Statement from Boycott Workfare: Stop the Sanctions!

Boycott Workfare call on the PCS to take action on conditionality, workfare and sanctions

Public sector workers, including at the DWP, will soon face sanctions under Universal Credit unless we take action now

Public sector workers, including at the DWP, will soon face sanctions under Universal Credit unless we take action now

The PCS conference takes place in Brighton later this month. Join a rally urging delegates to support a position of non-cooperation with sanctions against welfare claimants at 12.30pm on 21st May.

We are extremely disappointed that PCS leadership have decided not to allow debate at their conference on two motions which called for the union to move from theoretical to practical unity with claimants in challenging sanctions.

Current welfare policies and reforms represent an unprecedented attack on claimants and on the welfare state itself. Conditionality, workfare and the huge rise in sanctions are driving claimants further into poverty and destitution. At the same time a vicious campaign of hatred driven by the media and political classes has stigmatised those on benefits and poisoned public debate.

Workfare forces claimants to work without wages under the threat of sanctions. Those on workfare are exempted from legislation that protects the rights of people at work and denied access to union membership and representation. Sick and disabled people claiming ESA can now be forced onto workfare. Workfare drives down wages and conditions for all workers and it is in all our interests to end it completely. Between 2009 and 2011 the number of sanctions handed out to claimants tripled to reach over half a million. In January this year 85,000 people were sanctioned, suggesting that the number of sanctions could reach one million this year. People are now having benefits withdrawn for up to three years (including for failure to participate in workfare). As the PCS have said this increase in the number and severity of sanctions is purely a political decision.

As conditionality and sanctions have increased and become more severe so the range of claimants subject to them has been extended. Sick and disabled people found “fit for work” by the hated Work Capability Assessment are now subject to this regime as are single parents with young children. Plans for in-work conditionality will see sanctions applied to part time workers and the self employed. The introduction of Universal Jobmatch and a requirement for claimants to spend 35 hour each week on jobsearch or workfare will inevitably lead to more sanctions and is intended to do so. Plans to make hardship payments a recoverable loan will force those who are sanctioned into debt. Housing benefit is increasingly being suspended where people are sanctioned. This systematic removal of welfare support is causing sharp increases in homelessness and the use of food banks.

Boycott Workfare welcome the fact that the PCS have spoken out against workfare and the huge rise in sanctions. We also understand that the primary role of the PCS is to represent their members including around 84,000 staff in the DWP. It should be obvious that there is a tension here where the PCS are campaigning against policies that their own members are required to implement. But there is also the possibility that the PCS could take concerted action to defend the welfare state in the interests of both claimants and their members. Government policies cannot be implemented without workers to implement them.

At meetings with the PCS we have raised the possibility of action being taken. Sadly the PCS have been dismissive of our suggestions and they have been met with arguments for inaction. PCS leadership have argued that anti-strike laws prevent action being taken in solidarity with claimants. But the interests of claimants and PCS members are intertwined and these policies directly impact on the working conditions of PCS members. Increased aggravation between PCS members and claimants put both at risk. And under Universal Credit many DWP staff will themselves face conditionality and sanctions. The right of workers to withhold their labour is fundamental. Laws which undermine this right do not comply with international obligations and should be challenged. Without those prepared to take risks and challenge injustice we would not have unions or a welfare state.

This is not about blaming those PCS members tasked with implementing unjust policies. We know that the blame lies elsewhere. This is about the role that unions could and should take in building solidarity between workers and claimants and in empowering workers to take action. If the PCS are sincere about campaigning for social security justice then they should refuse to cooperate with the implementation of unjust policies. Words are not enough. Boycott Workfare therefore calls on the PCS to take action to protect welfare provision and to frustrate the imposition of policies designed to undermine it.

