Iain Duncan-Smith’s Explosive Row on LBC Radio over workfare

ids4

During the above interview on LBC on 20th February, James O’Brien drew out illuminating responses from Iain Duncan Smith on the subject of workfare (unpaid work placements). Talking about Cait Reilly, who was recently successful in challenging the legality of the state compelling her to take an unpaid placement in Poundland, Smith declared: “She was paid. What do you think the taxpayer was paying her for God’s sake? Job Seeker’s Allowance? That is what we are paying her to do.”

The interview reveals the dark heart of the matter when it comes to Work Experience, Youth Training Schemes, Mandatory Work Activity, Community Action Programmes. Smith ended up describing workfare schemes as “us allowing people to continue to earn their JobSeeker’s Allowance, but also to take experience in companies that allow them to do that.”

However one chooses to dress it up, at the core of such policies is the idea that by paying a benefit the state (and by extension the taxpayer) assumes part-ownership of the labour of persons in receipt. And what the state is actually doing is buying the labour of millions of people, en masse, below the market rate and National Minimum Wage, in order to then contract it out to large and profitable businesses for nothing.

Such schemes do not end the “something for nothing culture”. They simply elevate it to the corporate level. It is a paradox for traditional right-wing commentators, who object to funding an individual’s benefits, to appear quite happy to cross-subsidise a huge conglomerate with global revenues of $100bn in 2010.

Perhaps most importantly, these schemes are a state-form of denial; a particularly classic case of burying their heads in the sand. It is now public knowledge from an official response to a parliamentary question that the Office for National Statistics includes people on such unpaid schemes in their data as “employed”. Such schemes are being rolled out on a massive scale. 370,000 unemployed were referred to the Work Programme in the first few months of its existence. Over a million people are expected to be forced onto the Community Action Schemes. The manipulation of statistics at such a scale may go some way to explaining the continuing disparity between rising “employment” and the stagnating or contracting GDP.

Policy on these schemes has become the art of “because I said so” or “I don’t know, that’s just how it is”. It has done so in the face of evidence to the contrary, creationist in its resistance to the truth. There is an overwhelmingly idiotic assumption at its basis; that the reason 2.5m jobless will not fit into 500,000 vacancies, is not mathematics, but a lack of willingness on their part. How can the state tackle unemployment if it is unaware of how many people are genuinely unemployed, where they are and which industries they are trying to find work in?

All this lays bare a stark fact: the Government is interested in the figures looking good, rather than genuinely tackling unemployment. For how can one solve a problem by hiding it in dark statistical recesses and denying it exists? With increasing job insecurity, that is something that should concern us all, regardless of political persuasion.

Sources:
Iain Duncan-Smith’s Explosive Row With James O’Brien – AudioBoo
Workfare: Unexpected Intern in the bagging area – New Statesman

Should Bournemouth Borough Council release more of its mountain of financial reserves?

Bournemouth Borough Council has announced that it will release £23M of its financial reserves to “safeguard services and invest in a variety of schemes” and also “lower council tax by 0.7 per cent to ensure residents will not have to pay any extra this year”. Only time will tell whether the funds being released will actually help the people who are directly suffering under the savage austerity measures being implemented by the government.

Of course any help that the council can offer to relieve the pressure being felt by hard pressed residents within our area is welcome. However, BPACC calls on the council to look at using the abundance of their reserves still left – around £70M – to plug the hole in government funding for charities and support groups, art and community services, road maintenance, subsidised bus routes and services, renovation of school buildings, legal aid, short break or respite care services, disability services such as mobility shops, stopping increases to car parking charges, social care / community transport etc etc etc….

The Council also needs to answer the question why council tax reserves were not made available for the many cuts we have already seen such as the closures of Darracott Day, Malvern, Horizons day care centres or staff cuts at Boscombe day care centre and more recently the proposed closure of Dorset Enterprise.

And lest we forget the cuts / freezes to the wages of many workers employed directly by the council. It can reasonably be argued that as Bournemouth Borough Council is a major employer in the town, cutting or freezing wages or giving below inflation pay increases will have a direct negative effect on the local economy simply because people will be forced to spend less of their earnings within the local community. On top of this, the council has chosen to make hundreds of their employees redundant which has the same effect to the local economy and additionally, due to the unemployment crisis, many of these people will now be in receipt of state benefits and of course no longer paying taxes. A double whammy false economy which although may have a short term positive effect on the council budget sheets, will have long term negative effects upon the local and national economy.

