Archives For November 2013

An Open Letter To Boris Johnson

kamsandhu —  November 29, 2013 — 2 Comments

Dear Boris Johnson,

Your recent speeches have pushed me to write this open letter. Whilst seeing an unfortunate glimpse into the real values you hold, I at least applaud that you have spoken outside the generic defensive rhetoric used by most politicians to alleviate any PR disasters. Now at least we can talk honestly and openly about how out of touch, self-crediting and delusional your ideas are.

You tell us not to bash the bankers. You tell us not to criticise the rich. You tell us that the super-rich are experiencing the discrimination and treatment of a minority.

You seem so encouraged to defend them. Strange, I did not see you defending the unemployed who continue to be demonised as ‘scroungers’ by our government and the media – their problem being that they are a product of your beloved capitalist boom and bust system – intrinsic to the economic inequality you say we need. I have seen these people take the blame for anger felt by our public during the economic hardship. Blame they did not and still do not deserve. Blame that was purposely diverted through some of the most damaging and divisive rhetoric, begun and repeated by your fellow colleagues.

I have seen the unemployed punished by the policies of your party for problems they did not create and that you cannot solve. I have seen them demeaned by the culture of fear your party has instilled, whilst trying to survive the poverty they are living in. All while those responsible for this recession, yes the super rich, the bankers (or victims as you would call them) go unpunished. Instead, they are paid outlandish bonuses and able to garner more wealth. I have seen George Osborne and David Cameron defend those bonuses in court. But no defence has been offered by your party to the people who have suffered much harsher attacks on their lives, their treatment, their worth.

Neither did I see you defend the sick and disabled after disability hate crime rose this year. Following the romance of last year’s Olympics and Paralympics, the disabled have faced a torrent of abuse and humiliation through the failings of ATOS, through fit-to-work tests, through the news agenda framing these people as undeserving frauds.  I have met disabled people who have experienced attacks as a result of media vilification, but I did not hear you defend these people.

Yet here you are, insisting the rich should be celebrated and not criticised. They earned it right? Their IQ is high? Tell me, how high does your IQ have to be to govern the slowest recovery in a century? How high does your IQ have to be to consult with special advisers on the public payroll for every move and speech you make? How high does your IQ have to be to fiddle crime figures to what you need them to be, in some instances counting rape as a no crime? How high does your IQ have to be create a completely fraudulent election campaign and then delete it from the Internet after your pledges are all broken? How high does your IQ have to be to have a politician as a father?

It seems to me you may have IQ mixed up with privilege. Would that not explain the nepotism that made it easier for you to get into politics? A route many others have gained from? Would it not explain the private education background of so many politicians? Would it also not explain how people survive the months of free work as interns into sought after and influential jobs such as media? The career paths into this work are beaten tracks from the privilege you were born into. And the protective fence is sharp with policy to keep the less well off struggling enough to keep out. Look at education. Instead of creating a strong, innovative and sturdy state education system, your party divides it. It throws constant hurdles and changes that are impossible to keep up with. Nevermind trying to improve it. Look at the bedroom tax. 96% of people affected have nowhere to move to and if they cannot afford to pay they will be stuck in arrears and poverty cycles forced onto them as they have no other choice. Your position is one Warren Buffet described; “There’s class warfare alright, but it’s my class, the rich class, that’s making war, and we’re winning.”

So divisive. How fitting that you gave your most recent speech at the Margaret Thatcher lecture. A woman responsible, not just for the merger that hailed the start of politics and media as bedfellows, but a champion of the divide and rule culture you continue with today. You are the evolved homage. A product of thirty years of manipulation, moral panic and PR, that allows you to think that the public is now so stupid as to believe it is the rich who are the victims in this charade. I think the lecture got to your head a bit.

This is why I cannot agree with your dismissive idea that some are just too stupid to get on in life. As your government and the ones before it, pave policy and culture so opportunities are always given to the ones who cut the silouhette of your upbringing. Right now, the welfare cuts, the bedroom tax and workfare programmes are forcing some half a million people to turn to foodbanks. If a child from one of these homes goes to school hungry, and is unable to concentrate because their family cannot afford food, are they too stupid to get on in life? Or have they had their opportunities made more difficult by a government that sees fit to take from the worst off before they would ever fairly tax the wealthy? A government that stacks the odds against them?

And once again, your IQ comparison is just another attempt to divide us. To make the ones you have chosen to leave behind and under-serve, seem undeserving. Your party’s mantra is based on ensuring we divide ourselves, and see the differences in each other as a reason for hate. Look after ourselves and only ourselves. You have all but driven out the notion of how the whole is often greater than the sum of it’s parts.

