Labour urges rethink on mortgage benefits

Labour has warned that vulnerable people may struggle to pay their mortgages because of benefit changes.

About 90,000 people on certain benefits claim support for mortgage interest (SMI) but from Friday the benefit will be replaced by government loans.

Figures suggest 27,000 SMI recipients – 51% of those contacted – say they will not take up the loan.

Labour says there is a risk elderly people may cut back on essentials like heating rather than take the loan.

The new state-backed loan, secured against the mortgaged property with interest added each month, would not have to be repaid until the property is sold or transferred to someone else.

‘Halt this change’

The government says it is reasonable to ask someone who has received help towards their mortgage to repay it, as their home is likely to increase in value.

But shadow work and pensions secretary Margaret Greenwood said: “Even at this late stage, the government could and should think again and halt this change.”

She added: “It is worrying that the government seems determined to push ahead with this change despite the risk of it causing real hardship for people on low incomes.

“Many of the people who claim SMI are elderly or disabled, and it is extremely concerning that pensioners might try to cope without the loan by cutting back on essentials like heating.”

The government is set to spend about £161m on SMI in the year 2017-18. As of 21 March, they had successfully contacted 54,000 people by telephone and tried to contact a further 31,000, as a follow-up to a letter explaining the change.

Of those contacted, 51% – about 27,000 people – had said they intended to decline the offer of a loan, 13,000 said they would accept it and 14,000 said they were undecided.

A Department for Work and Pensions spokesman said: “People who sign up to the loan will continue to get help with their mortgage interest and it is only repayable if there is available equity when the property is sold.

“If people decide to decline the loan now but change their mind in future the loan can be backdated so, in effect, there would be no break in payments.

“We have already contacted everyone currently in receipt of SMI to explain the change but we are making sure people have time to review the documents, obtain advice and consider their options.”

How the Labour anti-Semitism saga unfolded

A row about anti-Semitism in the Labour Party has been prompted by Jeremy Corbyn’s comments on an allegedly anti-Semitic mural in 2012.

But this is not the first time the Labour leader has faced calls to deal with anti-Semitism in recent years.

Shah allegations

The current row can be traced back to two allegations in 2016 – a year after Mr Corbyn became leader.

The first was against the MP for Bradford West, Naz Shah.

It was revealed that the year before she became the MP, she shared a graphic showing an image of Israel’s outline superimposed on a map of the US under the headline “Solution for Israel-Palestine conflict – relocate Israel into United States”, with the comment “problem solved”.

A number of other posts emerged, with her comparing Israel to the Nazis and saying “the Jews are rallying”.

She apologised and resigned from her post as John McDonnell’s parliamentary private secretary.

Mr Corbyn said Ms Shah’s remarks were “offensive and unacceptable”, and she was suspended from the party.

She was reinstated in July and blamed her “ignorance” for the posts, admitting they were anti-Semitic.

Labour’s National Executive Committee gave her a formal warning, told her to apologise for bringing the party into disrepute and warned that if there was another incident she would be expelled.

Livingstone comments

It was during the row over Ms Shah that the former London Mayor Ken Livingstone made his own comments that were alleged to have been anti-Semitic.

Mr Livingstone appeared on BBC Radio London defending the MP and said he had never heard anyone in the Labour Party say anything anti-Semitic.

He added: “When Hitler won his election in 1932 his policy then was that Jews should be moved to Israel. He was supporting Zionism before he went mad and ended up killing six million Jews.”

This led to widespread criticism of Mr Livingstone, with Labour MP John Mann accusing him of being a “Nazi apologist” in front of a media scrum.

Mr Livingstone said he was not suggesting Hitler was a Zionist, adding that the Nazi leader was “a monster from start to finish”.

But he said he had simply been quoting historical “facts”.

The long-time ally of Mr Corbyn was suspended by the party for a year, but he refused to apologise and continued to repeat his comments.

He was then suspended for a further 12 months in April 2017 after a Labour disciplinary panel upheld three charges of breaching party rules, prompting Mr Corbyn to order a fresh internal inquiry into his conduct.

