Some thoughts from Remembrance weekend

Had a very moving Saturday in Westminster with my friends from March For England, here are some thoughts on the day

Advertisements

‘Aspiration Nation’ – Or when actions fail to meet the rhetoric

Last Wednesday during my lunch break at work,I sat and watched David Cameron’s leaders speech to the Conservative Party Conference. It took me longer than usual to finish my sandwiches as my jaw was dropping at many points during his presentation where I couldn’t quite equate what I was hearing to the reality in England today.

To make sure that I had not got his message wrong, I took notes from about a quarter of the way in and have just sat and reviewed them. Following is a potted overview of some of the main points of what he put across against the reality as seen since the Coalition came to power in 2010.

‘We should be proud of our armed forces’

Absolutely David, I couldn’t agree more. It is nice to see our government giving our troops the best equipment, good wages, their families decent homes to live in and proper care for the wounded when they return from active duty……Oh, sorry, that isn’t quite the reality is it?

Government cutbacks mean that some of our troops currently putting their lives on the line in Afghanistan will be receiving their redundancy notices just days after Christmas. Many of those serving have had to supplement their army issue kit with more suitable equipment paid for by their families and sent from home such as boots that don’t melt in the heat – This has led to some comments from other troops in the ISAF forces about our boys being ‘scruffy’ where uniforms do not match.

More damning is the government’s failure to invest in proper protective gear and the MOD’s insistence on using lightly protected ‘Snatch’ Land Rovers for our boys that are leading to more fatalities and woundings from IED’s (Improvised Explosive Devices) than are necessary. Pictures such as the one above of a friend of mine planting a cross on Remembrance Day for her lost son are tragically more common than they need to be.

Our soldiers are only allowed to return rather than initiate fire in many cases, and engagements after dark are frowned upon (Where the technical superiority of the coalition forces weaponry would do the most harm to the enemy)

 Whilst our soldiers are on tour, what of their families? Many of the homes that they live in are substandard – Former RAF billets locally in Cowley were sold to a private housing association who gutted them out and completely refurbished them as they were ‘not up to scratch’. Ironically, a number who now live in these homes are asylum seekers from the countries that our forces have been deployed to.

Between January and March 2011, The Army Families Federation had almost 1000 complaints concerning sub-standard housing (Source – The Sunday Express, 3/7/11).  Money is being thrown down a black hole on maintenance contracts to companies such as Annington Homes and Modern Housing Solutions who were given costly PFI contracts by the previous government and not on upgrading the stock to the levels that our Force’s families deserve.

Then we have the treatment of our soldiers when they leave the service. There has been an unspoken ‘military covenant’ for years regarding looking after those who have returned. Yet we see cases such as those of Private Alex Stringer who lost three limbs serving in Afghanistan yet is given a tiny sixth floor flat with his family in Essex when it is clear that this will be inadequate for someone who has suffered such injuries.

A further case includes Royal Marine Michael Glen who served two tours and was enlisted for eight years yet when he decided to leave the service to support his three children upon the breakdown of his marriage was told by council chiefs that he ‘does not qualify’ for a home and needs to book in to a homeless hostel.

Contrast this with such recent cases as the Bulgarian family who were housed within two weeks of pitching a tent in London as they had children who had to be a priority, or Somali refugee Abdi Nur whose family were re-housed in Kensington because he ‘didn’t like’ the area of North London that his family were living in, despite never having held down a job and paid in to the system since coming to England.

Our government’s treatment of our armed forces has resulted in a march this coming Thursday against the axeing of The Royal Regiment of Fusiliers to Parliament, the first time the Army have demonstrated on the streets of London since 1649 and the first time EVER that troops of The British Army have done so since it’s formation in 1707 following the Act of Union. 

It would appear that the government’s treatment of our armed forces is also not limited to just current servicemen as has been seen by their decision to stop the award of one of Russia’s highest decorations to the Royal Navy seamen who manned the treacherous Arctic convoys during World War 2. Their reason? – It would ‘break the rules’  (Link below)

Russia Today on the Arctic Convoy Medals

‘Housing benefits must be cut and we must make it pay to work rather than to live on benefits’

Quite right, Prime Minister – There is far too much money paid out of the public purse on housing benefit and the whole benefits culture needs to be looked at and work made a more attractive proposition.

However……Why is the housing benefits bill so high in the first place? Under ‘right to buy’, many council properties were sold to their tenants to get them on the housing ladder and boost the market. This was all well and good, except that the stock sold off was never replaced.

Now we have a situation where councils are confronted with overdemand for what is left of their social housing and are having to rent from private landlords. Like any ‘supply and demand’ situation, lack of supply is driving the prices up whilst mass immigration is piling more demand on to an already overheated situation.