In April 2013, due to the Welfare Reform Act, people will see radical changes to some state benefits:

Bedroom Tax – anyone of working age in receipt of Housing Benefit (HB) who live in Council housing with “spare” bedrooms, will not receive HB for these rooms. This will mean these people will see their HB reduced as shown below and they will be expected to cover the shortfall in their rent out of their JSA – Jobseekers Allowance, ESA – Employment Support Allowance, Working Tax Credits or Child Tax Credits:

  • 14% reduction in Housing Benefit for under-occupancy by one bedroom
  • 25% reduction in Housing benefit for under-occupancy by two bedrooms or more

Council Tax Benefit (CTB) – the government has cut the funding to Local Authorities for the provision of CTB by 10%. It has been left entirely up to local Councils how they cover this budget cut. Bournemouth Council has decided that people of working age, except those on DLA – Disability Living Allowance and some Carers, who receive CTB will pay up 20% of their total bill.

Crisis / Social Fund Loans and Community Care Grants – the govt has localised these loans / grants and the decision making process of delivering them to some of the most vulnerable people in our community is being handed over to the Council. The funding Local Authorities receive from government will not be ring-fenced, nor will there be a ‘statutory duty’ on local authorities to provide a minimum level of service, nor will there be any ‘sanctions’ if a local authority uses the money to plough into other services. Due to cuts they have already faced, Council staff are already under severe workload pressure and it is highly debatable whether more staff will be employed, so it is very likely that this service will be outsourced. Most people are now becoming aware of the problems this can cause with likes of Mouchel, A4E, G4S, ATOS, Working Links who are happy to take taxpayers money but either unwilling or unable to provide sufficient quality of service or value for money. And as with many other things that are happening, if this service is outsourced, it can be legitimately viewed as back-door privatisation of Jobcentres.

Many local public services have already seen their funding from the Council cut and it will be difficult to gauge the effects of these cuts for several years. In most cases, thorough impact assessments have not taken place. As with most policies of this government a hurried swinging axe has fallen down without taking into account the long term hardship and misery it will cause members of our community and the effects it will have on the local / national economy. The govt has set the precedent and unfortunately most Councils are following suit in the way the cuts are being delivered. In most cases the cuts will not ‘help the economy’, in fact they will have the opposite effect and stifle growth causing the country’s economy to continue to flat-line and even that might be considered optimistic. Triple dip recession just around the corner?

It could be argued that the Council are caught between a rock and a hard place, as on the one hand they are having their funding cut by central government who conveniently devolve responsible to local authorities as to how the cuts are implemented and have also removed most of the ring-fencing of budgets which gives local authorities free reign regarding services they choose to cut. On the other hand, of course, the Council will not be able to please all the people all the time. However the question begs, how vociferously are our Councils relaying their frustration and anger about the savage nature of these cuts back to central govt or is it more the case that once you scratch the surface of any rhetoric of objection they are happy to go along with the tory ideology of systematically destroying the safety /support network of many within our community.

Over the last couple of years, prior to the Council announcing which services will be facing the axe, residents have been asked ‘which services would you like to see cut’. However at a time when they were sitting on around £100M of local taxpayers money (now £70M), perhaps the question the Council should have, and should now be asking, is ‘which services that have already faced budgets cut would you like to see have their funding re-instated’.

If you live within Bournemouth Borough and would like to raise any of these issues with your local Councillors, all wards and contact details are shown here. Remember Councillors are elected by you, to serve you; not to blindly follow the decisions or ideology of whichever politically party they have chosen to align themselves with.

Specific information about budgets (and funding cuts) allocated to individual organisations is difficult to come by; even via FOIs (Freedom of Information requests). If you are aware of charities or support groups whose budgets have been cut over the last 3 years, please email us at info@bpacc.co.uk and we will look into the matter further. All information received will be treated in the strictest confidence.

