Author Archives: johnny void

With Coronavirus Around The Corner It’s Time To Scrap Sanctions And Brutal Benefit Assessments

The DWP has reportedly declared business as usual for benefit claimants as the UK prepares itself for an increasingly likely Coronavirus epidemic.

DWP staff have been told that only those advised by medical staff to self isolate should be exempt from brutal benefit sanctions for failing to attend appointments at the Jobcentre*. Meanwhile there is no information on the website for those on disability benefits called in to be assessed for Personal Independences Payments – the benefit for those with additional living costs due to sickness or disability. And Work Capability Assessments, designed to strip sick and disabled people of out of work benefits by declaring them fit for work, appear to be continuing unscathed.

The DWP’s own guidance acknowledges that benefit sanctions are likely to cause a decline in health even at the best of times. There is ample evidence of the stress and ill health caused to sickness and disability benefit claimants due to regular assessments carried out by private companies like Atos and Maximus. Yet all will still be forced to attend Jobcentres and assessment centres or face desperate poverty as benefits are sanctioned or stopped for non attendance. At the very least vultures like Atos could provide some information on what those facing benefit assessments should do if they are sick or have been advised to self isolate. But as the screenshot above shows, they haven’t even bothered to do that.

If Boris Johnson truly wishes to protect the most vulnerable as he claims then removing the threat of benefit sanctions, and halting reassessments for sickness and disability claimants, should be an immediate priority. Those awaiting new claims could still be assessed on a voluntary basis, with the promise of benefits backdated should they choose not to attend – or even better interim payments until the crisis is resolved. The economic cost of such a move will be neglible and with some workplaces closing, and events being cancelled across the globe, there seems little reason not to do this now. It may not make a huge difference in slowing the spread of the virus, although it will do no harm, but it will at least send a message to those with least that should the worst happen then this Government will have their back. So don’t hold your fucking breath. The spite of the DWP knows no bounds.

Cancelling PIP and WCA re-assessments would also free up thousands of so-called medical staff who carry out the tests to go and do some proper healthcare for a change should hospitals become over-stretched. Meanwhile Jobcentre busybodies could be stationed in public toilets to harass people who don’t wash their hands or something which equally matches their skill set.

Those sanctioned or denied benefits cannot stock up on food and stay at home if advised to by medical staff. Many will find it difficult to afford heating or hot water, buy basic hygeine products, or medication for their symptoms should they become ill. Some will have no choice but to queue up at foodbanks for supplies. Hundreds of thousands of people are currently living a hand to mouth existence due meagre benefits, sanctions and the relentlessly cruel social security system. Scrapping all benefit sanctions, right now, would prevent some of this suffering immediately and allow people to build their health back up, even a little, before the worst of this virus hits.

It is understandable that authorities want to avoid panic – we don’t yet know how far Coronavirus will spread or how deadly and infectious it may yet turn out to be. But there is little more that is panic inducing then seeing a brown envelope drop through your letterbox from the DWP compelling you to attend an Atos assessment or informing you of a benefit sanction or stoppage. Removing this stress from claimant’s lives now would make a huge difference to the resiliance of the poorest and might just improve their health.

If things become as bad as they might then the sooner sanctions and disability benefit assessments are stopped or suspended then the more lives are likely to be saved. And if things don’t turn out so bad and the virus is brought under control then the only consequence will be hundreds of thousands of people having some respite from poverty and ill health casued by the brutal benefits regime. The tragedy is that to a Tory government, obsessed with punishing the poor, it seems that is too high a price to pay.

*Current advice is to contact your Jobcentre as soon as possible to avoid sanction if you are unable to attend an appointment due to being advised to self-isolate by 111 or a medical professional.

Climate Chaos Is Class War And No-one Should Be Telling Us How To Fight It

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The planet is fucked, and it will be the poor who pay the price.  It is happening now in some parts of the world where climate change has already begun to cause devastation.  And without radical change, this is only going to get worse, much worse.

That doesn’t mean we are heading for social collapse in a decade as some of those in the growing environmental movement predict. More likely we will see a drawn out struggle for survival, as more and more parts of the planet become uninhabitable and competition for increasingly scarce resources escalates.   As such we are likely to see the intensification of states and armies and borders, not their demise.  And that is why any struggle against climate change must be a class struggle, that seeks not to abandon those fleeing sites of climate disaster, but instead builds a movement based on solidarity and mutual aid that places the blame for the fucked planet where it truly belongs – at the feet of the rich and the economic system that supports them.

It is capitalism that is killing the planet, the endless search for never ending growth to line the pockets of bosses, landlords and bankers.  It is the rich who need to change their lifestyles not those already struggling to survive.  And they won’t, they won’t change a fucking thing unless we make them.

The growth of Extinction Rebellion (XR) has shown there is a new and bold desire amongst the young to build the kind of movement necessary to at least stop the impact of ever increasing carbon emissions from getting any worse.  Everyone who has taken to the streets or been arrested deserves credit and support.  But passive non violence and mass arrests alone will not bring the change we need to see.  And neither will citizen’s assemblies and other tokenistic gestures that are likely to see capitalism remain largely untouched.

The truth is that the kind of ultra passivity that the leadership of XR insist is necessary will in the end trouble neither capital nor states.  Telling the cops what you plan to do in advance will only mean they stop you doing it.  Parting the way as police drag people into the back of vans turns the clearance of hard fought for blockades into little more than a production line that just requires enough police, in the right place, to labouriously cart everyone off.  It may be an annoyance, it may cause faux outrage amongst the right wing press, but at the end of the day London will return to normal and life will go on as before.

I walked round and watched the ease with which the last XR protest was finally driven from the streets.  It was a depressing spectacle as property was destroyed and bodies bundled into vans.  The police looked bored, the protesters were largely compliant and seemed more interested in penance than victory.  Those arrested were cheered by a crowd that seemed determined to make the police’s task as trouble free as possible.  I couldn’t help but wonder what would have happened if those assembled had sat in front of police vans, or generally made a nuisance of themselves, instead of applauding politely.  There is considerable space between chucking bricks at coppers and the kind of extreme pacifism where arrest is fetishised as victory that the XR leadership promotes.  An examination of that space, and what could be achieved within it,  should be an urgent task for all those involved with XR.

