What you do, and don’t, have to prove to get welfare from this government

One might almost think that the fake news furore over the purported de-Eastering by the National Trust earlier in the week, which Theresa May laid into, was specifically designed as a distraction from the unpleasantness of this government: how Theresa May is currently in Saudi Arabia, pitching further sales of arms to that disgusting, medieval regime; and how they have introducing massive cuts in benefits to the bereaved with children.

On this latter issue, the government’s attempts to spin their appalling cuts to families struggling with the most horrific of circumstances as not just necessary, but actually generous go beyond mere cynicism. Richard Harrington, the Under-Secretary of State for Pensions, recently suggested that cutting bereavement benefit from the entire period that the remaining parent had responsibility for children to a paltry eighteen months was an act of generosity, as the bereavement payments previous would stop people from “readjusting” to life as a single parent. Nasty, cynical? That was just the warm-up. Because his justification for cohabiting but unmarried bereaved partners will get precisely nothing was to save them distress: that “having to prove cohabitation could be a lengthy, complex process, which could cause distress at a time of bereavement.”

This is breathtakingly cynical and vicious. To portray this removal of support from grieving and possibly suddenly impoverished people as an act of kindness… well, it’s almost a surprise that his own oesophagus didn’t spontaneously close over and refuse to allow him to utter such a hideous, distorted piece of mendacity.

Now, let us skip forward to today, and the introduction of new rules about tax credits for children. In general, I am in favour of the government discouraging families from having large numbers of children. We have far too many people on the planet already, and we certainly don’t need to be producing more at the unstoppable rate that we currently are. But whatever steps are taken to encourage less children must always balance this against the fact that not all pregnancies are volitional, and that some people have moral objections to abortion—though I may disagree with them on this, it would be as hideous to push people who genuinely objected to abortion into having one as it is for those who oppose abortion to attempt to prohibit them for others. As such, direct financial incentives tied simply to number of children seem too blunt a tool for the government to use to achieve the end of discouraging over-large families. Unless, of course, the government’s actual purpose was not discouraging volitional third pregnancies, but simply an excuse for finding further support to cut.

Because, as of today, tax credits will only be paid for the first two children in a family—unless a rape or coercive relationship led to the pregnancy with the third child. A rape, which the mother will have to prove by completing an eight-page form, and reporting the rape to a “third party organization” who will assess her claims: this for a crime so personal and traumatic that only about 15% of instances are reported to the police, and where institutional support for survivors is so desultory that precisely those Rape Crisis Centres who will be required to carry out the third-party confirmation (and who will thus be put in the position of having to make judgments on behalf of the government concerning the validity of a survivor’s claims; rather than neutrally and unjudgmentally providing support and counselling) had, as of March 2016, waiting lists of more than 4,000 people.

So, this is the state of welfare under Compassionate Conservatism. Bereavement and rape must be two of the most traumatic events that an individual can experience in their lives. But any bereavement payments at all are withheld from a unmarried person, to save them the “distress” of proving cohabitation—something that a quick glance over the electoral register would rather easily accomplish. And yet to gain support for a child born from rape or a coercive relationship, extensive and intrusive enquiries and proof must now be undergone.

Cynical, hypocritical, and just downright nasty: this government has no moral grounding of any kind. It is the most repugnant administration I have seen in my lifetime.

Nice continent you’ve got here…

Not content with using the livelihoods of four million Europeans living in the UK as a bargaining chip, Theresa May appears to have upped the ante and decided to threaten withdrawal of security co-operation with the EU as a negotiating stance in her Article 50 letter. It brings to mind an image of an inept gangster, wandering through the EU, saying in loaded terms and a dodgy fake Italian accent: “Nice-a continent you got-a here. Would-a be a shame if anything were to happen to it…” [“Accidentally” pushes Luxembourg off a cliff.]

Just as with her refusal to guarantee the position of EU citizens in the UK, Theresa May was attempting the posture that she is negotiating from a position of strength. The threat has also spectacularly backfired: partly because, of course, we are not negotiating from a position of strength at all: the EU will offer us terms and we will accept them or face the economic suicide of trading solely under WTO rules; and partly because it is a staggeringly callous threat to make: to endanger not just the livelihoods but the actual lives of the entire EU—and of course her own citizens, as a withdrawal of co-operation would be mutually imperilling.

For the record, here is the relevant passage of the Article 50 letter:

The United Kingdom wants to agree with the European Union a deep and special partnership that takes in both economic and security cooperation. To achieve this, we believe it is necessary to agree the terms of our future partnership alongside those of our withdrawal from the EU.

If, however, we leave the European Union without an agreement the default position is that we would have to trade on World Trade Organisation terms. In security terms a failure to reach agreement would mean our cooperation in the fight against crime and terrorism would be weakened.

David Davis has been rolled out to claim that this was not a threat, but the Sun certainly thought it was, triumphantly declaring YOUR MONEY OR YOUR LIVES—the Sun, it would appear, approves of threatening the lives of Europeans, though imagine the raging indignation they would have manufactured should the threat have been the other way round.

Here’s the thing though. That certainly looks like trade-with-menaces. It certainly sounds like Donna May is accidentally-not-accidentally nudging Luxembourg towards that cliff-edge. If that wasn’t the intention—and given the nine months that the government has had to draft the letter—then one despairs at the skill of our negotiators, carelessly making assertions that read, for all the world, like a direct threat. If a simple six-page letter can contain such a thoughtlessly worded passage, what hope for the detail of the negotiations? And what hope for the many, many further negotiations that Great Global Britain will have to make?

In which Theresa May lies to the folk of Stoke

Here is a letter, signed by the Prime Minister, to constitutents of Stoke-on-Trent Central—the massively pro-Brexit constituency shortly to have a by-election:

Letter from Theresa May to voters in Stoke-on-Trent Central (from @LabourEoin’s Twitter)

It states:

Last week, Stoke’s two other Labour MPs and the Labour MP for Newcastle-under-Lyme all voted against my plan to deliver Brexit …

And here, from PublicWhip, are the votes:

  • Rob Flello, Stoke-on-Trent South, Labour: aye.
  • Ruth Meeth, Stoke-on-Trent North, Labour: aye.
  • Paul Farrelly, Newcastle-under-Lyme, Labour: no.

So, one out of three.

I suppose the question that remains is whether, when this direct lie has been exposed, the defence will be of the Paul Nuttalls “my girlfriend/press officer/aide done it” variety, or of the Kellyanne Conway “alternative facts” variety.

Either way, she has clearly learned a lesson from her new friend across the water: lie, lie, and lie again. By the time the reckoning comes, the seed you have planted will have already taken root.