Archives For Employment

by Kam Sandhu @KamBass

1) A JOB NO LONGER GUARANTEES INDEPENDENCE, CHOICE OR A ROUTE OUT OF POVERTY (AND EMPLOYMENT DOESN’T MEAN YOU HAVE TO GET PAID)

Cameron’s motto following election was his vow to ‘make work pay’ – let’s see how he has done so far!

Image: The Guardian

Image: The Guardian

Most people classed as being in poverty are in work!

“For the first time, there are more people in working families living below the poverty line (6.7 million) than in workless and retired families in poverty combined (6.3 million), according to the 2013 annual survey of poverty trends from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation.”

 – Another first for Cameron, as a record of 5m people are stuck on low pay (2014)!

“An extra 250,000 people joined the ranks of the low-paid last year, bringing the total to a new high of 5.2m, according to a report from the Resolution Foundation.

The number of low-paid workers has become a serious problem, said the report, with almost one in four being stuck on that rate for the last five years.

Matthew Whittaker, chief economist for the Resolution Foundation, said that while low pay was likely to be better than no pay at all, being stuck on a low wage “creates not only immediate financial pressures, but can permanently affect people’s career prospects.”

More people in work are becoming dependent on help to get by

“In the past two years, 93% of new people claiming housing benefit have been working.” Apr 2013

If you’re on a workfare scheme (working for free under threat of losing your benefits) you’re counted as ‘in employment!

“The Office of National Statistics confirmed this in response to a parliamentary question.”

Hmmm, maybe that helps explain why there are already more people ‘in employment’ in the UK than ever before….

– The Work Programme has been worse than doing nothing at all. It has been punishing claimants and rewarding private contractors for poor results.

The success rate in the first year for A4E , a private welfare-to-work provider, amounted to 3.5%, below the government’s minimum levels of 5.5%.The government said they expected “that providers will significantly exceed these minimum levels.”

“Effectively, the department was saying that if firms failed to hit these targets, they would actually be making the situation worse than it would have been if they had done nothing.

“So the government wanted to see 5.5 per cent of 18-24-year-olds claiming jobseekers’ allowance in sustained work after the first year. They got 3.4 per cent.

“DWP also wanted long-term jobs for 5.5 per cent of over-25s on jobseekers’ allowance. The actual result was 3.4 per cent.

“And they wanted the same percentage for new claimants of employment and support allowance (ESA) – the payment for some sick and disabled people that replaced incapacity benefit. Only 1.5 per cent of people from this group found sustained work.

“This last figure is especially poor and that is important, because getting people off ESA could be one of the keys to beating long-term unemployment.”

FactCheck, Why the Work Programme isn’t Working – Yet

Claimant cases cited being forced to apply for jobs they were not qualified for or could not get under threat of sanction. We were paying for a company to force unemployed people on poverty benefits to write meaningless applications under threat. Who is benefitting here?

The situation has not got any better in the years since with statistics released in 2014 revealing that the Work Programme had seen a 3% success rate for the 1.5million people referred. Additionally, 5 times as many people were sanctioned as found work. Again, a result that is worse than doing nothing at all. Yet, the entire work programme is projected to cost the public purse between £3 – 5bn in the five years from 2011.

Prevalence of Zero Hour Contracts

The Office For National Statistics revealed that over half of big companies used around 1.4 million zero hour contracts in 2014. While in some cases these are agreeable terms, over the last few years, the desperation of employees has been exploited through the use of zero hour contracts, which are presented as the only option by employers, leaving workers without holiday pay, sick pay and no promise of hours. They have also been used as management tool by companies.

“What we see actually, is that these contracts are being used to disempower the employee. So 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

This open letter by Steve Thomson serves as a heartbreaking example of what this type of contract can do to employees when abused:

AN OPEN LETTER – TO JD WETHERSPOON

I have dined in your establishments many times but I write to inform you that I will never do so again and nor will any of my friends or family.

The reason for this is that my stepson has the misfortune to work in your Thomas Sheraton bar in Stockton and I am now aware of the basis upon which you operate and profit.

He is “employed” on a zero hours basis and earns barely enough to feed himself. Not long after joining your establishment he got into trouble with his rent due to the extremely low wages and was evicted from his home. I blame the basis of his employment with you for this. He now lives 2 miles away from your bar and is obliged to walk this distance to and from work as he does not earn enough to afford public transport. Yesterday my wife was obliged to buy him new shoes as he had worn holes in his existing ones. I think it is appalling that you do not provide your kitchen staff with appropriate footwear. If you feel that this communication is becoming a stream of negative comments then I urge you to read on as I have more to say. This 4 mile round trip trudge is sometimes made to attend a one hour shift. Unbelievable, a day’s work of just ONE HOUR. Furthermore, if he attends expecting a longer shift this is sometimes not the case as he is sent home if trade is slack. He, your employee takes all the risk, you the employer take none. You’ll note that I do not mention his name. This is for fear of reprisals. Before you scoff, let me tell you this: When he first joined you, after two months of working every single weekend he politely enquired if he might have a weekend off. He was given the weekend off but worked no other hours either. A genuine ZERO hours. This was clearly a reprisal and he has never asked for the weekend off again.

The only way he can survive on such grindingly low wages is by getting benefits top ups. In order to do this he must provide pay slips which you do not provide. He is obliged to download them and print them himself and given that he will never be able to afford a computer and printer so long as he works for you, he must go to the library. I put it to you that it takes him more effort to work for you for a pittance than it does me to fulfill a full time job.

Clearly your business model requires that the public purse subsidise your employee’s wages. This to my mind makes your firm and others like you one of the benefit scroungers we hear so much about these days.

Yours sincerely

STEVE THOMPSON

Removal of employment rights 

And to add to all that, Cameron has taken it upon himself to remove employment rights during his term. There’s been his introduction of a tribunal fee for employees who want to take their employer to court, apparently to encourage settlements out of court. Yet, this only harms the already powerless employee, and it “has severely limited access to justice for workers, according to research from the Universities of Bristol and Strathclyde.”

