1. Lead - Poorest hit by Budget cuts. Penny bribe won't wash! 2. Editorial - Last lap dangers. 3. International - Lorry drivers' strike paralyses France. 4. British news - Hillingdon cost-cutting provokes rising anger. 5. Feature - Tax self-assessment costs spiralling. 1. Lead Story. Poorest hit by Budget cuts PENNY BRIBE WON'T WASH THE pre-election budget, announced in the House of Commons last Tuesday by Chancellor Kenneth Clarke, set out to win back support from disgruntled Tory voters. The government hopes the one penny cut in the basic rate of income tax -- from 24p to 23p in the pound, coupled with increases in personal allowances, will have vote-winning appeal for mid- dle-income earners. As always with Tory budgets, it is the rich who will gain most. Thirty per cent of this latest tax cut will go to the richest 10 per cent of households. The lowest income 30 per cent will get only three per cent. People who either do not earn enough to pay income tax or who pay tax at the bottom rate will not benefit from Clarke's penny at all. Labour leader Tony Blair described the Chancellor's speech as a "give with one hand and take with the other" package. He pointed out that local authorities would have to find an extra £4 billion over the next three years to make up for tight-fisted government spending policies. This would mean increases in council tax of around six per cent. And no doubt the government hopes local Labour councils will get the blame. While the government offers a penny off tax it is planning to cut public spending by £2 billion -aiming to reduce public spending to 40 per cent of Gross Domestic Product by 1997. But it isn't planning to make its savings by cutting the budget for useless Trident nuclear weapon systems. It plans instead to squeeze savings out of one Parent families and single people claiming housing benefit. One parent benefit of £6.30 week, which is paid to all single parents, and the lone parent premiutll of £5.20 a week, paid to unemployed single parents, is to be permanently frozen for existing claimants. From April 1998 new claimants will lose the lone parent premium altogether. This measure is expected to save the government £200 million pounds a year. Labour's shadow social security spokesperson Harriet Harman said:"This move will increase the poverty suffered by children in Britain today and will do nothing to help get lone mothers who want to work, off benefitand into work". A press statement from the Child Poverty Action Group quoted its director Sally Witcher as saying: "It is an extraordinary idea that the way to bolster family values is by increasing child poverty. Yet this is what the abolition of lone parent premium and one parent benefit from 1998 will achieve, given the wealth of evidence that such benefits are already insufficient to meet basic needs. "In the International year for the Eradication of Poverty, the Chancellor has chosen to reduce support for one of the most vulnerable groups in society. 'In so doing, he flies in the face of recent figures showing that one in three babies inthe UK are born on or near the breadline and reports of an increase in poverty related diseases." Another blow to working class children in the budget is a planned cut of £56 million from nursery education. Other victims of the budget include unmarried housing benefit claimants who will have their allowed rent levels reduced to bed-sit rates. This has already been introduced for people under 25 years and will now apply to all single claimants under 60 years. Altogether this change of rule will hit 255,000 people. And as if the govemment's Job Seekers Allowance wasn't already bad enough, unemployed claimants now stand to lose "waiting days" -- that means they will get no benefit for the first week of unemployment. The government does not say what people are supposed to live on while they "wait". While TV pictures show the plight of refugees in central Africa the government announces a further cut in the budget for Overseas Development Assistance. Claire Short, Labour spokesperson for ODA said: "The government always promises more money for the poorest people tomorrow, yet tomorrow never comes. Last year they cut ODA by £124 million and promised an increase this year of £47 million. "Instead they have cut aid again by £180 million at a time when poverty in countries such as Zaire and Rwanda is causing famine, starvation and disease". This budget is a nothing but a shabby means of getting a worthless government back into power. It gives to those who need help the least and pays for it out of the pockets of the poorest and most vulnerable members of society. We are not fooled -- it just won't wash! ********************************************** 2. Editorial Last lap dangers ONLY a short while ago the government and its policies were so unpopular that the County Council elections wiped virtually every trace of blue off the electoral map. It seemed a Labour landslide was at long last on its way. But the relentless drive to the right by the Labour leadership seems to have made more of an impression on some people on the left than it has on the capitalist ruling class, which is fighting tooth and nail to cut Labour's lead in the polls. It still wants a return of the Tories or, at the very least, a weak Labour government with a tiny majority. And if the Tories get back they would claim to have won