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Thursday, 22 January 2015

What Happens Inside Your Stomach When You Eat Instant Noodles?

What Happens Inside Your Stomach When You Eat Instant Noodles?

What Happens Inside Your Stomach When You Eat Instant Noodles?

By: Dr. Mercola, Guest

Instant noodles are a popular go-to lunch or
dinner for those who are strapped for time (or cash), like college
students. While you probably don’t consider them a health food, you may
think they’re not that bad, or, at least, not as bad as eating a burger and fries or a fast-food burrito.

In a first-of-its-kind experiment, however,
Dr. Braden Kuo of Massachusetts General Hospital may make you reconsider
your love of instant noodles (assuming you have one).

He used a pill-sized camera to see what
happens inside your stomach and digestive tract after you eat ramen
noodles, one common type of instant noodles. The results were

Ramen Noodles Don’t Break Down After Hours of Digestion

In the video above, you can see ramen noodles
inside a stomach. Even after two hours, they are remarkably intact,
much more so than the homemade ramen noodles, which were used as a
comparison. This is concerning for a number of reasons.

For starters, it could be putting a strain on
your digestive system, which is forced to work for hours to break down
this highly processed food (ironically, most processed food is so devoid
of fiber that it gets broken down very quickly, interfering with your
blood sugar levels and insulin release).

When food remains in your digestive tract for
such a long time, it will also impact nutrient absorption, but, in the
case of processed ramen noodles, there isn’t much nutrition to be had.
Instead, there is a long list of additives, including the toxic
preservative tertiary-butyl hydroquinone (TBHQ).

This additive will likely remain in your
stomach along with the seemingly invincible noodles, and no one knows
what this extended exposure time may do to your health. Common sense
suggests it’s not going to be good…

Five Grams of Noodle Preservative, TBHQ, Is Lethal

TBHQ, a byproduct of the petroleum industry, is often listed as an “antioxidant,” but it’s important to realize it is a synthetic chemical with antioxidant properties
not a natural antioxidant. The chemical prevents oxidation of fats and
oils, thereby extending the shelf life of processed foods.

It’s a commonly used ingredient in processed
foods of all kinds (including McDonald’s chicken nuggets, Kellogg’s
CHEEZ-IT crackers, Reese’s peanut butter cups, Wheat Thins crackers,
Teddy Grahams, Red Baron frozen pizza, Taco Bell beans, and much more).

But you can also find it in varnishes,
lacquers, and pesticide products, as well as cosmetics and perfumes to
reduce the evaporation rate and improve stability.

At its 19th and 21st meetings, the Joint FAO/WHO Expert Committee on Food Additives determined that TBHQ was safe for human consumption at levels of 0-0.5 mg/kg of body weight.1

However, the Codex commission set the maximum
allowable limits up to between 100 to as much as 400 mg/kg, depending
on the food it’s added to.2(Chewing
gum is permitted to contain the highest levels of TBHQ.) In the US, the
Food and Drug Administration requires that TBHQ must not exceed 0.02
percent of its oil and fat content.3

So there’s quite a discrepancy in supposedly “safe” limits, but it’s probably best to have little or no exposure to this toxicant, as exposure to five grams can be lethal and, according to A Consumer’s Dictionary of Food Additives, exposure to just one gram of TBHQ can cause:4

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Ringing in the ears (tinnitus)
  • Delirium
  • Sense of suffocation
  • Collapse

While TBHQ is not suspected to be a
persistent toxicant, meaning your body is probably able to eliminate it
so that it does not bioaccumulate, if you eat instant noodles your body
might be getting prolonged exposures. This is concerning, to say the
least. According to the Environmental Working Group (EWG), based on
animal studies health hazards associated with TBHQ include:5

  • Liver effects at very low doses
  • Positive mutation results from in vitro tests on mammalian cells
  • Biochemical changes at very low doses
  • Reproductive effects at high doses

Eating Instant Noodles Linked to Metabolic Syndrome

If you’re still considering ramen noodles for lunch, you should know a new study published in the Journal of Nutrition found
that women who consumed more instant noodles had a significantly
greater risk of metabolic syndrome than those who ate less, regardless
of their overall diet or exercise habits.6

Women who ate instant noodles more than twice
a week were 68 percent more likely to have metabolic syndrome — a group
of symptoms such as central obesity, elevated blood pressure, elevated
fasting blood sugar, elevated fasting triglycerides, and low levels of
HDL cholesterol.

Having three or more of the symptoms increases your risk of developingdiabetes and
cardiovascular disease. Past research also analyzed overall nutrient
intake between instant-noodle consumers and non-consumers, and found, as
you might suspect, that eating instant noodles contributes little value
to a healthy diet.

The instant-noodle consumers had a
significantly lower intake of important nutrients like protein, calcium,
phosphorus, iron, potassium, vitamin A, niacin, and vitamin C compared
with non-consumers.7 Those
who ate instant noodles also had an excessive intake of energy,
unhealthy fats and sodium (just one package may contain 2,700 milligrams
of sodium).8

What Else Is in a Package of Instant Noodles?

