Archives For welfare reforms

So we’ve been offline for a little while for maintenance, hence a bumper edition of WWLLW, and a lot has been going….

1) Green Party proposes wealth tax

So let’s start this bumper edition with some news that makes sense and deals with the biggest problem of our times (and the most avoided by most of our politicians) – the wealth gap. The Green Party have proposed a wealth tax of around 2% on the assets of top earners. It would only affect the top 1% of the population (yeah, the 1% who currently have around a fifth of the wealth in the UK).

Presenting the radical new proposal, Natalie Bennett, the Green leader, said other political parties only offered minor tweaks to the UK’s failed economic system, instead of major changes to deal with inequality.

Although seen as a radical proposal, this is only seem through the prism of the last decade’s political discourse which has shied away from dealing with what is an extreme circumstance of widening inequality that systematically continues to funnel money from the poorest to the richest. Curbing the excesses of the rich has to play a part in any move towards a fairer society and we welcome this announcement.

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2) Two MPs to sue government on DRIP bill
 
An ‘artificial emergency’ was created in parliament in order to rush through a bill that infringes on the public’s privacy and allows greater surveillance. The Bill was designed as a response to the European Court of Justice ruling in April that the current practices in the UK, under the Data Retention Regulations Act of 2009, were illegal. 
 
The Data Retention and Investigatory Powers bill was agreed by all three major political parties and rushed through in a week. The urgency with which the bill was pushed through allowed no time for research, debate or opposition. 
 
Now, 2 MPs have begun an official fightback against the legality of the bill. 
 
Mr Davis and Mr Watson, backed by human rights charity Liberty, have written to the Home Office to give them seven days’ notice of their intention to apply for judicial review.

Tom Watson, Labour MP for West Bromwich East, said: “The three party leaders struck a private deal to railroad through a controversial bill in a week. You cannot make good laws behind closed doors.

“The new Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Act does not answer the concerns of many that the blanket retention of personal data is a breach of fundamental rights to privacy.”

Read more about this story here.

3) Company pulls out of workfare scheme, days after George Osbourne visits to publicise scheme

Byteback IT Solutions received a visit from chancellor George Osbourne earlier this month in an attempt to publicise the Help To Work programme the company had signed up to.

Image: Bristol Post

Image: Bristol Post

 

However, following the visit, Byteback were sent messages online about the detrimental effects and infamy of the Help To Work programme which forced the long-term unemployed to work for the payment of their benefits. Shortly after, Byteback IT Solutions announced they would be backing out of the scheme as they were not previously aware of the effects.

They made the announcement via their Facebook page, insisting that they had taken part with “the best of intentions”, but had come to the conclusion that “we were wrong to get involved with workfare.”

A company director explained: “We are a small community-serving business that wanted to help the local unemployed in our community to find work by offering our time and expertise to give jobseekers valuable work experience.”

An embarrassing event for Osbourne and the government. The workfare scheme has no place here. Despite the greatest protestations and attempts by our government to retain the secrecy of workfare employer names, judges have repeatedly ruled that the government must name the providers (though of course, that doesn’t mean they will). Thankfully, the shame of taking part in this scheme is one even the government can’t deny.

Read more about this story here.

4) Did you hear? The economy has fully recovered! We are at the 2008 peak! (Dies laughing)

From russelljonespersonal.com

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5) Malnutrition soars by 70% as doctors report an increase in illnesses associated with the Third World

The drive of cuts and austerity is seeing a 70% rise in malnutrition and illnesses associated with Third World countries, says a new hospital admissions report.

“People unable to feed themselves saw a staggering 6,686 admissions where malnutrition was the primary or secondary diagnosis during 2013/14.

“This is a rise of 71% from 3,899 in the year up to April 2010.

“Data from the Health and Social Care Information Centre released today also revealed admissions for scarlet fever were up by 110% and cholera by a staggering 450% since 2010.

“Scurvy – a disease associated with pirates stuck at sea for long periods – has increased by 31% in England since 2010.

“This is caused by a lack of vitamin C and can be caused by a diet without enough fresh fruit and vegetables.”

Thousands of people are unable to feed themselves, and a million are in need of a food bank and will have skipped meals and cut back before they have reached there. This is a form of violence and torture inflicted on people in a place with a wealth of resources and a wealth of wealth hoarded for the decadence of a few at the cost of malnutrition, poverty and destitution for others.

Read more about this story here.

6) 200 strangers stop eviction of cancer patient from home

Tom Crawford, 63, posted a plea on YouTube calling for help for his peaceful protest against his eviction from the home he has lived in for 25 years, over a disputed mortgage.

The father of 3, who also suffers from prostate cancer, said in the video;

“Please come and help us, there will be a lovely cup of tea waiting for you.

“But don’t use violence, they are the ones who use violence. This is a war, for the people. It may only be a small bungalow, but it is my bungalow, my land, my home.”

More than 200 strangers from across the country came to Tom’s home in Nottingham on the day of the eviction. Some came from Wales and Newcastle and others were neighbours. Bailiffs were unable to enter the home.

Hundreds stand outside Tom Crawford's property Image: Daily Mail

Hundreds stand outside Tom Crawford’s property Image: Daily Mail

Following the event, Tom said:

“I can’t believe that people have come from all over the country to support me. It’s really overwhelming and I really didn’t expect it.

“This is something I feel very passionate about – I’ve been here more than 25 years and have brought three children up here. I’ve worked hard all my life.”

A great show of solidarity and an example of how we can fight back.

Read more about this story here.

7) Victory against sell-off of student loans

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Another fantastic victory won last week when Vince Cable, Business Secretary announced that plans to sell-off the student loan book have been stopped. This excellent triumph is in no small part down to the student movement that has fought heartily against it, despite the ignorance of media and politicians. This message was left on the Facebook Page:

“WE’VE WON!!! The government has dropped its plans to privatise the student loan book in an announcement made by Vince Cable, the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation & Skills yesterday (July 21st).