We need the people who are good at IQ tests, but we also need the people who have other talents; science, sport, manual labour, problem solving, teaching, health, care.  We need all these and more to create a working society. We need the working population to help the old. Breakfasts at school not only provide food but also equal social experiences for children. Knowing your neighbours helps with childcare and the sharing of equipment and tools, as well as security. These are all things your mantra attempts to pull us from, so we instead fear and envy our neighbours, pit our children against each other and isolate the generations. But people are waking up, Boris.

“Greed is a valuable spur to economic activity,” you say.

The world’s richest 1% own 46% of the world’s wealth. Most economic activity is created by those with little money, having to buy things they need, yet much of the wealth is hoarded by the few super-rich. Is this the valuable spur you mean?

Greed has become a quest which is congratulated even when you impoverish your workers and behave unethically at the expense of people’s lives. Attitudes like this in the pursuit of anything else would see imprisonment and shaming and some serious mental illness questions.

Maybe you should ask the thousands of people in the UK in in-work poverty if greed is an economic spur. These are people who work hard each day and still can’t escape poverty. They work for large companies that refuse to pay them a living wage because of profit and greed. How valuable.

Ask the 24,000+ elderly that are expected to die this Winter in cold homes because you and your party will not stand up to the greed of energy companies, whether they feel this valuable economic spur. Tell this to all the millions of exploited workers around the world. Let me know how you get on.

You tell us not to bash the bankers. You tell us not to criticise the rich. You tell us that the super-rich are experiencing the discrimination and treatment of a minority. I say maybe the super rich being a minority is the problem.

Perhaps the rich would feel more a part of society if you restrained from building the millionaire’s playground on our capital. Affordability at 80% shows just how in touch you are, and who you don’t want in the city. You are not worried about social mobility. You are only worried for the millionaires in whose pocket you reside.

But I know why you have been making these speeches recently. It’s because something is erring. People are waking up to the culture of exploitation and corruption you defend. A global uprising took place on November 5th in over 400 locations worldwide against the wealth gap and austerity. Before and after, people up and down the country have been protesting for months against austerity, the bedroom tax, legal aid cuts, banking corruption, welfare reforms, workfare schemes and more. And people are noticing the absence of these voices in media. They are noticing the manipulation that has complimented politics all these years. And they are waking up.

People are uniting and mobilising, and that’s harmful to the privileged few, who have worked so hard to divide communities. So in some desperate hope to keep the status quo, Cameron tells us ‘profit is not a dirty word’. You tell us the super rich are victimised. Like a bumbling Gordon Gekko you tell us ‘Greed is Good’. But instead of invoking the funny and entertaining reaction that usually covers the true shape of your politics, this time the public felt the awkward and disturbing elitism you prescribe.

Best,

Kam Sandhu @KamBass

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Media: Burying Bad News

kamsandhu —  November 28, 2013 — Leave a comment

The other week, it was revealed that the Conservative party wiped all speeches, press releases and information on pre-election promises from their website, and also from the rest of the wider Internet. This can only be perceived as a move to delete evidence of broken promises and remove some ability to hold the party to account.

Delete_550

Image: The Blue Guerilla

Removing and minimising the release of ‘bad news’ has long been a tactic used across the board by political parties to censor the public knowledge of damage and corruption within government. And, while the deletion of years of speeches and promises from the Internet is a much bolder and damning move by the Conservative party, ‘burying bad news’ has been an ongoing stunt for years, creating smokescreens to hide negative results and reports, to speed through unpopular and controversial laws and moves, and to ensure the public are unaware of damaging and failing policies. The control of the news agenda has been practiced by politicians for some time now, in a world where PR aids the control of people, the release of news is a carefully planned strategy, which ultimately aims to ensure the public have little or no idea of the true failings of government.

The art of this tactic was honed by ‘The Grid’ – a meticulous, detailed diary of events and forward planning used by government. Announcements would be labeled as either ‘good news’ or ‘bad news,’ and slotted into play where they would be most complimentary for government.

Bad news would be released on busy days, ideally coinciding with other big announcements and distractions, in the shape of major sporting or global events, news about the Royal Family, the deaths of the very famous, Christmas and so on. Good news would be released on slow news days, and usually consisted of more investment in public services or new social schemes.

Image: BBC News

Image: BBC News

A prime example of this thinking is the Jo Moore scandal of 2001. On September 11th, as millions of people watched on in shock at the terrorist attack of the Twin Towers in New York, Jo Moore, a Labour Aide, sent a memo out saying: “It is now a very good day to get out anything we want to bury. Councillors expenses?”