To truly build a movement that will strike fear into those destroying our planet for profit a diversity of tactics is needed.  There are many who will willingly take direct action, and risk arrest, but are not prepared to hand themselves over on a platter.  There are those who will not passively stand by should police choose to employ force against peaceful protesters – and do not think for a second they won’t.  The state has the perfect answer, every time, to non violence.  That XR have not seen baton charges and bruises merely demonstrates that, as yet, they have not become a sufficient enough threat to public order.  Only a movement that encompasses all of us, however we choose to resist, is likely to prove effective in bringing the radical changes that are necessary.

This is difficult to achieve but not impossible.  In the past anarchists have worked with Quakers and NGOs with militants to combine forces, respecting each other’s right to fight back in the manner of their own choosing and creating time and space in which to do so.  No-one should be forced or shamed into doing anything that makes them uncomfortable or compromises their values, but all can act in the spirit of non-judgemental solidarity towards a shared goal.  There is a place for non-violence, and a place for showing your teeth, and any environmental movement that has any chance of winning needs to accommodate both.

This week a series of events are taking place organised by the Green Anticapitalist Front who recently hit the headlines after occupying the abandoned Paddington Police Station.  A range of talks, workshops and film screenings will culminate in a demonstration in the City of London on Friday 28th Feb.  Events are also taking place in other parts of the UK.  A strong, angry and militant turn out could be the beginning of the movement we need to start to bring an end to climate chaos.  For details of all events visit their website and please spread the world.  The future kind of depends on it.

You can also follow them on twitter @FrontGreen whilst details of Friday’s protest can be found on facebook.

What’s Wrong With Woman’s Place?

There have been few more bitter struggles on the left in recent years than the conflict between those who support trans inclusion and those who style themselves as Gender Critical and refuse to accept that trans people should be socially or legally treated as their aquired gender.

At the heart of this row has been Woman’s Place UK (WPUK), a group of socialist women who have held many high profile meetings discussing the rights of transgender people. These meetings have drawn heavy criticism and furious protests from those supportive of trans people who claim that the organisation is transphobic. Woman’s Place have hit back at these accusations, claiming that the protests have been an attempt to silence or censor women who just want to talk about how trans rights might impact on women. More specifically Woman’s Place insist they are not transphobic and are supportive of trans rights. Recently this conflict has intensified after three of Labour’s female leadership candidates signed a pledge which explicitly referred to the group a “trans-exclusionist hate group”.

WPUK was formed after the Government announced plans to make it easier to change legal sex by amending the Gender Recognition Act. Whilst it remains unclear after two years of stalling whether the current administration has any plans to pursue this, WPUK have grown into an organisation which now appears to oppose everything from the current evidence based trans healthcare provision for young people to trans inclusion in sport.

Much has been written about the dubious transphobic fringe that has accompanied WPUK’s meetings and which has rarely been challenged by the group. At it’s most extreme, the Gender Critical movement has claimed that trans people are all either sexual fetishists or mentally ill gays and lesbians, that Queer Theory is paedophile plot, that a trans cabal has secretly ‘captured’ government institutions, and that cautious and rarely used medical treatment for trans teenagers is equivalent to experiments carried out by Nazis in concentration camps. Current darling of the Gender Critical movement Harry Miller, an ex cop and former supporter of Tommy Robinson, even recently compared the LGBT Pride flag to the Swastika.

Whilst WPUK may claim not to share these opinions it is clear that many of the people who have handed the group thousands of pounds in donations and ticket sales are quite committed to promoting to this kind of anti-trans rhetoric. Without this support it is unlikely WPUK’s profile, or bank balance, would have grown as it has. Until WPUK stand up and loudly denounce transphobic conspiracy theories, and make it clear those who propagate them are not welcome at their events, then the organisation is likely to be viewed with deep suspicion by most trans and gender non conforming people.

But of far more concern is what this organisation is actually campaigning for. WPUK want to introduce laws that go far beyond the bathroom bills which have been so fiercely contested in Conservative states in the US and which would make the lives of trans people – and those whose gender is non conforming or ambiguous – almost intolerable. In a recent open letter to Labour leadership candidate Lisa Nandy, WPUK founder Ruth Serwotka, lays out their demands:

“Our views are that current equality law must be protected, that the current sex exemptions in the Equality Act must be upheld, understood and enforced.
Is that “hateful”, “harmful” or “offensive” – or grounds for proscription?”

Now on the surface that all sounds pretty benign. Of course women’s spaces need to be protected in a world in which male violence is endemic. And trans women, who equally face this violence, deserve that safety as well, and the current law reflects that. However neither Ruth Serwotka nor WPUK believe trans women should be included in that protection.

Currently the Equalities Act prohibits discrimination based on Gender Reassignment. Guidance from the EHRC is quite clear that trans people should be able to use toilets and changing rooms in line with their aquired gender and in fact this has been normal practice for decades. The act does however allow some leeway, in which a trans women may be excluded if it is a proportionate means of enforcing a legitimate aim. Equality experts have stated that this should really only be done on a case by case basis. Government guidance gives the example of rape counselling in which the presence of a trans woman may make some other women feel uncomfortable and prevent them from being able to take part. These are the ‘single sex’ exemptions to which Ruth Serwotka is referring to. As they are both voluntary and discretionary they cannot be ‘enforced’ without weakening trans rights under the act. This is something WPUK are quite openly campaigning for, although they use the language of strengthening women’s rights rather than weakening trans rights, presumably in an attempt to mask their true agenda.

And in case there is any doubt then the demands of WPUK are laid bare in this speech in which they discuss their demands in more detail. The speaker is quite clear about what the group want and equally clear that this should apply to all single sex spaces including toilets:

“The law must be strengthened to ensure that all women who want or need single sex spaces (including toilets, health provision accommodation, prisons, sports, sexual and domestic violence services) are able to access them without resorting to extraordinary measures. “

She then goes on to state what should happen to those organisations and businesses who still permit trans inclusion:

“The law needs to be tightened up and it needs to be enforced; enforced to ensure that female-only spaces and services in this country are protected. Business and organisations should face fines or legal action if they knowingly, and deliberately flout the law.”

The only state in the US to successfully introduce a Bathroom Bill was North Carolina. It turned out to be a disaster which nearly bankrupted the state due to widespread protests and boycotts and was largely repealed two years later. But even this law only made it illegal for government institutions such as schools to permit trans people to use toilets in line with their aquired gender. WPUK go much further than this. They appear to want to make it a crime to offer trans inclusive toilets or services even if an organisation or business wants to. And WPUK practice what they preach, inisisting, quite possibly illegally, that on the rare occassion a trans person turns up to their events then they must use the toilet in line with the sex they were assigned at birth.

