Cait Reilly’s High Court Victory over Workfare is a Victory for Human Decency

Today’s High Court decision to uphold Cait Reilly’s appeal over her being forced to participate in the government’s workfare scheme on pain of having her JSA stopped, is a rare victory for human decency.

Currently thousands of people up and down the country, who through no fault of their own are struggling to find employment, are suffering the indignity and coercion of workfare. It is reflective of the callous disregard for the human rights of the poor and most vulnerable in society by this government of the rich, by the rich, and for the rich.

In conjunction with the social injustice of the controversial and ongoing Atos re-assessments of people on disability, the upcoming bedroom tax designed to punish people on housing benefit, workfare will be remembered as a low point in the nation’s social history in years to come. The criminalisation of poverty and the demonisation of the unemployed and people on benefits is in itself a crime.

Cait Reilly’s victory today gives millions who are currently suffering as a direct result of the government’s attacks on benefit claimants hope, reminding them that they are not scum and that they do not have to accept being bullied, harassed, intimidated, and coerced – that they can fight back and they can win.

Bertolt Brecht once wrote that ‘Unhappy the land that is in need of heroes.’

Britain in 2013 is just such an unhappy land and Cait Reilly is indeed a hero.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Scottish Government Should Investigate Atos

The controversy surrounding the role of French company ATOS in carrying out the government’s assessments of people on sickness and disability benefit, illustrates the barbaric and callous nature of the Tory attacks on the poor and most vulnerable section of society in response to the economic crisis.

The Scottish Daily Record is playing a lead role in highlighting the injustices being perpetrated by ATOS, but now it is time for the Scottish Government to step in and nail its colours to the mast when it comes to standing on the side of the victims of this despicable process. Joyce Drummond, a former nurse and an active socialist, worked for ATOS carrying out assessments, but resigned in protest. Her story was covered by the Daily Record back in September, and now she’s calling for the Scottish Government to carry out its own investigation.

Solidarity issued the following press release:

BEGINS

A former nurse has called on Alex Salmond and the SNP Government to establish a parliamentary inquiry into the performance of ATOS, the private company used by the Coalition Government to carry out controversial Work Capability Assessments on the sick and disabled. The results of these tests determine whether or not people continue to receive benefits or are forced to find work. The French company has received a barrage of criticism from disability campaigners, trade unions and health professionals.

ATOS has declared that over 70% of disabled people assessed in Scotland should no longer receive benefits and instead need to seek employment. The remainder of those assessed and deemed to be unfit for work are told to expect to be put through the process again as they attempt to shave millions of pounds from the welfare bill. The company’s methods however have been called into question with up to 40% of claimants having the original ATOS decision overturned on appeal. In addition, disability campaigners claim that some of the verdicts delivered by ATOS have resulted in the death of claimants forced back to work.

The Black Triangle Campaign and other disability rights activists have protested against the company, The British Pain Society have recently published a report saying that ATOS are failing chronic pain patients whilst the STUC will debate a motion at their annual congress in April calling for ATOS to be removed from the list of sponsors from the Commonwealth Games.

Joyce Drummond, a Solidarity member from Glasgow, resigned from her job after ATOS employed the former nurse to carry out assessments.

“The assessments are a farce designed to trick sick and disabled people out of benefits they are entitled to. Simply by turning up for an interview, being well dressed, pushing a pram, admitting to owning a pet or being able to complete forms would count against a claimant.”
I could not stomach the job any longer after bosses told me I was being “too nice”. All I wanted to do was help those who needed it most. I had worked for over 20 years in the Southern General Hospital and I knew sick people when I saw them. The company had no interest in my professional or clinical opinion, their only interest was in getting as many claimants as possible deemed to be fit for work.”

Joyce quit her job with ATOS but the stress she suffered as a result of her experiences has meant she has not been able to work since. The former staff nurse wants to see the Scottish Government do more to protect the vulnerable people undergoing Work Capability Assessments.

“The sick and disabled are being discriminated against and people are dying in a bid to save money. The poorest and most vulnerable are again being scapegoated by this government of millionaires. The methods and procedures used by ATOS need to come under proper scrutiny. The UK Government won’t do it so the Scottish Government needs to act here and bring more pressure to bear on the ConDems. Even if welfare and benefits are reserved to Westminster there must be more Holyrood can do to expose the scandal of these assessments. This needs more than a committee. If an inquiry can be set up to look at the cost of the Parliament Building then something could be done to help the tens of thousands suffering at the hands of ATOS. Evidence could be heard from health professionals, claimants and campaign groups.”

