Archives For benefits system

1) Failed austerity plan spells more cuts in Spending Review 2013

Chancellor George Osborne announced further cuts in the Spending Review on Wednesday, blaming the slow recovery on ‘lower than expected’ growth.

In a bid to save £11.5bn in 2015, cut-backs will be made on most of the country’s already reduced departments, with only education, defence and intelligence escaping the axe.

George Osborne Image: The Mirror

George Osborne Image: The Mirror

Some of the new measures for welfare included a 7 day wait in between a job loss and a claim (which could mean a wait of up to 38 days because Universal credit is paid monthly), weekly sign-ons and more time with job centre advisors, a national welfare cap set every four years by the government (taking into account inflation) and a requirement for all claimants to learn English before being eligible.

The review has been met with criticism from campaigners who say the reforms will increase poverty, use of food banks and also short term loan use, and also that the Chancellor was making political moves with the reforms, as they lie close to the next election.

To find out how welfare will be affected read more here. 

For a full report on the Spending Review read more here. 

2) Independent campaign group Disabled People Against Cuts, releases report on the DWP’s mis-use of statistics

Independent organiusation DPAC released a report that listed 35 cases where the DWP and it’s representatives gave false or mis-leading statsitsics relating to welfare and the benefits system.

They said in the report:

“We believe that this demonstrates a consistent pattern of abuse of official statistics by Ministers of the present Government to paint a false picture of benefit claimants in the UK in support of policies which are aimed at cost cutting to the detriment of jobless, sick and disabled people.”

Each case is presented, sourced and then dis-proven in the report. A ‘culture of truthlessness’ in the DWP perhaps?

Download the report here.

3) Job centre tells staff to sanction 30% of claimants each week 

Image: Welfare News Service

Image: Welfare News Service

A post made by Anti Bedroom Tax Protest In Scotland has raised serious concerns over the targets given to Job Centre staff over sanctions.

The post said:

I’ve just got back from Leith Job Centre in Edinburgh and have been told unofficially that a new manager started this week and she has instructed staff to put 30% of claimants on sanction EACH WEEK. The staff are up in arms but can’t do anything about it.

“I just want to warn everyone signing on to make sure their paperwork is in order so they have no excuse to catch anyone out. I’ve emailed my MP because as far as I know, they should not be working to sanction targets.”

Sanctions can dock or entirely remove benefit payments for up to two months, leaving claimants with no income. Since the coalition came to power there has been around 2.25 million sanctions brought against claimants raising fears that powers have been abused and sanctions imposed without reasonable condition.

See more about the post here.

4) Lord Freud offers direct payment ‘guarantees’ to social landlords  

In a talk at the Chartered Institute of Housing in Manchester, the minister for welfare, Lord Freud, agreed to concessions and guarantees for social landlords in a bid to appease them in light of the controversial policies introduced by the coalition government.

Lord Freud commented that ‘collaborations’ between the government and housing associations were essential to making the Universal Credit system successful, and revealed plans to identify tenants who should be exempt from direct payments. In these situations, benefits would be passed directly to landlords to prevent tenants from falling into arrears.

Thousands of tenants have already fallen into debt since the bedroom tax was introduced a couple of months ago. However, while the plans offered up by Lord Freud will see landlords paid correctly, tenants will still fall into poverty, and direct payment may be abused by landlords who want to charge a rent as close to the top bracket of housing benefit as possible.

Read more about this story here. 

Lord Freud Image: The Guardian

Lord Freud Image: The Guardian

by Kam Sandhu @KamBass
Like us on Facebook / Follow us on Twitter
Advertisements

1) A third of Britons worry they will not be able to keep up with rising housing costs

Research from the Chartered Institute for Housing (CIH) and Ipsos Mori has found that 10.3 million Britons are worried about meeting mortgage payments and rent prices in 2014.

Over 11 million people said that the situation was causing them stress, and homeless charity Shelter reported a 40% increase in calls to its helpline from people worried about meeting rent or payments.

The LSL buy-to-let index shows that rent prices in England and Wales are increasing faster than the rate of inflation, with an average 3.5% increase in the last 12 months. These increased rents, cuts to benefits and reforms such as the bedroom tax, have pushed people into debt, with an increasing amount of social landlords reporting that tenants have gone into arrears.

However, there are more cuts to come – with the introduction of the benefit cap due to start later this year.

Grainia Long, Chief Executive of the CIH said: “The fact that one in three people are worried they won’t be able to pay their mortgage or rent next year – and almost a quarter are already concerned about their ability to pay at the moment – is extremely disturbing.

The number of people worried about their housing costs will continue to rise because we have failed to build enough new homes for decades. Recent government announcements have shown ministers understand the importance of fixing our housing system, but we need housing to be understood as a national priority if we are to have any chance of dealing with this deepening crisis.”

