Archives For September 2014

by Kam Sandhu @KamBass

Wear Red started as a defiant act against the state funeral (costing millions), of a woman who’s indifference to that very same state became the reason for widespread devastation in the interest of private profit for a few. We caught up with the people behind Wear Red, who continue to spread information on government hypocrisy and continue to garner support, to find out more.

Image: Wear Red

Image: Wear Red

Can you tell us about how Wear Red started? And why red?

Wear Red started in the city of Plymouth as a protest against the public cost of Margaret Thatcher’s funeral at a time of supposed austerity…(the initial idea actually was borne out of a conversation between Paul (one of the admins) and a Church of England vicar who commented that it would be good to see people wearing red on the day of her funeral in memoriam of the peoples lives she ruined, and as a reminder to David Cameron and the Conservatives that there were a lot of people out there who not only despised her and her legacy, but saw the hypocrisy on display in the current government’s policies).

Paul then contacted James (the other admin) and asked him to help set up the protest group on Facebook called ’10 million for Thatcher’s funeral wear red in protest’. We just invited our friends initially, but neither of us expected what happened next…

We obviously struck a chord because within a couple of days we had over 1000 pages likes. A couple of days after the MSM had picked up on us and were trying to get statements and interviews off us (presumably because they were looking for the counterpoint argument about the waste of public taxes on a millionairess’ funeral). We were featured on Channel 5 news and ITN with screenshots of our page, and we were even mentioned in Australia, Japan, Norway, Sweden and others. After that exposure our page likes jumped from 1000 to nearly 6000 in a week and the reach of our better posts were in excess of 2 million people.

Image: Wear Red

Image: Wear Red

We should point out our protest was always non-violent and was promoted as something that anyone could do anywhere in the country. We asked people to send us pictures of them wearing red in support of our protest. The cover picture to our page is made up of a fraction of the images we received, from people of all ages and occupations.

Our posts were designed to be evocative and to show the blatant hypocrisy of the British government, who were on one hand preaching the need for austerity but with the other were happy to blow millions of taxpayer’s money on the funeral of a Tory icon. Our objectives from the beginning were to present news stories which wouldn’t get much attention in the right wing dominated media in a tabloid ‘infographic style’ format. We also ensured we had references and links attached to our posts so viewers could trace the source if they wanted.

After the funeral we asked our readership whether we should carry on spreading information about the morally bankrupt decisions of the UK government and big businesses. We were met with a resounding yes from our page followers so we then set up our current Facebook page ‘Wear Red Stand up and Be counted’, which about 1500 from the old page liked immediately. From that we have steadily grown (despite all Facebook’s efforts to filter our posts and make us pay them money) and we are now about to reach 10,000 page likes.

Image: Wear Red

Image: Wear Red

Why Red?

Red of course being the colour of anger at what Thatcher did, and Cameron is doing; as well as being universally recognised as the colour of the left wing which Thatcher and others thought they’d eradicated from British politics. (This has led to many many accusations that we are a stealth wing of the Labour party which is untrue – we are just 2 ordinary people who are disgusted at the way the country is being taken over by unaccountable commercial interest at the expense of the rest of us). We never really set out to become social media activists, and actually neither of us support the Labour party. We both hold left wing views but feel disenfranchised since the Lib Dems and Labour sold out to ‘the blob’ and abandoned their core principles. Tony Blair and Nick Clegg… We hate you.

We are both fairly environmentally minded and you will often see posts about climate change, fracking and other issues. Our views are probably most closely aligned to the Green party at the moment, although we don’t generally promote this as the page is more about exposing government hypocrisy.

Another core value of Wear Red is freedom of speech which means unlike the Conservatives, Britain First and other right wing groups, we allow criticism of what we are saying and do not censor material unless it is grossly offensive or inflammatory. We’ve posted articles to the Conservative facebook page, only to have them swiftly removed minutes later. (They don’t like it up ’em). We are also completely opposed to UKIP and their brand of ‘lowest common denominator’ populist politics which they use to disguise their real turbo neo-liberal agenda and bigoted view of the world…God help us if they ever get into power!

Image: Wear Red

Image: Wear Red

Much of the information supplied on your page is not widely reported in media, though it concerns important social issues, and you back up your information with sources. What are your thoughts and feelings on why the media has failed to report on these things as you have, despite the information being out there?

Well clearly the mainstream media (MSM) and the BBC (presumably with the threat of Murdoch being held over their heads by the Tories) are promoting the same right wing agenda, which aims to engineer (through disinformation and biased reporting) the consent of the UK electorate to support the free market neoliberal way of thinking and perpetuate their control over pretty much every aspect of our lives. Obviously anything that goes against this ideological narrative is ignored, or if it can’t be ignored, it is spun out of all recognition. (Remember the 60,000 strong march in Manchester in support of the NHS which the BBC did not headline, but instead listed it under local news)…Why are we paying our licences again?

