Archives For September 2013

1) Thousands protest at Tory Party Conference  to “Save the NHS”, but BBC Coverage lacking 

NHS logo

NHS logo

On Sunday 29th September around 50,000-70,000 took to the Manchester streets outside the Tory party conference in what was one of the largest protests outside of London for years.

Unions has called for a day of action in the name of saving our NHS, attacking the coalition government for the health contracts being sold off to private companies, as well as plans to turn hospitals into Trusts which take on a more business-like role.

The plans could see up to hospitals using private investment for up of 50% of its funding, pushing NHS patients further down the waiting lists and essentially creating a two-tier health system.

Frances O’Grady, General Secretary of the TUC – one of the unions which called for the day of action, said at the rally that the current government did not like the NHS because it was the biggest “socialist success” of our time, adding:

“Cameron said the NHS is safe in his hands. Is he telling the truth or is he a liar?” (The crowd responded “Liar!”)

Despite the rally being so large, the BBC coverage has been attacked by many for being too minimal and unrepresentative of the scale of the very peaceful protest. Those who would like to contact the BBC can call them on their Complaints Line 03700100222.

2) Ed Miliband’s price freeze promise is met with threats from energy companies

Ed Miliband announced at the Labour Party Conference last week that he would freeze energy prices for 20 month should he come into power in 2015, following rising prices for 6 years.

Energy companies immediately hit back at Miliband, threatening blackouts and shortages if prices were frozen.

This has thrown the energy prices debate into the limelight, at a time when living standards are being stretched. Some talk has arisen over the re-nationalisation of some energy, which despite being attacked by Tories, can be  no worse than being held to ransom by largely foreign-owned companies which have profited hugely despite the austerity we have experienced, and shared none of the periods of cheaper energy with its customers.

“The profits made by the “big six” – British Gas, EDF, E.On, npower, Scottish Power and SSE – over the last few years (figures courtesy of the BBC): In 2009, £2.15 billion. In 2010, £2.22 billion. 2011 – £3.87 billion (a massive hike of £1,870,000,000 in a single year). And in 2012 – £3.74 billion. That’s £11.98 billion in profits over four years – a huge and unwarranted amount in these times of supposed austerity.”

Mike Sivier, Vox Political

3) Westminster Council defeated in landmark ‘bedroom tax’ case

Bedroom Tax Protest Image: birminghamagainstthecuts.co.uk

Bedroom Tax Protest Image: birminghamagainstthecuts.co.uk

The Conservative-run Westminster Council was defeated by a local tenant in the first ruling of it’s kind, against the controversial spare room subsidy.

Surinder Lall, who is also blind, told the tribunal that he was being charged for a second bedroom, when he had never used the room as such, as it had always stored the equipment he needed to help him lead a normal life.

Lall explained that his case was typical of many disabled people who required room for equipment, and called on the Council to stop using the term ‘bedroom’ to take away benefits from those who need it. Westminster Council say they were going on information supplied by Lall’s landlord.

“In his decision notice, the judge wrote: “The term ‘bedroom’ is nowhere defined [in the relevant regulations]. I apply the ordinary English meaning. The room in question cannot be so defined.”

4) Labour makes their commitments, whilst Tory Party Conference gets under way

The Labour Party Conference set up Ed Miliband’s aims for the party and was met with some strong support for some policies including a promise to scrap the bedroom tax and to sack ATOS. However, campaigners want an end to the Work Capability Assessment also, which has already been ruled unfair on those suffering from mental health problems, yet the Department for Work and Pensions are looking to appeal this. Campaigners want the policies that have ruled disability assessments to be pulled out, as well as the face of those who have provided them so poorly.

The Tory Party Conference is now underway in Manchester, with George Osborne expected to speak today on taking an ever harder line on benefit claimants, and introducing the ‘work for the dole’ policy! (Surprise, surprise! a policy put forward by the Tax Payers Alliance – read why this was a predictable move). More info to follow this week.

 

Image: the Telegraph

Image: the Telegraph

by Kam Sandhu @KamBass

The government have been taking steps towards removing access to justice. New laws and policies mean that government and authorities cannot be held to account or even appealed against, unless you are very wealthy. The changes are not motivated by saving money.

“If these proposals go through they will stop people from disputing unfair evictions from their homes. They will stop babies from having their interests represented in family disputes. And they will stop the families of people killed in custody or detention from fighting for the truth.

