Archives For July 2013

In a new monthly piece from journalist and radio reporter Kate Gibson, we stay up-to-date with what’s happening with the bedroom tax and how it is affecting people…

Call it what you like, the ‘bedroom tax’, the ‘under-occupancy penalty’ or the cuddly sounding ‘spare room subsidy’ – something facing 660,000 households in Britain – is punishing the poor.

Let’s begin at the beginning. The policy, which we’ll call the bedroom tax for ease, came into force on the 1st of April. Since then, anybody who lives in a council house or flat which is deemed to be too big for them will have to pay a chunk of their rent from their low income, whether that’s from other benefits or a paying job.

Conservative MPs suggested it would encourage single people or older adults, whose children had left the family home, to downsize to a smaller council house and ‘free up’ properties with more bedrooms for needy families – “not a bad idea” I hear you cry. On the surface, it seems like the bedroom tax was designed to avoid overcrowding but the policy has serious flaws.

Image: The Guardian

Image: The Guardian

The first of which is – some spare rooms aren’t SPARE at all.

I’m not arguing that it’s a basic human right to have a junk room. I’m talking about when a one-size-fits-all policy fails to provide for people with non-standard circumstances.

Jayson Carmichael, 50, is a full time carer for his wife, Charlotte, 40, who suffers from Spina Bifida. He used to work in a hotel but gave up his job to give Charlotte the help she needs around the clock.

The couple live in a modest two bedroom flat in Southport, Merseyside. It’s been their home for ten years. Charlotte sleeps on a special electric hospital mattress to ease painful pressure sores. As there’s no room for another bed in the same room, Jayson sleeps next door in the single bedroom.

Now, as they’re deemed to be under-occupying, Jayson is being forced to pay 14% of their weekly rent out of his minimal carer’s allowance. Losing £11.90 per week is a huge hardship for Jayson and Charlotte.

They were granted a judicial review in May but the judge has put off giving a verdict so far. We’re told to expect a judgment tomorrow (TUES).

Not exempting disabled adults who need a second bedroom either for their partner to sleep in or to store vital medical equipment smacks of double standards – as disabled children do not have to share with their siblings.

Also, non-resident single parents are being told they can’t keep a room for their children – no matter how often they visit. This has led to children of all ages and genders having to share a makeshift bed in a living room – even when it’s inappropriate. Surely does nothing to help families who have already suffered a relationship breakdown.

Secondly, even if a smaller property would be suitable  – there are none to move in to!

In Greenwich, London there are 1353 people waiting for a one-bed. There is only currently one ready for renting. The other 1352 households will lose out on money whether they want to move or not. Many of them didn’t even get a say in where they were housed and were just given the property that they’re now being told is too big for them. It’s the same story all across the country

Adding insult to injury, if a suitable property DOES become available, it’s likely that a housing authority won’t let a tenant move if they’re in arrears on their rent. Meaning they’re not allowed to move out of the house that costs too much because they couldn’t physically pay for the house that cost too much.

If that isn’t a beautiful illustration of a poverty trap, I don’t know what is.

Third – Without meaning to be corny about this, it ISN’T ‘just a house’. It’s a home.

I’ve heard many bedroom tax supporters point out, quite rightly, that a council or local authority home doesn’t belong to the tenant.

The same could be argued of a private tenant who pays all of their rent themselves. It doesn’t mean it isn’t their home that they cherish.

A widow, Julia Jones, who fought against the bedroom tax, once summed it up beautifully. “Everybody deserves the right to feel safe in their own home,” she said.

Investment. Community. Stability.

By creating a culture where nobody can feel as if a council house is his or her home, the stock won’t be looked after. People won’t invest in decorating. They won’t maintain the building. Houses will fall into disrepair.

More worryingly, people won’t invest in their communities. If you expect to be moved on every time your circumstances change, why would you get to know your neighbours? Why would you want to put down long-term routes? Without meaning to sound melodramatic, the bedroom tax stands to literally ruin what little community spirit remains in Britain’s villages, towns and cities.

Crazily – All this and it doesn’t actually save any money like the Government said it would.

Next month, I’ll be taking part in an anti-bedroom mass sleep-out to remind the Government just what our streets could look like in the not-too-distant future if the bedroom tax isn’t scrapped.