The impact of such legislation would reach far beyond trans people, not least placing additional strain on low paid front line workers who will be expected to guess what genitals someone was born with under the threat of their employers being prosecuted. In practice, most businesses would be likely to remove toilets and changing rooms altogether if they are not legally obliged to provide them rather than risk being prosecuted because someone managed to get into the wrong toilet. It is astonishingly authoritarian and it would not just harm the lives of trans women, but gender non conforming and ambiguous people, Intersex people and of course trans men – quite possibly most of all. Many in the Gender Critical movement seem perfectly relaxed about this with regular WPUK speaker Kathleen Stock declaring masculine appearing women being quizzed about their sex assigned at birth as an acceptable but regrettable cost in the fight to keep trans women out of women’s toilets and changing rooms.

WPUK are not the only Gender Critical organisation who hold this line. Fair Play For Women (FPFW) who are closely linked to Woman’s Place and have been represented at many of their events, have published a guide to service providers on how to keep trans women out of women’s changing rooms. FPFW have decided that excluding trans women from women’s spaces is already perfectly legal despite both case law and guidance from the EHRC suggesting otherwise. To enforce this policy FPFW suggest that shop assistants and others may sometimes have to query someone’s gender and demand to see a birth certificates before providing entry into female changing rooms.  If they are not able to provide one then FPFW recommend they should be excluded from the space. The implications are horrifying for all gender non-conforming people who would be expected to produce their papers on demand should any shop worker, security guard or cop insist on them. The potential for homophobic, lesbophobic, misogynist and indeed transphobic harassment is chilling.  And a society which demands those who are gender non-conforming should face on the spot ID checks is unlikely to stop there as history all too ominously warns us.

The struggle against bathroom bills in the US has been hard fought but ultimately successful even in the most conservative states (for now at least). Peer reviewed evidence has shown that trans inclusive policies, where they have been introduced, have not led to increased risks for women. One religious group has even conceded that dire warnings of bathroom predators – abusive men who pretend to be trans women to access women’s toilets – were largely concocted by the religious right.  In the UK this same struggle has been masked by support from some feminists whose arguments however are little different from those contrived by anti-LGBT forces on the right of the Republican Party.

When pushed on the damage to trans lives that rigid trans exclusionary policies such as bathroom bills would cause then many Gender Critical activists will mumble something about third spaces for trans people. WPUK members have said they would support trans only spaces and services, yet no-one ever says how this should be paid for. It is hard to imagine, at a time of sweeping austerity and women’s services under threat due to a funding crisis, that those in the Gender Critical movement would genuinely support billions being spent on refitting every set of public toilets and changing rooms in the country to accommodate a third space. It’s equally hard to believe this is something the public would support. It certainly ain’t likely to happen anyway under a cost cutting Tory government. All bathroom bills would be likely to achieve is either forcing trans and gender non-conforming people to compromise their dignity and safety or prevent them from accessing public facilities at all. That’s why people are pissed off with Women’s Place.  And whether you regard the group’s rhetoric as transphobic or not, it is surely not unreasonable to question whether those fighting for authoritarian policies that would make the most conservative bible belt Republicans blush have any real place in the Labour Party.  Not that I give a shit about the Labour Party.

It is a tragedy that this fight has broken out at a time when the UK is lurching towards the right and austerity is biting as hard as ever. It is understandable that many women, including trans women, are frightened that demands being made by the opposing side will leave them vulnerable to violence from men. And let’s not be in any doubt, it is male violence that is the fucking problem here. But bathroom bills will not prevent this. All they will achieve is further isolating and stigmatising an already marginalised group and serve to socially punish gender non-conformity. If WPUK really want this then it doesn’t seem unreasonable to call for them to be open about their intentions instead of hiding behind vague statements about sex based rights and strengthening the Equalities Act. If they genuinely support the kind of bathroom bills that have done so much damage to LGBT people in other parts of the world then perhaps it is time for them to make that clear.

And finally you might be thinking who the fuck am I to stick my oar in. One thing this debate does not need is more male voices who are largely unaffected by any of these issues. So here’s the thing. I have lived with gender dysphoria my entire life. Sometimes I have hidden it, in more recent years I have lived kind of a double life. If I was younger and hipper I’d probably have some exciting new term to describe my gender identity but I’m not young and hip. I recognise that I have not had the lived struggle of women, and I include trans women in that. I do not, as yet at least, live it every day and maybe never will. That doesn’t mean I haven’t taken a fair amount of shit for being perceived at times as a woman, trans woman and gender non conforming man.  And I do think trans women are women, and that trans men are men and that non binary people are valid, and that only we can be the judge of our own gendered experiences and identities, whatever the fuck gender identity is. There is so much about this we don’t understand and neither science nor philiosophy as yet have any of the answers. All we can do is fight for a world where we all live in as much comfort safety and dignity as it is possible for humans to achieve. That means doing all we can to confront male violence however we describe or experience our sex and gender. It also means working class people uniting against our exploiters and putting an end to the brutal economic system called capitalism that seeks to turn us against each other in a desperate scramble for resources whilst the rich look down on us and laugh. And they are laughing. No-one has done more to ferment this split than the right wing press and the forces of both capital and conservatism.

But that’s enough of that, this blog was never about me and it’s not going to start being now. Unless you know me personally I am not taking questions.  In truth this conflict has been the main reason I went quiet for a long time. And that started to feel like cowardice and I didn’t like that but I honestly don’t know whether I’ll get back to regular posting or not. Sorry to everyone I’ve lost touch with, I am slowly dragging myself out of the shadows. In the meantime can we please get back to some good old fucking class war and start to make the bastards scared of us again.

Simon Chapman, A Very Distinguished Fucking Anarchist

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Over the last couple of days the strangest thought has plagued me.  Two simple ugly words have kept emerging, only for me to lock them out and ridicule them as bizarre.  Simon’s dead.  Just to write it down feels like treachery.  Part of me looks forward to seeing him, to sharing a drink and dispelling this nonsense.  He’d say something wry, and witty and that would be that.  He was good like that.  Was.  Sometimes the shittiest word to ever have to use about a friend.

