Monthly Archives: December 2012

Empty Threats and Tantrums Are All Iain Duncan Smith Has Left In Universal Jobmatch Fiasco

IDSIain Duncan Smith has resorted to increasingly bizarre and empty threats in an effort to defend the shambolic Universal Jobmatch website.

The new job seeking website, which has been plagued by spam, scam and spoof jobs since its launch last month, has the facility for Jobcentre staff to remotely monitor how claimants are using the site.  Whilst the DWP is to force everyone on Job Seekers Allowance to register with the site in the New Year, they cannot legally compel claimants to tick the box giving advisors the right to snoop on their activity.

This obvious oversight in the construction of the new regime has led to yet more tantrums from Iain Duncan Smith.  Speaking to The Metro shortly before Christmas IDS appeared to suggest that claimants who do not allow Jobcentre staff to snoop on their online job seeking activity could face being hauled into Jobcentres on a daily basis.

When Universal Credit is introduced next year 5 million people will be expected to constantly look for ‘more or better paid’ work as a condition of keeping in-work benefits.  Those who are judged not trying hard enough to find jobs may have benefits sanctioned, or be forced into workfare.  The enforcement of this job seeking activity is to be ‘digital by default’ – suggesting that in the near future part time workers, sick or disabled claimants and self-employed people forced out of business due to Universal Credit, will all be required to sign up to Universal Jobmatch.

Even if just one in five of those claimants refuse to allow the Jobcentre access to their account, this this would mean around a million people hauled into Jobcentres every day.  Currently Jobcentres are running at full capacity, seeing around one and a half million people, mostly once a fortnight.  Far from being digital by default, if Iain Duncan Smith’s threats are implemented then the launch of Universal Credit will need to recruit tens of thousands of new public sector workers.

Since this isn’t on the cards anytime soon Iain Duncan Smith’s words should be greeted with the mocking contempt they deserve.  There is no legal requirement to tick the box granting the Jobcentre the right to snoop on your account and no way that the DWP can force you to accept cookies on a home computer.

Of perhaps most concern is Iain Duncan Smith’s attempts to threaten claimants with harassment should they exercise their basic legal rights.  This is a clear attempt to undermine the principle of equality under the law.  If the Secretary of State gets his way then one law for the rich and another for the poor will be firmly enshrined in DWP policy.

One person seems to have spotted that the DWP may be monitoring more than just activity on Universal Jobmatch but also attempting to monitor use of other websites.  Keep an eye on the following Freedom of Information request: http://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/information_returned_from_cookie/new

The Information Commissioner’s Office, who monitor data protection laws, provide guidance on some of the relevant laws surrounding Universal Jobmatch’s use of cookies, the small computer programmes that allow tracking of users activity on the site. 

Follow me on twitter @johnnyvoid

Will Welfare Reform Collapse Due to IDS’s Blundering?

welfare-reform-bannerSome much needed Christmas good news has come from the DWP of all places with the announcement that next year’s benefit cap is to be delayed for up to six months in most parts of the UK.

The cap, which restricts benefit levels regardless of how big a claimant’s family is, or the soaring costs of renting, will threaten thousands of children with homelessness at a stroke.  Whilst the announcement is only a delay, it does at least give those whose lives are about to be plunged into government inflicted chaos, a little longer to prepare for the onslaught.

The cap will sadly still go ahead in Enfield, Croydon, Haringey and Bromley, three London boroughs already suffering rising homelessness.

The hold up, according to The Guardian, is due to concerns about computer software.  It’s seems more likely that the practical administration of co-ordinating cuts to housing benefit – currently processed by local councils – and other benefits, some of which are paid by the DWP, and some by HMRC, has not been adequately thought through.

Once again another of Iain Duncan Smith’s crazy schemes had fallen at the first hurdle because the Secretary of State doesn’t understand the benefits system he’s reforming.

This announcement follows the  Universal Jobmatch shambles.  IDS is believed to have paid Monster Jobs approaching £20 million for the bodged website that he’s now having to pretend is great.

As anyone with even the most basic knowledge of the internet could have warned him, with no safeguards in place, the website has become a target for scammers, spammers and spoof vacancies.

IDS announced recently that it will be mandatory for those on Jobseekers Allowance to sign up to the website in the New Year.  However there will be no requirement for claimants to tick the box giving Jobcentre staff access to snoop on their account, so don’t!

The website uses cookies, small computer programmes which track how a website is used.  Under recent laws, it is not legal for a website to force anyone to use cookies if they don’t want.  If you refuse to accept cookies then Universal Jobmatch doesn’t work. This means that whilst the Jobcentre can force you to sign up to the website, they can’t force you to use it, or monitor if you do.

A piece of legislation that Iain Duncan Smith was either was unaware of, or chose to ignore, has put a digital spanner in the works of the endless jobseeking activity to be expected of all claimants when Universal Credit is launched.

Many people wondered how the DWP would have the manpower to police the new regime.  Disabled people, parents, part time and self employed workers, will all now be expected to search for more, or better paid work, as a condition of receiving benefits.  Universal Jobmatch was the answer.  And they’ve fucked it up.

