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IDS policy: Starve the poor into committing crime

Amid austerity and sanctions, people are being forced to steal just to survive, says MICHAEL MEACHER

THE papers are full-on when members or ex-members of the government behave badly when they can't get their way - witness Andrew Mitchell bad-mouthing a policeman, with the toxic "plebs" allegedly added in, because he couldn't ride his bike through the Downing Street gates, and David Mellor ranting at a black cab driver over the best route home to his £8 million pad near Tower Bridge.

But what really matters about members of the government is not their silly misbehaviour, it's the way they're crucifying millions of people even to the point where they're denying them food and shelter.

On this, with a few honourable exceptions, the media are largely silent on the grounds presumably that they don't matter because they're not famous.

A million people have been sanctioned by government ministers over this last year, which means that they are deprived of all their benefit for often petty infringements - such as being five minutes late for a job interview - and hence have no money for at least four weeks and sometimes three months, forcing them to steal to survive.

If they're caught, the penalty for stealing some meat from a supermarket might be a fine of some £200, which of course they cannot conceivably pay, or it might be six weeks in prison.

Iain Duncan Smith supervises the sanctioning - though it's outsourced to a privatised firm doing his dirty work for him - while Chris Grayling takes care of the imprisonment.

This is the treadmill of impoverishment to which this government is now sentencing hundreds of thousands of people every year, a crescendo of wanton harshness out of all proportion to the treatment meted out to other miscreants.

During and after the Napoleonic wars there were up to 200 offences for which a person could be hanged, usually for stealing to keep their family alive.

The people of this country sitting on the juries finally got round this draconian repression imposed by the ruling class by refusing to convict.

That is what juries and magistrates should do now when faced by the stark injustice of the criminal justice system.

MPs who five years ago stole big ticket expenses to which they were not entitled, including many on both front benches, suffered no penalty worse than being named and shamed in the newspapers, with no more than half a dozen fall guys, not the main offenders, sent to prison for a few weeks.

Not a single banker has been prosecuted for presiding over the wrecking of the financial and economic system by the most brazen arrogance, recklessness and incompetence, even though it has ravaged the lives of millions of innocent people.

None of the super-rich who have been avoiding due payment of taxes by the most artificial forms of contrivance have ever been personally brought to book and sent down.

We are now seeing one law for the rich and another for the poor in its most vicious and nasty form.


New Era scandal shows the twisting of Victorian philanthropy

THE New Era housing estate scandal in Dalston, east London, tells a poignant and tragic story about how Victorian philanthropic ideals have been transformed into commercial assets in the international market with not a shred of concern about the human consequences.

Arthur Barsht, the man who built this 93-flat estate, must be turning in his grave.

It was preserved for more than 80 years by the Lever family, who ran the estate as a place where low-income workers in teaching, health and construction could live near where they worked.

Now the grandson of the founder, who lives in a five-bedroom detached house in Northwood, Middlesex, has announced that the family is to sell up to a US private equity company which intends to quadruple the £600-a-month rents for a two-bed flat to £2,400.

The US company was assisted in the takeover of the estate by Richard Benyon, the Tory MP whose multimillion-pound family estate in extensive parkland near London was a partner to the deal.

None of the tenants will remotely be able to afford the new sky-high rents and they will all be evicted before Christmas. Welcome to Cameronian capitalism.

The whole Tory aim of squeezing public services, ostensibly to pay down the deficit - which is actually rising this year - is to restructure a public welfare state as a fully privatised market system.

The New Era estate is just one of thousands of initiatives designed to achieve this end, though a strongly redolent one.

The callousness of this nakedly monetary transaction is shown by the fact that nobody from the London office of the US private equity firm Westbrook has even deigned to visit the estate and talk to the residents, all of whom will be abruptly made homeless within the next three weeks.

It is purely a financialised arrangement transforming a tight-knit community into a global investment.

So why wasn't this outrage stopped? Because the families will have been evicted from private properties on private land, Hackney Council will have no responsibility to rehouse them.

They will be forced to leave London, but wherever they end up the public taxpayer, not Westbrook, will have to pay the cost of their accommodation.

It is ironic that Westbrook invests money from US public and private pension funds, endowments and foundations, including investments from many lower-paid workers similar to those now about to be evicted.

It is also resonant that Westbrook Partners has been taken to court for its shabby, vermin-ridden, unrepaired housing complexes in New York and been forced to carry out basic repairs and compensate their tenants.

In the light of this revelation of the new Tory Britain - which former Tory housing minister Grant Shapps hailed as a model for private landlords who are "the unsung heroes of the housing market" - Labour should bring in legislation to require local authorities to be offered first rights to take over all such estates being sold, with reserve rights of compulsory purchase where necessary to protect tenants.


Michael Meacher is Labour MP for Oldham West and Royton. For more of his writing visit


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