Image: Wear Red

Image: Wear Red

You have made it clear that you have no affiliation to any political party. How do you feel about voting and the voting system? And why is it important to you to distance yourself from any of the parties?

Our FPTP system does not deliver representative democracy full stop. It is a truism that in general elections for most of us, votes don’t really count with only a handful of constituencies really helping decide who we have in office.

Clearly we need full proportional representation as it is the fairest electoral system out there. Of course thanks to Nick Clegg not insisting on this and accepting “a miserable compromise” which the electorate resoundingly rejected, we suspect this will not happen for many more years.

Look out for tomorrow’s post, detailing what policies Wear Red say we need as David Cameron announces his at the Tory Party Conference.

Support Wear Red here.

1) Tories defeated in bedroom tax bill amendment vote

Labour and Lib Dem MPs united to press forward with the Affordable Homes Bill in a vote that went against the Tory agenda on benefits.

The Affordable Homes Bill will amend the bedroom tax policy, making those unable to find a smaller home exempt from the levy.

Image: capita Software

Image: capita Software

Within a few months of the bedroom tax coming in, research showed that up to 96% of families hit by the tax had nowhere to move to, with a fall in building rates, social housing and scarcity of 1-2 bedroom housing.

The idiots that came up with this policy also put in a caveat that those affected would be unable to move until arrears are paid. And so a family that can and would move into a smaller house to avoid the charge and do as the government wants, can’t move if they are in arrears from the bedroom tax and so a cycle of debt ensues that benefits no one.

And while it is incredible that a policy this dedicated to causing debt and stress to the worst off ever made it through the gate, it caused far less furore in Parliament that those complaining about a mansion tax that would help pay for the NHS shortfall. Double standards, indeed.

Read more about this story here.

2) JRF call for independent body to hold government to account for record on poverty

 Joseph-Rowntree-Foundation

A new report released by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation entitled ‘A UK without poverty’ recommends that the Office for Budget Responsibility monitors and forecasts poverty rates in the UK.

“The publication says successive government’s attempts to tackle poverty have not been good enough, with overall levels of poverty similar now to what they were 25 years ago.

“This is a waste of human potential, a strain on the public purse, and it means the UK economy does not function as well as it could – child poverty alone costs the country £29 billion a year.”

See the report here.

3) Osborne set to miss deficit reduction target again as UK borrowing rises

An increase in UK borrowing thought to be fuelled by weak tax receipts may see the chancellor bring in even heavier cuts to meet targets before 2015 election.

“Weak tax receipts pushed borrowing to £11.6bn in August excluding bank bailouts, £700m more than a year earlier according to the Office for National Statistics. Borrowing in the fiscal year so far, from April to August, was £45.5bn, £2.6bn higher than the same period last year.

“Economists said the poor start to the year had put at risk the Treasury’s official target of reducing borrowing to £95.5bn in 2014-15 from £105.8bn in 2013-14. Howard Archer, chief UK economist at IHS Global Insight, said Osborne had “a mighty tough job” on his hands to meet the target.”

Somehow we’re not surprised, but this may mean that Osbourne will push deep and quick before the election to implement damaging and destructive cuts to the worst off to pay for his failures.

Read more about this story here.

3) Cameron to cut public funds from Scotland

Promises made to Scottish voters in the final hours before polling stations opened for the referendum on independence, are being hacked away at by Cameron who now says he will cut funding to Scotland.

Cameron claimed he would use the Barnett formula as a way of spreading funding in order to convince Scottish voters to stay in the union. However since then, Tory MPs and backbenchers  have voiced their anger with the policy which would grant an extra £1600 per head in Scotland more than England.

Read more about this story here.

4) Focus E15 mothers garner national support

A group of mothers who were threatened with eviction from their hostel without help or promise of a suitable home are due in court this week and asking for help, whilst staging an occupation against their eviction in a campaign for more social housing and suitable, affordable homes.

 10414390_10152460730639976_5972111780655865624_n

See what they’re up to and how you could help at their Facebook page here.

5) Farage pulls ‘wag tax’ days after announcement

UKIP plans to introduce a tax on luxury goods such as shoes and handbags, dropped plans soon after their announcement claiming they were only a ‘discussion point.’ UKIP subsequently went back to imitating and hardening Tory ideals.
 
