‘Bolder action is needed:’ Anti-poverty campaigners issue home truths for the Chancellor ahead of Spring Budget

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https://leftfootforward.org/2024/02/bolder-action-is-needed-anti-poverty-campaigners-issue-home-truths-for-the-chancellor-ahead-of-spring-budget/

‘Cost of living support may be receding but the tide of people not being able to afford life’s essentials is not. It is time we moved from stop-gaps to sustainable solutions.’

February 22, 2024, marked the last of the cost of living payments being sent out. The cash top-ups had been awarded to people receiving means-tested benefits, disability benefits, and pension credits, at regular intervals over the course of the cost of living crisis. They have been a lifeline for around eight million low-income families.

But with rising living costs driving disadvantaged households further into poverty, with prices still rising despite inflation easing, and food and energy remaining at extortionate levels, charities and experts have warned that the payments are not enough. They have expressed fears about what may happen if the government does not announce additional payments.

The final cost of living payment has renewed calls for the introduction of a system that is there whenever anyone falls on hard times, rather than being just a ‘stop gap’ solution.

Ahead of the Spring Budget on March 6, anti-poverty charities and campaigners are calling on the Chancellor for bolder action to tackle poverty during the cost of living crisis.

https://leftfootforward.org/2024/02/bolder-action-is-needed-anti-poverty-campaigners-issue-home-truths-for-the-chancellor-ahead-of-spring-budget/

Continue Reading‘Bolder action is needed:’ Anti-poverty campaigners issue home truths for the Chancellor ahead of Spring Budget

Morning Star: Ever-increasing militarisation leaves us all poorer

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https://morningstaronline.co.uk/article/editorial-ever-increasing-militarisation-leaves-us-all-poorer

IF THERE was one thing that British listeners should have picked up from Vladimir Putin’s interview last week, it was the intervention by Britain’s then prime minister Boris Johnson over Easter 2022.

Putin confirmed that, just prior to Johnson’s visit, a signed agreement had been reached ratified by the representatives of both Ukraine and Russia and counter-signed by France and Germany.

Johnson’s intervention caused Volodymyr Zelensky to back out of the agreement. Whether Johnson acted alone or on behalf of the US government, or elements within it, we do not know. But it is unlikely that Johnson would have acted without some sort of US sanction.

What we do know are the human consequences. According to the UN, just over a thousand civilians had lost their lives by April 2022. Since then 10 times that number have been killed and the same ratio is likely for the much higher level of military casualties.

Jeremy Hunt’s May 2023 Budget found an extra £11bn for defence. For the forthcoming Budget still more money was being proposed over the weekend “to strengthen Britain’s defences in the Red Sea.” Britain remains the second biggest contributor to Nato after the US.

Yet Britain is a country that can no longer afford the basic infrastructure needed for clean water, rail transport or a national grid capable of connecting existing renewable capacity — let alone a viable health service and effective schooling.

https://morningstaronline.co.uk/article/editorial-ever-increasing-militarisation-leaves-us-all-poorer

dizzy: I disagree with the contention: ” … it is unlikely that Johnson would have acted without some sort of US sanction.” It preseupposes that Johnson was measured in his behaviour when he was often poorly-briefed and out of control. [17/2/24 e.g. https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2017/nov/06/boris-johnson-mistake-could-harm-case-for-nazanin-zaghari-ratcliffe-say-family ]

Continue ReadingMorning Star: Ever-increasing militarisation leaves us all poorer

Another Tory blunder: Sunak tax cuts have low impact on growth, Treasury told

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https://leftfootforward.org/2024/01/another-tory-blunder-sunak-tax-cuts-have-low-impact-on-growth-treasury-told/

The revelations will undermine the Tory government’s claim that tax cuts are the way to turn around the economy

Treasury officials warned Rishi Sunak in late 2022 that tax cuts would have a ‘low impact’ on boosting economic growth, and yet despite this advice, Chancellor Jeremy Hunt and the Tory government continue to prioritise tax cuts in a bid to boost the economy.

Treasury documents seen by Bloomberg reveal that incoming Prime Minister Sunak was told that ‘increasing high-skilled immigration and changing planning rules to build more homes would both have a “high impact” on the economy with a “low” fiscal cost.”