As part of a (temporary, and self-imposed) exile from all politics, I didn’t know his health had deteriorated so much.  We weren’t the kind of friends who lived out of each other’s pockets.  There are many who were closer to him than me and I wish them all my love.  But for almost 15 years he was always there.  At crap protests and good ones, festivals and parties, we’d find each other and we’d usually end up drinking together.  We shared a love of getting proper twatted and so we did that a lot.

The London anarchist movement would have looked very different without Simon Chapman.  From the Movement Against The Monarchy to the Wombles, to May Day, several squatted social centres and finally Class War, Simon was an active presence both on the streets and behind the scenes.  Countless flyers were produced by him over the years. He helped organise dozens of gigs, parties, campaigns and demonstrations and I was lucky enough to work with him on several of them.   Up until very recently he was still updating the Class War website.

It was the streets where his heart lay though and he was no passive peaceful protester.  He got nicked all the time when he was younger.  He fucking hated capitalism, was never afraid to get his hands dirty and despised the police.  And he had good reason.

In 2003 Simon was arrested during a vicious police tear gas attack at a particularly fruity anti-capitalist protest in Thessaloniki, Greece.  It was claimed he was carrying petrol bombs in his rucksack and he was held on remand with charges hanging over him that could have seen him spend the next 20 years in prison.  Six other people were arrested and charged in similiar circumstances.  All denied the allegations against them.  Photographic evidence soon emerged that showed the rucksack the police claimed Simon was carrying was not the rucksack he was arrested with.  It was a transparent fit up.

The treatment of those arrested was obscene.  All were beaten savagely following their arrest.    For the first few days of his incarceration Simon was left virtually blind after the police smashed his glasses.  He couldn’t see a fucking thing without his glasses.  Despite these abuses the UK’s Labour government did not lift a finger to help.  Neither did any other state.  So the prisoners took the only action left available to them and began a hunger strike.

A militant Europe-wide campaign fast emerged demanding that all seven prisoners be released.  Greek embassies were picketed across the continent and in some cases attacked and occupied.  In Barcelona the Metro system was shut down during an international day of action in solidarity with the prisoners.  In the UK a relentless campaign targeted the Greek Embassy and Tourist Board.   Parts of Athen’s University were repeatedly occupied, whilst fierce demonstrations throughout Greece resulted in more arrests.

In the end Simon didn’t eat for almost seven weeks. All the hunger-strikers were repeatedly hospitalised, such was the strain on their health. In the final days the prisoners stopped accepting fluids.  By now the solidarity campaign was at fever pitch as the risk that someone might die grew ever closer.  Mainstream media across Europe began to take an interest, lured by sensationalism and smelling blood.  Faced with international embarrassment, and concerned about creating seven martyrs who would shine a light on the corrupt Greek police, all the prisoners were released on November 6th 2003 and the charges against them dropped.  Simon came home.

Then, five years later, the bastards came for him again.  After repeated appeals from the Greek state prosecutor the charges against four of the original seven were re-instated.  In 2008 Simon was found guilty of a string of exotic sounding and terrifying charges including Distinguished Riot  and the creation, possession and explosion of bombs.  He was sentenced in his absence to eight and a half years in prison.

Under the threat of a European Police Warrant, which was likely to see him dragged from his home by our own filth and handed over to the Greek authorities, Simon was forced to return to Thessaloniki in 2010 to appeal the conviction.  In the ensuing trial the police evidence was repeatedly demolished by the defence teams.  The case ended in humiliation for the Prosecutor with all charges  thrown out for all four defendants except for a hastily cobbled together guilty verdict of “minor defiance of authority”.  This misdemeanor was enough to justify the time those accused had spent in prison, although the six month sentence was suspended and Simon once again returned home.

Simon was much, much more than just one of the Thessaloniki Seven.  But I suspect none who knew him well would deny the shadow these events cast over his life, and the impact they had on his health.  Of course our own state also put the boot in, subjecting him to years of benefit cuts, Atos assessments and at the mercy of London’s fucked private sector rental market.

Throughout all this Simon stayed strong, never stopping fighting, or laughing and never losing his faith that a better world would one day be possible.  He was kind, and clever and both ruefully cynical and enthusiastically hopeful at the same time.  He was also more than just an anarchist.  As well as raising his fist, he also raised his daughter who he regularly spoke of with loving pride*.  His loss will leave a big hole in many lives.  The last thing he would want is tears, but he will get them.

For myself, if you find me hassling you to come and find an off-licence with me at some boring, stale protest then sorry, but it’s because Simon isn’t there anymore.  And those are hard words to write, to accept as real.  I will fucking miss you mate.  I’m sorry I didn’t see you whilst you were so sick but glad my last memories of you are happy ones.  At least the bastards will never take you alive again. Rest well Simon, you deserve it.   Love and rage.

Johnny Void x

*If you’d like to contribute to a fund for Simon’s daughter please contact Freedom Bookshop.

The above pic was sent to me by someone, I hope whoever took it doesn’t mind me using it.

Sanction Low Paid Worker’s Benefits To #solveukpoverty Say The Joseph Rowntree Foundation

jrf-in-workNowhere in the Joseph Rowntree Foundation’s latest stupid report do they ackowledge the real cause of poverty – which is the relentless theft of our labour and land by a capitalist class whose wealth and power grows ever greater.

In fact this atrocity, which condemns us to a lifetime of drudgery, servitude, poverty and need, is presented as a perfectly natural, and even desirable state.  Which of course it is if you’re some chinless wonder paid a fat salary to toss yourself off at some liberal think-tank all day whilst the people you write reports about do the work that makes your lifestyle possible.

If JRF were serious about ending poverty they would not asking employers to try not to use zero hour contracts quite so much, or pay the living wage – just if they can afford it of course.  They would be throwing every resource they have into supporting those working class people fighting back, whether that was the recent Deliveroo strikes, or the bold, and successful actions taken by grassroots union United Voices of the World.

They would not be asking faith groups, and social entrepreuners, and housing associations to all have a big think about how to help the poor.  They would be calling for rent strikes, and occupations, and mass direct action to force concessions from the parasitic rich.  Because it is only through determined, collective and bold acts that the poor have ever won any significant changes in their lives.

Of course you’re not going to get that from the bunch of Ned Flanders wannabes at the JRF.  But you might have hoped, at the very fucking least, that they would not support solutions which will make people even poorer.

