Guest Blogpost: Richard Lynch – No medal-winning performance from the coalition

During the past month, Britain’s sporting heroes in Team GB have taken on the world at the Olympic Games and, with performances which exceeded expectations, have delivered our biggest haul of medals for over 100 years. What a contrast with the other Team GB, the Conservative/LibDem coalition, which also promised success but has delivered a shrinking economy, increased unemployment and debt, poorer social provision and the biggest squeeze on the living standards of ordinary people in living memory!

When the coalition took office two years ago, it inherited an economy which had been hit hard by the worst global recession since the 1930s but was recovering and had been growing for five quarters. Instead of consolidating and encouraging that growth, however, it embarked on an unnecessary and unnecessarily savage austerity programme which choked off recovery, led to growth contracting over five of the following seven quarters and resulted in a return to recession.

Yet, when announcing his first budget after taking office, George Osborne said that if he didn’t introduce a harsh programme of tax increases and spending cuts, Britain would face:

‘Higher interest rates, more business failures, sharper rises in unemployment, and potentially even a catastrophic loss of confidence and the end of the recovery. We cannot let that happen. This budget is needed to deal with our country’s debts. This budget is needed to give confidence to the economy. This is an unavoidable budget.’

George Osborne at Conservative Spring Forum 20...
George Osborne at Conservative Spring Forum 2006 in Manchester. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Bold words but what has been the outcome? Interest rates have remained low but, as Nobel prizewinning economist Paul Krugman has pointed out, they have remained low in the USA and Japan as well, countries with higher debt levels which didn’t rush into austerity.

On the downside, however, business failures have continued, with almost 4,000 companies going under in the last quarter and retail insolvencies rising by 10.3%. Unemployment remains well above the level Osborne inherited in May 2010, over a million young people are out of work and underemployment has become a major problem with a record 1.42 million people working part time because they can’t find full-time employment. Business and consumer confidence has collapsed to levels not seen since the worst point of the original recession, we have the highest trade deficit in 15 years, national debt is rising and the economy has contracted in the last three quarters, driving us into a double dip recession for only the second time since the Second World War.

And there’s no good news on the horizon either: The Bank of England is predicting a 0.2% contraction in growth this year and probably five further years of economic pain. The National Institute of Economic and Social Research is prediction a 0.5% contraction and the IMF has stated that Britain’s economic outlook is now deteriorating faster than that of any other major economy.

When Britain was facing big economic problems in the 1970s, Dennis Healy said that the first thing to do when you found yourself in a hole was to stop digging. Another smart bloke (either Albert Einstein or Roy Keane, I can’t remember which) said that the definition of insanity was doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. But Osborne remains adamant that he will not change course and that there is no Plan B for the economy. Such arrogance from a chancellor and cabinet which have clearly lost the plot is now coming under increasing attack, not only from unions and political opponents but from coalition politicians (one of whom called Osborne a ‘work experience chancellor’), from business organisations and leaders and from the general public. The majority of economists who backed the austerity programme during the 2010 general election are now calling on Osborne to change course. And the IMF, which also previously backed austerity, is now urging the chancellor to think again about cutting back and to focus on growth and on ‘boosting the bargaining power of labour’ to get more demand into the economy.

It’s not as if there is a shortage of good ideas about rebuilding confidence and demand and getting the economy back on its feet again.  For example, stopping or slowing down the public sector and benefit cutbacks (even if only temporarily) would help lower the rate of unemployment, keep people paying taxes and maintain demand in the economy. Borrowing, at our famously low interest rates, to rebuild our creaking infrastructure and to build houses for people to live in, would boost employment in construction and related industries and get people spending again. Putting money back in the hands of ordinary people by cutting VAT (even if only temporarily), ending the freeze on public sector pay and even introducing quantitative easing for people, by creating money to put in the hands of the most needy rather than in the coffers of the banks, would all boost demand and encourage spending.

Indeed PPI refunds by the banks, which totalled £4.8 billion up to May, have already done more to boost the economy than the coalition, because people who have had money refunded have gone out and spent it!

The Olympics showed us that we don’t have to accept mediocrity or assume that we cannot reach new heights. We may have the fight of our lives on our hands but, as the TUC’s Frances O’Grady said, if we keep people together, build confidence and give a sense of hope and vision that things don’t have to be like this, we can build a better world. We can help win that better world by defending our rights in our workplaces and communities. But we can also help win it by mobilising now for the TUC’s national demonstration for a future that works on 20 October. It’s time to stop agonising and start organising!

