Tuesday, November 27, 2012

The Welfare State

"You have to score 15+ points, I scored 6 so therefore I am deemed fit to work, I asked how can that be, I have a deteriating [sic] health problem, things won't get any better, I will only get worse. She told me my disability is not being questioned, they know I have JHS/EDS3. She said it's not your disability being questioned, it's your capability. I said I wasn't capable of holding down a job, some days I can't get out of bed, I can't even cook anymore. She said it wasn't there [sic] problem, it's the job center's problem to find me a job" - Reader's comment below article on Atos Work Capability Assessment for people claiming disability benefits (minor punctuation errors corrected)

On the morning of the 1945 UK general election the Daily Mirror newspaper dedicated almost its entire front page to an iconic cartoon by the legendary Philip Lec entitled: 'Don't Lose It Again!' It depicted a wounded, heavily bandaged soldier returning home and delivering a note upon which a message was written: 'Victory and Peace in Europe'. This cartoon is now considered by historians as a significant factor in the landslide defeat of Winston Churchill and his Conservative Party by Clement Atlee's Labour Party, one of the most shocking election results in history.

From 1940 the UK was governed by a wartime coalition government comprising Labour and the Conservatives, with Clement Atlee eventually becoming the nation's first ever Deputy Prime Minister. In 1945, with victory over the Nazis achieved, Labour demanded that the nation be offered a choice at the polls. It became clear that while Churchill commanded great respect as a wartime leader, people nonetheless seemed apprehensive of his credentials on the domestic front.

Voters weary of the austerity enforced during the war proved eager to embrace Atlee's promised radical reforms, namely the nationalization of several major industries including coal mining, the steel industry, transportation, electricity, gas and so on, even the Bank of England. Atlee also espoused the liberal economic theories of John Maynard Keynes, now known as Keynesian economics, as well as the 'cradle to the grave' welfare state conceived by the economist William Beveridge in the visionary Beveridge Report of 1942. This report detailed a system of social insurance for all citizens regardless of income.

Beveridge identified 'five giant evils' in society: squalor, ignorance, want, idleness and disease. Squalor damaged the nation because the poor could not pay for medical attention and could often therefore not work, creating a lack of labor as well as less income; ignorance described those of higher social class seemingly ignorant of their role in a community; want covered the necessity to provide an adequate living for all; idleness applied to Beveridge's desire for full employment (leading to the creation of job centers); and disease described the obvious handicap of those suffering from a disease being unable to earn an adequate income.

The radical reforms passed as a direct result of the overwhelming public support for Beveridge's report. In coalition, the 1944 Education Act was passed, providing free education for all up to the age of 15. After gaining power, Atlee passed (among others) the Family Allowances Act of 1945, the National Insurance Act of 1946, the National Health Service Act of 1946, and the Pensions Act of 1947. Clement Atlee, once memorably described by Churchill as a 'sheep in sheep's clothing', proved to be anything but, presiding over one of the most radical administrations in the nation's history.

The welfare state was born. The UK was now a community where, in theory, even the most vulnerable would be cared for and not allowed to slip through the net. To this day, the National Health Service, the largest and oldest single-payer healthcare system in the world, is regarded as Labour's crowning achievement and, despite its endemic bureaucratic and funding problems, still commands public support.

And to this day we arrive. Proposed changes to the NHS in the form of David Cameron's Health and Social Care Bill have inspired widespread opposition, not only among the general public, but also from medical professionals. As an aside, this mind-boggling list of Conservative Lords who have financial links to the private healthcare industry, demonstrating an obvious conflict of interest, will likely not aid the Coalition government in its cause.

A remarkable article published earlier this year in the Daily Mirror shows, thanks to Freedom of Information Act requests, that 32 people die every week after failing the Work Capability Assessment, a controversial test that is intended to get people claiming disability benefits back to work if they are able, and being put in the so-called Work-Related Activities Group (WRAG).

