England’s asbestos scandal

Socialist Appeal reports on the latest example of a) the need for an English parliament, and b) New Labour being soft on safety crime.

The judicial House of Lords has recently ruled that pleural plaque (scarring of the lung – a condition caused by breathing in asbestos) is not an industrial illness for which compensation can be claimed. This reverses twenty years of common law practice. What do the Law Lords know about it? Asbestosis related conditions are not exactly an occupational hazard for judicial bigwigs.

Linda Walman, reporting the House of Lords decision (Guardian 17.10.2007), commented, “While industry and society have benefited from the use of asbestos, today’s ruling effectively means that the people who worked with it – mining it, installing it, using it in manufacture and, more recently, removing it – and those who lived in the vicinity of asbestos companies will continue to bear the social and physical costs. It is the workers, ordinary men and their families, who will continue to pay the price for the mining and manufacture of asbestos. Their experience – watching friends suffer, dealing with doctors and lawyers, trying to find a way in which they can support their families – confirms their deep suspicion of the medical and legal establishment.”

At first Gordon Brown promised to rush through a law reversing the decision. Now he’s decided to have a ‘review’. The Scottish Executive responded by tabling a bill to reverse the Lords’ decision. The English review falls a long way short of doing the same

Construction workers will this week target the constituencies of cabinet ministers David Miliband and John Hutton, in a campaign to force the government to rule that the insurance industry has to pay a £1.4bn compensation bill to sufferers of pleural plaque.

Alan Ritchie, general secretary of construction union Ucatt, said: ‘The insurance industry seems intent on dismantling the industrial injury compensation system and it has to be fought.’

It seems the government is the prisoner of big business. How gutless can Gordon get? It appears pleural plaque is an industrial illness in Scotland, but not in England.

Why the rubbish wasn’t collected

Last week’s two-day strike by local government employees was triggered by a below-inflation pay offer.

What does this mean?

Well, because the council bosses are offering an increase which is less than the increase in prices, staff are worried that they will have to do the same job for what ammounts to less pay.

This isn’t just happening in the public sector, where the Brown government is imposing a 2% pay cap. All workers are affected as price rises wipe out pay rises:

The average family is £9 a week worse off than a year ago as steep rises in the cost of living wipe out pay increases.

Despite average earnings rising by £22 a week during the past 12 months, the typical family had 6.5% less disposable income in June after meeting all their essential outgoings than they had a year earlier, according to supermarket group Asda.

Households had a monthly income of around £538 per week after paying tax during the month, 3.2% more than they had coming in during June last year.

But the rise in pay was more than wiped out by a 6.8% jump in the cost of essential goods, such as food, clothes, utility bills, housing and transport, with households spending around £407 on these items a week.

As a result, people had just £131 of disposable income left after meeting all their bills, £9 less than in June 2007.

The research, which was carried out for Asda by the centre for economics and business research, found that the rise in spending on essentials was driven by a 9.5% jump in food prices, while transport costs have soared by 7.3% during the past year.

The typical family now also spends around 7% more on utility bills than they did in June last year.

Andy Bond, Asda chief executive, said: “Our latest report shows clear evidence of the squeeze on real disposable incomes.”

The supermarket was beginning to see signs of people tightening their purse strings towards the end of the month, as they waited for their next pay packet, he added.