A state of emergency

Jamie Insole looks at the effects of welfare reform in Wales ahead of George Osborne’s Emergency Budget.

On July 8th, the UK Government will announce an emergency budget.

Here in Wales, we are already in a state of emergency. Last year 10,000 residents of Cardiff were forced to use food banks. One in four parents in Wales has skipped a meal and gone without food to feed their families.

Public sector reorganisation has led to the loss of 30,000 jobs since 2010. The 2014 Coal Face report indicates that the distribution of job losses has fallen unevenly to affect communities confronting the greatest historical challenge.

As an indication as to how this ‘challenge’ is being met, whereas it is estimated that 50,000 private sector jobs have been created, since 2012, at least 74% of these pay below living wage, many falling into the zero hour dustbin. ‘Under employment’ is significantly higher than the national average.

For many, it would seem as if a sweat shop has been constructed upon the wreckage of the financial crisis. Indeed, ‘austerity’ is frequently touted as one of the primary drivers in outsourcing and creeping privatisation; all of which depresses wages, dissolves collective bargaining and undermines the quality of provision.

Starved of central funding, many local authorities now feel forced to consider outsourcing as the only possible option. One council leader confided that the logic towards becoming a “commissioning council” is “largely irresistible”. Acknowledging that officers were not equipped with the skills and experience necessary to accurately assess the price of assets and services – as with the banking sector, many private contracts are adjudged as “too big to fail.”

Meanwhile, Welfare Reform has taken an estimated 4% out of the local economy, with at least a further projected £900 million as a consequence of current and future revisions.

Amidst much ringing of hands, the Assembly’s own Communities, Equality and Local Government Committee, recently reported that about 23% of people experience poverty in Wales, (compared with 17% of the UK’). The report suggests that whilst the number living below the poverty-line has fallen in areas, such as north-east England, in Wales the figure has remained static. The number of people turning to food banks doubled between April 2013 and March 2014.

So many statistics – numbers might numb us to the reality of genuine, categorical suffering. Similarly, categorisation allows us to segment our world into sanitised, easily navigable, plains.

However, under these conditions maintaining any sense of polite demarkation has become increasingly difficult. When I walk home in the late evening, I now see young women selling sex. This is new in my town. I stopped to talk last Monday. I learned that neither woman (or should I say girl – they were both painfully young) had chosen this – one had been ‘sanctioned’ whilst the other was struggling to bring up her son. In Merthyr, a young man sits on a bus stop hoping that somebody will speak to him. As of 2011, he worked in a Remploy factory. A woman in Ely plans how to survive on less than £9 per week. Her cheek is bruised. She too has been sanctioned and is also snared by the bedroom tax.

This is Wales – as prone and vulnerable as a neck. Come and see!

Whilst central funding dwindles, so the third sector recedes. As the sinews and tendons of our communities tear, many of our estates come to resemble busted workplaces. An organiser by trade, I have visited those concerns where the union had been chased out. Instead, one found the hegemony of HR. In our communities, that role is occupied by UKIP. They are the ultimate beneficiaries of anger without hope.

Please understand. I do not blame Welsh Labour or indeed Welsh Government for Westminster’s pogrom. Nor do I hold them as being ultimately responsible for the social train wreck that must follow Wednesday’s announcements.

However, if we are to be honest; how many times have we had to suffer the same, shop-worn apology? “We can ill afford to cover the cost of Westminster’s Welfare reform”? “We can but only administer austerity in a more humane fashion”?

As predicted, the ‘dented-shield’ is now close to shattering. Welsh labours single strategy was to work for a Miliband victory. Having been denied, their 2016 plan appears to pivot solely around forcing Plaid into coalition as regional seats are conceded to UKIP and the Welsh Conservatives. It is a plan for maintaining power but cannot amount to a strategy for Wales.

To say that we need hope might strike the reader as more than a little trite. Similarly, my own contention; that Welsh Labour must climb off its knees and volubly fight will no doubt be rejected as the prerogative of the harlot.

