April 1st 2013 – A dark day for the Welfare State

April 1st 2013 will go down as a dark day in the history of the Welfare State, not only and very depressingly, did the Health and Social Care Act become law but yet another avalanche of benefit cuts were brought into effect. This is despite the prolonged and persistent lobbying and protests by disability groups calling for the govt to assess the impact of its benefit cuts along with the UK’s leading experts on social policy and the welfare state urging the government to reconsider. And, staggeringly, at the same time, those with an income of over £150,000 per annum will see their tax rate reduced from 50% to 45%. Anyone who believed the Government’s rhetoric that “those with the broadest shoulders should carry the greatest burden” could be forgiven for thinking that all this an April Fools prank.

This week also saw the conviction of 3 people for the manslaughter of 6 children. The death of any child is a tragic and emotive issue, the judge described the act as “outside the comprehension of any right-thinking person” yet George Osborne and his fellow government ministers seem hell bent on using this tragedy to justify their policies of welfare reform / cuts. We have seen both the government and the media suggest and imply that the perpetuators of this evil crime are “a vile product of Welfare UK”.

George Osborne has questioned why the Welfare State subsidises such people with the underlying suggestion that “living off benefits” somehow turns a person into an abhorrent scumbag. That suggestion is in itself abhorrent. The fact is the small percentage of evil people that commit such atrocities come from all walks of life, are both rich and poor, employed and unemployed. We are led to believe there is a massive problem with people who have never worked having multitudes of children to boost their benefits. However this is simply untrue. Only 4% of families with a parent on Jobseeker’s Allowance have more than two children and only 1.5 per cent of those on benefits have never worked. The extreme cases as highlighted by the court case are even rarer; out of the 1.35 million households where one of the adults is claiming out of work benefit, only 190 of those families have 10 or more children.

The question should be turned back on George Osborne and we should ask why the government does not put all its efforts into catching those who defraud the system. Official figures show that 0.8% of benefit spending is due to fraud. So why are the 99.2% in receipt of assistance from the State being portrayed in some parts of the media – with full knowledge and acceptance of the government – as “scroungers and skivers”. Good people, who through no fault of their own require support, are being demonised and scapegoated whilst it is highly probable that a minuscule minority continue to defraud the system. The government should of course go after those who commit fraud and while they are it, they should also close down the loopholes that allow corporate giants and individuals to avoid paying tax which is estimated by some to be around £25 billion a year and by others to be £70 billion while some state it to be closer to £100 billion. Whatever the exact figure is, it is blatantly clear that there are alternatives to hammering those who have the least.

We all need to ask ourselves the kind of society we want to live within. The Welfare State should be considered as an insurance scheme which was set up without incentives to make a profit. All who can contribute, do so at a progressive rate and it is something that is there for all of us whenever we need it. Public services run along the same lines (or rather most used to before the influx of outsourcing!). Make no mistake it is highly unlikely that anyone in this country has not been reliant upon or received the benefits both offer; from Child benefits to the NHS; libraries to refuse collection; education to state pensions. Are we prepared to throw all this away so a small minority can prosper?

Click here to sign the WOW petition from the Site of the resistance to the War on Welfare
“We call for a Cumulative Impact Assessment of Welfare Reform, and a New Deal for sick & disabled people based on their needs, abilities and ambitions”

first the came corder

This week we have also learnt that the government are coming after the National Minimum Wage. In 2008, a senior Tory source said: “The minimum wage won’t be scrapped but it will be allowed to wither on the vine. A series of smaller, more affordable increases will mean it will just melt away.” This seems to becoming to fruition with government ministers hinting that the national minimum wage could be held back from rising due to difficult economic circumstances.

Click here to sign the petition to protect the minimum wage.
”We believe that the minimum wage should be protected from being cut or frozen. The poorest paid should not be paying the price for this Government’s failed austerity economics. We call on the Government to stop their changes to the Low Pay Commission’s terms of reference, and protect the lowest-paid workers from these pay cuts.”

In one way or another we are all being affected by the savage policies of austerity, directly or indirectly. Of course the natural tendency is to fight your own corner but now, more than ever before, we must all come together in solidarity to oppose all the cuts irrespective of whether we are directly affected, which groups we belong to or individual political beliefs. We must organise and resist in whatever way we can. Online, offline, inform, educate, write to your MP, petition, leaflet, take direct action, partake in civil disobedience, strike and occupy. This is not only a metaphorical life and death struggle; people are dying as a direct result of the actions of this government. Resist, resist and then resist some more.

The battle of the bedroom tax: A summary for beginners

Reblogged from CMS Home – Social Housing and Policy

The bedroom tax is big news – you can’t have missed it. You’ve probably already chosen sides. But it’s complicated too. When Cameron muddled the details in Parliament, even Miliband didn’t notice. Read on, if you want to find out what’s really going on.

A massive cut in housing benefit – thinly disguised as an attempt to rationalise the use of scarce resources – is about to have a huge impact on 660,000 of the poorest households in the country.[1] It will also have a lasting effect on their social landlords.

From 1 April 2013, social housing tenants of working age who are ‘under-occupying’ their homes will see their housing benefit cut by:

  • 14% of their full rent for one bedroom ‘too many’, or
  • 25% of their full rent for two or more bedrooms ‘too many’.

For some people this means they will no longer receive housing benefit at all.

Answering the myths

Myth 1:
It’s only fair to cut subsidies for rooms that aren’t being used

The largest group of genuine under-occupiers – especially in the South – are elderly people, who are not affected by this change.[2] In the North, where social housing landlords tend to provide larger properties than in the South, many households are allocated social rented homes with more bedrooms than they need – because it’s all that’s available.