Building a basic website, and introducing a benefit cap, are far from the most difficult challenges facing Universal Credit, which involves the construction of the largest government IT database ever created anywhere in the history of the world.

You might even call them the basics.  The ongoing shambles won’t protect many claimants from having lives thrown into chaos by the incompetence of the DWP.  But there remains at least a chink of hope that this ineptness will ultimately mean the collapse of Iain Duncan Smith’s precious Welfare Reform Bill.

Follow me on twitter @johnnyvoid

Jim’s Christmas: A Seasonal Tale of Tory Britain

xmas-treeJim looks down at the brown envelope lying on his doormat and feels something that is almost nausea as his mind spews out a panic that charges through his veins.

He can hear his thundering heart beat and feels a tight pain in his chest that he is sure is the onset of heart problems even if his doctor insists it’s just anxiety.  With just two days before Christmas, he had been hoping for a card or two, but no such luck.  Still he’ll be seeing his grandchildren tomorrow he thinks as, with some difficulty, he stoops to pick up the letter.

It is from the government alright, he can tell that easily enough.  No-one else sends out letters in those envelopes.  Stuffing it in his pocket he decides to carry on down to the shops.  Nothing is going to stop him getting those kids a Christmas present he thinks, and decides whatever horror the envelope contains can wait until after lunch.

Jim is 56 and lives alone in a small flat in a suburb of Leeds.  He has a grown up daughter, who lives and works in Newcastle, where she is married with two sons who Jim adores.  He doesn’t see them as often as he likes, but he will be travelling up tomorrow, Christmas Eve.  He reminds himself he still needs a coach ticket, but that should be okay.  He knows even just a couple of hours on the coach will mean agony tomorrow, but he just can’t afford the train.  His daughter had offered to pay but he wouldn’t hear of it.

Jim is also a fictional character.  Sadly his plight is all too true for many people this Christmas.

Like most of his friends, Jim left school at 15 with just a couple of CSEs.  He’d be the first to admit he wasn’t academic and school bored him senseless. He would far rather have been outside, or doing something with his hands then sitting in endless lessons.

On leaving school Jim quickly found work on a building site, where he began  as an apprenticeship. He soon  learned that he could make more money as a hod carrier, lugging bricks around the site and other heavy labouring tasks.  Jim was healthy, strong and worked hard.  He was well known and welcome on local sites where he had a reputation as a grafter.  The hours were long but he could often clear a good few hundred quid a week.

Jim married young, to his childhood sweetheart and first and only love.  She was also a hard worker and had always dreamed of owning a home of her own.  With lots of over-time and her doing nights, they were soon able to afford a mortgage on a small terraced house.  Jim was just 24 when his daughter was born, a day he still describes as the happiest of his life.

His daughter enjoyed a happy childhood.  They weren’t rich, but she never seemed to go without.  They even managed a few holidays in Spain, and whilst her Dad was often working, he always made time for her.  She never noticed the increasingly strained conversations between her parents.  It was a shock when, at the age of 15, they told her they would be getting a divorce.

There was no malice in the marriage break up.  No affairs or betrayals, they just simply grew apart.  Little quirks they once loved about each other became intense annoyances.  Both felt desperately guilty at separating whilst their daughter was in the middle of exams, but the strain just became too much.  Arguments once hidden behind closed doors were increasingly taking place in front of the young teenager.  The truth that whilst he knew somewhere in his heart he would always love her, Jim could barely stand to be in the same room as his wife anymore.  He was all too aware that she felt the same way about him.

With the mortgage not far from  paid off, Jim had agreed to move out, happy to leave the house as a base for his daughter.  He rented a small flat and threw himself into his work.  He knew his daughter wanted to go to University and he was determined to make sure she wouldn’t struggle too much for money.

Jim was 45, old in his trade, when his back first went.  A slipped disc or something the doctor had told him.  They didn’t really seem to know.  Jim was laid up for eight weeks, in searing pain and barely able to walk most days.  On returning to work, he quickly found he just couldn’t do his job anymore.  He’d lasted two days before the foreman had told him to go home.  He was in agony the whole time.

His doctor had warned him that his days on building sites were over.  Jim took this hard.  But he was not beaten.  He never even signed on.  The lads from the site had had a whip round, with even the foreman chucking in fifty notes.  With this, a small pay off from the building firm, and a couple of hundred pounds in savings, he was able to buy a second hand car.

Jim enjoyed mini-cabbing.  The money was a bit less than he was used to, but he liked working with people.  The other drivers were good lads as well, they often shared a few pints after a shift.  Sometimes he felt a little lonely, sitting around in an empty flat, but he had his daughter, his mates and there was always work available.  Truth is he was happier sitting round the cab office, even when it was quiet, then he was sitting in front of the television on his own at home.

When Jim was 52 he had a stroke and everything changed.  He hardly remembers what happened.  He’d just dropped off a fare, he knew that much, and then had felt everything just sort of go dead.  His car swerved and crashed into a bollard.  He couldn’t even lift his hand to the steering wheel to stop it.

Weeks of therapy followed.  Jim made a slow and steady recovery.  To his eternal shame, his daughter had helped him apply for sickness and housing benefits.  He never believed he would need it, but without that money he would have been out of a home.