“This isn’t a cut that we’re talking about. The changes to legal aid won’t save even one penny, in fact they will cost money by causing havoc to the legal system. They are not motivated by a need to save money – these are ideological changes aimed at ruining justice for poor people and handing more contract cash to G4S and Serco.”

UK Uncut have now called for a day of civil disobedience, blocking the roads outside courts across the country, to show that this assault on our rights, equality and justice will not go unchallenged.

Find out more here. 

Image: UK Uncut

Image: UK Uncut

On Monday, Sue Marsh from the RNIB, who is also a disability campaigner and author of the Diary of a Benefit Scrounger blog, took her chances and barged on stage to make her speech at the Labour Party Conference, and we are so glad she did. Here is what she said:

“Friends, I’m Sue Marsh. I’m a disability campaigner and a Labour member. Those two things have not always sat easily together. For years now, charities and campaigners alike have argued in stronger and stronger terms that we as a country are getting it wrong on sickness and disability . Too many sanctioned, a tick box computer system of assessments that sees millions fall through the cracks. Work support that failed to support people into work but paid huge corporations thousands to fail. A total lack of understanding to know what it’s really like to live in pain, or to be exhausted all the time. What it’s like to deal with chemotherapy or a terminal diagnosis. How hard it can be to just get through the day and stay cheerful, let alone hold down a full time job.

Sue Marsh Image: bbc.co.uk

Sue Marsh Image: bbc.co.uk

“We made too many assumptions and presented too little evidence. We allowed the media to fall into lazy stereotypes of ‘scroungers’ and ‘skivers’. We designed policy in a bubble, far, far away from the lives of those who would ultimately be affected. No one was more critical than I was. Few fought harder to try to change things. I didn’t hold back. I spread my criticisms evenly between Conservative or Labour politicians. Failure is failure and we should never be afraid to say so.

“For a long time it made no difference, the consensus was just too strong, the assumptions just too widespread, but recently there has been a change. Don’t get me wrong, not from this coalition of privilege. They’ve compromised on nothing and listened to no one. But slowly and surely, Labour have started to listen. Not to Rupert Murdoch, not to the Daily Mail but to sick and disabled people up and down the country. First a tentative speech or two, then replacing the word welfare with social security. Language does matter. And today, the result of a listening exercise up and down the country, hearing the painful, shameful stories I hear every day, we pleaded with politicians to make assessments simpler, to cut down on paperwork, and endlessly repeating the same information to different departments.

“We asked why on earth huge corporations were paid thousands to fail us when we could use that money for re-training or further education or rehab, that would really help us to find work. We explained how work may never be self—supporting but that every hour worked was valuable. Every carer hour saved the economy billions. Every voluntary contribution kept society safe and united. We told of the unnecessary suffering caused by ignorance and misunderstanding. We explained how very much we wanted to work but how that work needed to be flexible and tailored.

“Today the Labour Party, my Labour Party, release their ‘Making Rights a Reality’ document. It outlines every failure, describes every fear. Nothing is left out. And the solutions it offers are the solutions we called for. Many will be cynical and we have a very long way to go to translate noble aims into real workable policies. But I believe we should never judge people on where they started, but on how far they have travelled. Liam Byrne, Anne McGuire and all those involved have truly listened, not afraid to admit they were wrong. How very rare that is in politics. With continuity and mutual respect, I begin to believe that we can move forward and hopefully leave these dark, dark days behind us.”

The Labour Party Conference is in full swing in Brighton, and the speeches, promises and plans made during the 4 day event will define Labour and their success or failure in the next general election. 

bbc.co.uk

Image: bbc.co.uk

So, what do we need from government?

There are several issues that need to be at the forefront of any manifesto (if we are to begin to resolve some of the deep-seated problems affecting people at the moment), and they include:

Raising Living Standards

Rising food and energy prices combined with pay cuts and freezes, have forced many to struggle from month to month – also creating a pay day loan boom-time. Families are around £1500 a year worse off since the coalition came to power. For those on the minimum wage, any rises have remained below inflation, meaning the rise actually feels like a pay-cut.

The rise in zero hour contracts, part-time or under-employment and temporary work has meant that job security is suffering, and employers have at times, taken advantage of jobseekers’ desperation to find work by putting staff on less stable contracts that can leave employees without sick or holiday pay or regular and reliable amounts of income.