The Government accepts that most people will not be able to move, because there aren’t enough smaller homes to move to. And that’s not just in the social housing sector. Private landlords have always been reluctant to rent their properties to people on benefits, but an increasing number of mortgage lenders are actually prohibiting their buy-to-let landlords from doing so.

So, most people will be forced to stay put and pay more. Social landlords know this is a ticking time bomb. An Ipsos Mori survey for the National Housing Federation reported in January that around 84% of housing associations expect their rent arrears to increase – by an average of 51%. Shockingly, more than half reported that their tenants knew little or nothing about what to expect.

Spokespeople from the Department of Work and Pensions have suggested that people will just need to work an hour or two more to pay the extra – but this is not true, as means testing would claw back most of any extra earned.[3]

Myth 2:
Similar rules already apply to local housing allowance (The name for rent benefits paid to people renting privately)
People renting privately have a cap on how much they can claim, depending on the size of their household and the area they live in. They aren’t specifically penalised because of the number of bedrooms they have. However, since tighter rules were introduced, many privately renting tenants have had to move to smaller homes in cheaper areas. Some have had to uproot their families, leaving behind schools, family support and local connections.

But the bedroom tax targets the number of bedrooms a tenant has, regardless of the actual cost, and it ‘fines’ people who are deemed to have too many. It is up to landlords to define how many bedrooms there are in each property. In practice, social landlords are more likely than a private landlord to call a box room or small second living room a bedroom. One reason is that housing associations have to satisfy their lenders by keeping the value of their assets high and getting the most rent possible.

And there are other, more important, differences. Social housing, by definition, tends to house a high proportion of vulnerable people. Households with disabled members, who make up at least two-thirds of the people affected by the bedroom tax (see below) are twice as likely to be social housing tenants as non-disabled people.

Myth 3:
A bedroom is a bedroom is a bedroom

There are several statutory definitions for the minimum size for a bedroom – and they differ. For the purposes of the bedroom tax, if your social housing tenancy agreement says you have three bedrooms, you pay a three-bedroom rent, whatever the size of the smallest room. The National Housing Federation has explained this more fully here.

Some tenants may find they are expected to put two children into a tiny box room, or even an adult child and their partner. Housing lawyers are expecting some challenges on this point as arrears cases start to come to court.

Myth 4:
Every under-occupier actually has empty rooms

Not true. Under the rules, you are only allowed a bedroom for:

  • a couple
  • a single person aged 16+
  • two same-sex children under 16
  • any two children under 10
  • another child
  • a carer for a disabled person who sometimes stays over.

For the time being, you can keep a room for a student studying away from home – providing they spend at least a week at home each year. (The rule is set to change to six months in the future.)

However, it took until 12 March 2013 for the Government to agree that foster children could be counted (providing the tenant has fostered, or started fostering, within the past year). They conceded this after lots of adverse publicity and a letter from 11 charities, who warned that this could stop some people from fostering. Unfortunately, within 24 hours, it emerged that only one bedroom would be allowed – regardless of the number of children being fostered. This will hit people wanting to foster siblings.

Also on 12 March, the Government finally conceded that someone on a tour of duty with the armed forces could have a room to come back to. Almost immediately, military charities were expressing doubts as to whether this would include someone away on training exercises.

You are still not allowed extra bedrooms because you share childcare with your ex-partner or are a disabled person living in an adapted property – even if it was adapted especially for you. You are not automatically allowed a room for a child who needs to sleep away from siblings, even if that child is disabled (more on this below).

A phone survey carried out for three housing associations found that 72% of ‘under-occupying’ households included a disabled member, with 20% of under-occupiers living in specially adapted homes. Some 9% reported storing essential medical equipment in a spare room. Many had disabled children who needed a room of their own. Speaking in the ‘under-occupation’ parliamentary debate on 27 February 2013, SNP MP Stewart Hosie reported that 80% of those affected in Scotland are disabled.

The housing association phone survey also identified that 15% of couples did not share a bedroom, 13% regularly shared parenting and 4% slept separately as they worked shifts. Half of the families used their ‘spare room’ to give a child their own bedroom.

Myth 5:
Well the rules are fair enough, people will just have to live with them

The Government has been facing a series of human rights challenges on its rules about who should be allowed to have a bedroom and who should be forced to share.

In 2012, the Government lost three relevant cases on appeal, involving the Article 14 human rights of private sector disabled tenants. [4] The Government gave way on the first two cases (which established the need for a bedroom for overnight carers), but it intended to take a third case (around the need for a separate bedroom for some disabled children) all the way to the Supreme Court. The Government finally backed down on 12 March, adding this to the day’s list of concessions. However, in this case, they made the concession discretionary. In future, tenants in this situation – whether renting privately or from a social sector landlord – will be able to apply to their local authority for a discretionary exemption from the bedroom tax. [* Thank you to Sue for clarification on this point – see comments.]

In early March 2013, new legal challenges were launched against the bedroom tax on behalf of a disabled couple and five families with disabled children. The challenges were due to argue that the under-occupation rules break Article 14 of the Human Rights Act and Article 28 of the UN Convention, by ignoring their needs as disabled people. Despite the u-turn on the earlier case (which makes some of the new cases relating to children academic), the adults and some of the children are likely to go ahead with their challenges. The first judicial review case is to be heard in May 2013.