Some declared Cameron’s actions as a ‘war’ on workplace rights as he backed proposals to make it easier to sack staff without explanation with a “fire at will” policy (NICE!), as well as changes to redundancy notice periods to a third of what they were, and cap compensations for unfair dismissals.

So Cameron has made the jobs market one stricken with misery, in work poverty, bad conditions and low employee rights (and sometimes no pay at all!) and now he wants as many of us to take part in it as possible. Great!

 

Image: The Telegraph

Image: The Telegraph

 

 2) IF AUTOMATION IS NOT TAKING AWAY JOBS, YOU’RE NOT DOING IT RIGHT 

Checkouts are being replaced up and down the country, removing jobs from people who, in our current system, are then punished for not having a job. The takeover of technology is going to become more commonplace, and we need to move with it. Technological advances can, will and should free us from the tedious and mundane.

Yes, people’s attitudes to work may change, but the UK needs more flexibility as we are currently seeing one section of society work so much they are driven to poor health, and another section who cannot find work and are driven to poverty. John Ashton, a leading UK scientist commented on this last year:

“When you look at the way we lead our lives, the stress that people are under, the pressure on time and sickness absence, [work-related] mental health is clearly a major issue. We should be moving towards a four-day week because the problem we have in the world of work is you’ve got a proportion of the population who are working too hard and a proportion that haven’t got jobs”, Ashton said.”

Further, the New Economics Foundation say that we could all work a 21 hour work week and sustain ourselves to the standards we have now, with extra time for ourselves:

“A ‘normal’ working week of 21 hours could help to address a range of urgent, interlinked problems: overwork, unemployment, over-consumption, high carbon emissions, low well-being, entrenched inequalities, and the lack of time to live sustainably, to care for each other, and simply to enjoy life.”

Cameron says he wants to overtake Germany in the race to ‘full employment.’ 

“Germans work on average around 1413 hours a year – one of the lowest rates in the OECD, and much lower than the average 1776 in other EU countries. This averages out at just under 30 hours a week.

Despite this, Germans are still more productive per head, per hour compared to the UK who work much longer hours (an average of 43 per week).

Germans also have an average of 40 days holiday a year including bank holidays. This is much higher than the European average of 27, and accounts for an extra 2.5 weeks worth of time off.”

The Alts: Why We Need To Talk About Germany

Anyone hear Cameron mention any of this? Working less, with more holidays? No? weird. Anyone would think he wants us to submit to an economy of low pay, bad working conditions, poverty and restricted employment rights just to keep us busy!

The UK also has the highest rates of work related illnesses in the EU. This is only getting worse in environments of low pay and falling working conditions.

We should be talking about initiatives like the Universal Basic Income, which guarantees all of us some basic subsistence to live. And it is very feasible:

“Natalie Bennett, Green Party leader, backs the idea of the Universal Basic Income and has noted that around £7000 a year could be allocated to every UK citizen through the removal of the over-complicated benefits system and staff. The Citizens Income Trust estimate that £10,000 for everyone could be achieved through these measures and adjustments elsewhere.”

Some may decry the UBI as radical policy, but seeing 1 million people use a food bank when we have enough food, seeing homelessness rising when we have enough homes, and witnessing a wealth gap of such disparity that by next year the 1% could have more than the 99%, is surely far more so. Read our article on the Universal Basic Income to find out more.

Image: Basic Income UK

Image: Basic Income UK

 

 3) THE PROBLEM IS NOT JOBS, IT’S WEALTH DISTRIBUTION AND INCOME

There are more people working than ever, but growing numbers of them are in poverty. The problem is pay, but Cameron’s jobs promises always seem to be divorced from mention of this.

Further, Cameron has actively taken part in a shift of money and power away from the poor to the rich. He and his government make choices everyday that say putting people into poverty, into hunger, into destitution is worth it, but cuts to corporate welfare are not even talking points:

“Benefits are what we grudgingly hand the poor; the rich are awarded tax breaks. Cut through the euphemisms and the Treasury accounting, however, and you’re left with two forms of welfare. Except that the hundreds given to people sleeping on the street has been deemed unaffordable. Those millions for $150bn Disney, on the other hand, that’s apparently money well spent –whoever coined the phrase “taking the Mickey” must have worked for HM Revenue.”

Aditya Chakrabortty, Cut benefits? Yes let’s start with our £85bn corporate welfare handout

Cameron and Osborne went to the EU to defend bankers bonuses for the bankers. Iain Duncan Smith went to court to protect the identities of workfare providers.

Cameron’s ‘full employment’ will be nothing less than ‘full exploitation’. At a time when all of us could be working less and having more freedom, Cameron is promising us a world of full employment, in the jobs market he has helped design for our misery. He has worked to grant more power to the powerful, from the powerless. Another term will see this trend continue.

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By Tomas Davidson

Ever more regularly I hear phrases like “austerity”, “rationalisation” and “deficit” bandied about in social parlance, a backdrop for pub conversations, the soundtrack to staff room lunch hours, but rarely do I pay it much attention. In fact, apart from some ill-informed lambasting of our financial system (normally after a few ales) I barely even think about it.

citizens-advice-bureau

I can no longer disregard these terms as abstract notions, small-scale concerns that bubble around quietly in my subconscious but must recognise them for what they are; real threats to the lives and liberties of the most vulnerable in our society. I know this because I know what is going to happen to the Citizens Advice Bureau.

I was a volunteer and employee of the Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB) in Manchester for 3 years. This is a service that supports 30,000 people every year, day in and day out. Over the course of my time there I was amazed by the commitment and compassion shown by its volunteers and staff and watched CAB help countless people perilously perched on the verge of disaster be pulled back from the brink through hard work and a seemingly bottomless wealth of knowledge. Benefit appeals, homelessness applications, unfair dismissal claims, debt advice, these are all the normal affairs and narrowly averted disasters that occur inside the CAB offices every single day.

The latest austerity measures, however, are set to toll the death knell for the Citizens Advice Bureau in Manchester. Manchester City Council are proposing cuts to advice services of 50-75%. This, on top of the removal of the majority of legal aid contracts, will be one wound too many for the charity.

If the proposals go ahead, the already stretched service will face total dissolution. The three remaining bureaus in Manchester will be forced to close, the city wide telephone advice service will go dead and the outreach services will stop. Redundancies will abound.