The revelations will undermine the Tory government’s claim that tax cuts are the way to turn around the economy, with Hunt planning tax cuts in the annual budget in March. Despite the advice of experts, Sunak and Hunt are placing tax cuts at the heart of the Tory election campaign.

https://leftfootforward.org/2024/01/another-tory-blunder-sunak-tax-cuts-have-low-impact-on-growth-treasury-told/

Continue ReadingAnother Tory blunder: Sunak tax cuts have low impact on growth, Treasury told

Resigning ex-minister Chris Skidmore wrong on climate, says Jeremy Hunt

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https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-67900935

Mr Hunt told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that when he became chancellor, he worked closely with Mr Skidmore on climate change issues.

He said: “The independent panel for climate change that we have in this country are very clear that even when we reach net zero in 2050, we will still get a significant proportion of our energy from fossil fuels, and domestic oil and gas is four times cleaner than imported oil and gas.”

dizzy: four times cleaner is just total BS, isn’t it?

Continue ReadingResigning ex-minister Chris Skidmore wrong on climate, says Jeremy Hunt

Dark money think tanks hail ‘full expensing’ measure in autumn statement

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Original article by Ruby Lott-Lavigna republished from Open Democracy under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International licence.

Opaquely funded lobbying group claims to be responsible for parts of Jeremy Hunt’s budget, calling it ‘amazing news’

Former chancellor Nadhim Zahawi, a patron of the Adam Smith Institute, has lobbied Jeremy Hunt for so-called ‘full expensing’ Hunt in the House of Commons
 | Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Opaquely funded right-wing think tanks have claimed responsibility for parts of today’s budget, celebrating its announcement as a victory for its lobbying.

Jeremy Hunt unveiled his autumn statement this afternoon, including policies such as a 2% cut to National Insurance, punitive enforcement action for those on disability benefits who do not find work in 18 months, and raising Local Housing Allowance before freezing it again in two years.

A key part of the chancellor’s budget, a policy called ‘full expensing’, means businesses can claim 100% of investment costs such as digital equipment against revenue in the same year, allowing businesses to pay less tax. It was first introduced in spring as a temporary measure but will now be made permanent.

The Adam Smith Institute, which first published a blog post on the policy in 2017, has claimed the decision as a victory.

“Amazing news that the full expensing has been made permanent,” the think tank wrote on its X (formerly Twitter) page. “Congratulations to everyone who worked so hard to make this a reality.”

It added: “We at the ASI have been campaigning for full expensing over many years.”

Former chancellor Nadhim Zahawi, a patron of the Adam Smith Institute, has lobbied for full expensing to Hunt in the House of Commons. Zahawi was fired from his role as chair of the Conservative Party and minister without portfolio after breaching the ministerial code by failing to declare he was being investigated by HMRC while chancellor under Boris Johnson.

In the past, companies like Amazon have taken advantage of expensing schemes – in particular, a ‘super-expensing’ short-term policy that allowed companies to write off 130% of investment in infrastructure. The company’s UK division paid no corporation tax for a second year in a row thanks to the scheme.

The Adam Smith Institute, named after the 18th-century Scottish thinker on capitalism, lobbies on issues such as deregulation and lower taxes. It was given the lowest possible transparency rating in openDemocracy’s ‘Who Funds You?’ project earlier this year, but is reported to be partly funded by the tobacco industry as well as American climate denial groups.

Other right-wing think tanks have also lauded the move. In a “wish list” written by free-market think tank the TaxPayers Alliance, it asked the chancellor to “Make full expensing for corporation tax permanent… to reduce the tax penalty on long-term investment.”

The TaxPayers Alliance does not publicise its funders, and was also given the lowest possible rating by Who Funds You?

Allowing businesses to invest more can be positive, so long as public spending isn’t cut in the process, Pranesh Narayanan, a research fellow at the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) told openDemocracy.

“In this autumn statement, the Conservatives are able to ‘afford’ it because they’ve frozen public investment spending from 2025 onwards,” Narayanan said, referring to the billions of pounds of spending cuts forecast after the next general election. “You need both kinds of investment to have a proper economic recovery. You can’t do one at the expense of the other, especially when you have crumbling schools and crumbling hospitals.”