Aside from a lot of sodium and the preservative TBHQ, what else is found in a typical serving of instant noodles? Prevent Disease reported:9

“The dried noodle block was originally
created by flash frying cooked noodles, and this is still the main
method used in Asian countries, though air-dried noodle blocks are
favored in Western countries. The main ingredients of the dried noodle
are wheat flour, palm oil, and salt. Common ingredients of the flavoring
powder are salt, monosodium glutamate, seasoning, and sugar.

…In June 2012, the Korea Food and Drug
Administration (KFDA) found Benzopyrene (a cancer-causing substance) in
six brands of noodles made by Nong Shim Company Ltd. Although the KFDA
said the amounts were minuscule and not harmful, Nong Shim did identify
particular batches of noodles with a problem, prompting a recall by
October 2012.”

The monosodium glutamate (MSG) in instant noodles is reason enough to avoid them. MSG is
an excitotoxin, which means it overexcites your nerve cells to the
point of damage or death, causing brain dysfunction and damage to
varying degrees — and potentially even triggering or worsening learning
disabilities, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, Lou Gehrig’s
disease, and more.

Part of the problem is that free glutamic
acid (MSG is approximately 78 percent free glutamic acid) is the same
neurotransmitter that your brain, nervous system, eyes, pancreas, and
other organs use to initiate certain processes in your body. Not to
mention, MSG is also used to fatten up mice for scientific study. Yes,
MSG is the perfect obesity drug. If you want to achieve your ideal body weight and health, avoid MSG at all costs.

Return to Whole, Living Foods for Optimal Health

Occasionally eating a package of instant
noodles clearly won’t kill you, but when you make a habit of
substituting convenience foods for real food, it’s only a matter of time
before health problems will likely develop. Instant noodles are a prime
example of the types of processed foods you want to avoid as much as
possible, as they are virtually guaranteed tomake you sick and fat if you indulge too much (and “too much” may be as little as a couple of times a week).

Processed foods encourage weight gain and
chronic disease because they’re high in sugar, fructose, refined
carbohydrates, and artificial ingredients, and low in nutrients and
fiber. Processed foods are addictive and designed to make you overeat;
they also encourage excessive food cravings, leading to weight gain.
Eating processed foods also promotes insulin resistance and chronic
inflammation, which are hallmarks of most chronic and/or serious
diseases. On the other hand, people have thrived on vegetables, meats,
eggs, fruits, and other whole foods for centuries, while processed foods
were only recently invented.

Ditching processed foods requires that you plan your meals in advance, but if you take it step-by-step as described in mynutrition plan,
it’s quite possible, and manageable, to painlessly remove processed
foods from your diet. You can try scouting out your local farmer’s
markets for in-season produce that is priced to sell, and planning your
meals accordingly, but you can also use this same premise with
supermarket sales. You can generally plan a week of meals at a time,
making sure you have all ingredients necessary on hand, and then do any
prep work you can ahead of time so that dinner is easy to prepare if
you’re short on time (and you can use leftovers for lunches the next
day, so you don’t have to resort to instant noodles).


Tuesday, 20 January 2015

Will we still love Medicare in 2165?

Saturday, 17 January 2015

Cartoon by PAT CAMPBELL.

Friday, 16 January 2015

Medicare’s growth isn’t out of control — it’s actually slowing

Medicare’s growth isn’t out of control — it’s actually slowing

155 2

Australia's new health minister says Medicare spending is
out of control and must be pegged back or we'll all be ruined!
Unfortunately for her, the hard numbers show her claim to be absolute
furphy. Glenn Murray reports.

Australia’s Health Minister, Sussan Ley, says Medicare is out of control:

"…our Medicare system is growing at a rapid and unsustainable rate.”

This is an outright lie.

The following are some graphs that show the truth.

Medicare spending in context (in millions)

The first graph shows the Federal Government’s expenditure on
Medicare in comparison to our GDP and its tax revenue, as well as the
its overall health spending. (NOTE: Medicare GP expenditure is the
amount the Federal government spends on GP Medicare rebates (out of
hospital, non-referred attendances).)

Medicare spending in context

As you can see, Medicare spending and GP rebates cost us bugger-all,
relatively speaking. (Medicare represents just 30% of the Federal
government’s overall health spending, and GP rebates only 8%.) And our
GDP and tax revenue are increasing by a lot more each year than our
health and Medicare spending.

Of course, the above graph doesn’t illustrate the rate of increase each year, just the absolute dollar amount.

As Ley was talking specifically about the rate, let’s have a look at that.

Medicare’s growth rate in context

Firstly, let’s look at Medicare expenditure as a percentage of GDP and tax revenue.

Medicare as percent of tax and GDP

The red line shows us that Medicare expenditure is growing more
slowly than our tax revenue and at almost the same rate as our GDP.