The news Moore referred to was a minor change in Councillor pensions.

Unfortunately for Moore, the memo was leaked and outrage ensued. Rev David Smith, whose cousin died in the attack said in an interview with the BBC:

“This is basically burying bad news of a fairly insignificant kind under the bodies of 6,500 people. That is very, very bad for our nation.”

Despite the reaction to this type of news management, burying bad news continues to remain a basic strategy of government. For the coalition, the continued attacks and failures of policy affecting the disabled, benefit claimants, the young and the unemployed have called for huge censorships and restrictions on information which in some way or another, bury bad news. Here are some examples of the coalition’s attempts to smokescreen failures of it’s biggest policies:

Image: The Daily Mail

Image: The Daily Mail

1. Mid-Term Review – 70 broken pledges without any “fanfare”

In January of this year, Cameron was bracing himself for the mid-term review. Cameron had announced in December 2012 that he would provide the public with an audit and report of all targets and whether they had been missed or not.

But on Monday 7th January, the information was not released as expected.  On Tuesday, Cameron’s adviser Patrick Rock was seen carrying a document warning of “unfavorable coverage” over the “broken pledges” and insisted that the report could be published later that week without any “fanfare.”

In all, there were around 70 broken pledges including ones on criminal justice, pensions and the number of special advisers employed by government. The number of special advisers, responsible for the spin and PR of the coalition, had increased, demonstrating the continuing obsession with media manipulation and news agenda. Hardly the “transparent” government Cameron had promised.

Read more about this story here.

2. Youth Unemployment

The coalition set aside £1bn for the ‘Youth Contract’ to deal with youth unemployment. It offered subsidy to employers for taking on under 25s and amounted to £2275 for a six month job start.

Money was set aside for 160,000 contracts, but in May of this year only 21,000 had been applied for. Just over 2,000 of these had reached the full six month grant.

It was clear the Youth Contract had failed to deal with the huge problem of youth unemployment, with figures estimating that a third of unemployed youth had been unemployed for over 12 months. 15% had been unemployed for over 24 months, the worst rates since 1994.

Instead of releasing this news, the coalition held tight to the damning figures for months and refused to put them in the public domain. They buried and avoided the reaction to the failure of policy by simple refusal of release. Most likely, this extreme course of action was undertaken because of the sensitivity of the issue as well as the low figures. Long-term unemployment can have long-lasting and hugely damaging effects on young people. Many have warned of a ‘lost generation’as youth unemployment continues to top 1m. The World Health Organisation say that it is a health time bomb.

Still, it seems the Conservatives have adapted their plans for the next election; removing all benefits from the under 25s. How touching.

3. ATOS testing

ATOS testing has undoubtedly been one of the greatest disasters of the last few years, and yet the government have continued to ply the French Healthcare company with money and contracts reaching over £3bn worth in 2012.

ATOS won the £184m contract to be the sole provider of the Work Capability Assessments. Yet, the grounds on which this contract was won was fraudulent, as ATOS only went on to provide one seventh of the 740 promised testing centres. This meant sick and disabled people had to travel for miles to get to the centres and even these were sometimes inappropriate for certain conditions and disabilities.

The Department for Work and Pensions withheld this information for some time, until revealing it in response to a Freedom of Information Act lodged by the Disability News Service.

Unfortunately, the plight of ATOS testing did not stop there, as thousands of appeals, many upheld, were brought against ATOS decisions. Many sick and disabled people up and down the country were voicing the anxiety, humiliation and injustice they faced with the WCA.

An audit followed, which unsurprisingly returned some ugly results exposing an “unacceptable reduction” in the quality of ATOS reporting of disabled people’s eligibility for benefits – news that would surely harm the government’s decision to allow ATOS to continue administering tests.

And then came the news of the Royal Baby. As the Duchess of Cambridge went into Labour, the DWP released the report which called for supervision and training for all ATOS advisers. ATOS testing had clearly caused unnecessary and undue stress to thousands of sick and disabled people up and down the country at the taxpayer’s expense, and this report highlighted how untrained and unable staff were to make decisions on the support disabled people required.

But TV news and the papers were full of updates on the birth of a new Royal, and this provided the smokescreen to mask the ill treatment of our nation’s vulnerable. The DWP did respond to some who suggested they employed tactical news management, insisting they had made the news as “public as possible.”

