Honeyball’s Weekly Round Up

Labour Party

The Tory Chancellor, George Osborne, outlined another swathe of cuts to benefits (slashing the benefits cap to £20,000 per year) per house hold for those living outside London.

Osborne also promised big cuts to the BBC’s £650mn licence fee during the same interview with the BBC’s Andrew Marr.

But it was leaked documents (which were revealed last week) that have caused most controversy. The documents, sent to the BBC, revealed that government is considering making cuts to some disability benefits. The leaked paper written before the election found that claimants of sickness benefit could be moved to jobseekers allowance, which is a cut of £30 per week.

Labour has never denied that sensible cuts would be necessary but it would not leave vulnerable people without support. But the same cannot be said for the current government. As the Guardian reminded us last week: “In March, the supreme court found that the government’s current benefit cap had left claimants at risk of being unable to house, feed or clothe their families, putting it in breach of the UK’s obligations under the UN convention on the rights of the child.”

Osborne’s planned cuts will be particularly hard for those living just outside of greater London where the cost of living is still extremely high. Overall some 90,000 households are expected to be affected in some way. You can read more here.

Preparing to return to Oslo, where she received her Nobel Peace Prize last year, Malala Yousafzai has written of the honour she felt when she was presented with the Nobel Prize.

She is returning to address the Oslo Education Summit to highlight the fact that there are still children, and specifically 60 million young girls who are denied the right to an education across the world.

She is calling on governments across the globe to fight for the right of access to education.

She calls for, “hope over doubt, light over dark, books over bullets,” simple words but said with the greatest conviction. You can read more on Malala’s trip here.

Honeyball’s Weekly Round-Up

Labour Party

The Tory- led coalition has helped the rich to get richer and it is the poor who’ve paid for it, according to a new study. The report published last week was produced jointly by Essex University and the London School of Economics.

The study found that the Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne-who famously said “we’re all in this together”-has been engaged in a significant transfer of income form the least well off half of the population to the ore affluent in the past four years.

The government had always insisted that the burden of austerity should be shared fairly and equally, but the research found startling evidence indicating that the poorest have been hit hardest. In many ways it’s not surprising of course. But this independent study provides some startling evidence to support, what has been, theory.

The researchers revealed, among other things, that with the exception of the top 5% of the country who lost a total of 1% of their potential income, the more well off half of the country has gained financially from benefit and income tax changes, seeing increases of between 1.2% and 2% in their disposable income.

The top 1% income earners have seen net gains following changes introduced by the coalition government which include a cut in the top rate of income tax.

Meanwhile, lone parents lost much more through cuts to benefits and tax credits while being faced with higher income tax allowances. Also a quarter of those on the lowest pay have shouldered a particularly heavy burden losing more than 5% of what would have been their income without the coalition’s reforms, the report found.

Labour is right to assert that neither the pain of austerity nor the rewards of the economic recovery have been equitably shared. Indeed, the Guardian reported on Saturday that Ed Miliband told a meeting of party members in the West Midlands: “This country is too unequal and we need to change it.”

The Trussel Trust, which runs emergency food banks in the UK predicts an increase in attendance over the next few months. Its chairman, Chris Mould, told the Observer: “It is not true to say that we have all been in this together. It is time we were honest about that and made a decision about whether we are happy with that.”

While Matthew Reed, chief executive of the Children’s Society, responded to the report by stating: “This important analysis offers further evidence that children in low-income families are among the groups losing the most as a result of cuts to benefits and tax credits.”

Lord Sugar, has urged David Cameron to offer more support to the growing numbers of self-employed workers after official figures revealed their pay has plummeted under the Tory- led coalition government.

The Institute for Fiscal Studies revealed self-employed incomes have fallen 14% since 2010 when Cameron came eto office.
Meanwhile a separate analysis from the Office for National Statistics revealed the average real income of the self-employed fell by 9%, from £24,000 to £22,000 a year.

Lord Sugar called for the Prime Minister to: “Clear the path for hard-working self-employed people to concentrate on what they do best”.