On 21 March, Liberty, the civil rights charity, announced that it was launching a judicial review on the issue of parents sharing custody of children. It will argue that the rights of three parents, who will lose benefit because they are not their children’s primary carers (defined for the bedroom tax as being the person who claims child benefit) are being denied. The appeal will use Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights (the right to a private and family life) and Article 14 (which outlaws discrimination) to challenge the legality of these rules.

Myth 6:
Discretionary Housing Payments will sort out the worst anomalies

Local authorities have been given additional funding to help out families caught in the worst circumstances. Adverse press and lobbying led the Government to concede another £25m to this pot for disabled wheelchair users in significantly adapted properties. But this cannot help every disabled person affected, because fewer than one in 10 disabled people uses a wheelchair. [5] Since the u-turn on 12 March, the funding will also have to cover disabled children who cannot share a bedroom.

An additional £5m set aside for foster carers has been taken back since the decision to allow them to have one extra bedroom.

These discretionary payments are designed to avoid the Government having to change the bedroom rules. They offer a concession as a nod to the legal challenges. The Government is hoping that most disabled people and foster carers will simply come up with the extra money.

Myth 7:<
The bedroom tax will save money

Many in the housing sector doubt this. See also the National Housing Federation Report of 28 March 2013 (p3). Tenants who manage to move to privately rented homes will actually cost more in benefits, because rents are higher in the private sector. Also, tenants with children who are evicted for rent arrears by their social housing landlord may end up registered with their council as homeless – with all the associated costs of providing them with temporary housing.

Social landlords are preparing to spend large sums on extra rent collection staff and welfare and debt advice – very probably at the expense of their community work. Housing lawyers are expecting a stream of possession cases against people who have, up until the bedroom tax, been good payers. Unlike poor payers in the past, who could offer to pay their arrears off gradually, these will be people who really cannot pay their rent, let alone a bit extra. This is a new twist and likely to lead to more defences that challenge the application of the rules.

One housing association has decided to reclassify the size of 500 of its homes, which will let some of their tenants off the bedroom tax hook, but at a cost to the organisation of £250k in lower rents. A housing consultancy recently blogged advising landlords to reconsider collecting the bedroom tax – they say landlords should do the maths, because they might even lose less this way. To take this step, housing associations would first have to check whether their lenders or covenants allow them this flexibility.

However, as the article points out, there are wider economic implications. Durham County Council has estimated the impact of welfare reform as a whole on its local economy in 2013 as £150m. Lowering rents, especially in the North, could put more money in tenants’ pockets – with a knock-on effect for the whole area.

Of course, the bottom line is that, if the housing benefit bill drops because landlords are charging lower rents, the Government will, in effect, have achieved a saving by passing on the cost of housing support to social housing landlords.

Myth 8:
The bedroom tax will help solve overcrowding

In its report issued on 28 March (see p2), the National Housing Federation points out that in the North under-occupiers in the social and private rented sectors outnumber overcrowded households by 3:1. It arrives at this figure using the Government’s own data.

By contrast, in the South, there are many families living in overcrowded conditions. In theory, the bedroom tax is supposed to encourage under-occupying tenants to move elsewhere, freeing up larger homes. However, in practice, the shortage of smaller homes means this cannot happen on any real scale – unless literally thousands of people are moved between the North and South. The massively reduced amount of state funding for building social housing (it dropped by 63% in 2010) and the harsh climate for social housing landlords seeking loans – makes building out of the crisis a non-starter.

Affinity Sutton has pointed to an unintended possible consequence of the bedroom tax. Older people who really need to move somewhere smaller, and who may genuinely have a larger home to free up, are going to find it harder, because they will have to compete with demand from people needing to downsize because of the bedroom tax.

And in case you assumed all claimants are unemployed…

In fact, 28% of housing benefit claimants are over pension age. Amongst those of working age, 24% are actually in work (a figure that has grown by 10% since the start of the crisis in 2008). [6] The size of the housing benefit bill is not just about unemployment. It is also about low wages and pensions, and the high cost of housing – especially now that as much as a third of former council housing may be owned by private landlords.

[1] See page 10 of the Government’s own Impact Assessment.

[2] However, blogger Joe Halewood points out that the new rules may hit many couples where only one is a pensioner.

[3] Affinity Sutton have calculated that someone working 16 hours at the minimum wage will need to work 32 more hours to pay a £14 a week increase. See here.

[4] Burnip v Birmingham CC, Trengove v Walsall MBC, and Gorry v Wiltshire C [2012] See analysis.

[5] The National Housing Federation has calculated a shortfall of £100m for disabled people. See here.

[6] See the TUC blog.

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Francesca Martinez on cuts and austerity at the People’s Assembly launch

Click here for more information about The People’s Assembly being held on Saturday 22 June 2013, 9:30am – 5pm at Central Hall Westminster, Storey’s Gate, London, Westminster, London SW1H 9NH.

Click here to sign the War on Welfare petition.

Click here to view Francesca’s full article “Hands off our Public Services” at Huffington Post UK.

Telling Truth About Universal Credit Would Be ‘Mental’ Admits DWP Chief

thevoidReblogged from The Void

universal-credit-shambles

Iain Duncan Smith’s bodged welfare reforms could be falling apart at the seams according to Whitehall insiders. The Independent today reveals that Universal Credit is now a year behind schedule, £100 million over budget and that senior figures involved in the new benefit roll out have quit.

A government adviser on information technology is reported to have said: “IDS, like other ministers before him, has been hypnotised by promises of what an online system can deliver. Warnings were given to him more than a year ago. They were ignored.”