“This government u-turn represents a major victory for the student movement. If the student loan book had have been sold off to private debt collectors there is no doubt that in a bid to maximise profits interest rates on repayments would have soared. To put it bluntly, privatising student loans would have been a retrospective hike in tuition fees.

“But students and graduates have shown that we won’t tolerate being burdened with even more debt without a fight.

“The Student Assembly Against Austerity (the student wing of the People’s Assembly) has been at the forefront of the campaign to #StopTheSellOff. Alongside hundreds of student activists across the country, we have organised national days and weeks of action involving more than 50 campuses which has resulted in over 76 MPs signing our Early Day Motion against the privatisation of student debt.

“With the General Election just around the corner and the student movement on the rise it is no surprise that the Lib Dems have decided to back off on their assault on students.

“Well done and congratulations to everyone who took part – all the banner drops, occupations, mass petitioning, stunts, protesting and lobbying together made a huge difference and proves once again that campaigning works!

“There are, however, many more fights ahead.

“There will be those who will want to revisit plans to privatise student loans in the future – we need to make sure they never succeed.

“As a result of the trebling of tuition fees, higher education in the UK is the most expensive in the whole of Europe and student debt is rocketing as a result. At the same time the slashing of EMA and savage cuts to education are hitting students hard.

“With a General Election just months away, now is the time for the student movement to step up our campaigning efforts and loudly raise our demands for free education – against all fees, cuts and debt. That is why The Student Assembly Against Austerity is joining a coalition of groups to organise a national student demonstration this autumn on Wednesday 19 November.

“Join the fight back – get active with the Student Assembly! If you would like to get involved in organising the national demonstration or would like to set up a Student Assembly on your campus get in touch with us today on info@thestudentassembly.org.uk”

Read more about this story here.

8) Wisborough Green fights off fracking

Even more to celebrate as a West Sussex town fights off the application of an energy company to explore for oil and gas near the village of Wisborough Green.

The proposals were met with over 2,500 objections with reasons such as the lead to controversial fracking in the area and noise pollution from lorries having to travel through the town 24 times a day.

Campaigners celebrate the decision to stop exploration for oil and gas Image: The Independent

Campaigners celebrate the decision to stop exploration for oil and gas Image: The Independent

The decision was announced on Monday 21st July.

“Andrew Jackson of Wisborough Green parish council said the villagers had felt that it was important to make a stand. “If this was to be allowed today, it sets a benchmark for all other villages like ourselves,” he said. It’s clear that earlier applications that have been approved have all had direct access to the major lorry routes. This one does not and it’s not an appropriate location.”

“Local landowners were so determined to stop the exploration that they launched a “legal blockade” against Celtique, informing it that it did not have permission to drill under their properties and that they would go to the courts if it proceeded as planned. A similar tactic was employed by campaigners in nearby Fernherst, which sits inside South Downs National Park.”

Read more about this story here.

Oh, and in other news Cameron did some reshuffle and let some women in as a desperate stab at portraying himself as some sort of feminist or lover of equality whilst overseeing (and completely congratulating via the allowance of IDS to remain in his post) welfare reforms that disproportionately affect women and particularly single mothers and also overseeing the widening of the pay gap which is now in some parts 13%.

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We also cannot ignore the odious war taking place right now. A war that has some innate commitment to the murder of children, which nothing can ever be worth. We are staring into the sickness of man, the amalgamation of fake moral justifications for selfishness, arms and suffering. The focus must be, as Jon Snow says, to resolve this, at any cost.

“Leaving Israel and beleaguered Gaza far below me, I lay back in my BA seat headed for London. I donned my headphones and listened to Bach’s heavenly violin concerto in E major, and wept, as I rarely have as an adult.

“I wept for two peoples with remarkable similarities. Two peoples of extraordinary gifts and ability. Two peoples living in an area far smaller than England, one of which besieges the other, both of which target each other’s civilians.

This is humankind’s most grievous cancer, for its cells infect conflicts in every corner of the world. We fail as humankind if we do not devise a coming-together. Our leaders, as a vast priority, have to try and try again to use every mechanism in our rare animal capacity – our considerable intellects – to bring these peoples to resolution whatever the cost.”

Jon Snow, Channel 4

by Kam Sandhu @KamBass

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1) Queen’s Speech confirms move to frack under homes without permission. Greenpeace turn PM’s home into drilling site.

The Queen’s Speech on Wednesday confirmed that government would overhaul trespass laws to allow energy companies to frack under homes without permission.

Greenpeace responded by sending a bunch of activists to the Oxfordshire home of David Cameron, in order to turn his home into a drilling site.

Image: The Guardian

Image: The Guardian

Greenpeace also have a petition to sign to protest against these new laws. Sign the petition here.

Talk Fracking are holding their debates around the country this week too, so don’t forget to get down to one near you.

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Read more about this story here. 

2) Tories spark outrage in report to UN claiming welfare reforms would help the nation’s poorest children out of poverty

The government was branded “dishonest” following a report given to the UN that claimed welfare reforms and benefit cuts would help the poorest children out of poverty. Reforms are actually pushing more people into poverty with some reports claiming we will have 5 million below the poverty line by 2020, and food bank usage continues to rise.

The Scottish government tried to get the claim removed from the report, but were blocked from doing so.

Image: backbencher.co.uk

Image: backbencher.co.uk

Children’s Minister, Aileen Campbell commented:

“This report is downright insulting to the thousands of children driven into poverty by the Tories.

