Archives For welfare

1) Chancellor holds back £30bn surplus in National Insurance pot, as families are driven to poverty and food banks

Image: businessforscotland.co.uk

Image: businessforscotland.co.uk

It has been revealed that Chancellor George Osborne sat on a £30bn surplus in National Insurance last year. The House of Lords Library shows that £106bn was spent from National Insurance contributions last year, with £85bn spent  on the benefits system and £21bn on the NHS.

Writing in the Daily Mirror, Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott explained his findings:

“I discovered something that stunned me – the Government last year held back nearly £30 billion”, he said.

“National ­Insurance money can only be used for the NHS or benefits. So since he can’t spend it on anything else and chooses not to fund ­hospitals, the Chancellor lets it sit there.”

Can there be a clearer display that the economic policies of this government are ideological?

Bear this act in mind when the Chancellor claims we need to cut welfare by £25bn, that we don’t have enough to fuel the NHS, but do have room for another tax cut for millionaires.

Read more about this story here.

2) Autumn Statement: Misery and lies

The Chancellor George Osborne announced his Autumn Statement on Wednesday. Again, he manipulated statistics and attempted to appease the public with some extra funding for the NHS (expect more of this appeasement in the run up to the elections) however, these statements are insincere.

One big trope used by Conservatives is feigning that we all of a sudden have a ‘strong economy’ – ‘the fastest growing in the G7’ is a phrase that gets bandied about. What Conservative representatives fail to tell you is that fast growth following harsh stagnation for long periods is not difficult to achieve, but more importantly we are also the only country in the G7 to have wider inequality than we had at the turn of the century.

This means that for most of us, things are no better or are worse, but for a small handful, the top echelons of society, bank balances are still growing.

The richest 1000 people have increased their wealth by 50% since 2008 – enough to wipe out the deficit. Bank managers have paid themselves bonuses worth £81bn since 2008. Again, enough to wipe out the deficit. Yet, George Osborne fights to stop limits to these bonuses and gives us Autumn statements that tell us we must cut further from welfare and the poorest, knowingly plunging people, families, children into insecurity, poverty, hardship and illness.

Osborne also claimed that because we have such a ‘strong economy’ he can afford to give the NHS an extra £2bn. This isn’t true. Firstly, there is no strong economy. There is no strong economy. The Conservatives have borrowed more in their four years than 13 years of the previous government. Borrowing has had to increase due to weak tax receipts because lots of rich people don’t pay their tax, and the growth of low pay employment has meant that those in work are not earning enough to pay tax. The deficit would be gone by the next election said Conservatives in 2010, yet every target has been missed.

And on the protection of the NHS, a senior Tory was recorded saying that Cameron would have to renege on promises to ringfence NHS spending if he is to win the next election and cut the deficit. Further, plans to overhaul A&E services have been put on hold due to risk of backlash described as potential ‘political suicide’ this close to the election. This means that they would do it despite it being clearly against public interest and opinion. And they will do it if given the chance of another term. And let’s not forget all those lucrative connections for Conservative Ministers who want to profit from our NHS, like Steve Dorrell MP who was also acting as adviser for KPMG while they eyed up a £1bn NHS contract.

The Conservatives do not care for our NHS, our welfare or the lives of those not in the top 1%. Apparently, they ‘have no need to attract dog-end voters in the outlying regions’ and in these sorts of statements we see not just the understanding of who this party is for, but also their indifference to the treatment and lives of those they aren’t.

In the run up to the election, we must also be aware of attempts by government to shut down any challenges and debates, as we saw when the Chancellor blasted the BBC when a reporter described the budget as ‘utterly terrifying’ and condemned the deepest cuts since the 1930s. The Chancellor claimed it was ‘nonsense’ and called the BBC ‘hyperbolic’. Though with the Institute for Fiscal Studies also claiming that government spending cuts would have to happen on ‘a colossal scale’ (with £35bn having already taken place, and £55bn yet to come) it seems difficult for the Chancellor to keep his facade even in Mainstream press.

Though that doesn’t mean that there isn’t plenty more hidden within these statements. While the Chancellor withholds money from benefit claimants and our NHS, PR for corporate companies is happily funded:

https://www.facebook.com/GuyMcV/photos/a.146354958854507.33377.133561296800540/399461633543837/?type=1&fref=nf

Read more about this story here. (Though be aware – these points about the Autumn Statement from the BBC do not challenge the things that Osbourne said, such as his comments G7 as we have above. This is merely a list of the points from the statement).