Whilst the government have been celebrating some recovery in the economy, the TUC have reported that 77% of new job creation since 2010 has been for wages of less than £7.95 an hour.

“Just over one in five net new employee jobs created since June 2010 have been in the highly paid computer programming, consultancy and related services industries, where the average hourly wage is £18.40. In the middle paid industries, which account for nearly three quarters of the UK workforce and where the average is between £7.95 and £17.40 per hour, there has been no net job creation since June 2010.”

This means that the recovery is largely a low pay recovery so far. This could be limiting for career prospects, salary increases and progression, as the pressure and opportunities of the ‘recovery’ are keeping wages low.

More housing and cheaper rent

We need to build more houses. This policy needs to be at the heart of any manifesto worth considering. The current government’s failure to invest in enough new housing – which would not only allow the housing benefit spend to reduce with increased control over rent and social housing stock, but would also create jobs and stimulate growth – can only mean they are satisfied with the increases in house prices, which are becoming ever further out of reach for most people who are on stifled wages and reduced incomes.

The current rate of building has been increased, but is still not enough to cater for the 250,000 extra homes we need each year. The ‘bedroom tax,’ which was supposedly meant to free up larger houses to help the 2 million on social housing waiting lists, has only pushed people into debt and further poverty, as the lack of one and two bedroom accommodation means that those who need or are willing to move, have no where to go.

Rising rent prices have also made it almost impossible for people to save – forcing them to be stuck in rented accommodation, whilst wealthy investors buy up more property and raise rent prices. The cycle needs to be broken, and rent caps could play a role. The rent cap may be radical, but the inflation of rent prices is more destructive and is currently allowing private landlords to maintain ‘Generation Rent’ in a position where there is no other option.

Change in attitude towards welfare and greater support for those in need

The government rhetoric of ‘scroungers’ and ‘skivers’ has been forced down the throats of the voting public thanks to the equally divisive media, who are more than happy to repeat the vitriole and place the blame and anger of a banker’s crisis on society’s most vulnerable.

We need to stop this. The rhetoric has played a part in the increase of disability hate crime, it has fractured our society and it has forced those in most need to feel like they cannot ask for help. Poverty porn has become a new genre of TV entertainment, divides between communitites have been pushed deeper, immigrants have been villified with the government’s own campaigns harking back to time of racist slurs. Fit-to-work tests have humiliated the sick and disabled and caused a climate of fear and sanctions have rocketed, being used unsparingly to leave people without enough money to live.

The policies of the coalition government towards welfare and benefits has been one focused on punishment and suspicion, putting care and support further down the list. Now we need policy that will support people, and play an effective role in giving people independence and better opportunities to work with flexibility.

So what have Labour promised so far?

During the Labour Conference so far, policy promises have included:

– Building 400,000 houses

– Strengthening the minimum wage

– Extra help with childcare (free childcare for 3-4 year-olds increased from 15 hours per week to 25 hours)

– Scrapping the ‘bedroom tax’

– Sacking ATOS

– Increasing the offence of disability hate crime

– A Universal Credit Rescue Committee

Image: Belfast Telegraph

Image: Belfast Telegraph

 

The conference continues today, so there is more to come. Of course, there are many reasons to be cynical about policies (as Ellen Clifford said,It was New Labour that introduced ATOS to this country. That’s something disabled people aren’t going to forget for a long time”). However, these policies are a huge step in the right direction, and it is good to see that Labour has taken bold steps against the coalition government and right wing press, in favour of helping those struggling the most.

But there is work yet to do. Labour need to promise to remove the damaging policies within the system, and not just the face of them. Many will be glad to see the back of ATOS, but the new testing and support systems should ensure that the sick and disabled are not put though such neglectful experiences again. Scrapping the ‘bedroom tax’ is wonderful news, but those now in debt because of it, need to have that struck off.

It seems that Labour have begun to listen, but to ensure we leave these dark days behind us under a Labour government or any other, campaigners, voters and those affected need to keep shouting, to ensure the new policies and attitudes carry these voices through to the agenda, and are not blighted by the shadows of the current ones.

by Kam Sandhu @KamBass

1) Half of families hit by ‘bedroom tax’ now in debt

The bedroom tax has pushed more than half of those affected by it into debt, in the first three months since its launch.

