Is defence spending a priority in times of austerity?

Originally published on The Upcoming, 24/03/13.

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Earlier this month, Defence Secretary Phillip Hammond said that Britain’s “first priority” must be “defending the country and maintaining law and order” and suggested that the welfare budget should be cut further in order to secure spending on defence. But at a time when deep cuts, a sluggish economy and stagnating wages are hitting families across the country, does it really make sense to ring-fence the military?

Between 2010 and 2015, the defence budget will be cut by roughly £5 billion, which amounts to approximately 2% of the £225 billion budget for that period – not a huge reduction by any standards. Even after you factor in the cuts to military spending, Britain still has the fourth largest defence budget in the entire world. Spending on defence accounts for 7% of all government expenditure and 2.5% of GDP – a proportion that is nearly double what Germany spends.

With the fourth largest military budget in the world, you would be forgiven for thinking Britain has delusions of grandeur – of being a military “superpower”. In reality, the idea of Britain going into even a small conflict unilaterally is practically unthinkable. This belies any notion of “Great Power” status. Even the Prime Minister thinks Britain has been “punching above its weight” for years.

But all this rhetoric of “superpowers” and “great powers” is itself an artefact of a by-gone era, a relic of the Cold War. The Trident nuclear system, which costs £3 billion a year to maintain, was designed to “flatten Moscow”, and makes no sense as a deterrent in the contemporary geopolitical climate. Who exactly is it a deterrent to? Who poses a credible threat to Britain’s national security? Even the most sabre-rattling, military hawk would struggle to give you an answer besides that ill-defined threat of “terrorism”.

Here’s the pinch; you can’t combat small scale, decentralised terrorist cells with nuclear warheads, or even with traditional standing armies, for that matter. Just look at the bloody mess created by the military invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, which on top of costing more than a million lives have cost the British taxpayer in excess of £25 billion.

If we accept that terrorism is the greatest threat to our national security, then these wars have arguably been a disaster, providing a cause celebre for terrorists to rally around. One study carried out in 2007 for Mother Jones found that global terrorist attacks had increased by a third since the invasion of Iraq when attacks within Afghanistan and Iraq are excluded. When they were included, the report found a sevenfold increase. Bear in mind, anti-terrorism measures cost £4 billion a year, a figure which could build eight state-of-the-art hospitals.

Military muscle-flexing and foreign excursions only serve to increase resentment and make Britain a target for extremists. Instead of hypocritically peddling democracy at the barrel-of-a-gun abroad while at home being ruled by a laughably unrepresentative cabinet that are making the most vulnerable in British society bear the brunt of the economic crisis, wouldn’t it be better to concentrate funds on building a more progressive, sustainable economy?

Would it not be preferable to be famed for having the most free and equal society instead of for having the fourth largest military budget in the world? Mr. Hammond might see defence as the number one priority, but the British public do not. A recent poll by YouGov showed the three biggest priorities for people and their families were the economy (64), health (35) and pensions (32) – the only defence-related issue that even featured was Afghanistan, with a single point.

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A report commissioned by the TUC that was released last week found that by the end of the current parliament more than 50% of children in the UK will be living below the “minimum income standard”. The stated reasons for this were “the cumulative impact of government policies and slower than forecast wage growth”.

Whilst Hammond says more should be cut from the welfare budget, the report found that existing cuts alone would cause an extra 460,000 children to fall below the minimum income standard by 2015. Having a majority of the country’s children “below the breadline” seems staggering for a nation that the IMF found to be the 6th richest in the world. Especially when you consider that the same government implementing these cuts announced last November it was handing a £100,000 tax cut to people who earn more than £1 million a year.

In 2016, the Government will take the decision of whether or not to replace Trident. At an estimated cost of more than £100 billion, surely in times of economic hardship this could be better spent elsewhere. Contrary to Hammond’s claims, in a period of austerity the “first priority” should be ensuring a sustainable economy that can provide jobs for those who can work and a compassionate safety-net for those who cannot.

A Tale of Two Scroungers

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Where is the fairness for the shift-worker, leaving home in the dark hours of the early morning who looks up at the closed blinds of their next-door neighbour, sleeping off a life on benefits?

