Monday, October 13, 2014

100,000 march against water charges in Dublin.

I applaud the 100,000 people who marched against water charges in Dublin this weekend. It's an all too rare occurrence in Ireland for people to get out and protest. Too often people lay back and take whatever is handed to them and even now there are those that argue what we shouldn't complain, shouldn't protest and should just accept it. This protest was a great event...

The deaths of Patrick and Harry Loughnane, 1920...WARNING, GRAPHIC CONTENT...

The death of the brothers Patrick and Harry Loughnane in November, 1920, was one of the more gruesome crimes carried out by British forces during the War of Independence. It was, however, far from an isolated incident. Patrick and Harry were from Shanaglish near Kinvara in Co. Galway and were staunch republicans. Both were members of the IRA and were involved in Sinn Fein and the local Gaelic Athletic Association and seemed to be, by all accounts, talented hurlers. They were not in high up positions, although Patrick outranked his younger brother, and were similar to many other IRA members known to the authorities of the day. The exact reasons as to why they were selected for such harsh treatment may never be known. It may easily have been someone else. Maybe they were just in the wrong place at the wrong time. What is interesting about this crime is that in involved, at times, the RIC, the Black and Tans and the Auxilleries. All were involved. On 26th November 1920, they were arrested while working on their family farm by the Black and Tans. They were taken to Drumharsna Castle where they were tortured over a period of days. They were then taken out to the nearby Moy O'Hynes woods and shot. Their family were told that they had escaped. Their bodies were eventually found severely mutilated. Harry has fingers missing and his arm was so badly broken at the shoulder that the arm was hanging off. Patrick's legs and wrists were all broken. They also had IV (Irish Volunteer) carved across their bodies. They were also burned badly and most of their heads were missing from having grenades detonated in their mouths. They were given a republican funeral with volleys of rifle shots being fired over their grave plots. Pictures were taken to show what the authorities had done to them. 

Acts like this peppered the Irish War of Independence and serve to show us why imperialism is wrong. Such things should not be forgotten, because we are entering times when acts like this and some more horrific are becoming more common place across the world. We need constant reminders about...

Thursday, September 25, 2014

A closer look at social welfare #1: Ireland.

This is the first post in a series where I intend to look at welfare systems in various countries to determine whether the anecdotes we hear about spongers and welfare being too high has any actual grounding in reality.

As I have mentioned in previous posts about social welfare, it is often said, mainly by those who have never had to rely on welfare, that it is too high and doesn’t encourage people to work. As a recipient of social welfare I know this is complete nonsense and in a previous post I showed that there is no correlation whatsoever between rates of social welfare and levels of employment. But, I decided that this isn’t enough so I decided to investigate further and come up with a few case studies which show the realities of being on welfare. All the information I give below is out there for anybody to look up, so, if you don’t believe me feel free to go and look for yourselves and do the math. All the information about welfare in Ireland is detailed quite well on the website. All figures below are accurate on the day of publishing. 

For an unemployed person in Ireland, there are various entitlements that are available. Firstly, there is jobseeker's allowance which, for a single person over 26, is €188 per week. If you are cohabiting with an unemployed person, or married to one you get an increase of €124.80 per week and additional €29.80 per week for any dependent children. Therefore, an unemployed couple with one child on welfare would receive €342.60 per week. The average working person would take home between €650-€700 per week, basically double the welfare rate. There is nothing wrong with this, of course, working people should take home more money, it just shows you the invalidity of the argument that the welfare system is too generous. In addition to this is rent allowance which helps low income families with their rent costs. It’s a complicated formula to work out the amount but when simplified, a single person would contribute a minimum of €30 per week to their rent costs provided their rent is below a certain figure. I will come back to this in the case studies. A couple would have to contribute a minimum of €40 per week. Of course, there are medical cards available as well which gives free GP care and reduced prescription costs of €2.50 per prescription item.  There is also fuel allowance, paid between October and April which amounts to €20 per week. For families with children there is the €130 per month child benefit (additional children will receive less per month; it’s staggered) and the back to school allowance to cover uniforms and shoes. This amounts to a once of payment of €100 per year for children ages 4-11 and €200 for children ages 12-22 provided they are in full time second level education. 