It is important to note that while it is obviously impossible to determine whether all these people died as a result of being forced into the WRAG, the endless stream of tragic personal stories (many of which can be found below the article linked in the previous paragraph as well as elsewhere) make it clear that a significant percentage of them did. Readers of this article are urged to read all the comments as they more than adequately convey the magnitude of personal suffering. More can be found here.

As Owen Jones of the Independent newspaper writes, those claiming benefits are now demonized as 'scroungers' and 'lazy'. He further notes that numerous voices within the media spread the myth that benefits fraud is rampant, no thanks to countless articles in newspapers like the Daily Mail depicting extreme cases as representative of the entire population. Meanwhile charities reported in September that verbal abuse of disabled people had risen 41% over four months in September, with up to two-thirds suffering some form of hostility or taunting.

What kind of person abuses or taunts someone in a wheelchair?

As usual with modern mainstream tabloid journalism, the reality is quite a different story. The Department for Work and Pensions' own estimates put fraud at 0.5%, hardly a figure representative of all disabled people, while a simple read through some of the personal tragedies which can be found in abundance online shows that the vast majority of disability benefits claimants worked hard before being struck down by the vagaries of fate, and indeed would jump at the chance to work if they were able.

Despite all this, however, there is one issue on which most can agree: the UK is in severe debt (over 1 trillion pounds) and is running a deficit of around 91 billion pounds. It is obvious that the nation needs to put its finances in order. For this to occur, either income must be increased or spending cut.

The UK's coalition government has gone for the cutting option, specifically aiming at the welfare state. Ministers argue that these cuts are vital for the country to get back on its feet. It is worth examining this claim.

A useful graphic in the Guardian gives a clear picture of the UK's finances for the financial year 2012-13. The Coalition is looking to cut a further 10 billion pounds in benefits cuts, mainly after the next election.

Is it really necessary to target the weakest and most vulnerable members of society? Are there no other areas that can be cut?

From an earlier article on this topic (which is worth reading in full):

The reality is that the government could save a great deal more by dealing with tax evasion and avoidance. In this very informative article, we can see that the tax gap, namely the amount of tax evaded, avoided and not collected, is estimated to be over 120 billion pounds.

Cameron and his rich chums, along with The Daily Mail, like to vilify those on welfare as lazy scroungers and benefits cheats. As can be seen from a chart in the same article, benefits fraud accounts for less than 1% of that lost in the tax gap. If Cameron was truly serious about reducing the debt and deficit, he would address tax justice at the very least, but as this would upset his support, don't hold your breath.

It is not only the tax gap that can be worked on; huge sums of money are wasted on private consultants in the armed services or in education and multiple other areas, fields that could be easily staffed by the armies of unemployed with proper training. Again, this would not please the Tory donors so...keep holding that breath.

Even more money is thrown into the totally unnecessary Trident program, not to mention the bottomless hole also known as the Afghanistan War, and let's not forget our proud military adventures in Libya, where we saw costs like 183,000 pounds for a Brimstone missile and 50,000 pounds per Paveway guided bomb (see article for the full scandalous list).

An article by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism (TBIJ) expertly explains the dubious tick-the-box practices behind the Work Capability Assessment carried out by staff from the private firm Atos, which is on the receiving end of a 100 million pounds a year contract for providing this service.

Atos made a 42-million-pound profit in 2010.

Social security exists for everyone, meant to provide dignity and professional support for those who suffer the misfortune of long-term illness or disability. It is particularly easy for those who have (thankfully) never suffered a debilitating condition to condemn those less lucky as faking it. Yet the fact remains that every single person on this planet (excepting those lucky enough to have substantial funds) is vulnerable at any time to accident or illness which could strike them down, rendering them incapable of working no matter how strong their desire to earn for themselves.

Seventy years ago Beveridge and Atlee understood this simple fact of life and put their strong desire for social justice and equality to good use, providing generations with free health care and education and allowing people to live without fear of falling through the cracks. In the new millennium we see a systematic dismantling of these noble structures. We see the voracious private sector waiting in the wings, desperate to have their slice of the action. We see politicians who themselves have invested in said private companies and stand to benefit handsomely. We even see GPs themselves in the trough.