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The coalition have done a lot to avoid the redress for failing policy. In these examples alone, we are not given a true representation of the continuing youth unemployment problems, the treatment of the sick and disabled and all policies implemented by the coalition. We have a right to know what the government are doing, and whether it is working. Restriction of this information is harmful to the people in need of help from policy, government and society.

Still, it is clear these are well honed tactics, and they grow ever bolder in lies, as Cameron purports to grant us a transparent government with audits of work, yet all the while the role of spin doctors continue and grow to present us with a maturing PR stunt.

We can never have a government that will solve our social problems, whilst we have one that seeks to disguise them. A government obsessed with media manipulation, spin and PR is one that will never be obsessed with serving the public the truth.

by Kam Sandhu @KamBass

Despite an outward stress on the necessity of work, the coalition government have helped to garner an employment landscape of insecurity, poverty and low worth. Welfare policy and employment laws changed over the last two years have been crucial in creating a power imbalance in favour of employers, ultimately damaging employee worth, status and work life.

At the beginning of this year, David Cameron announced plans to make it easier for employers to fire workers. By increasing the length of service from one year to two before a hearing can be called following dismissal, and by reducing the sick pay, redundancy pay and compensation amounts employees can claim for, Cameron said that these relaxations in employment laws would make companies see less risk in hiring more people, and this would also ‘get rid of the bad’ to let in the skilled employees.

David-Cameron1

However, allowing employers to fire employees more easily by cutting red tape does not solve the problem of a lack of jobs. Further, the report that David Cameron commissioned from Adrian Beecroft in support of law relaxation was admittedly based on a ‘hunch’ rather than economic proof or explanation:

“Quantifying the loss of jobs arising from the burden of regulation, and the economic value of those jobs, is an impossible task…How many more businesses would there be, how many people would they employ, how many more people would existing businesses employ, how profitable would all these businesses be? Who knows?”

Yet, Cameron pressed to apply these measures, insisting that America had relaxed it’s laws and seen a drop in unemployment. But, while the US remained relatively stagnant in it’s position, Germany halved it’s unemployment figures whilst maintaining much stronger laws and regulations for employers.

Whilst Cameron was forced to retreat on these plans by deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, the subject has surfaced again a few times, with support from Vince Cable and some Tory Ministers. Still, changes to laws like this during a fragile recovery will only cause anxiety for workers who feel the threat of losing their jobs on top of the hardship of the current climate. It also assumes the employer acts in employee interests which has been disproven time and time again, says lawyer Edward Cooper:

“An underlying assumption in these proposals is that employers all act reasonably. We see day in and day out that employers do not always act reasonably, especially when there is money to be saved.”

Edward Cooper, Channel 4, 2012

Despite these proposals being put on the back burner, changes to employment tribunal fees were passed in July this year, meaning that employees seeking justice, investigation, hearing or tribunal would now have to pay to have their case heard. Again, at a time of fragility for the market, this put employees on the back foot should they be treated unfairly by their employer.

Under the new rules, it would cost £160-250 to lodge a claim and a further £230-950 if the claim goes to court, which is usually the case with claims such as unfair dismissal or discrimination. The Ministry of Justice also charge £1200 for a full hearing if people want to challenge the decision of an employment tribunal.

Government have said that these fees were brought in to encourage ‘mediation’ and negotiation without the Courts, in the hope more cases could be settled outside the legal system.

However, these fees are attacks on the employee’s rights alone, and only make it harder for employees to fight companies who often already have the upper hand. The fees give companies more leeway to treat employees unfairly, in the hope they cannot afford to bring them to justice. For some grievances, the cost is more than the money an employee feels they are owed, but could count highly as a case for morality or discrimination and be important in ensuring a company is reprimanded for treating someone unfairly.

Despite the fees now existing, trade union Unison has won the right to take the case to judicial review, in the hope the fees will be lifted. Unison, with the support of the Human Rights Commission, argue that the fees make it impossible for workers to exercise their rights. The Ministry of Justice have vowed to refund all fees should Unison win the case.

Dave Prentis, Unison General Secretary said the fees “give the green light to unscrupulous employers to ride roughshod over already basic workers’ rights.”

The hearing continues.

As well as these changes to laws, the government have implemented their own damaging schemes, which are currently taking their toll on the employment market. Welfare-to-work schemes which incorporate workfare policies are forcibly sending unemployed people to work for 30-60 hours a week for their unemployment benefit or they risk sanctions or withdrawal of benefits.