The actress Imelda Staunton has made an interesting observation. She said that while older women are celebrated in this country in film and television at least, pressure is applied in the form of impossible images which younger women are expected to uphold which she described as “wrong’ and “revolting”.

She was speaking at a Telegraph Wonder Women event.

Honeyball’s Weekly Round-Up

Labour Party

This week was marked by George Osborne’s budget on Wednesday. Osborne announced a host of measures, which included enabling people to withdraw their pension pot more flexibly – rather than buying an annuity at retirement age. As well as this the chancellor announced the creation of a new ‘Pensioner Bond’ for over 65s, the abolition of the 10p tax rate for savers, and the halving to 10% of the tax on BINGO halls. “If you’re a maker, a doer or a saver: this Budget is for you,” Osborne announced.

The budget also included the announcement of a 1p cut on beer duty, the scrapping of a rise on fuel duty in September, reductions in long haul passenger duty, and the creation of a new, twelve-sided £1 coin – measures which were seen as populist gimmicks by many. Ed Miliband mocked the latter in his response to the chancellor, saying “It doesn’t matter if the pound is square, round or oval…You’re worse off under the Tories,” and even comedian Al Murray weighed in, pointing out that the cut on the price of beer would only have made a difference if we were living “in 1902”.

Embarrassingly for the Conservatives, they were forced to defend a mocked-up poster, tweeted by Tory Chairman Grant Shapps, which proclaimed that the government were “Cutting the BINGO tax and beer duty to help hardworking people do more of the things they enjoy.” The poster was widely ridiculed as an exemplar of Tory highhandedness, and was dismissed as “condescending” by Labour strategist Stewart Wood.

With the General Election now just over a year off most of the biggest components were aimed at the so-called ‘grey vote’, who are more likely to go to the ballot box. Sweeteners and short-term boons were offered in return for votes next May, speaking volumes of what Polly Toynbee calls a society – and, I would add, a government agenda – where “tomorrow is sacrificed for today.”

The implications of budgets are often hard to gauge, but so far 2014 is not being viewed by the media as an “omnishambles” on quite the scale of 2012. For me though, it’s a budget full of headline-friendly but terrifyingly short-term steps. Almost all of Osborne’s announcements smacked of political and economic manoeuvring. The result of the changes to pensions, for example, is likely to be a medium- to short-term spike in taxes collected for the government, as older people draw down their pensions early – something for which, as with 1980s privatisations and the selling off of council houses, the next generation is likely to find itself footing the bill. As the Telegraph economics commentator Jeremy Warner put it, Osborne is “stealing tax revenue from the future in order to pay for today’s pre-election giveaways.”

As if to underscore the point that it will be the next generation who have to cover the costs, the end of the week saw Universities Minister David Willetts refuse to rule out further increases in tuition fees. Following repeated questioning in a Channel 4 interview he would not be drawn on whether fees – which trebled to £9,000 in the early stages of this parliament – would be pushed up even further after 2015. Willetts finally admitted that they “could be,” prompting speculation that the Conservatives would push the financial burden of higher education ever-further onto the student if they stayed in office.

Young people have been very much between the crosshairs during this parliament. The Conservatives have cut EMA and plan to remove benefits for under-25s, indulging in rhetoric which scapegoats young people as “idle” at a time when, more than ever, they need the government’s support. It is vital that we re-engage the younger generation in the democratic process, so that short-term political electioneering by the Tories does not push them ever-closer to the margins.

Honeyball’s Weekly Round-Up

Labour Party

Car-making giant Ford this week added their voice to the pro-EU campaign, with Steve Odell, who runs the firm’s European arm, arguing that by leaving Europe the UK would be “cutting off its nose to spite its face”. He pointed out how frustrating it would be to try and trade with the EU from outside, saying he would “strongly advise against leaving the EU for business purposes, and for employment purposes in the UK”.

