Saudi Arabia, austerity and rising taxes

This 11 May 2020 video says about itself:

Saudi Arabia slashes budget and increases tax

Saudi Arabia has announced major budget cuts and a steep increase in value-added tax (VAT).

VAT is mainly paid by poor people, more than by Saudi royals, the Bin Laden dynasty and other rich people.

The move is aimed at shoring up state finances, which have been battered by low oil prices and the coronavirus pandemic.

Al Jazeera’s Alexi O’Brien reports.

French pensions austerity czar resigns, fraud scandal

This 10 December 2019 video by ABC TV from the USA says about itself:

Massive protests paralyze Paris

Protesters take to the streets against French President Emmanuel Macron’s plan to overhaul the pension system.

Translated from Dutch NOS TV today, by Frank Renout:

French pension reformer gone after hiding income and side jobs

In France, people have been on strike for twelve days against the Macron government pension reforms. The man who leads those reforms has now had to resign … because of his side jobs.

Jean-Paul Delevoye, High Commissioner for Pension Reform, had officially stated he has three side jobs or to have recently had them. But that turned out to be thirteen after revelations in the French press. …

Delevoye, eg, had a position with insurance companies. But insurers are also involved in pensions, for which Delevoye is therefore responsible in the government. There was a risk of conflict of interest.

His two paid jobs were also not undisputed. In both cases, Delevoye turned out to earn more than he had officially stated. The first part-time job turned out to be 78,000 euros a year: almost twice as much as the 40,000 euros he had initially stated.

There was another problem with the second side job, good for 62,000 euros a year. Delevoye continued to keep this paid job when he joined the government in September, which is prohibited by law.

The resignation is a damper for the Macron government. Since 2017, Delevoye has been in charge of negotiations with employers and employees about pension reforms for eighteen months on behalf of Macron. He joined the government in September to actually implement those reforms.

According to the plans, the French will soon have to work longer for a full pension. Some professional groups, such as train and metro staff, must also give up their rights. Early pensions … would disappear.

Mr Delevoye reminds me a bit of another ‘reformer’, VolkswagenVolkswagen fraudster fat cats get millions more boss Hartz in Germany. After his ‘Hartz IV‘ governmental attack on poor people, Mr Hartz had to resign in a sex scandal.

Colombian musical protest against right-wing government

This 6 December 2019 video says about itself:

Colombians continue their protests against the government’s austerity measures. A concert was held on Thursday night to celebrate the culture of those who have been resisting for 500 years.

Jordanian teachers win anti-austerity strike

Striking teachers rally in Amman, Jordan, early October 2019, AFP photo

Translated from Dutch NOS TV today:

After a week-long impasse, the government in Jordan has reached an agreement with the teachers’ union. This puts an end to one of the longest strikes in the public sector ever in the country.

About 1.5 million students had to deal with no lessons for about a month. Many parents left their children completely at home during that time out of solidarity.

The teachers took to the streets because they felt they were being paid too little. They demanded an average salary increase of 50 percent. In the agreement that has now been concluded with the government, increases of 35 to 60 percent have been agreed. The agreement will start next year …

while Prime Minister Omar al Razzaz is trying to limit government spending in order to pay off the record-high government debt.

It is feared that people in other professions in the public sector will also take to the streets for a higher salary.

The NOS article does not mention WHO fears that. Maybe people who think that money, rather than on education and other public services, should be spent on endless wars (like the bloody Saudi government’s war on Yemen, in which Jordanian soldiers also fight on the Saudi side), and on making people like Amazon boss Jeff Bezos, United States President Trump and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman even richer.

British austerity, but not for royals

This 25 April 2019 video says about itself:

How much do taxpayers really spend on the British Royal Family? You might not be British but the exact cost is actually amazing! And if you know them then you probably know a lot about their lavish lifestyles.

From the clothes they wear to the vacations they take, it sure looks like they’re spending millions of dollars without worrying about saving money or any of the other financial concerns that most of us have. Even if you don’t know much about the likes of the Queen, Prince William and Harry or Kate Middleton and Meghan Markle, you’ve almost definitely heard a little about their extortionately priced royal weddings.