Minster for Work and Pensions, Iain Duncan Smith insisted these policies were designed to allow people to gain work experience to secure future employment. However, the schemes have just widened the already burgeoning ‘work experience’ and ‘intern’ industry which already operates cruelly in the fashion, media and music world and employs an entire workforce of free labour for the same, often unlikely, chance of employment at the end.

Whilst gaining months of free work experience was once expected if you wanted to get into a much sought after industry, now workfare policies insist they are required for minimum wage jobs stacking shelves. As the interns of the music and media industries are trying to gather to gain some rights and protection against being exploited by companies and employers, the welfare-to-work programmes are normalising work experience for the low paid.  Entry level jobs are beginning to carry work experience criteria, and the free workforce donated by the government rotates to feed a steady supply of workers to companies. This sort of policy replaces paid jobs with free labour. It devalues work and treats workers as commodities. It creates higher barriers to work by insisting on months of free work for minimum wage jobs.

Image: legal-aware.org

Image: legal-aware.org

Thus workers are desperate, and employers are often only happy to exploit this, as we have seen in the prevalence of the zero hour contract. Sports direct used these contracts for over 90% of staff. They offered no holiday or sick pay, and did not have to guarantee any hours. To ensure employees would take home money, they would have to take any hours the employer asked of them, at whatever short notice. Giselle Cory of the Resolution Foundation said in an interview with RealFare earlier this year, that these contracts were also found to be used as management tools, to punish employees if they did not take on work when and as the employer demanded:

“But what we see actually, is that these contracts are being used to disempower the employee. We’ve seen evidence of really bad management practice where someone is on a zero hour contract, their boss says ‘I want you to work Saturday.’ They might say ‘I can’t’ or ‘I can’t get childcare’ for example, or ‘I would simply rather not’, and they are zeroed down, which is effectively where they’re pushed to very few or no hours in the medium or longer term. So that’s in effect, using these contracts as a management tool, when that’s not what they’re intended for and that’s a great imbalance of power between the employer and the employee.”

Giselle Cory, Resolution Foundation

And with the rise of these contracts we also see the worst rates of underemployment on record, with 1.46m people in part time work in need of more hours. Thousands of people are desperate for work and so many take on any contract and terms they can. This is at the expense of their rights and their home life as work may demand availability at any time. Many are at the mercy of employers to work at short notice and so sacrifice plans, commitments, family time for minimum wage jobs that offer them no security or help should they fall ill or need time off. The imbalance is clear.

And the government’s moves have made it easier to exploit employees, and treat them as disposable. The priorities have not been to make a secure employment landscape for people in the recovery but to allow employers to use and abuse at will. Whilst the government and media rhetoric has made it shameful not to work, employers are made to feel no shame for making workers poor on time, worth and money.

by Kam Sandhu @KamBass

Energy Prices: The Facts

kamsandhu —  November 26, 2013 — Leave a comment

Today, Fuel Poverty Action will stage a demonstration against the Big Six, outside the Npower offices. You can find out more info about the event here.

Energy prices have gone up 37% since 2010 – eight times the average wage increase since then. The decision of heating or eating is a very real prospect for many families and individuals up and down the country, as the number of people using foodbanks also continues to rise.

With the Big Six Energy companies, who are Npower, Scottish Power, E.On, EDF, British Gas and SSE, increasing their prices by a further 8-10% just before winter, the rates of fuel poverty continue to rise and over 24,000 elderly deaths are expected as a result of cold homes.

Image: The Guardian

Image: The Guardian

The energy companies insist that the reason for the steep increases is due to wholesale price rises, but this is not true. As this graph shows, wholesale prices have actually gone down since the recession first hit in 2008 (thanks to Tom Pride’s blog):

Image: Pride's Purge - tompride.wordpress.com

Image: Pride’s Purge – tompride.wordpress.com

When Ed Miliband promised to freeze energy prices for 18 months should he be elected in 2015, he was shouted down by Conservatives who claimed this could not be done because energy companies could raise prices before and after. Still, this brought the struggle to meet these bloated price rises to the forefront, and also highlighted the extent to which the country is being held to ransom by the Big Six.

Cameron now wants to drop the ‘green levy’ having been put under pressure to deal with the cost of living. But this is another step in the favour of energy companies and not the public.

The ‘green levy’ or Climate Change levy makes up around 9% of the average bill, around £112 of £1267 yearly bill. This money goes to creating renewable energy sources such as wind-farms and solar power as well as money towards helping the elderly and the poor with their bills.

Dropping this levy has been lobbied for by the Big Six, and the impact will only serve to bolster their profits, whilst energy alternatives are pushed further and further back, and money is taken from those that already desperately need it and will need it even more following the price rises. Dropping the green  levy does nothing to stop or challenge the energy companies in charging anything they want. This is a cowardly and short-sighted move by Conservatives to avoid upsetting the Big Six.