3) Lack of anti-tax avoidance laws contributing to ‘yawning’ tax gap

Image: blogs.telegraph.co.uk

Image: blogs.telegraph.co.uk

And as we are told that there ‘is not enough to go around’ and we must ‘tighten our belts’ and the Chancellor creates budgets to eat away at the morsels of life for those at the bottom of the economic scale, a study from Tax Research LLP on behalf of the PCS Union, shows that the tax gap – the gap between what should be paid in UK tax if the system worked as intended and what was actually paid – is over £119bn.

“The figures clash significantly with those produced by HMRC, the government’s tax collecting body. The PCS-commissioned research estimates that over 2013 and 14 the UK lost £73.4bn to tax evasion (“tax lost when a person or company deliberately and unlawfully fails to declare income that they know is taxable or claims expenses that are not allowed”) over the course of the studied period, dwarfing the official government estimate of £22.3bn.

“The other areas that contribute to the tax gap are tax avoidance – defined as “tax that is lost when a person claims to arrange their affairs to minimise tax within the law in the UK or in other countries”. The PCS estimates tax avoidance costs the UK economy £19.1bn over the course of the year. Tax debt – tax which is not paid by a person or company who knows that they owe it, but who don’t pay or delay payment – cost the UK £18.2bn over 2013-14.

“While the total tax gap has narrowed slightly from the £120bn Tax Research estimated in 2010, tax evasion has been rising quite sharply over recent years and is predicted to do so.

“Tax Research estimates that the £73.4bn estimate will grow beyond £100bn in 2018-19 should the UK government not take action.

“In a pamphlet written to accompany the report, the research’s author Richard Murphy recommended that the UK government introduce wholesale reform to its tax law to incorporate avoidance strategies, and “the introduction of country-by-country reporting for multinational corporations” combined with “a reversal of the cuts to staff in HMRC and at Companies House”.

Where is the clampdown on this loss of vast amounts of money? Richard Murphy once described tax evasion as ‘the cancer eating our democracy.’

Read more about this story here.

by Kam Sandhu @KamBass

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1) Only 1 in 40 new jobs since recession is full time

Image: Parliament Uk

Image: Parliament Uk

While the government have put huge spins on employment figures, claiming it is now below 2m, the growing issue of low pay and in-work poverty is shining light on the fallacy of government success.

“Now, the TUC has revealed that only one in forty new jobs created since the recession is a full-time post. The number of full-time jobs has fallen by 669,000 since 2008 and part-time workers now make up 38% of the workforce. Underemployment – part-time workers who desire a full-time job to maintain a decent standard of living – now stands at 1.3m, double what it was pre-recession.”

Add to this the fact that workfare placements are counted in employment figures, that sanctioning – which has rocketed under the coalition – is lowering the number of people counted as claiming JSA, and the other great massage of figures – the ‘self-employment’ dupe.

26 out of 40 new jobs are in self-employment. Zero hour contracts add to this, but rather than being some self-asserting means of employment it is used to undermine employment rights through a removal of access to holiday and sick pay whilst also increasing insecurity at work. They also allow companies to avoid taxes (and we all know how much they like doing that). The IPPR released research in August which ‘called the strength of the UK’s economic recovery into question, dubbing Britain the “self-employment capital of western Europe”. Self-employment has grown by more than 1.5 million workers in the last 13 years, now standing at 4.5 million – more than 15% of the labour force.’

And thank you to @AnitaBellows12 for highlighting the DWP definition of ‘full time work’ in this FOI request

“A jobseeker can work for less than 16 hours on average each week, and the partner of a jobseeker can work 24 hours or less each week before they are considered to be in full time work and not eligible for Jobseekers Allowance (JSA).”

Read more about this story here.

2) Jobcentre threatens man with sanctions for talking to demonstrators

A jobseeker was told he would face sanctions for talking to a group of demonstrators who stage actions outside the jobcentre in Ashton Under Lyne. Ironically, their action is aimed at the punishing nature of sanctions and aim to help those who have been unfairly treated in the government’s target lead sanctioning regime.

They have released a transcript of the jobseeker’s interview.