Every year in June, a full report on the Royal finances is published, which details a breakdown of funding and expenditure. When you see members of the family spending millions on a private jet or fancy renovation, you might wonder exactly how much the public is coughing up to fund it. But the real cost, on a person by person basis, might surprise you.

From the Republic site in Britain:

Massive increase in royal spending “outrageous” say campaigners

25 June 2019

Anti-monarchy campaigners have called for a full parliamentary inquiry into royal spending after the release of this year’s finance report.

The official report, which ignores most of the £345m annual costs, shows the core grant increasing by £3.6m. Spending on travel for Prince Charles has jumped by a third to £1.33m.

Meanwhile, the taxpayer has been hit with a £2.4m bill to create a new home for Harry and Meghan in Frogmore Cottage.

Graham Smith, speaking for Republic, said today:

“The dishonest spin about what this costs each taxpayer has to stop. We now need a full inquiry into this blatant misuse of public money.”

“When MPs were caught abusing their expenses ten years ago there was an outcry. Now is the time to be outraged by royal expenses.”

“How can Prince Charles justify £417,000 for a brief visit to Cuba?

Probably that is just the sum paid by British taxpayers, not counting what Cuban taxpayers paid.

I visited Cuba for fourteen days. Cost: about £2,000. Paid by me, not by taxpayers.

Why are we still spending thousands of pounds for Prince Andrew’s travel? Why are the Windsors still using the family train at £20,000 per trip?

”This year’s increases are outrageous at a time of widespread spending cuts. But this is just one detail in a litany of scandal.”

”Republic has calculated the true annual cost at £345m, set out in our own Royal Finances report. That includes lost revenue from the Duchies, security and huge costs met by local councils.”

”If even one school or hospital is facing cuts we cannot justify spending a penny on the royals. Yet with all public services under intense financial pressure, we throw £2.4m at a new house for Harry. This is corruption being hidden in plain sight.”

Right-wing austerity in Israel

This August 2012 video says about itself:

Israelis protest over austerity measures

Thousands of Israelis have taken to the streets to protest against government budget cuts. Issues including housing and the high cost of living are matters which have increased public discontent. Al Jazeera’s Cal Perry reports from Tel Aviv.

By Jean Shaoul:

Israel to set pre-election austerity budget

19 June 2019

Israel’s Minister of Finance Moshe Kahlon is to introduce a budget for 2020 that will raise taxes and reduce public expenditure by $900 billion, over and above previously announced cuts in education

His aim is to reduce a growing budget deficit, projected to reach at least 3.5 percent of GDP, before September’s snap elections.

Kahlon plans to raise taxes on hybrid cars, introduce a new tax on industrial fuels expected to generate $200 million, and transfer $75 million from the national lottery fund.

He has yet to announce where the cuts will fall. That is likely to be the subject of protracted wrangling between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his prospective coalition partners, all of whom want to shore up their own support base in the settlements and ultra-orthodox communities.

The austerity budget comes just two months after an election campaign in which the various political blocs and parties barely mentioned their economic and social programmes, much less the conditions facing Israeli workers and their families.

The budget cuts and tax hikes flow inexorably from Israel’s defence budget, one of the highest relative to GDP in the world, much of which is not officially disclosed, and a tax regime that benefits the rich. The cuts and tax hikes will hit the poor hardest, in a society in which one-quarter of households already live in or near poverty.

The budget comes in the wake of a generous pension plan for the police and a hugely expensive housing programme, which was supposed to have made accommodation more affordable after huge demonstrations in 2011, when workers and young people took to the streets to protest the rising cost of homes and food. This ostensible concession was accomplished by the government “selling” publicly owned land to residential developers at give-away prices, leaving the real estate speculators free to reap the profits without any observable effect on housing prices. As a result, the price-to-income ratio of homes remain among the highest in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), a massive burden on household incomes that has not lessened since 2011.

With nearly 30 percent of families renting their home, at a total cost in 2017 of more than $5 billion, this serves to transfer wealth from low-income to high income households.

Last year, the OECD report on Israel’s economy insisted that the government’s “planned budget deficits are high” and warned, “Steady fiscal consolidation will be needed to reduce public debt relative to GDP.”