an endorsement for their policies. We can be sure, whatever is said now, that after the election the attacks on our standard of living, our quality of life and the organisations of the working class would be vigorously stepped up. If Labour wins but fails to get a big majority the right would argue that the new government's hands were tied. There would be no large influx of new MPs -- some of whom would swell the ranks of the left in the Parliamentary Labour Party -- and above all no clear signal from the electorate demanding change. The propaganda onslaught, emanating from the ruling class, to cut Labour's lead has had some success -- at least according to the opinion polls. The Tories and their backers are hoping Labour can be dramatically slowed down in the final lap of the electoral race. Yet at this critical moment there are those who claim their "socialist principles" will not allow them to vote Labour because it has a right wing leadership which is desperately trying to distance itself from the unions, the party's roots and seems only interested in sucking up to disenchanted Tory voters. This description of Labour's current stance is of course correct. The right of the Labour Party has been able to gain ground and is in the driving seat. But this state of affairs is neither unexpected nor irrevesible. There are no vacuums in political affairs. The setbacks to socialism intemationally which followed the destruction of the former Soviet Union, the fall in trade union membership which went hand in glove with the rise in unemployment, the damaging effects of the revisionist onslaught in the communist movement and the defeatism of some activists, knocked back by repeated Tory victories, have all served to weaken the left. It is this relative weakness of the left which has given an opportunity to the right. As communists we seek to defend and advance the interests of the worldng class. We say clearly that these interests can only be fully served by revolutionary struggle in which the working class seizes state power and brings the system of capitalism to an end and replaces it with a socialist society. This can never be achieved simply by participating in bourgeoise elections for a bourgeoise parliament. Voting Labour -- or for any other left of centre party -- will not bring a socialist society. But only comfortably-off armchair posers would dismiss the day-to-day struggle to meet the immediate needs and demands of the working class and think themselves too pure to strive for those gains which can be wrung out of the capitalist class -- on the grounds that it ain't real socialism. The reality is that we live in a capitalist society and the revolutionary change to socialism, which we unceasingly work towards, is not likely to take place tomorrow morning or next weekend. What is achievable within the next few months is a change of government -- the first national defeat for the Tories, the favoured party of the capitalist class, since 1979. This can only come about by voting Labour. If we do not waver in this last lap of the election campaign we can make the Tory defeat into a rout. This makes the electorate's message clear -- we've had enough of the Tories and their disastrous programmes. Anyone staying home on polling day clutching their "socialist principles" to their chest will be sending no message at all. Their abstention will not be interpreted by the politicians and media pundits as a protest at the rightwards position of Blair. On the contrary the right in the Labour Party will conclude, as it always does -- that those who failed to vote Labour were still frightened of its historic left wing image. It will use those non-votes as a pretext to urge an ever! further shift to the right. At the same time we need to continue to build our own party. ***************************************** 3.International. Lorry drivers' strike paralyses France by Steve Lawton FRENCH truck drivers have entered a second week of nationwide action, consolidating their dispute over demands for shorter hours, earlier retirement and higher pay. The drivers' blockades throughout key areas of France are paralysing the country and putting the wind up the financial markets, confounding those who said the mass protest and demonstrations in last year's transport strike were unlikely to be repeated on such a scale. Leader of the communist--led CGT trade union Louis Viannet promised an escalation in solidarity actions if the issues are not settled satisfactorily. He said: "If the employers and the government let the conflict drag on,we will be forced to take further steps." And this time, the strike action has ensnared around 2,000 British lorry drivers of whom 1,000 are jammed in Calais. Roads leading to Dover are choked with lorry drivers bumber-to- bumper for miles with hundreds of lorries and rising. Some businesses are considering airlifting goods. Britain's transport infrastructure is being clogged up very rapidly as it moves back inland. Many lorry drivers are now hoping to take the Zeebrugge route, but they have a long wait to get on the ferry -- some expecting to wait upwards of 25 hours. Early Wednesday morning reports that a deal had been agreed m Calais to get the British drivers out quickly turned out by the evening not to be so -- local French union leaders denied there had been any such agreement. Premier John Major called the