Who benefits?

The UK government plans to “overhaul” the benefits system. A scheme to cut the enormous deficit caused by the misbehaviour of the very rich (the banking crisis) by taking from the very poor.

“Some unemployed people say they are better off on benefits than working – leading to accusations that the current system encourages long-term welfare dependency.” (from the BBC

The words “some..people say” are like a big red flag to indicate “we made this up on the spot.

However, I’m going to take this at face value and pretend – purely for the sake of argument – that there are a fair number of people who are better off on benefits and who aren’t too physically or mentally ill to work. (These must be people who can magically pay for food, heat, light, water, fares, cleaning products, household goods and clothes from less money than the average City worker spends on an evening out and a few lattes.)

There are however many millions more people who are desperate to stay in work or to find work. Any alleged “recovery” will be sustained only until the full force of the threatened October cuts. The cuts will mean that workers from both the public and private sectors will massively increase the numbers of the unemployed.

Precisely the time when you’d think that a government stick to force the unwilling into work was least necessary. Not to mention, reducing the number of taxpayers by converting them to benefit recipients seems to be exactly opposite to the actions of a government that plans to cut its debt.

So, who would benefit by forcing the unemployed to seek work – thus making sure that there are EVEN more people fighting for every job?

I can’t see any sane answer to this. The immediate answer would seem to be “employers,” who will be able to force down wages. But, at the moment, even this doesn’t make sense. We barely produce anything in the UK. All goods and services that can be produced by cheap labour are already produced by cheap labour abroad.

UK business generally now expects to make its profits, not by producing and selling goods but by brokering foreign-made goods and services to the UK population. Which depends on there being a critical mass of the UK population with disposable income.

Despite the bullshit emanating from the government and the media, welfare benefits barely cover frugal heat, light and food. Replacing a winter coat constitutes a major drama. There’s precious little left to put toward a Bang and Olufsen home cinema or an i-Pod.

In fact, there’s bugger all left for any retail spending. Which must be a major issue for a country which has long been acting as if building massive new retail outlets constitutes a sustainable development strategy.

Even the financial sector – pandered to for twenty-odd years – will be hard pushed to get blood from a few million stones. Although the appearance of tv ads offering loans of derisory sums at rates of interest so high that you assume they’ve got the decimal point wrong (2,265% APR, ffs) suggests it’s going to have a bloody good try.

So English capital as a whole isn’t going to benefit by massive job cuts. It goes without saying that workers aren’t going to benefit. And, no matter how much I try to bend my head round this, I can’t see any rational way to see hammering the longterm unemployed as anything but a true anti-solution.

Numberwang on the web

The Guardian has a Data Blog with the subtitle Facts are sacred..

Tempting as it is to wander round the epistemological byways here (What’s a “fact,” for a start?) I’ll spare you that. Instead I’ll express bafflement about the factualness of some specific facts on government websites posted yesterday.

A decorative graphic has blobs to represent the costs of UK government websites. There’s a clickthrough button to get the data from Manyeyes.

The data is shocking, on first view. For instance, it seems to have cost the UK taxpayer £154 for every visit to the Cabinet Office site. Cue horror. Except that these appear to be made-up numbers, with the calculations done on a solar powered calculator sitting at the bottom of a deep well.

Here are a few columns that I took from the data, applied simple maths to and lo! most sites cost a few pence per visit.

I’ve left the original numbers so you can work out costs per visit yourself. I’ve shown my calculations on a blue background.

Details from the govt webcosts spreadsheet

Details from the govt webcosts spreadsheet

I fear I’m doing the post a disservice when I scroll down and find a link to Google docs that offers the full data. Download the full list as spreadsheet doesn’t work for me but, when I look at the data on this sheet, it makes a lot more sense. Costs per visit are down to pence rather than tens of pounds. Not that I can replicate this either. But I get a lot closer.
UK govt web costs, as held in google docs

Ah ha: At the end of the Guardian post there’s a caveat:

UPDATE: an error in the cost per visitor column has now been corrected

Sorry, not when I looked at it it. Which, surely must be after it’s been corrected, or else I wouldn’t be able to see the correction note.

In any case, the original costs are dubious. Some of these sites must be new and have not got a full year’s data. The basis on which any given department has costed its sites might be wholly individual. I am forced to conclude that these are pretty well just made up numbers from start to finish. Although that doesn’t excuse the failure for anyone to notice that a simple division has been borked.

Any reader would gasp at the idea of sites that squander 3 week’s unemployment benefit on each visitor. That “information” sticks in the mind. Few readers would be finicky enough to look at the detail.

It says Facts are Sacred in bold letters at the head of the post. You could be forgiven for absent-mindedly taking it that someone had made sure that these were sacred facts.

A paranoid person might easily assume that the release of such spurious data was part of a propaganda offensive to convince UK voters that the public sector is so bloated and wasteful that the planned public sector cuts will not affect anything important. They’ll just involve stopping stupid and wasteful spending….

Like the imaginary huge (6-year-salary!) redundancy payments to inherently idle public sector workers that another Guardian blogger treats as a representative of the true position. Then characterises the head of a public sector union as a rabid militant for opposing the destruction of his member’s jobs and employment conditions.

I initially, and charitably, assumed this was a random Comment is Free post, maybe by a freelancing Daily Mail journalist.

But it appears that the writer is a senior figure in the Guardian. He was the Guardian’s political editor for 16 years. From his profile:

Michael White is assistant editor and has been writing for the Guardian for over 30 years

I see I have been spending £300 every ten minutes on buying the Guardian and it’s only ever worth it on the increasingly-rare days when Charlie Brooker is side-splittingly funny and Marina Hyde isn’t engaged in electoral enthusiasms for former presenters of shows about amusing vegetables. I begin to think a 40% cut in my Guardian spending is long overdue.