Narayanan added: “This policy is mainly for the benefit of big corporations. We believe we need more public investment.”

Economist Ann Pettifor argues in openDemocracy today that Hunt’s autumn statement “extinguished… any faint hope of the beginnings of an economic revival”.

Original article by Ruby Lott-Lavigna republished from Open Democracy under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International licence.

Continue ReadingDark money think tanks hail ‘full expensing’ measure in autumn statement

Jeremy Hunt’s benefit crackdown will worsen an already terrible system

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Original article by Mikey Erhardt republished from Open Democracy under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International licence

Chancellor Jeremy Hunt has threatened to cut benefits for people with disabilities and long-term illnesses who do not get a remote job
 | Nathan Stirk/Getty Images

The long-term effects of a dangerously mismanaged pandemic and cuts to health and social care are kicking in, with a record 2.5 million working-age people in the UK having disabilities or long-term health conditions that prevent or restrict their ability to work.

This should be the time to reform our punitive welfare system, which fewer Britons than ever believe offers enough support to those who need it. Instead, chancellor Jeremy Hunt has used his autumn statement to inflict yet more pain.

Hunt announced plans to stop people who are unemployed but not actively looking for work due to long-term sickness or disability from claiming free prescriptions and discounted bus travel, as well as to tell people they must find remote jobs or risk losing their benefits.

The news is hardly surprising – the government has long tried to paint Disabled people as ‘scroungers’. Yesterday, Laura Trott, chief secretary to the Treasury, callously told interviewers that Disabled or ill people have “a duty” to work. And just last month, Hunt promised to review benefit sanctions, telling the Conservative Party conference that “around 100,000 people are leaving the labour market every year for a life on benefits”.

What Hunt omitted, though, is that the UK already has one of the least generous welfare systems in Western Europe. Disabled people have lost an average of £1,200 a year between 2008 and 2019 due to a series of cuts and reforms, including the introduction of Employment and Support Allowance, the Work Capability Assessment, Personal Independence Payment, the bedroom tax, the benefit cap, the two-child limit, and Universal Credit.

A reduction in financial support can be difficult for anyone. But for Disabled people, it’s devastating. A household with at least one Disabled adult or child needs an additional £975 a month to have the same standard of living as non-disabled households, according to Scope disability rights charity.

The government is well aware of the mental anguish our threadbare welfare system causes. Just this week, a coroner warned work and pensions secretary Mel Stride that the system can worsen symptoms of mental illness, after a man whose “anxiety was exacerbated by his application for Universal Credit” died by suicide. The number of secret reviews into the deaths of benefit claimants carried out by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has also more than doubled over the past three years.

Emma, a freelance benefits adviser in Greater London who requested that their surname not be published, knows better than most how to navigate the welfare system – they spend their working life helping others to do so.

Yet even Emma was told last year that their Hypermobile-Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome didn’t classify them for an enhanced Personal Independence Payment (PIP), which is designed to help a person with an illness, disability or mental health condition with everyday life. This money would have been a lifeline for Emma, who, despite being in work, was struggling to cover the extra costs that many Disabled people face, including, in their case, the purchase of two wheelchairs and an E-bike to help them get around.

“As a benefits adviser myself, I was able to give examples of how I met the enhanced rate mobility descriptors,” she said, referring to the criteria that must be met to be eligible for the enhanced mobility element of PIP, which is worth £71 a week. “But the caseworker [at the DWP] still refused and eventually offered me the standard rate [of £26.90 a week].”

“The whole process was incredibly stressful… He told me I had to decide there and then whether to accept his offer and that there would be no point in taking the appeal further as it would be unsuccessful.”

Pushing Disabled people towards work with threats often results in them becoming more unwell and further from the labour marketTom Pollard, head of social policy at the New Economics Foundation

Emma eventually worked with Citizens Advice to lodge a new appeal, which was successful, but it took them months to eventually receive PIP, making dealing with the additional costs associated with disability very difficult.

Having witnessed firsthand the difficulties of the current welfare system, Emma branded “current conversations” about sanctions and “getting people back to work” as “scary”.