Apart from the tragedy of losing these skilled workers, whose many years of experience in the advice sector will be discarded and who may soon have a very personal need for the kind of advice they were trained to give, who will be the real victims of austerity? As always, it will be the most vulnerable and misrepresented who will pay the price. With the last bastion spent these people must now unravel the complex entanglement of the benefit system alone. They must advise themselves when their houses are to be repossessed or when bailiffs come knocking, lying about their statutory powers. Bills will pile up, appeals will go un-submitted and employees will be subjugated.

So what have I learnt about “austerity”, “rationalisation” and “deficit”? Extreme spending cuts are for the best right? The only way to drag the country out of a black hole of debt? Call me cynical but in a nation where household disposable income fell for everyone but the richest 5th of households this year, where the rates of tax continues to be slashed for the top 1%, where the proportion of GDP going to the state will be the lowest in western Europe by 2015 (lower than even the US); I have to question the mentality behind removing the provision of advice and dissolving a charity symbolic of our right to question the authority of the administration. A charity which attempts to champion social recourse.

In my opinion CAB are being shut down by jargon. Language is being used to tell a powerful political story that convinces us that spending cuts are a necessary evil, used to excuse social injustice, and to justify deprivation and despair. Shut down people’s means of expressing their dissatisfaction and you effectively silence them.

“Austerity”, “rationalisation” and “deficit” – it’s a gagging order.

Please sign this and make our voices heard.

Thomas Barlow – @tbarls

Like many people I have been in and out of work over the past couple of years.

Every job is temporary, or low paid, or unspecified hours, or all of them together.  And all of the jobs come to an end.

Recently I decided that I was going to stop this cycle and follow my dream of becoming a writer.  This is it,  this is what I will do, or die in the process.

So when I was told, suddenly, by my advisor, that I had to come in every day to the jobcentre for the next two weeks at least, I finally felt confident enough to speak back.

Though not at the time I was told.  As my interview was ending my advisor told me

“Oh, and you have to come in every day for the next two weeks, starting tomorrow”

“Really?  Oh ok” I replied meekly and got up to go.  Oh come on Barlow, you are supposed to be a Welfare rights journalist, try again!

“Actually, um,” I sat down.  “Err, could you tell me why I have to come in?”

“Oh I don’t know, we don’t have time to cover that here.  I have booked you an appointment with your special advisor to help you sign off as you are going to declare yourself self-employed.  You can ask them”

“Ok, when will I meet them?”

“Three weeks.”

“Is this really necessary?  I just want to sign off with the right support, do I need to come in?”

“If you don’t come in you’ll be sanctioned.  It is as simple as that.”

I half expected her to say ‘I don’t make the rules…”  Or “Just doing my job…”

*****

I go home.  Raging.

It is the straw.

There is no explaining it, but all the humiliation and fear and shame of years of sporadic employment wells up within me, and makes me unfathomably angry.

From the outside it may seem perfectly reasonable.  You don’t have a job, you should do what you’re told, and shut up.

And that is part of the fear and misery of being unemployed.

You don’t feel like you have the right to be treated like a human.  It is perfectly fine to be treated like cattle, for the mere crime of being unable to become a wage slave.

I am signing off.  Forever.  All the years of being treated as ‘less than’ finally bubble up through my usually meek and polite barriers.  I am going to talk about this.

*****

I arrive at 10.30am, on the dot.

“If you can just take a seat here, I will sign you in.”

“Why am I here?”

“If you can just take a seat…”

“Why am I here?”

“Has no one explained?  Well I am afraid I can’t tell you.  All I know is if you don’t sign this and sit here, we can take your benefits away.”

“You mean my right to live?  Why?”

“I’ll see if I can get someone to answer your questions now, then.”

*****

I am introduced to my special advisor.

“So why am I here?  This isn’t in my jobseekers agreement.”

“Quite frankly Mr Barlow, we can do what we like with you.  You have to come in when we tell you to, or else we will sanction you.”

“You mean you will take away the means for me to live.  Fine.  You have the gun to my head, why am I here?”

“You shouldn’t see it as a gun to your head.  This is an opportunity.  I have loads of clients who wish they could be in here daily.”

“Well I don’t.  And it is a gun to my head.  You can take away all of my money, make me homeless and allow me to starve.  You know sanctions kill people right?  It’s a nice word for a dirty act.”

“Look Mr Barlow, quite frankly we have got the powers we wanted.  Not everyone sees it that way, but I do.   There are people who do spend their time actively job seeking. If you are not willing to search for a job for 35 hours a week…”

“We deserve to die?”

“Well…”

“Because that’s the crux of it isn’t it?  You are saying that in a world of plenty, where there is way more than enough to go around” and there is you know, more homes than homeless, more food in the bin than the hungry could eat, more energy in the world than we all could use  “that if I refuse to be disciplined by you and the state, then I should die.”

“I know what you are saying, I used to be a job seeker myself”  They always have been, job advisors. “I know how hard it can be.  I was refused benefits for months, you don’t have to die.” Nice change of tack.

“How did you get through it?”

“I lived with my mum who supported me.”

“So what about people without family, or without means, or without space, or spare cash?  I mean isn’t this the point of Welfare?  It is a way of looking after each other, because we all have – or should have – more than enough. It isn’t supposed to be disciplinary.  It is not supposed to be something you punish people with, force them to do unwaged work, or make them feel small.”

“That’s not what I want to do.  I want to help people back into work.”

“But that isn’t what you do any longer is it?  You have to find ways to take our means to live away from us.”

“Well it is not what I want to do.”

“OK.  So why am I here again?”

“Because if you don’t come in you’ll be sanctioned.”

“Right…”

*****

I spent the two weeks writing articles and emails on my phone in the job centre.  The computers didn’t have access to email (though they did have access to facebook), so i just made do.

After making a fuss about the pointlessness of the whole exercise, I was left to my own devices.

My fellow ‘jobseekers’ (I would prefer to think of them as human beings, but there we go), spent the two weeks bemusedly looking at Facebook and LinkedIn, before occasionally asking if they could leave to go on a job interview.  They twiddled their thumbs and kept their heads down.