With the housing benefit cap coming in to place in the more expensive areas of Central London, this is exacerbating the situation in outer London boroughs such as Hillingdon where rents are now rising to MEET the cap as people move out of property they can no longer afford. Because they are not ‘intentionally’ homeless, then Hillingdon Council has to find them accommodation and the cycle of inflated prices continues.

Add in to the mix the rises on private rents for low paid workers and this causes more need for housing benefit and also disincentivises these people from working – After all, if the council will pay ALL your rent via housing benefit if you are unemployed and you then have your dole money on top what is the point of doing a 40 hour week and being less well off? The influx of migrant workers living six and more to a house and sharing the bills is also driving wages down whilst adding an extra fuel to housing demand and pricing.

My family has had to constantly move around the borough as our private landlords assess their options at the end of a 12 month lease – Because we both work we are not considered a priority case by Hillingdon Council (Despite being life long borough residents) and have to compete against social tenants backed with housing benefit money in the private rental sector. Sadly, if neither of us worked we would gain extra points on the ‘need’ scale and would probably be more secure in the letting arena backed with taxpayers money!

Until the government gets a grip on mass immigration and more affordable housing becomes available in both the public and private sector, the issue of housing benefit will continue to be a thorny one. 

With regards to cutting the rest of the benefits bill – Work must pay to give people the incentive to work, but the situation I have laid out above shows why there must be progress with affordable housing as a starting point.

This is also without the other elephant in the room – The EU. David Cameron can talk tough on cutting benefits all he likes, but the European Union are currently preparing to take the British government to court to ensure that all EU citizens have the same right to benefits here as our own. With many of the countries of Europe in economic turmoil with the breakdown of the Eurozone, how many will see the UK and our relatively generous benefits system as a tempting alternative?

‘We need to get people off of benefits and back to work’

Indeed we do, Prime Minister. However, there are a few impediments to doing this.

Firstly, we are in the middle of a recession. The only way out of this is to generate goods and services in the private sector that will fuel demand and stimulate growth, for which we need our entrepreneurs and small businessmen to flourish. They can then look at employing more people to sell these goods and services, earning money which can be spent in the local economy, stimulating more businesses and more jobs.

However, at the present time they are hamstrung by red tape and the cost of employing new staff. The growth of part time as opposed to full time jobs is probably driven by the desire on the side of the employer to keep his National Insurance contributions down. This ‘tax on jobs’ has also fuelled the growth of the ‘black economy’, where workers are paid cash in hand and the treasury sees no extra revenue.

By doing away with Employer’s NI contributions and bringing in a simple flat rate of income tax for all, this impediment to growth can be removed and will more than likely lead to workers previously in the ‘black’ economy becoming net contributors once again. In France a few years back, the government lowered the rate of tax on those employed in the hospitality industry and the tax revenue actually grew as more workers became legitimate so there is a precedent for this approach.

Secondly, we have to make sure that the unemployed already here get a fair crack of the whip for new job opportunities. Unfortunately, EU movement of workers regulations mean that UK citizens are up against the whole workforce of  Europe when applying for jobs. Again, many of these migrant workers will live five or more to a house to split the bills,so can do the job for less. They spend little in the local economy and send most of their money back to their families in their home countries, stifling the incremental growth that comes from local wage earners spending in local communities.

David Cameron boasted in his speech of a million new jobs being created since 2010 – What he failed to mention were who were the beneficiaries of these jobs. ONS (Office of National Statistics) figures from 2011 showed that in the year preceeding it, 334,000 foreign born workers had taken up jobs compared to 77,000 UK residents. That was a 0.3% rise in jobs for those already here compared to a 2.2% increase for foreign workers.

Worse still, if you look at much trumpeted infrastructure projects that the government was looking at to kick start employment the figures were even more bleak. The multi-billion pound Olympics project in East London (above) was supposed to have given the local economy a big boost. However, figures from The Olympic Delivery Agency showed that of 6277 workers on the Olympic site, just 828 were local – Just one in eight. Moreover, with this level of migrant workforce, the public money being put in to the project in many cases was being sent overseas. With The Coalition looking at big infrastructure projects such as HS2 to generate growth and employment, the example of the Olympic Village further undermines their economic case for such outlay.

In order to cut the jobless figures (Therefore cutting the amount needed from the treasury in unemployment payments) we must leave the EU and regain control of our own jobs market and employment laws.  Unfortunately, David Cameron has already stated that he feels we are ‘better off in’ so in effect is opposing his own stated aim

The victims are likely to be our youngsters who are having to compete against more people for fewer jobs as seen by recent ONS figures quoted in our local Uxbridge Gazette – Long term youth unemployment in the borough is up by TWO THOUSAND percent between July 2011 and July 2012, with long term unemployment as a whole in the borough rising by 147.4 per cent.