Read more about this story here.

Image: The Guardian

Image: The Guardian

2) Call for national demo against NHS cuts at Tory conference

Britain’s biggest unions have united in support of a protest against NHS cuts and privatisation, to be held outside the Conservative Party conference in Manchester later this year.

Unite, Unison and GMB will join with campaign groups outside the conference on September 29th.

Campaigners hope to highlight and stop a dismantling of the NHS, with increased cuts, job losses and a fragmentation of the service which critics say will allow private sector companies to buy up parts of the health service.

Read more about this story here.

2) Judges asked to explain decisions on fit-to-work appeals

The government is asking judges making decisions on appeals from those found fit-to-work, to explain their decisions, in the hope that they can monitor and improve the process.

The controversial assessments carried out by ATOS, have been condemned by campaigners who say they are weak and often wrong, with many decisions being over-ruled at appeal.

Reports and feedback from judges will be analysed by the government this summer.

Read more about this story here.

3) Unison starts judicial review against ‘brutal’ charges for employment tribunals

The country’s biggest public sector union, Unison, has applied for a judicial review against new rules to charge workers £1,000 to take companies to tribunal.

The fees, which will affect workers seeking trial for unfair dismissal or discrimination, are due to be rolled out by the coalition next month.

However, there are concerns that the excessive fees will stop some employees from seeking help for genuine grievances, and will cover the backs of big business.

Dave Prentis, Unison General Secretary said, “They want to take away our employment rights with punitive charges to access justice” adding that Unison would pay the fee for any of it’s members upfront if needed.

Read more about this story here.

Unison General Secretary - Dave Prentis Image: The Mirror

Unison General Secretary – Dave Prentis Image: The Mirror

5) Over 4,000 turn-out for the People’s Assembly against Austerity

On Saturday, over 4,000 people joined in a movement against austerity at the Central Hall in Westminster. The day was filled with talks and debates from  a range of speakers including Union Leaders, councillors, journalists and campaigners from up and down the country.

As well as providing a space for people to unite and discuss the problems of government and cuts, the People’s Assembly hopes to now help unite and mobilise local groups to take action against the attack on welfare being carried out by the coalition. Several days of action have been announced, including a day of civil disobedience on November 5th. There was even talk of creating a new political party formation, in light of Labour’s lack of assurance to reverse the cuts.

Find out more about the People’s Assembly and read their first draft statement here.

One of the most inspiring talks was given by comedienne, writer and actor Francesca Martinez, who has also been a supporter of the WOW petition which calls for a cumulative impact assessment of welfare reform, and a fairer deal for sick and disabled people affected by the reforms.

by Kam Sandhu @KamBass
Like us on Facebook / Follow us on Twitter

In the second part of out interview with Criminal Barrister and joint secretary of the Haldane Society of Socialist Lawyers, Mike Goold, we talk about the effects of cuts on the law profession, nasty hidden extras in the proposals and building on the anger and resistance felt by the public and the profession.

Demonstration against Legal Aid Cuts Image: The Times

Demonstration against Legal Aid Cuts Image: The Times

The legal aid cuts affect the free services for those at the bottom of the ladder. Will the changes have any effect on other areas of the law profession as a whole, for lawyers and clients?

A lot of people will lose their job. At the moment according to the MOJ’s own statistics, there’s about 1600 firms that have criminal legal aid contracts and provide criminal law services. They want to reduce that to 400. Dramatically reducing the number. 25% will have a contract. If they’re organisations that do other work from criminal law they might not go bust, but they’ll either go bust or their criminal department’s going to close.

I think a number of organisations, if they do go ahead, will end up merging, so I don’t think 1200 firms will go bust but a huge amount will. But this is what the government want. They keep saying the consultation is about rationalising or making it more economical, but what they mean is reduce the number of people employed in this area. So thousands of solicitors will lose their jobs, and if the cuts go through as they currently are, within the bar it could be even worse. It could just be the end of the criminal bar in general, because they want these big companies to bid for contracts.

The bigger risk really, and what we should raise in the public, is the effect on clients; vulnerable people and people who rely on legal services and need legal services because those people are really going to get screwed over.”

Barristers’ chambers are not like this. We are self-employed and organise ourselves in chambers. It’s a way for barristers to pool their resources, but most chambers are a few odd members, so there’s no way they can bid for these contracts. It won’t be a financially viable system, and might disappear altogether. Solicitors will want to work in-house themselves because the fees have got so bad they won’t be able to extract the barristers to do the advocacy work, so they have to do it all themselves. It could be the end of the criminal bar if these cuts go through, so it will have a huge impact on the profession.