The support for ‘in-work conditionality’ is perhaps their biggest treachery.  This means the lowest paid workers facing brutal benefit sanctions if they do not constantly search for more or better paid work in the hours they are not working.  JRF may say that non-financial sanctions should be used first, whatever that means, and that they should be less severe.  But they are fully behind using poverty as punishment to incentivise low paid workers to try harder to stop being so poor.

It is no longer acceptable to be a part-time cleaner, care worker or labourer and to expect decent pay for that work, even if that is the only work available.  You must now work “as much as society expects” according to the JRF.  How much that is they don’t tell us.  The working class weren’t invited to that meeting.  But you must do it, and more importantly you must constantly compete and be punished if you don’t.  And if the jobs you are competing for don’t even really exist it doesn’t matter.  Benefit sanctions and enforced competition are the method, the object is to change the soul.

It is these toxic assumptions that have created the conditions where ever more poverty – where hungry children and suicidal disabled people – are normalised and accepted.  The belief endures that it is the poor, really, who are to blame.  That if everyone just passed their GCSE’s and tidied up their CV then low pay, exploitation, slum landlords and criminal bosses would all disappear.  The poor would have enough to eat, the rich would keep getting richer, everyone would know their place and the people running the JRF could stop feeling so guilty next time they shell out the price of a normal family’s annual food budget on some voluntary sector vol-au-vent munching piss up.  Or a conference as they are known in the industry.

Astonishingly the JRF do not even call for the scrapping of many of the recent social security cuts that have created such a crisis amongst those with the lowest incomes.  Instead they demand some minor changes, such as an exemption from the Bedroom Tax for those with special housing needs who want to move but cannot due to a lack of suitable properties.  And whilst there are calls to reverse cuts to Universal Credit, slightly raise Jobseeker’s Allowance rates and delay the upcoming slashing of sickness benefits, there is no substantial objection to many of even Iain Duncan Smith’s most vicious welfare reforms.  What a difference five years makes.  The Bedroom Tax and Benefit Cap are the new normal, even the UK’s leading anti-poverty think-tank is too craven to call for them to be scrapped.

Instead what we are left with in this report is the usual tinkering round the edges backed by a delusion that these recommendations will fix poverty at a time of cut-throat capitalism.  That a prosperous neo-liberal paradise is just around the corner, we just need to upskill, work hard, and do the right thing  And if we all do our bit then surely bosses, bankers and landlords will agree to do the same.   Because that is how capitalism works in the minds of those at the Joseph Rowntree Foundation.  All of us working together to help the rich stay rich, in the hope of a pat on the head one day from the powerful.  It’s just like a big cuddle really, now stop complaining and fill out those job applications.  You fucking mug.

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Hunger, Homelessness and Despair, The Stark Reality of the Benefit Cap

benefit-cap2It is hard to imagine a more poisonous piece of legislation than the lowered Benefit Cap, set to be introduced this Autumn, which will plunge quarter of a million children into desperate housing insecurity and possible homelessness.

This will be the third time that the Benefit Cap – which limits the weekly amount that can be received in benefits – has been lowered in just five years.  In 2011 George Osborne capped Housing Benefit in a sweeping move which made much of central London unaffordable for those unable to work due to childcare responsibilities, sickness or unemployment.  Then in 2013 benefits were capped further, at £500 a week for a family with children, extending the problem of unaffordability out to Greater London, the Home Counties and beyond, with many large cities seeing families affected.  And now the cap is to be lowered again, to around £440 a week in London and £384 elsewhere.

On average this means families set to lose £60 a week according to an Impact Assessment published by the DWP last week and it will no longer be just a London problem.  Leeds, Cardiff, Manchester, Glasgow and Bradford are all likely to have at least 1000 households affected whilst in Birmingham 3,900 households will face an abrupt cut in housing benefits.  It is not the fault of struggling families that rents in the UK have soared out of reach in many areas which has led to the growing Housing Benefit bill.  It is the result a failure to build enough low cost housing.  But it is the poor who will pay.

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The government claim the Benefit Cap has been a huge success, pointing to a series of evaluations that showed a small rise in the number of people subject to the cap who found work.  But behind these celebratory statistics lies a bitter truth.  It has become common, in evaluations of DWP policy, to use ‘job outcomes’ to justify any atrocity.  Someone hangs themselves after being found fit for work and having their benefits stopped – well this is just fine because someone else got a job in Poundland.  No other social policies would be evaluated this way.  It is like testing a new drug and completely ignoring deadly side effects on the basis that a handful of people’s health had slightly improved.

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With families facing eviction due to the Benefit Cap it has indeed forced many to desperately look for any job they can find.  Those able to find between work, of between 16 and 30 hours a week  depending on their circumstances, become exempt from the cap leading many to hound their employers for more hours, often unsuccessfully.

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For the 18% of claimants affected by the Benefit Cap who are long term sick or disabled this of course has not been an option.  Despite repeated lies from DWP ministers that disabled people are not affected by the cap this only applies to those with the most serious health conditions or disabilities.  Claimants of the sickness and disability benefit Employment Support Allowance are not exempt from the cap if health assessors decide their condition may improve in the future.  Many claimants are battling ill health as well as facing the prospect of losing their homes.

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Neither is simply finding a job a realistic solution for those with very young children, or even babies.  This hasn’t stopped many local councils simply shrugging off the upcoming trauma faced by those with young children who face losing their homes.

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What the interviews with claimants do seem to suggest is that if the cap has had any impact at all, it has been to encourage lone parents to seek work before they felt their children were ready to be left alone.

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These were parents who intended to go back to work anyway.  Others have had dreams of furthering their education shattered by the cap.

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Sometimes it has not been the claimant themselves who was affected.

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Rarely has government policy had such a devastating impact on children’s lives.  Behind the lauded ‘job outcomes’ lies a trail of destitution.  Countless families have reported being left without enough money for food.  Huge numbers are in rent arrears.  Many have been forced to move – at the time of the most recent evaluation 10% of households had moved house due to the cap.  These evaluations were carried in 2014 however, meaning many families covered by the reports would have only been subject to the cap for a short period.  The growing rise in homeless families, especially in London, points to the devastating long term impact of the Benefit Cap.