“However, the major event of the conference was the defection to Ukip of Tory rightwinger Mark Reckless, and the main policy announcements appeared to be aimed at the right, including scrapping inheritance tax and lowering income tax rates in a way that would mainly benefit wealthier voters. The £12bn of proposed cuts would be paid for by slashing foreign aid and leaving the European Union.”
Image: Wear Red

Image: Wear Red

6) Harry Leslie Smith brings Labour conference to tears as he recounts life before the NHS

One of the most touching and truthful speeches you will ever see on the reasons why our NHS is so important and needs protecting, from a 91-year old Second World War veteran.

One organiser said after this weekend in Edale that it felt like ‘the end of the beginning’, which may not mean much out of context, but this is a huge step for a left that has been struggling to remake itself for decades. FF14-banner-small

Over the weekend of the 12th -14th September over 150 activists and organisers came together for a residential weekend conference in Edale.  Whilst this alone may not seem newsworthy, the outcomes may be some of the most important for the British left in a decade or more.

***
The decline of the British left has been commented on by many for a long time.  The causes are vast and complex, and can be traced back to the defeat of the miners in 1984, and the collapse of the USSR in 1989.

British society has become a little more socially liberal since then, and technologically far more advanced, but it has also become vastly more unequal, less democratic, and less free.  Day to to day living has also become more precarious, stressful and unsure.

Against the array of forces creating these conditions – imperialist states such as our own, multinational corporations, global trade deals and organisations, religious extremists and climate changing industries – the left has been able to do little.

There have been notable exceptions but, when it comes down to it, everyone has been confused about what to do and how to do it.

Our often weak response to the austerity agenda and the misery it has caused has been indicative of a left that, among other losses, failed to stop an invasion that no one wanted, failed to genuinely tackle climate change, failed to save free education, and failed to stop the privatisation of the NHS from within.

The fear of creating – or working with – the all encompassing Parties of the Leninist Socialist/Communist tradition after the collapse of the USSR created a space for new organisations to flourish.  These ‘horizontalist’ ‘networked’ ‘consensus based’ organisations had been around for a while, but came into their own over the past 25 years.

***

Back to Fast Forward Festival.

Organised by Plan C (a name that suggests communism, but also the failures of both Plans A and B to the credit crisis), experienced organisers who had worked in both Leninist and Horizontal groups over this period came together to discuss ‘what is to be done?’

This may seem like something that happens a lot, but rarely – in this writer’s time involved with the left at least – has there been a gathering where the organisers and attendees were so honestly committed to answering this question.

There was no rush to organise for the next campaign, or build a coalition, or to recruit to a party.  There was no organisational form that was lauded over any other and no dogmatic solutions proposed.

These are the usual failings of left wing groups.  Either they are obsessed with party building and recruitment in pyramid scheme like factions, or they are rushing from in-vogue crisis to the next in-vogue crisis.

If we all know that there is a fundamental systemic flaw in capitalism which creates huge amounts of misery and destruction unnecessarily, it is hard to work out why this happens.  The type of people who are critical enough to challenge this system, and are compulsive active enough to make a living from doing this may, ultimately, be the flaw that causes these repeated mistakes.

After recent years where the largest party on the radical left (the SWP) has  collapsed, and the flaws of horizontalism (networks that come and go with the seasons) have been shown up in their entirety with no functioning long term organisations able to face the crisis, this was a massively important step.

The shape of the conference is briefly outlined below, but I wont be drawing conclusions here, except how to say how I will be helping us look forward, by (not entirely paradoxically) looking backward.

What I would say is that for those who are interested in answering the questions posed by our flaws, please check in on Plan C.  The group is not interested in recruitment, but is providing a much needed space for us all to draw a breath.

We must all realise that the task of creating social change is massive, and it is long term. So we should take plenty of time for reflection. This is not merely an academic tendency, but a necessity for us to grow and achieve more – and hopefully a new and better progressive movement can be born from it.

Hopefully this can increase the joy and effectiveness with which we undertake the task – because ultimately it is a beautiful and necessary endeavour.

****

THE CONFERENCE

The main plenary originally focused on the use of making demands.

‘Why demand?’ may seem an academic question, but what we ask for and who we ask it from (the government, big business, or ourselves) shapes the outcomes of our struggles for change in a fundamental fashion.

After that the discussions focused on Work, on Movements and Organisations, Territory and Power, Migration and Borders, Reaction and Populism and finally Social Reproduction (or the work of living day to day).

With discussions on ‘Work and Anxiety’ and ‘Beyond Europe’ proving very popular as well, the festival finally ended with a ‘Where Next’ discussion.

****

The ‘Where Next’ for me has come in the form of an inspiration to write a series of social histories on the movements of the past 25 years.

In discussing ‘movements and organisations’, one of the many flaws we recognised from organising over the past couple of decades is that we have no idea of our own history, of our own power and our own failings.  As such we are forced to repeat them again and again.

This series will be my little contribution towards rectifying that – hopefully with some films to come out in the new year.