The Mass Sleep Out takes place August 24th

The Mass Sleep Out takes place August 24th


Find out more about the mass sleep out here.



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1) Social care for children to be privatised

Government plans to allow companies to bid for contracts to manage social care for vulnerable children in England. At the same time, there are plans to relax and drop laws that safeguard the quality and compliance of those looking after children.

Labour have voiced concerns over the removal of safeguards and profiteering code of companies who may bid for the contracts, particularly after it emerged that two of the biggest outsourcing companies, G4S and Serco, had ‘over-billed the taxpayer for charging to tag offenders who were dead or in prison.’

G4S is one of the largest outsourcing companiesin the UK Image: The Guardian

G4S is one of the largest outsourcing companiesin the UK Image: The Guardian

G4S have already had several inquests into fatal restraint methods which lead to the unlawful killing of Jimmy Mubenga and the death of a 15 year old boy, after which ‘the Coroner, Judge Pollard wrote personally to then justice secretary Jack Straw to ensure that no other child should be harmed by improper restraint methods, and to highlight the remarkable failure of G4S’s management to act on reports of abuses.’

Lisa Nandy, shadow children’s minister, has written to the regulatory reform committee to urge them to reject plans:

“It appears to remove the obligation for a national minimum standard relating to the fitness of providers and any mechanisms for removing providers who fail to meet these standards. The implications are potentially very serious and could have a profound impact on the lives of some of the most vulnerable children in the country.”

Read more about this story here.

2) DWP admits ATOS failing, a day into Westminster recess

Despite claiming for months that the controversial practices of ATOS were improving, the Department for Work and Pensions has revealed that there are severe problems within ATOS which will require an in-depth review and removal of its monopoly status as supplier of the fit-to-work tests. The news came a day into Westminster recess.

This means that Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, Iain Duncan Smith can avoid being questioned on the matter in the Commons until September.

The problems with ATOS have been found to be so severe that staff across the board will require re-training and strict monitoring processes if they are to continue.

Read more about this story here.

3) Archbishop wants to rival payday lenders

The new Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, has said that he wants to rival payday lenders such as Wonga, by helping re-build and invest in credit unions.

However, a day later it was revealed that the church had indirectly invested in Wonga.

Thankfully, rather than standing down from the challenge the Most Rev Welby, admitted that he was embarrassed and would launch an inquiry into the investments of the church. He told the BBC Radio 4’s Today Programme:

“It shouldn’t happen, it’s very embarrassing, but these things do happen and we have to find out why and make sure it doesn’t happen again” adding that there are difficulties in deciding the ethical values of certain businesses, and this needed reviewing.”

Having previously worked as an oil industry financial executive, the Archbishop of Canterbury does seem to have a grounding in understanding money, and has previously campaigned for a cap on the interest rates of payday lending. Through this new project, the Archbishop hopes to provide more choice to those in need.

The Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby Image: The Telegraph

The Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby Image: The Telegraph

Mayor of London, Boris Johnson said:

“[The archbishop] is not turning over the tables of the money lenders, he’s bringing in his own money lending tables.”

Perhaps the government could take a leaf out of the Archbishop’s book.

Read more about this story here.

4) Bedroom Tax Protest sees thousands make a stand across the country

The pressure remains high on the government to remove the bedroom tax, as thousands up and down the country took part in a national day of action on Saturday. Protests were help in Barnsley, Newcastle, Wembley, East London, Manchester and more.

The below video is from the protest in Manchester where attendees and drummers took their message to the Manchester Civil Justice centre:

See more about the protest here.

by Kam Sandhu @KamBass
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We were recommended this excellent article on Tory propaganda techniques. A must-read. Thank you Kitty Jones….

Politics and Insights


1. Propaganda Techniques

Metacognition: We need to be mindful of how we think as well as what we think.

While the term propaganda has acquired a strongly negative connotation by association with its most manipulative and jingoistic examples (e.g. Nazi propaganda used to justify the Holocaust), propaganda in its original sense was neutral, and could refer to uses that were generally benign or innocuous, such as public health recommendations, signs encouraging citizens to participate in a census or election, or messages encouraging people to report crimes to law agencies, amongst others.

So the exact definition of propaganda is constantly debated, and no specific definition is completely agreed. Some argue that any persuasive communication is propaganda, whilst others hold that propaganda specifically alters political opinions. However, it is doubtless that propaganda is material which is meant to manipulate or change public opinion, and though it may vary in form and technique, it always…

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Image: The Courier

Image: The Courier

Saturday 27th July marks a national day of action against the bedroom tax. To find out what’s happening near you, click here.