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Punishing children with homelessness because of the eye-watering rents demanded by landlords is a new low for even the Tory Party, but it is the upcoming lowering of the cap which will perhaps inflict the greatest cruelty.  According to last week’s impact assessment, “those already capped at £26,000 will have the new, lower, cap applied to them.”  This is estimated to be around 22,000 households.  These are families that may have already moved to a cheaper area and are just starting to get their lives back on track.  They are the families featured in the quotes that accompany this piece.  Some of the poorest people in the UK, already struggling to survive and raise their children.

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And now the government is coming for them again.  Imagine explaining to a young child just settling into a new school, who may have recently faced a spell in temporary housing that they now have to go through it all again.  A child just starting to make friends to replace the ones they lost due to the last forced relocation will now be looking at a future in yet another new school, or even another new city.

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Most of those facing the Benefit Cap are women, usually lone parents.  Black and Ethnic Minority families are hugely over-represented amongst those affected, as are disabled people.  For those unable to find work or increase their hours their options are stark.  Many have only been able to stay in their homes due to Discretionary Housing Payments (DHPs) paid by local authorities to families facing imminent homelessness.  These payments will not last forever and are increasingly being used to meet the cost of housing families in temporary accommodation.  A recent homelessness update from Westminster Council (H/t @nearlylegal) showed that around half of the borough’s spend on DHP’s is paying for temporary accommodation for those made homeless due to the benefit cap.  It is only now that Local Authorities are starting to feel the impact of the Benefit Cap introduced in 2013. With a new further cut set to pile on the pressure even further homelessness amongst those with children could soar to levels not seen in generations in the UK.

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DPAC Week of Action – September 4th-10th. #RightsNotGames

WOA-Logo-5Apologies for the lack of posts recently.  Back very soon, in the meantime this is from Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC) and gives details of the upcoming week of action to coincide with the Paralympic Games.  Please spread the word and get involved if you can.

DPAC Week of Action- September 4th-10th

Sunday September 4th pop-up art action – if anyone wants to take part in this please email us at mail@dpac.uk.net as further information will not be made public. This will go live on-line at 2pm

Monday September 5th Independent Living Day. Lobby and report in parliament following the horrendous cuts to care and support funding for personal assistance following the closure of the Independent Living Fund in 2015. Committee Room 21 from 2-4pm. Please allow about 20- 30 minutes to get through security

Afterwards 5pm at College Green opposite parliament for fun and festivities DPAC-style.

Tuesday September 6th National Day of Action against cumulative cuts faced by disabled people. Around the country. Please send us details of anything you’re organising. See this page for more information, including a list of locations where protests are being held.

Wednesday September 7th meet for noon opposite Downing Street for ‘No More Claimant Deaths’ protest.

Thursday September 8th An online day of action for all. More details will be published on website nearer the time.

Saturday September 10th International Conference, Resistance:Beyond Borders from 10.30am-4.30 pm at Resource for London, 356 Holloway Rd, London N7 6PA.
Speakers from Ontario Coalition Against Poverty, Greece, Ireland and Germany.
See Conference 10th Sept Disabled Peoples’ Resistance: building beyond borders
To book a place please email us at mail@dpac.uk.net and give details of any access and dietary needs. Limited places available.

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The Working Class Is Back In The Game, Let’s Make Sure We Fucking Stay There

fucking-angryI was fucking angry when I wrote this post in the early aftermath of the referendum and I’m sorry if I offended anyone.  Of course not everyone who voted Remain was part of the pampered middle class and some of the racism from the Leave campaign was as vile as anything we have seen in decades.  I should have mentioned that, and equally that Remain were all too happy to exploit racism when it suited them.  And I forgot to mention that Nigel Farage is a cunt.

I was angry though, at the sneering abuse from a metropolitan elite that assumed working class communities were racist,  thick or uneducated because they refused to vote in the interests of the privileged.  I was furious, and astonished, that a vote for an institution that would rather non-Europeans fleeing war drown in the sea than cross its hallowed borders was presented as the anti-racist choice.  And I was dismayed that EU imposed austerity, that has brought such devastation to so many lives,  was air-brushed away in favour of some sentimental notion of harmony that is apparently so flimsy it will fall apart unless it is imposed by an authoritarian neo-liberal superstate.

As ever, there was little thought for the poorest in the EU referendum, wherever they came from.  No cares at all for the EU migrants set to face a four year freeze on benefits in the event of Remain winning.  A wilful ignorance of EU rules that were already leading to the deportation of homeless migrants and which are soon to be used to attack those who have come from Europe and can’t find a job – or who don’t earn enough money.  And of course these rules are set by an EU Parliament that has little more than a handful of Black or ethnic minority MEPs but dozens from the far right.  Fortress Europe as a force for anti-racism?  Don’t make me fucking laugh.

It is clear that class, and perhaps more precisely income, was one of the largest drivers of the vote to leave the European union.  As voices from the forgotten North have pointed out, there are many communities that have nothing left to lose and who hope, as we should all hope, that any significant change could be a change for the better.  That just for once the powerless could seize some control and inflict a crushing blow on the bankers and bureacrats that have driven so many into destitution.

Of course many of these voices were drowned out as television crews scoured the poorest parts of the UK looking for the most racist person they could find and giving them unprecedented air time in a bid to smear the entire working classs. Yes, immigration was a factor in some people’s vote, but rarely the only factor.  The Remain campaign though, and the media that supported them, were intent on portraying this as the sole reason anyone could possibly want to leave the decaying monstrous European Union.

It is true that immigration often leads to economic growth and that this can increase jobs.  There is ample evidence to support this.  But to claim that these benefits are felt uniformly across society is a deception.  The sad fact is that austerity plus the current neoliberal management of migration has impacted on housing, wages and services in some areas, and in particular in places that were already desperately poor to begin with.  These impacts may be relatively small in economic terms, but when you’ve got fuck all then relatively small can be the difference between keeping a roof over your head or not.

This may be an uncomfortable truth for the left,  which is rightly committed to anti-racism, but it is a truth.  To insist that people are liars or racists when they describe what is happening in their lives is a path that will divorce the left from the poorest members of the working class completely.  In many cases it is multi-cultural, multi-ethnic communities that are raising these concerns, places far more diverse than the latte-slurping metropolitan enclaves where white middle class self-styled anti-racists only ever speak to a migrant when they are at the check-out in Waitrose.  It is time to listen, without pre-judging, to what many working class people in the poorest parts of the country are saying.