Whilst some of the damage from the stroke slowly repaired itself, his age meant his body seemed to  deteriorate at the same speed.  As he started to get sensation back to his right hand and arm the numb feeling was replaced with arthritic pain.  It had been difficult to talk at first, but now, apart from a slight speech impediment he was desperately self-conscious of, he could at least communicate.

He could walk, although as he joked to his grand children, he could be a bit lop sided.  The vision in his right eye never recovered.  And his back would still give him gip and seemed to get worse every passing year.  On a bad day sometimes it took all his strength to hobble to the local shop for a paper and some milk.

Jim found sitting about the flat all day almost unbearable.  He tried applying for jobs, but he had no experience in retail and his speech made working on a telephone difficult.  All there seemed to be was call centre and supermarket jobs in Leeds these days – he must of applied to over a hundred of them and never even got an interview.  As his doctor told him regularly, the truth is that even that kind of work, on a bad day, would be impossible.  He needed to rest said his GP, who proscribed sleeping pills, and concerned about his increasingly withdrawn state, anti-depressants.

One day Jim got a letter from the government.  They had asked him to to attend a health assessment and warned him his benefits would be stopped if he didn’t turn up.  He wasn’t too worried, something similar had happened a year ago.  He’d had to go and see a doctor employed by the social to check him over.  Armed with reams of evidence from his own GP, they had quickly agreed that he wasn’t able to work.  Jim didn’t mind doing it again.  He was grateful for the support he received, although at just less than £100 a week, it was getting harder all the time to make ends meet.

It had been a difficult year, for everybody Jim supposed. He’d had to blink back tears a couple of times in the supermarket as his carefully budgeted weekly shopping trip had descended into chaos because all the prices had risen.  Jim was not a man who cried easily, not until recently anyway.

In truth he was desperately lonely and frustrated at his situation.  He rarely went out anymore.  When he’d first started to get a bit better he’d had a couple of nights out with the lads from the taxi rank, but the truth was he couldn’t really afford the pub these days.  Even the library had closed and with it the little caf’ where he’d always been able to find someone to have a chat with.

He lived a solitary life now, except for his daughter, who had no idea how much her Dad was struggling.  He lied to her that everything was fine.  She didn’t know that his local, where he’d always been a well known regular, had closed down two years ago.  She had no idea that he lived on economy beans, packet noodles and toast half the time.

Jim was placed in something called the Work Related Activity Group after his assessment, which seemed to be with a private company rather than the government.  He wasn’t sure what this really meant.  They told him he might have to go on some kind of training scheme or meet an advisor to help him get back to work.  Whilst they agreed he was unlikely to find work at the moment due to his health, they said there may be some jobs he could do and that his condition might improve.  Not bloody likely, Jim had thought bitterly.  His money didn’t seem to go down, although if he understood the news recently then it probably would soon, a thought which increasingly terrified him

That had been a couple of months ago.  Around the same time he’d received a letter telling him his housing benefit was being cut.  He wasn’t sure why exactly, he already paid £6 a week towards his rent out of his benefit, now he’d have to try find another fiver.  His landlord had laughed when he’d try to talk about decreasing his rent and warned him it would be going up again soon.  He had looked around for somewhere else, but the same message came back time and time again,no DSS.

Jim swore blind that he’d never received the letter asking him to attend a Work Programme interview, whatever that was.  He checked his post religiously.  The person on the end of the telephone, just a kid by the sound of it, patronisingly informed him that they were just trying to help him, but if he didn’t turn up to his appointments then his benefits might be affected.    They were just doing their job Jim decided, although it seemed strange that a big charity would be ringing him up and not some government department.  Still it re-assured him in a way.  A charity would have his best interests at heart after all.

He was duly given another appointment which he agreed to attend.  When the day came though it was a different matter.  Jim had already been ordered to bed by his doctor after he was struck down with Winter flu.  Then he awoke with scythes of pain rocketing up and down his back.  Coughing and spluttering, he could hardly even make it to the telephone.  He definitely had a fever, he could feel sweat covering his body despite shivering in the flat he could never seem to afford to get properly warm anymore.

They’d seemed nice on the telephone.  They had warned him that they would have to refer him to the Jobcentre and his benefits might be affected but they would recommend that that didn’t happen and they were sure everything would be fine.  Jim was glad to be dealing with a charity, who really did seem to care.

That had been a fortnight or so ago Jim muses as he nurses the hot cup of tea in the cafe in Asda.  He is treating himself to egg and bacon, it’s Christmas after all.  Proudly he looks at the gaudy plastic toys he has bought his two grandsons.  He’s never heard of Ben 10, but he recognises the Cyberman action figure he’s bought the eldest.  Funny he thinks, who’d have guessed back then we’d be buying Dr Who toys for our grand kids.  It had been difficult, but he was chuffed with himself for managing to save enough to make sure he didn’t arrive for Christmas Day empty handed.

Feeling happier than he has in sometime, Jim decides to face the inevitable and takes the crumpled brown envelope from his pocket.  Carefully using a knife to slide it open he begins to read.  Phrases jump out of the cold, and all too familiar language.  Repeated failure to attend, new incentives to find employment, lack of engagement, and finally, sanctions, benefit payments suspended,  period of four weeks, running from 20th December.

