Socialist Worker


Issue No. 2079

Who should be blamed for the missing discs?

The news that 25 million tax payers’ records have been lost by HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) comes as no surprise to anyone, like me, who works for the organisation.

For several years our PCS union has been warning that the relentless “efficiency measures” being imposed by the department would lead to disaster. We are working under extreme pressure as jobs are cut, our offices are closed and there are weekly announcements of “procedural changes” designed to cut costs and corners.

One particular efficiency program that PCS members have been in dispute over has led to mountains of unopened post piling up – we believe that there are a million pieces of mail sitting unopened in dusty warehouses.

Staff training has been slashed. When I started work at HMRC five years ago, I received 16 weeks training, now new staff get a maximum of only four weeks.

What has incensed me most about the whole discs affair is the news that the government is holding a junior official – on administrative officer grade, and therefore earning around £14,000 a year – responsible for the scandal.

I find it unbelievable that an employee at this level would be solely responsible for the dispatch of such sensitive information. I am a grade higher than this, and I am barely allowed to sneeze without permission.

It is a disgrace that an ordinary low paid civil service worker, who would have been following orders, is used as a scapegoat for a national scandal while chief executive Paul Gray is allowed to resign, keep his pension, and no doubt a substantial pay off.

Let’s lay the blame squarely where it belongs – at the feet of our ex-chancellor and new prime minister Gordon Brown.

Marianne Owens, PCS R&C group executive committee member (pc)

Apart from the effects of cuts in the public sector, two particular issues stand out from the fiasco of the lost HM Revenue and Customs computer discs.

The first is the complete madness of government departments using a private mail firm, like TNT, when that same government owns its own service, Royal Mail.

I note with some sadness that my CWU union has decided not to issue any criticism of TNT simply because we have union members there! No one should blame the workers at TNT – but we should attack the private companies that are trying to undercut Royal Mail.

The second is that TNT is amongst the private companies that these three are trying to benchmark Royal Mail against. If they succeed in cutting jobs and increasing workloads for post workers, we will only be able to provide a service that is as poor as TNT’s.

This is proof that striking postal workers are not only fighting for their own jobs and conditions, but also to maintain Royal Mail as a functioning public service.

Fran Choules, Exeter

Young not to blame

I work with unemployed teenagers in south London, and your article about stop and search (Socialist Worker, 24 November) illustrates well some of the difficulties they face.

You frequently read about “criminal” gangs of young people, but it is rarely said that they are more likely to be victims of crime than other age groups.

According to a 2005 government report over 30 percent of ten to 25 year olds have been victims of crime, compared to 14 percent of 26 to 65 year olds.

Those mentioned in your article were college students, but thousands of young people are not in any form of education, employment or training.

Being unemployed at any age is hard but a young person who has no qualifications, little experience, and no access to money, is particularly vulnerable to drugs and other problems associated with low self esteem.

Instead of a state crackdown on these people, we need to find new ways of engaging with them. Showing that they are not written off as “criminals” would be a good start.

Jane Evans, South London

Jane Bassett is correct to contrast the support for access to education with the draconian way in which the government is threatening to implement post?16 education (Socialist Worker, 24 November).

Many will also welcome Gordon Brown’s commitment to raising standards.

But while he rattles on about the potential of global capitalism to provide highly paid jobs for all those who are well educated, the reality for the majority of young people is rather different.

Many realise that leaving school at 16 – even with the magic five GCSEs – is unlikely to get them further than McDonalds.

In this respect, Bob Dylan’s 1960s quip about “twenty years of schooling and they put you on the day shift” assumes a new resonance.

Martin Allen, West London

Despicable Hain is attacking the vulnerable

Just when I thought New Labour could not sink any lower, Peter Hain, minister for work and pensions, has again turned the screw on the vulnerable.

Hain wants everyone who is unable to work for reasons of health to take a new medical examination. It is estimated that half of all current claimants will “fail” this test.

As a former miner and someone who claims incapacity benefit, I am appalled.

Hain is going to introduce another round of “if you can breathe you can work” tests, another round of doing without while waiting months for appeal decisions, and another round of poverty and uncertainty.