There are stories of hope and failure from across the past 25 years to learn from, and in our upcoming series ‘This Is Just The Beginning’ we will tell those stories and try to evaluate what went right, what went wrong, and what a new generation can learn.

In a capitalist society at least 50% of all new businesses fail in their first year.  Organisations of global scale fail and collapse all the time.  And of course capitalism itself relies solely on the exploitation of people and the planet, which is just one on-going failure.

In the light of this we should not be too hard on ourselves or our attempts to change this system.  We are learning, we are growing, and we are getting better.

This is just the beginning.

****

Please check out Plan C
https://www.facebook.com/plancMCR

http://www.weareplanc.org/

Thomas Barlow

Talk Fracking

kamsandhu —  September 24, 2014 — 2 Comments

The good people over at Talk Fracking have been putting together some excellent images and opportunities to ask questions through myfrackingquestions.org. Make sure you stay up to date with their Facebook page here.10672086_671651686257808_5888096633691595870_n10639644_676434185779558_1463879865118667333_n10609560_678663918889918_4825434597110864993_n156069_673302519426058_6336188721860896265_n997038_670130973076546_5920146353886731185_n10655421_670155349740775_7076460839077549909_o

What You Need To Know About TTIP

kamsandhu —  September 23, 2014 — 7 Comments

By Thomas Barlow

What is it?

  • TTIP is the largest trade deal ever to be done on the history of the planet
  • It is between the world’s two largest economies – the EU and the USA – making the largest trade zone in the world – like the EEC but even bigger
  • It is about regulation and tariffs – basically making laws the same or similar in both areas
  • This is the biggest change to happen to the UK since the formation of the EU – and means giving up far more rights and democratic control

Image:dw.deHow This Is Being Done

  • This is being decided in secret – even the politicians that are involved are only being given parts of the agreement to review
  • Workers, charities and legal bodies are barely represented – 90% of all the lobbyists represent multinational corporations
  • What we do know is mostly through illegal leaks – the process is obscure, bureaucratic and hidden

What Damage Will Be Done

  • Corporations will be able to sue governments for future lost earnings, if for instance, environmental regulation stops a profitable enterprise, or minimum wage increases decrease profits.
  • The courts of arbitration to make these decisions will be three corporate lawyers who will meet and decide in secret – this does not sound like an open and democratic process

What does this mean for us?

  1. NHS under threat – if opened up to US style competition laws and companies, the NHS may be broken up entirely, or at least sold off from within – cheap does not mean good, and profit has to come from somewhere – that means patients being seen as money rather than people
  2. The promises to freeze gas, water, transport, rent or other price controls may have to be scrapped
  3. Any minimum wage increases would have to be agreed by large corporations, essentially making it worthless – in fact minimum wages may eventually be removed as a barrier to profit
  4. Food regulation banning GM, hormone treated meat, chlorinated chicken, and cloned cattle in the EU may have to be lifted so we can import US food products
  5. Fracking may have to be legalised against national and local government objections
  6. There will probably be further banking deregulation, creating the conditions for a another crash
  7. Workers rights – including statutory holidays, collective bargaining and workers councils are under threat – none of these exist in the US and as such would be seen as unfair impediments to profit in the EU
  8. Environmental legislation is under threat – if corporations can sue for environmental protection, then either the tax payers will have to pay companies not topollute, or they will pollute and destroy with no checks
  9. Tax increases will have to agreed by corporations, so as not to destroy profit making.  The power to set taxes is a national government’s key power.
  10. Previous trade agreements (like NAFTA) have lead to a loss of jobs and an increase in poverty for all nations concerned, rather than the prosperity promised
  11. Intellectual property will be more closely guarded. It will be harder to use the internet freely without threat of legal action, and small companies will lose patent rights 
  12. It threatens to unleash greater commercial surveillance of citizens in the EU as it will create better mechanisms for the NSA and other US agencies to gain information about us along with all US companies
  13. It will further place the internet under the power of the most powerful corporations (like slowing down streaming and download speeds if you don’t pay a premium as is happening in the US).

 

14. Claims that it will boost the economy and jobs arevastly overblown”. A report commissioned by the British government concludes that ISDS “is likely to have few or no benefits to the UK, while having meaningful economic and political costs.

15. “The most terrible power the state can wield is to take children away from their parents for ever”this privatisation is occuring with G4S and Serco, if – or more likely when – they fail and commit hideous misdeeds it will be impossible to take this power back.