“It’s time to kill off ATOS before ATOS kills off anymore sick, vulnerable and disabled people.”

Labour’s 1929 Election Poster

labour-sacrifice-yellow-a15b15d

I am no fan of David Miliband, but during the Commons debate on the Tory Welfare Reform Bill, he used the example of a Labour Party poster from 1929 to illustrate the mindset of the Tories, both yellow and blue, when it comes to equality and making sacrifices during a recession.

It is a very effective poster, which speaks more powerfully than words, and Labour could do worse than produce an up to date version now.

David Miliband’s speech is worth listening to. He spoke powerfully and landed some telling blows on the Tories and their Lib-Dem bag carriers.

They really are the scum of the Earth.

 

 

 

Workfare

The concept of workfare has been plunged into controversy with the news that one of the main private companies involved, A4e, are being investigated by the DWP over allegations that the company abused government contracts. In this specific instance revelations that jobseekers were forced to work in A4e’s own offices unpaid for a month at a time have come to light.

In addition, four former members of staff who worked in the company’s Slough office have been arrested by the police for alleged fraud surrounding false claims that people had been placed in employment. These allegations are specific to the company’s involvement in European Social Fund contracts.

This isn’t the first time that A4e has come under investigation. In fact, the company has been investigated on nine separate occasions since 2005 by the DWP and has been ordered to repay public funds five times as a consequence.

Though not the only private company engaged in operating DWP workfare contracts in the UK, A4e is by far the biggest. Founded in 1991 in Sheffield to help retrain redundant steelworkers, A4e now employs 4000 people in 250 centres across ten countries, among them Israel, where it operates under the name Amin and has come in for criticism for undertaking Israeli government contracts to operate in the Occupied Territories of Palestine.

The company’s founder and chairman, Emma Harrison, paid herself a dividend of £8.6 million in 2011, mostly funded by the taxpayer. She was appointed to the unpaid position of ‘families tsar’ by David Cameron in 2010 with a remit to get so-called problem households back to work. Former Labour MP David Blunkett acts as an advisor to A4e.

As part of their Jobseekers Agreement, claimants are compelled to take part in programmes run by companies such as A4e on pain of having their benefits suspended and/or cut.

Workfare been the subject of controversy since its introduction by the Labour government back in 1998, the year after it came to power as New Labour. It was introduced as part of the New Deal reforms to the welfare state (renamed the Flexible New Deal in 2009), and is an idea that was imported from the United States. At its heart is an emphasis on changing the dynamic between society and the unemployed, whereby the unemployed are no longer viewed as victims of personal and economic circumstances beyond their control and entitled as a consequence to financial support from the state as a right, but are held responsible for attempting to change those circumstances in return for this support.

The insidious result of this changing dynamic has been the stigmitisation by the government and its supporters in the mainstream press of the unemployed as workshy scroungers who are a drain on honest, hardworking taxpayers. In effect, it has gone some way to returning society’s relationship with the poor closer to the one which existed during Victorian times than the one heralded by the postwar settlement.

Under the Tories workfare has been expanded to include major companies such as Sainsbury’s and Tescos, and charities such as Oxfam and Shelter, with benefit claimants compelled to undertake extended periods of unpaid work in charity shops and supermarkets in return for their benefits. But this too is starting to unravel as a result of the impressive campaign by groups such as Boycott Workfare, which have succeeded in forcing some of the companies involved to reconsider their participation due to the negative publicity it has begun to attract, accusing them of profiting from slave labour.

The revelations of corrupt practices within A4e reflects the immorality of private companies making huge profits out of the misery of the unemployed, whose numbers are increasing week by week as a result of a recession. Blaming the victim is an age old approach to inequality and social and economic injustice on the part of the rich, big business and governments that govern on their behalf.

This is why the issue of workfare cuts to the heart of the ongoing assault on the lives of the working class. Basic human decency demands that workfare is abandoned and that the government’s focus is placed on eradicating poverty and unemployment rather than punishing the poor and the unemployed.