Inside Legal Aid

kamsandhu —  July 25, 2013 — Leave a comment

In April this year an e-mail went around the office with the title ‘Consultation on changes in Legal Aid – Please Read.’ Wherever you place it, the word ‘consultation’ is not going to push you to open your e-mail. Even less so when the consultation turns out to be 161 pages.

But the changes that this consultation, entitled ‘Transforming legal aid: delivering a more credible and efficient system,’ would bring to the legal aid system (already described in detail in the interview with Mike Goold by RealFare), include cutting the legal aid budget by £220m a year and a restructuring of the system by encouraging large private corporations to bid for contracts leaving smaller firms struggling to stay afloat.

Not to mention the effect on already vulnerable clients; need help with your divorce case? Problems with welfare benefits? Want to bring a family member to the UK? No longer possible I’m afraid. Even though your income (for you and your partner) does not exceed £700 per month, you can now pay us privately for that application.

So why, despite all these proposed changes to legal aid, did very few people in my office respond to the consultation (myself included). Why has there not been more coverage in the media about the changes and their effects on clients? I thought it was a lawyer’s jobs to argue?

There are a lot of reasons why the inability of the legal profession fails to show how drastically these cuts will affect the most vulnerable in society and bring this to the attention of the media. I am going to look at just a few.

Firstly, legal aid (with the assistance of the ConDems) is turning into big business.  Every other week the big London legal aid law firms buy out smaller law firms across the country. Chris Grayling, the Justice Secretary, argues this leads to higher efficiency, reduced costs and ultimately a smaller legal aid bill.

However, despite the changes inadvertently increasing the cost of legal aid (imagine the costs of a London firm to travel to an Immigration Removal Centre in Portsmouth), there are also great effects on staff and clients. For example, the ratio of clients per solicitor has drastically increased, leading to increased stress in an already high stress occupation. This in turn leads to high staff turnover and it’s not uncommon for client’s cases to be passed between 4-5 successive caseworkers.

Secondly, the position of the legal aid lawyers themselves. Despite what the media may have you believe with reports of inflated barristers wages, legal aid lawyers are actually some of the lowest paid professionals. In fact, most people in the large legal aid law firms are not lawyers – they are caseworkers. People who do a 2/3 of the work of lawyers but are paid a 1/5 of the wage, as caseworkers in central London can expect to earn £14k.  Moreover, the larger legal aid firms expect a new caseworker to have a caseload of 50-70 clients within 6 months; each client vulnerable and with complex needs. In a further drive for savings, caseworkers get little training, with any costs of examinations coming out of their salaries.

So I understand now why, in April, people were not screaming outside my office with placards. Overburdened legal staff are feeling the effects of putting profit over people. This is only going to get worse, with the projected cuts meaning only big legal aid firms can win the regional contracts to deliver legal aid.

But it’s not all doom and gloom. Lawyers took to the streets in a protest outside the Ministry of Justice against the cuts on the 4 June 2012. Letters of protest from NGOs and lawyers made Chris Grayling drop one of the most controversial elements of the April consultation – depriving defendants of the ability to choose their own solicitor in criminal cases.

However there is still more to be done, with the government announcing a second round of consultations in September. As legal aid staff, we need to share ideas and resources between law firms, make time to attend demonstrations and start collecting and sharing the stories of our clients who have successfully been given justice. Despite the daily stresses, we need to remember to keep the bigger in picture in mind. If a few letters can cause the government to U-turn, think of the effect of a sustained collective campaign which highlights the real deficit a reduction in legal aid would have on society.


Legal aid protesters

Despite the success of the Workfare week of action the other week, there is still plenty of work to do to stop the scheme. There are still many people who are not sure what the scheme is and they are not helped along by the silence of the media or the confusing number of aliases the government runs the scheme under.

A Boycott Workfare Protest earlier this year. Image: Johnny Void

A Boycott Workfare Protest earlier this year. Image: Johnny Void

However, public support and awareness can make a huge difference and has already pushed companies to pull out of the scheme in light of the negative public reaction.