They said: “Sanctions are an easy way [for the government] to save some money, at a time when finances are under pressure and scrutiny and they don’t know of a better way. And because they don’t understand the ramifications that sanctions will have on Disabled people”.

Emma’s sentiment was echoed by Tom Pollard, head of social policy at the New Economics Foundation. He told openDemocracy that Hunt’s threats to sanction people who do not find work will backfire and fail to achieve their stated aims.

“Any attempt to push [Disabled people] towards work by applying pressure and threats often simply results in people becoming more unwell and further from the labour market,” Pollard explained.

Labour’s position, should it take power next year, is not much better than the Tories’. In January, the then shadow work and pensions secretary, Jonathan Ashworth, announced that there would be “conditionality” – which requires people to behave a certain way to access benefits – in any welfare system the party oversees. This line appears unchanged, despite claims on the fringes of the Labour conference that the party would “co-produce” its benefits system with Disabled people.

That both of the biggest parties are resorting to threats of further sanctions or more conditionality is indicative of a system in desperate need of repair, said Geoff Fimister, policy co-chair at the Disability Benefits Consortium. “Ministers have so little confidence in what is on offer,” he explained, “that they feel they need to resort to threats to promote uptake.”

Linda Burnip from Disabled People Against Cuts, agreed, saying: “[Politicians] aren’t interested in how a good system works.” She added: “Ideologically, their only interest is in removing state aid to those who need it.”

The social security system should be an essential public service – a piece of social infrastructure that ensures we all have access to the right support when we need it. But after years of dire cuts and reforms, it has been torn apart. Hunt’s crackdown will only serve to worsen it, with disastrous consequences for those who are reliant on it.

This should be our moment for creating a system built on respect, dignity and support, that enables us to live the lives we deserve – not imprison us. We should be introducing a Guaranteed Decent Income – based on 50% of the minimum wage – and doing away with punitive sanctions, benefit caps, bedroom tax, conditionality, five-week wait for the first payment, and the two-child limit.

These are must-haves to create a system where everyone has chances and is valued and treated as equal citizens. One that pushes through the barriers of this cross-party consensus on inflicting suffering, which is completely out of line with the general public’s views.

Original article by Mikey Erhardt republished from Open Democracy under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International licence

Continue ReadingJeremy Hunt’s benefit crackdown will worsen an already terrible system

How the DWP fought to withhold evidence its policies kill disabled people

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Image of cash and pre-payment meter key
Image of cash and pre-payment meter key

Original article by China Mills republished from Open Democracy under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International licence

The welfare system has taken another hit today via a ‘benefits crackdown’ in Jeremy Hunt’s autumn statement. Since the ‘welfare reform’ of 2007, disabled people have been on the receiving end of these dehumanising and punishing policies that make people out as ‘undeserving’, prioritise work over people, and make life unlivable.

But we now have evidence the Department for Work and Pensions (DPW) knows its policies kill people. It has been repeatedly warned of this fact and has even confirmed it in its own research.

It took years of campaigning by disabled people to uncover this evidence, which largely comes in the form of DWP reviews into deaths of claimants.

Now it has been brought together as part of the Deaths by Welfare project at Healing Justice London. Since 2021, journalist John Pring and I have been creating a timeline – co-produced with disabled people – showing the links between welfare policy and disabled people’s deaths.

It also shows that not only is there often a delay between the introduction of a policy and the brutal impact it has on people’s lives, but that delay tactics are central to DWP’s weaponisation of time as a strategy to avoid accountability.

To make matters worse, most families of those who have died do not even know if a review has been carried out into their loved one’s death because the DWP has always argued this is private information – an argument found by an Information Rights Tribunal to be an error in law – and can’t be shared, not even with families.

The first family to see an IPR was Philippa Day’s. Philippa, known as Pip, took her own life in 2019 after her disability benefits were stopped.

Before she died, she told her sister that she knew the assessment system was going to kill her: “She felt that they were pressuring her to kill herself, she felt that she didn’t matter because she was disabled”.

In January 2021, the coroner at the inquest into Philippa’s death found 28 separate “problems” with the administration of the Personal Independent Payment (PIP) system contributed to her death – concluding these were not individual errors by DWP and its private sector contractor Capita but systemic flaws.