Clearly, no such switch in focus can be expected while the Tories remain in power. But Labour must take up the issue on behalf of the victims of workfare if it is to return to anything resembling a party of the millions rather than the millionaires it was under New Labour.

 

New E-book on Welfare Reform

Tomorrow the Welfare Reform Bill returns to the House of Commons.

To mark the occasion Soundings journal publishes an ebook ‘Welfare Reform The dread of things to come’.

Free download at

http://www.lwbooks.co.uk/ebooks/WelfareReform.html ].

Contributors: Peter Beresford, Declan Gaffney, Kaliyah Franklin, Steve Griffiths, Sue Marsh, Jonathan Rutherford.

Contributors bear witness, employ argument and offer statistical evidence to challenge the way both Labour and the Coalition governments have designed and implemented welfare reforms.

No to the Cap on Benefits

The latest hammer to fall in the vast experiment in human despair which the coalition calls an economic policy is a cap on welfare benefits of £500 per week per family. This is assuming it passes through the Lords, of course, which at time of writing is still to vote on it.

Over the past few days we’ve been regaled with the government’s attempt to posit this attack on the most disadvantaged sector in society as a positive measure that will ‘encourage’ people back into work. Orwellian language aside, the sheer cruelty and brutality of this particular reform should leave no one in any doubt as to the utter disdain it reflects towards those living on the margins, especially as there are no jobs to encourage people into. According to figures released by the think-tank IPPR North (Institute for Public Policy Research), up to 20 jobseekers are currently seeking every vacancy in parts of the UK. And this figure is set to rise with more redundancies on the way in the public sector.

A leaked internal document from the DWP, the findings of which were published in the Observer, reveals that up to 100,000 children will be pushed into poverty as a direct result of the government’s cap on benefits. Yet despite this the coalition remains determined to push ahead with these reforms, which if passed by the Lords will come into effect probably at the start of 2013.

When it comes to the specific issue of housing benefit, those on the receiving end, painted as people and families living the high life in exclusive parts of London and elsewhere at taxpayers’ expense, are in fact victims of the lack of social housing that continues as a festering sore in society on the one hand, and a private housing sector that is crying out for rent control on the other.

Since Thatcher destroyed the country’s stock of council housing when her government introduced Right to Buy legislation allowing tenants to buy their council houses at a huge discount, no government since has addressed the housing crisis that occurred as a direct consequence. In particular, this stands as an indictment of Labour’s 13 years in office, further evidence of its rightward shift and embrace of free market nostrums.

The housing charity, Shelter, estimates that currently there are 1.7 million households on the waiting list for social housing in England, while in Scotland the figure stands at just under 200,000.

Increasing the mendacity of the coalition’s attempt to package this measure as anything other than an attack on the powerless, is its determination to turn low paid workers against benefit claimants on the specific issue of housing benefit. It is an argument that unfortunately will carry some weight with many, utilising as it does the race-to-the-bottom logic of which the Tories and their Lib-Dem equivalent are fond. If they aren’t trying to pit public sector workers against their private sector counterparts on the issue of pensions, heterosexual couples against homosexual couples when it comes to marriage, they are pitting those on low wages against those on no wages when it comes to welfare reform.

Housing charities are already seeing demand reach unprecedented levels, with more and more people unable to meet the shortfall between high rents and benefit levels. London Councils have estimated that 133,000 households across London will be unable to afford their rent as a direct result of the cap on housing benefit. The difficulty in finding cheaper alternative accommodation, with added demand leading to higher rents everywhere as landlords take the opportunity to cash in, has left entire families facing homelessness. Moreover, the stress incurred as children are forced to change school and location for those fortunate enough to find a cheaper alternative has come in for sharp criticism from children’s charities.

According to the DWP’s own impact assessment, the cap on housing benefit will mean that

• 45% will lose up to £50 a week (in 2013-14)
• 26% will lose between £50 and £100
• 12% will lose between £100 and £150 a week
• 17% will lose more than £150 a week

As if the aforementioned isn’t enough of an indictment, Church of England bishops have entered the fray with the publication of an open letter warning of the danger to the welfare of children living in vulnerable households as a direct result.