Immediately Jim begins to shake.  Dropping the letter his hands fall to the table.  At first he thinks he is having another stroke, as his whole body seems to go numb.  A jolt of pain shoots up his spine as he stand up too fast, as if to prove to himself he still can.  Gathering up his bags, his palms slippy with sweat he looks around desperately.  He can see a cash point through the windows.  A tight knot in his stomach means he doesn’t want his eggs and bacon anymore.  He rushes, as fast as he can, out of the cafe.

Waiting behind someone in the queue at the cashpoint is unbearable.  What on earth is making them take so long.   He keeps telling himself it will be fine, as he starts to try and calculate just how bad things are.  When his turn comes he almost drops the card, his fingers hurting as he keys in the numbers in the December cold.  Hitting the button to check his balance, he prays, to anyone who might listen, that the almost £200 benefit payment he is expecting to be in his account has arrived.

His balance is in single figures.  He has no money.  As he fishes in his pockets for change, pulling out a handful of coppers and just a single pound coin, he realises he has no money at all.

Jim tries to calm himself down as he starts walking faster than his body would usually allow him, fear and adrenalin temporarily blocking out the pain.  He marches in the direction of the Post Office, his first thought is to stand in line to at least take out his last few pounds.  He’d been expecting to jump on a bus into the city and get a coach and he curses himself for not booking in advance. He needs to ring his daughter, to explain why he won’t be coming, but he must not tell her the truth, he knows that.

As he fidgets in the Post Office queue he makes a plan, and after several attempts manages to call his daughter on the mobile phone she had insisted on buying him last Christmas.

“so sorry love.  Old Bob, on his own since his wife died, can’t leave him alone pet, not at Christmas, not my oldest pal, tell grandkids  I’m right sorry and I’ll make it up to ‘em in New Year”

In reality old Bob was having a whale of a time at his son’s house in New Zealand, but Jim can’t tell his daughter that.  He’s a proud old sod, and isn’t having anyone feeling sorry for him.

Jim collapses into his armchair when he arrives back at his flat and sobs in a way he never knew he could.  Banging his fist again and again on the cushion he swears, loudly, loudly enough for the neighbours to hear.  But no-one comes.

He is that way for some time.  Just sitting in the empty, cold flat.  All the loneliness, all the pain, all the fretting about money, and scrimping and saving, and it has all come to this.  Nothing left, nothing to offer.  Perhaps the newspapers are right Jim thinks, perhaps he is one of those scroungers.  A freeloader, that’s what they call people like him.  A parasite who can’t even get it together to get to see his bloody kid, and his grand kids, on Christmas day.

They’re better off without me anyway Jim realises suddenly.  His daughter certainly had been,  Soon as she left university she prospered, they’ve got a lovely house up in Newcastle.  Aye she’ll be fine Jim thinks, she’ll get by whatever happens to me.  I only make everyone else as miserable.

He thinks of his ex-wife, and her new husband.  Couldn’t even bloody get that right he says to himself, and I’m still in love with the old bag after all these years despite everything.  And he thinks of his aching body, that gets worse everyday, and his mind, that just seems to forget things recently, and that at only 56 this is it.  All there is left it seems is to wait to die.

At that moment he knows he just can’t cope anymore.  Can’t face another cut to his money, can’t face another appointment, or assessment, or letter in a fucking brown envelope.  Doesn’t want to think about the debt he is already in, or the rent going up.  Doesn’t want to feel the cold anymore.  Doesn’t want to feel guilty and desperate and ashamed of the bare minimum that benefits equip his life with.  He just doesn’t want it anymore.  Any of it.

Jim scrapes together every last penny in the flat to take with him as he ventures out into the cold Christmas Eve.  It’s late.  He’s spent the whole day, and much of the evening, just sitting, and crying, and thinking.  And then a final clarity emerges from the grief.  So here he is heading to the only shop he knows will be open at this time of night.

Back at the flat Jim stares at the television with gaudily dressed youngsters making some kind of shocking noise that he thinks they call music these days.  Won’t miss that, Jim almost laughs to himself as he cracks the seal on the cheap bottle of vodka he just about managed to afford.  He takes a heavy glug, it burns a little, but he forces himself.  Feeling a little sick he pauses a while and then pours a full tumbler and quickly drinks down as much as he can.  He was never really a spirit drinker.

He takes the first tablet off the little pile he has made on the table next to his glass.  Taking a deep breath he puts it down again.  Not like this he thinks.

Walking across the room he takes the grand kid’s Christmas presents out of their bags and leaves them in a prominent place.  Then, with hands trembling despite the drink, he scrawls a note to his daughter, “I’m so sorry my love, I just can’t”.  He’s not sure it makes sense, but it’s all he can think of to say.

Setting himself back down he notices most of the usual nagging pain is gone.  Must be the strong drink he thinks, should have taken it up years ago.  He fills his glass again and takes a large mouthful.  The next drink washes down a handful of pills.  Then another.  Then another.

Jim takes one last drink noticing the bottle is over half empty.  He leans back in his chair and closes his eyes.  As his mind starts to fog, the world slips delicately away.