Israel’s economy, which is highly dependent upon international markets, is expected to slow to a growth rate of 3.1 percent in 2019, driven by declining revenues due to the global slowdown, an appreciating currency, and a decrease in technology sales. This slowdown comes under a gathering threat of trade wars, protectionism, and competitive devaluations globally, sparked by Israel’s benefactor, the US.

Irrespective of any minor criticisms, the main opposition bloc, the Blue and White party, supports an austerity budget. Yair Lapid, who once held the finance portfolio under Netanyahu and whose party Yesh Atid (There is a Future) is now part of the Blue and White alliance, said last March, “The State of Israel spends too much money… There is too much fat in the state budget… It was irresponsible to create this deficit, and it must be eliminated.”

A recent OECD publication points out that while the middle-income class—a strata associated with access to good housing, education and healthcare—has shrunk from the mid-1980s to the present decade in most OECD countries, the decline was particularly steep in Israel, Canada, Germany, Sweden and Norway. In Israel, the share of middle-income households in the total national income fell by about 8 percent, while the share of high-income households increased by 9 percent.

The latest Gini index, published by Israel’s National Insurance Institute for 2017, was 0.352, positioning Israel as one of the most unequal societies among the OECD countries.

A recent study by the social justice advocacy group Adva found a deeply divided society.

In 2016, almost half of Arab Israeli households fell below the poverty line and 14 percent were living near the poverty threshold, compared with 13 percent of Jewish Israeli households below the poverty line and 7 percent near the poverty line.

Among the Jewish population, Ethiopian immigrants had the highest poverty rate (23 percent). Immigrants (post-1990) from the former Soviet Union had the highest near-poverty level (12 percent). Second-generation Ashkenazim (Jewish Israelis from Europe) had the lowest rate of households living in near-poverty (4 percent).

Those households headed by a woman (i.e., where a woman worked the longest hours) made up 43 percent of all households living in poverty and 43 percent of households living in near poverty.

What was remarkable—and indicative of the low level of pay, declining income and high cost of living in Israel—was the near doubling between 2003 and 2016 of the percentage of households with two or more people working that are nonetheless living in or near poverty.

Even a college education did not guarantee a way out. Between 2003 and 2016, the percentage of poor households headed by a person with college studies grew from 13 to 22 percent, with similar figures for those living near poverty.

Welfare policy has, since 2003, when Netanyahu was finance minister in Ariel Sharon’s coalition government, been orientated towards slashing welfare payments, in particular child allowances, forcing people into work and subsidizing low wages—in effect a low-wage subvention that has benefited Israel’s employers and fueled soaring social inequality.

While social benefits constituted 62 percent of the income of households living in poverty in 2003, this fell to 44 percent in 2016, with a similar decline from 42 percent to 30 percent for households living in near-poverty.

Last March, Kahlon announced new measures aimed at reducing the cost of child care for working families, cynically rebranding it as “national early education plan” for one-year olds, in order to make low-paid, short-term, part-time and casual work more attractive.

While the share of income from work grew between 2000 and 2017, reflecting a rise in the minimum wage and work credits, this was largely because of the increase in the number of people working due to government measures. These included, in 2004, the raising of the retirement age and pension eligibility from 60 to 62 for women, and from 65 to 67 for men. But despite low levels of unemployment, currently around 3.5 percent, this has not resulted in any reduction in poverty.

This is the result of deliberate government policy in the service of a ruthless capitalist class …

The fight of the working class for its interests, including a vast redistribution of the wealth currently monopolized by a handful of families, an end to the ongoing conflict with the Palestinians, and the growing threat of war against its neighbours and Iran, raises the urgent necessity for a mass political movement of Israeli and Palestinian workers … against the capitalist system and its state, and for socialism.

British Conservative austerity kills 131,000 people

This May 2013 video from the USA says about itself:

Austerity Kills: From Greece to U.S., Crippling Economic Policies Causing Global Health Crisis 1/2

In their new book, “The Body Economic: Why Austerity Kills”, economist David Stuckler and physician Sanjay Basu examine the health impacts of austerity across the globe. The authors estimate there have been more than 10,000 additional suicides and up to a million extra cases of depression across Europe and the United States since governments started introducing austerity programs in the aftermath of the economic crisis.