The National Housing Federation (NHF) reported that in a survey of 51 of it’s biggest housing association members, more than half of tenants affected could not pay their rent between April and June.

The findings come after UN Special Rapporteur Raquel Rolnik was caught in a row with Conservative Party Chairman Grant Shapps over the spare room subsidy. Rolnik put out a press release last week asking the government to suspend the levy after her investigation into housing found that it may be in breach of human rights. Shapps hit back at Rolnik claiming that she had not spoken to the appropriate officials, and even wrote to the UN to complain.

The findings of the NHF will now come as a blow to Shapps and the government.

NHF Chairman, David Orr will now follow Rolnik’s argument. He is expected to say: “Housing associations are working flat-out to help their tenants cope with the changes, but they can’t magic one-bedroom houses out of thin air. People are trapped. What more proof do politicians need that the bedroom tax is an unfair, ill-planned disaster that is hurting our poorest families? There is no other option but to repeal.”

Bedroom Tax Protest Image: birminghamagainstthecuts.co.uk

Bedroom Tax Protest Image: birminghamagainstthecuts.co.uk

Read more about this story here.

2) Labour announce policies, including scrapping of ‘bedroom tax’ and sacking of ATOS

Labour have announced that they will scrap the ‘bedroom tax’ and sack French healthcare group, ATOS who provide the fit-to-work tests, should the party win the next general election.

Other policies include strengthening the offence laws on disability hate crime, which are thought to have risen in part due to the “benefit scrounger” rhetoric pushed by government and media. Ed Miliband has also promised to strengthen the minimum wage.

The Labour Party Conference was held on Sunday, in Brighton. For many campaigners, the news that Labour will take strong action against the mis-handlings of the benefits system, pay, fit-to-work tests and ‘bedroom tax’ comes as a relief. However, many believe there is more to do to ensure that Labour lives out it’s promises and does away with faulty social policy systems.

Read more about this story here. 

3) Homeless hit harder by welfare cuts, says research

According to research carried out by the charity Homeless Link, the increased punitive measures used against jobseekers are hitting the homeless harder than other groups.

Image: towntalk.co.uk

Image: towntalk.co.uk

Research covering more than 50 organisations show that around a third of homeless people have been sanctioned compared to 3% of other jobseekers. With homeless people often battling a number of obstacles including mental health issues, learning disabilities and substance abuse, the sanctions pose a further threat to their wellbeing, instead of motivating them (as the sanctions were meant to, according to the coalition).

Chief Executive of Homeless Link, Rick Henderson said: “Claimants do have responsibilities but it is clear that sanctions may be forcing them deeper into the problems that led them into homelessness in the first place. We’re calling on the Government to ensure the conditions for receiving benefits take into account individual circumstances.”

Read more about this story here.

4) In-Work poverty exceeds out of work poverty in Wales

Around 700,000 people live in poverty in Wales, equating to a quarter of the population. 51% of working age adults and children in poverty are in working families, according to new research from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation – outnumbering those out of work and in poverty.

The report reveals the pressures put on families and wages, and calls on government to deal with low pay and working conditions, as well as welfare reform.

“Peter Kenway, Director at NPI, said: “This report shows there are not enough jobs, not enough hours and not enough pay for people in Wales. These are families who are going out to work but still have so little they are living below the poverty line and struggling to make ends meet. Low pay and low hours go hand in hand: job creation is a priority, but this must lead to better pay and more hours to tackle in-work poverty.”

Image: The Huffington Post

Image: The Huffington Post

Read the press release and report here.

by Kam Sandhu @KamBass

On 29th September, the People’s Assembly against austerity, along with the support of every major trade union and campaign group, have called for a mass demonstration at the Tory Party Conference in Manchester to Save Our NHS.

The government are trying to dismantle the NHS, and there are already surgeries being sold off to companies such as VirginCare. The government deny it, but privatisation is already happening. So we need to act now.

Find out more about the demonstration and transport links through the People’s Assembly site here.

“£20 billion of cuts, 7,000 fewer nurses, longer waiting times in wards and A&E, queues and patients suffering. Is this really the NHS we want?

The NHS has helped us for generations, but now it needs your help.”

The Crown Prosecution Service have announced that they will push for increased penalties for benefit fraud, with maximum sentences reaching ten years in jail. In a sudden move, Keir Starmer, Head of the Crown Prosecution Service apparently said that society was “hurting as a result of people taking advantage of the benefit system, and he would crack down on perpetrators.”