Now let’s take a look at the actual rates of growth.

The below graph shows Medicare’s growth rate — the purple line.

So, from 2003-04 to 2004-05, Medicare spending increased by 15%. And
from 2004-05 to 2005-06, it increased by 10%. That’s the metric Ley’s
talking about when she says “growing”. I’ve also included growth rates
for the other measures for comparison (GDP, tax revenue and so on).

Medicare rate of increase

This confirms what we saw in the first graph — that everything is
still growing. GDP, tax revenue, health expenditure and Medicare
expenditure are all still increasing, so no surprises there.

It also shows that, at the moment, everything’s increasing at about
the same rate — between 2.28% and 5.45%. Sure, that’s still a
difference, but it’s nothing like what was going on in 2008, when tax
revenues decreased due to the GFC and health expenditure was increasing
at its fastest rate since 2002.

And it shows that the rates of increase have settled down and drawn closer together; there seems to be less volatility.

Importantly, we can again see that, at the moment, Medicare is
growing more slowly than our tax revenue and only slightly faster than
our GDP.

But it’s when you look at the overall trend of the lines that you see the real lie in our Health Minister’s words. Because the trend tells us about the ongoing growth rate, and it’s this that she says is “rapid and unsustainable”.

The rate of growth is slowing … for everything

The following graphs show each of the above charts, but with a ‘line of best fit’ added, to illustrate the trend — to show whether the growth rate has been increasing or decreasing over the years.

In other words, we know all the measures are increasing (growing);
these graphs show whether that growth is speeding up or slowing down.

We can see that GDP growth is, in fact, slowing:

GDP growth rate change

Just like tax revenue growth is slowing:

Tax revenue growth rate change

Health expenditure growth is slowing:

Health expenditure growth rate change

And Medicare growth is slowing too:

Medicare expenditure growth rate change

GP Medicare expenditure growth rate change

So, in summary, growth is slowing for all the key measures.


Yes, Medicare is still growing each year, just as our GDP and tax
revenue are — but that growth is slowing down. This is hardly the “rapid and unsustainable rate” our Health Minister has been citing to alarm the public.

This story was originally published at
and has been republished with permission. The graphs were prepared by
Glenn and compiled using official Government figures. For more on the
methodology used and the precise sources, refer to Glenn Murray's
original story here. Also, follow Glenn on Twitter @divinewrite.

Monday, 3 November 2014

Why remaining silent on the fight for other people's wages could be bad for your health - The AIM Network

Why remaining silent on the fight for other people's wages could be bad for your health - The AIM Network

Why remaining silent on the fight for other people’s wages could be bad for your health

Originally published on Polyfeministix

Australians will shy away from talking about, discussing and signing
petitions that fight for the rights of wages and benefits for our fellow

the Howard era of Work Choices, and individual agreements, and his war
on collectivism, we have seen a dramatic decline in union density and
the Abbott Government has done its best to stigmatize and de-legitimize
the hard work that Unions do in Australia.

brings about the problem of people from all walks of life, not wanting
to get involved in protests and social awareness campaigns about ‘other
people’s wages and benefits.’  Many people also do not want to get
involved or sign up to a union, which is simply a collective body of
workers joining together to fight for wages and conditions.

the right-winged thinkers, Australian Liberals and Libertarians will do
their best to shame you and ridicule you for fighting for wages and
conditions. They will call you a dirty filthy Marxist, a Communist and a
radical socialist.  They will also tell you it is “unAustralian” and it
is unions who have ruined the country. However, people who are not in
this group and who have fought for the wages and conditions and stood in
solidarity, know that it is far more than that.  They know that what we
value in Australian working life was fought for by the workers.

we have now is the Liberals now trying to reap the rewards of their
hard earned messages to decimate unions and collective action. In
Queensland there is a situation, that is absolutely dire.
 Every single business owner and manager in the public sector should be
fighting for the best talent.  The best talent is what makes
organisations great. In one area this is absolutely critical is in our
Health Sector.

Conservative arms of Government have spent years and years stigmatizing
unions and collectivist fights for better wages and conditions, so they
could pull stunts like they are now.

greedy stunts that might save a few short term dollars, but have very
long term health implications for the every day Australian.  For your
mum, grandma, granddad, children, babies and loved ones.

Campbell Newman Queensland Government want to introduce a two tiered
wages system, which will see a lower level of wages for entry level
health professionals.   What this is aimed to do, is to drive the talent
towards the Private Sector, where the QLD Government wants to outsource
so many areas of public health.

The Campbell Newman’s next agenda (and no doubt Abbott’s) will be to:

Privatise Health, based on the argument that the Public Sector is unsustainable and cannot attract the right talent.

maintain and attract the best talent in our public sector system, it is
essential that all Australian’s stand up to their state Governments and
to the Abbott Governments “pressure to sell public assets” to the
States and their agenda on privatisation.

ensure the best in health care is given to all Australians, do NOT let
the QLD Government set this precedent, or your state will be next.

sign and share this petition, or we will end up with a poorer,
ineffective health system.  Don’t let the Government use the argument
that they cannot attract talent to privatise our health system.