However, looking north of the border, one cannot help but acknowledge the role played by a confident, social movement in transforming the covenant between both electorate and the elected.

If there is hope for Wales, then it must surely lie with it’s single unfixed point. The ability of communities and constituencies to raise voices and self-organise!

Jamie Insole is a campaigner who alongside the Cardiff Peoples Assembly will join with community groups, NGO’s and trade union activists to oppose George Osborne's ‘Emergency Budget’ on Wednesday July 8th.

11 thoughts on “A state of emergency

  1. Excellent impassioned article. We need more of this anger, learn from the Greeks? The concern I have that nobody seems to know the answer to is – will tax credits for the ‘self-employed’ (not just the employed) also be cut? If so, it will seriously affect the many many people in Wales who are otherwise unemployable (in a traditional sense) due to age, disability or location.
    Labour needs to stop navel gazing and start focusing otherwise they will disappear up there own ….

  2. @CJ. The ‘creation’ of tax credits was yet another example of Gordon Brown setting up a system very prone to ‘fiddling’,and its costs to hard working taxpayers is now £30 Billion and therefore unaffordable. A whole new industry has been set up by ‘criminals’ from eastern Europe and hence the thousands upon thousand of ‘travellers’,one must be PC now availing themselves of our money,but now being sent back to Romania and other places.Those whom the gods wish to destroy they first make MAD,and we are surely in that category.Per haps the wide criticism of current government by Jamie Insole should have included the part of welsh society that has become wealthy due to distribution of money to favoured ‘elites’ in Wales,and lack of openness of where the money is actually going??. When CEO’s of mickey mouse local authorities are driving around in £200,000 cars and paid out of public funds,plus all the payments to thousands of councillors/quango members etc etc you know it STINKS!!.Lets have complete openness of where our money is going??.

  3. Wales has been managing its own affairs since 1997 and behaves like that awkward relative at a wedding. No idea of how to socialise with its neighbour, no concept of responsibility, no idea when enough is enough. Insole makes points that contribute to the head in the sand scenario he desperately wants Labour to recover from. Fortunately the electorate can see right through the ‘austerity’ argument in favour of the responsibility one. Labour lacks responsibility and thrives on austerity driven public services. In fact the unions, Insole and NGOs need to realise necessity is the mother of invention. All a society learns from spoon feeding is the size of the spoon.

  4. ‘Contracts too big to fail’ certainly hits a chord. The large service companies such as Serco, Mouchel, Group 4 and their ilk have become a blight on this land. It is a very cosy near cartel feeding almost exclusively off taxpayers money to provide our public services. Their dominant position and considerable lobbying influence with government has enabled them to pull the ladder up keeping smaller businesses out. Their cleverness in exploiting poor contract management skills in the public sector is unsurpassed as is their slipperiness in being able to avoid having to prove that they are in fact better VFM than what went before them. Their fondness of temporary employment contracts and creating general job insecurity for those doing the actual work drives down costs too increase profits for the lucky few.

  5. The author is quite right that Welsh Labour has no strategy other than maintaining power. Meanwhile Labour MPs, AMs, Cllrs simply tell people the next five years will be grim in order to cynically implement austerity, instead of using their platform to mobilise communities, unions, service users etc in the widest possible alliance to defend us from the Tory assault.

  6. I sometimes think the ruling classes won’t be happy until we have a French
    Revolution in Britain! The tory party with their votes for England only are
    Going to be the party that everyone will remember as the party that broke
    Britain apart and the party that work hand in hand with the banker’s and the
    City and large corporate companies over the people that voted them into