The company, which currently provides 15,000 British jobs, joins Honda, who earlier this month argued “anything that weakens our ability to trade with the [EU] region would be detrimental to UK manufacturing”. And in November Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn said his company would reconsider its “strategy and investments for the future” if Britain withdraws. The UK car industry, which has expanded massively over the last ten years, remains reliant on foreign – and especially European – exportation, with 40% of the 1.5 billion cars made here going to EU countries.

The Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders, the industry’s trade association, this week announced they would be compiling a report, expected to be published in spring, which will underline an industry-wide commitment to Europe. The study will aim to debunk pre-European Election myths that the EU is bad for business, pointing out how vital membership is to the continuing growth of the sector.

The views of Ford and other companies go directly against the current attitude of the British government. George Osborne this week complained that “Europe accounts for just over 7% of the world’s population, 25% of its economy, and 50% of global social welfare spending. We can’t go on like this”. The numbers were intended to underline the supposed wastefulness of the EU, yet they in fact illustrate a different point: that by working together European countries are able to punch significantly above their weight – making up a quarter of the global economy despite having less than a tenth of the global population.

Osborne, in his attempts to appease his own backbenchers, may try to frame the debate as British belt-tightening Vs EU profligacy. But in reality, as the views of Ford and others in the motor industry show, he is setting himself and his party at odds with the interests of British manufacturing and the international business consensus.

This week also saw singer Beyonce speak out about what she calls “the myth about gender equality”. Writing a short essay as part of The Shriver Report – an annual investigation into gender equality in America – the R’n’B singer wrote that “Women make up half of the US workforce, but the average working woman earns only 77% of what the average working man makes…Equality will be achieved when men and women are granted equal pay and equal respect”.

Beyonce may not fit with some people’s idea of a ‘feminist’ – and, indeed, she distances herself from the term – yet she is spot on in her diagnosis. The belief we have already reached parity between men and women undermines efforts to bring about genuine equality, and creates complacency. It has become too easy for those on the political right to end the debate by asserting that it is already won. We need more people in the public eye to follow Beyonce’s lead and speak out.

Honeyball’s Weekly Round-Up

Labour Party

The fallout from Typhoon Hayain continued in the Philippines this week. The huge storm – which is the second largest the area has ever seen – struck on Thursday 7th and raged for several days, stretching into the start of this week. More than 11 million people have been left homeless by the disaster, and the official death toll is now well over 3,000 – although aid workers say the real figure could be three times this.

Located inside the so called Ring of Fire – a hotspot for volcanoes and earthquakes – the Philippines is no stranger to extreme weather. However, as a country comprising over 7,000 islands it remains a place where coordinating infrastructure and communications is difficult. Although the storm has now relented, the crisis is by no means over, with the challenges of tackling diseases and housing displaced people just beginning.

The Philippines’s UN Envoy Naderev Sano, who comes from the devastated city of Tacloban, made a tearful statement at the start of the UN’s two week Warsaw summit, blaming the typhoon on climate change and calling for decisive action. He described it as an “extreme climate event” and said he would not eat until an environmental consensus was reached.

The priority, of course, has got to be dealing with the immediate humanitarian crisis in the country. On this front it was good to see international aid donations flooding in, and I was particularly pleased with the EU’s decision on Tuesday to increase its contribution from €3 million to €13 million. However, Sano is right that as once the dust finally settles it will be time to have a more serious discussion about climate change.

At present we are still a long way away from a consensus. In April of this year Tory MEPs voted against the EU Emissions Trading Scheme – even though the proposals had been specifically designed as a free market solution to the problem – and back in 2011 they blocked calls for tougher environmental targets. David Cameron may have spoken on Sunday of the need to “prevent and mitigate” climate change, but on this issue the Conservatives are liable to say one thing and do the opposite.

Speaking of the gap between words and actions, it was interesting to see the Tories attempt this week to remove all pre-2010 speeches from online spaces. Ironically, many passages from the deleted material focused on commitments to transparency, with George Osborne, for example, having pledged (in a speech back in 2007) to end the “asymmetry of information between the individual and the state”.