And we see multitudes of unfortunate souls who pay the price.

NOTE: For those struggling to cope with the complex forms involved in the process of maintaining sickness or disability benefits, please visit this helpful site.

NOTE 2: A reader emailed the following comments after reading this article. They add an important dimension missing from the original article:

WRAG, wrong though it is, isn't the worst thing that can happen, especially if you are sent to a sensible back-to-work advisor who acknowledges many clients are too sick to work and excuse them from work-related activities (this may be about to change with the probable introduction of mandatory Workfare). Far worse is that many really sick and disabled people are dumped onto Jobseekers Allowance and expected to get back to working like a healthy person immediately. Because they are no longer officially ill or disabled at all, little data is held on what happens to them. The 32 deaths per week in WRAG figures are, of course, a very good indicator of how poor the WCA is as a means of assessing sickness.

People are facing total denial of their sickness/disability (the Brian McArdle case http://www.dailyrecord.co.uk/news/scottish-news/atos-killed-my-dad-says-boy-1411100 and that of Colin Traynor: http://www.channel4.com/news/disability-testing-system-failing-says-dead-mans-parents were both examples of terribly ill people given zero points on the system).

There's far more to the WCA debacle than just politics, it is based on the fundamentally flawed bio-psychosocial model of illness. More info here: http://downwithallthat.wordpress.com/category/dubious-academics-universities/professor-mansel-aylward/ and here: http://www.internationalgreensocialist.org/wordpress/?page_id=1716.

My thanks to the reader for these helpful comments.

Written by Simon Wood

Twitter: @simonwood11

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Perspectives from Obama's Terror Victims

"They’re there twenty-four hours. Three or four drones in the sky, twenty-four hours, they don't even stop for a minute" - Local resident

Newly-re-elected US President Barack Obama celebrated his easy victory this week with a drone strike in Yemen. As with all drone strikes, this one was personally authorized by the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize winner via his 'kill list', now rechristened in pure Orwellian terms as a 'disposition matrix'.

Proponents of drone strikes will no doubt cheer at the news that an al-Qaeda commander and his bodyguards were allegedly killed, but note that the article says that 'at least three terrorists' were among the victims. This could mean more 'terrorists' were killed, or that there was perhaps, to invoke another Orwellian euphemism, some 'collateral damage'.

It is now standard establishment media orthodoxy to label a man a 'terrorist' or 'militant' before his being allowed to defend himself against such an accusation at a fair trial, a basic precept of any honest legal system. Readers of mainstream articles are now supposed to simply accept that government spokesmen tell the truth with complete accuracy, despite the fact that, to take a recent example, the US government itself lied blatantly to the public about WMDs in Iraq to justify the invasion, even utilizing a detailed presentation from a respected member of the administration (Colin Powell) before the United Nations Security Council. It should also be remembered that the Bush administration had willing enablers in the media, even at the so-called newspaper of record, The New York Times.

More insidious however is the media's standard tack-it-on-at-the-end approach with regard to civilian casualties. One major reason why, according to a Washington Post-ABC News survey, 83% of Americans support drone strikes is because they are misled by their own media into believing (read accepting uncritically) that their government is out there 'bug-splatting' the bad guys with their tax dollars. The mainstream media does not do complex reality and subtle nuances well at all, so actually informing the public of the precise details, as far as they exist, of drone strikes, will always be a non-starter.

The citizens of the world, Americans and Britons in particular (along with citizens of other NATO countries) urgently need to be informed of the human angle of this new form of slaughter by robots, and who better to ask than the people who actually live under this threat every day?