  7. The relentless pressure on our social housing system due to cuts in revenue and capital grants and wider social policy issues is not only worrying for existing renters, but disastrous for future generations, particularly the poor, the vulnerable and now it would seem, the working low paid.
    Cuts in housing benefit are seriously undermining our social housing system which has provided an affordable safety net for those who cannot afford to access the private market for decades. And what for? To enable the private rented sector to take up the UK’s social responsibility of making homes available for its citizens at increased cost to the housing benefit budget and hence the tax payer.
    It also has the effect of taking away more of the renters disposable income without the social benefit of improved standards and improving health caused by reduced accident and illness as consequence of improved housing. We would add that poor expensive housing also increases the cost of public and voluntary service intervention. All this only makes sense if you are intentionally planning the gradual undermining of our social housing system.
    Our national government has a responsibility to provide housing for those who cannot access the open rental market. For decades the social housing system has driven improvements in standards for disabled people and in the design, regeneration and development of our communities. What we are seeing is an erosion of that very principle.
    Why is our social housing being replaced with one that puts profit into the hands of private investors, one where tax evasion is rife, where customer standards, condition and security of tenure is worse? It makes no sense.
    Make no mistake! we are deep in the throes of a fight for the retention of our social housing system – if you want to retain the principle and practice for future generations – we will have to unite and fight to keep it!

  8. Just about everything that is wrong with the left’s reaction to the Tory victory in May is summarised in this laughably hysterical and completely over the top article. The use of the term “Westminister pogram” is utterly absurd in this context. A “pogrom” is a Russian word meaning a violent riot aimed at massacre of an ethnic or religious group. Historically it was used to refer to mob violence against Jewish communities. that after 1917 saw the violent deaths in the region of 300,000 people. Are we seriously saying that welfare cuts, for all their social injustice, come anywhere near this?

    The author has spent far too much time reading the Trade Union book of cliches and transmits you back to a language which is as familiar to Welsh voters as the inner workings of a black hole. Tired old slogans are hurled at the reader like confetti. “Climb off your knees”, “The hegemony of HR” and “prerogative of the harlot”. It’s like reading a bad undergraduate essay by a student who has just discovered Slavoj Žižek. Can somebody please explain the meaning of the sentence “categorisation allows us to segment our world into sanitised, easily navigable, plains”?

    In the General Election, 407,000 people in Wales voted Tory. Many were working class who resent people who abuse the welfare system and hate the fact that they give the majority of struggling claimants a bad name. They also happily desire a Bose, a big Samsung TV and want a nice holiday anywhere else other than Porthcawl. They don’t trust politicians full stop, they have never met any immigrants but sadly that bloke Farage seems ok because “he talks straight and tells it like it is”. They explode the comfortable notion that there is a “progressive majority” in Wales. Add in the rise of UKIP vote and ask why this has occurred and then ask is the sort of sloganising nonsense above going to win these people back?. Of course, the author would say this is “false consciousness on the part of the masses”. He may also quietly mutter that the Parliamentary route is not the way forward (although the alternatives never seem to quite get the level of support that enlightened leftwingers think they deserve). But nevermind there is nothing more enjoyable than a good old rant.

    Nick Cohen is right that the unwillingness to accept uncomfortable truths, and confront comfortable prejudices has done for the British left. The corrupt authoritarianism of UNITE, a party run by Oxford-educated special advisors and Bennite delusions of Corbyn are a dead end. A progressive coalition is needed, get a decent voting system, embrace Green politics, stop pretending that liberals and nationalists are the enemy, stop being so po-faced and speak in a language that means something to the voters of the X factor. Equally accept that the Tories won fair and square, and that they will win again in 2020 if the nonsense peddled here is about the best that the radical left can offer.

    Finally, for god sake, let us not blame Welsh Labour! What an honour it is living in this socialist paradise and bastion of radical politics. Indeed, it makes you wonder why their massive achievements of “the party” were not mentioned in the General Election by Miliband and Co. Alternatively was it because they were faintly embarrassed by 16 years of tired old statism, mis-management and announcement politics. Please tell me what Carwyn Jones stands for since I have absolutely no idea, other than opening pointless Welsh Government offices across the globe and attending the Urdd. Bad stewardship of public services seems to be his most defined skill plus losing the argument on the NHS to people who opposed it foundation. But you can’t be honest about that can you Mr Insole?