Petition: Stop Building A Two Tier Health System

Stand up and be counted! As Gough would say “It’s Time”

Like this:

Sunday, 3 August 2014

'No one should die penniless and alone': the victims of Britain's harsh welfare sanctions | Society | The Guardian

'No one should die penniless and alone': the victims of Britain's harsh welfare sanctions | Society | The Guardian

'No one should die penniless and alone': the victims of Britain's harsh welfare sanctions

Clapson was found dead last year after his benefits were stopped on the
grounds that he wasn't taking the search for work seriously. He had an
empty stomach, and just £3.44 to his name. Now thousands of other
claimants are being left in similarly dire straits by tough new welfare

David Clapson when he was in the army … he was found dead last year, after his benefits were stopped
David Clapson when he
was in the army … he was found dead last year, after his benefits were
stopped. Photograph: Linda Nylind for the Guardian

We know that David Clapson was actively searching for work when
he died because a pile of CVs he had just printed out was found a few
metres from his body. The last time he spoke to his sister, a few days
before he died, he told her he was waiting to hear back about an
application he had made to the supermarket chain Lidl.

officials at the Jobcentre believed he was not taking his search for
work seriously enough, and early last July, they sanctioned him –
cutting off his benefit payments entirely, as a punishment for his
failure to attend two appointments.

Clapson, 59, who had diabetes,
died in his flat in Stevenage on 20 July 2013, from diabetic
ketoacidosis (caused by an acute lack of insulin). When Gill Thompson,
his younger sister, discovered his body, she found his electricity had
been cut off (meaning that the fridge where he kept his insulin was no
longer working). There was very little left to eat in the flat – six tea
bags, an out-of-date tin of sardines and a can of tomato soup. His
pay-as-you-go mobile phone had just 5p credit left on it and he had only
£3.44 in his bank account. The autopsy notes reveal that his stomach
was empty.

The circumstances of Clapson's death have been
scrutinised by many of the groups campaigning for a reform of the
government's increasingly punitive (or rigorous, depending on your
perspective) sanctions system, by which the Department for Work and
Pensions (DWP) stops benefits
payments to claimants who have not met the agreed conditions every
job-seeker signs up to when they start to claim support. While sanctions
have long been a part of the benefits system, and have cross-party
support, new regulations introduced in October 2012 have meant that they
are being handed out with greater frequency and for longer stretches of
time. In 2013, 871,000 people were sanctioned, losing some or all of
their benefits payments for a minimum of four weeks, rising to three
years in exceptional cases. There are hardship payments for those who
are struggling, but only a minority are told about them, leaving many to
survive on zero income.

Details of Clapson's death emerged just days after the publication of an independent review of sanctions,
the Oakley report, commissioned by the DWP, which acknowledged that
while the system as a whole was "not fundamentally broken", it was
"clear that this is a system that can go wrong and, when that happens,
individuals and families can suffer unfairly". The report concluded that
improvements were needed, "particularly for more vulnerable
individuals". The government responded by agreeing to make all the
proposed improvements. After a period of growing unease about the
consequences of stricter sanctions, there appears now to be some
official recognition that aspects of the system need to change.

Thompson is uncomfortable about launching a public campaign, and
talking about the way her brother died makes her cry, but she is forcing
herself to speak about it because she wants the government to accept
that improvements need to be made to the way sanctions are handed out.
"I don't want revenge or compensation; I just want lessons to be
learned," she says.

She is at pains to describe her brother as
someone who had worked for 29 years, anxious to stress that he should
not be seen as "scrounger". He spent five years in the army, two of them
serving in Belfast, 16 years working for BT and another eight at other
companies before he stopped working to care for their mother who had
developed dementia. When she died three years ago, he began to look for a
new job and was put on the government's new Work Programme, designed to
help unemployed people find a job. He completed two periods of unpaid
work experience, for B&Q and for a discount store. He told his
sister he had enjoyed these sessions, and had hoped to be allowed to do
more. He also completed a forklift truck training course. Although he
struggled to use a computer, he had been trying to apply for jobs
online. Thompson believes he was taking the process very seriously.

at some point in May 2013, he missed two appointments with the Work
Programme office, and was sent a letter informing him that his benefits
would be stopped for a month; the last payment was made on 2 July,
according to his sister. Six days later he was down to that last £3.44
(which he was unable to withdraw since it was less than £5). He died a
fortnight later.

Thompson describes her brother as very quiet and
private; he was not someone who liked to ask for help. "I don't know
what happened. He wasn't one for creating a fuss. He didn't tell me he
had been sanctioned. He was very proud. If I'd known I would have gone
over with food," Thompson says. "I could have sorted it out for him."

Gill Thompson for G2.