“The Scottish Government are straining every sinew to help families hit by welfare cuts but tens of thousands more children are facing poverty in coming years because of the Tories. That is the reality.

“In a country as rich as Scotland, food banks have never been busier. That is a national scandal.

“Instead of telling the truth, the Tories are censoring Scotland’s view and refusing to tell the UN the reality of their cuts. That is simply dishonest.”

Read more about this story here.

3) Mass strike likely for 10 July

Several large unions along with other civil servants are making plans to strike on 10 July against damaging austerity and public sector pay freezes.

It will be the largest co-ordinated action for two years if the strike goes ahead, with over 1 million workers taking part.

Unions involved include Unison, Unite, GMB, PCS and the NUT.

Read more about this story here.

4) Tory donors given £1.5bn in NHS contracts

Labour’s Shadow Health Secretary, Andy Burnham, has uncovered links between tory party supporters and the companies awarded NHS contracts worth £1.5bn.

NHS logo

NHS logo

Circle Health, the biggest profiters, were given £1.36bn in contracts after several investors donated £1.5m to the Conservatives. Burnham said:

“Nobody gave David Cameron ­permission to sell the NHS to his friends.

“It’s shocking the same Tory donors who ­bankrolled the development of their NHS reorganisation policy are now ­profiting from the sell-off of NHS services.”

Circle’s biggest contract was £1bn to run Hinchingbrooke Hospital. A Tory spokesman responded that the decision to contract out Hinchingbrooke was taken by Andy Burnham.

Still, Circle profits in the time of the coalition government have gone up from £64.6 million in 2010/2011 to £170.4 million in 2011/2012.

Read more about this story here.

5) 25 employers named and shamed after failing to pay minimum wage

The Telegraph

The Telegraph

The government have released a list of 25 employers who were breaking the law by paying below the minimum wage, following laws that came into effect last October.

Employers were investigated by HMRC after staff called a free helpline to report they were being underpaid.

“They include a school in Edinburgh which underpaid an employee by £3,739 and a garage in Bradford that failed to pay a worker £6,426.”

BBC News

Employers found to be underpaying staff can face a penalty of up to £20,000. Legislation is underway to change this to a maximum penalty of £20,000 per employee that is underpaid.

Read more about this story here.

6) ‘Studs’ designed to deter rough sleepers from central London flats condemned by public

Anti-homeless metal studs have been installed outside a block of flats in Southwark to deter rough sleepers. Andrew Horton, 33, took a photo of them and posted it on Twitter as he walked to work on Wednesday starting a Twitter condemnation of the tactic.

The images posted on Twitter by Horton

The images posted on Twitter by Horton

Other photos were posted of the studs used elsewhere. Homelessness charities say the studs have been used for over a decade.

“Katharine Sacks-Jones, head of policy and campaigns at Crisis, said: “This is happening in a context where rough sleeping has gone up massively. Over the last three years rough sleeping has risen by 36% nationally and by 75% in London. More than 6,400 people slept rough in London last year.”

“The reason for that increase is the continuing economic downturn, thehousing shortage, and cuts to benefits, particularly housing benefit.”

Read more about this story here.

by Kam Sandhu @KamBass

1) BBC Bias and the rise of the right

66% of people didn’t vote. European voters were turned away and told to vote in their own country. What did the BBC report on? A continued creaming over UKIP. Time to tune out of mainstream media. Listen to Chunky Mark.

 

2) Day after elections, Cameron announces plans to frack without permission

Cleverly timed release of this news with minimal coverage and attention, could it have been planned d’you think?

Image: BBC - Gas test Well

Image: BBC – Gas test Well

Cameron has announced proposals for new plans to allow land access to frackers. Following the reactions he has had to fracking, it seems Cameron is attempting to undermine a debate he is losing. Now the Euro/local elections are over, it’s time to take back the debate on this – Click here and like this page for forthcoming Fracking debates, news and campaigns.

“The UK government has proposed new rules regarding rights to access land in a bid to speed up the introduction of fracking.

“It proposes that shale oil and gas companies are granted access to land below 300m from the surface.

“It also suggests firms pay £20,000 per well to those living above the land.”

BBC News

Read more about this story here.

3) £16bn of benefits go unclaimed each year, as charities urge people to claim their entitlement

You read right. £16bn.

In America things like the workfare programme caused people to fall off the books, just so they would not have to face the undignified process of the welfare system. Similar things are happening here. Yet, the coverage you see of welfare remains an over-reporting of fraud and villification of benefit claimants. In the year 2012/3 around 24% of all media coverage of welfare was about fraud despite fraud accounting for less than 1% of welfare spending, and amounting to £1.2bn. The term scrounger has become the icon of one of the most destructive and divisive campaigns our government has ever set upon.

On top of this, there is clear evidence that the welfare system is hard to navigate, there has been removal of support and there is a distinct lack of information about what people are ENTITLED to. All this against a backdrop of rising poverty and food bank usage.

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Now, 27 charities including Save The Children, Help The Aged and Citizens Advice have written a letter to Work and Pensions Secretary Yvette Cooper, stating that £16bn of benefits go unclaimed and urging the DWP to ensure that money earmarked for children, families and pensioners who need it most is received.

“They said as many as four out of five low-paid workers without children were missing out on tax credits worth at least £38 a week, while half of working households entitled to housing benefit, worth an average of £37.60 a week, do not claim it.

Up to three million households are also thought to be missing out on council tax benefit, while as many as 1.7 million pensioners are thought not to be claiming the pensions credit, which would boost their income by an average of £31 a week.

Take up of housing benefit and council tax benefit have both fallen during the past decade, while take up of child tax credit is lower in London than other parts of the country and is around 10pc lower among people from ethnic minorities.”

The Telegraph

Read more about this story here.