“Here, fucking here,” said Simon, tipping his mug in agreement at the television.

“You know, Linda told me that him next door was found fit for work after all,” said his wife in a hushed tone motioning with her head.

“I fucking knew he was just a lying scrounger. And it’s our taxes that pay for him to sit about all day watching telly, in that house that’s got more rooms than ours! Most of the people on the sick are just playing the system. It makes me sick.” Simon didn’t realise that only 0.3% of disability allowance is claimed fraudulently. Simon is not alone. On average, the general public think 27% of the welfare bill is claimed fraudulently.

Simon was running late for work. He hurriedly gathered his things, kissed his wife goodbye and made a quick exit. He walked a mile and half to his job at the Ford factory to save the petrol money. His hours had been gradually reduced over the last couple of years. He now came out with just over £1000 after tax every month.

He’d had to apply for housing benefit to help cover the £800 rent on his 2 bedroom family home. He’d hated doing it, but he consoled himself with the fact he wasn’t a real scrounger. At least he worked. What Simon didn’t know was that only 3% of the welfare budget goes purely to the unemployed, and that the welfare cuts he so applauded affect people in work as much as those not working.

Meanwhile, Brendon from next door was just waking up. He had awoken in a cold sweat, his heart pounding and he felt dizzy. He’d never felt the same since that stroke he had a year ago. He’d had to stop working which felt wrong, but he was partially-paralysed down one side of his body so he needed a wheelchair. Luckily, he’d been able to claim ESA. It wasn’t much but it had helped.

But a month ago Brendon had to undergo a work capability assessment. The stress of it all had made his symptoms worse. His heart was having palpitations more regularly. The woman who’d deemed him “fit for work” was abrupt in her manner and had made him feel humiliated. His advisor at the Jobcentre was more sympathetic, she’d seemed genuinely upset when she informed Brendon he’d have to do a workfare placement at Tesco or else he’d lose his JSA as well.

Like the vast majority of people on JSA, Brendon had worked more than three of the last four years. “They won’t make you stack shelves or anything, you’ll be working on the tills so you can be sat down the whole time,” she’d said, apologetically.

Last night was Brendon’s first shift. He’d found it hard to motivate himself because he wasn’t getting paid but he tried his best. Still, it was busy and he got really worn out. Brendon dragged himself out of the makeshift bed that his son had set up in his living room; he couldn’t get up the stairs to his bedroom anymore. He wheeled himself to the front door to check the mail. There was an ominous-looking yellow letter with his name printed in capitals.

I am writing to inform you that your entitlement has been changed due to the new Spare Room Subsidy, this will become effective as of 1/04/2013. You have the right to appeal against this decision if you think it is incorrect…

An indescribable combination of fear and hopelessness engulfed Brendon. He felt it in the pit of his stomach. He didn’t know whether to cry or scream. Instead he did neither. He felt numb. Here came another palpitation…

Later that evening, Simon was returning home from work with the same numb feeling wrenching in his gut. They were closing the plant. How could he face his wife? He slowed his pace to put off that awful conversation, she’d be devastated. Turning the corner onto his street he saw blue flashing lights. It looked like they were coming from outside his house. He was gripped with panic. He started tearing up the street, telling himself that he was just fearing the worst. As he approached he realised it was for next door. Overwhelming relief swept over him momentarily. It was fleeting, as his own bad news came flooding back.

His wife greeted him, she was stood on the doorstep. “He died of a stroke apparently,” she said, in that same hushed tone, motioning with her head to next door again.

Simon felt a little bit guilty about what he’d said about Brendon from next door. The way he’d sneered at him on the street a few times began to haunt him more frequently. Simon found that life on the dole was no picnic. There weren’t any jobs that matched his skills, and he spent hours searching. His jobcentre advisor had told him he’d have to be “more realistic” and go for part-time shop work or cleaning. He sent off hundreds of CVs but never got a response. He didn’t have any experience in those areas.