“I walked into the Jobcentre for my regular signing on appointment. They asked me to wait in the waiting area. They checked my action plan and said everything was ok. The advisor then said can I ask you what you were doing outside the Jobcentre on Thursday? I said I was talking to the people outside who were demonstrating. She then tried to get information out of me by asking lots of questions. I refused to answer. She then got annoyed because I wouldn’t tell her what I said to them and what they said to me. She then said “well do you really know what you are getting yourself into?”” We and and will sanction you for talking to them. We will sanction you for standing with them or even talking to them.”

Read the full post here.

And if you are still in disbelief that sanctions are a  discriminatory method of removing people’s means to live, read this account of a jobseeker receiving a sanction after 67 jobseeking actions in a fortnight.

3) Inequality is the biggest challenge for the world, say experts

The World Economic Forum have released a new report revealing that inequality is the biggest challenge facing the world in the next year.

Source: F. Alvaredo, A. B. Atkinson, T. Piketty and E. Saez, 2013. ‘The World Top Incomes Database’

Source: F. Alvaredo, A. B. Atkinson, T. Piketty and E. Saez, 2013. ‘The World Top Incomes Database’

The WEF highlighted:

“In developed and developing countries alike, the poorest half of the population often controls less than 10 per cent of its wealth. This is a universal challenge that the whole world must address.”

The Top Ten trends identified by the WEF were:

  1. Deepening income inequality
  2. Persistent jobless growth
  3. Lack of leadership
  4. Rising strategic competition
  5. The weakening of representative democracy
  6. Rising pollution in the developing world
  7. Increasing occurrence of severe weather events
  8. Intensifying nationalism
  9. Increasing water stress
  10. Growing importance of health in the economy

Read more about this story here. 

Read the report here.

4) Care UK strikers in Doncaster celebrate pay deal after 90 days of strikes

Image: Socialistparty.org.uk

Image: Socialistparty.org.uk

More than 60 carers for the disabled celebrated last week after a pay deal put forward by a private equity owned employer looked to end the industrial action.

NHS workers who had been transferred to work for Care UK were facing cuts to wages of 35%.

This win is incredibly important for the social care sector, “where the privatisation of services, and involvement of private equity owners, has corresponded with pay being driven down across the country.”

After 90 days of strikes, Care UK offered an immediate 2% pay rise, increasing by 2% again in 2015 and 2016.

Read more about this story here.

5) Counter terrorism police visit journalist over fracking film

A journalist following the protest movement against fracking received a knock on the door from counter terrorism police, calling into question the protection given to the private energy companies looking to cash in shale gas extraction in the UK.

You can read Nina’s experience here.

6) Benyon family sell investment in New Era estate following protest

Image: Hackney Citizen

Image: Hackney Citizen

After hundreds of protestors joined with residents of the New Era estate to march against rent price hikes, Britain’s richest MP, Richard Benyon and family have opted to sell their investment on the estate.

Benyon was exposed for slamming welfare claimants and the ‘something for nothing’ culture whilst he quietly pocketed over £100,000 in housing benefit from his properties.

Read more about this story here.

 

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Time and understanding how to use it, is an important tactic of any government, particularly our current coalition, in exasperating the pressures put on those facing the brunt of changing policy and austerity.

The element of timing is already understood as innately important in politics. ‘The Grid’ is a meticulous and detailed diary of news and forthcoming announcements used by government. Each entry is labeled as either ‘good news’ or ‘bad news’ and slotted into an appropriate release date which either brings attention to the government’s ‘good news’ achievements, or allows ‘bad news’ to slip out underneath bigger stories or at times where there is less attention being paid by the public or media.

During this period of austerity, where further than reduction of income and household money, there is a marked increase in the presence of debt, time has become an increasingly called upon tool to further implicate those suffering.

The Trussell Trust food bank, the largest in the UK, released data showing that benefit delays were the main reason for people needing to use a food bank. The government has made concentrated efforts to extend the gaps in which people receive help, without any provisions for those who fall into trouble within this time.

Sanctions can be implemented immediately, whereas appeals can take months to complete. In June last year, Osbourne announced that all claimants would have to wait seven days before claiming Job Seeker’s Allowance as opposed to three.

Iain Duncan Smith’s Universal Credit scheme is seeing a claim take an average of five weeks to complete as opposed to two, which could see people falling into two months worth of arrears before receiving money. This is estimated to affect 300,000 people each month.

