"Reform" means changing something for the better. But in this case we have to ask, "better for whom"? Surely, any reform that has already been attempted by the Tories and is now being aired again by Blair and his right-wing cronies, is sure to be for the ultimate benefit of the bosses and the rich.
That's not the way Alistair Darling and Tony Blair explain it. They maintain the "reforms" are meant to help the least well-off. What they do not tell us is that any small gains for those on the lowest incomes will be paid for by other working people who are just marginally better off.
This of course would foster division and resentment. At the same time the rich would again be let off the hook and allowed to go on enjoying the current low levels of direct taxation.
The government's plan is based on the idea of "targeting" benefits -- in other words, means-testing benefits which are at present statutory and universal while promising twopence-ha'penny more to the very poorest.
It's not at all surprising that this issue has returned now. The government has for months been pouring money into the war against Yugoslavia -- not to mention its continuing expenditure on Trident and the rest. The cost of the war has got to come from somewhere and that somewhere will be the pockets of working people.
But while the recent war expenditure might have brought the matter to the forefront, the ruling class has been anxious to make these "reforms" for a long time. It wants, once and for all, to ditch the principles of the Beveridge Report and return to the Poor Law of the past.
It believes that if it can breach the principle of universal statutory benefits linked to national insurance contributions many gains would flow to the capitalist ruling class.
One of these "gains" would be to open the way for a greater take-up of private insurance and private pensions enabling the big finance companies to make huge profits out of people's need for support in times of hardship and security in old age.
It would also lead to the development of a two-tiered welfare system. The means-tested state sector would no longer be seen as a national system which everyone needs to defend and support.
What is needed is less means-testing, not more. It is a hideous hangover from the old days of Parish Relief and the infamous Boards of Guardians which forced workers who had suffered the misfortune to lose their job or fall sick to endure the indignity of proving their poverty in order to receive a pittance to live on.
Workers also had to put up with lectures from those dispensing these pittances about the virtues of thrift, sobriety and careful housekeeping.
The local worthies who passed judgement in these matters wanted to make sure that workers would only seek relief as a last resort -- any form of low-waged work was to be preferred.
This aspect of Poor Law never went away. Today it is being stepped up in the drive to Push down wages and social spending. It is clearly seen in the guise of "workfare" schemes, compulsory interviews at job centres for all claimants, including the disabled and the pressures on lone parents to undertake jobs or job-training.
And of course, if working people do struggle to scrimp and save and manage to put a little aside for a rainy-day they are then deemed to be over the capital limit for claiming means-tested benefits altogether.
The introduction of national insurance and universal benefits ensured that everyone was treated the same and that people no longer had to put up with impertinent questions and moral lectures in order to get the most basic provision.
The principle of universality needs to be vigorously defended and improved. Alistair Darling plans to push ahead with his "reforms" in the next session of Parliament -- we need to campaign now to stop this reactionary move in its tracks.
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ANGLO-AMERICAN imperialism is launching a charm offensive in the Middle East and across the Arab world to kick-start the "peace process" while continuing to blockade and bomb Iraq. New Israeli premier Ehud Barak vows to move forward with talks with the Palestinians and Syrians.
Libya has been partially been brought in from the cold with the British decision to restore long-cut diplomatic relations.
Israeli premier Ehud Barak held talks with US President Bill Clinton at the White House this week, stopping off in London for a whistle-stop briefing with Tony Blair before returning home.
In Washington Barak pledged to quickly implement the American-brokered Wye River accords which provided for a further 13 plus per cent Israeli West Bank pull-back but were never honoured by the old Likud government in Israel. Barak and Clinton stated that they intend to now meet every four months as part of a 15 month time-table for an "overall peace settlement".
In London Blair was full of praise for the Israeli leader, a man of "leadership and vision" who could take the "peace process" forward. Barak outlined Tel Aviv's latest ideas, including a "framework agreement" with Syria, Palestine and significantly, Libya. But Western reports that Syria had called on the Palestinian and Lebanese resistance to lay down their arms and concentrate solely on political struggle have been strongly denied in Damascus by the movements concerned.