The bigger risk really, and what we should raise in the public, is the effect on clients, vulnerable people and people who rely on legal services and need legal services because those people are really going to get screwed over.

And there’s some nasty little added extras that they’ve put in this consultation.

“So that’s a nasty little extra thing they’re putting in, which obviously stinks of a generally quite racist thing that this government is adding, in relation to immigration in their general policies.”

One thing they have put in, in relation to civil legal aid, is a residents requirement. So you’ll only be able to qualify for civil legal aid (so whatever housing representation is left or any part of civil law) you have to be lawfully resident in the country for 12 months. So if you have an overstayer or even if have been in the country legally, but you haven’t been here 12 months, you won’t qualify for legal aid. There’s been huge issues raised by some NGOs (Non-Governmental Organisations) recently that this could affect for example trafficking and sex workers, children of failed asylum seekers, migrants who haven’t been given the right to stay – these people will be no longer be entitled to any sort of representation. And obviously immigration is something that falls under civil law. So that’s a nasty little extra thing they’re putting in, which obviously stinks of a generally quite racist thing that this government is adding, in relation to immigration in their general policies.

And another thing, the judicial review is a means by which people can challenge the decisions of executives of the government and any executive bodies. So that can be anything from being evicted from a council house owned by the government, you, or immigration decisions, decisions to be refused asylum, these things can be challenged by judicial review. And the government have, if you’re being quite cynical about this, and I certainly am, the government have an incentive to stop people if they can, because it’s the way people challenge unjust government decisions.

MoJ says it wants to cut 75% of firms with legal aid service contracts Image: gmbnorthwest.com

MoJ says it wants to cut 75% of firms with legal aid service contracts Image: gmbnorthwest.com

What they’re proposing to do (it’s quite complicated), but in judicial review cases you have to apply for permission before you actually bring the case. So the first stage is you actually putting together the case, you take it to the court and say you want to challenge a decision. The court assesses if there’s a valid case there, and then grants you permission. But, they are changing it so anything in terms of legal aid isn’t available until permission is granted. So if permission is refused people won’t get paid for any of the work that was done up to that point in that case. If permission is granted, then you get paid for the work that you did.

“It’s quite a calculated thing the government are doing here, because like I say, this is going to stop people from being able to challenge government decisions, which is in their interest and it’s protecting themselves as well as cost saving.”

So that means it’s going to be very financially dangerous for firms to take on risky cases, because if there’s a chance that permission isn’t granted. Then they won’t get paid, that work will be for free and they might go bankrupt. It’s very hard to assess a case at the outset and say for certain whether it’s going to be successful or not. Some of the most important judicial review challenges that have been won against unjust government decision, may have, at the outset have looked like weak cases, which now won’t be able to be brought to challenge because of risk. It’s quite a calculated thing the government are doing here, because like I say, this is going to stop people from being able to challenge government decisions, which is in their interest and it’s protecting themselves as well as cost saving.

Unlike other forms of benefit cuts, it seems that from polls, the public do really want to protect legal aid and feel it is important to invest money into it, and provide legal assistance. But what can they do now to fight them? 

The cuts that came in April have happened, but obviously the other consultation to do with price competitive tendering and other cuts, they haven’t come in yet. Chris Grayling (Justice Secretary) has said he wants to take bids from organisations in, I think, Autumn of this year, with the system completely ready to roll out by Autumn of 2014. So there is still time to fight it, these recent policies aren’t in yet by any stretch.

“There’s been cutbacks to legal aid for the past 10 years, they’ve really been hacking away and there really isn’t that much left.”

In some ways the solicitors and barristers and profession in general, and particularly the professional bodies like the Law Society. the Bar Standards Board and the Bar Council have been quite crap up to this point about fighting the cuts because this isn’t new. There’s been cutbacks to legal aid for the past 10 years, they’ve really been hacking away and there really isn’t that much left.

The action so far has been pretty poor. Since the cutbacks in April there was some campaigning from NGO and some left wing areas of the profession but very little from the actual bar as a whole.

I think finally the Bar Count and the Law Society are realising how serious these most recent proposals are, and they are trying to mobilise, letters are being sent, petitions are going round and there’s been demonstrations. So the actual profession is mobilising – so that’s a good thing, and there is support from the public that needs to built on. There have been a few polls that suggest that the public feel that if these cuts go through there will be more miscarriages of justice – that’s a good sign that they are also aware. Now, we have to fight it and raise the publicity but also, I would suggest, and a lot of other practitioners thinking this too, some sort of direct action. Whether you want to call it a strike or not I don’t know. It’s not a profession used to industrial action. There’s talk of having organised “training days” which is effectively just withdrawing our labour for the day. So that sort of action I think needs to be followed through on. But there does seem to be a lot of anger and resistance in the profession now because I think they realise how severe these cuts will be.

by Kam Sandhu @KamBass
Like us on Facebook / Follow us on Twitter

1) Ed Miliband makes a controversial speech on social security spending.