Sources for this post:
Bournemouth freezing council tax by releasing £23m of reserves – Bournemouth Echo
Local Cuts and Closures – BPACC
New council tax reduction scheme aims to protect Bournemouth’s most needy – Bournemouth Echo
Social Housing Size Restriction – Bournemouth Council
Local Council Tax Support Scheme FAQ – Bournemouth Council
Is this the end of the Social Fund in local communities? – Community Links

Right, that’s enough, now what are we going to do about it?

People’s Assembly: Saturday 22 June 2013, 9:30am – 5pm, Central Hall Westminster, Storey’s Gate, London, Westminster, London SW1H 9NH

Click on photo to add your support

Click on photo to add your support

The following has been republished from Coalition of Resistance, posted originally on Mark Steels blog and in the Independent

I genuinely hope that George Osborne does it on purpose. That he descends from the podium after a speech and sniggers to Cameron “I said ‘We’re all in it together’ again. Haaa haaaa, I don’t know how I get away with it?”

He continues to use this slogan, this son of a 17th baronet, worth £4 million and heir to many millions more, as he explains the necessity of cutting public services, libraries, pensions as well as payments to the poor, the disabled, and those who will never inherit a single baronetcy, no matter how hard they train for it.

The crisis we’re all apparently joined in – it’s generally agreed – was caused by the failures, greed and recklessness of a clique we call, for short, ‘the bankers’

Yet the people having to pay for their chaos are not the bankers. They’re the disabled and the homeless, the firefighters and lollipop ladies and anyone who depends on them. Maybe George Osborne believes these were the culprits, that it was lollipop ladies telling kids “Wait by the road a minute, love, I’m just loaning ten million quid on the basis that property values are certain to double every six months forever, and awarding myself half a million as a bonus. Right, now that’s done we’re safe to cross.”

For the poor to pay a major contribution towards the crisis created by the bankers would be a screaming injustice, but it’s so much worse than that. Because one of the few professions that doesn’t have to cough up is the bankers themselves. And to ease their pain of watching everyone apart from themselves suffer, one of the few measures taken by this government that gives more money away rather than less has been a tax cut for the richest one per cent.

There are many consequences of this, among them the fact that many people in Britain now express their feelings about economics with a theory that goes, more or less, “Aaaaaaagh.” Sometimes they go into more detail, adding “The BASTARDS.” And then “Aaaaaaaagh.”

But the coalition’s outrages are only part of the frustration felt by so many. Because there can hardly have been a time when so many people, disgusted by their government, have been at such a loss as to what we can do about it.

Until recently, many people found a home for their anger at social injustice in the Labour Party. But the New Labour years, if we’re being harsh, weren’t all that successful at promoting peace and equality. Although there are Labour members who are wonderfully effective, such as Tony Benn and Owen Jones, many of their activists left or became disillusioned.

Left wing groups have collapsed more spectacularly, in a series of crises that makes you wonder whether their activities are organised by the scriptwriters of Eastenders, leaving another layer of socialists and campaigners in confusion.

But another piece of this jigsaw of frustration is that the basis for an opposition is evident. The government is by no means overwhelmingly popular, and the Lib-Dem part of it widely held in contempt. Anyone who watches Question Time knows the easiest way for a panellist to win a round of applause is to make an angry speech about greedy bankers. When a few hundred activists moved into tents under the ‘Occupy’ banner, they won the sympathy of millions and forced ministers to appear on the news making unconvincing attempts to justify their actions.

When an opposition has appeared credible, it has won an astounding level of support – such as when George Galloway won the election in Bradford, or when Caroline Lucas was victorious in Brighton for the Green Party. Campaigns such as the one in Lewisham to prevent the closure of the A&E department at the hospital have amassed tens of thousands of supporters. But for the most part these moments remain in one area, or pass quickly, then it’s back to yelling at the telly, or if you’re really dedicated, the radio as well.

Would it be possible, I find myself thinking, to bring together those who share these frustrations, to connect with each other?

Some people are already in groups or parties, such as UK Uncut, the Greens or Labour, but I’m sure they’d acknowledge there are many people beyond their own supporters who’d be willing to contribute towards a squabble with George Osborne.

