Increase Austerity, and Welfare Becomes More Popular!

New Orleans   Something very surprising, and I think very important, is happening about attitudes about welfare.  Finally!  Unfortunately, it’s happening in the United Kingdom, rather than in the United States, but let’s take the wins where we find them, because there are lessons there that politicians and policy makers need to heed about the limits to the abuse of lower income families.

The biggest takeaway seems simple.  If the government proposes and implements draconian austerity programs that scale back benefits, and worse, attack the benefit recipients, there will come a point when the public reacts and pushes back to support more generous benefits and to oppose further cutbacks.

In the USA, in recent weeks in the middle of the a 10-year economic cycle of success for corporations and the rich, we see current rule proposals that would take four million off of food stamps who are automatically certified since they are on TANF or welfare benefits.  Similarly, it would knock a half-million children off of automatic certification for free or reduced school lunches.  This is just the latest attack in a decades’ long erosion of protections for the poor that was only momentarily relieved in the worst days of the recession under President Obama.

In the UK, there’s a big, fat backfire, as reported in The Economist.  After the conservatives promised $18 billion in cuts to welfare benefits, they rode that to election victory in 2015.  But what they accurately call “the political pinata” isn’t working now.  Polling in Britain indicates that where more than 50% once thought benefits were “too generous,” and now that number has fallen to only a bit above 40% in just two years.  More importantly, 56% now believe that cuts “would damage too many people’s lives.  That’s huge!

Furthermore, the Ronald Reagan lies about “welfare Cadillacs” and other scurrilous attacks on recipients aren’t working in the public square either.  A study of news’ mentions of welfare fraud and abuse in the UK, finds that they have gone from almost 700 annually in 2010 down to less than 200 in 2018.  It’s not working to use the poor as a kickball there, so they’ve had to dial it back and tone it down.  Praise, lord!

It’s not all cheery in old England of course.  The numbers have also dropped because immigration from the European Union has been reduced, and part of the opposition had been to so-called freeloaders from abroad.  The Economist refers to a report by Professor Ben Baumberg Geiger at the University of Kent arguing that these changes are not systemic as much as they are “thermostatic…Once policies become harsher or softer than the level preferred by the public, voters send a signal and the government adjusts the policy ‘temperature’ accordingly.”  They cite the current government slightly increasing the working-age benefit as an example of climate change on this issue.

Sounds like magic, doesn’t it?  Not sure when this wand will wave over the United States or whether or not we have hit the bottom of the thermometer that would move politicians to release their death grip on the necks of poor families, but let’s hope we’re close to point where benefits must rise, so families can survive.

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Please enjoy “Can I Go On” by Sleater-Kinney. Thanks to KABF.

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Unwelcome Rallies for Trump in the UK

Cardiff     President Trump’s summer disruption tour of Europe is leaving more scorched earth than the current heat wave across the United Kingdom.  At NATO meetings he seems to have delivered a message to US allies to “pay up” or he was pulling out, even while signing agreements to increase military preparedness and continued pushback against Russia on Crimea.  Arriving in England, he held hands with Prime Minister May at dinner but, before sitting down to eat, gave an interview to the Sun that seemed to undercut her on Brexit and give props to her opponents within the Conservative Party sending the White House into damage control.  He of course took shots at the Muslim mayor of London and par for his course used the opposition to his visit to the UK as an excuse for a golf weekend at his equally controversial resort and clubhouse property in Scotland.

For all of the baloney and ballyhoo involved in his visit, there’s no fake news in Trump’s claim that he is wildly unwelcome in England.  More than 100,000 are expected to protest his visit in London.  We got a sense of the opposition at a rally of more than 1000 in central Cardiff, Wales that we witnessed ourselves.

Homemade placards and banners roundly criticized one plank in the Trump platform after another.  There were papier-mâché puppets that pictured Trump as a whining baby and Prime Minister May as little better for abetting his visit.  One woman, who had identified herself as the organizer of the Cardiff version of the “women’s march” after the inaugural, had made a fake four-foot-long fence of sorts with children’s clothes on it to symbolize the incarceration of children and family separation at the border.  Others picked up the “resist” slogan.  There were banners in the crowd from unions, like Unison, the second largest in the UK.  There was a group of ministers with a sign saying simply, “we are Methodists.”  The Wales branch of the Labour Party walked under their banner.  Muslim women were prominent in the crowd.  A young girl held a sign saying “Nasty Woman in Training.”  No doubt you get the point.

We listened to the speakers beginning with a member of the Cardiff city council and followed by a line of others from all parts of the progressive community.  Women spoke.  Members of the LGBT community made their case.  Enviros and others took the stage.  The message from all of the speakers was overwhelmingly an attempt to communicate to the American people that they needed to take action to maintain the “special relationship” of our countries that Trump was rending.

Even though we discreetly mingled in the rally and march, being Americans, it was hard for us not to take the message personally, as intended.  In fact, one of our party had earlier taken a photo of the march call posted on a pole and a random bicycler had pulled over in the street and confronted her on whether she was “for” or “against” Trump.

In the United Kingdom they are taking Trump very personally, and they are hoping we are, too.

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