That does not mean pandering to racists, in fact the opposite urgently needs to take place.  More than ever racism must be confronted, whether that’s organised fascists or loud mouthed dickheads who’ve deluded themselves that just because the UK voted out of the EU it means we all agree with their spiteful bigotry.  But it does mean having difficult conversations, and thinking difficult thoughts and recognising that having concerns about immigration policies, at a time of savage austerity, does not mean someone is automatically a closet nazi or swivel-eyed extremist.

There has been no attempt by the government to mitigate the scarcity caused by  austerity in deprived areas that have also seen high levels of migration.  In fact they have done the opposite with vicious cuts to benefits and vital services.   If that causes divisions in our class then that is all the better for their neoliberal aims.  Migration – a normal human phenomena – has been weaponised by capital across Europe to drive down the living standards of the working class.  Free movement was not granted so we could all have nicer holidays, but to create a flexible, mobile, precarious workforce to allow the continent to compete with China, India, Brazil, or whoever this week’s scary foreign bogeyman is.

That doesn’t mean free movement is automatically bad just because it has been imposed by capitalists – the ability to live, visit and work in any Euopean country is truly a wonderful thing.  It is a freedom that is certain to continue even with the UK outside of the EU.  But it costs over seventy quid these days just for a fucking passport.  That’s a week’s money for someone on the dole before they even step on a boat.  And if they do get on a boat they’ll lose their benefits because you aren’t allowed to go abroad if you’re claming Jobseeker’s Allowance.   At a time of such rampant inequality this freedom to travel across the continent is invisible to the poor.  Many who voted Leave will have never set foot in another European country – not because they are racists, not because they don’t want to, but because they can’t afford it.

The dream of a truly integrated Europe, or indeed world, will never be anything but a middle-class fantasy under current economic policies and whilst the poorest are suffering like never before.  Fascism is stalking many countries despite their membership of the European Union.  If there is one thing that is certain it is that they are organising here as well.  The  political chaos that has ensued in the wake of the referendum is creating a vacuum at the heart of the UK’s political system.  That is a fucking opportunity.  The far right know this and the more the liberal left sneers at the thick racists who didn’t do what they wanted then the stronger fascism becomes.  There seem some who will almost relish any increase in far right activity, as an opportunity to say ‘I told you so’.  This is a truly treacherous position.  There is no excuse for standing on the sidelines now, whichever way you voted.

The UK is facing a period of political instability that has not been seen in generations.  There is barely even a government at the moment and the Tory party are just as split as Labour.  We are about to see an unelected, inexperienced Prime Minister trying to hold onto power during a period of enormous turbulence.  Meanwhile austerity continues apace with the introduction of Universal Credit set to cut the incomes of the poorest even further.  It is easy to generalise, and I have done, there were many subtleties at play during the EU referendum.  But what can’t be ignored is that a large proportion of the working class demanded change and politicians are terrified.  The working class is back in the game, let’s make sure we stay there.

And that means taking real action, not just shouting slogans or marching pointlessly behind ever more irrelevent leaders.  It means those that may have concerns about immigration policies standing side by side with immigrants themselves against racism and benefit cuts because we are always stronger together – and there is a difference between policies and people.  It also means those from more affluent areas listening to and trying to understand what many people in the North, Wales and parts of the South, have been saying – despite being ignored – for over three decades.

It will require doing the hard work, the boring stuff, and an anti-fascism that not just engages in set piece punch ups with the far right but addresses the reason those cunts even exist.  Most of all it means a class united, whatever people’s race, colour or creed- with no tolerance for bigotry, including the elite, liberal sneering at the poor that has been all too evident the last few weeks.  Because then we might actually start to fucking win some stuff.  And that will mean another Europe really is possible.

Here’s some things coming up that are taking place in London and elsewhere over the next few days.  Support DPAC’s national day of action against disability assessors Capita this Wednesday (13th July), in person if you can or online – events have been organised around the UK.  Groups organising under the Black Lives Matter banner are also holding protests this week against racist policing, including one in London tomorrow (10/7/16) beginning at Oxford Circus at 10am.  There’s another solidarity protest with the migrant cleaners currently on indefinite strike doe to the shit wages paid by property vultures CBRE being held on Wednesday 13th July from 5pm at 100 Wood Street, EC2V.  On Friday 15th July Class War will be marching on Boris Johnson’s house in Islington because why should that wanker get away scot-free after the chaos he has caused in the capital and beyond.  Then there’s a boring as we make it People’s Assembly demo in central London next Saturday 16th July.  Get along to everything you can and let’s seize the initiative.   Our time is now if we choose to live it.

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What A Shambles, Lord Fraud’s Budgeting Support Trials An Embarrassing, Expensive Flop

lord-fraud-freudMinister for Welfare Reform Lord Fraud could do with some budgeting support himself after his recent trial to help benefit claimants manage their money proved to be an embarrassing flop that squandered £4 million of tax payer’s money.

Under Universal Credit all benefits will have to be claimed online, despite many claimants having no access to the internet and some having no experience of using computers.  Benefit payments are also to be made monthly and there is a minimum five week waiting period for new claims.  For the small group of claimants transferred onto the new system this in particular is already causing desperate suffering – a recent evaluation found that almost half of Universal Credit claimants were in rent arrears.

This was not supposed to be a problem according to comedy toff Lord Fraud who is over-seeing much of the introduction of Universal Credit.  A new budgeting support scheme would be set up to help the so-called vulnerable manage their money and teach them to use a computer.  Several trials were established to test how this scheme, named Universal Support, would be supplied.  These trials cost just over £4 million and the results are bleak.  An evaluation of the pilots published today found that Universal Support had “no statistically significant impact on either digital or financial capability.”

Perhaps the biggest flaw in this scheme to help those on Universal Credit manage their finances was that those involved in the trial were not on Universal Credit.  The areas in which the pilots were carried out did not include those places where Universal Credit has been introduced.  So what these trials really tested was the impact of Universal Support on people claiming benefits that are being phased out such as Jobseeker’s Allowance.  This meant that the pilots had to sort of pretend that participants were about to claim Universal Credit when they weren’t.  According to the evaluation this presented a significant barrier to people wishing to take up the support, which was offered by local councils, advice agencies and Jobcentres.  As one support workers involved in the trial said “Trying to get them to understand a system that’s not in place that may or may not apply to them at any given time is not very easy to do .”