Universal Credit is dependent on a colossal database and IT system being created which is far more ambitious than has ever been attempted by any country previously. The new benefit regime will be digital by default, meaning millions of people, many of whom don’t have and can’t afford internet connections at home, will only be able to access benefits from Jobcentres and libraries.

Whilst Iain Duncan Smith has claimed that Universal Credit will simplify the benefits system and ensure that being in work always pays it seems that neither of these objectives are likely to be met. Increasingly there have been warnings that many working people could be worse off under the new regime.

Already the new benefit is mired in complexity, as the reality of throwing away 50 years of steady development in welfare administration is thrown away to be replaced by Iain Duncan Smith’s increasingly crazed schemes.

Iain Duncan Smith and Minister for Welfare Reform Lord Fraud have repeatedly announced policy off the cuff, with little thought as to whether the new systems can be made to work in reality. Bodged proposals to deal with everything from how rent payments to supported housing such as Women’s Refuges will be administered or how free school meals will be managed have been invented on the spur of the moment with barely a thought for the practicalities.

Research which recently suggested that just under half of social housing tenants are expected to fall into budgeting difficulties and be unable to pay rent has even been presented by Lord Fraud as somehow representing good news.

The social costs when the new system is implemented are chilling. Part time workers could be bullied by Jobcentre staff to give up their jobs in favour of temporary full time work. Single parents with young children could be compelled to work from dawn to dusk with reduced childcare support or face sanctions which mean they are unable to feed their kids. Sick or disabled claimants will face unprecedented harassment and brutal benefit sanctions if they are not judged to be trying hard enough to find non-existent jobs. A combination of the new payment system and benefit caps have meant that many private landlords are saying they will no longer let to benefit claimants due to the complexity of the new plans.

Astonishingly Universal Credit won’t even save any money and is likely to cost far more to administrate than the current system.

Today’s revelations reveals that behind the scenes the implementation of Universal Credit is equally shambolic.

Whilst the new benefit system was intended to be rolled out in just next April it now seems that these will just be small pilot projects in Chesire and Manchester. With just six months to go, The Independent claims a complete reorganisation of the complex IT system is now taking place which could add another half a billion to the cost by next Spring.

The Universal Credit programme director Malcolm Whitehouse, and the DWP’s head of IT, Steve Dover, are both reported to have left the DWP last week. Other key staff are also claimed to have left whilst the civil servant in charge is on extended sick leave.

The small pilots which have taken place to test the IT system are reported to have reported errors in dates and payments, with one trial involving just 400 claimants being described as ‘chaotic’.

None of this is likely to stop Iain Duncan Smith whose defiant charge into political oblivion may yet drag half the country with him. It will not just be benefit claimants who suffer as rents go unpaid, debts are defaulted on and household bills are unpaid. With 18 million people likely to be affected by the change to Universal Credit, a bungled roll out could send the economy into meltdown.

And bungling is what Iain Duncan Smith does best as he attempts to steamroll through the welfare reforms he designed on the back of an envelope after watching an episode of Shameless. The end result could be a shambles that dwarfs anything we’ve seen so far from this toff Government.

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DWP’s culture of sanctions, denials and bad policy

The government has been forced to launch an inquiry after it was forced to admit that jobcentres have been setting targets and league tables to sanction benefit claimants despite recent assurances to parliament that no such targets were being set. The Employment Minister, Mark Hoban, had told MPs that decisions on sanctioning claimants “need to be based on whether people have breached the agreements they have set out with the jobcentre, and there are no targets in place”.

However a leaked email (click here to view original) shows staff being warned by managers that they will be disciplined unless they increase the number of claimants referred to a tougher benefit regime. In the email the Jobcentre manager sets out ways jobcentre staff can catch out claimants, saying: “You should consider every doubt – if you are unsure then please conference with me.”

The advice includes: “Do not accept the same job search every week, do not accept ‘I dropped off CV to shops like Asda or Sainsbury’s’, listen for telltale phrases ‘I pick up the kids’, ‘I look after my neighbours children/my grandchildren’ or just ‘I am busy’ – all of which suggest that the customer may not be fully available for work, even cases where a parent shares custody can be considered.” The Jobcentre manager also said someone can be deemed not to be actively seeking employment, and therefore subject to sanction “if someone is going away from home, but is not willing to return to take up employment, not willing to leave details of how they can be contacted should a job become available or not looking for work whilst away”.

Faced with the email, the DWP said: “We are urgently investigating what happened in this case. If a manager has set a local target for applying sanctions this is against DWP policy and we will be taking steps to ensure these targets are removed immediately.”

The recent denials of Mark Hoban, Iain Duncan Smith and the DWP seem to fly in the face of honesty when as long ago as April 2011 the govt admitted Jobcentre staff around the country have been involved in a drive to kick people off benefits amid pressure to meet welfare targets set by their managers. And even back then the govt initially dismissed revelations made by another whistleblower who said staff at his jobcentre was given targets of three people a week to refer for sanctions, where benefits are removed for up to six months.

He said it was part of a “culture change” since last summer that had led to competition between advisers, teams and regional offices. “Suddenly you’re not helping somebody into sustainable employment, which is what you’re employed to do,” he said. “You’re looking for ways to trick your customers into ‘not looking for work’. You come up with many ways. I’ve seen dyslexic customers given written job searches, and when they don’t produce them – what a surprise – they’re sanctioned. The only target that anyone seems to care about is stopping people’s money. Saving the public purse’ is the catchphrase that is used in our office … It is drummed home all the time – you’re saving the public purse. Feel good about stopping someone’s money, you’ve just saved your own pocket. It’s a joke.”