I guess that is what they want from us all.

*****

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On 14th November a jobs fair was held in Chingford, the constituency of Iain Duncan Smith.

Under threat of sanction and checked for letters from the jobcentre, unemployed people from around the borough attended (According to the PCS union, there has been a 350% increase in sanctions for those on sickness benefits, and 920,000 people on JSA have been sanctioned in the year up to March 2014).

Despite being the poster boy due to open the fair, IDS snuck in at 08:30am and scarpered way before the 10am start. Outside a small herd of police manned a handful of protestors. We went along to speak to some of them. Thanks to Lucas Hinchey for the film work here.

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Kam Sandhu

Corporate Profiles: G4S

kamsandhu —  October 14, 2014 — Leave a comment

In the first of a new series of corporate profiles, we take a look at security giant G4S, who are gaining an increasing amount of contracts to run our public services. The mass privatisation eagerly enforced by our government is sold to us as a way to provide a better, cheaper or more efficient service. What our politicians fail to tell us is that private companies exist for the sole reason of profit – there is no obligation to provide a social good or betterment, and the cost of this transference of aim and power always falls on us. 

In part one of the article we look at G4S’ background and the services they now run in the UK.

G4S-logo-for-website-feature-2

Who are G4S?

G4S is a multinational security company, operating in over 120 companies, and the third largest employer in the world. In their words, they are ‘the leading global integrated security company specialising in the provision of security products, services and solutions.’

What do they actually do?

They deliver a huge range of ‘security’ services, the bulk of which involves protecting the property of other private companies, individuals and government. They protect energy resources including oil, gas, nuclear energy and chemical supplies and are paid to transport cash and valuables, oversee the movement of ‘goods and people’ and work with financial institutions and the mining industry.

They also deliver a number of public services contracts.

Areas of work include:

  • prison services
  • electronic tagging and monitoring
  • surveillance, screening and vetting
  • housing and detention facilities for asylum seekers
  • detention facilities for young offenders
  • children’s homes
  • transporting prisoners and asylum seekers
  • private security for international military operations
  • delivering the ‘welfare to work’ programme in the UK
  • immigration services – in their words: ‘Securing international borders and efficiently managing the flow of legitimate visitors’
  • Facilities and services for the NHS and health and social care providers

 

There is also an overwhelming amount of information available on the reasons why G4S’ position of power is problematic. As well as numerous instances where G4S has taken advantage or abused it’s role for further gain. Here is a selection:

UK PUBLIC SERVICE CONTRACTS

Private sector prisons:

G4S prides itself as “the first private company to open and run a prison in the UK”. When Birmingham prison was transferred from public to private sector management (the first to do so) the Prison Offer’s Association Union planned industrial action. In response the then justice secretary threatened to use the military to keep order, demonstrating the strength of government support for the privatisation of prison services. G4S’s management of Birmingham prison was eventually criticised as ‘incompetent’.

UK Work Programme:

G4S is delivering three contracts for the Work Programme, which has been heavily criticised for its arbitrary and cruel treatment of benefits claimants through its ruthless sanctions regime, and its contribution to food poverty. In the first 6 months of the Work Programme, G4S referred nearly 8,000 claimants to the government for benefit sanctions. With only 40% of its sanction requests approved by the government G4S demonstrates a notable ruthlessness in applying these penalties. G4S has also previously supplied benefit fraud officers to housing and benefits departments to investigate and report benefit fraud.

‘Help to Work’ scheme:

G4S have just announced that they are also to deliver the UK government’s new ‘Help To Work’ scheme which replaces the previous ‘Mandatory Work Activity,’ and will involve mandatory and unpaid full-time work placements which must be undertaken in order to receive benefits. If a claimant breaches the rules of their placement they will lose a portion of their benefits (four weeks of JSA for the first breach). The scheme is already being strongly criticised as ‘punishment for the undeserving poor’.

Immigration services:

G4S provides ‘in-country escorting’ and operates four immigration removal centres in the UK, viewing these contracts as part of its ‘Protecting National Interests’ area of work. One of these centres, Cedars, where G4S work alongside the children’s charity Barnardos, continues to detain children – a practice the government promised to end in 2011. G4S also undertook deportations of foreign nationals in the past but lost these contracts in 2011, the year after Jimmy Mubenga died whilst being restrained by G4S staff as they attempted to deport him.

Asylum seekers’ accommodation:

G4S provided overcrowded and substandard accommodation to asylum seekers in its care which led to serious criticism of the government’s outsourcing project from the Public Accounts Committee of MPs. G4S are now facing a £4m penalty for the failures. Women asylum seekers who have complained about the conditions they and their children are forced to live in have been subjected to harassment from G4S’s subcontracters’ staff. Asylum seekers have also been threatened with penalties from G4S in response to G4S’s own failings.

In 2010 there were over 770 complaints against G4S from immigration detainees, including 48 complaints of assault and a 2008 medical justice report detailed numerous cases of mistreatment and abuse at the hands of G4S and other companies doing the government’s outsourced immigration detention and removal work.

Image: Outsourcing Abuse - A Medical Justice report which detailed abuses carried out by G4S on asylum seekers

Image: Outsourcing Abuse – A Medical Justice report which detailed abuses carried out by G4S on asylum seekers

Despite G4S’s record of failures and abuse in the asylum and immigration system, they have, in 2014, been awarded an NHS contract to deliver medical facilities at four detention centres.

“The history of G4S and its predecessor companies represent a case study in a key element of modern neoliberal states – the privatisation and hollowing out of those same states.  The contracting out of these services to private companies erodes the already very limited forms of accountability and furthermore fundamentally corrupts the political system by undermining any notion of a public good.”

“G4S certainly demonstrates the commodification of key state functions into growth areas for corporations. As one American commentator described it ‘every prisoner a profit centre, every immigrant a business opportunity’. As opportunities for profits in global manufacturing, services, and now financial institutions, decline, the security and welfare functions of states are being targeted.”