‘We need to unblock planning log jams for more homes, and get more young people on the housing ladder’

Well said,Prime Minister – But with a two thousand percent long term youth unemployment increase in my area in the last year, how are they going to afford these new homes?

It was difficult enought when I was growing up, but house prices have run way above inflation for many years – Even if you can find a property that you can afford, the banks have tightened up on lending to such a degree that you will be saving for a deposit for so long you will probably get your pension before you have enough to put down on your first home!

To put this in to perspective, when my sister got married in the early eighties she bought a three bedroomed semi-detached house in Hillingdon with my brother-in-law for just over £27,000.  I have looked through the property pages of our local paper this week and the cheapest three bedroom property is £240,000, funnily enough from an agent called Cameron’s! Even if you are looking to buy a one bedroom as a starter home, the least expensive is £140,000 whilst the cheapest studio I could find was £95,000 (Which is currently let out at £625 per month!)

There was a two bedroom apartment listed which I recognised as the High Point development in Hayes Town at £294,000 – This premier development has been thirty five percent allocated to social housing, whilst it was reported that the last section to become available was 50% bought by overseas investors.

We have a housing waiting list of over nine thousand people in Hillingdon according to Cllr Janet Duncan, with the latest ‘Core strategy’ programme not even covering this amount – That is before we get to the subject of mass immigration distorting the supply.

Cutting back on the housing and green belt regulations to try and boost construction will only prompt a land grab by developers who can afford to keep prices high on the back of excessive demand, and will do nothing to help our younger generation find homes. Until we regain control of our borders and stop mass immigration, this is not a problem that can be rectified – On current immigration rates, we would have to build a city the size of Birmingham every four years just to stand still.

‘We will lead the fight against poverty – No-one is a write-off’

A noble aim – But again, you can ‘talk the talk’ but can you ‘walk the walk’?

British Gas announced price rises of 6% last week – Many of our pensioners are in fuel poverty whilst our utilities services, some of them now in overseas hands, keep pushing through above inflation rises. Expect prices to rise still further as our coal fired power stations are closed to meet EU emissions targets and our elderly nuclear plants are closed down without replacement.

The choice for some of our OAP’s this winter will be between feeding themselves or heating their homes – How about tackling this level of poverty Mr Cameron?

You may also like to look at a report on Poverty in London by The City Parochial Foundation, as reported by the BBC – It states that 270,000 children in inner London and 380,000 children in outer London are now classed as being in ‘poverty’, along with half a million adults.

Still, I appreciate that tackling poverty in England is not as high profile as some of the causes that the Coalition are promoting overseas. I take it that whilst poverty in England is on the increase you will still increase the foreign aid budget to help those ‘less fortunate than ourselves’ as previously stated?

Indeed, I noted from today’s papers that aid is continuing to flow to Rwanda as authorised by Andrew Mitchell MP in his last job as overseas development minister (Before becoming chief whip and chief scourge of PC Pleb) , despite the regime’s appalling human rights record? Then there is the aid to India, one of the world’s fastest growing economies, who have their own nuclear weapons and space programme and who refer to the aid given as ‘peanuts’.  This is the same country who now have aircraft carriers as part of their defence forces whilst we do not due to the latest round of cuts and the decommissioning of HMS Ark Royal. 

Then there is the continuing foreign aid to despots like Robert Mugabe who insult us at every turn, the £650,000 given to Pakistan for ‘education’ whilst they triple their military budget, and the cash given every year to Uganda whose President Museveni has recently replaced his own private jet.

Still, we can content ourselves that under a Cameron government, ‘no-one is a write-off’. Well, no actually.

The picture above is of Remploy workers outside the Conservative conference where Cameron made his speech (With thanks to UK Indymedia for the photo)

Remploy were formed after World War 2 to provide supporting employment for disabled soldiers returning from action. They have gone on to provide employment and a purpose for many disabled members of our community.

The Coalition have decided to close down a number of the factories and ‘encourage’ the workers to find employment in the open workplace, despite the global downturn and in spite of the workers from the last round of closures under the previous Labour government struggling to find alternative employment (85% have not worked since redundancy) The Remploy factories can be profitable with modest investment and decent management(Indeed, some already are) but the government are having none of it. How does that square with your declaration that ‘Nobody is a write off’ Mr Cameron?

Then we have the ATOS debacle. Employed to sort out the culture of bogus disability benefits claims by Iain Duncan-Smith’s Department of Work and Pensions (DWP), this French private firm are not paid by how many frauds they uncover but by how much money they save the government and are on a bonus scheme to do so.

Not surprisingly, ATOS are going after what they consider to be ‘soft’ targets to make the figures look good – The reality is that in 2011, one hundred and fifty thousand people judged fit to work by ATOS won their cases on appeal.