Richard Lynch is a Dudden Hill resident. He is a retired Unite the Union official and currently conducts voluntary work on employment rights for the Brent Community Law Centre. He also acts as an accompanying representative for the GMB union.

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Guest Blogpost from Richard Lynch: How has work changed in the past 60 years?

There is a lot of talk at present about how life in Britain has changed over the past 60 years – but how has work changed? The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) looked at this recently and, amongst other things, found the following:

  • The working age employment rate for men has fallen from 96% to 75% and has risen from 46% to 66% for women.
  • The proportion of people working part-time has increased from 4% to 25%.
  • The number of people in manufacturing jobs has fallen from 8.7 million to 2.5 million. However, the proportion of people in managerial, professional and technical jobs has risen from 25% to 44%, while the proportion in sales and customer services has risen from 6% to 16%.
  • Trade union membership has fallen from 9.5 million (40% of workers) to 6.5 million (26%), while the number of people in personnel (HR) has risen by 2,000% from 20,000 to 400,000.

One wonders how far the last two statistics go in explaining the many problems facing people at work in Britain today.

Richard Lynch is a Dudden Hill resident. He is a retired Unite the Union official and currently conducts voluntary work on employment rights for the Brent Community Law Centre. He also acts as an accompanying representative for the GMB union.

Guest Blog Post: Richard Lynch on why we must have change in 2012

When David Cameron was giving his New Year message twelve months ago, he said that the coalition had pulled Britain out of the danger zone and had laid firm foundations for economic growth and for cutting the deficit. Yet it is now clear that the past year has been a disastrous one for the economy, with growth worse than Gordon Brown achieved when the country was emerging from recession and most economists predicting that a return to recession is likely in the first half of 2012. And as for the deficit, that is now higher than ever and will take longer to reduce than under the Alistair Darling plan which the coalition ridiculed at the time of the general election.

Promises to bear down on unemployment have also fallen flat with 2.64 million people now out of work and 5.67 unemployed people chasing every job vacancy. These are not only higher figures than applied at the worst point of the recession but the highest since 1994 when the Conservatives were last in power. And all the predictions are that there is worse to come, with the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) expecting an increase to 2.85 million by the end of 2012 and Capital Economics expecting a rise to three million. And the coalition’s own Office for Budget Responsibility, which had predicted that public sector job losses would hit 400,000 by 2016, is now predicting 710,000 such losses by 2017.

Inflation has also been a huge failure for the coalition with the Retail Prices Index rising by 5% or more on 11 occasions in the first 11 months of 2011 (something which happened on only four occasions in the 13 years of the last Labour government). The Consumer Prices Index has not been quite as bad but has averaged 4.5% during the year and is now higher than the CPI in every other EU country, not to mention China, Japan and the USA. And rail fares have just risen by 5.9% on average, giving us the highest such fares in Europe.

Pay increases failed miserably to match inflation in 2011, with the gap between increases in average regular pay and the Retail Prices Index rising from 2.5% at the beginning of the year to 3.4% on the latest figures available. And, according to a recent CIPD survey, only 45% of workers got pay increases in 2011, with 48% having had their pay frozen and 5% having had it cut – worse figures than were ever seen during the recession.

Pensions have also been hit hard, and not only in the public sector (where two million people from 30 unions struck on 30 November – more than took action during the general strike). The Association of Consulting Actuaries recently said that there has been a ‘seismic collapse’ in private sector pension provision, with nine out of 10 private sector defined benefit schemes now closed to new entrants and 25% of companies planning to dispense with such schemes entirely in the next five years. According to other reports, employee participation in occupational pension funds is now at its lowest level since 1956 and 65% of employees have no such pensions and will only have the state pension to look forward to when they retire.

Because of the above and other factors, living standards have fallen sharply in the past year, with poorer families and those with children the worst affected. And all the indications are that this trend will continue, with the Institute of Fiscal Studies predicting that half a million more children will fall into ‘absolute poverty’ by 2015-16. This is not only reversing the fall in child poverty which we saw in recent years but indicates a level of impoverishment which has no precedent in modern times. And living standards are collapsing for older people as well, according to Age UK, with 1.8 million pensioners below the poverty line and local authority care services for the elderly cut by 4.5% in 2011.

