Fatal consequences of benefit changes

An open letter to the Guardian suggests changes to the welfare system are having a ‘devastating’ impact, driving some to suicide attempts

“Reform of the welfare system is steaming ahead, and already we’re hearing about the devastating effects this is having on the mental health of hundreds of thousands of people across Great Britain. While much is made of the impact that changes to benefits will have on people with physical disabilities, it is vital that those with “invisible” issues such as mental health problems are not forgotten. Reassessments of people on incapacity benefit (IB) via the deeply flawed work capability assessment are due to start next month, and the new personal independence payment test is being trialled over the summer – just some of the changes already alarming many people affected by mental distress.

We’ve found that the prospect of IB reassessment is causing huge amounts of distress, and tragically there have already been cases where people have taken their own life following problems with changes to their benefits. We are hugely worried that the benefits system is heading in a direction which will put people with mental health problems under even more pressure and scrutiny, at a time when they are already being hit in other areas such as cuts to services.

There needs to be a shift towards a more sympathetic and supportive system that genuinely takes into account the additional challenges people with mental health problems face and can make a real objective assessment of their needs rather than placing them into a situation where their wellbeing is put at risk.”

Paul Farmer Chief executive, Mind
Bill Walden-Jones Chief executive, Hafal
Paul Jenkins Chief executive, Rethink Mental Illness
Professor Bob Grove Joint chief executive, Centre for Mental Health
Billy Watson Chief executive, Scottish Association for Mental Health
Dr Jed Boardman Consultant and senior lecturer in social psychiatry,
Royal College of Psychiatrists

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Localism Bill: Concern over ‘142 extra powers for Pickles’

The Government’s flagship Localism Bill will help free “local government from the shackles of central government”, a Minister told MPs today as the Bill came under renewed pressure for handing Communities Secretary Eric Pickles “more than 100 extra powers”.

Junior Communities minister Andrew Stunell said amendments and new clauses to the legislation tabled by the Government were each designed to improve the effectiveness of the Bill. The Localism Bill aims to devolve greater powers to neighbourhoods and councils and give local communities more control over housing and planning decisions.

Speaking during the Bill’s report stage in the Commons, Mr Stunell introduced a new clause refining one of the central elements – the general power of competence. He said: “This Government is committed to the radical decentralisation of power and control from Whitehall and Westminster to local government, back to local communities and individuals. We are pushing power back down to the lowest possible level. This Bill is about shaking up the balance of power and revitalising democracy.

“It will give power to councils, it will give power to communities, it will give power to voluntary groups and power to the people. Giving local authorities the power to take decisions that are right for their areas and giving to local people the power to implement those decisions. This Government trusts local authorities to know what’s best for their areas, we trust local councils to know what they are doing and we are freeing up local government from the shackles of central government. The Localism Bill does just what it says on the label.”

Shadow Minister for Communities and Local Government Barbara Keeley queried whether the proposed extra powers granted to the Secretary of State accorded with the spirit of the Bill. She said: “On new clause 12, clearly the Minister has been talking about the limits on power and we are still very concerned about the 142 extra powers for the Secretary of State in the Bill.” Mr Stunell said a local authority could choose whether or not it adopted a code of conduct for its members, but it must be under a duty to publicise whether it had revised or abolished it.

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David Cameron: a lucky man, a blessed career and now a mandate to wreak havoc on the country

David Cameron ordered Tory cabinet ministers to avoid signs of triumphalism after the prime minister led his party to a strong performance in local elections in England and played a decisive role in winning the AV referendum. No 10 sent a message to ministers to avoid gloating as the Conservatives sought to repair relations with the Liberal Democrats, who are enraged by the way the No to AV campaign depicted Nick Clegg as untrustworthy.

Behind the scenes, Tories were ecstatic. One ministerial source said: “Cameron is lord of all he surveys. He finally got a grip of the referendum campaign and ended all the muttering on the Tory right.” The prime minister adopted a different tone as he went out of his way to congratulate the Lib Dems for their work in the coalition when he paid an early morning visit to Tory HQ before heading to Birmingham for his latest meeting in the government’s NHS “listening exercise”.

He said: “I am absolutely committed to make this coalition government, which I believe is good for Britain, work for the full five years of this term. It is then that I believe the coalition and its parties will be judged by the electorate. But I would pay tribute to the work that Liberal Democrats have done, and are doing, in this coalition and will go on doing, because we are absolutely committed to make sure it works hard for the people of Britain.”

The Tory party was keen to point out Labour’s poor performance in Scotland and a weaker than expected showing in England, but silent on the Lib Dem performance. They declined to mention 11 gains on North Norfolk council, where the Lib Dems had 12 losses. This will be a blow to Norman Lamb, Clegg’s senior parliamentary adviser, who used Lib Dem success there to capture a safe parliamentary seat from the Tories in 2001.

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Tax property, not people, for a fairer society

Levies on land values do not depress or distort wealth creation and are easy to assess, cheap to collect and hard to avoid, says Phillip Inman in the Guardian

Amid all the talk of rebalancing the economy, there is little mention of the most powerful lever the government could pull to generate growth, which involves a switch from taxing income to taxing wealth. It is a subject that tends to get little coverage, mainly because its supporters are considered on the fringes of the political spectrum.

Ultra-lefties support wealth taxes for obvious reasons. Ultra-capitalists support them because they understand that allowing the rich to ring-fence much of the nation’s assets and protect the mechanisms that allow values to increase without any serious government interference robs their children, and everyone else’s, of any incentive to work harder.

And now it is not just the aristocrats who accumulate serious wealth but also increasing numbers of middle income babyboomers – senior teachers, BT engineers, BA airline pilots and local council middle managers. With their million pound homes and million pound pensions, the problem is even bigger. For an ultra-capitalist, the rapid accumulation of wealth over the last 15 years, which in property terms amounts to about £2.5 trillion, is making us fat and lazy. Only a wealth tax can sort it out.

Yet the debate has broadened in recent years with more mainstream groups taking up the cudgels. The OECD, the rich nation’s thinktank, has joined the ranks of supporters. Liberal Democrats Chris Huhne and Vince Cable, in their pre-coalition careers, also voiced some sympathy. Andy Burnham adopted the scheme in his pitch for the Labour leadership. Many mainstream economists have also argued the case.

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