A letter to my MP on cuts to the ESA

This week the government forced through a cut to the Employment and Support Allowance – what used to be incapacity benefit – and overuled objection in the Lords by claiming ‘financial privilege.’ Members of the upper house had expressed concern and were seeking an impact assessment but this is now forced through as yet another step on the Conservative government’s path to dismantling the welfare state and widening the gap between the haves and have-nots. Read More »

A letter to my MP on the changes to tax credits

I normally take a deep breath and think about what I want to say before I write to my MP. I normally let the first rush of anger and frustration subside before starting to type but this time I didn’t wait, I didn’t need to. I’m clear on what I think about the debate and vote on tax credits today and I don’t need to wait.

I was doing some quick sums on the effect of the measures voted through today and I came to the same conclusion as many observers, commentators, unions, etc. those in need of tax credits because of low incomes will find themselves with even lower incomes. Unison published this image which summarises it quite neatly and It’s chilling. A low earner just cannot afford to lose more than 10% of his income.

Your MP probably doesn’t respond to the standard campaign emails, the 38 Degrees, etc, mine now has an auto-response to that effect, so take a minute to write something personal. Be concise, be polite and make sure he knows what you think. I use www.writetothem.com – go get ’em!

My letter is as follows. I’ll post any replies and correspondence as a comment.

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Dear Mel Stride,

I hope this finds you well but unfortunately many of my fellow constituents, colleagues and friends and many more in Great Britain will be less well as a result of the vote today on tax credits.

The voting figures suggest a party whip rather than a free vote so I guess many of your party’s MPs will have voted for something which pulls the rug out from many of their constituents, something which will leave children hungry and the poorest cold this winter.

I understand that tax credits subsidise low wages and also rising rents but cutting them before tackling wages and rents is cruel, irresponsible and frankly heartless. Many will accuse the Conservative party of being out of touch, of being detached from the realities of life in modern Britain and who could blame them? Can an MP or member of the Lords appreciate what it is like to have to survive (and I don’t use that word lightly) on low wages as the cost of living continues to rise?

This change of the tax credit thresholds is targetting those who need help, it’s going to cut the incomes of single parents and families already struggling to make ends meet and the dependence charities and foodbanks will most surely increase.

For one of the world’s richest economies that is quite simply disgraceful and those pushing ahead with the austerity measures; measures based on idealogy rather than evidence should be ashamed of themselves.

Yours sincerely,

Rich Mills

A letter to my MP on the DWP fabricating benefit claimants’ stories

It’s a quiet time for politics during the summer with MPs still on their holidays and therefore with no debates or votes being reported on I’ve found less to write to my MP about. Until this week.

You’ve probably read about Sarah and Zac’s stories in a DWP leaflet intending to explain why having one’s benefits sanctioned can be a positive experience. These all turned out to be false and the DWP has now pulled the leaflet but you know what? It’s just not good enough is it? I mean, this is our government; these people are running the country and affecting people’s lives! If this sort of thing can be signed off as acceptable then does it not make you question the decision making process behind the actual sanctions and cuts? It’s all about people and our government and our MPs might need reminding about that occasionally so drop them a line (I use the writetothem.com website). Remember – they work for you!

Here’s my letter:

Dear Mel Stride,

I hope you’re well and the summer recess is allowing you a chance to recharge your batteries before Parliament sits again in September.

I wasn’t sure who to write to about this but I knew that I should write to someone in order to at least register my disappointment and therefore as my MP it has to be you, sorry!

Earlier in the week as my family stopped for a coffee while travelling to London for a wedding (in Chingford ironically given the minister responsible), I read with dismay about the Department of Work and Pensions inventing people and stories to illustrate a leaflet on benefits sanctions. These “testaments” to the success of said sanctions were just shocking; patronising and to some extent threatening too.

Do I expect the people in these leaflets to be real? Maybe not but I would expect the case studies to be real, even if the photos were stock. How could these ever be sanctioned and make it to circulation?

My point is that I expect my government and its representatives to behave better than this; to BE better than this. Now, more than ever I believe the country needs an engaged electorate but of course in order to achieve this, the electorate needs a government that it can trust. I don’t mean this on a party-political level, I would write this same letter regardless of which party was in government. A fair, trusting and trustworthy society and government should not treat people like this.

Yours sincerely,

Rich Mills

Could the SNP be a viable political party for England and Wales?

Both during the run up to and in the months following the 2015 General Election I watched the progress of the SNP with a touch of envy. Here was a party which was saying what I wanted to hear; a modern take on socialism but along with that an understanding of the needs of businesses in their country, a party wanting to strike a balance between the needs of the people and economic stability.

Of course, I had a problem with their original raison d’etre – Scottish independence – as I want to see Scotland remain part of the UK and I think all the home nations are stronger for it, but aside from that this was a party which spoke to me and whose views were fairly representative of my own.