  • Essentially this will lead to the worst aspects of the US system being forced upon us – something I’m sure we don’t want.  And this is without consultation or the agreement of the people of the UK, or Europe.
  • Even the supposed benefits of this – which are stated as fact – are actually best possible outcomes that will occur in 25 years from now.  And the stated benefits are tiny.
  • Essentially decisions will be fully taken out of the hands of politicians and put in the hands of business- there will need to be no facade that our ‘elected and controllable’  government will be able to set economic policy.
  • This is a true attack on British democracy (such as it is) – far greater than the threat of EU bureaucracy – there should be a popular backlash against this.

keepournhspublicoxfordshire.org.uk

How Do We Know These Things Will Happen?

What We Can Do + What We Need To Demand – This Is An Opportunity

Right now we need to demand:

  1. They open the doors and make the negotiations public
  2. They kick out all the corporate lobbyists
  3. Take out any references to corporations being given the power to sue national governments before any deal is even to discussed
  • Ultimately we need to demand the ending of TTIP – it represents the biggest corporate power grab in history, and must be stopped if there isany chance for democratic process to survive and thrive.

http://www.unison.org.uk/content/ConNewsArticle/5392

http://occupylondon.org.uk/stop-ttip-articles/

https://secure.38degrees.org.uk/page/s/vince-cable-fix-ttip#petition

http://www.waronwant.org/campaigns/trade-justice/ttip

  • Encourage your union branch, community group, party, or any other organisation you are part of to take an active stance on educating its members about and opposing TTIP
  • See this as an opportunity.  There was once an alter globalisation movement that linked groups from across the world, started in opposition to NAFTA.  We need a global movement right now, and this can be the campaign that brings us together.

Well we were quiet last week as we all stood by to see the outcome of the Scottish Independence vote, but now we’re back with your weekly round up.

1) Scotland votes no, but this is not a return to ‘business as usual’

Scotland votes no but only just, as the split ended 55/45 in favour of remaining as part of the United Kingdom. It was an emotional time for many, especially in a country split so passionately down the middle. However, the incredible rise of the Yes campaign clearly sent shivers to some Westminster folk, with Cameron almost begging and incriminating himself in an attempt to reach out to Yes voters by saying he wouldn’t be around forever.

Still, political leaders were quick to demonstrate to Scotland the nature of Westminster promises by reneging on ‘DevoMax’ – a promise made in the eleventh hour prior to the vote, removed within hours of the result.

scotland

Still, the ’45’ remain strong with new campaigns and energy being driven into ensuring that it is not a return to ‘business as usual’, and the Scots have inspired other regions such as Manchester to campaign for devolution from Westminster HQ to make their own decisions on policies and where to place money.

We suggest this great read on the future of Scotland and the UK.

2) Claimants face spending 35 hours a week in job centre

In the latest of the unbelievable continuance of a programme of punishment and voyeuristic shaming of the unemployed, pilot schemes from October will see claimants forced to spend 35 hours a week in the job centre or face sanctions.

Claimants will have to check in at 9am and remain at the centre till 5pm.

Image: powerinaunion.co.uk

Image: powerinaunion.co.uk

If they fail to do so, they will face sanctions, with the first sanction resulting in the loss of one month’s worth of benefits, and the second sanction culminating in the withdrawal of three months’ money.

It is plain to see that this system is highly punitive and not productive. The real problems of unemployment however, such as low pay, insecure employment and so on are entirely overlooked by our government.

The Office for National Statistics released some employment figures last week:

“Comparing May to July 2014 with February to April 2014, the number of people in employment increased by 74,000 (to reach 30.61 million), the number of unemployed people fell by 146,000 (to reach 2.02 million) and the number of people not in the labour force (economically inactive) aged from 16 to 64 increased by 114,000 (to reach 8.93 million).”

Unemployment has fallen by 146,000 yet employment has only risen by 74,000 – while the government pretend that they are solving unemployment they ignore that some 72,000 people are now either economically inactive or have fallen out of the welfare system, most likely for reasons of punitive and unbearable treatment from the system. This is not solving unemployment, it is simply making the system too unbearable to go through – potentially pushing people further from work and help.

3) Mps claiming more expenses than at height of expenses scandal, 2009

Seven MPs have claimed more than a million pounds in expenses within a year.

The latest figures show Britain’s members of parliament are claiming more in total than at the height of the expenses scandal in 2009.

“The highest claimer locally for 2013-14 was North Dorset MP Robert Walter with a bill of £164,138.

“He said: “This issue was dealt with five years ago. We now have an independent standards authority and you should put any questions to them.”

“Christchurch MP Christopher Chope, who claimed £107,592, was among members who employed spouses. He hires his wife Christine at between £45,000 and £49,999 a year.”

Read more about this story and see who claimed what here.

4) Chris Grayling’s legal aid cuts ruled ‘illegal’

Secretary of State for Justice, Chris Grayling, acted illegally when trying to drive through multi-million pound cuts to the legal aid system which could see the closures of many legal aid firms, a High Court judge has ruled.