So, how does all this work in reality. It appears to be generous but with the necessary bills and cost of living in Ireland it doesn’t always work out that way. We will take, as an example, a single, unemployed person living in Limerick city. The person’s only income is the €188 jobseeker's allowance per week. We will assume that this person lives alone. To qualify to rent allowance the person has to have a maximum rent of €375 per month. I checked on and only two one bedroom apartments are currently available in Limerick city with a monthly rent of under €400. Therefore, it is rather difficult to meet the requirements. There can be exceptions to the rule, however, under certain circumstances. We’ll assume for this example that this person has the maximum rent of €375 per month and, therefore, qualifies for rent allowance. We’ll assume the person has a car. A car can be necessary if you are seeking employment beyond walking distance or somewhere not easily accessible by public transport (public transport brings its own costs, however). For a man with a clean, full-Irish driving licence with 6 years no claims bonus, insurance on an average sized car with average distance travelled per year would cost €62.13 per month (this quote was taken from who claim to be one of the cheapest insurers around).  This is for fully comprehensive insurance. Then there is car tax which, for an average sized car, would be €56 per quarter. You would obviously need to put petrol or diesel in this car. If you are living in a city centre you might not need to drive every day so we’ll factor in a very, very conservative estimate of putting €10 worth of diesel or petrol into the car per week. Unless you are living in an apartment building that is managed the person would have to pay bin charges. AES provide a good service in Limerick city for €24.50 per month. Internet costs at minimum €20 per month and this is a necessity as many places of employment now accept online applications only. Water charges are coming in next year and I will factor this in. There is no reduction for the unemployed as of yet and average water bill is allegedly going to be €240 per year. Most people will have a television set. We’ll allow a small luxury here and calculate that this person has the basic Sky package of €28 per month. If you have a television then you need a television licence at €160 per year. On top of this you would need a telephone. We’ll be conservative here and assume that the person for this example spends an average of €20 per month on a pre-pay phone. Electricity costs need to be factored in. Electricity is charged bi-monthly and we’ll assume an average consumption of €60 per month, that’s €120 per bi-monthly bill. Of course, the person has to eat and we’ll allow €50 per week for food shopping.  From October to April you can add €20 in fuel allowance. If the person lived in an apartment with electric heaters then this would cover part of the electricity costs for the winter months, which would be considerable higher. For the example below we’ll assume it’s outside of the winter months.  So, with the figures adjusted to reflect an average four week month, the weekly budget of a single, unemployed person living in Limerick city would work out as follows:

Income per week.
Jobseeker’s allowance - €188.

Expenditure per week.
Rent - €30.
Car insurance - €15.53.
Car tax - €14.
Petrol/diesel - €10.
Bin charges - €6.12.
Internet - €5.
Water charges - €4.61
Sky TV - €7.
TV licence – €3.07
Telephone - €5.
Food - €50.
Electricity - €15.
Total Expenditure per week - €172.80.

This leaves a surplus of €15.20 per week. Not much. The above doesn’t factor in having to buy clothes, potential car repairs (€50 minimum for a replacement tyre), the odd prescription charge and even the occasional bit of fun. There are always unforeseen expenses. €10 is a very low estimate for petrol/diesel charges and could easily amount to more. Food costs is a fluctuating element and so is water charges, over which there is some uncertainty as to the exact amount people will have to pay.  Also, living in different areas of the country will also accrue different expense amounts. If we are to take a single, unemployed person living in rural Wicklow, the total expenditure per week would be €171.11 (factoring in cheaper car insurance but higher petrol-diesel costs from living in a rural area). However, it’s only a difference of €1.69 – hardly worth moving for. It roughly balances out. 