Gill Thompson: 'I just want lessons to be learned. Photograph: Linda Nylind for the Guardian

A DWP spokesman says: "Our sympathies are with the family of Mr
Clapson. Decisions on sanctions aren't taken lightly – there is a chain
of processes we follow before a sanction comes into effect, including
taking every opportunity to contact the claimant several times. People
can also appeal if they disagree. Mr Clapson did not appeal or ask for a
reconsideration of the sanction or apply for a hardship payment."

DWP says Clapson was told during a phone call on 16 July that he could
fill out a form to request hardship funds. He was sent a letter (dated
15 July) explaining how to apply for them, but his sister found it
unopened in his flat. "He was very bad at opening letters. People in his
situation are frightened of these letters. They are never good news,"
she says. Had he opened it, he might have found the language confusing.
"We cannot pay you your Jobseekers' Allowance from 28 June 2013," the
letter reads. "This is because we recently told you that a decision
would be made about a doubt: on whether you failed to comply with the
requirements of the scheme to which you have been referred."

hopes now for a fuller investigation and wants to see reforms to the
system so that people are treated with a greater degree of empathy. An online petition calling for an inquiry into his death has gathered 43,000 signatures.

don't think anyone should die like that in this country, alone, hungry
and penniless," she says. "They must know that sanctioning people with
diabetes is very dangerous. I am upset with the system; they are
treating everyone as statistics and numbers."

Several of the
issues she raises chime with concerns highlighted in the Oakley report,
which noted that many people found the letters they received "complex
and difficult to understand" and "overly long and legalistic in their
tone and content" and lacked "personalised explanations of the reason
for sanction referrals". The correspondence was "particularly difficult
for the most vulnerable claimants to understand". Another problem
frequently highlighted was "that letters could be left unopened or
unread by claimants".

For over a year, charities and welfare
advice organisations have been warning the government over the
increased use of sanctions. The food bank charity the Trussell Trust,
which handed out over 900,000 three-day food parcels in 2013/14, said
83% of its food banks reported that sanctioning is causing rising
numbers to turn to them. Citizens Advice has seen a 60% increase in the
number of problems related to Jobseekers' Allowance sanctions since the
minimum sanction period was increased from one week to four weeks in
October 2012.

There was relief from some charities that the
government-commissioned review recognised some of these issues. Leslie
Morphy, chief executive of the homelessness charity Crisis, said:
"Sanctions are cruel and can leave people utterly destitute – without
money even for food and at severe risk of homelessness." Charities also
question whether sanctions are achieving the stated aim, which is to
encourage people back to work. The Oakley report also pointed out that
so many people are having sanctions reviewed and overturned when they
appeal against them that this "results in a significant cost to the
state". Citizens Advice has noted the high success rate for those who
appeal against sanctions, which chief executive Gillian Guy said:
"reveals a culture of 'sanction first and ask questions later'".

charity warns that the longer minimum sanction period is
counterproductive because "claimants are distracted from job-hunting as
they focus on putting food on the table and keeping a roof over their

While Clapson's case has attracted front-page headlines,
thousands of others have contacted advice centres, unhappy about the way
their benefits have been stopped and overwhelmed by the challenge of
looking for work at a time when they have no money for food, bus fares,
phone calls and electricity.

Michael, 54, (who asked for his real
name not to be published) was sanctioned for four months after failing
to undertake a compulsory week's work experience at a local charity
shop. He points out that it wasn't his fault he didn't do the work
experience, because he was told by the charity shop that they didn't
want him to work there.

"I was five minutes early, I was polite. I
knew that if I didn't do the work, I would be sanctioned. I knew it was
important. But they decided they didn't want me; I've no idea why that
was. Two or three days later, when I tried to withdraw my Jobseekers'
Allowance, there was no money in my account. I went to the cashpoint,
put my card in and bingo! Nothing," he says.

"I went to the Jobcentre and was told that my benefits had been sanctioned for four months. It was a huge shock."

didn't realise that he could appeal or that he was entitled to some
hardship payments (and the Oakley report said only 23% reported being
told that they may qualify for emergency hardship payments if they had
their out-of-work benefits stopped.)

A JobCentre Plus sign

Jobcentre officials have the power to cut off benefit payments. Photograph: Alamy

He was sanctioned early last September, and it was six weeks before
(with the help of Citizens Advice) he began to get money again. In the
meantime, he was left with no money to buy food, and no money to pay for
his electricity. It was very difficult to rectify the problem because
he had no money to pay for phone calls, and no money for the £4.50
return bus fare from his village to Witney, where the Jobcentre is
based. Instead, he says he walked six miles there and six miles back (a
journey that took two-and-a-half hours each way) every week until his
payments were reinstated.