Trussell Trust - Voucher Distribution and Reasons Given - between June 2012 - Nov 2013

Trussell Trust – Voucher Distribution and Reasons Given – between June 2012 – Nov 2013

At the same time, the conversation taking place within government is not one that concerns or addresses the problems that come from this engineered timing gap. IDS continues to deny that benefit delays have anything to do with the increase in food bank usage. Osbourne continues to ‘stick up’ for the savers, despite the continuing fall in wages (for all but one of the last 50 months) and working conditions being a huge factor behind 9m of us not having any savings.

For those who dare to fight the hand they are dealt by new policy, time is again used to wear out the individual against government. We spoke about this briefly before:

“Last year, when five families took the Secretary of State to court to exempt disabled children and families from the bedroom tax, the government delayed changing the law as much as possible despite David Cameron publicly announcing that these exemptions existed.

“The government then tried to put the legal fees on the shoulders of the families, as a mother of one of the claimants explained after the hearing:

“I am relieved that at last the position for families like mine is clear and that following the court’s decision in July the government have finally changed the rules which would have had such a terrible effect on families like mine. My son needs his own bedroom because of his serious health problems. Without that bedroom, we were told he would have to go into residential care. I m sure that everyone can understand what heartbreak such a situation would cause any mother. We have been very disappointed by the way that the government have behaved throughout our case, but delighted that at last the position is clear. We will continue with our appeal, because at the moment the government has an order for legal costs against us, which seems ridiculous to me, given that we won our case and that the rules have now been changed as a result. However, we are so happy that the real battle is over.”

Jeremy Hunt has applied for appeal after appeal to enforce his plans for the NHS, which included the closure of Lewisham hospital. Judges have repeatedly ruled that workfare providers must be named, but government continue to appeal against this. A report revealing the failures and expenditure on the Universal Credit system has been postponed by the desperate IDS, now appealing for the third time against it’s release after two failed attempts. Yet, despite these rulings in favour of the public interest, ministers continue to run down the clock, and extend cases as long as possible.

The government has the ability, time, resources, manpower and might to continue appealing, whereas an individual fighting a unjust policy may not. And given that they may be fighting against sanctions, bedroom tax, workfare policies – they are fighting laws that affect the poorest in society, and thus will be the poorest.

This period of austerity is marked by the presence of debt, the obstruction, prolonging and postponement of processes and provision, and the vilification of the marginalised, which suggests this is an era far more focused than ever before, on the psychological control and burden it is putting on the worst off.

The purposeful complexities and delays are of course also an assault on the freedom to fight back. David Graeber, an anthropology professor who had a hand in the start of the Occupy movement, suggests that the vast amount of ‘bullshit jobs’ we have in the world, which provide no real social good or cater to any real human need are there to prohibit dissent: ”A population kept busy with bullshit has no time to start a revolution.” No doubt this can also be applied to the additional bureaucracy in our welfare system, our justice system and beyond.

 

by Kam Sandhu @KamBass

From Just Fair:

report published this week by Just Fair finds that the UK government is in breach of its legal obligations to respect, protect and fulfill the human rights of disabled people.

The report is the first comprehensive analysis of the extent to which the UK government is meeting its international obligations to realise the rights of disabled people in the austerity era. It examines the rights to independent living, work, social security, social protection and an adequate standard of living.

Just_FairSQ_400x400

Combining legal analysis with testimony-based evidence, the report concludes that government policies are compromising disabled people’s enjoyment of these fundamental rights, causing significant hardship.

The report – Dignity and Opportunity for All: Securing the rights of disabled people in the austerity era – analyses the impact on disabled people of public austerity and the reform of social security.

Baroness Jane Campbell, crossbench peer and Co-Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Disability Group, says:

“It is both extremely worrying and deeply sad that the UK – for so long regarded as an international leader in protecting and promoting disabled people’s rights – now risks sleepwalking towards the status of a systematic violator of these same rights … I hope that this excellent report serves as a major wake-up call.”

 

The report highlights the support that is at risk for disabled, support which both threatens disabled people’s abilities to live independent lives and puts the UK government in breach of it’s obligation to protect, respect and fulfil the human rights of the disabled.

Aoife Nolan, Trustee of Just Fair and Professor of International Human Rights Law at the University of Nottingham, says:

“Following several years of progress in realising disabled people’s rights, through equality legislation and the welfare system, government policies are now compromising disabled people’s enjoyment of their human rights, reducing their autonomy and independence. Not only do these policies cause significant hardship and anxiety, but they also amount to impermissible backward steps in relation to disabled people’s human rights, contrary to the United Nations human rights framework.”