Aside from being politically counter-productive (the news of course prompted an immediate re-examination of the Tories’ pre-government policies) this ‘year zero’ approach is profoundly undemocratic. It is important to the already fragile relationship between public representatives and the electorate that voters and commentators can compare rhetoric with reality, so the deletion of material like this undermines basic standards of political accountability.

With their liberal pre-government rhetoric having been replaced by harsh and socially divisive policies in office, it is no surprise that the Tory high command want to conceal the promises they made in opposition. I am pleased, on behalf of everyone who believes in politics, that on this occasion they have been caught out.

Honeyball’s Weekly Round Up

Labour Party

Thursday of this week was Equal Pay Day. This symbolises the date on which women – who earn 15% less than men in the UK – effectively cease to be rewarded for the work they do.

A TUC report published on the same day suggested that in some industries the difference between male and female pay can be as high as £16,000 – the equivalent of a London Living Wage job. The best paid roles were shown to be worst affected, with female health professionals – who receive £25 an hour compared to the £50 earned by male equivalents – faring especially badly.

Figures from across the political spectrum attacked the continued existence of the gender pay gap, with TUC general Secretary Frances O’Grady calling it a “huge injustice” and Chancellor George Osborne admitting there remains “a long way to go”. However, Conservatives – including Equalities Secretary Maria Miller – opened themselves up to accusations of paying lip service to the issue by refusing to adopt affirmative measures. Miller said on Friday “I don’t believe government intervention will work”, arguing instead that “cultural change” is the answer.

That we still have a gender pay gap more than 40 years after the Equal Pay Act was passed is a sign that ‘cultural’ changes do not come about in isolation. They require some kind of socio-economic stimulus from government. The UK’s post-austerity backslide on gender equality highlights this; laissez-faire policies have penalised women more than men, and we have fallen behind many of Europe’s more proactive Member States. Since 2010, for example, Holland, France and Italy have all, thanks to binding legislation, accelerated far faster than us on the subject of getting women into boardrooms.

Insisting on voluntary solutions to close the gender pay gap means that the effort to achieve gender equality continues to swim against the tide. The overwhelming momentum of more immediate marketplace drivers is simply too strong. If the elimination of the pay gap is ever to be achieved then a more substantial commitment from government is required.

The end of the week, meanwhile, saw the City of London Corporation’s Lord Mayor’s Show at Michaelmas ‘Common Hall’. At the event on Saturday Fiona Woolf formally took office as Lord Mayor of London, becoming the 686th appointee to the role.

Woolf is an impressive candidate, who has fought her way to the top of the legal profession and been given a fellowship at Harvard. The Lord Mayor’s position has been an almost exclusively male domain since it was created in 1189. Woolf’s election makes her just the second woman to hold to post – the first being the 1983 incumbent Dame Mary Donaldson.

A ratio of 343:1 for gender representation is unimpressive by any standards. It falls a long way short of Lord Davies’ 25% target for women on boards!

The City of London’s gender pay gap currently stands at 33%. This means that, despite being a place which sets the economic tone nationally, it actually lags behind the rest of the country for women’s pay. Let’s hope that Woolf’s appointment symbolises a wider commitment to gender equality from those in the financial sector.

Honeyball’s Weekly Round-Up

Labour Party

The Conservatives were accused of putting corporate interests ahead of public health last week following a decision by the government to postpone its plans on cigarette packaging.

The Tories decision followed a vote in the European Parliament last week at which Labour MEPs today voted for 75% of packaging on cigarette products to be covered in graphic warnings, and a ban on menthol and other flavourings, as well as slims and ‘lipstick packs’, which target young people.

The statistics are clear and make a convincing argument, almost 50% of smokers will die from a smoking related disease and tobacco is still the leading cause of preventable premature deaths across Europe. More than 700,000 people a year die in the European Union as a result of smoking and 70% of those started smoking before the age of 18.

It costs the NHS millions every year and is therefore a significant public health issue, though evidently not to the Tories. We should seek ways to make smoking less attractive to young people, with a variety of flavours available, and ‘elegant’ slim packaging.

The human cost and misery which causes terrible illnesses must not be underestimated.