On Thursday 6th June, Labour leader Ed Miliband gave a speech on his party’s new plans for social security spending in the UK. In a U-turn on previous policy, Ed Miliband said that he would not reverse the removal of child benefits from homes earning over £50,000 and also showed support to some of the benefit caps.

The changes brought attacks from Prime Minister David Cameron who branded the Labour leader ‘weak’ and ‘confused’ on his benefits policies.

Other reforms in the speech included aims to ‘start investing in homes again, not paying for failure‘, and a limit on the length of time those well enough to work can remain unemployed:

‘For every young man and woman who has been out of work for more than a year, we would say to every business in the country, we will pay the wages for 25 hours a week, on at least the minimum wage.

Fully funded by a tax on bankers’ bonuses.’

For those over 25, this would be imposed after two years of unemployment.

The speech has had a mixed reaction from both supporters and opposition, with some agreeing that certain cuts on welfare need to be made and some feeling the Labour leader has played into providing the ‘tough’ stance on benefits and welfare, instead of defending it.

Read The Full Speech Here.

Ed Miliband Image: bbc.co.uk

Ed Miliband Image: bbc.co.uk

2) ‘Legal revolt’ against cuts to legal aid

Leading barristers and lawyers submitted strong concerns over the proposals for legal aid cuts that aim to see savings of £220m. 4th June stood as the deadline for consultations on the “Transforming Legal Aid” policies, and proposals have been met with severe condemnation from those inside the Bar.

The policies would see huge changes including competitive tendering from contractors who must bid at least 17.5% lower than the current standard rate. The opportunity has seen interest from companies such as supermarket giant Tesco, and haulage and logistics company Eddie Stobart. Lawyers fear the new system will drive down the quality of service in the justice system, as well as see many public law firms close under financial pressure.

Some took to the streets outside the Ministry of Justice to protest on 4th June.

Due to strong opposition to the reforms, the Justice Select Committee will hold an inquiry beginning on 11th June.

Read More About This Story Here.

Legal Aid Cuts Protest Last Month Image: The Guardian

Legal Aid Cuts Protest Last Month Image: The Guardian

3) New report predicts Britain will face a “colossal” bill for child poverty by the end of the decade

The Child Poverty Action Group, who commissioned the report, said that 1 in 4 children (around 3.4m) in Britain will live in relative poverty by 2020, costing the country £35bn.

The report claims that reductions in public spending now will force bigger costs in the future, as more and more families and children face destitution in the wake of cuts.

Alison Garnham from the Child Poverty Action Group branded the cuts a ‘false economy’ and fears the spending review at the end of this month will bring yet more poverty to the country’s children. Instead, Garnham says the review should be seen as “an opportunity to change course and prioritise families with children once again.”

The DWP have enforced their commitment to ending child poverty despite missing their target to halve it in 2010, and admitted there were “far too many children being left behind.”

The Institute for Fiscal Studies predicts that child poverty rates will rise 6% between 2010/11 – 2020/2021, undoing the reductions made under the Labour government in 2000/1-2010/11.

Read More About This Story Here.

Image: channel4learning.com

Image: channel4learning.com

by Kam Sandhu @KamBass

Like us on Facebook / Follow us on Twitter

Thanks to @Sunny_Hundal for highlighting this – “Two Charts Relevant To [yesterday’s] speech”, where Ed Miliband said that he would cap social spending and, in a U-turn, said that he would not reverse some of the measures and cuts David Cameron has enforced, including removing child benefits payments to those earning over £50,000.

BMFOB2hCIAE_8-9.jpg-large

BMFN2aNCcAEmE58.jpg-large

It seems Ed Miliband is also playing into some of the rhetoric of the coalition government, saying “We don’t want worklessness passed down from generation to generation.” For the last time politicians, it isn’t. And there’s proof here.

Not a step in the right direction we fear, Ed.

Take a drug addict who sells her body, a cagefighter, a shoplifter, an unemployed father of 7, a troubled child with a few school exclusions under his belt, some teenage pregnancy and a good dose of patronising narration, and you have the making of a new Big Fat Gypsy-esque assault on the welfare rhetoric, courtesy of Channel 4.

Image: The Telegraph

Image: The Telegraph

The channel has, in the past, been known and revered for it’s documentaries, often pressing deep into sensitive areas, many of which the BBC has shied away from. ‘Skint’ is something rather different however.

