say that a large amount of a typical organised criminal outfit’s income would come from drugs. So by legalising we’d cut off a large part of their income. We’d open up a legitimate business opportunity instead.
Although there is a huge amount of damage and violence, both personal and social, caused by the consumption of alcohol, there is I think little damage done in the production and supply chain, beyond the standard exploitation, unnecessary risk and casual abuse that is the nature of working in the capitalist system. There are I would guess specific pollution/environmental issues with the production of alcohol.
With drugs however, there is much personal and social damage caused in the production and supply chain. By bringing these into an arena where they can be regulated and where it is easier for workers to organise collectively, we can hugely reduce the damage caused by in this area.
In deprived areas, members of gangs are often those with the most material success. In a country that preaches materialism, that says we should be trying to make as much money as possible, is it any surprise that young people aspire to be part of these gangs, rather than working in low paid jobs, or sitting on the dole?
By legalising drugs you would reduce the income of criminal gangs, and in doing so reduce the aspirational value of these gangs, and indeed the relative financial merits of being a criminal rather than working. In no sense am I claiming this to be a complete solution, for gangs or the riots, I simply wanted to say it because sometimes the connections between structural causes and their outcomes are indirect or indistinct. I’m not, before anyone suggests it, thinking that our recent situation is anything like Mexico, or that ending prohibition would have such a strong effect here as it will there. But as a long time campaigner, the chance to shoe-horn in an argument, whilst making a point about diversity of effects, was too good to pass up 😉

#ff @TransformDrugs @Release_Drugs @DrugScope