However, benefit fraud is NOT increasing which makes this move far more dubious and unnecessary. This story has once again inflamed a public slamming of benefit claimants, and the hard line will certainly have an effect on the voting public.

Image: Join Public Issues

Image: Joint Public IssuesTeam

Fraud currently accounts for 0.9% of benefits expenditure, equalling £1.2bn.

1.2% of benefit expenditure is paid out in overpayment error by the claimant or by the DWP. Thus, more money would be saved if the DWP ensured that all claims were simply paid correctly, but there seems to be no hard line taken against this.

The Joint Public Issues Team believe that a quarter of media coverage of welfare refers to fraud. Earlier this year, a TUC poll revealed that members of the public thought 27% of the welfare budget was lost to fraud, when it actually stands at 0.9%. The press bombardment of welfare ‘moral panic’ has implied that there is a real culture of fraud and criminality amongst benefit claimants – ultimately turning the public opinion against them. Taking a hard line against the faux-criminal persona put upon claimants, could provide a strong political move by government as we edge closer to the election period. And the press have relayed the message to the extent that the public believe in this charade.

The press, the government and Keir Starmer QC have failed to supply the facts above. They have failed to mention how rare benefit fraud is. They have failed to mention that the figure for benefit fraud is dwarfed by the figure for unclaimed benefits, which stands, according to the DWP, somewhere between £7.5bn – £12bn.

This figure is further dwarfed by the amount lost to tax avoidance and tax evasion. Yet, the CPS has taken no such ‘hard line’ here. HM Revenue and Customs estimate the amount lost to tax avoidance and evasion at £32bn. The European Union estimate £95bn.

In the below graph, the fraud figures from the DWP of £1.2bn have been added to the HMRC figures for Working Tax Credit and child benefit fraud (equalling £870m – rounding to a total of £2bn):

Image: Fact Check C4

Image: Fact Check Blog – Channel 4

The move to increase the penalty for those committing benefit fraud is a prejudiced attack on the poor. Because CEOs, bankers and companies walk free of penalties for money fraud worth millions and sometimes billions, but the government want us to see benefit claimants found guilty of committing fraud for tens, hundreds, thousands of pounds as dangerous and as criminally punishable as violent offenders, rapists and murderers, who are likely to receive similar or less severe jail terms.

Richard Murphy, author and manager of the blog Tax Research, commented on the new laws:

“Tax fraud is now subject to maybe 400 prosecutions a year. The penalties are small. But ten years is being threatened for benefit fraud. The publicity, the sentences and the messaging is all disproportionate and the allocation of resources is all wrong.

“Tax evasion is the cancer really causing a crisis in the UK, undermining fair competition, destroying trust, eroding professional standards, fuelling austerity, driving misery and denying our children a future. But it’s benefit fraud that is picked on. That’s warped logic if ever there was evidence of such thinking.”

There must be punishment for breaking the law – few would disagree. But when a law is changed to persecute and punish an entire section of society, whilst another group are immune from the same laws, it is a smear against our justice system. And when the PR of party politics runs over into the laws and punishment of society, we are reaching a very worrying stage indeed.

by Kam Sandhu @KamBass
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The SKWAWKBOX

Please share this widely. The NHS is under propaganda attack yet again – the lie has a head start and the truth needs to catch up.

Apologies to everyone that I’ve been quiet for the last week or so. The arrival of my new granddaughter , but especially the everyday exigencies of trying to put bread on the table since I started my own company with a colleague with the aim (among others) of gaining more flexibility to write, have taken just about every waking hour for a while.

But I’ve been dying to write, about a number of topics – especially the NHS. I’ve wanted to write this post since last week – and I’ve been grinding my teeth in frustration at the patent and utterly irresponsible rubbish once again being pushed about the NHS based on that most vaporous foundation: HSMR mortality statistics.

It was claimed – predictably…

View original post 1,325 more words

The TaxPayer’s Alliance (TPA) released a report this month, entitled ‘Work For The Dole.’ The pressure group believe that this is the next step for welfare reform – it seems that no one told them that their proposal was already here, in the shape of workfare. However, the TPA defend their proposal, as they believe they have added enough rules to make the failing workfare system work.