Allowing energy companies to become this powerful and collude in raising prices has highlighted a huge problem in privatisation and the selling off of public services. A recent YouGov poll showed that much of the public would like to re-nationalise many of our services including energy and railways:

Support for nationalisation

Meanwhile, thousands of people are continuing to face the decision of whether to heat or eat. This is why Fuel Poverty Action is protesting today, as energy price rises sign the death certificates of the most vulnerable this winter, in the name of profit. To combat the power which the Big Six hold over Britain, government need to make some bold steps to regain parts of its services. Dropping the green levy will not help our future resources or the most vulnerable and it won’t stop the energy companies from continuing to hike up their prices.

 

by Kam Sandhu @KamBass

1) ‘No more Neets’ – IPPR release new report for Labour plan to tackle 1m unemployed youth

The IPPR released a report entitled ‘No More Neets’ aimed at tackling the ‘lost generation’ of 1m unemployed 16-24 year olds not in employment, education or training.

The report has been attacked for removing benefits from young people and replacing it with a new ‘Youth Allowance’ which would require young people to take on training or work experience for up to six months, before being offered a taxpayer subsidised minimum wage or traineeship role, should they not find any other employment.

The plan takes on some of the welfare-to-work programmes and ideas, but these have failed to solve employment problems time and time again. As Johnny Void explains “you can’t fix unemployment by fixing unemployed people, a lesson which has sadly still not been learned by politicians today.”

Rachel Reeves, Labour welfare minister supports the IPPR report Image: BBC

Rachel Reeves, Labour welfare minister supports the IPPR report Image: BBC

Read the report here.

Read Johnny Void’s post on the report here.

2) Training people to use Universal Credit could cost hundreds of millions

Training claimants to use the new Universal Credit system could cost hundreds of millions, according to an unpublished report commissioned by the Department for Work and Pensions. The study, carried out by 3 London councils, found that each would have to spend £6m over two years on training and support for claimants, to equip them with digital and financial skills required to use the system.

The report suggests that millions of hours of support, face-to-face training and telephone help from charities, private companies and government will be required to ensure claimants can use the online system, or failure to do so could risk debt, eviction and homelessness. Around one in ten claimants will need intensive support.

Image: gov.uk

Image: gov.uk

Iain Duncan Smith, Minister for Work and Pensions, insisted the system would give claimants a chance “to get back into the 21st Century,” by reaching the digitally tame and socially excluded households. However, the Universal Credit system has already been blighted with overspending and budget problems, with £34m already written off earlier this year due to IT problems.

Read more about this story here. 

3) ATOS launches YouTube channel for Benefit claimants

ATOS, the French healthcare company which administers the controversial fit-to-work tests has launched a new YouTube channel for benefit claimants. The channel has some short videos providing information for disabled claimants applying for the new Personal Independence Payment, fit-to-work testing and Employment Support Allowance.

See more videos here.

4) Petition success will see Iain Duncan Smith questioned over flagship policies

Following a petition that gained over 100,000 signatures, Minister for Work and Pensions, Iain Duncan Smith will have to face questioning over the flagship Universal Credit policy and other DWP statistics and spending on 9th December at 4:30pm. Numerous revelations, problems (like the above) and lies have shrouded policy implemented by IDS, in the biggest reforms to happen to welfare policy ever. Yet, the Minister has been regularly absent or unavailable to comment on the problems.

Paula Peters, a disability campaigner posted the following photo and comment after handing in the petition:

“Petition with 105,000+ to call Iain Duncan Smith to account for his lies and corruption. It was taken to Westminister by Jane Linney, Kate Green (Labour Shadow Minister for Disabled People), Liz Kendall (Labour shadow minister for Care and Older People), Paula Peters and Debbie Sayers. The group along with the MPs signed the covering letter that went with the box and then it was handed over. Because of the petition Iain Duncan Smith will appear in front of a select committee on 9th December. So far he has arrogantly evaded attempts to question him, this time he will have to appear. Well done to all the brave and beautiful disabled people who fought long and hard despite facing incredible hardship to make this petition happen.”

1422595_715567895139015_565248047_nRead more about this story here. 

by Kam Sandhu @KamBass

On Tuesday, protestors will gather in a demonstration against the BIg Six energy companies and fuel poverty.