Rightsadvocacy.org provides a short list of heartbreaking stories:

It was after dinnertime. Three men were chatting and sipping ‘kehwa’ (local/tribal version of green tea) after dinner in the ‘hujra’ (male compartment) of Karim Khan’s house, a local journalist. Suddenly 3 hellfire missiles were fired on the hujra. Karim Khan was not present at the time of attack but it killed the 3 kehwa-sipping tribals. The first victim of this atrocity was Karim’s eldest, 18-year-old son named Zainullah Khan. Zainullah was an employee of the Education department and worked at a girls’ school in Mirali Tehsil in NWA as helping staff. There are only a few girls schools in tribal areas of Pakistan and even those which exist face acute shortage of qualified teachers. The second casuality was Asif Iqbal, Karim’s brother who, like his nephew Zainullah, was working in the Education department and was English language teacher in a government secondary school of Dattakhel (another town in NWA), in NWA. Asif Iqbal held a Masters in English Literature from National University of Modern Languages (NUML) in Islamabad. After completing his education in the capital, he preferred going back to his village to teach.

Drone apologists like to cite the Taliban's opposition to education for girls as a reason to wipe them out, often raising the case of Malala Yousafzai, the very brave and admirable young girl shot by a Taliban member, as an example. First, one needs to take issue with the fact that simply wiping out an extremist Muslim group would lead to a satisfactory education for girls in Afghanistan - while the absence of the Taliban would certainly be a positive factor for women, the issue is in fact far deeper and more complex, one with societal and historical roots. Second, as we can see from the above story, a drone just killed a completely innocent worker at a girls school.

Sanaullah Jan, aged 17 was an 11th-grade pre-engineering student in Government Degree College Mirali. On 26th November 2010, after college, he and couple of friends from college decided to go to Miranshah, a nearby city. It was a nice day and driving to another town with friends was quite enjoyable. It was on road to Miranshah that a missile fired from a drone burnt the car down. No one survived. Khairullah Jan, Sanaullah’s elder brother reached the scene after he heard about the attack. All that was left was his dead brother’s half-burnt college ID. Khairullah not only lost his brother but a classmate as both were in same class. Sanaullah was the bright one of the family and use to help Khairullah in his studies, but not anymore.

Today Khairullah is pursuing his brother’s legal action against those who wrongfully executed his brother and he is determined to get justice one day.

Sanaullah was a 17-year-old student. He was neither a militant or a terrorist. He was a living, breathing young man. It is pleasing that Khairullah is pursuing legal action. Good luck with that.

Fahim Qureshi was only 13 years old when on one evening in January 2009, his house was attacked by a CIA-operated drone. The house is situated in Zeraki village in NWA. That day there were about 8 family members gathered in Fahim’s family house and as usual the male members were in the hujra. Some of their friends were present in the hujra as well. Fahim was living in a joint family house, so all his father’s brothers were staying together along with their respective families.

The missile fired killed 7 people present in the hujra, including Muhammad Khalil (Fahim’s uncle), Mansur-ur-Rehman (Fahim’s uncle), Azaz-ur-Rehman (Fahim’s cousin), Khush Dil Khan (Fahim’s uncle), Obaid ullah (local shopkeeper and family friend), Rafiq ullah (neighbor), and Siffat ullah (neighbour). Fahim was severely injured and was immediately moved to a hospital in Peshawar (approx. 200 kms). His injuries were complicated though as shrapnel cut through his stomach so he was transferred to the Combined Military Hospital in Rawalpindi (another 200 kms) where he was treated for next 6 months. Fahim lost his left eye as well but he is continuing his education and wants to be an engineer. His elder uncle Muhammad Khalil, who was killed in the same attack, was his mentor and a retired teacher from the village school.

This is a testament to the courage and strength of character of a young boy who has fought through trauma and heartbreak as well as life-threatening injuries and the permanent loss of an eye. Was this mentioned by any of the major media outlets, or was he just another 'civilian casualty'? Imagine how many of the 83% who support drones might begin to question their judgment if they had a media which informed them of such vital information with regard to the consequences of the drone bombing campaign. If this were the plot of a Hollywood movie, how many of the 83% would now despise the perpetrators of this crime and want justice for young Fahim?

Livingunderdrones.org also provides harrowing accounts and sourced quotes from victims:

Tahir Afzal’s brother died in a drone strike.

“It was in the afternoon around two o’clock and he was on his way to work. They were in a car. A drone struck and four people died in it, including children who were walking on the road. . . . There were lots of drones wandering over that day. They were wandering all over, and as the car passed by, it was targeted.” Tahir told our team, “He was my older brother, and I miss him a lot.”