This government has £24 billion to bail out the Northern Rock parasites and billions more for a war that is already lost, but for those who are sick it has nothing but contempt.

For forty years I turned them a profit, and paid my dues. I’m not the problem, the system is. The sooner we smash it the better.

Steve Hammill, Crewe

Government plans to “rip up sicknote Britain” are about appeasing Tory critics and the nasty tabloid media who harp on about “benefit scroungers”.

They are nothing to do with helping the disabled, sick and mentally ill return to work.

The media reacted to so?called left-winger Peter Hain’s announcement by screaming about how the taxpayer is being ripped off by people claiming benefit for stress and depression.

So much for the old labour phrase, “From each according to their ability, to each according to their need.”

It is clear that Labour cares nothing for helping people, except the rich.

Daniel Factor, East London

I have severe irritable bowel syndrome and adult attention deficit disorder, and as a result I have had to fight very hard to claim incapacity benefit.

The news that the system is to be “reformed” to make it even harder to claim is devastating.

The current system is already unfair and the medical examinations they send people to are also flawed to the point of absurdity.

I agree that the system needs to improve dramatically, but listening to the government’s plans is soul destroying.

Instead of being improved, the system is going backwards.

Why people who are already suffering should be the repeated target of a Labour government is beyond me.

Neil McConnell, South Shields, Tyne and Wear

Rubbish at football

So now the England football team has failed to make it to the European finals, who will take the blame?

We have tried blaming cheating foreign players who dive. We have tired blaming cheating foreign referees who are biased. We have tried blaming foreign managers who don’t care, have no passion and should not be in charge of the England team.

If blaming English clubs for having too many foreign players fails to fool anyone, what other excuse can we use?

Doru Athinodoru, GMB race & equal rights committee

Scots can bring change

Neil Davidson’s article on the Scottish budget (Socialist Worker, 24 November) is the fairest article on the subject of the Scottish National Party I have read in Socialist Worker.

It may be that Britain as a whole will never accept anything that looks like socialism – but it looks like certain parts of Britain might.

As Neil says, instead of complaining about how Scotland can afford certain policy initiatives, socialists outside of Scotland should be pushing for those initiatives where they live.

An independent Scotland could influence an independent England in a direction that the “United Kingdom” would not otherwise go.

Dougie MacMillan, Lennoxtown, Scotland

Don’t warn us about search

I read your article about the students from east London, who were searched on the way to college with interest.

I think that warning parents in advance about the search was a bad idea because parents will then warn their children – making the search pointless.

My college has searches without any warning – which is more likely to catch a student carrying a weapon.

Leema, East London

Our pay is just not fair

Thanks for your article about bus workers seeking a pay rise. I work for Stagecoach in Manchester and our pay is not enough to live on.

The job we do carries a high risk of attack. Not only from some of the public that we serve, but also from some the many lunatics out on our roads.

If we took strike action and the bus service was suspended, maybe people would realise just how much they needed our services.

Jojo, By email

How ‘green’ is Heathrow?

Only days after Gordon Brown laid out his supposed green credentials and plans to make Britain a “low carbon” nation, his government unveiled a £7.6 billion project to build a third runway at Heathrow.

And why do we need it? Because British Airways chief Willie Walsh says it will be good for business.

The new runway will increase damaging carbon emissions from air travel, it will mean demolishing 700 homes and it will cause severe noise pollution at 20 schools in the area.

Good for Brown’s friends in big business, maybe, but bad for the rest of us and bad for the world in which we live.

Sylvia Elgrib, Sidcup, Kent

Government makes us fat

Who is making our kids fat? Research from Bristol university last week reported that children with working mothers are most likely to be obese.

Child obesity is a real problem, but surely some of the blame lies with underfunding school meals and the selling off of school fields.

Add to that the fact that workers in Britain do longer hours than elsewhere in Europe.

But don’t expect any action on this because addressing those problems would mean reversing government policy.

Sabiha Ghani, Manchester

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Article information

Tue 27 Nov 2007, 18:48 GMT
Issue No. 2079
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