Probably the worst case that has been seen so far is that of the late Karen Sherlock. Mrs Sherlock was passed as fit to work by ATOS in 2010 despite failing eyesight, severe diabetes and the need for a kidney transplant. The DWP stopped her £96 per week benefits in April after an ATOS assessment, which was subsequently overturned on appeal – She passed away on June 8th after two years of of fighting a system that had failed her.

Locally in Hillingdon, we are seeing proposals regarding three day care centres for the disabled to be closed and replaced by just one as part of the austerity cuts – Again, this has now gone to review after it was challenged but such actions as these show Mr Cameron’s speech for what it is, hype over substance.

‘We’re in a global race today/ Exports are up 25% to Brazil, 40% to China and 80% to Russia’

Absolutely great news, Prime Minister. It shows that British industry is not dead and buried as some would have you believe.

Now look at those figures – Export figures are UP to three of the five big emerging economies (With India and Singapore, they are referred to as the BRICS countries)

Yet we are hamstrung in our dealings with these economies because trade deals are not negotiated by the UK, but by the EU. It begs the question – If we can improve trade with the excess of red tape and bureaucracy imposed on us by The European Union, what could we do with a REAL free trade agreement negotiated by our own government?

Unfortunately, Mr Cameron does not want us to find out. He has already reneged on one ‘cast iron guarantee’ on a referendum on our continued membership of the EU which was a part of the Conservative 2010 general election manifesto, and has since employed a ‘three line whip’ to make sure that his MP’s would not ask for a referendum during a debate forced on the House by one hundred thousand signatures from the people of our country.

When asked why he imposed the whip by then Conservative MEP (Member of the European Parliament) Roger Helmer, he replied ‘Because we are better off in’ – Mr Helmer subsequently resigned from the Conservative party and joined UKIP.

So, why are we ‘better off in’ Mr Cameron? You talk of free trade, yet the areas of world growth are outside of the EU as shown by our increase in trade with the countries aforementioned. According to IMF forecasts, in 2016 the Eurozone will account for just 12.4% of world output, down from 21.8% in 1991 and 14.3% in 2011.

By contrast, the ‘Anglosphere’ of our Commonwealth partners will account for over 35% of world trade in 2016 – So where is the growth in our economy to come from? To borrow a comment from the German Field Marshall Hindenburg, when describing Germany’s alliance with the feeble Austrian Empire in the first world war : “We are shackled to a corpse”

Our exports to Europe now account for less than 50% of all of our trade, even taking in to account the distortion of ‘The Rotterdam effect’ (Many of our exports to countries outside the EU pass through EU ports so are counted as exports to the EU, the so-called ‘Rotterdam effect’)

However, I appreciate that this is still a decent amount of trade and we don’t need to lose it in these straightened times. So, how about this for an idea – We leave the EU but sort out a trade deal along the same lines as Norway? Norway is in a far better economic position than other European countries and has an agreement where they can have free trade with those countries by paying a levy of £300 million per year – Less than ONE WEEK’S contribution to the EU that we currently pay, and the Norwegians are not hamstrung by the rules and regulations that leading economists such as Professor Tim Congdon have estimated cost us upwards of £100 billion per year (Or 10% of GDP)

This will give us an advantage in the ‘Global Race’ that you talk of whilst maintaining the trade links with Europe that you seem so keen to preserve. It’s a ‘win-win’ situation Mr Cameron – But if you don’t wish to take the decision, how about an ‘in-out’ referendum where the people of England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland can make it for you? After all, we are a democratic nation are we not?

Style over substance

The Prime Minister’s speech rated a 7/10 with many political commentators. For me, a speech is only as good as the actions that back it up – I will leave you to make up your own mind as to what I would score it at based on my previous commentary.

For the ‘Aspirations’ that Mr Cameron speaks of to come true, we would need to enact the following –

1 – An end to mass immigration with an Australian style points system imposed so that all economic migrants coming to the UK benefit the overall community whilst improving their own situation.

2 – Withdrawal from the EU to maintain our competitive edge in the world marketplace whilst freeing our businesses from unnecessary red tape and saving the taxpayer over £100 billion per year

3 – There are over 900,000 empty properties in the UK whilst the housing shortage continues – We need to get these back in to the housing pool whilst building affordable houses for first time buyers and working families on brown field sites.

4 – Foreign aid needs to be cut and the resources allocated to our own poor, sick and deserving

5 – Our armed forces need to be properly funded and equipped. The  money can be found from the saving of £53 million per day in direct funding when we leave the EU

This would be a start, but I don’t think that the current occupant of No 10 lives in the real world and can see the answers – Remember this when the general election comes round and,once again, the actions have failed to meet the rhetoric.

Cliff Dixon is UKIP Hillingdon chairman