The Guardian also spoke to several Jobcentre staff who, speaking anonymously, claim that targets and pressure to stop people’s benefits still existed in their office, and that vulnerable clients are often affected. One employee claimed the practice had been going on at his office since they joined in July 2009.

These revelations are very disturbing considering that from 22 October 2012, a new level of sanctions was introduced which meant people could have their benefit stopped for up to 3 years. How exactly people are meant to survive without any form of income is bewildering and the fact that a decision may be reached to meet a set target should be a concern for everyone.

Jobcentre sanctions: Your money is stopped; you go into freefall

All this comes at a time when the government have pushed through emergency legislation to reverse the outcome of a court of appeal decision and “protect the national economy” from a £130m payout to jobseekers deemed to have been unlawfully punished.

Tessa Gregory from Public Interest Lawyers, who successfully represented Reilly and Wilson at the court of appeal, said the legislation smacked of desperation.

“The emergency bill is a repugnant attempt by the secretary of state for work and pensions to avoid his legal obligation to repay the thousands of jobseekers, who like my client Jamieson Wilson, have been unlawfully and unfairly stripped of their subsistence benefits.

“The use of retrospective legislation, which is being fast-tracked through parliament, smacks of desperation. It undermines the rule of law and means that Iain Duncan Smith is once again seeking to avoid proper parliamentary scrutiny of his actions.

“It is time for his department to admit that maladministration and injustice costs. In light of the bill we are considering what further legal action we can take on behalf of our clients.”

The govt’s precarious stance on all this is nothing new. A constant theme with their ‘back to work schemes’ and implementation of sanctions seems to be one of ill thought out rushed through policies based on ‘their’ ideologies rather getting people back into work or indeed factual evidence. Someone looking in from the outside could quite easily come to the conclusion that a vast section of the population is being persecuted simply because they are unable to find work through no fault of their own.

Around one in 10 of those who are assigned to the Work Programme, an £5 billion initiative which uses private-sector providers to train the long-term unemployed and get them into work, end up losing their benefits for failing to “play by the rules.” From the start of the scheme in June 2011 up to April 2012, more than 73,000 claimants were “sanctioned” out of a total of 734,000 referred to the programme.

The Work Programme isn’t working. It’s a £5 billion pound failure. Not one of the 18 contractors reached the target set by the government of getting 5.5% of clients a job for at least six months. Only 3.5% of people referred to work programme found jobs lasting six months.

But that’s not even the whole story. Workfare industry lobbyists the CESI have calculated that the real figure of people getting any kind of employment on the scheme in its first 12 months is in fact just 2.1%. The government’s target for minimum performance by providers is 5.5%. Even these pro-workfare industry lobbyists have now stated “this suggests that the Work Programme as a whole is underperforming against contractual expectations, even when accounting for changes in the economy.”

Sources:
Jobcentre was set targets for benefit sanctions – Guardian
DWP seeks law change to avoid benefit repayments after Poundland ruling – Guardian
Government admits Jobcentres set targets to take away benefits – Guardian
Jobcentres ‘tricking’ people out of benefits to cut costs, says whistleblower – Guardian
Jobless stripped of benefits in Government scheme – Telegraph
Boycott Workfare: Week of Action 18th – 24th March: Local events
Important changes to Jobseeker’s Allowance Sanctions from Monday 22 October 2012

Week of Action against Workfare

Over 3 days of events, hundreds of leaflets were handed out to people. Day 1 consisted of protestors outside Abilities in Poole (a provider of the govt’s Work Programme), then Poole Jobcentre, the High Street and later in the afternoon Prospects (another provider of the Work programme. On day 2 the protests moved to Bournemouth outside another Prospects office and then the Jobcentre. The 3rd and final (rainy) day was held outside The College in Poole due to their close association with Working Links a major national provider of the Work Programme which uses unpaid work placements. See also “anti workfare activists target Bournemouth and Poole College – Demotix” During the 3 days of action, a few songs were sung and hopefully a lot of awareness was raised with moments of humour especially a senior College official demanding “get of my land”!!!

A massive thank-you to all who helped and supported these events

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The action continues… via Boycott Workfare

Earlier this week Superdrug announced they would be pulling out of workfare schemes and the promise of demos taking place across the UK this Saturday must have helped! Unfortunately other high street chains are still profiting from unpaid work. What we are doing works! We are winning so let’s keep it up and let more businesses know workfare is wrong! Please contact the following companies today. If you’d like to use a standard letter, there’s one here. For more details about high street retailers using workfare – click here

Retailers like to claim these schemes are voluntary. One thing needs to be clear: the Work Experience scheme they refer to is not free of sanctions. It is workfare. Bullying and pressure from the Job Centre often coerces us into supposedly “voluntary” actions. We are rarely told that we have a right to choose whether to attend. Now that sanctions can escalate to three years, getting it wrong is not a risk many of us can afford to take.

Soon after the changes last year, the Guardian exposed that people who refused Work Experience were being sent on Mandatory Work Activity for standing up for their rights. Work Experience is only “voluntary” until you refuse.

Five things the government won’t tell you about Workfare via Left Foot Forward

1) Mandatory Work Activity doesn’t improve job outcomes but it does increase disability claims. According to a study published last June, it has no impact on employment and may even lead to those on the programme moving from Jobseekers’ Allowance to Employment and Support Allowance instead.