Pip’s sister Imogen told us, in an interview for the Deaths by Welfare podcast, that seeing the IPR “silenced my night-time questions, right before I was going to sleep… It made it incredibly clear that we as a family had done everything that we could have done, and that it was a governmental system that had let her down”.

“I really feel for families that still don’t have answers,” she said.

And Pip is not alone. It would later come to light, after a sustained (and continuing) Freedom of Information battle, that between 2014 and 2022, the DWP carried out approximately 220 of these reviews – formerly called peer reviews, now internal process reviews (IPRs).

After finally obtaining redacted versions of some of these, we found evidence of persistent and systemic issues across welfare policy, and evidence that welfare policy is life-threatening. The reviews also contained hundreds of recommendations, which the DWP has admitted having no system for tracking.

What makes DWP reviews into what it calls the ‘death of a customer’ important is that they are (supposedly) tools through which the DWP investigates the harms of its own policies. And yet, they are designed and carried out in a way that systemically hides any state accountability. And delays in releasing the reviews is another way the department can avoid being held accountable.

What we have discovered has been learnt slowly, largely through a mixture of FOIs, parliamentary questions, queries to the DWP press office and documents released through court cases or inquests. Many of the FOIs have been submitted by Disability News Service over the last nine years.

This battle has revealed that policy is seen to be outside the scope of such reviews and that findings are ‘not be shared outside of the department’.

An investigation by the National Audit Office (NAO) on the information the DWP holds on benefit claimants who ended their lives by suicide, found the DWP does not identify patterns between people’s deaths, meaning that “systemic issues which might be brought to light through these reviews could be missed”.

The NAO also found access to the reports is restricted to the team handling them and the recommendations are not tracked or monitored, meaning the DWP “does not know whether the suggested improvements are implemented”.

These recommendations include repeated warnings that policies to assess people for out-of-work disability benefits were putting the lives of “vulnerable” claimants (likely to be mostly people with mental health conditions or learning difficulties) at risk.

Yes, the DWP’s own investigations were identifying policies as potentially life-threatening. The IPRs also showed a recurring pattern of staff failure to follow DWP’s suicide guidance, which was introduced in 2009.

Tactics used to delay the release of information include claims by the DWP that the time required to collect data, due to lack of centralised record-keeping, was too costly and not in the public interest.

This was used under Thérèse Coffey to block requests about how many inquests relating to benefits claimants who died by suicide her department had submitted evidence to, as well as requests to find out how many inquests had ruled DWP policies were partly responsible for the deceased person’s state of mind. In both of these cases, the information wasn’t shared due to “disproportionate cost”.

These reviews should be publicly available by default, and the DWP should be held publicly accountable to making the changes required.

Yet it may be that the IPR process is by design unable to apprehend government accountability in people’s deaths. IPR findings and recommendations come from within the system that kills people, and therefore may never be enough for full accountability or justice. While some ascribe people’s deaths to flaws in a system that needs reform, others see them as endemic to a system that needs dismantling and creating anew, with disabled people, and the analysis developed through lived experience, at the core.

Original article by China Mills republished from Open Democracy under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International licence

Continue ReadingHow the DWP fought to withhold evidence its policies kill disabled people

‘This is not a plan for rebuilding Britain’

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https://morningstaronline.co.uk/article/this-is-not-a-plan-for-rebuilding-britain

Image of Jeremy Hunt and David Cameron
Jeremy Hunt and David Cameron.

Tory Chancellor Jeremy Hunt uses Autumn budget to back bosses and attack the most vulnerable

TAX cuts for business while squeezing the most vulnerable are at the heart of the Tory re-election strategy, Chancellor Jeremy Hunt’s Autumn Statement revealed today.

The Chancellor focused on placating angry Conservative activists but offered little to millions struggling with the cost-of-living crisis in slow-growth Britain.

He took particularly aim at benefit claimants suffering sickness or disability with draconian measures designed to force them off welfare if they do not accept jobs that may be either unsuitable or non-existent.