Is the situation different for families? We’ll take a family of two adults and a child aged 5. Both parents are unemployed and living in Limerick city. Certain charges would be different. We’ll double the telephone charges to allow for two people, the electricity would also be much higher as there are more chances of someone always being in the house/apartment. Petrol costs could also be doubled as more people would need to get to places more often. Water charges would also be significantly higher. Factoring this in (I won’t list it off this time) we end up at an expenditure of €278.41 per week leaving a surplus of €64.19 between the couple and child. This works out as above double that per person of the single person. It is somewhat cheaper for a family to live than a single person as elements such as bin charges, internet etc do not significantly change.  The family would also get the €130 every month in child benefit which we’ll assume covers the child’s basic needs of clothes, education needs etc. But €64.19 a week spare still isn’t much when you’re not accounting for clothes for two adults, potential car repairs, prescription costs and a plethora of other unforeseen expenses. To give an example from my own life, my car had some minor problems earlier in the year, two weeks before its NCT. I didn’t take it to registered garage as I knew I couldn’t afford that so I took it to a local man who fixes cars at a discount rate. I needed new brake-pads, an oil change, new filters in various places and I got the pre-NCT test done as well. The cost built up to around €350. This would have been significantly higher if I’d gone to the dealer. €350 was very difficult to scramble together when you are on welfare and we had to borrow the money. 

So, there’s the reality of welfare in Ireland. These were only a few examples given and living circumstances can be significantly different for people.  The scenarios above certainly show that welfare doesn’t’ discourage people from working.  

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Moments of clarity...

Today I experienced one of those moments of clarity which brings everything in your life into perspective and makes you realise that your problems are not that big after all. We popped into the supermarket after picking up The Boy from pre-school just to pick up a couple of things that we had missed from the main shopping trip yesterday. On the way out we went to the self-service checkouts, as usual, and coming in behind us was a heavily pregnant woman with a small toddler about The Boy's age. The child was very dirty and her clothes were dirty and looked old. The woman herself was also pretty unkempt and acting rather oddly. At first I didn't pay much attention to what was going on. She was on the till next to ours and we were the only people there and there was no member of staff in the vicinity. The child clung onto a tub of sweets and woman has two bags of potatoes that were on offer. They were only 50c a bag. She scanned one and placed it on the counter. The other bag, she dropped in the floor. I noticed this but didn't pay too much attention. It was only Giolacha who told me afterwards that she only paid for the one bag and quickly picked up the other bag and rushed out of the shop with the child who still had the sweets. Now, we've all made mistakes with things like this, but it quickly became apparent that this was no mistake. She was clearly having a tough time feeding her family and had to resort to such measures. My first instinct, when you see someone stealing, is to let the shop know and let them deal with it. But, when it dawned on me (well, Giolacha pointed it out to me as she has endless empathy for people) the possible reasons for this, we did nothing and left the shop. It's shocking to realise that there are people out there struggling to feed their families, but there are. They talk in the media like the economic crisis is over, but it isn't. My own problems, small by comparison, don't seem so bad now. 

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Social welfare rates and sponging off the state...

The argument that generous social welfare will lead to ‘spongers’ who choose to live off the state has once again reared its ugly head, and I’ve encountered many people claiming that the high rate of social welfare in Ireland doesn’t provide incentive for people to find and secure employment. Rather than get impassioned and make a long rant I decided to do a little digging and find out if this actually true or not. Is welfare in Ireland too generous? Is it significantly higher than other countries? Does this discourage people from looking for work?

Between 2000 and 2007 the unemployment rate in Ireland rarely topped 5% of the employable population. This was well below the EU average which, at its lowest, was about 7% during this period and 9.1% at its highest. Following the economic collapse it peaked at about 15% in Ireland at the beginning of 2012. It has subsequently fallen recently to little over 11%. It should also be noted that during 2000 and 2007 the rate of social welfare was significantly higher. Surely, it would have been even easier to ‘sponge’ off the state during that period. There were also less checks as to whether the person was seeking employment or not. It was very easy to just sit back and collect the money. Why then would an extra 10% of the population suddenly change their mind and settle for less benefit now? Simply, they haven’t. There’s an employment crisis!