“[Before, e]verybody was involved in their own labor work. We were all busy. But since the drone attacks have started, everybody is very scared and everybody is terrorized. . . . People are out of business, people are out of schools, because people are being killed by these drone attacks.” Tahir emphasized, “It’s not a [fictional] story. It’s brutality that we are undergoing and that needs to be stopped.”

Ismail Hussain’s cousin was killed in a drone strike.

“We were sitting together and my mother said Sajid did not come home. She said there was [a] drone [attack] and so my mother said to go ask about Sajid. . . . When I came to know that the drone [attack] had happened in the other village, I took my motorcycle to go to that village. . . . When I reached that village, people told me Sajid and some others were injured and were taken to the hospital. They didn’t want to make me sad. Then I went to Miranshah hospital. I didn’t meet with him because before I arrived he died. The body of my uncle’s son was put into a box. I took it to my village. I placed it in the house of my neighbor during Fajr [dawn] prayers. At the time of Fajr, I took it to my home.” Ismail informed us, “His mother hangs his picture on the wall. She looks at it 24 hours [a day] and cries.”

Hisham Abrar’s cousin was killed in a drone strike.

“When the weather is clear, three or four [drones] can be seen . . . . They are in the air 24 [hours a day], seven [days a week], but not when it’s raining. Every time they are in the air, they can be heard. And because of the noise, we’re psychologically disturbed—women, men, and children. . . . When there were no drones, everything was all right. [There was] business, there was no psychological stress and the people did what they could do for a living.”

“[The drone strikes have caused many problems:] [f]irst, it’s psychological. Diseases that people have—psychological, mental illnesses. And that’s a huge issue. Secondly, a lot of men have been killed, so they’re the wage earners for the house, and now the kids and the families don’t have a source of income because of that.” Hisham noted that “[others in the community help sometimes, but [i]n Waziristan, there are poor people, and [victims] usually rely on . . . daily wage earning. That’s only sufficient for themselves, so it’s hard to help others. But whenever they can, they do.”

Firoz Ali Khan is a shopkeeper in Miranshah.

“I have been seeing drones since the first one appeared about four to five years ago. Sometimes there will be two or three drone attacks per day. . . . [We see drones] hovering [24 hours a day but] we don’t know when they will strike.” Firoz explained, “People are afraid of dying. . . . Children, women, they are all psychologically affected. They look at the sky to see if there are drones. Firoz told us, “[The drones] make such a noise that everyone is scared.”

These stories are all obviously tragic, but they raise another issue as well. Readers of this blog are now challenged to close their eyes and imagine drones circling over your local area 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, with their distinctive buzzing noise a constant factor in your lives. Envisage also the fact that you live there in the knowledge that any of these machines can suddenly swoop and blow you and your children into the next world simply for being in the wrong place at the wrong time, knowing that even being in your house does not make you necessarily secure. The psychological effects must be (and indeed are, as we can see from the testimonies) devastating.

The only way to describe such an imposed scenario is terrorism, both physical and psychological. Were this to happen against any Western ally at the hands of, say, Russia or China, the Western establishment media would without doubt rush to label it so...and quite rightly. Why, therefore, is it not described in these terms in Waziristan, in Afghanistan, in Yemen, Somalia, Sudan, Libya and Palestine?

Further reinforcing this, Obama now presides over so-called 'double-tap' strikes: drones strike a target, often a 'signature strike', namely one based on patterns of behavior rather than hard intelligence, and then return to the same scene later to target rescuers. Even the most rabid supporter of drone attacks would have trouble labeling this as anything other than a grotesque, despicable and inhuman act of terror, one that is clearly illegal under any possible interpretation of relevant international law statutes.

Many of those who voted Obama back in for four more years have used that old chestnut about him being the 'lesser of two evils'. Romney would be much worse, they say. That may be true for some, but asking the innocent victims of Obama's drone bombing campaign may bring a different reply. From the article:

"Any American, whether Obama or Mitt Romney, is cruel," Warshameen Jaan Haji, whose neighborhood was struck by a drone last week, told Reuters on the eve of the election. "I lost my wife in the drone attack and my children are injured. Whatever happens, it will be bad for Muslims."