Mr Hunt said that if, after seeking a job for 18 months, a claimant has still not found work they will have to take part in a compulsory work placement and if they “choose not to engage with the work search process for six months, we will close their case and stop their benefits.”

Clearly showing the class nature of his calculations, Mr Hunt boasted that he was ordering “the biggest business tax cut in modern British history” by making permanent a 25 per cent tax deduction for companies that invest in plant and equipment.

In other business-ordered moves, he extended tax relief on firms in special freeports or investment zones, which are themselves to be increased in number.

Desperate to revive the Tories’ bleak electoral prospects, the Chancellor surprised MPs by ordering a 2 per cent cut in employee National Insurance payments, to 10 per cent, which will save the average employee around £450 a year.

Nevertheless, the overall tax take in the British economy is still heading towards a post-war high of 37.7 per cent of GDP, according to the Office for Budget responsibility (OBR).

https://morningstaronline.co.uk/article/this-is-not-a-plan-for-rebuilding-britain

This blog has featured articles by Morning Star often. Morning Star is imposing a paywall system in an apparently inconsistent manner so that it is uncertain whether this blog will continue featuring it’s articles. 24/11/23 No further Morning Star articles will be featured unless they are accessible without charge. Paywalls are avoided for myself and this blog’s audience.

Continue Reading‘This is not a plan for rebuilding Britain’

Revealed: The Oil and Gas Lobbying Campaign to Water Down Windfall Tax

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Original article by Adam Barnett republished from DeSmog.

Industry figures held more than 200 meetings with key politicians in the year following Russia’s 2022 invasion of Ukraine, new research finds.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak tours a Shell gas plant in Aberdeen in July 2023. Credit: Number 10 (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak tours a Shell gas plant in Aberdeen in July 2023. Credit: Number 10 (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

The UK government’s weakening of its windfall tax on energy profits matched the demands of a high-level lobbying campaign by the oil and gas industry, new research reveals. 

Trade body Offshore Energies UK (OEUK), formerly Oil and Gas UK, and its operator members including BP, Shell, ExxonMobil, TotalEnergies, and Equinor, met with ministers at least 210 times in the 12 months following Russia’s 2022 invasion of Ukraine.

The meetings – which include in-person talks with the then Business and Energy Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng and his minister Greg Hands (now the Conservative Party chairman) – are revealed in research by Fossil Free Parliament (FFP), a group campaigning against fossil fuel influence on UK politics. 

They form part of a lobbying blitz by fossil fuel firms against the windfall tax, conducted through meetings, drinks receptions, letters, parliamentary groups, and a “fiscal forum” with the Treasury attended by the then chancellor (and now prime minister) Rishi Sunak. 

The evidence, published in a briefing today (October 24) and shared exclusively with DeSmog, indicates that certain changes requested by the oil and gas industry were accommodated by the government when developing the scope of the levy.

It comes as Sunak faces criticism for delaying some net zero targets and granting 100 new North Sea oil and gas licences, including Equinor’s Rosebank project. As DeSmog reported in March, the Conservative Party received £3.5 million from fossil fuel and polluting interests in 2022. 

A spokesperson for OEUK defended its contact with the government: “We will always champion our industry to all parliamentarians on a cross-party basis and do so in an open and transparent manner.”

Caroline Lucas, Green Party MP for Brighton Pavilion, described the research as “shocking”.

“Fossil fuel giants have been committing countless climate crimes, polluting our planet and reaping obscene profits – while everyone else faces sky-high energy bills and a cost of living scandal,” she told DeSmog. 

“This research reveals the extent to which the dirty fossil fuel lobby has been aided and abetted by this Tory government – taking their donations, offering privileged access, and handing over staggering tax breaks and subsidies to carry out yet more climate-wrecking damage.”

Windfall Tax ‘Loophole’

The Energy Profits Levy, known as the windfall tax, was announced by the government in May 2022 to tax energy companies’ billions in excess profits due to the global price spike fueled by Russia’s February 2022 invasion of Ukraine. 

Then chancellor Sunak said the windfall tax would raise around £5 billion over the next year to help with cost of living. However, when the levy was passed in July 2022, it included a loophole where companies received 91p tax relief for every pound they invest in UK extraction, in what the independent Institute of Fiscal Studies called a “huge tax subsidy” for energy companies. 