It wasn’t too long ago that Labour and the Conservatives campaigned together to maintain the Union but now the SNP are a strong party in Westminster, the establishment parties – and I include Labour in that – are calling to exclude Scottish MPs from voting on English matters! Why is that though? Can any matter be truly Scottish or English only given that we have a single currency and so many shared resources and infrastructures?

The Conservatives are obviously scared of a strong, confident party which speaks up for the people; a party which is big enough to influence voting but also one which can influence the thinking of the nation with its strong, clear position on issues such as benefit reform, fox hunting and our nuclear deterrent.

What of Labour? The SNP seem to be presenting a traditional labour viewpoint on many matters but why is the party of the traditional working class so reticent to partner with them? I believe that many in the Labour Party truly believe that their route back to power lies in attracting idle class, middle-England voters from the Conservative Party; A New “New Labour” if you will. After years of being accused of being Tory-lite under Tony Blair many Labour figures such as Liz Kendall, Tristram Hunt and Harriet Harman now seem to see this as their way forward rather than looking to their core party values and membership.

The rapid rise of Jeremy Corbyn demonstrates that party members new and old see him as being in touch with their core values, despite him being perhaps slightly too “left” for some.Party members recognise in him a sense of decency and a wish to do the right thing for those most in need. They see someone sharing some common ground with past Labour leading lights such as Tony Benn and John Smith and maybe even Dennis Skinner; someone willing to stand up and carry the fight across the floor of the commons without fearing a negative response from the right wing press.

Newly elected SNP MP Mhairi Black in her now famous maiden speech quite openly told the few Labour MPs present that the SNP was founded on the same strong socialist values of the Labour Party of old. The SNP were offering a hand to the Labour Party and many voters would have looked to them and said, “That’s it, that’s what we want!” but the Labour leadership are undecided, unsure of what they are, what they could be or even what they want to be.

So, is there a chance that the SNP could become a valid party for the other home nations? This article on a surge in SNP membership South of the border would seem to suggest it can.

The SNP message is attractive to voters from several parties – Green, Labour, Lib Dem and also Conservative. A party pushing for a more inclusive, fairer society. A welfare system which recognises that poverty and benefits might not be the lifestyle choice that the rhetoric of other politicians might seem to suggest. A party which sees a renewed, conventional nuclear deterrent as faintly ridiculous given the talk of a need to balance the books and wipe out the deficit.

In Nicola Sturgeon the SNP have a credible leader who refuses to be bullied, who doesn’t toe the establishment line and speaks out for those who need support. Is it a credible alternative though? Sturgeon performed incredibly well in televised debates in the lead up to the election and opinion pole ratings showed a party on a par with some established UK wide parties despite the fact that relatively few people could vote for them. I believe the SNP can build on May’s results and I also believe (and hope) that the quest for Scottish independence will be replaced by a party striving for a more Democratic UK, a more inclusive UK and an altogether more positive UK.

How long will it be before we see an SNP candidate South of the border? Only time will tell but many of us will be watching with interest.

A Letter to my MP on Changes to the Benefits System

Dear Mel Stride,

Just a quick note to say that as a constituent and citizen I am shocked
and disappointed that the way the chancellor has proposed to implement
cuts to the benefits system.

I pay tax and have paid tax for many years and am more than happy to do
so. I believe that a society has a duty to support those in need but I
strongly resent changes to taxation which benefit those who are wealthy
enough to not need additional help whilst those at the lower end of the
pay spectrum bear the brunt. The assertion that “we are all in it
together” and that we must all contribute in order to reduce the
deficit rings a little hollow while cuts to the incomes of working
families seem to offset changes to inheritance tax and the higher rate
of tax.

Surely the way to implement this would be in a way which supports
rather than penalises families and workers – to drive changes to
employment and to raise the minimum wage to the point where as much
employment as possible pays a true living wage? As wages rise then the
demand on the benefits system would surely decrease as families would
need and claim less but instead we seem to be making cuts based on an
ideology and rhetoric rather than supporting those worst affected.

The token announcement of a living wage to be in place by 2020 but cuts
and changes being in place long before seems like a token offering to
soften the blow but one which few are falling for.

I know many people see those depending on the benefits as “scroungers”
and that it is a lifestyle choice, a life of “something for nothing”
while the rest of us work to support them but I believe that view is as
outdated as it is incorrect. The austerity of the last 5 years and
further measures coming our way despite warning by organisations such
as the IMF, has left many struggling to get by. I find myself donating
more to charity than ever before but to charities nearer to home, to
organisations plugging the gaps such as foodbanks rather than animal
welfare. The fact that we as a wealthy nation have so many living in
poverty, including children (and changing the way we classify poverty
does not change a thing!)  is surely a disgrace. We should be ashamed
and like with many things rise above party politics and aim for a
stronger, more inclusive society.

I know that you cannot influence this directly of course nor are there
are votes or debates imminent where this might be discussed but as per
previous correspondence if I do not write then my voice won’t be heard.

Yours sincerely,

Rich Mills