4) ‘NHS will not exist under Tories’

Shadow Chancellor, Oliver Letwin told a private meeting that the NHS would not exist in 5 years under a Conservative election victory.

The remarks have been denied by Letwin since, but confirmed by several audience members and used by Labour to call out Conservative’s real plans for the National Health Service.

“The Shadow Chancellor said that the health service would instead be a “funding stream handing out money to pay people where they want to go for their healthcare”, according to a member of the audience.”

Read more about this story here.

5) PCS call for end to sanctions and workfare

Labour exchange employees have called for an end to sanctions and workfare schemes following a PCS union conference where Jobcentre workers explained the attacks taking place on welfare and how their jobs were making them depressed.

Image: The guardian

Image: The guardian

Jobcentre worker, Martin Humphrey said:

“We have to say to people that they have to live on nothing for two weeks. To make people destitute for two weeks is despicable.”

Many felt that frontline civil servants were used to dole out the attacks on the most vulnerable, whilst also facing the brunt of anger from the disabled, elderly and unemployed.

The PCS have resolved to fight welfare attacks with groups like DPAC and other trade unions.

Read more about this story here.

6) Martin Hadfield, 20, tragically commits suicide because he couldn’t get a job

20 year old Martin Hadfield applied for dozens of jobs, with no success. His self-worth was deeply affected, say his family. And less than 24 hours after meeting with a Jobcentre adviser, Hadfield killed himself.

Image: Mirror

Image: Mirror

This tragic, tragic story speaks of the pressure put on the unemployed as well as being “the inevitable result of a system that tells people their only value is in selling their bodies for money – or ‘employment’.”

Read “The Fetishisation Of Work Must Stop.”

7) JSA Sanctions – A guide

A handy Sanctions document, detailing how to avoid them has been circulating. Read here.

by Kam Sandhu @KamBass

We interviewed a Jobcentre adviser to ask about their experiences of welfare reforms since the coalition came to power. Having seen the changes and effects of unprecedented reforms, we wanted to know how their job experiences and demands had changed. Following on from our other interview last week, we bring you a second interview with a Jobcentre Adviser.

In the first part of this interview we talk about changes to welfare since the coalition and how the number of unemployed is remaining hidden under reforms.

Image: The guardian

Image: The guardian

How long have you worked in the job centre?

“10 years+ and in numerous positions.”

What are your thoughts and experiences of welfare reforms and rules since the coalition came to power? How have they changed? What are they aimed towards? What have been the effects on the people you serve? 

“It is clear that the Coalition/Tories have created a determined propaganda campaign against the most vulnerable members of society.  From Osborne’s shirkers and workers speech to the ‘hardworking people’ mantra.  Clearly designed to separate claimants from those who feel they are hard done to. If you can make the masses think that claimants are feckless lazy scum, you can get away with doing virtually anything to them.  Who will stand up for the worthless?  Well, Tory soundbites differ from the reality and I should know as I see it daily.  Are there lazy people who do not want to work? Yes.  I will not lie.  However, these are in the minority.  For some it is a transitory phase.  Most do want to work and indeed sign off when the opportunity arises.  Not through force, but for a number of other reasons.  If jobs existed in the numbers that are required, they would find work. It’s all very well Duncan Smith and McVey spouting that there are x thousand jobs in the system.  If you need experience in z and you only have experience in y, you aren’t going to get the job.

“I have witnessed several grown men with learning needs and disabilities crying and begging not to be sanctioned.  I thought we were meant to help the vulnerable but we are now just a tool to get the numbers to back up the Coalition agenda.

“The reforms have been designed to hide the numbers of unemployed.  So many have been sanctioned and are not counted in the official figures.  Many are desperate and will take these Mickey Mouse zero-hour contracts to escape the fortnightly gauntlet.  I must also add truthfully that I had never come across a zero hours vacancy until the last couple of years.  That is not to say they did not exist but I never encountered one.  Now they are everywhere.

“Apprenticeships are another tool to hide unemployment figures.  Very cynical.  Older folks will hear the spin – ‘1 million apprenticeships,’ and say ‘great!’.   Wrong! Coffee shop apprentices, call centre apprentices etc, are just a way for employers to undercut the minimum wage.  They are doing this in the thousands.  Who can blame them?  £98 per week and then get a new one in after 12 months.  Fantastic! Britain now has a time served coffee shop worker to compete in Cameron’s global race.

“Wage Incentives. This scheme is an absolute disgrace.  Employ an 18 – 24 yr old for 6 months and the taxpayer will give you £2.5k.  Paid at minimum wage you will make a profit even if you get them to lick stamps. Vacancies that were full paid jobs are now changing to Wage Incentive vacancies as Job-centre staff convince employers to accept money for nothing.  This is seriously affecting the jobs market and it is all down to Coalition pressure to increase Wage Incentive targets.  They can then claim falsely that the scheme has created 1000’s of vacancies, when in truth it hasn’t.  The vacancies were already there.  The taxpayer has just paid 2.5k to employ A instead of B.  Economic sense? Nope.”

Have you referred claimants to a food bank? If so, what were the reasons? Can you tell us about any experiences in particular?

“I have referred several customers to food banks.  Mainly following a sanction.  Although we were instructed to ‘signpost’ rather than ‘refer’, several months ago, after the press got hold of what we were doing.  Prior to this we did have official instructions from a senior level to refer to food banks after the withdrawal of ‘Crisis Loans’.  I have personally arranged food parcel deliveries for customers who for various reasons have ran out of food.  I do not know how they manage on £71 or £56 per week.”

Read Part 2 of this interview tomorrow.

‘Welfare reforms must focus on the 99.3% of benefit claimants who are in need of financial assistance’ writes Daniel Edmiston.