As of September 2023 the windfall tax had raised £2.6 billion, just over half of what was promised, and following a year of record profits by five oil majors. Between them, Chevron, ExxonMobil, Shell, BP and TotalEnergies made a total of £195 billion in profits last year. 

The new research indicates this ‘loophole’ came about following a surge in meetings and lobbying between OEUK and its member companies with the government, 

In June 2022, the month the windfall tax was being consulted on and drafted, meetings between the government and OEUK and its members nearly doubled from 15 to 29, according to the new research. 

In the same month, OEUK also wrote letters to Sunak warning the proposed windfall tax would have a negative impact on oil and gas investments in the UK. The letters also called for an emergency summit, including a meeting of the “fiscal forum”, a talking shop between the industry and the Treasury. OEUK describes the fiscal forum as a tool for “facilitating coherent engagement with government authorities to drive the policy agenda”. 

On 20 June, the day before the consultation’s launch, the British Offshore Oil and Gas Industry All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG), which is co-run by OEUK, held a summer reception at the Houses of Parliament. The reception saw speeches from Conservative MP Peter Aldous, the APPG’s chair, and Greg Hands, then a minister in the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy. 

At the reception, OEUK’s then chief executive Deirdre Michie gave a speech claiming the windfall tax could “undermine and disrupt” energy investment at a time when the UK needs to focus on “energy security and working for net zero”. 

Three days later, Sunak, Hands and exchequer secretary Helen Whately attended an “Oil and Gas Roundtable”. The meeting, also known as a fiscal forum, was held in Aberdeen, Scotland, with OEUK and members including BP, Shell, Equinor, and TotalEnergies. According to a 28 June letter from Michie, the meeting discussed the “negative impact” of the windfall tax “on investor confidence”, while companies warned of its “damage to the UK’s competitiveness”. 

Michie wrote: “While we remain disappointed at the decision to create the EPL [Energy Profits Levy], OEUK and our members want to work constructively with you to help rebuild investor confidence and ensure that the EPL is designed and implemented thoughtfully and is fit for purpose.”

OEUK’s concerns appear to have been taken into account by the government. 

For example, in Michie’s 28 June letter she insisted that the windfall must tax end in 2025: “Industry needs certainty that the EPL will be terminated by the end of 2025 at the latest and we would hope that ministerial statements will continue to reinforce the timebound nature of the EPL.” A deadline of 31 December 2025 was later included in the EPL bill. 

Michie’s letter also requested that the windfall tax should not apply to the Petroleum Revenue Tax (PRT), a tax break that oil and gas companies receive for decommissioning oil rigs, adding: “[we] have written to your officials with detailed proposals on the changes to the draft legislation and hope you will give this significant consideration”. The final windfall tax bill did not apply to PRT, as Michie had requested.  

“This research makes it abundantly clear that our government has an open-door policy when it comes to the fossil fuel industry”, said Carys Boughton, a campaigner with Fossil Free Parliament. 

“They ask for special treatment; they get special treatment, and the rest of us pay for it – with obscenely high energy bills, and a worsening climate crisis.”

She added: “Our political leaders should be channelling every effort into a just transition from fossil fuels, but this won’t happen until the industry with a vested interest in keeping us all hooked on oil, gas and coal is kicked out of our politics.”

Jeremy Hunt and the ‘Price Floor’

A tranche of additional documents, obtained by Fossil Free Politics and seen by DeSmog, shed further light on the extent of industry lobbying, which continued beyond the introduction of the windfall tax. 

After Liz Truss’s disastrous September mini-budget, newly-installed chancellor Jeremy Hunt used his Autumn statement in November 2022 to extend the windfall tax to 2028 and increase it from 25 percent to 35 percent. 

OEUK raised its opposition to these changes with Victoria Atkins MP, Financial Secretary to the Treasury, in a meeting on 17 November 2022. 

Minutes of the meeting, obtained via a Freedom of Information request, show the body’s chief executive Deirdre Michie telling Atkins that the windfall tax extension “plays into investors being undermined”, and that the 10 percent increase “will impact companies borrowing and projects”. 