  9. @ Jamie Insole

    I think your plea is heartfelt but it needs to be a little more robust and hard-headed if we are to make headway. Where I strongly agree with you however is to look to Scotland and see what is happening there. I don’t however refer to the party politics. The idea that all we have to do is vote for a nationalist party or that independence is the answer is merely to chase hares. The SNP’s success has not been based on a call to nationhood though that appeals to its core vote. It has been the ability of Nicola Sturgeon not only to lead a committed social democratic party that has resulted in their success, but in her commitment to establish a social democratic state in which there is no room for the neo-liberal economics and attitudes to welfare that emanate from the English Tories, currently in power in Westminster.

    If Labour is serious about having power in Wales, then it could do a great deal worse than follow this example and seek to establish a social democratic state in Wales that would see off the neo-liberal policies bleeding over the Dyke and gaining resonance with the Tories here and the up and coming UKIP. There is clearly a majority in Wales for this. At the last Assembly election, left of centre parties (by which I mean Labour, Plaid Cymru, Liberal Democrats, Greens and Socialist Labour) gained 68.6% of the popular vote. In contrast the right of centre parties (Conservative, UKIP and BNP) gained 29.5%. It is not beyond the wit of our political parties and their respective leaderships to go on the front foot and start arguing for and building a social democratic state, something far more robust than a collection of social democratic policies. That would provide a vision around which the left of centre could organise practically and achieve substantial results.

    A book has recently been published called “The Crisis of Social Democracy in Europe” edited by Michael Keating and David McCrone and was published in April of this year. To draw out one quote:

    “One problem lies in the realm of ideas, where neo-liberalism has gained the ideological hegemony, to the extent that social democratic parties internalise it and seek to modify it only at the margins.”

    This is precisely what the English Labour Party is going through at the moment. It is having to swallow a great many of the Conservatives’ ideas just to stay in touch with where the English electorate currently is. Though we should bear in mind that we are governed from Westminster by a party that gained only 38% support from the UK electorate; in other words a minority government pushing its agenda on the majority of the population.

    Labour in Wales is facing a situation where, if it considers to put its faith in managerialism, then it will continually find itself on the defensive. And, unlike Scotland, there is not a strong social democratic party waiting in the wings to take the lead, no disrespect to Plaid Cymru intended. Without a clear agenda for the nature of the state, Labour will find itself fending off the threat from the right in the shape of a resurgent Conservative Party under the leadership of Stephen Crabb and from an opportunist UKIP. It is easily laughed off, but the appointment of Mark Reckless to advise on policy for the National Assembly elections is an indication that the neo-liberal right sense an intellectual opportunity to attack a Labour Government that has a soft intellectual centre.

    However this is not just an issue for Labour but for all parties of the left and for those who belong to none. !n 1985, the Wales Congress came together which combined people across political parties and civil society who supported the miners in their plight. That particular battle was lost. But it showed that people could come together across the traditional divides when they shared a common cause. Establishing a social democratic state for Wales could be just such a cause, albeit a much more complicated one. However if the left does not use its electoral strength to advance in a positive direction, it will increasingly be seen as defensive and negative and there will be no SNP to save the day.

  10. @Rhobat Bryn Jones

    You are right; a hard-headed approach is required.

    Welsh Labour, in common with much of our political and social establishment, is experiencing a moment of profound atrophy.

    Its activist base has melted away whilst CLP’s exist largely on paper.

    The potential for any ‘pressure from below’ is further limited by the utter dislocation that exists in many of it’s affiliated trade unions. At a basic level, this can be attributed to the phenomena of ‘negative capacity’. Put simply, any member who is brought into activity is immediately drenched in an ever rising torrent of casework. This delimits the opportunity for organising, democracy and political trade unionism.

    Similarly, those elements of the third sector lucky enough to remain entrenched in our communities find themselves at risk of becoming ‘social foodbanks’ – basically plugging the gap left by local authority cuts. Starved of funding, many NGO’s are now withdrawing to their core mission. This, in turn, rebounds upon the opportunity for innovation and targeted advocacy.

    Any comparison concerning grassroots engagement in Scotland and Wales will demonstrate (at the very least) a 500% differential. In Wales, there is no conductivity, no organic link and very little in the way of hope.