It might be tempting to consider these thoughts, then conclude you’d done your bit by thinking them, and if you wanted to do any more you could occasionally arrange them into a moan. But it seems – since enough people are thinking this way at once – that a genuine movement is possible.

For example Owen Jones, one of the most eloquent opponents of the Coalition’s austerity, is eager to help set up such a network. Salma Yaqoob, who many will know as an inspiring opponent of the war in Iraq, is another. Caroline Lucas, the Green MP, feels the same, as does Laurie Penny, the journalist who wrote powerfully as part of the Occupy movement.

The trade unions are committed to establishing this network, which can link the campaigns, the meetings, the petitions and the squeals of anguish that try to prevent the cruelties of austerity. Almost every major union has pledged to back such a movement, which it will call a ‘People’s Assembly’.

And crucially, many of this large and growingly frustrated TV-abusing section of society have greeted the idea with enthusiasm, and even a hint of optimism. For example a single letter in a newspaper announcing the Assembly attracted hundreds of initial supporters. So this is the plan.

Within the next few weeks a series of gatherings in the biggest cities in Britain will take place to launch the Assembly in each area. From there groups can be set up that will discuss ways to oppose the barrage of attacks coming from the coalition, leading to a People’s Assembly on June 22 in London. You can register for that day here

Many possibilities can open up once the connections are made. A group in one part of the country can discuss how to support a campaign to defend a hospital in another part. Even a joint letter to a local newspaper is an improvement on a lonely individual seethe.

It will be a network that embraces supporters of different groups and parties, as well as those with no affiliations. And it will bring together enough people eager to participate, who would rather do something than nothing, who would rather find themselves alongside others who agree than remain on their own.

The evidence suggests that wherever a community unites and campaigns to defend its hospitals, its libraries, it parks and its people, it succeeds at least in part. The aim of the People’s Assembly will be simply to tap into the vast amount of humanity, imagination and wit of those who wish to curtail the injustices swirling around us, and create a place that we all feel better for being in, and all feel better for having helped to create.

That’s all.

And you can carry on swearing at George Osborne on the telly as well if you like.

So leave a name or a message if you’re interested and we can add it to the many who have already said they are, and to show I’m fair, I’ll even let you leave a name and a message if you’re not interested and think I’m completely round the sodding bend.

Squaring Up to The Bedroom Tax: Resistance Grows Around the UK

the void

bedroom-taxResistance to the Bedroom Tax, which will lead to thousands of people at risk of imminent homelessness, is sweeping across the UK.

From this April, council tenants with a spare room will see vital housing benefits cut by an average of £15 a week.  This will see those who are unemployed, on low incomes, or out of work due to sickness or disability, facing paying a huge chunk of paltry benefits towards keeping a roof over their heads.

Along with changes to Council Tax Benefits, and soaring fuel and water bills, some claimants could find themselves left with virtually nothing left at all to buy food. Amongst those hit will be parents whose children have recently left home, separated parents, foster carers and disabled people living in specially adapted properties.  Around 660,000 tenants are estimated to be affected by the change.

The Government has demanded that tenants should just move…

View original post 487 more words

Life at the end of the welfare state, the true cost of benefits cuts and change highlighted in the following report.

Wessex Solidarity

New Economics Foundation:

After spending 18 months in some of London and Birmingham’s most deprived communities, our research – based on peer-led interviews and workshops – goes beyond figures to highlight the real human, social and economic costs of austerity:

“Even a delay in benefits for a week will send people over the edge”

“Debt advice demand has hugely increased. You wouldn’t believe the type of people the banks lent money to”

“People are on disability benefits for a reason…. it has a huge effect on their ability to stay well, to stay independent, to engage in their community”

“Our wages go on running the household – petrol, insurance, gas, tax, mortgage, all our money goes on that. At the end of all that there is nothing”

Please spread widely amongst your networks.

Everyday insecurity, life at the end of the welfare state – free download pdf

View original post

Universal Jobmatch – Do Not Sign!