The report will now be submitted to the UN body that monitors implementation of human rights.

You can find out more and download it here. 

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

1) Inside Whitehall: Iain Duncan Smith must go

The Major Project’s Authority (MPA), designed to oversee implementations of public services and schemes, released it’s second annual report last week. In it, contained the failures and successes of government flagship schemes such as HS2 and Universal Credit.

The schemes are graded on a green, amber, red rating. But Universal Credit, had been given a “meaningless” ‘reset’ rating. A lie.

The Universal Credit scheme had been given a red rating by the MPA but this had been changed due to protestations from Minister for Work and Pensions Secretary, Iain Duncan Smith, and his DWP department.

IDS has shown himself to be incapable of overseeing this scheme time and time again, with losses in the millions written off and damaging staff surveys revealing poor management, high stress and frustration. One member of staff said the work was “soul-destroying.”

Iain Duncan Smith Image: The Guardian

Iain Duncan Smith Image: The Guardian

The MPA’s red rating deems the scheme “unachievable within reasonable timescales and to a reasonable budget without urgent remedial action.” IDS’s attempts to manipulate the outcome and public fallout by falsifying the rating portrays the ignorance which Whitehall uses to gloss over huge failures.

Apparently, David Cameron considered replacing IDS at the last re-shuffle of government, and this is more likely now. It cannot come a minute too soon, because for the rest of us, IDS’s record of failures and abuse of power without consequence, has long since moved past disbelief into outright despair.

Read more about this story here.

See a timeline of how the problems emerged here.

2) Racism on the rise in UK, increasing social division and placing more people at risk of poverty, warns JRF

Joseph-Rowntree-Foundation

Racism has increased since the start of the millennium with 30% of people admitting they at least a little prejudice towards people from other races. No prizes for guessing how this issue has been exacerbated by political discourse recently. But, the JRF warn that this means something far more damaging for our society:

“Over the last two years JRF has funded seven projects that have explored how poverty and ethnicity are linked. They found that racial prejudice can restrict people’s opportunities at work and their earning potential, cut their access to essential services and can affect children’s education, all of which increase the risk of poverty.”

“Racism was not something we asked the researchers to focus on. But it emerged as a key theme from every single study. We found that:

  • “Racism, and the fear of it, restricts access to social networks, preventing people from making links which could lead to jobs, support for small businesses, training and other opportunities.
  • “It can prevent people from being promoted at work, wasting their skills and potential.
  • “In some parts of the UK it leads to people from ethnic minority backgrounds being directed into work for which they are greatly overqualified.
  • “It intimidates people from leaving their own area to look for work or access services.
  • “It underlies some concerns that people from certain ethnic minority backgrounds have about using childcare or formal care for older people.
  • “Children’s education is affected by low expectations among teachers and by racist bullying.
  • “Access to vital services, such as primary healthcare, is affected by experiences of racism, particularly from frontline staff such as receptionists.”

Read more about this story here.

3) Council Tax Arrears now most common debt problem for Citizens Advice

Council tax arrears have become the most common debt problem for families needing help due to welfare reforms and changes in support, Citizens Advice announced on Monday.

The charity have dealt with 27,000 people needing help with council tax in the first three months of this year, up 17% on last year.

Image: The Telegraph

Image: The Telegraph

Citizens Advice said that the increase had come since the abolition of help with council tax in April 2013, with new rules introduced relying on councils to offer help. There are varying degrees of support from council to council but 244 out of 325 in England now require all working-age households to make some contribution. Council tax has now overtaken credit cards and loans as the number one debt problem for those seeking advice.

“Of those contacting the charity about council tax arrears, 42% were employed and 28% unemployed. The rest were full-time carers, or similar.”

Read more about this story here.

4) Labour will not undo unpopular coalition cuts

Shadow chief secretary to the treasury, Chris Leslie announced on Friday that Labour ‘could not afford’ to undo unpopular coalition cuts. Sorry to say but you will get more of the same from a Labour government, who undoubtedly released this news to prove they are ‘responsible’ with money. We would prefer if they were just as focused on being responsible with people’s lives too.

‘I’m not heading into this expecting popularity. Quite the opposite. All government departments in the next Labour Government will have to face fundamental questions as never before. We won’t be able to undo the cuts that have been felt in recent years. And I know that this will be disappointing for many people. A more limited pot of money will have to be spent on a smaller number of priorities. Lower priorities will get less.’

