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

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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

Photos of demo against Atos & WCA 28th Aug

As part of DPAC‘s week of action “The Atos Games” a protest was held outside the Atos Work Capability Assessment centre in Bournemouth. Click here for information about Atos, WCA and for helpful links.

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The Atos Games

As part of a national week of action against Atos, there will be a demonstration in Bournemouth:

Date: Tuesday 28th August
Time: 12noon – 1.30pm
Location: Atos Healthcare assessment centre at Jobcentre Plus, Tamarisk House, 1 Cotlands Road, Bournemouth BH1 3BG

Poster for event: PDF JPG
Leaflet for event: A4 A5
Facebook event page: Atos demo
Further info and links: Stop Atos Work Capability Assessments

Even if you are unable to attend, your help in sharing the details of the local event would be appreciated and please check out the following details of the week of events being organised by Disabled People Against Cuts:

DPAC – Our Atos Games

We are calling on disabled people, disabled activists, families, colleagues, friends and supporters to come together and fight back against Atos’s attacks. Atos represents as dangerous an opponent as any government, law or barrier the disability movement has faced in its long history. It’s not just welfare, but our very identity and our place within society that is under attack.
And we are asking the whole of the anti-cuts movement to join us in our opposition to the company most responsible for driving through the government’s brutal cuts agenda. Let’s make it Games over for Atos!
“We’re not against the Paralympics or the people taking part in it. We’re highlighting the hypocrisy of Atos, a company that soon may be taking disability benefits from the people winning medals for Team GB.

Ever since George Osborne announced he was slashing £18 billion from the welfare budget, the government has paid Atos £100 million a year to test 11,000 sick and disabled people every week, then decide whether they’re ‘fit for work’.

Atos uses an inhumane computer programme to do the testing, and trains its staff to push people off benefits. The government has admitted the tests are flawed, and the British Medical Association wants them to end immediately.

But Atos continues to devastate people’s lives. Many have committed suicide because of its testing programme, and over 1,000 people have died of their illnesses soon after being found ‘fit for work’.

We won’t let them get away with murder, so join in The Atos Games however you can – online, on the phone, or on the streets!

  • Monday 27th: We’ll hold a spoof Paralympic awards ceremony, hopefully with some very special guests…
  • Tuesday 28th: Pay a visit to your local Atos office – and maybe even take your protest inside!
  • Wednesday 29th: A coffin full of your messages about Atos will be delivered to its doorstep.
  • Thursday 30th: Phone jam! Let’s flood Atos with calls, and generate a Twitter-storm they can’t ignore!
  • Then on Friday 31st, join us in London where we’re teaming up with UK Uncut for the Grand Finale – an audacious, daring and disruptive action. Last time we shut down Oxford Circus, this time we will be performing miracles…!

Over the next few weeks we’ll give more details about each day of action. We’ll make sure that DPAC members and disabled people who can’t travel will be able to take part in different and accessible ways.

We’d really like YOU to make this week of action a great success! Let’s come together and show this monstrous company that we’re stronger than them. They’re the vulnerable ones and they know it.

College criticised for backing Workfare programme

Trades unions and community groups have called on the Bournemouth and Poole College to withdraw its support for the government’s discredited Work Programme which seeks to coerce the unemployed into unpaid work, after it emerged the college was encouraging employers on their website to “Try before they buy” – describing the unemployed as expendable commodities. Whilst the phrase has now been removed, the Work Programme still enables unscrupulous employers to use staff for up to three months without offering them any pay, formal training or travel expenses. Amid widespread controversy, a number of high street names have withdrawn their backing for the scheme, but attention has now turned to the local college.

Neil Duncan-Jordan, President of the Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole Trades Union Council said: “The Work Programme is the modern-day equivalent of slavery. Unemployed people are being used as a form of cheap labour, with no real chance of ever finding a proper job. It’s a shabby scheme that is exploiting those who are desperate to find work and the college should immediately withdraw its support for such a discredited programme.”

The local TUC and anti-cuts group, Bournemouth and Poole Anti Cuts Coalition (BPACC), plan to target the college with a wave of protests if it refuses to distance itself from the Work Programme.

Bournemouth and Poole College web page before:



Bournemouth & Poole College web page after:

Page web url: http://www.thecollege.co.uk/find-a-job/work-programme