John Grayson, South Yorkshire Migration and Asylum Action Group

INCOMPETENCE, MISMANAGEMENT & FRAUD

Overcharging UK Government:

Overcharging UK Government: G4S agreed to repay the UK government £108.9m after overcharging for contracts for tagging offenders – at times using the names of people who were dead or in prison. G4S was stripped of these contracts, barred from bidding for government contracts for 6 months and is now being investigated by the serious fraud office.

London 2012 Olympics chaos: G4S’s failure to meet the security demands of the London Olympics resulted in the military being drafted in.

by Tekla Szerszynska

In part two of the article on Thursday, we take a look at G4S’ international record of human rights abuses and violations.

by Kam Sandhu @KamBass

The Universal Basic Income (or Basic Income, or Unconditional Basic Income) is a great way of debasing some of the pressures on inequality that are repeatedly exploited in a wayward economy, and will be a positive step forward in the redistribution of wealth which is the greatest divide of our times.

When we mentioned the UBI before a commentator took great offence that people should receive something for nothing, at the idea that there is this much money for people and a worry that we will descend into a feckless, workshy populus. Such faith.

These comments speak highly of the fear we have come to feel of our own capability and independence in a world where we are barraged with the constant alienation and villification of each other, the idea that everyone is out to get what’s yours, where the economy isn’t so much controlled by us as ‘happens to us’, where the fetishisation of work has penetrated consciences as a virtue in and of itself no matter how low the pay, and the idea that there must be this degree of suffering in falling working conditions and treatment as it is the crappy badge of honour we must all share to keep this tragic system going.

It is a fear of a world where people might decide more for themselves, than be governed. It is a fear that if we don’t continue doing as we’re told we might do something crazy, like live a more fulfilling life. This system is one that makes us think that taking steps to give ourselves more time and resources to live as we please is ‘radical’ and somehow undeserved, yet we bear witness to the growing army of food bank users, growing inequality, a growing number of people in poverty – many of these in work, growing debt and growing mental health issues. What system of work is being protected here exactly?

So to alay some of these fears that probably cross all of our minds in some way when the notion of the Universal Basic Income comes up, this article will walk us through the concept.

How much and from where? 

The Swiss surfaced the idea of the Universal Basic Income a few months back with a referendum and a suggested allowance of £1750 a month. This is quite a lot, and while the suggestions for UK rates are lower, the Swiss are an example of what might be achieved.

Natalie Bennett, Green Party leader, backs the idea of the Universal Basic Income and has noted that around £7000 a year could be allocated to every UK citizen through the removal of the over-complicated benefits system and staff. The Citizens Income Trust estimate that £10,000 for everyone could be achieved through these measures and adjustments elsewhere.

The idea of getting money for nothing

George Osbourne has repeatedly been banging the drum to end the ‘something for nothing’ culture, as if it were a notion no sane human being would walk within yards of, temporarily forgetting his birthplace got him something for nothing, the interest on the bank accounts of those with money get them something for nothing, the housing crisis the same Chancellor is driving is giving homeowners something for nothing as house prices increase far beyond comprehension and the means of everyday people, and of course, a bailout with no conditions for banks is indeed, a whole lotta something for less than nothing, a deficit in fact.

Getting ‘something for nothing’ is common in our economy, but it seems it is only distasteful and linked to ‘fecklessness’ when the lower classes benefit from it.

We are also kidding ourselves with the idea that this economy fairly gives someone what they are owed. And I say this while there are hundreds of thousands of food bank users who are in work, while 93% of new housing benefit claimants are in work, while nurses are seeing blocks to pay rises of even 1% while bankers pay themselves millions in bonuses for abject failures. We hear time and time again about abolishing the something for nothing culture, and yet hardly a peep that there are plenty out there getting ‘nothing for something.’

And thus, in a such a clearly unequal and unforgiving economy, shouldn’t we be worrying less about getting something for nothing and concentrate more on giving everyone some basic subsistence to live?

Image: Inequality briefing

Image: Inequality briefing

Perhaps we need to focus on why we think giving everybody some money to live seems a reckless idea. Could it be to do with the blanket coverage of benefit cheats, immigrants, the unemployed, the disabled and the young who have taken centre stage in the austerity villification games. These people, with nothing, are bleeding the system dry. But we never hear, during this harsh austerity when ‘every penny counts’, that the FAILED (thankfully) student loan-book sell off cost £12bn which could have paid each student £5100, or that the work programme is costing us tens of thousands of pounds per person in work, or that the the Universal Credit system has wasted so much money that IDS uses even more of our money to fight the case for releasing the failures of his almighty UC in a report. We’re paying to not be told the truth. We’re paying for crooked ministers to cover their arses. So why on Earth is it radical to take some of this money back into our own hands?

Our system is maintaining and growing the insane Wealth Gap…

We can’t rely on this broken economy, engineered so well that 99% of us are fighting over 6% of the world’s wealth, to suddenly choke out some better results. But in agreeing that every person deserves the amenities to live, we can move towards better wealth distribution and equality.

Image: Wear Red

Image: Wear Red

UBI is a real step towards equality, demolishing the too handy and too oft turned to political tactic of scapegoating. Like the lie that if repeated comes to be believed, the government have repeatedly set about filling the public airwaves and newspapers with blame on the country’s poorest for a situation caused by the country’s richest.  The hardest hit are always the already hardest hit. Single mothers, the disabled, the young, the unemployed, immigrants. All of these people are the ones who then have to jump through the expensive and bureaucratic hoops because their vilification in the media and on the street is not enough. I wonder what the papers will fill their pages with if the constant hate-spew upon the money these groups receive were no longer applicable. The UBI will at least restore some dignity for those the government have preyed on throughout austerity, to make their claims more difficult and longer to process, to prod and mock them for being ill, just to prise some more money, time and self-worth from the most in need.

Jobs 

The Universal Basic Income is a policy which moves us forward with the technological advances taking place. Checkouts are being replaced up and down the country, removing jobs from people who, in our current system, are then punished for not having a job. The takeover of technology is going to become more commonplace, and we need to move with it. Technological advances can, will and should free us from the tedious and mundane.

