The latest thing our welfare system is to blame for: asylum seekers

The comments of the Mayor of Calais are being widely reported today. There are a reported 2,500 people sleeping rough in Calais, desperately trying to find a way to smuggle themselves into the UK illegally. The Mayor says this is because they have been attracted by our ‘generous’ welfare system. So this is one more thing we can add to the list of evils the British welfare system is responsible for, along with idleness, teenage pregnancy and ‘welfare dependency’.

This idea is obviously very appealing to those who wish to undermine our social security system, but is there any truth in it? When someone presents themself here and makes an application for asylum, they are not allowed to work while their application is considered. Fortunately, we do still have some compassion, so asylum seekers are given a very small sum each week to survive on (around £40) and a roof over their head (usually hotel or B&B accommodation, or if they are lucky, a ‘hard to let’ flat where no one else wants to live).

If their application is successful and they are given leave to remain in the UK, they become eligible for mainstream benefits, but must join the queue like everyone else for housing. Question though. If someone has risked their life travelling thousands of miles to the UK, and then waited months or years barely surviving while their application for asylum is processed, are they then going to say “after all I’ve gone through, now I’ll just kick back and relax and claim benefits”? Of course not! The suggestion is just ludicrous.

If the UK was so attractive and such a soft touch, you would expect the number of successful asylum seekers (refugees) we take to be the highest in Europe. Is this the case? In terms of absolute numbers, both Germany and France take more refugees than us, and relative to the population, while we take one refugee per every 319 citizens, there are 9 European countries with a higher ratio than that, with Sweden taking one refugee per 107 citizens. Even if you wanted to flee to a country based on its welfare system, would you really pick the UK?


If Labour did this one thing they would walk the next election

Tend to agree with this.

Pride's Purge

(not satire – it’s Labour!) 

For some strange reason being anti-EU is seen as right-wing.

Personally I would vote for the UK to stay in the EU, but some of the most left-wing people I know – and I know a few – believe the UK should leave the EU.

We should never forget that it was a Tory government which signed the accession agreement for the UK to join the EEC, and it was Tory Prime Ministers who signed the Single European Act and Maastricht.

And in 1975 it was a Labour government which held a referendum on EU membership.

If Ed Miliband and Labour were brave enough they would offer a no-conditions promise to the electorate that if they win the next election they will hold an in-out referendum on EU membership.

And if they did that, they would walk the next election.


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Straw poll on 2015 voting intentions

Just thought I’d do a quick straw poll of the voting intentions of the readers of this blog/Twitter followers. I’d be grateful if you could give your answers via this link:

It’s completely anonymous, and nothing will be stored apart from the answer you give. Will let it run for a week and then share the results.


How to respond to UKIP Calypso

UKIP Calypso, a terrible song produced by 80s DJ Mike Read caused a bit of controversy this week. Following accusations that the song was racist due to Read singing in an embarrassing Caribbean accent, the song was withdrawn by Read yesterday. I say withdrawn, but it is still available for sale from Amazon’s MP3 store, and it has reached number 21 in the official mid-week chart.

I asked people on Twitter whether they thought the song was racist or not, and most of those who replied seemed to think it was. I don’t really agree though. I think sometimes people like to get outraged by things, particularly things said by people they loathe. I’ve probably been guilty of this at times myself, but it’s important to look at what people actually say rather than what they are reported as saying. Otherwise you end up looking like your motives are slightly dishonest. I think the Lord Freud story from last week falls into this category. You can disagree with what he said (as I did), but what he said was not outrageous, and calling for his resignation seemed to me to be a little ridiculous.

So back to the UKIP song. It is terrible. Badly produced and sung in the most cringworthy embarrassing way. It’s not racist though. People should be allowed to imitate other people’s accents without fear of being called racist shouldn’t they? I would argue it’s what is being said in the accent that would make it racist or not, and Read’s song was just about UKIP, and his sort of bizarre hero-worship of Farage.

So how should we respond to this piece of shit song? One thing I quite like about Amazon (I know Amazon is toxic on the left because they are evil tax avoiders or something), is that often when there is a really shitty product on sale, reviewers get stuck in a have a bit of fun with it. Here’s one example. The three wolf moon t shirt. Someone bought this for my Dad which he now proudly wears much to my shame. People have also started doing a similar number to Read’s song. Here’s a couple of choice ones:

“Well what can i say, I thought such great lyrical talent and song writing ability were lost with the likes of Freddy Mercury taken from us, but it seems i may have judged to soon. This song is a master piece and maybe even the song of the century if not, then definitely a song of a generation.

I have had this song playing on repeat now for 4 hours and it has still not lost any of its charm and originality, here is to many more hours of audible pleasure and god bless you for bringing this music to us.”


“Not since Jack Black told the kids to “stick it to the man” in the iconic film School of Rock, has anyone used music so effectively as a form of biting political satire.