Don’t cry for Jim.  Avenge him.

(Jim’s fine by the way.  The daft old bugger drank too much and threw the pills up  all over himself a few hours later.  Took him ages to clean up the mess.  After a fitful nights sleep he was awoken by his doorbell buzzing.  His daughter hadn’t believed a word he said and was here, with the grand kids in the back, to drive him up to Newcastle)

Workfare Exploiters PDSA Win Queen’s Volunteering Award!

superdrug-workfareAnimal charity and workfare exploiters PDSA have won an award for their use of forced labour, handed out by no less than The Queen!

PDSA, who have recently been bombarded on twitter  over use of workfare in their charity shops, have won the Queen’s Jubilee Award for services to volunteering.

This is despite the fact that many of the people working for free in PDSA charity shops are anything but volunteers.  PDSA has confirmed they use workfare and are believed to be involved with the Mandatory Work Activity scheme, four weeks forced labour which unemployed people are sentenced to if Jobcentre advisors decide they aren’t trying hard enough to find a job.  As the name suggests Mandatory Work Activity cannot be volunteered for.

This hasn’t stopped the Queen, the UK’s biggest benefit recipient, dishing out her scabby award which means the PDSA can now use the Diamond Jubilee logo on all their merchandising tat.

In yet another sign that they really are all in it together, PDSA’s patron is HRH Princess Alexandra, the Queen’s cousin!  They even rig their own charity awards the thieving fucking criminals.

Contact @pdsa_hq on twitter and demand they hand back their dishonestly accepted prize.

What Is Homelessness And Why Does It Happen?

HomelessWhilst people on the streets are one of the most visible signs of homelessness, the problem extends far beyond rough sleeping.  The majority of homeless people live in hostels, night shelters or B&Bs, but the impact of being without a home is still devastating.

Hostels and B&Bs provide relief in a crisis, and can be both the first step towards a solution, but also the first fall towards the streets.  The accommodation is insecure, short term and hugely expensive.  For single people it can mean sharing a room with strangers whilst parents are forced to share with their children.  In particular private sector temporary accommodation is often dangerous, damp, dirty and unmaintained.

Some hostels and night shelters are ‘direct access’ where most residents were formally living on the streets and have been identified by charity outreach workers.  These hostels have strict rules, sometimes not allowing access to the premises in the day time, with bed spaces being lost should a resident sleep elsewhere for the night.  Many long term street homeless people find adapting to such a regulated environment difficult, whilst others find the atmosphere, where drugs and heavy drinking are  commonplace (though usually banned), intimidating and frightening.

After a period which can be several weeks but sometimes months, most people are referred to longer stay hostels whilst waiting to be moved to some form of more sustainable accommodation – usually a council or housing association flat or bedsit.  Residents can be in long stay hostels for anything from six months to a couple of years.   Generally residents have their own rooms, albeit often little larger than a single bed.  Meals are sometimes provided and any facilities are shared.   Overnight guests, or even guests full stop, are often banned.  Homeless people aren’t allowed to have relationships.

Those in temporary accommodation, whether long stay hostels or B&Bs, have ‘licence agreements’ rather than tenancies.  This is more similar to the type of contract entered into when using a hotel and means immediate eviction should someone fall foul of the rules.

Temporary accommodation charges eye watering rents which are covered by housing benefits.  This makes it very difficult for those in long stay hostels to work.  Residents also pay a service charge out of their benefits to cover the costs of heat, light and water as well as food if available.  Service charge arrears result in eviction.

A final large group of homeless people are the so called ‘hidden homeless’.  People sleeping on a friend’s sofa, staying with family or squatting.  Other people live in a vehicles – whether on the side of a road or on a traveller site, some pitch a tent away from view, many sleep in derelict properties or abandoned garages.  This is often the first stage of homelessness as precarious accommodation collapses and people are left with nowhere to go but the streets.

Local authorities only have a duty to help those with children or who are ‘vulnerable’ which in practice usually means someone with a severe disability or those above pension age.   To qualify for help a homeless applicant must also have a connection with the local areas and not be judged ‘intentionally homeless’.  Families who are deemed ‘intentionally homeless’, having given up a property for some reason, or in some cases been evicted for arrears, may be told that the council will take the children into care but the parents can fend for themselves.  With huge strains on the amount of emergency accommodation available, most local authorities will go to extraordinary lengths to avoid helping anyone.

It has long been the fashion, amongst governments and homelessness charities alike, to insist that homelessness is something caused by people, personalities and individual behavior.  They point to some homeless people abusing drugs or alcohol, failing to find work, committing crimes and, worst of all, not doing what charity workers tell them to do.  But many homeless people are just poor and have run into bad luck, although it is hard to stay a perfectly productive member of society when your world has collapsed around you.  Homelessness drives more people to drink than the other way round.

One factor unites all of the experiences of homeless people and that is a lack of money.  Whatever other difficulties someone is facing there will always be a point on the journey to the streets where homelessness is a purely economic matter.

It could be an eviction or repossession, or someone unable to afford a deposit on a property or not able to pay for a cheap B&B for the night.  This is why the tsunami of cuts to welfare, and in particular housing benefits, will send homelessness soaring.  Because when people need that kind of help most, when life has taken a terrible turn, to strip away payments available for housing will mean the fall to rock bottom is assured.  People in desperate circumstances are not incentivised by having less money.  They are demolished.