His suspension has now been extended again pending the outcome of an internal investigation.

Chakrabarti inquiry

It was after Ms Shah’s comments and Mr Livingstone’s defence that Mr Corbyn announced an inquiry into allegations of anti-Semitism and other forms of racism in the party at the end of April 2016.

It was led by Shami Chakrabarti, the former director of human rights campaign group Liberty. She announced she had joined the Labour Party after her appointment as chair on the inquiry.

The inquiry lasted for two months and at the end of June 2016, Ms Chakrabarti concluded that while the Labour Party was not overrun by anti-Semitism, there was an “occasionally toxic atmosphere”.

Ms Chakrabarti made 20 recommendations, including:

  • Abusive references to any particular person or group based on actual or perceived physical characteristics and racial or religious tropes and stereotypes should have no place in Labour Party discourse.
  • Labour members should resist the use of Hitler, Nazi and Holocaust metaphors, distortions and comparisons in debates about Israel-Palestine in particular.
  • There should be procedural rule changes to improve the party’s disciplinary process and the adoption and publication of a complaints procedure.
  • The appointment of a general counsel to the Labour Party to give advice on issues including disciplinary matters and to take responsibility for instructing external lawyers.
  • The party should increase the ethnic diversity of its staff.

    However, she said she did not approve of lifetime bans for party membership.

    Two months later, she became a Labour peer – the only appointment to the House of Lords Mr Corbyn has so far made.

    Student allegations

    Around the same time, allegations of anti-Semitism arose from the Oxford University Labour Club.

    They claimed that members of the club had discussed Zionists rigging British elections, frequently used the term “Zio” and said that European attacks on Jews were justified because of Gaza.

    The allegations led to the Labour Party’s national student organisation conducting their own inquiry, and its report was leaked to the press in the summer of 2016.

    In it, Baroness Royall concluded there had been “some incidents” of anti-Semitic behaviour and “behaviour and language that would once have been intolerable is now tolerated” in the club.

    However, she said there was “no evidence the club is itself institutionally anti-Semitic”.

    Just under a year later, two students were cleared by the NEC’s disputes committee of being anti-Semitic.

    Despite the inquiries, promises to adopt tough new rules to tackle anti-Semitism at its conference and pledges from Mr Corbyn that racism would be “rooted out”, a number of other allegations have come to light during his tenure.

    These included:

    • Labour activist Jackie Walker being suspended from the party in 2016 for claiming Jewish people were “financiers of the sugar and slave trade”
    • Author Miko Peled allegedly saying during a speech at a fringe conference event that party members should be able to debate whether or not the Holocaust happened – he is not a member of the party
    • Brighton and Hove Labour housing campaigner Daniel Harris being suspended after posting a video on Facebook featuring the faces of three Labour councillors superimposed on the heads of dancing Jewish figures
    • A member from Barnet, London, being suspended for writing anti-Semitic posts on social media, leading to a councillor receiving abuse for reporting it

      Now, Mr Corbyn himself is facing criticism after sending an apparently supportive message to the creator of an allegedly anti-Semitic mural.

      In October 2012, Mear One posted a picture of his mural in east London called “Freedom of Humanity” on Facebook, with the words: “Tomorrow they want to buff my mural. Freedom of expression. London calling. Public Art.”

      Mr Corbyn replied: “Why? You are in good company. Rockefeller destroyed Diego [Rivera’s] mural because it includes a picture of Lenin.”

      The Labour leader has since called the mural “deeply disturbing” and said he is “sincerely sorry” for the pain caused by anti-Semitism in the party.

      Mr Corbyn has admitted there are “pockets” of anti-Semitism in the party and vowed to take action to “stamp it out”.

      After a letter from Jewish groups that held Mr Corbyn personally responsible for the “hostile” environment Jews in the Labour Party face, he is facing calls from some of his own MPs to take tougher action.

      But members of the Jewish Voice for Labour group claim the two organisations behind the letter do not represent the views of the “great majority of Jews in the party who share Jeremy Corbyn’s vision for social justice and fairness” and that there is “massively more anti-Semitism on the right of politics than on the left”.