With a continued rise in unemployment in the UK,  more and more people are facing the difficulties of finding work and living off benefits, or taking pay cuts, short term employment or working fewer hours. And while the labour market struggles to provide jobs for many work hungry and indeed, hungry, Brittons, Channel 4 presents us with the documentary series ‘Skint’.

A programme that perhaps many had hoped would see the independent broadcaster reveal the plight of the thousands struggling to make ends meet, looking into the real social and political problems stifling the jobs market in the UK and its effect on communities. Instead, the show demonises and pretty much ridicules the unemployed, and the welfare system itself.

The characters followed on the programme have been hand-picked to fit the tabloid press description of ‘scroungers.’ Let’s take a look at just one of the stories.

Dean and Claire are parents and step-parents to 7 children between them. Dean had a job at the steelworks, but now the family survive off benefits, or the ‘social’ as the narrator likes to casually call it, as if Dean and his giro are old pals.

While hinting at the effect of the redundancies from the local steelworks, at no point does it delve deeper into the reasons why there is unemployment in North Lancashire. Over 20,000 people lost their jobs from that one industry in the local area. But Channel 4 skims over the real causes and issues, in order to provide light entertainment from the poverty of others.

It might be titillating to viewers to watch the people on Skint like they would animals in a zoo, but for those who are between jobs and are actively seeking work, being grouped in with the characters on the programme might feel like being kicked when they’re down. The programme has foundations in an ‘us and them’ mentality, ‘us’ being ‘hard-working’ members of society, and ‘them’ being benefit claimants. And many took to Twitter to echo that:

Some Twitter comments following the show.

Some Twitter comments following the show.

And this family is like ‘many other families round here’ apparently. Cue the children telling the camera they know families with 7 kids, 8 kids, 5 kids. We are left to assume that they don’t work either. But we don’t know that. The idea that there is a culture of families having lots of children on benefits is another tabloid favorite. In truth, there are around 3,200 families with 7 children in the UK, claiming ANY sort of out-of-work benefit, just over 1000 with 8 children, and around 30 families with 11 kids:

Families by number of dependent children receiving any type of out-of-work benefit Image: The Guardian

Families by number of dependent children receiving any type of out-of-work benefit Image: The Guardian

The voiceover is often nothing less than patronising and shows the flippancy with which the programme’s creators are approaching the problem of poverty and unemployment in Britain. “Not everyone’s on the dole here…but most are” says the sneering narrator. Yet, according to figures released by ONS, only 5.9% of the population of Scunthorpe claim the dole. But perhaps that was too much of a non-patronising mouthful.

Tom Sutcliffe from The Independent picked up on the lack of depth to the programme:

“Skint doesn’t actively mock Dean. It doesn’t make him jump through hoops in some reality format or snigger at his lifestyle in an obvious way. But it does enjoy him and leaves you wondering whether that enjoyment is entirely seemly.”

And it’s true, the programme doesn’t actively mock the people on Westcliffe Estate, but it’s faux compassion towards their struggle is just as undermining.

There are some moments where the locals begin to talk about their situation. One young man began saying “I’d rather work hard and get a decent wage at the end of the week, but there just isn’t any work about”, but rather than focusing on why this may be, the editors prefer to cut to shots of kids riding motorbikes and drinking Special Brew.

The Twitter reaction was mixed, some slamming C4 for their ‘poor bashing propaganda’, and labelling ‘Skint’ as ‘sensationalist voyeurism’. In the backlash against the anti-welfare tweets some posted the TUC’s statistics vs misconceptions poll results:

TUC myths about welfare. Image: falseeconomy.org.uk

TUC myths about welfare. Image: falseeconomy.org.uk

Screen shot 2013-06-04 at 21.54.29[1]

The programme’s steeped in distaste and is unsuccessful in shedding light on the reality of people on benefits. The summary of the programme declares it shows ‘the real impact of worklessness – both today and over generations’. A JRF report has already de-bunked this idea of worklessness culture, and called on politicians to stop using this false idea. However, it seems the creators of this C4 documentary were looking for it whether it was there or not. And a few edits can stop us from thinking otherwise.

‘Skint gets behind the headlines’of ‘people, often maligned for their lifestyle’ the Channel 4’s synopsis says. And it does. It helps to prop those headlines up.

 

Like us on Facebook / Follow us on Twitter
Tower Hamlets Protest Begins to Gather

Tower Hamlets Protest Begins to Gather

With lower numbers than expected due to a protest in Woolwich, locals from around the Tower Hamlets area gathered outside the Housing Association to make a stand against welfare reforms last Saturday. Despite the smaller turnout, the day united communities around the country to make a stand.