The effects of welfare reform are often discussed at a level of abstraction. Ideas about fairness and justice permeate our understanding of who should receive what. The purported ‘something for nothing’ culture viscerally opposed by Iain Duncan Smith, is being tackled by a raft of policies to reduce welfare dependency and benefit fraud. This marks a new chapter in Welfare State history – the ‘nothing for something’ culture and the most explicit return yet to Poor Law principles. Meagre benefits that fail to meet even basic human needs are to be paid only if work, training and volunteering obligations are met.

Last Winter I visited Rebecca, a mother of four living in one of the most deprived areas of England. Rebecca’s husband had suddenly left and without any means of financial support, she was forced to apply for a Crisis Loan on a Monday afternoon. By Friday, her claim was rejected. In the meantime, her children were subsisting on free school meals and her 4 month old baby on milk vouchers from a local charity. With no money to heat her house or feed her children, Rebecca was forced to contact the Social Care Emergency Duty Team of her local authority. Her plea for £20 to tide her over the weekend was also rejected. The explanation she received was that unless the children were in ‘immediate danger’, nothing could be done.

At every stage, Rebecca was treated as an unworthy claimant at the begging bowl of the State. Her claims to assistance were legitimate and yet the treatment she received was largely informed by the Coalition’s desire to ‘make it harder to live a life on benefits’. At least with this policy objective, they are succeeding.

I visited Rebecca on the Friday evening. The house was bitterly cold and there was no electricity in the house – the money on the meter had run out. Rebecca’s children were huddled in their coats on the sofa under a blanket and Rebecca was crying. Rebecca’s situation was desperate, but however anecdotal this may be, her case is not rare. This is not a woman that should be characterised as a shirker or indeed a striver. Like so many others, she is just a victim of circumstance, pure and simple. To dichotomise benefit claimants on a principle of desert obscures the severe level of need faced by so many.

The contrast between the political vitriol of welfare dependency and the lived realities of welfare reforms highlights the irony of current policymaking. When DWP itself estimates that 0.7% of benefits are fraudulently claimed, it seems both ignorant and perverse to base welfare policy on this small minority. Surely the direction of policy should be aimed at the 99.3% of people that urgently need financial assistance. The Welfare State was established to support, not punish such people. Nothing about Rebecca’s treatment or situation reflects our collective national identity as a civilised society.

William Beveridge once said “ignorance is an evil weed, which dictators may cultivate among their dupes, but which no democracy can afford among its citizens”. The moral dilemma of benefit fraud is irrelevant in the grand scheme of welfare. The political hegemony should take heed and embrace political decision-making based on evidence rather than rhetoric that continues to mislead the general public and the direction of welfare reform.

Daniel Edmiston is a doctoral researcher at the University of Leeds and a member of the UK Social Policy Association. @daniel_edmiston

1) Real Talks: A Job’s Worth – Employment in 2014 – 24/04/2014

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We announced our first live debate in collaboration with Inner City Theatre last week. On 24th April at Hoxton Hall, we tackle employment in 2014 in an environment of wage pressures, rising living costs, zero hour contracts and continuing unemployment. We aim to start the conversation on the ground with an audience, panel and some UK artists, and without the usual question-avoiding officialese of usual political debates.

We are pleased to announce our panellists as follows:

Natalie Bennett – Leader, Green Party

Thomas Barlow – Equalities Officer, Greater Manchester Union

Kam Sandhu – Founder, RealFare

YEUK representative – Youth Employment UK

If you want to attend, the tickets are free for unwaged and £5 for waged. You must register first by emailing admin@innercitytheatre.co.uk to save your place.

Please see our trailer here:

 

2) ATOS quits fit-to-work tests

French healthcare company ATOS, who were awarded the £500m contract to administer all fit-to-work tests until next August, will end their contract early, the government have announced.

With mounting call and evidence from campaigners and many sick and disabled people up and down the country that ATOS were wrongfully administering the test and results, leading to inhumane and stressful consequences for those facing the tests, the company have decided to exit the contract by early next year. They will receive no compensation for doing so, and have agreed a penalty payment with government.

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However, whilst many charities and campaigners welcome the exit of ATOS, they say the whole system needs overhauling, rather than continuing with the same tests with another company.

Last year, the Work and Pensions Select committee backed this by saying the responsibility for problems with the fit-to-work tests and their administration “lay firmly with the DWP” but that the department was failing to “apply sufficient rigour or challenge to ATOS.”

Read more about this story.

3) Low Income families increase debt by 29% in six months to deal with welfare reforms

Low income families are increasing their debt by £52 a week after being hit by welfare reforms, wage pressures and the rising cost of living, according to research from a poverty project.

“The project found that the average household debt stood at just under £3,000, up by 29% since October, equivalent to £670. Families were typically spending £34 a week repaying debts, from an average income among those surveyed of £176 a week.”

The findings are the third instalment of six, from the Real Life Reform project which examines the financial and social changes and behaviours of up to 100 households.

Andy Williams, chair of the Real Life Reform steer group said:

“In our first report in September, people said they’d resist falling further into debt, yet just six months later this picture has emerged.

“Nearly eight out of 10 people in the study owe money. With an underlying average debt of £2,943, some may never pay this off given that they have, on average, as little as £3 left at the end of each day for food.”

Read more about this story.

4) MPs approve welfare cap

The permanent welfare cap was voted through on Thursday by a vote of 520 to 22. 13 Labour rebels defied Ed Miliband by voting against it. See their names here. It was thought there would have been more rebellions against the cap but the vote fell on the same day as Tony Benn’s funeral and some were absent. It is thought others were convinced to vote for it, as the level of the cap could be adjusted as Labour sees fit should they get in at the next election.

However, Save The Children have warned that the cap will push 345,000 children into poverty. The cap excludes Jobseeker’s Allowance and the state pension, so will pressurise working benefits – affecting families across Britain.