He had no savings, no family to support
him and few friends in the area. The little food he had in his cupboards
was used up quickly and his electricity supply (on a card payment) ran
out almost immediately. When, several weeks later, he found that there
was a food bank he could get help from, about half of the food he was
given was no good to him because it needed to be cooked. Occasionally he
went into the corridor of his housing association home, at a time he
was sure no one else would see him, and plugged his kettle into the
communal socket to boil water for a cup of tea.

"It was bleak. You
just give up," he says. He denies that sanctions can prove a positive
motivator, encouraging people to step up their search for work. On the
contrary, it hampered his ability to find a job. "It kills you. I
haven't got a computer. I was limited to looking in shop windows for

He makes light of feeling hungry. "You deny it, I suppose.
You go without. I went down to basics – a bag of crisps a day. You think
it's only people abroad who live on scraps, but that's what you do."

He has now found part-time work as a cook in a care home.

Eaton, 58, worked most of his life as a builder, until he fell off a
ladder and broke his ankles. He spent some time on sickness benefit, but
more recently he was reassessed and found fit for work. Initially he
was happy at the prospect of being sent on a programme to help him find
work, but he struggled with the requirement to search for jobs on a
computer ("I've never owned a computer; we didn't have computer lessons
at school"), and to prove that he had applied for a fixed number of
jobs a week. When he visits building sites, he has the impression he is
rejected because of his age. He has been sanctioned several times this

"They don't tell you that you've been sanctioned. You go to
the post office and find out that there is no money. Then you think
there must have been some computer error, so you get on the phone, but
you can't get through to talk to local people. You haven't got a clue
who you're talking to. The calls aren't free, so after a while you can't
afford to make any more."

If you go to a pay phone, you need to
put 80p in just to get through to officials, he says; given that you
are often left on hold, you usually need about £4 in your pocket to fund
the call.

He was sanctioned a second time, when he was already
sanctioned, because he didn't have the £5.50 return bus fare he needed
to attend an appointment. He is the youngest of eight brothers and
sisters, who have helped him. His four sisters have brought him meals
and helped with electricity payments. "I am very lucky. I don't know how
other people manage."

He appealed successfully, although he
hasn't received backdated payments and is no longer asking for them. "I
can't afford to keep chasing them. You call them and they just say:
'That's not our department.'"

Rita, 30, (also not her real name)
was made redundant from her job at Wallis clothes shop two years ago.
She has repeatedly been sanctioned, she believes in error, and most of
these sanctions have subsequently been overturned, although not until
after she has been left without money for long stretches of time. One
time she was sanctioned because she was 10 minutes late for an
appointment; another time she missed an appointment because she was
doing work experience elsewhere (and had received permission from a
Jobcentre official). "It was difficult to tell my friends and family. It
is embarrassing enough to be on benefits but to be on benefits and
struggling is not something that you just blurt out. Coming out from
university, I didn't think this would happen. I didn't know how to say
to people that I couldn't afford to eat.

"There was no
electricity, so I had to go to sit in the library. I couldn't make any
calls, so I hoped my friends would call me. There were times when I just
sat at the bus stop wondering: 'What I am I going to do?'" In the
evenings, because there no electricity, she would put on layers of
clothes and lie on her bed in the dark and cold.

"I couldn't
travel and I couldn't make any calls because I couldn't afford it. I
couldn't even afford to get the bus to come and sign on, but I knew that
if I didn't come in I would be suspended again."

She got into debt, and is now fighting an eviction process because she owes over a thousand pounds in rent.

Some Jobcentre staff are uneasy at the new rules surrounding sanctioning. A Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS) survey published in May
showed that 70% of surveyed PCS members who worked for the DWP did not
believe that sanctioning has a positive impact on helping a claimant
find work, while 76% had seen an increase in foodbank referrals.

One group of former DWP employees has set up a free online advice service,
The founder, a 54-year-old grandmother who left the DWP in 2011 and who
asked to remain anonymous, says she became uncomfortable with having to
implement policies that she believed were designed to punish people
for making small errors. Last Monday morning the site had 200 emails,
most of them requests for assistance, but six of them offers to help
staff the site, two of them from former DWP employees.

A food bank in Aberdeen.

Food banks have seen a surge in requests for help. Photograph: Murdo MacLeod

The founder says she was an award-winning employee while she worked
for the Jobcentre. "I know sanctions don't work. There are other ways to
motivate people." She hopes that the system will be reformed. "When
people get sanctioned, they don't get told. They don't get a chance to
put their side of events. It is the vulnerable who are hit. There are
easy targets; they don't fight back and they usually don't understand
the rules."

Few question the need for sanctions, and the idea that
the government needs some kind of stick to ensure that people take
their responsibility to look for work seriously is broadly supported.
The concerns rest on the sensitivity with which they are imposed.

DWP spokesman says: "The new JSA sanctions regime, which was introduced
in October 2012, encourages people to engage with the support being
offered by Jobcentres by making it clearer to claimants what they are
expected to do in return for their benefits – and that they risk losing
them if they don't stick to the rules." But in response to the Oakley
review, the government has promised to look at the way it communicates
with claimants and to "clarify guidance" about the hardship payment

Clapson's sister hopes that her brother's death may
encourage greater sensitivity towards claimants who are
struggling."There is no humanity and they are getting the little people.
Why sanction vulnerable and needy people"?