For example in Greece, where spending on public health has been slashed by 40 percent, HIV rates have jumped 200 percent and the country has seen its first malaria outbreak since the 1970s.

An economist and public health specialist, Stuckler is a senior research leader at Oxford University. Dr. Basu is a physician and epidemiologist who teaches at Stanford University. “Had austerity been organized like a clinical trial, it would’ve been discontinued given evidence of its deadly side effects,” Stuckler says. “There is an alternative choice that we found in the historical data and through the present recessions: When we place people and their health at the center of economic recovery, it can help get our economy back on track faster and yield lasting dividends to our society.”

This video is the sequel.

By Barry Mason in Britain:

Tory cuts result in 131,000 preventable deaths in the UK

12 June 2019

A reversal of public health initiatives has led to 130,000 preventable deaths since 2012. The Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) think tank lays the blame on austerity measures pursued by the 2010 Conservative/Liberal Democrat government and continued by the Tory government of Theresa May.

The report’s title, “Ending the Blame Game”, is a critical reference to right-wing nostrums asserting that individual bad behaviour is responsible for health problems without any consideration of deteriorating social conditions.

The report notes that more than “half of the disease burden in England is deemed preventable, with one in five deaths attributed to causes that could have been avoided.”

The “disease burden has shifted away from infectious diseases to long-term chronic conditions… An estimated 15 million people in England live with a long-term condition for which there is no cure and the number of people living with multiple conditions is expected to rise significantly… [I]n many cases they are entirely preventable.”

The report noted the improvement in the UK’s ranking among 35 Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries had slowed markedly since 2010. In fact, it had “hit a wall.” Between 1990 and 2010 the UK ranking for the number of disability-adjusted life years [the number of years lost due to ill-health, disability or early death] resulting from preventable illnesses rose from 26th to 17th position, but between 2010 and 2017 it rose by only one percent to 16th position. In terms of preventable deaths, the ranking improved from 29th in 1990 to 21st by 2010, but by 2017 this had slowed, with the ranking in 2017 at 20th.

The IPPR concluded that had the rate of improvement in cutting preventable deaths continued beyond 2012, 131,000 deaths from preventable causes would have been avoided.

The report highlights the role of austerity measures in this development, explaining that a “decade of austerity has resulted in cuts to public health, prevention and mental health budgets in the NHS [National Health Service], and wider national and local government services which help drive better health.”

Noting the importance of spending on preventative measures, the study adds “for every £1 [$US1.27] spent on prevention the median return is £14 [$US17.81].”

Highlighting the role of deteriorating social conditions, the IPPR argues, “Often the most vulnerable in society are at the greatest risk of developing preventable conditions through personal behaviour which is influenced by social pressures such as poverty or job insecurity… [M]any prevention policies continue to rely on the agency of the individual to make changes. This approach fails to recognise the vast range of social, environmental and commercial determinants of poor health.”

Dean Hochlaf, lead researcher and one of the authors of the report, told the Guardian, “We have seen progress in reducing preventable disease flatline since 2012. At the same time, local authorities have seen significant cuts to their public health budgets, which have severely impacted the capacity of preventative services. Social conditions for many have failed to improve since the economic crisis, creating a perfect storm that encourages harmful health behaviours. This health challenge will only continue to worsen.”

Cuts in funding for physical education in schools are impacting on children’s health outcomes. “Funding for physical education—supposedly coming from the sugar tax revenues—was reduced in 2017 from £415m to £100m.”

The workload of health visitors who give preschool children advice and monitor their health is too large for them to be able to deliver effective outcomes. Fully 40 percent of health visitors have caseloads above 400, when the recommended level is 250.

Responding to the IPPR report, Shirley Cramer, chief executive of the Royal Society for Public Health, said, “At the heart of this report’s worrying findings are the years of chronic underfunding experienced by public health teams … who provide vital services and support … [I]t undermines the future sustainability of our NHS.”