To these people, it makes no difference. The drones will be overhead 24/7 whoever the president is, and they'll continue to swoop down and extinguish more innocent lives.

What does one call an official campaign that targets a single group (based on religion, ethnicity or whatever) for killing, particularly when one man decides who lives or dies in a process shrouded in secrecy and devoid of transparency and accountability?

What is the word for that?

Written by Simon Wood

Twitter: @simonwood11

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Created Unequal

"In America everybody is of the opinion that he has no social superiors, since all men are equal, but he does not admit that he has no social inferiors, for, from the time of Jefferson onward, the doctrine that all men are equal applies only upwards, not downwards" - Bertrand Russell

Regular readers of this blog will be all too aware of the laxity of the establishment media in its adversarial role in democratic society, not to mention its selective bias on many important issues. The UK's Guardian newspaper nevertheless remains an important mainstream source of information on most issues (despite its ludicrous and embarrassing bias against Wikileaks and its founder) and it often carries excellent articles on neglected human rights issues.

This week was no exception with two fine articles highlighting what inevitably happens when large private companies are given free rein with people's lives and livelihoods: the always excellent Zoe Williams here explains the scandalous implications of outsourcing of foster care and Felicity Lawrence here exposes how large food companies and agribusiness exploit immigrants as an ultra-cheap, 'on-tap' labor force.

From Zoe Williams' article:

We don't have a particularly strong tradition, in this media trajectory, of asking what happened to the money. You can be sure money is being spent – it costs between £200,000 and £300,000 a year for residential care for a child, and £30,000 to £60,000 for foster care. Why is it so expensive? (For comparison, it costs £30,000 to keep someone in a low-security prison for year, and £30,000 to send someone to Eton.) Who gets the money? It's a long story, but the answer emphatically isn't the carers or the foster family.

After 20 years of outsourcing, the bulk of children's homes are run by private companies, with money sucked upwards into one or two private equity companies, GI Partners or Bowmark Capital or Baird Capital. Two-thirds of fostering provision is controlled by the private sector. Only 11% of children's homes are run by charities; the third sector started off quite big in children's care, as you'd expect, meeting local-authority contracts by spending their own reserves. Eventually, though, the private sector underbid them, and they went bust or moved into other services.

Having whittled down the competition, the private sector became eye-poppingly expensive: £200,000 is actually a low estimate, based on overall spending of £1bn on 5,000 children in residential care homes in England. In 2009, it was leaked that CastleCare, which runs 40 homes in Northamptonshire, was charging £378,000 a year for a residential place. This would be money well spent if the care was brilliant, but it isn't. Only 2.5% of children's homes have an Ofsted rating of "outstanding".


At the end of this period in "care", then, why are kids and young adults moved miles away from their foster homes? Why are 44% of 16-year-olds who leave care still not in education, employment or training three years later? For the same old reasons – because housing is found wherever it's cheapest.

The cheapest house in the UK went on sale this week, for £750, in Stockton. That's also where a huge amount of asylum seekers' and post-care housing is – I know, wild coincidence! It's quite a saving, but mainly for the contractor rather than the government. Where housing is cheap, the local economy tends to be sluggish, and unemployment is generally high. Brilliant. Now you have a young person with no roots, no money and no realistic prospect of employment. I don't know why we don't just cut out the middle man and send them directly to jail.

It's reasonable to talk about the morality of having a profit motive in this sector at all. You shouldn't run a home for a profit. But before we start on any of that, we need to scotch the idea that private-sector involvement has made any of this any cheaper.

From Felicity Lawrence's article:

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.


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.

Both articles demonstrate very clearly the dangers of allowing private corporations, aided by deregulation, to make their own rules. The theory when turning vital services over to the private sector is that by creating competition, the quality of the service or product will increase, but time has proven that this is not the case. Instead, one or a few huge companies end up monopolizing the entire field or industry, removing most of the competition by either buying them up or undercutting them out of business. These few companies then set their own standards, ones which invariably suit them and satisfy their single driving aim: profit.

