John Harris

Journalist & Author

Archive for July, 2012

| Newer Entries »

Graduate class of 2012: ‘A 2:1 just won’t cut it any more’ – video

Wednesday, July 4th, 2012

The graduate without a future: John Harris visits Brighton (student population: 31,000) to meet those graduating this year from the city’s two big universities

John Harris
John Domokos

Posted in Guardian RSS | No Comments »

This cruel welfare system is steadily crushing lives – where is the anger? | John Harris

Wednesday, July 4th, 2012

No one seems to be concerned that hugely profitable private firms are forcing thousands into borderline destitution

If you want a sobering flavour of where Britain is heading, set aside banking, the Leveson inquiry, our relationship with Europe and whatever else – and consider a Guardian story by Patrick Butler that appeared last week. It was about food banks, the charitable set-ups that supply emergency parcels to people who have fallen between society’s cracks. FareShare, a charity that sits at the heart of all this, says it is experiencing “ridiculous growth” in demand, and expects that trend to continue for at least five years; over the last 12 months, it claims to have sent out 8.6m meals.

Spend any time around a food bank – and I have, in Inverness and Liverpool – and it quickly becomes clear that their core constituency is based around two groups of people: refugees who have either recently arrived in the UK or opted to go underground; and people who have suddenly had their benefits stopped.

Thanks to the increasingly cruel regime that now applies to benefits – which, we now know, David Cameron wants to make yet crueller – the latter seem to be increasing in number by the week, pushed into their predicament by a system that can summarily ruin lives, but offer only the most sluggish remedies by way of appeal. By and large, they remain invisible, but their fate is starting to intrude on the news media: last week, a man set himself alight outside a Birmingham jobcentre, reportedly thanks to a “dispute over benefit payments”, an episode that occurred just as the Guardian was revealing rising concerns about suicides among people faced with so-called benefits “sanctions”. For an intimate picture of the misery and anxiety that lies behind all this, have a look at this film by my colleague John Domokos, partly centred on a family reduced to fretting over their last dregs of electricity, and apparently surviving on a diet founded on budget baked beans. The benefits system refuses to understand that one of them is a carer, whose obligations to his ill wife mean that he cannot always make his appointments at the jobcentre.

Which brings us to revelations that appeared over the weekend, and the latest news about the government’s increasingly brutal welfare-to-work drive. Thanks to research by Corporate Watch and an article in the Observer, we know that the private companies involved in the government’s Work Programme have been pushing for unbelievable numbers of people to have their benefits cut, aiming at figures that even the ever-more stringent Jobcentre Plus regime has refused to sign off. Meanwhile, there’s a clear sense that in the context of a flatlining economy, the Work Programme’s targets – indeed, its entire logic – are proving impossible: the scheme’s core presumptions were based on economic growth of over 2%, and a revived job market. Given their non-appearance, the companies involved look they’re getting desperate, and in the absence of any convincing carrot, frantically reaching for the stick.

In the context of the firms’ returns, all this leaves an impossibly nasty taste. The best example is the welfare-to-work outfit A4e. This year, it has been blitzed with all those allegations of fraud; I’ve also reported on allegations of a “champagne culture”, company events held in upscale foreign locations, and the dizzying lifestyle led by its former chair and public face, Emma Harrison, who last year paid herself a dividend of £8.6m. And what apparently lies at the heart of all this opulence, and the activities of a firm that claims to be “social purpose company” with “one sole aim, to improve people’s lives around the world”? Over six months, 10,000 requests were made for its “customers” to have their benefits cut, of which only 3,000 were granted by Jobcentre Plus. Similar statistics for other companies abound: Working Links referred nearly 12,000 cases for sanctions, Serco managed just over 9,000, and G4s came in at 7,780. Such is the upshot of the stock warning that appears on most of the correspondence sent to Work Programme participants: “If you do not attend this appointment, your benefits could be affected.” And how.