The story, attributed to an unnamed Syrian "official", claims that Syrian vice-president Abdel Halim Khaddam had informed several Palestinian resistance movements based in Damascus that his government was ready to settle with Israel and wanted them "to drop armed struggle, form political parties and work on social issues." -- a message he was also going to give the Lebanese Hezbullah Islamic resistance as well.
The report was welcomed by the US State Department "if this is true" -- and duly echoed by Barak who said, "if that is true, it is good news for all of us."
But in Damascus the report was denied by Fadhl Sharouro, a leading Palestinian resistance militant. "This report is totally incorrect" he said. "Syria did not ask us to drop our weapons," he declared.
Hezbullah dismissed it as "talk that does not merit a response."
There's no doubt that the West is making a new drive to break the impasse in the Middle East following Barak's victory on a peace pledge platform. But there's plenty of doubt in the Middle East about what is going to be put on the table in return.
The position of Syria and Lebanon is quite straight-forward -- a complete Israeli withdrawal from Syria's Golan Heights and occupied southern Lebanon.
Israel wants out of Lebanon. Tel Aviv is paying the price for the folly of past governments -- including Barak's Labour predecessors -- in clinging on to the "security zone" across the frontier.
The puppet "South Lebanon Army" has all but collapsed. The few hundred who have not deserted all live in Israel and the resistance takes a regular toll of Israeli lives and materiel in the struggle to drive the occupiers out.
The return of the Golan Heights would mean either dismantling the Zionist settlements in the hills or reaching an agreement for their continuation under Syrian rule. Most of the settlers are in fact Labour supporters and many of them would take compensation and go if the price was right.
Israel would also be expected to withdraw to the cease-fire line of 4 June 1967, the eve of war which led to the seizure of the Golan -- not the international frontier between pre-war Syria and the British Mandate of Palestine. That too could prove a stumbling block in negotiations.
But even if this can be squared the major problem remains the Palestinians. Barak can agree to Wye, after all Netanyahu did even though he never carried it out, because it only provides for a further withdrawal from Palestinian villages in the West Bank. What comes after is another matter.
The Israeli leader has said that Arab East Jerusalem and a huge chunk of the West Bank that Ismel calls "Greater Jerusalem" will be kept whatever happens. About half the Zionist settlements are in this zone -- the rest are scattered across the West Bank and the Gaza Strip and there's no sign that the new government is ready or willing to dismantle them. Most importantly of all, nothing is said about the right to return of millions of Palestinian refugees whose homes are now in Israel proper.
Over the past few years the American strategy has been to encourage the "peace process" while avoiding a "final settlement". As long as something was happening -- a withdrawal here a concession to the Palestinian Authority there -- the Americans could put off the day of reckoning which could lead to a total breakdown.
Now Washington and Tel Aviv are talking about it, and what the Palestinians fear, and this indudes President Arafat, is that they're going to get an imposed settlement which leaves them with little more than the "autonomous" zones they've already got.
Palestinian anger is growing. This week nine Palestinians were hurt during clashes with Israeli troops in the southern part of the Gaza Strip. Israeli troops fired rubber bullets and tear-gas shells at a group of demonstrators demanding the release of Palestinlan political prisoners at Shuhada, near the Zionist settlement of Netzarim. The protest was organised by Yasser Arafat's own Fatah movement, the backbone of the Palestinian administration.
Barak talks about a "peace of the brave", echoing De Gaulle's words during the Algerian crisis, but directing it at the Syrians. He's got to do some hard thinking about the Palestinians now -- and so will Clinton.
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by Caroline Colebrook
AN APPEAL court ruling last week secured the right of a severely disabled woman to free, life-long specialist nursing care but left thousands of others needing general nursing care liable to pay for it on a means tested basis.
Pamela Coughlan was left severely disabled aftera road accident. She was cared for in a small, special home -- Mardon House in Exeter -- with other severely disabled people run by the North and East Devon Health Authority unto 1998 when the authority decided to save money by dosing the home.
This would have meant transfering Ms Coughlan -- and two other patients -- to a private nursing home, to be paid for either by themselves or by the local authority when their own funds were exhausted.
She look the North and East Devon Health Authority to court and in December 1998 secured a ruling in the High Court by Mr Justice Hidden that the authority had acted illegally in seeking to close the home.