Add your thoughts here… (optional)

the void

UPDATE 27/2/13:  Registering an account with Universal Jobmatch will  become mandatory from the beginning of March 2013.  There should still be no requirement to tick the box giving DWP access to your account.  For the latest details and what this means for claimants keep an eye on:  http://consent.me.uk/2013/02/26/mandatory/

UPDATE: For the latest news (as of 20/01/13) and confirmation from the PCS Union that Universal Jobmatch is not mandatory visit: http://johnnyvoid.wordpress.com/2013/01/20/universal-jobmatch-not-mandatory-pcs-confirms/

Confusion reigns as usual at the DWP as the bodged roll out of Universal Jobmatch begins tomorrow.

As recently revealed, it appears that some Jobcentres are attempting to mandate unemployed claimants by stealth to the new job-matching computer system. Other claimants report that their Jobcentre have barely heard of the new database which will give DWP snoops unprecedented control over how unemployed people look for work.

Once signed up to the new database,  Jobcentre staff will be able…

View original post 593 more words

The welfare state: FACT and FARRAGO – Busting some myths about benefits

Myth 1: There is a big problem with families where generations have never worked.
The truth is that the Labour Force Survey shows only 0.3 per cent where two or more generations of working age have never worked.

Myth 2: Most benefits spending goes to unemployed people of working age.
This is completely wrong. The biggest element of social security expenditure (42 per cent) goes to pensioners. Then housing benefit is next, accounting for 20 per cent, of whom one-fifth are in work. Then 15 per cent goes on children, through child benefit and child tax credit. Some 8 per cent goes on disability living allowance, 4 per cent on income support mainly for single parents and carers, 4 per cent on employment and support allowance to those who can’t work due to sickness or disability and 2 per cent on carer’s allowance and maternity pay. Just 3 per cent is spent on jobseeker’s allowance.

Myth 3: Benefit fraud is high and increasing.
The latest official DWP estimates show that last year just 0.7 per cent of benefit expenditure was overpaid due to fraud, including a mere 0.3 per cent for incapacity benefits. It is equally false that benefit fraud is increasing. The figures for combined fraud and customer error for jobseeker’s allowance and income support show it halved from 9.4 per cent in 1997-8 to only 4.8 per cent in 2004-5.

Myth 4: Couples on benefits are better off if they split up.
In fact, research by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation found that the benefits system provides very similar living standards to families irrespective whether they live together or apart.

Myth 5: The welfare bill has ballooned out of control and grew unsustainably under Labour.
In fact welfare expenditure totalled 11.6 per cent under the Tories in 1996-7, but only 10.7 per cent under Labour up to the crash in 2008-9.

Myth 6: Most benefit claims are long-term so that claimants “languish in dependency.”
The truth is that over the 2003-8 period leading up to the crash, only 37 per cent received incapacity benefit long term, while 38 per cent were on benefit for less than one year.

Myth 7: Social security benefits are too generous.
In fact unemployment benefit levels fall well below what research shows most people believe should form a minimum household budget. A single adult of working age receives just 40 per cent of the weekly minimum income standard and a couple with two children receive only 62 per cent of the weekly minimum.

Myth 8: Most people who claim disability benefits could be working.
The truth is that many of the people claiming incapacity benefits are those with low employability in areas of few jobs. Unemployment remains at 2.6 million, there is an average of eight people chasing every available job and most employers – given the choice, which in a very slack labour market they have – would prefer not to take on the risk and hassle of implying a disabled person. Many people then end up in a situation where they are not fit enough to do the jobs they can get, but can’t get the jobs they can do.

Food poverty in breadline Britain

There has been rapid expansion in food banks over the past two years triggered by growing numbers of people unable to feed themselves or their families as a result of rising living costs, shrinking incomes and welfare benefit cuts. This ever increasing need for food banks is a damning indictment of this government’s failed economic approach.

The boom in Britain’s food banks reflects a number of worrying and complicated trends. As well as rising unemployment, more people are seeing their pay frozen and hours cut at work. For the past couple of years, charities have been warning that a shift to a less generous way of uprating benefits in line with inflation, combined with rising food and fuel prices, would make life more difficult for people claiming benefits. Then there is the start of a new, harsher benefits regime, a result of which will be more claimants having their payments sanctioned – cut or stopped entirely – if they miss appointments. At the same time, the state system of a social fund and crisis loans is being wound down, so emergency cash payments from the welfare system for those deemed to be in extreme need are now exceptionally difficult to procure.