The Government has been told to halt its cost-cutting plans for legal aid payments for duty solicitors at police stations. Under the plans, the work currently carried out by 1,600 firms would be limited to 525 contracts, leading to closures and mergers of high-street legal firms attempting to make the new system pay.”

A judge ruled that Grayling had failed to fairly consult the profession with the changes.

Justice Secretary, Chris Grayling. Image: johnnyvoid.wordpress.com

Justice Secretary, Chris Grayling. Image: johnnyvoid.wordpress.com

The government says it just means that certain parts of the process will have to be repeated but they will continue to push ahead with controversial reforms. However, some campaigners believe this could delay the reforms until after the election and thus, could kill them off altogether.

“These so-called ‘reforms’ were sold in the name of austerity,” said Nicola Hill, president of the London Criminal Courts Solicitors’ Association. “They’re being railroaded through by a Justice Secretary determined to push through an ideology.

“The cuts have been nothing short of an assault on justice, compromising fair representation for people accused of a crime in police stations and courts. They threatened the principle of innocent until proven guilty and equal access to justice.”

 

Read more about this story here.

5) Labour pledge £8 minimum wage by 2020, Greens say £10

Labour have pledged to raise the minimum wage to £8 by 2020, partly through cuts to welfare.

Greens however have pledged a raise to a minimum of £10 an hour in the next parliament in a move that is thought to steal support from Labour. Further, the Greens promise that once raised to this standard the minimum wage will be linked to living costs and inflation, a notion which has been all but eroded within the last few years.

Image: Telegraph

Image: Telegraph

“Like Ukip, Bennett said the Greens were also a party that was “not offering people business as usual”. “Under our plan no one would be paid less than £10 an hour in 2020,” she said. “It is a scandal that under the coalition government the number of workers earning less than the living wage has risen by a staggering 50%. It makes a mockery of David Cameron‘s 2010 statement that a living wage is ‘an idea whose time has come’.”

“It is our policies such as making the minimum wage a living wage, a wealth tax on the top 1%, re-nationalising our railways and having a publicly owned and run NHS that are both encouraging people to join as members and vote Green in growing numbers.”

Read more about this story here.

6) NHS workers back strike action over pay by 2-1

NHS workers including nurses, therapists, medical secretaries, cooks and more have voted to back strike action over pay.

“A total of 68% voted in favour of being prepared to take part in a strikes while 32% said no. The ballot also asked if they were prepared to take part in action short of strike action and 88% agreed while 12% voted against.”

The action is against blocks to pay rises of over 60% of NHS staff and 70% of nurses over the next two years, leaving staff ‘demoralised and demotivated’ according to Dave Prentis, leader of Unison, a union with over 300,000 NHS staff.

The last action by health workers took place over 32 years ago, but Prentis feels that blocks to rises of even 1% demonstrate the government view of health workers, adding that inflation has continued increasing since 2011 whilst pay value has dropped by 12%.

Read more about this story here.

7) People’s Global Climate Change March demands action

Protestors in Sydney

Protestors in Sydney

Marches took place in more than 2,000 locations worldwide demanding action against climate change, ahead of the UN climate summit in New York next week.

New York saw the biggest demonstration with over 600,000 people taking to the streets. London saw over 40,000 take part.

“On Tuesday, the UN will host a climate summit at its headquarters in New York with 125 heads of state and government – the first such gathering since the unsuccessful climate conference in Copenhagen in 2009.

“Mr Ban hopes leaders can make progress on a universal agreement to be signed by all nations at the end of 2015.”

 

Read more about this story here.

 

scotland

by Kam Sandhu @KamBass

“I’ve noticed certain people treat me like a child, so I tend not to tell people,” explains Danielle Aghanian, 31, from Leeds. “The sales advisor asked, ‘Do you work?’ I said no and that I claim disability benefit. I was there with my girlfriend. He then started redirecting the conversation at her.” 

Danielle was trying to get a better deal on her phone contract at Carphone Warehouse. They took her bank card and ran a credit check which was approved. They asked her a series of questions including what disability she had. Danielle responded that she did not have to answer that, as they were not medical professionals.

The sales advisor then said that they did not give anybody with a learning or mental disability a phone contract on the grounds of the “diminished responsibility” a client may have, and refused to grant Danielle a contract.

Unfortunately, Danielle’s experience is not likely a unique one. This week Who Benefits? released research revealing that benefit claimants are receiving verbal and physical abuse as well as restrictions to employment, housing and social involvement.

“15 per cent of those receiving benefits said they had experienced verbal abuse because they are getting support from benefits, while four per cent reported that they had been physically abused. This amounts to nearly 800,000 people facing verbal abuse and 200,000 facing physical abuse for claiming support*. The abuse comes in addition to a raft of challenges that they may already face such as illness and disability, low wages, or caring for a loved one.