My voice is hoarse from shouting “YES!” as I drank up every word of Mike Read’s Calypso masterpiece, and my arm is sore from punching it in the air over and over.

Like the Kennedy Assassination or the Moon Landings, in future years we’ll be saying ‘where were you when you first heard the UKIP Calypso.'”

So basically, I’m saying, rather than getting outraged each time someone you don’t like says or does something that’s not really that outrageous, mockery is a far better weapon. If these people are just shut down every time they stray from what is determined ‘permitted speech’ they will take on victim status and others may be persuaded there is some sort of conspiracy against them. Here’s another response to the Calypso I found funny. Jake Yapp tries out his own embarrassing Caribbean accent:

The UK’s budget deficit creeps back up.

Figures released today by the ONS show that for the first 6 months of this financial year, the government’s budget deficit has increased by 10% over the same period last year. But should we care? Labour certainly thinks so. Shadow Treasury spokesman Chris Leslie said:

“These figures are a serious blow to George Osborne. Not only is he set to break his promise to balance the books by next year, but borrowing in the first half of this year is now 10% higher than the same period last year. As the [Office for Budget Responsibility] said last week, stagnating wages and too many people in low-paid jobs are leading to more borrowing.”

Chris Leslie is probably right in the sense that the figures are a blow to George Osborne – at least in the minds of those in the media bubble who think the deficit is the all encompassing issue for the General Election. For most people though, other factors like jobs, housing and wages are likely to be more important factors for floating voters.

In a way we should be glad the deficit remains high. For all the talk, and while certain sections of society have been clobbered by austerity measures, overall, government spending continues to make a positive contribution  to growth. George Osborne has failed utterly to meet the targets for deficit reduction he set himself, but we should be thankful for that. If he had succeeded, we’d probably be failing down a pretty deep hole right now.

There is another sense that Leslie is correct though. While the size of the deficit doesn’t really matter (at least at the moment anyway), the fact the tax receipts are weak could be an indication of poor wage and productivity growth, which is definitely something Labour should be banging on about (but preferably only when they have a proper policy of their own to address the problem).


Senior UKIP spokesman forced to deny he was the original ‘Bungle’ from Rainbow

While I have 5 minutes, here’s a silly story I found from the Liverpool Echo. Not sure why this even got written up, but it seems someone edited Paul Nuttall’s Wikipedia page to say “Nuttall was the original Bungle in children’s television show Rainbow.” The story was probably considered newsworthy because it gave some sub-editor a chance to write a funny headline, a chance that I’m not going to miss out on either.

‘I’m not Bungle’: Mersey politician’s denial after Wikipedia prank

In defense of Lord Freud (sort of)

Comments made by Welfare Minister Lord Freud have created a bit of a storm today after being raised at Prime Minister’s Questions by Labour leader Ed Miliband. Freud was recorded saying:

“You make a really good point about the disabled. There is a group where actually, as you say, they’re not worth the full wage.”

At the risk of incurring the wrath of my fellow lefties, I’m going to defend Lord Freud’s remarks while still disagreeing with the argument I think he was trying to make. I say think because what he actually said was pretty clumsy, and could easily be interpreted as offensive when viewed a certain way. So what do I think he was saying then?

It seems to me he was making a case argued by most opponents of the minimum wage. The argument uses what economists call marginal productivity of labour. This goes that firms will hire additional workers up to the point where the costs of paying the worker a wage is equal to the additional output they will achieve by hiring the worker. So if a worker can produce 5 widgets an hour, but only costs the equivalent of 4 widgets an hour, they will be hired, but a worker who costs 4 widgets but can only produce 3 won’t be. If the workers was willing to work for the monetary equivalent of 2 widgets though, the firm would hire them. If the minimum wage is set at the equivalent of 4 widgets however, this worker who can only produce 3 widgets an hour will be left unemployed.

So Freud is saying some people (in this case some disabled people) are not productive enough to produce enough to be ‘worth’ the minimum wage. This is probably true in many jobs, and I’m not just talking about seriously disabled people here, but also those who have been unemployed long term and/or are recovering from drug or alcohol problems. In economic terms this seems a rather uncontroversial thing to say and one that – despite what they may say today – most Conservative MPs  would agree with. So where I would defend Lord Freud is to the extent that he was only (rather clumsily) expressing a very commonly held belief.

But is he right though? I’ve already said that I agree there are some people who employers will view as not worth paying the minimum wage to. They could be right or wrong about this, but there is no doubt employers do not like to hire the long term unemployed, and discrimination on the grounds of disability remains a real thing. But those in agreement would argue that if there were no minimum wage restrictions, employers would hire those workers if they were willing to accept a low enough wage. This is where I disagree quite strongly. People with more business experience than me may say I’m wrong here, but I don’t believe employers make hiring decisions based on the marginal productivity of labour. I think they will always try to hire the best candidate at whatever is the prevailing wage rate. For evidence I would cite the almost total failure of Nick Clegg’s Youth Contract, which provided a wage subsidy to firms hiring an unemployed young person. Take up was atrocious.