Everybody knows that when people are under great pressure they do not always act rationally or in their own interests.  It is sheer bad luck that sometimes unfortunate and devastating events can happen in quick succession.  Desperate people do desperate things.  When a relationship breaks down, sometimes people turn to drink.  This can lead to problems at work and even dismissal, followed by depression and heavier drinking.  Benefits are unavailable due to being sacked.  Rent goes unpaid, friendships deteriorate, support networks dismantle.  Homelessness follows and it’s hard to sleep on a pavement sober.

None of this is unusual or outside of the realm of normal human behaviour.  It is called a downward spiral and it can happen in a million different ways to anyone.  There are former successful business people living on the streets of London right now, whilst the vast majority of homeless people had stable, fulfilling lives at some point.

It is only at the very bottom of this decline, that if you are lucky, the state might just step in and offer to try fix the problems they helped create.  And so begins a climb back through the system of night shelters, hostels and temporary accommodation that can take years.  One small slip along the way, breaching hostel or benefit rules, and it’s back to the bottom.

Homelessness has many contributing factors and subsequent effects, but remains at heart an economic problem.  That’s why, even before the cuts, a stagnating economy was causing homelessness to rise. The number of people without a home is set to soar due to a toxic combination of cuts, rent rises, wage or benefit freezes and law changes.  Every single one of those people will have a tragic story, and all too often one that begins with a letter from the DWP telling them that their housing benefit is being cut.

Sky TV is Damaging Claims Food Stamps MP

food_stampsAlec Shelbrooke, the non-entity behind the private members bill to launch a food stamps style scheme in the UK has made the astonishing claim that Sky Television is a ‘luxury item’ which is often ‘damaging’

In a move which could close every laundrette, market stall or cheap take away food outlet in working class areas, Shelbrooke wants smart cards for claimants, designed to control how money is spent.  Speaking in Parliament Shelbrooke claimed:

“The introduction of a welfare cash card on which benefits would be paid would enable claimants to make only priority purchases such as food, clothing, energy, travel and housing. The purchase of luxury goods such as cigarettes, alcohol, Sky television and gambling would be prohibited. When hard-working families up and down the country are forced to cut back on such non-essential, desirable and often damaging items—NEDD items, as I call them—it is right that taxpayer-funded benefits should be used to fund only essential purchases.”

This flies in the face of changes proposed under Universal Credit.  Iain Duncan Smith has insisted on Direct Payments under the new benefit regime meaning even claimants who may have drug or alcohol dependencies will no longer be able to have rent paid direct to landlords.  With no plans to allow money for broadband or internet cafes in Shelbrooke’s plans, this will also mean the new ‘digital by default’ welfare state would be impossible to access.

So whilst this bill is unlikely to become law it does reveal the direction of travel amongst some in the Tory party.  There have long been calls from the swivel-eyed Tory right to implement some form of food stamps scheme for claimants.

Earlier in the year Iain Duncan Smith said he was concerned that claimants who have faced benefit sanctions, and are living on hardship payment of around £40 a week, are frittering the money away on holidays and nights out – a statement so breathtakingly out of touch it’s difficult to know how to respond.

The DWP increasingly talk of benefit cuts as ‘incentives’, in the belief that driving claimants into ever deeper poverty will ‘encourage’ them to miraculously find a job.  Speaking in front of the Public Accounts Committee this week, the chief DWP Civil Servant, Robert Devereux, said he couldn’t predict whether the upcoming changes to Housing Benefits would lead to increased child poverty.  His bizarre claim was that single parents whose benefits no longer meet their rent may simply go out and pick  up a couple of hours work to compensate.

The fucking clown thinks being poor is like Eastenders.  All a struggling single mum needs to do is chat up Phil Mitchell a bit and she’ll get a couple of shifts down the Queen Vic to tide ‘er over.

That these clueless wankers think they know anything about how those with the very least live is a chilling thought as they run rampant with the welfare state.  Forcing people already poor into even direr poverty is enforced unemployment, not an incentive to find work.

Stamps, haircuts, laundry, toiletries,  smart clothes, broadband, stationary, fares, newspapers, telephones, and most importantly heating, lighting and a home, are all pretty big fucking requirements for those looking for work.  They all cost money.  When parents are dragging kids across town to stand in line at the nearest foodbank they aren’t out looking for jobs.  When people slip into depression, ill health, malnutrition, homelessness, and yes even addiction, this does not help motivate them to find work.

Far from incentivising people to look for non-existent jobs, this Government is punishing them with DWP enforced poverty for life.  They can’t see that because they have no concept of what it means to be poor.  They don’t know what it means to shop around in markets and pound shops in an effort to make a few pounds last till the end of the week – something that would be impossible under the smart card scheme.  They don’t understand that if you’re skint, hungry and the leccy meter is about to run out then a bag of chips is probably the best chance available of getting a hot dinner

Cutting off cash to claimants is cutting off dignity, hope and a chance to participate in life itself.  Every hour of everyday instead becomes about finding the next quid, not trying to find a way out of the situation. This is the real poverty trap, and it is a desperate place to be.