The health authority appealed and last week Lord Woolf, Master of the Rolls -- and two other Appeal Court judges, Lord Justice Mummery and Lord Justice Sedley -- backed up the High Court ruling.
But they went on to rule that Mr Justice Hidden had been wrong to decide that all nursing care was the sole responsibility of the NHS, acting through health authorities and that long-term patients could not be transferred to local authority care.
The Appeal Court said that the "critical issue" was whether nursing care for a chronically ill patient could be provided lawfully by a local authority -- and means tested -- or whether it had to be provided free by the NHS.
They ruled that some nursing care could be transferred to local authorities and tried to set guidelines to distinguish "nursing care" from "general care".
In Ms Coughlan's case, they ruled that the health authority's decision to close Mardon House was illegal because it was "an unjustified breach of a clear promise given by the health authority to Ms Coughlan that she should have a home for life".
The Royal College of Nursing is arguing that all long-term care that needs to be provided by a nursing home rather than a residential home is health care and should come free from the NHS.
Health Secretary Frank Dobson intervened in the case in support of the North and East Dcvon Health Authority and said he was delighted with the outcome of the appeal.
It means that most long-term sick patients will come under local authority care. Only those few needing "specialist" nursing will be treated free.
Dobson claims the original High Court ruling could have cost the NHS £220 million. It will affect some 150,000 elderly people who receive long-term nursing care.
Mr Dobson said the ruling will protect NHS funds for those patients who really need NHS care -- as if those who need general nursing to survive are some sort of scroungers.
The extra £220 million the NHS would have to fork out to care for all those who need it is just a fraction of what was recently spent on bombing Yugoslavia and is still being spent on bombing Iraq.
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By Cyprus News Agency
GREEK Alternate Foreign Minister, Yiannos Kranidiotis said last week that his country's stand on Cyprus remained unchanged and pledged that Greece would continue to guarantee the survival of Hellenism in Cyprus.
In a statement marking 25 years since the 1974 Turkish invasion and seizure of a third of the island, Kranidiotis said that 'for a quarter of a century, the Cyprus tragedy remains a dark page in current world history and civilisation."
He said that the Turkish invaders "using brutal violnce carried out one of the most abhorrent operations of ethnic cleansing."
This operation, he said, resuited in the displacement of a third of the Greek Cypriot population. Over 200,000 Greek Cypriots were uprooted from their homes during the 20 July Turkish invasion.
Kranidiotis said that Turkey is carrying out a systematic plan to alter the demographic balance on the island by planting Turkish settlers in the part of Cyprus held by the Turkish army.
According to the Turkish Cypriot press there are less than 60,000 Turkish Cypriots living in the Turkish occupied north of the island. But Turkey has planted more than 80,000 solonist settiers in the occupied areas, in addition to 35,000 heavily armoured Turkish troops.
The Greek minister denounced the occupation regime for its "continued oppression and gradual eviction" of what was left of the original Greek population of northern Cyprus. Less than 500 Greek Cypriots remain in Turkish controlled northern Cyprus. He also attacked Ankara for the pillage of the cultural heritage of the Cypriot people.
Noting that the Greek positions on Cyprus "remain unchanged" Kranidiotis described "today's illegal situation...as unacceptable."
"However long it takes, the struggle to restore legality will continue," he declared.
"Greece remains a guarantee of the security and survival of Hellenism of Cyprus, steadfastly promoting the implementation of the joint defence pact between Cyprus and Greece and Cyprus accession to the European Union," Kranidiotis added.
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by Daphne Liddle
"THE PEACE process is in the gravest danger it's ever been in," Sinn Fein spokesperson Gerry MacLochlainn told a packed meeting in London's Conway Hall last Thursday.
He was addressing a meeting called by the Peace Movement Policy Forum which was to have been about the plight of the besieged residents of the Garvaghy Road.
But the attempts by the Labour government to push through legislation rewriting last year's Good Friday Agreement (GFA) pandering to the undemocratic demands of the Unionists, and the subsequent rejection of the deal by the Unionists, created a crisis in the peace process that overshadowed everything else.