Yes, people’s attitudes to work may change, but the UK needs more flexibility as we are currently seeing one section of society work so much they are driven to poor health, and another section who cannot find work and are driven to poverty. John Ashton, a leading UK scientist remarked on this earlier last month:

“When you look at the way we lead our lives, the stress that people are under, the pressure on time and sickness absence, [work-related] mental health is clearly a major issue. We should be moving towards a four-day week because the problem we have in the world of work is you’ve got a proportion of the population who are working too hard and a proportion that haven’t got jobs”, Ashton said.

“We’ve got a maldistribution of work. The lunch-hour has gone; people just have a sandwich at their desk and carry on working,” added the leader of the UK’s 3,300 public-health experts working in the NHS, local government and academia.”

Perhaps a deeper focus on the jobs we have will happen. But is this not what we need? We have all bore witness to the things a profit motive drives alone. It is the reason Cameron and predecessors like to arm the conflicts around the world. It is the reason our care industries have become so neglected, while we instead hold up occupations such as bankers and stock market brokers as achievements and success with more than ample payment and respect despite the amassing of money and risk-taking providing no social good.

Also, how many call centres do we need? How many jobs are aimed at catching us out, or annoying us, in the hope that because of our busy lives we will just say yes to be done with it? How many of these would we honestly miss?

The UBI won’t remove any healthy competition but it will redress some balance of profit with human need and quality of life.

“If people are working because the economic system forces them to, and pays them below what they feel they deserve but they are forced to accept it to even barely scrape by, then our economic system isn’t functioning for the population, it’s functioning for itself. Basic Income is an economic systemic equaliser.”

Jamie Klinger, Joatu

If….

If the UBI were to come into being, there would need to be some work done and decisions made around some housing benefit claims which the proposed UBI amount may not cover. But again, the escalating housing and rent prices are something that need tackling, as our current government have simply resolved to do nothing about the rising prices, instead punishing claimants by capping their housing benefit which could push them into arrears. We have spoken before about why the government doesn’t want to solve the housing crisis or help control prices as it contributes to growth, but housing policies need to be a huge part of any future plan for Britain, so we welcome some focus on the need to provide affordable housing and rents.

The other issue would be any backlash formed from granting the UBI to the rich too. Personally, I say, they would have got it anyway, through tax breaks or some other scheme, so if the majority are finally getting something out of this, and it is truly universal and unconditional, then that is positive.

——————————

It’s time we stopped trying to diminish the true qualities of life – time, friends, family, freedom, creativity. The books we want to read, the people we want to see, the new advances and ideas that could propel us even further forward in our evolution have no time live in the minds of those spending every waking moment trying to scrape by.

The government aren’t going to encourage these things. But when was the last time you heard them say they were doing something for your personal freedom? To give you more time to be, well, a human being and not a workhorse. When did you last hear Cameron or Clegg speak about your quality of life as they do about our need to be hardworking citizens in a system of low pay?

That’s why it’s up to us to make the UBI a demand.

Find out more here.

Read the others in this series:

6 Ways of Progress: Government Conditionality – How Do We Get Rid Of You?

6 Ways of Progress: End Short Term Politics

Image: Basic Income UK

Image: Basic Income UK

AltGen, a new co-operative dedicated to showing young people alternative ways of work as an option out of the unstable, unforgiving and broken jobs market, are re-invigorating the necessities of not just valued work, but social justice and equality.

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On Tuesday 22nd July, AltGen put on their first event – ‘Create Your Own Work.’ Places sold out, and rightly so, as AltGen position themselves at the beginning of a new movement of alternatives for the under-served young people of the UK. Their website reads:

“AltGen supports 18-29 year olds to set up workers co-operatives as a way of
reclaiming control over our work and creating a more equal and sustainable future.

“We are told time and time again we are the generation without a future.
For the first time ever we are inheriting an economic reality worse than our parents.

“Well every crisis creates opportunity and its time we turned this situation around!

“Lets stop competing and start collaborating. Lets come together and start creating an alternative future.
One where we are in control of our work, get paid to do what we love and have a positive social impact.”

‘Create Your Own Work’ allowed a space to discuss the problems of the current system and the desires we would have of a new one. Further than that, AltGen demonstrated their commitment to inspiring and motivating people’s ideas by bringing in experienced and valued speakers from co-operatives that have had a long and successful journey, to ones just starting out. With their help, audience members began to visualize and logically think about the steps needed to begin their own projects and co-operatives, turning ideas into attainable tasks.

AltGen are an inspiring and much needed idea, which offers young people the ability to regain their independence from a negligent economy and also allows them to fill their work with the moral guidelines the current system is so bereft of. Using the crisis of youth unemployment as an opportunity to build a better, collective alternative is a solid way out of the lonely, competitive rat race which has pulled society further apart.

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Be sure to keep up to date with AltGen’s work by visiting their site and signing up to their newsletter, or liking them on Facebook here.

Below we quote some of the sage advice offered up by one of the speakers, Siôn Whellans from Calverts, which gives us a glimpse into the working conditions and attitude to work there could be for more of us.

“We’re graphic designers and printers. My worker’s co-op was founded in 1977 at the beginning of the last big wave of new worker’s co-ops in this country. The people who set it up, I’m not a founding member – all the founding members have gone now, and they set it up because they were working for an arts organization which decided to close them down and they decided to set up a worker’s co-op, because they thought they could earn a living and do some good stuff.

“A lot of them were involved in political and social activity – the anti-apartheid movement, food, all sorts of things. But in those days the Internet was print and poster design and typesetting. But they set it up in a small way, none of them had any money, all of them were about 23/24. They borrowed a little bit of money, they semi-squatted a place until they could get a landlord to make an agreement with them. They started off with some desktop duplicators and [basic equipment] doing community newsletters and poster making and stuff like that. At the beginning, a lot of them were on the dole and they made the commitment that, as there were 7 of them, if half of them couldn’t get off the dole on some kind of wage after six months they’d stop, and then after a year everyone would stop.

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“They traded, they made a bit of money, they bought better equipment. It was always about getting better at what they did. And then they went out, took a deep breath and borrowed money from some capitalists and bought a printing press and really that’s the way the co-op started and it’s the way it’s always gone. We’ve moved three times, started off in Farringdon, did 15 years in Shoreditch to 12 years in Bethnal Green.