We spoke to some of the people there. Here’s what they said:

“This is the place from which people are told that there’s nowhere in Tower Hamlets that you can be re-housed and actually you’re going to have to go to Northampton or Luton or wherever. And that is happening everyday, and that’s partly why we chose to come here. Because of the bedroom tax and council housing tax, a lot of people are being evicted. We are all fighting benefit cuts and we all need to stand together and that’s why we’re all standing here today.”

Eileen, Tower Hamlets Benefit Justice Organiser

“I have a spare bedroom. A small, spare bedroom. I’ve lived where I’ve lived for 30 years. Because of ill health, I can’t move. There’s nowhere in my housing co-op with one bedroom. I’m here because it’s criminal what the government are doing. It’s a huge swathe on honorable, hardworking people.

“We need to get the message out to the people that they are not alone, and get them on the streets. The Tories will realise that though we are not well-off, or are ill or disabled, we are a force to be reckoned with.

“A good judgement of society is how it treats it’s weak.”

              Elsbeth, Protestor

“I’m not affected by it personally, because I’m a pensioner. But I think the big problem is that there aren’t any places for people to move to. If they’ve got an extra bedroom there’s no housing available in Tower Hamlets. We’ve got thousands of people on the waiting list.

“A woman just stopped who has two sons. She’d been waiting 8 years for a two bedroom place. It just doesn’t work because there are queues of people waiting for smaller places. They haven’t really thought it through. They don’t know the impact it’s going to have on people.

“Same with the NHS. I’m involved with trying to stop what they’re doing to the NHS as well. It all kind of fits together, like, ‘If you can get it through and people don’t realise what you’re doing to them, just get on and do it.’ The [government] don’t have any morals it seems to me. Fortunately, I’m not affected by it myself, but I can see lots of people suffering badly because of it.

“And who’s the money going to? The thing is the rents are too high – that’s the problem. If we can get the rents controlled and lowered, they wouldn’t be such a drain on the benefits. Because housing benefit pays very rich landlords a lot of money. So that’s the basic fault with it. What we need is more housing and controlled rents, and that would solve the problem. Not picking on individuals.”

                                                                         Myra, 80, Protestor

“I have been out campaigning for the last three years because we have a dangerous, sociopathic group of people in charge of government.

“We need to let the people speak, but they won’t until there are massive numbers of deaths, which will happen because they are also decimating our 999 services.”

                                                                                                       Gabriel, Protestor

“I’ve been affected by the bedroom tax, and I will be affected by the benefit cuts. And we’ve got the council tax. So it’s going to be three – the bedroom tax, the benefit cut and the council tax.

“I can’t afford to pay it. I’m not in a position to take in a lodger. They suggested people take in a lodger. It’s not really going to solve the problem, because if you have a lodger, you’re still going to have your benefit cut anyway. There was a time when you had a network or a community. The networks now are not necessarily that safe to say I’m going to take Tom, Dick or Harry or Lucy or Jane in, because you have to think about who you’re sharing your house with.

“It’s easier to attack the weaker ones rather than the stronger ones. They need to build more housing, and not luxury flats. They need to assume that everybody who is on these benefits is NOT a lazy sit around. A lot of people are becoming unemployed and they can’t live on fresh air.

“And it doesn’t matter who you are, wherever you’re working. If you’ve worked, and you’ve paid your tax, you’re entitled to have some relief if and when you‘re not well, that’s why it was there wasn’t it?

“And when I’m saying the benefit, that goes down to the NHS and the Fire Brigade and whatever. And they’d all be willing for us to burn in our extra bedroom. That’s what they’re trying to do if you don’t move out. But where can we go?”

 Margaret, Petitioner

by Kam Sandhu @KamBass

We spotted this great article ahead of the day of action against welfare reforms tomorrow. It’s from the good people over at Scriptonite Daily, and tells the story of three people facing eviction due to the bedroom tax; Helen Sockell, 56, a blind woman in Kilmarnock, Richard Rourke, a disabled widower from Derbyshire, who also has a daughter that suffers from a rare form of muscular dystrophy and a rape victim called ‘A’ to protect her identity.

The article is great for shining a light on the human impact of these reforms.

Find the article here.

Helen Sockell - A Blind Woman Facing Eviction over the Bedroom Tax Image: The Daily Record

Helen Sockell – A Blind Woman Facing Eviction over the Bedroom Tax Image: The Daily Record

 

“More than 25,000 people applied for the ‘discretionary housing payment’ to help pay their rent this month, as the Bedroom Tax kicked in.  This compares to just 5,700 applications in the same month last year. Notices of eviction are being issued up and down the country.  Caught up in these figures were a blind widow, a disabled dad and a rape victim. It is time to put a human face on the statistical failure of the Bedroom Tax.”