2) The Work Programme actively reduces the chances of people finding a job. Figures released by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) showed that just 3.6 per cent of people on the work programme had found work on the work programme, below the contractual minimum of 5.5 per cent.

3) The Community Action Programme has no impact on how many people find work. Under this six month workfare placement, just 15-18 per cent of people found work – roughly the same percentage as those receiving standard JobCentre Plus support.

4) The rate of people on the Work Experience Scheme leaving benefits is the same as it is for people not on the scheme (see graph below). To quote the Center For Economic and Social Inclusion: “This [graph] appears to show that the youth work experience scheme has had no additional impact on the speed at which young people leave benefit, and may have actually led to them spending longer on benefit than they would have done. However, these figures require some caution – the stated intent of the Department has been to target work experience at those with the biggest barriers to work, who would likely have had rates below the average for all claimants.”
work programme graph

5) Workfare schemes haven’t helped people into work when the schemes have been tried in other countries. As the DWP noted in 2008: “There is little evidence that workfare increases the likelihood of finding work. It can even reduce employment chances by limiting the time available for job search and by failing to provide the skills and experience valued by employers.”

end unpaid single stick no border temp

The Ticking Time Bomb of Child Poverty and Austerity

The UK is the sixth richest country in the world and yet more than one in four children is growing up in poverty today.

  • Child poverty damages childhoods. Growing up in poverty means being cold, going hungry, not owning belongings that others consider essential and not being able to join in activities with friends. It also impacts on health, educational outcomes and the overall experience of childhood.
  • Child poverty destroys life chances. Leaving school with few qualifications translates into lower earnings over the course of a working life. Poorer childhood health results in more complicated health histories over the course of a lifetime, again influencing earnings as well as overall life quality.
  • Child poverty imposes costs on broader society. Governments forgo prospective revenues and commit themselves to providing services in the future if they fail to address child poverty now.

Cross-national studies and evidence gathered over time show us that child poverty is not a natural phenomenon. Instead it is a political phenomenon – the product of choices and actions made by government and society.

Child Poverty damages children’s experiences of childhood and harms their future life chances. Research by Save the Children earlier this year highlights:

  • well over half of parents in poverty (61%) say they have cut back on food and over a quarter (26%) say they have skipped meals in the past year.
  • around 1 in 5 parents in poverty (19%) say their children have to go without new shoes when they need them.
  • a large number of children in poverty say they are missing out on things that many other children take for granted, such as going on school trips (19%) and having a warm coat in winter (14%).
  • only 1 in 5 parents in poverty (20%) say they have not had to borrow money to pay for essentials, such as food and clothes, in the past year.

A recent study by the Institute of Fiscal Studies (IFS) estimates that 800,000 more children will fall into poverty by 2020. That would be a rise in the child poverty rate from 19.9% to 24.4%. This will be the biggest increase in child poverty since the 1980’s, and would completely reverse the improvements made by during the last decade when 900,000 children were removed from poverty. The IFS figures are for children living in absolute poverty. Millions more children live in relative poverty.

As the govt’s spending cuts continue, so more and more families are at real risk of slipping into poverty, either from a reduction in tax credits, child benefit, the decision to uprate benefits in line with the consumer prices index rather than the retail prices index (which tends to show a higher annual inflation rate), the time limiting of employment and support allowance or from the loss of their jobs or stagnating wages. Poverty affects every aspect of a child’s life. 47% of children with asthma are from the poorest 10% of families, poor children are 5 times less likely to have access to a safe outdoor play area, 85% of children living in damp flats have breathing problems.

Austerity measures may also affect children in more subtle ways. There is another type of poverty, one that is more difficult to define and quantify, that of emotional poverty. As the unemployment rate soars, many households are experiencing joblessness for the first time. Children are far from immune from the negative effects of austerity. The additional stress levels, lack of funds and general loss of confidence experienced by parents and family members must impact upon children also. It has been proven that unemployment can become cyclical for generations of families. These children are feeling both the direct and indirect outcomes of unemployment and austerity measures likely affecting their own participation in the workplace in future years.

Children’s charity Unicef has published a report highlighting that child poverty rates within the UK are set to increase significantly, due to government spending cuts. There is recognition that child poverty is one of the most crucial indicators for measuring successful social cohesion, a marker of wellbeing and future prosperity of any given nation. Long-term effects of child poverty include: issues in education, employment, mental and physical health problems and difficulties with social interaction. The standard of living encountered during a person’s childhood is recognized as being instrumental in shaping their future.

Unicef warns that during times of economic recession, children can “drop off the policy agenda” in the scramble to effect immediate change, all planning for future generations is perceived as of secondary importance. This is highly problematic, not only because future planning is negated in favour of a short term outlook, but because a child’s current living situation is under escalated risk during times of financial crisis. Children, as one of the most vulnerable groups of people, cannot be left out of the equation especially in times of financial recession.

This government has proposed changes to child benefit; however, major inconsistencies regarding financial eligibility led to strong opposition and initial proposals were re-drafted highlighting the governments’ incompetence in making basic calculations. The Child Poverty Action Group has already warned that the proposed cuts to child benefit will have an adverse effect on children’s wellbeing. They questioned the moral issue of using children as a battlefield for austerity.

Austerity measures are proving a complete failure, exacerbating the problems of unemployment and thereby increasing levels of child poverty. State-direction job creation, along with relevant supporting policies, is the route to success in lowering the rate of child poverty in the UK. The ‘Lost Generation’ will not just be those currently leaving school to no jobs and no higher and further education places, but the generation before them who are too young to be aware of their disappearing future. To put the brakes on this depressing picture we need to end the madness of austerity Britain. The Children’s Society have said: “It would be a grave injustice if we allowed the burden of the current economic turmoil to fall on the shoulders of disadvantaged children.”