Friday, 1 August 2014

Welfare recipients aren't bludgers, and they deserve respect from Joe Hockey | Anthony Albanese | Comment is free |

Welfare recipients aren't bludgers, and they deserve respect from Joe Hockey | Anthony Albanese | Comment is free |

Welfare recipients aren't bludgers, and they deserve respect from Joe Hockey

whose marriage broke down, or who are living with a mental illness, or
who need help to improve their lives, shouldn’t be treated with

joe hockey
‘I’m losing count of this government’s attacks on people in receipt of a government benefit.’ Photograph: /AAP

The search for a scapegoat, according to former US President Dwight D. Eisenhower, is the easiest of all hunting expeditions.

we learn more about the political narrative of the Abbott government, I
worry that Tony Abbott’s zeal to appear tough is causing him to hunt
those with the least power to defend themselves – pensioners and the

I’m losing count of this government’s attacks on
people in receipt of a government benefit. Disability pensioners are
being targeted regularly, with newspaper reports creating anxiety that they will be cast aside. At the same time the government is cutting health funding, something of critical interest to people with disabilities or chronic illness.

Unemployed people are told they have to fill out 40 job applications
a month or lose the dole. At the same time the government has reduced
spending on training. Programmes like Youth Connections, that enabled
disadvantaged young people to move through education to work, have been cut.
Cuts to apprenticeship support are short-sighted and cost not just
individuals; but the economy as a whole. A skilled workforce is a
productive workforce.

I’m sick of hearing Joe Hockey beat his
chest and declare the end of “the age of entitlement’’. It’s a term that
comes with the unspoken suggestion that recipients of government
assistance are somehow conniving to receive something to which they are
not entitled.

The introduction of this type of scapegoat
terminology – designed to malign all welfare recipients – has encouraged
tabloid newspapers and radio shock jocks to resort to terms like
“bludgers’’ and “rorters’’.

The truth is that most welfare
recipients are not bludgers but honest people doing their best in
difficult circumstances. It’s time for a more serious debate on welfare –
one that goes beyond dog whistling and demonisation of the poor.

a society, we owe it to ourselves to help people work if they can.
There is dignity in work, as well as empowerment. Higher workforce
participation reduces the call on the public purse and also generates
greater economic growth – a benefit to the entire nation.

we need to abandon the ugly rhetoric and start from the proposition
that there are people who aren’t in the workforce through no fault of
their own. If we put aside politics for just a moment, most people would
accept that our shared values of decency demand that people down on
their luck receive support rather than vilification.

Maybe their
marriage broke down and they are struggling to raise children alone.
Maybe they are sick and genuinely unable to work. Maybe they have a
mental illness. Maybe they are homeless. Perhaps they are over 50 years
of age and have been made redundant and are unable to find anyone who
will give them a shot at a second career.

Whatever their
circumstances, people receiving welfare deserve neither disrespect, nor
this government’s transparent attempts to punish them for their
misfortune, with ever more tests to maintain their payments.

of people in my electorate in Sydney’s inner west are on disability
pensions because they are literally unable to work. Many sole parents
would love to work but their circumstances and their responsibility to
raise their children make work difficult. Such people endure a daily
struggle to overcome their circumstances and raise their children to
become educated so they can escape the poverty trap.

something to be applauded. Instead, the current rhetoric of the
government tries to make people feel as though they’re lazy or
burdensome. That’s just not fair. It is completely disrespectful. The
approach of the current government appears to be punitive, rather than
helpful. The very last thing elected representatives should do is
encourage working Australians to treat welfare recipients with suspicion
or hatred.

The former Labor government faced the same issues
about the structure of the workforce as those being grappled with now by
Abbott. Sometimes Labor got it wrong – such as with the extension of
the Howard government’s changes moving more single parents onto the
Newstart program.

Entrenched unemployment and welfare dependence
are very difficult to address in a policy sense. Labor’s starting point
was and remains that people who are disadvantaged need help, not
character analysis from politicians looking for headlines.

role of government in this area is to provide opportunity through better
education and training options, and ensure jobs are available through
economic growth. Yet the Abbott government seems unable to discuss these
issues without treating such people as cannon fodder in its rhetorical
war against any and all government spending.

Earlier in the year
Hockey, anxious to demonstrate his desire to end the age of entitlement,
complained that some single mothers could access up to $55,000 a year
in benefits. As it turned out, the Department of Human Services refused
to endorse the figure.

In any event, one of the benefits the
treasurer used to reach this figure was the jobs education and training
child care fee assistance, worth up to $15,120 and designed to help
single parents access child care while they attend university to make
themselves employable.

