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.

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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

Benefit Justice Summit – Saturday 9th March – ULU London

The Campaign for Benefit Justice is uniting all those opposed to devastating benefit cuts. By linking up we can challenge the Government’s divide and rule tactics and unite the 99% of people hit by these cuts. This summit will bring together disabled people, tenants, unemployed , trade unions, students, pensioners, single parents, and others to oppose benefit cuts.

The venue is fully-accessible for wheelchair users – for other access needs, please contact benefitjustice@gmail.com

benefit-justice-summit page 1 - 550
benefit-justice-summit page 2 - 550
Click here to download PDF of above

Click here to book your place on the Summit being held on Saturday 9th March at University of London Union (ULU), Malet St, London WC1E 7HY at 11am.

Cut rents, not benefits
Can’t pay, won’t pay
Can’t move, won’t move

Get Involved

If you’d like to get involved in the Benefit Justice Campaign, they would be glad to have your support.

  • Contact trades unions, tenants and community organisations to invite them to our Summit on the 9th March 2013.
  • Add your name to the Benefits Justice Statement
  • Ask local organisations to send a speaker to the Summit
  • Create a local Benefit Justice network, and keep us abreast of your activities by emailing us at benefitjustice@gmail.com.
  • Support the protests in London and across the country on 20th March 2013.

Our Open Letter to the Guardian Published on the 12th February, 2013

Cuts in benefit are an unjust attack on the poor and they must stop. People are already being driven into debt, hunger and homelessness. From April millions more will be hit by the bedroom tax, cuts in council-tax benefit, ending disability living allowance and further vicious cuts. In one of the richest countries in the world, the rise of food banks, destitution and poverty is not acceptable. People receiving benefits did not cause the banking and economic crisis and we do not accept them being scapegoated to pay for it.

The Campaign for Benefit Justice has called a summit event on 9 March in central London, bringing together tenants, disabled people, trade unions, the unpaid and the low paid as one national voice to end the war on the poor. All who support us should contact Benefit Justice via info@defendouncilhousing.org.uk or mail@dpac.uk.net [or benefitjustice@gmail.com]. Collecting unpaid corporate tax, capping private rents, insulating, repairing and “greening” homes, and building 100,000 first-class council homes would be a sane and just way to raise funds, build for growth and cut bills and rents.

Signed:
Eileen Short, Chair of Defend Council Housing
Linda Burnip, Disabled People Against Cuts
Michael Bradley, Right to Work Campaign
Len McCluskey, General Secretary of UNITE the Union
Mark Serwotka, General Secretary of the PCS Union
Dave Anderson MP
John McDonnell MP
Austin Mitchell MP
Caroline Lucas MP
Jane Aitchison (PCS), Joint Secretary of Unite the Resistance
Richard Buckwell, Chair of Ashfield UNISON Branch & East Midlands member of UNISON’s National Housing Forum
Glyn Robbins, UNITE member
Dot Gibson, General Secretary of the National Pensioners Convention
Claire Glasman, WinVisible (Women with Visible and Invisible Disabilities)
Kim Sparrow, Single Mothers’ Self-Defence
John Davies, Leeds Hands off our Homes
Dr Stuart Hodkinson, Lecturer at the School of Geography, University of Leeds
Shirley Frost, Sheffield Defend Council Housing, Campaign for Benefits Justice, and UNITE Community Members branch Sheffield
Imelda Messenger, Hackney tenant, Street Properties

defend council housingdpac

right to work

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

Stop the cuts to Council Tax benefit

Please sign and share the BPACC petition opposing the cut in funding for Council Tax benefit. Click here for more details about the changes

We, the residents of Poole / Bournemouth, deplore the government’s decision to cut the funding given to local authorities for Council Tax Benefit by 10%. We call on our council, Borough of Poole / Bournemouth Borough Council, to express their disapproval to central govt in the strongest terms possible. As an interim measure, we also call on our Council to cover this funding cut for 2013/14 out of the financial reserves in order to protect the most vulnerable members of our community from this additional charge.



Download printable paper based petition (Poole)
Download printable paper based petition (Bournemouth)

Thank-you for your support