Rear View Mirror – making connections

Sometimes it can be hard to spot the connections between different issues. Sometimes it seems like events take place randomly and in isolation from each other. Last week, capitalism’s relentless pursuit of profit and its complete disregard for ordinary working-class people was much easier to spot.

Covid Millionaires

It has been reported that globally, more than five million people became millionaires despite the economic pressures of the Covid-19 pandemic. It’s fair to say that none of them worked in the NHS or other essential frontline services

While many poor people became poorer, the number of millionaires across the world increased by 5.2 million

The combined wealth of the world’s 10 richest people rose by £400 billion during the pandemic. According to the charity OXFAM, this would be enough to pay for vaccines for everyone on earth. It’s fair to say that’s unlikely to happen voluntarily.

Those who have profited the most should be those to make the biggest contribution. A tax on the Super Rich and a significant raising of Corporation Tax would help alleviate many of the problems, but of course only a complete change to a socialist economic system will achieve that.

Personal Independence Payments (PIPs)

Several weeks ago, we said that the PIP’s assessment process, carried out by the private company CAPITA, wasn’t fit for purpose.

Now an investigation by the Northern Ireland Public Services Ombudsman has confirmed what many people knew all along.

Claimants were kept in the dark, medical assessments were ignored or never followed up, people were forced to appeal the original decisions and endure the additional hardships and stress this failed process inflicted on them and their families.

Some commentators have tried to pass this off as a series of administrative failures, but the system is doing what is designed to do: make it more difficult for people to claim the benefits to which they are entitled and to create a negative culture around claimants. CAPITA on the other hand was offering bonuses to its staff for completing the claims as quickly as possible.

It’s important to point out that PIPs is a health-related benefit – so it’s about people who have ill health. They need respect, they need to be treated with dignity and they need to be given access to their benefits quickly and comprehensively.

As if to compound that disregard for those in need and to reward those who help inflict it, the Sinn Fein Minister for the Communities, Deirdre Hargey has extended CAPITA’s assessment contract until 2023. Some might think that a strange way to build ‘An Ireland of Equals’

Cuba: the US and Israel defy the World

As reported in this website previously, the United Nations General Assembly has, once again, overwhelmingly voted in favour of Cuba’s resolution demanding the end of the US blockade. In a strong show of support for Cuba, 184 countries voted in favour. The United States and Israel voted against. Colombia, Brazil and Ukraine abstained.

The United States will, as they have done in the past, ignore the UN vote and continue with the inhumane blockade.

Any one, or any country, challenging the United States or presenting a socialist alternative to the inhumanity and greed of capitalism will feel the full force of the United States and its allies.

This was the twenty-ninth UN vote on the blockade, but the first under the Biden administration. If and when President Biden visits these shores, he should be left in no doubt about the level of opposition that exists here against the longest blockade inflicted against a country and its people in modern history. It’s fair to say that he probably won’t even be asked about it by reporters.

Banks, Cash and Holes in the Wall

In recent years there has been an alarming 78% increase in the number of pay-to-use ATMs. Consumer organisation WHICH is now reporting that these are much more common in rural areas and in areas of high social deprivation.

The increasing number of bank closures – the Bank of Ireland is closing almost half of its Northern Ireland branches – a reduction in the number of ATMs and an increase in the number of pay to use machines leaves many people at a considerable disadvantage.

Universal Service Obligations  or USOs,  already exist for many essential services including water, electricity, post and broadband. The Assembly should urgently introduce a USO for free access to cash.

Once again, the relentless pursuit of profit assumes priority over people and ready and free access to their own money.

The common denominators

Whether it’s a dignified and efficient benefits system, access to our own money, the accumulation of wealth created by other people or the rights of the people of a small Caribbean Island to order their own affairs, capital, capitalism and profit dictate the outcomes.

That it is all achieved at the expense of human dignity, that it is all brutally implemented and that it is all for the benefit of the few is just swept under the carpet by governments, local Assemblies, the media and by the professional apologists whose task it is to distract, confuse and divert.

Last week was one of those occasions when events left fewer places to hide for those who promote and perpetuate this human indignity. The job of socialists and other progressives is to keep it firmly under the spotlight as  we work towards a better and different future.

Rear View Mirror: a brief look back at the week that was


Last week’s figures tell us that, not only is the Coronavirus spreading – but more importantly that it is being spread.

We are in unprecedented times. Even as the vaccine programme is rolled out, infection rates continue to rise, the number of deaths increases and health services and hospitals are stretched to their limit. In these circumstances everyone has a responsibility to follow public health guidance and government has a responsibility to call on all and every resource available to it to help overcome the pandemic and its consequences.

Public Health Agency Advice:

Universal Credit

Around 14,000 families in Northern Ireland, many of them in employment, rely on Universal Credit payments. The £20 ‘top-up’ payment introduced last year has provided a life line for many as they cope with the additional financial pressures of the pandemic. However, it is currently due to end in April.

While it is important that the we protect ourselves and others from infection it is also essential that we protect everyone’s mental health and well-being with financial support, educational resources, business and employment relief packages and full and proper recognition of all the members of the essential work force who have been ensuring that services and supplies were retained throughout.

Universal Credit payments are a key component of that. The “top up “payment must not only be extended it must be made permanent.

Mother and Baby inquiry

The announcement that the long overdue report on Mother and Baby homes in Northern Ireland – it was completed in February last year – is soon to be published comes as welcome news. However, it is unlikely to address all the issues or provide all the answers.

There were more than a dozen Mother and Baby homes here. The last one closed in the 1990s. Some 7,500 women and girls gave birth in the homes run by the main churches and religious organisations.  Many women suffered arbitrary detention, forced labour, ill-treatment, and the removal and forced adoption of their babies.

Only a public inquiry can fuller reveal the extent and causes of the suffering. The victims deserve nothing less

Domestic Violence

Welcome news last week that, as part of updated legislation on domestic violence, coercive control will become an offence in Northern Ireland for the first time

Coercive control includes psychological and financial abuse as well as non-violent intimidation.

Figures released last October showed  that domestic abuse crimes were running at record levels in Northern Ireland . They have risen by 12% in a year to 17,251, the equivalent of 47 per day. Five women lost their lives from March of last year in in domestically motivated murders.

In conjunction with the planned introduction of anti-stalking legislation, covering physical and online abuse, last week’s initiatives can contribute to overcoming the marginalisation of women in Northern Ireland society but only a radical class driven restructuring of society can guarantee full rights and equal standing for women.

1974 shooting of Patrick McElhone

The McElhone family from Pomeroy deserves praise for their fortitude and persistence over more than five decades as they fought to vindicate their son as a totally innocent victim of a murderous act.

An inquest last week ruled that Patrick McElhone, a 24 year old farmer, shot dead by a soldier near his home in Limehill, Pomeroy, County Tyrone in August 1974 was an “innocent man shot in cold blood without warning when he was no threat to anyone”.

He was described in the inquest ruling as an “innocent man shot in cold blood without warning when he was no threat to anyone”.

Academic Selection

Finally, as it was announced last week that the vast majority of grammar schools here will not use academic criteria to admit pupils in 2021 it once again raises the question why there is a need for academic selection at all. But we probably know the answer to that already.