Child Poverty in Britain, £10 Billion To Be Cut From Welfare (RT news report Oct 2012)

End Child Poverty, a coalition of more than 150 charities, welfare organisations, social justice groups and unions has published a report and interactive map detailing the level of child poverty in each constituency, local authority and ward in the UK. The campaign predicts that, as benefits start to fall in real terms later this year, the proportion of children living in poverty will increase significantly.

Commenting on the figures, Enver Solomon, Chair of the End Child Poverty campaign said:

“The child poverty map reveals the depth and breadth of child poverty across the country showing the gross levels of inequality that children face in every region. Far too many children whose parents are struggling to make a living have to go hungry and miss out on the essentials of a decent childhood that all young people should be entitled to.

The huge disparities that exist across the country have become more entrenched and are now an enduring reality as many more children are set to become trapped in long term poverty and disadvantage.

Local authorities have to deal with reduced budgets but they have critical decisions to make. We’re calling on authorities to prioritise low income families in the decisions they make about local welfare spending, including spending on the new council tax benefit, and on protecting families hit by the bedroom tax. This week we have written to local authority leaders in the local authorities with the most child poverty, asking them what they will do to tackle child poverty in their local area.”

The government must also closely examine its current strategy for reducing poverty and consider what more it could do to ensure millions of children’s lives are not blighted by the corrosive impact that poverty has on their daily existence.’’

cpag dorset

Within the local Boroughs in our area, there is a very contrasting picture from ward to ward. In Bournemouth, 33% of children within Kinson South are living in poverty whilst in Littledown and Iford the figure is 8%. In the Poole Town ward, within Alderney it is 30% whilst in Broadstone it is below 5%. Click here for the full percentage breakdown for all wards within Bournemouth, Poole and Christchurch. Excel spreadsheets detailing percentage figures for all South West local authorities can be viewed and downloaded by clicking here.

From April 2013, local authorities will have significantly increased discretion over the allocation of financial support for families, although in circumstances in which this support has been dramatically reduced. Local Authorities will be responsible for:

  • Providing support with the cost of essential items such as replacing cookers or fridges for families on a low income, as the Social Fund is replaced by schemes run by local authorities.
  • Deciding who receives help with paying Council Tax, as Council Tax Benefit is replaced with local assistance schemes. The Resolution Foundation has found that low income families will see their council tax rise by up to £600 a year as a result of this change.
  • Deciding who should receive support with housing costs. April 2013 will see the introduction of the £500 a week benefit cap and the bedroom tax for families who live in social housing if the government believes they have a spare bedroom.
  • Local Authorities have been allocated control over Discretionary Housing Payments, which they can use to help make up rent shortfalls for a small proportion of families affected by these changes.

End Child Poverty believes that Local Authorities should take a strategic decision to protect the poorest families with children when allocating these resources. Local Authorities have not imposed these cuts but, with the removal of ringfencing, they will have a significant influence over how they affect local residents.

If you would like to become involved in BPACC campaigns about this issue or any other, please Contact Us by email to info@bpacc.co.uk

Sources:
End Child Poverty Report – Child Poverty Map of the UK
Child Poverty in the UK – CPAG
Child poverty: a generation sacrificed to austerity – Counterfire
Austerity increases child poverty, report confirms – ISG
UK’s Poorest Families hit Hardest by Recession and Austerity – The Real News
Poverty map shows how cuts in benefits will hurt children – Guardian

Videos from the Benefits Justice Summit 9th March 2013, London

The start of Benefits Justice Summit

Winvisible

Mental Health Network

Using the law to fight the cuts – Wendy Pettifer (1 of 2)

Using the law to fight the cuts – Wendy Pettifer (2 of 2)

Using the law to fight the cuts – Liz Davies (1 of 2)

Using the law to fight the cuts – Liz Davies (2 of 2)

Closing session – Action plan

Building campaigns locally (1 of 2)

Building campaigns locally (2 of 2)

Tenants Federation

Food & Allied Workers Union

Pensioners Association

Single Mother’s Self-Defence

defend council housingdpac

right to work

Boycott Workfare: Week of Action 18th – 24th March: Local events

As part of Boycott Workfare’s week of action, events will be held locally outside the following locations to hand out leaflets and stickers to those affected and raise general public awareness:

Tuesday 19th March – meet 9am outside Abilities, 3 Parkstone Road, Poole BH15 2NN. We will also be leafleting Jobcentre Plus, Dear Hay Lane, Poole BH15 1NZ.

Wednesday 20th March – meet 9am outside Prospects, Fairview House, 17 Hinton Road, Bournemouth BH1 2EE. We will also be leafleting outside Jobcentre Plus, Tamarisk House, 1 Cotlands Road, Bournemouth, BH1 3BG.

Thursday 21st March – meet 9am outside The College / Working Links, North Road, Poole BH14 0LS.

All support and help is welcomed.

Workfare can be broken by showing organisations that the public have clearly rejected unpaid work. Dependant upon how many people attend the above events, we can also hand out leaflets outside shops / companies that are known to use unpaid labour. Please email BPACC if you would like further details. Click here for to see the companies and organisations known to have used or be using workfare.

The Government is pushing ahead with increasingly savage workfare policies despite the fierce resistance to the scheme causing many high street names and national charities to pull out.

