Friday, August 23, 2013

Friday Morning Links

Assorted content to end your week.

- Polly Toynbee discusses how the UK's attacks on social programs are based on gross ignorance about what social spending does (and who it helps):
The Citizens Advice Bureau reports a rise of 78% in the last six months in people needing food banks to keep going. Many have jobs, but their pay doesn't see them to the end of the week. The CAB chief executive says millions of families face a "perfect storm" with benefit cuts, low wages, short hours and the high cost of living. Even in apparently well-to-do areas, community halls and churches are opening food banks so all can see those queuing for tins of beans and packets of pasta: basic calories, no treats and nothing fresh.
YouGov's polling for the TUC found remarkable ignorance of the facts. People think 41% of the budget goes on unemployment – the real figure is 3%. They think fraud accounts for 27%: even Iain Duncan Smith's own figure is 0.7%. They think people have little incentive to work. In reality a parent working 30 hours on minimum pay gets £138 more than on the dole. Polling for the Institute for Public Policy Research similarly wildly mistakes who gets what. People think immigrants account for the biggest slice when pensioners take half. They say pensioners and the disabled are the most deserving, but if so, why is there no outcry about disability cuts and Atos tests where 1,300 people died last year after being found "fit for work"?
The trouble with advocacy for the plight of the hard done-by is that we must always find "perfect" cases, people utterly blameless in every aspect of their life, judged by criteria none of us apply to ourselves, our family or friends. Mistakes, errors of judgment, bad habits, all too human in everyone else are unforgivable in anyone receiving benefits from the taxpayer: weed out smokers or drinkers or anyone too stupid, too lazy, too fat, too angry, too lacking in get-up-and-go or just too depressed to put on a good show.

How do you reconcile people's sugar-coated sympathy for imaginary unfortunates with their strong impulse to blame and punish real-life poor people? That's the conundrum that myriad think-tank reports and charities giving the true facts still fail to crack.
- Meanwhile, the CCPA and the Wellesley Institute wasted no time in debunking the Fraser Institute's pathetic assault on the well-being of families with children.

- In a similar vein, Toby Sanger neatly debunks the Conference Board of Canada's latest paean to P3s. And Simon Enoch and David Weir have responded to a few of the more ludicrous defences of turning public services into privatized profit centres when it comes to Regina's water treatment referendum.

- Stephen LaRose points out the level of diligence Michael Fougere and company are putting into the City of Regina's operations.

- And finally, pogge responds to Robert Decary's report on federal government surveillance by writing that we should expect our watchdogs to have at least some bite. But it seems to me that the problem goes even further than that.

There's certainly room for debate whether a watchdog should be able to make binding orders - i.e. whether it should be able to bite into activity as it happens, or merely bark out a warning. But I don't see how anybody can reasonably defend the position that a watchdog should be forced to wear blinders rather than getting a full picture - and the lack of any information whatsoever in response to Decary's inquiries looks to me to be the most damning part of his findings.

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