Last 7 Days Reading List 30/11/13

I’ve decided to do a regular Saturday post linking to some of my favourite articles or blog posts from the last 7 days. Here’s the first list:

The DWP has been in the news this week for various reasons. First up, universal credit and the IT system that is a ticking timebomb. Computer Weekly interviewed a former DWP consultant who explained the departments inability to ensure IT services are procured well:

Disaster at DWP

The DWP’s Work Capability Assessments came back under the microscope, with a number of suicides linked to the loss of benefits being highlighted in the media and on the blogosphere:

Second Suicide Linked To Welfare Reform Reported This Week: RIP Victor Cuff

Information Commissioner rules on the cover up of DWP-related deaths

Also on the DWP, disability rights campaigner Sue Marsh sets out the refusal of DWP to engage with disabled people about cuts to welfare and on the WOW petition campaign which has nearly reached 100,000 signatures:

WOW Petition – Nearly There

Moving on now from welfare reforms and on to the economy in general, which is the stated reason for welfare cuts. Lord Skidelsky wrote a very clear and accessible rebuttal against the arguments for austerity:

Four Fallacies of the Second Great Depression

In a post on ‘debt overhangs’, Bill Mitchell pours a fresh dose of scorn over Excel spreadsheet wizards Rheinhart and Rogoff:

Been searching for a public debt overhang – didn’t get far

More politics now, and I liked this post from Puffles about the difficulties political parties continue to face with how they use social media:

Do Labour party chiefs know how to use ‘priceless’ social media?

Boris Johnson made a widely criticised this week in which he informed us of his views on inequality and IQ. Hopefully a few people will have seen this and realised that maybe voting for someone because they make them laugh might not be the best idea. Two blogs from Chris Dillow on Johnson’s speech are well worth reading:

Inequality and Growth

IQ and Equality

Employment now, and this Buzzfeed article was quite good, highlighting the 9 worst unpaid internships in Britain. I think my favourite is the one at Reading Football club:

9 Of The Worst Unpaid Internships In Britain

Finally, and not related to what I normally blog about, a couple more links that caught my eye this week. First up, a nice interview with Charlie Brooke, talking about his new documentary on video games being shown tonight on Channel 4:

Charlie Brooker on why video game television is so hard to make

Lastly, footballer Ryan Giggs turned 40 this week. I’m not much of a football fan any more, but as an 8 year old boy, the year Giggs made his debut, I was a mad keen Man Utd fan. That he’s still playing at the top level (and for the same club) is an amazing achievement, and I thought this was a nice little interview with the man who first discovered Giggs:

Ryan Giggs, by the milkman who discovered him

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The little things just seem to matter more to our politicians

Two announcements seemingly made out of the blue this week reminded me that politicians are very good at shouting about things that are at best symptoms of a wider problem, while completely ignoring the real issues.

The first came on Monday, with George Osborne’s announcement that fees on payday loans were to be capped. Very good you might say, but is this a solution to anything significant? The problem is not really the fees, but the scandal that so many are driven to take out these loans in the first place. If you do nothing to tackle the underlying causes, it doesn’t matter how you regulate these loans, people will still need to seek out alternative sources of finance, and payday loans – even with capped fees – will still be pretty bad news for most. So a solution to the problem should start with seeking to increase the number of secure jobs and the level of wages so that fewer people need to take out payday loans in the first place. Any discussion of that taking place? A bit from Labour maybe, but detail free and pretty weak.

The second announcement came today. Cameron has been all over the TV today talking tough on benefits for EU migrants. From what he was saying, you could be forgiven for thinking some sort of crackdown is about to take place, when actually, all he’s really talking about is at best enforcing the existing rules more effectively, and at worst just announcing what is already happening. This article from the European Commission is quite a good mythbuster of EU migrant’s rights to benefits. At the moment we also have the Government criticising Labour for a lack of transitional controls in 2004, and Labour criticising the Government for not extending controls for Romanians and Bulgarians which lapse on January 1st.

This is really all a side issue though. Without wishing to go all UKIP on you, the real issue should be about whether or not free movement of labour (and capital) within the EU is a good thing at all. I don’t think it is, because regardless of what you think about immigration in general ISTM that having no controls whatsoever about who can come here to work from 27 other counties is a very dumb idea. Surely each nation state has the right to decide who it allows to come and live within it’s borders? It might decide more migrants are needed, maybe less, but without free movement of labour, the ability to decide is removed from nation states. I can’t see that the benefits outweigh the costs.

These are two issues then that the main parties largely agree on (however much they pretend otherwise), and there is no discussion taking place about other alternatives. Energy prices is another example. You’d think there was a huge disagreement between the Government and Labour about how best to make them more affordable, but when you actually look at their positions, they really aren’t that far apart. A real solution would probably involve some new state energy company or total nationalisation, but this is never even discussed.

When you watch politicians debate on TV, what they’re arguing fiercely about is not over opposing visions for the country, but some minor administrative matters (e.g “You wasted £xm on this IT project. Well you’re wasting this much now”). It’s quite unedifying and largely prevents more important discussions taking place.

I don’t have a solution to this problem, it may be an intractable one. This is just an observation that, in the grand scheme of things, ‘big’ announcements like we’ve had this week are actually rather trivial, and despite the sound and fury in arenas like PMQs, the actual differences between the main parties are still incredibly small.

Public Attitudes to Welfare – Another Reason why we need a Job Guarantee

This pissed me off today. A good old fashioned hatchet job on a couple of creditable people who dared have the nerve to stick their head above the parapet and speak out. But this is not a blog about Richard Littlejohn, a thoroughly despicable individual who reminds me a lot of Lewis Prothero from V for VendettaOne of the subjects of Littlejohn’s outburst did a pretty good job of responding hereso there’s not much more to be said on the man himself.

What’s more interesting is what it says about the welfare debate in this country. Until now, I’ve been quite optimistic about people’s attitudes about the welfare state, but now I’m not so sure. It would be easy to dismiss Littlejohn’s article as trolling or ‘linkbait’, but I think people in general are very easily persuaded that there are millions of people out there taking the piss while they work hard. It’s a view I often hear from friends and colleagues, and no amount of facts and figures will change their minds. People resent the fact that benefit claimants seemingly don’t have to do very much for their benefits (not true, but that’s what they think).

So what’s the solution? Successive governments have tried to compete over who can be the toughest on welfare, introducing to fitness to work tests, more hoops to jump through and harsher sanctions. This government has taken this to demented and particularly cruel levels at a time when jobs and in short supply, and decent paid jobs are as rare as hens teeth. At the moment, the options for an unemployed person is get a job (if they are very lucky), fruitlessly look for a job, or go on a government punishment scheme. I think we need a 4th option – a guaranteed job paid for by the government.

This removes a lot of the resentment felt by working people towards those out of work. If anyone losing a job had the option of taking a guaranteed job, they will be seen as doing something for something. Most people would take that option I believe. I think the welfare system should be rebuilt around the idea of a full employment economy as we had when the welfare state was introduced, then we can get past this playing off one set of people against another, and ensure the welfare system does what it’s suppose to – pick people up who’ve been discarded by the system and keep them active and ready to get back in the game.