In order to satisfy this aim, costs are cut across the board as far as is legally allowed, and if this means finding a bunch of miserable immigrants and putting them through hell, or making vulnerable kids like orphans even more vulnerable, you can be sure that is exactly what will happen. And even when human rights groups raise an outcry, the politicians who are desperate to keep big business on their side will do all they can to dilute any efforts toward regulation, as Felicity Lawrence writes in the same article:

In response to complaints from agribusiness it [the UK's coalition government] has instructed the [Gangmaster Licensing Authority] (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.

Article 23 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states:

(1) Everyone has the right to work, to free choice of employment, to just and favourable conditions of work and to protection against unemployment.

(2) Everyone, without any discrimination, has the right to equal pay for equal work.

(3) Everyone who works has the right to just and favourable remuneration ensuring for himself and his family an existence worthy of human dignity, and supplemented, if necessary, by other means of social protection.

(4) Everyone has the right to form and to join trade unions for the protection of his interests.

Sixty-four years after the declaration, signed at a time when the horrors and abuses of World War II were still fresh in the memory, we have allowed humanity to revert to its default state; namely one in which unscrupulous people with extensive power and influence get away with as much as they are permitted to by elected officials who possess the all-too-human capacity for greed, cronyism and corruption, officials who will agree to almost anything in order to receive funds for political campaigns and party coffers, and often a nice seat on a board when their political career comes to an end.

It is now popular orthodoxy that 'red tape' is a hindrance to business and therefore to economic growth, leading to direct inhibition of the livelihoods of ordinary citizens. This could be more accurately labelled a 'red herring', as strict regulations on powerful corporations and other bodies actually protect all citizens from the destructive practices described in this article.

This excellent set of graphics sets out the results of the deregulation of the financial industries forced by Reagan (and Thatcher) in the 1980s. It can be seen with crystal clarity that deregulation benefits the already wealth and only them, while the poor are left to stagnate and rot, yet another devastating consequence of relaxing the rules for the rich and powerful.

Felicity Lawrence's article is particularly shocking because what she describes is slavery by another name. The generally accepted definition of the word slavery is work done for no payment. This is inadequate. The only meaningful dividing line is that which separates those who have a wage that can enable them and their family to have an 'existence worthy of human dignity' and those who do not. Paying people peanuts after putting them through the conditions described in the article can only be regarded as a lesser form of slavery, yet slavery nonetheless.

Humans without power are generally good and kind with millions around the world engaged in charity or volunteer work and many many others willing to dig into their pockets for a good cause. Unfortunately, the people who rise to the very top of huge corporations or who reach the upper echelons of political power are often a different breed.

Treating fellow humans in the manner described in the two articles highlighted here dehumanizes us all. That this can happen among the members of a supposedly enlightened, civilized and intelligent species speaks eloquently of the fundamental flaws of our 'democracies' and cries out for a viable alternative system (described in my free book linked below) in which human rights and the rule of law reign supreme over material concerns.

'The 99.99998271% - Why the Time is Right for Direct Democracy' by Simon Wood is available for free download. In this 70-page book, the current state of human rights and democracy is discussed, and a simple method of implementing direct democracy is suggested.
Simon Wood on twitter (@simonwood11) and Facebook or at his blog. The Direct Democracy Alliance, a voluntary group dedicated to creating national/global direct democracy, is now also on twitter: (@DDA4586)

Author's note: For nine months I have been writing detailed articles on human rights and direct democracy, and have written a book on the topic which is freely available. However, despite some small successes, I am yet to make a scratch in any meaningful way that will bring about real change. For this to happen, I need to create an NPO or similar organization devoted to creating and promoting direct democracy. I therefore appeal to any reader who has significant resources, or who has connections to someone who has, to contact me with regard to making a philanthropic donation to bring about a transparent organization with paid, professional staff which can actually make a difference.