However, health minister Jeremy Hunt is awaiting the results of an experiment in Australia where, even despite colleagues saying they had been personally persuaded of the effectiveness of such a move.

Awaiting research is an odd decision since The Department of Health’s own research shows that plain packaging is less attractive, especially to young people, and improves the effectiveness of health warnings. Yet last week George Osborne said: “[We need to] take our time to get the right decision.” But who must the decision be right for?

The Observer dedicated its editorial to the plans, or rather postponed plans, which you can read here.

You couldn’t fail to be moved by the presence of 16-year-old Shot Pakistan schoolgirl Malala Yousafzai. She addressed the UN and said she was there to “speak up for the right of education of every child”.

Malala told the UN during her speech that books and pens scare extremists, as she urged education for all. She made other powerful statements and said “efforts to silence her had failed.” Following her attack by the Taliban, and to a standing ovation she said their actions had only made her more resolute.

You can see her speech and read more here.

Honeyball’s weekly Round-Up

Labour Party

“Does the Tory Party actually want to win the next election?” asks Andrew Rawnsley in his article for the Observer this week.

There are enduring problems among the Tories, of which we read about often enough this week it will be even more apparent as the Chancellor announces further spending cuts much to the anger of his cabinet colleagues.

All of which is further compounded by  a group of Tory MPs who have written the ‘Alternative Queen’s speech’ in which they call for the August bank holiday to be renamed ‘Margaret Thatcher Day’, the restoration of national service and an exit from the European Union. The manifesto runs into some 42 proposals in total.

The result of this is confusion within the party is that the public remains unclear about whom and what they are voting for. As Rawnsley writes: “That confusion remains to this day. So do the same arguments within his party about the best way to secure power. There are those around him who press for the next election campaign to be tightly focused on traditional Tory issues such as welfare, immigration and Europe with a dash of tax cuts if they are at all affordable.” You can read his full article here.

And, as if dissent from backbenchers wasn’t enough, there is mounting fury from within the cabinet over the Chancellor’s spending review which led to this headline in the Sunday Mirror over the weekend: “Spending review row: Tory ministers fighting ‘like ferrets in a sack’ over savage cuts”.

The acrimonious battle between the chancellor and several of his cabinet colleagues over the savage cuts has caused an 11th hour battle ahead of the announcement on Wednesday. George Osborne is expecting them to find £11.5billion worth of savings between them.

Meanwhile, Labour’s shadow chancellor Ed Balls responded by stating “that further cuts were necessary because their deficit reduction plan had failed”. He wrote in the Sunday Mirror that instead of cuts the Government should boost jobs and growth.

Balls wrote: “The hard reality is that if David Cameron and George ­Osborne carry on with the same failing policies, Labour will have to deal with a difficult situation after the next election.”

In his article for the Sunday Mirror Ed Balls wrote of the real impact cuts have had after three years in Government, Balls pointed out that, “for ordinary families life is getting harder. Prices are rising faster than wages. The number of people on the dole for over a year is going up”.

People often ask what Labour would do differently, and the shadow chancellor sets out his plan in the article: “Instead of planning more cuts two years ahead, they should use this week’s spending review to boost growth and living standards this year and next.

“More growth now would bring in more tax revenues and mean our public services would not face such deep cuts in 2015.

“Help working families with a 10p starting rate of tax, not giving millionaires a tax cut.

“And get construction workers back to work repairing Britain’s broken roads and building the affordable homes we need.

This alternative plan would boost growth, create revenue and in turn mean we can save and improve public services which are also at breaking point following deep cuts. This is a plan that is workable, that seeks to help those who need it most, while focussing on longer term measures which will get the economy back on track. You can read Ed Ball’s article in full here.

Honeyball’s Weekly Round-Up

Labour Party

As we are all aware a shocking murder dominated the news this week. Drummer Lee Rigby of the 2nd Battalion the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers was killed in a wicked attack as he went about his daily business. It soon became apparent it was a terror attack.