To find out more we caught up with Joanna from Boycott Workfare – the grassroots campaign group set up by individuals affected by the scheme to help others with information, knowing their rights, and also to expose and protest against companies involved.

The interview took place in a sunny park, so please excuse the sound in some parts:

“Chris Grayling’s really annoyed that campaigners have set the agenda on the language around this but we’re naming it for what it is which is forced unpaid labour in the UK.”

“Some of the only information in the public domain about whether you are eligible for these schemes is from Freedom Of Information requests the campaign has been able to do to put that information out there. The government would rather we had no idea about our rights and were just subject to the will of the job-centre or the work programme providers and just had to obey on threat of starvation.”

Joanna – Boycott Workfare

by Kam Sandhu @KamBass
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In a fresh blow to the government’s welfare ‘shake up’, the planned “national roll-out” of Universal Credit has been hit by delays, with the changes only being pushed out to six new areas in October this year.



The new system was initially meant to have been launched nationwide in October. However, the government have decided to delay a national launch and carry out further localised implementation in another 6 areas.

After the announcement was made last Wednesday, Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary Mr Byrne delivered a scathing account of the coalitions attempts to create a better welfare system:

“Today, we have final confirmation the welfare revolution we were promised has collapsed.”

“Two weeks ago, we learned the Work Programme was a total failure, now we learn Universal Credit has become the biggest white elephant in Whitehall…Iain Duncan Smith must now ask himself if he is fit for purpose.”

Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary Liam Byrne Image: The Guardian

Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary Liam Byrne Image: The Guardian

However, Work and pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith has defended the government’s decision to delay the roll out. According to the BBC, when asked about the cautious launch, Iain Duncan Smith said he was “determined” to get the Universal Credit scheme right, and didn’t want to follow the old ways of governing – “launching with a bang and then having to clear up the mess afterwards”.

Although the Labour party have quickly jumped on the offence, using the delays to criticise the current government’s ability to change the welfare system, it seems the coalition’s caution is well based. Last week the latest changes to the welfare system, including the introduction of the bedroom tax, were highly criticised by the National Housing Federation.

The National Housing Federation, accused the new implementation of the bedroom tax of causing “real chaos” and “damaging people’s lives.”

The comments come as recent research carried out by the federation has found that more than 10 per cent of housing association tenants in one area of England fell into rent areas within just one month of the bedroom tax being introduced.

National Housing Federation have criticised the welfare reforms and the bedroom tax

National Housing Federation have criticised the welfare reforms and the bedroom tax

In Teeside, one of the areas worst affected by the bedroom tax, there have also been reports of three bedroom houses laying empty. The Local Authority have said they can’t rent the properties out as they are too big and people simply “can’t afford to move into them“.

The extra cost of bedroom tax (£14 per week for each room), coupled with the rising costs of living and the benefit cap means that for many, the only option is to move into smaller properties or risk missing rent payments.

Similar trends are being seen in the initial test areas up and down the country, as people start to feel the full effect of the bedroom tax. Rent arrears have risen an astonishing 340 per cent in East Ayrshire and 146 per cent across the whole of South Wales.

Speaking to the BBC, Chief Executive of the NHF, David Orr, warned that the changes to the benefits system were stopping the federation using the housing in the way in which they needed to use it and was “saving no money for anyone, anywhere.”

Although the government have said that the changes should save around £500m a year in benefit payments, councils across the country are already reporting millions of pounds of rent not being paid.

A report by LSL, an estate agency group, shows that in the last quarter alone severe rent arrears have increased by 3.3 per cent in the private rented housing sector. This equates to around 98,000 households being more than two months behind on rent.

Chief Executive of the NHF, David Orr has said that the government was warned by housing associations of the problems that the bedroom tax would create: “Housing associations warned the Government from the start that the bedroom tax would not work and that families would face financial hardship and struggle to make ends meet.

Continuing, he stated that he believes the government should not only delay the policy, but scrap it all together:

“The reality is that many people will stay in their homes and will be forced to live on less money in a country where living costs and utility bills are rising.

“It is time to face the facts and repeal this unfair policy now.”


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1) Sickness and Disability Benefit appeal costs reach £66 million

The cost of appeals against the ESA (Employment Support Allowance) has reached £66 million – 30% more than in 2009/10.

The figures came to light when shadow Work and Pensions Secretary, Liam Byrne asked the question in parliament.