 

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.

people-helped-stats

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.

1) DWP to axe Universal Jobsmatch following ridicule for fraudulent posts

The DWP are drawing up plans to axe the maligned Universal Jobsmatch site after investigations have revealed the site has had thousands of fake jobs posted in an attempt to extract money from jobseekers through fake credit or security checks.

The website has also been ridiculed for it’s postings which have included ” MI6 “target elimination specialist” and “international couriers” for CosaNostra Holdings, as well as listings for pornographic websites.”

Documents obtained by The Guardian suggest the website, which is a mandatory sign up for jobseekers, could be dismantled when the contract of service comes up for renewal in 2 years.

Frank Field MP who has lead some of the research into the site is now pressing the National Audit Office for a new investigation as the site is “bedevilled with fraud.”

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Read more about this story.

2) Five richest families in UK have the more wealth than poorest 20% combined

Oxfam released the following information last week:

“Just five families in the UK are richer than the 12.6 MILLION poorest Brits. Inequality like this is a massive problem, but it’s far from inevitable – it’s a result of political choices that can be reversed.

“It’s time for change, and we’re determined to tackle inequality head on. Help us by SHARING this post to spread the word about the injustice of inequality on our doorstep.”

Image: Oxfam

Image: Oxfam

3) Osborne delivers budget for the haves and PR gaffe ensues

George Osborne delivered yet another budget that ignores the millions of people most in need of help from growth. Concentrating on savings, pensions and those already much better off, the financial plans seemed to serve the ‘haves’ as Julia Unwin stated in the Jospeph Rowntree response to the budget:

“This is a Budget for the people who already have, not for the people who need to benefit most from the return to growth. It is a lost opportunity for the 13 million people in poverty who need active intervention to tackle the structural barriers that keep them in poverty.

People on low incomes are unlikely to see the welcome  benefits of growth unless there is targeted help with household and housing costs, with child care and with the nature of jobs and training. The expense and inefficiency of high levels of poverty continue to put a drag on growth.”

A PR campaign ensued highlighting the ‘benefits’ the budget would give people in the form of beer (1p off the pint) and bingo (lowering tax) with the Conservative party shouting they were helping “hardworking people do more of the things they enjoy.”

Imgae: The Telegraph

Imgae: The Telegraph

The above poster was released and re-tweeted with warnings like “this is not a parody.” Comparisons were drawn to Orwellian prophecies and many said the use of “they” was patronising as though the Tory party saw themselves as a cut above the masses. However, the most embarrassing element came from the Twiitersphere as the #torybingo hashtag began climbing the top trends with things like:

Screen shot 2014-03-23 at 14.31.52

There was a call for Tory Party Chairman, Grant Shapps to be sacked following the gross mis-judgement of the campaign. But it has turned out it was the briefcase bearer himself, George Osborne who signed off the design with some reporting he was very “enthusiastic” about it. 

Read more about this story here.

4) Warren Buffet agrees with Economists in predicting a stock market crash in 2014

Warren Buffet, along with other economists who predicted the 2008 crash, is now forewarning of a further crash this year.

Buffet and agreeing colleagues say we are living in a “financial asset bubble” and we should not be surprised that it will burst.

Image: Incolo

Image: Incolo

However, as opposed to looking at this prospect with fear, some such as Zero Hedge, say we need to look at this more optimistically:

“The world is not coming to an end. It’s going to reset. There’s a huge difference between the two.

“Think about the system that we’re living under.

“A tiny elite has total control of the money supply. They wield intrusive spy networks and weapons of mass destruction. The can confiscate the wealth of others in their sole discretion. They can indebt unborn generations.

“Curiously, these are the same people who are so incompetent they can’t put a website together.

“It’s not working. And just about everyone knows it.

“We’re taught growing up that ‘We the People’ have the power to affect radical change in the voting booth. But this is another fairy tale.

“Voting only changes the players. It doesn’t change the game.

“Technology is one major game changer. The technology exists today to completely revolutionize the way we live and govern ourselves.

“Today’s system is just a 19th century model applied to a 21st century society. I mean– a room full of men making decisions about how much money to print? It’s so antiquated it’s almost comical.

“But given that the majority of Western governments borrow money just to pay interest on money they’ve already borrowed, it’s obvious the current game is almost finished.

“When it ends, there will be a reset… potentially a tumultuous one.

“This is why you want to have a plan B, and why you don’t want to have all of your eggs in one basket.”

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