Follow me on twitter @johnnyvoid

8% Less New Houses Built Due to Universal Credit Warns Housing Association Boss

eviction_noticeA director of one of London largest housing associations has warned that house building and provision of new properties has been scaled down due to fears about the upcoming changes to the benefits system.

Speaking before the Public Accounts Committee today, Mike Donaldson, a director of social housing provider L&Q, warned of a double whammy with evictions and arrears set to rise under the new regime.  The impact of this will be that housing associations will be unable to spend cash building new homes meaning a toxic combination of fewer homes and more homeless people.

Such are his organisation’s fears of the oncoming debt tsunami that Donaldson claimed they had already cut the number of new properties provided over the last year from 1000 to 920, a fall of 8%.

Benefits are to be paid monthly under the new system and payments will go direct to tenants, leading to fears that some of those on the lowest income may find managing money difficult and fall into arrears.  On top of this a ‘bedroom tax’ will mean claimants having money docked from benefits, leaving them with either a weekly shortfall or forced to move.

Donaldson’s shocking admission comes on the day that information from pilot schemes to test the new payment system was announced by the DWP.  The figures suggest that rent arrears have doubled in the pilot areas, even though many of the most vulnerable tenants have not been included in the pilots.  No tests of the new system had taken place for tenants in the private sector, where around 30% of claimants have rent payments sent direct to their landlords.

With homelessness already soaring it seems that everyday this Government does something to make the problem worse.  The cardboard cities which emerged in London under the last Tory government may yet become a feature of every major city in the UK.

You can watch the meeting of the Public Affairs Committee, which also includes questions on the Work Programme (haven’t watched it yet so don’t know what was said) at: http://www.parliamentlive.tv/main/Player.aspx?meetingId=12123

Join the Housing for the 99% protests in London tomorrow (Tuesday 18th December)

Time To Troll the Tories Again

tory-ad-campaignThe millionaires in Government are launching a new attack on the poor with an advertising campaign that attempts to blame unemployed, sick or disabled claimants for the problems caused by the rich.

The campaign will be targeted at areas which have large numbers of low income workers who will see their own incomes shrink due to the freeze in Working Tax credits and Housing Benefit.

Once again the out of touch posh boys seem to be heading towards an own goal.  Low income workers are one of the most likely groups to have been on out of work benefits themselves as well as have family members struggling to survive on increasingly meagre support.  The casualisation of low waged work means many people are in and out of temporary jobs, relying on Tax Credits to survive whilst working and unemployment benefits when not.

In a possible sign of changing attitudes towards the demonisation of unemployed, unwell or disabled claimants, the new campaign has received a cautious response in the comments on the Conservative Home website.

In an attempt to prove that the British public are as callous and contemptible as most Tories, the ads come with a survey.  The heavily loaded questions are based on the Tory lie that people on out of work benefits are better off than those with jobs.

There is also space to leave comments about the brutal welfare reforms.  Whilst the Tories will no doubt make the results of the survey up if it doesn’t tell them what they want to hear, it is a chance to tell the scum what you think.

To have your say visit: http://www.conservatives.com/Get_involved/benefits_haveyoursay.aspx

Atos in the Dock

Patrick LynchFrom Public Interest lawyers via Disabled people Against Cuts

A disabled man who was wrongly found fit for work under the government’s disability benefit assessment scheme is launching legal action to try and stop more disabled people being wrongly kicked off the social safety net.

Patrick Lynch, a former social care worker who was forced to quit work because of his impairments, is seeking a judicial review of the controversial disability benefit assessment scheme run by Atos.

The Work Capability Assessment (WCA), which determines eligibility for Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) for people whose health or impairment stops them from working, is at present hugely unreliable, with many people wrongly found fit for work despite severely debilitating and in some cases life-threatening conditions.

The legal action is seeking a ruling that would require Atos, the private firm that runs the WCA process on behalf of the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP), to grant all ESA claimants the unequivocal right to have their assessment recorded and to receive their WCA report before a decision on their eligibility is made – both key safeguards against people’s health conditions being misreported or ignored altogether.

DWP research and a survey conducted by Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC) both show widespread demand from claimants to have their WCA assessments recorded, to ensure their medical conditions are not misrepresented in order to wrongly strip them of benefits. But while the DWP granted the right to request a recording earlier this year, there are considerable bureaucratic obstacles to both securing a recording and then using it in an appeal, with Atos recently introducing a restrictive ‘consent form’ for those wanting a recording of their assessment.

The case is being brought by Public Interest Lawyers, and draws on research by Disabled People Against Cuts and the TUC-backed campaign group False Economy.

Mr Lynch wants the DWP and Atos to adopt the following safeguards:

a)    Universal recording to ensure that all claimants undergoing a WCA or an assessment under the new PIP benefit system will have the right to have their assessment recorded;

b)    Claimants will get a copy of the WCA report before a decision is made on their eligibility for ESA, and will have the chance to raise any concerns with the DWP decision maker;

c)    The DWP/Atos will be responsible for obtaining medical evidence from the medical professional named by the claimant;

d)    The DWP ensures that all assessment centres are fully accessible.