Some Jobcentres of course managed to find a way round this reluctance amongst claimants to take part in the trials.  In a chilling example of how Jobcentre Work Coaches mislead and coerce claimants the evaluation reported that “Carmarthenshire and Dundee both reported that it was easier to encourage claimants to engage through Jobcentre Plus because they thought that the support was part of their Claimant Commitment.”  Several participants in the trials said they only took part because they thought it was mandatory.  In truth it was only in Islington that those carrying out the trial had the power to mandate claimants to attend under the threat of benefit sanction.

In the end just over half of those (51%) referred to Universal Support chose not to take it up.  Amongst those that did two key problems emerged which point to a worrying future.  The first impacted on those requiring help with using computers.  Both staff and participants involved in the trials said that many claimants depend on mobile phone for internet access, with one reporting “‘I would say the majority of the people we see have a mobile but many of them (a) can’t use it or (b) can’t pay for their broadband connection or (c) can’t pay it, don’t have the money to pay for a call or don’t have one at all.”  A further problem was that in more rural areas internet access is still limited and superfast broadband is rare.  Universal Credit is set to be ‘digital by default’.  If claimants cannot access the internet then they will not be able to manage their claim.

The second problem emerged amongst claimants accessing budgeting support.  The evaluation found that the most significant problem facing this group was not that they needed help learning to budget but simply that they didn’t have enough money.  As one person involved in managing the scheme said “It’s not a capacity issue in terms of actually being able to do the sums or being able to understand when to pay what when…what comes out is actually they just don’t have enough money to get from one of the months to the other.”

The evaluation does report that there were some ‘soft outcomes’ as a result of attending the scheme, with some claimants reporting a positive impact in areas of their lives which were unconnected to budgeting or computer skills.  This may reflect the fact many of the scheme were run as part of a wider package of support which also looked into areas such as housing, health, and of course employability.  The results of the overall evaluation of the scheme however found it made no difference in people’s ability to access IT or manage their money – although the researchers caution that only the short term effects of the scheme could be studied so far.  A cost/benefit analysis of the trial therefore showed that the £4 million spent on Universal Support was squandered, with no demonstrable benefits either to the public or the claimants themselves.

Just over 4000 people were referred onto Universal Support and actually took up the offer and engaged with services.  Many of them faced significant financial hardship and debt.  If Lord Fraud had better budgeting skills then he could have used that £4 million to chuck everybody a grand and actually give them some real help for a change.  But help is the last thing you can expect from a social security system devised by a former banker who has never been elected to anything.  Of course this will never affect Lord Fraud himself, who is a very rich man.  So the next time he wants to inflict a half-baked vanity scheme on benefit claimants he should fucking pay for it himself.

You can read the evaluation at: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/evaluation-of-the-universal-support-delivered-locally-trials

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Shocking Transphobia From Evangelical Group Linked To Stephen Crabb

crabb-brentIt is not just gay and lesbian people that are sinners in need of a cure according to the Evangelical Alliance – the extremist Christian group who boast Work and Pensions Secretary Stephen Crabb as one of the council members of their voluntary sector offshoot in Wales.  Those who are transsexual are also targetted by the organisation.

In a report published in 2000 the group say they oppose the use of surgery as treatment for gender dysphoria and insist that an ‘authentic’ sex change is both impossible and incompatible with God’s will.  Mirroring their attitude towards lesbian and gay people, the Alliance say transsexuals should be welcomed into the church, but that they ‘hope and anticipate’ that transsexual Christians will accept the need to ‘re-orientate their lifestyle with God’s teachings’.  In return the church should offer ongoing care following ‘gender re-orientation’.

The report also endorses discrimination against transgender people in the workplace, claiming that in principle they oppose this, but in practice some circumstances may make the continuing position of a transsexual  ‘extremely difficult’ whether or not they were transitioning.

A later report on transsexuality was published by the Evangelical Alliance in 2006, in association with Parakaleo Ministeries.  This report is no longer available online, but a quote discussing Caitlin Jenner from Parakaleo ‘s website gives a hint of what to expect: “The sick national conspiracy to pretend that Bruce Jenner is a woman because he is mentally confused, has surgically mutilated his male body, and received plastic reconstruction surgery to give him a not entirely successful appearance as a woman, to the fanfare of the twisted leftwing elite.”  This is compassion, evangelical style.

More recently the Alliance published a glowing review of a book by Christian psychologist Mark Yarhouse discussing church responses to transsexuality.  Yarhouse believes one way of looking at gender dysphoria is as a “disability resulting from living in a fallen world”.  In a somewhat garbled rant he seems to say that cross gender identitity compromises the “sacred integrity of maleness or femaleness implicit in the body” and calls for transsexual people to be drawn into the ‘transformative’ power of Jesus Christ.

Yarhouse believes that through a “combination of holistic therapy and professional psychotherapy” those who are transgender will “accept their true selves as created by God”.  He calls for compassion during this process, saying if a transsexual person shares their name with him, then he will use it along with any desired pronouns, as an act of respect.

This is a bit much for the Evangelical Alliance who comment that some Christians might be nervous Yarhouse is making “too many concessions towards colluding with illusion and deception.”  They agree with the general argument though which is that transsexual people should be welcomed into the church and then cured.  Or in their words churches should point transsexuals to “the transformative work of Jesus Christ who created each individual and knows them from the moment of conception and is able to lead them to acceptance rather than rejection of their true selves – body, soul and spirit.”

The review of Yarhouse’s book was written by  Don Horrocks who also wrote the Evangelical Alliance’s Transexuality report in 2000.  Horrocks was Head of Public Affairs at the Evangelical Alliance until retiring recently.  Stephen Crabb sits on the Council of Reference of GWEINI, the voluntary sector offshoot controlled by the Evangelical Alliance.  It is inconceivable that he was unaware of the views of this organisation – they never shut up about LGBT people.  It was only once he got a top job, and decided he wanted to be Tory leader that he had a sudden conversion to LGBT equality.  He has never condemned his evangelical colleagues.  Were a senior minister linked to a group that promoted extremist racial or religious hatred then they would be gone from government office in seconds.  Crabb however has shrugged this off like it is nothing.  That says everything you need to know abut the true beliefs of not just Crabb, but also the party he seeks to lead.

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