In Spain, a country with a far less generous social welfare system where, based on your employment history and length of employment, you can actually receive no entitlement whatsoever, there is an unemployment rate of 25.6% as of February of this year. Unemployment in Greece sits at 27% while in Italy it is 13% and Portugal at 15.3%. All these countries follow the Mediterranean model of social welfare which is characterised by its low level of assistance to the unemployed. Social welfare in Nordic countries is well developed with access to free education and free healthcare but has the lowest unemployment rates in the world. Therefore, with many countries with little social welfare options and high unemployment and countries with the reverse, it would appear that there is little correlation between the rate of social welfare and the rate of unemployment. High social welfare rates, it would appear, do not discourage people from finding employment. There is also the myth that social welfare in Ireland is the highest in the world, or among the highest. I have the heard the same said for the UK but we can blow that out of the water as Ireland has a welfare rate of more than double that of Britain. Britain also has a significantly lower unemployment rate, yet people still bemoan spongers. Now, if we are to compare Ireland the other members of the EU15 (EU member states prior to the 1st May 2004) in terms of the amount of jobseekers allowance received per person in relation to the average industrial wage then Ireland comes off poorly. Ireland ranks 13th while the UK comes dead last. Hardly the environment for spongers! Of course, this statistic does not factor in other benefits such as housing allowances, child benefits etc, however, most European countries have universal child benefit (Ireland ranks somewhere around the middle to top while the UK is near the bottom in terms of amount given to each child). Housing benefits differ greatly from country to country from nothing, to means tested to a fixed payment. Ireland again, is the not the most generous. 

The argument that the state encourages people to ‘sponge’ is invalid and based on nothing apart from people’s expectations that the unemployed should appear poorer – probably to make themselves feel better about their own situation. There is an unfair expectation that the unemployed should be on the breadline. So, the next time you are about to complain about the spongers or the maybe the next time you hear someone saying this, perhaps remember a few of these stats and realise that social welfare does not discourage people to work, whatsoever. 

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Britain First...

Britain First are a far right political (in the loose sense of the word) group and they keep popping up in my news-feed. Surprisingly, apart from one far-right family member, their stuff is shared by friends and family who are decidedly liberal. What? Well, this is because of their underhand techniques of popularism where they appeal to the masses and dupe them in sharing their nonsense to improve their Facebook ranking score in order to appear into more news-feeds and get more likes. This image floated through my timeline recently.

It has nothing to do with their goals whatsoever, they are just hoping people share it and indirectly spread their page. Many people will like the page because the like the image and bang! they're into someone else's news-feed. They come from the same bag as the EDL, BNP and UKIP and are about as intelligent. Basically, not very! They have a poor understanding of the issues on which they claim to stand. The page is full of outright lies about immigration and twists facts and figures in order to suit their particular brand of racism which sits close to fascism. On doing a little Google search about the group I found an article called "12 things you should know about Britain First." It's a great and informative read, but one segment sticks out in particular which I will quote in full:

"The American author Laurence Britt defined 14 characteristics of fascist regimes (you can see a copy of his article here). I'll list the 14 characteristics and compare with Britain First policies and strategies.
1. Powerful and Continuing Nationalism - Britain First make constant use of patriotic mottoes, slogans, symbols and other paraphernalia. Flags are seen everywhere, as are flag symbols on clothing and in public displays.

2. Disdain for the importance of human rights - One of Britain First's most common complaints is against the European Human Rights Act.

3. Identification of Enemies/Scapegoats as a Unifying Cause - Britain First rally people into a unifying patriotic frenzy over the need to eliminate a perceived common threat or foe: racial, ethnic or religious minorities; liberals; communists; socialists, terrorists, etc.