I was told by a TPA member to read the report. So I did, and by looking closer at both the report and the TPA, there are a few points which should be contested. I narrowed them down to 10.

The TaxPayer's Alliance campaigns for lower taxes Image: The Guardian

The TaxPayer’s Alliance campaigns for lower taxes Image: The Guardian

1)    Workfare already exists and it does not work

The government have been running workfare schemes for around three years, and they have been embroiled in failure and deceit – ultimately not helping move people into employment. Read our facts post on the current workfare schemes here.

Some companies have abused the policy by using ‘free’ staff in place of what would otherwise be paid jobs – meaning the policy actually harms the value of work for EVERYONE.

Also, the government have been complicit in the abuse of the workfare scheme, by refusing to reveal the names of the companies who use it (despite a court ordering them to release this information) and by retroactively changing the law over two years, meaning that after the government were found guilty of implementing an unjust scheme, they avoided refunding claimants who were unfairly sanctioned by changing the law so that they weren’t guilty. Clearly, there are ethical problems and abuses by both government and companies that do not make them trustworthy at present to implement such a scheme.

The ‘Work For The Dole’ report does mention the Mandatory Work Activity scheme currently in place, but none of the others, despite there being around 8 in practice. The report also takes a rose-tinted look at the scheme in other countries such as Canada and the US.

The US has abandoned large parts of the workfare scheme, although, this is not mentioned in the ‘Work For The Dole’ report either. The DWP actually commissioned a research review in 2008, into the same places and the conclusions were a far cry from the TPA’s:

“There is little evidence that workfare increases the likelihood of finding work. It can even reduce employment chances by limiting the time available for job search and by failing to provide the skills and experience valued by employers. Subsidised (‘transitional’) job schemes that pay a wage can be more effective in raising employment levels than ‘work for benefit’ programmes. Workfare is least effective in getting people into jobs in weak labour markets where unemployment is high.”

2) Who is behind the TaxPayer’s Alliance? 

The TaxPayer’s Alliance describes itself as “Britain’s independent grassroots campaign for lower taxes.” Their name suggests that the group is made and run by ordinary taxpayers, however, looking at the policies that they have produced and their previous benefactors, the group have a heavy lean towards Conservative ideals. Many policies such as public sector pay freezes, cuts in spending and cuts in benefits have been adopted by the Conservatives after the TPA has suggested them.

The TPA refuses to reveal who funds them, but an investigation by the Guardian in 2009 revealed some close links with Tory Party donors:

“A Guardian investigation has established that a large part of its funds come from wealthy donors, many of whom are prominent supporters of the Conservative party. Sixty per cent of donations come from individuals or groups giving more than £5,000. The Midlands Industrial Council, which has donated £1.5m to the Conservatives since 2003, said it has given around £80,000 on behalf of 32 owners of private companies….

“A spokesman for Sir Anthony Bamford, the JCB tycoon, whose family and company have donated more than £1m to the Conservatives, said he has helped fund the TPA, as has the construction magnate Malcolm McAlpine.

“David Alberto, co-owner of serviced office company Avanta, has donated Elliott and his 14 staff a suite in Westminster worth £100,000 a year because he opposes the level of tax on businesses. Alberto has an offshore family trust but said 90% of his wealth is in the UK, where he pays tax.”

The TPA maintain that they are not linked to the Conservative party.

Still, with the TPA demanding secrecy over its benefactors, we are unable to say which taxpayers are being fought for, and there is quite a difference between the wants of an ordinary taxpayer and a billionaire.

Sir Anthony Bamford donates to the Conservative party and the TaxPayer's Alliance Image: The Telegraph

Sir Anthony Bamford donates to the Conservative party and the TaxPayer’s Alliance Image: The Telegraph

3)    Worklessness figures

The ‘Work For The Dole’ report claims; “One in four children now grow up in a household where no one works.”

This is not true. Recent figures from the Office for National Statistics revealed that one in seven children now grow up in a house where no one works. The proportion of ‘workless’ families in Britain has dropped from 17.9% to 17.1% in the last year. This is the lowest it has been since records began in 1996.

This misleading statistic seems to be an attempt to massage the ‘worklessness’ rhetoric voiced by the likes of Iain Duncan Smith and Dame Carol Black, but this myth has been disproven. Considering the state of the jobs market, economy and lengthy recession, it has been hard to find work for many. Particularly when added to the increase of temporary contracts, part time posts and zero hour contracts.