“At the moment we have 12 working members. We’re designing and producing website and print. We have decent wages. We have a 35 hour working week – you’re on time and a half after that. Our basic hourly rate is £17.65 an hour. We have six weeks holiday. We have paid sick leave. We have very good conditions.

“Our co—op is also hyper-equal, everybody gets the same rate if they’re in a full time qualified job at the co-op. We don’t have any bosses or line managers. We have no external shareholders. We’re a common ownership co-op – all the assets in the co-op are owned in common. When you come, you come with nothing. When you leave, you leave with nothing. It gets left in there and built up over the years, that’s the idea. It’s a great place to work.

“Part of why I’m here is because it’s important for a grown up co-op like ours to reconnect with it’s roots, we want to make bonds with the new generation but we also want to pass on what we’ve learned about how to do it well and get the things we want which I express as decent work, and there’s an International Labour Market definition of what decent work is, a culture of equality at work – absolute equality. Everyone is equal. The opportunity to develop ourselves, our skills, our capacity as human beings as well as workers and the opportunity to self-manage our working lives which is what we’ve done.”

Image: AltGen

Image: AltGen

by Kam Sandhu @KamBass

The flaws in the Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) system are so grave that simply “rebranding” the assessment used to determine eligibility for ESA (the Work Capability Assessment (WCA)) by appointing a new contractor will not solve the problems, says the Work and Pensions Committee in a report published on Wednesday.

The Committee calls on the Government to undertake a fundamental redesign of the ESA end-to-end process to ensure that the main purpose of the benefit – helping claimants with health conditions and disabilities to move into employment where this is possible for them – is achieved. This will take some time, but the redesign should be completed before the new multi-provider contract is tendered, which is expected to be in 2018.

In the meantime, the Committee recommends a number of changes which should be made now, to help ensure that claimants receive an improved service, and that the outcomes for claimants are more appropriate.

Dame Anne Begg MP, Committee Chair, said:

“Many people going through the ESA claims process are unhappy with the way they are treated and the decisions which are made about their fitness for work. The current provider of the WCA, Atos, has become a lightning rod for all the negativity around the ESA process and DWP and Atos have recently agreed to terminate the contract early.

“But it is DWP that makes the decision about a claimant’s eligibility for ESA – the face-to-face assessment is only one part of the process. Just putting a new private provider in place will not address the problems with ESA and the WCA on its own.”

“We are therefore calling for a number of changes which can be made to improve ESA in the short-term, while also recommending a longer-term, fundamental redesign of the whole process.”

“We hope that the new Minister for Disabled People, who was appointed last week, will respond positively to our constructive recommendations for improving the ESA process.”

One of the key issues which the Report identifies is that ESA is not achieving its purpose of helping people who could work in the short to medium term to move back into employment.

One of the reasons for this is that the outcomes of the ESA claims process are too simplistic. Claimants can be found “fit for work” and are then ineligible to claim ESA. Claimants found to have such limited functionality that that they cannot undertake any work-related activity are placed in the Support Group, where they are subject to no work-related conditionality. This leaves a large and disparate middle group of claimants who are not yet fit for work, and may even have a deteriorating condition, but who are required nonetheless to undertake activity which is meant to help them find work in the longer term. These claimants are placed in the Work-related Activity Group (WRAG). The WRAG covers too wide a spectrum of claimants with very different prognoses and employment support needs.

Tom Pollard, Policy and Campaigns Manager at Mind, said:

“We welcome the findings of this report which highlights the many problems with the process used to assess applicants’ eligibility for ESA. Nearly half of people who are currently receiving ESA do so because of a mental health problem and we agree with the recommendation that the Work Capability Assessment needs to be urgently reformed in order to assess people fairly and accurately. The current assessment fails to take full account of the impact having a fluctuating condition such as a mental health problem can have on someone’s ability to work.

“The assessment process is just one small part of an entire system which is failing to provide people with the support they need. The vast majority of people with mental health problems want to work, but they need tailored, personalised support to overcome the barriers they face – from their confidence and skills through to employers’ attitudes and the support available in the workplace. Many people are being forced to undertake activities in order to receive ESA, but rather than helping people back to work, this often creates immense anxiety and can damage their health, pushing them further from work.”

Redesigning the ESA process

The Committee recommends that the ESA redesign should aim to ensure that the process properly identifies claimants’ health barriers to employment and the particular support they need, so that the conditionality that they are subject to and the employment support they receive can be tailored more closely to their circumstances. For claimants in the WRAG, proper account needs to be taken of where they are on the spectrum of readiness for work, given the wide range of conditions and disabilities which the WRAG encompasses, and the different impacts these have on an individual claimant’s functional capacity.

The descriptors used in the WCA process should also be reviewed as part of the redesign, as concerns about their effectiveness, and the way they are applied, remain, despite the recent review commissioned by DWP.

Dame Anne Begg MP, Committee Chair, said:

“ESA is not properly joined up with employment support because an individual’s health-related barriers to working are not being properly assessed as part of the process. We recommend that the Government reintroduces a separate assessment of these barriers, along the lines of the Work-focused Health-related Assessment – the WFHRA – which it suspended in 2010.”

Shorter term measures to improve ESA

Dame Anne Begg MP, Committee Chair, said:

“We know that the redesign can’t happen overnight, but the current system needs to be improved now, because it is clearly causing claimants considerable distress and anxiety.

“The re-letting of the contract provides an opportunity to address some of the problems. The new contract needs to set out robust and clear service standards on the quality and timeliness of assessments and the reports produced by the contractor, and for the way claimants are dealt with.”

“DWP has acknowledged that this will cost more money, but this is justified if the service provided by the new contractor is better. To ensure this is the case, DWP needs to rigorously monitor the service standards to ensure they are being met and to take immediate action, including imposing penalties, if they are not. This has not always happened with the Atos contract.”

“The changes we recommend include ensuring that, where possible, paper-based assessments are used to place people in the Support Group, rather than requiring them to go through a WCA, where their health condition or disability clearly has a severe impact on their capability to work. Unnecessary and too frequent reassessments should also be avoided.”