Will Higham, the charity’s director of UK poverty, said: “Parties need to explain how they will work to improve wages and welfare to ensure that work pays. Otherwise, the vote will become a straitjacket, binding future governments from taking action to stem a rising tide of child poverty.”

Image: The Drum

Image: The Drum

Read more about this story here.

In a new feature on RealFare we will be exploring ‘The Alts,’ or the alternatives, that are happening all over the UK and the world. Politicians would like you to think they have no other choice when making cuts or harmful policies, and there is a media campaign that supports that. But, if we step outside this tunnel vision of how things are, we may find the choices made are not always so unavoidable. In the first piece, we talk about Germany and attitudes towards civil liberties….

The coalition have garnered an environment and an attitude that completely blindsides the elements of life that are immeasurable and intrinsic to living. The political and media campaign to blacken the names and lives of an ever extending group of people at the bottom of the social ladder for not working, or not working enough, is, without hyperbole, enslaving us under the Prime Minister’s guise of a ‘moral mission.’

The suggestion of the political line is that only those in work are ‘good.’ Only the “hardworking” or “in work” can feel any sense of moral high-ground. Suspicion is instilled against anyone who can’t or is not in work, however unable they are, and indeed, at the cost of however damaging this rhetoric has been to people’s lives.

Worryingly, the rhetoric goes much deeper as it becomes ever more surgically removed the notion of remuneration. The Conservative Party tagline insists they are “for hardworking people” (apparently). But not “hardworking people who earn a hardworking wage.” Politicians want to “get people into work” but not “get people into work with fair pay” or it seems, even any pay. Instead, further barriers are put up – entry level jobs now ask for work experience and workfare programmes provide a turnstile of free staff to large companies.

Twitter: @andymlockhart Friend took a photo of this at Rochdale Jobcentre Plus

Twitter: @andymlockhart Friend took a photo of this at Rochdale Jobcentre Plus

Somehow, debating the economy and jobs market has ironically become a debate without talk of money, or the exchange of labour for money. It asks that we offer up our labour for the sense of being ‘hardworking,’ as opposed to the sense of a pay packet. A burden is put on the unemployed to take anything they can, but no burden on companies to pay them.

How can this lead to a recovery?

But like the lie that if repeated enough is believed, we all further distance ourselves from the treatment of others by silently agreeing and legitimising the abuse of desperation and workers during ‘hard times’ in order to increase profit. Working for free/low pay/no pay, and seeking punishment for those not in work, sees us sleep walking into modern slavery as we forever work longer, for less and lower our expectations, demands and voices.

We have been made to feel snobbish for asking for better than a minimum wage job, or in some cases a job that pays us at all. We should be asking, why are people working to remain in poverty? Why are people being made to work for free instead of being paid? Why is paying people a wage they can live on seen as a radical concept and not a value that should be placed at the heart, in the very foundations, of an economy in our ‘developed’ world?

Image: Prosebeforehos by Nick Anderson

Image: Prosebeforehos by Nick Anderson

Poverty out-of-work jobseeker benefits are seen as luxuries, as are decent holidays, or time with your family. We are silenced from asking for a life outside our worth to an economy, which for our efforts then immediately turns on us with suspicion, should we fall off it’s troubled, corrupt and risky, state-subsidised, profit-privatised railtrack.

This is why we need to talk about Germany. And other alternatives. Because in an environment obsessed with usurping our values with profit, we need to regain the strength, importance and understanding of the ‘immeasurables’. We are told time and time again, parties have no choice but to make these “tough decisions,” but there is a world of alternatives for us to learn from if we step outside the rigid and well-rehearsed campaign happening here. Of course, everything comes it’s own pluses and minuses and there is always room for improvement. But would the decision to treble tuition fees seem so inevitable if we debated how Scotland has kept it’s education free? Or how Denmark not only offers free higher education but has grants available to all students?

Image: Oxford Essays

Image: Oxford Essays

The governing powers have worked well to instil us with an amnesia and incongruence of civil liberties. As workplaces and large corporations play out their race to the bottom of our working conditions, we are expected to follow complacently, believing the faceless, bigger than us ‘we,’ cannot afford to grant us the means to scrape by for our daily work. The guise of living in the ‘free world’ and ‘democracy’ conjures up a belief that those in power will look after our best interests, and thus our hardships must be for good reason, while simultaneously we are sold free work as a gateway to progress.

We are often compared to countries in a way that insists we need more work and discipline. South Korea comes top in education, so ignore the high rates of student suicide and migration, this must mean we need longer hours for children. Michael Gove wants to make public schools like private schools, with longer hours. Again, surgically bereft of talk of investment despite poverty being the main aggregator of a child’s ability to learn and do well. But we don’t talk about Sweden where there is a 99% literacy rate and free higher education for all students from the EU?

And we are rarely compared to Germany. Yet, it has plenty of good ‘measurables’ – measurables being the things government like to talk about – economy, numbers, workers, profit etc. Let’s mention what Germany has on it’s side in terms of these. Though before I do, I must say that these are examples of some strengths in another country and present potential debate or call for alternatives. They are not all perfect, and Germany still has a lot of room for improvement, but there are clearly things we could learn from.

Measurables

A strong economy which single-handedly save the Euro from a double dip recession

Germany has a strong manufacturing export and this, along with strong economic activity, saved the Eurozone from a double dip recession in 2011. Germany has continued to remain one of the biggest economic forces in the EU since then, and were we to discuss these strengths in the same way the Conservatives discussed South Korean education we would be debating how to create more manufacturing opportunities in our service-heavy country, and also how to increase economic activity.