Fuel Poverty Action, UK Uncut, DPAC, and the Greater London Pensioners Association promise an ‘outrageous, creative and inclusive’ protest which begins outside the Royal Exchange and ends outside the Npower offices.

The event page says:

“On November 26th, the number of people who died last winter from cold homes will be announced. But we won’t stand for any more unnecessary deaths caused by price-hiking, polluting, profiteering, tax avoiding energy companies. So join us as we take to the streets in central London to target one of the main energy robbers driving fuel poverty.”

Visit the Facebook page here

Image: Facebook

Image: Facebook

Take a bow Iain Duncan Smith. Thanks to Johnny Void for this…..

the void

universal-jobmatch-do-not-tickIn yet more humiliation for Iain Duncan Smith’s bungled welfare reforms, Universal Jobmatch was judged the worst online jobs website at a recent industry awards ceremony.

The government job-seeking website, which has been plagued by spam, scams and spoof vacancies, won the ‘Wooden Nora’ at last week’s National Online Recruitment Awards.  730 online recruitment websites were considered for awards with Universal Jobmatch being judged the worst.  According to The Guardian’s Diary the website was described as a “mongrel of a recruitment website” that “commits almost every online recruitment crime, and then some.”

Universal Jobmatch was designed at huge cost – believed to be approaching almost £20 million.  Despite this the site has been plagued by technical problems as well as becoming home to thousands of flaky self-employment schemes, pyramid scams and fake job adverts used to harvest CVs and even commit identity theft.  It is hard to understand…

View original post 171 more words

Corporate benefits is a feature which aims to cast light on how big businesses and companies receive benefits and gain profit from welfare policy. Whilst the media have been quick to name and shame the benefit cheats that make up 0.7% of all claimants, they have been quiet on the ways in which corporations profit handsomely from our ‘bloated’ welfare system.

In the last article, we spoke about Workfare – a series of schemes set up by government which hand companies a free workforce, paid unfairly (and unlawfully when referring to laws on the minimum wage) at a cost to the taxpayer and other workers.

This time, we look at Working Tax Credits.

Image: taxcredits.net

Image: taxcredits.net

Working Tax Credits are a means tested benefit for those on low incomes. Essentially, they top up low pay. Working Tax Credits were introduced in the UK in 2003, as a way of encouraging people to take on low paid work. Last year, £14bn was spent on such credits, and as the government pull back welfare spending in all other areas, the solution to saving money here is rarely tackled.

Despite the Working Tax Credit being a huge help to those on low income, it does not address the subject of low pay. And far from the credit being used to help top up the pay of employees of small companies and start up businesses, it now subsidises the pay of employees from huge corporate conglomerates who’s profits are in the billions.

Huge supermarket chains, clothes stores and other companies now have thousands of employees who claim Working Tax Credits. This calls into question the helpfulness of the policy, as what seems to be materialising is a culture of low pay amongst large companies who are aware that the state will pick up the bill.

Whilst the introduction of the minimum wage was meant to protect against the low pay issue, the wage has not increased in line with inflation for years and is running behind at a rate of 10-12%. Thus, the minimum wage is not performing the action of a minimum standard of living. This is why we have recently seen the Living Wage being pressed for in news and media.

Image: citizensuk.org

Image: citizensuk.org

The Living Wage is a rate set according to the basic cost of living in the UK and it recently rose to £7.65 per hour in the UK and £8.80 in London. Companies may take on the Living Wage on a voluntary basis, but as the gap between the minimum wage, inflation and the cost of living increases, the need for the Living Wage is becoming ever more important to those on low pay.

Ed Miliband recently promised a temporary tax break to companies who begin using the Living Wage, if Labour are elected in 2015, and while the momentum for this pay is increasing and positive, legislation is the real power that can change the conditions of all on low pay.

Working Tax Credits, whilst seemingly helping out the low paid worker, is allowing companies – who can afford to pay a living wage – the ability to underpay employees with the knowledge that the welfare system is at hand, and for these companies the tax credit is subsidising profit and avoiding the issue of low pay. Working Tax Credits should only be awarded to those working for small businesses who are trying to grow, as a support to both the worker and the business, if used at all.

Around 20% of welfare spending goes to in-work tax credits, and if the government are serious about cutting welfare spending then it is about time they asked large companies to pay fairly for staff, and put an end to a culture where companies reap the benefits and profits from low paid employees and our welfare system.

by Kam Sandhu @KamBass

1) MPs vote on bedroom tax 

On Tuesday 12th November, MPs gathered to debate and vote on whether the bedroom tax should be abolished. To see what was said click here. Unfortunately, despite evidence that the hated policy was not working due to a lack of smaller housing and options leaving tenants in arrears and poverty cycles, the vote returned a result of 252 voting against abolishment and 226 for.