Ian Hudspeth, chairman of the Local Government Association Community Wellbeing Board, said that “prevention is the bedrock to a healthier, more equal and prosperous society. Focusing on early intervention and prevention… is the most effective use of local government and NHS resources to help people live longer… and reduce health inequalities.” He called on the government to reverse the £700 million reduction in public health grants to local councils.

In November last year, Professor Philip Alston, United Nations Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights investigated social conditions in the UK. In his final report issued in May this year, he concluded, “The bottom line is that much of the glue that has held British society together since the Second World War has been deliberately removed and replaced with a harsh and uncaring ethos.”

The IPPR findings follow a report published in November 2017 by a team of researchers at University College London (UCL). Details were published on the online medical journal BMJ Open. It noted, “The squeeze on public finances since 2010 is linked to nearly 120,000 excess deaths in England with the over 60s and care home residents bearing the brunt … The critical factor in these figures may be changes in nurse numbers (that could lead) to an additional 100 deaths every day from now on in.”

Between 2010 and 2014, real term spending on social care “has fallen by 1.19 percent every year… despite a significant projected increase in the numbers of over 85s—those most likely to need social care—from 1.6 million in 2015 to 1.8 million in 2020,” the researchers found.

Using data on death rates between 2011 and 2014, they compared them with projected trends in such rates that could have been expected had it not been for government spending cuts. They projected that by the year 2020 there would be around 200,000 excess deaths resulting from the spending cuts since 2010.

Figures released earlier this year by the Institute and Faculty of Actuaries showed a six-month cut in life expectancy for UK adults. This is the largest fall since evidence emerged in 2010-11 of a slow-down in increased life-expectancy. Actuaries have concluded that the ongoing slowing of life expectancy represents “a trend as opposed to a blip.”

Sir Michael Marmot, Professor of Epidemiology at UCL, has been a leading authority on health inequalities for over four decades. Last month he addressed a packed meeting at Harvard University’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health in Boston, Massachusetts on health inequalities.

The institution’s website reported, “Something is very wrong in the United States and the United Kingdom… While the rich continue to enjoy good health and longer lives… the poor are getting sicker and dying younger.”

It continued, “Marmot said that it is social conditions surrounding poverty that cause health inequalities… [S]tressful experiences in childhood (can lead to) a lifetime of poor health outcomes … [O]ne of the ways that the root causes of health inequalities could be addressed would be to reduce childhood poverty. The US and UK have the financial capability to do so… [and] not doing it is a political decision.”

Commenting on declining life expectancy for the poor in both the UK and the US, Marmot told the meeting, “Social injustice is killing people on a grand scale.”

The above reports show how the financial crisis of 2008 has been used by the ruling elites in the UK, US and other leading capitalist economies to accelerate the destruction of social welfare and to greatly increase the wealth of the super-rich.

Monday, March 23, 2020: Call for probe into ‘early DWP deaths’. LABOUR MP Debbie Abrahams has warned of “growing evidence” that sick and disabled people in receipt of benefits have died prematurely. The former shadow work and pensions secretary called yesterday for an independent review to find out whether government “incompetence and cover-up” has left vulnerable claimants unprotected. She said that the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) should not be “marking its own homework” after it decided not to retain reviews linked to deaths and suicides of benefits claimants: here.

Greek workers strike against mass sackings

Bank workers on the picket line outside Piraeus bank in central Athens during their national strike last Friday

From daily News Line in Britain:

Greek Bankworkers Fight Sackings

3rd June 2019

GREEK bank workers at the Piraeus Bank went on a national strike last Friday against mass sackings. On the orders of the European Union all Greek banks, bankrupted by debts, are to sack over 10,000 staff.

Piraeus Bank’s scheme is to split the bank into two, setting up a ‘bad debts’ bank to be sold to a Swedish hedge fund and in the process sack some 1,200 workers.

About 400 bank workers besieged the Piraeus Bank’s headquarters in Athens while all central Athens branches were mass picketed.

But both the leaders of the OTOE (Greek bank workers trade unions federation) and of the GSEE (Greek TUC) are refusing the demand to call all bankworkers on strike.