Most economic activity is created by those with least money, as they spend their money on the essentials they need. However, benefit cuts, wage pressures and rising inflation and living costs has left the worst off even worse off, stagnating what economic activity and growth there could be here.

An abundant banking sector which spreads power and risk…

Germany has three types of banks – savings banks, co-operatives and private banks. All the money is not held by a handful of huge global banks as in the UK. Smaller banks make up a large portion of the sector which spreads the money of the country and allows less room for risk. Indeed, through the recession non-private banks remained strong:

“Two of the pillars—the 423 savings banks and 1,116 co-operative banks—have come through the crisis with barely a scratch so far. Each of these sectors already has a system of joint and several liability, which means that no individual member bank is allowed to go bust. Neither wants to become part of a wider European banking union, in which guarantees extend to weak peripheral banks.

They argue that their business model, working for the public or mutual good rather than for shareholders, is well suited to the mixture of households and small companies (known as the Mittelstand) that they serve.”

The Economist

The smaller banks have seen their problems, but the private sector has been far more misfortunate and risky. The strength and guarantees that smaller banks can provide should surely be a talking point following the global recession and it’s legacy of austerity here.

Image: Metrosafe

Image: Metrosafe

The subject was touched on by the Channel 4 programme “Bank of Dave” where millionaire Dave Fishwick embarks on a mission to create a community bank better than the high street. The programme sees him come up against the Financial Standards Authority who seemed reluctant to grant Dave a licence, seeming to take the line that he should “leave it to the other banks” as it is being dealt with already.

All this despite Dave’s community bank being more reliable and risk averse than any of our huge conglomerates. This demonstrates an unwillingness and a barrier in bureaucracy and government to provide alternatives when the current system is clearly hugely problematic for customers.

Could it be that the government don’t want to offer us alternatives…….

Where Measurables meet Immeasurables

Productivity and Work/Life Balance

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.

There are still some problems with the gender pay gap in Germany with women taking home 25% less in many cases. Still, the % of women in German government is 35% compared to the UK’s 22%.

The UK has long been recognised as one of the most overworked countries in Europe, but searching for work/life balance, even with the prospect of healthier productivity, doesn’t seem high on the government’s agenda. Maybe this is why we rarely see discussion of these comparisons or debates on the UK working week, despite us being more prone to work-related illnesses. In fact, politicians and media go as far as to trivialise and ignite suspicion about these illnesses to ensure, once again, we are working at any cost to our bank balance and our health.

Again, it doesn’t seem to fit with the current agenda of government’s attitude towards work. In a country hellbent on workfare programmes and low pay/no pay -talk of the work/life balance can only disrupt things.

Attitudes towards civil liberties

Germany and it’s government maintain respect and fierce protection of their civil liberties. This is largely linked to the Second World War, which has meant the country is careful with the power it provides it’s government. But it should serve as a lesson for the rest of us too, because the protection of their civil liberties is a systematic and logical culture born out of understanding of what can happen when governments hold too much power.

Take for instance the recent revelations about GCHQ and NSA and American surveillance of “allies.” German chancellor, Angela Merkel spoke out about the effects and infringement of American tactics on both her and her public.

“Mass surveillance sends the wrong signal to “billions of people living in undemocratic states,” Merkel claimed.

“Actions in which the ends justify the means, in which everything that is technically possible is done, violate trust, they sow distrust. The end result is not more security but less,” she added.”

PolicyMic

On a BBC report I witnessed, the attitudes towards spying were discussed from the point of view of several different nations. In this reporter’s package, it mentioned that the Germans didn’t like the idea of spying because it had been used to control and manipulate the population during Nazi Germany. However, when the report moved onto the UK’s attitude towards spying, it was shown as a glamorous business and suggested that Brits thought of James Bond when they thought of spying, and thus it’s aspirational, cool and nothing to worry about.

Image:  The Guardian

Image: The Guardian

In some cruel, post ironic twist, that BBC report talked briefly about how one country had learned to resist the infringement of government on human rights through history, and yet in the next breath provided the propaganda to ease through our own surveillance.

Why aren’t we learning from the huge tragedies of Nazi Germany too? Why aren’t we taking lessons from the place where spying and the seizure of civil liberties forewarns us of a dark world?

What money cannot buy…

The focus of our government on work and profit is an attempt to erode the worth of all our other liberties, and to keep us too busy and demoralised to get them back. Whilst at the same time dismantling and hollowing industries of the presence of much else but cold, soul-less, profit decisions. Last year, the respected journal, The Lancet published a report attacking the government for treating our NHS in very much this way:

“Reading headlines last week, such as ‘Struggling A&E units to get £500m bailout’ and ‘NHS managers to get price comparison website’, one might be forgiven for thinking that the current coalition government views the NHS as a failing bank or business,”

This stance is one of the most cynical, and at the same time cunning, ways by which the government abdicates all responsibilities for running a healthcare system that has patient care and safety at its heart.”

The journal, which has been publishing on medical matters for almost 200 years, said the coalition’s NHS reforms meant the health secretary “no longer has a duty to provide comprehensive health services”, having handed over responsibility to a “complex system of organisations”.

We can’t provide care in an environment where the only language is money, profit and work. Workers’ rights, healthcare and education are just some of things that stand to suffer (some already are), with this sort of strategy.

Further, this ‘economic plan’ is not working. Threats, punishment and public shaming have still seen work programmes fail for over 90% of people – who have not found work after 12 months of being enrolled. This is neither efficient, cost-effective or dignified.

Do we need a tragedy to remind us how important our freedoms, protections and liberties are? Because it would much easier to learn from another’s history, and their actions and attitudes towards freedoms now. And with a government so enthused to do away with our human rights, now would be the time to take ownership of what is immeasurably important to our lives.

by Kam Sandhu @KamBass

RFM Our Welfare Reforms Are Compassionate

1) Government pass Hospital Closure Act

The government have passed clause 119 – also known as the Hospital Closures Act – it grants government new powers to close or downgrade hospitals.