4)  Benefit claimant figures

The ‘Work For The Dole’ report claims; “5.6 million working age people are currently not working and reliant on benefits – a number that has remained stubbornly high even when the economy has grown (it has been over 5 million for more than a decade).”

Nothing has happened over 10 years, clearly. Oh, wait, population growth – 3.7million more people in the UK in the decade up to 2011. The TPA report neglects to add context to some of its statistics and seems to over-simplify figures.

Image: Parliament Uk

Image: Parliament Uk

5)    Job creation figures from 1997

“However, the analysis in section 3 below shows that 3.5 million new jobs have been created since 1997, and that employment today stands at a higher level than at any time in UK history. As 2.5 million jobs were created since 2000, out-of-work welfare claimant rolls stayed about the same. UK welfare claimants were not moving into work as jobs were created. 68 per cent of the jobs created were taken by immigrants prepared to work hard rather than rely on benefits. Many of the UK population on out-of-work benefits evidently weren’t interested in the new jobs.”

Work For The Dole, September 2013

1997!? 1997!!!? A little lenient, perhaps? These are figures from when John Major was in power and before the biggest boom ever. What are the figures for the number of jobs lost?

According to the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR), a report in 2011 said that the UK has lost 2m jobs in the recession. What effect has the recession had on the TPA’s figures?

6)    Spending has gone up, but the TPA report seems to blame this on the jobless alone

The ‘Work For The Dole’ report uses a graph to show how social security spending has gone up over the years. It certainly has gone up, but there are several reasons for this, not simply equating to the amount spent on the jobless alone.

Source: Work For The Dole: the next stage of welfare reform

Source: Work For The Dole: the next stage of welfare reform

Firstly, as we said earlier, the population has grown, so naturally social security spending has gone up. The amount spent on pensions for a growing and ageing population will increase, and also the addition of working tax credits – which wouldn’t need to be paid if pressure was put on big employers to pay employees a living wage.

And housing? Since the government have stopped building housing, people have been forced into the over-priced private sector which has doubled the amount spent on housing benefit in the last few years to over £24bn.

In simple terms, this graph shows us little about what is spent on the jobless. In fact, around 2-3% of welfare spending is on Job Seeker’s Allowance currently.

7)    ‘Work For The Dole’ seems to focus on heavily on punishment

There seems to be real focus on punishing people throughout the ‘Work For The Dole’ report, as it suggests that the current sanctions are not enough:

“Sanctions (i.e. suspension of benefits payments) for non-compliance with requirements set by Jobcentre Plus advisers are currently time limited, only applied to Jobseeker’s Allowance and ESA and are applied at the discretion of those advisers. They are used only used sporadically and so are not currently especially effective.”

In fact, sanctions can be applied for up to three years – a pretty broad time limit, and as of June this year 2.25m had been applied on job-seekers since the coalition came to power arising concerns over the vigour with which they are used.

But the TPA believe this is not enough – their report calls for harsher sanctions extending to all benefits under Universal Credit. The report said:

“The results of the Work Programme to date also suggest that the hardest-to-help cases may need some form of stronger sanction, as well as assistance, to get off benefits and back to work.”

Image: The taxPayer's Alliance

Image: The taxPayer’s Alliance

8)    Culture of corporate abuse

As mentioned earlier, there have been many cases of abuse of those on workfare schemes, by government and by companies. Whilst the TPA have applied some extra rules, including demanding that work-based placements must have some element of “training” underneath it, this is far too broad and easily exploited.

What constitutes training? Will it be serving behind a counter? Stacking shelves? Managing a team for 3 months? The current system purports to “train” people to be ready for work, and this can be easily undermined and the term can be manipulated to mean many things. The likelihood of this being exploited is demonstrated by the way it is already exploited in current workfare schemes.

The culture of corporate abuse on these schemes is something that needs to be dealt with, before eroding the value of a day’s work any further.

Also, the government, through their many different schemes with different names have tried to shed the ‘workfare’ name, for its negative connotations. The ‘Work For The Dole’ policy seems a timely gift to re-brand the already failing schemes.

Read some workfare accounts here.