Michie also complained of a “lack of engagement” with ministers, and brought up “the previous HMT [Treasury] fiscal forum”. 

A few weeks later, on 9 December, Hunt hosted a fiscal forum in Edinburgh with OEUK and its members BP, Shell, Equinor, TotalEnergies and others. There he promised “more regular fiscal forum meetings in future”, according to a Treasury press release. 

Ahead of the meeting, OEUK said it would urge the government to “scrap the windfall tax on homegrown energy when oil and gas prices fall back to normal levels”. This would mean that if prices drop below a certain point, the windfall tax could be removed before 2028. 

Ahead of the Spring Budget in March 2023, OEUK repeated this demand, reportedly writing to Hunt to call for a “trigger price” which “switches off” the windfall tax. 

Lobbying continued through the spring. In a meeting on 15 March with Treasury’s Exchequer Secretary James Cartlidge, OEUK’s new chief executive David Whitehouse told Cartlidge that the industry was “extremely disappointed that oil and gas did not get a mention in the budget” and called for more engagement and “a public signal” to “shore up confidence”. 

On 9 June, OEUK got its wish. Hunt introduced a “price floor” to the windfall tax, which meant the tax would end before 2028 if wholesale energy prices fall back to normal levels – as OEUK and member companies had been requesting.

‘Cosy Relationship’

When contacted by DeSmog, OEUK did not address the evidence of lobbying specifically on the windfall tax.  A spokesperson said the industry body was “proud” to provide a secretariat function to the all-party parliamentary group for offshore oil and gas.

“The offshore sector is a crucial part of the UK economy, supporting over 200,000 jobs in communities across the country and in nearly every parliamentary constituency,” they said.  

“Our industry is playing a vital role in the UK’s low-carbon energy future and paid £11 billion in production taxes in 2022/23. It has paid a total of £400 billion in taxes over the lifetime of the basin.”

Shell referred DeSmog to OEUK for comment. All other companies named in this story were also approached but had not responded by publication.

The Conservative Party, Cabinet Office, and the Department for Energy Security and Net Zero were also contacted for comment.

Tessa Khan, executive director of Uplift, a North Sea campaign and research group, said the findings revealed the latest in the industry’s “long enjoyed unwarranted influence over our politics”.

“This is an industry that has made obscene amounts of money while millions of ordinary people – older and disabled people, families with young children – have struggled to heat their homes,” she said. “That they then lobbied in private against a windfall tax designed to claw back some of these profits, is disgusting if unsurprising.”

“The cosy relationship between government and profiteering oil and gas companies needs to end, not just for the sake of everyone facing unaffordable energy bills, but for a liveable climate too.”

Original article by Adam Barnett republished from DeSmog.

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Continue ReadingRevealed: The Oil and Gas Lobbying Campaign to Water Down Windfall Tax

Ofcom says GB News broke impartiality rules after chancellor interviewed by Tory MPs

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https://leftfootforward.org/2023/09/ofcom-says-gb-news-broke-impartiality-rules-after-chancellor-interviewed-by-tory-mps/

Media watchdog Ofcom has found that GB News broke impartiality rules after Chancellor Jeremy Hunt was interviewed by fellow Tory MPs Esther McVey and Philip Davies, with the channel ‘failing to represent and give due weight to an appropriately wide range of significant views on a matter of major political controversy’.

Hunt was interviewed by McVey and her husband Davies on Saturday 11 March for their weekly show, with the episode being aired before the spring budget.

Ofcom said in a statement: “Given this programme featured two sitting MP presenters from one political party interviewing the chancellor of the same political party about a matter of major political controversy and current public policy, we consider, in these circumstances, that GB News should have taken additional steps to ensure that due impartiality was preserved.

“Our investigation therefore concluded that GB News failed to represent and give due weight to an appropriately wide range of significant views on a matter of major political controversy and current public policy within this programme, in breach of [the] rules.”

https://leftfootforward.org/2023/09/ofcom-says-gb-news-broke-impartiality-rules-after-chancellor-interviewed-by-tory-mps/

Continue ReadingOfcom says GB News broke impartiality rules after chancellor interviewed by Tory MPs