While this is happening, the poor are being fleeced by pay-day loan companies like Wonga which can charge interest rates of up to 5,000% a year and by companies running ‘rent to own’ schemes which allow the poor access to cookers, washing machines and other necessities, but at outrageous prices. Pawnbrokers have also been doing a booming business and are making record profits from those who find themselves having to use their services.

The coalition says that all this austerity is inevitable because we have been living beyond our means and that we all have to make sacrifices before we can get back to the good times. Yet Britain is still one of the richest countries in the world (seventh richest according to the most recent assessment) and is awash with millionaires, multi millionaires, billionaires and cash-rich corporations for whom the good times have never disappeared.

These include corporate executives like Mick Davis of Xstrata, who made £18.4 million last year, Bart Brecht of Reckitt Benckiser, who made £17.9 million, Michael Spencer of ICAP, who made £13.4 million and Terry Leahy of Tesco, who made £12 million.

They also include Phil Bentley, CEO of British Gas, whose remuneration package was £4 million last year and Dave Hartnett, the HMRC head who agreed to let Goldman Sachs off interest payments of £10 million, who will be retiring this year with a reported £80,000 a year pension and a cash lump sum of £160,000.  And F1 Chief Bernie Ecclestone has been so untouched by the hard times that he has been able to put £3 billion in a trust fund for his two daughters and reportedly gave £27.5 million to a banker to encourage him not to disclose information about that fund to HMRC. (His daughter Petra lives in a £54 million mansion in LA and had £12 million spent on her wedding. His daughter Tamara lives in a £45 million London mansion which has a spa and massage parlour for her dogs, as well as other features.)

It is because of people like these that income inequality is rising faster in the UK than in any other developed nation, as the OECD recently pointed out in a report called Divided we stand: why inequality keeps rising. That report said that the richest 0.1% of people in the UK own 5% of the country’s wealth, the richest 1% own 14%, and the poorest 30% of people own only 3%. Yet it is the poorest who are affected most by the coalition’s austerity programme!

In his 2012 New Year statement, David Cameron said that he ‘gets it’ when people tell him they are suffering because of job insecurity and rising prices – and it wouldn’t be a surprise if he ‘feels their pain’ as well. But what he doesn’t get is that it is his austerity programme which is destroying the economy, because people who have lost their jobs are not paying taxes to bring down the deficit and people whose living standards are being squeezed are not able to spend on the goods and services which other people are providing; consequently, economic growth is being choked off.

And what some of us are not getting is that there is an alternative to these attacks on our jobs, living standards, the welfare state and our rights at work and that we can turn them back if we stop believing the lies we are being fed and join the growing resistance to coalition and employer austerity policies at work and in our communities in 2012. Let’s do it!

Richard Lynch is a Dudden Hill resident. He is a retired Unite the Union official and currently conducts voluntary work on employment rights for the Brent Community Law Centre. He also acts as an accompanying representative for the GMB union.

Bit rich of Nick Clegg and the Liberal Democrats to attack other institutions on their record on race

Nick Clegg and Chris Huhne
WikiImage

In an article in the Guardian titled “Nick Clegg to accuse Banks of Racism”, the Lib Dem leader is quoted to have said the following.

“Britain’s banks, bailed out by the British people, have just as much responsibility as everyone else, arguably more responsibility, to help Britain build a strong and dynamic economy. Unleashing black and ethnic minority talent is their duty too.”

“If you are a white player you have a one in 50 chance of moving into management. If you are a black player? One in 500.”

Rt Hon Nick Clegg MP

What a load of hypocrisy from Nick Clegg.

It is absolutely hypocritical of Nick Clegg to talk of a duty to unleash ethnic minority talent while in the House of Commons, the Lib Dems have ZERO ethnic minority MPs in Parliament.

Despite the activities of some members of their Party (LINK), I think the Tories are actually doing well in producing ethnic minority MPs and I have congratulated them on this in the past LINK.

Nick Clegg is right to raise the issue of pay discrimination to ethnic minorities in the private sector and the lack of Management and Executive positions given to ethnic minorities in the sports industry. But, if the Liberal Democrats are to lecture others with any ounce of credibility, they must sort out their own house first.