Boycott Workfare would like to thank those PCS branches who have signed our pledge and those members who have taken part in our actions. We are grateful to members of the PCS in the Civil Service Rank and File Network who put forward a motion to this year’s PCS conference. We urge all PCS members to call for proper debate and practical action on challenging sanctions and to support the emergency motion calling for non-cooperation with sanctions to be debated as well as the rally on the 21st May.

© Copyright 2013 | Boycott Workfare | All Rights Reserved

Britain needs a pay rise to kickstart growth

The following article has been reproduced with the kind permission of PCS – Public Commercial Services Union

Why is employment rising when the UK economy is still flatlining? Our new research could provide the answer.

Figures show that since the onset of recession in 2008 the real value of wages has fallen by 7%, or more than £50 billion a year. During the same period there has been a real terms drop in consumer demand of 5%.

Our report, ‘Britain needs a pay rise’, published today (Tuesday 12), argues this fall in the value of pay could be a major obstacle to the return of economic growth.

The report also busts the myth that civil servants are paid more than their private sector counterparts.

Serious debate on pay

Using data from the Office for National Statistics and research by the Institute for Fiscal Studies, and government departments, employment specialists Croner and Incomes Data Services, and the Resolution Foundation, other findings include:

  • The government’s four-year pay policy, plus the increase in pension contributions, will cut almost £7 billion a year from the value of public sector employees’ pay by 2015.
  • Median pay in the civil service is 4.4%, or £1,263, lower than median pay in direct private sector comparators.
  • At executive officer level civil service pay was 10% below private sector comparators and at administrative officer level it was 8%.
  • These discrepancies in pay for executive officers and administrative officers are found in every nation and region in the UK.

The report aims to generate a serious debate about the effects of low pay and government pay policy on the UK economy.

It comes as 250,000 of our members who work in civil and public services start voting in an industrial action ballot over cuts to their pay, pensions and terms and conditions.

We have asked for a pay rise for civil servants of 5% or £1,200 and for the living wage to be written into government contracts with private sector employers.

Money in people’s pockets

While ministers are not able to increase wages across the whole economy, increases in public sector pay and the national minimum wage – and support for the extension of the living wage by insisting on it for government contracts – would stimulate demand and act as a catalyst for the private sector.

PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka said: “Almost everyone can now see that austerity is not working. The chancellor George Osborne is borrowing more for failure, we are on the verge of a triple dip recession, food banks are on the rise and pay day loan sharks are preying on the vulnerable.

“We believe the government’s pay policy, built on the lie that hardworking civil servants are paid too much, is having a seriously damaging effect on the whole economy.

“Instead of burying their heads in the sand and hoping for the best, ministers can and should act now to put money into people’s pockets and back into our economy.”

Click here to download the full report.

Twenty Ten March – A Poem

A poem by Zita Holbourne for Oct20. Copyright 2012 (via Make the March). Zita is a member of PCS NEC, Co-founder of Black Activists Rising Against Cuts, a poet and artist. More of her work can be viewed on Facebook ‘Zita Holbourne, Poet, Artist’

Over one million young people unemployed
Their dreams and aspirations destroyed
EMA slashed, tuition fees tripled
Attack upon attack on the disabled
68 is too late – pensions stolen
Rising cost of living whilst pay’s frozen
Libraries, youth centres, advice centres shut
Communities deprived as funding is cut
Poverty rising, inequality deepening

Stress, depression, sorrow increasing
We are the majority, we need to unite
Organise, mobilise, resist and fight
Be strong, determined, Rise Up as one
March on 20/10 and Keep on Keeping On
Neighbours, colleagues, friends and families
Trade Unions, Trades Councils and Communities
Anti cuts groups, campaigners and workers
Unemployed, students and pensioners
Adult and child, younger and older
Side by side, shoulder to shoulder
Both public and private sector
Stronger when we’re together
In Belfast, Glasgow and London
We’ll be marching, marching on

Against austerity
Against inequality
Against hypocrisy
Against poverty
On 20th October
We’ll be marching for our future

© Zita Holbourne