4. The supremacy of the military/avid militarism - Britain First constantly intersperse their posts with posts designed to glorify the military (often in order to sell their own merchandise or convince people to sign up to their organisation).
5. Rampant sexism - Britain First's founder Jim Dowson is strongly opposed to women's reproductive rights. This subject is never mentioned on the Britain First page because it would interfere with their populist appeal. 

6. Controlled Mass Media - Thankfully Britain First haven't got to the stage where they can exert any control over the media, however their policy of ruthlessly censoring dissenting opinion on their Facebook page indicates their contempt for freedom of speech and their desire to control the spread of information.

7. Obsession with national security - Britain First are always harping on about threats to national security in order to whip up fear amongst their followers.

8. Religion and ruling elite tied together - Fortunately Britain First are not part of the ruling elite, but it is absolutely clear that they see religion as an integral part of their political mission. Here's a quote from their statement of principles: "Britain First is committed to maintaining and strengthening Christianity as the foundation of our society and culture".

9. Corporate Power is Protected - Britain First like to present themselves as an alternative to globalisation, however their dalliance with the neoliberal Tea Party fringe in the US show that they have more in common with hardline neoliberals than they like to let on. Another indicator that they are no opponents of globalisation is the way they use their Facebook page and website to propagandise for Cadbury's, which was once a British company, but is now owned by the American multinational giant Kraft.

10. Power of labor suppressed or eliminated - Britain First make a big deal out of opposing socialism and trade unions as enemy ideologies and they also use their Facebook page to attack the minimum wage.

11. Disdain and suppression of intellectuals and the arts - The Britain First Facebook page is rife with anti-intellectual comments and infographics.

12. Obsession with Crime and Punishment - Britain First are obsessed with crime and punishment, making frequent calls for the death penalty to be re-introduced. Nooses and gallows are recurring motifs on the Britain First page, and they also use public outrage at judicial decisions, in order to con people into donating to their political party.

13. Rampant cronyism and corruption - Thankfully Britain First have no political power, so they are not in the position to use their power to enrich themselves and their cronies, but judging by the fact that there is no open process over how appointments are made within the party, and their deceitful fundraising tactics, it's not hard to imagine what Britain would be like if these guys were in charge.

14. Fraudulent elections - Once again, these guys are not in charge of the country, so they haven't got the power to rig elections in their own favour. 
Of the fourteen characteristics of fascism identified by Laurence Britt, Britain First meet most of them, and the only ones they don't meet are the ones that it is impossible for them to meet due to their absolute lack of political power."

Interesting reading! Obviously the group's fascist tendencies is clear to even the casual reader but it's basis in popularism and its spreading of outright lies makes it popular and people sign on because they want to be told things instead of doing the research for themselves. A simple Google search will show people that illegal immigrants in Britain receive nothing whatsoever in terms if benefits. How could they? They're illegally there.  As to legal immigrants, they are good for Britain's economy and basically pay for themselves through taxes collected. They claim less benefits per head than British people and they generally pay more taxes contributing significantly to the British economy. To cut immigration would actually damage Britain's economy. Yet, thanks to tabloid media and the growing presence of groups like Britain First misinformation and lies abound and further perpetuate the myth that immigrants just claim benefits and drain Britain's economy. Britain First oft cite the now infamous 'Rivers of Blood' speech made by Enoch Powell which contains the phrase "In this country in 15 or 20 years' time the black man will have the whip hand over the white man."  They claim that this has become true. Well, just look at Britain's government, look at Britain's wealthy and powerful, the CEOs of companies and so forth. How many black faces do you see there? And even if there were, would it matter? Only to a racist...

Britain First is yet another in a long line of troubling and fascist groups. Yes, the right is rising, but groups like this will never gain any real power. Even more moderate groups such as UKIP fail to hold any real power in spite of claiming that they are leading a revolution. A few council seats a revolution is not! Rather, it will remain grass-roots, a haven for the racists, the bigots and those without the ability or will to do their own research. Think twice before sharing one of their pictures, all you are doing is spreading lies, fascism and hatred.