      A Labour Party spokeswoman said: “The Labour Party is committed to challenging and campaigning against anti-Semitism in all its forms.

      “Any complaints of anti-Semitism are taken extremely seriously. These are fully investigated in line with our rules and procedures and any appropriate disciplinary action taken.”

Corbyn sorry for ‘pain’ over Labour anti-Semitism

Jeremy Corbyn has said he is “sincerely sorry” for the pain caused by “pockets of anti-Semitism” in the Labour party.

In a statement, the Labour leader said he would be meeting representatives of the Jewish community this week to “rebuild” confidence in his party.

He said Labour was “anti-racist” and he “utterly condemns” anti-Semitism.

The comments came after Mr Corbyn was criticised for sending an apparently supportive message to the creator of an allegedly anti-Semitic mural in 2012.

In a message sent via Facebook, he had appeared to question a decision to remove the artist’s controversial mural. He later called the mural “deeply disturbing” and backed its removal.

Mr Corbyn said: “I sincerely regret that I did not look more closely at the image I was commenting on, the contents of which are deeply disturbing and anti-Semitic.

“I am opposed to the production of anti-Semitic material of any kind, and the defence of free speech cannot be used as a justification for the promotion of anti-Semitism in any form.”

Mear One – whose real name is Kalen Ockerman – has denied being anti-Semitic, saying the mural was about “class and privilege”.

On Sunday, senior Labour figures joined in condemnation of the mural but defended Mr Corbyn.

Shadow transport secretary Andy McDonald told Sky News that Mr Corbyn “hasn’t got an anti-Semitic bone in his body” and that the row had “misinterpreted the intentions of a really good and decent man”.

And Labour’s Shadow Brexit Secretary Sir Keir Starmer said the mural was “grotesque and disgusting” but that Mr Corbyn had given his explanation for his online comment.

Deputy Labour leader Mr Watson told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show: “I am very, very sorry that people feel hurt by this and that is why I think it is right that Jeremy has expressed regret for it.”

On Friday, Labour MP Angela Smith joined other members in supporting Ms Berger and sent a statement to the Leader’s Office, calling for Mr Corbyn to appear before MPs to explain himself.

Yvette Cooper tweeted that she was “really troubled by the mural” and that “Labour must be better than this”.

Jewish groups attack Jeremy Corbyn over anti-Semitism

“Enough is enough,” Jewish groups have said in a letter accusing Jeremy Corbyn of failing to tackle anti-Semitism.

The Labour leader has said he is “sincerely sorry” for the pain caused by “pockets of anti-Semitism” in the Labour Party.

Mr Corbyn said he would be meeting representatives of the Jewish community to “rebuild” confidence in his party.

However, the organisations behind the open letter are planning a protest outside Parliament later.

The letter – drawn up by the Board of Deputies of British Jews and the Jewish Leadership Council – said there has been a “repeated institutional failure” to properly address anti-Semitism.

  • Full text: Jewish leaders’ letter
  • How the Labour anti-Semitism saga unfolded
  • What’s the difference between anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism?
  • Corbyn sorry over Labour anti-Semitism

    It accuses Mr Corbyn of being unable to “seriously contemplate anti-Semitism, because he is so ideologically fixed within a far-left world view that is instinctively hostile to mainstream Jewish communities”.

    The organisations refer to Mr Corbyn’s apparently supportive message to the creator of an allegedly anti-Semitic mural in 2012 and his attendance at “pro-Hezbollah rallies”.

    They say the Labour leader has “sided with anti-Semites” either because of “the far left’s obsessive hatred of Zionism” or “a conspiratorial worldview in which mainstream Jewish communities are believed to be a hostile entity, a class enemy”.

    The letter says those who push anti-Semitic material view Mr Corbyn as “their figurehead” and that he is “the only person with the standing to demand that all of this stops.”

    Analysis by BBC assistant political editor Norman Smith

    What is extraordinary about this letter is not just the raw anger – but the fact that they directly blame Jeremy Corbyn and his brand of politics for allowing anti-Semitism to get a hold in the Labour Party.