9) Benefit spending on jobless  

“However, 57 per cent of welfare spending went to people of working age. This comprises £115 billion of annual expenditure or around 16 per cent of all government spending.“

Work For The Dole, September 2013

Welfare spending for working age people includes (from Left Foot Forward):

  • housing benefit
  • child tax credit
  • disability living allowance
  • child benefit
  • income support
  • working tax credit
  • job seekers allowance
  • employment support allowance

Job seekers allowance makes up around 2-3% of welfare spending, so we can see how the figure of 57% and 16% skew the reality.

10) TPA director paid no tax

In 2009, it was revealed that a TPA director paid no British tax. With the continued secrecy over TPA funders and members, could this say it all for the so-called “guardian of taxpayers’ money, the voice of taxpayers in the media and their representative at Westminster?” How much does the ordinary taxpayer have in common with Alexander Heath?:

“The Tory-linked “campaign group” TaxPayers’ Alliance has been forced to admit that one of its directors hasn’t paid a penny of UK tax in years. Alexander Heath – who, strangely enough, is not listed on the TPA website – lives in a farmhouse in the French Loire. Heath returns to the UK “for about a fortnight each year and owns no property in Britain”.

 

by Kam Sandhu @KamBass
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1) UN Special Rapporteur in housing calls for ‘bedroom tax’  spare room subsidy to be suspended in the name of human rights

Raquel Rolnik was invited here by government as part of their obligation with the UN, to investigate the availability of adequate housing, and its surrounding policies. Ahead of a report due to be released next year, Rolnik sent out a press release calling on the government to suspend the so-called ‘bedroom tax.’

What ensued was a harsh attack by Grant Shapps – the Conservative party chairman, attempting to denounce Rolnik’s findings as ‘biased.’Shapps called Rolnik a ‘woman from Brazil’ highlighting that the housing problems in Rolnik’s native land were far worse and therefore, she could not comment on housing in the UK. Shapps also wrote a strongly worded letter to the UN, claiming that Rolnik was not invited to the UK, and that her report should be investigated.

Image: Twitter.com

Image: Twitter.com

Rolnik hit back in an interview with Inside Housing, where she said that she not experienced such aggression from a government before, despite her previous missions including “Croatia, Algeria, Maldives, Argentina, United States, Israel, Rwanda, Palestine, Kazakhstan and Indonesia.” Rolnik also highlighted that the spare room subsidy was merely a part of the investigation and elsewhere she had been very positive about UK housing.

Rolnik is continuing her investigation, and for many campaigners, she is providing some hope in rectifying the problems caused by the ‘bedroom tax.’

Read more about this story here.

2) Woman with cerebral palsy told by ATOS she may be fit to work in six months, and her disability ‘expected to improve’

Amy Jones, 24, was can now expect re-assessments every six months and a possible loss of her Employment Support Allowance (ESA) after a fit to work test suggested that her incurable and debilitating condition – cerebral palsy, could improve.

Image: The Huffington Post

Image: The Huffington Post

Amy said:

“It even says in black and white in my medical reports from the hospital that my CP is becoming increasingly disabling.

“There is nothing in my reports to suggest that my CP is improving or becoming less painful or anything like that.”

Amy requested a copy of the ATOS report after being told she would need to be re-assessed for Income Support. The DWP said they could not comment on individual cases.

Read more about this story here.

3) Liberal Democrats will push for minimum wage rise

Business Secretary Vince Cable will approach the Low Pay Commission and ask them to restore the minimum wage to its real value, which is thought to have fallen 10-12% since 2008.

The plans come amid concerns that the economic recovery is not raising living standards, and will demonstrate a government focus on dealing with this in the run up to the election.

In an interview with the Guardian, Vince Cable said:

“We cannot go on for ever in a low pay and low productivity world in which all we can say to workers is ‘you have got to take a wage cut to keep your job’.”

Vince Cable Image: The Telegraph Photo credit should read: Carl Court/PA Wire

Vince Cable Image: The Telegraph Photo credit: Carl Court/PA Wire

Read more about this story here.

4) Michael Gove insulted food bank users, say Labour

Labour MPs branded Michael Gove as “insulting” and “out of touch” following his comments on food bank users.

The Education Secretary said that food bank users often had themselves to blame as “they are not best able to manage their finances,” before promising better support to deal with the rising number of food bank users.

Labour MP, Steve McCabe said:

“Families forced to go to food banks should not be stigmatised by secretaries of state. The spiralling number of food banks across Britain should be a mark of shame for this government.”

 by Kam Sandhu @KamBass
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