“A total of 16 per cent said a landlord or letting agent had refused to let them a property and 18 per cent said they’d been treated less favourably by a potential employer or had difficulty accessing a bank account or financial services because they were claiming benefits.”

This research speaks volumes of the real effects of claimant-bashing media and political discourse which is now unpicking claimants’ ability to get on in society. If claimants are being made more disenfranchised, more unable to get homes, more unlikely to enter employment, simply for being claimants, then our system is seriously hurting itself, and we are risking the isolation and despondency of a whole section of our society.

Danielle sought advice from Mind’s legal line and a solicitor. Carphone Warehouse have been very unhelpful since, going as far as trying to discredit Danielle by remarking in a letter to her that she was behaving erratically, despite witnesses in the shop being able to testify otherwise.

Danielle has noticed other examples of negative attitudes which have perforated the conversations she has with neighbours or old school friends.

“It’s not where I’m living now. It wasn’t abuse. They just turn their noses up at you. As soon as you mention you’re on benefits, they think you’re a sponger. But no, I’m not dossing about.

“One person I know calls me a constant “lady of leisure”. It became a joke, but after a while it was just upsetting.”

Danielle has not worked full time since 2008. She was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia in 2006 and she also suffers from anxiety and depression. However, Danielle has tried several ways to overcome and manage her illness, whilst still remaining active. Danielle exercises through cycling and playing football and has volunteered at a local horse and donkey sanctuary part time.

In July of this year, Danielle did return to full time work for a month, but this was too much too soon, and Danielle remarks that social pressure did push her to take on the work.

“I applied for 50-60 jobs in the space of about three months and I only got one letter back from any of them to say I was unsuccessful. I know it was because of the gap in my employment.

“But I did get an email asking for a telephone interview, and I thought it’s what my Mum and Dad want. It pushed me to take the job too soon.”

Danielle believes that social media and tabloid coverage of welfare has helped shape some of the attitudes prevalent in the research released this week:

“Some people believe anything, especially if it’s got a picture next to it on social media. A lot of people, I think, are just misinformed. I wouldn’t say it’s people who are uneducated but more people who socially and economically uneducated about what’s going on. ….They need to put themselves in other people’s shoes.

“You’re limited to what you can do. I don’t want to be on benefits for the rest of my life. But I’m glad I live in a country where if you get ill, have a mental breakdown, get cancer, have an accident, then there is help. And the people who say that claimants are spongers, they’re entitled to that help too, and they need to remember that.”

Danielle briefly talks about her decision to stop taking medication two and a half years ago, through fears of the side effects of osteoporosis and over-subscriptions of dosage.

“You get this diagnosis and they write you off. It’s very difficult to live with, but you can manage. But the medication they give you, such heavy doses, and that’s part of the reason people can’t cope and can’t work, because they’re drowning.”

Given this glimpse of insight into her decision, you might be forgiven for skimming over all the strength, time and evaluation it might take to decide to manage this way. You might be forgiven for mistaking the brevity in which Danielle explains this, for a representation of the size of the issue. The medication and care given to those suffering with ill health, physical or mental, is a huge subject full of thousands of questions.

This is an example of the challenges and trials claimants may already face. Unfortunately, these issues receive markedly less coverage in media and politics. It is doubtful claimants require the additional stresses of not being able to secure housing or even a phone contract, neither should they be laden with a general assumption that they must somehow have the time and ability to deal with it because they are out of work. Danielle is an example that people can find  ways of progressing if they are given time, support and possess the confidence to find their own way of coping. Added restrictions to basic social needs and discrimination are detrimental to this.

If the current attitudes and system is making the lives of those who are already facing challenges harder, if our politicians are promoting an ideal that people should be going into work but then preside over a system that inserts greater difficulty for those out of work to put themselves in a position where they can take on employment, then we need to address the madness of that concept.

For anyone in a similar position, Danielle passes on some advice:

“Get in touch with Mind, they’ve been so helpful. Or Re:think, they can give you general advice, and all sorts of specialist advice.

“Know your rights. Speak to citizens advice bureau. If you think you’re being discriminated, speak to someone and see what you could do.

“Don’t feel bad for being on benefits. If you’re poorly, then you need to concentrate on getting yourself better so you can do more.

“I’m lucky I live in this country. I’m gay, and I don’t have to suffer huge discrimination for that. The odd comment, but nothing compared to other places. And the welfare state and the NHS, people are always moaning about both these things but they’re the best things in the bloody world.”

Tomorrow will see a national day of protest against benefit sanctions, benefit cuts and the bedroom tax. 