Jeremy Hunt and other ministers insist that the clause will only be used in extreme circumstances, and is a way of clamping down on lengthy reviews and consultations. However, campaigners believe it will leave communities “without a voice.”

Lewisham Hospital, which was saved by the efforts of the local community, is an example of the places at risk. Jeremy Hunt had planned to close the hospital, which was a well run service for patients and financially, because of the debts of another hospital. Following the Save Lewisham Hospital campaign, Jeremy Hunt’s actions were found to be illegal, but campaigners fear that these new powers could override these laws and see government’s shutting down hospitals unneccesarily within 40 days.

Image: The Guardian

Image: The Guardian

Read more about this story here.

2) Two legends of socialism pass away

The outspoken RMT union leader Bob Crow, and veteran Labour politician Tony Benn, both passed away last week leading to an outpour of tributes to two leaders who stuck strong to their convictions of a fairer society for ALL.

The RMT say they remain militant in their fight against attacks on “our social class” and they have inherited Bob Crow’s legacy.

Meanwhile the death of Tony Benn has demonstrated that we need more politicians who stay true to their convictions of garnering a fairer society.

See some Tony Benn tributes here.

And the Artist Taxi Driver video on Tony Benn here.

3) DWP advising Jobcentres on sending claimants to foodbanks

The DWP is advising Jobcentres on how to send claimants to food banks, despite ministers previously insisting they “do not refer people to food banks or issue vouchers” and that food banks are “absolutely not a part of the welfare system because we have other means of supporting people.”

Documents obtained through the Freedom of Information Act reveal that there is a “high level process” in place in referring claimants and supplying vouchers, but staff are instructed not to use the term “food voucher.”

“A six-step flowchart for jobcentre staff shows that the four reasons to recommend a food bank when claimants ask for help are hardship caused by benefit changes, benefit payment delays, a benefit advance has been refused, or the advance is not enough to meet their needs.”

Read more about this story here.

4) There is an alternative – Budget Day Protests

Following the People’s Assembly Conference on Saturday 15th March, several protests will take place across the country on the day of the budget, with the message that there is an alternative to the government’s cuts and Britain needs a pay rise.

Image: The People's Assembly

Image: The People’s Assembly

Find out more here.

by Kam Sandhu @KamBass

1) Controversy as ATOS wants to back out of ‘fit to work’ contract

Thousands demonstrated against the French healthcare company ATOS in a national protest on Wednesday, following the suffering and deaths of thousands of sick and disabled people attributed to the Work Capability Assessment provided by the company.

Shortly after, it came to light that ATOS wanted to back out of it’s £500 million contract before it’s end in 2015. ATOS stated their main reason for doing so would be the number of death threats and verbal abuse they have received, which has angered protest groups and campaigners who have fought for years to expose suffering at the hands of ATOS.

Image; The Guardian

Image; The Guardian

A statement released by the WOW petition, Black Triangle and Disabled People Against Cuts said:

“The bizarre exit strategy ATOS have developed in identifying apparent physical threats on Facebook despite the growing lists of real deaths caused by the WCA regime is an outrageous insult to all those that have died and all those that have lost family members through this regime. It is an insult to those left without their homes, without money and needing to go to foodbanks. It is an insult to every person who has suffered worsening physical and mental health through this inhuman regime.”

Read the full statement here.

2) Public health emergency declared as one in six GPs asked to refer patients to food banks

One in six family doctors have referred a patient to a food bank in the last year, a new survey has found. Doctors have said that they have seen patients come to them with illnesses caused by not eating, or have been affected by the delays in benefit and welfare reforms leaving some without food for weeks.

Pulse magazine found in a survey of 522 GPs, 16% had referred a patient to a food bank in the last 12 months, and many now held vouchers for their local food bank and contacts for local support groups.

With rising living costs and cuts to wages and benefits, GPs and academics have described there to be an emerging ‘public health emergency’, with evidence from this survey backed up with hospital diagnoses of malnutrition, which has doubled in the last five years.

Foob Bank usage has risen 465% says Trussell Trust Image: dailyrecord.co.uk

Foob Bank Image: dailyrecord.co.uk

Read more about this here.

3) People could be charged for challenging sanctions and benefit removal decisions

People stripped of their benefits could be charged for challenging the decision with an independent judge.

A leaked document obtained by the Guardian from the Department for Work and Pensions about their finances said “introduction of a charge for people making appeals against [DWP] decisions to social security tribunals.”

Critics say the charge would hit the poorest hardest and could serve to reduce the number of challenges made despite the fact that 58% of those who wanted to overturn benefit sanction decisions in independent tribunals have been successful.

Read more about this story here.

4) David Cameron calls his welfare reforms a ‘moral mission’

The Archbishop of Canterbury became the latest Church figure to speak out against the government’s welfare reforms last week, branding them ‘punitive’ for leaving more and more people hungry and destitute.

However, on Wednesday the Prime Minister hit back in an article in The Telegraph, defending his reforms as part of a ‘moral mission’:

“Of course, we are in the middle of a long and difficult journey turning our country around.”

“That means difficult decisions to get our deficit down, making sure that the debts of this generation are not our children’s to inherit.

“But our welfare reforms go beyond that alone – they are about giving new purpose, new opportunity, new hope – and yes, new responsibility to people who had previously been written off with no chance.

“Seeing these reforms through is at the heart of our long-term economic plan – and it is at the heart too of our social and moral mission in politics today.”

Read more about this story here.

Image: Lifeunhindered.com

Image: Lifeunhindered.com

by Kam Sandhu @KamBass