Taken together, these measures would address some of the inaccuracy inherent in the disability benefits system. Disability campaigners have raised repeated concerns over how the WCA process causes huge stress for ESA recipients, with many disabled people’s lives ruined after wrongly having their benefits removed.

Mr Lynch, now a campaigner with DPAC, was found fit for work following a flawed WCA report in 2010, before the DWP reconsidered and reversed the decision. His most recent WCA this year upheld his benefit entitlement, but even then Atos’ report of his assessment contained inaccuracies.

In bringing the action Mr Lynch notes

Disabled people and the poor in this Country have always struggled to get what they are duly entitled to. The fight must go on to address the injustice caused by this out of touch Government.

A DPAC spokesperson said:

The evidence is clear – more than 98 percent of those responding to our survey said they wanted their assessment recorded and that they believed it would provide a better account. However, many reported a whole host of barriers in getting a recording in place.”

Blogging will be lighter than usual probably until the New Year.

Could Mandatory Work Activity be on the Brink of Collapse?

holidayinnAn evaluation of the Government’s Mandatory Work Activity (MWA) scheme, commissioned and published by the DWP, reveals that welfare-to-work companies are struggling to find enough placements for all those forced into unpaid work.

In a further blow to the DWP’s plans for mass workfare, this report was released before several major charities, including Scope, British Heart Foundation, Age UK and Cancer Research announced they were pulling out of the scheme.

Mandatory Work Activity is just one of several workfare schemes, and involves four weeks full time unpaid work for organisations which can demonstrate a ‘community benefit’.  The scheme is used as punishment for those claimants not deemed to be trying hard enough to find work by Jobcentre advisors.  Under DWP rules it is not possible to volunteer for the scheme.

The report states that 33,170 people began on MWA between May 2011 and August 2012.  Of these around 75% of claimants were forced to work in charity shops, the very organisations who currently claim to be abandoning workfare.  Even before charities finally took a principled stand on unpaid work, the study shows that three districts in the UK were not meeting the minimum period of ten days between referral to the scheme and workfare beginning.  Welfare-to-work companies, who are paid for everybody they send on workfare, claim this is down to them being unable to source enough work placements.

One of the main reasons for the lack of placements is cited as “The high profile withdrawal of placements from a number of larger charities meant a sharp reduction in placements.”

The report also highlights problems finding placements due to competition from other workfare programmes as well as Community Payback.  Claimants on MWA are sentenced to a similar length of unpaid work as a mid-level community service punishment and often work alongside those convicted of an offence.

The evaluation blows apart some myths which have emerged about the scheme.  It has been suggested by MWA is often used when someone is suspected of working  illegally whilst claiming benefits.  The report confirms that this is not one of the main uses of the scheme by Jobcentres, but instead it is used when advisors believe someone is not ‘motivated’ or there is ‘doubt’ about a claimant’s commitment to look for work.

An earlier assessment of MWA had concluded that many claimant’s sign off benefits when referred to workfare.  This study finds this effect is only temporary, concluding that “the benefit impact over the first 21 weeks equates to referred individuals being off benefit for an average of about four days more than if they had not been referred.”It is clear that MWA does not help people find work and nor does it reduce the numbers of people on benefits.  Some claimant’s even reported that the scheme made it more difficult to find work:  “MWA will make it harder for someone to look for a job. It’ll make you more miserable – working for nothing and no time to look for a job.”

Many charities who had previously been only too happy to exploit the amount of free labour available due to MWA had attempted to suggest that that their involvement was intended to support unemployed people into work.  The report reveals the real reason so many charities were quick to sign up to workfare:

“The majority of the hosts described getting involved in MWA to provide staff for their organisations, which in many cases relied on unpaid staff to operate. Indeed several described coming to rely on MWA to provide a steady supply of staff. “

The report also highlights just how early into people’s claims MWA is often used, stating that there is a push to refer claimants onto the scheme when they have been on benefits just 13 weeks.Finally the study makes some concerning recommendations, including extending the length of MWA to eight weeks.  It is also suggested that the ‘community benefit’ stipulation be relaxed, meaning that more claimants would be sent to replace paid jobs in places like Superdrug and Poundland.

Once again workfare isn’t working, so the DWP want more workfare.  But the key part of this report is the desperate shortage of placements. Tony Blair’s New Deal, the first large scale workfare scheme for 18-25 year olds, largely collapsed due to lack of placements.

This isn’t stopping Iain Duncan Smith steaming ahead with ever more plans for forced work.  From the 3rd December sick and disabled claimants can now be mandated to workfare.  The Community Action Programme, which involves six months workfare and is already a disaster, is also to be hugely extended.  Workfare for young people with little work history is now beginning in London.

According to the MWA study, those who weren’t employed in charity shops were largely working for recycling or conservation charities.  The Conservation (so called) Volunteers (@tcvtweets) have been revealed as one of the largest exploiters of unpaid work.  Pressure on these shabby organisations – who are only to happy to undermine genuine volunteering by forcing people to work for free – can only hasten the inevitable demise of forced unpaid work.

The report can be read at: http://research.dwp.gov.uk/asd/asd5/report_abstracts/rr_abstracts/rra_823.asp