The government spent £230m on crisis loans in 2009-10. But under the Welfare Reform Act, responsibility for administering this spending will be devolved to 150 English councils. Local authorities are preparing to invest in charity-run food banks to cope with an expected deluge in demand for crisis help from low income families hit by welfare cuts, raising the spectre of depression-era US “breadlines”. However they will be sharing a pot of money set at 2005 budget levels – which could be less than half the 2009-10 figure, so would obviously seem to be inadequate at best and this money will not be ring fenced – meaning that councils can spend some or all of it on other services if they wish.

Cuts next year to the social fund, which provides emergency aid to vulnerable people, mean that from April 2013 many councils will no longer be able to provide cash help to applicants. Instead they will offer “in kind” support such as referring clients to food banks and issuing electronic food vouchers.

It is very unlikely that plans to refer crisis loan applicants to food banks will solve the problems, let alone the root cause. Experts say the experience of food poverty in the US and Canada, where charity food assistance has become a significant element of the welfare system, shows that while food banks are popular with volunteers and, however well meaning their aims and intentions are, they can be inefficient, unreliable and fail to address the underlying causes of food poverty, such as low pay.

Liz Dowler, professor of food and social policy at the University of Warwick, said: “Despite their apparent ‘win-win’ appeal to some councils, food banks conceal realities of poverty and hunger. They let the state off the hook from their obligation to ensure all have the means to live, and from showing political leadership to grapple creatively with poverty.”

Everything is pointing towards the fact that this country is on the precipice of a food poverty crisis. A spokesman for the Child Poverty Action Group said: “It’s clear that this is an early-warning indicator of how bad things are starting to get for poorer families and how bad things are going to get in future. This should be setting alarm bells ringing for the government.”

Alas, those in power, seem to have placed mufflers on those bells with government ministers regarding food banks as exemplars of the “big society” approach to social problems and many Conservative-run local authorities welcoming the move to provide local crisis assistance, which ministers say go “to the heart of localism and the big society agenda.”

The government’s complacency towards food poverty will most probably become more exasperating by inflation hitting its lowest level in nearly three years in September. Experts predict that soaring energy bills and rising food and petrol costs will send inflation back up again in the coming months, ramping up the pressure on households. And the situation is further compounded by the damage wreaked by the dismal summer of 2012 on UK harvests that will inevitably push food prices up further. In these austere times, with food banks feeding the hungry, that is going to hurt. Prof Richard Tiffin, director of the Centre for Food Security at University of Reading. “It should be a major warning that climate change is increasingly having a global impact on the food supply. If the problems in Russia, the UK and the US this year were combined with a failure of the Indian monsoon, we could see a major global food crisis that would have an enormous impact on food prices and badly affect poor people in the UK and around the world.”

Trussell Trust is a charity that provides three days’ worth of emergency food to people in the UK who are at crisis point and currently receive government funding. Trussell said it had been approached by the Welsh government and a number of local authorities in London to discuss “deliverable and practical” emergency food assistance part-funded by the social fund.

The trust has said it does not object to taking state funding in principle but its food banks were already helping thousands of people referred to them by councils and welfare advisors after being turned down for crisis loans. Chris Mould, director of Trussell Trust, said the move could be risky for the charity, which was not designed to provide large scale welfare assistance. He was also concerned that the public would be less likely to give food if the trust was seen to be delivering a service regarded as the responsibility of the state.

The trust have also warned that the string of energy price hikes announced by providers recently could mean more people turning to it for help. Chris Mould said: “Every day we meet parents who are skipping meals to feed their children or even considering stealing to stop their children going to bed hungry. It is shocking that there is such a great need for food banks in 21st-century Britain, but the need is growing.”

Along with Trussell Trust there are many other charities and volunteer services that provide food bank services. Some have seen a 100% increase in the numbers of people coming to them for a free or cheap, meal. Four out of 10 charities said their budgets had been slashed as a result of funding cuts. Around a third said these cuts have made it harder for them to provide meals, and one in six said they may have to abandon providing food altogether.