Hockey wants to have it both ways. He
wants to attack single mums for being unemployed and then attack them
again if they dare to access government benefits designed to make them
employable. His unspoken message to these parents is that they should
feel bad about trying to improve their circumstances.

treasurer seems to be more interested in promoting resentment of single
mothers than in actually helping them into the workforce. Elected
representatives need to understand that whenever they attack pension
recipients in the hope that this will jolt them into the workforce,
their comments have the reverse effect.

Being told indirectly that
you are a lazy piece of scum malingering on the public purse does
little to improve a person’s confidence, so important to attaining
employment. No-one deserves to feel attacked in this way. As another
former US President, Bill Clinton once said: “‘We’re all in this
together’ is a better philosophy than ‘you’re on your own’.”

Sunday, 6 July 2014

Coal or bust: How Abbott is stranding Australia

Coal or bust: How Abbott is stranding Australia

Coal or bust: How Abbott is stranding Australia

Adani's Abbot Point investment looks like becoming a giant stockpile of unburnable coal (Image via @WWF_Australia)

While the world ditches fossil fuels and turns to renewables, Tony Abbott doubles down on coal. Economist Warwick Smith says this may be dooming Australia.

THE ABBOTT GOVERNMENT appears intent on dismantling the small but vibrant renewable energy industry in Australia.

At the very moment the rest of the world is coming to their senses
about the need to wean themselves from coal, Abbott is spruiking coal’s
future, claiming that leaving it in the ground is one of the most damaging
things this country could do. In fact, the Coalition Government’s
attitudes towards coal and renewables are likely to be extremely
damaging to our economy in the medium to long term.

The combination of weak global coal prices and climate action
announced by the United States and China have been cited as reasons for
the cancellation of the massive Dudgeon Point coal export facility. It won’t be the last coal project in Australia that gets cancelled because of climate change action.

In fact, I think it’s reasonable to say that eventually virtually all
coal projects will be cancelled due to climate action (I leave some
room for coal mining for carbon fibre production). However, the coal
industry and those who stand to make a lot of money from the coal
industry, including the banks, are trying to make hay before the sun

Renewable energy is the future of energy. Anybody who says otherwise
doesn’t understand the inexorable march that renewables are on and the
slow but steady acceptance of climate science.

The big unknown is how long it will take for renewables to replace
fossil fuels and how much damage we will do to the climate in the

The coal industry is in the same place tobacco was in the 1960s. They
know the gig is up but the longer they can muddy the waters and cast
doubt on the science the more money they can make.

The history of the tobacco industry, and many others besides, shows
us that people really do make decisions in the name of profit they know
will cost many lives. It’s happening in board rooms all across the world
right now.

There are fortunes to be made by those who ride the renewable energy
wave and fortunes to be lost by those who invest too much trying to hold
back the tide by continuing to back fossil fuel electricity generation.

Mining is an expensive activity and these companies don’t want to
lose too much money when the coal industry inevitably shuts down. This
is where they need politicians like Abbott and Hockey to keep providing
them with the subsidies, incentives and infrastructure and to protect
them from competition and regulation for as long as possible.

The miners and fossil fuel generators want governments to shoulder
the risks associated with coal while they privatise the last dregs of
the profits. State Governments are on side too, spending nearly $3 billion dollars every year directly subsidizing mining companies.

In the early days of the Abbott Government, I labelled them
as fairly radical free market ideologues. I quickly realised this was
inaccurate, as they are not interested in small government or free
markets when it comes to benefits for the wealthy.

The most parsimonious explanation for their policies is plain old capture by vested interests.

Abbott and Hockey are either in the pockets of the mining, energy and
financial industries or they are doing favours for mates who are in
those industries. Nothing they have done is inconsistent with that

The Abbott Government want this country stuck with 20th
century power infrastructure and they are throwing everything at an
effort to keep our economy dependent on a fossil fuel future. The result
in the medium to long term will be extremely damaging for this country
as the world passes us by on the way to renewable energy — or climate
catastrophe. Either way, we don’t do well.

As this happens, more and more of Abbott’s precious coal and coal infrastructure will be stranded with no buyers. If he has his way and manages to destroy the country’s renewable energy sector, not only will we suffer from the stranded
coal assets, but we will be totally reliant on importing expertise and
equipment from overseas in order to replace our fossil fuel

Now is the time for the Australian economy to be diversifying if
we’re not to become an economic backwater. We can’t be world’s quarry
forever, particularly in a carbon constrained global economy.

This sort of longer term economic planning requires government leadership.

Removing subsidies for fossil fuel industries would be a good start
but it can’t end there. For the long run benefit of the country we
should be prioritising investment in education, infrastructure,
productivity and R&D.

This early part of the 21st century is a time of massive
economic, ecological and social change. Our society and economy must be
diverse and robust if we are to thrive in this new environment and we
will require more than bloated mining and financial sectors.

Warwick Smith is a research economist at the University of Melbourne. He blogs at and tweets @RecoEco.

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