Freud’s instinct (which he half expressed) was to favour an exemption from the minimum wage for certain groups, and to top up their wages with universal credit. To the extent that it was limited to certain groups, it would likely be ineffective as the Youth Contract demonstrated. I would also be suspicious that that was just the start, and that a complete removal of the minimum wage would be on the cards leading to a race to the bottom.

A further objection would be Freud’s implicit assumption that because the private sector won’t hire certain people at the current wage, it’s OK for them to pay those people whatever they think they are worth. But businesses are there to serve us, not the other way around. The floor on wages should be the amount at which a person is able to afford a decent standard of living. If the private sector cannot or will not hire everybody for at least that wage, then the government should act as an employer of last resort and tailor make jobs to each individuals talents.

For disabled people, previous governments have felt the need to create organisations like Remploy to create employment for those who struggle to find private sector work. This government scrapped a lot of Remploy factories, and few of those losing their jobs managed to find another one. It seems to me organisations like Remploy are more likely to be more at providing decent jobs for disabled people than scrapping the minimum wage ever would.

Some General Election Predictions

After yesterday’s by-elections, I’ve been looking at the different odds for the results of next years General Election, and for fun, I’m going to make some predictions. I am using the current odds as offered by Ladbrokes (other bookmakers are available). I’ll be staking £5 on each prediction (It’s for fun, so I’m not willing to lose my shirt).

1. Who will win most seats? alittleecon prediction: Labour @ 8/11

I just can’t seeing Labour doing worse than last time, and they don’t have to do much better to become the largest party on 8th May.

2. Majority betting. alittleecon prediction: No overall majority @ 11/10.

While I expect Labour to do better than last time, they will struggle to hold all the seats they have in Scotland, so I think a majority may be beyond them.

3. Labour seats. alittleecon prediction: Under 305.5 @ 10/11

As of now, Labour have 257 seats. They will almost certainly pick up seats, but more than 48? I’m not convinced.

4. Conservative seats. alittleecon prediction: Over 277.5 @ 10/11

As of now, the Tories have 303 seats. They will lose some to Labour and possibly a couple to UKIP, but I expect them to nick a couple off the Lib Dems, so think overall they will lose less than 26 seats.

5. Lib Dem seats. alittleecon prediction: Over 32.5 seats @ Evens

The Lib Dems currently have 56 seats. While they are currently polling in single digits, in the areas where they have MPs, they seem to be popular. There’s no doubt they will lose seats, but while some are predicting a bloodbath, I think they’ll manage to hang on in a surprising number of seats.

6. UKIP seat totals. alittleecon prediction: Over 4.5 seats @ 11/8

I was tempted to go for over 9.5 seats at 3/1, but I’m fairly confident they’ll win at least 5 seats. We’ve seen Douglas Carswell win today, and there seems a good chance Mark Reckless will make it two shortly. It seems fairly certain Farage will win, and they must have a good chance in some parts of the North like Lincolnshire and on the east coast.

7. SNP seat bands. alittleecon prediction: 16-20 seats @ 10/1

This is a long shot, but after 45% of Scots voting yes in the referendum and SNP membership trebling to over 75,000 since then, there must be a good chance of them winning a significant number of seats from both the Lib Dems and Labour. They have 6 seats now and I think it’s possible they could treble that, which would hobble Labour’s chances of a majority in Westminster.

8. Greens to win a seat. alittleecon prediction: Yes @ 5/6

I think Caroline Lucas is popular enough in Brighton to be reelected, so yes is the call.

Here’s my prediction for the number of seats each party will have on 8th May 2015 (excluding NI as I know nothing about NI politics):

Labour: 293

Conservative: 279

Lib Dems: 34

SNP: 16


Plaid Cymru: 3

Greens: 1

Hopefully my maths are right (18 NI MPs). I’m assuming that Labour will put up a decent candidate against George Galloway in Bradford West (this is by no means guaranteed!).

So 8 £5 bets and an overall seats prediction. We’ll see how wrong I am next May! Interested in your predictions if you want to share them. How much will I win/lose?

Lib Dems announce ‘big’ funding increase for NHS

The Lib Dem Conference started this weekend, and the first big announcement was that they would increase funding for the NHS by £1 billion. When I saw this earlier today, it brought to mind the scene from Austin Powers where Dr Evil doesn’t realise $1 million is no longer a particularly big number.

In the context of the NHS’s £110 billion budget, and extra £1 billion is pretty insignificant, as was Labour’s announcement of an extra £2.5 billion a couple of week’s ago. The announcement today seems to have got the response it deserves – a collective shrug.