The Unionists have sabotaged all attempts to set up the Northern
Ireland Assembly according to the terms of GFA. Deadline after deadline
has passed and they have refused to sit in the same Assembly as elected
representatives of Sinn Fein, using the issue of IRA decommissioning as
"We are most exceptionally disappointed but not surprised," Gerry MacLochlainn told the meeting. "The Unionist leadership has run away from an historic day.
"And the British government has abrogated its responsibility from day one. Blair has shown himself unable to challenge the spoilt child Britain has created in Unionism.
"If we are to emerge from centuries of strife, there must be fundamental change. That was the founding philosophy of the Good Friday Agreement."
He then recapped the main points of the GFA -- which had demanded compromise and sacrifice from all involved in the negotiations. From the point of view of the nationalist community in the occupied north of Ireland it was a far from ideal agreement but it was the best chance available to transfer the struggle to the political arena and end armed conflict in the six counties.
"Blair has done nothing to achieve that," Gerry MacLochlainn continued, "he has failed to act with the will and decency we expect. Some scenes today verged on farce.
"Blair has tried to create a new Stormont -- agreeing that elected Sinn Fein representatives could be barred from the Assembly if the IRA does not decommission.
"Now Unionism has run away from its own citadel. Unionist leader Trimble has betrayed his own people and all the people of Ireland who voted for the Agreement -- and the people of Britain who will pick up the tab of whatever Unionism throws down.
"Trimble's position is now untenable. He has not acted as the leader of all the people of the north of Ireland today. He ought to resign immediately. Failing that Blair should dismiss him."
Gerry MacLochlainn declared the Unionist leaders incapable of showing the courage that tens of thousands of Unionist people had shown in voting for change.
He listed all the different political, religious, community and other groups who had backed the GFA. "They have all been betrayed," he said.
He slammed Blair's intention to "leave things on the shelf' until after the summer holidays.
"This leaves us with no future. Young people will leave the north of Ireland in despair because of this.
"We have to ask ourselves, who are the democrats and who are the subversives.
"I am a Republican, fighting for a free, independent and whole Ireland. We Republicans have shown ourselves willing to work within the terms of the GFA. It is the Unionists who are subverting the process. They are the subversives."
"The best chance for peace in 70 years is now in the gravest danger. I don't think Blair realises how much danger."
He said that Republicans want democracy and equality while the Unionists
want to retain their supremacy. "They must be told they can't have it.
They won't give it up freely. They must be told the old days are over and
veto depends on Britain
Gerry MacLochlainn pointed out that the Unionist veto is dependent on the presence of British troops, occupying part of the island ofIreland, which has allowed them to remain outside Irish democracy.
He reminded the meeting that decommissioning never was a pre-requisite in the terms of the GFA and that no elected representatives could be disqualified from the Assembly without the agreement of all sides. He also reminded us of the loyalist terrorist connections of Trimble and other Unionist leaders.
He called for the other parts of the GFA to be implemented immediately: the setting up of crossborder authorities -- staffed by civil servants in the absence of the Assembly -- and the disbandment and replacement of the Royal Ulster Constabulary, saying that the GFA could not legally be altered without the agreement of the other sovereign government to sign it -- Ireland.
But already Northern Ireland Secretary Mo Mowlem has breached it by ruling out the disbanding of the RUC.
"We need a judicial system based on equality. We need equal rights in jobs. They must recognise my right to live in my country as an Irish citizen on the island ofIreland. Britain can provide that agenda.
"David Trimble must be told, get on the train or get out of the way.
Later, in discussion, he revealed that Sinn Fein has received phone calls from a number of Unionists who in no way agree with Sinn Fein's policies but who sincerely want peace and change and equality of civil rights.
Gerry MacLochlainn pointed out that these people "are afraid to show their heads above the parapet in their own community or they'll literally be blown away.
"Blair has betrayed these people in pandering to the likes of Trimble and the fascistic stranglehold of the Unionist leaders."
He also compared the situation to that of South Africa just before the end of apartheid where white armed racists had threatened a bloodbath if black people were given equal rights.
"In the event, they melted away when they saw that change was inevitable." And he predicted that the warmongers among the Unionists would do the same.
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