Attacking the poor for an economic crisis caused by the rich has been the coalition’s overarching objective since coming to power. It fits in with Tory values that hark back to a Victorian era mantra of poverty being the result of a congenital moral and character deficiency within those afflicted by it. But make no mistake, society as a whole will suffer as the maladies that are associated with poverty rise in line with its increase – i.e. crime, alcohol and drug abuse, domestic violence, child abuse, and so on.

This argument will not find a sympathetic hearing on the Tory benches, however, as their religious attachment to austerity blinds them to anything other than ensuring that the poorest in society are purified with pain.

What was it Nye Bevan said again: “No attempt at ethical or social seduction can eradicate from my heart a deep burning hatred for the Tory Party. So far as I am concerned they are lower than vermin.”

National Day of Protest Against Welfare and Benefit Cuts

FROM FACEBOOK

Take action now to defend the Welfare State. We will not pay for their crisis.

For regular updates on this event join the Benefits Claimants Fightback group at: http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=116432071735566

The National Day of Protest Against Welfare & Housing Benefit Cuts on 15th December 2010 aims to be the first of many and this time will concentrate on the Housing Benefit cuts. With this in mind, why not organise a sit in, protest or demonstration in your local Civic Centre, Housing Benefit Office or Town Hall.Alternatively hold a public meeting, organise an info stall or even just leaflet your local Council offices. If you are organising an event please contact us asap to be added to the facebook page and website which can be found at: http://benefitclaimantsfightback.wordpress.com/Local groups, individuals, ideas and support needed, please get in touch.This is just the beginning, further actions and events are planned for the New Year.

Frank Field’s Report: Continuity and Change

Frank Field’s report on poverty is an intelligent document, that cannot simply be dismissed. It represents both continuity and change with the approach of the former Labour government.

What is to be entirely welcomed is the recognition in Frank Field’s report, drawing on the positive initiatives of Tony Blair’s government, that state support in early years, from pregnancy through to the first years of school is crucial in opening up childrens’ life chances. As Frank Field says:

A healthy pregnancy, positive but authoritative parenting, high quality childcare, a positive approach to learning at home and an improvement in parents’ qualifications together, can transform children’s life chances, and trump class background and parental income. A child growing up in a family with these attributes, even if the family is poor, has every chance of succeeding in life. Other research has shown that the simple fact of a mother or father being interested in their children’s education alone increases a child’s chances of moving out of poverty as an adult by 25 percentage points.

This follows the approach of Tony Blair, in recognising that already existing gains in poverty reduction and the removal of many structural inequalities mean that the residual problems are harder to solve; and because the problems are deeper than simple income inequality, they cannot be solved by wealth redistribution alone.

Successive governments achieved improvements in absolute social mobility since the 1950s reflecting the shift towards a higher proportion of high status, high income jobs and overall improvement in absolute wages, cultural and educational attainment and other indicators of social capital; however, relative social mobility which addresses the issue of how much your life chances reflect the circumstances of your birth, has stalled.

Children from poor backgrounds growing up in the 1970s and 1980s in the UK had far worse prospects for social improvements than those growing up in the 1960s and 1970s. But what is interesting is that the shift in the UK over that period leveled off closer to the American norm, which had historically been more socially mobile than the UK, due to less weight being given to inherited social status. The old class based inflexibility of British social and economic life of the 1950s had been forever changed. Click to continue reading

Labour is Failing to Defend the Welfare State

by Darrell Goodliffe

I think it’s fair to say that a straw poll of Labour Party members would probably find the creation of the welfare state as being one of the things that they are proudest of; yet in 2010 we are actively conniving in its dismantlement. Labour’s leadership, bereft as it is of experience of the real world, spends far too much time listening to the likes of Peter Watt, who criticise the “feckless poor” and not enough time listening to real people. The only people who could conceivably imagine poverty was a lifestyle choice are invariably ignorant people who are rich enough to have their opinions listened to carefully by Labour politicians.

Nonetheless, since Labour has abandoned any pretence of criticising a system sustained by poverty somebody has to take the rap so it has to be the actual people at the bottom. In its attacks on welfare this government is going much further than Margaret Thatcher ever dared and that in time will lead us into unchartered territory because desperate people with nothing to lose will take desperate measures. What we offer in return is support for the ‘principle’ of reform that even Douglas Alexander calls; an American punitive model of simply cutting benefit, regardless of whether work was available”. Click to continue reading