FareShare, a charity that supplies millions of free meals to charities, food banks and breakfast clubs using food donated by supermarkets, said it could not keep pace with demand. They said the food it distributed in 2011-12 contributed to more than 8.6m meals, benefiting an average 36,500 people a day via 720 organisations that deal with people in food poverty. Its long-term plans are to triple the numbers of people and charities it supplies.

Lindsay Boswell, chief executive of FareShare said: “Every piece of evidence we have got is that demand will only increase over time as more people lose their jobs and living costs go up. Even if the economy improves there will be a considerable lag before that trickles through to individuals who use the services the charities support. We are forecasting that we will see growth for at least the next five years.”

The Salvation Army, whose churches issue food parcels on an informal basis, said its biggest distribution point, in Keighley, West Yorkshire, was so inundated this year it had to temporarily restrict food parcels to people referred by local charities and health professionals.

Along with charity shops and payday loans companies, food banks have become one of recession Britain’s high growth sectors. Originally set up to support homeless individuals, food banks report they increasingly serve families hit by benefit cuts or unemployment, and low-income working households who can’t make ends meet.

Food banks are thriving not just in Britain’s most deprived areas but in some of its wealthiest areas, like Poole. Our seaside town boasts some of Britain’s most expensive properties but in April 2012 a local food bank supplied food parcels to nearly 300 people – more than twice as many as in April 2010, with the extra demand driven by low income working families. Poole food bank manager Lorraine Russell said that: “Before, the primary reason (for needing food parcels) was benefit cuts or delays, but now that’s been overtaken by people on low incomes. We used to get very few low-income people, but now that has taken over.”

Even though food banks can provide a little low-level nutrition in a crisis for three days, they were never designed to cope with months of malnutrition due to inadequate levels of income or benefits. No guidance about financial need will be issued by the Department for Communities and Local Government, whose ministers, along with every member of the cabinet, have abdicated the primary moral duty of a civilised government for ensuring their poorest fellow citizens have enough income to buy a healthy diet. This damages the economy; it creates massive costs for the health service and lost time at work. Nutritionists frequently remind us that Britain was better fed from 1940 to 1945, a time of war and far greater economic crisis than the present.

Through international treaties, the UK government is already committed to ensure an adequate standard of living. They have a responsibility to provide resources so people have a minimum threshold of food, clothing, shelter and social security. However, with all the funding cuts to public services and the Welfare State, it is abundantly clear that they have no intention of fulfilling this obligation. So we, the people, have to draw a line, stand up against the food poverty injustice – along with all the other issues – and demand an end to the cuts.

KEEP ON KEEPING ON

RESIST – PROTEST – STRIKE

Sources:
Where in the UK do people rely most heavily on food banks? – Guardian
Breadline Britain: councils fund food banks to plug holes in welfare state – Guardian
Demand for food parcels explodes as welfare cuts and falling pay hit home – Guardian
Foodbank: our biggest client group now is people on low incomes – False Economy
Food banks are a symptom of failure – Guardian
Food banks: a life on handouts
Charity food banks serving record numbers – Guardian
Rising food prices are climate change’s first tangible bite into UK lives – Guardian
Lobster bisque at the soup kitchen: how a charity is redistributing food – Guardian
House of Commons – Oral Answers to Questions – Work and Pensions – Monday 23 January 2012 – Hansard

Changes to Jobseeker Allowance sanctions

From 22 October 2012 the law regarding Jobseeker Allowance (JSA) sanctions has changed. Those in receipt of JSA are being informed of the changes via a letter being handed out at Jobcentres. The letter can be viewed by clicking here.

The letter states that people could lose their JSA benefit for 13 weeks, 26 weeks or 156 weeks (3 years), if a person:

  • leaves a job voluntarily or loses a job due to misconduct or your part
  • fails to take part in a Mandatory Work Activity (MWA) programme
  • fails to take on a suitable employment opportunity
  • refuses or fails to apply for a job which your adviser has notified to you

The length of time will depend on whether it is the first, second or third time you have failed to meet any of these responsibilities in the last 52 weeks’ (1 year) of the previous time.