The months rolled by and Simon’s self-esteem was at a nadir. He felt useless, hopeless, pointless. But he knew it wasn’t his own fault. He was ashamed whenever he thought about Brendon from next door. He’d get up early every morning to check the jobsites while he had the news on in the background.

We are still all in this together. We speak for all those who want to work hard and get on. We know what the British people mean by fair…

Simon threw his mug at the telly in disgust. “Oh fuck off you public schoolboy prick. What do you know about hard work or fairness?”

This is a fictional story but it is based on real things that happen to real people.

Brian McArdle died of a second stroke shortly after being found “fit for work”:

http://www.dailyrecord.co.uk/news/scottish-news/atos-killed-my-dad-says-boy-1411100

There’s a whole list of people like Brian:

http://calumslist.org/

Alf and Laurie an old couple who are facing eviction from their family home because of the bedroom tax:

http://diaryofabenefitscrounger.blogspot.co.uk/2013/03/the-human-story-behind-bedroom-tax.html

Widow, Julia Jones, who will have to leave the tiny bungalow where her husband’s ashes are scattered because she can’t afford the bedroom tax out of her £53 a week:

http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/uk-news/the-bedroom-tax-letter-that-shames-david-1647647

Back Yard Rhythm Orchestra

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For those of you that don’t know, get to know…Back Yard Rhythm Orchestra are a bit like a sister-group for Verbal Terrorists, fronted by VT’s stalwart truth-spitter, Drop Dead Fred. Back Yard are a party band with a conscience, playing ‘world’ music arranged as if it were ‘rave ‘ – stimulating thought and dance equally. You’d expect no less from DDF!

Conceived in late 2010, the 13 strong BYRO have been smashing festivals and clubs for the last couple of years. With such a large ensemble, getting into the studio has proved difficult but they have finally managed to produce ‘You’ve Been Framed’; a stomper written in the wake of the 2010 student protests.

The recording features a special guest appearance from Jewan Hwas on saz and will be augmented by remixes from top class talent such as Joonipah and Tim Shaw. Also look out for a silly 5 min mockumentary about the band set to be released on Youtube within the month…

 

 

 

Nobull working on a free EP

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Just over a year after the release of The War On Terra, which won the Crack magazine’s prestigious album of the month award, Verbal Terrorists’ very own Soulful Soldier is in the studio again working on his forthcoming solo EP, Multitude.

Multitude refers both to the concept and construction of the EP. The content is subversive, positioning itself within the global network of counter-hegemonic forces. The way that the EP is being put together also mirrors this, with a loose network of collaborators who are all very different individuals but each share a common progressive outlook opposed to the status quo.

The EP will be six tracks deep with the eclectic mix of classic boombap beats and bass-heavy bangers that audiences have come to expect from Verbal Terrorists.

Confirmed producers include:

Agent of Change – Anti-imperialist producer and thinker.

Mr. Blazey – Triptik Records’ behemoth and mastermind behind the previous 2 VT projects.

Dolly Mix – Enigmatic multi-instrumentalist and feminist.

Verso – Sepia synth genuis of Triptik Records and regular VT producer.

Joonipah – Producer/DJ riding a meteoric rise.

Professor Ojo – 4th Dan Glitch master. 

 

Guest emcees confirmed:

The Ruby Kid – Lefty wordsmith extarordiniare. 

Yoshi Riot – Anti-swag assembly General.

Wordplay – Lyrically insane badman. As seen on Don’t Flop.

Prys of Verbal Contact & Defenders of Style – West Yorkshire’s favourite bastard son. Proper good.

 

It’s a truly stellar line up and you might see the odd cameo from some old friends too. Best of all, it’s going to be given away completely free on digital download.

The first track, War is my home. Peace is my religion. Will be dropping very shortly.

Stay tuned for updates.

Blogging Terrorists

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What do you get when you unleash Verbal Terrorists on a blog?! Why, Blogging Terrorists of course. Expect all the sedition, passion and fury that typifies our music just in the form of the written word. Not to mention we’ll use this blog to keep you updated with the latest goings on with VT, solo and side projects of its members  and any other stuff we think is interesting.

Strap yourselves in, ‘subscribe’ and enjoy the ride!