In Aycliffe we have been busy this month fighting a local election campaign over who gets the right to go to County Hall to implement the Tories’ draconian cuts to local government spending. So you might have missed what the government has been smuggling in under the smokescreen of the election and the Thatcher funeral.
I have made people aware through the Newton News of some of the changes – the ‘bedroom tax’ and the benefit cuts – as well as the millionaires’ tax cut and the passing of ‘Section 75’ (which ‘marketises’ the NHS).
In fact, April also saw significant Tory attacks on our human rights:
• On 1 April, the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act came into force; it cuts the legal aid budget by £350m by removing entire areas of law from the scope of legal aid – so that fewer people now have access to free legal representation than at any time since legal aid was introduced.
• On 15 April, on a disastrous day for human rights in Britain, the Commons voted:
1. to SCRAP Section_3 of the Equality and Human Rights Commission’s duties, which obliges it to ‘eliminate unlawful discrimination, harassment and victimisation’.
2. to REMOVE from the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill a provision outlawing caste discrimination (which is therefore now legal in Britain).
• On the same day, Hansard reported a string of complaints by Parliament’s Human Rights Joint Committee that the government’s practice of fast-tracking bills was not giving it time properly to scrutinise legislation with human rights implications.
• That same day also, MPs voted for the ‘shares-for-rights’ scheme that will allow people to set up businesses without giving their employees full rights, provided they give them shares in the business instead (the Lords later rejected this proposal, so we will ‘watch that space’ on this one).
• On 17 April, quietly on the day of the Thatcher funeral, Justice Secretary Chris Grayling issued plans to reform the legal aid system, including packaging legal aid into 400 contracts for which big firms like G4S will be encouraged to bid; it is the ‘marketisation’ of legal aid.
• On 19 April, the Guardian reported a proposal by Eric Pickles’s Department for Communities to control and censor the content of newsletters issued by local councils.
• That same day, a left-wing blogger revealed that a Jobseeker personality test required by the DWP (with sanctions if you refused) was a ‘behavioural control’ fake designed by a US counter-terrorism and psychology team.
• On 22 April, at 11:30pm in an almost-deserted chamber, the Lords agreed to amend the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill so that the burden of proving what caused an accident will now fall on the injured worker, or the family of someone killed, rather than the employer – a rule-change that overturns century-old legislation and will affect 70,000 cases a year. This month, in fact, saw the abolition of a raft of safety regulations, including the scrapping of the head protection regulations.
• On 23rd April, after yet another failed attempt to deport Abu Qatada, the Tories again floated the idea of leaving the European Court of Human Rights; talk like this should alarm British workers, whose employment rights are based substantially on European legislation.
If you have been interested to know about these developments, you can keep yourself up-to-date by joining the Newton Aycliffe Labour Group of Branches facebook page – at bit.ly/NALGOB – which usually records such things as they happen.
John D Clare