The number of appeals have increased by 66% since 2009. Liam Byrne blames the increase in appeals and overturned decisions on the private firm used to carry out the Work Capability Assessment, ATOS. He said:

“Atos is now spinning out of control and it is costing the taxpayers millions to clean up the mess.

“The hard truth is that more decisions are wrong than ever before, and the result is more and more appeals and a price tag that has soared by 30 per cent in just the last year.”

ATOS are paid £150 million a year to carry out the fit-to-work tests

ATOS are paid £150 million a year to carry out the fit-to-work tests

Despite these statistics and the strong campaigning taking place across the country against ATOS, the DWP defends the firm and the decision process. They said:

“It is completely unsurprising that the number and cost of appeals has risen, because the number of work capability assessments carried out has increased substantially since we started reassessing 1.5 million incapacity benefit claimants in 2010.”

Adding that they had already made improvements to the assessment and that most decisions are upheld.

Read more about this story here.

2) GPs in South Wales told not to help patients appeal against fit-to-work decisions

GPs have been told to stop writing letters to help patients appeal against sanctions and benefit payment cuts, calling it an ‘abuse of resources’ and adding that ‘GPs were not contracted or resourced to provide this kind of service.’

Bro Taf, the local medical committee representing GPs says it stops doctors from seeing ill patients.

Some patients require evidence from their doctors to prove they are not fit to work. Without this evidence these patients may be unfairly sanctioned or be declared fit to work when they are not. Disability Wales called the decision “almost callous.”

Read more about this story here.

3) Iain Duncan Smith caught lying once again over homeless firgures

In an attempt to defend against criticisms of the benefit cap, IDS resorted to his old trick of fabrication by claiming that homeless figures had ‘hardly moved’ under the Con-Dem coalition.

The benefit cap which is limited at £500 a week for families and £350 for single persons, has been criticised for it’s ‘one size fits all’ approach.

A leaked letter from Eric Pickles’ office warned that over 40,000 people would be made homeless due to the benefit cap and the bedroom tax.

However, IDS told BBC News:

“The great talk about thousands being made homeless has not come true – the homeless figures hardly moved at all.”

Read more about this story here.

4) UK Uncut Protest takes over 13 HSBCs across the country

UK Uncut Protest 20/07/2013

UK Uncut Protest 20/07/2013

13 branches of HSBC were turned into food banks as part of a protest against the bank’s tax avoidance and use of tax havens, as thousands more Britons go hungry and rely on food banks in light of ‘unneccessary’ cuts.

“In Nottingham, activists set up a food bank blocking the entrance to HSBC with supplies of cereals, tins of food, and toilet paper. In London’s Regent Street, 100 activists brought bags of food to the store distributed the supplies, forcing the branch to close down. Meanwhile in Brixton a large crowd gathered and created a food bank inside the HSBC branch.”

Robert McGarr, from Northampton, said: “While families go hungry, this government of millionaires lets its friends in the banks and big business avoid billions of pounds of tax. HSBC uses more tax havens than any  other UK bank, but the government is only interested in punishing the poorest rather than going after the real cause of the problem.

“The government need to know that people want real change to stop tax dodging, not cosmetic tinkering, that’s why we’re taking action against the government’s failure to stop HSBC’s abuse of tax havens.”

After UK Uncut’s plans were announced the bank offered to meet to discuss activists’ concerns. However the bank rejected repeated offers from UK Uncut to hold a public discussion on 20 July.”

UK Uncut Press Release

See pictures of the protest and find out more here.

UK Uncut Protest 20/07/2013

UK Uncut Protest 20/07/2013

by Kam Sandhu @KamBass

The Old Vic Community Company are looking for 5 people who have passion and a powerful voice to tackle the big issues and subjects of the world and their own community as part of the Old Vic New Voices’ multi-award winning programme.

Combining these skills with support and the chance to work with a diverse range of people from around London, you will have the chance to hone your wriring skills and see your stage play come to life.

You don’t need previous experience.

Got plenty to say but never had the platform? OVNV are looking for brand new voices to be part of The Old Vic Community Company. Open to anyone aged 16 and over. No experience required. Come to our application surgery on TUESDAY 23 JULY 2013 from 6.30pm Brixton
Community Base Talma Road SW2 1AS! APPLY NOW or 0207 9027596

For more information e-mail – or call 020 7902 7596