Labour and the Lib Dems now oppose the bedroom tax, thanks to the ongoing protests and actions of anti-bedroom tax campaigners, and these campaigners will demand that it be ended now, along with vicious and unneccesary benefit sanction regimes.

Image: antibedroomtax.org.uk

Image: antibedroomtax.org.uk

From antibedroomtax.org.uk:

“Government attacks on benefits mean hunger, debt and fear. Ex-soldier David Clapson died hungry and destitute after his benefits were stopped, the latest in a string of deaths and suicides related to sanctions and benefit cuts.  The overwhelming majority of referrals to food banks are due to  claimants being sanctioned.

“Sanctions cutting benefits of disabled people on Employment and Support Allowance, rose by nearly 580 percent between March 2013 and March 2014, and total sanctions rose to over a million last year, from 100,000 in 2010 (DWP figures).

“PCS union is supporting the 11 September protests.  Research by PCS members working in the DWP revealed that 82% of members felt ‘pressured’ into sanctioning claimants, and 62% said they had made ‘inappropriate’ sanctions decisions.  

“Protests have forced Government to promise changes: see Review report. But sanctions remain a vicious plank of the Government’s punitive welfare reforms, and are still supported by Labour in parliament.

Join us on one of protests or organise your own.  Demand an end to the Bedroom Tax and link it to the slogan: ‘No sanctions for claimants, No targets for staff’. Build links with local PCS members – contacts for local PCS in DWP and PCS regions (use contact tab)

“Research has shown that only 1 in 50 claimants who are sanctioned appeal the decision. Of those 90% win their appeal. Forthcoming advice will explain to claimants how they can appeal. “

 

Hundreds of thousands of people claiming benefits have been physically and verbally abused, new research commissioned by Who Benefits? reveals today.

A poll carried out by YouGov on behalf of the Who Benefits? coalition campaign also found that many people who need support from benefits are having difficulty renting homes, opening a bank account and getting paid employment because of attitudes towards people on benefits.

15 per cent of those receiving benefits said they had experienced verbal abuse because they are getting support from benefits, while four per cent reported that they had been physically abused. This amounts to nearly 800,000 people facing verbal abuse and 200,000 facing physical abuse for claiming support*. The abuse comes in addition to a raft of challenges that they may already face such as illness and disability, low wages, or caring for a loved one.

A total of 16 per cent said a landlord or letting agent had refused to let them a property and 18 per cent said they’d been treated less favourably by a potential employer or had difficulty accessing a bank account or financial services because they were claiming benefits.

In light of this new research, Who Benefits? is calling for a shift in the debate from shaming people supported by benefits to focussing on the reasons that they need help, whether that’s low wages, unemployment or the housing shortage.

Katharine Sacks-Jones from the Who Benefits? campaign said:

We need to change the way we talk about benefits. Until we do, hundreds of thousands of people will continue to face abuse and be denied essentials, whether it’s a bank account or a roof over their heads, simply because they receive some extra support to make ends meet. Our benefits system should help people when they fall on difficult times and support them to live with dignity, instead many find themselves isolated and excluded from society.

Until we change the debate and acknowledge the real reasons that people need support – be it low pay, disability, illness, homelessness or mental health problems – decent people will continue to suffer.”

Andrea Hall*, who became homeless with her two children after her relationship with her abusive husband ended, said:

I wanted to live in an area close to my family, where most houses are privately rented. I had countless experiences of calling letting agents only to be told that their landlords did not accept tenants on benefits, whilst other adverts simply stated ‘NO DSS’. It was incredibly demoralising to be completely excluded and discriminated against without any knowledge of me personally and my circumstances. I found myself desperately pleading with letting agent staff that I was not a bad person and I would look after the house, trying to justify my request for a home. I felt very judged and it was possibly the hardest and most desperate time of my life.”

38 per cent of people supported by benefits said they worried that the public thought negatively about them, and that their self-esteem was affected as a result. 31 per cent said worrying about public perceptions was impacting on their mental health. Self-esteem, confidence and mental health are all key factors in helping people to get back on their feet and on with their lives.

The poll data also revealed:

People on benefits excluded and isolated

  • 11% have felt excluded or isolated by members of their family
  • 18% have felt excluded or isolated by friends
  • 17% have felt excluded or isolated from their community

 

The changes people agree would most help to reduce their need for benefits

  • 28% said receiving higher pay would reduce their need for support from benefits
  • 25% said more affordable essential items (food and utilities) would reduce their need for support from benefits
  • 23% said more job opportunities would reduce their need for support from benefits
  • 18% said more affordable housing would reduce their need for support from benefits
  • 12% said more help overcoming issues caused by having an illness or disability would reduce their need for support from benefits

Stay tuned for our interview with Daniella Aghanian on Thursday, who tells us about her experience of changing attitudes.