Friday, February 28, 2014

Friday Morning Links

Assorted content to end your week.

- Jonathan Freedland discusses how the UK's Conservative government is forcing its poor citizens to choose between food and dignity:
Cameron's statement rests on the repeatedly implied assumption that the only people going hungry are those who have opted for idleness as a lifestyle choice, who could work but don't fancy it. This assumption is false. The majority of poor households include at least one person who works. As Rowan Williams, the former archbishop of Canterbury, put it this week: "People who are using food banks are not scroungers who are cynically trying to work the system. They are drawn from the 6 million working poor in this country, people who are struggling to make ends meet in low paid or bitty employment." Sure enough, the very first thing the "clients" I speak to at the Hackney food bank tell me – unprompted – is how desperate they are to work. One is an immigrant legally barred from working. The other is a former removal man now aged 60 who can't afford to buy the van he needs to get started again.

Yet the driving rhetoric behind the government's welfare policy focuses narrowly on those dishonestly claiming benefits, even though such fraud accounts for less than 1% of the money paid out. To punish that tiny, parasitical minority, hundreds of thousands of people – poor not because they're lazy but because of low wages, patchy, zero-hours jobs or rising food costs – are going hungry.

As for welfare dependency, on that logic any and all support is part of the problem: the minute you help someone, you risk making them dependent. The bishop of Bradford is surely right to argue that the government might as well be honest and "say ... we are prepared for people to starve and become destitute in order to achieve that longer-term goal" of ending welfare dependency. Like refusing to put out fires lest you encourage fire brigade dependency, it would at least have the merit of consistency.
(T)here is less shame in claiming a nationally mandated benefit than in going to a church hall, being handed a food parcel and having to nod your head and say thank you.

Still, the shame is bearable if the alternative is you or your family going hungry. What has become of us, when that is the choice we offer our fellow citizens: dignity or food? And this in our wealthy, wealthy country.
- But in case anybody was under the illusion that nobody gets a free lunch, Duncan Hood reports on several major Canadian corporations which are paying little or no tax (with the assistance of government policy choices).

- Bruce Campbell calls for an independent inquiry into the Lac-Mégantic oil-by-rail explosion. But then, the same anti-regulatory dogma which did so much to cause the disaster in the first place figures to explain the Cons' refusal to allow for a full investigation. Which means that we may have to hope rail operators pay more attention to the U.S. regulators who are rightly studying the dangers of oil by rail - rather than the Cons who value safety far below oil-sector profits.

- Finally, Simon asks how either the NDP or the Libs could possibly justify refusing to work together in a coalition if the 2015 federal election results in an opportunity to replace the Harper Cons. And Paul Wells likewise notes that there's every reason to keep all options open in order to pursue good government - even if the fundamental rightness of that position will get buried in favour of a substance-free "flip-flop" narrative in some corners. (Though I do maintain my doubts about Wells' confidence that the Cons would step down willingly - rather than pulling out all the stops to prevent mere voters and Parliamentary majorities from bringing about a change in government.)

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