    Those of us who remain ‘engaged’ find ourselves occupying a shrinking pool, in which relationships are far more likely to be mediated through PAC or some spad/civil servant cultivated way-back-when. Much of Wales has become terra incognito whilst the old coal field is increasingly partibus infidelium!

    Under these conditions, short of any moral or (dare I say!) ideological imperative, it is difficult to see why Welsh Labours bureaucracy would seek to embrace an active, social democratic model in the absence of any external driver.

    Welsh Labours ‘plan’ to concede to right whilst forcing Plaid into coalition, presumably with the formers foot on the latter throat, is nothing more than a sublimation of weakness; born in the angry wasteland that followed their decision not to actively, or even symbolically, oppose Westminster (Dr Drakefords ‘dented sheild’ – perhaps the most catastrophic miscalculation that ever emerged from an otherwise brilliant mind).

    Scotland, of course, is no paradise. However, I would make a number of observations;

    1: During the past decade, the SNP has been compelled to shift towards its current pole. Who can forget Fred-the Shred? Donald Trump? Silicone Glen and the ‘Northern Arc of Prosperity’?
    2: The primary factor in forcing this shift has been a conscious social movement; estates and communities organising collectively in pursuit of wider social priorities.
    3: This movement is a work in progress. Both initiated and initiating various forces, its roots can be traced back to 1998. It has both pushed politics and is pulled by momentum.
    4: Rather than reading a book, an increasingly homogenous SNP has triangulated to the degree whereby poor old Scottish Labour (as hollow and brittle as our own) has both crumbled and stumbled due to its farcical incapacity to relate to this movement.

    The truth is that progressive political revolutions do not occur solely off the back of a programme. If this were the case, Welsh Labour would currently be engaged in a life and death struggle with TUSC and the Welsh Conservatives (with Plaid and the Greens fairly squeezed in the middle).

    As it is, Plaid would be better off attacking the Tories both locally, nationally and on na UK level, rather than seeking to embed themselves as some sort of polite opposition to a defective whoopee cushion. This, after all, is what the SNP did.

    Nor can we simply talk about ‘education’ and ‘inclusion’ in the absence of the organic, self-led structures through with people and places, currently outside the process of power, can begin to raise their voice.

    Ultimately, I am drawn towards a conversation enjoyed with one of our better AM’s back in 2012. When broaching the obvious disconnect between ourselves and our representatives, he said; ‘Hitherto there were mass movements; now there are none. Show us the money’ (I paraphrase).

    Oddly, whenever an organised constituency, group or community of interest has rocked up to Senned, it has walked away with something.

    So perhaps it is time for Wales to cut through this thin meniscus of blancmange with an Alexandrian sword. Scotland was seventeen years in the making. We have less than ten months – this means that anybody who is serious about building something better might have to go to the places where extraordinary people actually live?

    Come and see!

  11. very interesting and typically leftist labour. I thoroughly agree with some of his views, foodbanks, prostitution, missing meals and utter despair of youngsters utterly disspossed and atos terrorising the disabled. As a community leader for twenty years in cardiff saw much of what he says now is happening under the tories. But stop lieing most of these policies were being put in place by a professional silver spoon fed elite from labour. I know because in the twenty years i tried to motivate my community to come together to work together for a common good for all the biggest enemy to my comunity was the council in cardff and still is!, and the Welsh Assembly government. It matters not a jot which party is in power, Wales has an elite in all these parties and all the hangers on in the media and lobgying groups. The fact is that real people have no real power or say at all anywhere in the uk. Everything revolves around money. Wales is far too small a country to survive outside of the union, it will utterly dissapear in the eu as the years roll by and the fifth reich of germany achieve total hegemony over everyone. Mr Insole needs to think about these poor disposed people of wales and why the councils are seloing the council tax debt to ruthless debt collectors. He is right when he says they are incapable of taking on big business and managing anything. The trouble is they sell our services from under us to private companies such as viridor without any consultation with the people. They will eventually run out of money to pay for it all.

Comments are closed.

Also within Politics and Policy