Unemployed people can now be sentenced to six months compulsory unpaid work as part of the Community Action Programme. And last year the DWP introduced forced work for sick and disabled claimants.

Evidence has shown that mandatory work has no impact in actually helping someone find a job, the stated aim of the scheme. Instead workfare is used to replace real jobs, with some companies even caught taking on unpaid workers to fill temporary Christmas positions.

A recent High Court Ruling on unpaid work placements means tens of thousands of unemployed people who have had benefits docked for not properly taking part in schemes such as work experience and the work programme are entitled to a rebate. However the DWP said it would resist paying out rebates until all legal avenues had been exhausted. The DWP have also sent letters to everyone on the Work Programme re-stipulating that the scheme and any “employment programme or training scheme” are mandatory and people are liable to benefit sanctions if they do not attend (click here to view full letter).

Public Interest Lawyers who act for a number of individuals, including Cait Reilly, who challenged the Government’s “Back to Work” schemes in the High Court released 10 facts about these schemes – click here to view them.

Companies such as Superdrug, Argos and McDonalds, have all been quick to take on unpaid workers on government schemes, have seen a year of boycotts, pickets, demonstrations and occupations due to their involvement in the scheme. Many national charities have pulled out as a result of protests, but some, such as The Conservation Volunteers (TCV) and Salvation Army are unrepentant about their army of government subsidised unpaid workers with some like Sue Ryder recently withdrawing due to public pressure. Many of the new workfare programmes depend on charities like these to provide placements.

Related links:

Workfare Can Be Broken – Join the Week of Action and help make it happen – Boycott Workfare
Workfare and you – BPACC
Workfare – BPACC
College criticised for backing Workfare Programme – BPACC
DWP letter to work programme participants – BPACC<

end unpaid single stick no border temp

Child Poverty Facts and Figures – CPAG

The following has been reproduced with the kind permission of Child Poverty Action Group

There are 3.6 million children living in poverty in the UK today. That’s 27 per cent of children, or more than one in four. (Households Below Average Income, An analysis of the income distribution 1994/95 – 2010/11, Tables 4.1tr and 4.3tr. Department for Work and Pensions, 2012.)

There are even more serious concentrations of child poverty at a local level: in 100 local wards, for example, between 50 and 70 per cent of children are growing up in poverty. (Child Poverty Map of the UK, End Child Poverty, March 2011).

Work does not provide a guaranteed route out of poverty in the UK. Almost two-thirds (62 per cent) of children growing up in poverty live in a household where at least one member works. (Households Below Average Income, An analysis of the income distribution 1994/95 – 2010/11, Table 4.3db. Department for Work and Pensions, 2012.)

People are poor for many reasons. But explanations which put poverty down to drug and alcohol dependency, family breakdown, poor parenting, or a culture of worklessness are not supported by the facts. (For example, G Hay and L Bauld, Population estimates of problematic drug users in England who access DWP benefits, Department for Work and Pensions, 2008, suggest that 6.6 per cent of the total number of benefit claimants in England were problem drug users. While drug misuse may prove to be a key reason this group of people finds it hard to escape poverty, it clearly has no explanatory power for the other 93.4 per cent of claimants.)

Child poverty blights childhoods. Growing up in poverty means being cold, going hungry, not being able to join in activities with friends. For example, 62 per cent of families in the bottom income quintile would like, but cannot afford, to take their children on holiday for one week a year. (Households Below Average Income, An analysis of the income distribution 1994/95 – 2010/11, Table 4.7 db. Department for Work and Pensions, 2012.)

Child poverty has long-lasting effects. By 16, children receiving free school meals achieve 1.7 grades lower at GCSE than their wealthier peers.6 Leaving school with fewer qualifications translates into lower earnings over the course of a working life. (GCSE and Equivalent Attainment by Pupil Characteristics in England 2009/10, Department for Education 2011.)

Poverty is also related to more complicated health histories over the course of a lifetime, again influencing earnings as well as the overall quality – and indeed length – of life. Professionals live, on average, eight years longer than unskilled workers. (Life expectancy at birth and at the age of 65 by local areas in the UK, 2004-6 and 2008-10, Office of National Statistics, October 2011.)

Child poverty imposes costs on broader society – estimated to be at least £25 billion a year. Governments forgo prospective revenues as well as commit themselves to providing services in the future if they fail to address child poverty in the here and now. (D Hirsch, Estimating the costs of child poverty, Joseph Rowntree Foundation, 2008)

Child poverty reduced dramatically between 1998/9-2010/12 when 1.1 million children were lifted out of poverty (BHC). This reduction is credited in large part to measures that increased the levels of lone parents working, as well as real and often significant increases in the level of benefits paid to families with children. (Households Below Average Income, An analysis of the income distribution 1994/95 – 2010/11, Department for Work and Pensions, 2012.)

Under current government policies, child poverty is projected to rise from 2012/13 with an expected 300,000 more children living in poverty by 2015/16.10 This upward trend is expected to continue with 4.2 million children projected to be living in poverty by 2020. (M Brewer, J Browne and R Joyce, Child and working age poverty from 2010 to 2020, Institute for Fiscal Studies, October 2011.)

For more information, please visit the following pages on the Child Poverty Action Group website:

What is poverty
Measuring poverty
The UK poverty line
Measuring poverty – alternative approaches
What causes poverty
The impact of poverty
How can we end child poverty in the UK

http://www.cpag.org.uk/

Child Poverty Action group http://www.cpag.org.uk/