Scriptonite Daily

 In the second part of our interview with Ellen Clifford, from the Benefit Justice Campaign, we talk about her work with DPAC (Disabled People Against Cuts), ATOS, and what happens after the national day of action on Saturday.

DPAC Campaigners at a protest. Image: Demotix.com

DPAC Campaigners at a protest. Image: Demotix.com

You work for Disabled People Against Cuts. Can you tell us what sort of effects you have seen first-hand from the cuts. What is it doing to people that you’ve worked with?

Just to say I don’t work for them, we’re unfunded. It’s something we do after work or those of us who aren’t lucky enough to work. But we do have people contacting us everyday. Particularly due to the WCA (Work Capability Assessment), which has been in place and has been attacking people for the last couple of years. We have people who are suicidal, who are really in despair. I mean, the figures for people who have taken their own lives or who’ve died as a consequence of the stress of the WCA are shockingly high.

“People who really can’t see a way out because their income, the money that they need to feed themselves and to survive, is being taken away from them, and they don’t know where to turn or what to do.” 

But I would like to think that through people getting in touch with other people in the same situation through DPAC, that people find peer support and avoid those situations where people really feel they’ve got nothing to do but kill themselves. But we certainly have people who are feeling suicidal, or are feeling depressed. People who really can’t see a way out because their income, the money that they need to feed themselves and to survive, is being taken away from them, and they don’t know where to turn or what to do. We’re seeing really, really, extreme effects on people.

This was highlighted in the case of Stephanie Bottrill, who a couple of weeks ago committed suicide. Her death was attributed to the bedroom tax, cuts and the government. Is this what we will see more of? 

Unfortunately I think so, yes. I have heard that she wasn’t the first. Actually, there were some other deaths related to the bedroom tax before that. But unfortunately, I don’t think it will be an isolated case. There are some mental health organisations I know that have been reporting for the past couple of years huge increases in suicide, because people are being hit by all the different cuts and the changes and having money taken away.

Stephanie Bottrill took her own life after the introduction of the bedroom tax, and left a note blaming the government. Image: The Mirror

Stephanie Bottrill took her own life after the introduction of the bedroom tax, and left a note blaming the government. Image: The Mirror

“So when you leave people with absolutely nothing to live on…there’s consequences to that.”

I heard of one story in Hackney, of a man that had been found fit for work even though he had terminal cancer. He was appealing it, and while you’re appealing, you can’t actually get employment and support allowance. And, because of a mess up with his sick note from his GP he was left with no income, and then he was hit by the bedroom tax so he was actually minus income. Quite often we’re hearing about people who are left with not just nothing to live on, but actually owing money, because of the bedroom tax coming in on top of all their other money being taken away. So when you leave people with absolutely nothing to live on and food banks you can only visit a maximum of three times a week then you’re literally leaving people with nothing. There’s consequences to that.

I wanted to talk to you a bit about ATOS. Now we have heard the terrible stories about how ATOS has treated people, how they have deemed ill and severely disabled people fit to work. But why have they been able to carry on? It doesn’t seem like they are being stopped. Why?

These tests have been developed over many, many years. It started in the New Labour years. The DWP worked with ATOS and Unum insurance providers, to develop a way of looking at disability called the bio psycho social model of disability which denies disability exists and says that it’s in your own head.

So this has been a very determined and deliberate policy that’s created these tests over many, many years. The government isn’t going to back out on it because it’s achieving what they wanted.

“It was New Labour that introduced ATOS to this country. That’s something disabled people aren’t going to forget for a long time.”

And this is something that will happen under Labour or a Conservative government?

It’s harsher certainly under the Tories, but it was New Labour that introduced ATOS to this country. That’s something disabled people aren’t going to forget for a long time. And it was the DWP under Labour that were talking to Unum Insurance Providers about developing the bio psycho social model. That was at the same time they were talking to our faces, and championing the social model of disability, which is the empowering way of looking at disability.

On Saturday, there is a national day of action against welfare reforms which you have helped organise. But this must be forming part of a larger picture. So what happens next? 

What we need to do is prepare for when and if evictions start happening. It’s great to have a national day to come together to show our opposition. But what’s really important at the moment is building the local campaigns at grass roots level, so that communities know how to fight back against what’s going on. They can put the pressure on their local council to do things like redesignate bedrooms, or to try and demand from councils that there are no evictions and no relocation. But, also that if it does come to it, that communities will be standing outside people’s doors, not letting the bailiffs in. So, I think one of our main focuses is on supporting those local campaigns to develop.

150417_274242869377189_1750197938_n

A Benefit Justice Summit Flyer

And what is the alternative if people don’t take action?