This is yet another one of those stories that come with a head-spinning sense of how much Britain has changed, under this government and its predecessor. Rewind 15 years, and imagine the spectacle of hugely profitable private firms pushing for thousands of people to be propelled into borderline destitution: the result would have been acres of coverage, and molten anger. And now? Even backbench Lib Dems are predictably silent, and Labour restricts its criticisms of a system it invented to technocratic hand-wringing, focused not on any kind of moral outrage, but whether everything’s working, and how much it all might cost (”Chaos at DWP is stalling the government’s reforms … the welfare bill is going through the roof” was the response to Cameron’s welfare proposals of Liam Byrne, a man for whom the adjective “blank” might have been invented). Even the trade unions are bizarrely quiet. The reality is something to which mainstream politics cannot admit, and which bumps up against a cross-party accent on welfare being the last resort of malingerers: that people are living in fear and going hungry, and a cold state machine seems to have been designed to put them there.

Now, incidentally, we hear word that plenty of police officers are of the opinion that last year’s riots could easily be repeated. One hesitates, of course, to be alarmist. But as more and more people feel the cruelties of a policy that makes no sense – that people must be kicked into work, even if jobs don’t exist – has anyone considered that the two things might be connected?

John Harris

guardian.co.uk © 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

Posted in Guardian RSS | No Comments »

How British are you? The alternative citizenship test | John Harris

Tuesday, July 3rd, 2012

John Harris: Theresa May plans to tear up the citizenship test and start again. Here are our suggested questions – are you good enough to call yourself a citizen?

John Harris

Posted in Guardian RSS | No Comments »

| Newer Entries »

John Harris is powered by WordPress 2.8.4 Entries (RSS) Comments (RSS). Designed by Hywel Harris

ADIDAS PERFORMANCE Galactic Elite W Blanc Cheap Womens AF Sublimation Graphic Tee 2016 Adidas Originals ZX Flux Weave Shoes Sale Mens AF Active Running Shorts Online ADIDAS PERFORMANCE Duramo 6 W Running White Ftw Metallic Silver Vivid Mint F14 Mens AF Washed Out Tee AF 2016 ADIDAS ORIGINALS Court Star Slim W Sale Mens AF Classic Taper Pants Online Adidas Running adizero XT 5 Shoes Cheap Womens AF Textured Open Cardigan 2016 Mens AF Varsity Logo Cardigan AF 2016 ADIDAS ORIGINALS Zx 700 W Sabpou Sabpou Noiess Mens AF Striped Icon Henley AF 2016 ADIDAS PERFORMANCE Duramo 6 W Earth Green S13 Tech Grey Met S14 Solar Pink Mens AF Premium Utility Jacket AF 2016 ADIDAS PERFORMANCE Response Aspire Str W Running White Ftw Pink Buzz S10 Light Grey Sale Mens AF Denim Joggers Online ADIDAS ORIGINALS Extaball W Noiess Ormeta Nuiflu Mens AF Quilted Bomber jacket AF 2016 ADIDAS ORIGINALS Tech Super W NOIR NOIR ROSSOL Mens AF Classic Chambray Shirt AF 2016 ADIDAS ORIGINALS Bankshot 2 0 W Aluminum 2 Aluminum 2 Chalk 2 Mens AF Rib-Trim Crew Sweater AF 2016 Adidas Women adidas Neo Zip Fleece Hoodie New Womens AF High Rise Cropped Flare Sateen Pants 2016 ADIDAS PERFORMANCE Duramo 6 W Running White Ftw Metallic Silver Glow S14 New Womens AF Denim Mini Skirt 2016 Adidas Men Originals Plimcana 2 0 Low Shoes New Womens AF Lace Midi Skirt 2016 ADIDAS PERFORMANCE Duramo 6 W Noiess Noiess Rosflu Men Running adizero Tempo Boost 7 Shoes ADIDAS ORIGINALS Extaball Up W Noiess Noiess Ftwbla ADIDAS PERFORMANCE Galaxy W Neon Pink Metallic Silver Black 1 Men Running Springblade Ignite Shoes