Meanwhile, a Greek court last Friday declared ‘illegal’ the strike of natural gas contract workers, who are demanding employment by DEPA itself (Greek Natural Gas Corporation) and a collective agreement.

Bankworkers and natural gas contract workers are to continue their strike this week.

Austerity hurts songbirds, helps noxious processionary caterpillars

This 2018 video says about itself:

African Emerald Cuckoo Eating Processionary Caterpillars

Female African Emerald Cuckoo in a Cross-berry Tree (Grewia occidentalis) eating Processionary Caterpillars, in a wildlife-friendly garden in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa.

Translated from Dutch daily Trouw:

Brummen no longer fights oak processionary caterpillars with great tits: the money has run out

By Quirijn Visscher– 9:50, April 8, 2019

Great tits were used in Brummen to combat the oak processionary caterpillar. A success. Yet the municipality will stop the experiment and that is not to everyone’s delight.

The oak processionary caterpillar is advancing. The municipality of Brummen also did not escape the dreaded caterpillar with stinging hairs that could cause serious health problems. The Veluwe village tried everything to dislodge the little tormentors. As environmentally friendly as possible. Last year, the municipality installed 60 great tit boxes in places with a lot of caterpillar nuisance, such as the stately oak lane at the De Engelenburg estate. It became a success.

The test nevertheless stops. The municipality of Brummen will not have the money in 2019 for it. That news hit hard with local nature lovers. The Brummen GroenLinks party branch decided to continue the campaign themselves, together with residents. “Some people were really angry that this trial was stopped by the municipality,” says GroenLinks party leader Hennie Beelen. The party managed to sell more than 140 nest boxes. “Surprisingly many.”

Brummen is not the only municipality that is experimenting with nest boxes. Throughout the country, municipalities are placing great tit boxes at strategic locations to give oak processionary caterpillars a natural enemy and to limit caterpillar nuisance. After all, sucking away caterpillars costs a lot of money. This method of control is similar to that of asbestos removal, with men in suits who must protect themselves against whirling stinging hairs.


Why did Brummen stop the trial? The simple answer: the municipality must make large-scale cuts in 2019.

Anti-austerity march in London, England

Anti-austerity marchers in London, England, photo by Ceren Sagir

From daily The Morning Star in London, England:

Sunday, January 13, 2019

Protesters in central London demand a general election now

ANTI-AUSTERITY protesters marched through central London over the weekend to call for a general election as the only way out of the Brexit deadlock.

Protesters from across the country gathered outside the BBC and marched to a rally in Trafalgar Square where they were addressed by politicians, activists and trade unionists.

Organised by the People’s Assembly Against Austerity (PA), the protest was inspired by the “gilets jaunes” yellow vest movement in France.

Two of the French protesters joined the protest and addressed the hundreds of demonstrators.

Erick Simon, of gilets jaunes, said that “all European countries must join up in this battle against austerity.”

Shadow chancellor John McDonnell brought with him a solidarity message from Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn and told the crowd that eight years of austerity is “tearing apart the very social fabric” of Britain.

Mr McDonnell said that he expects MPs to defeat Prime Minister Theresa May’s Brexit deal in tomorrow’s Commons vote and that “when the time is right” his party will move a motion of no confidence to “bring this government down” with the hope of triggering a general election.

“It’s now here before us, we could have a socialist prime minister,” he said.

Labour MP Laura Pidcock said that millions of people are “suffering the indignity of poverty.”

She added: “We are one movement and we are one class against austerity, and we must unite on that common fact.”

Journalist Owen Jones also spoke at the event and was bombarded by a small group of far-right protesters who turned up at the end of the rally. They harassed and verbally abused him as he attempted to leave Trafalgar Square.

There were also incidences of harassment, intimidation and violence from a small number of right-wing thugs from various factions — including those copying the French gilets jaunes by wearing high-vis jackets — who intended to sabotage the event.

They also threw glass bottles, one of which hit anti-austerity activist Sam Lees, who was left with injuries to his face.

Others, who carried pro-Trump banners, attempted to attack Stand Up to Racism activists, who managed to block them out of the square with chants of “there are many, many more of us than you.”