Then what we’re going to see is our communities being torn apart and destroyed . People being relocated to different areas. I think Lambeth’s choice destination for people is Clifton Villa, Margate, I found out the other week.  Yeah, by the seaside but it’s an extremely deprived area and people are being removed from their families, their networks, their communities, and maybe even their jobs. We’re going to see a rise in people, unfortunately, who might be taking their own lives because they don’t where to go or what to do.

“What we’re going to see is our communities being torn apart and destroyed.”

But we’re also going see local authorities in complete chaos. There was an interview with I think a Leeds councillor last week, and they were saying it cost them so far £500,000 to put in the support for their council tenants who don’t know how they’re going to pay, or what they’re going to do. So local authorities are being thrown into crisis by this, and it’s going to be a complete mess. At least, if we have communities on the ground looking after each other, then we’re going to avoid some of the mess.

Find out more about the Benefit Justice Campaign here.

by Kam Sandhu @KamBass

Follow us on Twitter/Like us on Facebook

Over the last few weeks the Department for Work and Pensions has come under fire from leading experts and organisations over it’s handling of, and reporting on, the latest changes to the UK benefits system.

Iain Duncan Smith Image: The Guardian

Iain Duncan Smith Image: The Guardian

Iain Duncan Smith, the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, faced fresh criticism this week for his use of “unsupported” statistics to promote the effectiveness of the newly implemented benefit cap.

In April of this year the new benefit cap was trialled in Haringey, Enfield, Croydon and Bromley with a view to roll the scheme out nationwide within the year.

In an interview with the Daily Mail last month, supporting the national implementation of the trialled changes to the benefits system, Iain Duncan Smith was quoted saying “already we’ve seen 8,000 people who would have been affected by the cap move into jobs. This clearly demonstrates that the cap is having the desired impact”.

However, a complaint made by Nicola Smith from the Trades Union Congress to the UK Statistics Authority about the legitimacy of these claims lead to an investigation into the statistics used. The complaint was upheld when Andrew Dilnot of the UKSA wrote an open letter to the Secretary of State stating that they had found the statement to be “unsupported by the official statistics published by the department.”

This is not the first time that the DWP has been it hot water with the UKSA over it’s use of unsupported statistics. Making a Point of Order in the Commons last Monday, Debbie Abrahams, the Oldham East and Saddleworth MP, said that this incident followed “similar issues regarding the Child Support Agency statistics in February, and also extends to the Secretary of State for Health and his health funding claims last December”.

The latest criticism of the Department for Work and Pensions comes fresh off the back of two controversial court rulings against the department in recent weeks. The first ruling was against their attempt to conceal the identities of companies that have signed up to their widely condemned Workfare scheme – due to the possible financial and reputational damage it could cause. The second was the case brought against the Work Capability Assessment – which judges have ruled “substantially disadvantages people with mental health conditions”.

Photo: rethink.org

Photo: rethink.org

The reason for the cap, according to the Department for Work and Pensions, is to “encourage people to work”. Speaking on the BBC Radio 4’s Today programme the employment minister Mark Hoban said the best way for people to avoid the controversial benefits cap was to “move in to work”, however as the case of the Work Capability Assessment shows – this isn’t always possible for some.

In real terms the changes will mean that for single parent families, or families where neither parents are working, the total amount of benefits they can claim is set at £500 a week – including rent – and for people living alone this has been set at £350 a week.

To top off a bad month for the DWP a new storm could be about to break. On Thursday last week a judge gave permission for a full judicial review of claims that involve four vulnerable families who rely on welfare payments to provide for their children.

The cases involve victims of domestic abuse. According the the Guardian two of the families “face a stark choice between descending further into poverty and risking losing their homes, or returning to their abusers in order to escape the imposition of the cap”.

Rebekah Carrier, the solicitor at Hopkin Murray Beskine who acts for all of the claimants, warned in The Guardian: “This is a cruel and misguided policy. It will have a catastrophic impact on our clients and many thousands more vulnerable children and adults. They face street homelessness and starvation.

“A year ago the children’s commissioner warned the government that these changes would result in a sharp increase in child poverty and homelessness, with a disproportionate impact upon disabled children and children of disabled parents, and some BME groups.
“The difficulties now faced by my clients were predictable and avoidable. The reason for the policy is said to be to encourage people to obtain work but my clients face difficulties in securing employment because they are lone parents with caring responsibilities for babies and toddlers, and disabled adults who have already been recognised as unable to work due to their disabilities.”

Image: The Telegraph

Image: The Telegraph

The DWP’s key aim, according to their site, is to “help its customers become financially independent and to help reduce child poverty.” However, their recent actions and reforms seem to be having the opposite effect on the people they are meant to protect. And we have a feeling there is more to come….

Clea Guy-Allen
Like us on Facebook / Follow us on Twitter