damage to British business a "crisis" as the British Freight Transport Association's estimated losses rose from one million pounds on Tuesday to nearly four million by Wednesday. Major is demanding compensation from the French government and threats of issuing an injunction in the European Court were made. By Wednesday evening between 180 and 200 major transport routes in France were blocked by trucks, putting increased pressure on the government of President Jacques Chirac as marathon talks continue with two demands of three so far agreed. Unions and management, meeting in the Ministry of Transport, have so far agreed to the drivers' demand that the current retirement age of 60 be reduced to 55 and that they should have shorter working hours. The retirement issue focused on whether that would be on full pay, and an agreement has apparently been reached to address this demand. Union leaders are hopeful that a solution to the dispute can be found by the week's end. But the general atmosphere of threats to jobs and cutting back benefits to meet Maastricht Single European Currency requirements, which was at the heart of last year's major demonstrations and protests, is boiling over again. Airline pilots and cabin crews began a two-day strike on Wednesday. At the same time the CGT called for a nationwide mobilisation in solidarity with the truckers. Even if the three demands are mef the fundamental problems created by the MaasZricht straitjacket will remain. The truckers complain that bosses reneged on an agreement made two years ago after they struck then over a demand that drivers be paid for the period of time spent loading or waiting to begin their journey. Rail and public sector workers are taking action in support. And as.before, there is widespread sympathy for the drivers. One TV poll by France 2 Television estimated that 87 per cent ofthe public support the truckers demands. British lorry drivers are being presented in the media as having no particular sympathy for the French drivers. Their fears for the future of their jobs are understandable. One British driver pointed out that the last time this occured he didn't receive any compensation. But on Tuesday morning on a Talk Radio phone-in programme, most of the British drivers ringing in endorsed the French actions -- and that included self-employed drivers. Some pointed out how this demonstrated what was needed in the British trade union movement the backbone of the French unions, some said, hadn't been broken. The suggestion by representatives of the British Road Haulage Association that the French government deploy armoured vehicles to wreck trucks, forcing drivers to end the blockade in their 1992 dispute, points to the degree of concern Chirac and Premier Juppe have about the deep ening discontent in their country. One French newspaper editor said that Juppe would end up "pulling a fiscal rabbit out of the hat". And former Tory Party chairman Norman Tebbitt said on Wednesday that the demand for earlier retirement was "unreasonable". France, he said, is 25 years behind the times. He said that French and British workers will end up working hand-in-hand. If French workers can have this, British workers will want it too. French unions, late Wednesday, were calling for a general strike. ************************************************* 4. British News. Hillingdon cost-cutting provokes rising anger by Caroline Colebrook THE HILLINGDON Hospital Trust's attempts to save cash have led to sacked members of staff and pensioners in the borough joining forces to take their problems to Parliament. Last Monday the cleaners and pensioners stood together as part of a national lobby of Parliament to defend the welfare state. The cleaners have been picketing the hospital now for over a year after they were sacked for refusing to accept a 35 per cent cut in wages plus a reduction in terms and conditions. The nightmare package was introduced by Pall Mall Cleaning Services in October 1995 after the firm won the contract for cleaning from the hospital trust. Since then, the workers have received enormous solidarity from their local community and from trades unionists throughout Britain, especially from others in struggle like the strikng Liverpool dock workers. To add insult to injury, earlier this year, the chief executive of the hospital trust, Philip Brown, awarded himself a £6,000 annual increase, bringing his salary up to £68,OOO a year. In June the women rejected a pay-out package of £125,000 between the 53 women to give up their fight for reinstatement -- at their old wage. This would have given them between £l ,000 and £3,000 each according to length of service. Eighteen of the women are pursuing their cases through an industrial tribunal but their hearings have been indefinitely postponed. Meanwhile local Labour councillor Wally Kennedy reports that he has received a number of complaints about falling standards of cleanliness at the hospital. "I have had a number of complaintss from patients and visitors at the hospital," he said. "The state of the wards was appalling on many occasions. The nursing staff are overworked." Hillingdon Hospital Trust also hit the headlines last month when a letter ithad sent to local general practitioners, telling them not to send emergency aamissions of patients over 75 years old from the north of the borough to Hillingdon, was made public. Such