    They accuse him of a far-left world view which they say is instinctively hostile to mainstream Jewish communities.

    What they mean by that is a view of Israel as a sort of neo-colonialist, Imperialist power, associated with the US, oppressing Palestinians, and it is that sort of politics that has allowed anti-Semitic views to gain a hold.

    But Mr Corbyn’s supporters believe claims of anti-Semitism are ridiculous and absurd, given the leader’s anti-racism record – they say those making the accusations are using it to attack him.

    The letter will be delivered to a meeting of Labour MPs and peers, although the Labour leader is not expected to attend.

    A protest will then be held outside the Houses of Parliament, which will see a number of Labour MPs – including Liz Kendall, John Woodcock and Ian Austin – join members of the Jewish community.

    At the same time, a counter-demonstration by pro-Corbyn Jewish Labour members is due to be staged nearby.

    In a statement, the Jewish Voice for Labour group said it was “appalled” by the Board of Deputies’ letter.

    “They do not represent us or the great majority of Jews in the party who share Jeremy Corbyn’s vision for social justice and fairness. Jeremy’s consistent commitment to anti-racism is all the more needed now.”

    In a statement released on Sunday evening, Mr Corbyn said: “I want to be clear that I will not tolerate any form of anti-Semitism that exists in and around our movement.

    “We must stamp this out from our party and movement.

    “We recognise that anti-Semitism has occurred in pockets within the Labour Party, causing pain and hurt to our Jewish community in the Labour Party and the rest of the country.

    “I am sincerely sorry for the pain which has been caused.”

    Mr Corbyn said he and the party – which has “deep roots in the Jewish community” – were now campaigning to “increase support and confidence in Labour” among Jewish people in Britain and he would meet members of the community in the coming days to “rebuild confidence”.

    What caused the row?

    In October 2012, street artist Mear One posted a picture of his mural in east London called “Freedom of Humanity” on Facebook – which depicted businessmen, some of them the artist says are Jewish, counting money on a board game that is balanced on the backs of hunched-over men.

    The artist wrote: “Tomorrow they want to buff my mural. Freedom of expression. London calling. Public Art.”

    Mr Corbyn replied: “Why? You are in good company. Rockefeller destroyed Diego [Rivera’s] mural because it includes a picture of Lenin.”

    More recently, Labour MP Luciana Berger sought clarification from the leader’s office on the 2012 comments.

    Mr Corbyn said he regretted not looking more closely at the image, which he called “deeply disturbing”.

    He added: “I am opposed to the production of anti-Semitic material of any kind, and the defence of free speech cannot be used as a justification for the promotion of anti-Semitism in any form.”

    Mear One – whose real name is Kalen Ockerman – has denied being anti-Semitic, saying the mural was about “class and privilege”.

    Jonathan Goldstein, chairman of the Jewish Leadership Council, said the community had had enough of being ignored by Mr Corbyn.

    He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “This is the first time in my lifetime the Jewish community has felt the need to take to the streets to campaign against the leader of a major political party.

    “Rightly or wrongly, Jeremy Corbyn is now the figurehead for an anti-Semitic political culture based upon obsessive hatred of Israel, conspiracy theories and fake news, and that is doing great harm, not just to the Labour Party, but to Britain in a wider sense.”

    Labour MP Louise Ellman, former chairwoman of the Labour Jewish movement, said: “It’s taken Jeremy far too long to admit how wrong he has been in failing to deal with anti-Semitism in the Labour Party.”

    She told BBC Breakfast the Labour leader now had “to act and he’s got to root out the anti-Semitism that is within the Labour Party”.

    “It’s just heartbreaking to see it but he has got to do something about it now. Words won’t be enough,” she added.

    In 2016 an inquiry into anti-Semitism in the Labour party, led by Shami Chakrabarti, said the party was not overrun by racism but there was “too much clear evidence… of ignorant attitudes”.

    It followed the suspension of MP Naz Shah and ex-London mayor Ken Livingstone amid anti-Semitism claims.

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