“DWP should also improve the way it communicates with claimants – at the moment, the letters that are sent to claimants are too technical and complex. They need to be in plain English and avoid using jargon. The terms “limited capability for work” and “limited capability for work-related activity”, which are currently used to categorise claimants, are too confusing and DWP needs to find more meaningful alternatives.”

The Committee recommends that DWP implements a number of other changes in the shorter-term to ensure better outcomes and an improved service for claimants. These include:

 

  • DWP taking overall responsibility for the end-to-end ESA claims process, including taking decisions on whether claimants need a face-to-face assessment, rather than this decision being made by the assessment provider.
  • DWP proactively seeking “supporting evidence” on the impact of a claimant’s condition or disability on their functional capacity, rather than leaving this primarily to claimants, who often have to pay for it. DWP should seek this evidence from the most appropriate health and other professionals, including social workers and occupational therapists, rather than relying so heavily on GPs.
  • The “descriptors” used to assess functional capability in the WCA being applied more sensitively.
  • Placing claimants with a prognosis of being unlikely to experience a change in their functional abilities in the longer-term, particularly those with progressive conditions, in the Support Group and not the WRAG.

Mandatory reconsideration and appeals

The Report also considers the impact of the introduction of mandatory reconsideration (MR) of ESA decisions, and the appeals process. MR has the potential to be beneficial, if it leads to fewer decisions being taken to appeal, and therefore reduces both stress for claimants and the cost to public funds.

However, the Committee calls on the Government to set a reasonable timescale for completing reconsiderations, rather than leaving it open-ended, and to end the current illogical situation of claimants being unable to claim ESA during the reconsideration period.

It is also important that both DWP and the assessment provider learn lessons from the feedback which the Tribunals Service now gives in the summary reasons for its decisions, so that more initial decisions are “right first time”.

 

Tomorrow over a million people will strike against public sector pay freezes. They deserve our support. Here’s why:

A shocking report launched today (Thursday 12 June) has found that the back to work support provided through the Work Programme and Jobcentre Plus is causing severe anxiety for people with disabilities and pushing them further from the job market.
 
Fulfilling Potential? ESA and the fate of the Work Related Activity Group’ is based on data from over 500 people with a range of physical and mental health problems. All respondents had been assigned to the Work Related Activity Group (WRAG) having applied for the disability benefit Employment and Support Allowance (ESA). People in the WRAG can have their benefits stopped if they do not engage with work preparation schemes.
 
This research found that the Work Programme or Jobcentre Plus had helped just five per cent of respondents move into work, while six in 10 people said that their health, finances, confidence and sense of purpose had all suffered as a result.
Most people who responded to the survey had been compelled to undertake compulsory back-to-work activities or have their benefits cut. The majority said their disabilities were not acknowledged or accommodated and made engaging in such activities difficult. Eighty per cent of people said they felt anxious about not being able to access activities and 70 per cent were worried about their benefits being cut.
 
The actual or threatened cutting of benefits is meant to motivate people to get back to work, but the report suggests motivation is not a problem. Sixty per cent were strongly committed to work, 30 per cent weren’t sure they could work and just 10 per cent either didn’t want to, or didn’t think they’d be able to, work. For most people (90 per cent), their health or impairment was the main barrier to work.
 
The report was produced by Catherine Hale, a Work Programme service user, with support from the mental health charity Mind and the Centre for Welfare Reform. Catherine currently claims ESA due to myalgic encephalopathy (ME), a long term health condition, and said:
 
“The majority of disabled people want to work. However, people who have been awarded ESA have genuine and often severe health problems which make it difficult to access employment. The current system ignores these difficulties, and relies on the threat of sanctions to get people into work. It is no surprise that it is not only failing disabled people but causing additional distress and anxiety, on top of the barriers that they already face.
“At my first back to work meeting, the Jobcentre adviser accused me of fraud and threatened to stop my benefits if I didn’t try harder to get well. They assume that people are not working because of defective attitudes and morals, not because they’re ill or disabled. This is wrong and deeply damaging.
 
“People claiming ESA need to be placed with specialist organisations experienced in supporting disabled people into employment, not into mainstream welfare-to-work schemes. Employers should widen job opportunities and consider making adjustments to accommodate people with disabilities including flexible or shorter working hours and the option of working from home.
 
Tom Pollard, Policy and Campaigns Manager at Mind, commented:
 
“This report adds to the existing evidence that the current benefits system is failing people with disabilities and mental health problems. There is far too much focus on pressuring people into undertaking compulsory activities, and not nearly enough ongoing, tailored support to help them into an appropriate job.
 
“Just five per cent of people are actually managing to get into work through this process, while many people are finding that the stress they are put under is making their health worse and a return to work less likely. We urgently need to see an overhaul of this system.”
 
The report, which has been endorsed by a further 18 organisations including Mencap, RNIB, Parkinson’s UK and the National Autistic Society, also found:
 
  • Most people received generic back-to-work support such as CV writing classes with very few receiving specialist support. Over half the respondents felt their ‘action plan’ of activities was inappropriate for them, and six in 10 people felt no adaptations were made to activities to take account of their barriers.
 
  • Almost all respondents were threatened with sanctions if they failed to participate in mandatory activities. On average, respondents had at least three different kinds of difficulty in participating in activities due to their health condition or impairment. 50 per cent said these difficulties were not acknowledged and 70 per cent said no adjustments were made to accommodate their disability.
 
  • 87 per cent of respondents who failed to participate in a mandatory activity were prevented by factors relating to their health or impairment. Only 6.5 per cent had actually received a cut in benefits.
 
  • The majority of respondents said they wanted to work given the right support and a job suitable to their disability, and that they believed employers could make use of their talents if jobs were more inclusive. 82 per cent of respondents said their Work Programme provider or JCP made no effort to adapt jobs on offer to make it easier for them to work.
 
  • Most people agreed the most helpful would be a package of support agreed upfront so that they could reassure potential employers of their ability to do a job. Adjustments that employers could make included flexible hours, working from home, working fewer than 16 hours per week, increased confidence on the part of employers and recruitment through work trials rather than interviews.