patients were to be diverted to Mount Vernon, another hospital in the area. The letter provoked a storm of outrage, especially from pensioners' organisations and Labour leader Tony Blair demanded an explanation in the House of Commons. There was great concern that the cost-cutting pressures on Hillingdon would also cause many other hospitals in a similar plight to adopt the same policy. The hospital trust argued that elderly patients take much longer to discharge because it is difficult to find them the proper care in the community that they need on discharge. The local hard-pressed social services cannot provide the necessary care swiftly so these patients stay longer, taking up valuable bed space. The outcry was such that Hillingdon Trust soon issued a statement, apparently reversing this policy, entitled: "The Hillingdon Hospital is admitting elderly patients". It said that new money had been found for 30 more beds for elderly patients in the locality and many people thought the problem was resolved for the moment. But this is misleading. Even in the reversal statement, the trust still asks GPs to refer elderly patients from the north of the borough to Mount Vernon if possible. And, according to Wally Kennedy, the sum of 30 new beds is also something of a cruel hoax. He said that people will have to die or be moved to different accommadation before these beds become available. Six of the beds included in the sum, at Hayes Cottage Hospital, exist already and are being used for respite care. This means if they are filled with emergency admissions, the respite care service will go out of the window. discharged On 19 October, 15 elderly patients were discharged from Hillingdon, ten to residential homes, one to Hayes Cottage Hospital and one "to the community". Now the hospital trust is proposing new measures to free more beds, including reducing the number of people admitted to hospital in the first place. GPs have been directed to refer more elderly people for treatment at the hospital's day centre. Moves are afoot to get the elderly discharged more quickly. The trust say this will make room for ten more admissions each month. But obviously the pressure for quick discharge went disastrously wrong in the case of one elderly patient. Bed ridden pensioner Ann Chatley, aged 87, was discharged with a broken leg to her home and left alone for two days. She was discharged even though suffering from a cold and against her family's wishes - while her nephew was away on holiday. When a carer arrived she could not find the keys and had to ask police to break down the door. Inside Mrs Chatley was found in a bed soaked in urine and faeces. Mrs Chatley is diabetic, but she had no food in the house,just one biscuit and stale water. Her nephew made a fuss and she was taken into Hayes Cottage Hospital, and after five days, because she was so ill, she ended up back in Hillingdon. And the family has been sent a £400 bill for the five days in the cottage hospital. The local social services say they will pay this bill but have not got round to it yet. This is perhaps an extreme case -- but it demonstrates how pressure to discharge people before they are ready ends up with them needing even longer in hospital and causes enormous distress. *********************************** 5. Feature. Tax self-assessment costs spiralling THE LABOUR leadership last week demanded an inquiry into a deal between the Inland Revenue and the American infermation technology giant Electronic Data Systems (EDS) which is costing the government £600 million more than the agreed price -- a rise of some 60 per cent. EDS won a £l billion contract two years ago to take over and run the Inland Revenue's data base and information technology. Over 2,000 civil servants found their jobs transferred to the company -- formerly owned by US presidential candidate Ross Perot, but recently bought up by General Motors. But the government recently agreed a further £600 million to cover unforeseen costs arising from the introduction of tax self-assessmenftdue to begin next April. The original idea was to save costs by making people work out their own tax so that thousands of civil servants could be made redundant. But it is so complicated, and the information technology needed so problematic that the insistence of Chancellor Kenneth Clarke on keeping to next April's deadline is causing chaos. One branch secretary of the civil service union PTC told the New Worker there seems to be no coherent plan: "The ones at the very top say to their immediate underlings: "This must be up and working by next April -- you organise it." "And they say the same to their juniors, and so on down the line so those at the bottom have no idea what's happening. Every one's delegating it to someone else and no one's got a clue." Parliamentary questions show that EDS has already received £416 million for informafion technology services since the 10-year contract was signed in 1994. John Hutton, Labour MP fo Barrow-in-Furness, described the exercise as a "shambles". "It is clear that something has gone seriously wrong with this contract" he said. "It must now be in doubt whether the move to self-assessment will produce any of the projected savings of £225 million predicted by the government this year. "This must be investigated by the National Audit Office to see if the taxpayer is getting value for money."