There is a nasty plan to compel unemployed people to work picking up litter etc. We await full details of this plan but the government has made a big effort to publicise it, in advance of the detailed announcement, but confirmed that it is their intention. It is very odd because there are already powers to cut or suspend benefit if someone isn’t looking for work actively enough or has turned down offers of work or training. And I can confirm that these powers are used frequently and people on very low incomes are subject to benefit cuts if they do not seek work with sufficient enthusiasm. This new proposal is clearly intended to be punitive and to humiliate those  who are forced to do such work. It is shocking that the coalition is putting this forward.

In the ’70s and ’80s, when unemployment rose very rapidly, under both the Callaghan and Thatcher governments, there were schemes to employ unemployed people on community programs that did good work in local areas, gave unemployed people a chance to contribute and were supported by all sides. I have been expecting the government to announce the re-establishment of such programs, instead we get this nasty proposal!

Student fees up to £9,000 and a market in higher education

Fees as high as £9,000 are very shocking. The government has withdrawn its support for higher education and then given the universities the power to charge very high fees to get back the money they have lost. They have even argued that this will be good because it will give great power to students to demand the courses they want. We will have a market in higher education as well as a hierarchy of universities, and lots of students with lots of debt starting out on their adult life.

For my generation it was different, all of us from non-wealthy families got a full grant. Those from wealthy families had their tuition paid for and a partial grant. In those days graduates could easily get jobs and all my contemporaries with whom I am still in touch have, like me, worked every day of their lives since they graduated and therefore paid tax for all that time. We also studied the subjects that interested us because we weren’t haunted by the debt we would have to repay. The ethos of the times was that we should contribute to society rather than seek our own enrichment. I think this was a better way of funding higher education and nurturing decent values in society.

Housing benefit

The government has announced that it will not pay housing benefit for families who are unemployed or low-paid of more than £400 per week. I am stunned to find out that some families are paying rent of £400 a week, but it is of course the consequence of the policy of successive governments to encourage a constant growth in house prices. This has made some people feel rich, a lot of people take on too much debt and created a mad escalation in the price of housing.  It also severely distorts where our society puts it’s investment. So if house prices go up and governments encourage the growth of the private rented sector, as they have, then we will have high rents. Now there are to be some areas where people are unemployed or on low pay cannot live. I presume they will be evicted and have to hunt for cheap accommodation in poorer areas. This is yet another sign of growing inequality in Britain.

Israel and universal jurisdiction

Israel has announced that it will no longer have talks with Britain unless our law on universal jurisdiction is changed. The law in question is the Geneva Convention  Act of 1957. In the aftermath of the terrible crimes of the Second World War, the UK like many others took the power to arrest and try anyone suspected of grave breaches of the Fourth Geneva Convention. Normally the courts deal only with those who live within their jurisdiction but these crimes are so serious that they were thought appropriate for universal jurisdiction.The crimes that fall fully under universal jurisdiction in England and Wales are torture, hostage taking and war crimes committed in an international armed conflict.

A wide number of people can also be prosecuted for genocide, war crimes in internal armed conflicts and crimes against humanity, but suspects generally need to live here or have a close connection here.For all these crimes, at present the law enables a victim to apply to a district judge to issue an arrest warrant, but it then requires Attorney-General consent for there to be charges.

It is because the courts issued warrants against senior Israelis on the basis of because of Israeli behaviour in Gaza that Israel is kicking up such a fuss. Both the last government and the current one has promised to change the law to please Israel. What a tragedy this is and what and historical irony, the answer is for Israel to cease to breach international law rather than us to change our law to make it more difficult to bring war criminals to justice.

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