The Prime Minister condemned the attack and said “we will never give into terrorism in any of its forms”. Parties on all sides offered support following this atrocious attack.

The country is still suffering the shock of of this awful attack and our thoughts are of course with his family, loved ones and colleagues at this time. You can read more on the story of those who went to help in the immediate aftermath showing selflessness and compassion for the young soldier, here.

Meanwhile, politically there is trouble for the Prime Minister, “David Cameron isn’t even among friends in his own cabinet now”, said Andrew Rawnsley in his latest piece for the Observer this weekend. Rawnsley described the Prime Minister as “the tattered chieftain of a fractured tribe.” He suffered two revolts in as many weeks first over Europe and then over the gay marriage vote.

However, it is the spending review for the next financial year, which the Chancellor George Osborne is due to announce on 26 June, that is causing significant problems within the party.

The Treasury had been looking to cut spending by another £10bn but exactly where the next round of Whitehall cuts should come from is being met with significant resistance reveals Rawnsley. Even the ‘bluest’ of Tories are not sure where to go next. And Rawnsley writes: “It is an irony that the ministers who are resisting the chancellor most fiercely are nearly all concentrated on the bluest end of the Conservative party: Theresa May, the home secretary, Eric Pickles at communities and local government; Chris Grayling, the justice secretary; and Philip Hammond, the defence secretary. The most right-wing member of the cabinet – Owen Paterson, the environment secretary – is being the most stubborn of all. While none of his colleagues has agreed everything that the Treasury wants, and most have offered far less, they have come up with some cuts. Mr Paterson is point-blank refusing to surrender anything from his budget.”

You can read Andrew Rawnsley’s full article here.

Meanwhile, The Telegraph reported that the Work and Pensions Secretary, Iain Duncan Smith, believes more should be spent on defence and policing and has offered to lop another £3 billion off his department’s annual budget to help in this.

He is understood to have suggested restricting housing benefit for the under-25s, and to limit benefit payments to families with more than two children. So there is set to be more trouble ahead for the Coalition Government, as the Lib Dems have said they will block any further cuts to working age benefits. You can read more on this here.

Honeyball’s Weekly Round-Up

Labour Party

Women are being hit hardest by the financial squeeze, more research has revealed. It isn’t a complete shock but it is very disheartening that the Government has failed to address the issue and continuing numbers of women feel the financial squeeze and more have suffered during the recession than men- something that we have all been aware of for some time.

The research was been published by Which? in its Quarterly Consumer Report and revealed that it is women who cut back on essentials and are struggling to save for the future.

Not only are they feeling the squeeze personally but they also are far less optimistic about their personal finance and the future of the wider economy, with just 15% of them expecting it to improve over the next year.

Women, it stated, estimate they spend some 11 hours per month worrying about their finances compared to just nine and a half by men.

The research also revealed that men are more likely to have saved the recommended amount as outlined by the Government to help protect against the occurrence of unexpected expenses or a sudden drop in income 42% to 27% of women.

I hope this important, yet hardly surprising survey has a greater impact on the Government and policy makers. They must spend time considering the longer term ramifications this will have on women including on their pensions as well as the affect it will have on other sources of income and or other areas of their lives. You can read more on it here.

Unemployment figures released last week showed that it has risen by 70,000 reports revealed. Specifically another 20,000 under 25’s are now registered as unemployed while pay rises reportedly slowed to 1%, the lowest figure since 2001 when records began. This is now the third consecutive increase and is the highest level since July. This puts greater pressure on Chancellor, George Osborne to act. Maybe now is the time for him to consider a different strategy? You can read a full report on the situation here.

It was undoubtedly a difficult week for London Marathon organisers following the terrible events at the Boston Marathon the previous week. Organisers doubled efforts and put huge work into ensuring the event went ahead smoothly. A respectful one minute silence was held at the start of the race, and it went ahead, with tighter security but smoothly nevertheless.

Record numbers, 700,000, of supporters turned out to cheer on, friends, loved ones or even those they didn’t know creating a wonderful atmosphere which London should be proud of. You can read more here on the eventful day.