Following the debate, Labour have been attacked and accused of ‘rank hypocrisy’ after 47 of its MPs failed to show for the key vote which is one of Labour’s own motions, with a promise to abolish the tax should they win the election in 2015.

The Herald were told that 24 Labour MPs were absent due to a pairing with a coalition minister.

21 Lib Dems also did not vote, with some believed to have done so in protest.

Bedroom Tax Protest Image: birminghamagainstthecuts.co.uk

Bedroom Tax Protest Image: birminghamagainstthecuts.co.uk

Read more about this story here.

2) David Cameron announces we need permanent austerity from a gold lectern

In a speech to the lord mayor’s banquet last week, prime minister David Cameron announced that Britain needed to remain a leaner state, and called for permanent austerity.

Image: The Guardian

Image: The Guardian

The photo that emerged from the banquet shows David Cameron in white regalia, speaking from a gold lectern, next to a gold throne and many reacted to the speech suggesting that this demonstrated how out of touch Cameron is with those at the sharp end of the austerity measures he promotes.

“We are sticking to the task. But that doesn’t just mean making difficult decisions on public spending. It also means something more profound. It means building a leaner, more efficient state. We need to do more with less. Not just now, but permanently.”

David Cameron

Further, prior to not really winning the election in 2010, Cameron said that he would introduce austerity measures for a short time to get the country back on track. No one signed up for permanent austerity. Yet, Cameron now wants to abandon his election promises and continue with indefinitely with the cuts.

But perhaps Cameron was hoping we wouldn’t remember this or find it out, following another revelation this week, that the conservative party have attempted to wipe all of their speeches from 2000-2010 from the Internet. We can only imagine this is because they want to wipe the evidence of promises the conservative party have broken, including the one for a transparent government.

Image: @labourpress

Image: @labourpress

3) Disabled could lose 50,000 jobs

The Disability Benefits Consortium (DBC) – an organisation formed of over 50 leading charities, has warned that welfare reforms could see 50,000 disabled people lose their jobs.

Image: e-activist

Image: e-activist

The move for disability benefits from the Disability Living Allowance (DLA) to the Personal Independence Payment (PIP) will see thousands lose out on support due to tougher eligibility criteria. The government’s own projections estimate that 500,000 disabled people will no longer be allowed to claim.

Many disabled people use the support from the DLA to help them get around where they cannot use public transport. Without this extra support many disabled people may not be able to hold on to their jobs.

The PIP will save £145million. But the loss of tax and national insurance payments from the jobs disabled people stand to lost could cost £278million in tax and national insurance and the cost to the taxpayer to pay for unemployment benefit for those that lose their job will amount to £178million.

Steve Winyard, co-chair of the DBC said:

“One in five disabled people use DLA to help them in work. But thousands could be forced out of employment as a result of cuts to mobility help.

DWP has failed to analyse this issue to date.  It is vital that cuts don’t  force disabled people out of work and cost more to the public purse overall.”

Read more about this story here. 

3) Underemployment now worst on record

The Office for National Statistics revealed that 24,000 more part-time workers were looking for full-time work between July and September.

This takes the figure for underemployment to 1.46m – the highest since records began in 1992, under John Major.

TUC General Secretary, Frances O’Grady said the figures show that while the workforce is increasing, people are still becoming poorer;

“We need better jobs and healthier pay rises to tackle to the living standards crisis and ensure that the full benefits of recovery reach working people.”

David Cameron avoided questions and attacks by using the additional 177,000 in employment as “proof our long-term plan for Britain is working.”

Read more about this story here. 

by Kam Sandhu @KamBass

Following the Commons debate on the Bedroom Tax yesterday, the Vox Political blog has summed up what was said….

Vox Political

“I’m amazed Labour have chosen to spend their allotted day in Parliament arguing for more unfunded spending on housing benefit.” That’s what Matt Hancock, Conservative MP for West Sussex, had to say about the Opposition Day debate on the Bedroom Tax in the House of Commons on November 12.

Hancock is, it seems, author of a book entitled Masters of Nothing, which sums up his understanding of the situation rather well. He clearly has not mastered the fact that the State Under-Occupation Charge will not save money. He has not mastered the fact that emptying dwellings of their current owners will not make them available to new familes as these people are afraid they will themselves be tipped onto the street when their circumstances change – instead the premises will be left empty, at huge cost to social landlords; and he has not mastered the fact that anyone evicted because…

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