It also states that people may lose their JSA benefit for 4 weeks or 13 weeks if a person:

  • fails to attend an adviser interview
  • if applicable, fails to take part in a particular employment programme (such as the Work Programme)
  • does not take the opportunity of a place on an employment programme or training scheme
  • refuses or fails to apply for or accept a place on such a programme or scheme notified to you by your adviser
  • fails to attend or gives up a place or through your own misconduct loses a place on such a programme or scheme
  • fails to comply with a Jobseeker’s Direction

The length of time of a sanction will depend on how many times a person has failed to meet any of the above requirements over a 52 week period. Also if it is deemed that a person did not actively seek work or were not available for work during the period of a sanction, their benefit and entitlement to JSA will be stopped. Any JSA reclaim following such a failure may not be paid for up to 4 weeks and for up to 13 weeks if it is not the first occasion within a 52 week period.

Of course there should be a genuine expectation that a person in receipt of JSA adheres to their Jobseekers Agreement, is available and actively seeking employment. However, not only, are these sanctions very severe, open to individual Jobcentre / work scheme provider interpretation but they also seem to open the floodgates to enforced unpaid work placements.

Statements such as “does not take the opportunity of a place on an employment programme or training scheme” appear to imply that all unpaid work placements will be included within these new sanction procedures and would blow apart previous government claims that the majority of unpaid work schemes are “voluntary”. And this should be of major concern to everyone.

The government’s savage austerity measures are clearly not working and sending the economy into a death spiral which can only be worsened by their continued obsession with forced unpaid work. These policies will not solve the unemployment crisis and neither will they create growth……

Figures obtained by Corporate Watch show that 508,000 benefit sanctions were handed out in 2011; a shocking rise from the 139,000 sanctions imposed in 2009 and with the ever increasing use of schemes such as the Work Programme things can only get worse.

The total number of referrals by Jobcentre Plus to the Work Programme from 1st June 2011 to 31st of January 2012 was 565,000 with 519,000 of those registered onto the programme by private sector providers.

Latest statistics show 91,000 referrals for JSA sanctions were made and completed by the end of January 2012 where claimants allegedly failed to participate in the Work Programme. Of these, 33,000 resulted in sanctions; 34,000 were not sanctioned and 25,000 were cancelled or reserved to be reviewed / applied on a future benefit claim. The total figure of 59,000 (65%) failed sanction referrals should set alarm bells ringing. Obviously these referrals would be for various reasons but a culture of intimidation and coercion seems prevalent amongst the providers.

After a person receives a sanction, they have the right to appeal. However, the remedy of an appeal is not an adequate one to a person who’s JSA has been stopped. Although if successful the claimant will receive payment of the JSA that was withheld, during this period they will have struggled to survive without that money pending the appeal (which may or may not have been assisted with hardship payments; a reduced rate of JSA). The lack of a mechanism to dispute the imposition of a sanction before it is applied means that many people comply with demands placed upon them by Work Programme providers regardless of whether they are lawfully allowed to make those demands.

Another major concern is the DWP’s Community Action Programme (CAP) which has completed a pilot stage and the rollout is expected to be announced this autumn. If, as expected, this scheme is extended across the country, almost 1 million people on JSA for longer than 3 years will be forced to work unpaid for six months or have their benefits stopped.

Sources:
DWP – Work Programme referrals, attachments and Jobseekers Allowance sanctions
Child Poverty Action Group – Sanction busting – appealing Work Programme sanctions
Guardian – Million jobless may face six months’ unpaid work or have benefits stopped

Bournemouth Council to increase social care charges

Plans to increase how much people pay per week for council funded adult social care have been approved at a Cabinet Meeting of Bournemouth Borough Council on 17th October. From April next year, 234 people will have to pay more for non-residential services such as day centre visits, transport and home visits and in some cases individuals will be paying over £200 each week. The breakdown of the 234 people affected is as follows:

  • 86 people will pay up to £30 per week more
  • 57 people will pay between £20-£49 per week more
  • 43 people will pay between £50-£99 per week more
  • 43 people will pay between £100-£199 per week more
  • Five people will pay more than £200 per week more

For more information why social care charges should be opposed, please visit our page “Time to end the older and disabled person’s poll tax: Stop charging for care services” and sign the e-petition – Service charges for social care to be abolished in England and Wales

Source: Bournemouth Echo: Hundreds in Bournemouth will lose out in adult social care benefits shake up